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Title: Kathleen
Author: Morley, Christopher
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kathleen" ***

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



KATHLEEN

By Christopher Morley


TO

THE REAL KATHLEEN

_With Apologies_



KATHLEEN



I


The Scorpions were to meet at eight o’clock and before that hour Kenneth
Forbes had to finish the first chapter of a serial story. The literary
society, named in accordance with the grotesque whim of Oxford
undergraduates, consisted of eight members, and it was proposed that
each one should contribute a chapter. Forbes was of a fertile wit, and
he had been nominated the first operator. He had been allowed the whole
Christmas vacation to prepare his opening chapter; which was why on this
first Sunday of term while the rest of Merton College was at dinner in
hall, he sat at his desk desperately driving his pen across the paper.

Forbes’s room in Fellows’ Quad was one of those that had housed Queen
Henrietta Maria in 1643, and though Forbes’s own tastes were nondescript
the chamber still had something of an air. The dark wood panelling might
well have done honour to a royal lodger, and a motion-picture producer
would have coveted it as a background for Mary Pickford. It was
unspoiled by pictures: two or three political maps of Europe, sketchily
drawn with coloured crayons, were pinned up here and there. The room was
a typical Oxford apartment: dark, a little faded, but redeemed by the
grate of glowing coals. Behind the chimney two recessed seats looked out
over the college gardens; long red curtains were drawn to shut out the
winter draughts. It was the true English January--driving squalls of
rain, dampness, and devastating chill. The east wind brought the booming
toll from Magdalen tower very distinctly to the ear, closely followed by
the tinny chime in Fellows’ Quad. It was half past seven.

Forbes laid down his pen, looked quizzically at the last illegible lines
slanting up the paper, and realized that he was hungry. His untasted tea
and anchovy toast still stood in the fender where the scout had put them
three hours before.

He switched on the electric light over the dining table in the centre
of the room, and, dropping on the sofa before the fire, prodded the huge
lumps of soft coal into a blaze. The triangular slices of anchovy toast
were cold but still very good, and he devoured them with appetite. He
lit a cigarette with a sigh of content, and reflected that he had not
crossed his name off hall. Therefore he must pay eighteen pence for
dinner, even though he had not eaten it. Also there lay somewhat heavily
on his mind the fact that at ten the next morning he must read to his
tutor an essay on “Danton and Robespierre,” an essay as yet unwritten.
That would mean a very early rising and an uncomfortable chilly session
in the college library, a dismal place in the forenoon. Never mind,
first came a jolly evening with the Scorpions. The meetings were always
fun, and this one, coming after the separation of a six-weeks’ vacation,
promised special sport. Carter was down for a paper on Rabelais; King
would have some of his amusing ballades and rondeaus; and above all
there would be the first chapter of the serial, from which the members
promised themselves much diversion. It was too late now to attempt
anything on Danton and Robespierre; he picked up a volume of Belloc and
sat cosily by the fire.

A thumping tread sounded on the winding stairs, then the faint clink
of a large metal tray laid on the serving table outside, and a muffled
knock at the “oak,” the thick outer door which Forbes had “sported”
 when he came in at six to write his stint. He unfastened the barrier and
admitted Hinton, the scout, who bore in a tray of eatables, ordered by
Forbes from the college store-room for the refreshment of his coming
guests. Forbes, like most men of modest means, made it a point of honour
to entertain lavishly when it was his turn as host, and the display set
out by Hinton made an attractive still life under the droplight. A big
bowl of apples and oranges stood in the centre; tin boxes from Huntley
and Palmer, a couple of large iced cakes, raisins, nuts, and a dish of
candied fruits ended the solids. There was also a tray of coffee cups
and a huge silver coffee pot bearing the college arms, flanked by a
porcelain jug of hot milk. De Reszke cigarettes, whiskey and soda, and a
new tin of John Cotton smoking mixture completed the spread--which would
be faithfully reflected in Forbes’s “battels,” or weekly bills, later
on. Young men at Oxford do themselves well, and this was a typical
lay-out for an undergraduate evening.

Hinton, a ruddy old man with iron-gray hair and a very red and bulby
nose, was a garrulous servant, and after a tentative cough made an
attempt at small talk.

“I didn’t see you in ‘all to-night, sir.”

“No,” said Forbes, “I had some writing to do, Hinton.”

“Oh yes, sir,” said Hinton, according to the invariable formula of
college servants. A moment later, after another embarrassed cough, he
began again.

“Very wet night, sir; they say the towpath will be under water in
another day or so.”

Forbes was not a rowing man, and the probable submerging of the towpath
was not news that affected him one way or the other. His only reply was
to ask the scout to refill the coal-scuttle. For this task Hinton donned
an old pair of gloves and carried in several large lumps of coal in
his hands from the bin outside. Then he disappeared into the adjoining
bedroom to pour out a few gallons of very cold water into Forbes’s hip
bath, to turn down the sheets, lay out his pajamas, and remove a muddy
pair of boots to be cleaned. Such are the customs that make sweet the
lives of succeeding undergraduates at Oxford. It is pleasant to know
that Palmerston, Pitt, Gladstone, Asquith--they have all gone through
the old routine. Forbes’s father had occupied the very same rooms,
thirty years before, and very likely old Hinton, then a “scout’s boy,”
 had blacked his boots. Certainly Forbes senior had lain in the same
bedroom and watched Magdalen Tower through the trees while delaying to
get up on chilly mornings.

“Anything else to-night, sir?” said Hinton, as Forbes put down Belloc
and began to clean a very crusty briar.

“Nothing to-night.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Hinton and took his departure, after poking up
the fire and removing the dead tea things.

The eight o’clock chimes spoke as Hinton clumped downstairs, and a few
moments later Forbes’s guests began to straggle in. All were wet and
ruddy from rain and wind, and, as they discarded raincoats and caps,
disclosed a pleasant medley of types. The Scorpions was a rather recent
and informal society, but it had gathered from various colleges a little
band of temperamental congenials who found a unique pleasure in their
Sunday evening meetings. None of them was of the acknowledged literary
successes of the university: their names were not those seen every week
in the undergraduate journals. And yet this obscure group, which had
drawn together in a spirit of satire, had in it two or three men of real
gift. Forbes himself was a man of uncommon vivacity. Small, stocky, with
an unruly thatch of yellow hair and a quaintly wry and homely face, he
hid his shyness and his brilliancy behind a brusque manner. Ostensibly
cynical and a witty satirist of his more sentimental fellows, his desk
was full of charming ballades and _pieces d’amour_, scratched off at
white heat in odd moments. His infinite fund of full-flavoured jest had
won him the nickname of Priapus. But beneath the uncouth exterior of the
man, behind his careless dress and humorously assumed coarseness,
lay the soul of a poet--sensitive as a girl, and devout before the
whisperings of Beauty.

Stephen Carter and Randall King were first to arrive, and seized the
ends of the fireside couch while Forbes poured their coffee.

“A Clark Russell of an evening!” said Carter, stretching his golfing
brogues to the blaze. “Don’t you love a good drenching, downpouring
night? I do!” He was a burly full-blooded blond, extravagantly facetious
in convivial moments, and a mournful brooder in solitude. King, better
known as “The Goblin,” was a dark, whimsical elf in thick spectacles,
much loved in the ‘varsity dramatic society for his brilliant
impersonations. The Goblin said nothing as he sipped his coffee and
gazed at the fire.

“There you go again, Falstaff!” exclaimed Forbes to Carter, as he
unlocked a corner cupboard and drew out a bottle of port. “The universal
enthusiast! I believe you’ll be enthusiastic about the examiners that
plough you!”

“What, Falstaff get ploughed?” said a vast and rather handsome newcomer,
flinging open the door without knocking. “I think he’s down for a ruddy
First!” This was Douglas Whitney, of Balliol.

Carter’s only answer to both these remarks was to drain a glass of the
port which Forbes was decanting.

“I say, Priapus, what vile port!” he said. “Is this some of the vintage
you crocked poor old Hinton with?”

“Any port in a storm, Falstaff,” said the Goblin, mildly.

As Forbes was pouring out the coffee loud shouts of “Minters!” greeted
the next arrival. This was Johnny Blair of Tennessee and Trinity, the
only American among the Scorpions. Blair was a Rhodes Scholar whose
dulcet Southern drawl and quaint modes of speech were a constant delight
to his English comrades. His great popularity in his own college
was begun by his introduction of mint julep, which had given him his
nickname.

“Hello, Minters!” cried Forbes. “What cheer?”

“Large tabling and belly cheer,” said Blair, quoting his favourite
Elizabethan author.

By the time Forbes had poured out eight cups of coffee and as many
glasses of wine, Keith, Graham, and Twiston had come in, making the full
gathering. There was much laughing and banter as the men stood round
the table or by the fire, lighting pipes and cigarettes, and helping
themselves to fruit and cake. Finally, when everyone was settled in a
semicircle round the fire, Forbes hammered his coffee cup with a spoon.
According to the custom of the society the host of the evening always
acted as chairman.

“The meeting will please come to order,” said Forbes. “Brother
Scorpions, what is your pleasure? Has the secretary anything to report?”

The gatherings of the Scorpions were pleasingly devoid of formality, and
untrammeled by parliamentary conventions. There were no minutes, and
the only officer was a secretary who sent out postal cards each week,
reminding the members of the time and place of the next meeting.

King, puffing happily at a large pipe, declared that no official
business required attention.

“Then I call upon Falstaff for his delightful paper on Rabelais,” said
Forbes.

A small electric reading lamp was propped behind Carter’s head, and
the Scorpions disposed themselves to listen. Carter pulled an untidy
manuscript from his pocket, and after an embarrassed cough, began to
read.

The general tenor of an undergraduate essay on Rabelais, intended for
the intimacy of a fireside circle, may readily be guessed. The general
thesis of the composition was of course to prove that Rabelais was by
no means the low-minded old dog of Puritan conception; or, as Carter
put it, that he was “not simply a George Moore”; but that his amazing
writings bore witness throughout to a high and devoted ethical purpose.
It is even conjecturable that Carter may have said _puribus omnia pura_;
but if he did so, it was with so droll an accent that his audience
laughed again. At all events his reading was punctuated with cheery
applause, and at the conclusion the Scorpions renewed their acquaintance
with those historic affinities whiskey and soda. Discussion was brisk.

The meditative Goblin then was called upon for his poems; and, after
becoming hesitation, unfolded a sheaf of verses. His rhymes were always
full of quaint and elvish humour which was very endearing. His ballade
with the refrain “_When Harry Baillie kept the Tabard Inn_,” was voted
the best of the six he read.

But the event of the evening was to be the serial story, which
Forbes had been appointed to begin. A new round of refreshments was
distributed, and then the host took his place under the reading lamp.

“This needs a word of explanation,” he said. “Having the whole vacation
to work on this, naturally I did nothing until tea time this afternoon.
I didn’t even have an idea in my head until yesterday. About four
o’clock yesterday afternoon I was strolling down the Broad in
desperation. You know when there is some hateful task that has to be
done, one will snatch at any pretext for postponing it. I stopped in at
Blackwell’s to look for a book I wanted. Up in one corner of the shop,
lying on a row of books, I found this.”

Impressively he drew from his pocket a double sheet of notepaper and
held it up.

“It was a letter, evidently written by some girl to a man at the
‘varsity. Finding it there, forgotten and defenseless, I could not
resist reading it. It was a very charming letter, not too intimate, but
full of a delicious virgin coyness and reserve. Then a great idea struck
me. Why not take the people mentioned in the letter and use them as
the characters of our story? We know that they are real people; we know
their first names; that’s all we know about them. The rest can be left
to the invention of the Scorpions.”

Generous laughter greeted the idea.

“Let’s hear the letter!” cried someone.

“Yes,” said Forbes, “before reading my chapter I’ll read you the letter.
And then remember that our story is to be built up solely upon this
document. There are to be no characters in the story except those
mentioned in the letter, and our task must be to delineate them in such
a way that they are in keeping with the suggestions the letter gives us.
Here it is.”


X X X X These are from Fred.

318, BANCROFT ROAD,

WOLVERHAMPTON

October 30, 1912.

DEAR JOE:

Thank you so much for the tie--it is pretty and I do wear ties
sometimes, so I sha’n’t let the boys have it.

You must think me rather ungrateful not writing before, but I have been
out the last two evenings and have had no time for letters. Yesterday
Mother and I went to Birmingham as I had my half-term holiday.

I hope you managed to get some tea after writing to me, otherwise I
shall feel so grieved to think I was the cause of your starvation. By
the way, I read your latest poem and I don’t like it--not that that will
trouble you much I’m sure. The idea isn’t at all bad, but that’s all I
like about it.

I haven’t a bit of news, and I have just found out it is too late to
catch the post to-night, so you will have to wait a little longer for
this precious letter--it will be precious, won’t it?

Charlie has just come home from his class, so I must bring his food for
him. Daddy’s lumbago is better, I’m glad to say.

Good-night, and with many thanks

I remain

Yours,

KATHLEEN.

Excuse this scrawl, but the pen’s groggy.


A moment of silence followed the reading of the letter.

“Joe’s a lucky boy,” said Whitney. “She’s a darling.”

“The letter doesn’t tell us much,” said Forbes, as he handed it round
for examination; “but more than you might think. Before writing my
chapter I summarized the data. Here they are:

“1. _Joe_. He’s a member of the ‘varsity who writes poetry. Either it’s
published in some magazine or he sends it privately to her. The blighter
has sent Kathleen a tie of some kind--probably a scarf with his college
or club colours. He’s got as far as the plaintive stage: he tells her
that he is going without his tea just to write to her. (Probably half a
dozen crumpets and four cups of tea were simmering inside of him as he
wrote). So much for Joe. I’ll wager he’s a Rhodes Scholar!

“2. _Kathleen_. I put her at seventeen, and (as Whitney says) she’s a
darling. She’s at school still. She’s adorably sane. She doesn’t care
for Joe’s yowling poetry (probably he writes Verlaine kind of stuff,
or free verse, or some blither of that sort). She has younger brothers
[‘the boys’) and she helps her mother run the house. I think she likes
Joe better than she cares to admit--see the touch of coquettishness
where she says ‘It _will_ be precious, won’t it?’ And how adorably she
teases him in those four crosses marked ‘These are from Fred.’ Gad, I’m
jealous of Joe already!

“3. _Fred_. I think he’s the older brother; probably recently left the
‘varsity; a friend of Joe’s, perhaps.

“4. _Charlie_ is one of the younger brothers. He goes to some kind of
night school or gymnasium. Probably an ugly little beggar. Why doesn’t
he get his food for himself?

“5. _The Mother_. Don’t know anything about her except that she went to
Birmingham with Kathleen.

“6. _The Father_. Has lumbago.”

“One thing you don’t mention,” said Graham. “It’s an easy run from here
to Wolverhampton on a motor bike!”

“Rather a sell if Joe should turn out a boxing blue, and mash us all
into pulp for bagging his letter!” said Whitney. There was a general
laugh at this. Whitney was over six feet, rowed number 5 in the Balliol
boat, and was nicknamed the Iron Duke for his muscular strength.

“Go on with your chapter, Priapus,” said the Goblin.



II


When Forbes had finished there was general laughter and applause. The
whimsical idea of building a tale around the persons of the letter was
one which his playful mind was competent to develop, and he had written
a deft and amusing introduction. Taking “Joe” as his subject he had
sketched that gentleman’s character with a touch of irony. He had made
him a Rhodes Scholar from Indiana (evoking good-natured protest from
Minters) and had carried him on a vacation to Guilford House, a small
hotel in London much frequented by Rhodes Scholars. There he had made
him meet Kathleen who, with her mother, was staying in London for a few
days. Forbes had a taste for brunettes, and in his description of the
imagined Kathleen he had indulged himself heartily. He found her to be
seventeen, slender, with that strong slimness that only an English girl
achieves; with a straight brown gaze and abundant dark chestnut hair.
She was captain of her school hockey team, it seemed; she was good at
tennis and swimming and geometry; she had small patience with poetry and
sentiment. But within the athletic and straightforward flapper Forbes
thought he saw the fluttering of deeper womanhood; the maiden soul
erecting a barrier of abrupt common sense about itself to conceal the
shy and sensitive feelings that were beginning to blossom. Such at any
rate was Kenneth Forbes’s psycho-analysis, and he developed his chapter
toward a climax where Kathleen and Joe were left walking in Regent’s
Park, and the next author would find some difficulty in knowing how to
proceed with the second instalment.

“Well done indeed!” cried Blair, as Forbes laid down his manuscript and
reached for his pipe. There was a general murmur of assent as the men
got up to stretch and talk. Someone punched the coals into flame, and
the bowl of fruit was passed round.

“Who’s to write the next chapter?” asked Graham.

“Let Falstaff do it!” cried Blair. “He’s the sentimentalist! But go easy
on poor Joe. You know all Rhodes Scholars don’t come from Indiana! Have
a heart!”

“Do whatever you like to Joe!” cried Forbes; “But be careful with
Kathleen! She’s adorable! I’m going to write a ballade to her and mail
it to her anonymously.”

“I wish there was some way of getting hold of her picture,” said Keith.

“Her picture?” said Graham. “Nonsense! Why not see the flapper herself?
I’m going to bike over there on my Rudge, erb round till I find the
street, and then skid like hell right on to her doorstep. I shall lie
there in mute agony until I’m carried indoors.”

“I say, now, that’s no fair!” cried Forbes. “I discovered her! Just
because you’ve got a motor bike you mustn’t take an advantage!”

“Look here,” said the Goblin, mildly, speaking from a blue cloud of
Murray’s Mixture, “we must all sign a protocol, or a mandamus or a
lagniappe or whatever you law men call it, not to steal a march. I think
we’d all like to meet the real Kathleen. But we must give a bond to
start fair and square, and nobody do anything that isn’t authorized by
the whole club.”

“Right-O!” cried several voices.

“All right, then,” said the Goblin, “fill glasses everyone, and we’ll
solemnize the oath. Brother Scorpions, I do you to wit that we all,
jointly and severally, promise not to take any steps toward making the
acquaintance of said Kathleen until so authorized by the whole society.
So help me God!”

They all drank to this, with some chuckles.

“What a lark if we could get Kathleen down for Eights Week!” said
someone.

“Very likely Joe will have her here,” said Whitney. “You seem to forget
that he’s been rowing this course for some time.”

They all scowled.

“I wonder how many members of the ‘varsity are called Joe?” Keith asked.

“About three hundred, I dare say,” said Falstaff.

“I tell you what we might do,” said Forbes. “When the yarn’s finished we
can send it to her, explain just how the whole thing happened, and ask
permission to call. She’s got a sense of humour, I’ll swear!”

“Balmy!” retorted Falstaff. “She’d probably be frightfully fed because
you bagged her letter! ‘S a hell of a thing to do, crib a lady’s
letter!”

“It’s a hell of a thing to do to leave it lying around!” cried Forbes,
impenitent. “No quarter for Joebags! Let the punishment fit the crime.”

“Well, you chaps, I’ve got to sheer off,” said Whitney. “It’s nearly
eleven and I’ve got an essay on the stocks. Cheer-o Priapus, I’ve had a
ripping time.”

“‘Arf a mo,’” cried Forbes. “Who’s to do the next chapter, and where do
we meet next week?”

“Falstaff!” cried several voices.

“Why not do two chapters a week,” said Carter. “I’ll do one, and Goblin
can do another. Let’s meet in my rooms.”

This was agreed to, and after much scuffling with greatcoats and scarves
the guests tramped off down the stairs and out into the rainy quad.
Forbes could hear them, a minute later, thundering with their heels on
the huge iron-studded college gate as they waited for the porter to let
them out. The room was foul with smoke, and he opened a window over
the gardens letting in a gush of chill sweet air and rain. Through the
darkness he could hear many chimes, counting eleven. He looked wearily
at the scribbled notes for his essay on Danton and Robespierre: then
shrugged his shoulders and went to bed.



III


By the time that Carter and King had written their chapters and read
them aloud, the Scorpions were all frankly adorers of Kathleen; by
midterm she had become an obsession. Eric Twiston and Bob Graham, “doing
a Cornstalk” (as walking on Cornmarket Street is elegantly termed) were
wont to dub any really delightful girl they saw as “a Kathleen sort of
person.” At the annual dinner of the club, which took place in a private
dining room at the “Clarry” (the Clarendon Hotel) in February, Forbes
was called upon to respond to the toast “The Real Kathleen.” His voice,
tremulous with emotion and absinthe frappe, nearly failed him; but
he managed to stammer a few phrases which, thought at the time to be
extemporaneous, called forth loud applause; but it was found later
that he had jotted them down on the tablecloth during the soup and fish
courses. “Fellow Scorpers,” he said, “I mean you chaps, look here, I’m
not much at this dispatch-box business, but--hem--I want to say that I
regard Kathleen with feelings of iridescent emotion. I feel sure that
she is a pronounced brunette and that the Blue Flapper we all used to
see at the East Ocker is nowhere. I’ve been playing lackers (lacrosse)
this term and I give you my word that when I’ve been bloody well done
in and had an absolute needle of funk I had only to think of Kathleen to
buck me up. Hem. Now gentlemen, you may think I’m drunk (loud cries of
_No_!) but I want to say in truth and soberness that any man who thinks
he’s got Kathleen for bondwoman--hem--has me to reckon with!”

The applause at this speech was so immoderate that a party of Boston
ladies dining with a Chautauqua lecturer in the Clarendon’s main dining
room, shuddered and began looking up time-tables to Stratford.

By this time the serial story had grown to the length of seven or eight
chapters, and the Scorpions became so engrossed in the fortunes of the
Kenyons (so, for convenience, they had dubbed Kathleen’s family) that at
the dinner a separate health was drunk to each character in the story,
and one of the members was called upon to reply. Falstaff Carter
responded to the toast to “Joe,” and recounted his secret investigations
into the number of members of the university who bore that name.
He claimed to have tabulated from the university almanac 256 men so
christened, and offered to go into the life history of any or all of
them. He said that he was happy to say that the only Joseph who seemed
at all likely to be a poet was a scrubby little man at Teddy Hall, who
wore spectacles and a ragged exhibitioner’s gown and did not seem to
threaten a serious rivalry to any Scorpion bent on supplanting him. “I
also find,” he added, “that the master of the New College and Magdalen
beagles is called Joe. He is a member of the Bullingdon, and if he is
the cheese it’s distinctly mooters whether any of the Scorpers have a
ghostly show; but I vote, gentlemen, that we don’t crock at this stage
of the game.”

It was decided at the dinner that during the ensuing Easter vacation the
Scorpions should make a trip to Wolverhampton, en masse, for the purpose
of picketing Bancroft Road and finding out what Kathleen was really
like. And then, after singing “langers and godders” (Auld Lang Syne and
God Save the King) the meeting broke up and the members dispersed darkly
in various directions to avoid the proctors.



IV


Friday the fifteenth of March was the last day of term. The Scorpions,
busy in their various ways with the hundred details that have to be
attended to before “going down,” were all pleasantly excited by the
anticipation of their quest, which was to begin on the morrow. Carter,
shaking hands with the warden of New College in the college hall
(a pleasant little formality performed at the end of each term)
absent-mindedly replied “Wolverhampton” when the warden asked him where
he was going to spend the vacation. He was then hard put to it to avoid
a letter of introduction to the vicar of St. Philip’s in that city, an
old pupil of the warden. King, bicycling rapidly down the greasy Turl
with an armful of books, collided vigorously with another cyclist at the
corner of the High. They both sprawled on the curb, bikes interlocked.
“My god, sir!” cried the Goblin; “Why not watch where you’re going?”
 Then he saw it was Johnny Blair. “Sorry, Goblin,” said the latter; “I--I
was thinking about Kathleen.” “So was I,” said King, picking up
his books. And in defiance of the University statute of 1636 (still
unrepealed) which warns students against “frequenting dicing houses,
taverns, or booths where the nicotian herb is sold,” they went into
Hedderly’s together to buy tobacco.

After breakfast the next morning they were all in cabs on their way to
the Great Western Station. It was a mild and sunny day, with puffs of
spring in the air. Who can ever forget the Saturday morning at the end
of term when the men “go down”? Long lines of hansoms spinning briskly
toward the station, with bulging portmanteaus on the roof; the wide
sunny sweep of the Broad with the ‘bus trundling past Trinity gates;
a knot of tall youths in the ‘varsity uniform of gray “bags” and brown
tweed norfolk, smoking and talking at the Balliol lodge--and over it all
the clang of a hundred chimes, the gray fingers of a thousand spires
and pinnacles, the moist blue sky of England.... Ah, it is the palace of
youth, or it was once.

The Scorpions met on the dingy north-bound platform. Graham, Keith,
and Twiston had been obliged to scratch owing to other more imperative
plans; but five members boarded the 10 o’clock train in high spirits.
Forbes, Carter, King, Blair, and Whitney--they filled a third-class
smoker with tobacco and jest.

“Now, Goblin,” cried Falstaff, as the train ran past the Port Meadow,
and the Radcliffe dome dropped from view; “Open those sealed orders! You
promised to draw up the rules of the game.”

King pulled a paper from his pocket.

“I jotted down some points,” he said. “This is the time to discuss
them.”

_“Rules to be Observed by the Scorpions on the Great Kathleen Excursion_

“1. The headquarters of the expedition will be the Blue Boar Inn at
Wolverhampton. (I’ve written to them to engage rooms.)

“2. The Kriegspiel will begin to-day at 2 P.M., and manoeuvres will
continue without intermission until someone is declared the winner, or
until time is called.

“3. The object of the contest is to make the acquaintance of Kathleen;
to engage her in friendly conversation; to win her confidence, and to
induce her to accept an invitation to Commem, or Eights Week.

“4. Any deception, strategy, or tactics which are not calculated to give
intolerable distress or embarrassment to Kathleen and her family, are
allowable.

“5. If by noon on Tuesday no one shall have succeeded in making friends
with Kathleen, the game shall be declared off.”

“Suppose she’s not at home?” said Whitney.

“We’ll have to chance that.”

“What time do we get there?”

“I’ve ordered lunch at the Blue Boar at one o’clock. This train gets to
Wolvers at 12:30.”

It was a merry ride. The story of Kathleen as they had written it was
discussed pro and con.; the usual protests were launched at Carter
for having in his chapter lowered the theme to the level of burlesque;
praise was accorded to the Goblin for the dexterity with which he had
rescued the plot. Blair’s chapter had been full of American slang which
had to be explained to the others. “Joe,” the Rhodes Scholar hero, had
shown a vein of fine gold under Blair’s hands: he bade fair to win the
charming Kathleen, although the story had not been finished owing to
the examinations which had fallen upon the brotherhood toward the end of
term. The game, begun in pure jest, had taken on something of romantic
earnest: there was not one of these young men who did not see in
Kathleen his own ideal of slender, bright-cheeked girlhood. And when
the train pulled into Wolverhampton, they tumbled out of their smoking
carriage with keen expectation.



V


Perhaps the best way to pursue the next episodes in the quest is in the
words of Johnny Blair, the Rhodes Scholar, who jotted down some notes in
a journal he kept:

We got to Wolverhampton 12:25, Ingersoll time. Had a jolly trip on
the train, all the Scorps laying bets as to who would be first to meet
Kathleen. I lay low, but did some planning. Didn’t want to let these
English blighters get ahead of me, especially after all the ragging
Indiana Joe got in the story.

Train stopped at Birmingham at noon. My tobacco pouch had run empty, and
I hopped out to buy some Murray’s at the newsstand. Saw the prettiest
flapper of my life on the platform--the real English type; tweed suit,
dark hair, gray eyes, and cheeks like almond blossoms. She had on a
blue tam-o’ shanter. Loveliest figure I ever saw, perfect ankle, but
the usual heavy brogues on her feet. Why do English girls always wear
woollen stockings? Was so taken with her I almost missed the train. She
got into a third-class compartment farther up the train. The others were
all bickering in the smoking carriage, so they didn’t see her.

I scored over the rest of the crowd when we got to Wolvers. They had all
brought heavy portmanteaus, containing all their vacation baggage. My
idea was, go light when chasing the Grail. Had only my rucksack, left
rest of my stuff at coll., to be forwarded later. While the other chaps
were getting their stuff out of the goods van I spotted Miss Flapper
getting off the train. She got into a hansom. Just by dumb luck I was
standing near. I heard her say to cabby: “318, Bancroft Road!” Lord, was
I tickled? I kept mum.

Most of the fellows took cabs, on account of their luggage, but Goblin
and I hoofed it. Wolverhampton seems a dingy place for Kathleen to live!
Fine old church, though, and lovely market place. We kept our eyes open
for Bancroft Road, but saw no sign.

When we got to the Blue Boar, lunch was all ready for us in the coffee
room. Landlord tickled to death at our arrival. Wonderful cheddar
cheese, and archdeacon ale. We made quite a ceremony of it--all drank
Kathleen’s health, and on the stroke of two we got up from the table.

All the others beat it off immediately in different directions--looking
for Bancroft Road, I expect. I had an idea that more finesse would be
needed. I started off with the others, then pretended I had left
my pipe, and came back to the Boar. I was going to look up the town
directory, to find Kathleen’s name--knowing the address, that would be
easy. But there was Goblin doing the same thing! We both laughed and
looked it up together. The name at 318, Bancroft Road was Kent, Philip
Kent, F.S.A., Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, I suppose: the book
put him down as an “antiquarian.” Kathleen’s father, evidently.

Goblin disappeared in that noiseless way of his, and I lit a pipe and
pondered.

The fellows had been full of wild suggestions as to what they would do
when they got to 318, Bancroft Road. One was going to be a book agent
and get into the house that way. Another said he would be the grocer’s
man and make friends with the cook. Someone else suggested dressing up
as a plumber or gas-man, and going there to fix some imaginary leak.
Knowing that the Kents were not fools, I imagined it wouldn’t be long
before they’d get wise to the fact that that bunch of dreadnoughts
was picketing the house. Probably they’d put the police on them. Also,
there’s nobody harder to disguise than an English ‘varsity man. He gives
himself away at every turn. If “Fred” was around he’d be sure to smell a
rat. One of those chaps would be likely to fake himself up as a plumber,
and get in the house on some pretext or other--still wearing his
wrist-watch!

I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay away from Bancroft Road for
a while and try to pull wires from a distance:

The Blue Boar Inn--a very nice old house, by the way--looks out over
the old Wolverhampton market place. In one corner of the square I had
noticed a little post office. You can send a telegram from any post
office in England, and I thought that would be my best entering wedge.
The word “antiquarian” in the directory had given me a notion. On a
blank I composed the following message, after some revisions:


MISS KATHLEEN KENT,

318, Bancroft Road,

WOLVERHAMPTON.

My friend John Blair of Trinity now in Wolverhampton for historical
study staying at Blue Boar nice chap American may he call on you if so
send him a line sorry can’t write hurt hand playing soccer love to all.

JOE.


This was taking a long chance, but was the best move I could think of. I
asked the lady behind the counter to mark the telegram as though it
came from Oxford. She said she could not do so, but I happened to have a
five-bob piece in my pocket and that persuaded her. I convinced her that
it was a harmless joke.

I didn’t see that there was anything further to be done immediately. If
the telegram brought no word I should have to think up something else.
In the meantime, if I was to pose as an antiquarian investigator I had
better get up some dope on the history of Wolverhampton. I poked about
until I found a bookshop, where I bought a little pamphlet about the
town, and studied a map. Bancroft Road was out toward the northern
suburbs. A little talk with the bookseller brought me the information
that Mr. Kent was one of his best customers, a pleasant and
simple-minded gentleman of sixty whose only hobby was the history of the
region. He had written a book called “Memorials of Old Staffordshire,”
 but unfortunately I couldn’t get a copy. The bookseller said it was out
of print.

Then I went to have a look at St. Philip’s Church, a fine old Norman
pile with some lovely brasses and crusaders’ tombs. Here I had a piece
of luck--fell in with the vicar. One of the jolly old port-wine and
knicker-bocker sort: an old Oxford man, as it happened. I pumped him a
little about the history of the church, and in his delight at finding an
American who cared for such matters he talked freely. “Why,” he kept on
saying, with a kind of pathetic enthusiasm, “I thought all you Americans
were interested in was Standard Oil and tinned beef.” Finally he invited
me over to the vicarage for tea. As I sat by his fire and ate toasted
muffins I couldn’t help chuckling to think how different this was from
the other Scorpions’ plan of attack. They were probably all biting
their nails up and down Bancroft Road trying to carry the fort by direct
assault. It’s amazing how things turn out: just as I was wondering how
to give the conversation a twist in the right direction, the vicar said:

“If you’re really interested in the history of this region you should
certainly have a talk with old Mr. Kent. He’s our leading antiquarian,
and knows more about the Stour Valley than any one else. He says there
was a skirmish fought here in 1645 that all the books have overlooked.
The Battle of Wolverhampton, he calls it. He wrote a little pamphlet
about it once.”

I assured the good parson that my eagerness to know more about the
Battle of Wolverhampton was unbounded. I nearly spilled my tea in my
excitement.

“Is that Mr. Kent of 318, Bancroft Road?” I asked.

“Yes,” answered the vicar. “How did you know?”

“They told me about him at the bookshop.”

I explained that I was in Wolverhampton for a day or so only, and
finally the excellent man came across with the suggestion I was panting
for.

“Well,” he said, “as it happens, I have one or two calls to make in that
direction this evening. If you care to have me do so, I’ll speak to
Mr. Kent about you, and he can make an appointment. You said you were
stopping at the Blue Boar?”

I thanked him with such warmth that his eyes twinkled.

“My dear fellow,” he said, “your enthusiasm does you great credit. I
wish you all success in your thesis.”

I got back to the Boar feeling that I had done a very good afternoon’s
work indeed.



VI


The Scorpions (continues Blair’s diary) were all very merry at dinner
that night--particularly at my expense. I was the only one who had not
been out to Bancroft Road to look over the ground. Apparently they had
had a very cheery time.

“Well, Falstaff, what luck?” I asked Carter.

“Splendid!” he replied. “The local butcher has given me a job and I’m
going to call there for a meat order tomorrow morning.”

“What!” shouted someone. “On Sunday? Not likely!”

I knew mighty well that Carter would not concoct anything as crude as
that, and wondered what deviltry he had devised.

“I noticed that two telegrams were delivered at the house this
afternoon,” said Forbes, in a quiet, non-committal kind of way.

“Perhaps Joe is on his way here,” said I. “If so, Good-Night!” As I
spoke, I wondered rather anxiously what the _other_ telegram could be.

“Well, we saw her, anyway!” said Whitney, “and she’s marvellous! She
wears a blue tam-o’ shanter and has an ankle like a fairy tale. We saw
her walk down the street.”

“That’s nothing,” I retorted, “I saw her hours ago. She was on the train
with us from Birmingham this morning.”

This started a furious wrangle. They said I hadn’t played fair, as the
contest didn’t begin until two o’clock. My point was that I had not
transgressed the rules as I had done nothing to profit by my accident in
seeing her first.

“I couldn’t help seeing her, could I?” I asked. “You could have, too,
if you hadn’t been all frowsting over _Tit-Bits_ in the train. And after
all, I didn’t _know_ it was Kathleen. I only suspected it.”

I changed the conversation by asking where the Goblin was.

No one had noticed before that he hadn’t turned up. This was a bit
disconcerting. I secretly thought him the most dangerous competitor.
He has a quiet, impish twinkle in his eye, and an unobtrusive way of
getting what he wants. However, the others scoffed at my fears.

Although they all talked a great deal about the amusing time they had
had, I could not gather that they had really accomplished much. Forbes
claimed to have seen Fred, and said he looked like a rotter. We drank
Kathleen’s health a couple of times, and then the other three sat down
to dummy bridge. I slipped away to the Public Library, partly to get
some more of my antiquarian information about Wolverhampton, and partly
because I knew my absence would disquiet them.

I found the Library after some difficulty. In the large reading-room I
hunted up some books of reference, but to my disappointment Mr. Kent’s
volume was out. Looking round for a place to sit, the first person I saw
was the Goblin, bent very busily over a book and making notes on a pad
of paper. I leaned over him.

“Hello, Goblin,” I whispered. “Getting ready for a First?”

He started, and tried to cover his volume with a newspaper, but I had
seen it. It was a cook book.

“That’s a queer kind of fiction you’re mulling over,” I remarked.

“I’m looking up a recipe for stuffed eggs,” said the Goblin, without a
quiver. “Our Common Room steward does them so poorly.”

“Well, don’t let me interrupt you,” I said. I sat down in a corner of
the room with a volume of the Britannica. When I next looked up the
Goblin was gone.

As usual, I wasted my time with the encyclopedia. I got interested in
the articles on Wages, Warts, Weather, Wordsworth, and Worms. By the
time I got to Wolverhampton it was closing time. I did just seize the
information that the town was founded in 996 by Wulfruna, widow of the
Earl of Northampton. Then I had to leave.

I got back to the Boar about ten-thirty. The coffee-room was empty. The
landlord said that Whitney and Forbes were out, but that Mr. Carter had
gone upstairs.

Falstaff and I were rooming together, and when I went up I found him
reading in bed.

“Hello, Wulfruna!” he said, as I came in.

Evidently he, too, had been reading up some history. Just as I got into
bed he fell asleep and his book dropped to the floor with a thump. I
crept quietly across the room and picked it up. It was “Memorials of Old
Staffordshire,” by Philip Kent, F.S.A., the very copy that I had looked
for at the Library. I skimmed over it and then put it carefully back
by Falstaff’s bedside. Was he on the antiquarian trail, too? I began to
realize that these rivals of mine would take some beating.

The next morning (Sunday) I found a note waiting for me on the breakfast
table. Three indignant Scorpions were weighing it, studying the
handwriting, and examining the stationery like three broken-hearted
detectives.

“It’s not Kathleen’s hand, but I’ll swear it’s the same notepaper,”
 Forbes was saying.

Under a venomous gaze from all three I took the letter out of the room
before opening it. Forbes was right: it was the well-known Bancroft Road
notepaper. It ran thus:


318, BANCROFT ROAD,

WOLVERHAMPTON

Saturday Evening.

DEAR MR. BLAIR,

Mr. Dunton, the vicar of S. Philip’s, has just told me of your visit to
him. I am so glad to know that you take an antiquarian interest in this
region. Curiously enough, only this afternoon we had two wires from our
cousin Joe in Oxford, one of which mentioned your being here. That gives
us additional reason for looking forward to making your acquaintance.

Mrs. Kent wants you to come to lunch with us to-morrow, at one o’clock.
Unfortunately I myself am laid up with rheumatism, but some of the
family will be delighted to take you to see the quite surprising relics
in this vicinity. Joe has probably told you all about Fred, who
is really quite one of the family. The poor fellow needs exercise
dreadfully; you must take him with you if you go tramping. Charlie and
Oliver, my boys, are away at school.

Don’t attempt to reply to this, but just turn up at one o’clock.

Sincerely yours,

PHILIP KENT.


This gave me several reasons for thought, and disregarding the appeals
from the coffee-room to come in and tell them all about it, I walked
into the courtyard of the Inn to consider.

First, what was the _other_ wire from Joe? Heavens, was he on his way
from Oxford to Wolverhampton? If my fake telegram were discovered too
soon I should be in a very embarrassing position. Second, Joe was a
cousin, was he! One of those annoying second cousins, probably, who are
close enough to the family to be a familiar figure, and yet far enough
away in blood to marry the daughter! And then there was this sinister
person, Fred, who was “really quite one of the family.” Another cousin,
perhaps? What was the matter with the devil, anyway? If he needed
exercise why didn’t he go and get it? Certainly I didn’t want to spend
an afternoon antiquarianizing with him. How was I to get him out of the
way, so that I could get a tete-a-tete with K.?

I could see that if this game was to be played through successfully it
must be played with some daring. _Toujours de l’audace_! I thought, and
let breakfast go hang. Moreover, my sudden disappearance would help
to demoralize my rivals. I stuck my head into the breakfast-room where
Priapus was just dishing out the bacon and eggs. In that instant it
struck me again that the Goblin was not there. I cried “Ye Gods!” in a
loud voice, and slammed the door behind me. As I ran out of the front
door I laughed at the picture of their disconcerted faces.

My idea was to lure Fred away from Bancroft Road at all hazards. This
could only be done by another telegram. And as it was Sunday, the
railway station was the only place to send one from. It was a beautiful,
clear morning, and I hurried through the streets with exultation, but
also with a good deal of nervousness as to the outcome of this shameless
hoaxing. At any rate, I thought, I may as well live up to my privileges
as an irresponsible American. The Great Kathleen Excursion was beginning
to take on in my mind the character of an international joust or
tourney.

At the station (or at the depot as one would say at home), I sent the
following message:


FREDERICK KENT,

318, Bancroft Road,

WOLVERHAMPTON.

Unavoidably detained Oxford hurt leg playing soccer wish you could join
me at once urgent.

JOE.


I got back to the Boar in time for a cold breakfast. None of the others
was there. I ate with my antiquarian notes on Wolverhampton propped
against the coffee pot. I was determined that Mr. Kent should find me as
intelligent as possible.

There was nothing to be done before lunch time. I read Mr. Kent’s letter
over several times, and I must confess that the mention of that other
wire from Joe worried me a good deal. Just how far the telegram I had
just sent might conflict with the facts as known to the Kents, I could
not surmise. I could only trust to luck and pray for the best. I learned
from the chambermaid that the Goblin had come in very late the night
before, and had gone out at six A.M. That bothered me almost more than
anything else.

Finally, after hanging round the empty coffee-room for a while, I got
nervous, and determined to go to morning service at St. Philip’s. There
would be plenty of time to get out to Bancroft Road afterward, and
perhaps Kathleen would be at church and I could get a distant view of
her. I walked round to the church. Service had begun, but I went in
and sat down at the back. During a hymn I took a good look round. To
my horror I saw in a pew a few feet in front of me a young person whose
robust outline seemed familiar. I looked again. It was Falstaff Carter
in the get-up of a curate. Trembling with indignation, I crept out of
the church. I hardly dared speculate on what low device he had planned
for winning his way into the sanctum.

At any rate, I thought, I am fixed for lunch: once I get there, I
guess I can gain ground as fast as any pseudo-curate. I ran over my
antiquarian data another time.

It was half-past twelve, and I was just brushing my hair for the third
time, preparatory to starting for Bancroft Road, when the chambermaid
came to the bedroom door. “This note was just left for you, sir.” I tore
it open.


BANCROFT ROAD,

Sunday Morning.

MY DEAR MR. BLAIR,

I am afraid you will think it very strange, but, owing to a sudden
domestic disarrangement, will you come to _supper_, this evening,
instead of to luncheon? I am exceedingly embarrassed to have to make
this change, but (to be quite frank) one of our maids has been taken
ill, and our luncheon to-day will have to be a haphazard affair. We are
also rather distressed by strange news from our cousin at Oxford.

But we shall be very happy to see you at supper time, seven o’clock.

Cordially yours,

PHILIP KENT.


It came over me that this was pretty dirty work we were putting up on
the poor gentleman, and I suddenly felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. I
don’t know whether any of the others came back to the Boar for lunch, or
not. I put on my cap and went for a long walk in the country, out toward
Tettenhall Wood. I didn’t come back until tea time.



VII


As Johnny Blair approached number 318, Bancroft Road, a little before
seven o’clock that bland March evening, he bore within his hardy breast
certain delicacies, remorses, doubts, and revulsions. But all these were
transcended by his overmastering determination to see this superb and
long-worshipped maiden near at hand.

Bancroft Road proved to be a docile suburban thoroughfare, lined with
comfortable villas and double houses, each standing a little back from
the street with a small garden in front. A primrose-coloured afterglow
lingered in the sky, and the gas lights along the pavement still burned
pale and white. Just as the Rhodes Scholar passed number 302 he saw a
feminine figure run down the steps of a house fifty yards farther on,
cross the pavement, and drop a letter into the red pillar box standing
there. Even at that distance, he distinguished a lively slimness in
the girlish outline that could belong to no other than the Incomparable
Kathleen. He hastened his step, casting hesitance to the wind. But she
had already run back into the house.

It would have added to the problems Mr. Blair was pondering could he
have read the letter which had just dropped into the post-box. Perhaps
it will somewhat advance the course of the narrative to give the reader
a glimpse of it.


318, BANCROFT ROAD,

Sunday Afternoon.

DEAR JOE:

Goodness knows what has happened to this usually placid house.
Never again will I complain to you that there is no excitement in
Wolverhampton.

I got home from Birmingham yesterday noon and since then everything has
been perfectly absurd. I can only believe you have gone balmy.

First comes your wire about Mr. Blair and your having hurt your arm
playing soccer. What you can have been doing at soccer I can’t conceive.
I supposed it was a mistake for hockey, or else some kind of a twit.
Well, I couldn’t see what I could do to help a historical student but
I showed Dad the wire and the old dear said he would write Mr. Blair a
line.

I had just settled down to help Mother with some sewing when along comes
your second wire, addressed to her. Mother and I threw up our hands and
screamed! Certainly we thought you were off your crumpet. Why on earth
should you send us another cook when you know Ethel has been here for
so long? I read the wire forward and backward but it could mean nothing
else. It said: _Have found very good cook out of place am sending her
to you earnestly recommend give her a trial reliable woman but eccentric
name Eliza Thick will call Sunday morning_.

Well, we all had a good laugh over this, and wondered what kind of a
joke you were up to. Then, after supper, to our amazement, came a third
wire--not from you, this one, but to Dad, and who do you suppose from?
The Bishop of Oxford if you please! Dad was so flustered (you know how
telegrams excite him: they offend all his antiquarian instincts!)--well,
the Bishop said--_Am sending my favourite curate to call on you
magnificent young fellow excellent family very worthy chap will be in
Wolverhampton a day or two anxious to have him meet your family_.

Well, this rather flabbergasted us, but Dad took it rather as a matter
of course, after the first surprise. He used to know the Bishop well--in
fact, he dedicated his book to him. “Quite all right, my dear,” Dad kept
saying. “I dare say the young man has some antiquarian problems to talk
over. Too bad I’m so crippled with rheumatism.”

After supper along came Mr. Dunton, and began to talk about a charming
young American who had been calling on him, and who did it prove to be
but your friend Mr. Blair, who had been quite put out of our minds by
the later telegrams. So Dad sat down right away and wrote a note to Mr.
Blair at the Blue Boar asking him for luncheon to-day, and sent it up by
the gardener’s boy.

But this morning, when I had just decided not to go to church (you’ll
see why in a minute) comes your perfectly mad message to Fred, about
hurting your leg at soccer and all the rest of it. This convinced us
that you are quite crazy. How could we send Fred all that way alone! And
when did you take up soccer anyway?

But we know what a mad creature you are anyway, so we simply suspected
some deep-laid twit. Now I come to the queerest thing of all!

Ethel went out last night, for her usual Saturday evening off, and
hasn’t returned! In all the years she’s been with us, Mother says, it’s
the first time such a thing ever happened. And before breakfast this
morning, turns up this Eliza Thick person of yours, with a note from
Ethel to say that she was sick but that her friend Eliza would see us
through for a day or so. Well, you surely have a queer eye for picking
out domestics! Of all the figures of fun I ever imagined, she is the
strangest. I don’t think she’s quite right in her head. I’ll tell you
all about her when I see you. Really, I roar with laughter every time I
look at her!

I haven’t got time to say more. With this Eliza person in the kitchen
goodness knows what may happen. We had to send a note to Mr. Blair not
to come for luncheon, the house was so upset. We heard a fearful uproar
in the lower regions this afternoon and found Eliza engaged in ejecting
some kind of gas-man who said he had come to see the meter (on Sunday,
if you please!)

Everything seems quite topsy turvy. And Mr. Blair is coming to supper in
a few minutes, and that favourite curate of the Bishop’s, too. I think
I shall have to stay down in the kitchen to see that Eliza Thick gets
through with it all right. I can forgive you almost anything except her!

Never, never say again that nothing happens in Bancroft Road!

Yours,

KATHLEEN.



VIII


A ruddy-cheeked housemaid in the correct evening uniform admitted Blair,
and in the drawing-room he found Mr. Kent sitting by a shining fire.
Points of light twinkled in the polished balls of the brass andirons. As
soon as he entered, Blair felt the comely atmosphere of a charming and
well-ordered home. Books lined the walls; a French window opened on to
the lawn at the far end of the room; a large bowl of blue hyacinths,
growing in a bed of pebbles, stood on the reading table. Mr. Kent was
small, gray-haired, with a clear pink complexion and a guileless blue
eye.

“Mr. Blair,” he said, laying down his paper, “I am very glad to meet
you. A friend of Joe’s is always welcome here, and particularly when
he’s an antiquarian. I know you’ll excuse our seeming rudeness in
putting you off at luncheon.”

Blair bowed, and made some polite reply.

“As a matter of fact,” said Mr. Kent, “my wife was embarrassed this
morning by strange happenings in the domestic department. Our cook,
usually very faithful, did not turn up, and sent a substitute who has
caused her--well, mingled annoyance and amusement. I have not seen the
woman myself: my rheumatism has kept me pretty close to the fire this
damp weather; but by all accounts the creature is very extraordinary.
Well, well, you are not interested in that, of course. It is very
pleasant to meet a fellow antiquarian. How did you happen to visit
Wolverhampton? We have a number of quite unusual relics in these parts,
but they are not so well known as they should be.”

“To tell the truth, sir,” said Blair, “it was your book, which I came
across in the college library. I was particularly interested in your
account of St. Philip’s Church, and I made up my mind that I ought to
see it. You see, we in America have so little antiquity of our own that
these relics of old England are peculiarly fascinating to us.”

“Quite so, quite so!” said Mr. Kent, rubbing his hands with pleasure.
“Magnificent! Well, well, it is certainly a delight to hear you say so.
After supper we will dismiss the ladies and have a good crack. There
are some really startling things to be learned about Wolverhampton in
Anglo-Saxon times. You know the town lay along the frontier that was
much harried by the Danes, and Edward the Elder won a conspicuous
victory over the invaders at Tettenhall, which is a village very near
here.”

“Yes,” said Blair, “I walked out there this afternoon.”

“Did you, indeed! Well, that was a proof of your perspicacity. You may
recall that in my book I referred to the battle at Tettenhall--”

“That was in 910, was it not?” queried Blair, adroitly.

“Precisely. It is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.”

“Edward the Elder died in 924, didn’t he?” asked the ruthless American.

“About that time, I think. I don’t remember exactly. Upon my word, Mr.
Blair, you have taken up history with true American efficiency! I do
wish that our young men had the same zeal. I am happy to say, however,
that I am expecting a young cleric this evening, a protege of the Bishop
of Oxford, who is, I believe, also interested in these matters.”

Blair’s heart sank, but he had no time to ponder, for at this moment
Mrs. Kent and Kathleen came in.

“My dear, this is Mr. Blair, Joe’s friend from Oxford. We are great
cronies already. My wife, Mr. Blair, and my daughter Kathleen.”

The young Oxonian suffered one of the most severe heart contusions
known in the history of the human race. It was a positive vertigo of
admiration. This was indeed the creature he had seen on the railway
platform: a dazzling blend of girl and woman. The grotesque appellation
“flapper” fled from his mind. Her thick, dark hair was drawn smoothly
across her head and piled at the back in a heavenly coil. Her clear gray
eyes, under rich brown brows, were cool, laughing, and self-possessed.
She was that most adorable of creatures, the tweenie, between girl and
woman, with the magic of both and the weaknesses of neither. Blair
could not have said how she was dressed. He saw only the arch face, the
intoxicating clearness of her skin, the steady, friendly gaze.

“How do you do,” he said, and remembering English reticence, hesitated
to put out his hand; then cursed himself for not having done so.

Kathleen smiled, and murmured, “How do you do.”

“I’m very glad to see you,” said Mrs. Kent. “Do tell us what that crazy
Joe has been up to. Did Mr. Kent tell you we’ve had three telegrams from
her?”

Blair felt the room twirl under his feet. How one little pronoun can
destroy a man! In his agony he saw Mrs. Kent and Kathleen sit down on
the big couch, and painfully found his way to a chair.

“I--I beg your pardon?” he stammered. “I didn’t just catch--”

“The mad girl has sent us three telegrams,” said Mrs. Kent, “in which
there was only one sensible thing, the reference to yourself. Her other
remarks, about cooks and soccer and injured limbs, were quite over our
heads.”

With a dull sense of pain Blair felt Kathleen’s bright eyes on him.

“Yes, Mr. Blair, is she ragging us? Or have the girls at Maggie Hall
taken up soccer?” said a clear voice, every syllable of which seemed so
precious and girlish and quaintly English that he could have clapped his
hands.

He blessed her for the clue. “Maggie Hall!”--in other words, Lady
Margaret Hall, one of the women’s colleges at Oxford. So “Joe” was (in
American parlance) a “co-ed!”

“Why--er--I believe they _have_ been playing a little,” he said
desperately. “I think he--er--something was said about having
his--hum--her--arm--hurt in a rough game.”

“Her leg, too,” said Mr. Kent. “In my time, young girls didn’t send
telegrams about their legs. In fact, they didn’t send telegrams at all.”

“Well, we are quite nonplussed,” said Mrs. Kent. “Kathleen says Joe must
have had a rush of humour to the head. She wired for us to send Fred
down to her. Of course she has sent wires to Fred before, as a joke; but
she must have known we couldn’t send him so far alone. I suppose Joe has
told you all about Fred? He’s quite one of the family.”

“Yes,” said the distracted Oxonian. “He must be a fine fellow. I’m very
anxious to meet him.”

There was a ring at the front door bell, and in a kind of stupor Blair
realized that something--he hardly knew what--was about to happen.

“The Reverend Mr. Carter,” announced the maid.

Blair had a keen desire to scream, but he kept his eyes firmly on the
rug until he had mastered himself. In the general movement that followed
he had presence of mind enough to seize a chair next to Kathleen. He
saw Falstaff’s burly figure enter, habited as the conventional “black
beetle” of the church, and in the sharpened state of his wits noticed
that the unpractised curate had put on his clerical collar the wrong
way round. He rejoiced in Carter’s look of dismay on finding his
fellow-Scorpion already on the battlefield.

“Mr. Carter,” said Mr. Kent, “this is Mr. Blair, of Trinity.”

The two shook hands gravely.

Blair determined to make use of his hard-won information to set Carter
astray.

“I know Mr. Carter by reputation,” he said. “I have heard Joe speak of
him in terms of great admiration.”

The curate looked worried, but tried to play safe.

“Oh, yes, Joe!” he said. “Splendid chap.”

Blair made haste to get back to the chair he coveted. He had no idea
what mad schemes might lurk beneath Carter’s episcopalian frock, and was
determined to gain any headway he could.

“It seems funny your coming to Wolverhampton,” said Kathleen. “So few
‘varsity men ever get here. But it’s certainly a blessing for Dad. He’ll
talk antiquities with you as long as you like.”

“Are you interested in the subject?” asked Blair.

“I’m afraid not,” she laughed. “It’s too bad Dad is so laid up with his
lumbago. He’d love to walk you out to Tettenhall and Boscobel, to see
his burial mounds.”

“How very interesting!” said Blair. “A kind of private family cemetery?”

“Oh, dear no,” declared Kathleen in amazement. “Antiquities, you know,
where the Danes buried themselves.”

“Of course, of course. How I wish I could see them! Are you fond of
walking?”

“Yes, when it isn’t too muddy. It’s been too wet lately to go out with
Fred. He loves a good long walk, but he’s getting old and his rheumatism
bothers him.”

“I dare say he may have inherited that from your father?”

“It’s very common among Scotties,” said Kathleen.

“Oh, is your family Scotch?” said Blair, feverishly trying to be polite.

“Our family?” queried Kathleen with a smile. “Heavens, no! I thought you
were talking about Fred. You must see him, he’s somewhere around.”

“I should love to meet him,” said Blair.

Kathleen went to the door and whistled. There was a scampering on the
stairs, and a grizzled Skye terrier trotted into the room. Blair and
Carter looked at each other sheepishly.

Mr. Kent had been referring to his watch several times, and Blair began
to suspect that something was wrong. But just then supper was announced.
As they passed into the dining-room, the American thought he noticed
signs of agitation on the maid’s face. He wondered secretly what the
rest of the Scorpions were up to.



IX


“Come, Mr. Blair,” said Mrs. Kent; “you sit there, next to Mr. Kent,
where you can talk about archaeology. Mr. Carter tells me he knows
nothing about such subjects, so he will have to amuse Kathleen and me.”

“What errand brings you to Wolverhampton, Mr. Carter?” inquired Blair,
thinking to unmask his opponent’s weapons as quickly as possible.

Carter was a little staggered by this, but his effrontery was up to the
test.

“The Bishop sent me down,” he said, “to look over the surrounding
parishes with a view to establishing a chapel in the suburbs.”

“How very interesting!” exclaimed Mr. Kent. “But surely this does not
lie in the Oxford diocese?”

“Quite true,” said Carter. “The Bishop had to get special permission
from Parliament. An old statute of the fourteenth century, I believe.”

“Indeed! Indeed!” cried Mr. Kent. “How absorbing! My dear Mr. Carter,
you must tell me more about that. I take it you are something of a
historical student, after all.”

“I’m afraid not, sir,” replied Carter. “My studies in divinity have been
too exacting to leave much opportunity--”

“You must not believe Mr. Carter’s disclaimers,” said Blair. “I have
heard of his papers before the Oxford Historical Society. He has a very
sound antiquarian instinct. I think you would find his ideas of great
interest.”

“We were speaking of the battle with the Danes at Tettenhall,” observed
Mr. Kent, turning to Blair. “I think that if Kathleen could arrange to
take you out there you would find the burial mounds of unusual interest.
My dear, could you walk out there with Mr. Blair to-morrow morning?”

Kathleen assented, but Blair noticed that she was not eating her soup.
He also noticed that the maid, in the background, was seized with
occasional spasms, which he was at a loss to interpret.

“Did I hear you say Tettenhall?” ventured Carter. “That is the very
place the Bishop mentioned to me. He was particularly anxious that I
should go there.”

“You must come with us, by all means,” said Kathleen.

“Bravo,” said Mr. Kent, beaming genially upon the young people. “I wish
I could go with you. You know they say Wulfruna, the widow of the Earl
of Northampton, who founded Wolverhampton, had a kind of summer place
once near Tettenhall, and I claim to have located--By the way, my dear,
what do you suppose has happened to this soup?”

“I think that Eliza Thick has a heavy hand with the condiments,” said
Mrs. Kent. “You may take it away now, Mary.”

“As I recall, Wulfruna founded the town about 996,” observed Blair. “I
presume it takes its name from her?”

“Exactly--Wulfruna-hampton. Really, Mr. Blair, your historical knowledge
does you honour. I had no idea that Americans were such keen students of
the past.”

Blair began to think that he had overplayed his hand, for he noticed
that Falstaff was getting in some private conversation with Kathleen. He
attempted to catch her eye to ask a question, but Mr. Kent was now well
launched on his hobby.

“Wulfruna was descended from Ethelhild, who was a granddaughter of
Alfred the Great. You recall that the Etheling Ethelwold, the son
of Alfred’s brother Ethelred, took sides with the Danes. To stem the
invasion, Edward and his sister Ethelfled--”

“Ethel fled, that’s just the trouble,” interposed Mrs. Kent. “Kathleen,
my dear, do run downstairs and see what’s wrong in the kitchen. I’m
afraid Eliza is in difficulties again. Mr. Blair, you and Mr. Carter
must excuse this irregularity. Our substitute cook is a very strange
person.”

Kathleen left the room, and it seemed to Blair as though the sparkle had
fled from the glasses, the gleam of candlelight from the silver. Across
the cloth he had watched her--girlish, debonair, and with a secret
laughter lurking in her eyes. And yet he had not had a chance to
exchange half a dozen sentences with her.

The maid reentered, whispered something to Mrs. Kent, and began to place
the dishes for the next course.

“Kathleen begs to be excused,” said Mrs. Kent. “She thinks she had
better stay in the kitchen to help Eliza.”

“Oh, I say,” cried the curate. “That’s too bad. Do you think I could
help, Mrs. Kent? I’m a very good cook. The Bishop himself has praised
my--er--my--”

“Your what?” asked Blair.

“My ham and eggs,” retorted the cleric.

“Perhaps you will let me wash the dishes,” suggested Blair. “I should
be only too happy to assist. I feel very embarrassed at having intruded
upon you at so inconvenient a time.”

“I should not dream of such a thing,” said Mrs. Kent. “I believe that
Eliza is perfectly capable, but as Joe said, she is eccentric.”

“I am quite accustomed to washing dishes,” said Carter. “In fact, the
Bishop always used to ask me to do it for him.”

“Dear me,” remarked Mr. Kent, “surely the Bishop has plenty of servants
to help in such matters?”

Blair applied himself to the food on his plate to which he had helped
himself almost unconsciously. He well knew the daring hardihood of
his rival, and feared that the other might find some excuse to follow
Kathleen to the kitchen. As he raised his fork to his lips, suddenly his
hand halted. The dish was stuffed eggs. His mind reverted to the Public
Library the evening before. Was it possible that the Goblin--?

He determined that the first thing to be done was to get Carter so
firmly engaged with Mr. Kent that the wolf in cleric’s clothing could
not withdraw. Then perhaps he himself could frame some excuse for seeing
what was going on downstairs.

“Mr. Kent,” he said, “you should draw out Mr. Carter concerning his
views on amending the liturgy of the Established Church. He has some
very advanced ideas on that subject which have attracted much attention
at Oxford. One of his interesting suggestions is that radical churchmen
should wear the clerical collar back side foremost, as a kind of symbol
of their inverted opinions.”

The wretched Carter’s hand flew to his neck, and he glared across the
table in a very unecclesiastical manner.

“Really!” said Mr. Kent, “that is most interesting. I had noticed his
modification of the customary dress. In what other ways, Mr. Carter,
would you amend the ritual?”

The unfortunate curate was caught.

“Er--hum--well--that is, the Bishop and I both think that the service is
too long,” he faltered. “I am in favour of omitting the sermon.”

“Hear, hear!” cried Mr. Kent. “It is most refreshing to hear a high
churchman make such a confession. And what else do you propose?”

“Why--ah--hum--it has always seemed to me that the--thirty-nine articles
might--well--be somewhat condensed.”

“Bravo indeed, though I fear the Bishop would balk at that,” said his
host.

The maid, appearing in the dining-room again, whispered to Mrs. Kent.

“Philip,” said the latter, “that gas-man is here again, and says he
_must_ see the meter. He claims that there is a dangerous leak which
should be fixed at once. Perhaps I had better go down to the cellar with
him. Your rheumatism--”

“My dear Mrs. Kent,” cried the curate, seeing his chance; “do nothing of
the sort. It is the privilege of my cloth to take precedence when there
is danger of any kind. If any one should be overcome by fumes, the
consolations of the church may be needed.” And without waiting for
another word, he leaped up and ran from the room.

Blair fidgeted in his chair, seeing himself outwitted, but there was
nothing he could do.

“Pray go on with your supper, Mr. Blair,” urged Kent. “You must overlook
anything that seems strange this evening. Everything seems to be
widdershins. Perhaps because it is St. Patrick’s Day. I do believe that
woman in the kitchen is at the bottom of it all. These stuffed eggs are
positively uneatable! If I were not crippled with this lumbago I would
go down and fire her out of the house.”

“Let me do it for you!” cried Blair, half rising from his seat.

“Nonsense! I’m not going to sacrifice our good talk on antiquities so
easily. I want very much to tell you about the Battle of Wolverhampton.
The town was strongly loyalist in the great rebellion; in fact, in 1645
it was the headquarters of Prince Rupert, while Charles the First is
said to have stopped at the Blue Boar for a drink--”

At this moment came a ring at the front door, and Mr. Kent stopped to
listen. They heard a male voice mumbling to the maid, who then came to
her mistress to report.

“There’s a policeman out here, ma’am, to see Mr. Kent.”

“A policeman?” queried the antiquarian. “What next, I wonder? Well,
supper is suspended, send him in.”

And to Blair’s dismay the gigantic form of Whitney, the Iron Duke,
crossed the threshold, in the correct uniform of the Wolverhampton
police force.

If Blair was dismayed, the counterfeit policeman was no less disgusted
to see his fellow Scorpion sitting at the dinner table, but they gazed
at each other without any sign of recognition.

“Begging your pardon for interrupting, sir, but the chief sent me around
for a word with you. There’s been a gang o’ sneak thieves operating
‘round ‘ere, sir, and some of ‘em ‘as been getting admittance to ‘ouses
by passin’ themselves off as gas inspectors, sir.”

Mrs. Kent screamed.

“I ‘ad a notion that one o’ these birds is along Bancroft Road to-night,
sir, an’ I wanted to warn you. Don’t let the maid admit any tradesmen or
agents from the gas company unless they ‘as the proper badges, sir.”

“Heavens, Philip!” cried Mrs. Kent. “That dreadful man is downstairs
now! Eliza threw him out once this afternoon, but he’s here again. He
may have murdered Mr. Carter by this time. Oh, inspector, do hurry
down at once and see what’s happened! There’s a defenceless high-church
curate in the cellar with him. Mary, show the way downstairs.”

Blair poured out a glass of water for Mrs. Kent.

“Don’t you think I had better go down, too?” he asked.

“Oh, please don’t go!” begged Mrs. Kent, faintly. “Stay here, in case he
should escape upstairs. I believe we shall all be murdered in our beds!”

“Come, come,” said Mr. Kent. “We mustn’t let all this spoil Mr. Blair’s
supper. Have another glass of wine. The policeman will attend to the
gas-man. We don’t often get a chance to talk to a genuine antiquarian.
I think, Mr. Blair, that you will be greatly interested in the
architectural restoration of our parish church. It exemplifies the worst
excesses of the mid-Victorian period. The church itself is one of the
finest examples of the cruciform type. The south transept dates from the
thirteenth century; the nave, clerestory, and north transept from the
fifth. The chancel was restored in 1865, but I must confess that the
treatment of the clerestory seems to me barbarous. Now what are your own
ideas as to the proper treatment of a clerestory?”

The wretched American was non-plussed. He had a shrewd suspicion that
matters were moving rapidly downstairs yet he did not see any way of
leaving the dining-room to investigate for himself. He had hardly heard
what was said.

“Why--ah--to tell you the truth, Mr. Kent, I read very little fiction
nowadays. I’m rather worried about that gas-man downstairs. Do you
suppose your daughter can be in any danger? There might be some sort of
explosion--don’t you think I had better run down to see if I can help?”

As they sat listening Kathleen’s voice was heard from the kitchen,
raised in clear and angry tones.

Blair could contain himself no longer. With an inarticulate apology he
hurried out of the room, leaving the puzzled antiquarian and his wife
alone at the supper table.



X


The Rhodes Scholar was correct in having feared the Goblin as a
dangerous competitor in the quest of the Grail. King, as we have
intimated before, was a quaint-minded and ingenious person, modest in
stature but with a twinkling and roving eye. He was one of the leading
spirits of the OUDS, known in full as the Oxford University Dramatic
Society, and his ability to portray females of the lower classes had
been the delight of more than one Shakespearean rendering. No one who
saw him as Juliet’s nurse in a certain private theatrical performance in
the hall of New College can recall the occasion without chuckles.

When the Goblin left the Blue Boar on Saturday afternoon he also made
his way out to Bancroft Road; but instead of patrolling the main street
in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of Kathleen (as did Falstaff,
Priapus, and the Iron Duke), he hunted out the hinder regions of the
district. In accordance with a plan he had concocted before leaving
Oxford, he carried a little portfolio of “art subjects,” of the kind
dear to domestic servants, and with this in hand he approached the door
of the basement back kitchen, where Ethel the cook and her assistant,
Mary, the housemaid, were having a mid-afternoon cup of tea. The
windings of the humbler lanes of service, behind the Bancroft Road
houses, were the proper causeway for tradesmen, and it was easy for him
to reach the back garden gate unseen by those in front.

He knocked respectfully at the kitchen door, and Mary came to answer.

“Good day, Miss,” said the supposed pedlar. “I ‘ave some very pretty
pictures ‘ere which I wish you would let me show you.”

Mary was a simple-minded creature, but she knew that her mistress had
strict rules about pedlars.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but Missus don’t let no pedlars in the house.”

“If you please, Miss,” said the artful Goblin, “I am no pedlar, but
representing a very respectable photographer, and I would like to show
you some photographs in the ‘ope of getting your order. I ‘ave taken
a number of orders at the nicest ‘ouses along Bancroft Road. I thought
maybe you would like to ‘ave a photo of yourself taken, to send to your
young man.” And he opened his case, exhibiting a sheaf of appropriate
photos.

It was a slender chance, but the pedlar had a wheedling eye and a
genteel demeanour, and Mary hesitated. She called the cook, a stout,
middle-aged person, who came to the door to see what was up. The pedlar
rapidly showed the best items of his collection, which he had selected
with great care in a photographer’s studio in Oxford. Fate hung in the
scales, but the two servants could not resist temptation. They knew that
Mrs. Kent and Miss Kathleen were upstairs sewing; and the master was
confined to his study with his rheumatism. They invited the photographer
into the kitchen.

It is a psychological fact well known to housekeepers that there is a
vacant hour in the middle of the afternoon when Satan sometimes finds
a joint in the protective armour of the domestic servant. After the
luncheon dishes are washed and put away, and before five-o’clock tea
and toast are served, cook and housemaid enjoy a period of philosophic
contemplation or siesta. Even in the most docile and kitchen-broken
breast thoughts of roses and romance may linger; dreams of moving
pictures or the coming cotillion of the Icemen’s Social Harmony. Usually
this critical time is whiled away by the fiction of Nat Gould or Bertha
Clay or Harold Bell Wright. And close observers of kitchen comedy will
have noted that it is always at this fallow hour of the afternoon that
pedlars and other satanic emissaries sharpen their arrows and ply their
most plausible seductions.

The Goblin has never admitted just what honeyed sophistries he employed
to win the hearts of the simple pair in Mrs. Kent’s kitchen. But the
facts may be briefly stated by the chronicler. After getting them
interested in his photos he confessed frankly that he was an old friend
of the family from Oxford. He said that he and Miss Kathleen were
planning an innocent practical joke on the family, and asked if he could
take the place of one of the servants for that Sunday. He made plain
that his share in the joke must not be revealed to any one. And then
he played his trump card by showing them the text of the bogus telegram
recommending Miss Eliza Thick, which he had dispatched from a branch
postal office on his way through the town.

“And is Miss Josephine in the joke, too?” inquired the cook.

This question startled the Goblin, but he kept his composure and
affirmed that he and Miss Josephine had concocted the telegram jointly
in Oxford. And by a little adroit pumping he learned “Joe’s” status
in the family. The cook, Ethel, admitted that she was to go out that
evening for her Saturday night off. At last the Goblin, by desperate
cunning and the exhibition of two golden sovereigns, completely won the
hearts of the maids. While they were talking the door-bell rang, and
Mary, returning from the upper regions, announced that it was “another
telegram from Miss Joe. Missus and Miss Kathleen laughed fit to kill
when they read it,” she said.

“You see?” said the Goblin. “That’s the same telegram I just showed you.
It’s all right; it’s a joke. You don’t need to worry, cook. Mrs. Kent
won’t be angry with you. You let me take your place for to-morrow, and
write a little note saying you’re ill and that your friend Eliza Thick
will do your work for the day.”

It was arranged that the Goblin should meet Ethel at her home that night
to borrow some clothes. The cook showed him the menu for Sunday that
Mrs. Kent had sent down. This rather daunted the candidate for kitchen
honours, but he copied it in his notebook for intensive study. Then,
as it was close upon tea-time, he packed up the photos, distributed his
largesse, and retired. Mary, the housemaid, promised to stand by him in
the coming ordeal. Both the servants felt secretly flattered that they
should be included in the hoax. The kitchen classes in England have
great reverence for young ‘varsity men.

The Goblin was a canny man, and he had brought with him a wig and
certain other properties. He hunted out a little tea shop, where he
meditated over three cups of pekoe and hot buttered toast. Then he
made his way to the Public Library, where he spent several hours over
a cook-book. He was complimenting himself on having shaken the other
Scorpions off his trail when Blair looked over his shoulder and caught
a glimpse of the stuffed-eggs recipe to which the Goblin was addressing
himself for the fourth time. The meeting was embarrassing, but it could
not be helped. After Blair had left him, the cook-to-be returned to his
memoranda.

Mrs. Kent trusted many things to Ethel’s judgment, and her instructions
as jotted down on a slip of paper included three possibilities. “_Eggs,
stuffed, devilled, or farci_,” she had written, and the Goblin was
endeavouring to decide which of these presented the least distressing
responsibility. He was a student of mathematics, and had attempted to
reduce the problem to a logical syllabus. He read over his memoranda:


  THEOREM: STUFFED EGGS.

  _Data_: six hard, boiled-eggs (20 minutes).

  (a) Cut eggs in halves lengthwise.
  (b) Remove yolks, and put whites aside in pairs.
  (c) Mash yolks, and add
      (1) Half the amount of devilled ham.
      (2) Enough melted butter to make of consistency to shape.
          (“Half _what_ amount of devilled ham?” thought the
          Goblin. “And where does the devilled ham come from? How
          does one devil a ham? What a pity Henry James never
          wrote a cook-book! It would have been lucid compared to
          this. _To make of consistency to shape_--what on earth
          does that mean?”)
  (d) Clean and chop two chickens’ livers, sprinkle with onion
  juice, and saute in butter--(“No!” he cried, “that’s _eggs
  farci_. Wrong theorem!”)

  (d) Make in balls (“Make _what_ in balls?”) size of original
  yolks (“Note: remember to measure original yolks before cutting
  them lengthwise”).
  (e) Refill whites (“Let’s see, what did I fill ‘em with
  before?”)
  (f) Form remainder of mixture into a nest. (“That’s a nice
  little homely touch.”)
  (g) Arrange eggs in the nest and
      (1) Pour over one cup White Sauce.
          (“Memo: See p. 266 for White Sauce.”)
      (2) Sprinkle with buttered crumbs.
          (“Allow plenty of time for buttering those crumbs;
          that sounds rather ticklish work.”)
      (3) Bake until crumbs are brown.
  (h) Garnish with a border of toast points and a wreath of
  parsley.

  Q. E. D.


“Integral calculus is a treat compared to this,” he said to himself
as he reviewed the problem. “I hope they have plenty of parsley in the
house. That nest may need a little protecting foliage. I don’t see how
I can make any kind of proper asylum for those homeless, wandering eggs
out of that mess.” So saying, he left the library to call upon Ethel at
her home and complete his disguise.



XI


Mrs. Kent was a deal puzzled by the bearing and accoutrements of her
substitute cook. Eliza Thick appeared on the premises about seven
o’clock, and with the aid of the housemaid breakfast went through fairly
smoothly. It was Kathleen’s query about the coffee that elicited the
truth. Mary, with nervous gigglings, announced to her mistress
that Ethel was ill and had sent a substitute. The coincidence that
Josephine’s nominee should turn out to be a friend of Ethel struck
Mrs. Kent as strange, and presently she went down to interview the new
kitcheneer.

Eliza Thick, a medium-sized but rather powerfully fashioned female,
generously busted and well furnished with rich brown hair, was washing
the dishes. She curtseyed respectfully as Mrs. Kent entered the kitchen.

“Good morning,” said Mrs. Kent. “You are Eliza Thick?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You brought a note from Ethel?”

“Yes, ma’am;” and fumbling in an opulent bosom, Eliza drew forth a
crumpled scrap of paper.

“I had a telegram from my niece in Oxford recommending you. How did she
know of you?”

“I worked at Lady Marg’ret ‘All, ma’am, where the young lady is
studyin’.”

“Why did you leave your place there?”

“If you please, ma’am, my dishes was so tasty that it made the young
ladies discontented when they got ‘ome. Their parents complained that
it gave ‘em too ‘igh ideas about wittles. The principal said I was
pamperin’ ‘em too much, an’ offered to release me.”

Mary, who was listening, gave a loud snort of laughter, which she tried
to conceal by rattling some plates.

“Well, Eliza,” said Mrs. Kent, “that will do. You must get on with the
work as best you can. Judging by the coffee this morning, I don’t think
your cooking will have the same effect on us that it did on the students
at Lady Margaret Hall. We were expecting a guest for lunch but I will
have to put him off until supper. I have written out the menu for the
day. Mary will give you any help she can.”

“If you please, ma’am?” said Eliza.

“Yes?”

“Cook gave me a message for Miss Kathleen, ma’am, which she asked me to
deliver in person.”

“A message for Miss Kathleen?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, you can tell me, I will tell Miss Kathleen.”

“Cook said I was to give it to her personally,” said the persistent
Eliza.

“How very extraordinary,” said Mrs. Kent. “What did you say was the
matter with Ethel--is it anything contagious?”

“Oh, no, ma’am, I think it’s just a touch of--of nervous debility,
ma’am--too many white corpuscles, ma’am.”

“Well, I don’t think Miss Kathleen can come down now, Eliza; we have
just had a very strange telegram which has rather upset us.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The new cook sat down to peel potatoes and study the mechanics of
Kitchencraft. She found much to baffle her in the array of pots and
pans, and in the workings of the range. From a cupboard she took out
mince-meat choppers, potato mashers, cream whippers, egg-beaters, and
other utensils, gazing at them in total ignorance of their functions.
Mrs. Kent had indicated jugged hare and mashed potatoes for lunch, and
after some scrutiny of the problem Eliza found a hammer in the cabinet
with which she began to belabour the vegetables. Mary, who might have
suggested boiling the potatoes first, was then upstairs.

By and by Kathleen heard the thumping, and came into the kitchen to
investigate.

“Good morning, Eliza.”

“Good morning, Miss,” said the delighted cook. “Oh, I _am_ so happy to
see you, Miss!”

“Thank you, Eliza. Did you have a message for me from Ethel?”

“Yes, Miss. Er--Ethel said she hoped you’d give me all the help you can,
Miss, because--er, you see, Miss, cooking for a private family is very
different from working in a college where there are so many, Miss.”

“I see. Well--what on earth are you doing to those potatoes, Eliza?”

“Mashing ‘em, Miss.”

“What, with a _hammer_!”

“I washed the ‘ammer, Miss.”

“Surely you didn’t mash them that way at Maggie Hall, Eliza?”

“Yes, miss. The young ladies got so they couldn’t abide them done any
other way.”

Kathleen looked more closely, and examined the badly bruised tubers.
“Good gracious,” she exclaimed, with a ripple of laughter. “They haven’t
been cooked yet!”

Eliza was rather taken aback.

“Well, you see, Miss,” she said, “at the college we used nothing but
fireless cookers, and I don’t understand these old-fashioned stoves very
well. I wanted to get you to explain it to me.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” said Kathleen. “This is the oven, and when you
want to bake anything--_Phew_!” she cried, opening the oven door, “what
_have_ you got in here?”

She took a cloth, and lifted out of the oven a tall china pitcher with a
strange-looking object protruding from it.

Eliza was panic stricken, and for an instant forgot her role.

“My God! I put the hare in there and forgot all about it. What a bally
sell!”

Kathleen removed the hideous thing, hardly knowing whether to laugh or
cry.

“Look here, Eliza,” she said. “They may jug hares that way at Maggie
Hall, but I doubt it. Now, what _can_ you cook? We’ve got guests coming
to-night. A gentleman from America is going to be here and we must put
our best foot forward.”

Eliza’s face was a study in painful emotion.

“Excuse me, Miss,” she said, “but is that American gentleman called Mr.
Blair?”

“Yes,” said Kathleen. “Really, Eliza, you are most extraordinary. How
did you know?”

“I’ve heard of him,” said Eliza. “I think I ought to warn you against
him, miss. He’s--he’s a counterfeiter.”

“Nonsense, Eliza. What notions you do have! He’s an antiquarian, and
he’s coming to see my father about archaeology. He’s a friend of Miss
Josephine, from Oxford. Now I think you’d better get on with your
cooking and not worry about counterfeiters.”

“Miss Kathleen,” said Eliza, “I think I’d better be frank with you. I
want to tell you--”

Here Mary came into the kitchen, and although Eliza Thick made frantic
gestures to her to keep away, the housemaid was too dense to understand.
The opportunity for confession was lost.

“Now, Eliza,” said Kathleen, “Mary will help you in anything you’re not
certain about. I’ll come down again later to see how you’re getting on.”

By supper time that night Eliza Thick began to think that perhaps she
had made a tactical error by interning herself in the kitchen where
there was but small opportunity for a tete-a-tete with the bewitching
Kathleen. The news that Blair was coming to the evening meal was highly
disconcerting, and the worried cook even contemplated the possibility
of doctoring the American’s plate of soup with ratsbane or hemlock. Once
during the afternoon she ventured a sally upstairs (carrying a scuttle
of coal as a pretext) in the vague hope of finding Kathleen somewhere
about the house. Unfortunately she met Mrs. Kent on the stairs, who
promptly ordered her back to her proper domain. Here Eliza found a
disreputable-looking person trying to cozen Mary into admitting him to
the house. He claimed to be an agent of the gas company, in search of
a rumoured leak. Eliza immediately spotted Priapus, and indignantly
ejected him by force of arms. In the scuffle a dish pan and several
chairs were overturned. Mary, whose nerves were rather unstrung by the
sustained comedy she was witnessing, uttered an obbligato of piercing
yelps which soon brought Kathleen to the scene. Eliza received a severe
rating, and so admired the angry sparkle in Kathleen’s eyes that she
could hardly retort.

“One other thing, Eliza,” said Kathleen, in conclusion. “There are to be
two guests at supper. Mr. Carter, a curate from Oxford, is coming, too.
Please allow for him in your preparations.”

“If you please, Miss,” cried the much-goaded cook, “is that Mr. Stephen
Carter?”

“I believe it is,” said Kathleen, “but what of it? Is he a
counterfeiter, too?”

“Miss Kathleen, I know you think it strange, but I must warn you against
that curate. Dear Miss Kathleen, he is dangerous. He is not what he
seems.”

“Eliza, you forget yourself,” said Kathleen, severely. “Mr. Carter
comes with an introduction from the Bishop of Oxford. I hope that is
satisfactory to you! In any case, we do not need your approval for our
list of guests. Mrs. Kent wants you to take great care with the stuffed
eggs. Those mashed potatoes made her quite ill.”

“Please, Miss, I’m dreadful worried about those eggs. The book says
to make a nest for ‘em, and truly I don’t know how to go about it. The
young ladies at college never ate their eggs in nests, miss. And when I
gets nervous I can’t do myself justice, Miss. I never can remember which
is the yolks and which is the whites, miss.”

“Now, that will do, Eliza,” said Kathleen. “You are a very eccentric
creature, but I don’t think you are as stupid as all that. What do
you want? Do you expect me to come down here and oversee all your
preparations?”

“Oh, if you only would, Miss, it would be _so_ gratifying!”

Kathleen laughed, a girlish bubbling of pure mirth, which was dreadful
torment to the jealous masquerader. She departed, leaving the cook a
prey to savage resolve. “Well,” thought Eliza, “if the supper is bad
enough I guess she’ll just _have_ to come down and help me. Thank
goodness Blair and Carter are _both_ coming; they’ll cut each other’s
throats, and perhaps the stuffed eggs will win after all. As for that
gas-man, he won’t get into this house unless it’s over my dead body!”



XII


It was a feverish and excited Eliza that Kathleen found in the kitchen
when she tripped downstairs after the soup course. On a large platter
the cook had built a kind of untidy thicket of parsley and chopped
celery, eked out with lettuce leaves. Ambushed in this were lurking
a number of very pallid and bluish-looking eggs, with a nondescript
stuffing bulging out of them.

“I forgot to measure the yolks, Miss,” wailed Eliza. “That’s why the
stuffing don’t fit. Shall I throw a dash of rum on board to stiffen ‘em
up?”

In spite of her vexation, Kathleen could not help laughing. “No, no,”
 she said. “We’ll tidy up the nest a bit and send them upstairs.”

“That’s grand,” said Eliza, watching Kathleen’s quick fingers. “‘Tis
a beautiful comely hand you have, miss, one that it’s a pleasure to
admire.”

“Now, Eliza,” said Kathleen, “you must not shout up the dumb waiter so.
I distinctly heard you cry out ‘_This plate’s for the parson_!’ as you
sent up one of the dishes of soup.”

“If you please, Miss,” said Eliza. “That was because it was the plate I
spilled a spoonful of pepper into, and I thought it had better go to the
cloth than anywhere else. Miss Kathleen, I have something very urgent to
say to you before them two counterfeiters upstairs commit any affidavits
or sworn statements.”

“You dish out the eggs, Eliza,” said Kathleen, “and I’ll send them up
the dumb waiter. Quick, now! And where’s your dessert? Is it ready?”

“All doing finely, Miss,” answered Eliza, but as she opened the oven
door her assurance collapsed. She drew out a cottage pudding, blackened
and burnt to carbon.

“A great success,” said the bogus cook, but holding it on the other side
of her apron so that Kathleen could not see. “Here, I’ll just shoot it
up the shaft myself before it gets cold.” She hurried into the pantry,
whisked it into the dumb waiter before Kathleen could catch a glimpse,
and sent it flying aloft.

“That smelt a little burnt, cook,” said Kathleen.

“Just a wee bit crisp on one side, miss.”

Kathleen was in the pantry, with her nose up the dumb-waiter shaft,
sniffing the trail of the cottage pudding and wondering whether she
ought to recall it for inspection, when Eliza, turning toward the back
door, saw the gas-man on the threshold. The cook’s mind moved rapidly in
this emergency. She knew that if Priapus found himself face to face with
Kathleen, dangerous exposures would follow at once.

“Mary,” she whispered to the maid, who had just come down from upstairs,
“run tell the Mistress the gas-man is here again. I’ll send him down
the cellar.” And while Kathleen was still in the pantry and before the
pseudo gas-man could demur, Eliza seized him by the coat and hurried
him across the kitchen to the cellar door. She opened this and pointed
downstairs. The bewildered gas-man disappeared down the steps and Eliza
closed the door and turned the key.

“Now, Miss,” said Eliza. “I have something very serious to say to you--”

Just at that moment she saw the clerical black of the Reverend Mr.
Carter coming down the kitchen stairs.

“--and that is, we’d best get this fruit up without delay,” and seizing
a large bowl of apples, oranges, and bananas, she passed it to Kathleen
and backed her into the pantry again. Kathleen unsuspectingly pushed the
fruit up the dumb waiter and meanwhile it took no more than an instant
for Eliza to take the curate by the arm, motion him to silence, and push
him toward the cellar door.

“He’s down there,” she whispered, and Carter innocently followed his
fellow Scorpion. Again Eliza closed the door and turned the key.

“Well, Eliza,” said Kathleen, “I don’t think you’re much of a cook, but
you’re a willing worker.”

“Miss Kathleen,” said the cook, who was now more anxious than ever
to cleanse her bosom of much perilous stuff, “are you very down on
practical jokes?”

“Practical jokes? Why, yes, Eliza. I think they are the lowest form of
humour. Good gracious! I do believe we’ve forgotten the coffee! Have you
got it ready?”

“Yes, Miss; yes, Miss; right here,” said Eliza, bustling to the stove.
“But don’t you think, miss, that a frank confession atones for a great
deal?”

“Really, Eliza, you are the most priceless creature! I don’t wonder
Joe was taken with you! Hush! There’s the front-door bell; what do you
suppose that is?”

They both listened, Kathleen at the dumb-waiter shaft and Eliza at the
kitchen door. Eliza started to say something, but Kathleen waved her
to be quiet. A heavy step sounded on the stair, and the agitated Mary
appeared, followed by a huge policeman. Eliza, of course, recognized the
Iron Duke, but the gas-light and the disguise prevented the latter from
knowing his fellow venturer.

“What on earth is the matter?” said Kathleen.

“Please, Miss,” said the blue-coat, “your mother said there’s a gas-man
down here and I’ve been sent by headquarters to take him in charge. I
think he’s a sneak thief.”

“There’s no such person here, officer,” said Kathleen.

Eliza still kept her sovereign wits about her. She advanced to the
policeman, and whispering mysteriously “He’s in here,” took his sleeve
and led him to the cellar door.

“He’s down there,” she repeated; “put the cuffs on him, quick!” She
opened the door, and the doubtful policeman, hypnotized by her decision,
stepped on to the cellar stairs. The door closed behind him, and again
Eliza turned the key.

“What does all this mean?” demanded Kathleen, angrily. “Has everybody
gone daft? Eliza, ever since you came into the house, there has been
nothing but turmoil. I wish you would explain. Why have you sent the
policeman into the cellar?”

“There’s three dangerous counterfeiters down there, Miss,” said Eliza.
“I want to tell you the truth about this, Miss Kathleen, before that
American gets down here--he’s bound to be here soon. He’s the worst of
the lot.”

“Open that door at once!” said Kathleen, stamping her foot. “I don’t
know what on earth you mean by counterfeiters, but if there are any down
there, let’s have them up, and see what they have to say.”

The dining-room bell rang, and Mary instinctively hurried upstairs. At
the same moment Blair ran down, three steps at a time, and bounded into
the kitchen. He started when he saw Eliza.

“Are you all right, Miss Kent?” he asked, anxiously. “I’ve been so
worried about you. Is that gas-man still here? I think I can smell gas
escaping. Can I help in any way?”

“What you smell is a burnt cottage pudding,” replied Kathleen. “There’s
a policeman in the cellar, I wish you’d call him up. I have a great mind
to ask him to take Eliza in charge. I don’t think she’s quite right.”

Blair looked at Eliza closely.

“I agree with you, Miss Kathleen,” he said. “She looks like a bad egg to
me--a devilled egg, in fact. Which is the cellar door, cook?”

Eliza saw her chance.

“Right here, sir,” she said, taking hold of the door knob. She swung the
door open.

“Looks very dark,” said Blair. “I can’t quite see the step. Where is
it?”

Eliza, eager to add this last specimen to her anthology in the cellar,
stepped forward to point out the stairway. With one lusty push Blair
shoved her through the door, and banged it to. He turned the key in the
lock and thrust it into his pocket.

“Miss Kent,” he said, “I’m afraid you must think us all crazy. If you
will only let me have five minutes’ uninterrupted talk with you, I can
explain these absurd misadventures. Please, won’t you let me?”

“To tell you the truth,” said Kathleen, “I’m hungry. I’ve had only
a plate of soup, and that was--counterfeit. I think that mad woman
intended it for the curate, for whom she had conceived a dislike.”

“Let’s go up and sit in the dining-room, and I can talk while you eat.”

At that moment Mrs. Kent’s voice sounded at the top of the stairs.

“Kathleen, dear, is everything all right?”

“Yes, Mother,” called Kathleen in the same silvery soprano that set
Blair’s heart dancing.

“Your father wants Mr. Blair to come up to the drawing-room and talk to
him. He wants to tell him about the Battle of Wolverhampton.”



XIII


Blair, nervously playing with a key, stood by the fire in the
drawing-room. Mrs. Kent had excused herself and gone upstairs. In the
dining-room, across the hall, he could see Kathleen gleaning over the
supper table while the maid cleared away the dishes. In spite of his
peevishness, he smiled to see her pick up one of the stuffed eggs on a
fork, taste it, and lay it down with a grimace. At the other end of the
drawing-room Mr. Kent, leaning on his cane, was rummaging among some
books.

“Here we are,” said the antiquarian, hobbling back with several heavy
tomes. “Here is Clarendon’s History. Now I want to read you what he has
to say about that incident in 1645, then I will read you my manuscript
notes, to show you how they fill up the gaps. Kathleen!”

“Yes, Dad,” answered Kathleen, coming into the room.

“Will you get me my glasses, dear?”

“Yes, indeed,” and she ran across the room to fetch them from the
bookcase where he had left them. She seated herself on the arm of her
father’s chair. She was a charming and graceful figure, swinging the
slender ankle that the Scorpions afterward described with imaginative
fervour as “a psalm,” “a fairy-tale,” and “an aurora borealis.” They
none of them ever agreed as to the dress she wore that evening; but
Eliza Thick, who was perhaps the most observant, declared that it looked
like a chintz curtain. I think it must have had small sprigs of flowers
printed on it. Her eyes, exclaimed the broken-hearted gas-man, were like
“a twilight with only two stars.” Perhaps he meant a street with two
lamps lighted.

“Oh, I’m so glad you’re going to read your notes to Mr. Blair,” she
said, mischievously. “They are so fascinating, and there’s such a jolly
lot of them.”

“Perhaps Mr. Kent’s eyes are tired?” said Blair, hastily.

“Not a bit, not a bit!” said Mr. Kent. “I don’t often get such a good
listener. By the way, what happened to that nice young curate? I hope
the gas-man didn’t injure him?”

Kathleen looked at Blair with dancing eyes.

“He had to go,” declared Blair. “He was awfully sorry. He asked me to
make his apologies.”

“Perhaps the Bishop sent for him suddenly,” said Kathleen.

“Well,” resumed Mr. Kent, “I shall begin with the Battle of Naseby.
After that memorable struggle, a portion of the royalist forces--”

The front-door bell trilled briskly.

“Oh, dear me,” sighed poor Mr. Kent, looking up from his papers. “The
fates are against us, Mr. Blair.”

The Scotch terrier had been lying by the fire, caressed by the toe
of Kathleen’s slipper, as she sat on the arm of her father’s chair.
Suddenly he jumped up, wagging his tail, and barked with evident glee.
A tall, dark-eyed girl, a little older than Kathleen, pushed the hall
curtains aside and darted into the room.

“Joe, you darling!” cried Kathleen. “How’s your leg?”

“What do you mean?” asked Joe. “Which leg? What’s wrong with it?”

“Well, Joe, my dear, this is a jolly surprise,” said Mr. Kent, laying
aside his books. “We heard you were laid up. Some misunderstanding
somewhere. We’ve got a friend of yours here, you see--Mr. Blair.”

Blair wished he could have sunk through the floor. He would have given
anything to be with the other four in the darkness of the cellar. His
ears and cheeks burned painfully.

“How do you do, Mr. Blair,” said Josephine, cordially. “There must be
some mistake, I’ve never met Mr. Blair before.”

“My dear Joe,” cried Kathleen, “I do think we have all gone nuts. Look
here!” She took three sheets of paper from the mantelpiece. “Did you or
did you not send us those telegrams?”

Joe ran her eye over the messages, reading them aloud.


“_Miss Kathleen Kent:_

“_My friend Blair of Trinity now in Wolverhampton for historical study
staying at Blue Boar nice chap American--_”


Here Joe raised her eyes and looked appraisingly at Blair, whose
confusion was agonizing.


“_may he call on you if so send him a line sorry can’t write hurt hand
playing soccer love to all. Joe_.”

“_Frederick Kent: Unavoidably detained Oxford hurt leg playing soccer
wish you could join me at once very urgent. Joe_.”


She bent down to the terrier which was standing affectionately at her
feet.

“Well, Fred, old boy,” she said, patting him, “did Joe send you a
telegram, heh?”


“_Mrs. Philip Kent: Have found very good cook out of place am sending
her to you earnestly recommend give her a trial reliable woman but
eccentric name Eliza Thick will call Sunday morning. Joe_.”


“My dear Kathleen,” said Joe, “you flatter me. I never sent any of those
messages. Do you know any other Joes?”

“I beg your pardon, Miss Kent,” said Blair. “But I must tell you. I sent
two of those telegrams, and I think I can guess who sent the other. Miss
Eliza Thick herself.”

“You!” exclaimed Mr. Kent and both girls in the same breath.

“Yes, Mr. Kent. I blush to confess it, but you and your family have been
abominably hoaxed, and I can see nothing for it but to admit the truth.
Painful as it is, I prefer to tell you everything.”

The two girls settled themselves on the couch and Mr. Kent, bewildered,
sat upright in his chair. The dog, satisfied that everything was serene,
jumped on the divan and lay down between Joe and Kathleen. The unhappy
Blair stood awkwardly on the hearth rug.

“Last January,” he began, “a gentleman by the name of Kenneth Forbes,
an undergraduate of Merton College (now studying the gas meter in your
cellar), was in Blackwell’s book shop, in Oxford, browsing about. Lying
on a row of books in a corner of the shop he happened to see a letter,
without an envelope. He picked it up and glanced at it. It had evidently
been dropped there by some customer.

“The address engraved on the paper was 318, Bancroft Road,
Wolverhampton. It was dated last October and the letter began: ‘Dear
Joe, Thank you so much for the tie--it is pretty and I do wear ties
sometimes, so I sha’n’t let the boys have it.’ In the upper left-hand
corner were four crosses, and the words ‘These are from Fred.’ The
letter was signed ‘Kathleen.’”

The two girls looked at each other.

“It so happened,” continued Blair, “that the man who found the letter
had promised to write, the very next day, the first chapter of a serial
story for a little literary club to which he belonged. At the time when
he found this letter lying about the bookshop he was racking his brain
for a theme for his opening chapter. A great idea struck him. He put the
letter in his pocket and hurried back to his room.

“His idea was to build up a story around the characters of the letter.
He had no idea whom it came from or to whom it was addressed. The
thought of making these unknown persons of the letter the figures of
the story appealed to him, and with an eager pen he set down the first
chapter, with ‘Kathleen’ as heroine and ‘Joe’ as hero.”

A faint line of colour crept up Kathleen’s girlish cheek.

“This idea, which suggested itself to Forbes when he found the letter
in the bookshop, was taken up enthusiastically by the group of
undergraduates composing the little club. The fabrication of the story
was the chief amusement of the term.

“It would be unfair to me and to the other men not to say frankly that
the whim was not taken up in any malicious or underhand spirit. Given
the idea as it first came to the man in the bookshop, the rest flowed
naturally out of it, urged by high spirits. I must tell you honestly
that the characters of that letter became very real to us. We speculated
endlessly on their personalities, tastes, and ages. We all became
frantic admirers of the lady who had signed the letter, and considered
ourselves jealous rivals of the man ‘Joe,’ to whom, as we supposed, it
had been written. And when the end of term came, the five members who
had entered most completely into the spirit of the game agreed to come
to Wolverhampton for the express purpose of attempting to make the
acquaintance of the Kathleen who had so engaged their fancy.”

“Really, I think this is dreadfully silly,” said Kathleen, colouring.
“Joe, are we characters in a serial, or are we real persons?”

“This confession is very painful for me, Mr. Kent,” said Blair, “because
things don’t seem to have turned out at all as we thought, and I’m
afraid we have abused your hospitality barbarously. I can only beg
that you will forgive this wild prank, which was actuated by the most
innocent motives.”

“Then do I understand,” asked Mr. Kent, “that your interest in
Wolverhampton history was merely simulated, for the purpose of making
the acquaintance of my daughter?”

“You make me very much ashamed, sir, but that is the truth.”

Mr. Kent rose to his feet, leaning on his cane.

“Well, well,” he said, “I have no wish to seem crabbed. I’m sorry to
lose so excellent a listener. I thought it was too good to be true! But
when one has a daughter one must expect her to grow up, and become
the heroine of serial stories. I trust that that story is not to be
published--I can ask that, at least!”

“Our intention,” said Blair, “was to give the manuscript to Miss Kent as
a token of our united admiration.”

“Well,” said Mr. Kent, “make my apologies to the other conspirators. I
take it that that dreadful Eliza Thick was one of them. I hope our
cook will be back to-morrow. Upon my word, those stuffed eggs were
indescribable! Joe, my dear, suppose you let me take you up to see
your aunt. I expect these people will want to recriminate each other a
little, and reach some sort of misunderstanding.”

Joe and Mr. Kent left the room, but a moment later Mr. Kent reappeared
at the door.

“Mr. Blair,” he said, “please don’t think me lacking in sportsmanship. I
was young once myself. I just wanted to say that I think you all staged
it remarkably well. Give Mr. Carter my compliments on that telegram from
the Bishop.”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Blair, as Mr. Kent vanished behind the
curtains. “I forgot. Those fellows are still down in the cellar.” He
held out the key. “I must let them out.”

“Wait a minute,” said Kathleen. “I have no desire to see that Eliza
Thick again, nor that odious curate--not even the enterprising gas-man!”

For the space of fifteen thoughts or so there was silence. Kathleen sat
at one end of the big couch, the firelight shimmering round her in a
softening glow. Blair stood painfully at the other side of the hearth.

“Miss Kathleen,” he said, “I want to beg you, on behalf of the other
fellows, not to be too severe with them. I guess I’m the worst offender,
with my bogus telegrams and my deliberate deception of your father. But
I ought to explain that we all came here with a definite intention in
mind. The man who was first able to engage you in friendly conversation
and get you to accept an invitation to come to Oxford for Eights Week,
was to be the winner of the competition.”

“I’ve already accepted an invitation for Eights Week,” she said, after a
pause.

He uttered a dejected silence that was a classic of its kind, a marvel
of accurate registration.

Kathleen looked up at him for the first time since his confession of the
hoax. Their eyes met.

“Is it Carter?” he asked, woefully.

“I’ve promised to go and stay with Joe at Maggie Hall.”

“Look here,” he said. “I expect to row in the Trinity boat. Will you
and your mother and--and Miss Joe--watch the racing from our barge, one
afternoon anyway? Then you could come to tea in my rooms afterward, and
I’ll ask the other fellows in to meet you.”

“The parson and the policeman and the gas-man, and--and--Eliza Thick?”

“Yes. They’re all splendid chaps, I know you’ll like them.”

“Well,” she murmured, “I dare say Eliza Thick would be all right in his
proper costume. I shall never forget his nest-building genius! Now I
understand what he meant by all that talk about counterfeiters.”

“You will come to the Trinity barge?” he begged.

There was a pause. A dropping coal clicked in the grate, and Kathleen’s
small slipper tapped on the fender.

“I should think,” she said, “that a man as persistent as you would make
a good oar. I’m glad the others aren’t Americans, too. It was bad enough
as it was!”

“Miss Kathleen,” he pleaded, “I guess I can’t make you understand what
I’d like to. But if you’ll just come punting up the Cher, on Sunday in
Eights Week, there are so many things I’d like to tell you.”

“Yes, I’ve always wanted to hear about America, and the difference
between a Republican and a Democrat.”

“And you _will_ come?”

Kathleen rose, laughing.

“I have already accepted Joe’s invitation,” she said. “Good-night, Mr.
Blair.” She gave him her hand.

He held it as long as he dared, looking her straight in the eye. “I’m
not nearly as jealous of Joe as I was!”

She was gone through the curtains, a flash of dainty grace. Then her
face reappeared.

“If you care to call again some time, Dad would love to read you those
notes on the Battle of Wolverhampton!”

Blair looked round the room. The dog, lying by the fire, got up,
stretched, and wagged his tail. Blair pulled out his watch. “Giminy!” he
said, “I’d better go down and let those poor devils out of the cellar.”


THE END





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that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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