BEASTS AND SUPER-BEASTS - H. H. MUNRO ("SAKI")
Part 4 out of 5
of names conveys awfully little to one, you know. If you
were an army officer and had lost your identity you might
pore over the Army List for months without finding out
who your were. I'm going on another tack; I'm trying to
find out by various little tests who I am NOT - that will
narrow the range of uncertainty down a bit. You may have
noticed, for instance, that I'm lunching principally off
Jerton had not ventured to notice anything of the
"It's an extravagance, because it's one of the most
expensive dishes on the menu, but at any rate it proves
that I'm not Lady Starping; she never touches shell-fish,
and poor Lady Braddleshrub has no digestion at all; if I
am HER I shall certainly die in agony in the course of
the afternoon, and the duty of finding out who I am will
devolve on the press and the police and those sort of
people; I shall be past caring. Lady Knewford doesn't
know one rose from another and she hates men, so she
wouldn't have spoken to you in any case; and Lady
Mousehilton flirts with every man she meets - I haven't
flirted with you, have I?"
Jerton hastily gave the required assurance.
"Well, you see," continued the lady, "that knocks
four off the list at once."
"It'll be rather a lengthy process bringing the list
down to one," said Jerton.
"Oh, but, of course, there are heaps of them that I
couldn't possibly be - women who've got grandchildren or
sons old enough to have celebrated their coming of age.
I've only got to consider the ones about my own age. I
tell you how you might help me this afternoon, if you
don't mind; go through any of the back numbers of COUNTRY
LIFE and those sort of papers that you can find in the
smoking-room, and see if you come across my portrait with
infant son or anything of that sort. It won't take you
ten minutes. I'll meet you in the lounge about tea-time.
And the Fair Unknown, having graciously pressed
Jerton into the search for her lost identity, rose and
left the room. As she passed the young man's table she
halted for a moment and whispered:
"Did you notice that I tipped the waiter a shilling?
We can cross Lady Ulwight off the list; she would have
died rather than do that."
At five o'clock Jerton made his way to the hotel
lounge; he had spent a diligent but fruitless quarter of
an hour among the illustrated weeklies in the smoking-
room. His new acquaintance was seated at a small tea-
table, with a waiter hovering in attendance.
"China tea or Indian?" she asked as Jerton came up.
"China, please, and nothing to eat. Have you
"Only negative information. I'm not Lady Befnal.
She disapproves dreadfully of any form of gambling, so
when I recognised a well-known book maker in the hotel
lobby I went and put a tenner on an unnamed filly by
William the Third out of Mitrovitza for the three-fifteen
race. I suppose the fact of the animal being nameless
was what attracted me."
Did it win?" asked Jerton.
"No, came in fourth, the most irritating thing a
horse can do when you've backed it win or place. Anyhow,
I know now that I'm not Lady Befnal."
"It seems to me that the knowledge was rather dearly
bought," commented Jerton.
"Well, yes, it has rather cleared me out," admitted
the identity-seeker; "a florin is about all I've got left
on me. The lobster Newburg made my lunch rather an
expensive one, and, of course, I had to tip that boy for
what he did to the Kestrel-Smith locks. I've got rather
a useful idea, though. I feel certain that I belong to
the Pivot Club; I'll go back to town and ask the hall
porter there if there are any letters for me. He knows
all the members by sight, and if there are any letters or
telephone messages waiting for me of course that will
solve the problem. If he says there aren't any I shall
say: 'You know who I am, don't you?' so I'll find out
The plan seemed a sound one; a difficulty in its
execution suggested itself to Jerton.
"Of course," said the lady, when he hinted at the
obstacle, "there's my fare back to town, and my bill here
and cabs and things. If you'll lend me three pounds that
ought to see me through comfortably. Thanks ever so.
Then there is the question of that luggage: I don't want
to be saddled with that for the rest of my life. I'll
have it brought down to the hall and you can pretend to
mount guard over it while I'm writing a letter. Then I
shall just slip away to the station, and you can wander
off to the smoking-room, and they can do what they like
with the things. They'll advertise them after a bit and
the owner can claim them."
Jerton acquiesced in the manoeuvre, and duly mounted
guard over the luggage while its temporary owner slipped
unobtrusively out of the hotel. Her departure was not,
however, altogether unnoticed. Two gentlemen were
strolling past Jerton, and one of them remarked to the
"Did you see that tall young woman in grey who went
out just now? She is the Lady - "
His promenade carried him out of earshot at the
critical moment when he was about to disclose the elusive
identity. The Lady Who? Jerton could scarcely run after
a total stranger, break into his conversation, and ask
him for information concerning a chance passer-by.
Besides, it was desirable that he should keep up the
appearance of looking after the luggage. In a minute or
two, however, the important personage, the man who knew,
came strolling back alone. Jerton summoned up all his
courage and waylaid him.
"I think I heard you say you knew the lady who went
out of the hotel a few minutes ago, a tall lady, dressed
in grey. Excuse me for asking if you could tell me her
name; I've been talking to her for half an hour; she - er
- she knows all my people and seems to know me, so I
suppose I've met her somewhere before, but I'm blest if I
can put a name to her. Could you - ?"
"Certainly. She's a Mrs. Stroope."
"MRS.?" queried Jerton.
"Yes, she's the Lady Champion at golf in my part of
the world. An awful good sort, and goes about a good
deal in Society, but she has an awkward habit of losing
her memory every now and then, and gets into all sorts of
fixes. She's furious, too, if you make any allusion to
it afterwards. Good day, sir."
The stranger passed on his way, and before Jerton
had had time to assimilate his information he found his
whole attention centred on an angry-looking lady who was
making loud and fretful-seeming inquiries of the hotel
"Has any luggage been brought here from the station
by mistake, a dress-basket and dressing-case, with the
name Kestrel-Smith? It can't be traced anywhere. I saw
it put in at Victoria, that I'll swear. Why - there is
my luggage! and the locks have been tampered with!"
Jerton heard no more. He fled down to the Turkish
bath, and stayed there for hours.
THE STALLED OX
THEOPHIL ESHLEY was an artist by profession, a
cattle painter by force of environment. It is not to be
supposed that he lived on a ranche or a dairy farm, in an
atmosphere pervaded with horn and hoof, milking-stool,
and branding-iron. His home was in a park-like, villa-
dotted district that only just escaped the reproach of
being suburban. On one side of his garden there abutted
a small, picturesque meadow, in which an enterprising
neighbour pastured some small picturesque cows of the
Channel Island persuasion. At noonday in summertime the
cows stood knee-deep in tall meadow-grass under the shade
of a group of walnut trees, with the sunlight falling in
dappled patches on their mouse-sleek coats. Eshley had
conceived and executed a dainty picture of two reposeful
milch-cows in a setting of walnut tree and meadow-grass
and filtered sunbeam, and the Royal Academy had duly
exposed the same on the walls of its Summer Exhibition.
The Royal Academy encourages orderly, methodical habits
in its children. Eshley had painted a successful and
acceptable picture of cattle drowsing picturesquely under
walnut trees, and as he had begun, so, of necessity, he
went on. His "Noontide Peace," a study of two dun cows
under a walnut tree, was followed by "A Mid-day
Sanctuary," a study of a walnut tree, with two dun cows
under it. In due succession there came "Where the Gad-
Flies Cease from Troubling," "The Haven of the Herd," and
"A-dream in Dairyland," studies of walnut trees and dun
cows. His two attempts to break away from his own
tradition were signal failures: "Turtle Doves alarmed by
Sparrow-hawk" and "Wolves on the Roman Campagna" came
back to his studio in the guise of abominable heresies,
and Eshley climbed back into grace and the public gaze
with "A Shaded Nook where Drowsy Milkers Dream."
On a fine afternoon in late autumn he was putting
some finishing touches to a study of meadow weeds when
his neighbour, Adela Pingsford, assailed the outer door
of his studio with loud peremptory knockings.
"There is an ox in my garden," she announced, in
explanation of the tempestuous intrusion.
"An ox," said Eshley blankly, and rather fatuously;
"what kind of ox?"
"Oh, I don't know what kind," snapped the lady. "A
common or garden ox, to use the slang expression. It is
the garden part of it that I object to. My garden has
just been put straight for the winter, and an ox roaming
about in it won't improve matters. Besides, there are
the chrysanthemums just coming into flower."
"How did it get into the garden?" asked Eshley.
"I imagine it came in by the gate," said the lady
impatiently; "it couldn't have climbed the walls, and I
don't suppose anyone dropped it from an aeroplane as a
Bovril advertisement. The immediately important question
is not how it got in, but how to get it out."
"Won't it go?" said Eshley.
"If it was anxious to go," said Adela Pingsford
rather angrily, "I should not have come here to chat with
you about it. I'm practically all alone; the housemaid
is having her afternoon out and the cook is lying down
with an attack of neuralgia. Anything that I may have
learned at school or in after life about how to remove a
large ox from a small garden seems to have escaped from
my memory now. All I could think of was that you were a
near neighbour and a cattle painter, presumably more or
less familiar with the subjects that you painted, and
that you might be of some slight assistance. Possibly I
"I paint dairy cows, certainly," admitted Eshley,
"but I cannot claim to have had any experience in
rounding-up stray oxen. I've seen it done on a cinema
film, of course, but there were always horses and lots of
other accessories; besides, one never knows how much of
those pictures are faked."
Adela Pingsford said nothing, but led the way to her
garden. It was normally a fair-sized garden, but it
looked small in comparison with the ox, a huge mottled
brute, dull red about the head and shoulders, passing to
dirty white on the flanks and hind-quarters, with shaggy
ears and large blood-shot eyes. It bore about as much
resemblance to the dainty paddock heifers that Eshley was
accustomed to paint as the chief of a Kurdish nomad clan
would to a Japanese tea-shop girl. Eshley stood very
near the gate while he studied the animal's appearance
and demeanour. Adela Pingsford continued to say nothing.
"It's eating a chrysanthemum," said Eshley at last,
when the silence had become unbearable.
"How observant you are," said Adela bitterly. "You
seem to notice everything. As a matter of fact, it has
got six chrysanthemums in its mouth at the present
The necessity for doing something was becoming
imperative. Eshley took a step or two in the direction
of the animal, clapped his hands, and made noises of the
"Hish" and "Shoo" variety. If the ox heard them it gave
no outward indication of the fact.
"If any hens should ever stray into my garden," said
Adela, "I should certainly send for you to frighten them
out. You 'shoo' beautifully. Meanwhile, do you mind
trying to drive that ox away? That is a MADEMOISELLE
LOUISE BICHOT that he's begun on now," she added in icy
calm, as a glowing orange head was crushed into the huge
"Since you have been so frank about the variety of
the chrysanthemum," said Eshley, "I don't mind telling
you that this is an Ayrshire ox."
The icy calm broke down; Adela Pingsford used
language that sent the artist instinctively a few feet
nearer to the ox. He picked up a pea-stick and flung it
with some determination against the animal's mottled
flanks. The operation of mashing MADEMOISELLE LOUISE
BICHOT into a petal salad was suspended for a long
moment, while the ox gazed with concentrated inquiry at
the stick-thrower. Adela gazed with equal concentration
and more obvious hostility at the same focus. As the
beast neither lowered its head nor stamped its feet
Eshley ventured on another javelin exercise with another
pea-stick. The ox seemed to realise at once that it was
to go; it gave a hurried final pluck at the bed where the
chrysanthemums had been, and strode swiftly up the
garden. Eshley ran to head it towards the gate, but only
succeeded in quickening its pace from a walk to a
lumbering trot. With an air of inquiry, but with no real
hesitation, it crossed the tiny strip of turf that the
charitable called the croquet lawn, and pushed its way
through the open French window into the morning-room.
Some chrysanthemums and other autumn herbage stood about
the room in vases, and the animal resumed its browsing
operations; all the same, Eshley fancied that the
beginnings of a hunted look had come into its eyes, a
look that counselled respect. He discontinued his
attempt to interfere with its choice of surroundings.
"Mr. Eshley," said Adela in a shaking voice, "I
asked you to drive that beast out of my garden, but I did
not ask you to drive it into my house. If I must have it
anywhere on the premises I prefer the garden to the
"Cattle drives are not in my line," said Eshley; "if
I remember I told you so at the outset." "I quite
agree," retorted the lady, "painting pretty pictures of
pretty little cows is what you're suited for. Perhaps
you'd like to do a nice sketch of that ox making itself
at home in my morning-room?"
This time it seemed as if the worm had turned;
Eshley began striding away.
"Where are you going?" screamed Adela.
"To fetch implements," was the answer.
"Implements? I won't have you use a lasso. The
room will be wrecked if there's a struggle."
But the artist marched out of the garden. In a
couple of minutes he returned, laden with easel,
sketching-stool, and painting materials.
"Do you mean to say that you're going to sit quietly
down and paint that brute while it's destroying my
morning-room?" gasped Adela.
"It was your suggestion," said Eshley, setting his
canvas in position.
"I forbid it; I absolutely forbid it!" stormed
"I don't see what standing you have in the matter,"
said the artist; "you can hardly pretend that it's your
ox, even by adoption."
"You seem to forget that it's in my morning-room,
eating my flowers," came the raging retort.
"You seem to forget that the cook has neuralgia,"
said Eshley; "she may be just dozing off into a merciful
sleep and your outcry will waken her. Consideration for
others should be the guiding principle of people in our
station of life."
"The man is mad!" exclaimed Adela tragically. A
moment later it was Adela herself who appeared to go mad.
The ox had finished the vase-flowers and the cover of
"Israel Kalisch," and appeared to be thinking of leaving
its rather restricted quarters. Eshley noticed its
restlessness and promptly flung it some bunches of
Virginia creeper leaves as an inducement to continue the
"I forget how the proverb runs," he observed; of
something about 'better a dinner of herbs than a stalled
ox where hate is.' We seem to have all the ingredients
for the proverb ready to hand."
"I shall go to the Public Library and get them to
telephone for the police," announced Adela, and, raging
audibly, she departed.
Some minutes later the ox, awakening probably to the
suspicion that oil cake and chopped mangold was waiting
for it in some appointed byre, stepped with much
precaution out of the morning-room, stared with grave
inquiry at the no longer obtrusive and pea-stick-throwing
human, and then lumbered heavily but swiftly out of the
garden. Eshley packed up his tools and followed the
animal's example and "Larkdene" was left to neuralgia and
The episode was the turning-point in Eshley's
artistic career. His remarkable picture, "Ox in a
morning-room, late autumn," was one of the sensations and
successes of the next Paris Salon, and when it was
subsequently exhibited at Munich it was bought by the
Bavarian Government, in the teeth of the spirited bidding
of three meat-extract firms. From that moment his
success was continuous and assured, and the Royal Academy
was thankful, two years later, to give a conspicuous
position on its walls to his large canvas "Barbary Apes
Wrecking a Boudoir."
Eshley presented Adela Pingsford with a new copy of
"Israel Kalisch," and a couple of finely flowering plants
of MADAME ADNRE BLUSSET, but nothing in the nature of a
real reconciliation has taken place between them.
IT was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was
correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at
Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead. The occupants of the
carriage were a small girl, and a smaller girl, and a
small boy. An aunt belonging to the children occupied
one corner seat, and the further corner seat on the
opposite side was occupied by a bachelor who was a
stranger to their party, but the small girls and the
small boy emphatically occupied the compartment. Both
the aunt and the children were conversational in a
limited, persistent way, reminding one of the attentions
of a housefly that refuses to be discouraged. Most of
the aunt's remarks seemed to begin with "Don't," and
nearly all of the children's remarks began with "Why?"
The bachelor said nothing out loud. "Don't, Cyril,
don't," exclaimed the aunt, as the small boy began
smacking the cushions of the seat, producing a cloud of
dust at each blow.
"Come and look out of the window," she added.
The child moved reluctantly to the window. "Why are
those sheep being driven out of that field?" he asked.
"I expect they are being driven to another field
where there is more grass," said the aunt weakly.
"But there is lots of grass in that field,"
protested the boy; "there's nothing else but grass there.
Aunt, there's lots of grass in that field."
"Perhaps the grass in the other field is better,"
suggested the aunt fatuously.
"Why is it better?" came the swift, inevitable
"Oh, look at those cows!" exclaimed the aunt.
Nearly every field along the line had contained cows or
bullocks, but she spoke as though she were drawing
attention to a rarity.
"Why is the grass in the other field better?"
The frown on the bachelor's face was deepening to a
scowl. He was a hard, unsympathetic man, the aunt
decided in her mind. She was utterly unable to come to
any satisfactory decision about the grass in the other
The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to
recite "On the Road to Mandalay." She only knew the
first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the
fullest possible use. She repeated the line over and
over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible
voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had
had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line
aloud two thousand times without stopping. Whoever it
was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.
"Come over here and listen to a story," said the
aunt, when the bachelor had looked twice at her and once
at the communication cord.
The children moved listlessly towards the aunt's end
of the carriage. Evidently her reputation as a story-
teller did not rank high in their estimation.
In a low, confidential voice, interrupted at
frequent intervals by loud, petulant questionings from
her listeners, she began an unenterprising and deplorably
uninteresting story about a little girl who was good, and
made friends with every one on account of her goodness,
and was finally saved from a mad bull by a number of
rescuers who admired her moral character.
"Wouldn't they have saved her if she hadn't been
good?" demanded the bigger of the small girls. It was
exactly the question that the bachelor had wanted to ask.
"Well, yes," admitted the aunt lamely, "but I don't
think they would have run quite so fast to her help if
they had not liked her so much."
"It's the stupidest story I've ever heard," said the
bigger of the small girls, with immense conviction.
"I didn't listen after the first bit, it was so
stupid," said Cyril.
The smaller girl made no actual comment on the
story, but she had long ago recommenced a murmured
repetition of her favourite line.
"You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller,"
said the bachelor suddenly from his corner.
The aunt bristled in instant defence at this
"It's a very difficult thing to tell stories that
children can both understand and appreciate," she said
"I don't agree with you," said the bachelor.
"Perhaps you would like to tell them a story," was
the aunt's retort.
"Tell us a story," demanded the bigger of the small
"Once upon a time," began the bachelor, "there was a
little girl called Bertha, who was extra-ordinarily
The children's momentarily-aroused interest began at
once to flicker; all stories seemed dreadfully alike, no
matter who told them.
"She did all that she was told, she was always
truthful, she kept her clothes clean, ate milk puddings
as though they were jam tarts, learned her lessons
perfectly, and was polite in her manners."
"Was she pretty?" asked the bigger of the small
"Not as pretty as any of you," said the bachelor,
"but she was horribly good."
There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story;
the word horrible in connection with goodness was a
novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a
ring of truth that was absent from the aunt's tales of
"She was so good," continued the bachelor, "that she
won several medals for goodness, which she always wore,
pinned on to her dress. There was a medal for obedience,
another medal for punctuality, and a third for good
behaviour. They were large metal medals and they clicked
against one another as she walked. No other child in the
town where she lived had as many as three medals, so
everybody knew that she must be an extra good child."
"Horribly good," quoted Cyril.
"Everybody talked about her goodness, and the Prince
of the country got to hear about it, and he said that as
she was so very good she might be allowed once a week to
walk in his park, which was just outside the town. It
was a beautiful park, and no children were ever allowed
in it, so it was a great honour for Bertha to be allowed
to go there."
"Were there any sheep in the park?" demanded Cyril.
"No;" said the bachelor, "there were no sheep."
"Why weren't there any sheep?" came the inevitable
question arising out of that answer.
The aunt permitted herself a smile, which might
almost have been described as a grin.
"There were no sheep in the park," said the
bachelor, "because the Prince's mother had once had a
dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or
else by a clock falling on him. For that reason the
Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his
The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.
"Was the Prince killed by a sheep or by a clock?"
"He is still alive, so we can't tell whether the
dream will come true," said the bachelor unconcernedly;
"anyway, there were no sheep in the park, but there were
lots of little pigs running all over the place."
"What colour were they?"
"Black with white faces, white with black spots,
black all over, grey with white patches, and some were
white all over."
The storyteller paused to let a full idea of the
park's treasures sink into the children's imaginations;
then he resumed:
"Bertha was rather sorry to find that there were no
flowers in the park. She had promised her aunts, with
tears in her eyes, that she would not pick any of the
kind Prince's flowers, and she had meant to keep her
promise, so of course it made her feel silly to find that
there were no flowers to pick."
"Why weren't there any flowers?"
"Because the pigs had eaten them all," said the
bachelor promptly. "The gardeners had told the Prince
that you couldn't have pigs and flowers, so he decided to
have pigs and no flowers."
There was a murmur of approval at the excellence of
the Prince's decision; so many people would have decided
the other way.
"There were lots of other delightful things in the
park. There were ponds with gold and blue and green fish
in them, and trees with beautiful parrots that said
clever things at a moment's notice, and humming birds
that hummed all the popular tunes of the day. Bertha
walked up and down and enjoyed herself immensely, and
thought to herself: 'If I were not so extraordinarily
good I should not have been allowed to come into this
beautiful park and enjoy all that there is to be seen in
it,' and her three medals clinked against one another as
she walked and helped to remind her how very good she
really was. Just then an enormous wolf came prowling
into the park to see if it could catch a fat little pig
for its supper."
"What colour was it?" asked the children, amid an
immediate quickening of interest.
"Mud-colour all over, with a black tongue and pale
grey eyes that gleamed with unspeakable ferocity. The
first thing that it saw in the park was Bertha; her
pinafore was so spotlessly white and clean that it could
be seen from a great distance. Bertha saw the wolf and
saw that it was stealing towards her, and she began to
wish that she had never been allowed to come into the
park. She ran as hard as she could, and the wolf came
after her with huge leaps and bounds. She managed to
reach a shrubbery of myrtle bushes and she hid herself in
one of the thickest of the bushes. The wolf came
sniffing among the branches, its black tongue lolling out
of its mouth and its pale grey eyes glaring with rage.
Bertha was terribly frightened, and thought to herself:
'If I had not been so extraordinarily good I should have
been safe in the town at this moment.' However, the
scent of the myrtle was so strong that the wolf could not
sniff out where Bertha was hiding, and the bushes were so
thick that he might have hunted about in them for a long
time without catching sight of her, so he thought he
might as well go off and catch a little pig instead.
Bertha was trembling very much at having the wolf
prowling and sniffing so near her, and as she trembled
the medal for obedience clinked against the medals for
good conduct and punctuality. The wolf was just moving
away when he heard the sound of the medals clinking and
stopped to listen; they clinked again in a bush quite
near him. He dashed into the bush, his pale grey eyes
gleaming with ferocity and triumph, and dragged Bertha
out and devoured her to the last morsel. All that was
left of her were her shoes, bits of clothing, and the
three medals for goodness."
"Were any of the little pigs killed?"
"No, they all escaped."
"The story began badly," said the smaller of the
small girls, "but it had a beautiful ending."
"It is the most beautiful story that I ever heard,"
said the bigger of the small girls, with immense
"It is the ONLY beautiful story I have ever heard,"
A dissentient opinion came from the aunt.
"A most improper story to tell to young children!
You have undermined the effect of years of careful
"At any rate," said the bachelor, collecting his
belongings preparatory to leaving the carriage, "I kept
them quiet for ten minutes, which was more than you were
able to do."
"Unhappy woman!" he observed to himself as he walked
down the platform of Templecombe station; "for the next
six months or so those children will assail her in public
with demands for an improper story!"
A DEFENSIVE DIAMOND
TREDDLEFORD sat in an easeful arm-chair in front of
a slumberous fire, with a volume of verse in his hand and
the comfortable consciousness that outside the club
windows the rain was dripping and pattering with
persistent purpose. A chill, wet October afternoon was
merging into a bleak, wet October evening, and the club
smoking-room seemed warmer and cosier by contrast. It
was an afternoon on which to be wafted away from one's
climatic surroundings, and "The Golden journey to
Samarkand" promised to bear Treddleford well and bravely
into other lands and under other skies. He had already
migrated from London the rain-swept to Bagdad the
Beautiful, and stood by the Sun Gate "in the olden time"
when an icy breath of imminent annoyance seemed to creep
between the book and himself. Amblecope, the man with
the restless, prominent eyes and the mouth ready
mobilised for conversational openings, had planted
himself in a neighbouring arm-chair. For a twelvemonth
and some odd weeks Treddleford had skilfully avoided
making the acquaintance of his voluble fellow-clubman; he
had marvellously escaped from the infliction of his
relentless record of tedious personal achievements, or
alleged achievements, on golf links, turf, and gaming
table, by flood and field and covert-side. Now his
season of immunity was coming to an end. There was no
escape; in another moment he would be numbered among
those who knew Amblecope to speak to - or rather, to
suffer being spoken to.
The intruder was armed with a copy of COUNTRY LIFE,
not for purposes of reading, but as an aid to
"Rather a good portrait of Throstlewing," he
remarked explosively, turning his large challenging eyes
on Treddleford; "somehow it reminds me very much of
Yellowstep, who was supposed to be such a good thing for
the Grand Prix in 1903. Curious race that was; I suppose
I've seen every race for the Grand Prix for the last - "
"Be kind enough never to mention the Grand Prix in
my hearing," said Treddleford desperately; "it awakens
acutely distressing memories. I can't explain why
without going into a long and complicated story."
"Oh, certainly, certainly," said Amblecope hastily;
long and complicated stories that were not told by
himself were abominable in his eyes. He turned the pages
of COUNTRY LIFE and became spuriously interested in the
picture of a Mongolian pheasant.
"Not a bad representation of the Mongolian variety,"
he exclaimed, holding it up for his neighbour's
inspection. "They do very well in some covers. Take
some stopping too, once they're fairly on the wing. I
suppose the biggest bag I ever made in two successive
days - "
"My aunt, who owns the greater part of
Lincolnshire," broke in Treddleford, with dramatic
abruptness, "possesses perhaps the most remarkable record
in the way of a pheasant bag that has ever been achieved.
She is seventy-five and can't hit a thing, but she always
goes out with the guns. When I say she can't hit a
thing, I don't mean to say that she doesn't occasionally
endanger the lives of her fellow-guns, because that
wouldn't be true. In fact, the chief Government Whip
won't allow Ministerial M.P.'s to go out with her; 'We
don't want to incur by-elections needlessly,' he quite
reasonably observed. Well, the other day she winged a
pheasant, and brought it to earth with a feather or two
knocked out of it; it was a runner, and my aunt saw
herself in danger of being done out of about the only
bird she'd hit during the present reign. Of course she
wasn't going to stand that; she followed it through
bracken and brushwood, and when it took to the open
country and started across a ploughed field she jumped on
to the shooting pony and went after it. The chase was a
long one, and when my aunt at last ran the bird to a
standstill she was nearer home than she was to the
shooting party; she had left that some five miles behind
"Rather a long run for a wounded pheasant," snapped
"The story rests on my aunt's authority," said
Treddleford coldly, "and she is local vice-president of
the Young Women's Christian Association. She trotted
three miles or so to her home, and it was not till the
middle of the afternoon that it was discovered that the
lunch for the entire shooting party was in a pannier
attached to the pony's saddle. Anyway, she got her
"Some birds, of course, take a lot of killing," said
Amblecope; "so do some fish. I remember once I was
fishing in the Exe, lovely trout stream, lots of fish,
though they don't run to any great size - "
"One of them did," announced Treddleford, with
emphasis. "My uncle, the Bishop of Southmolton, came
across a giant trout in a pool just off the main stream
of the Exe near Ugworthy; he tried it with every kind of
fly and worm every day for three weeks without an atom of
success, and then Fate intervened on his behalf. There
was a low stone bridge just over this pool, and on the
last day of his fishing holiday a motor van ran violently
into the parapet and turned completely over; no one was
hurt, but part of the parapet was knocked away, and the
entire load that the van was carrying was pitched over
and fell a little way into the pool. In a couple of
minutes the giant trout was flapping and twisting on bare
mud at the bottom of a waterless pool, and my uncle was
able to walk down to him and fold him to his breast. The
van-load consisted of blotting-paper, and every drop of
water in that pool had been sucked up into the mass of
There was silence for nearly half a minute in the
smoking-room, and Treddleford began to let his mind steal
back towards the golden road that led to Samarkand.
Amblecope, however, rallied, and remarked in a rather
tired and dispirited voice:
"Talking of motor accidents, the narrowest squeak I
ever had was the other day, motoring with old Tommy Yarby
in North Wales. Awfully good sort, old Yarby, thorough
good sportsman, and the best - "
"It was in North Wales," said Treddleford, "that my
sister met with her sensational carriage accident last
year. She was on her way to a garden-party at Lady
Nineveh's, about the only garden-party that ever comes to
pass in those parts in the course of the year, and
therefore a thing that she would have been very sorry to
miss. She was driving a young horse that she'd only
bought a week or two previously, warranted to be
perfectly steady with motor traffic, bicycles, and other
common objects of the roadside. The animal lived up to
its reputation, and passed the most explosive of motor-
bikes with an indifference that almost amounted to
apathy. However, I suppose we all draw the line
somewhere, and this particular cob drew it at travelling
wild beast shows. Of course my sister didn't know that,
but she knew it very distinctly when she turned a sharp
corner and found herself in a mixed company of camels,
piebald horses, and canary-coloured vans. The dogcart
was overturned in a ditch and kicked to splinters, and
the cob went home across country. Neither my sister nor
the groom was hurt, but the problem of how to get to the
Nineveh garden-party, some three miles distant, seemed
rather difficult to solve; once there, of course, my
sister would easily find some one to drive her home. 'I
suppose you wouldn't care for the loan of a couple of my
camels?' the showman suggested, in humorous sympathy. '
I would,' said my sister, who had ridden camel-back in
Egypt, and she overruled the objections of the groom, who
hadn't. She picked out two of the most presentable-
looking of the beasts and had them dusted and made as
tidy as was possible at short notice, and set out for the
Nineveh mansion. You may imagine the sensation that her
small but imposing caravan created when she arrived at
the hall door. The entire garden-party flocked up to
gape. My sister was rather glad to slip down from her
camel, and the groom was thankful to scramble down from
his. Then young Billy Doulton, of the Dragoon Guards,
who has been a lot at Aden and thinks he knows camel-
language backwards, thought he would show off by making
the beasts kneel down in orthodox fashion. Unfortunately
camel words-of-command are not the same all the world
over; these were magnificent Turkestan camels, accustomed
to stride up the stony terraces of mountain passes, and
when Doulton shouted at them they went side by side up
the front steps, into the entrance hall, and up the grand
staircase. The German governess met them just at the
turn of the corridor. The Ninevehs nursed her with
devoted attention for weeks, and when I last heard from
them she was well enough to go about her duties again,
but the doctor says she will always suffer from Hagenbeck
Amblecope got up from his chair and moved to another
part of the room. Treddleford reopened his book and
betook himself once more across
The dragon-green, the luminous, the dark, the
For a blessed half-hour he disported himself in
imagination by the "gay Aleppo-Gate," and listened to the
bird-voiced singing-man. Then the world of to-day called
him back; a page summoned him to speak with a friend on
As Treddleford was about to pass out of the room he
encountered Amblecope, also passing out, on his way to
the billiard-room, where, perchance, some luckless wight
might be secured and held fast to listen to the number of
his attendances at the Grand Prix, with subsequent
remarks on Newmarket and the Cambridgeshire. Amblecope
made as if to pass out first, but a new-born pride was
surging in Treddleford's breast and he waved him back.
"I believe I take precedence," he said coldly; "you
are merely the club Bore; I am the club Liar."
TERESA, Mrs. Thropplestance, was the richest and
most intractable old woman in the county of Woldshire.
In her dealings with the world in general her manner
suggested a blend between a Mistress of the Robes and a
Master of Foxhounds, with the vocabulary of both. In her
domestic circle she comported herself in the arbitrary
style that one attributes, probably without the least
justification, to an American political Boss in the bosom
of his caucus. The late Theodore Thropplestance had left
her, some thirty-five years ago, in absolute possession
of a considerable fortune, a large landed property, and a
gallery full of valuable pictures. In those intervening
years she had outlived her son and quarrelled with her
elder grandson, who had married without her consent or
approval. Bertie Thropplestance, her younger grandson,
was the heir-designate to her property, and as such he
was a centre of interest and concern to some half-hundred
ambitious mothers with daughters of marriageable age.
Bertie was an amiable, easy-going young man, who was
quite ready to marry anyone who was favourably
recommended to his notice, but he was not going to waste
his time in falling in love with anyone who would come
under his grandmother's veto. The favourable
recommendation would have to come from Mrs.
Teresa's house-parties were always rounded off with
a plentiful garnishing of presentable young women and
alert, attendant mothers, but the old lady was
emphatically discouraging whenever any one of her girl
guests became at all likely to outbid the others as a
possible granddaughter-in-law. It was the inheritance of
her fortune and estate that was in question, and she was
evidently disposed to exercise and enjoy her powers of
selection and rejection to the utmost. Bertie's
preferences did not greatly matter; he was of the sort
who can be stolidly happy with any kind of wife; he had
cheerfully put up with his grandmother all his life, so
was not likely to fret and fume over anything that might
befall him in the way of a helpmate.
The party that gathered under Teresa's roof in
Christmas week of the year nineteen-hundred-and-something
was of smaller proportions than usual, and Mrs. Yonelet,
who formed one of the party, was inclined to deduce
hopeful augury from this circumstance. Dora Yonelet and
Bertie were so obviously made for one another, she
confided to the vicar's wife, and if the old lady were
accustomed to seeing them about a lot together she might
adopt the view that they would make a suitable married
"People soon get used to an idea if it is dangled
constantly before their eyes," said Mrs. Yonelet
hopefully, "and the more often Teresa sees those young
people together, happy in each other's company, the more
she will get to take a kindly interest in Dora as a
possible and desirable wife for Bertie."
"My dear," said the vicar's wife resignedly, "my own
Sybil was thrown together with Bertie under the most
romantic circumstances - I'll tell you about it some day
- but it made no impression whatever on Teresa; she put
her foot down in the most uncompromising fashion, and
Sybil married an Indian civilian."
"Quite right of her," said Mrs. Yonelet with vague
approval; "it's what any girl of spirit would have done.
Still, that was a year or two ago, I believe; Bertie is
older now, and so is Teresa. Naturally she must be
anxious to see him settled."
The vicar's wife reflected that Teresa seemed to be
the one person who showed no immediate anxiety to supply
Bertie with a wife, but she kept the thought to herself.
Mrs. Yonelet was a woman of resourceful energy and
generalship; she involved the other members of the house-
party, the deadweight, so to speak, in all manner of
exercises and occupations that segregated them from
Bertie and Dora, who were left to their own devisings -
that is to say, to Dora's devisings and Bertie's
accommodating acquiescence. Dora helped in the Christmas
decorations of the parish church, and Bertie helped her
to help. Together they fed the swans, till the birds
went on a dyspepsia-strike, together they played
billiards, together they photographed the village
almshouses, and, at a respectful distance, the tame elk
that browsed in solitary aloofness in the park. It was
"tame" in the sense that it had long ago discarded the
least vestige of fear of the human race; nothing in its
record encouraged its human neighbours to feel a
Whatever sport or exercise or occupation Bertie and
Dora indulged in together was unfailingly chronicled and
advertised by Mrs. Yonelet for the due enlightenment of
"Those two inseparables have just come in from a
bicycle ride," she would announce; "quite a picture they
make, so fresh and glowing after their spin."
"A picture needing words," would be Teresa's private
comment, and as far as Bertie was concerned she was
determined that the words should remain unspoken.
On the afternoon after Christmas Day Mrs. Yonelet
dashed into the drawing-room, where her hostess was
sitting amid a circle of guests and teacups and muffin-
dishes. Fate had placed what seemed like a trump-card in
the hands of the patiently-manoeuvring mother. With eyes
blazing with excitement and a voice heavily escorted with
exclamation marks she made a dramatic announcement.
"Bertie has saved Dora from the elk!"
In swift, excited sentences, broken with maternal
emotion, she gave supplementary information as to how the
treacherous animal had ambushed Dora as she was hunting
for a strayed golf ball, and how Bertie had dashed to her
rescue with a stable fork and driven the beast off in the
nick of time.
"It was touch and go! She threw her niblick at it,
but that didn't stop it. In another moment she would
have been crushed beneath its hoofs," panted Mrs.
"The animal is not safe," said Teresa, handing her
agitated guest a cup of tea. "I forget if you take
sugar. I suppose the solitary life it leads has soured
its temper. There are muffins in the grate. It's not my
fault; I've tried to get it a mate for ever so long. You
don't know of anyone with a lady elk for sale or
exchange, do you?" she asked the company generally.
But Mrs. Yonelet was in no humour to listen to talk
of elk marriages. The mating of two human beings was the
subject uppermost in her mind, and the opportunity for
advancing her pet project was too valuable to be
"Teresa," she exclaimed impressively, "after those
two young people have been thrown together so
dramatically, nothing can be quite the same again between
them. Bertie has done more than save Dora's life; he has
earned her affection. One cannot help feeling that Fate
has consecrated them for one another."
"Exactly what the vicar's wife said when Bertie
saved Sybil from the elk a year or two ago," observed
Teresa placidly; "I pointed out to her that he had
rescued Mirabel Hicks from the same predicement a few
months previously, and that priority really belonged to
the gardener's boy, who had been rescued in the January
of that year. There is a good deal of sameness in
country life, you know."
"It seems to be a very dangerous animal," said one
of the guests.
"That's what the mother of the gardener's boy said,"
remarked Teresa; "she wanted me to have it destroyed, but
I pointed out to her that she had eleven children and I
had only one elk. I also gave her a black silk skirt;
she said that though there hadn't been a funeral in her
family she felt as if there had been. Anyhow, we parted
friends. I can't offer you a silk skirt, Emily, but you
may have another cup of tea. As I have already remarked,
there are muffins in the grate."
Teresa dosed the discussion, having deftly conveyed
the impression that she considered the mother of the
gardener's boy had shown a far more reasonable spirit
than the parents of other elk-assaulted victims.
"Teresa is devoid of feeling," said Mrs. Yonelet
afterwards to the vicar's wife; "to sit there, talking of
muffins, with an appalling tragedy only narrowly averted
"Of course you know whom she really intends Bertie
to marry?" asked the vicar's wife; "I've noticed it for
some time. The Bickelbys' German governess."
"A German governess! What an idea!" gasped Mrs.
"She's of quite good family, I believe," said the
vicar's wife, "and not at all the mouse-in-the-back-
ground sort of person that governesses are usually
supposed to be. In fact, next to Teresa, she's about the
most assertive and combative personality in the
neighbourhood. She's pointed out to my husband all sorts
of errors in his sermons, and she gave Sir Laurence a
public lecture on how he ought to handle the hounds. You
know how sensitive Sir Laurence is about any criticism of
his Mastership, and to have a governess laying down the
law to him nearly drove him into a fit. She's behaved
like that to every one, except, of course, Teresa, and
every one has been defensively rude to her in return.
The Bickelbys are simply too afraid of her to get rid of
her. Now isn't that exactly the sort of woman whom
Teresa would take a delight in installing as her
successor? Imagine the discomfort and awkwardness in the
county if we suddenly found that she was to be the future
hostess at the Hall. Teresa's only regret will be that
she won't be alive to see it."
"But," objected Mrs. Yonelet, "surely Bertie hasn't
shown the least sign of being attracted in that quarter?"
"Oh, she's quite nice-looking in a way, and dresses
well, and plays a good game of tennis. She often comes
across the park with messages from the Bickelby mansion,
and one of these days Bertie will rescue her from the
elk, which has become almost a habit with him, and Teresa
will say that Fate has consecrated them to one another.
Bertie might not be disposed to pay much attention to the
consecrations of Fate, but he would not dream of opposing
The vicar's wife spoke with the quiet authority of
one who has intuitive knowledge, and in her heart of
hearts Mrs. Yonelet believed her.
Six months later the elk had to be destroyed. In a
fit of exceptional moroseness it had killed the
Bickelbys' German governess. It was an irony of its fate
that it should achieve popularity in the last moments of
its career; at any rate, it established, the record of
being the only living thing that had permanently thwarted
Teresa Thropplestance's plans.
Dora Yonelet broke off her engagement with an Indian
civilian, and married Bertie three months after his
grandmother's death - Teresa did not long survive the
German governess fiasco. At Christmas time every year
young Mrs. Thropplestance hangs an extra large festoon of
evergreens on the elk horns that decorate the hall.
"It was a fearsome beast," she observes to Bertie,
"but I always feel that it was instrumental in bringing
Which, of course, was true.
"HAVE you written to thank the Froplinsons for what
they sent us?" asked Egbert.
"No," said Janetta, with a note of tired defiance in
her voice; "I've written eleven letters to-day expressing
surprise and gratitude for sundry unmerited gifts, but I
haven't written to the Froplinsons."
"Some one will have to write to them," said Egbert.
"I don't dispute the necessity, but I don't think
the some one should be me," said Janetta. "I wouldn't
mind writing a letter of angry recrimination or heartless
satire to some suitable recipient; in fact, I should
rather enjoy it, but I've come to the end of my capacity
for expressing servile amiability. Eleven letters to-day
and nine yesterday, all couched in the same strain of
ecstatic thankfulness: really, you can't expect me to sit
down to another. There is such a thing as writing
"I've written nearly as many," said Egbert, "and
I've had my usual business correspondence to get through,
too. Besides, I don't know what it was that the
Froplinsons sent us."
"A William the Conqueror calendar," said Janetta,
"with a quotation of one of his great thoughts for every
day in the year."
"Impossible," said Egbert; "he didn't have three
hundred and sixty-five thoughts in the whole of his life,
or, if he did, he kept them to himself. He was a man of
action, not of introspection."
"Well, it was William Wordsworth, then," said
Janetta; "I know William came into it somewhere."
"That sounds more probable," said Egbert; "well,
let's collaborate on this letter of thanks and get it
done. I'll dictate, and you can scribble it down. 'Dear
Mrs. Froplinson - thank you and your husband so much for
the very pretty calendar you sent us. It was very good
of you to think of us.' "
"You can't possibly say that," said Janetta, laying
down her pen.
"It's what I always do say, and what every one says
to me," protested Egbert.
"We sent them something on the twenty-second," said
Janetta, "so they simply HAD to think of us. There was
no getting away from it."
"What did we send them?" asked Egbert gloomily.
"Bridge-markers," said Janetta, "in a cardboard
case, with some inanity about 'digging for fortune with a
royal spade' emblazoned on the cover. The moment I saw
it in the shop I said to myself 'Froplinsons' and to the
attendant 'How much?' When he said 'Ninepence,' I gave
him their address, jabbed our card in, paid tenpence or
elevenpence to cover the postage, and thanked heaven.
With less sincerity and infinitely more trouble they
eventually thanked me."
"The Froplinsons don't play bridge," said Egbert.
"One is not supposed to notice social deformities of
that sort," said Janetta; "it wouldn't be polite.
Besides, what trouble did they take to find out whether
we read Wordsworth with gladness? For all they knew or
cared we might be frantically embedded in the belief that
all poetry begins and ends with John Masefield, and it
might infuriate or depress us to have a daily sample of
Wordsworthian products flung at us."
"Well, let's get on with the letter of thanks," said
"Proceed," said Janetta.
" 'How clever of you to guess that Wordsworth is our
favourite poet,' " dictated Egbert.
Again Janetta laid down her pen.
"Do you realise what that means?" she asked; "a
Wordsworth booklet next Christmas, and another calendar
the Christmas after, with the same problem of having to
write suitable letters of thankfulness. No, the best
thing to do is to drop all further allusion to the
calendar and switch off on to some other topic."
"But what other topic?"
"Oh, something like this: 'What do you think of the
New Year Honours List? A friend of ours made such a
clever remark when he read it.' Then you can stick in
any remark that comes into your head; it needn't be
clever. The Froplinsons won't know whether it is or
"We don't even know on which side they are in
politics," objected Egbert; "and anyhow you can't
suddenly dismiss the subject of the calendar. Surely
there must be some intelligent remark that can be made
"Well, we can't think of one," said Janetta wearily;
"the fact is, we've both written ourselves out. Heavens!
I've just remembered Mrs. Stephen Ludberry. I haven't
thanked her for what she sent."
"What did she send?"
"I forget; I think it was a calendar."
There was a long silence, the forlorn silence of
those who are bereft of hope and have almost ceased to
Presently Egbert started from his seat with an air
of resolution. The light of battle was in his eyes.
"Let me come to the writing-table," he exclaimed.
"Gladly," said Janetta. "Are you going to write to
Mrs. Ludberry or the Froplinsons?"
"To neither," said Egbert, drawing a stack of
notepaper towards him; "I'm going to write to the editor
of every enlightened and influential newspaper in the
Kingdom, I'm going to suggest that there should be a sort
of epistolary Truce of God during the festivities of
Christmas and New Year. From the twenty-fourth of
December to the third or fourth of January it shall be
considered an offence against good sense and good feeling
to write or expect any letter or communication that does
not deal with the necessary events of the moment.
Answers to invitations, arrangements about trains,
renewal of club subscriptions, and, of course, all the
ordinary everyday affairs of business, sickness, engaging
new cooks, and so forth, these will be dealt with in the
usual manner as something inevitable, a legitimate part
of our daily life. But all the devastating accretions of
correspondence, incident to the festive season, these
should be swept away to give the season a chance of being
really festive, a time of untroubled, unpunctuated peace
and good will."
"But you would have to make some acknowledgment of
presents received," objected Janetta; "otherwise people
would never know whether they had arrived safely."
"Of course, I have thought of that," said Egbert;
"every present that was sent off would be accompanied by
a ticket bearing the date of dispatch and the signature
of the sender, and some conventional hieroglyphic to show
that it was intended to be a Christmas or New Year gift;
there would be a counterfoil with space for the
recipient's name and the date of arrival, and all you
would have to do would be to sign and date the
counterfoil, add a conventional hieroglyphic indicating
heartfelt thanks and gratified surprise, put the thing
into an envelope and post it."
"It sounds delightfully simple," said Janetta
wistfully, "but people would consider it too cut-and-
dried, too perfunctory."
"It is not a bit more perfunctory than the present
system," said Egbert; "I have only the same conventional
language of gratitude at my disposal with which to thank
dear old Colonel Chuttle for his perfectly delicious
Stilton, which we shall devour to the last morsel, and
the Froplinsons for their calendar, which we shall never
look at. Colonel Chuttle knows that we are grateful for
the Stilton, without having to be told so, and the
Froplinsons know that we are bored with their calendar,
whatever we may say to the contrary, just as we know that
they are bored with the bridge-markers in spite of their
written assurance that they thanked us for our charming
little gift. What is more, the Colonel knows that even
if we had taken a sudden aversion to Stilton or been
forbidden it by the doctor, we should still have written
a letter of hearty thanks around it. So you see the
present system of acknowledgment is just as perfunctory
and conventional as the counterfoil business would be,
only ten times more tiresome and brain-racking."
"Your plan would certainly bring the ideal of a
Happy Christmas a step nearer realisation," said Janetta.
"There are exceptions, of course," said Egbert,
"people who really try to infuse a breath of reality into
their letters of acknowledgment. Aunt Susan, for
instance, who writes: 'Thank you very much for the ham;
not such a good flavour as the one you sent last year,
which itself was not a particularly good one. Hams are
not what they used to be.' It would be a pity to be
deprived of her Christmas comments, but that loss would
be swallowed up in the general gain."
"Meanwhile," said Janetta, "what am I to say to the
ADVENTURES, according to the proverb, are to the
adventurous. Quite as often they are to the non-
adventurous, to the retiring, to the constitutionally
timid. John James Abbleway had been endowed by Nature
with the sort of disposition that instinctively avoids
Carlist intrigues, slum crusades, the tracking of wounded
wild beasts, and the moving of hostile amendments at
political meetings. If a mad dog or a Mad Mullah had
come his way he would have surrendered the way without
hesitation. At school he had unwillingly acquired a
thorough knowledge of the German tongue out of deference
to the plainly-expressed wishes of a foreign-languages
master, who, though he taught modern subjects, employed
old-fashioned methods in driving his lessons home. It
was this enforced familiarity with an important
commercial language which thrust Abbleway in later years
into strange lands where adventures were less easy to
guard against than in the ordered atmosphere of an
English country town. The firm that he worked for saw
fit to send him one day on a prosaic business errand to
the far city of Vienna, and, having sent him there,
continued to keep him there, still engaged in humdrum
affairs of commerce, but with the possibilities of
romance and adventure, or even misadventure, jostling at
his elbow. After two and a half years of exile, however,
John James Abbleway had embarked on only one hazardous
undertaking, and that was of a nature which would
assuredly have overtaken him sooner or later if he had
been leading a sheltered, stay-at-home existence at
Dorking or Huntingdon. He fell placidly in love with a
placidly lovable English girl, the sister of one of his
commercial colleagues, who was improving her mind by a
short trip to foreign parts, and in due course he was
formally accepted as the young man she was engaged to.
The further step by which she was to become Mrs. John
Abbleway was to take place a twelvemonth hence in a town
in the English midlands, by which time the firm that
employed John James would have no further need for his
presence in the Austrian capital.
It was early in April, two months after the
installation of Abbleway as the young man Miss Penning
was engaged to, when he received a letter from her,
written from Venice. She was still peregrinating under
the wing of her brother, and as the latter's business
arrangements would take him across to Fiume for a day or
two, she had conceived the idea that it would be rather
jolly if John could obtain leave of absence and run down
to the Adriatic coast to meet them. She had looked up
the route on the map, and the journey did not appear
likely to be expensive. Between the lines of her
communication there lay a hint that if he really cared
for her -
Abbleway obtained leave of absence and added a
journey to Fiume to his life's adventures. He left
Vienna on a cold, cheerless day. The flower shops were
full of spring blooms, and the weekly organs of
illustrated humour were full of spring topics, but the
skies were heavy with clouds that looked like cotton-wool
that has been kept over long in a shop window.
"Snow comes," said the train official to the station
officials; and they agreed that snow was about to come.
And it came, rapidly, plenteously. The train had not
been more than an hour on its journey when the cotton-
wool clouds commenced to dissolve in a blinding downpour
of snowflakes. The forest trees on either side of the
line were speedily coated with a heavy white mantle, the
telegraph wires became thick glistening ropes, the line
itself was buried more and more completely under a
carpeting of snow, through which the not very powerful
engine ploughed its way with increasing difficulty. The
Vienna-Fiume line is scarcely the best equipped of the
Austrian State railways, and Abbleway began to have
serious fears for a breakdown. The train had slowed down
to a painful and precarious crawl and presently came to a
halt at a spot where the drifting snow had accumulated in
a formidable barrier. The engine made a special effort
and broke through the obstruction, but in the course of
another twenty minutes it was again held up. The process
of breaking through was renewed, and the train doggedly
resumed its way, encountering and surmounting fresh
hindrances at frequent intervals. After a standstill of
unusually long duration in a particularly deep drift the
compartment in which Abbleway was sitting gave a huge
jerk and a lurch, and then seemed to remain stationary;
it undoubtedly was not moving, and yet he could hear the
puffing of the engine and the slow rumbling and jolting
of wheels. The puffing and rumbling grew fainter, as
though it were dying away through the agency of
intervening distance. Abbleway suddenly gave vent to an
exclamation of scandalised alarm, opened the window, and
peered out into the snowstorm. The flakes perched on his
eyelashes and blurred his vision, but he saw enough to
help him to realise what had happened. The engine had
made a mighty plunge through the drift and had gone
merrily forward, lightened of the load of its rear
carriage, whose coupling had snapped under the strain.
Abbleway was alone, or almost alone, with a derelict
railway waggon, in the heart of some Styrian or Croatian
forest. In the third-class compartment next to his own
he remembered to have seen a peasant woman, who had
entered the train at a small wayside station. "With the
exception of that woman," he exclaimed dramatically to
himself, "the nearest living beings are probably a pack
Before making his way to the third-class compartment
to acquaint his fellow-traveller with the extent of the
disaster Abbleway hurriedly pondered the question of the
woman's nationality. He had acquired a smattering of
Slavonic tongues during his residence in Vienna, and felt
competent to grapple with several racial possibilities.
"If she is Croat or Serb or Bosniak I shall be able
to make her understand," he promised himself. "If she is
Magyar, heaven help me! We shall have to converse
entirely by signs."
He entered the carriage and made his momentous
announcement in the best approach to Croat speech that he
"The train has broken away and left us!"
The woman shook her head with a movement that might
be intended to convey resignation to the will of heaven,
but probably meant noncomprehension. Abbleway repeated
his information with variations of Slavonic tongues and
generous displays of pantomime.
"Ah," said the woman at last in German dialect, "the
train has gone? We are left. Ah, so."
She seemed about as much interested as though
Abbleway had told her the result of the municipal
elections in Amsterdam.
"They will find out at some station, and when the
line is clear of snow they will send an engine. It
happens that way sometimes."
"We may be here all night!" exclaimed Abbleway.
The woman nodded as though she thought it possible.
"Are there wolves in these parts?" asked Abbleway
"Many," said the woman; "just outside this forest my
aunt was devoured three years ago, as she was coming home
from market. The horse and a young pig that was in the
cart were eaten too. The horse was a very old one, but
it was a beautiful young pig, oh, so fat. I cried when I
heard that it was taken. They spare nothing."
"They may attack us here," said Abbleway
tremulously; "they could easily break in, these carriages
are like matchwood. We may both be devoured."
"You, perhaps," said the woman calmly; "not me."
"Why not you?" demanded Abbleway.
"It is the day of Saint Maria Kleopha, my name-day.
She would not allow me to be eaten by wolves on her day.
Such a thing could not be thought of. You, yes, but not
Abbleway changed the subject.
"It is only afternoon now; if we are to be left here
till morning we shall be starving."
"I have here some good eatables," said the woman
tranquilly; "on my festival day it is natural that I
should have provision with me. I have five good blood-
sausages; in the town shops they cost twenty-five heller
each. Things are dear in the town shops."
"I will give you fifty heller apiece for a couple of
them," said Abbleway with some enthusiasm.
"In a railway accident things become very dear,"
said the woman; "these blood-sausages are four kronen
"Four kronen!" exclaimed Abbleway; "four kronen for
"You cannot get them any cheaper on this train,"
said the woman, with relentless logic, "because there
aren't any others to get. In Agram you can buy them
cheaper, and in Paradise no doubt they will be given to
us for nothing, but here they cost four kronen each. I
have a small piece of Emmenthaler cheese and a honey-cake
and a piece of bread that I can let you have. That will
be another three kronen, eleven kronen in all. There is
a piece of ham, but that I cannot let you have on my
Abbleway wondered to himself what price she would
have put on the ham, and hurried to pay her the eleven
kronen before her emergency tariff expanded into a famine
tariff. As he was taking possession of his modest store
of eatables he suddenly heard a noise which set his heart
thumping in a miserable fever of fear. 'There was a
scraping and shuffling as of some animal or animals
trying to climb up to the footboard. In another moment,
through the snow-encrusted glass of the carriage window,
he saw a gaunt prick-eared head, with gaping jaw and
lolling tongue and gleaming teeth; a second later another
head shot up.
"There are hundreds of them," whispered Abbleway;
"they have scented us. They will tear the carriage to
pieces. We shall be devoured."
"Not me, on my name-day. The holy Maria Kleopha
would not permit it," said the woman with provoking calm.
The heads dropped down from the window and an
uncanny silence fell on the beleaguered carriage.
Abbleway neither moved nor spoke. Perhaps the brutes had
not clearly seen or winded the human occupants of the
carriage, and had prowled away on some other errand of
The long torture-laden minutes passed slowly away.
"It grows cold," said the woman suddenly, crossing
over to the far end of the carriage, where the heads had
appeared. "The heating apparatus does not work any
longer. See, over there beyond the trees, there is a
chimney with smoke coming from it. It is not far, and
the snow has nearly stopped, I shall find a path through
the forest to that house with the chimney."
"But the wolves!" exclaimed Abbleway; "they may - "
"Not on my name-day," said the woman obstinately,
and before he could stop her she had opened the door and
climbed down into the snow. A moment later he hid his
face in his hands; two gaunt lean figures rushed upon her
from the forest. No doubt she had courted her fate, but
Abbleway had no wish to see a human being torn to pieces
and devoured before his eyes.
When he looked at last a new sensation of
scandalised astonishment took possession of him. He had
been straitly brought up in a small English town, and he
was not prepared to be the witness of a miracle. The
wolves were not doing anything worse to the woman than
drench her with snow as they gambolled round her.
A short, joyous bark revealed the clue to the
"Are those - dogs?" he called weakly.
"My cousin Karl's dogs, yes," she answered; that is
his inn, over beyond the trees. I knew it was there, but
I did not want to take you there; he is always grasping
with strangers. However, it grows too cold to remain in
the train. Ah, ah, see what comes!"
A whistle sounded, and a relief engine made its
appearance, snorting its way sulkily through the snow.
Abbleway did not have the opportunity for finding out
whether Karl was really avaricious.
THE LUMBER ROOM
THE children were to be driven, as a special treat,
to the sands at Jagborough. Nicholas was not to be of
the party; he was in disgrace. Only that morning he had
refused to eat his wholesome bread-and-milk on the
seemingly frivolous ground that there was a frog in it.
Older and wiser and better people had told him that there
could not possibly be a frog in his bread-and-milk and
that he was not to talk nonsense; he continued,
nevertheless, to talk what seemed the veriest nonsense,
and described with much detail the colouration and
markings of the alleged frog. The dramatic part of the
incident was that there really was a frog in Nicholas'
basin of bread-and-milk; he had put it there himself, so
he felt entitled to know something about it. The sin of
taking a frog from the garden and putting it into a bowl
of wholesome bread-and-milk was enlarged on at great
length, but the fact that stood out clearest in the whole
affair, as it presented itself to the mind of Nicholas,
was that the older, wiser, and better people had been
proved to be profoundly in error in matters about which
they had expressed the utmost assurance.
"You said there couldn't possibly be a frog in my
bread-and-milk; there WAS a frog in my bread-and-milk,"
he repeated, with the insistence of a skilled tactician
who does not intend to shift from favourable ground.
So his boy-cousin and girl-cousin and his quite
uninteresting younger brother were to be taken to
Jagborough sands that afternoon and he was to stay at
home. His cousins' aunt, who insisted, by an unwarranted
stretch of imagination, in styling herself his aunt also,
had hastily invented the Jagborough expedition in order
to impress on Nicholas the delights that he had justly
forfeited by his disgraceful conduct at the breakfast-
table. It was her habit, whenever one of the children
fell from grace, to improvise something of a festival
nature from which the offender would be rigorously
debarred; if all the children sinned collectively they
were suddenly informed of a circus in a neighbouring
town, a circus of unrivalled merit and uncounted
elephants, to which, but for their depravity, they would
have been taken that very day.
A few decent tears were looked for on the part of
Nicholas when the moment for the departure of the
expedition arrived. As a matter of fact, however, all
the crying was done by his girl-cousin, who scraped her
knee rather painfully against the step of the carriage as
she was scrambling in.
"How she did howl," said Nicholas cheerfully, as the
party drove off without any of the elation of high
spirits that should have characterised it.
"She'll soon get over that," said the SOI-DISANT
aunt; "it will be a glorious afternoon for racing about
over those beautiful sands. How they will enjoy
"Bobby won't enjoy himself much, and he won't race
much either," said Nicholas with a grim chuckle; his
boots are hurting him. They're too tight."
"Why didn't he tell me they were hurting?" asked the
aunt with some asperity.
"He told you twice, but you weren't listening. You
often don't listen when we tell you important things."
"You are not to go into the gooseberry garden," said
the aunt, changing the subject.
"Why not?" demanded Nicholas.
"Because you are in disgrace," said the aunt
Nicholas did not admit the flawlessness of the
reasoning; he felt perfectly capable of being in disgrace
and in a gooseberry garden at the same moment. His face
took on an expression of considerable obstinacy. It was
clear to his aunt that he was determined to get into the
gooseberry garden, "only," as she remarked to herself,
"because I have told him he is not to."
Now the gooseberry garden had two doors by which it
might be entered, and once a small person like Nicholas
could slip in there he could effectually disappear from
view amid the masking growth of artichokes, raspberry
canes, and fruit bushes. The aunt had many other things
to do that afternoon, but she spent an hour or two in
trivial gardening operations among flower beds and
shrubberies, whence she could keep a watchful eye on the
two doors that led to the forbidden paradise. She was a
woman of few ideas, with immense powers of concentration.
Nicholas made one or two sorties into the front
garden, wriggling his way with obvious stealth of purpose
towards one or other of the doors, but never able for a
moment to evade the aunt's watchful eye. As a matter of
fact, he had no intention of trying to get into the
gooseberry garden, but it was extremely convenient for
him that his aunt should believe that he had; it was a
belief that would keep her on self-imposed sentry-duty
for the greater part of the afternoon. Having thoroughly
confirmed and fortified her suspicions Nicholas slipped
back into the house and rapidly put into execution a plan
of action that had long germinated in his brain. By
standing on a chair in the library one could reach a
shelf on which reposed a fat, important-looking key. The
key was as important as it looked; it was the instrument
which kept the mysteries of the lumber-room secure from
unauthorised intrusion, which opened a way only for aunts
and such-like privileged persons. Nicholas had not had
much experience of the art of fitting keys into keyholes
and turning locks, but for some days past he had
practised with the key of the schoolroom door; he did not
believe in trusting too much to luck and accident. The
key turned stiffly in the lock, but it turned. The door
opened, and Nicholas was in an unknown land, compared
with which the gooseberry garden was a stale delight, a
mere material pleasure.
Often and often Nicholas had pictured to himself
what the lumber-room might be like, that region that was
so carefully sealed from youthful eyes and concerning
which no questions were ever answered. It came up to his
expectations. In the first place it was large and dimly
lit, one high window opening on to the forbidden garden
being its only source of illumination. In the second
place it was a storehouse of unimagined treasures. The
aunt-by-assertion was one of those people who think that
things spoil by use and consign them to dust and damp by
way of preserving them. Such parts of the house as
Nicholas knew best were rather bare and cheerless, but
here there were wonderful things for the eye to feast on.
First and foremost there was a piece of framed tapestry
that was evidently meant to be a fire-screen. To
Nicholas it was a living, breathing story; he sat down on
a roll of Indian hangings, glowing in wonderful colours
beneath a layer of dust, and took in all the details of
the tapestry picture. A man, dressed in the hunting
costume of some remote period, had just transfixed a stag
with an arrow; it could not have been a difficult shot
because the stag was only one or two paces away from him;
in the thickly-growing vegetation that the picture
suggested it would not have been difficult to creep up to
a feeding stag, and the two spotted dogs that were
springing forward to join in the chase had evidently been
trained to keep to heel till the arrow was discharged.
That part of the picture was simple, if interesting, but
did the huntsman see, what Nicholas saw, that four
galloping wolves were coming in his direction through the
wood? There might be more than four of them hidden
behind the trees, and in any case would the man and his
dogs be able to cope with the four wolves if they made an
attack? The man had only two arrows left in his quiver,
and he might miss with one or both of them; all one knew
about his skill in shooting was that he could hit a large
stag at a ridiculously short range. Nicholas sat for
many golden minutes revolving the possibilities of the
scene; he was inclined to think that there were more than
four wolves and that the man and his dogs were in a tight
But there were other objects of delight and interest
claiming his instant attention: there were quaint twisted
candlesticks in the shape of snakes, and a teapot
fashioned like a china duck, out of whose open beak the
tea was supposed to come. How dull and shapeless the
nursery teapot seemed in comparison! And there was a
carved sandal-wood box packed tight with aromatic
cottonwool, and between the layers of cottonwool were
little brass figures, hump-necked bulls, and peacocks and
goblins, delightful to see and to handle. Less promising
in appearance was a large square book with plain black
covers; Nicholas peeped into it, and, behold, it was full
of coloured pictures of birds. And such birds! In the
garden, and in the lanes when he went for a walk,
Nicholas came across a few birds, of which the largest
were an occasional magpie or wood-pigeon; here were
herons and bustards, kites, toucans, tiger-bitterns,
brush turkeys, ibises, golden pheasants, a whole portrait
gallery of undreamed-of creatures. And as he was
admiring the colouring of the mandarin duck and assigning
a life-history to it, the voice of his aunt in shrill
vociferation of his name came from the gooseberry garden
without. She had grown suspicious at his long
disappearance, and had leapt to the conclusion that he
had climbed over the wall behind the sheltering screen of
the lilac bushes; she was now engaged in energetic and
rather hopeless search for him among the artichokes and
"Nicholas, Nicholas!" she screamed, "you are to come
out of this at once. It's no use trying to hide there; I
can see you all the time."
It was probably the first time for twenty years that
anyone had smiled in that lumber-room.
Presently the angry repetitions of Nicholas' name
gave way to a shriek, and a cry for somebody to come
quickly. Nicholas shut the book, restored it carefully
to its place in a corner, and shook some dust from a
neighbouring pile of newspapers over it. Then he crept
from the room, locked the door, and replaced the key
exactly where he had found it. His aunt was still
calling his name when he sauntered into the front garden.
"Who's calling?" he asked.
"Me," came the answer from the other side of the
wall; "didn't you hear me? I've been looking for you in
the gooseberry garden, and I've slipped into the rain-
water tank. Luckily there's no water in it, but the
sides are slippery and I can't get out. Fetch the little
ladder from under the cherry tree - "
"I was told I wasn't to go into the gooseberry
garden," said Nicholas promptly.
"I told you not to, and now I tell you that you
may," came the voice from the rain-water tank, rather
"Your voice doesn't sound like aunt's," objected
Nicholas; "you may be the Evil One tempting me to be
disobedient. Aunt often tells me that the Evil One
tempts me and that I always yield. This time I'm not
going to yield."
"Don't talk nonsense," said the prisoner in the
tank; "go and fetch the ladder."
"Will there be strawberry jam for tea?" asked
"Certainly there will be," said the aunt, privately
resolving that Nicholas should have none of it.
"Now I know that you are the Evil One and not aunt,"
shouted Nicholas gleefully; "when we asked aunt for
strawberry jam yesterday she said there wasn't any. I
know there are four jars of it in the store cupboard,
because I looked, and of course you know it's there, but
she doesn't, because she said there wasn't any. Oh,
Devil, you HAVE sold yourself!"
There was an unusual sense of luxury in being able
to talk to an aunt as though one was talking to the Evil
One, but Nicholas knew, with childish discernment, that
such luxuries were not to be over-indulged in. He walked
noisily away, and it was a kitchenmaid, in search of
parsley, who eventually rescued the aunt from the rain-
Tea that evening was partaken of in a fearsome
silence. The tide had been at its highest when the
children had arrived at Jagborough Cove, so there had
been no sands to play on - a circumstance that the aunt
had overlooked in the haste of organising her punitive
expedition. The tightness of Bobby's boots had had
disastrous effect on his temper the whole of the
afternoon, and altogether the children could not have
been said to have enjoyed themselves. The aunt
maintained the frozen muteness of one who has suffered
undignified and unmerited detention in a rain-water tank
for thirty-five minutes. As for Nicholas, he, too, was
silent, in the absorption of one who has much to think
about; it was just possible, he considered, that the
huntsman would escape with his hounds while the wolves
feasted on the stricken stag.
"YOU look worried, dear," said Eleanor.
"I am worried," admitted Suzanne; "not worried
exactly, but anxious. You see, my birthday happens next
week - "
"You lucky person," interrupted Eleanor; "my
birthday doesn't come till the end of March."
"Well, old Bertram Kneyght is over in England just
now from the Argentine. He's a kind of distant cousin of
my mother's, and so enormously rich that we've never let
the relationship drop out of sight. Even if we don't see
him or hear from him for years he is always Cousin
Bertram when he does turn up. I can't say he's ever been
of much solid use to us, but yesterday the subject of my
birthday cropped up, and he asked me to let him know what
I wanted for a present."
"Now I understand the anxiety," observed Eleanor.
"As a rule when one is confronted with a problem
like that," said Suzanne, "all one's ideas vanish; one
doesn't seem to have a desire in the world. Now it so
happens that I have been very keen on a little Dresden
figure that I saw somewhere in Kensington; about thirty-
six shillings, quite beyond my means. I was very nearly
describing the figure, and giving Bertram the address of
the shop. And then it suddenly struck me that thirty-six
shillings was such a ridiculously inadequate sum for a
man of his immense wealth to spend on a birthday present.
He could give thirty-six pounds as easily as you or I
could buy a bunch of violets. I don't want to be greedy,
of course, but I don't like being wasteful."
"The question is," said Eleanor, "what are his ideas
as to present-giving? Some of the wealthiest people have
curiously cramped views on that subject. When people
grow gradually rich their requirements and standard of
living expand in proportion, while their present-giving
instincts often remain in the undeveloped condition of
their earlier days. Something showy and not-too-
expensive in a shop is their only conception of the ideal
gift. That is why even quite good shops have their
counters and windows crowded with things worth about four
shillings that look as if they might be worth seven-and-
six, and are priced at ten shillings and labelled
seasonable gifts.' "
"I know," said Suzanne; "that is why it is so risky
to be vague when one is giving indications of one's
wants. Now if I say to him: 'I am going out to Davos
this winter, so anything in the travelling line would be
acceptable,' he might give me a dressing-bag with gold-
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