The Chronicles of Clovis
Saki [H. H. Munro]
Part 1 out of 4
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THE CHRONICLES OF CLOVIS
by "SAKI" (H. H. MUNRO)
with an Introduction by A. A. MILNE
TO THE LYNX KITTEN,
WITH HIS RELUCTANTLY GIVEN CONSENT,
THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY
H. H. M.
There are good things which we want to share with the world and
good things which we want to keep to ourselves. The secret of our
favourite restaurant, to take a case, is guarded jealously from
all but a few intimates; the secret, to take a contrary case, of
our infallible remedy for seasickness is thrust upon every
traveller we meet, even if he be no more than a casual
acquaintance about to cross the Serpentine. So with our books.
There are dearly loved books of which we babble to a neighbour at
dinner, insisting that she shall share our delight in them; and
there are books, equally dear to us, of which we say nothing,
fearing lest the praise of others should cheapen the glory of our
discovery. The books of "Saki" were, for me at least, in the
It was in the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE that I discovered him (I like to
remember now) almost as soon as he was discoverable. Let us spare
a moment, and a tear, for those golden days in the early nineteen
hundreds, when there were five leisurely papers of an evening in
which the free-lance might graduate, and he could speak of his
Alma Mater, whether the GLOBE or the PALL MALL, with as much pride
as, he never doubted, the GLOBE or the PALL MALL would speak one
day of him. Myself but lately down from ST. JAMES', I was not too
proud to take some slight but pitying interest in men of other
colleges. The unusual name of a freshman up at WESTMINSTER
attracted my attention; I read what he had to say; and it was only
by reciting rapidly with closed eyes the names of our own famous
alumni, beginning confidently with Barrie and ending, now very
doubtfully, with myself, that I was able to preserve my
equanimity. Later one heard that this undergraduate from overseas
had gone up at an age more advanced than customary; and just as
Cambridge men have been known to complain of the maturity of
Oxford Rhodes scholars, so one felt that this WESTMINSTER free-
lance in the thirties was no fit competitor for the youth of other
colleges. Indeed, it could not compete.
Well, I discovered him, but only to the few, the favoured, did I
speak of him. It may have been my uncertainty (which still
persists) whether he called himself Sayki, Sahki or Sakki which
made me thus ungenerous of his name, or it may have been the
feeling that the others were not worthy of him; but how refreshing
it was when some intellectually blown-up stranger said "Do you
ever read Saki?" to reply, with the same pronunciation and even
greater condescension: "Saki! He has been my favourite author for
A strange exotic creature, this Saki, to us many others who were
trying to do it too. For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly
cosmopolitan. While we were being funny, as planned, with collar-
studs and hot-water bottles, he was being much funnier with
werwolves and tigers. Our little dialogues were between John and
Mary; his, and how much better, between Bertie van Tahn and the
Baroness. Even the most casual intruder into one of his sketches,
as it might be our Tomkins, had to be called Belturbet or de Ropp,
and for his hero, weary man-of-the-world at seventeen, nothing
less thrilling than Clovis Sangrail would do. In our envy we may
have wondered sometimes if it were not much easier to be funny
with tigers than with collar-studs; if Saki's careless cruelty,
that strange boyish insensitiveness of his, did not give him an
unfair start in the pursuit of laughter. It may have been so;
but, fortunately, our efforts to be funny in the Saki manner have
not survived to prove it.
What is Saki's manner, what his magic talisman? Like every artist
worth consideration, he had no recipe. If his exotic choice of
subject was often his strength, it was often his weakness; if his
insensitiveness carried him through, at times, to victory, it
brought him, at times, to defeat. I do not think that he has that
"mastery of the CONTE"--in this book at least--which some have
claimed for him. Such mastery infers a passion for tidiness which
was not in the boyish Saki's equipment. He leaves loose ends
everywhere. Nor in his dialogue, delightful as it often is, funny
as it nearly always is, is he the supreme master; too much does it
become monologue judiciously fed, one character giving and the
other taking. But in comment, in reference, in description, in
every development of his story, he has a choice of words, a "way
of putting things" which is as inevitably his own vintage as, once
tasted, it becomes the private vintage of the connoisseur.
Let us take a sample or two of "Saki, 1911."
"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off. The wine lists
had been consulted, by some with the blank embarrassment of a
schoolboy suddenly called upon to locate a Minor Prophet in the
tangled hinterland of the Old Testament, by others with the severe
scrutiny which suggests that they have visited most of the higher-
priced wines in their own homes and probed their family
"Locate" is the pleasant word here. Still more satisfying, in the
story of the man who was tattooed "from collar-bone to waist-line
with a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus," is the word
"The design when finally developed was a slight disappointment to
Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of being a fortress
taken by Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War, but he was more
than satisfied with the execution of the work, which was acclaimed
by all who had the privilege of seeing it as Pincini's
This story, THE BACKGROUND, and MRS PACKLETIDE'S TIGER seem to me
to be the masterpieces of this book. In both of them Clovis
exercises, needlessly, his titular right of entry, but he can be
removed without damage, leaving Saki at his best and most
characteristic, save that he shows here, in addition to his own
shining qualities, a compactness and a finish which he did not
always achieve. With these I introduce you to him, confident that
ten minutes of his conversation, more surely than any words of
mine, will have given him the freedom of your house.
A. A. MILNE.
MRS. PACKLETIDE'S TIGER
THE STAMPEDING OF LADY BASTABLE
HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE--A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP
THE JESTING OF ARLINGTON STRINGHAM
THE EASTER EGG
FILBOID STUDGE, THE STORY OF A MOUSE THAT HELPED
THE MUSIC ON THE HILL
THE STORY OF ST. VESPALUUS
THE WAY TO THE DAIRY
THE PEACE OFFERING
THE PEACE OF MOWSLE BARTON
THE TALKING-OUT OF TARRINGTON
THE HOUNDS OF FATE
A MATTER OF SENTIMENT
THE SECRET SIX OF SEPTIMUS BROPE
"MINISTERS OF GRACE"
THE REMOULDING OF GROBY LINGTON
"All hunting stories are the same," said Clovis; "just as all Turf
stories are the same, and all--"
"My hunting story isn't a bit like any you've ever heard," said
the Baroness. "It happened quite a while ago, when I was about
twenty-three. I wasn't living apart from my husband then; you
see, neither of us could afford to make the other a separate
allowance. In spite of everything that proverbs may say, poverty
keeps together more homes than it breaks up. But we always hunted
with different packs. All this has nothing to do with the story."
"We haven't arrived at the meet yet. I suppose there was a meet,"
"Of course there was a meet," said the Baroness; all the usual
crowd were there, especially Constance Broddle. Constance is one
of those strapping florid girls that go so well with autumn
scenery or Christmas decorations in church. 'I feel a
presentiment that something dreadful is going to happen,' she said
to me; 'am I looking pale?'
"She was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has suddenly
heard bad news.
"'You're looking nicer than usual,' I said, 'but that's so easy
for you.' Before she had got the right bearings of this remark we
had settled down to business; hounds had found a fox lying out in
"I knew it," said Clovis, "in every fox-hunting story that I've
ever heard there's been a fox and some gorse-bushes."
"Constance and I were well mounted," continued the Baroness
serenely, "and we had no difficulty in keeping ourselves in the
first flight, though it was a fairly stiff run. Towards the
finish, however, we must have held rather too independent a line,
for we lost the hounds, and found ourselves plodding aimlessly
along miles away from anywhere. It was fairly exasperating, and
my temper was beginning to let itself go by inches, when on
pushing our way through an accommodating hedge we were gladdened
by the sight of hounds in full cry in a hollow just beneath us.
"'There they go,' cried Constance, and then added in a gasp, 'In
Heaven's name, what are they hunting?'
"It was certainly no mortal fox. It stood more than twice as
high, had a short, ugly head, and an enormous thick neck.
"'It's a hyaena,' I cried; 'it must have escaped from Lord
"At that moment the hunted beast turned and faced its pursuers,
and the hounds (there were only about six couple of them) stood
round in a half-circle and looked foolish. Evidently they had
broken away from the rest of the pack on the trail of this alien
scent, and were not quite sure how to treat their quarry now they
had got him.
"The hyaena hailed our approach with unmistakable relief and
demonstrations of friendliness. It had probably been accustomed
to uniform kindness from humans, while its first experience of a
pack of hounds had left a bad impression. The hounds looked more
than ever embarrassed as their quarry paraded its sudden intimacy
with us, and the faint toot of a horn in the distance was seized
on as a welcome signal for unobtrusive departure. Constance and I
and the hyaena were left alone in the gathering twilight
"'What are we to do?' asked Constance.
"'What a person you are for questions,' I said.
"'Well, we can't stay here all night with a hyaena,' she retorted.
"'I don't know what your ideas of comfort are,' I said; 'but I
shouldn't think of staying here all night even without a hyaena.
My home may be an unhappy one, but at least it has hot and cold
water laid on, and domestic service, and other conveniences which
we shouldn't find here. We had better make for that ridge of
trees to the right; I imagine the Crowley road is just beyond.'
"We trotted off slowly along a faintly marked cart-track, with the
beast following cheerfully at our heels.
"'What on earth are we to do with the hyaena?' came the inevitable
"'What does one generally do with hyaenas?' I asked crossly.
"'I've never had anything to do with one before,' said Constance.
"'Well, neither have I. If we even knew its sex we might give it
a name. Perhaps we might call it Esmé. That would do in either
"There was still sufficient daylight for us to distinguish wayside
objects, and our listless spirits gave an upward perk as we came
upon a small half-naked gipsy brat picking blackberries from a
low-growing bush. The sudden apparition of two horsewomen and a
hyaena set it off crying, and in any case we should scarcely have
gleaned any useful geographical information from that source; but
there was a probability that we might strike a gipsy encampment
somewhere along our route. We rode on hopefully but uneventfully
for another mile or so.
"'I wonder what that child was doing there,' said Constance
"'Picking blackberries. Obviously.'
"'I don't like the way it cried,' pursued Constance; 'somehow its
wail keeps ringing in my ears.'
"I did not chide Constance for her morbid fancies; as a matter of
fact the same sensation, of being pursued by a persistent fretful
wail, had been forcing itself on my rather over-tired nerves. For
company's sake I hulloed to Esmé, who had lagged somewhat behind.
With a few springy bounds he drew up level, and then shot past us.
"The wailing accompaniment was explained. The gipsy child was
firmly, and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.
"'Merciful Heaven screamed Constance, 'what on earth shall we do?
What are we to do?'
"I am perfectly certain that at the Last Judgment Constance will
ask more questions than any of the examining Seraphs.
"'Can't we do something?' she persisted tearfully, as Esmé
cantered easily along in front of our tired horses.
"Personally I was doing everything that occurred to me at the
moment. I stormed and scolded and coaxed in English and French
and gamekeeper language; I made absurd, ineffectual cuts in the
air with my thongless hunting-crop; I hurled my sandwich case at
the brute; in fact, I really don't know what more I could have
done. And still we lumbered on through the deepening dusk, with
that dark uncouth shape lumbering ahead of us, and a drone of
lugubrious music floating in our ears. Suddenly Esmé bounded
aside into some thick bushes, where we could not follow; the wail
rose to a shriek and then stopped altogether. This part of the
story I always hurry over, because it is really rather horrible.
When the beast joined us again, after an absence of a few minutes,
there was an air of patient understanding about him, as though he
knew that he had done something of which we disapproved, but which
he felt to be thoroughly justifiable.
"'How can you let that ravening beast trot by your side?' asked
Constance. She was looking more than ever like an albino
"'In the first place, I can't prevent it,' I said; 'and in the
second place, whatever else he may be, I doubt if he's ravening at
the present moment.'
"Constance shuddered. 'Do you think the poor little thing
suffered much?' came another of her futile questions.
"'The indications were all that way,' I said; 'on the other hand,
of course, it may have been crying from sheer temper. Children
"It was nearly pitch-dark when we emerged suddenly into the
highroad. A flash of lights and the whir of a motor went past us
at the same moment at uncomfortably close quarters. A thud and a
sharp screeching yell followed a second later. The car drew up,
and when I had ridden back to the spot I found a young man bending
over a dark motionless mass lying by the roadside.
"'You have killed my Esmé I exclaimed bitterly.
"'I'm so awfully sorry,' said the young man; I keep dogs myself,
so I know what you must feel about it I'll do anything I can in
"'Please bury him at once,' I said; that much I think I may ask of
"'Bring the spade, William,' he called to the chauffeur.
Evidently hasty roadside interments were contingencies that had
been provided against.
"The digging of a sufficiently large grave took some little time.
'I say, what a magnificent fellow,' said the motorist as the
corpse was rolled over into the trench. 'I'm afraid he must have
been rather a valuable animal.'
"'He took second in the puppy class at Birmingham last year,' I
"Constance snorted loudly.
"'Don't cry, dear,' I said brokenly; 'it was all over in a,
moment. He couldn't have suffered much.'
"'Look here,' said the young fellow desperately, 'you simply must
let me do something by way of reparation.'
"I refused sweetly, but as he persisted I let him have my address.
"Of course, we kept our own counsel as to the earlier episodes of
the evening. Lord Pabham never advertised the loss of his hyaena;
when a strictly fruit-eating animal strayed from his park a year
or two previously he was called upon to give compensation in
eleven cases of sheep-worrying and practically to re-stock his
neighbours' poultry-yards, and an escaped hyaena would have
mounted up to something on the scale of a Government grant. The
gipsies were equally unobtrusive over their missing offspring; I
don't suppose in large encampments they really know to a child or
two how many they've got."
The Baroness paused reflectively, and then continued:
"There was a sequel to the adventure, though. I got through the
post a charming little diamond brooch, with the name Esmé set in a
sprig of rosemary. Incidentally, too, I lost the friendship of
Constance Broddle. You see, when I sold the brooch I quite
properly refused to give her any share of the proceeds. I pointed
out that the Esmé part of the affair was my own invention, and the
hyaena part of it belonged to Lord Pabham, if it really was his
hyaena, of which, of course, I've no proof."
The grill-room clock struck eleven with the respectful
unobtrusiveness of one whose mission in life is to be ignored.
When the flight of time should really have rendered abstinence and
migration imperative the lighting apparatus would signal the fact
in the usual way.
Six minutes later Clovis approached the supper-table, in the
blessed expectancy of one who has dined sketchily and long ago.
"I'm starving," he announced, making an effort to sit down
gracefully and read the menu at the same time.
"So I gathered;" said his host, "from the fact that you were
nearly punctual. I ought to have told you that I'm a Food
Reformer. I've ordered two bowls of bread-and-milk and some
health biscuits. I hope you don't mind."
Clovis pretended afterwards that he didn't go white above the
collar-line for the fraction of a second.
"All the same," he said, "you ought not to joke about such things.
There really are such people. I've known people who've met them.
To think of all the adorable things there are to eat in the world,
and then to go through life munching sawdust and being proud of
"They're like the Flagellants of the Middle Ages, who went about
"They had some excuse," said Clovis. "They did it to save their
immortal souls, didn't they? You needn't tell me that a man who
doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul,
or a stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being
unhappy highly developed."
Clovis relapsed for a few golden moments into tender intimacies
with a succession of rapidly disappearing oysters.
"I think oysters are more beautiful than any religion," he resumed
presently. "They not only forgive our unkindness to them; they
justify it, they incite us to go on being perfectly horrid to
them. Once they arrive at the supper-table they seem to enter
thoroughly into the spirit of the thing. There's nothing in
Christianity or Buddhism that quite matches the sympathetic
unselfishness of an oyster. Do you like my new waistcoat? I'm
wearing it for the first time to-night."
"It looks like a great many others you've had lately, only worse.
New dinner waistcoats are becoming a habit with you."
"They say one always pays for the excesses of one's youth;
mercifully that isn't true about one's clothes. My mother is
thinking of getting married."
"It's the first time."
"Of course, you ought to know. I was under the impression that
she'd been married once or twice at least."
"Three times, to be mathematically exact. I meant that it was the
first time she'd thought about getting married; the other times
she did it without thinking. As a matter of fact, it's really I
who am doing the thinking for her in this case. You see, it's
quite two years since her last husband died."
"You evidently think that brevity is the soul of widowhood."
"Well, it struck me that she was getting moped, and beginning to
settle down, which wouldn't suit her a bit. The first symptom
that I noticed was when she began to complain that we were living
beyond our income. All decent people live beyond their incomes
nowadays, and those who aren't respectable live beyond other
peoples. A few gifted individuals manage to do both."
"It's hardly so much a gift as an industry."
"The crisis came," returned Clovis, "when she suddenly started the
theory that late hours were bad for one, and wanted me to be in by
one o'clock every night. Imagine that sort of thing for me, who
was eighteen on my last birthday."
"On your last two birthdays, to be mathematically exact."
"Oh, well, that's not my fault. I'm not going to arrive at
nineteen as long as my mother remains at thirty-seven. One must
have some regard for appearances."
"Perhaps your mother would age a little in the process of settling
"That's the last thing she'd think of. Feminine reformations
always start in on the failings of other people. That's why I was
so keen on the husband idea."
"Did you go as far as to select the gentleman, or did you merely
throw out a general idea, and trust to the force of suggestion?"
"If one wants a thing done in a hurry one must see to it oneself.
I found a military Johnny hanging round on a loose end at the
club, and took him home to lunch once or twice. He'd spent most
of his life on the Indian frontier, building roads, and relieving
famines and minimizing earthquakes, and all that sort of thing
that one does do on frontiers. He could talk sense to a peevish
cobra in fifteen native languages, and probably knew what to do if
you found a rogue elephant on your croquet-lawn; but he was shy
and diffident with women. I told my mother privately that he was
an absolute woman-hater; so, of course, she laid herself out to
flirt all she knew, which isn't a little."
"And was the gentleman responsive?"
"I hear he told some one at the club that he was looking out for a
Colonial job, with plenty of hard work, for a young friend of his,
so I gather that he has some idea of marrying into the family."
"You seem destined to be the victim of the reformation, after
Claws wiped the trace of Turkish coffee and the beginnings of a
smile from his lips, and slowly lowered his dexter eyelid. Which,
being interpreted, probably meant, "I DON'T think!"
It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that
indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold
storage, and there is nothing to hunt--unless one is bounded on
the north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully
gallop after fat red stags. Lady Blemley's house-party was not
bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, hence there was a
full gathering of her guests round the tea-table on this
particular afternoon. And, in spite of the blankness of the
season and the triteness of the occasion, there was no trace in
the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a dread of
the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge. The
undisguised openmouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on
the homely negative personality of Mr. Cornelius Appin. Of all
her guests, he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley with the
vaguest reputation. Some one had said he was "clever," and he had
got his invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his
hostess, that some portion at least of his cleverness would be
contributed to the general entertainment. Until tea-time that day
she had been unable to discover in what direction, if any, his
cleverness lay. He was neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a
hypnotic force nor a begetter of amateur theatricals. Neither did
his exterior suggest the sort of man in whom women are willing to
pardon a generous measure of mental deficiency. He had subsided
into mere Mr. Appin, and the Cornelius seemed a piece of
transparent baptismal bluff. And now he was claiming to have
launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of
gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were
inconsiderable trifles. Science had made bewildering strides in
many directions during recent decades, but this thing seemed to
belong to the domain of miracle rather than to scientific
"And do you really ask us to believe," Sir Wilfrid was saying,
"that you have discovered a means for instructing animals in the
art of human speech, and that dear old Tobermory has proved your
first successful pupil?"
"It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen
years," said Mr. Appin, " but only during the last eight or nine
months have I been rewarded with glimmerings of success. Of
course I have experimented with thousands of animals, but latterly
only with cats, those wonderful creatures which have assimilated
themselves so marvellously with our civilization while retaining
all their highly developed feral instincts. Here and there among
cats one comes across an outstanding superior intellect, just as
one does among the ruck of human beings, and when I made the
acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago I saw at once that I was in
contact with a 'Beyond-cat' of extraordinary intelligence. I had
gone far along the road to success in recent experiments; with
Tobermory, as you call him, I have reached the goal."
Mr. Appin concluded his remarkable statement in a voice which he
strove to divest of a triumphant inflection. No one said "Rats,"
though Clovis's lips moved in a monosyllabic contortion which
probably invoked those rodents of disbelief.
"And do you mean to say," asked Miss Resker, after a slight pause,
"that you have taught Tobermory to say and understand easy
sentences of one syllable?"
"My dear Miss Resker," said the wonderworker patiently, "one
teaches little children and savages and backward adults in that
piecemeal fashion; when one has once solved the problem of making
a beginning with an animal of highly developed intelligence one
has no need for those halting methods. Tobermory can speak our
language with perfect correctness."
This time Clovis very distinctly said, " Beyond-rats!" Sir
Wilfrid was more polite, but equally sceptical.
"Hadn't we better have the cat in and judge for ourselves?"
suggested Lady Blemley.
Sir Wilfrid went in search of the animal, and the company settled
themselves down to the languid expectation of witnessing some more
or less adroit drawing-room ventriloquism.
In a minute Sir Wilfrid was back in the room, his face white
beneath its tan and his eyes dilated with excitement.
"By Gad, it's true!"
His agitation was unmistakably genuine, and his hearers started
forward in a thrill of awakened interest.
Collapsing into an armchair he continued breathlessly: "I found
him dozing in the smoking-room, and called out to him to come for
his tea. He blinked at me in his usual way, and I said, 'Come on,
Toby; don't keep us waiting;' and, by Gad! he drawled out in a
most horribly natural voice that he'd come when he dashed well
pleased! I nearly jumped out of my skin!"
Appin had preached to absolutely incredulous hearers; Sir
Wilfrid's statement carried instant conviction. A Babel-like
chorus of startled exclamation arose, amid which the scientist sat
mutely enjoying the first fruit of his stupendous discovery.
In tile midst of the clamour Tobermory entered the room and made
his way with velvet tread and studied unconcern across to the
group seated round the tea-table.
A sudden hush of awkwardness and constraint fell on the company.
Somehow there seemed an element of embarrassment in addressing on
equal terms a domestic cat of acknowledged dental ability.
"Will you have some milk, Tobermory?" asked Lady Blemley in a
rather strained voice.
"I don't mind if I do," was the response, couched in a tone of
even indifference. A shiver of suppressed excitement went through
the listeners, and Lady Blemley might be excused for pouring out
the saucerful of milk rather unsteadily.
"I'm afraid I've spilt a good deal of it," she said
"After all, it's not my Axminster," was Tobermory's rejoinder.
Another silence fell on the group, and then Miss Resker, in her
best district-visitor manner, asked if the human language had been
difficult to learn. Tobermory looked squarely at her for a moment
and then fixed his gaze serenely on the middle distance. It was
obvious that boring questions lay outside his scheme of life.
"What do you think of human intelligence?" asked Mavis Pellington
"Of whose intelligence in particular?" asked Tobermory coldly.
"Oh, well, mine for instance," said Mavis, with a feeble laugh.
"You put me in an embarrassing position," said Tobermory, whose
tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of
embarrassment. "When your inclusion in this house-party was
suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless
woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction
between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady
Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise
quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only
person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their
old car. You know, the one they call 'The Envy of Sisyphus,'
because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it."
Lady Blemley's protestations would have had greater effect if she
had not casually suggested to Mavis only that morning that the car
in question would be just the thing for her down at her Devonshire
Major Barfield plunged in heavily to effect a diversion.
"How about your carryings-on with the tortoiseshell puss up at the
The moment he had said it every one realized the blunder.
"One does not usually discuss these matters in public," said
Tobermory frigidly. "From a slight observation of your ways since
you've been in this house I should imagine you'd find it
inconvenient if I were to shift the conversation on to your own
The panic which ensued was not confined to the Major.
"Would you like to go and see if cook has got your dinner ready?"
suggested Lady Blemley hurriedly, affecting to ignore the fact
that it wanted at least two hours to Tobermory's dinner-time.
"Thanks," said Tobermory, "not quite so soon after my tea. I
don't want to die of indigestion."
"Cats have nine lives, you know," said Sir Wilfrid heartily.
"Possibly," answered Tobermory; "but only one liver."
"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat
to go out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"
The panic had indeed become general. A narrow ornamental
balustrade ran in front of most of the bedroom windows at the
Towers, and it was recalled with dismay that this had formed a
favourite promenade for Tobermory at all hours, whence he could
watch the pigeons--and heaven knew what else besides. If he
intended to become reminiscent in his present outspoken strain the
effect would be something more than disconcerting. Mrs. Cornett,
who spent much time at her toilet table, and whose complexion was
reputed to be of a nomadic though punctual disposition, looked as
ill at ease as the Major. Miss Scrawen, who wrote fiercely
sensuous poetry and led a blameless life, merely displayed
irritation; if you are methodical and virtuous in private you
don't necessarily want every one to know it. Bertie van Tahn, who
was so depraved at seventeen that he had long ago given up trying
to be any worse, turned a dull shade of gardenia white, but he did
not commit the error of dashing out of the room like Odo
Finsberry, a young gentleman who was understood to be reading for
the Church and who was possibly disturbed at the thought of
scandals he might hear concerning other people. Clovis had the
presence of mind to maintain a composed exterior; privately he was
calculating how long it would take to procure a box of fancy mice
through the agency of the EXCHANGE AND MART as a species of hush-
Even in a delicate situation like the present, Agnes Resker could
not endure to remain too long in the-background.
"Why did I ever come down here she asked dramatically.
Tobermory immediately accepted the opening.
"Judging by what you said to Mrs. Cornett on the croquet-lawn
yesterday, you were out for food. You described the Blemleys as
the dullest people to stay with that you knew, but said they were
clever enough to employ a first-rate cook; otherwise they'd find
it difficult to get anyone to come down a second time."
"There's not a word of truth in it! I appeal to Mrs. Cornett--"
exclaimed the discomfited Agnes.
"Mrs. Cornett repeated your remark afterwards to Bertie van Tahn,"
continued Tobermory, "and said, 'That woman is a regular Hunger
Marcher; she'd go anywhere for four square meals a day,' and
Bertie van Tahn said--"
At this point the chronicle mercifully ceased. Tobermory had
caught a glimpse of the big yellow Tom from the Rectory working
his way through the shrubbery towards the stable wing. In a flash
he had vanished through the open French window.
With the disappearance of his too brilliant pupil Cornelius Appin
found himself beset by a hurricane of bitter upbraiding, anxious
inquiry, and frightened entreaty. The responsibility for the
situation lay with him, and he must prevent matters from becoming
worse. Could Tobermory impart his dangerous gift to other cats?
was the first question he had to answer. It was possible, he
replied, that he might have initiated his intimate friend the
stable puss into his new accomplishment, but it was unlikely that
his teaching could have taken a wider range as yet.
"Then," said Mrs. Cornett, "Tobermory may be a valuable cat and a
great pet; but I'm sure you'll agree, Adelaide, that both he and
the stable cat must be done away with without delay."
"You don't suppose I've enjoyed the last quarter of an hour, do
you?" said Lady Blemley bitterly. "My husband and I are very fond
of Tobermory--at least, we were before this horrible
accomplishment was infused into him; but now, of course, the only
thing is to have him destroyed as soon as possible."
"We can put some strychnine in the scraps he always gets at
dinner-time," said Sir Wilfrid, "and I will go and drown the
stable cat myself. The coachman will be very sore at losing his
pet, but I'll say a very catching form of mange has broken out in
both cats and we're afraid of it spreading to the kennels."
"But my great discovery!" expostulated Mr. Appin; "after all my
years of research and experiment--"
"You can go and experiment on the shorthorns at the farm, who are
under proper control," said Mrs. Cornett, "or the elephants at the
Zoological Gardens. They're said to be highly intelligent, and
they have this recommendation, that they don't come creeping about
our bedrooms and under chairs, and so forth."
An archangel ecstatically proclaiming the Millennium, and then
finding that it clashed unpardonably with Henley and would have to
be indefinitely postponed, could hardly have felt more crestfallen
than Cornelius Appin at the reception of his wonderful
achievement. Public opinion, however, was against him--in fact,
had the general voice been consulted on the subject it is probable
that a strong minority vote would have been in favour of including
him in the strychnine diet.
Defective train arrangements and a nervous desire to see matters
brought to a finish prevented an immediate dispersal of the party,
but dinner that evening was not a social success. Sir Wilfrid had
had rather a trying time with the stable cat and subsequently with
the coachman. Agnes Resker ostentatiously limited her repast to a
morsel of dry toast, which she bit as though it were a personal
enemy; while Mavis Pellington maintained a vindictive silence
throughout the meal. Lady Blemley kept up a flow of what she
hoped was conversation, but her attention was fixed on the
doorway. A plateful of carefully dosed fish scraps was in
readiness on the sideboard, but sweets and savoury and dessert
went their way, and no Tobermory appeared either in the dining-
room or kitchen.
The sepulchral dinner was cheerful compared with the subsequent
vigil in the smoking-room. Eating and drinking had at least
supplied a distraction and cloak to the prevailing embarrassment.
Bridge was out of the question in the general tension of nerves
and tempers, and after Odo Finsberry had given a lugubrious
rendering of "Melisande in the Wood" to a frigid audience, music
was tacitly avoided. At eleven the servants went to bed,
announcing that the small window in the pantry had been left open
as usual for Tobermory's private use. The guests read steadily
through the current batch of magazines, and fell back gradually,
on the "Badminton Library " and bound volumes of PUNCH. Lady
Blemley made periodic visits to the pantry, returning each time
with an expression of listless depression which forestalled
At two o'clock Clovis broke the dominating silence.
"He won't turn up to-night. He's probably in the local newspaper
office at the present moment, dictating the first instalment of
his reminiscences. Lady What's-her-name's book won't be in it.
It will be the event of the day."
Having made this contribution to the general cheerfulness, Clovis
went to bed. At long intervals the various members of the house-
party followed his example.
The servants taking round the early tea made a uniform
announcement in reply to a uniform question. Tobermory had not
Breakfast was, if anything, a more unpleasant function than dinner
had been, but before its conclusion the situation was relieved.
Tobermory's corpse was brought in from the shrubbery, where a
gardener had just discovered it. From the bites on his throat and
the yellow fur which coated his claws it was evident that he had
fallen in unequal combat with the big Tom from the Rectory.
By midday most of the guests had quitted the Towers, and after
lunch Lady Blemley had sufficiently recovered her spirits to write
an extremely nasty letter to the Rectory about the loss of her
Tobermory had been Appin's one successful pupil, and he was
destined to have no successor. A few weeks later an elephant in
the Dresden Zoological Garden, which had shown no previous signs
of irritability, broke loose and killed an Englishman who had
apparently been teasing it. The victim's name was variously
reported in the papers as Oppin and Eppelin, but his front name
was faithfully rendered Cornelius.
"If he was trying German irregular verbs on the poor beast," said
Clovis, "he deserved all he got."
MRS. PACKLETIDE'S TIGER
It was Mrs. Packletide's pleasure and intention that she should
shoot a tiger. Not that the lust to kill had suddenly descended
on her, or that she felt that she would leave India safer and more
wholesome than she had found it, with one fraction less of wild
beast per million of inhabitants. The compelling motive for her
sudden deviation towards the footsteps of Nimrod was the fact that
Loona Bimberton had recently been carried eleven miles in an
aeroplane by an Algerian aviator, and talked of nothing else; only
a personally procured tiger-skin and a heavy harvest of Press
photographs could successfully counter that sort of thing. Mrs.
Packletide had already arranged in her mind the lunch she would
give at her house in Curzon Street, ostensibly in Loona
Bimberton's honour, with a tiger-skin rug occupying most of the
foreground and all of the conversation. She had also already
designed in her mind the tiger-claw brooch that she was going to
give Loona Bimberton on her next birthday. In a world that is
supposed to be chiefly swayed by hunger and by love Mrs.
Packletide was an exception; her movements and motives were
largely governed by dislike of Loona Bimberton.
Circumstances proved propitious. Mrs. Packletide had offered a
thousand rupees for the opportunity of shooting a tiger without
overmuch risk or exertion, and it so happened that a neighbouring
village could boast of being the favoured rendezvous of an animal
of respectable antecedents, which had been driven by the
increasing infirmities of age to abandon game-killing and confine
its appetite to the smaller domestic animals. The prospect of
earning the thousand rupees had stimulated the sporting and
commercial instinct of the villagers; children were posted night
and day on the outskirts of the local jungle to head the tiger
back in the unlikely event of his attempting to roam away to fresh
hunting-grounds, and the cheaper kinds of goats were left about
with elaborate carelessness to keep him satisfied with his present
quarters. The one great anxiety was lest he should die of old age
before the date appointed for the memsahib's shoot. Mothers
carrying their babies home through the jungle after the day's work
in the fields hushed their singing lest they might curtail the
restful sleep of the venerable herd-robber.
The great night duly arrived, moonlit and cloudless. A platform
had been constructed in a comfortable and conveniently placed
tree, and thereon crouched Mrs. Packletide and her paid companion,
Miss Mebbin. A goat, gifted with a particularly persistent bleat,
such as even a partially deaf tiger might be reasonably expected
to hear on a still night, was tethered at the correct distance.
With an accurately sighted rifle and a thumbnail pack of patience
cards the sportswoman awaited the coming of the quarry.
"I suppose we are in some danger?" said Miss Mebbin.
She was not actually nervous about the wild beast, but she had a
morbid dread of performing an atom more service than she had been
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Packletide; "it's a very old tiger. It
couldn't spring up here even if it wanted to."
"If it's an old tiger I think you ought to get it cheaper. A
thousand rupees is a lot of money."
Louisa Mebbin adopted a protective elder-sister attitude towards
money in general, irrespective of nationality or denomination.
Her energetic intervention had saved many a rouble from
dissipating itself in tips in some Moscow hotel, and francs and
centimes clung to her instinctively under circumstances which
would have driven them headlong from less sympathetic hands. Her
speculations as to the market depreciation of tiger remnants were
cut short by the appearance on the scene of the animal itself. As
soon as it caught sight of the tethered goat it lay flat on the
earth, seemingly less from a desire to take advantage of all
available cover than for the purpose of snatching a short rest
before commencing the grand attack.
"I believe it's ill," said Louisa Mebbin, loudly in Hindustani,
for the benefit of the village headman, who was in ambush in a
"Hush!" said Mrs. Packletide, and at that moment the tiger
commenced ambling towards his victim.
"Now, now!" urged Miss Mebbin with some excitement; "if he doesn't
touch the goat we needn't pay for it." (The bait was an extra.)
The rifle flashed out with a loud report, and the great tawny
beast sprang to one side and then rolled over in the stillness of
death. In a moment a crowd of excited natives had swarmed on to
the scene, and their shouting speedily carried the glad news to
the village, where a thumping of tom-toms took up the chorus of
triumph. And their triumph and rejoicing found a ready echo in
the heart of Mrs. Packletide; already that luncheon-party in
Curzon Street seemed immeasurably nearer.
It was Louisa Mebbin who drew attention to the fact that the goat
was in death-throes from a mortal bullet-wound, while no trace of
the rifle's deadly work could be found on the tiger. Evidently
the wrong animal had been hit, and the beast of prey had succumbed
to heart-failure, caused by the sudden report of the rifle,
accelerated by senile decay. Mrs. Packletide was pardonably
annoyed at the discovery; but, at any rate, she was the possessor
of a dead tiger, and the villagers, anxious for their thousand
rupees, gladly connived at the fiction that she had shot the
beast. And Miss Mebbin was a paid companion. Therefore did Mrs.
Packletide face the cameras with a light heart, and her pictured
fame reached from the pages of the TEXAS WEEKLY SNAPSHOT to the
illustrated Monday supplement of the NOVOE VREMYA. As for Loona
Bimberton, she refused to look at an illustrated paper for weeks,
and her letter of thanks for the gift of a tiger-claw brooch was a
model of repressed emotions. The luncheon-party she declined;
there are limits beyond which repressed emotions become dangerous.
From Curzon Street the tiger-skin rug travelled down to the Manor
House, and was duly inspected and admired by the county, and it
seemed a fitting and appropriate thing when Mrs. Packletide went
to the County Costume Ball in the character of Diana. She refused
to fall in, however, with Clovis's tempting suggestion of a
primeval dance party, at which every one should wear the skins of
beasts they had recently slain. "I should be in rather a Baby
Bunting condition," confessed Clovis, "with a miserable rabbit-
skin or two to wrap up in, but then," he added, with a rather
malicious glance at Diana's proportions, "my figure is quite as
good as that Russian dancing boy's."
"How amused every one would be if they knew what really happened,"
said Louisa Mebbin a few days after the ball.
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Packletide quickly.
"How you shot the goat and frightened the tiger to death," said
Miss Mebbin, with her disagreeably pleasant laugh.
"No one would believe it," said Mrs. Packletide, her face changing
colour as rapidly as though it were going through a book of
patterns before post-time.
"Loona Bimberton would," said Miss Mebbin. Mrs. Packletide's face
settled on an unbecoming shade of greenish white.
"You surely wouldn't give me away?" she asked.
"I've seen a week-end cottage near Dorking that I should rather
like to buy," said Miss Mebbin with seeming irrelevance. "Six
hundred and eighty, freehold. Quite a bargain, only I don't
happen to have the money."
. . . . . . . . .
Louisa Mebbin's pretty week-end cottage, christened by her "Les
Fauves," and gay in summertime with its garden borders of tiger-
lilies, is the wonder and admiration of her friends.
"It is a marvel how Louisa manages to do it," is the general
Mrs. Packletide indulges in no more big-game shooting.
"The incidental expenses are so heavy," she confides to inquiring
THE STAMPEDING OF LADY BASTABLE
"It would be rather nice if you would put Clovis up for another
six days while I go up north to the MacGregors'," said Mrs.
Sangrail sleepily across the breakfast-table. It was her
invariable plan to speak in a sleepy, comfortable voice whenever
she was unusually keen about anything; it put people off their
guard, and they frequently fell in with her wishes before they had
realized that she was really asking for anything. Lady Bastable,
however, was not so easily taken unawares; possibly she knew that
voice and what it betokened--at any rate, she knew Clovis.
She frowned at a piece of toast and ate it very slowly, as though
she wished to convey the impression that the process hurt her more
than it hurt the toast; but no extension of hospitality on
Clovis's behalf rose to her lips.
"It would be a great convenience to me," pursued Mrs. Sangrail,
abandoning the careless tone. "I particularly don't want to take
him to the MacGregors', and it will only be for six days."
It will seem longer," said Lady Bastable dismally.
"The last time he stayed here for a week--"
"I know," interrupted the other hastily, "but that was nearly two
years ago. He was younger then."
"But he hasn't improved," said her hostess; "it's no use growing
older if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself."
Mrs. Sangrail was unable to argue the point; since Clovis had
reached the age of seventeen she had never ceased to bewail his
irrepressible waywardness to all her circle of acquaintances, and
a polite scepticism would have greeted the slightest hint at a
prospective reformation. She discarded the fruitless effort at
cajolery and resorted to undisguised bribery.
"If you'll have him here for these six days I'll cancel that
outstanding bridge account."
It was only for forty-nine shillings, but Lady Bastable loved
shillings with a great, strong love. To lose money at bridge and
not to have to pay it was one of those rare experiences which gave
the card-table a glamour in her eyes which it could never
otherwise have possessed. Mrs. Sangrail was almost equally
devoted to her card winnings, but the prospect of conveniently
warehousing her offspring for six days, and incidentally saving
his railway fare to the north, reconciled her to the sacrifice;
when Clovis made a belated appearance at the breakfast-table the
bargain had been struck.
"Just think," said Mrs. Sangrail sleepily; Lady Bastable has very
kindly asked you to stay on here while I go to the MacGregors'."
Clovis said suitable things in a highly unsuitable manner, and
proceeded to make punitive expeditions among the breakfast dishes
with a scowl on his face that would have driven the purr out of a
peace conference. The arrangement that had been concluded behind
his back was doubly distasteful to him. In the first place, he
particularly wanted to teach the MacGregor boys, who could well
afford the knowledge, how to play poker-patience; secondly, the
Bastable catering was of the kind that is classified as a rude
plenty, which Clovis translated as a plenty that gives rise to
rude remarks. Watching him from behind ostentatiously sleepy
lids, his mother realized, in the light of long experience, that
any rejoicing over the success of her manoeuvre would be
distinctly premature. It was one thing to fit Clovis into a
convenient niche of the domestic jig-saw puzzle; it was quite
another matter to get him to stay there.
Lady Bastable was wont to retire in state to the morning-room
immediately after breakfast and spend a quiet hour in skimming
through the papers; they were there, so she might as well get
their money's worth out of them. Politics did not greatly
interest her, but she was obsessed with a favourite foreboding
that one of these days there would be a great social upheaval, in
which everybody would be killed by everybody else. "It will come
sooner than we think," she would observe darkly; a mathematical
expert of exceptionally high powers would have been puzzled to
work out the approximate date from the slender and confusing
groundwork which this assertion afforded.
On this particular morning the sight of Lady Bastable enthroned
among her papers gave Clovis the hint towards which his mind had
been groping all breakfast time. His mother had gone upstairs to
supervise packing operations, and he was alone on the ground-floor
with his hostess--and the servants. The latter were the key to
the situation. Bursting wildly into the kitchen quarters, Clovis
screamed a frantic though strictly non-committal summons: "Poor
Lady Bastable! In the morning-room! Oh, quick!" The next moment
the butler, cook, page-boy, two or three maids, and a gardener who
had happened to be in one of the outer kitchens were following in
a hot scurry after Clovis as he headed back for the morning-room.
Lady Bastable was roused from the world of newspaper lore by
hearing a Japanese screen in the hall go down with a crash. Then
the door leading from the hall flew open and her young guest tore
madly through the room, shrieked at her in passing, "The
jacquerie! They're on us!" and dashed like an escaping hawk out
through the French window. The scared mob of servants burst in on
his heels, the gardener still clutching the sickle with which he
had been trimming hedges, and the impetus of their headlong haste
carried them, slipping and sliding, over the smooth parquet
flooring towards the chair where their mistress sat in panic-
stricken amazement. If she had had a moment granted her for
reflection she would have behaved, as she afterwards explained,
with considerable dignity. It was probably the sickle which
decided her, but anyway she followed the lead that Clovis had
given her through the French window, and ran well and far across
the lawn before the eyes of her astonished retainers.
. . . . . . . . .
Lost dignity is not a possession which can be restored at a
moment's notice, and both Lady Bastable and the butler found the
process of returning to normal conditions almost as painful as a
slow recovery from drowning. A jacquerie, even if carried out
with the most respectful of intentions, cannot fail to leave some
traces of embarrassment behind it. By lunch-time, however,
decorum had reasserted itself with enhanced rigour as a natural
rebound from its recent overthrow, and the meal was served in a
frigid stateliness that might have been framed on a Byzantine
model. Halfway through its duration Mrs. Sangrail was solemnly
presented with an envelope lying on a silver salver. It contained
a cheque for forty-nine shillings.
The MacGregor boys learned how to play poker-patience; after all,
they could afford to.
"That woman's art-jargon tires me," said Clovis to his journalist
friend. "She's so fond of talking of certain pictures as 'growing
on one,' as though they were a sort of fungus."
"That reminds me," said the journalist, "of the story of Henri
Deplis. Have I ever told it you?"
Clovis shook his head.
"Henri Deplis was by birth a native of the Grand Duchy of
Luxemburg. On maturer reflection he became a commercial
traveller. His business activities frequently took him beyond the
limits of the Grand Duchy, and he was stopping in a small town of
Northern Italy when news reached him from home that a legacy from
a distant and deceased relative had fallen to his share.
"It was not a large legacy, even from the modest standpoint of
Henri Deplis, but it impelled him towards some seemingly harmless
extravagances. In particular it led him to patronize local art as
represented by the tattoo-needles of Signor Andreas Pincini.
Signor Pincini was, perhaps, the most brilliant master of tattoo
craft that Italy had ever known, but his circumstances were
decidedly impoverished, and for the sum of six hundred francs he
gladly undertook to cover his client's back, from the collar-bone
down to the waistline, with a glowing representation of the Fall
of Icarus. The design, when finally developed, was a slight
disappointment to Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of
being a fortress taken by Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War,
but he was more than satisfied with the execution of the work,
which was acclaimed by all who had the privilege of seeing it as
"It was his greatest effort, and his last. Without even waiting
to he paid, the illustrious craftsman departed this life, and was
buried under an ornate tombstone, whose winged cherubs would have
afforded singularly little scope for the exercise of his favourite
art. There remained, however, the widow Pincini, to whom the six
hundred francs were due. And thereupon arose the great crisis in
the life of Henri Deplis, traveller of commerce. The legacy,
under the stress of numerous little calls on its substance, had
dwindled to very insignificant proportions, and when a pressing
wine bill and sundry other current accounts had been paid, there
remained little more than 430 francs to offer to the widow. The
lady was properly indignant, not wholly, as she volubly explained,
on account of the suggested writing-off of 170 francs, but also at
the attempt to depreciate the value of her late husband's
acknowledged masterpiece. In a week's time Deplis was obliged to
reduce his offer to 405 francs, which circumstance fanned the
widow's indignation into a fury. She cancelled the sale of the
work of art, and a few days later Deplis learned with a sense, of
consternation that she had presented it to the municipality of
Bergamo, which had gratefully accepted it. He left the
neighbourhood as unobtrusively as possible, and was genuinely
relieved when his business commands took him to Rome, where he
hoped his identity and that of the famous picture might be lost
"But he bore on his back the burden of the dead man's genius. On
presenting himself one day in the steaming corridor of a vapour
bath, he was at once hustled back into his clothes by the
proprietor, who was a North Italian, and who emphatically refused
to allow the celebrated Fall of Icarus to be publicly on view
without the permission of the municipality of Bergamo. Public
interest and official vigilance increased as the matter became
more widely known, and Deplis was unable to take a simple dip in
the sea or river on the hottest afternoon unless clothed up to the
collarbone in a substantial bathing garment. Later on the
authorities of Bergamo, conceived the idea that salt water might
be injurious to the masterpiece, and a perpetual injunction was
obtained which debarred the muchly harassed commercial traveller
from sea bathing under any circumstances. Altogether, he was
fervently thankful when his firm of employers found him a new
range of activities in the neighbourhood of Bordeaux. His
thankfulness, however, ceased abruptly at the Franco-Italian
frontier. An imposing array of official force barred his
departure, and he was sternly reminded of the stringent law which
forbids the exportation of Italian works of art.
"A diplomatic parley ensued between the Luxemburgian and Italian
Governments, and at one time the European situation became
overcast with the possibilities of trouble. But the Italian
Government stood firm; it declined to concern itself in the least
with the fortunes or even the existence of Henri Deplis,
commercial traveller, but was immovable in its decision that the
Fall of Icarus (by the late Pincini, Andreas) at present the
property of the municipality of Bergamo, should not leave the
"The excitement died down in time, but the unfortunate Deplis, who
was of a constitutionally retiring disposition, found himself a
few months later, once more the storm-centre of a furious
controversy. A certain German art expert, who had obtained from
the municipality of Bergamo permission to inspect the famous
masterpiece, declared it to be a spurious Pincini, probably the
work of some pupil whom he had employed in his declining years.
The evidence of Deplis on the subject was obviously worthless, as
he had been under the influence of the customary narcotics during
the long process of pricking in the design. The editor of an
Italian art journal refuted the contentions of the German expert
and undertook to prove that his private life did not conform to
any modern standard of decency. The whole of Italy and Germany
were drawn into the dispute, and the rest of Europe was soon
involved in the quarrel. There were stormy scenes in the Spanish
Parliament, and the University of Copenhagen bestowed a gold medal
on the German expert (afterwards sending a commission to examine
his proofs on the spot), while two Polish schoolboys in Paris
committed suicide to show what THEY thought of the matter.
"Meanwhile, the unhappy human background fared no better than
before, and it was not surprising that he drifted into the ranks
of Italian anarchists. Four times at least he was escorted to the
frontier as a dangerous and undesirable foreigner, but he was
always brought back as the Fall of Icarus (attributed to Pincini,
Andreas, early Twentieth Century). And then one day, at an
anarchist congress at Genoa, a fellow-worker, in the heat of
debate, broke a phial full of corrosive liquid over his back. The
red shirt that he was wearing mitigated the effects, but the
Icarus was ruined beyond recognition. His assailant was severly
reprimanded for assaulting a fellow-anarchist and received seven
years' imprisonment for defacing a national art treasure. As soon
as he was able to leave the hospital Henri Deplis was put across
the frontier as an undesirable alien.
"In the quieter streets of Paris, especially in the neighbourhood
of the Ministry of Fine Arts, you may sometimes meet a depressed,
anxious-looking man, who, if you pass him the time of day, will
answer you with a slight Luxemburgian accent. He nurses the
illusion that he is one of the lost arms of the Venus de Milo, and
hopes that the French Government may be persuaded to buy him. On
all other subjects I believe he is tolerably sane."
HERMANN THE IRASCIBLE--A STORY OF THE GREAT WEEP
It was in the second decade of the twentieth century, after the
Great Plague had devastated England, that Hermann the Irascible,
nicknamed also the Wise, sat on the British throne. The Mortal
Sickness had swept away the entire Royal Family, unto the third
and fourth generations, and thus it came to pass that Hermann the
Fourteenth of Saxe-Drachsen-Wachtelstein, who had stood thirtieth
in the order of succession, found himself one day ruler of the
British dominions within and beyond the seas. He was one of the
unexpected things that happen in politics, and he happened with
great thoroughness. In many ways he was the most progressive
monarch who had sat on an important throne; before people knew
where they were, they were somewhere else. Even his Ministers,
progressive though they were by tradition, found it difficult to
keep pace with his legislative suggestions.
"As a matter of fact," admitted the Prime Minister, "we are
hampered by these votes-for-women creatures; they disturb our
meetings throughout the country, and they try to turn Downing
Street into a sort of political picnic-ground."
"They must be dealt with," said Hermann.
"Dealt with," said the Prime Minister; "exactly, just so; but
"I will draft you a Bill," said the King, sitting down at his
typewriting machine, "enacting that women shall vote at all future
elections. Shall vote, you observe; or, to put it plainer, must.
Voting will remain optional, as before, for male electors; but
every woman between the ages of twenty-one and seventy will be
obliged to vote, not only at elections for Parliament, county
councils, district boards, parish councils, and municipalities,
but for coroners, school inspectors, churchwardens, curators of
museums, sanitary authorities, police-court interpreters,
swimming-bath instructors, contractors, choir-masters, market
superintendents, art-school teachers, cathedral vergers, and other
local functionaries whose names I will add as they occur to me.
All these offices will become elective, and failure to vote at any
election falling within her area of residence will involve the
female elector in a penalty of £10. Absence, unsupported by an
adequate medical certificate, will not be accepted as an excuse.
Pass this Bill through the two Houses of Parliament and bring it
to me for signature the day after to-morrow."
From the very outset the Compulsory Female Franchise produced
little or no elation even in circles which had been loudest in
demanding the vote. The bulk of the women of the country had been
indifferent or hostile to the franchise agitation, and the most
fanatical Suffragettes began to wonder what they had found so
attractive in the prospect of putting ballot-papers into a box.
In the country districts the task of carrying out the provisions
of the new Act was irksome enough; in the towns and cities it
became an incubus. There seemed no end to the elections.
Laundresses and seamstresses had to hurry away from their work to
vote, often for a candidate whose name they hadn't heard before,
and whom they selected at haphazard; female clerks and waitresses
got up extra early to get their voting done before starting off to
their places of business. Society women found their arrangements
impeded and upset by the continual necessity for attending the
polling stations, and week-end parties and summer holidays became
gradually a masculine luxury. As for Cairo and the Riviera, they
were possible only for genuine invalids or people of enormous
wealth, for the accumulation of o10 fines during a prolonged
absence was a contingency that even ordinarily wealthy folk could
hardly afford to risk.
It was not wonderful that the female disfranchisement agitation
became a formidable movement. The No-Votes-for-Women League
numbered its feminine adherents by the million; its colours,
citron and old Dutch-madder, were flaunted everywhere, and its
battle hymn, "We don't want to Vote," became a popular refrain.
As the Government showed no signs of being impressed by peaceful
persuasion, more violent methods came into vogue. Meetings were
disturbed, Ministers were mobbed, policemen were bitten, and
ordinary prison fare rejected, and on the eve of the anniversary
of Trafalgar women bound themselves in tiers up the entire length
of the Nelson column so that its customary floral decoration had
to be abandoned. Still the Government obstinately adhered to its
conviction that women ought to have the vote.
Then, as a last resort, some woman wit hit upon an expedient which
it was strange that no one had thought of before. The Great Weep
was organized. Relays of women, ten thousand at a time, wept
continuously in the public places of the Metropolis. They wept in
railway stations, in tubes and omnibuses, in the National Gallery,
at the Army and Navy Stores, in St. James's Park, at ballad
concerts, at Prince's and in the Burlington Arcade. The hitherto
unbroken success of the brilliant farcical comedy "Henry's Rabbit"
was imperilled by the presence of drearily weeping women in stalls
and circle and gallery, and one of the brightest divorce cases
that had been tried for many years was robbed of much of its
sparkle by the lachrymose behaviour of a section of the audience.
"What are we to do?" asked the Prime Minister, whose cook had wept
into all the breakfast dishes and whose nursemaid had gone out,
crying quietly and miserably, to take the children for a walk in
"There is a time for everything," said the King; "there is a time
to yield. Pass a measure through the two Houses depriving women
of the right to vote, and bring it to me for the Royal assent the
day after to-morrow."
As the Minister withdrew, Hermann the Irascible, who was also
nicknamed the Wise, gave a profound chuckle.
"There are more ways of killing a cat than by choking it with
cream," he quoted, "but I'm not sure," he added, "that it's not
the best way."
0n the rack in the railway carriage immediately opposite Clovis
was a solidly wrought travelling-bag, with a carefully written
label, on which was inscribed, "J. P. Huddle, The Warren,
Tilfield, near Slowborough." Immediately below the rack sit the
human embodiment of the label, a solid, sedate individual,
sedately dressed, sedately conversational. Even without his
conversation (which was addressed to a friend seated by his side,
and touched chiefly on such topics as the backwardness of Roman
hyacinths and the prevalence of measles at the Rectory), one could
have gauged fairly accurately the temperament and mental outlook
of the travelling bag's owner. But he seemed unwilling to leave
anything to the imagination of a casual observer, and his talk
grew presently personal and introspective.
"I don't know how it is," he told his friend, "I'm not much over
forty, but I seem to have settled down into a deep groove of
elderly middle-age. My sister shows the same tendency. We like
everything to be exactly in its accustomed place; we like things
to happen exactly at their appointed times; we like everything to
be usual, orderly, punctual, methodical, to a hair's breadth, to a
minute. It distresses and upsets us if it is not so. For
instance, to take a very trifling matter, a thrush has built its
nest year after year in the catkin-tree on the lawn; this year,
for no obvious reason, it is building in the ivy on the garden
wall. We have said very little about it, but I think we both feel
that the change is unnecessary, and just a little irritating."
"Perhaps," said the friend, "it is a different thrush."
"We have suspected that," said J. P. Huddle, "and I think it gives
us even more cause for annoyance. We don't feel that we want a
change of thrush at our time of life; and yet, as I have said, we
have scarcely reached an age when these things should make
themselves seriously felt."
"What you want," said the friend, "is an Unrest-cure."
"An Unrest-cure? I've never heard of such a thing."
"You've heard of Rest-cures for people who've broken down under
stress of too much worry and strenuous living; well, you're
suffering from overmuch repose and placidity, and you need the
opposite kind of treatment."
"But where would one go for such a thing?"
"Well, you might stand as an Orange candidate for Kilkenny, or do
a course of district visiting in one of the Apache quarters of
Paris, or give lectures in Berlin to prove that most of Wagner's
music was written by Gambetta; and there's always the interior of
Morocco to travel in. But, to be really effective, the Unrest-
cure ought to be tried in the home. How you would do it I haven't
the faintest idea."
It was at this point in the conversation that Clovis became
galvanized into alert attention. After all, his two days' visit
to an elderly relative at Slowborough did not promise much
excitement. Before the train had stopped he had decorated his
sinister shirt-cuff with the inscription, "J. P. Huddle, The
Warren, Tilfield, near Slowborough."
. . . . . . . . .
Two mornings later Mr. Huddle broke in on his sister's privacy as
she sat reading Country Life in the morning room. It was her day
and hour and place for reading Country Life, and the intrusion was
absolutely irregular; but he bore in his hand a telegram, and in
that household telegrams were recognized as happening by the hand
of God. This particular telegram partook of the nature of a
thunderbolt. "Bishop examining confirmation class in
neighbourhood unable stay rectory on account measles invokes your
hospitality sending secretary arrange."
"I scarcely know the Bishop; I've only spoken to him once,"
exclaimed J. P. Huddle, with the exculpating air of one who
realizes too late the indiscretion of speaking to strange Bishops.
Miss Huddle was the first to rally; she disliked thunderbolts as
fervently as her brother did, but the womanly instinct in her told
her that thunderbolts must be fed.
"We can curry the cold duck," she said. It was not the appointed
day for curry, but the little orange envelope involved a certain
departure from rule and custom. Her brother said nothing, but his
eyes thanked her for being brave.
"A young gentleman to see you," announced the parlour-maid.
"The secretary!" murmured the Huddles in unison; they instantly
stiffened into a demeanour which proclaimed that, though they held
all strangers to be guilty, they were willing to hear anything
they might have to say in their defence. The young gentleman, who
came into the room with a certain elegant haughtiness, was not at
all Huddle's idea of a bishop's secretary; he had not supposed
that the episcopal establishment could have afforded such an
expensively upholstered article when there were so many other
claims on its resources. The face was fleetingly familiar; if he
had bestowed more attention on the fellow-traveller sitting
opposite him in the railway carriage two days before he might have
recognized Clovis in his present visitor.
"You are the Bishop's secretary?" asked Huddle, becoming
"His confidential secretary," answered Clovis. You may call me
Stanislaus; my other name doesn't matter. The Bishop and Colonel
Alberti may be here to lunch. I shall be here in any case."
It sounded rather like the programme of a Royal visit.
"The Bishop is examining a confirmation class in the
neighbourhood, isn't he?" asked Miss Huddle.
"Ostensibly," was the dark reply, followed by a request for a
large-scale map of the locality.
Clovis was still immersed in a seemingly profound study of the map
when another telegram arrived. It was addressed to "Prince
Stanislaus, care of Huddle, The Warren, etc." Clovis glanced at
the contents and announced: "The Bishop and Alberti won't be here
till late in the afternoon." Then he returned to his scrutiny of
The luncheon was not a very festive function. The princely
secretary ate and drank with fair appetite, but severely
discouraged conversation. At the finish of the meal he broke
suddenly into a radiant smile, thanked his hostess for a charming
repast, and kissed her hand with deferential rapture.
Miss Huddle was unable to decide in her mind whether the action
savoured of Louis Quatorzian courtliness or the reprehensible
Roman attitude towards the Sabine women. It was not her day for
having a headache, but she felt that the circumstances excused
her, and retired to her room to have as much headache as was
possible before the Bishop's arrival. Clovis, having asked the
way to the nearest telegraph office, disappeared presently down
the carriage drive. Mr. Huddle met him in the hall some two hours
later, and asked when the Bishop would arrive.
"He is in the library with Alberti," was the reply.
"But why wasn't I told? I never knew he had come!" exclaimed
"No one knows he is here," said Clovis; "the quieter we can keep
matters the better. And on no account disturb him in the library.
Those are his orders."
"But what is all this mystery about? And who is Alberti? And
isn't the Bishop going to have tea?"
"The Bishop is out for blood, not tea."
"Blood!" gasped Huddle, who did not find that the thunderbolt
improved on acquaintance.
"To-night is going to be a great night in the history of
Christendom," said Clovis. "We are going to massacre every Jew in
"To massacre the Jews!" said Huddle indignantly. "Do you mean to
tell me there's a general rising against them?"
"No, it's the Bishop's own idea. He's in there arranging all the
"But--the Bishop is such a tolerant, humane man."
"That is precisely what will heighten the effect of his action.
The sensation will be enormous."
That at least Huddle could believe.
"He will be hanged!" he exclaimed with conviction.
"A motor is waiting to carry him to the coast, where a steam yacht
is in readiness."
"But there aren't thirty Jews in the whole neighbourhood,"
protested Huddle, whose brain, under the repeated shocks of the
day, was operating with the uncertainty of a telegraph wire during
"We have twenty-six on our list," said Clovis, referring to a
bundle of notes. "We shall be able to deal with them all the more
"Do you mean to tell me that you are meditating violence against a
man like Sir Leon Birberry," stammered Huddle; "he's one of the
most respected men in the country."
"He's down on our list," said Clovis carelessly; "after all, we've
got men we can trust to do our job, so we shan't have to rely on
local assistance. And we've got some Boy-scouts helping us as
"Yes; when they understood there was real killing to be done they
were even keener than the men."
"This thing will be a blot on the Twentieth Century!"
"And your house will be the blotting-pad. Have you realized that
half the papers of Europe and the United States will publish
pictures of it? By the way, I've sent some photographs of you and
your sister, that I found in the library, to the MATIN and DIE
WOCHE; I hope you don't mind. Also a sketch of the staircase;
most of the killing will probably be done on the staircase."
The emotions that were surging in J. P. Huddle's brain were almost
too intense to be disclosed in speech, but he managed to gasp out:
"There aren't any Jews in this house."
"Not at present," said Clovis.
"I shall go to the police," shouted Huddle with sudden energy.
"In the shrubbery," said Clovis, "are posted ten men who have
orders to fire on anyone who leaves the house without my signal of
permission. Another armed picquet is in ambush near the front
gate. The Boy-scouts watch the back premises."
At this moment the cheerful hoot of a motor-horn was heard from
the drive. Huddle rushed to the hall door with the feeling of a
man half awakened from a nightmare, and beheld Sir Leon Birberry,
who had driven himself over in his car. "I got your telegram," he
said what's up?"
Telegram? It seemed to be a day of telegrams.
"Come here at once. Urgent. James Huddle," was the purport of
the message displayed before Huddle's bewildered eyes.
"I see it all!" he exclaimed suddenly in a voice shaken with
agitation, and with a look of agony in the direction of the
shrubbery he hauled the astonished Birberry into the house. Tea
had just been laid in the hall, but the now thoroughly panic-
stricken Huddle dragged his protesting guest upstairs, and in a
few minutes' time the entire household had been summoned to that
region of momentary safety. Clovis alone graced the tea-table
with his presence; the fanatics in the library were evidently too
immersed in their monstrous machinations to dally with the solace
of teacup and hot toast. Once the youth rose, in answer to the
summons of the front-door bell, and admitted Mr. Paul Isaacs,
shoemaker and parish councillor, who had also received a pressing
invitation to The Warren. With an atrocious assumption of
courtesy, which a Borgia could hardly have outdone, the secretary
escorted this new captive of his net to the head of the stairway,
where his involuntary host awaited him.
And then ensued a long ghastly vigil of watching and waiting.
Once or twice Clovis left the house to stroll across to the
shrubbery, returning always to the library, for the purpose
evidently of making a brief report. Once he took in the letters
from the evening postman, and brought them to the top of the
stairs with punctilious politeness. After his next absence he
came half-way up the stairs to make an announcement.
"The Boy-scouts mistook my signal, and have killed the postman.
I've had very little practice in this sort of thing, you see.
Another time I shall do better."
The housemaid, who was engaged to be married to the evening
postman, gave way to clamorous grief.
"Remember that your mistress has a headache," said J. P. Huddle.
(Miss Huddle's headache was worse.)
Clovis hastened downstairs, and after a short visit to the library
returned with another message:
"The Bishop is sorry to hear that Miss Huddle has a headache. He
is issuing orders that as far as possible no firearms shall be
used near the house; any killing that is necessary on the premises
will be done with cold steel. The Bishop does not see why a man
should not be a gentleman as well as a Christian."
That was the last they saw of Clovis; it was nearly seven o'clock,
and his elderly relative liked him to dress for dinner. But,
though he had left them for ever, the lurking suggestion of his
presence haunted the lower regions of the house during the long
hours of the wakeful night, and every creak of the stairway, every
rustle of wind through the shrubbery, was fraught with horrible
meaning. At about seven next morning the gardener's boy and the
early postman finally convinced the watchers that the Twentieth
Century was still unblotted.
"I don't suppose," mused Clovis, as an early train bore him
townwards, "that they will be in the least grateful for the
THE JESTING OF ARLINGTON STRINGHAM
Arlington Stringham made a joke in the House of Commons. It was a
thin House, and a very thin joke; something about the Anglo-Saxon
race having a great many angles. It is possible that it was
unintentional, but a fellow-member, who did not wish it to be
supposed that he was asleep because his eyes were shut, laughed.
One or two of the papers noted "a laugh" in brackets, and another,
which was notorious for the carelessness of its political news,
mentioned "laughter." Things often begin in that way.
"Arlington made a joke in the House last night," said Eleanor
Stringham to her mother; "in all the years we've been married
neither of us has made jokes, and I don't like it now. I'm afraid
it's the beginning of the rift in the lute."
"What lute?" said her mother.
"It's a quotation," said Eleanor.
To say that anything was a quotation was an excellent method, in
Eleanor's eyes, for withdrawing it from discussion, just as you
could always defend indifferent lamb late in the season by saying
And, of course, Arlington Stringham continued to tread the thorny
path of conscious humour into which Fate had beckoned him.
"The country's looking very green, but, after all, that's what
it's there for," he remarked to his wife two days later.
"That's very modern, and I dare say very clever, but I'm afraid
it's wasted on me," she observed coldly. If she had known how
much effort it had cost him to make the remark she might have
greeted it in a kinder spirit. It is the tragedy of human
endeavour that it works so often unseen and unguessed.
Arlington said nothing, not from injured pride, but because he was
thinking hard for something to say. Eleanor mistook his silence
for an assumption of tolerant superiority, and her anger prompted
her to a further gibe.
"You had better tell it to Lady Isobel. I've no doubt she would
Lady Isobel was seen everywhere with a fawn coloured collie at a
time when every one else kept nothing but Pekinese, and she had
once eaten four green apples at an afternoon tea in the Botanical
Gardens, so she was widely credited with a rather unpleasant wit.
The censorious said she slept in a hammock and understood Yeats's
poems, but her family denied both stories.
"The rift is widening to an abyss," said Eleanor to her mother
"I should not tell that to anyone," remarked her mother, after
"Naturally, I should not talk about it very much?" said Eleanor,
"but why shouldn't I mention it to anyone?"
"Because you can't have an abyss in a lute. There isn't room."
Eleanor's outlook on life did not improve as the afternoon wore
on. The page-boy had brought from the library BY MERE AND WOLD
instead of BY MERE CHANCE, the book which every one denied having
read. The unwelcome substitute appeared to be a collection of
nature notes contributed by the author to the pages of some
Northern weekly, and when one had been prepared to plunge with
disapproving mind into a regrettable chronicle of ill-spent lives
it was intensely irritating to read "the dainty yellow-hammers are
now with us and flaunt their jaundiced livery from every bush and
hillock." Besides, the thing was so obviously untrue; either
there must be hardly any bushes or hillocks in those parts or the
country must be fearfully overstocked with yellow-hammers. The
thing scarcely seemed worth telling such a lie about. And the
page-boy stood there, with his sleekly brushed and parted hair,
and his air of chaste and callous indifference to the desires and
passions of the world. Eleanor hated boys, and she would have
liked to have whipped this one long and often. It was perhaps the
yearning of a woman who had no children of her own.
She turned at random to another paragraph. "Lie quietly concealed
in the fern and bramble in the gap by the old rowan tree, and you
may see, almost every evening during early summer, a pair of
lesser whitethroats creeping up and down the nettles and hedge-
growth that mask their nesting-place."
The insufferable monotony of the proposed recreation! Eleanor
would not have watched the most brilliant performance at His
Majesty's Theatre for a single evening under such uncomfortable
circumstances, and to be asked to watch lesser whitethroats
creeping up and down a nettle "almost every evening" during the
height of the season struck her as an imputation on her
intelligence that was positively offensive. Impatiently she
transferred her attention to the dinner menu, which the boy had
thoughtfully brought in as an alternative to the more solid
literary fare. "Rabbit curry," met her eye, and the lines of
disapproval deepened on her already puckered brow. The cook was a
great believer in the influence of environment, and nourished an
obstinate conviction that if you brought rabbit and curry-powder
together in one dish a rabbit curry would be the result. And
Clovis and the odious Bertie van Tahn were coming to dinner.
Surely, thought Eleanor, if Arlington knew how much she had had
that day to try her, he would refrain from joke-making.
At dinner that night it was Eleanor herself who mentioned the name
of a certain statesman, who may be decently covered under the
disguise of X.
"X," said Arlington Stringham, "has the soul of a meringue."
It was a useful remark to have on hand, because it applied equally
well to four prominent statesmen of the day, which quadrupled the
opportunities for using it.
"Meringues haven't got souls," said Eleanor's mother.
"It's a mercy that they haven't," said Clovis; "they would be
always losing them, and people like my aunt would get up missions
to meringues, and say it was wonderful how much one could teach
them and how much more one could learn from them."
"What could you learn from a meringue?" asked Eleanor's mother.
"My aunt has been known to learn humility from an ex-Viceroy,"
"I wish cook would learn to make curry, or have the sense to leave
it alone," said Arlington, suddenly and savagely.
Eleanor's face softened. It was like one of his old remarks in
the days when there was no abyss between them.
It was during the debate on the Foreign Office vote that Stringham
made his great remark that "the people of Crete unfortunately make
more history than they can consume locally." It was not
brilliant, but it came in the middle of a dull speech, and the
House was quite pleased with it. Old gentlemen with bad memories
said it reminded them of Disraeli.
It was Eleanor's friend, Gertrude Ilpton, who drew her attention
to Arlington's newest outbreak. Eleanor in these days avoided the
"It's very modern, and I suppose very clever," she observed.
"Of course it's clever," said Gertrude; "all Lady Isobel's sayings
are clever, and luckily they bear repeating."
"Are you sure it's one of her sayings?" asked Eleanor.
"My dear, I've heard her say it dozens of times."
"So that is where he gets his humour," said Eleanor slowly, and
the hard lines deepened round her mouth.
The death of Eleanor Stringham from an overdose of chloral,
occurring at the end of a rather uneventful season, excited a
certain amount of unobtrusive speculation. Clovis, who perhaps
exaggerated the importance of curry in the home, hinted at
And of course Arlington never knew. It was the tragedy of his
life that he should miss the fullest effect of his jesting.
Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his
professional opinion that the boy would not live another five
years. The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little,
but his opinion was endorsed by Mrs. de Ropp, who counted for
nearly everything. Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin's cousin and
guardian, and in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of
the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other
two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed
up in himself and his imagination. One of these days Conradin
supposed he would succumb to the mastering pressure of wearisome
necessary things---such as illnesses and coddling restrictions and
drawn-out dullness. Without his imagination, which was rampant
under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.
Mrs. de Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed
to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been
dimly aware that thwarting him "for his good" was a duty which she
did not find particularly irksome. Conradin hated her with a
desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask. Such few
pleasures as he could contrive for himself gained an added relish
from the likelihood that they would be displeasing to his
guardian, and from the realm of his imagination she was locked
out--an unclean thing, which should find no entrance.
In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that
were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a
reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction. The
few fruit-trees that it contained were set jealously apart from
his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind
blooming in an arid waste; it would probably have been difficult
to find a market-gardener who would have offered ten shillings for
their entire yearly produce. In a forgotten corner, however,
almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was a disused tool-shed
of respectable proportions, and within its walls Conradin found a
haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a playroom
and a cathedral. He had peopled it with a legion of familiar
phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from
his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood.
In one corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy
lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet. Further
back in the gloom stood a large hutch, divided into two
compartments, one of which was fronted with close iron bars. This
was the abode of a large polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-
boy had once smuggled, cage and all, into its present quarters, in
exchange for a long-secreted hoard of small silver. Conradin was
dreadfully afraid of the lithe, sharp-fanged beast, but it was his
most treasured possession. Its very presence in the tool-shed was
a secret and fearful joy, to be kept scrupulously from the
knowledge of the Woman, as he privately dubbed his cousin. And
one day, out of Heaven knows what material, he spun the beast a
wonderful name, and from that moment it grew into a god and a
religion. The Woman indulged in religion once a week at a church
near by, and took Conradin with her, but to him the church service
was an alien rite in the House of Rimmon. Every Thursday, in the
dim and musty silence of the tool-shed, he worshipped with mystic
and elaborate ceremonial before the wooden hutch where dwelt
Sredni Vashtar, the great ferret. Red flowers in their season and
scarlet berries in the winter-time were offered at his shrine, for
he was a god who laid some special stress on the fierce impatient
side of things, as opposed to the Woman's religion, which, as far
as Conradin could observe, went to great lengths in the contrary
direction. And on great festivals powdered nutmeg was strewn in
front of his hutch, an important feature of the offering being
that the nutmeg had to be stolen. These festivals were of
irregular occurrence, and were chiefly appointed to celebrate some
passing event. On one occasion, when Mrs. de Ropp suffered from
acute toothache for three days, Conradin kept up the festival
during the entire three days, and almost succeeded in persuading
himself that Sredni Vashtar was personally responsible for the
toothache. If the malady had lasted for another day the supply of
nutmeg would have given out.
The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar.
Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did
not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an
Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not
very respectable. Mrs. de Ropp was the ground plan on which he
based and detested all respectability.
After a while Conradin's absorption in the tool-shed began to
attract the notice of his guardian. "It is not good for him to be
pottering down there in all weathers," she promptly decided, and
at breakfast one morning she announced that the Houdan hen had
been sold and taken away overnight. With her short-sighted eyes
she peered at Conradin, waiting for an outbreak of rage and
sorrow, which she was ready to rebuke with a flow of excellent
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