The Chronicles of Clovis
Saki [H. H. Munro]
Part 4 out of 4
life, when he has definitely made up his mind on which side he
wishes his wife to be socially valuable. But these trials were as
nothing compared to the bewilderment caused by the Angel-husbands
who seemed in some cases to have revolutionized their outlook on
life in the interval between breakfast and dinner, without
premonition or preparation of any kind, and apparently without
realizing the least need for subsequent explanation. The
temporary peace which brooded over the Parliamentary situation was
by no means reproduced in the home circles of the leading
statesmen and politicians. It had been frequently and extensively
remarked of Mrs. Exe that she would try the patience of an angel;
now the tables were reversed, and she unwittingly had an
opportunity for discovering that the capacity for exasperating
behaviour was not all on one side.
And then, with the introduction of the Navy Estimates,
Parliamentary peace suddenly dissolved. It was the old quarrel
between Ministers and the Opposition as to the adequacy or the
reverse of the Government's naval programme. The Angel-Quinston
and the Angel-Hugo-Sizzle contrived to keep the debates free from
personalities and pinpricks, but an enormous sensation was created
when the elegant lackadaisical Halfan Halfour threatened to bring
up fifty, thousand stalwarts to wreck the House if the Estimates
were not forthwith revised on a Two-Power basis. It was a
memorable scene when he rose in his place, in response to the
scandalized shouts of his opponents, and thundered forth,
"Gentlemen, I glory in the name of Apache."
Belturbet, who had made several fruitless attempts to ring up his
young friend since the fateful morning in St. James's Park, ran
him to earth one afternoon at his club, smooth and spruce and
unruffled as ever.
"Tell me, what on earth have you turned Cocksley Coxon into?"
Belturbet asked anxiously, mentioning the name of one of the
pillars of unorthodoxy in the Anglican Church. "I don't fancy he
BELIEVES in angels, and if he finds an angel preaching orthodox
sermons from his pulpit while he's been turned into a fox-terrier,
he'll develop rabies in less than no time."
"I rather think it was a fox-terrier," said the Duke lazily.
Belturbet groaned heavily, and sank into a chair.
"Look here, Eugène," he whispered hoarsely, having first looked
well round to see that no one was within hearing range, "you've
got to stop it. Consols are jumping up and down like bronchos,
and that speech of Halfour's in the House last night has simply
startled everybody out of their wits. And then on the top of it,
"What has he been saying?" asked the Duke quickly.
"Nothing. That's just what's so disturbing. Every one thought it
was simply inevitable that he should come out with a great epoch-
making speech at this juncture, and I've just seen on the tape
that he has refused to address any meetings at present, giving as
a reason his opinion that something more than mere speech-making
The young Duke said nothing, but his eyes shone with quiet
"It's so unlike Thistlebery," continued Belturbet; "at least," he
said suspiciously, "it's unlike the REAL Thistlebery--"
"The real Thistlebery is flying about somewhere as a vocally-
industrious lapwing," said the Duke calmly; "I expect great things
of the Angel-Thistlebery," he added.
At this moment there was a magnetic stampede of members towards
the lobby, where the tape-machines were ticking out some news of
more than ordinary import.
"COUP D'ÉTAT in the North. Thistlebery seizes Edinburgh Castle.
Threatens civil war unless Government expands naval programme."
In the babel which ensued Belturbet lost sight of his young
friend. For the best part of the afternoon he searched one likely
haunt after another, spurred on by the sensational posters which
the evening papers were displaying broadcast over the West End.
"General Baden-Baden mobilizes Boy-Scouts. Another COUP D'ÉTAT
feared. Is Windsor Castle safe?" This was one of the earlier
posters, and was followed by one of even more sinister purport:
"Will the Test-match have to be postponed?" It was this
disquietening question which brought home the real seriousness of
the situation to the London public, and made people wonder whether
one might not pay too high a price for the advantages of party
government. Belturbet, questing round in the hope of finding the
originator of the trouble, with a vague idea of being able to
induce him to restore matters to their normal human footing, came
across an elderly club acquaintance who dabbled extensively in
some of the more sensitive market securities. He was pale with
indignation, and his pallor deepened as a breathless newsboy
dashed past with a poster inscribed: "Premier's constituency
harried by moss-troopers. Halfour sends encouraging telegram to
rioters. Letchworth Garden City threatens reprisals. Foreigners
taking refuge in Embassies and National Liberal Club."
"This is devils' work!" he said angrily.
Belturbet knew otherwise.
At the bottom of St. James's Street a newspaper motor-cart, which
had just come rapidly along Pall Mall, was surrounded by a knot of
eagerly talking people, and for the first time that afternoon
Belturbet heard expressions of relief and congratulation.
It displayed a placard with the welcome announcement: "Crisis
ended. Government gives way. Important expansion of naval
There seemed to be no immediate necessity for pursuing the quest
of the errant Duke, and Belturbet turned to make his way homeward
through St. James's Park. His mind, attuned to the alarums and
excursions of the afternoon, became dimly aware that some
excitement of a detached nature was going on around him. In spite
of the political ferment which reigned in the streets, quite a
large crowd had gathered to watch the unfolding of a tragedy that
had taken place on the shore of the ornamental water. A large
black swan, which had recently shown signs of a savage and
dangerous disposition, had suddenly attacked a young gentleman who
was walking by the water's edge, dragged him down under the
surface, and drowned him before anyone could come to his
assistance. At the moment when Belturbet arrived on the spot
several park-keepers were engaged in lifting the corpse into a
punt. Belturbet stooped to pick up a hat that lay near the scene
of the struggle. It was a smart soft felt hat, faintly
reminiscent of Houbigant.
More than a month elapsed before Belturbet had sufficiently
recovered from his attack of nervous prostration to take an
interest once more in what was going on in the world of politics.
The Parliamentary Session was still in full swing, and a General
Election was looming in the near future. He called for a batch of
morning papers and skimmed rapidly through the speeches of the
Chancellor, Quinston, and other Ministerial leaders, as well as
those of the principal Opposition champions, and then sank back in
his chair with a sigh of relief. Evidently the spell had ceased
to act after the tragedy which had overtaken its invoker. There
was no trace of angel anywhere.
THE REMOULDING OF GROBY LINGTON
"A man is known by the company he keeps."
In the morning-room of his sister-in-law's house Groby Lington
fidgeted away the passing minutes with the demure restlessness of
advanced middle age. About a quarter of an hour would have to
elapse before it would be time to say his good-byes and make his
way across the village green to the station, with a selected
escort of nephews and nieces. He was a good-natured, kindly
dispositioned man, and in theory he was delighted to pay
periodical visits to the wife and children of his dead brother
William; in practice, he infinitely preferred the comfort and
seclusion of his own house and garden, and the companionship of
his books and his parrot to these rather meaningless and tiresome
incursions into a family circle with which he had little in
common. It was not so much the spur of his own conscience that
drove him to make the occasional short journey by rail to visit
his relatives, as an obedient concession to the more insistent but
vicarious conscience of his brother, Colonel John, who was apt to
accuse him of neglecting poor old William's family. Groby usually
forgot or ignored the existence of his neighbour kinsfolk until
such time as he was threatened with a visit from the Colonel, when
he would put matters straight by a hurried pilgrimage across the
few miles of intervening country to renew his acquaintance with
the young people and assume a kindly if rather forced interest in
the well-being of his sister-in-law. On this occasion he had cut
matters so fine between the timing of his exculpatory visit and
the coming of Colonel John, that he would scarcely be home before
the latter was due to arrive. Anyhow, Groby had got it over, and
six or seven months might decently elapse before he need again
sacrifice his comforts and inclinations on the altar of family
sociability. He was inclined to be distinctly cheerful as he
hopped about the room, picking up first one object, then another,
and subjecting each to a brief bird-like scrutiny.
Presently his cheerful listlessness changed sharply to an attitude
of vexed attention. In a scrap-book of drawings and caricatures
belonging to one of his nephews he had come across an unkindly
clever sketch of himself and his parrot, solemnly confronting each
other in postures of ridiculous gravity and repose, and bearing a
likeness to one another that the artist had done his utmost to
accentuate. After the first flush of annoyance had passed away,
Groby laughed good-naturedly and admitted to himself the
cleverness of the drawing. Then the feeling of resentment
repossessed him, resentment not against the caricaturist who had
embodied the idea in pen and ink, but against the possible truth
that the idea represented. Was it really the case that people
grew in time to resemble the animals they kept as pets, and had he
unconsciously become more and more like the comically solemn bird
that was his constant companion? Groby was unusually silent as he
walked to the train with his escort of chattering nephews and
nieces, and during the short railway journey his mind was more and
more possessed with an introspective conviction that he had
gradually settled down into a sort of parrot-like existence.
What, after all, did his daily routine amount to but a sedate
meandering and pecking and perching, in his garden, among his
fruit trees, in his wicker chair on the lawn, or by the fireside
in his library? And what was the sum total of his conversation
with chance-encountered neighbours? "Quite a spring day, isn't
it?" "It looks as though we should have some rain." "Glad to see
you about again; you must take care of yourself." "How the young
folk shoot up, don't they?" Strings of stupid, inevitable
perfunctory remarks came to his mind, remarks that were certainly
not the mental exchange of human intelligences, but mere empty
parrot-talk. One might really just as well salute one's
acquaintances with "Pretty polly. Puss, puss, miaow!" Groby
began to fume against the picture of himself as a foolish
feathered fowl which his nephew's sketch had first suggested, and
which his own accusing imagination was filling in with such
"I'll give the beastly bird away," he said resentfully; though he
knew at the same time that he would do no such thing. It would
look so absurd after all the years that he had kept the parrot and
made much of it suddenly to try and find it a new home.
"Has my brother arrived?" he asked of the stable-boy, who had come
with the pony-carriage to meet him.
"Yessir, came down by the two-fifteen. Your parrot's dead." The
boy made the latter announcement with the relish which his class
finds in proclaiming a catastrophe.
"My parrot dead?" said Groby. "What caused its death?"
"The ipe," said the boy briefly.
"The ipe?" queried Groby. "Whatever's that?"
"The ipe what the Colonel brought down with him," came the rather
"Do you mean to say my brother is ill?" asked Groby. "Is it
"Th' Colonel's so well as ever he was," said the boy; and as no
further explanation was forthcoming Groby had to possess himself
in mystified patience till he reached home. His brother was
waiting for him at the hall door.
"Have you heard about the parrot?" he asked at once. "'Pon my
soul I'm awfully sorry. The moment he saw the monkey I'd brought
down as a surprise for you he squawked out 'Rats to you, sir!' and
the blessed monkey made one spring at him, got him by the neck and
whirled him round like a rattle. He was as dead as mutton by the
time I'd got him out of the little beggar's paws. Always been
such a friendly little beast, the monkey has, should never have
thought he'd got it in him to see red like that. Can't tell you
how sorry I feel about it, and now of course you'll hate the sight
of the monkey."
"Not at all," said Groby sincerely. A few hours earlier the
tragic end which had befallen his parrot would have presented
itself to him as a calamity; now it arrived almost as a polite
attention on the part of the Fates.
"The bird was getting old, you know," he went on, in explanation
of his obvious lack of decent regret at the loss of his pet. "I
was really beginning to wonder if it was an unmixed kindness to
let him go on living till he succumbed to old age. What a
charming little monkey!" he added, when he was introduced to the
The new-comer was a small, long-tailed monkey from the Western
Hemisphere, with a gentle, half-shy, half-trusting manner that
instantly captured Groby's confidence; a student of simian
character might have seen in the fitful red light in its eyes some
indication of the underlying temper which the parrot had so rashly
put to the test with such dramatic consequences for itself. The
servants, who had come to regard the defunct bird as a regular
member of the household, and one who gave really very little
trouble, were scandalized to find his bloodthirsty aggressor
installed in his place as an honoured domestic pet.
"A nasty heathen ipe what don't never say nothing sensible and
cheerful, same as pore Polly did," was the unfavourable verdict of
the kitchen quarters.
. . . . . . . . .
One Sunday morning, some twelve or fourteen months after the visit
of Colonel John and the parrot-tragedy, Miss Wepley sat decorously
in her pew in the parish church, immediately in front of that
occupied by Groby Lington. She was, comparatively speaking a new-
comer in the neighbourhood, and was not personally acquainted with
her fellow-worshipper in the seat behind, but for the past two
years the Sunday morning service had brought them regularly within
each other's sphere of consciousness. Without having paid
particular attention to the subject, she could probably have given
a correct rendering of the way in which he pronounced certain
words occurring in the responses, while he was well aware of the
trivial fact that, in addition to her prayer book and
handkerchief, a small paper packet of throat lozenges always
reposed on the seat beside her. Miss Wepley rarely had recourse
to her lozenges, but in case she should be taken with a fit of
coughing she wished to have the emergency duly provided for. On
this particular Sunday the lozenges occasioned an unusual
diversion in the even tenor of her devotions, far more disturbing
to her personally than a prolonged attack of coughing would have
been. As she rose to take part in the singing of the first hymn,
she fancied that she saw the hand of her neighbour, who was alone
in the pew behind her, make a furtive downward grab at the packet
lying on the seat; on turning sharply round she found that the
packet had certainly disappeared, but Mr. Lington was to all
outward seeming serenely intent on his hymnbook. No amount of
interrogatory glaring on the part of the despoiled lady could
bring the least shade of conscious guilt to his face.
"Worse was to follow," as she remarked afterwards to a scandalized
audience of friends and acquaintances. "I had scarcely knelt in
prayer when a lozenge, one of my lozenges, came whizzing into the
pew, just under my nose. I turned round and stared, but Mr.
Lington had his eyes closed and his lips moving as though engaged
in prayer. The moment I resumed my devotions another lozenge came
rattling in, and then another. I took no notice for awhile, and
then turned round suddenly just as the dreadful man was about to
flip another one at me. He hastily pretended to be turning over
the leaves of his book, but I was not to be taken in that time.
He saw that he had been discovered and no more lozenges came. Of
course I have changed my pew."
"No gentleman would have acted in such a disgraceful manner," said
one of her listeners; "and yet Mr. Lington used to be so respected
by everybody. He seems to have behaved like a little ill-bred
"He behaved like a monkey," said Miss Wepley.
Her unfavourable verdict was echoed in other quarters about the
same time. Groby Lington had never been a hero in the eyes of his
personal retainers, but he had shared the approval accorded to his
defunct parrot as a cheerful, well-dispositioned body, who gave no
particular trouble. Of late months, however, this character would
hardly have been endorsed by the members of his domestic
establishment. The stolid stable-boy, who had first announced to
him the tragic end of his feathered pet, was one of the first to
give voice to the murmurs of disapproval which became rampant and
general in the servants' quarters, and he had fairly substantial
grounds for his disaffection. In a burst of hot summer weather he
had obtained permission to bathe in a modest-sized pond in the
orchard, and thither one afternoon Groby had bent his steps,
attracted by loud imprecations of anger mingled with the shriller
chattering of monkey-language. He, beheld his plump diminutive
servitor, clad only in a waistcoat and a pair of socks, storming
ineffectually at the monkey which was seated on a low branch of an
apple tree, abstractedly fingering the remainder of the boy's
outfit, which he had removed just out of has reach.
"The ipe's been an' took my clothes;" whined the boy, with the
passion of his kind for explaining the obvious. His incomplete
toilet effect rather embarrassed him, but he hailed the arrival of
Groby with relief, as promising moral and material support in his
efforts to get back his raided garments. The monkey had ceased
its defiant jabbering, and doubtless with a little coaxing from
its master it would hand back the plunder.
"If I lift you up," suggested Groby, "you will just be able to
reach the clothes."
The boy agreed, and Groby clutched him firmly by the waistcoat,
which was about all there was to catch hold of, and lifted, him
clear of the ground. Then, with a deft swing he sent him crashing
into a clump of tall nettles, which closed receptively round him.
The victim had not been brought up in a school which teaches one
to repress one's emotions--if a fox had attempted to gnaw at his
vitals he would have flown to complain to the nearest hunt
committee rather than have affected an attitude of stoical
indifference. On this occasion the volume of sound which he
produced under the stimulus of pain and rage and astonishment was
generous and sustained, but above his bellowings he could
distinctly hear the triumphant chattering of his enemy in the
tree, and a peal of shrill laughter from Groby.
When the boy had finished an improvised St. Vitus caracole, which
would have brought him fame on the boards of the Coliseum, and
which indeed met with ready appreciation and applause from the
retreating figure of Groby Lington, he found that the monkey had
also discreetly retired, while his clothes were scattered on the
grass at the foot of the tree.
"They'm two ipes, that's what they be," he muttered angrily, and
if his judgment was severe, at least he spoke under the sting of
It was a week or two later that the parlour-maid gave notice,
having been terrified almost to tears by an outbreak of sudden
temper on the part of the master anent some underdone cutlets.
"'E gnashed 'is teeth at me, 'e did reely," she informed a
sympathetic kitchen audience.
"I'd like to see 'im talk like that to me, I would," said the cook
defiantly, but her cooking from that moment showed a marked
It was seldom that Groby Lington so far detached himself from his
accustomed habits as to go and form one of a house-party, and he
was not a little piqued that Mrs. Glenduff should have stowed him
away in the musty old Georgian wing of the house, in the next
room, moreover, to Leonard Spabbink, the eminent pianist.
"He plays Liszt like an angel," had been the hostess's
"He may play him like a trout for all I care," had been Groby's
mental comment, "but I wouldn't mind betting that he snores. He's
just the sort and shape that would. And if I hear him snoring
through those ridiculous thin-panelled walls, there'll be
He did, and there was.
Groby stood it for about two and a quarter minutes, and then made
his way through the corridor into Spabbink's room. Under Groby's
vigorous measures the musician's flabby, redundant figure sat up
in bewildered semi-consciousness like an ice-cream that has been
taught to beg. Groby prodded him into complete wakefulness, and
then the pettish self-satisfied pianist fairly lost his temper and
slapped his domineering visitant on the hand. In another moment
Spabbink was being nearly stifled and very effectually gagged by a
pillow-case tightly bound round his head, while his plump pyjama'd
limbs were hauled out of bed and smacked, pinched, kicked, and
bumped in a catch-as-catch-can progress across the floor, towards
the flat shallow bath in whose utterly inadequate depths Groby
perseveringly strove to drown him. For a few moments the room was
almost in darkness: Groby's candle had overturned in an early
stage of the scuffle, and its flicker scarcely reached to the spot
where splashings, smacks, muffled cries, and splutterings, and a
chatter of ape-like rage told of the struggle that was being waged
round the shores of the bath. A few instants later the one-sided
combat was brightly lit up by the flare of blazing curtains and
rapidly kindling panelling.
When the hastily aroused members of the house-party stampeded out
on to the lawn, the Georgian wing was well alight and belching
forth masses of smoke, but some moments elapsed before Groby
appeared with the half-drowned pianist in his arms, having just
bethought him of the superior drowning facilities offered by the
pond at the bottom of the lawn. The cool night air sobered his
rage, and when he found that he was innocently acclaimed as the
heroic rescuer of poor Leonard Spabbink, and loudly commended for
his presence of mind in tying a wet cloth round his head to
protect him from smoke suffocation, he accepted the situation, and
subsequently gave a graphic account of his finding the musician
asleep with an overturned candle by his side and the conflagration
well started. Spabbink gave HIS version some days later, when he
had partially recovered from the shock of his midnight castigation
and immersion, but the gentle pitying smiles and evasive comments
with which his story was greeted warned him that the public ear
was not at his disposal. He refused, however, to attend the
ceremonial presentation of the Royal Humane Society's life-saving
It was about this time that Groby's pet monkey fell a victim to
the disease which attacks so many of its kind when brought under
the influence of a northern climate. Its master appeared to be
profoundly affected by its loss, and never quite recovered the
level of spirits that he had recently attained. In company with
the tortoise, which Colonel John presented to him on his last
visit, he potters about his lawn and kitchen garden, with none of
his erstwhile sprightliness; and his nephews and nieces are fairly
well justified in alluding to him as "Old Uncle Groby."
"The Background " originally appeared in the LEINSTERS' MAGAZINE;
"The Stampeding of Lady Bastable " in the DAILY MAIL; "Mrs.
Packletide's Tiger," "The Chaplet," "The Peace Offering," "
Filboid Studge " and "Ministers of Grace " (in an abbreviated
form) in the BYSTANDER; and the remainder of the stories (with the
exception of "The Music on the Hill," "The Story of St.
Vespaluus," "The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope," "The Remoulding of
Groby Lington," and "The Way to the Dairy," which have never
previously been published) in the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE. To the
Editors of these papers I am indebted for courteous permission to
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