Part 1 out of 5
BEASTS AND SUPER-BEASTS - H. H. MUNRO ("SAKI")
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THE OPEN WINDOW
THE UNKINDEST BLOW
THE SCHARTZ-METTERKLUME METHOD
THE SEVENTH PULLET
THE BLIND SPOT
A TOUCH OF REALISM
THE YARKAND MANNER
THE BYZANTINE OMELETTE
THE FEAST OF NEMESIS
THE QUINCE TREE
THE FORBIDDEN BUZZARDS
CLOVIS ON PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES
A HOLIDAY TASK
THE STALLED OX
A DEFENSIVE DIAMOND
THE LUMBER ROOM
THE PHILANTHROPIST AND THE HAPPY CAT
Beasts and Super-Beasts
LEONARD BILSITER was one of those people who have
failed to find this world attractive or interesting, and
who have sought compensation in an "unseen world" of
their own experience or imagination - or invention.
Children do that sort of thing successfully, but children
are content to convince themselves, and do not vulgarise
their beliefs by trying to convince other people.
Leonard Bilsiter's beliefs were for "the few," that is to
say, anyone who would listen to him.
His dabblings in the unseen might not have carried
him beyond the customary platitudes of the drawing-room
visionary if accident had not reinforced his stock-in-
trade of mystical lore. In company with a friend, who
was interested in a Ural mining concern, he had made a
trip across Eastern Europe at a moment when the great
Russian railway strike was developing from a threat to a
reality; its outbreak caught him on the return journey,
somewhere on the further side of Perm, and it was while
waiting for a couple of days at a wayside station in a
state of suspended locomotion that he made the
acquaintance of a dealer in harness and metalware, who
profitably whiled away the tedium of the long halt by
initiating his English travelling companion in a
fragmentary system of folk-lore that he had picked up
from Trans-Baikal traders and natives. Leonard returned
to his home circle garrulous about his Russian strike
experiences, but oppressively reticent about certain dark
mysteries, which he alluded to under the resounding title
of Siberian Magic. The reticence wore off in a week or
two under the influence of an entire lack of general
curiosity, and Leonard began to make more detailed
allusions to the enormous powers which this new esoteric
force, to use his own description of it, conferred on the
initiated few who knew how to wield it. His aunt,
Cecilia Hoops, who loved sensation perhaps rather better
than she loved the truth, gave him as clamorous an
advertisement as anyone could wish for by retailing an
account of how he had turned a vegetable marrow into a
wood pigeon before her very eyes. As a manifestation of
the possession of supernatural powers, the story was
discounted in some quarters by the respect accorded to
Mrs. Hoops' powers of imagination.
However divided opinion might be on the question of
Leonard's status as a wonderworker or a charlatan, he
certainly arrived at Mary Hampton's house-party with a
reputation for pre-eminence in one or other of those
professions, and he was not disposed to shun such
publicity as might fall to his share. Esoteric forces
and unusual powers figured largely in whatever
conversation he or his aunt had a share in, and his own
performances, past and potential, were the subject of
mysterious hints and dark avowals.
"I wish you would turn me into a wolf, Mr.
Bilsiter," said his hostess at luncheon the day after his
"My dear Mary," said Colonel Hampton, "I never knew
you had a craving in that direction."
"A she-wolf, of course," continued Mrs. Hampton; it
would be too confusing to change one's sex as well as
one's species at a moment's notice."
"I don't think one should jest on these subjects,"
"I'm not jesting, I'm quite serious, I assure you.
Only don't do it to-day; we have only eight available
bridge players, and it would break up one of our tables.
To-morrow we shall be a larger party. To-morrow night,
after dinner - "
"In our present imperfect understanding of these
hidden forces I think one should approach them with
humbleness rather than mockery," observed Leonard, with
such severity that the subject was forthwith dropped.
Clovis Sangrail had sat unusually silent during the
discussion on the possibilities of Siberian Magic; after
lunch he side-tracked Lord Pabham into the comparative
seclusion of the billiard-room and delivered himself of a
"Have you such a thing as a she-wolf in your
collection of wild animals? A she-wolf of moderately
Lord Pabham considered. "There is Loiusa," he said,
"a rather fine specimen of the timber-wolf. I got her
two years ago in exchange for some Arctic foxes. Most of
my animals get to be fairly tame before they've been with
me very long; I think I can say Louisa has an angelic
temper, as she-wolves go. Why do you ask?"
"I was wondering whether you would lend her to me
for to-morrow night," said Clovis, with the careless
solicitude of one who borrows a collar stud or a tennis
"Yes, wolves are nocturnal animals, so the late
hours won't hurt her," said Clovis, with the air of one
who has taken everything into consideration; "one of your
men could bring her over from Pabham Park after dusk, and
with a little help he ought to be able to smuggle her
into the conservatory at the same moment that Mary
Hampton makes an unobtrusive exit."
Lord Pabham stared at Clovis for a moment in
pardonable bewilderment; then his face broke into a
wrinkled network of laughter.
"Oh, that's your game, is it? You are going to do a
little Siberian Magic on your own account. And is Mrs.
Hampton willing to be a fellow-conspirator?"
"Mary is pledged to see me through with it, if you
will guarantee Louisa's temper."
"I'll answer for Louisa," said Lord Pabham.
By the following day the house-party had swollen to
larger proportions, and Bilsiter's instinct for self-
advertisement expanded duly under the stimulant of an
increased audience. At dinner that evening he held forth
at length on the subject of unseen forces and untested
powers, and his flow of impressive eloquence continued
unabated while coffee was being served in the drawing-
room preparatory to a general migration to the card-room.
His aunt ensured a respectful hearing for his
utterances, but her sensation-loving soul hankered after
something more dramatic than mere vocal demonstration.
"Won't you do something to CONVINCE them of your
powers, Leonard?" she pleaded; "change something into
another shape. He can, you know, if he only chooses to,"
she informed the company.
"Oh, do," said Mavis Pellington earnestly, and her
request was echoed by nearly everyone present. Even
those who were not open to conviction were perfectly
willing to be entertained by an exhibition of amateur
Leonard felt that something tangible was expected of
"Has anyone present," he asked, "got a three-penny
bit or some small object of no particular value -?"
"You're surely not going to make coins disappear, or
something primitive of that sort?" said Clovis
"I think it very unkind of you not to carry out my
suggestion of turning me into a wolf," said Mary Hampton,
as she crossed over to the conservatory to give her
macaws their usual tribute from the dessert dishes.
"I have already warned you of the danger of treating
these powers in a mocking spirit," said Leonard solemnly.
"I don't believe you can do it," laughed Mary
provocatively from the conservatory; "I dare you to do it
if you can. I defy you to turn me into a wolf."
As she said this she was lost to view behind a clump
"Mrs. Hampton - " began Leonard with increased
solemnity, but he got no further. A breath of chill air
seemed to rush across the room, and at the same time the
macaws broke forth into ear-splitting screams.
"What on earth is the matter with those confounded
birds, Mary?" exclaimed Colonel Hampton; at the same
moment an even more piercing scream from Mavis Pellington
stampeded the entire company from their seats. In
various attitudes of helpless horror or instinctive
defence they confronted the evil-looking grey beast that
was peering at them from amid a setting of fern and
Mrs. Hoops was the first to recover from the general
chaos of fright and bewilderment.
"Leonard!" she screamed shrilly to her nephew, "turn
it back into Mrs. Hampton at once! It may fly at us at
any moment. Turn it back!"
"I - I don't know how to," faltered Leonard, who
looked more scared and horrified than anyone.
"What!" shouted Colonel Hampton, "you've taken the
abominable liberty of turning my wife into a wolf, and
now you stand there calmly and say you can't turn her
To do strict justice to Leonard, calmness was not a
distinguishing feature of his attitude at the moment.
"I assure you I didn't turn Mrs. Hampton into a
wolf; nothing was farther from my intentions," he
"Then where is she, and how came that animal into
the conservatory?" demanded the Colonel.
"Of course we must accept your assurance that you
didn't turn Mrs. Hampton into a wolf," said Clovis
politely, "but you will agree that appearances are
"Are we to have all these recriminations with that
beast standing there ready to tear us to pieces?" wailed
"Lord Pabham, you know a good deal about wild beasts
- " suggested Colonel Hampton.
"The wild beasts that I have been accustomed to,"
said Lord Pabham, "have come with proper credentials from
well-known dealers, or have been bred in my own
menagerie. I've never before been confronted with an
animal that walks unconcernedly out of an azalea bush,
leaving a charming and popular hostess unaccounted for.
As far as one can judge from OUTWARD characteristics," he
continued, "it has the appearance of a well-grown female
of the North American timber-wolf, a variety of the
common species CANIS LUPUS."
"Oh, never mind its Latin name," screamed Mavis, as
the beast came a step or two further into the room;
"can't you entice it away with food, and shut it up where
it can't do any harm?"
"If it is really Mrs. Hampton, who has just had a
very good dinner, I don't suppose food will appeal to it
very strongly," said Clovis.
"Leonard," beseeched Mrs. Hoops tearfully, "even if
this is none of your doing can't you use your great
powers to turn this dreadful beast into something
harmless before it bites us all - a rabbit or something?"
"I don't suppose Colonel Hampton would care to have
his wife turned into a succession of fancy animals as
though we were playing a round game with her," interposed
"I absolutely forbid it," thundered the Colonel.
"Most wolves that I've had anything to do with have
been inordinately fond of sugar," said Lord Pabham; "if
you like I'll try the effect on this one."
He took a piece of sugar from the saucer of his
coffee cup and flung it to the expectant Louisa, who
snapped it in mid-air. There was a sigh of relief from
the company; a wolf that ate sugar when it might at the
least have been employed in tearing macaws to pieces had
already shed some of its terrors. The sigh deepened to a
gasp of thanks-giving when Lord Pabham decoyed the animal
out of the room by a pretended largesse of further sugar.
There was an instant rush to the vacated conservatory.
There was no trace of Mrs. Hampton except the plate
containing the macaws' supper.
"The door is locked on the inside!" exclaimed
Clovis, who had deftly turned the key as he affected to
Everyone turned towards Bilsiter.
"If you haven't turned my wife into a wolf," said
Colonel Hampton, "will you kindly explain where she has
disappeared to, since she obviously could not have gone
through a locked door? I will not press you for an
explanation of how a North American timber-wolf suddenly
appeared in the conservatory, but I think I have some
right to inquire what has become of Mrs. Hampton."
Bilsiter's reiterated disclaimer was met with a
general murmur of impatient disbelief.
"I refuse to stay another hour under this roof,"
declared Mavis Pellington.
"If our hostess has really vanished out of human
form," said Mrs. Hoops, "none of the ladies of the party
can very well remain. I absolutely decline to be
chaperoned by a wolf!"
"It's a she-wolf," said Clovis soothingly.
The correct etiquette to be observed under the
unusual circumstances received no further elucidation.
The sudden entry of Mary Hampton deprived the discussion
of its immediate interest.
"Some one has mesmerised me," she exclaimed crossly;
"I found myself in the game larder, of all places, being
fed with sugar by Lord Pabham. I hate being mesmerised,
and the doctor has forbidden me to touch sugar."
The situation was explained to her, as far as it
permitted of anything that could be called explanation.
"Then you REALLY did turn me into a wolf, Mr.
Bilsiter?" she exclaimed excitedly.
But Leonard had burned the boat in which he might
now have embarked on a sea of glory. He could only shake
his head feebly.
"It was I who took that liberty," said Clovis; "you
see, I happen to have lived for a couple of years in
North-Eastern Russia, and I have more than a tourist's
acquaintance with the magic craft of that region. One
does not care to speak about these strange powers, but
once in a way, when one hears a lot of nonsense being
talked about them, one is tempted to show what Siberian
magic can accomplish in the hands of someone who really
understands it. I yielded to that temptation. May I
have some brandy? the effort has left me rather faint."
If Leonard Bilsiter could at that moment have
transformed Clovis into a cockroach and then have stepped
on him he would gladly have performed both operations.
"YOU are not really dying, are you?" asked Amanda.
"I have the doctor's permission to live till
Tuesday," said Laura.
"But to-day is Saturday; this is serious!" gasped
"I don't know about it being serious; it is
certainly Saturday," said Laura.
"Death is always serious," said Amanda.
"I never said I was going to die. I am presumably
going to leave off being Laura, but I shall go on being
something. An animal of some kind, I suppose. You see,
when one hasn't been very good in the life one has just
lived, one reincarnates in some lower organism. And I
haven't been very good, when one comes to think of it.
I've been petty and mean and vindictive and all that sort
of thing when circumstances have seemed to warrant it."
"Circumstances never warrant that sort of thing,"
said Amanda hastily.
"If you don't mind my saying so," observed Laura,
"Egbert is a circumstance that would warrant any amount
of that sort of thing. You're married to him - that's
different; you've sworn to love, honour, and endure him:
"I don't see what's wrong with Egbert," protested
"Oh, I daresay the wrongness has been on my part,"
admitted Laura dispassionately; "he has merely been the
extenuating circumstance. He made a thin, peevish kind
of fuss, for instance, when I took the collie puppies
from the farm out for a run the other day."
"They chased his young broods of speckled Sussex and
drove two sitting hens off their nests, besides running
all over the flower beds. You know how devoted he is to
his poultry and garden."
"Anyhow, he needn't have gone on about it for the
entire evening and then have said, `Let's say no more
about it' just when I was beginning to enjoy the
discussion. That's where one of my petty vindictive
revenges came in," added Laura with an unrepentant
chuckle; "I turned the entire family of speckled Sussex
into his seedling shed the day after the puppy episode."
"How could you?" exclaimed Amanda.
"It came quite easy," said Laura; "two of the hens
pretended to be laying at the time, but I was firm."
"And we thought it was an accident!"
"You see," resumed Laura, "I really HAVE some
grounds for supposing that my next incarnation will be in
a lower organism. I shall be an animal of some kind. On
the other hand, I haven't been a bad sort in my way, so I
think I may count on being a nice animal, something
elegant and lively, with a love of fun. An otter,
"I can't imagine you as an otter," said Amanda.
"Well, I don't suppose you can imagine me as an
angel, if it comes to that," said Laura.
Amanda was silent. She couldn't.
"Personally I think an otter life would be rather
enjoyable," continued Laura; "salmon to eat all the year
round, and the satisfaction of being able to fetch the
trout in their own homes without having to wait for hours
till they condescend to rise to the fly you've been
dangling before them; and an elegant svelte figure - "
"Think of the otter hounds," interposed Amanda; "how
dreadful to be hunted and harried and finally worried to
"Rather fun with half the neighbourhood looking on,
and anyhow not worse than this Saturday-to-Tuesday
business of dying by inches; and then I should go on into
something else. If I had been a moderately good otter I
suppose I should get back into human shape of some sort;
probably something rather primitive - a little brown,
unclothed Nubian boy, I should think."
"I wish you would be serious," sighed Amanda; "you
really ought to be if you're only going to live till
As a matter of fact Laura died on Monday.
"So dreadfully upsetting," Amanda complained to her
uncle-in-law, Sir Lulworth Quayne. "I've asked quite a
lot of people down for golf and fishing, and the
rhododendrons are just looking their best."
"Laura always was inconsiderate," said Sir Lulworth;
"she was born during Goodwood week, with an Ambassador
staying in the house who hated babies."
"She had the maddest kind of ideas," said Amanda;
"do you know if there was any insanity in her family?"
"Insanity? No, I never heard of any. Her father
lives in West Kensington, but I believe he's sane on all
"She had an idea that she was going to be
reincarnated as an otter," said Amanda.
"One meets with those ideas of reincarnation so
frequently, even in the West," said Sir Lulworth, "that
one can hardly set them down as being mad. And Laura was
such an unaccountable person in this life that I should
not like to lay down definite rules as to what she might
be doing in an after state."
"You think she really might have passed into some
animal form?" asked Amanda. She was one of those who
shape their opinions rather readily from the standpoint
of those around them.
Just then Egbert entered the breakfast-room, wearing
an air of bereavement that Laura's demise would have been
insufficient, in itself, to account for.
"Four of my speckled Sussex have been killed," he
exclaimed; "the very four that were to go to the show on
Friday. One of them was dragged away and eaten right in
the middle of that new carnation bed that I've been to
such trouble and expense over. My best flower bed and my
best fowls singled out for destruction; it almost seems
as if the brute that did the deed had special knowledge
how to be as devastating as possible in a short space of
"Was it a fox, do you think?" asked Amanda.
"Sounds more like a polecat," said Sir Lulworth.
"No," said Egbert, "there were marks of webbed feet
all over the place, and we followed the tracks down to
the stream at the bottom of the garden; evidently an
Amanda looked quickly and furtively across at Sir
Egbert was too agitated to eat any breakfast, and
went out to superintend the strengthening of the poultry
"I think she might at least have waited till the
funeral was over," said Amanda in a scandalised voice.
"It's her own funeral, you know," said Sir Lulworth;
"it's a nice point in etiquette how far one ought to show
respect to one's own mortal remains."
Disregard for mortuary convention was carried to
further lengths next day; during the absence of the
family at the funeral ceremony the remaining survivors of
the speckled Sussex were massacred. The marauder's line
of retreat seemed to have embraced most of the flower
beds on the lawn, but the strawberry beds in the lower
garden had also suffered.
"I shall get the otter hounds to come here at the
earliest possible moment," said Egbert savagely.
"On no account! You can't dream of such a thing!"
exclaimed Amanda. "I mean, it wouldn't do, so soon after
a funeral in the house."
"It's a case of necessity," said Egbert; "once an
otter takes to that sort of thing it won't stop."
"Perhaps it will go elsewhere now there are no more
fowls left," suggested Amanda.
"One would think you wanted to shield the beast,"
"There's been so little water in the stream lately,"
objected Amanda; "it seems hardly sporting to hunt an
animal when it has so little chance of taking refuge
"Good gracious!" fumed Egbert, "I'm not thinking
about sport. I want to have the animal killed as soon as
Even Amanda's opposition weakened when, during
church time on the following Sunday, the otter made its
way into the house, raided half a salmon from the larder
and worried it into scaly fragments on the Persian rug in
"We shall have it hiding under our beds and biting
pieces out of our feet before long," said Egbert, and
from what Amanda knew of this particular otter she felt
that the possibility was not a remote one.
On the evening preceding the day fixed for the hunt
Amanda spent a solitary hour walking by the banks of the
stream, making what she imagined to be hound noises. It
was charitably supposed by those who overheard her
performance, that she was practising for farmyard
imitations at the forth-coming village entertainment.
It was her friend and neighbour, Aurora Burret, who
brought her news of the day's sport.
"Pity you weren't out; we had quite a good day. We
found at once, in the pool just below your garden."
"Did you - kill?" asked Amanda.
"Rather. A fine she-otter. Your husband got rather
badly bitten in trying to 'tail it.' Poor beast, I felt
quite sorry for it, it had such a human look in its eyes
when it was killed. You'll call me silly, but do you
know who the look reminded me of? My dear woman, what is
When Amanda had recovered to a certain extent from
her attack of nervous prostration Egbert took her to the
Nile Valley to recuperate. Change of scene speedily
brought about the desired recovery of health and mental
balance. The escapades of an adventurous otter in search
of a variation of diet were viewed in their proper light.
Amanda's normally placid temperament reasserted itself.
Even a hurricane of shouted curses, coming from her
husband's dressing-room, in her husband's voice, but
hardly in his usual vocabulary, failed to disturb her
serenity as she made a leisurely toilet one evening in a
"What is the matter? What has happened?" she asked
in amused curiosity.
"The little beast has thrown all my clean shirts
into the bath! Wait till I catch you, you little - "
"What little beast?" asked Amanda, suppressing a
desire to laugh; Egbert's language was so hopelessly
inadequate to express his outraged feelings.
"A little beast of a naked brown Nubian boy,"
And now Amanda is seriously ill.
"THERE is a back way on to the lawn," said Mrs.
Philidore Stossen to her daughter, "through a small grass
paddock and then through a walled fruit garden full of
gooseberry bushes. I went all over the place last year
when the family were away. There is a door that opens
from the fruit garden into a shrubbery, and once we
emerge from there we can mingle with the guests as if we
had come in by the ordinary way. It's much safer than
going in by the front entrance and running the risk of
coming bang up against the hostess; that would be so
awkward when she doesn't happen to have invited us."
"Isn't it a lot of trouble to take for getting
admittance to a garden party?"
"To a garden party, yes; to THE garden party of the
season, certainly not. Every one of any consequence in
the county, with the exception of ourselves, has been
asked to meet the Princess, and it would be far more
troublesome to invent explanations as to why we weren't
there than to get in by a roundabout way. I stopped Mrs.
Cuvering in the road yesterday and talked very pointedly
about the Princess. If she didn't choose to take the
hint and send me an invitation it's not my fault, is it?
Here we are: we just cut across the grass and through
that little gate into the garden."
Mrs. Stossen and her daughter, suitably arrayed for
a county garden party function with an infusion of
Almanack de Gotha, sailed through the narrow grass
paddock and the ensuing gooseberry garden with the air of
state barges making an unofficial progress along a rural
trout stream. There was a certain amount of furtive
haste mingled with the stateliness of their advance, as
though hostile search-lights might be turned on them at
any moment; and, as a matter of fact, they were not
unobserved. Matilda Cuvering, with the alert eyes of
thirteen years old and the added advantage of an exalted
position in the branches of a medlar tree, had enjoyed a
good view of the Stossen flanking movement and had
foreseen exactly where it would break down in execution.
"They'll find the door locked, and they'll jolly
well have to go back the way they came," she remarked to
herself. "Serves them right for not coming in by the
proper entrance. What a pity Tarquin Superbus isn't
loose in the paddock. After all, as every one else is
enjoying themselves, I don't see why Tarquin shouldn't
have an afternoon out."
Matilda was of an age when thought is action; she
slid down from the branches of the medlar tree, and when
she clambered back again Tarquin, the huge white
Yorkshire boar-pig, had exchanged the narrow limits of
his stye for the wider range of the grass paddock. The
discomfited Stossen expedition, returning in
recriminatory but otherwise orderly retreat from the
unyielding obstacle of the locked door, came to a sudden
halt at the gate dividing the paddock from the gooseberry
"What a villainous-looking animal," exclaimed Mrs.
Stossen; "it wasn't there when we came in."
"It's there now, anyhow," said her daughter. "What
on earth are we to do? I wish we had never come."
The boar-pig had drawn nearer to the gate for a
closer inspection of the human intruders, and stood
champing his jaws and blinking his small red eyes in a
manner that was doubtless intended to be disconcerting,
and, as far as the Stossens were concerned, thoroughly
achieved that result.
"Shoo! Hish! Hish! Shoo!" cried the ladies in
"If they think they're going to drive him away by
reciting lists of the kings of Israel and Judah they're
laying themselves out for disappointment," observed
Matilda from her seat in the medlar tree. As she made
the observation aloud Mrs. Stossen became for the first
time aware of her presence. A moment or two earlier she
would have been anything but pleased at the discovery
that the garden was not as deserted as it looked, but now
she hailed the fact of the child's presence on the scene
with absolute relief.
"Little girl, can you find some one to drive away -
" she began hopefully.
"COMMENT? COMPRENDS PAS," was the response.
"Oh, are you French? ETES VOUS FRANCAISE?"
"PAS DE TOUS. 'SUIS ANGLAISE."
"Then why not talk English? I want to know if - "
"PERMETTEZ-MOI EXPLIQUER. You see, I'm rather under
a cloud," said Matilda. "I'm staying with my aunt, and I
was told I must behave particularly well to-day, as lots
of people were coming for a garden party, and I was told
to imitate Claude, that's my young cousin, who never does
anything wrong except by accident, and then is always
apologetic about it. It seems they thought I ate too
much raspberry trifle at lunch, and they said Claude
never eats too much raspberry trifle. Well, Claude
always goes to sleep for half an hour after lunch,
because he's told to, and I waited till he was asleep,
and tied his hands and started forcible feeding with a
whole bucketful of raspberry trifle that they were
keeping for the garden-party. Lots of it went on to his
sailor-suit and some of it on to the bed, but a good deal
went down Claude's throat, and they can't say again that
he has never been known to eat too much raspberry trifle.
That is why I am not allowed to go to the party, and as
an additional punishment I must speak French all the
afternoon. I've had to tell you all this in English, as
there were words like `forcible feeding' that I didn't
know the French for; of course I could have invented
them, but if I had said NOURRITURE OBLIGATOIRE you
wouldn't have had the least idea what I was talking
about. MAIS MAINTENANT, NOUS PARLONS FRANCAIS."
"Oh, very well, TRES BIEN," said Mrs. Stossen
reluctantly; in moments of flurry such French as she knew
was not under very good control. "LA, A L'AUTRE COTE DE
LA PORTE, EST UN COCHON - "
"UN COCHON? AH, LE PETIT CHARMANT!" exclaimed
Matilda with enthusiasm.
"MAIS NON, PAS DU TOUT PETIT, ET PAS DU TOUT
CHARMANT; UN BETE FEROCE - "
"UNE BETE," corrected Matilda; "a pig is masculine
as long as you call it a pig, but if you lose your temper
with it and call it a ferocious beast it becomes one of
us at once. French is a dreadfully unsexing language."
"For goodness' sake let us talk English then," said
Mrs. Stossen. "Is there any way out of this garden
except through the paddock where the pig is?"
"I always go over the wall, by way of the plum
tree," said Matilda.
"Dressed as we are we could hardly do that," said
Mrs. Stossen; it was difficult to imagine her doing it in
"Do you think you could go and get some one who
would drive the pig away?" asked Miss Stossen.
"I promised my aunt I would stay here till five
o'clock; it's not four yet."
"I am sure, under the circumstances, your aunt would
permit - "
"My conscience would not permit," said Matilda with
"We can't stay here till five o'clock," exclaimed
Mrs. Stossen with growing exasperation.
"Shall I recite to you to make the time pass
quicker?" asked Matilda obligingly. " `Belinda, the
little Breadwinner,' is considered my best piece, or,
perhaps, it ought to be something in French. Henri
Quatre's address to his soldiers is the only thing I
really know in that language."
"If you will go and fetch some one to drive that
animal away I will give you something to buy yourself a
nice present," said Mrs. Stossen.
Matilda came several inches lower down the medlar
"That is the most practical suggestion you have made
yet for getting out of the garden," she remarked
cheerfully; "Claude and I are collecting money for the
Children's Fresh Air Fund, and we are seeing which of us
can collect the biggest sum."
"I shall be very glad to contribute half a crown,
very glad indeed," said Mrs. Stossen, digging that coin
out of the depths of a receptacle which formed a detached
outwork of her toilet.
"Claude is a long way ahead of me at present,"
continued Matilda, taking no notice of the suggested
offering; "you see, he's only eleven, and has golden
hair, and those are enormous advantages when you're on
the collecting job. Only the other day a Russian lady
gave him ten shillings. Russians understand the art of
giving far better than we do. I expect Claude will net
quite twenty-five shillings this afternoon; he'll have
the field to himself, and he'll be able to do the pale,
fragile, not-long-for-this-world business to perfection
after his raspberry trifle experience. Yes, he'll be
QUITE two pounds ahead of me by now."
With much probing and plucking and many regretful
murmurs the beleaguered ladies managed to produce seven-
and-sixpence between them.
"I am afraid this is all we've got," said Mrs.
Matilda showed no sign of coming down either to the
earth or to their figure.
"I could not do violence to my conscience for
anything less than ten shillings," she announced stiffly.
Mother and daughter muttered certain remarks under
their breath, in which the word "beast" was prominent,
and probably had no reference to Tarquin.
"I find I HAVE got another half-crown," said Mrs.
Stossen in a shaking voice; "here you are. Now please
fetch some one quickly."
Matilda slipped down from the tree, took possession
of the donation, and proceeded to pick up a handful of
over-ripe medlars from the grass at her feet. Then she
climbed over the gate and addressed herself
affectionately to the boar-pig.
"Come, Tarquin, dear old boy; you know you can't
resist medlars when they're rotten and squashy."
Tarquin couldn't. By dint of throwing the fruit in
front of him at judicious intervals Matilda decoyed him
back to his stye, while the delivered captives hurried
across the paddock.
"Well, I never! The little minx!" exclaimed Mrs.
Stossen when she was safely on the high road. "The
animal wasn't savage at all, and as for the ten
shillings, I don't believe the Fresh Air Fund will see a
penny of it!"
There she was unwarrantably harsh in her judgment.
If you examine the books of the fund you will find the
acknowledgment: "Collected by Miss Matilda Cuvering, 2s.
THE hunting season had come to an end, and the
Mullets had not succeeded in selling the Brogue. There
had been a kind of tradition in the family for the past
three or four years, a sort of fatalistic hope, that the
Brogue would find a purchaser before the hunting was
over; but seasons came and went without anything
happening to justify such ill-founded optimism. The
animal had been named Berserker in the earlier stages of
its career; it had been rechristened the Brogue later on,
in recognition of the fact that, once acquired, it was
extremely difficult to get rid of. The unkinder wits of
the neighbourhood had been known to suggest that the
first letter of its name was superfluous. The Brogue had
been variously described in sale catalogues as a light-
weight hunter, a lady's hack, and, more simply, but still
with a touch of imagination, as a useful brown gelding,
standing 15.1. Toby Mullet had ridden him for four
seasons with the West Wessex; you can ride almost any
sort of horse with the West Wessex as long as it is an
animal that knows the country. The Brogue knew the
country intimately, having personally created most of the
gaps that were to be met with in banks and hedges for
many miles round. His manners and characteristics were
not ideal in the hunting field, but he was probably
rather safer to ride to hounds than he was as a hack on
country roads. According to the Mullet family, he was
not really road-shy, but there were one or two objects of
dislike that brought on sudden attacks of what Toby
called the swerving sickness. Motors and cycles he
treated with tolerant disregard, but pigs, wheelbarrows,
piles of stones by the roadside, perambulators in a
village street, gates painted too aggressively white, and
sometimes, but not always, the newer kind of beehives,
turned him aside from his tracks in vivid imitation of
the zigzag course of forked lightning. If a pheasant
rose noisily from the other side of a hedgerow the Brogue
would spring into the air at the same moment, but this
may have been due to a desire to be companionable. The
Mullet family contradicted the widely prevalent report
that the horse was a confirmed crib-biter.
It was about the third week in May that Mrs. Mullet,
relict of the late Sylvester Mullet, and mother of Toby
and a bunch of daughters, assailed Clovis Sangrail on the
outskirts of the village with a breathless catalogue of
"You know our new neighbour, Mr. Penricarde?" she
vociferated; "awfully rich, owns tin mines in Cornwall,
middle-aged and rather quiet. He's taken the Red House
on a long lease and spent a lot of money on alterations
and improvements. Well, Toby's sold him the Brogue!"
Clovis spent a moment or two in assimilating the
astonishing news; then he broke out into unstinted
congratulation. If he had belonged to a more emotional
race he would probably have kissed Mrs. Mullet.
"How wonderfully lucky to have pulled it off at
last! Now you can buy a decent animal. I've always said
that Toby was clever. Ever so many congratulations."
"Don't congratulate me. It's the most unfortunate
thing that could have happened!" said Mrs. Mullet
Clovis stared at her in amazement.
"Mr. Penricarde," said Mrs. Mullet, sinking her
voice to what she imagined to be an impressive whisper,
though it rather resembled a hoarse, excited squeak, "Mr.
Penricarde has just begun to pay attentions to Jessie.
Slight at first, but now unmistakable. I was a fool not
to have seen it sooner. Yesterday, at the Rectory garden
party, he asked her what her favourite flowers were, and
she told him carnations, and to-day a whole stack of
carnations has arrived, clove and malmaison and lovely
dark red ones, regular exhibition blooms, and a box of
chocolates that he must have got on purpose from London.
And he's asked her to go round the links with him to-
morrow. And now, just at this critical moment, Toby has
sold him that animal. It's a calamity!"
"But you've been trying to get the horse off your
hands for years," said Clovis.
"I've got a houseful of daughters," said Mrs.
Mullet, "and I've been trying - well, not to get them off
my hands, of course, but a husband or two wouldn't be
amiss among the lot of them; there are six of them, you
"I don't know," said Clovis, "I've never counted,
but I expect you're right as to the number; mothers
generally know these things."
"And now," continued Mrs. Mullet, in her tragic
whisper, "when there's a rich husband-in-prospect
imminent on the horizon Toby goes and sells him that
miserable animal. It will probably kill him if he tries
to ride it; anyway it will kill any affection he might
have felt towards any member of our family. What is to
be done? We can't very well ask to have the horse back;
you see, we praised it up like anything when we thought
there was a chance of his buying it, and said it was just
the animal to suit him."
"Couldn't you steal it out of his stable and send it
to grass at some farm miles away?" suggested Clovis;
"write 'Votes for Women' on the stable door, and the
thing would pass for a Suffragette outrage. No one who
knew the horse could possibly suspect you of wanting to
get it back again."
"Every newspaper in the country would ring with the
affair," said Mrs. Mullet; "can't you imagine the
headline, 'Valuable Hunter Stolen by Suffragettes'? The
police would scour the countryside till they found the
"Well, Jessie must try and get it back from
Penricarde on the plea that it's an old favourite. She
can say it was only sold because the stable had to be
pulled down under the terms of an old repairing lease,
and that now it has been arranged that the stable is to
stand for a couple of years longer."
"It sounds a queer proceeding to ask for a horse
back when you've just sold him," said Mrs. Mullet, "but
something must be done, and done at once. The man is not
used to horses, and I believe I told him it was as quiet
as a lamb. After all, lambs go kicking and twisting
about as if they were demented, don't they?"
"The lamb has an entirely unmerited character for
sedateness," agreed Clovis.
Jessie came back from the golf links next day in a
state of mingled elation and concern.
"It's all right about the proposal," she announced
he came out with it at the sixth hole. I said I must
have time to think it over. I accepted him at the
"My dear," said her mother, "I think a little more
maidenly reserve and hesitation would have been
advisable, as you've known him so short a time. You
might have waited till the ninth hole."
"The seventh is a very long hole," said Jessie;
"besides, the tension was putting us both off our game.
By the time we'd got to the ninth hole we'd settled lots
of things. The honeymoon is to be spent in Corsica, with
perhaps a flying visit to Naples if we feel like it, and
a week in London to wind up with. Two of his nieces are
to be asked to be bridesmaids, so with our lot there will
be seven, which is rather a lucky number. You are to
wear your pearl grey, with any amount of Honiton lace
jabbed into it. By the way, he's coming over this
evening to ask your consent to the whole affair. So far
all's well, but about the Brogue it's a different matter.
I told him the legend about the stable, and how keen we
were about buying the horse back, but he seems equally
keen on keeping it. He said he must have horse exercise
now that he's living in the country, and he's going to
start riding tomorrow. He's ridden a few times in the
Row, on an animal that was accustomed to carry
octogenarians and people undergoing rest cures, and
that's about all his experience in the saddle - oh, and
he rode a pony once in Norfolk, when he was fifteen and
the pony twenty-four; and tomorrow he's going to ride the
Brogue! I shall be a widow before I'm married, and I do
so want to see what Corsica's like; it looks so silly on
Clovis was sent for in haste, and the developments
of the situation put before him.
"Nobody can ride that animal with any safety," said
Mrs. Mullet, "except Toby, and he knows by long
experience what it is going to shy at, and manages to
swerve at the same time."
"I did hint to Mr. Penricarde - to Vincent, I should
say - that the Brogue didn't like white gates," said
"White gates!" exclaimed Mrs. Mullet; "did you
mention what effect a pig has on him? He'll have to go
past Lockyer's farm to get to the high road, and there's
sure to be a pig or two grunting about in the lane."
"He's taken rather a dislike to turkeys lately,"
"It's obvious that Penricarde mustn't be allowed to
go out on that animal," said Clovis, "at least not till
Jessie has married him, and tired of him. I tell you
what: ask him to a picnic to-morrow, starting at an early
hour; he's not the sort to go out for a ride before
breakfast. The day after I'll get the rector to drive
him over to Crowleigh before lunch, to see the new
cottage hospital they're building there. The Brogue will
be standing idle in the stable and Toby can offer to
exercise it; then it can pick up a stone or something of
the sort and go conveniently lame. If you hurry on the
wedding a bit the lameness fiction can be kept up till
the ceremony is safely over."
Mrs. Mullet belonged to an emotional race, and she
It was nobody's fault that the rain came down in
torrents the next morning, making a picnic a fantastic
impossibility. It was also nobody's fault, but sheer
ill-luck, that the weather cleared up sufficiently in the
afternoon to tempt Mr. Penricarde to make his first essay
with the Brogue. They did not get as far as the pigs at
Lockyer's farm; the rectory gate was painted a dull
unobtrusive green, but it had been white a year or two
ago, and the Brogue never forgot that he had been in the
habit of making a violent curtsey, a back-pedal and a
swerve at this particular point of the road.
Subsequently, there being apparently no further call on
his services, he broke his way into the rectory orchard,
where he found a hen turkey in a coop; later visitors to
the orchard found the coop almost intact, but very little
left of the turkey.
Mr. Penricarde, a little stunned and shaken, and
suffering from a bruised knee and some minor damages,
good-naturedly ascribed the accident to his own
inexperience with horses and country roads, and allowed
Jessie to nurse him back into complete recovery and golf-
fitness within something less than a week.
In the list of wedding presents which the local
newspaper published a fortnight or so later appeared the
"Brown saddle-horse, 'The Brogue,' bridegroom's gift
"Which shows," said Toby Mullet, "that he knew
"Or else," said Clovis, "that he has a very pleasing
"DORA BITTHOLZ is coming on Thursday," said Mrs.
"This next Thursday? " asked Clovis
His mother nodded.
"You've rather done it, haven't you?" he chuckled;
"Jane Martlet has only been here five days, and she never
stays less than a fortnight, even when she's asked
definitely for a week. You'll never get her out of the
house by Thursday."
"Why should I?" asked Mrs. Sangrail; "she and Dora
are good friends, aren't they? They used to be, as far
as I remember."
"They used to be; that's what makes them all the
more bitter now. Each feels that she has nursed a viper
in her bosom. Nothing fans the flame of human resentment
so much as the discovery that one's bosom has been
utilised as a snake sanatorium."
"But what has happened? Has some one been making
"Not exactly," said Clovis; "a hen came between
"A hen? What hen?"
"It was a bronze Leghorn or some such exotic breed,
and Dora sold it to Jane at a rather exotic price. They
both go in for prize poultry, you know, and Jane thought
she was going to get her money back in a large family of
pedigree chickens. The bird turned out to be an
abstainer from the egg habit, and I'm told that the
letters which passed between the two women were a
revelation as to how much invective could be got on to a
sheet of notepaper."
"How ridiculous!" said Mrs. Sangrail. "Couldn't
some of their friends compose the quarrel?"
"People tried," said Clovis, "but it must have been
rather like composing the storm music of the `Fliegende
Hollander.' Jane was willing to take back some of her
most libellous remarks if Dora would take back the hen,
but Dora said that would be owning herself in the wrong,
and you know she'd as soon think of owning slum property
in Whitechapel as do that."
"It's a most awkward situation," said Mrs. Sangrail.
"Do you suppose they won't speak to one another?"
"On the contrary, the difficulty will be to get them
to leave off. Their remarks on each other's conduct and
character have hitherto been governed by the fact that
only four ounces of plain speaking can be sent through
the post for a penny."
"I can't put Dora off," said Mrs. Sangrail. "I've
already postponed her visit once, and nothing short of a
miracle would make Jane leave before her self-allotted
fortnight is over."
"Miracles are rather in my line," said Clovis. "I
don't pretend to be very hopeful in this case but I'll do
"As long as you don't drag me into it - " stipulated
* * * *
"Servants are a bit of a nuisance," muttered Clovis,
as he sat in the smoking-room after lunch, talking
fitfully to Jane Martlet in the intervals of putting
together the materials of a cocktail, which he had
irreverently patented under the name of an Ella Wheeler
Wilcox. It was partly compounded of old brandy and
partly of curacoa; there were other ingredients, but they
were never indiscriminately revealed.
"Servants a nuisance!" exclaimed Jane, bounding into
the topic with the exuberant plunge of a hunter when it
leaves the high road and feels turf under its hoofs; "I
should think they were! The trouble I've had in getting
suited this year you would hardly believe. But I don't
see what you have to complain of - your mother is so
wonderfully lucky in her servants. Sturridge, for
instance - he's been with you for years, and I'm sure
he's a paragon as butlers go."
"That's just the trouble," said Clovis. "It's when
servants have been with you for years that they become a
really serious nuisance. The 'here to-day and gone to-
morrow' sort don't matter - you've simply got to replace
them; it's the stayers and the paragons that are the real
"But if they give satisfaction - "
"That doesn't prevent them from giving trouble.
Now, you've mentioned Sturridge - it was Sturridge I was
particularly thinking of when I made the observation
about servants being a nuisance."
"The excellent Sturridge a nuisance! I can't
"I know he's excellent, and we just couldn't get
along without him; he's the one reliable element in this
rather haphazard household. But his very orderliness has
had an effect on him. Have you ever considered what it
must be like to go on unceasingly doing the correct thing
in the correct manner in the same surroundings for the
greater part of a lifetime? To know and ordain and
superintend exactly what silver and glass and table linen
shall be used and set out on what occasions, to have
cellar and pantry and plate-cupboard under a minutely
devised and undeviating administration, to be noiseless,
impalpable, omnipresent, and, as far as your own
department is concerned, omniscient?"
"I should go mad," said Jane with conviction.
"Exactly," said Clovis thoughtfully, swallowing his
completed Ella Wheeler Wilcox.
"But Sturridge hasn't gone mad," said Jane with a
flutter of inquiry in her voice.
"On most points he's thoroughly sane and reliable,"
said Clovis, "but at times he is subject to the most
obstinate delusions, and on those occasions he becomes
not merely a nuisance but a decided embarrassment."
"What sort of delusions?"
"Unfortunately they usually centre round one of the
guests of the house party, and that is where the
awkwardness comes in. For instance, he took it into his
head that Matilda Sheringham was the Prophet Elijah, and
as all that he remembered about Elijah's history was the
episode of the ravens in the wilderness he absolutely
declined to interfere with what he imagined to be
Matilda's private catering arrangements, wouldn't allow
any tea to be sent up to her in the morning, and if he
was waiting at table he passed her over altogether in
handing round the dishes."
"How very unpleasant. Whatever did you do about
"Oh, Matilda got fed, after a fashion, but it was
judged to be best for her to cut her visit short. It was
really the only thing to be done," said Clovis with some
"I shouldn't have done that," said Jane, "I should
have humoured him in some way. I certainly shouldn't
have gone away."
"It is not always wise to humour people when they
get these ideas into their heads. There's no knowing to
what lengths they may go if you encourage them."
"You don't mean to say he might be dangerous, do
you?" asked Jane with some anxiety.
"One can never be certain," said Clovis; "now and
then he gets some idea about a guest which might take an
unfortunate turn. That is precisely what is worrying me
at the present moment."
"What, has he taken a fancy about some one here
now?" asked Jane excitedly; "how thrilling! Do tell me
who it is."
You," said Clovis briefly.
"Who on earth does he think I am?"
"Queen Anne," was the unexpected answer.
"Queen Anne! What an idea. But, anyhow, there's
nothing dangerous about her; she's such a colourless
"What does posterity chiefly say about Queen Anne?"
asked Clovis rather sternly.
"The only thing that I can remember about her," said
Jane, "is the saying 'Queen Anne's dead.'"
"Exactly," said Clovis, staring at the glass that
had held the Ella Wheeler Wilcox, "dead."
"Do you mean he takes me for the ghost of Queen
Anne?" asked Jane.
"Ghost? Dear no. No one ever heard of a ghost that
came down to breakfast and ate kidneys and toast and
honey with a healthy appetite. No, it's the fact of you
being so very much alive and flourishing that perplexes
and annoys him. All his life he has been accustomed to
look on Queen Anne as the personification of everything
that is dead and done with, 'as dead as Queen Anne,' you
know; and now he has to fill your glass at lunch and
dinner and listen to your accounts of the gay time you
had at the Dublin Horse Show, and naturally he feels that
something's very wrong with you."
"But he wouldn't be downright hostile to me on that
account, would he?" Jane asked anxiously.
"I didn't get really alarmed about it till lunch to-
day," said Clovis; "I caught him glowering at you with a
very sinister look and muttering: 'Ought to be dead long
ago, she ought, and some one should see to it.' That's
why I mentioned the matter to you."
"This is awful," said Jane; "your mother must be
told about it at once."
"My mother mustn't hear a word about it," said
Clovis earnestly; "it would upset her dreadfully. She
relies on Sturridge for everything."
"But he might kill me at any moment," protested
"Not at any moment; he's busy with the silver all
"You'll have to keep a sharp look-out all the time
and be on your guard to frustrate any murderous attack,"
said Jane, adding in a tone of weak obstinacy: "It's a
dreadful situation to be in, with a mad butler dangling
over you like the sword of What's-his-name, but I'm
certainly not going to cut my visit short."
Clovis swore horribly under his breath; the miracle
was an obvious misfire.
It was in the hall the next morning after a late
breakfast that Clovis had his final inspiration as he
stood engaged in coaxing rust spots from an old putter.
"Where is Miss Martlet?" he asked the butler, who
was at that moment crossing the hall.
"Writing letters in the morning-room, sir," said
Sturridge, announcing a fact of which his questioner was
"She wants to copy the inscription on that old
basket-hilted sabre," said Clovis, pointing to a
venerable weapon hanging on the wall. "I wish you'd take
it to her; my hands are all over oil. Take it without
the sheath, it will be less trouble."
The butler drew the blade, still keen and bright in
its well-cared for old age, and carried it into the
morning-room. There was a door near the writing-table
leading to a back stairway; Jane vanished through it with
such lightning rapidity that the butler doubted whether
she had seen him come in. Half an hour later Clovis was
driving her and her hastily-packed luggage to the
"Mother will be awfully vexed when she comes back
from her ride and finds you have gone," he observed to
the departing guest, "but I'll make up some story about
an urgent wire having called you away. It wouldn't do to
alarm her unnecessarily about Sturridge."
Jane sniffed slightly at Clovis' ideas of
unnecessary alarm, and was almost rude to the young man
who came round with thoughtful inquiries as to luncheon-
The miracle lost some of its usefulness from the
fact that Dora wrote the same day postponing the date of
her visit, but, at any rate, Clovis holds the record as
the only human being who ever hustled Jane Martlet out of
the time-table of her migrations.
THE OPEN WINDOW
"MY aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a
very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the
meantime you must try and put up with me."
Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct
something which should duly flatter the niece of the
moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to
come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these
formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do
much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed
to be undergoing.
"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he
was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will
bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul,
and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I
shall just give you letters of introduction to all the
people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can
remember, were quite nice."
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to
whom he was presenting one of the letters of
introduction, came into the nice division.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked
the niece, when she judged that they had had sufficient
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was
staying here, at the rectory, you know, some four years
ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some of
the people here."
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?"
pursued the self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller.
He was wondering whether Mrs. Sappleton was in the
married or widowed state. An undefinable something about
the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,"
said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."
"Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this
restful country spot tragedies seemed out of place.
"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on
an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large
French window that opened on to a lawn.
"It is quite warm for the time of the year," said
Framton; "but has that window got anything to do with the
"Out through that window, three years ago to a day,
her husband and her two young brothers went off for their
day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the
moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were
all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had
been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that
were safe in other years gave way suddenly without
warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was
the dreadful part of it." Here the child's voice lost
its self-possessed note and became falteringly human.
"Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some
day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with
them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do.
That is why the window is kept open every evening till it
is quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how
they went out, her husband with his white waterproof coat
over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing
'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease
her, because she said it got on her nerves. Do you know,
sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost
get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through
that window - "
She broke off with a little shudder. It was a
relief to Framton when the aunt bustled into the room
with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her
"I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.
"She has been very interesting," said Framton.
"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs.
Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home
directly from shooting, and they always come in this way.
They've been out for snipe in the marshes to-day, so
they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like
you men-folk, isn't it?"
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the
scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the
winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He made
a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn
the talk on to a less ghastly topic; he was conscious
that his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her
attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him
to the open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly
an unfortunate coincidence that he should have paid his
visit on this tragic anniversary.
"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an
absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything
in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced
Framton, who laboured under the tolerably wide-spread
delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances
are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and
infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter of
diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.
"No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only
replaced a yawn at the last moment. Then she suddenly
brightened into alert attention - but not to what Framton
"Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time
for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the
niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic
comprehension. The child was staring out through the
open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill
shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat
and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking
across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns
under their arms, and one of them was additionally
burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A
tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels.
Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse
young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why
do you bound?"
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the
hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were
dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist
coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid
an imminent collision.
"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white
mackintosh, coming in through the window; "fairly muddy,
but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs.
Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and
dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you
arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
"I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece
calmly; "he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once
hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the
Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the
night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling
and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make
anyone their nerve."
Romance at short notice was her speciality.
THE TREASURE SHIP
THE great galleon lay in semi-retirement under the
sand and weed and water of the northern bay where the
fortune of war and weather had long ago ensconced it.
Three and a quarter centuries had passed since the day
when it had taken the high seas as an important unit of a
fighting squadron - precisely which squadron the learned
were not agreed. The galleon had brought nothing into
the world, but it had, according to tradition and report,
taken much out of it. But how much? There again the
learned were in disagreement. Some were as generous in
their estimate as an income-tax assessor, others applied
a species of higher criticism to the submerged treasure
chests, and debased their contents to the currency of
goblin gold. Of the former school was Lulu, Duchess of
The Duchess was not only a believer in the existence
of a sunken treasure of alluring proportions; she also
believed that she knew of a method by which the said
treasure might be precisely located and cheaply
disembedded. An aunt on her mother's side of the family
had been Maid of Honour at the Court of Monaco, and had
taken a respectful interest in the deep-sea researches in
which the Throne of that country, impatient perhaps of
its terrestrial restrictions, was wont to immerse itself.
It was through the instrumentality of this relative that
the Duchess learned of an invention, perfected and very
nearly patented by a Monegaskan savant, by means of which
the home-life of the Mediterranean sardine might be
studied at a depth of many fathoms in a cold white light
of more than ball-room brilliancy. Implicated in this
invention (and, in the Duchess's eyes, the most
attractive part of it) was an electric suction dredge,
specially designed for dragging to the surface such
objects of interest and value as might be found in the
more accessible levels of the ocean-bed. The rights of
the invention were to be acquired for a matter of
eighteen hundred francs, and the apparatus for a few
thousand more. The Duchess of Dulverton was rich, as the
world counted wealth; she nursed the hope, of being one
day rich at her own computation. Companies had been
formed and efforts had been made again and again during
the course of three centuries to probe for the alleged
treasures of the interesting galleon; with the aid of
this invention she considered that she might go to work
on the wreck privately and independently. After all, one
of her ancestors on her mother's side was descended from
Medina Sidonia, so she was of opinion that she had as
much right to the treasure as anyone. She acquired the
invention and bought the apparatus.
Among other family ties and encumbrances, Lulu
possessed a nephew, Vasco Honiton, a young gentleman who
was blessed with a small income and a large circle of
relatives, and lived impartially and precariously on
both. The name Vasco had been given him possibly in the
hope that he might live up to its adventurous tradition,
but he limited himself strictly to the home industry of
adventurer, preferring to exploit the assured rather than
to explore the unknown. Lulu's intercourse with him had
been restricted of recent years to the negative processes
of being out of town when he called on her, and short of
money when he wrote to her. Now, however, she bethought
herself of his eminent suitability for the direction of a
treasure-seeking experiment; if anyone could extract gold
from an unpromising situation it would certainly be Vasco
- of course, under the necessary safeguards in the way of
supervision. Where money was in question Vasco's
conscience was liable to fits of obstinate silence.
Somewhere on the west coast of Ireland the Dulverton
property included a few acres of shingle, rock, and
heather, too barren to support even an agrarian outrage,
but embracing a small and fairly deep bay where the
lobster yield was good in most seasons. There was a
bleak little house on the property, and for those who
liked lobsters and solitude, and were able to accept an
Irish cook's ideas as to what might be perpetrated in the
name of mayonnaise, Innisgluther was a tolerable exile
during the summer months. Lulu seldom went there
herself, but she lent the house lavishly to friends and
relations. She put it now at Vasco's disposal.
"It will be the very place to practise and
experiment with the salvage apparatus," she said; "the
bay is quite deep in places, and you will be able to test
everything thoroughly before starting on the treasure
In less than three weeks Vasco turned up in town to
"The apparatus works beautifully," he informed his
aunt; "the deeper one got the clearer everything grew.
We found something in the way of a sunken wreck to
operate on, too!"
"A wreck in Innisgluther Bay!" exclaimed Lulu.
"A submerged motor-boat, the SUB-ROSA," said Vasco.
"No! really?" said Lulu; "poor Billy Yuttley's boat.
I remember it went down somewhere off that coast some
three years ago. His body was washed ashore at the
Point. People said at the time that the boat was
capsized intentionally - a case of suicide, you know.
People always say that sort of thing when anything tragic
"In this case they were right," said Vasco.
"What do you mean?" asked the Duchess hurriedly.
"What makes you think so?"
"I know," said Vasco simply.
"Know? How can you know? How can anyone know? The
thing happened three years ago."
"In a locker of the SUB-ROSA I found a water-tight
strong-box. It contained papers." Vasco paused with
dramatic effect and searched for a moment in the inner
breast-pocket of his coat. He drew out a folded slip of
paper. The Duchess snatched at it in almost indecent
haste and moved appreciably nearer the fireplace.
"Was this in the SUB-ROSA'S strong-box?" she asked.
"Oh no," said Vasco carelessly, "that is a list of
the well-known people who would be involved in a very
disagreeable scandal if the SUB-ROSA'S papers were made
public. I've put you at the head of it, otherwise it
follows alphabetical order."
The Duchess gazed helplessly at the string of names,
which seemed for the moment to include nearly every one
she knew. As a matter of fact, her own name at the head
of the list exercised an almost paralysing effect on her
"Of course you have destroyed the papers?" she
asked, when she had somewhat recovered herself. She was
conscious that she made the remark with an entire lack of
Vasco shook his head.
"But you should have," said Lulu angrily; "if, as
you say, they are highly compromising - "
"Oh, they are, I assure you of that," interposed the
"Then you should put them out of harm's way at once.
Supposing anything should leak out, think of all these
poor, unfortunate people who would be involved in the
disclosures," and Lulu tapped the list with an agitated
"Unfortunate, perhaps, but not poor," corrected
Vasco; "if you read the list carefully you'll notice that
I haven't troubled to include anyone whose financial
standing isn't above question."
Lulu glared at her nephew for some moments in
silence. Then she asked hoarsely: "What are you going to
"Nothing - for the remainder of my life," he
answered meaningly. "A little hunting, perhaps," he
continued, "and I shall have a villa at Florence. The
Villa Sub-Rosa would sound rather quaint and picturesque,
don't you think, and quite a lot of people would be able
to attach a meaning to the name. And I suppose I must
have a hobby; I shall probably collect Raeburns."
Lulu's relative, who lived at the Court of Monaco,
got quite a snappish answer when she wrote recommending
some further invention in the realm of marine research.
THE farmhouse kitchen probably stood where it did as
a matter of accident or haphazard choice; yet its
situation might have been planned by a master-strategist
in farmhouse architecture. Dairy and poultry-yard, and
herb garden, and all the busy places of the farm seemed
to lead by easy access into its wide flagged haven, where
there was room for everything and where muddy boots left
traces that were easily swept away. And yet, for all
that it stood so well in the centre of human bustle, its
long, latticed window, with the wide window-seat, built
into an embrasure beyond the huge fireplace, looked out
on a wild spreading view of hill and heather and wooded
combe. The window nook made almost a little room in
itself, quite the pleasantest room in the farm as far as
situation and capabilities went. Young Mrs. Ladbruk,
whose husband had just come into the farm by way of
inheritance, cast covetous eyes on this snug corner, and
her fingers itched to make it bright and cosy with chintz
curtains and bowls of flowers, and a shelf or two of old
china. The musty farm parlour, looking out on to a prim,
cheerless garden imprisoned within high, blank walls, was
not a room that lent itself readily either to comfort or
"When we are more settled I shall work wonders in
the way of making the kitchen habitable," said the young
woman to her occasional visitors. There was an unspoken
wish in those words, a wish which was unconfessed as well
as unspoken. Emma Ladbruk was the mistress of the farm;
jointly with her husband she might have her say, and to a
certain extent her way, in ordering its affairs. But she
was not mistress of the kitchen.
On one of the shelves of an old dresser, in company
with chipped sauce-boats, pewter jugs, cheese-graters,
and paid bills, rested a worn and ragged Bible, on whose
front page was the record, in faded ink, of a baptism
dated ninety-four years ago. "Martha Crale" was the name
written on that yellow page. The yellow, wrinkled old
dame who hobbled and muttered about the kitchen, looking
like a dead autumn leaf which the winter winds still
pushed hither and thither, had once been Martha Crale;
for seventy odd years she had been Martha Mountjoy. For
longer than anyone could remember she had pattered to and
fro between oven and wash-house and dairy, and out to
chicken-run and garden, grumbling and muttering and
scolding, but working unceasingly. Emma Ladbruk, of
whose coming she took as little notice as she would of a
bee wandering in at a window on a summer's day, used at
first to watch her with a kind of frightened curiosity.
She was so old and so much a part of the place, it was
difficult to think of her exactly as a living thing. Old
Shep, the white-nozzled, stiff-limbed collie, waiting for
his time to die, seemed almost more human than the
withered, dried-up old woman. He had been a riotous,
roystering puppy, mad with the joy of life, when she was
already a tottering, hobbling dame; now he was just a
blind, breathing carcase, nothing more, and she still
worked with frail energy, still swept and baked and
washed, fetched and carried. If there were something in
these wise old dogs that did not perish utterly with
death, Emma used to think to herself, what generations of
ghost-dogs there must be out on those hills, that Martha
had reared and fed and tended and spoken a last goodbye
word to in that old kitchen. And what memories she must
have of human generations that had passed away in her
time. It was difficult for anyone, let alone a stranger
like Emma, to get her to talk of the days that had been;
her shrill, quavering speech was of doors that had been
left unfastened, pails that had got mislaid, calves whose
feeding-time was overdue, and the various little faults
and lapses that chequer a farmhouse routine. Now and
again, when election time came round, she would unstore
her recollections of the old names round which the fight
had waged in the days gone by. There had been a
Palmerston, that had been a name down Tiverton way;
Tiverton was not a far journey as the crow flies, but to
Martha it was almost a foreign country. Later there had
been Northcotes and Aclands, and many other newer names
that she had forgotten; the names changed, but it was
always Libruls and Toories, Yellows and Blues. And they
always quarrelled and shouted as to who was right and who
was wrong. The one they quarrelled about most was a fine
old gentleman with an angry face - she had seen his
picture on the walls. She had seen it on the floor too,
with a rotten apple squashed over it, for the farm had
changed its politics from time to time. Martha had never
been on one side or the other; none of "they" had ever
done the farm a stroke of good. Such was her sweeping
verdict, given with all a peasant's distrust of the
When the half-frightened curiosity had somewhat
faded away, Emma Ladbruk was uncomfortably conscious of
another feeling towards the old woman. She was a quaint
old tradition, lingering about the place, she was part
and parcel of the farm itself, she was something at once
pathetic and picturesque - but she was dreadfully in the
way. Emma had come to the farm full of plans for little
reforms and improvements, in part the result of training
in the newest ways and methods, in part the outcome of
her own ideas and fancies. Reforms in the kitchen
region, if those deaf old ears could have been induced to
give them even a hearing, would have met with short
shrift and scornful rejection, and the kitchen region
spread over the zone of dairy and market business and
half the work of the household. Emma, with the latest
science of dead-poultry dressing at her finger-tips, sat
by, an unheeded watcher, while old Martha trussed the
chickens for the market-stall as she had trussed them for
nearly four-score years - all leg and no breast. And the
hundred hints anent effective cleaning and labour-
lightening and the things that make for wholesomeness
which the young woman was ready to impart or to put into
action dropped away into nothingness before that wan,
muttering, unheeding presence. Above all, the coveted
window corner, that was to be a dainty, cheerful oasis in
the gaunt old kitchen, stood now choked and lumbered with
a litter of odds and ends that Emma, for all her nominal
authority, would not have dared or cared to displace;
over them seemed to be spun the protection of something
that was like a human cobweb. Decidedly Martha was in
the way. It would have been an unworthy meanness to have
wished to see the span of that brave old life shortened
by a few paltry months, but as the days sped by Emma was
conscious that the wish was there, disowned though it
might be, lurking at the back of her mind.
She felt the meanness of the wish come over her with
a qualm of self-reproach one day when she came into the
kitchen and found an unaccustomed state of things in that
usually busy quarter. Old Martha was not working. A
basket of corn was on the floor by her side, and out in
the yard the poultry were beginning to clamour a protest
of overdue feeding-time. But Martha sat huddled in a
shrunken bunch on the window seat, looking out with her
dim old eyes as though she saw something stranger than
the autumn landscape.
"Is anything the matter, Martha?" asked the young
"'Tis death, 'tis death a-coming," answered the
quavering voice; "I knew 'twere coming. I knew it.
'Tweren't for nothing that old Shep's been howling all
morning. An' last night I heard the screech-owl give the
death-cry, and there were something white as run across
the yard yesterday; 'tweren't a cat nor a stoat, 'twere
something. The fowls knew 'twere something; they all
drew off to one side. Ay, there's been warnings. I knew
it were a-coming."
The young woman's eyes clouded with pity. The old
thing sitting there so white and shrunken had once been a
merry, noisy child, playing about in lanes and hay-lofts
and farmhouse garrets; that had been eighty odd years
ago, and now she was just a frail old body cowering under
the approaching chill of the death that was coming at
last to take her. It was not probable that much could be
done for her, but Emma hastened away to get assistance
and counsel. Her husband, she knew, was down at a tree-
felling some little distance off, but she might find some
other intelligent soul who knew the old woman better than
she did. The farm, she soon found out, had that faculty
common to farmyards of swallowing up and losing its human
population. The poultry followed her in interested
fashion, and swine grunted interrogations at her from
behind the bars of their styes, but barnyard and
rickyard, orchard and stables and dairy, gave no reward
to her search. Then, as she retraced her steps towards
the kitchen, she came suddenly on her cousin, young Mr.