Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Toys of Peace by H.H. Munro ("Saki")

Part 1 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

This etext was prepared from the 1919 John Lane edition by Jane
Duff. Second proofing David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

The Toys of Peace


The Toys of Peace
The Disappearance of Crispina Umberleigh
The Wolves of Cernogratz
The Guests
The Penance
The Phantom Luncheon
A Bread and Butter Miss
Bertie's Christmas Eve
The Interlopers
Quail Seed
The Threat
Excepting Mrs. Pentherby
The Hedgehog
The Mappined Life
The Bull
Shock Tactics
The Seven Cream Jugs
The Occasional Garden
The Sheep
The Oversight
The Image of the Lost Soul
The Purple of the Balkan Kings
The Cupboard of the Yesterdays
For the Duration of the War


"Harvey," said Eleanor Bope, handing her brother a cutting from a
London morning paper of the 19th of March, "just read this about
children's toys, please; it exactly carries out some of our ideas
about influence and upbringing."

"In the view of the National Peace Council," ran the extract, "there
are grave objections to presenting our boys with regiments of
fighting men, batteries of guns, and squadrons of 'Dreadnoughts.'
Boys, the Council admits, naturally love fighting and all the
panoply of war . . . but that is no reason for encouraging, and
perhaps giving permanent form to, their primitive instincts. At the
Children's Welfare Exhibition, which opens at Olympia in three
weeks' time, the Peace Council will make an alternative suggestion
to parents in the shape of an exhibition of 'peace toys.' In front
of a specially-painted representation of the Peace Palace at The
Hague will be grouped, not miniature soldiers but miniature
civilians, not guns but ploughs and the tools of industry . . . It
is hoped that manufacturers may take a hint from the exhibit, which
will bear fruit in the toy shops."

"The idea is certainly an interesting and very well-meaning one,"
said Harvey; "whether it would succeed well in practice--"

"We must try," interrupted his sister; "you are coming down to us at
Easter, and you always bring the boys some toys, so that will be an
excellent opportunity for you to inaugurate the new experiment. Go
about in the shops and buy any little toys and models that have
special bearing on civilian life in its more peaceful aspects. Of
course you must explain the toys to the children and interest them
in the new idea. I regret to say that the 'Siege of Adrianople'
toy, that their Aunt Susan sent them, didn't need any explanation;
they knew all the uniforms and flags, and even the names of the
respective commanders, and when I heard them one day using what
seemed to be the most objectionable language they said it was
Bulgarian words of command; of course it MAY have been, but at any
rate I took the toy away from them. Now I shall expect your Easter
gifts to give quite a new impulse and direction to the children's
minds; Eric is not eleven yet, and Bertie is only nine-and-a-half,
so they are really at a most impressionable age."

"There is primitive instinct to be taken into consideration, you
know," said Henry doubtfully, "and hereditary tendencies as well.
One of their great-uncles fought in the most intolerant fashion at
Inkerman--he was specially mentioned in dispatches, I believe--and
their great-grandfather smashed all his Whig neighbours' hot houses
when the great Reform Bill was passed. Still, as you say, they are
at an impressionable age. I will do my best."

On Easter Saturday Harvey Bope unpacked a large, promising-looking
red cardboard box under the expectant eyes of his nephews. "Your
uncle has brought you the newest thing in toys," Eleanor had said
impressively, and youthful anticipation had been anxiously divided
between Albanian soldiery and a Somali camel-corps. Eric was hotly
in favour of the latter contingency. "There would be Arabs on
horseback," he whispered; "the Albanians have got jolly uniforms,
and they fight all day long, and all night, too, when there's a
moon, but the country's rocky, so they've got no cavalry."

A quantity of crinkly paper shavings was the first thing that met
the view when the lid was removed; the most exiting toys always
began like that. Harvey pushed back the top layer and drew forth a
square, rather featureless building.

"It's a fort!" exclaimed Bertie.

"It isn't, it's the palace of the Mpret of Albania," said Eric,
immensely proud of his knowledge of the exotic title; "it's got no
windows, you see, so that passers-by can't fire in at the Royal

"It's a municipal dust-bin," said Harvey hurriedly; "you see all the
refuse and litter of a town is collected there, instead of lying
about and injuring the health of the citizens."

In an awful silence he disinterred a little lead figure of a man in
black clothes.

"That," he said, "is a distinguished civilian, John Stuart Mill. He
was an authority on political economy."

"Why?" asked Bertie.

"Well, he wanted to be; he thought it was a useful thing to be."

Bertie gave an expressive grunt, which conveyed his opinion that
there was no accounting for tastes.

Another square building came out, this time with windows and

"A model of the Manchester branch of the Young Women's Christian
Association," said Harvey.

"Are there any lions?" asked Eric hopefully. He had been reading
Roman history and thought that where you found Christians you might
reasonably expect to find a few lions.

"There are no lions," said Harvey. "Here is another civilian,
Robert Raikes, the founder of Sunday schools, and here is a model of
a municipal wash-house. These little round things are loaves backed
in a sanitary bakehouse. That lead figure is a sanitary inspector,
this one is a district councillor, and this one is an official of
the Local Government Board."

"What does he do?" asked Eric wearily.

"He sees to things connected with his Department," said Harvey.
"This box with a slit in it is a ballot-box. Votes are put into it
at election times."

"What is put into it at other times?" asked Bertie.

"Nothing. And here are some tools of industry, a wheelbarrow and a
hoe, and I think these are meant for hop-poles. This is a model
beehive, and that is a ventilator, for ventilating sewers. This
seems to be another municipal dust-bin--no, it is a model of a
school of art and public library. This little lead figure is Mrs.
Hemans, a poetess, and this is Rowland Hill, who introduced the
system of penny postage. This is Sir John Herschel, the eminent

"Are we to play with these civilian figures?" asked Eric.

"Of course," said Harvey, "these are toys; they are meant to be
played with."

"But how?"

It was rather a poser. "You might make two of them contest a seat
in Parliament," said Harvey, "an have an election--"

"With rotten eggs, and free fights, and ever so many broken heads!"
exclaimed Eric.

"And noses all bleeding and everybody drunk as can be," echoed
Bertie, who had carefully studied one of Hogarth's pictures.

"Nothing of the kind," said Harvey, "nothing in the least like that.
Votes will be put in the ballot-box, and the Mayor will count them--
and he will say which has received the most votes, and then the two
candidates will thank him for presiding, and each will say that the
contest has been conducted throughout in the pleasantest and most
straightforward fashion, and they part with expressions of mutual
esteem. There's a jolly game for you boys to play. I never had
such toys when I was young."

"I don't think we'll play with them just now," said Eric, with an
entire absence of the enthusiasm that his uncle had shown; "I think
perhaps we ought to do a little of our holiday task. It's history
this time; we've got to learn up something about the Bourbon period
in France."

"The Bourbon period," said Harvey, with some disapproval in his

"We've got to know something about Louis the Fourteenth," continued
Eric; "I've learnt the names of all the principal battles already."

This would never do. "There were, of course, some battles fought
during his reign," said Harvey, "but I fancy the accounts of them
were much exaggerated; news was very unreliable in those days, and
there were practically no war correspondents, so generals and
commanders could magnify every little skirmish they engaged in till
they reached the proportions of decisive battles. Louis was really
famous, now, as a landscape gardener; the way he laid out Versailles
was so much admired that it was copied all over Europe."

"Do you know anything about Madame Du Barry?" asked Eric; "didn't
she have her head chopped off?"

"She was another great lover of gardening," said Harvey, evasively;
"in fact, I believe the well known rose Du Barry was named after
her, and now I think you had better play for a little and leave your
lessons till later."

Harvey retreated to the library and spent some thirty or forty
minutes in wondering whether it would be possible to compile a
history, for use in elementary schools, in which there should be no
prominent mention of battles, massacres, murderous intrigues, and
violent deaths. The York and Lancaster period and the Napoleonic
era would, he admitted to himself, present considerable
difficulties, and the Thirty Years' War would entail something of a
gap if you left it out altogether. Still, it would be something
gained if, at a highly impressionable age, children could be got to
fix their attention on the invention of calico printing instead of
the Spanish Armada or the Battle of Waterloo.

It was time, he thought, to go back to the boys' room, and see how
they were getting on with their peace toys. As he stood outside the
door he could hear Eric's voice raised in command; Bertie chimed in
now and again with a helpful suggestion.

"That is Louis the Fourteenth," Eric was saying, "that one in knee-
breeches, that Uncle said invented Sunday schools. It isn't a bit
like him, but it'll have to do."

"We'll give him a purple coat from my paintbox by and by," said

"Yes, an' red heels. That is Madame de Maintenon, that one he
called Mrs. Hemans. She begs Louis not to go on this expedition,
but he turns a deaf ear. He takes Marshal Saxe with him, and we
must pretend that they have thousands of men with them. The
watchword is Qui vive? and the answer is L'etat c'est moi--that was
one of his favourite remarks, you know. They land at Manchester in
the dead of the night, and a Jacobite conspirator gives them the
keys of the fortress."

Peeping in through the doorway Harvey observed that the municipal
dustbin had been pierced with holes to accommodate the muzzles of
imaginary cannon, and now represented the principal fortified
position in Manchester; John Stuart Mill had been dipped in red ink,
and apparently stood for Marshal Saxe.

"Louis orders his troops to surround the Young Women's Christian
Association and seize the lot of them. 'Once back at the Louvre and
the girls are mine,' he exclaims. We must use Mrs. Hemans again for
one of the girls; she says 'Never,' and stabs Marshal Saxe to the

"He bleeds dreadfully," exclaimed Bertie, splashing red ink
liberally over the facade of the Association building.

"The soldiers rush in and avenge his death with the utmost savagery.
A hundred girls are killed"--here Bertie emptied the remainder of
the red ink over the devoted building--"and the surviving five
hundred are dragged off to the French ships. 'I have lost a
Marshal,' says Louis, 'but I do not go back empty-handed.'"

Harvey stole away from the room, and sought out his sister.

"Eleanor," he said, "the experiment--"


"Has failed. We have begun too late."


"The tea will be quite cold, you'd better ring for some more," said
the Dowager Lady Beanford.

Susan Lady Beanford was a vigorous old woman who had coquetted with
imaginary ill-health for the greater part of a lifetime; Clovis
Sangrail irreverently declared that she had caught a chill at the
Coronation of Queen Victoria and had never let it go again. Her
sister, Jane Thropplestance, who was some years her junior, was
chiefly remarkable for being the most absent-minded woman in

"I've really been unusually clever this afternoon," she remarked
gaily, as she rang for the tea. "I've called on all the people I
meant to call on; and I've done all the shopping that I set out to
do. I even remembered to try and match that silk for you at
Harrod's, but I'd forgotten to bring the pattern with me, so it was
no use. I really think that was the only important thing I forgot
during the whole afternoon. Quite wonderful for me, isn't it?"

"What have you done with Louise?" asked her sister. "Didn't you
take her out with you? You said you were going to."

"Good gracious," exclaimed Jane, "what have I done with Louise? I
must have left her somewhere."

"But where?"

"That's just it. Where have I left her? I can't remember if the
Carrywoods were at home or if I just left cards. If there were at
home I may have left Louise there to play bridge. I'll go and
telephone to Lord Carrywood and find out."

"Is that you, Lord Carrywood?" she queried over the telephone; "it's
me, Jane Thropplestance. I want to know, have you seen Louise?"

"'Louise,'" came the answer, "it's been my fate to see it three
times. At first, I must admit, I wasn't impressed by it, but the
music grows on one after a bit. Still, I don't think I want to see
it again just at present. Were you going to offer me a seat in your

"Not the opera 'Louise'--my niece, Louise Thropplestance. I thought
I might have left her at your house."

"You left cards on us this afternoon, I understand, but I don't
think you left a niece. The footman would have been sure to have
mentioned it if you had. Is it going to be a fashion to leave
nieces on people as well as cards? I hope not; some of these houses
in Berkeley-square have practically no accommodation for that sort
of thing."

"She's not at the Carrywoods'," announced Jane, returning to her
tea; "now I come to think of it, perhaps I left her at the silk
counter at Selfridge's. I may have told her to wait there a moment
while I went to look at the silks in a better light, and I may
easily have forgotten about her when I found I hadn't your pattern
with me. In that case she's still sitting there. She wouldn't move
unless she was told to; Louise has no initiative."

"You said you tried to match the silk at Harrod's," interjected the

"Did I? Perhaps it was Harrod's. I really don't remember. It was
one of those places where every one is so kind and sympathetic and
devoted that one almost hates to take even a reel of cotton away
from such pleasant surroundings."

"I think you might have taken Louise away. I don't like the idea of
her being there among a lot of strangers. Supposing some
unprincipled person was to get into conversation with her."

"Impossible. Louise has no conversation. I've never discovered a
single topic on which she'd anything to say beyond 'Do you think so?
I dare say you're right.' I really thought her reticence about the
fall of the Ribot Ministry was ridiculous, considering how much her
dear mother used to visit Paris. This bread and butter is cut far
too thin; it crumbles away long before you can get it to your mouth.
One feels so absurd, snapping at one's food in mid-air, like a trout
leaping at may-fly."

"I am rather surprised," said the dowager, "that you can sit there
making a hearty tea when you've just lost a favourite niece."

"You talk as if I'd lost her in a churchyard sense, instead of
having temporarily mislaid her. I'm sure to remember presently
where I left her."

"You didn't visit any place of devotion, did you? If you've left
her mooning about Westminster Abbey or St. Peter's, Eaton Square,
without being able to give any satisfactory reason why she's there,
she'll be seized under the Cat and Mouse Act and sent to Reginald

"That would be extremely awkward," said Jane, meeting an irresolute
piece of bread and butter halfway; "we hardly know the McKennas, and
it would be very tiresome having to telephone to some unsympathetic
private secretary, describing Louise to him and asking to have her
sent back in time for dinner. Fortunately, I didn't go to any place
of devotion, though I did get mixed up with a Salvation Army
procession. It was quite interesting to be at close quarters with
them, they're so absolutely different to what they used to be when I
first remember them in the 'eighties. They used to go about then
unkempt and dishevelled, in a sort of smiling rage with the world,
and now they're spruce and jaunty and flamboyantly decorative, like
a geranium bed with religious convictions. Laura Kettleway was
going on about them in the lift of the Dover Street Tube the other
day, saying what a lot of good work they did, and what a loss it
would have been if they'd never existed. 'If they had never
existed,' I said, 'Granville Barker would have been certain to have
invented something that looked exactly like them.' If you say
things like that, quite loud, in a Tube lift, they always sound like

"I think you ought to do something about Louise," said the dowager.

"I'm trying to think whether she was with me when I called on Ada
Spelvexit. I rather enjoyed myself there. Ada was trying, as
usual, to ram that odious Koriatoffski woman down my throat, knowing
perfectly well that I detest her, and in an unguarded moment she
said: 'She's leaving her present house and going to Lower Seymour
Street.' 'I dare say she will, if she stays there long enough,' I
said. Ada didn't see it for about three minutes, and then she was
positively uncivil. No, I am certain I didn't leave Louise there."

"If you could manage to remember where you DID leave her, it would
be more to the point than these negative assurances," said Lady
Beanford; "so far, all we know is that she is not at the
Carrywoods', or Ada Spelvexit's, or Westminster Abbey."

"That narrows the search down a bit," said Jane hopefully; "I rather
fancy she must have been with me when I went to Mornay's. I know I
went to Mornay's, because I remember meeting that delightful Malcolm
What's-his-name there--you know whom I mean. That's the great
advantage of people having unusual first names, you needn't try and
remember what their other name is. Of course I know one or two
other Malcolms, but none that could possibly be described as
delightful. He gave me two tickets for the Happy Sunday Evenings in
Sloane Square. I've probably left them at Mornay's, but still it
was awfully kind of him to give them to me."

"Do you think you left Louise there?"

"I might telephone and ask. Oh, Robert, before you clear the tea-
things away I wish you'd ring up Mornay's, in Regent Street, and ask
if I left two theatre tickets and one niece in their shop this

"A niece, ma'am?" asked the footman.

"Yes, Miss Louise didn't come home with me, and I'm not sure where I
left her."

"Miss Louise has been upstairs all the afternoon, ma'am, reading to
the second kitchenmaid, who has the neuralgia. I took up tea to
Miss Louise at a quarter to five o'clock, ma'am."

"Of course, how silly of me. I remember now, I asked her to read
the Faerie Queene to poor Emma, to try to send her to sleep. I
always get some one to read the Faerie Queene to me when I have
neuralgia, and it usually sends me to sleep. Louise doesn't seem to
have been successful, but one can't say she hasn't tried. I expect
after the first hour or so the kitchenmaid would rather have been
left alone with her neuralgia, but of course Louise wouldn't leave
off till some one told her to. Anyhow, you can ring up Mornay's,
Robert, and ask whether I left two theatre tickets there. Except
for your silk, Susan, those seem to be the only things I've
forgotten this afternoon. Quite wonderful for me."


James Cushat-Prinkly was a young man who had always had a settled
conviction that one of these days he would marry; up to the age of
thirty-four he had done nothing to justify that conviction. He
liked and admired a great many women collectively and
dispassionately without singling out one for especial matrimonial
consideration, just as one might admire the Alps without feeling
that one wanted any particular peak as one's own private property.
His lack of initiative in this matter aroused a certain amount of
impatience among the sentimentally-minded women-folk of his home
circle; his mother, his sisters, an aunt-in-residence, and two or
three intimate matronly friends regarded his dilatory approach to
the married state with a disapproval that was far from being
inarticulate. His most innocent flirtations were watched with the
straining eagerness which a group of unexercised terriers
concentrates on the slightest movements of a human being who may be
reasonably considered likely to take them for a walk. No decent-
souled mortal can long resist the pleading of several pairs of walk-
beseeching dog-eyes; James Cushat-Prinkly was not sufficiently
obstinate or indifferent to home influences to disregard the
obviously expressed wish of his family that he should become
enamoured of some nice marriageable girl, and when his Uncle Jules
departed this life and bequeathed him a comfortable little legacy it
really seemed the correct thing to do to set about discovering some
one to share it with him. The process of discovery was carried on
more by the force of suggestion and the weight of public opinion
than by any initiative of his own; a clear working majority of his
female relatives and the aforesaid matronly friends had pitched on
Joan Sebastable as the most suitable young woman in his range of
acquaintance to whom he might propose marriage, and James became
gradually accustomed to the idea that he and Joan would go together
through the prescribed stages of congratulations, present-receiving,
Norwegian or Mediterranean hotels, and eventual domesticity. It was
necessary, however to ask the lady what she thought about the
matter; the family had so far conducted and directed the flirtation
with ability and discretion, but the actual proposal would have to
be an individual effort.

Cushat-Prinkly walked across the Park towards the Sebastable
residence in a frame of mind that was moderately complacent. As the
thing was going to be done he was glad to feel that he was going to
get it settled and off his mind that afternoon. Proposing marriage,
even to a nice girl like Joan, was a rather irksome business, but
one could not have a honeymoon in Minorca and a subsequent life of
married happiness without such preliminary. He wondered what
Minorca was really like as a place to stop in; in his mind's eye it
was an island in perpetual half-mourning, with black or white
Minorca hens running all over it. Probably it would not be a bit
like that when one came to examine it. People who had been in
Russia had told him that they did not remember having seen any
Muscovy ducks there, so it was possible that there would be no
Minorca fowls on the island.

His Mediterranean musings were interrupted by the sound of a clock
striking the half-hour. Half-past four. A frown of dissatisfaction
settled on his face. He would arrive at the Sebastable mansion just
at the hour of afternoon tea. Joan would be seated at a low table,
spread with an array of silver kettles and cream-jugs and delicate
porcelain tea-cups, behind which her voice would tinkle pleasantly
in a series of little friendly questions about weak or strong tea,
how much, if any, sugar, milk, cream, and so forth. "Is it one
lump? I forgot. You do take milk, don't you? Would you like some
more hot water, if it's too strong?"

Cushat-Prinkly had read of such things in scores of novels, and
hundreds of actual experiences had told him that they were true to
life. Thousands of women, at this solemn afternoon hour, were
sitting behind dainty porcelain and silver fittings, with their
voices tinkling pleasantly in a cascade of solicitous little
questions. Cushat-Prinkly detested the whole system of afternoon
tea. According to his theory of life a woman should lie on a divan
or couch, talking with incomparable charm or looking unutterable
thoughts, or merely silent as a thing to be looked on, and from
behind a silken curtain a small Nubian page should silently bring in
a tray with cups and dainties, to be accepted silently, as a matter
of course, without drawn-out chatter about cream and sugar and hot
water. If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's feet
how could one talk coherently about weakened tea? Cushat-Prinkly
had never expounded his views on the subject to his mother; all her
life she had been accustomed to tinkle pleasantly at tea-time behind
dainty porcelain and silver, and if he had spoken to her about
divans and Nubian pages she would have urged him to take a week's
holiday at the seaside. Now, as he passed through a tangle of small
streets that led indirectly to the elegant Mayfair terrace for which
he was bound, a horror at the idea of confronting Joan Sebastable at
her tea-table seized on him. A momentary deliverance presented
itself; on one floor of a narrow little house at the noisier end of
Esquimault Street lived Rhoda Ellam, a sort of remote cousin, who
made a living by creating hats out of costly materials. The hats
really looked as if they had come from Paris; the cheques she got
for them unfortunately never looked as if they were going to Paris.
However, Rhoda appeared to find life amusing and to have a fairly
good time in spite of her straitened circumstances. Cushat-Prinkly
decided to climb up to her floor and defer by half-an-hour or so the
important business which lay before him; by spinning out his visit
he could contrive to reach the Sebastable mansion after the last
vestiges of dainty porcelain had been cleared away.

Rhoda welcomed him into a room that seemed to do duty as workshop,
sitting-room, and kitchen combined, and to be wonderfully clean and
comfortable at the same time.

"I'm having a picnic meal," she announced. "There's caviare in that
jar at your elbow. Begin on that brown bread-and-butter while I cut
some more. Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell
me about hundreds of things."

She made no other allusion to food, but talked amusingly and made
her visitor talk amusingly too. At the same time she cut the bread-
and-butter with a masterly skill and produced red pepper and sliced
lemon, where so many women would merely have produced reasons and
regrets for not having any. Cushat-Prinkly found that he was
enjoying an excellent tea without having to answer as many questions
about it as a Minister for Agriculture might be called on to reply
to during an outbreak of cattle plague.

"And now tell me why you have come to see me," said Rhoda suddenly.
"You arouse not merely my curiosity but my business instincts. I
hope you've come about hats. I heard that you had come into a
legacy the other day, and, of course, it struck me that it would be
a beautiful and desirable thing for you to celebrate the event by
buying brilliantly expensive hats for all your sisters. They may
not have said anything about it, but I feel sure the same idea has
occurred to them. Of course, with Goodwood on us, I am rather
rushed just now, but in my business we're accustomed to that; we
live in a series of rushes--like the infant Moses."

"I didn't come about hats," said her visitor. "In fact, I don't
think I really came about anything. I was passing and I just
thought I'd look in and see you. Since I've been sitting talking to
you, however, rather important idea has occurred to me. If you'll
forget Goodwood for a moment and listen to me, I'll tell you what it

Some forty minutes later James Cushat-Prinkly returned to the bosom
of his family, bearing an important piece of news.

"I'm engaged to be married," he announced.

A rapturous outbreak of congratulation and self-applause broke out.

"Ah, we knew! We saw it coming! We foretold it weeks ago!"

"I'll bet you didn't," said Cushat-Prinkly. "If any one had told me
at lunch-time to-day that I was going to ask Rhoda Ellam to marry me
and that she was going to accept me I would have laughed at the

The romantic suddenness of the affair in some measure compensated
James's women-folk for the ruthless negation of all their patient
effort and skilled diplomacy. It was rather trying to have to
deflect their enthusiasm at a moment's notice from Joan Sebastable
to Rhoda Ellam; but, after all, it was James's wife who was in
question, and his tastes had some claim to be considered.

On a September afternoon of the same year, after the honeymoon in
Minorca had ended, Cushat-Prinkly came into the drawing-room of his
new house in Granchester Square. Rhoda was seated at a low table,
behind a service of dainty porcelain and gleaming silver. There was
a pleasant tinkling note in her voice as she handed him a cup.

"You like it weaker than that, don't you? Shall I put some more hot
water to it? No?"


In a first-class carriage of a train speeding Balkanward across the
flat, green Hungarian plain two Britons sat in friendly, fitful
converse. They had first foregathered in the cold grey dawn at the
frontier line, where the presiding eagle takes on an extra head and
Teuton lands pass from Hohenzollern to Habsburg keeping--and where a
probing official beak requires to delve in polite and perhaps
perfunctory, but always tiresome, manner into the baggage of sleep-
hungry passengers. After a day's break of their journey at Vienna
the travellers had again foregathered at the trainside and paid one
another the compliment of settling instinctively into the same
carriage. The elder of the two had the appearance and manner of a
diplomat; in point of fact he was the well-connected foster-brother
of a wine business. The other was certainly a journalist. Neither
man was talkative and each was grateful to the other for not being
talkative. That is why from time to time they talked.

One topic of conversation naturally thrust itself forward in front
of all others. In Vienna the previous day they had learned of the
mysterious vanishing of a world-famous picture from the walls of the

"A dramatic disappearance of that sort is sure to produce a crop of
imitations," said the Journalist.

"It has had a lot of anticipations, for the matter of that," said
the Wine-brother.

"Oh, of course there have been thefts from the Louvre before."

"I was thinking of the spiriting away of human beings rather than
pictures. In particular I was thinking of the case of my aunt,
Crispina Umberleigh."

"I remember hearing something of the affair," said the Journalist,
"but I was away from England at the time. I never quite knew what
was supposed to have happened."

"You may hear what really happened if you will respect it as a
confidence," said the Wine Merchant. "In the first place I may say
that the disappearance of Mrs. Umberleigh was not regarded by the
family entirely as a bereavement. My uncle, Edward Umberleigh, was
not by any means a weak-kneed individual, in fact in the world of
politics he had to be reckoned with more or less as a strong man,
but he was unmistakably dominated by Crispina; indeed I never met
any human being who was not frozen into subjection when brought into
prolonged contact with her. Some people are born to command;
Crispina Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify,
administrate, censor, license, ban, execute, and sit in judgement
generally. If she was not born with that destiny she adopted it at
an early age. From the kitchen regions upwards every one in the
household came under her despotic sway and stayed there with the
submissiveness of molluscs involved in a glacial epoch. As a nephew
on a footing of only occasional visits she affected me merely as an
epidemic, disagreeable while it lasted, but without any permanent
effect; but her own sons and daughters stood in mortal awe of her;
their studies, friendships, diet, amusements, religious observances,
and way of doing their hair were all regulated and ordained
according to the august lady's will and pleasure. This will help
you to understand the sensation of stupefaction which was caused in
the family when she unobtrusively and inexplicably vanished. It was
as though St. Paul's Cathedral or the Piccadilly Hotel had
disappeared in the night, leaving nothing but an open space to mark
where it had stood. As far as was known nothing was troubling her;
in fact there was much before her to make life particularly well
worth living. The youngest boy had come back from school with an
unsatisfactory report, and she was to have sat in judgement on him
the very afternoon of the day she disappeared--if it had been he who
had vanished in a hurry one could have supplied the motive. Then
she was in the middle of a newspaper correspondence with a rural
dean in which she had already proved him guilty of heresy,
inconsistency, and unworthy quibbling, and no ordinary consideration
would have induced her to discontinue the controversy. Of course
the matter was put in the hands of the police, but as far as
possible it was kept out of the papers, and the generally accepted
explanation of her withdrawal from her social circle was that she
had gone into a nursing home."

"And what was the immediate effect on the home circle?" asked the

"All the girls bought themselves bicycles; the feminine cycling
craze was still in existence, and Crispina had rigidly vetoed any
participation in it among the members of her household. The
youngest boy let himself go to such an extent during his next term
that it had to be his last as far as that particular establishment
was concerned. The elder boys propounded a theory that their mother
might be wandering somewhere abroad, and searched for her
assiduously, chiefly, it must be admitted, in a class of Montmartre
resort where it was extremely improbable that she would be found."

"And all this while couldn't your uncle get hold of the least clue?"

"As a matter of fact he had received some information, though of
course I did not know of it at the time. He got a message one day
telling him that his wife had been kidnapped and smuggled out of the
country; she was said to be hidden away, in one of the islands off
the coast of Norway I think it was, in comfortable surroundings and
well cared for. And with the information came a demand for money; a
lump sum of 2000 pounds was to be paid yearly. Failing this she
would be immediately restored to her family."

The Journalist was silent for a moment, and them began to laugh

"It was certainly an inverted form of holding to ransom," he said.

"If you had known my aunt," said the Wine Merchant, "you would have
wondered that they didn't put the figure higher."

"I realise the temptation. Did your uncle succumb to it?"

"Well, you see, he had to think of others as well as himself. For
the family to have gone back into the Crispina thraldom after having
tasted the delights of liberty would have been a tragedy, and there
were even wider considerations to be taken into account. Since his
bereavement he had unconsciously taken up a far bolder and more
initiatory line in public affairs, and his popularity and influence
had increased correspondingly. From being merely a strong man in
the political world he began to be spoken of as the strong man. All
this he knew would be jeopardised if he once more dropped into the
social position of the husband of Mrs. Umberleigh. He was a rich
man, and the 2000 pounds a year, though not exactly a fleabite, did
not seem an extravagant price to pay for the boarding-out of
Crispina. Of course, he had severe qualms of conscience about the
arrangement. Later on, when he took me into his confidence, he told
me that in paying the ransom, or hush-money as I should have called
it, he was partly influenced by the fear that if he refused it the
kidnappers might have vented their rage and disappointment on their
captive. It was better, he said, to think of her being well cared
for as a highly-valued paying-guest in one of the Lofoden Islands
than to have her struggling miserably home in a maimed and mutilated
condition. Anyway he paid the yearly instalment as punctually as
one pays a fire insurance, and with equal promptitude there would
come an acknowledgment of the money and a brief statement to the
effect that Crispina was in good health and fairly cheerful spirits.
One report even mentioned that she was busying herself with a scheme
for proposed reforms in Church management to be pressed on the local
pastorate. Another spoke of a rheumatic attack and a journey to a
'cure' on the mainland, and on that occasion an additional eighty
pounds was demanded and conceded. Of course it was to the interest
of the kidnappers to keep their charge in good health, but the
secrecy with which they managed to shroud their arrangements argued
a really wonderful organisation. If my uncle was paying a rather
high price, at least he could console himself with the reflection
that he was paying specialists' fees."

"Meanwhile had the police given up all attempts to track the missing
lady?" asked the Journalist.

"Not entirely; they came to my uncle from time to time to report on
clues which they thought might yield some elucidation as to her fate
or whereabouts, but I think they had their suspicions that he was
possessed of more information than he had put at their disposal.
And then, after a disappearance of more than eight years, Crispina
returned with dramatic suddenness to the home she had left so

"She had given her captors the slip?"

"She had never been captured. Her wandering away had been caused by
a sudden and complete loss of memory. She usually dressed rather in
the style of a superior kind of charwoman, and it was not so very
surprising that she should have imagined that she was one; and still
less that people should accept her statement and help her to get
work. She had wandered as far afield as Birmingham, and found
fairly steady employment there, her energy and enthusiasm in putting
people's rooms in order counterbalancing her obstinate and
domineering characteristics. It was the shock of being
patronisingly addressed as 'my good woman' by a curate, who was
disputing with her where the stove should be placed in a parish
concert hall that led to the sudden restoration of her memory. 'I
think you forget who you are speaking to,' she observed crushingly,
which was rather unduly severe, considering she had only just
remembered it herself."

"But," exclaimed the Journalist, "the Lofoden Island people! Who
had they got hold of?"

"A purely mythical prisoner. It was an attempt in the first place
by some one who knew something of the domestic situation, probably a
discharged valet, to bluff a lump sum out of Edward Umberleigh
before the missing woman turned up; the subsequent yearly
instalments were an unlooked-for increment to the original haul.

"Crispina found that the eight years' interregnum had materially
weakened her ascendancy over her now grown-up offspring. Her
husband, however, never accomplished anything great in the political
world after her return; the strain of trying to account
satisfactorily for an unspecified expenditure of sixteen thousand
pounds spread over eight years sufficiently occupied his mental
energies. Here is Belgrad and another custom house."


"Are they any old legends attached to the castle?" asked Conrad of
his sister. Conrad was a prosperous Hamburg merchant, but he was
the one poetically-dispositioned member of an eminently practical

The Baroness Gruebel shrugged her plump shoulders.

"There are always legends hanging about these old places. They are
not difficult to invent and they cost nothing. In this case there
is a story that when any one dies in the castle all the dogs in the
village and the wild beasts in forest howl the night long. It would
not be pleasant to listen to, would it?"

"It would be weird and romantic," said the Hamburg merchant.

"Anyhow, it isn't true," said the Baroness complacently; "since we
bought the place we have had proof that nothing of the sort happens.
When the old mother-in-law died last springtime we all listened, but
there was no howling. It is just a story that lends dignity to the
place without costing anything."

"The story is not as you have told it," said Amalie, the grey old
governess. Every one turned and looked at her in astonishment. She
was wont to sit silent and prim and faded in her place at table,
never speaking unless some one spoke to her, and there were few who
troubled themselves to make conversation with her. To-day a sudden
volubility had descended on her; she continued to talk, rapidly and
nervously, looking straight in front of her and seeming to address
no one in particular.

"It is not when any one dies in the castle that the howling is
heard. It was when one of the Cernogratz family died here that the
wolves came from far and near and howled at the edge of the forest
just before the death hour. There were only a few couple of wolves
that had their lairs in this part of the forest, but at such a time
the keepers say there would be scores of them, gliding about in the
shadows and howling in chorus, and the dogs of the castle and the
village and all the farms round would bay and howl in fear and anger
at the wolf chorus, and as the soul of the dying one left its body a
tree would crash down in the park. That is what happened when a
Cernogratz died in his family castle. But for a stranger dying
here, of course no wolf would howl and no tree would fall. Oh, no."

There was a note of defiance, almost of contempt, in her voice as
she said the last words. The well-fed, much-too-well dressed
Baroness stared angrily at the dowdy old woman who had come forth
from her usual and seemly position of effacement to speak so

"You seem to know quite a lot about the von Cernogratz legends,
Fraulein Schmidt," she said sharply; "I did not know that family
histories were among the subjects you are supposed to be proficient

The answer to her taunt was even more unexpected and astonishing
than the conversational outbreak which had provoked it.

"I am a von Cernogratz myself," said the old woman, "that is why I
know the family history."

"You a von Cernogratz? You!" came in an incredulous chorus.

"When we became very poor," she explained, "and I had to go out and
give teaching lessons, I took another name; I thought it would be
more in keeping. But my grandfather spent much of his time as a boy
in this castle, and my father used to tell me many stories about it,
and, of course, I knew all the family legends and stories. When one
has nothing left to one but memories, one guards and dusts them with
especial care. I little thought when I took service with you that I
should one day come with you to the old home of my family. I could
wish it had been anywhere else."

There was silence when she finished speaking, and then the Baroness
turned the conversation to a less embarrassing topic than family
histories. But afterwards, when the old governess had slipped away
quietly to her duties, there arose a clamour of derision and

"It was an impertinence," snapped out the Baron, his protruding eyes
taking on a scandalised expression; "fancy the woman talking like
that at our table. She almost told us we were nobodies, and I don't
believe a word of it. She is just Schmidt and nothing more. She
has been talking to some of the peasants about the old Cernogratz
family, and raked up their history and their stories."

"She wants to make herself out of some consequence," said the
Baroness; "she knows she will soon be past work and she wants to
appeal to our sympathies. Her grandfather, indeed!"

The Baroness had the usual number of grandfathers, but she never,
never boasted about them.

"I dare say her grandfather was a pantry boy or something of the
sort in the castle," sniggered the Baron; "that part of the story
may be true."

The merchant from Hamburg said nothing; he had seen tears in the old
woman's eyes when she spoke of guarding her memories--or, being of
an imaginative disposition, he thought he had.

"I shall give her notice to go as soon as the New Year festivities
are over," said the Baroness; "till then I shall be too busy to
manage without her."

But she had to manage without her all the same, for in the cold
biting weather after Christmas, the old governess fell ill and kept
to her room.

"It is most provoking," said the Baroness, as her guests sat round
the fire on one of the last evenings of the dying year; "all the
time that she has been with us I cannot remember that she was ever
seriously ill, too ill to go about and do her work, I mean. And
now, when I have the house full, and she could be useful in so many
ways, she goes and breaks down. One is sorry for her, of course,
she looks so withered and shrunken, but it is intensely annoying all
the same."

"Most annoying," agreed the banker's wife, sympathetically; "it is
the intense cold, I expect, it breaks the old people up. It has
been unusually cold this year."

"The frost is the sharpest that has been known in December for many
years," said the Baron.

"And, of course, she is quite old," said the Baroness; "I wish I had
given her notice some weeks ago, then she would have left before
this happened to her. Why, Wappi, what is the matter with you?"

The small, woolly lapdog had leapt suddenly down from its cushion
and crept shivering under the sofa. At the same moment an outburst
of angry barking came from the dogs in the castle-yard, and other
dogs could be heard yapping and barking in the distance.

"What is disturbing the animals?" asked the Baron.

And then the humans, listening intently, heard the sound that had
roused the dogs to their demonstrations of fear and rage; heard a
long-drawn whining howl, rising and falling, seeming at one moment
leagues away, at others sweeping across the snow until it appeared
to come from the foot of the castle walls. All the starved, cold
misery of a frozen world, all the relentless hunger-fury of the
wild, blended with other forlorn and haunting melodies to which one
could give no name, seemed concentrated in that wailing cry.

"Wolves!" cried the Baron.

Their music broke forth in one raging burst, seeming to come from

"Hundreds of wolves," said the Hamburg merchant, who was a man of
strong imagination.

Moved by some impulse which she could not have explained, the
Baroness left her guests and made her way to the narrow, cheerless
room where the old governess lay watching the hours of the drying
year slip by. In spite of the biting cold of the winter night, the
window stood open. With a scandalised exclamation on her lips, the
Baroness rushed forward to close it.

"Leave it open," said the old woman in a voice that for all its
weakness carried an air of command such as the Baroness had never
heard before from her lips.

"But you will die of cold!" she expostulated.

"I am dying in any case," said the voice, "and I want to hear their
music. They have come from far and wide to sing the death-music of
my family. It is beautiful that they have come; I am the last von
Cernogratz that will die in our old castle, and they have come to
sing to me. Hark, how loud they are calling!"

The cry of the wolves rose on the still winter air and floated round
the castle walls in long-drawn piercing wails; the old woman lay
back on her couch with a look of long-delayed happiness on her face.

"Go away," she said to the Baroness; "I am not lonely any more. I
am one of a great old family . . . "

"I think she is dying," said the Baroness when she had rejoined her
guests; "I suppose we must send for a doctor. And that terrible
howling! Not for much money would I have such death-music."

"That music is not to be bought for any amount of money," said

"Hark! What is that other sound?" asked the Baron, as a noise of
splitting and crashing was heard.

It was a tree falling in the park.

There was a moment of constrained silence, and then the banker's
wife spoke.

"It is the intense cold that is splitting the trees. It is also the
cold that has brought the wolves out in such numbers. It is many
years since we have had such a cold winter."

The Baroness eagerly agreed that the cold was responsible for these
things. It was the cold of the open window, too, which caused the
heart failure that made the doctor's ministrations unnecessary for
the old Fraulein. But the notice in the newspapers looked very well

"On December 29th, at Schloss Cernogratz, Amalie von Cernogratz, for
many years the valued friend of Baron and Baroness Gruebel."


"It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year," said
Strudwarden, "and look up some of my old friends there. It's about
the jolliest place I know of to be at for Easter--"

"I thought we had made up our minds to spend Easter at Brighton,"
interrupted Lena Strudwarden, with an air of aggrieved surprise.

"You mean that you had made up your mind that we should spend Easter
there," said her husband; "we spent last Easter there, and
Whitsuntide as well, and the year before that we were at Worthing,
and Brighton again before that. I think it would be just as well to
have a real change of scene while we are about it."

"The journey to Vienna would be very expensive," said Lena.

"You are not often concerned about economy," said Strudwarden, "and
in any case the trip of Vienna won't cost a bit more than the rather
meaningless luncheon parties we usually give to quite meaningless
acquaintances at Brighton. To escape from all that set would be a
holiday in itself."

Strudwarden spoke feelingly; Lena Strudwarden maintained an equally
feeling silence on that particular subject. The set that she
gathered round her at Brighton and other South Coast resorts was
composed of individuals who might be dull and meaningless in
themselves, but who understood the art of flattering Mrs.
Strudwarden. She had no intention of foregoing their society and
their homage and flinging herself among unappreciative strangers in
a foreign capital.

"You must go to Vienna alone if you are bent on going," she said; "I
couldn't leave Louis behind, and a dog is always a fearful nuisance
in a foreign hotel, besides all the fuss and separation of the
quarantine restrictions when one comes back. Louis would die if he
was parted from me for even a week. You don't know what that would
mean to me."

Lena stooped down and kissed the nose of the diminutive brown
Pomeranian that lay, snug and irresponsive, beneath a shawl on her

"Look here," said Strudwarden, "this eternal Louis business is
getting to be a ridiculous nuisance. Nothing can be done, no plans
can be made, without some veto connected with that animal's whims or
convenience being imposed. If you were a priest in attendance on
some African fetish you couldn't set up a more elaborate code of
restrictions. I believe you'd ask the Government to put off a
General Election if you thought it would interfere with Louis's
comfort in any way."

By way of answer to this tirade Mrs. Strudwarden stooped down again
and kissed the irresponsive brown nose. It was the action of a
woman with a beautifully meek nature, who would, however, send the
whole world to the stake sooner than yield an inch where she knew
herself to be in the right.

"It isn't as if you were in the least bit fond of animals," went on
Strudwarden, with growing irritation; "when we are down at
Kerryfield you won't stir a step to take the house dogs out, even if
they're dying for a run, and I don't think you've been in the
stables twice in your life. You laugh at what you call the fuss
that's being made over the extermination of plumage birds, and you
are quite indignant with me if I interfere on behalf of an ill-
treated, over-driven animal on the road. And yet you insist on
every one's plans being made subservient to the convenience of that
stupid little morsel of fur and selfishness."

"You are prejudiced against my little Louis," said Lena, with a
world of tender regret in her voice.

"I've never had the chance of being anything else but prejudiced
against him," said Strudwarden; "I know what a jolly responsive
companion a doggie can be, but I've never been allowed to put a
finger near Louis. You say he snaps at any one except you and your
maid, and you snatched him away from old Lady Peterby the other day,
when she wanted to pet him, for fear he would bury his teeth in her.
All that I ever see of him is the top of his unhealthy-looking
little nose, peeping out from his basket or from your muff, and I
occasionally hear his wheezy little bark when you take him for a
walk up and down the corridor. You can't expect one to get
extravagantly fond of a dog of that sort. One might as well work up
an affection for the cuckoo in a cuckoo-clock."

"He loves me," said Lena, rising from the table, and bearing the
shawl-swathed Louis in her arms. "He loves only me, and perhaps
that is why I love him so much in return. I don't care what you say
against him, I am not going to be separated from him. If you insist
on going to Vienna you must go alone, as far as I am concerned. I
think it would be much more sensible if you were to come to Brighton
with Louis and me, but of course you must please yourself."

"You must get rid of that dog," said Strudwarden's sister when Lena
had left the room; "it must be helped to some sudden and merciful
end. Lena is merely making use of it as an instrument for getting
her own way on dozens of occasions when she would otherwise be
obliged to yield gracefully to your wishes or to the general
convenience. I am convinced that she doesn't care a brass button
about the animal itself. When her friends are buzzing round her at
Brighton or anywhere else and the dog would be in the way, it has to
spend whole days alone with the maid, but if you want Lena to go
with you anywhere where she doesn't want to go instantly she trots
out the excuse that she couldn't be separated from her dog. Have
you ever come into a room unobserved and heard Lena talking to her
beloved pet? I never have. I believe she only fusses over it when
there's some one present to notice her."

"I don't mind admitting," said Strudwarden, "that I've dwelt more
than once lately on the possibility of some fatal accident putting
an end to Louis's existence. It's not very easy, though, to arrange
a fatality for a creature that spends most of its time in a muff or
asleep in a toy kennel. I don't think poison would be any good;
it's obviously horribly over-fed, for I've seen Lena offer it
dainties at table sometimes, but it never seems to eat them."

"Lena will be away at church on Wednesday morning," said Elsie
Strudwarden reflectively; "she can't take Louis with her there, and
she is going on to the Dellings for lunch. That will give you
several hours in which to carry out your purpose. The maid will be
flirting with the chauffeur most of the time, and, anyhow, I can
manage to keep her out of the way on some pretext or other."

"That leaves the field clear," said Strudwarden, "but unfortunately
my brain is equally a blank as far as any lethal project is
concerned. The little beast is so monstrously inactive; I can't
pretend that it leapt into the bath and drowned itself, or that it
took on the butcher's mastiff in unequal combat and got chewed up.
In what possible guise could death come to a confirmed basket-
dweller? It would be too suspicious if we invented a Suffragette
raid and pretended that they invaded Lena's boudoir and threw a
brick at him. We should have to do a lot of other damage as well,
which would be rather a nuisance, and the servants would think it
odd that they had seen nothing of the invaders."

"I have an idea," said Elsie; "get a box with an air-tight lid, and
bore a small hole in it, just big enough to let in an indiarubber
tube. Pop Louis, kennel and all, into the box, shut it down, and
put the other end of the tube over the gas-bracket. There you have
a perfect lethal chamber. You can stand the kennel at the open
window afterwards, to get rid of the smell of gas, and all that Lena
will find when she comes home late in the afternoon will be a
placidly defunct Louis."

"Novels have been written about women like you," said Strudwarden;
"you have a perfectly criminal mind. Let's come and look for a

Two mornings later the conspirators stood gazing guiltily at a stout
square box, connected with the gas-bracket by a length of
indiarubber tubing.

"Not a sound," said Elsie; "he never stirred; it must have been
quite painless. All the same I feel rather horrid now it's done."

"The ghastly part has to come," said Strudwarden, turning off the
gas. "We'll lift the lid slowly, and let the gas out by degrees.
Swing the door to and fro to send a draught through the room."

Some minutes later, when the fumes had rushed off, he stooped down
and lifted out the little kennel with its grim burden. Elsie gave
an exclamation of terror. Louis sat at the door of his dwelling,
head erect and ears pricked, as coldly and defiantly inert as when
they had put him into his execution chamber. Strudwarden dropped
the kennel with a jerk, and stared for a long moment at the miracle-
dog; then he went into a peal of chattering laughter.

It was certainly a wonderful imitation of a truculent-looking toy
Pomeranian, and the apparatus that gave forth a wheezy bark when you
pressed it had materially helped the imposition that Lena, and
Lena's maid, had foisted on the household. For a woman who disliked
animals, but liked getting her own way under a halo of
unselfishness, Mrs. Strudwarden had managed rather well.

"Louis is dead," was the curt information that greeted Lena on her
return from her luncheon party.

"Louis DEAD!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, he flew at the butcher-boy and bit him, and he bit me, too,
when I tried to get him off, so I had to have him destroyed. You
warned me that he snapped, but you didn't tell me that he was
downright dangerous. I shall have to pay the boy something heavy by
way of compensation, so you will have to go without those buckles
that you wanted to have for Easter; also I shall have to go to
Vienna to consult Dr. Schroeder, who is a specialist on dog-bites,
and you will have to come too. I have sent what remains of Louis to
Rowland Ward to be stuffed; that will be my Easter gift to you
instead of the buckles. For Heaven's sake, Lena, weep, if you
really feel it so much; anything would be better than standing there
staring as if you thought I had lost my reason."

Lena Strudwarden did not weep, but her attempt at laughing was an
unmistakable failure.


"The landscape seen from our windows is certainly charming," said
Annabel; "those cherry orchards and green meadows, and the river
winding along the valley, and the church tower peeping out among the
elms, they all make a most effective picture. There's something
dreadfully sleepy and languorous about it, though; stagnation seems
to be the dominant note. Nothing ever happens here; seedtime and
harvest, an occasional outbreak of measles or a mildly destructive
thunderstorm, and a little election excitement about once in five
years, that is all that we have to modify the monotony of our
existence. Rather dreadful, isn't it?"

"On the contrary," said Matilda, "I find it soothing and restful;
but then, you see, I've lived in countries where things do happen,
ever so many at a time, when you're not ready for them happening all
at once."

"That, of course, makes a difference," said Annabel.

"I have never forgotten," said Matilda, "the occasion when the
Bishop of Bequar paid us an unexpected visit; he was on his way to
lay the foundation-stone of a mission-house or something of the

"I thought that out there you were always prepared for emergency
guests turning up," said Annabel.

"I was quite prepared for half a dozen Bishops," said Matilda, "but
it was rather disconcerting to find out after a little conversation
that this particular one was a distant cousin of mine, belonging to
a branch of the family that had quarrelled bitterly and offensively
with our branch about a Crown Derby dessert service; they got it,
and we ought to have got it, in some legacy, or else we got it and
they thought they ought to have it, I forget which; anyhow, I know
they behaved disgracefully. Now here was one of them turning up in
the odour of sanctity, so to speak, and claiming the traditional
hospitality of the East."

"It was rather trying, but you could have left your husband to do
most of the entertaining."

"My husband was fifty miles up-country, talking sense, or what he
imagined to be sense, to a village community that fancied one of
their leading men was a were-tiger."

"A what tiger?"

"A were-tiger; you've heard of were-wolves, haven't you, a mixture
of wolf and human being and demon? Well, in those parts they have
were-tigers, or think they have, and I must say that in this case,
so far as sworn and uncontested evidence went, they had every ground
for thinking so. However, as we gave up witchcraft prosecutions
about three hundred years ago, we don't like to have other people
keeping on our discarded practices; it doesn't seem respectful to
our mental and moral position."

"I hope you weren't unkind to the Bishop," said Annabel.

"Well, of course he was my guest, so I had to be outwardly polite to
him, but he was tactless enough to rake up the incidents of the old
quarrel, and to try to make out that there was something to be said
for the way his side of the family had behaved; even if there was,
which I don't for a moment admit, my house was not the place in
which to say it. I didn't argue the matter, but I gave my cook a
holiday to go and visit his aged parents some ninety miles away.
The emergency cook was not a specialist in curries, in fact, I don't
think cooking in any shape or form could have been one of his strong
points. I believe he originally came to us in the guise of a
gardener, but as we never pretended to have anything that could be
considered a garden he was utilised as assistant goatherd, in which
capacity, I understand, he gave every satisfaction. When the Bishop
heard that I had sent away the cook on a special and unnecessary
holiday he saw the inwardness of the manoeuvre, and from that moment
we were scarcely on speaking terms. If you have ever had a Bishop
with whom you were not on speaking terms staying in your house, you
will appreciate the situation."

Annabel confessed that her life-story had never included such a
disturbing experience.

"Then," continued Matilda, "to make matters more complicated, the
Gwadlipichee overflowed its banks, a thing it did every now and then
when the rains were unduly prolonged, and the lower part of the
house and all the out-buildings were submerged. We managed to get
the ponies loose in time, and the syce swam the whole lot of them
off to the nearest rising ground. A goat or two, the chief goat-
herd, the chief goat-herd's wife, and several of their babies came
to anchorage in the verandah. All the rest of the available space
was filled up with wet, bedraggled-looking hens and chickens; one
never really knows how many fowls one possesses till the servants'
quarters are flooded out. Of course, I had been through something
of the sort in previous floods, but never before had I had a
houseful of goats and babies and half-drowned hens, supplemented by
a Bishop with whom I was hardly on speaking terms."

"It must have been a trying experience," commented Annabel.

"More embarrassments were to follow. I wasn't going to let a mere
ordinary flood wash out the memory of that Crown Derby dessert
service, and I intimated to the Bishop that his large bedroom, with
a writing table in it, and his small bath-room, with a sufficiency
of cold-water jars in it, was his share of the premises, and that
space was rather congested under the existing circumstances.
However, at about three o'clock in the afternoon, when he had
awakened from his midday sleep, he made a sudden incursion into the
room that was normally the drawing-room, but was now dining-room,
store-house, saddle-room, and half a dozen other temporary premises
as well. From the condition of my guest's costume he seemed to
think it might also serve as his dressing-room.

"'I'm afraid there is nowhere for you to sit,' I said coldly; 'the
verandah is full of goats.'

"'There is a goat in my bedroom,' he observed with equal coldness,
and more than a suspicion of sardonic reproach.

"'Really,' I said, 'another survivor? I thought all the other goats
were done for.'

"'This particular goat is quite done for,' he said, 'it is being
devoured by a leopard at the present moment. That is why I left the
room; some animals resent being watched while they are eating.'

"The leopard, of course, was easily explained; it had been hanging
round the goat sheds when the flood came, and had clambered up by
the outside staircase leading to the Bishop's bath-room,
thoughtfully bringing a goat with it. Probably it found the bath-
room too damp and shut-in for its taste, and transferred its
banqueting operations to the bedroom while the Bishop was having his

"What a frightful situation!" exclaimed Annabel; "fancy having a
ravening leopard in the house, with a flood all round you."

"Not in the least ravening," said Matilda; "it was full of goat, had
any amount of water at its disposal if it felt thirsty, and probably
had no more immediate wish than a desire for uninterrupted sleep.
Still, I think any one will admit that it was an embarrassing
predicament to have your only available guest-room occupied by a
leopard, the verandah choked up with goats and babies and wet hens,
and a Bishop with whom you were scarcely on speaking terms planted
down in your own sitting-room. I really don't know how I got
through those crawling hours, and of course mealtimes only made
matters worse. The emergency cook had every excuse for sending in
watery soup and sloppy rice, and as neither the chief goat-herd nor
his wife were expert divers, the cellar could not be reached.
Fortunately the Gwadlipichee subsides as rapidly as it rises, and
just before dawn the syce came splashing back, with the ponies only
fetlock deep in water. Then there arose some awkwardness from the
fact that the Bishop wished to leave sooner than the leopard did,
and as the latter was ensconced in the midst of the former's
personal possessions there was an obvious difficulty in altering the
order of departure. I pointed out to the Bishop that a leopard's
habits and tastes are not those of an otter, and that it naturally
preferred walking to wading; and that in any case a meal of an
entire goat, washed down with tub-water, justified a certain amount
of repose; if I had had guns fired to frighten the animal away, as
the Bishop suggested, it would probably merely have left the bedroom
to come into the already over-crowded drawing-room. Altogether it
was rather a relief when they both left. Now, perhaps, you can
understand my appreciation of a sleepy countryside where things
don't happen."


Octavian Ruttle was one of those lively cheerful individuals on whom
amiability had set its unmistakable stamp, and, like most of his
kind, his soul's peace depended in large measure on the unstinted
approval of his fellows. In hunting to death a small tabby cat he
had done a thing of which he scarcely approved himself, and he was
glad when the gardener had hidden the body in its hastily dug grave
under a lone oak-tree in the meadow, the same tree that the hunted
quarry had climbed as a last effort towards safety. It had been a
distasteful and seemingly ruthless deed, but circumstances had
demanded the doing of it. Octavian kept chickens; at least he kept
some of them; others vanished from his keeping, leaving only a few
bloodstained feathers to mark the manner of their going. The tabby
cat from the large grey house that stood with its back to the meadow
had been detected in many furtive visits to the hen-coups, and after
due negotiation with those in authority at the grey house a sentence
of death had been agreed on. "The children will mind, but they need
not know," had been the last word on the matter.

The children in question were a standing puzzle to Octavian; in the
course of a few months he considered that he should have known their
names, ages, the dates of their birthdays, and have been introduced
to their favourite toys. They remained however, as non-committal as
the long blank wall that shut them off from the meadow, a wall over
which their three heads sometimes appeared at odd moments. They had
parents in India--that much Octavian had learned in the
neighbourhood; the children, beyond grouping themselves garment-wise
into sexes, a girl and two boys, carried their lifestory no further
on his behoof. And now it seemed he was engaged in something which
touched them closely, but must be hidden from their knowledge.

The poor helpless chickens had gone one by one to their doom, so it
was meet that their destroyer should come to a violent end; yet
Octavian felt some qualms when his share of the violence was ended.
The little cat, headed off from its wonted tracks of safety, had
raced unfriended from shelter to shelter, and its end had been
rather piteous. Octavian walked through the long grass of the
meadow with a step less jaunty than usual. And as he passed beneath
the shadow of the high blank wall he glanced up and became aware
that his hunting had had undesired witnesses. Three white set faces
were looking down at him, and if ever an artist wanted a threefold
study of cold human hate, impotent yet unyielding, raging yet masked
in stillness, he would have found it in the triple gaze that met
Octavian's eye.

"I'm sorry, but it had to be done," said Octavian, with genuine
apology in his voice.


The answer came from three throats with startling intensity.

Octavian felt that the blank wall would not be more impervious to
his explanations than the bunch of human hostility that peered over
its coping; he wisely decided to withhold his peace overtures till a
more hopeful occasion.

Two days later he ransacked the best sweet shop in the neighbouring
market town for a box of chocolates that by its size and contents
should fitly atone for the dismal deed done under the oak tree in
the meadow. The two first specimens that were shown him he hastily
rejected; one had a group of chickens pictured on its lid, the other
bore the portrait of a tabby kitten. A third sample was more simply
bedecked with a spray of painted poppies, and Octavian hailed the
flowers of forgetfulness as a happy omen. He felt distinctly more
at ease with his surroundings when the imposing package had been
sent across to the grey house, and a message returned to say that it
had been duly given to the children. The next morning he sauntered
with purposeful steps past the long blank wall on his way to the
chicken-run and piggery that stood at the bottom of the meadow. The
three children were perched at their accustomed look-out, and their
range of sight did not seem to concern itself with Octavian's
presence. As he became depressingly aware of the aloofness of their
gaze he also noted a strange variegation in the herbage at his feet;
the greensward for a considerable space around was strewn and
speckled with a chocolate-coloured hail, enlivened here and there
with gay tinsel-like wrappings or the glistening mauve of
crystallised violets. It was as though the fairy paradise of a
greedyminded child had taken shape and substance in the vegetation
of the meadow. Octavian's bloodmoney had been flung back at him in

To increase his discomfiture the march of events tended to shift the
blame of ravaged chicken-coops from the supposed culprit who had
already paid full forfeit; the young chicks were still carried off,
and it seemed highly probable that the cat had only haunted the
chicken-run to prey on the rats which harboured there. Through the
flowing channels of servant talk the children learned of this
belated revision of verdict, and Octavian one day picked up a sheet
of copy-book paper on which was painstakingly written: "Beast.
Rats eated your chickens." More ardently than ever did he wish for
an opportunity for sloughing off the disgrace that enwrapped him,
and earning some happier nickname from his three unsparing judges.

And one day a chance inspiration came to him. Olivia, his two-year-
old daughter, was accustomed to spend the hour from high noon till
one o'clock with her father while the nursemaid gobbled and digested
her dinner and novelette. About the same time the blank wall was
usually enlivened by the presence of its three small wardens.
Octavian, with seeming carelessness of purpose, brought Olivia well
within hail of the watchers and noted with hidden delight the
growing interest that dawned in that hitherto sternly hostile
quarter. His little Olivia, with her sleepy placid ways, was going
to succeed where he, with his anxious well-meant overtures, had so
signally failed. He brought her a large yellow dahlia, which she
grasped tightly in one hand and regarded with a stare of benevolent
boredom, such as one might bestow on amateur classical dancing
performed in aid of a deserving charity. Then he turned shyly to
the group perched on the wall and asked with affected carelessness,
"Do you like flowers?" Three solemn nods rewarded his venture.

"Which sorts do you like best?" he asked, this time with a distinct
betrayal of eagerness in his voice.

"Those with all the colours, over there." Three chubby arms pointed
to a distant tangle of sweetpea. Child-like, they had asked for
what lay farthest from hand, but Octavian trotted off gleefully to
obey their welcome behest. He pulled and plucked with unsparing
hand, and brought every variety of tint that he could see into his
bunch that was rapidly becoming a bundle. Then he turned to retrace
his steps, and found the blank wall blanker and more deserted than
ever, while the foreground was void of all trace of Olivia. Far
down the meadow three children were pushing a go-cart at the utmost
speed they could muster in the direction of the piggeries; it was
Olivia's go-cart and Olivia sat in it, somewhat bumped and shaken by
the pace at which she was being driven, but apparently retaining her
wonted composure of mind. Octavian stared for a moment at the
rapidly moving group, and then started in hot pursuit, shedding as
he ran sprays of blossom from the mass of sweet-pea that he still
clutched in his hands. Fast as he ran the children had reached the
piggery before he could overtake them, and he arrived just in time
to see Olivia, wondering but unprotesting, hauled and pushed up to
the roof of the nearest sty. They were old buildings in some need
of repair, and the rickety roof would certainly not have borne
Octavian's weight if he had attempted to follow his daughter and her
captors on their new vantage ground.

"What are you going to do with her?" he panted. There was no
mistaking the grim trend of mischief in those flushed by sternly
composed young faces.

"Hang her in chains over a slow fire," said one of the boys.
Evidently they had been reading English history.

"Frow her down the pigs will d'vour her, every bit 'cept the palms
of her hands," said the other boy. It was also evident that they
had studied Biblical history.

The last proposal was the one which most alarmed Octavian, since it
might be carried into effect at a moment's notice; there had been
cases, he remembered, of pigs eating babies.

"You surely wouldn't treat my poor little Olivia in that way?" he

"You killed our little cat," came in stern reminder from three

"I'm sorry I did," said Octavian, and if there is a standard
measurement in truths Octavian's statement was assuredly a large

"We shall be very sorry when we've killed Olivia," said the girl,
"but we can't be sorry till we've done it."

The inexorable child-logic rose like an unyielding rampart before
Octavian's scared pleadings. Before he could think of any fresh
line of appeal his energies were called out in another direction.
Olivia had slid off the roof and fallen with a soft, unctuous splash
into a morass of muck and decaying straw. Octavian scrambled
hastily over the pigsty wall to her rescue, and at once found
himself in a quagmire that engulfed his feet. Olivia, after the
first shock of surprise at her sudden drop through the air, had been
mildly pleased at finding herself in close and unstinted contact
with the sticky element that oozed around her, but as she began to
sink gently into the bed of slime a feeling dawned on her that she
was not after all very happy, and she began to cry in the tentative
fashion of the normally good child. Octavian, battling with the
quagmire, which seemed to have learned the rare art of giving way at
all points without yielding an inch, saw his daughter slowly
disappearing in the engulfing slush, her smeared face further
distorted with the contortions of whimpering wonder, while from
their perch on the pigsty roof the three children looked down with
the cold unpitying detachment of the Parcae Sisters.

"I can't reach her in time," gasped Octavian, "she'll be choked in
the muck. Won't you help her?"

"No one helped our cat," came the inevitable reminder.

"I'll do anything to show you how sorry I am about that," cried
Octavian, with a further desperate flounder, which carried him
scarcely two inches forward.

"Will you stand in a white sheet by the grave?"

"Yes," screamed Octavian.

"Holding a candle?"

"An' saying 'I'm a miserable Beast'?"

Octavian agreed to both suggestions.

"For a long, long time?"

"For half an hour," said Octavian. There was an anxious ring in his
voice as he named the time-limit; was there not the precedent of a
German king who did open-air penance for several days and nights at
Christmas-time clad only in his shirt? Fortunately the children did
not appear to have read German history, and half an hour seemed long
and goodly in their eyes.

"All right," came with threefold solemnity from the roof, and a
moment later a short ladder had been laboriously pushed across to
Octavian, who lost no time in propping it against the low pigsty
wall. Scrambling gingerly along its rungs he was able to lean
across the morass that separated him from his slowly foundering
offspring and extract her like an unwilling cork from it's slushy
embrace. A few minutes later he was listening to the shrill and
repeated assurances of the nursemaid that her previous experience of
filthy spectacles had been on a notably smaller scale.

That same evening when twilight was deepening into darkness Octavian
took up his position as penitent under the lone oak-tree, having
first carefully undressed the part. Clad in a zephyr shirt, which
on this occasion thoroughly merited its name, he held in one hand a
lighted candle and in the other a watch, into which the soul of a
dead plumber seemed to have passed. A box of matches lay at his
feet and was resorted to on the fairly frequent occasions when the
candle succumbed to the night breezes. The house loomed inscrutable
in the middle distance, but as Octavian conscientiously repeated the
formula of his penance he felt certain that three pairs of solemn
eyes were watching his moth-shared vigil.

And the next morning his eyes were gladdened by a sheet of copy-book
paper lying beside the blank wall, on which was written the message


"The Smithly-Dubbs are in Town," said Sir James. "I wish you would
show them some attention. Ask them to lunch with you at the Ritz or

"From the little I've seen of the Smithly-Dubbs I don't thing I want
to cultivate their acquaintance," said Lady Drakmanton.

"They always work for us at election times," said her husband; "I
don't suppose they influence very many votes, but they have an uncle
who is on one of my ward committees, and another uncle speaks
sometimes at some of our less important meetings. Those sort of
people expect some return in the shape of hospitality."

"Expect it!" exclaimed Lady Drakmanton; "the Misses Smithly-Dubb do
more than that; they almost demand it. They belong to my club, and
hang about the lobby just about lunch-time, all three of them, with
their tongues hanging out of their mouths and the six-course look in
their eyes. If I were to breathe the word 'lunch' they would hustle
me into a taxi and scream 'Ritz' or 'Dieudonne's' to the driver
before I knew what was happening."

"All the same, I think you ought to ask them to a meal of some
sort," persisted Sir James.

"I consider that showing hospitality to the Smithly-Dubbs is
carrying Free Food principles to a regrettable extreme," said Lady
Drakmanton; "I've entertained the Joneses and the Browns and the
Snapheimers and the Lubrikoffs, and heaps of others whose names I
forget, but I don't see why I should inflict the society of the
Misses Smithly-Dubb on myself for a solid hour. Imagine it, sixty
minutes, more or less, of unrelenting gobble and gabble. Why can't
YOU take them on, Milly?" she asked, turning hopefully to her

"I don't know them," said Milly hastily.

"All the better; you can pass yourself off as me. People say that
we are so alike that they can hardly tell us apart, and I've only
spoken to these tiresome young women about twice in my life, at
committee-rooms, and bowed to them in the club. Any of the club
page-boys will point them out to you; they're always to be found
lolling about the hall just before lunch-time."

"My dear Betty, don't be absurd," protested Milly; "I've got some
people lunching with me at the Carlton to-morrow, and I'm leaving
Town the day afterwards."

"What time is your lunch to-morrow?" asked Lady Drakmanton

"Two o'clock," said Milly.

"Good," said her sister; "the Smithly-Dubbs shall lunch with me to-
morrow. It shall be rather an amusing lunch-party. At least, I
shall be amused."

The last two remarks she made to herself. Other people did not
always appreciate her ideas of humour. Sir James never did.

The next day Lady Drakmanton made some marked variations in her
usual toilet effects. She dressed her hair in an unaccustomed
manner, and put on a hat that added to the transformation of her
appearance. When she had made one or two minor alterations she was
sufficiently unlike her usual smart self to produce some hesitation
in the greeting which the Misses Smithly-Dubb bestowed on her in the
club-lobby. She responded, however, with a readiness which set
their doubts at rest.

"What is the Carlton like for lunching in?" she asked breezily.

The restaurant received an enthusiastic recommendation from the
three sisters.

"Let's go and lunch there, shall we?" she suggested, and in a few
minutes' time the Smithly-Dubb mind was contemplating at close
quarters a happy vista of baked meats and approved vintage.

"Are you going to start with caviare? I am," confided Lady
Drakmanton, and the Smithly-Dubbs started with caviare. The
subsequent dishes were chosen in the same ambitious spirit, and by
the time they had arrived at the wild duck course it was beginning
to be a rather expensive lunch.

The conversation hardly kept pace with the brilliancy of the menu.
Repeated references on the part of the guests to the local political
conditions and prospects in Sir James's constituency were met with
vague "ahs" and "indeeds" from Lady Drakmanton, who might have been
expected to be specially interested.

"I think when the Insurance Act is a little better understood it
will lose some of its present unpopularity," hazarded Cecilia

"Will it? I dare say. I'm afraid politics don't interest me very
much," said Lady Drakmanton.

The three Miss Smithly-Dubbs put down their cups of Turkish coffee
and stared. Then they broke into protesting giggles.

"Of course, you're joking," they said.

"Not me," was the disconcerting answer; "I can't make head or tail
of these bothering old politics. Never could, and never want to.
I've quite enough to do to manage my own affairs, and that's a

"But," exclaimed Amanda Smithly-Dubb, with a squeal of bewilderment
breaking into her voice, "I was told you spoke so informingly about
the Insurance Act at one of our social evenings."

It was Lady Drakmanton who stared now. "Do you know," she said,
with a scared look around her, "rather a dreadful thing is
happening. I'm suffering from a complete loss of memory. I can't
even think who I am. I remember meeting you somewhere, and I
remember you asking me to come and lunch with you here, and that I
accepted your kind invitation. Beyond that my mind is a positive

The scared look was transferred with intensified poignancy to the
faces of her companions.

"YOU asked US to lunch," they exclaimed hurriedly. That seemed a
more immediately important point to clear up than the question of

"Oh, no," said the vanishing hostess, "THAT I do remember about.
You insisted on my coming here because the feeding was so good, and
I must say it comes up to all you said about it. A very nice lunch
it's been. What I'm worrying about is who on earth am I? I haven't
the faintest notion?"

"You are Lady Drakmanton," exclaimed the three sisters in chorus.

"Now, don't make fun of me," she replied, crossly, "I happen to know
her quite well by sight, and she isn't a bit like me. And it's an
odd thing you should have mentioned her, for it so happens she's
just come into the room. That lady in black, with the yellow plume
in her hat, there over by the door."

The Smithly-Dubbs looked in the indicated direction, and the
uneasiness in their eyes deepened into horror. In outward
appearance the lady who had just entered the room certainly came
rather nearer to their recollection of their Member's wife than the
individual who was sitting at table with them.

"Who ARE you, then, if that is Lady Drakmanton?" they asked in
panic-stricken bewilderment.

"That is just what I don't know," was the answer; "and you don't
seem to know much better than I do."

"You came up to us in the club--"

"In what club?"

"The New Didactic, in Calais Street."

"The New Didactic!" exclaimed Lady Drakmanton with an air of
returning illumination; "thank you so much. Of course, I remember
now who I am. I'm Ellen Niggle, of the Ladies' Brasspolishing
Guild. The Club employs me to come now and then and see to the
polishing of the brass fittings. That's how I came to know Lady
Drakmanton by sight; she's very often in the Club. And you are the
ladies who so kindly asked me out to lunch. Funny how it should all
have slipped my memory, all of a sudden. The unaccustomed good food
and wine must have been too much for me; for the moment I really
couldn't call to mind who I was. Good gracious," she broke off
suddenly, "it's ten past two; I should be at a polishing job in
Whitehall. I must scuttle off like a giddy rabbit. Thanking you
ever so."

She left the room with a scuttle sufficiently suggestive of the
animal she had mentioned, but the giddiness was all on the side of
her involuntary hostesses. The restaurant seemed to be spinning
round them; and the bill when it appeared did nothing to restore
their composure. They were as nearly in tears as it is permissible
to be during the luncheon hour in a really good restaurant.
Financially speaking, they were well able to afford the luxury of an
elaborate lunch, but their ideas on the subject of entertaining
differed very sharply, according to the circumstances of whether
they were dispensing or receiving hospitality. To have fed
themselves liberally at their own expense was, perhaps, an
extravagance to be deplored, but, at any rate, they had had
something for their money; to have drawn an unknown and socially
unremunerative Ellen Niggle into the net of their hospitality was a
catastrophe that they could not contemplate with any degree of

The Smithly-Dubbs never quite recovered from their unnerving
experience. They have given up politics and taken to doing good.


"Starling Chatter and Oakhill have both dropped back in the
betting," said Bertie van Tahn, throwing the morning paper across
the breakfast table.

"That leaves Nursery Tea practically favourite," said Odo Finsberry.

"Nursery Tea and Pipeclay are at the top of the betting at present,"
said Bertie, "but that French horse, Le Five O'Clock, seems to be
fancied as much as anything. Then there is Whitebait, and the
Polish horse with a name like some one trying to stifle a sneeze in
church; they both seem to have a lot of support."

"It's the most open Derby there's been for years," said Odo.

"It's simply no good trying to pick the winner on form," said
Bertie; "one must just trust to luck and inspiration."

"The question is whether to trust to one's own inspiration, or
somebody else's. Sporting Swank gives Count Palatine to win, and Le
Five O'Clock for a place."

"Count Palatine--that adds another to our list of perplexities.
Good morning, Sir Lulworth; have you a fancy for the Derby by any

"I don't usually take much interest in turf matters," said Sir
Lulworth, who had just made his appearance, "but I always like to
have a bet on the Guineas and the Derby. This year, I confess, it's
rather difficult to pick out anything that seems markedly better
than anything else. What do you think of Snow Bunting?"

"Snow Bunting?" said Odo, with a groan, "there's another of them.
Surely, Snow Bunting has no earthly chance?"

"My housekeeper's nephew, who is a shoeing-smith in the mounted
section of the Church Lads' Brigade, and an authority on horseflesh,
expects him to be among the first three."

"The nephews of housekeepers are invariably optimists," said Bertie;
"it's a kind of natural reaction against the professional pessimism
of their aunts."

"We don't seem to get much further in our search for the probable
winner," said Mrs. de Claux; "the more I listen to you experts the
more hopelessly befogged I get."

"It's all very well to blame us," said Bertie to his hostess; "you
haven't produced anything in the way of an inspiration."

"My inspiration consisted in asking you down for Derby week,"
retorted Mrs. de Claux; "I thought you and Odo between you might
throw some light on the question of the moment."

Further recriminations were cut short by the arrival of Lola
Pevensey, who floated into the room with an air of gracious apology.

"So sorry to be so late," she observed, making a rapid tour of
inspection of the breakfast dishes.

"Did you have a good night?" asked her hostess with perfunctory

"Quite, thank you," said Lola; "I dreamt a most remarkable dream."

A flutter, indicative of general boredom; went round the table.
Other people's dreams are about as universally interesting as
accounts of other people's gardens, or chickens, or children.

"I dreamt about the winner of the Derby," said Lola.

A swift reaction of attentive interest set in.

"Do tell us what you dreamt," came in a chorus.

"The really remarkable thing about it is that I've dreamt it two
nights running," said Lola, finally deciding between the allurements
of sausages and kedgeree; "that is why I thought it worth
mentioning. You know, when I dream things two or three nights in
succession, it always means something; I have special powers in that
way. For instance, I once dreamed three times that a winged lion
was flying through the sky and one of his wings dropped off, and he
came to the ground with a crash; just afterwards the Campanile at
Venice fell down. The winged lion is the symbol of Venice, you
know," she added for the enlightenment of those who might not be
versed in Italian heraldry. "Then," she continued, "just before the
murder of the King and Queen of Servia I had a vivid dream of two
crowned figures walking into a slaughter-house by the banks of a big
river, which I took to be the Danube; and only the other day--"

"Do tell us what you've dreamt about the Derby," interrupted Odo

"Well, I saw the finish of the race as clearly as anything; and one
horse won easily, almost in a canter, and everybody cried out 'Bread
and Butter wins! Good old Bread and Butter.' I heard the name
distinctly, and I've had the same dream two nights running."

"Bread and Butter," said Mrs. de Claux, "now, whatever horse can
that point to? Why--of course; Nursery Tea!"

She looked round with the triumphant smile of a successful
unraveller of mystery.

"How about Le Five O'Clock?" interposed Sir Lulworth.

"It would fit either of them equally well," said Odo; "can you
remember any details about the jockey's colours? That might help

"I seem to remember a glimpse of lemon sleeves or cap, but I can't
be sure," said Lola, after due reflection.

"There isn't a lemon jacket or cap in the race," said Bertie,
referring to a list of starters and jockeys; "can't you remember
anything about the appearance of the horse? If it were a thick-set
animal, this bread and butter would typify Nursery Tea; and if it
were thin, of course, it would mean Le Five O'Clock."

"That seems sound enough," said Mrs. de Claux; "do think, Lola dear,
whether the horse in your dream was thin or stoutly built."

"I can't remember that it was one or the other," said Lola; "one
wouldn't notice such a detail in the excitement of a finish."

"But this was a symbolic animal," said Sir Lulworth; "if it were to
typify thick or thin bread and butter surely it ought to have been
either as bulky and tubby as a shire cart-horse; or as thin as a
heraldic leopard."

"I'm afraid you are rather a careless dreamer," said Bertie

"Of course, at the moment of dreaming I thought I was witnessing a
real race, not the portent of one," said Lola; "otherwise I should
have particularly noticed all helpful details."

Book of the day: