Part 2 out of 4
precepts and reasoning. But Conradin said nothing: there was
nothing to be said. Something perhaps in his white set face gave
her a momentary qualm, for at tea that afternoon there was toast
on the table, a delicacy which she usually banned on the ground
that it was bad for him; also because the making of it "gave
trouble," a deadly offence in the middle-class feminine eye.
"I thought you liked toast," she exclaimed, with an injured air,
observing that he did not touch it.
"Sometimes," said Conradin.
In the shed that evening there was an innovation in the worship of
the hutch-god. Conradin had been wont to chant his praises, to-
night he asked a boon.
"Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar."
The thing was not specified. As Sredni Vashtar was a god he must
be supposed to know. And choking back a sob as he looked at that
other empty corner, Conradin went back to the world he so hated.
And every night, in the welcome darkness of his bedroom, and every
evening in the dusk of the tool-shed, Conradin's bitter litany
went up: "Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar."
Mrs. de Ropp noticed that the visits to the shed did not cease,
and one day she made a further journey of inspection.
"What are you keeping in that locked hutch?" she asked. "I
believe it's guinea-pigs. I'll have them all cleared away."
Conradin shut his lips tight, but the Woman ransacked his bedroom
till she found the carefully hidden key, and forthwith marched
down to the shed to complete her discovery. It was a cold
afternoon, and Conradin had been bidden to keep to the house.
From the furthest window of the dining-room the door of the shed
could just be seen beyond the corner of the shrubbery, and there
Conradin stationed himself. He saw the Woman enter, and then he
imagined her opening the door of the sacred hutch and peering down
with her short-sighted eyes into the thick straw bed where his god
lay hidden. Perhaps she would prod at the straw in her clumsy
impatience. And Conradin fervently breathed his prayer for the
last time. But he knew as he prayed that he did not believe. He
knew that the Woman would come out presently with that pursed
smile he loathed so well on her face, and that in an hour or two
the gardener would carry away his wonderful god, a god no longer,
but a simple brown ferret in a hutch. And he knew that the Woman,
would triumph always as she triumphed now, and that he would grow
ever more sickly under her pestering and domineering and superior
wisdom, till one day nothing would matter much more with him, and
the doctor would be proved right. And in the sting and misery of
his defeat, he began to chant loudly and defiantly the hymn of his
Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.
His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.
And then of a sudden he stopped his chanting and drew closer to
the window-pane. The door of the shed still stood ajar as it had
been left, and the minutes were slipping by. They were long
minutes, but they slipped by nevertheless. He watched the
starlings running and flying in little parties across the lawn; he
counted them over and over again, with one eye always on that
swinging door. A sour-faced maid came in to lay the table for
tea, and still Conradin stood and waited and watched. Hope had
crept by inches into his heart, and now a look of triumph began to
blaze in his eyes that had only known the wistful patience of
defeat. Under his breath, with a furtive exultation, he began
once again the paean of victory and devastation. And presently
his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low,
yellow-and-brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight,
and dark wet stains around the fur of jaws and throat. Conradin
dropped on his knees. The great polecat-ferret made its way down
to a small brook at the foot of the garden, drank for a moment,
then crossed a little plank bridge and was lost to sight in the
bushes. Such was the passing of Sredni Vashtar.
"Tea is ready," said the sour-faced maid; "where is the mistress?"
"She went down to the shed some time ago," said Conradin.
And while the maid went to summon her mistress to tea, Conradin
fished a toasting-fork out of the sideboard drawer and proceeded
to toast himself a piece of bread. And during the toasting of it
and the buttering of it with much butter and the slow enjoyment of
eating it, Conradin listened to the noises and silences which fell
in quick spasms beyond the dining-room door. The loud foolish
screaming of the maid, the answering chorus of wondering
ejaculations from the kitchen region, the scuttering footsteps and
hurried embassies for outside help, and then, after a lull, the
scared sobbings and the shuffling tread of those who bore a heavy
burden into the house.
"Whoever will break it to the poor child? I couldn't for the life
of me!" exclaimed a shrill voice. And while they debated the
matter among themselves, Conradin made himself another piece of
A CHAPTER IN ACCLIMATIZATION
His baptismal register spoke of him pessimistically as John Henry,
but he had left that behind with the other maladies of infancy,
and his friends knew him under the front-name of Adrian. His
mother lived in Bethnal Green, which was not altogether his fault;
one can discourage too much history in one's family, but one
cannot always prevent geography. And, after all, the Bethnal
Green habit has this virtue--that it is seldom transmitted to the
next generation. Adrian lived in a roomlet which came under the
auspicious constellation of W.
How he lived was to a great extent a mystery even to himself; his
struggle for existence probably coincided in many material details
with the rather dramatic accounts he gave of it to sympathetic
acquaintances. All that is definitely known is that he now and
then emerged from the struggle to dine at the Ritz or Carlton,
correctly garbed and with a correctly critical appetite. On these
occasions he was usually the guest of Lucas Croyden, an amiable
worldling, who had three thousand a year and a taste for
introducing impossible people to irreproachable cookery. Like
most men who combine three thousand a year with an uncertain
digestion, Lucas was a Socialist, and he argued that you cannot
hope to elevate the masses until you have brought plovers' eggs
into their lives and taught them to appreciate the difference
between coupe Jacques and Macédoine de fruits. His friends
pointed out that it was a doubtful kindness to initiate a boy from
behind a drapery counter into the blessedness of the higher
catering, to which Lucas invariably replied that all kindnesses
were doubtful. Which was perhaps true.
It was after one of his Adrian evenings that Lucas met his aunt,
Mrs. Mebberley, at a fashionable tea shop, where the lamp of
family life is still kept burning and you meet relatives who might
otherwise have slipped your memory.
"Who was that good-looking boy who was dining with you last
night?" she asked. "He looked much too nice to be thrown away
Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an aunt.
"Who are his people?" she continued, when the protégé's name
(revised version) had been given her.
"His mother lives at Beth--"
Lucas checked himself on the threshold of what was perhaps a
"Beth? Where is it? It sounds like Asia, Minor. Is she mixed up
with Consular people?"
"Oh, no. Her work lies among the poor."
This was a side-slip into truth. The mother of Adrian was
employed in a laundry.
"I see," said Mrs. Mebberley, "mission work of some sort. And
meanwhile the boy has no one to look after him. It's obviously my
duty to see that he doesn't come to harm. Bring him to call on
"My dear Aunt Susan," expostulated Lucas, "I really know very
little about him. He may not be at all nice, you know, on further
"He has delightful hair and a weak mouth. I shall take him with
me to Homburg or Cairo."
"It's the maddest thing I ever heard of," said Lucas angrily.
"Well, there is a strong strain of madness in our family. If you
haven't noticed it yourself all your friends must have."
"One is so dreadfully under everybody's eyes at Homburg. At least
you might give him a preliminary trial at Etretat."
"And be surrounded by Americans trying to talk French? No, thank
you. I love Americans, but not when they try to talk French.
What a blessing it is that they never try to talk English. To-
morrow at five you can bring your young friend to call on me."'
And Lucas, realizing that Susan Mebberley was a woman as well as
an aunt, saw that she would have to be allowed to have her own
Adrian was duly carried abroad under the Mebberley wing; but as a
reluctant concession to sanity Homburg and other inconveniently
fashionable resorts were given a wide berth, and the Mebberley
establishment planted itself down in the best hotel at Dohledorf,
an Alpine townlet somewhere at the back of the Engadine. It was
the usual kind of resort, with the usual type of visitors, that
one finds over the greater part of Switzerland during the summer
season, but to Adrian it was all unusual. The mountain air, the
certainty of regular and abundant meals, and in particular the
social atmosphere, affected him much as the indiscriminating
fervour of a forcing-house might affect a weed that had strayed
within its limits. He had been brought up in a world where
breakages were regarded as crimes and expiated as such; it was
something new and altogether exhilarating to find that you were
considered rather amusing if you smashed things in the right
manner and at the recognized hours. Susan Mebberley had expressed
the intention of showing Adrian a bit of the world; the particular
bit of the world represented by Dohledorf began to be shown a good
deal of Adrian.
Lucas got occasional glimpses of the Alpine sojourn, not from his
aunt or Adrian, but from the industrious pen of Clovis, who was
also moving as a satellite in the Mebberley constellation.
"The entertainment which Susan got up last night ended in
disaster. I thought it would. The Grobmayer child, a
particularly loathsome five-year-old, had appeared as 'Bubbles'
during the early part of the evening, and been put to bed during
the interval. Adrian watched his opportunity and kidnapped it
when the nurse was downstairs, and introduced it during the second
half of the entertainment, thinly disguised as a performing pig.
It certainly LOOKED very like a pig, and grunted and slobbered
just like the real article; no one knew exactly what it was, but
every one said it was awfully clever, especially the Grobmayers.
At the third curtain Adrian pinched it too hard, and it yelled
'Marmar'! I am supposed to be good at descriptions, but don't ask
me to describe the sayings and doings of the Grobmayers at that
moment; it was like one of the angrier Psalms set to Strauss's
music. We have moved to an hotel higher up the valley."
Clovis's next letter arrived five days later, and was written from
the Hotel Steinbock.
"We left the Hotel Victoria this morning. It was fairly
comfortable and quiet--at least there was an air of repose about
it when we arrived. Before we had been in residence twenty-four
hours most of the repose had vanished 'like a dutiful bream,' as
Adrian expressed it. However, nothing unduly outrageous happened
till last night, when Adrian had a fit of insomnia and amused
himself by unscrewing and transposing all the bedroom numbers on
his floor. He transferred the bathroom label to the adjoining
bedroom door, which happened to be that of Frau Hoftath Schilling,
and this morning from seven o'clock onwards the old lady had a
stream of involuntary visitors; she was too horrified and
scandalized it seems to get up and lock her door. The would-be
bathers flew back in confusion to their rooms, and, of course, the
change of numbers led them astray again, and the corridor
gradually filled with panic-stricken, scantily robed humans,
dashing wildly about like rabbits in a ferret-infested warren. It
took nearly an hour before the guests were all sorted into their
respective rooms, and the Frau Hofrath's condition was still
causing some anxiety when we left. Susan is beginning to look a
little worried. She can't very well turn the boy adrift, as he
hasn't got any money, and she can't send him to his people as she
doesn't know where they are. Adrian says his mother moves about a
good deal and he's lost her address. Probably, if he truth were
known, he's had a row at home. So many boys nowadays seem to
think that quarrelling with one's family is a recognized
Lucas's next communication from the travellers took the form of a
telegram from Mrs. Mebberley herself. It was sent "reply
prepaid," and consisted of a single sentence: "In Heaven's name,
where is Beth?"
A strange stillness hung over the restaurant; it was one of those
rare moments when the orchestra was not discoursing the strains of
the Ice-cream Sailor waltz.
"Did I ever tell you," asked Clovis of his friend, "the tragedy of
music at mealtimes?
"It was a gala evening at the Grand Sybaris Hotel, and a special
dinner was being served in the Amethyst dining-hall. The Amethyst
dining-hall had almost a European reputation, especially with that
section of Europe which is historically identified with the Jordan
Valley. Its cooking was beyond reproach, and its orchestra was
sufficiently highly salaried to be above criticism. Thither came
in shoals the intensely musical and the almost intensely musical,
who are very many, and in still greater numbers the merely
musical, who know how Tchaikowsky's name is pronounced and can
recognize several of Chopin's nocturnes if you give them due
warning; these eat in the nervous, detached manner of roebuck
feeding in the open, and keep anxious ears cocked towards the
orchestra for the first hint of a recognizable melody.
"'Ah, yes, Pagliacci,' they murmur, as the opening strains follow
hot upon the soup, and if no contradiction is forthcoming from any
better-informed quarter they break forth into subdued humming by
way of supplementing the efforts of the musicians. Sometimes the
melody starts on level terms with the soup, in which case the
banqueters contrive somehow to hum between the spoonfuls; the
facial expression of enthusiasts who are punctuating potage St.
Germain with Pagliacci is not beautiful, but it should be seen by
those who are bent on observing all sides of life. One cannot
discount the unpleasant things of this world merely by looking the
"In addition to the aforementioned types the restaurant was
patronized by a fair sprinkling of the absolutely nonmusical;
their presence in the dining-hall could only be explained on the
supposition that they had come there to dine.
"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off. The wine lists
had been consulted, by some with the blank embarrassment of a
schoolboy suddenly called on to locate a Minor Prophet in the
tangled hinterland of the Old Testament, by others with the severe
scrutiny which suggests that they have visited most of the higher-
priced wines in their own homes and probed their family
weaknesses. The diners who chose their wine in the latter fashion
always gave their orders in a penetrating voice, with a plentiful
garnishing of stage directions. By insisting on having your
bottle pointing to the north when the cork is being drawn, and
calling the waiter Max, you may induce an impression on your
guests which hours of laboured boasting might be powerless to
achieve. For this purpose, however, the guests must be chosen as
carefully as the wine.
"Standing aside from the revellers in the shadow of a massive
pillar was an interested spectator who was assuredly of the feast,
and yet not in it. Monsieur Aristide Saucourt was the CHEF of the
Grand Sybaris Hotel, and if he had an equal in his profession he
had never acknowledged the fact. In his own domain he was a
potentate, hedged around, with the cold brutality that Genius
expects rather than excuses in her children; he never forgave, and
those who served him were careful that there should be little to
forgive. In the outer world, the world which devoured his
creations, he was an influence; how profound or how shallow an
influence he never attempted to guess. It is the penalty and the
safeguard of genius that it computes itself by troy weight in a
world that measures by vulgar hundredweights.
"Once in a way the great man would be seized with a desire to
watch the effect of his master-efforts, just as the guiding brain
of Krupp's might wish at a supreme moment to intrude into the
firing line of an artillery duel. And such an occasion was the
present. For the first time in the history of the Grand Sybaris
Hotel, he was presenting to its guests the dish which he had
brought to that pitch of perfection which almost amounts to
scandal. Canetons ā la mode d'Amblčve. In thin gilt lettering on
the creamy white of the menu how little those words conveyed to
the bulk of the imperfectly educated diners. And yet how much
specialized effort had been lavished, how much carefully treasured
lore had been ungarnered, before those six words could be written.
In the Department of Deux-Sčvres ducklings had lived peculiar and
beautiful lives and died in the odour of satiety to furnish the
main theme of the dish; champignons, which even a purist for Saxon
English would have hesitated to address as mushrooms, had
contributed their languorous atrophied bodies to the garnishing,
and a sauce devised in the twilight reign of the Fifteenth Louis
had been summoned back from the imperishable past to take its part
in the wonderful confection. Thus far had human effort laboured
to achieve the desired result; the rest had been left to human
genius--the genius of Aristide Saucourt.
"And now the moment had arrived for the serving of the great dish,
the dish which world-weary Grand Dukes and market-obsessed money
magnates counted among their happiest memories. And at the same
moment something else happened. The leader of the highly salaried
orchestra placed his violin caressingly against his chin, lowered
his eyelids, and floated into a sea of melody.
"'Hark!' said most of the diners, 'he is playing "The Chaplet."'
"They knew it was 'The Chaplet' because they had heard it played
at luncheon and afternoon tea, and at supper the night before, and
had not had time to forget.
"'Yes, he is playing "The Chaplet,"' they reassured one another.
The general voice was unanimous on the subject. The orchestra had
already played it eleven times that day, four times by desire and
seven times from force of habit, but the familiar strains were
greeted with the rapture due to a revelation. A murmur of much
humming rose from half the tables in the room, and some of the
more overwrought listeners laid down knife and fork in order to be
able to burst in with loud clappings at the earliest permissible
"And the Canetons ā la mode d'Amblčve? In stupefied, sickened
wonder Aristide watched them grow cold in total neglect, or suffer
the almost worse indignity of perfunctory pecking and listless
munching while the banqueters lavished their approval and applause
on the music-makers. Calves' liver and bacon, with parsley sauce,
could hardly have figured more ignominiously in the evening's
entertainment. And while the master of culinary art leaned back
against the sheltering pillar, choking with a horrible brain-
searing rage that could find no outlet for its agony, the
orchestra leader was bowing his acknowledgments of the hand-
clappings that rose in a storm around him. Turning to his
colleagues he nodded the signal for an encore. But before the
violin had been lifted anew into position there came from the
shadow of the pillar an explosive negative.
"'Noh! Noh! You do not play thot again!'
"The musician turned in furious astonishment. Had he taken
warning from the look in the other man's eyes he might have acted
differently. But the admiring plaudits were ringing in his ears,
and he snarled out sharply, 'That is for me to decide.'
"'Noh! You play thot never again,' shouted the CHEF, and the next
moment he had flung himself violently upon the loathed being who
had supplanted him in the world's esteem. A large metal tureen,
filled to the brim with steaming soup, had just been placed on a
side table in readiness for a late party of diners; before the
waiting staff or the guests had time to realize what was
happening, Aristide had dragged his struggling victim up to the
table and plunged his head deep down into the almost boiling
contents of the tureen. At the further end of the room the diners
were still spasmodically applauding in view of an encore.
"Whether the leader of the orchestra died from drowning by soup,
or from the shock to his professional vanity, or was scalded to
death, the doctors were never wholly able to agree. Monsieur
Aristide Saucourt, who now lives in complete retirement, always
inclined to the drowning theory."
An unwonted peace hung over the Villa Elsinore, broken, however,
at frequent intervals, by clamorous lamentations suggestive of
bewildered bereavement. The Momebys had lost their infant child;
hence the peace which its absence entailed; they were looking for
it in wild, undisciplined fashion, giving tongue the whole time,
which accounted for the outcry which swept through house and
garden whenever they returned to try the home coverts anew.
Clovis, who was temporarily and unwillingly a paying guest at the
villa, had been dozing in a hammock at the far end of the garden
when Mrs. Momeby had broken the news to him.
"We've lost Baby," she screamed.
"Do you mean that it's dead, or stampeded, or that you staked it
at cards and lost it that way?" asked Clovis lazily.
"He was toddling about quite happily on the lawn," said Mrs.
Momeby tearfully, "and Arnold had just come in, and I was asking
him what sort of sauce he would like with the asparagus--"
"I hope he said hollandaise," interrupted Clovis, with a show of
quickened interest, "because if there's anything I hate--"
"And all of a sudden I missed Baby," continued Mrs. Momeby in a
shriller tone. "We've hunted high and low, in house and garden
and outside the gates, and he's nowhere to be seen."
"Is he anywhere to he heard?" asked Clovis; "if not, he must be at
least two miles away."
"But where? And how?" asked the distracted mother.
"Perhaps an eagle or a wild beast has carried him off," suggested
"There aren't eagles and wild beasts in Surrey," said Mrs. Momeby,
but a note of horror had crept into her voice.
"They escape now and then from travelling shows. Sometimes I
think they let them get loose for the sake of the advertisement.
Think what a sensational headline it would make in the local
papers: ' Infant son of prominent Nonconformist devoured by
spotted hyaena.' Your husband isn't a prominent Nonconformist,
but his mother came of Wesleyan stock, and you must allow the
newspapers some latitude."
"But we should have found his remains," sobbed Mrs. Momeby.
"If the hyaena was really hungry and not merely toying with his
food there wouldn't be much in the way of remains. It would be
like the small-boy-and-apple story--there ain't going to be no
Mrs. Momeby turned away hastily to seek comfort and counsel in
some other direction. With the selfish absorption of young
motherhood she entirely disregarded Clovis's obvious anxiety about
the asparagus sauce. Before she had gone a yard, however, the
click of the side gate caused her to pull up sharp. Miss Gilpet,
from the Villa Peterhof, had come over to hear details of the
bereavement. Clovis was already rather bored with the story, but
Mrs. Momeby was equipped with that merciless faculty which finds
as much joy in the ninetieth time of telling as in the first.
"Arnold had just come in; he was complaining of rheumatism--"
"There are so many things to complain of in this household that it
would never have occurred to me to complain of rheumatism,"
"He was complaining of rheumatism," continued Mrs. Momeby, trying
to throw a chilling inflection into a voice that was already doing
a good deal of sobbing and talking at high pressure as well.
She was again interrupted.
"There is no such thing as rheumatism," said Miss Gilpet. She
said it with the conscious air of defiance that a waiter adopts in
announcing that the cheapest-priced claret in the wine-list is no
more. She did not proceed, however, to offer the alternative of
some more expensive malady, but denied the existence of them all.
Mrs. Momeby's temper began to shine out through her grief.
"I suppose you'll say next that Baby hasn't really disappeared."
"He has disappeared," conceded Miss Gilpet, "but only because you
haven't sufficient faith to find him. It's only lack of faith on
your part that prevents him from being restored to you safe and
"But if he's been eaten in the meantime by a hyaena and partly
digested," said Clovis, who clung affectionately to his wild beast
theory, "surely some ill-effects would be noticeable?"
Miss Gilpet was rather staggered by this complication of the
"I feel sure that a hyaena has not eaten him," she said lamely.
"The hyaena may be equally certain that it has. You see, it may
have just as much faith as you have, and more special knowledge as
to the present whereabouts of the baby."
Mrs. Momeby was in tears again. "If you have faith," she sobbed,
struck by a happy inspiration, "won't you find our little Erik for
us? I am sure you have powers that are denied to us."
Rose-Marie Gilpet was thoroughly sincere in her adherence to
Christian Science principles; whether she understood or correctly
expounded them the learned in such matters may best decide. In
the present case she was undoubtedly confronted with a great
opportunity, and as she started forth on her vague search she
strenuously summoned to her aid every scrap of faith that she
possessed. She passed out into the bare and open high road,
followed by Mrs. Momeby's warning, "It's no use going there, we've
searched there a dozen times." But Rose-Marie's ears were already
deaf to all things save self-congratulation; for sitting in the
middle of the highway, playing contentedly with the dust and some
faded buttercups, was a white-pinafored baby with a mop of tow-
coloured hair tied over one temple with a pale-blue ribbon.
Taking first the usual feminine precaution of looking to see that
no motor-car was on the distant horizon, Rose-Marie dashed at the
child and bore it, despite its vigorous opposition, in through the
portals of Elsinore. The child's furious screams had already
announced the fact of its discovery, and the almost hysterical
parents raced down the lawn to meet their restored offspring. The
aesthetic value of the scene was marred in some degree by Rose-
Marie's difficulty in holding the struggling infant, which was
borne wrong-end foremost towards the agitated bosom of its family.
"Our own little Erik come back to us," cried the Momebys in
unison; as the child had rammed its fists tightly into its eye-
sockets and nothing could be seen of its face but a widely gaping
mouth, the recognition was in itself almost an act of faith.
"Is he glad to get back to Daddy and Mummy again?" crooned Mrs.
Momeby; the preference which the child was showing for its dust
and buttercup distractions was so marked that the question struck
Clovis as being unnecessarily tactless.
"Give him a ride on the roly-poly," suggested the father
brilliantly, as the howls continued with no sign of early
abatement. In a moment the child had been placed astride the big
garden roller and a preliminary tug was given to set it in motion.
From the hollow depths of the cylinder came an earsplitting roar,
drowning even the vocal efforts of the squalling baby, and
immediately afterwards there crept forth a white-pinafored infant
with a mop of tow-coloured hair tied over one temple with a pale
blue ribbon. There was no mistaking either the features or the
lung-power of the new arrival.
"Our own little Erik," screamed Mrs. Momeby, pouncing on him and
nearly smothering him with kisses; "did he hide in the roly-poly
to give us all a big fright?"
This was the obvious explanation of the child's sudden
disappearance and equally abrupt discovery. There remained,
however, the problem of the interloping baby, which now sat
whimpering on the lawn in a disfavour as chilling as its previous
popularity had been unwelcome. The Momebys glared at it as though
it had wormed its way into their short-lived affections by
heartless and unworthy pretences. Miss Gilpet's face took on an
ashen tinge as she stared helplessly at the bunched-up figure that
had been such a gladsome sight to her eyes a few moments ago.
"When love is over, how little of love even the lover
understands," quoted Clovis to himself.
Rose-Marie was the first to break the silence.
"If that is Erik you have in your arms, who is--that?"
"That, I think, is for you to explain," said Mrs. Momeby stiffly.
"Obviously," said Clovis, "it's a duplicate Erik that your powers
of faith called into being. The question is: What are you going
to do with him?"
The ashen pallor deepened in Rose-Marie's cheeks. Mrs. Momeby
clutched the genuine Erik closer to her side, as though she feared
that her uncanny neighbour might out of sheer pique turn him into
a bowl of gold-fish.
"I found him sitting in the middle of the road," said Rose-Marie
"You can't take him back and leave him there," said Clovis; "the
highway is meant for traffic, not to be used as a lumber-room for
Rose-Marie wept. The proverb "Weep and you weep alone," broke
down as badly on application as most of its kind. Both babies
were wailing lugubriously, and the parent Momebys had scarcely
recovered from their earlier lachrymose condition. Clovis alone
maintained an unruffled cheerfulness.
"Must I keep him always?" asked Rose-Marie dolefully.
"Not always," said Clovis consolingly; "he can go into the Navy
when he's thirteen." Rose-Marie wept afresh.
"Of course," added Clovis, "there may be no end of a bother about
his birth certificate. You'll have to explain matters to the
Admiralty, and they're dreadfully hidebound."
It was rather a relief when a breathless nursemaid from the Villa
Charlottenburg over the way came running across the lawn to claim
little Percy, who had slipped out of the front gate and
disappeared like a twinkling from the high road.
And even then Clovis found it necessary to go in person to the
kitchen to make sure about the asparagus sauce.
The Gräfin's two elder sons had made deplorable marriages. It
was, observed Clovis, a family habit. The youngest boy,
Wratislav, who was the black sheep of a rather greyish family, had
as yet made no marriage at all.
"There is certainly this much to be said for viciousness," said
the Gräfin, "it keeps boys out of mischief."
"Does it?" asked the Baroness Sophie, not by way of questioning
the statement, but with a painstaking effort to talk
intelligently. It was the one matter in which she attempted to
override the decrees of Providence, which had obviously never
intended that she should talk otherwise than inanely.
"I don't know why I shouldn't talk cleverly," she would complain;
"my mother was considered a brilliant conversationalist."
"These things have a way of skipping one generation," said the
"That seems so unjust," said Sophie; "one doesn't object to one's
mother having outshone one as a clever talker, but I must admit
that I should be rather annoyed if my daughters talked
"Well, none of them do," said the Gräfin consolingly.
"I don't know about that," said the Baroness, promptly veering
round in defence of her offspring. "Elsa said something quite
clever on Thursday about the Triple Alliance. Something about it
being like a paper umbrella, that was all right as long as you
didn't take it out in the rain. It's not every one who could say
"Every one has said it; at least every one that I know. But then
I know very few people."
"I don't think you're particularly agreeable to-day."
"I never am. Haven't you noticed that women with a really perfect
profile like mine are seldom even moderately agreeable?"
"I don't think your profile is so perfect as all that," said the
"It would be surprising if it wasn't. My mother was one of the
most noted classical beauties of her day."
"These things sometimes skip a generation, you know," put in the
Baroness, with the breathless haste of one to whom repartee comes
as rarely as the finding of a gold-handled umbrella.
"My dear Sophie," said the Gräfin sweetly, "that isn't in the
least bit clever; but you do try so hard that I suppose I oughtn't
to discourage you. Tell me something: has it ever occurred to you
that Elsa would do very well for Wratislav? It's time he married
somebody, and why not Elsa?"
"Elsa marry that dreadful boy!" gasped the Baroness.
"Beggars can't be choosers," observed the Gräfin.
"Elsa isn't a beggar!"
"Not financially, or I shouldn't have suggested the match. But
she's getting on, you know, and has no pretensions to brains or
looks or anything of that sort."
"You seem to forget that she's my daughter."
"That shows my generosity. But, seriously, I don't see what there
is against Wratislav. He has no debts--at least, nothing worth
"But think of his reputation! If half the things they say about
him are true--"
"Probably three-quarters of them are. But what of it? You don't
want an archangel for a son-in-law."
"I don't want Wratislav. My poor Elsa would be miserable with
"A little misery wouldn't matter very much with her; it would go
so well with the way she does her hair, and if she couldn't get on
with Wratislav she could always go and do good among the poor."
The Baroness picked up a framed photograph from the table.
"He certainly is very handsome," she said doubtfully; adding even
more doubtfully, "I dare say dear Elsa might reform him."
The Gräfin had the presence of mind to laugh in the right key.
. . . . . . . . .
Three weeks later the Gräfin bore down upon the Baroness Sophie in
a foreign bookseller's shop in the Graben, where she was,
possibly, buying books of devotion, though it was the wrong
counter for them.
"I've just left the dear children at the Rodenstahls'," was the
"Were they looking very happy?" asked the Baroness.
"Wratislav was wearing some new English clothes, so, of course, he
was quite happy. I overheard him telling Toni a rather amusing
story about a nun and a mousetrap, which won't bear repetition.
Elsa was telling every one else a witticism about the Triple
Alliance being like a paper umbrella--which seems to bear
repetition with Christian fortitude."
"Did they seem much wrapped up in each other?"
"To be candid, Elsa looked as if she were wrapped up in a horse-
rug. And why let her wear saffron colour?"
"I always think it goes with her complexion."
"Unfortunately it doesn't. It stays with it. Ugh. Don't forget,
you're lunching with me on Thursday."
The Baroness was late for her luncheon engagement the following
"Imagine what has happened!" she screamed as she burst into the
"Something remarkable, to make you late for a meal," said the
"Elsa has run away with the Rodenstahls' chauffeur!"
"Such a thing as that no one in our family has ever done," gasped
"Perhaps he didn't appeal to them in the same way," suggested the
The Baroness began to feel that she was not getting the
astonishment and sympathy to which her catastrophe entitled her.
"At any rate," she snapped, "now she can't marry Wratislav."
"She couldn't in any case," said the Gräfin; he left suddenly for
abroad last night."
"For abroad! Where?"
"For Mexico, I believe."
"Mexico! But what for? Why Mexico?"
"The English have a proverb, 'Conscience makes cowboys of us
"I didn't know Wratislav had a conscience."
"My dear Sophie, he hasn't. It's other people's consciences that
send one abroad in a hurry. Let's go and eat."
THE EASTER EGG
It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good
fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her
generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward.
Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he
was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never he
imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish
timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had
exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable
from the fact of having a carefully thought-out basis. He was
frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never
crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical
proportion of lifebelts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to
require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching
the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the
neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son's
prevailing weakness, with her usual courage she faced the
knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the
Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks,
was a favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as
often as possible. Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim,
an upland township in one of those small princedoms that make
inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.
A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her
a personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the
Burgomaster, and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the
momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of
coming in person to open a sanatorium outside the town. All the
usual items in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and
commonplace, others quaint and charming, had been arranged for,
but the Burgomaster hoped that the resourceful English lady might
have something new and tasteful to suggest in the way of loyal
greeting. The Prince was known to the outside world, if at all,
as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating modern progress, as it
were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he was known as a
kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing stateliness which
had nothing of standoffishness about it. Knobaltheim was anxious
to do its best. Lady Barbara discussed the matter with Lester and
one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were
difficult to come by.
"Might I suggest something to the Gnädige Frau?" asked a sallow
high-cheek-boned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or
twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a
"Might I suggest something for the Reception Fest?" she went on,
with a certain shy eagerness. "Our little child here, our baby,
we will dress him in little white coat, with small wings, as an
Easter angel, and he will carry a large white Easter egg, and
inside shall be a basket of plover eggs, of which the Prince is so
fond, and he shall give it to his Highness as Easter offering. It
is so pretty an idea we have seen it done once in Styria."
Lady Barbara looked dubiously at the proposed Easter angel, a
fair, wooden-faced child of about four years old. She had noticed
it the day before in the hotel, and wondered rather how such a
towheaded child could belong to such a dark-visaged couple as the
woman and her husband; probably, she thought, an adopted baby,
especially as the couple were not young.
"Of course Gnädige Frau will escort the little child up to the
Prince," pursued the woman; but he will be quite good, and do as
he is told."
"We haf some pluffers' eggs shall come fresh from Wien," said the
The small child and Lady Barbara seemed equally unenthusiastic
about the pretty idea; Lester was openly discouraging, but when
the Burgomaster heard of it he was enchanted. The combination of
sentiment and plovers' eggs appealed strongly to his Teutonic
On the eventful day the Easter angel, really quite prettily and
quaintly dressed, was a centre of kindly interest to the gala
crowd marshalled to receive his Highness. The mother was
unobtrusive and less fussy than most parents would have been under
the circumstances, merely stipulating that she should place the
Easter egg herself in the arms that had been carefully schooled
how to hold the precious burden. Then Lady Barbara moved forward,
the child marching stolidly and with grim determination at her
side. It had been promised cakes and sweeties galore if it gave
the egg well and truly to the kind old gentleman who was waiting
to receive it. Lester had tried to convey to it privately that
horrible smackings would attend any failure in its share of the
proceedings, but it is doubtful if his German caused more than an
immediate distress. Lady Barbara had thoughtfully provided
herself with an emergency supply of chocolate sweetmeats; children
may sometimes be time-servers, but they do not encourage long
accounts. As they approached nearer to the princely daīs Lady
Barbara stood discreetly aside, and the stolid-faced infant walked
forward alone, with staggering but steadfast gait, encouraged by a
murmur of elderly approval. Lester, standing in the front row of
the onlookers, turned to scan the crowd for the beaming faces of
the happy parents. In a side-road which led to the railway
station he saw a cab; entering the cab with every appearance of
furtive haste were the dark-visaged couple who had been so
plausibly eager for the "pretty idea." The sharpened instinct of
cowardice lit up the situation to him in one swift flash. The
blood roared and surged to his head as though thousands of
floodgates had been opened in his veins and arteries, and his
brain was the common sluice in which all the torrents met. He saw
nothing but a blur around him. Then the blood ebbed away in quick
waves, till his very heart seemed drained and empty, and he stood
nervelessly, helplessly, dumbly watching the child, bearing its
accursed burden with slow, relentless steps nearer and nearer to
the group that waited sheep-like to receive him. A fascinated
curiosity compelled Lester to turn his head towards the fugitives;
the cab had started at hot pace in the direction of the station.
The next moment Lester was running, running faster than any of
those present had ever seen a man run, and--he was not running
away. For that stray fraction of his life some unwonted impulse
beset him, some hint of the stock he came from, and he ran
unflinchingly towards danger. He stooped and clutched at the
Easter egg as one tries to scoop up the ball in Rugby football.
What he meant to do with it he had not considered, the thing was
to get it. But the child had been promised cakes and sweetmeats
if it safely gave the egg into the hands of the kindly old
gentleman; it uttered no scream, but it held to its charge with
limpet grip. Lester sank to his knees, tugging savagely at the
tightly clasped burden, and angry cries rose from the scandalized
onlookers. A questioning, threatening ring formed round him, then
shrank back in recoil as he shrieked out one hideous word. Lady
Barbara heard the word and saw the crowd race away like scattered
sheep, saw the Prince forcibly hustled away by his attendants;
also she saw her son lying prone in an agony of overmastering
terror, his spasm of daring shattered by the child's unexpected
resistance, still clutching frantically, as though for safety, at
that white-satin gew-gaw, unable to crawl even from its deadly
neighbourhood, able only to scream and scream and scream. In her
brain she was dimly conscious of balancing, or striving to
balance, the abject shame which had him now in thrall against the
one compelling act of courage which had flung him grandly and
madly on to the point of danger. It was only for the fraction of
a minute that she stood watching the two entangled figures, the
infant with its woodenly obstinate face and body tense with dogged
resistance, and the boy limp and already nearly dead with a terror
that almost stifled his screams; and over them the long gala
streamers flapping gaily in the sunshine. She never forgot the
scene; but then, it was the last she ever saw.
Lady Barbara carries her scarred face with its sightless eyes as
bravely as ever in the world, but at Eastertide her friends are
careful to keep from her ears any mention of the children's Easter
FILBOID STUDGE, THE STORY OF A MOUSE THAT HELPED
"I want to marry your daughter," said Mark Spayley with faltering
eagerness. "I am only an artist with an income of two hundred a
year, and she is the daughter of an enormously wealthy man, so I
suppose you will think my offer a piece of presumption."
Duncan Dullamy, the great company inflator, showed no outward sign
of displeasure. As a matter of fact, he was secretly relieved at
the prospect of finding even a two-hundred-a-year husband for his
daughter Leonore. A crisis was rapidly rushing upon him, from
which he knew he would emerge with neither money nor credit; all
his recent ventures had fallen flat, and flattest of all had gone
the wonderful new breakfast food, Pipenta, on the advertisement of
which he had sunk such huge sums. It could scarcely be called a
drug in the market; people bought drugs, but no one bought
"Would you marry Leonore if she were a poor man's daughter?" asked
the man of phantom wealth.
"Yes," said Mark, wisely avoiding the error of over-protestation.
And to his astonishment Leonore's father not only gave his
consent, but suggested a fairly early date for the wedding.
"I wish I could show my gratitude in some way," said Mark with
genuine emotion. "I'm afraid it's rather like the mouse proposing
to help the lion."
"Get people to buy that beastly muck," said Dullamy, nodding
savagely at a poster of the despised Pipenta, "and you'll have
done more than any of my agents have been able to accomplish."
"It wants a better name," said Mark reflectively, "and something
distinctive in the poster line. Anyway, I'll have a shot at it."
Three weeks later the world was advised of the coming of a new
breakfast food, heralded under the resounding name of "Filboid
Studge." Spayley put forth no pictures of massive babies
springing up with fungus-like rapidity under its forcing
influence, or of representatives of the leading nations of the
world scrambling with fatuous eagerness for its possession. One
huge sombre poster depicted the Damned in Hell suffering a new
torment from their inability to get at the Filboid Studge which
elegant young fiends held in transparent bowls just beyond their
reach. The scene was rendered even more gruesome by a subtle
suggestion of the features of leading men and women of the day in
the portrayal of the Lost Souls; prominent individuals of both
political parties, Society hostesses, well-known dramatic authors
and novelists, and distinguished aeroplanists were dimly
recognizable in that doomed throng; noted lights of the musical-
comedy stage flickered wanly in the shades of the Inferno, smiling
still from force of habit, but with the fearsome smiling rage of
baffled effort. The poster bore no fulsome allusions to the
merits of the new breakfast food, but a single grim statement ran
in bold letters along its base: "They cannot buy it now."
Spayley had grasped, the fact that people will do things from a
sense of duty which they would never attempt as a pleasure. There
are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found
them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all
sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if
you told them in return that you went there because you liked it,
they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive.
In the same way, whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from
Asia Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out "under
orders " from somewhere or another, no one seems to think that
there are people who might LIKE to kill their neighbours now and
And so it was with the new breakfast food. No one would have
eaten Filboid Studge as a pleasure, but the grim austerity of its
advertisement drove housewives in shoals to the grocers' shops to
clamour for an immediate supply. In small kitchens solemn pig-
tailed daughters helped depressed mothers to perform the primitive
ritual of its preparation. On the breakfast-tables of cheerless
parlours it was partaken of in silence. Once the womenfolk
discovered that it was thoroughly unpalatable, their zeal in
forcing it on their households knew no bounds. "You haven't eaten
your Filboid Studge!" would be screamed at the appetiteless clerk
as he hurried weariedly from the breakfast-table, and his evening
meal would be prefaced by a warmed-up mess which would be
explained as "your Filboid Studge that you didn't eat this
morning." Those strange fanatics who ostentatiously mortify
themselves, inwardly and outwardly, with health biscuits and
health garments, battened aggressively on the new food. Earnest
spectacled young then devoured it on the steps of the National
Liberal Club. A bishop who did not believe in a future state
preached against the poster, and a peer's daughter died from
eating too much of the compound. A further advertisement was
obtained when an infantry regiment mutinied and shot its officers
rather than eat the nauseous mess; fortunately, Lord Birrell of
Blatherstone, who was War Minister at the moment, saved the
situation by his happy epigram, that "Discipline to be effective
must be optional."
Filboid Studge had become a household word, but Dullamy wisely
realized that it was not necessarily the last word in breakfast
dietary; its supremacy would be challenged as soon as some yet
more unpalatable food should be put on the market. There might
even be a reaction in favour of something tasty and appetizing,
and the Puritan austerity of the moment might be banished from
domestic cookery. At an opportune moment, therefore, he sold out
his interests in the article which had brought him in colossal
wealth at a critical juncture, and placed his financial reputation
beyond the reach of cavil. As for Leonore, who was now an heiress
on a far greater scale than ever before, he naturally found her
something a vast deal higher in the husband market than a two-
hundred-a-year poster designer. Mark Spayley, the brainmouse who
had helped the financial lion with such untoward effect, was left
to curse the day he produced the wonder-working poster.
"After all," said Clovis, meeting him shortly afterwards at his
club, "you have this doubtful consolation, that 'tis not in
mortals to countermand success."
THE MUSIC ON THE HILL
Sylvia Seltoun ate her breakfast in the morning-room at Yessney
with a pleasant sense of ultimate victory, such as a fervent
Ironside might have permitted himself on the morrow of Worcester
fight. She was scarcely pugnacious by temperament, but belonged
to that more successful class of fighters who are pugnacious by
circumstance. Fate had willed that her life should be occupied
with a series of small struggles, usually with the odds slightly
against her, and usually she had just managed to come through
winning. And now she felt that she had brought her hardest and
certainly her most important struggle to a successful issue. To
have married Mortimer Seltoun, "Dead Mortimer" as his more
intimate enemies called him, in the teeth of the cold hostility of
his family, and in spite of his unaffected indifference to women,
was indeed an achievement that had needed some determination and
adroitness to carry through; yesterday she had brought her victory
to its concluding stage by wrenching her husband away from Town
and its group of satellite watering-places and "settling him
down," in the vocabulary of her kind, in this remote wood-girt
manor farm which was his country house.
"You will never get Mortimer to go," his mother had said
carpingly, "but if he once goes he'll stay; Yessney throws almost
as much a spell over him as Town does. One can understand what
holds him to Town, but Yessney--" and the dowager had shrugged her
There was a sombre almost savage wildness about Yessney that was
certainly not likely to appeal to town-bred tastes, and Sylvia,
notwithstanding her name, was accustomed to nothing much more
sylvan than "leafy Kensington." She looked on the country as
something excellent and wholesome in its way, which was apt to
become, troublesome if you encouraged it overmuch. Distrust of
town-life had been a new thing with her, born of her marriage with
Mortimer, and she had watched with satisfaction the gradual fading
of what she called "the Jermyn-street-look" in his eyes as the
woods and heather of Yessney had closed in on them yesternight.
Her will-power and strategy had prevailed; Mortimer would stay.
Outside the morning-room windows was a triangular slope of turf,
which the indulgent might call a lawn, and beyond its low hedge of
neglected fuchsia bushes a steeper slope of heather and bracken
dropped down into cavernous combes overgrown with oak and yew. In
its wild open savagery there seemed a stealthy linking of the joy
of life with the terror of unseen things. Sylvia smiled
complacently as she gazed with a School-of-Art appreciation at the
landscape, and then of a sudden she almost shuddered.
"It is very wild," she said to Mortimer, who had joined her; "one
could almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had
never quite died out."
"The worship of Pan never has died out," said Mortimer. "Other
newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he
is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been
called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have
Sylvia was religious in an honest vaguely devotional kind of way,
and did not like to hear her beliefs spoken of as mere
aftergrowths, but it was at least something new and hopeful to
hear Dead Mortimer speak with such energy and conviction on any
"You don't really believe in Pan?" she asked incredulously.
"I've been a fool in most things," said Mortimer quietly, "but I'm
not such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I'm down here. And
if you're wise you won't disbelieve in him too boastfully while
you're in his country."
It was not till a week later, when Sylvia had exhausted the
attractions of the woodland walks round Yessney, that she ventured
on a tour of inspection of the farm buildings. A farmyard
suggested in her mind a scene of cheerful bustle, with churns and
flails and smiling dairymaids, and teams of horses drinking knee-
deep in duck-crowded ponds. As she wandered among the gaunt grey
buildings of Yessney manor farm her first impression was one of
crushing stillness and desolation, as though she had happened on
some lone deserted homestead long given over to owls and cobwebs;
then came a sense of furtive watchful hostility, the same shadow
of unseen things that seemed to lurk in the wooded combes and
coppices. From behind heavy doors and shuttered windows came the
restless stamp of hoof or rasp of chain halter, and at times a
muffled bellow from some stalled beast. From a distant corner a
shaggy dog watched her with intent unfriendly eyes; as she drew
near it slipped quietly into its kennel, and slipped out again as
noiselessly when she had passed by. A few hens, questing for food
under a rick, stole away under a gate at her approach. Sylvia
felt that if she had come across any human beings in this
wilderness of barn and byre they would have fled wraith-like from
her gaze. At last, turning a corner quickly, she came upon a
living thing that did not fly from her. Astretch in a pool of mud
was an enormous sow, gigantic beyond the town-woman's wildest
computation of swine-flesh, and speedily alert to resent and if
necessary repel the unwonted intrusion. It was Sylvia's turn to
make an unobtrusive retreat. As she threaded her way past
rickyards and cowsheds and long blank walls, she started suddenly
at a strange sound--the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and
equivocal. Jan, the only boy employed on the farm, a towheaded,
wizen-faced yokel, was visibly at work on a potato clearing half-
way up the nearest hill-side, and Mortimer, when questioned, knew
of no other probable or possible begetter of the hidden mockery
that had ambushed Sylvia's retreat. The memory of that
untraceable echo was added to her other impressions of a furtive
sinister "something " that hung around Yessney.
Of Mortimer she saw very little; farm and woods and trout-streams
seemed to swallow him up from dawn till dusk. Once, following the
direction she had seen him take in the morning, she came to an
open space in a nut copse, further shut in by huge yew trees, in
the centre of which stood a stone pedestal surmounted by a small
bronze figure of a youthful Pan. It was a beautiful piece of
workmanship, but her attention was chiefly held by the fact that a
newly cut bunch of grapes had been placed as an offering at its
feet. Grapes were none too plentiful at the manor house, and
Sylvia snatched the bunch angrily from the pedestal. Contemptuous
annoyance dominated her thoughts as she strolled slowly homeward,
and then gave way to a sharp feeling of something that was very
near fright; across a thick tangle of undergrowth a boy's face was
scowling at her, brown and beautiful, with unutterably evil eyes.
It was a lonely pathway, all pathways round Yessney were lonely
for the matter of that, and she sped forward without waiting to
give a closer scrutiny to this sudden apparition. It was not till
she had reached the house that she discovered that she had dropped
the bunch of grapes in her flight.
"I saw a youth in the wood to-day," she told Mortimer that
evening, "brown-faced and rather handsome, but a scoundrel to look
at. A gipsy lad, I suppose."
"A reasonable theory," said Mortimer, "only there aren't any
gipsies in these parts at present."
"Then who was he?" asked Sylvia, and as Mortimer appeared to have
no theory of his own, she passed on to recount her finding of the
"I suppose it was your doing," she observed; "it's a harmless
piece of lunacy, but people would think you dreadfully silly if
they knew of it."
"Did you meddle with it in any way?" asked Mortimer.
"I--I threw the grapes away. It seemed so silly," said Sylvia,
watching Mortimer's impassive face for a sign of annoyance.
"I don't think you were wise to do that," he said reflectively.
"I've heard it said that the Wood Gods are rather horrible to
those who molest them."
"Horrible perhaps to those that believe in them, but you see I
don't," retorted Sylvia.
"All the same," said Mortimer in his even, dispassionate tone, "I
should avoid the woods and orchards if I were you, and give a wide
berth to the horned beasts on the farm."
It was all nonsense, of course, but in that lonely wood-girt spot
nonsense seemed able to rear a bastard brood of uneasiness.
"Mortimer," said Sylvia suddenly, "I think we will go back to Town
some time soon."
Her victory had not been so complete as she had supposed; it had
carried her on to ground that she was already anxious to quit.
"I don't think you will ever go back to Town," said Mortimer. He
seemed to be paraphrasing his mother's prediction as to himself.
Sylvia noted with dissatisfaction and some self-contempt that the
course of her next afternoon's ramble took her instinctively clear
of the network of woods. As to the horned cattle, Mortimer's
warning was scarcely needed, for she had always regarded them as
of doubtful neutrality at the best: her imagination unsexed the
most matronly dairy cows and turned them into bulls liable to "see
red" at any moment. The ram who fed in the narrow paddock below
the orchards she had adjudged, after ample and cautious probation,
to be of docile temper; to-day, however, she decided to leave his
docility untested, for the usually tranquil beast was roaming with
every sign of restlessness from corner to corner of his meadow. A
low, fitful piping, as of some reedy flute, was coming from the
depth of a neighbouring copse, and there seemed to be some subtle
connection between the animal's restless pacing and the wild music
from the wood. Sylvia turned her steps in an upward direction and
climbed the heather-clad slopes that stretched in rolling
shoulders high above Yessney. She had left the piping notes
behind her, but across the wooded combes at her feet the wind
brought her another kind of music, the straining bay of hounds in
full chase. Yessney was just on the outskirts of the Devon-and-
Somerset country, and the hunted deer sometimes came that way.
Sylvia could presently see a dark body, breasting hill after hill,
and sinking again and again out of sight as he crossed the combes,
while behind him steadily swelled that relentless chorus, and she
grew tense with the excited sympathy that one feels for any hunted
thing in whose capture one is not directly interested. And at
last he broke through the outermost line of oak scrub and fern and
stood panting in the open, a fat September stag carrying a well-
furnished head. His obvious course was to drop down to the brown
pools of Undercombe, and thence make his way towards the red
deer's favoured sanctuary, the sea. To Sylvia's surprise,
however, he turned his head to the upland slope and came lumbering
resolutely onward over the heather. "It will be dreadful," she
thought, "the hounds will pull him down under my very eyes." But
the music of the pack seemed to have died away for a moment, and
in its place she heard again that wild piping, which rose now on
this side, now on that, as though urging the failing stag to a
final effort. Sylvia stood well aside from his path, half hidden
in a thick growth of whortle bushes, and watched him swing stiffly
upward, his flanks dark with sweat, the coarse hair on his neck
showing light by contrast. The pipe music shrilled suddenly
around her, seeming to come from the bushes at her very feet, and
at the same moment the great beast slewed round and bore directly
down upon her. In an instant her pity for the hunted animal was
changed to wild terror at her own danger; the thick heather roots
mocked her scrambling efforts at flight, and she looked
frantically downward for a glimpse of oncoming hounds. The huge
antler spikes were within a few yards of her, and in a flash of
numbing fear she remembered Mortimer's warning, to beware of homed
beasts on the farm. And then with a quick throb of joy she saw
that she was not alone; a human figure stood a few paces aside,
knee-deep in the whortle bushes.
"Drive it off she shrieked. But the figure made no answering
The antlers drove straight at her breast, the acrid smell of the
hunted animal was in her nostrils, but her eyes were filled with
the horror of something she saw other than her oncoming death.
And in her ears rang the echo of a boy's laughter, golden and
THE STORY OF ST. VESPALUUS
"Tell me a story," said the Baroness, staring out despairingly at
the rain; it was that light, apologetic sort of rain that looks as
if it was going to leave off every minute and goes on for the
greater part of the afternoon.
"What sort of story?" asked Clovis, giving his croquet mallet a
valedictory shove into retirement.
"One just true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be
tiresome," said the Baroness.
Clovis rearranged several cushions to his personal solace and
satisfaction; he knew that the Baroness liked her guests to he
comfortable, and he thought it right to respect her wishes in that
"Have I ever told you the story of Saint Vespaluus?" he asked.
"You've told me stories about grand-dukes and lion-tamers and
financiers' widows and a postmaster in Herzegovina," said the
Baroness, "and about an Italian jockey and an amateur governess
who went to Warsaw, and several about your mother, but certainly
never anything about a saint."
"This story happened a long while ago," he said, "in those
uncomfortable piebald times when a third of the people were Pagan,
and a third Christian, and the biggest third of all just followed
whichever religion the Court happened to profess. There was a
certain king called Hkrikros, who had a fearful temper and no
immediate successor in his own family; his married sister,
however, had provided him with a large stock of nephews from which
to select his heir. And the most eligible and royally-approved of
all these nephews was the sixteen-year-old Vespaluus. He was the
best looking, and the best horseman and javelin-thrower, and had
that priceless princely gift of being able to walk past a
supplicant with an air of not having seen him, but would certainly
have given something if he had. My mother has that gift to a
certain extent; she can go smilingly and financially unscathed
through a charity bazaar, and meet the organizers next day with a
solicitous 'had I but known you were in need of funds' air that is
really rather a triumph in audacity. Now Hkrikros was a Pagan of
the first water, and kept the worship of the sacred serpents, who
lived in a hallowed grove on a hill near the royal palace, up to a
high pitch of enthusiasm. The common people were allowed to
please themselves, within certain discreet limits, in the matter
of private religion, but any official in the service of the Court
who went over to the new cult was looked down on, literally as
well as metaphorically, the looking down being done from the
gallery that ran round the royal bear-pit. Consequently there was
considerable scandal and consternation when the youthful Vespaluus
appeared one day at a Court function with a rosary tucked into his
belt, and announced in reply to angry questionings that he had
decided to adopt Christianity, or at any rate to give it a trial.
If it had been any of the other nephews the king would possibly
have ordered something drastic in the way of scourging and
banishment, but in the case of the favoured Vespaluus he
determined to look on the whole thing much as a modern father
might regard the announced intention of his son to adopt the stage
as a profession. He sent accordingly for the Royal Librarian.
The royal library in those days was not a very extensive affair,
and the keeper of the king's books had a great deal of leisure on
his hands. Consequently he was in frequent demand for the
settlement of other people's affairs when these strayed beyond
normal limits and got temporarily unmanageable.
"'You must reason with Prince Vespaluus,' said the king, 'and
impress on him the error of his ways. We cannot have the heir to
the throne setting such a dangerous example.'
"'But where shall I find the necessary arguments?' asked the
"'I give you free leave to pick and choose your arguments in the
royal woods and coppices,' said the king; 'if you cannot get
together some cutting observations and stinging retorts suitable
to the occasion you are a person of very poor resource.'
"So the Librarian went into the woods and gathered a goodly
selection of highly argumentative rods and switches, and then
proceeded to reason with Vespaluus on the folly and iniquity and
above all the unseemliness of his conduct. His reasoning left a
deep impression on the young prince, an impression which lasted
for many weeks, during which time nothing more was heard about the
unfortunate lapse into Christianity. Then a further scandal of
the same nature agitated the Court. At a time when he should have
been engaged in audibly invoking the gracious protection and
patronage of the holy serpents, Vespaluus was heard singing a
chant in honour of St. Odilo of Cluny. The king was furious at
this new outbreak, and began to take a gloomy view of the
situation; Vespaluus was evidently going to show a dangerous
obstinacy in persisting in his heresy. And yet there was nothing
in his appearance to justify such perverseness; he had not the
pale eye of the fanatic or the mystic look of the dreamer. On the
contrary, he was quite the best-looking boy at Court; he had an
elegant, well-knit figure, a healthy complexion, eyes the colour
of very ripe mulberries, and dark hair, smooth and very well cared
"It sounds like a description of what you imagine yourself to have
been like at the age of sixteen," said the Baroness.
"My mother has probably been showing you some of my early
photographs," said Clovis. Having turned the sarcasm into a
compliment, he resumed his story.
"The king had Vespaluus shut up in a dark tower for three days,
with nothing but bread and water to live on, the squealing and
fluttering of bats to listen to, and drifting clouds to watch
through one little window slit. The anti-Pagan section of the
community began to talk portentously of the boy-martyr. The
martyrdom was mitigated, as far as the food was concerned, by the
carelessness of the tower warden, who once or twice left a portion
of his own supper of broiled meat and fruit and wine by mistake in
the prince's cell. After the punishment was over, Vespaluus was
closely watched for any further symptom of religious perversity,
for the king was determined to stand no more opposition on so
important a matter, even from a favourite nephew. If there was
any more of this nonsense, he said, the succession to the throne
would have to be altered.
"For a time all went well; the festival of summer sports was
approaching, and the young Vespaluus was too engrossed in
wrestling and foot-running and javelin-throwing competitions to
bother himself with the strife of conflicting religious systems.
Then, however, came the great culminating feature of the summer
festival, the ceremonial dance round the grove of the sacred
serpents, and Vespaluus, as we should say, 'sat it out.' The
affront to the State religion was too public and ostentatious to
be overlooked, even if the king had been so minded, and he was not
in the least so minded. For a day and a half he sat apart and
brooded, and every one thought he was debating within himself the
question of the young prince's death or pardon; as a matter of
fact he was merely thinking out the manner of the boy's death. As
the thing had to be done, and was bound to attract an enormous
amount of public attention in any case, it was as well to make it
as spectacular and impressive as possible.
"'Apart from his unfortunate taste in religions;' said the king,
'and his obstinacy in adhering to it, he is a sweet and pleasant
youth, therefore it is meet and fitting that he should be done to
death by the winged envoys of sweetness.'
"'Your Majesty means--?' said the Royal Librarian.
"'I mean,' said the king, 'that he shall be stung to death by
bees. By the royal bees, of course.'
"'A most elegant death,' said the Librarian.
"'Elegant and spectacular, and decidedly painful,' said the king;
'it fulfils all the conditions that could be wished for.'
"The king himself thought out all the details of the execution
ceremony. Vespaluus was to be stripped of his clothes, his hands
were to he bound behind him, and he was then to be slung in a
recumbent position immediately above three of the largest of the
royal beehives, so that the least movement of his body would bring
him in jarring contact with them. The rest could be safely left
to the bees. The death throes, the king computed, might last
anything from fifteen to forty minutes, though there was division
of opinion and considerable wagering among the other nephews as to
whether death might not be almost instantaneous, or, on the other
hand, whether it might not be deferred for a couple of hours.
Anyway, they all agreed, it was vastly preferable to being thrown
down into an evil smelling bear-pit and being clawed and mauled to
death by imperfectly carnivorous animals.
"It so happened, however, that the keeper of the royal hives had
leanings towards Christianity himself, and moreover, like most of
the Court officials, he was very much attached to Vespaluus. On
the eve of the execution, therefore, he busied himself with
removing the stings from all the royal bees; it was a long and
delicate operation, but he was an expert bee-master, and by
working hard nearly all night he succeeded in disarming all, or
almost all, of the hive inmates."
"I didn't know you could take the sting from a live bee," said the
"Every profession, has its secrets," replied Clovis; "if it hadn't
it wouldn't be a profession. Well, the moment for the execution
arrived; the king and Court took their places, and accommodation
was found for as many of the populace as wished to witness the
unusual spectacle. Fortunately the royal bee-yard was of
considerable dimensions, and was commanded, moreover, by the
terraces that ran round the royal gardens; with a little squeezing
and the erection of a few platforms room was found for everybody.
Vespaluus was carried into the open space in front of the hives,
blushing and slightly embarrassed, but not at all displeased at
the attention which was being centred on him."
"He seems to have resembled you in more things than in
appearance," said the Baroness.
"Don't interrupt at a critical point in the story," said Clovis.
"As soon as he had been carefully adjusted in the prescribed
position over the hives, and almost before the gaolers had time to
retire to a safe distance, Vespaluus gave a lusty and well-aimed
kick, which sent all three hives toppling one over another. The
next moment he was wrapped from head to foot in bees; each
individual insect nursed the dreadful and humiliating knowledge
that in this supreme hour of catastrophe it could not sting, but
each felt that it ought to pretend to. Vespaluus squealed and
wriggled with laughter, for he was being tickled nearly to death,
and now and again he gave a furious kick and used a bad word as
one of the few bees that had escaped disarmament got its protest
home. But the spectators saw with amazement that he showed no
signs of approaching death agony, and as the bees dropped wearily
away in clusters from his body his flesh was seen to be as white
and smooth as before the ordeal, with a shiny glaze from the
honey-smear of innumerable bee-feet, and here and there a small
red spot where one of the rare stings had left its mark. It was
obvious that a miracle had been performed in his favour, and one
loud murmur, of astonishment or exultation, rose from the
onlooking crowd. The king gave orders for Vespaluus to be taken
down to await further orders, and stalked silently back to his
midday meal, at which he was careful to eat heartily and drink
copiously as though nothing unusual had happened. After dinner he
sent for the Royal Librarian.
"'What is the meaning of this fiasco?' he demanded.
"'Your Majesty,' said that official, 'either there is something
radically wrong with the bees--'
"'There is nothing wrong with my bees,' said the king haughtily,
'they are the best bees.'
"'Or else,' said the Librarian, 'there is something irremediably
right about Prince Vespaluus.'
"'If Vespaluus is right I must be wrong,' said the king.
"The Librarian was silent for a moment. Hasty speech has been the
downfall of many; ill-considered silence was the undoing of the
luckless Court functionary.
"Forgetting the restraint due to his dignity, and the golden rule
which imposes repose of mind and body after a heavy meal, the king
rushed upon the keeper of the royal books and hit him repeatedly
and promiscuously over the head with an ivory chessboard, a pewter
wine-flagon, and a brass candlestick; he knocked him violently and
often against an iron torch sconce, and kicked him thrice round
the banqueting chamber with rapid, energetic kicks. Finally, he
dragged him down a long passage by the hair of his head and flung
him out of a window into the courtyard below."
"Was he much hurt?" asked the Baroness.
"More hurt than surprised," said Clovis. You see, the king was
notorious for his violent temper. However, this was the first
time he had let himself go so unrestrainedly on the top of a heavy
meal. The Librarian lingered for many days--in fact, for all I
know, he may have ultimately recovered, but Hkrikros died that
same evening. Vespaluus had hardly finished getting the honey
stains off his body before a hurried deputation came to put the
coronation oil on his head. And what with the publicly-witnessed
miracle and the accession of a Christian sovereign, it was not
surprising that there was a general scramble of converts to the
new religion. A hastily consecrated bishop was overworked with a
rush of baptisms in the hastily improvised Cathedral of St. Odilo.
And the boy-martyr-that-might-have-been was transposed in the
popular imagination into a royal boy-saint, whose fame attracted
throngs of curious and devout sightseers to the capital.
Vespaluus, who was busily engaged in organizing the games and
athletic contests that were to mark the commencement of his reign,
had no time to give heed to the religious fervour which was
effervescing round his personality; the first indication he had of
the existing state of affairs was when the Court Chamberlain (a
recent and very ardent addition to the Christian community)
brought for his approval the outlines of a projected ceremonial
cutting-down of the idolatrous serpent-grove.
"'Your Majesty will be graciously pleased to cut down the first
tree with a specially consecrated axe,' said the obsequious
"'I'll cut off your head first, with any axe that comes handy,'
said Vespaluus indignantly; 'do you suppose that I'm going to
begin my reign by mortally affronting the sacred serpents? It
would be most unlucky.'
"'But your Majesty's Christian principles?' exclaimed the
"'I never had, any,' said Vespaluus; ' I used to pretend to he a
Christian convert just to annoy Hkrikros. He used to fly into
such delicious tempers. And it was rather fun being whipped and
scolded and shut up in a tower all for nothing. But as to turning
Christian in real earnest, like you people seem to do, I couldn't
think of such a thing. And the holy and esteemed serpents have
always helped me when I've prayed to them for success in my
running and wrestling and hunting, and it was through their
distinguished intercession that the bees were not able to hurt me
with their stings. It would he black ingratitude, to turn against
their worship at the very outset of my reign. I hate you for
"The Chamberlain wrung his hands despairingly.
"'But, your Majesty,' he wailed, 'the people are reverencing you
as a saint, and the nobles are being Christianized in batches, and
neighbouring potentates of that Faith are sending special envoys
to welcome you as a brother. There is some talk of making you the
patron saint of beehives, and a certain shade of honey-yellow has
been christened Vespaluusian gold at the Emperor's Court. You
can't surely go back on all this.'
"'I don't mind being reverenced and greeted and honoured,' said
Vespaluus; 'I don't even mind being sainted in moderation, as long
as I'm not expected to be saintly as well. But I wish you clearly
and finally to understand that I will NOT give up the worship of
the august and auspicious serpents.'
"There was a world of unspoken bear-pit in the way he uttered
those last words, and the mulberry-dark eyes flashed dangerously.
"'A new reign,' said the Chamberlain to himself, 'but the same old
"Finally, as a State necessity, the matter of the religions was
compromised. At stated intervals the king appeared before his
subjects in the national cathedral in the character of St.
Vespaluus, and the idolatrous grove was gradually pruned and
lopped away till nothing remained of it. But the sacred and
esteemed serpents were removed to a private shrubbery in the royal
gardens, where Vespaluus the Pagan and certain members of his
household devoutly and decently worshipped them. That possibly is
the reason why the boy-king's success in sports and hunting never
deserted him to the end of his days, and that is also the reason
why, in spite of the popular veneration for his sanctity, he never
received official canonization."
"It has stopped raining," said the Baroness.
THE WAY TO THE DAIRY
The Baroness and Clovis sat in a much-frequented corner of the
Park exchanging biographical confidences about the long succession
"Who are those depressed-looking young women who have just gone
by?" asked the Baroness; "they have the air of people who have
bowed to destiny and are not quite sure whether the salute will be
"Those," said Clovis, "are the Brimley Bomefields. I dare say you
would look depressed if you had been through their experiences."
"I'm always having depressing experiences;" said the Baroness, "
but I never give them outward expression. It's as bad as looking
one's age. Tell me about the Brimley Bomefields."
"Well," said Clovis, "the beginning of their tragedy was that they
found an aunt. The aunt had been there all the time, but they had
very nearly forgotten her existence until a distant relative
refreshed their memory by remembering her very distinctly in his
will; it is wonderful what the force of example will accomplish.
The aunt, who had been unobtrusively poor, became quite pleasantly
rich, and the Brimley Bomefields grew suddenly concerned at the
loneliness of her life and took her under their collective wings.
She had as many wings around her at this time as one of those
beast-things in Revelation."
"So far I don't see any tragedy from the Brimley Bomefields' point
of view," said the Baroness.
"We haven't got to it yet," said Clovis. "The aunt had been used
to living very simply, and had seen next to nothing of what we
should consider life, and her nieces didn't encourage her to do
much in the way of making a splash with her money. Quite a good
deal of it would come to them at her death, and she was a fairly
old woman, but there was one circumstance which cast a shadow of
gloom over the satisfaction they felt in the discovery and
acquisition of this desirable aunt: she openly acknowledged that a
comfortable slice of her little fortune would go to a nephew on
the other side of her family. He was rather a deplorable thing in
rotters, and quite hopelessly top-hole in the way of getting
through money, but he had been more or less decent to the old lady
in her unremembered days, and she wouldn't hear anything against
him. At least, she wouldn't pay any attention to what she did
hear, but her nieces took care that she should have to listen to a
good deal in that line. It seemed such a pity, they said among
themselves, that good money should fall into such worthless hands.
They habitually spoke of their aunt's money as 'good money,' as
though other people's aunts dabbled for the most part in spurious
"Regularly after the Derby, St. Leger, and other notable racing
events they indulged in audible speculations as to how much money
Roger had squandered in unfortunate betting transactions.
"'His travelling expenses must come to a big sum,' said the eldest
Brimley Bomefield one day; 'they say he attends every race-meeting
in England, besides others abroad. I shouldn't wonder if he went
all the way to India to see the race for the Calcutta Sweepstake
that one hears so much about.'
"'Travel enlarges the mind, my dear Christine,' said her aunt.
"'Yes, dear aunt, travel undertaken in the right spirit,' agreed
Christine; 'but travel pursued merely as a means towards gambling
and extravagant living is more likely to contract the purse than
to enlarge the mind. However, as long as Roger enjoys himself, I
suppose he doesn't care how fast or unprofitably the money goes,
or where he is to find more. It seems a pity, that's all.'
"The aunt by that time had begun to talk of something else, and it
was doubtful if Christine's moralizing had been even accorded a
hearing. It was her remark, however--the aunt's remark, I mean--
about travel enlarging the mind, that gave the youngest Brimley
Bomefield her great idea for the showing-up of Roger.
"'If aunt could only be taken somewhere to see him gambling and
throwing away money,' she said, 'it would open her eyes to his
character more effectually than anything we can say.'
"'My dear Veronique,' said her sisters, 'we, can't go following
him to race-meetings.'
"'Certainly not to race-meetings,' said Veronique, 'but we might
go to some place where one can look on at gambling without taking
part in it.'
"'Do you mean Monte Carlo?' they asked her, beginning to jump
rather at the idea.
"'Monte Carlo is a long way off, and has a dreadful reputation,'
said Veronique; 'I shouldn't like to tell our-friends that we were
going to Monte Carlo. But I believe Roger usually goes to Dieppe
about this time of year, and some quite respectable English people
go there, and the journey wouldn't be expensive. If aunt could
stand the Channel crossing the change of scene might do her a lot
"And that was how the fateful idea came to the Brimley Bomefields.
"From the very first set-off disaster hung over the expedition, as
they afterwards remembered. To begin with, all the Brimley
Bomefields were extremely unwell during the crossing, while the
aunt enjoyed the sea air and made friends with all manner of
strange travelling companions. Then, although it was many years
since she had been on the Continent, she had served a very
practical apprenticeship there as a paid companion, and her
knowledge of colloquial French beat theirs to a standstill. It
became increasingly difficult to keep under their collective wings
a person who knew what she wanted and was able to ask for it and
to see that she got it. Also, as far as Roger was concerned, they
drew Dieppe blank; it turned out that he was staying at Pourville,
a little watering-place a mile or two further west. The Brimley
Bomefields discovered that Dieppe was too crowded and frivolous,
and persuaded the old lady to migrate to the comparative seclusion
"'You won't find it dull, you know,' they assured her; 'there is a
little casino attached to the hotel, and you can watch the people
dancing and throwing away their money at PETITS CHEVAUX.'
"It was just before PETITS CHEVAUX had been supplanted by BOULE.
"Roger was not staying in the same hotel, but they knew that the
casino would be certain of his patronage on most afternoons and
"On the first evening of their visit they wandered into the casino
after a fairly early dinner, and hovered near the tables. Bertie
van Tahn was staying there at the time, and he described the whole
incident to me. The Brimley Bomefields kept a furtive watch on
the doors as though they were expecting some one to turn up, and
the aunt got more and more amused and interested watching the
little horses whirl round and round the board.
"'Do you know, poor little number eight hasn't won for the last
thirty-two times,' she said to Christine; 'I've been keeping
count. I shall really have to put five francs on him to encourage
"'Come and watch the dancing, dear,' said Christine nervously. It
was scarcely a part of their strategy that Roger should come in
and find the old lady backing her fancy at the PETITS CHEVAUX
"'Just wait while I put five francs on number eight,' said the
aunt, and in another moment her money was lying on the table. The
horses commenced to move round, it was a slow race this time, and
number eight crept up at the finish like some crafty demon and
placed his nose just a fraction in front of number three, who had
seemed to be winning easily. Recourse had to be had to
measurement, and the number eight was proclaimed the winner. The
aunt picked up thirty-five francs. After that the Brimley
Bomefields would have had to have used concerted force to get her
away from the tables. When Roger appeared on the scene she was
fifty-two francs to the good; her nieces were hovering forlornly
in the background, like chickens that have been hatched out by a
duck and are despairingly watching their parent disporting herself
in a dangerous and uncongenial element. The supper-party which
Roger insisted on standing that night in honour of his aunt and
the three Miss Brimley Bomefields was remarkable for the
unrestrained gaiety of two of the participants and the funereal
mirthlessness of the remaining guests.
"'I do not think;' Christine confided afterwards to a friend, who
re-confided it to Bertie van Tahn, 'that I shall ever be able to
touch PATÉ DE FOIE GRAS again. It would bring back memories of
that awful evening.'
"For the next two or three days the nieces made plans for
returning to England or moving on to some other resort where there
was no casino. The aunt was busy making a system for winning at
PETITS CHEVAUX. Number eight, her first love, had been running
rather unkindly for her, and a series of plunges on number five
had turned out even worse.
"'Do you know, I dropped over seven hundred francs at the tables
this afternoon,' she announced cheerfully at dinner on the fourth
evening of their visit.
"'Aunt! Twenty-eight pounds! And you were losing last night
"'Oh, I shall get it all back,' she said optimistically; 'but not
here. These silly little horses are no good. I shall go
somewhere where one can play comfortably at roulette. You needn't
look so shocked. I've always felt that, given the opportunity, I
should be an inveterate gambler, and now you darlings have put the
opportunity in my way. I must drink your very good healths.
Waiter, a bottle of PONTET CANET. Ah, it's number seven on the
wine list; I shall plunge on number seven to-night. It won four
times running this afternoon when I was backing that silly number
"Number seven was not in a winning mood that evening. The Brimley
Bomefields, tired of watching disaster from a distance, drew near
to the table where their aunt was now an honoured habituée, and
gazed mournfully at the successive victories of one and five and
eight and four, which swept 'good money' out of the purse of
seven's obstinate backer. The day's losses totalled something
very near two thousand francs.
"'You incorrigible gamblers,' said Roger chaffingly to them, when
he found them at the tables.
"'We are not gambling,' said Christine freezingly; 'we are looking
"'I DON'T think,' said Roger knowingly; 'of course you're a
syndicate and aunt is putting the stakes on for all of you.
Anyone can tell by your looks when the wrong horse wins that
you've got a stake on.'
"Aunt and nephew had supper alone that night, or at least they
would have if Bertie hadn't joined them; all the Brimley
Bomefields had headaches.
"The aunt carried them all off to Dieppe the next day and set
cheerily about the task of winning back some of her losses. Her
luck was variable; in fact, she had some fair streaks of good
fortune, just enough to keep her thoroughly amused with her new
distraction; but on the whole she was a loser. The Brimley
Bomefields had a collective attack of nervous prostration on the
day when she sold out a quantity of shares in Argentine rails.
'Nothing will ever bring that money back,' they remarked
lugubriously to one another.
"'Veronique at last could bear it no longer, and went home; you
see, it had been her idea to bring the aunt on this disastrous
expedition, and though the others did not cast the fact verbally
in her face, there was a certain lurking reproach in their eyes
which was harder to meet than actual upbraidings. The other two
remained behind, forlornly mounting guard over their aunt until
such time as the waning of the Dieppe season should at last turn
her in the direction of home and safety. They made anxious
calculations as to how little 'good money' might, with reasonable
luck, be squandered in the meantime. Here, however, their
reckoning went far astray; the close of the Dieppe season merely
turned their aunt's thoughts in search of some other convenient
gambling resort. 'Show a cat the way to the dairy--' I forget how
the proverb goes on, but it summed up the situation as far as the
Brimley Bomefields' aunt was concerned. She had been introduced
to unexplored pleasures, and found them greatly to her liking, and
she was in no hurry to forgo the fruits of her newly acquired
knowledge. You see, for the first time in her life the old thing
was thoroughly enjoying herself; she was losing money, but she had
plenty of fun and excitement over the process, and she had enough
left to do very comfortably on. Indeed, she was only just
learning to understand the art of doing oneself well. She was a
popular hostess, and in return her fellow-gamblers were always
ready to entertain her to dinners and suppers when their luck was
in. Her nieces, who still remained in attendance on her, with the
pathetic unwillingness of a crew to leave a foundering treasure
ship which might yet be steered into port, found little pleasure
in these Bohemian festivities; to see 'good money' lavished on
good living for the entertainment of a nondescript circle of
acquaintances who were not likely to be in any way socially useful
to them, did not attune them to a spirit of revelry. They
contrived, whenever possible, to excuse themselves from
participation in their aunt's deplored gaieties; the Brimley
Bomefield headaches became famous.
"And one day the nieces came to the conclusion that, as they would
have expressed it, 'no useful purpose would be served' by their
continued attendance on a relative who had so thoroughly
emancipated herself from the sheltering protection of their wings.
The aunt bore the announcement of their departure with a
cheerfulness that was almost disconcerting.
"'It's time you went home and had those headaches seen to by a
specialist,' was her comment on the situation.
"The homeward journey of the Brimley Bomefields was a veritable
retreat from Moscow, and what made it the more bitter was the fact
that the Moscow, in this case, was not overwhelmed with fire and
ashes, but merely extravagantly over-illuminated.
"From mutual friends and acquaintances they sometimes get glimpses
of their prodigal relative, who has settled down into a confirmed
gambling maniac, living on such salvage of income as obliging
moneylenders have left at her disposal.
"So you need not be surprised," concluded Clovis, "if they do wear
a depressed look in public."
"Which is Veronique?" asked the Baroness.
"The most depressed-looking of the three," said Clovis.
THE PEACE OFFERING
"I want you to help me in getting up a dramatic entertainment of
some sort," said the Baroness to Clovis. "You see, there's been
an election petition down here, and a member unseated and no end
of bitterness and ill-feeling, and the County is socially divided
against itself. I thought a play of some kind would be an
excellent opportunity for bringing people together again, and
giving them something to think of besides tiresome political
The Baroness was evidently ambitious of reproducing beneath her
own roof the pacifying effects traditionally ascribed to the
celebrated Reel of Tullochgorum.
"We might do something on the lines of Greek tragedy," said
Clovis, after due reflection; "the Return of Agamemnon, for
The Baroness frowned.
"It sounds rather reminiscent of an election result, doesn't it?"