BEASTS AND SUPER-BEASTS - H. H. MUNRO ("SAKI")
Part 2 out of 5
Jim, as every one called him, who divided his time
between amateur horse-dealing, rabbit-shooting, and
flirting with the farm maids.
"I'm afraid old Martha is dying," said Emma. Jim
was not the sort of person to whom one had to break news
"Nonsense," he said; "Martha means to live to a
hundred. She told me so, and she'll do it."
"She may be actually dying at this moment, or it may
just be the beginning of the break-up," persisted Emma,
with a feeling of contempt for the slowness and dulness
of the young man.
A grin spread over his good-natured features.
"It don't look like it," he said, nodding towards
the yard. Emma turned to catch the meaning of his
remark. Old Martha stood in the middle of a mob of
poultry scattering handfuls of grain around her. The
turkey-cock, with the bronzed sheen of his feathers and
the purple-red of his wattles, the gamecock, with the
glowing metallic lustre of his Eastern plumage, the hens,
with their ochres and buffs and umbers and their scarlet
combs, and the drakes, with their bottle-green heads,
made a medley of rich colour, in the centre of which the
old woman looked like a withered stalk standing amid a
riotous growth of gaily-hued flowers. But she threw the
grain deftly amid the wilderness of beaks, and her
quavering voice carried as far as the two people who were
watching her. She was still harping on the theme of
death coming to the farm.
"I knew 'twere a-coming. There's been signs an'
"Who's dead, then, old Mother?" called out the young
"'Tis young Mister Ladbruk," she shrilled back;
"they've just a-carried his body in. Run out of the way
of a tree that was coming down an' ran hisself on to an
iron post. Dead when they picked un up. Aye, I knew
And she turned to fling a handful of barley at a
belated group of guinea-fowl that came racing toward her.
* * * *
The farm was a family property, and passed to the
rabbit-shooting cousin as the next-of-kin. Emma Ladbruk
drifted out of its history as a bee that had wandered in
at an open window might flit its way out again. On a
cold grey morning she stood waiting, with her boxes
already stowed in the farm cart, till the last of the
market produce should be ready, for the train she was to
catch was of less importance than the chickens and butter
and eggs that were to be offered for sale. From where
she stood she could see an angle of the long latticed
window that was to have been cosy with curtains and gay
with bowls of flowers. Into her mind came the thought
that for months, perhaps for years, long after she had
been utterly forgotten, a white, unheeding face would be
seen peering out through those latticed panes, and a weak
muttering voice would be heard quavering up and down
those flagged passages. She made her way to a narrow
barred casement that opened into the farm larder. Old
Martha was standing at a table trussing a pair of
chickens for the market stall as she had trussed them for
nearly fourscore years.
I'VE asked Latimer Springfield to spend Sunday with
us and stop the night," announced Mrs. Durmot at the
"I thought he was in the throes of an election,"
remarked her husband.
"Exactly; the poll is on Wednesday, and the poor man
will have worked himself to a shadow by that time.
Imagine what electioneering must be like in this awful
soaking rain, going along slushy country roads and
speaking to damp audiences in draughty schoolrooms, day
after day for a fortnight. He'll have to put in an
appearance at some place of worship on Sunday morning,
and he can come to us immediately afterwards and have a
thorough respite from everything connected with politics.
I won't let him even think of them. I've had the picture
of Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament taken down
from the staircase, and even the portrait of Lord
Rosebery's 'Ladas' removed from the smoking-room. And
Vera," added Mrs. Durmot, turning to her sixteen-year-old
niece, "be careful what colour ribbon you wear in your
hair; not blue or yellow on any account; those are the
rival party colours, and emerald green or orange would be
almost as bad, with this Home Rule business to the fore."
"On state occasions I always wear a black ribbon in
my hair," said Vera with crushing dignity.
Latimer Springfield was a rather cheerless, oldish
young man, who went into politics somewhat in the spirit
in which other people might go into half-mourning.
Without being an enthusiast, however, he was a fairly
strenuous plodder, and Mrs. Durmot had been reasonably
near the mark in asserting that he was working at high
pressure over this election. The restful lull which his
hostess enforced on him was decidedly welcome, and yet
the nervous excitement of the contest had too great a
hold on him to be totally banished.
"I know he's going to sit up half the night working
up points for his final speeches," said Mrs. Durmot
regretfully; "however, we've kept politics at arm's
length all the afternoon and evening. More than that we
"That remains to be seen," said Vera, but she said
it to herself.
Latimer had scarcely shut his bedroom door before he
was immersed in a sheaf of notes and pamphlets, while a
fountain-pen and pocket-book were brought into play for
the due marshalling of useful facts and discreet
fictions. He had been at work for perhaps thirty-five
minutes, and the house was seemingly consecrated to the
healthy slumber of country life, when a stifled squealing
and scuffling in the passage was followed by a loud tap
at his door. Before he had time to answer, a much-
encumbered Vera burst into the room with the question; "I
say, can I leave these here?"
"These" were a small black pig and a lusty specimen
of black-red gamecock.
Latimer was moderately fond of animals, and
particularly interested in small livestock rearing from
the economic point of view; in fact, one of the pamphlets
on which he was at that moment engaged warmly advocated
the further development of the pig and poultry industry
in our rural districts; but he was pardonably unwilling
to share even a commodious bedroom with samples of
henroost and stye products.
"Wouldn't they be happier somewhere outside?" he
asked, tactfully expressing his own preference in the
matter in an apparent solicitude for theirs.
"There is no outside," said Vera impressively,
"nothing but a waste of dark, swirling waters. The
reservoir at Brinkley has burst."
"I didn't know there was a reservoir at Brinkley,"
"Well, there isn't now, it's jolly well all over the
place, and as we stand particularly low we're the centre
of an inland sea just at present. You see the river has
overflowed its banks as well."
"Good gracious! Have any lives been lost?"
"Heaps, I should say. The second housemaid has
already identified three bodies that have floated past
the billiard-room window as being the young man she's
engaged to. Either she's engaged to a large assortment
of the population round here or else she's very careless
at identification. Of course it may be the same body
coming round again and again in a swirl; I hadn't thought
"But we ought to go out and do rescue work, oughtn't
we?" said Latimer, with the instinct of a Parliamentary
candidate for getting into the local limelight.
"We can't," said Vera decidedly, "we haven't any
boats and we're cut off by a raging torrent from any
human habitation. My aunt particularly hoped you would
keep to your room and not add to the confusion, but she
thought it would be so kind of you if you would take in
Hartlepool's Wonder, the gamecock, you know, for the
night. You see, there are eight other gamecocks, and
they fight like furies if they get together, so we're
putting one in each bedroom. The fowl-houses are all
flooded out, you know. And then I thought perhaps you
wouldn't mind taking in this wee piggie; he's rather a
little love, but he has a vile temper. He gets that from
his mother - not that I like to say things against her
when she's lying dead and drowned in her stye, poor
thing. What he really wants is a man's firm hand to keep
him in order. I'd try and grapple with him myself, only
I've got my chow in my room, you know, and he goes for
pigs wherever he finds them."
"Couldn't the pig go in the bathroom?" asked Latimer
faintly, wishing that he had taken up as determined a
stand on the subject of bedroom swine as the chow had.
"The bathroom?" Vera laughed shrilly. "It'll be
full of Boy Scouts till morning if the hot water holds
"Yes, thirty of them came to rescue us while the
water was only waist-high; then it rose another three
feet or so and we had to rescue them. We're giving them
hot baths in batches and drying their clothes in the hot-
air cupboard, but, of course, drenched clothes don't dry
in a minute, and the corridor and staircase are beginning
to look like a bit of coast scenery by Tuke. Two of the
boys are wearing your Melton overcoat; I hope you don't
"It's a new overcoat," said Latimer, with every
indication of minding dreadfully.
"You'll take every care of Hartlepool's Wonder,
won't you?" said Vera. "His mother took three firsts at
Birmingham, and he was second in the cockerel class last
year at Gloucester. He'll probably roost on the rail at
the bottom of your bed. I wonder if he'd feel more at
home if some of his wives were up here with him? The
hens are all in the pantry, and I think I could pick out
Hartlepool Helen; she's his favourite."
Latimer showed a belated firmness on the subject of
Hartlepool Helen, and Vera withdrew without pressing the
point, having first settled the gamecock on his
extemporised perch and taken an affectionate farewell of
the pigling. Latimer undressed and got into bed with all
due speed, judging that the pig would abate its
inquisitorial restlessness once the light was turned out.
As a substitute for a cosy, straw-bedded sty the room
offered, at first inspection, few attractions, but the
disconsolate animal suddenly discovered an appliance in
which the most luxuriously contrived piggeries were
notably deficient. The sharp edge of the underneath part
of the bed was pitched at exactly the right elevation to
permit the pigling to scrape himself ecstatically
backwards and forwards, with an artistic humping of the
back at the crucial moment and an accompanying gurgle of
long-drawn delight. The gamecock, who may have fancied
that he was being rocked in the branches of a pine-tree,
bore the motion with greater fortitude than Latimer was
able to command. A series of slaps directed at the pig's
body were accepted more as an additional and pleasing
irritant than as a criticism of conduct or a hint to
desist; evidently something more than a man's firm hand
was needed to deal with the case. Latimer slipped out of
bed in search of a weapon of dissuasion. There was
sufficient light in the room to enable the pig to detect
this manoeuvre, and the vile temper, inherited from the
drowned mother, found full play. Latimer bounded back
into bed, and his conqueror, after a few threatening
snorts and champings of its jaws, resumed its massage
operations with renewed zeal. During the long wakeful
hours which ensued Latimer tried to distract his mind
from his own immediate troubles by dwelling with decent
sympathy on the second housemaid's bereavement, but he
found himself more often wondering how many Boy Scouts
were sharing his Melton overcoat. The role of Saint
Martin malgre lui was not one which appealed to him.
Towards dawn the pigling fell into a happy slumber,
and Latimer might have followed its example, but at about
the same time Stupor Hartlepooli gave a rousing crow,
clattered down to the floor and forthwith commenced a
spirited combat with his reflection in the wardrobe
mirror. Remembering that the bird was more or less under
his care Latimer performed Hague Tribunal offices by
draping a bath-towel over the provocative mirror, but the
ensuing peace was local and short-lived. The deflected
energies of the gamecock found new outlet in a sudden and
sustained attack on the sleeping and temporarily
inoffensive pigling, and the duel which followed was
desperate and embittered beyond any possibility of
effective intervention. The feathered combatant had the
advantage of being able, when hard pressed, to take
refuge on the bed, and freely availed himself of this
circumstance; the pigling never quite succeeded in
hurling himself on to the same eminence, but it was not
from want of trying.
Neither side could claim any decisive success, and
the struggle had been practically fought to a standstill
by the time that the maid appeared with the early morning
"Lor, sir," she exclaimed in undisguised
astonishment, "do you want those animals in your room?"
The pigling, as though aware that it might have
outstayed its welcome, dashed out at the door, and the
gamecock followed it at a more dignified pace.
"If Miss Vera's dog sees that pig - !" exclaimed the
maid, and hurried off to avert such a catastrophe.
A cold suspicion was stealing over Latimer's mind;
he went to the window and drew up the blind. A light,
drizzling rain was falling, but there was not the
faintest trace of any inundation.
Some half-hour later he met Vera on the way to the
"I should not like to think of you as a deliberate
liar," he observed coldly, "but one occasionally has to
do things one does not like."
"At any rate I kept your mind from dwelling on
politics all the night," said Vera.
Which was, of course, perfectly true.
THE UNKINDEST BLOW
THE season of strikes seemed to have run itself to a
standstill. Almost every trade and industry and calling
in which a dislocation could possibly be engineered had
indulged in that luxury. The last and least successful
convulsion had been the strike of the World's Union of
Zoological Garden attendants, who, pending the settlement
of certain demands, refused to minister further to the
wants of the animals committed to their charge or to
allow any other keepers to take their place. In this
case the threat of the Zoological Gardens authorities
that if the men "came out" the animals should come out
also had intensified and precipitated the crisis. The
imminent prospect of the larger carnivores, to say
nothing of rhinoceroses and bull bison, roaming at large
and unfed in the heart of London, was not one which
permitted of prolonged conferences. The Government of
the day, which from its tendency to be a few hours behind
the course of events had been nicknamed the Government of
the afternoon, was obliged to intervene with promptitude
and decision. A strong force of Bluejackets was
despatched to Regent's Park to take over the temporarily
abandoned duties of the strikers. Bluejackets were
chosen in preference to land forces, partly on account of
the traditional readiness of the British Navy to go
anywhere and do anything, partly by reason of the
familiarity of the average sailor with monkeys, parrots,
and other tropical fauna, but chiefly at the urgent
request of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who was
keenly desirous of an opportunity for performing some
personal act of unobtrusive public service within the
province of his department.
"If he insists on feeding the infant jaguar himself,
in defiance of its mother's wishes, there may be another
by-election in the north," said one of his colleagues,
with a hopeful inflection in his voice. "By-elections
are not very desirable at present, but we must not be
As a matter of fact the strike collapsed peacefully
without any outside intervention. The majority of the
keepers had become so attached to their charges that they
returned to work of their own accord.
And then the nation and the newspapers turned with a
sense of relief to happier things. It seemed as if a new
era of contentment was about to dawn. Everybody had
struck who could possibly want to strike or who could
possibly be cajoled or bullied into striking, whether
they wanted to or not. The lighter and brighter side of
life might now claim some attention. And conspicuous
among the other topics that sprang into sudden prominence
was the pending Falvertoon divorce suit.
The Duke of Falvertoon was one of those human HORS
D'OEUVRES that stimulate the public appetite for
sensation without giving it much to feed on. As a mere
child he had been precociously brilliant; he had declined
the editorship of the ANGLIAN REVIEW at an age when most
boys are content to have declined MENSA, a table, and
though he could not claim to have originated the Futurist
movement in literature, his "Letters to a possible
Grandson," written at the age of fourteen, had attracted
considerable notice. In later days his brilliancy had
been less conspicuously displayed. During a debate in
the House of Lords on affairs in Morocco, at a moment
when that country, for the fifth time in seven years, had
brought half Europe to the verge of war, he had
interpolated the remark "a little Moor and how much it
is," but in spite of the encouraging reception accorded
to this one political utterance he was never tempted to a
further display in that direction. It began to be
generally understood that he did not intend to supplement
his numerous town and country residences by living
overmuch in the public eye.
And then had come the unlooked-for tidings of the
imminent proceedings for divorce. And such a divorce!
There were cross-suits and allegations and counter-
allegations, charges of cruelty and desertion, everything
in fact that was necessary to make the case one of the
most complicated and sensational of its kind. And the
number of distinguished people involved or cited as
witnesses not only embraced both political parties in the
realm and several Colonial governors, but included an
exotic contingent from France, Hungary, the United States
of North America, and the Grand Duchy of Baden. Hotel
accommodation of the more expensive sort began to
experience a strain on its resources. "It will be quite
like the Durbar without the elephants," exclaimed an
enthusiastic lady who, to do her justice, had never seen
a Durbar. The general feeling was one of thankfulness
that the last of the strikes had been got over before the
date fixed for the hearing of the great suit.
As a reaction from the season of gloom and
industrial strife that had just passed away the agencies
that purvey and stage-manage sensations laid themselves
out to do their level best on this momentous occasion.
Men who had made their reputations as special descriptive
writers were mobilised from distant corners of Europe and
the further side of the Atlantic in order to enrich with
their pens the daily printed records of the case; one
word-painter, who specialised in descriptions of how
witnesses turn pale under cross-examination, was summoned
hurriedly back from a famous and prolonged murder trial
in Sicily, where indeed his talents were being decidedly
wasted. Thumb-nail artists and expert kodak manipulators
were retained at extravagant salaries, and special dress
reporters were in high demand. An enterprising Paris
firm of costume builders presented the defendant Duchess
with three special creations, to be worn, marked,
learned, and extensively reported at various critical
stages of the trial; and as for the cinematograph agents,
their industry and persistence was untiring. Films
representing the Duke saying good-bye to his favourite
canary on the eve of the trial were in readiness weeks
before the event was due to take place; other films
depicted the Duchess holding imaginary consultations with
fictitious lawyers or making a light repast off specially
advertised vegetarian sandwiches during a supposed
luncheon interval. As far as human foresight and human
enterprise could go nothing was lacking to make the trial
Two days before the case was down for hearing the
advance reporter of an important syndicate obtained an
interview with the Duke for the purpose of gleaning some
final grains of information concerning his Grace's
personal arrangements during the trial.
"I suppose I may say this will be one of the biggest
affairs of its kind during the lifetime of a generation,"
began the reporter as an excuse for the unsparing
minuteness of detail that he was about to make quest for.
"I suppose so - if it comes off," said the Duke
"If?" queried the reporter, in a voice that was
something between a gasp and a scream.
"The Duchess and I are both thinking of going on
strike," said the Duke.
The baleful word flashed out in all its old hideous
familiarity. Was there to be no end to its recurrence?
"Do you mean," faltered the reporter, "that you are
contemplating a mutual withdrawal of the charges?"
"Precisely," said the Duke.
"But think of the arrangements that have been made,
the special reporting, the cinematographs, the catering
for the distinguished foreign witnesses, the prepared
music-hall allusions; think of all the money that has
been sunk - "
"Exactly," said the Duke coldly, "the Duchess and I
have realised that it is we who provide the material out
of which this great far-reaching industry has been built
up. Widespread employment will be given and enormous
profits made during the duration of the case, and we, on
whom all the stress and racket falls, will get - what?
An unenviable notoriety and the privilege of paying heavy
legal expenses whichever way the verdict goes. Hence our
decision to strike. We don't wish to be reconciled; we
fully realise that it is a grave step to take, but unless
we get some reasonable consideration out of this vast
stream of wealth and industry that we have called into
being we intend coming out of court and staying out.
The news of this latest strike spread universal
dismay. Its inaccessibility to the ordinary methods of
persuasion made it peculiarly formidable. If the Duke
and Duchess persisted in being reconciled the Government
could hardly be called on to interfere. Public opinion
in the shape of social ostracism might be brought to bear
on them, but that was as far as coercive measures could
go. There was nothing for it but a conference, with
powers to propose liberal terms. As it was, several of
the foreign witnesses had already departed and others had
telegraphed cancelling their hotel arrangements.
The conference, protracted, uncomfortable, and
occasionally acrimonious, succeeded at last in arranging
for a resumption of litigation, but it was a fruitless
victory. The Duke, with a touch of his earlier
precocity, died of premature decay a fortnight before the
date fixed for the new trial.
IT was autumn in London, that blessed season between
the harshness of winter and the insincerities of summer;
a trustful season when one buys bulbs and sees to the
registration of one's vote, believing perpetually in
spring and a change of Government.
Morton Crosby sat on a bench in a secluded corner of
Hyde Park, lazily enjoying a cigarette and watching the
slow grazing promenade of a pair of snow-geese, the male
looking rather like an albino edition of the russet-hued
female. Out of the corner of his eye Crosby also noted
with some interest the hesitating hoverings of a human
figure, which had passed and repassed his seat two or
three times at shortening intervals, like a wary crow
about to alight near some possibly edible morsel.
Inevitably the figure came to an anchorage on the bench,
within easy talking distance of its original occupant.
The uncared-for clothes, the aggressive, grizzled beard,
and the furtive, evasive eye of the new-comer bespoke the
professional cadger, the man who would undergo hours of
humiliating tale-spinning and rebuff rather than
adventure on half a day's decent work.
For a while the new-comer fixed his eyes straight in
front of him in a strenuous, unseeing gaze; then his
voice broke out with the insinuating inflection of one
who has a story to retail well worth any loiterer's while
to listen to.
"It's a strange world," he said.
As the statement met with no response he altered it
to the form of a question.
"I daresay you've found it to be a strange world,
"As far as I am concerned," said Crosby, "the
strangeness has worn off in the course of thirty-six
"Ah," said the greybeard, "I could tell you things
that you'd hardly believe. Marvellous things that have
really happened to me."
"Nowadays there is no demand for marvellous things
that have really happened," said Crosby discouragingly;
"the professional writers of fiction turn these things
out so much better. For instance, my neighbours tell me
wonderful, incredible things that their Aberdeens and
chows and borzois have done; I never listen to them. On
the other hand, I have read 'The Hound of the
Baskervilles' three times."
The greybeard moved uneasily in his seat; then he
opened up new country.
"I take it that you are a professing Christian," he
"I am a prominent and I think I may say an
influential member of the Mussulman community of Eastern
Persia," said Crosby, making an excursion himself into
the realms of fiction.
The greybeard was obviously disconcerted at this new
check to introductory conversation, but the defeat was
"Persia. I should never have taken you for a
Persian," he remarked, with a somewhat aggrieved air.
"I am not," said Crosby; "my father was an Afghan."
"An Afghan!" said the other, smitten into bewildered
silence for a moment. Then he recovered himself and
renewed his attack.
"Afghanistan. Ah! We've had some wars with that
country; now, I daresay, instead of fighting it we might
have learned something from it. A very wealthy country,
I believe. No real poverty there."
He raised his voice on the word "poverty" with a
suggestion of intense feeling. Crosby saw the opening
and avoided it.
"It possesses, nevertheless, a number of highly
talented and ingenious beggars," he said; "if I had not
spoken so disparagingly of marvellous things that have
really happened I would tell you the story of Ibrahim and
the eleven camel-loads of blotting-paper. Also I have
forgotten exactly how it ended."
"My own life-story is a curious one," said the
stranger, apparently stifling all desire to hear the
history of Ibrahim; "I was not always as you see me now."
"We are supposed to undergo complete change in the
course of every seven years," said Crosby, as an
explanation of the foregoing announcement.
"I mean I was not always in such distressing
circumstances as I am at present," pursued the stranger
"That sounds rather rude," said Crosby stiffly,
"considering that you are at present talking to a man
reputed to be one of the most gifted conversationalists
of the Afghan border."
"I don't mean in that way," said the greybeard
hastily; "I've been very much interested in your
conversation. I was alluding to my unfortunate financial
situation. You mayn't hardly believe it, but at the
present moment I am absolutely without a farthing. Don't
see any prospect of getting any money, either, for the
next few days. I don't suppose you've ever found
yourself in such a position," he added.
"In the town of Yom," said Crosby, "which is in
Southern Afghanistan, and which also happens to be my
birthplace, there was a Chinese philosopher who used to
say that one of the three chiefest human blessings was to
be absolutely without money. I forget what the other two
"Ah, I daresay," said the stranger, in a tone that
betrayed no enthusiasm for the philosopher's memory; "and
did he practise what he preached? That's the test."
"He lived happily with very little money or
resources," said Crosby.
"Then I expect he had friends who would help him
liberally whenever he was in difficulties, such as I am
in at present."
"In Yom," said Crosby, "it is not necessary to have
friends in order to obtain help. Any citizen of Yom
would help a stranger as a matter of course."
The greybeard was now genuinely interested.
The conversation had at last taken a favourable
"If someone, like me, for instance, who was in
undeserved difficulties, asked a citizen of that town you
speak of for a small loan to tide over a few days'
impecuniosity - five shillings, or perhaps a rather
larger sum - would it be given to him as a matter of
"There would be a certain preliminary," said Crosby;
"one would take him to a wine-shop and treat him to a
measure of wine, and then, after a little high-flown
conversation, one would put the desired sum in his hand
and wish him good-day. It is a roundabout way of
performing a simple transaction, but in the East all ways
The listener's eyes were glittering.
"Ah," he exclaimed, with a thin sneer ringing
meaningly through his words, "I suppose you've given up
all those generous customs since you left your town.
Don't practise them now, I expect."
"No one who has lived in Yom," said Crosby
fervently, "and remembers its green hills covered with
apricot and almond trees, and the cold water that rushes
down like a caress from the upland snows and dashes under
the little wooden bridges, no one who remembers these
things and treasures the memory of them would ever give
up a single one of its unwritten laws and customs. To me
they are as binding as though I still lived in that
hallowed home of my youth."
"Then if I was to ask you for a small loan - " began
the greybeard fawningly, edging nearer on the seat and
hurriedly wondering how large he might safely make his
request, "if I was to ask you for, say - "
"At any other time, certainly," said Crosby; "in the
months of November and December, however, it is
absolutely forbidden for anyone of our race to give or
receive loans or gifts; in fact, one does not willingly
speak of them. It is considered unlucky. We will
therefore close this discussion."
"But it is still October!" exclaimed the adventurer
with an eager, angry whine, as Crosby rose from his seat;
"wants eight days to the end of the month!"
"The Afghan November began yesterday," said Crosby
severely, and in another moment he was striding across
the Park, leaving his recent companion scowling and
muttering furiously on the seat.
"I don't believe a word of his story," he chattered
to himself; "pack of nasty lies from beginning to end.
Wish I'd told him so to his face. Calling himself an
The snorts and snarls that escaped from him for the
next quarter of an hour went far to support the truth of
the old saying that two of a trade never agree.
THE SCHARTZ-METTERKLUME METHOD
LADY CARLOTTA stepped out on to the platform of the
small wayside station and took a turn or two up and down
its uninteresting length, to kill time till the train
should be pleased to proceed on its way. Then, in the
roadway beyond, she saw a horse struggling with a more
than ample load, and a carter of the sort that seems to
bear a sullen hatred against the animal that helps him to
earn a living. Lady Carlotta promptly betook her to the
roadway, and put rather a different complexion on the
struggle. Certain of her acquaintances were wont to give
her plentiful admonition as to the undesirability of
interfering on behalf of a distressed animal, such
interference being "none of her business." Only once had
she put the doctrine of non-interference into practice,
when one of its most eloquent exponents had been besieged
for nearly three hours in a small and extremely
uncomfortable may-tree by an angry boar-pig, while Lady
Carlotta, on the other side of the fence, had proceeded
with the water-colour sketch she was engaged on, and
refused to interfere between the boar and his prisoner.
It is to be feared that she lost the friendship of the
ultimately rescued lady. On this occasion she merely
lost the train, which gave way to the first sign of
impatience it had shown throughout the journey, and
steamed off without her. She bore the desertion with
philosophical indifference; her friends and relations
were thoroughly well used to the fact of her luggage
arriving without her. She wired a vague non-committal
message to her destination to say that she was coming on
"by another train." Before she had time to think what
her next move might be she was confronted by an
imposingly attired lady, who seemed to be taking a
prolonged mental inventory of her clothes and looks.
"You must be Miss Hope, the governess I've come to
meet," said the apparition, in a tone that admitted of
very little argument.
"Very well, if I must I must," said Lady Carlotta to
herself with dangerous meekness.
"I am Mrs. Quabarl," continued the lady; "and where,
pray, is your luggage?"
"It's gone astray," said the alleged governess,
falling in with the excellent rule of life that the
absent are always to blame; the luggage had, in point of
fact, behaved with perfect correctitude. "I've just
telegraphed about it," she added, with a nearer approach
"How provoking," said Mrs. Quabarl; "these railway
companies are so careless. However, my maid can lend you
things for the night," and she led the way to her car.
During the drive to the Quabarl mansion Lady
Carlotta was impressively introduced to the nature of the
charge that had been thrust upon her; she learned that
Claude and Wilfrid were delicate, sensitive young people,
that Irene had the artistic temperament highly developed,
and that Viola was something or other else of a mould
equally commonplace among children of that class and type
in the twentieth century.
"I wish them not only to be TAUGHT," said Mrs.
Quabarl, "but INTERESTED in what they learn. In their
history lessons, for instance, you must try to make them
feel that they are being introduced to the life-stories
of men and women who really lived, not merely committing
a mass of names and dates to memory. French, of course,
I shall expect you to talk at meal-times several days in
"I shall talk French four days of the week and
Russian in the remaining three."
"Russian? My dear Miss Hope, no one in the house
speaks or understands Russian."
"That will not embarrass me in the least," said Lady
Mrs. Quabarl, to use a colloquial expression, was
knocked off her perch. She was one of those imperfectly
self-assured individuals who are magnificent and
autocratic as long as they are not seriously opposed.
The least show of unexpected resistance goes a long way
towards rendering them cowed and apologetic. When the
new governess failed to express wondering admiration of
the large newly-purchased and expensive car, and lightly
alluded to the superior advantages of one or two makes
which had just been put on the market, the discomfiture
of her patroness became almost abject. Her feelings were
those which might have animated a general of ancient
warfaring days, on beholding his heaviest battle-elephant
ignominiously driven off the field by slingers and
At dinner that evening, although reinforced by her
husband, who usually duplicated her opinions and lent her
moral support generally, Mrs. Quabarl regained none of
her lost ground. The governess not only helped herself
well and truly to wine, but held forth with considerable
show of critical knowledge on various vintage matters,
concerning which the Quabarls were in no wise able to
pose as authorities. Previous governesses had limited
their conversation on the wine topic to a respectful and
doubtless sincere expression of a preference for water.
When this one went as far as to recommend a wine firm in
whose hands you could not go very far wrong Mrs. Quabarl
thought it time to turn the conversation into more usual
"We got very satisfactory references about you from
Canon Teep," she observed; "a very estimable man, I
"Drinks like a fish and beats his wife, otherwise a
very lovable character," said the governess
"MY DEAR Miss Hope! I trust you are exaggerating,"
exclaimed the Quabarls in unison.
"One must in justice admit that there is some
provocation," continued the romancer. "Mrs. Teep is
quite the most irritating bridge-player that I have ever
sat down with; her leads and declarations would condone a
certain amount of brutality in her partner, but to souse
her with the contents of the only soda-water syphon in
the house on a Sunday afternoon, when one couldn't get
another, argues an indifference to the comfort of others
which I cannot altogether overlook. You may think me
hasty in my judgments, but it was practically on account
of the syphon incident that I left."
"We will talk of this some other time," said Mrs.
"I shall never allude to it again," said the
governess with decision.
Mr. Quabarl made a welcome diversion by asking what
studies the new instructress proposed to inaugurate on
"History to begin with," she informed him.
"Ah, history," he observed sagely; "now in teaching
them history you must take care to interest them in what
they learn. You must make them feel that they are being
introduced to the life-stories of men and women who
really lived - "
"I've told her all that," interposed Mrs. Quabarl.
"I teach history on the Schartz-Metterklume method,"
said the governess loftily.
"Ah, yes," said her listeners, thinking it expedient
to assume an acquaintance at least with the name.
* * * *
"What are you children doing out here?" demanded
Mrs. Quabarl the next morning, on finding Irene sitting
rather glumly at the head of the stairs, while her sister
was perched in an attitude of depressed discomfort on the
window-seat behind her, with a wolf-skin rug almost
"We are having a history lesson," came the
unexpected reply. "I am supposed to be Rome, and Viola
up there is the she-wolf; not a real wolf, but the figure
of one that the Romans used to set store by - I forget
why. Claude and Wilfrid have gone to fetch the shabby
"The shabby women?"
"Yes, they've got to carry them off. They didn't
want to, but Miss Hope got one of father's fives-bats and
said she'd give them a number nine spanking if they
didn't, so they've gone to do it."
A loud, angry screaming from the direction of the
lawn drew Mrs. Quabarl thither in hot haste, fearful lest
the threatened castigation might even now be in process
of infliction. The outcry, however, came principally
from the two small daughters of the lodge-keeper, who
were being hauled and pushed towards the house by the
panting and dishevelled Claude and Wilfrid, whose task
was rendered even more arduous by the incessant, if not
very effectual, attacks of the captured maidens' small
brother. The governess, fives-bat in hand, sat
negligently on the stone balustrade, presiding over the
scene with the cold impartiality of a Goddess of Battles.
A furious and repeated chorus of "I'll tell muvver" rose
from the lodge-children, but the lodge-mother, who was
hard of hearing, was for the moment immersed in the
preoccupation of her washtub.
After an apprehensive glance in the direction of the
lodge (the good woman was gifted with the highly militant
temper which is sometimes the privilege of deafness) Mrs.
Quabarl flew indignantly to the rescue of the struggling
"Wilfrid! Claude! Let those children go at once.
Miss Hope, what on earth is the meaning of this scene?"
"Early Roman history; the Sabine Women, don't you
know? It's the Schartz-Metterklume method to make
children understand history by acting it themselves;
fixes it in their memory, you know. Of course, if,
thanks to your interference, your boys go through life
thinking that the Sabine women ultimately escaped, I
really cannot be held responsible."
"You may be very clever and modern, Miss Hope," said
Mrs. Quabarl firmly, "but I should like you to leave here
by the next train. Your luggage will be sent after you
as soon as it arrives."
"I'm not certain exactly where I shall be for the
next few days," said the dismissed instructress of youth;
"you might keep my luggage till I wire my address. There
are only a couple of trunks and some golf-clubs and a
"A leopard cub!" gasped Mrs. Quabarl. Even in her
departure this extraordinary person seemed destined to
leave a trail of embarrassment behind her.
"Well, it's rather left off being a cub; it's more
than half-grown, you know. A fowl every day and a rabbit
on Sundays is what it usually gets. Raw beef makes it
too excitable. Don't trouble about getting the car for
me, I'm rather inclined for a walk."
And Lady Carlotta strode out of the Quabarl horizon.
The advent of the genuine Miss Hope, who had made a
mistake as to the day on which she was due to arrive,
caused a turmoil which that good lady was quite unused to
inspiring. Obviously the Quabarl family had been
woefully befooled, but a certain amount of relief came
with the knowledge.
"How tiresome for you, dear Carlotta," said her
hostess, when the overdue guest ultimately arrived; "how
very tiresome losing your train and having to stop
overnight in a strange place."
"Oh dear, no," said Lady Carlotta; "not at all
tiresome - for me."
THE SEVENTH PULLET
"IT'S not the daily grind that I complain of," said
Blenkinthrope resentfully; "it's the dull grey sameness
of my life outside of office hours. Nothing of interest
comes my way, nothing remarkable or out of the common.
Even the little things that I do try to find some
interest in don't seem to interest other people. Things
in my garden, for instance."
"The potato that weighed just over two pounds," said
his friend Gorworth.
"Did I tell you about that?" said Blenkinthrope; "I
was telling the others in the train this morning. I
forgot if I'd told you."
"To be exact you told me that it weighed just under
two pounds, but I took into account the fact that
abnormal vegetables and freshwater fish have an after-
life, in which growth is not arrested."
"You're just like the others," said Blenkinthrope
sadly, "you only make fun of it."
"The fault is with the potato, not with us," said
Gorworth; "we are not in the least interested in it
because it is not in the least interesting. The men you
go up in the train with every day are just in the same
case as yourself; their lives are commonplace and not
very interesting to themselves, and they certainly are
not going to wax enthusiastic over the commonplace events
in other men's lives. Tell them something startling,
dramatic, piquant that has happened to yourself or to
someone in your family, and you will capture their
interest at once. They will talk about you with a
certain personal pride to all their acquaintances. 'Man
I know intimately, fellow called Blenkinthrope, lives
down my way, had two of his fingers clawed clean off by a
lobster he was carrying home to supper. Doctor says
entire hand may have to come off.' Now that is
conversation of a very high order. But imagine walking
into a tennis club with the remark: 'I know a man who has
grown a potato weighing two and a quarter pounds.'"
"But hang it all, my dear fellow," said
Blenkinthrope impatiently, "haven't I just told you that
nothing of a remarkable nature ever happens to me?"
"Invent something," said Gorworth. Since winning a
prize for excellence in Scriptural knowledge at a
preparatory school he had felt licensed to be a little
more unscrupulous than the circle he moved in. Much
might surely be excused to one who in early life could
give a list of seventeen trees mentioned in the Old
"What sort of thing?"asked Blenkinthrope, somewhat
"A snake got into your hen-run yesterday morning and
killed six out of seven pullets, first mesmerising them
with its eyes and then biting them as they stood
helpless. The seventh pullet was one of that French
sort, with feathers all over its eyes, so it escaped the
mesmeric snare, and just flew at what it could see of the
snake and pecked it to pieces."
"Thank you," said Blenkinthrope stiffly; "it's a
very clever invention. If such a thing had really
happened in my poultry-run I admit I should have been
proud and interested to tell people about it. But I'd
rather stick to fact, even if it is plain fact." All the
same his mind dwelt wistfully on the story of the Seventh
Pullet. He could picture himself telling it in the train
amid the absorbed interest of his fellow-passengers.
Unconsciously all sorts of little details and
improvements began to suggest themselves.
Wistfulness was still his dominant mood when he took
his seat in the railway carriage the next morning.
Opposite him sat Stevenham, who had attained to a
recognised brevet of importance through the fact of an
uncle having dropped dead in the act of voting at a
Parliamentary election. That had happened three years
ago, but Stevenham was still deferred to on all questions
of home and foreign politics.
"Hullo, how's the giant mushroom, or whatever it
was?" was all the notice Blenkinthrope got from his
Young Duckby, whom he mildly disliked, speedily
monopolised the general attention by an account of a
"Had four young pigeons carried off last night by a
whacking big rat. Oh, a monster he must have been; you
could tell by the size of the hole he made breaking into
No moderate-sized rat ever seemed to carry out any
predatory operations in these regions; they were all
enormous in their enormity.
"Pretty hard lines that," continued Duckby, seeing
that he had secured the attention and respect of the
company; "four squeakers carried off at one swoop. You'd
find it rather hard to match that in the way of unlooked-
for bad luck."
"I had six pullets out of a pen of seven killed by a
snake yesterday afternoon," said Blenkinthrope, in a
voice which he hardly recognised as his own.
"By a snake?" came in excited chorus.
"It fascinated them with its deadly, glittering
eyes, one after the other, and struck them down while
they stood helpless. A bedridden neighbour, who wasn't
able to call for assistance, witnessed it all from her
"Well, I never!" broke in the chorus, with
"The interesting part of it is about the seventh
pullet, the one that didn't get killed," resumed
Blenkinthrope, slowly lighting a cigarette. His
diffidence had left him, and he was beginning to realise
how safe and easy depravity can seem once one has the
courage to begin. "The six dead birds were Minorcas; the
seventh was a Houdan with a mop of feathers all over its
eyes. It could hardly see the snake at all, so of course
it wasn't mesmerised like the others. It just could see
something wriggling on the ground, and went for it and
pecked it to death."
"Well, I'm blessed!" exclaimed the chorus.
In the course of the next few days Blenkinthrope
discovered how little the loss of one's self-respect
affects one when one has gained the esteem of the world.
His story found its way into one of the poultry papers,
and was copied thence into a daily news-sheet as a matter
of general interest. A lady wrote from the North of
Scotland recounting a similar episode which she had
witnessed as occurring between a stoat and a blind
grouse. Somehow a lie seems so much less reprehensible
when one can call it a lee.
For awhile the adapter of the Seventh Pullet story
enjoyed to the full his altered standing as a person of
consequence, one who had had some share in the strange
events of his times. Then he was thrust once again into
the cold grey background by the sudden blossoming into
importance of Smith-Paddon, a daily fellow-traveller,
whose little girl had been knocked down and nearly hurt
by a car belonging to a musical-comedy actress. The
actress was not in the car at the time, but she was in
numerous photographs which appeared in the illustrated
papers of Zoto Dobreen inquiring after the well-being of
Maisie, daughter of Edmund Smith-Paddon, Esq. With this
new human interest to absorb them the travelling
companions were almost rude when Blenkinthrope tried to
explain his contrivance for keeping vipers and peregrine
falcons out of his chicken-run.
Gorworth, to whom he unburdened himself in private,
gave him the same counsel as heretofore.
"Yes, but what?"
The ready affirmative coupled with the question
betrayed a significant shifting of the ethical
It was a few days later that Blenkinthrope revealed
a chapter of family history to the customary gathering in
the railway carriage.
"Curious thing happened to my aunt, the one who
lives in Paris," he began. He had several aunts, but
they were all geographically distributed over Greater
"She was sitting on a seat in the Bois the other
afternoon, after lunching at the Roumanian Legation."
Whatever the story gained in picturesqueness from
the dragging-in of diplomatic "atmosphere," it ceased
from that moment to command any acceptance as a record of
current events. Gorworth had warned his neophyte that
this would be the case, but the traditional enthusiasm of
the neophyte had triumphed over discretion.
"She was feeling rather drowsy, the effect probably
of the champagne, which she's not in the habit of taking
in the middle of the day."
A subdued murmur of admiration went round the
company. Blenkinthrope's aunts were not used to taking
champagne in the middle of the year, regarding it
exclusively as a Christmas and New Year accessory.
"Presently a rather portly gentleman passed by her
seat and paused an instant to light a cigar. At that
moment a youngish man came up behind him, drew the blade
from a swordstick, and stabbed him half a dozen times
through and through. 'Scoundrel,' he cried to his
victim, 'you do not know me. My name is Henri Leturc.'
The elder man wiped away some of the blood that was
spattering his clothes, turned to his assailant, and
said: `And since when has an attempted assassination been
considered an introduction?' Then he finished lighting
his cigar and walked away. My aunt had intended
screaming for the police, but seeing the indifference
with which the principal in the affair treated the matter
she felt that it would be an impertinence on her part to
interfere. Of course I need hardly say she put the whole
thing down to the effects of a warm, drowsy afternoon and
the Legation champagne. Now comes the astonishing part
of my story. A fortnight later a bank manager was
stabbed to death with a swordstick in that very part of
the Bois. His assassin was the son of a charwoman
formerly working at the bank, who had been dismissed from
her job by the manager on account of chronic
intemperance. His name was Henri Leturc."
From that moment Blenkinthrope was tacitly accepted
as the Munchausen of the party. No effort was spared to
draw him out from day to day in the exercise of testing
their powers of credulity, and Blenkinthrope, in the
false security of an assured and receptive audience,
waxed industrious and ingenious in supplying the demand
for marvels. Duckby's satirical story of a tame otter
that had a tank in the garden to swim in, and whined
restlessly whenever the water-rate was overdue, was
scarcely an unfair parody of some of Blenkinthrope's
wilder efforts. And then one day came Nemesis.
Returning to his villa one evening Blenkinthrope
found his wife sitting in front of a pack of cards, which
she was scrutinising with unusual concentration.
"The same old patience-game?" he asked carelessly.
"No, dear; this is the Death's Head patience, the
most difficult of them all. I've never got it to work
out, and somehow I should be rather frightened if I did.
Mother only got it out once in her life; she was afraid
of it, too. Her great-aunt had done it once and fallen
dead from excitement the next moment, and mother always
had a feeling that she would die if she ever got it out.
She died the same night that she did it. She was in bad
health at the time, certainly, but it was a strange
"Don't do it if it frightens you," was
Blenkinthrope's practical comment as he left the room. A
few minutes later his wife called to him.
"John, it gave me such a turn, I nearly got it out.
Only the five of diamonds held me up at the end. I
really thought I'd done it."
"Why, you can do it," said Blenkinthrope, who had
come back to the room; "if you shift the eight of clubs
on to that open nine the five can be moved on to the
His wife made the suggested move with hasty,
trembling fingers, and piled the outstanding cards on to
their respective packs. Then she followed the example of
her mother and great-grand-aunt.
Blenkinthrope had been genuinely fond of his wife,
but in the midst of his bereavement one dominant thought
obtruded itself. Something sensational and real had at
last come into his life; no longer was it a grey,
colourless record. The headlines which might
appropriately describe his domestic tragedy kept shaping
themselves in his brain. "Inherited presentiment comes
true." "The Death's Head patience: Card-game that
justified its sinister name in three generations." He
wrote out a full story of the fatal occurrence for the
ESSEX VEDETTE, the editor of which was a friend of his,
and to another friend he gave a condensed account, to be
taken up to the office of one of the halfpenny dailies.
But in both cases his reputation as a romancer stood
fatally in the way of the fulfilment of his ambitions.
"Not the right thing to be Munchausening in a time of
sorrow" agreed his friends among themselves, and a brief
note of regret at the "sudden death of the wife of our
respected neighbour, Mr. John Blenkinthrope, from heart
failure," appearing in the news column of the local paper
was the forlorn outcome of his visions of widespread
Blenkinthrope shrank from the society of his
erstwhile travelling companions and took to travelling
townwards by an earlier train. He sometimes tries to
enlist the sympathy and attention of a chance
acquaintance in details of the whistling prowess of his
best canary or the dimensions of his largest beetroot; he
scarcely recognises himself as the man who was once
spoken about and pointed out as the owner of the Seventh
THE BLIND SPOT
"YOU'VE just come back from Adelaide's funeral,
haven't you?" said Sir Lulworth to his nephew; "I suppose
it was very like most other funerals?"
"I'll tell you all about it at lunch," said Egbert.
"You'll do nothing of the sort. It wouldn't be
respectful either to your great-aunt's memory or to the
lunch. We begin with Spanish olives, then a borshch,
then more olives and a bird of some kind, and a rather
enticing Rhenish wine, not at all expensive as wines go
in this country, but still quite laudable in its way.
Now there's absolutely nothing in that menu that
harmonises in the least with the subject of your great-
aunt Adelaide or her funeral. She was a charming woman,
and quite as intelligent as she had any need to be, but
somehow she always reminded me of an English cook's idea
of a Madras curry."
"She used to say you were frivolous," said Egbert.
Something in his tone suggested that he rather endorsed
"I believe I once considerably scandalised her by
declaring that clear soup was a more important factor in
life than a clear conscience. She had very little sense
of proportion. By the way, she made you her principal
heir, didn't she?"
"Yes," said Egbert, "and executor as well. It's in
that connection that I particularly want to speak to
"Business is not my strong point at any time," said
Sir Lulworth, "and certainly not when we're on the
immediate threshold of lunch."
"It isn't exactly business," explained Egbert, as he
followed his uncle into the dining-room.
"It's something rather serious. Very serious."
"Then we can't possibly speak about it now," said
Sir Lulworth; "no one could talk seriously during a
borshch. A beautifully constructed borshch, such as you
are going to experience presently, ought not only to
banish conversation but almost to annihilate thought.
Later on, when we arrive at the second stage of olives, I
shall be quite ready to discuss that new book on Borrow,
or, if you prefer it, the present situation in the Grand
Duchy of Luxemburg. But I absolutely decline to talk
anything approaching business till we have finished with
For the greater part of the meal Egbert sat in an
abstracted silence, the silence of a man whose mind is
focussed on one topic. When the coffee stage had been
reached he launched himself suddenly athwart his uncle's
reminiscences of the Court of Luxemburg.
"I think I told you that great-aunt Adelaide had
made me her executor. There wasn't very much to be done
in the way of legal matters, but I had to go through her
"That would be a fairly heavy task in itself. I
should imagine there were reams of family letters."
"Stacks of them, and most of them highly
uninteresting. There was one packet, however, which I
thought might repay a careful perusal. It was a bundle
of correspondence from her brother Peter."
"The Canon of tragic memory," said Lulworth.
"Exactly, of tragic memory, as you say; a tragedy
that has never been fathomed."
"Probably the simplest explanation was the correct
one," said Sir Lulworth; "he slipped on the stone
staircase and fractured his skull in falling."
Egbert shook his head. "The medical evidence all
went to prove that the blow on the head was struck by
some one coming up behind him. A wound caused by violent
contact with the steps could not possibly have been
inflicted at that angle of the skull. They experimented
with a dummy figure falling in every conceivable
"But the motive?" exclaimed Sir Lulworth; "no one
had any interest in doing away with him, and the number
of people who destroy Canons of the Established Church
for the mere fun of killing must be extremely limited.
Of course there are individuals of weak mental balance
who do that sort of thing, but they seldom conceal their
handiwork; they are more generally inclined to parade
"His cook was under suspicion," said Egbert shortly.
"I know he was," said Sir Lulworth, "simply because
he was about the only person on the premises at the time
of the tragedy. But could anything be sillier than
trying to fasten a charge of murder on to Sebastien? He
had nothing to gain, in fact, a good deal to lose, from
the death of his employer. The Canon was paying him
quite as good wages as I was able to offer him when I
took him over into my service. I have since raised them
to something a little more in accordance with his real
worth, but at the time he was glad to find a new place
without troubling about an increase of wages. People
were fighting rather shy of him, and he had no friends in
this country. No; if anyone in the world was interested
in the prolonged life and unimpaired digestion of the
Canon it would certainly be Sebastien."
"People don't always weigh the consequences of their
rash acts," said Egbert, "otherwise there would be very
few murders committed. Sebastien is a man of hot
"He is a southerner," admitted Sir Lulworth; "to be
geographically exact I believe he hails from the French
slopes of the Pyrenees. I took that into consideration
when he nearly killed the gardener's boy the other day
for bringing him a spurious substitute for sorrel. One
must always make allowances for origin and locality and
early environment; `Tell me your longitude and I'll know
what latitude to allow you,' is my motto."
"There, you see," said Egbert, "he nearly killed the
"My dear Egbert, between nearly killing a gardener's
boy and altogether killing a Canon there is a wide
difference. No doubt you have often felt a temporary
desire to kill a gardener's boy; you have never given way
to it, and I respect you for your self-control. But I
don't suppose you have ever wanted to kill an
octogenarian Canon. Besides, as far as we know, there
had never been any quarrel or disagreement between the
two men. The evidence at the inquest brought that out
"Ah!" said Egbert, with the air of a man coming at
last into a deferred inheritance of conversational
importance, "that is precisely what I want to speak to
He pushed away his coffee cup and drew a pocket-book
from his inner breast-pocket. From the depths of the
pocket-book he produced an envelope, and from the
envelope he extracted a letter, closely written in a
small, neat handwriting.
"One of the Canon's numerous letters to Aunt
Adelaide," he explained, "written a few days before his
death. Her memory was already failing when she received
it, and I daresay she forgot the contents as soon as she
had read it; otherwise, in the light of what subsequently
happened, we should have heard something of this letter
before now. If it had been produced at the inquest I
fancy it would have made some difference in the course of
affairs. The evidence, as you remarked just now, choked
off suspicion against Sebastien by disclosing an utter
absence of anything that could be considered a motive or
provocation for the crime, if crime there was."
"Oh, read the letter," said Sir Lulworth
"It's a long rambling affair, like most of his
letters in his later years," said Egbert. "I'll read the
part that bears immediately on the mystery.
" 'I very much fear I shall have to get rid of
Sebastien. He cooks divinely, but he has the temper of a
fiend or an anthropoid ape, and I am really in bodily
fear of him. We had a dispute the other day as to the
correct sort of lunch to be served on Ash Wednesday, and
I got so irritated and annoyed at his conceit and
obstinacy that at last I threw a cupful of coffee in his
face and called him at the same time an impudent
jackanapes. Very little of the coffee went actually in
his face, but I have never seen a human being show such
deplorable lack of self-control. I laughed at the threat
of killing me that he spluttered out in his rage, and
thought the whole thing would blow over, but I have
several times since caught him scowling and muttering in
a highly unpleasant fashion, and lately I have fancied
that he was dogging my footsteps about the grounds,
particularly when I walk of an evening in the Italian
"It was on the steps in the Italian Garden that the
body was found," commented Egbert, and resumed reading.
" 'I daresay the danger is imaginary; but I shall
feel more at ease when he has quitted my service.' "
Egbert paused for a moment at the conclusion of the
extract; then, as his uncle made no remark, he added: "If
lack of motive was the only factor that saved Sebastien
from prosecution I fancy this letter will put a different
complexion on matters."
"Have you shown it to anyone else?" asked Sir
Lulworth, reaching out his hand for the incriminating
piece of paper.
"No," said Egbert, handing it across the table, "I
thought I would tell you about it first. Heavens, what
are you doing?"
Egbert's voice rose almost to a scream. Sir
Lulworth had flung the paper well and truly into the
glowing centre of the grate. The small, neat hand-
writing shrivelled into black flaky nothingness.
"What on earth did you do that for?" gasped Egbert.
"That letter was our one piece of evidence to connect
Sebastien with the crime."
"That is why I destroyed it," said Sir Lulworth.
"But why should you want to shield him?" cried
Egbert; "the man is a common murderer."
"A common murderer, possibly, but a very uncommon
NORMAN GORTSBY sat on a bench in the Park, with his
back to a strip of bush-planted sward, fenced by the park
railings, and the Row fronting him across a wide stretch
of carriage drive. Hyde Park Corner, with its rattle and
hoot of traffic, lay immediately to his right. It was
some thirty minutes past six on an early March evening,
and dusk had fallen heavily over the scene, dusk
mitigated by some faint moonlight and many street lamps.
There was a wide emptiness over road and sidewalk, and
yet there were many unconsidered figures moving silently
through the half-light, or dotted unobtrusively on bench
and chair, scarcely to be distinguished from the shadowed
gloom in which they sat.
The scene pleased Gortsby and harmonised with his
present mood. Dusk, to his mind, was the hour of the
defeated. Men and women, who had fought and lost, who
hid their fallen fortunes and dead hopes as far as
possible from the scrutiny of the curious, came forth in
this hour of gloaming, when their shabby clothes and
bowed shoulders and unhappy eyes might pass unnoticed,
or, at any rate, unrecognised.
A king that is conquered must see strange looks,
So bitter a thing is the heart of man.
The wanderers in the dusk did not choose to have
strange looks fasten on them, therefore they came out in
this bat-fashion, taking their pleasure sadly in a
pleasure-ground that had emptied of its rightful
occupants. Beyond the sheltering screen of bushes and
palings came a realm of brilliant lights and noisy,
rushing traffic. A blazing, many-tiered stretch of
windows shone through the dusk and almost dispersed it,
marking the haunts of those other people, who held their
own in life's struggle, or at any rate had not had to
admit failure. So Gortsby's imagination pictured things
as he sat on his bench in the almost deserted walk. He
was in the mood to count himself among the defeated.
Money troubles did not press on him; had he so wished he
could have strolled into the thoroughfares of light and
noise, and taken his place among the jostling ranks of
those who enjoyed prosperity or struggled for it. He had
failed in a more subtle ambition, and for the moment he
was heartsore and disillusionised, and not disinclined to
take a certain cynical pleasure in observing and
labelling his fellow wanderers as they went their ways in
the dark stretches between the lamp-lights.
On the bench by his side sat an elderly gentleman
with a drooping air of defiance that was probably the
remaining vestige of self-respect in an individual who
had ceased to defy successfully anybody or anything. His
clothes could scarcely be called shabby, at least they
passed muster in the half-light, but one's imagination
could not have pictured the wearer embarking on the
purchase of a half-crown box of chocolates or laying out
ninepence on a carnation buttonhole. He belonged
unmistakably to that forlorn orchestra to whose piping no
one dances; he was one of the world's lamenters who
induce no responsive weeping. As he rose to go Gortsby
imagined him returning to a home circle where he was
snubbed and of no account, or to some bleak lodging where
his ability to pay a weekly bill was the beginning and
end of the interest he inspired. His retreating figure
vanished slowly into the shadows, and his place on the
bench was taken almost immediately by a young man, fairly
well dressed but scarcely more cheerful of mien than his
predecessor. As if to emphasise the fact that the world
went badly with him the new-corner unburdened himself of
an angry and very audible expletive as he flung himself
into the seat.
"You don't seem in a very good temper," said
Gortsby, judging that he was expected to take due notice
of the demonstration.
The young man turned to him with a look of disarming
frankness which put him instantly on his guard.
"You wouldn't be in a good temper if you were in the
fix I'm in," he said; "I've done the silliest thing I've
ever done in my life."
"Yes?" said Gortsby dispassionately.
"Came up this afternoon, meaning to stay at the
Patagonian Hotel in Berkshire Square," continued the
young man; "when I got there I found it had been pulled
down some weeks ago and a cinema theatre run up on the
site. The taxi driver recommended me to another hotel
some way off and I went there. I just sent a letter to
my people, giving them the address, and then I went out
to buy some soap - I'd forgotten to pack any and I hate
using hotel soap. Then I strolled about a bit, had a
drink at a bar and looked at the shops, and when I came
to turn my steps back to the hotel I suddenly realised
that I didn't remember its name or even what street it
was in. There's a nice predicament for a fellow who
hasn't any friends or connections in London! Of course I
can wire to my people for the address, but they won't
have got my letter till to-morrow; meantime I'm without
any money, came out with about a shilling on me, which
went in buying the soap and getting the drink, and here I
am, wandering about with twopence in my pocket and
nowhere to go for the night."
There was an eloquent pause after the story had been
told. "I suppose you think I've spun you rather an
impossible yarn," said the young man presently,with a
suggestion of resentment in his voice.
"Not at all impossible," said Gortsby judicially; "I
remember doing exactly the same thing once in a foreign
capital, and on that occasion there were two of us, which
made it more remarkable. Luckily we remembered that the
hotel was on a sort of canal, and when we struck the
canal we were able to find our way back to the hotel."
The youth brightened at the reminiscence. "In a
foreign city I wouldn't mind so much," he said; "one
could go to one's Consul and get the requisite help from
him. Here in one's own land one is far more derelict if
one gets into a fix. Unless I can find some decent chap
to swallow my story and lend me some money I seem likely
to spend the night on the Embankment. I'm glad, anyhow,
that you don't think the story outrageously improbable."
He threw a good deal of warmth into the last remark,
as though perhaps to indicate his hope that Gortsby did
not fall far short of the requisite decency.
"Of course," said Gortsby slowly, "the weak point of
your story is that you can't produce the soap."
The young man sat forward hurriedly, felt rapidly in
the pockets of his overcoat, and then jumped to his feet.
"I must have lost it," he muttered angrily.
"To lose an hotel and a cake of soap on one
afternoon suggests wilful carelessness," said Gortsby,
but the young man scarcely waited to hear the end of the
remark. He flitted away down the path, his head held
high, with an air of somewhat jaded jauntiness.
"It was a pity," mused Gortsby; "the going out to
get one's own soap was the one convincing touch in the
whole story, and yet it was just that little detail that
brought him to grief. If he had had the brilliant
forethought to provide himself with a cake of soap,
wrapped and sealed with all the solicitude of the
chemist's counter, he would have been a genius in his
particular line. In his particular line genius certainly
consists of an infinite capacity for taking precautions."
With that reflection Gortsby rose to go; as he did
so an exclamation of concern escaped him. Lying on the
ground by the side of the bench was a small oval packet,
wrapped and sealed with the solicitude of a chemist's
counter. It could be nothing else but a cake of soap,
and it had evidently fallen out of the youth's overcoat
pocket when he flung himself down on the seat. In
another moment Gortsby was scudding along the dusk-
shrouded path in anxious quest for a youthful figure in a
light overcoat. He had nearly given up the search when
he caught sight of the object of his pursuit standing
irresolutely on the border of the carriage drive,
evidently uncertain whether to strike across the Park or
make for the bustling pavements of Knightsbridge. He
turned round sharply with an air of defensive hostility
when he found Gortsby hailing him.
"The important witness to the genuineness of your
story has turned up," said Gortsby, holding out the cake
of soap; "it must have slid out of your overcoat pocket
when you sat down on the seat. I saw it on the ground
after you left. You must excuse my disbelief, but
appearances were really rather against you, and now, as I
appealed to the testimony of the soap I think I ought to
abide by its verdict. If the loan of a sovereign is any
good to you - "
The young man hastily removed all doubt on the
subject by pocketing the coin.
"Here is my card with my address," continued
Gortsby; "any day this week will do for returning the
money, and here is the soap - don't lose it again it's
been a good friend to you."
"Lucky thing your finding it," said the youth, and
then, with a catch in his voice, he blurted out a word or
two of thanks and fled headlong in the direction of
"Poor boy, he as nearly as possible broke down,"
said Gortsby to himself. "I don't wonder either; the
relief from his quandary must have been acute. It's a
lesson to me not to be too clever in judging by
As Gortsby retraced his steps past the seat where
the little drama had taken place he saw an elderly
gentleman poking and peering beneath it and on all sides
of it, and recognised his earlier fellow occupant.
"Have you lost anything, sir?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, a cake of soap."
A TOUCH OF REALISM
"I HOPE you've come full of suggestions for
Christmas," said Lady Blonze to her latest arrived guest;
"the old-fashioned Christmas and the up-to-date Christmas
are both so played out. I want to have something really
original this year."
"I was staying with the Mathesons last month," said
Blanche Boveal eagerly, "and we had such a good idea.
Every one in the house-party had to be a character and
behave consistently all the time, and at the end of the
visit one had to guess what every one's character was.
The one who was voted to have acted his or her character
best got a prize."
"It sounds amusing," said Lady Blonze.
"I was St. Francis of Assisi," continued Blanche;
"we hadn't got to keep to our right sexes. I kept
getting up in the middle of a meal, and throwing out food
to the birds; you see, the chief thing that one remembers
of St. Francis is that he was fond of the birds. Every
one was so stupid about it, and thought that I was the
old man who feeds the sparrows in the Tuileries Gardens.
Then Colonel Pentley was the Jolly Miller on the banks of
"How on earth did he do that?" asked Bertie van
" 'He laughed and sang from morn till night,' "
"How dreadful for the rest of you," said Bertie;
"and anyway he wasn't on the banks of Dee."
"One had to imagine that," said Blanche.
"If you could imagine all that you might as well
imagine cattle on the further bank and keep on calling
them home, Mary-fashion, across the sands of Dee. Or you
might change the river to the Yarrow and imagine it was
on the top of you, and say you were Willie, or whoever it
was, drowned in Yarrow."
"Of course it's easy to make fun of it," said
Blanche sharply, "but it was extremely interesting and
amusing. The prize was rather a fiasco, though. You
see, Millie Matheson said her character was Lady
Bountiful, and as she was our hostess of course we all
had to vote that she had carried out her character better
than anyone. Otherwise I ought to have got the prize."
"It's quite an idea for a Christmas party," said
Lady Blonze; "we must certainly do it here."
Sir Nicholas was not so enthusiastic. "Are you
quite sure, my dear, that you're wise in doing this
thing?" he said to his wife when they were alone
together. "It might do very well at the Mathesons, where
they had rather a staid, elderly house-party, but here it
will be a different matter. There is the Durmot flapper,
for instance, who simply stops at nothing, and you know
what Van Tahn is like. Then there is Cyril Skatterly; he
has madness on one side of his family and a Hungarian
grandmother on the other."
"I don't see what they could do that would matter,"
said Lady Blonze.
"It's the unknown that is to be dreaded," said Sir
Nicholas. "If Skatterly took it into his head to
represent a Bull of Bashan, well, I'd rather not be
"Of course we shan't allow any Bible characters.
Besides, I don't know what the Bulls of Bashan really did
that was so very dreadful; they just came round and
gaped, as far as I remember."
"My dear, you don't know what Skatterly's Hungarian
imagination mightn't read into the part; it would be
small satisfaction to say to him afterwards: 'You've
behaved as no Bull of Bashan would have behaved.' "
"Oh, you're an alarmist," said Lady Blonze; I
particularly want to have this idea carried out. It will
be sure to be talked about a lot."
"That is quite possible," said Sir Nicholas.
* * * *
Dinner that evening was not a particularly lively
affair; the strain of trying to impersonate a self-
imposed character or to glean hints of identity from
other people's conduct acted as a check on the natural
festivity of such a gathering. There was a general
feeling of gratitude and acquiescence when good-natured
Rachel Klammerstein suggested that there should be an
hour or two's respite from "the game" while they all
listened to a little piano-playing after dinner.
Rachel's love of piano music was not indiscriminate, and
concentrated itself chiefly on selections rendered by her
idolised offspring, Moritz and Augusta, who, to do them
justice, played remarkably well.
The Klammersteins were deservedly popular as
Christmas guests; they gave expensive gifts lavishly on
Christmas Day and New Year, and Mrs. Klammerstein had
already dropped hints of her intention to present the
prize for the best enacted character in the game
competition. Every one had brightened at this prospect;
if it had fallen to Lady Blonze, as hostess, to provide
the prize, she would have considered that a little
souvenir of some twenty or twenty-five shillings' value
would meet the case, whereas coming from a Klammerstein
source it would certainly run to several guineas.
The close time for impersonation efforts came to an
end with the final withdrawal of Moritz and Augusta from
the piano. Blanche Boveal retired early, leaving the
room in a series of laboured leaps that she hoped might
be recognised as a tolerable imitation of Pavlova. Vera
Durmot, the sixteen-year-old flapper, expressed her
confident opinion that the performance was intended to
typify Mark Twain's famous jumping frog, and her
diagnosis of the case found general acceptance. Another
guest to set an example of early bed-going was Waldo
Plubley, who conducted his life on a minutely regulated
system of time-tables and hygienic routine. Waldo was a
plump, indolent young man of seven-and-twenty, whose
mother had early in his life decided for him that he was
unusually delicate, and by dint of much coddling and
home-keeping had succeeded in making him physically soft
and mentally peevish. Nine hours' unbroken sleep,
preceded by elaborate breathing exercises and other
hygienic ritual, was among the indispensable regulations
which Waldo imposed on himself, and there were
innumerable small observances which he exacted from those
who were in any way obliged to minister to his
requirements; a special teapot for the decoction of his
early tea was always solemnly handed over to the bedroom
staff of any house in which he happened to be staying.
No one had ever quite mastered the mechanism of this
precious vessel, but Bertie van Tahn was responsible for
the legend that its spout had to be kept facing north
during the process of infusion.
On this particular night the irreducible nine hours
were severely mutilated by the sudden and by no means
noiseless incursion of a pyjama-clad figure into Waldo's
room at an hour midway between midnight and dawn.
"What is the matter? What are you looking for?"
asked the awakened and astonished Waldo, slowly
recognising Van Tahn, who appeared to be searching
hastily for something he had lost.
"Looking for sheep," was the reply.
"Sheep?" exclaimed Waldo.
"Yes, sheep. You don't suppose I'm looking for
giraffes, do you?"
"I don't see why you should expect to find either in
my room," retorted Waldo furiously.
"I can't argue the matter at this hour of the
night," said Bertie, and began hastily rummaging in the
chest of drawers. Shirts and underwear went flying on to
"There are no sheep here, I tell you," screamed
"I've only got your word for it," said Bertie,
whisking most of the bedclothes on to the floor; "if you
weren't concealing something you wouldn't be so
Waldo was by this time convinced that Van Tahn was
raving mad, and made an anxious, effort to humour him.
"Go back to bed like a dear fellow," he pleaded,
"and your sheep will turn up all right in the morning."
"I daresay," said Bertie gloomily, "without their
tails. Nice fool I shall look with a lot of Manx sheep."
And by way of emphasising his annoyance at the
prospect he sent Waldo's pillows flying to the top of the
"But WHY no tails?" asked Waldo, whose teeth were
chattering with fear and rage and lowered temperature.
"My dear boy, have you never heard the ballad of
Little Bo-Peep?" said Bertie with a chuckle. "It's my
character in the Game, you know. If I didn't go hunting
about for my lost sheep no one would be able to guess who
I was; and now go to sleepy weeps like a good child or I
shall be cross with you."
"I leave you to imagine," wrote Waldo in the course
of a long letter to his mother, "how much sleep I was
able to recover that night, and you know how essential
nine uninterrupted hours of slumber are to my health."
On the other hand he was able to devote some wakeful
hours to exercises in breathing wrath and fury against
Bertie van Tahn.
Breakfast at Blonzecourt was a scattered meal, on
the "come when you please" principle, but the house-party
was supposed to gather in full strength at lunch. On the
day after the "Game" had been started there were,
however, some notable absentees. Waldo Plubley, for
instance, was reported to be nursing a headache. A large
breakfast and an "A.B.C." had been taken up to his room,
but he had made no appearance in the flesh.
"I expect he's playing up to some character," said
Vera Durmot; "isn't there a thing of Moliere's, 'LE
MALADE IMAGINAIRE'? I expect he's that."
Eight or nine lists came out, and were duly
pencilled with the suggestion.
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