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

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

Part 2 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.

"The Derby isn't run till to-morrow," said Mrs. de Claux; "do you
think you are likely to have the same dream again to-night? If so;
you can fix your attention on the important detail of the animal's

"I'm afraid I shan't sleep at all to-night," said Lola pathetically;
"every fifth night I suffer from insomnia, and it's due to-night."

"It's most provoking," said Bertie; "of course, we can back both
horses, but it would be much more satisfactory to have all our money
on the winner. Can't you take a sleeping-draught, or something?"

"Oakleaves, soaked in warm water and put under the bed, are
recommended by some," said Mrs. de Claux.

"A glass of Benedictine, with a drop of eau-de-Cologne--" said Sir

"I have tried every known remedy," said Lola, with dignity; "I've
been a martyr to insomnia for years."

"But now we are being martyrs to it," said Odo sulkily; "I
particularly want to land a big coup over this race."

"I don't have insomnia for my own amusement," snapped Lola.

"Let us hope for the best," said Mrs. de Claux soothingly; "to-night
may prove an exception to the fifth-night rule."

But when breakfast time came round again Lola reported a blank night
as far as visions were concerned.

"I don't suppose I had as much as ten minutes' sleep, and,
certainly, no dreams."

"I'm so sorry, for your sake in the first place, and ours as well,"
said her hostess; "do you think you could induce a short nap after
breakfast? It would be so good for you--and you MIGHT dream
something. There would still be time for us to get our bets on."

"I'll try if you like," said Lola; "it sounds rather like a small
child being sent to bed in disgrace."

"I'll come and read the Encyclopaedia Britannica to you if you think
it will make you sleep any sooner," said Bertie obligingly.

Rain was falling too steadily to permit of outdoor amusement, and
the party suffered considerably during the next two hours from the
absolute quiet that was enforced all over the house in order to give
Lola every chance of achieving slumber. Even the click of billiard
balls was considered a possible factor of disturbance, and the
canaries were carried down to the gardener's lodge, while the cuckoo
clock in the hall was muffled under several layers of rugs. A
notice, "Please do not Knock or Ring," was posted on the front door
at Bertie's suggestion, and guests and servants spoke in tragic
whispers as though the dread presence of death or sickness had
invaded the house. The precautions proved of no avail: Lola added
a sleepless morning to a wakeful night, and the bets of the party
had to be impartially divided between Nursery Tea and the French

"So provoking to have to split out bets," said Mrs. de Claux, as her
guests gathered in the hall later in the day, waiting for the result
of the race.

"I did my best for you," said Lola, feeling that she was not getting
her due share of gratitude; "I told you what I had seen in my
dreams, a brown horse, called Bread and Butter, winning easily from
all the rest."

"What?" screamed Bertie, jumping up from his sea, "a brown horse!
Miserable woman, you never said a word about it's being a brown

"Didn't I?" faltered Lola; "I thought I told you it was a brown
horse. It was certainly brown in both dreams. But I don't see what
the colour has got to do with it. Nursery Tea and Le Five O'Clock
are both chestnuts."

"Merciful Heaven! Doesn't brown bread and butter with a sprinkling
of lemon in the colours suggest anything to you?" raged Bertie.

A slow, cumulative groan broke from the assembly as the meaning of
his words gradually dawned on his hearers.

For the second time that day Lola retired to the seclusion of her
room; she could not face the universal looks of reproach directed at
her when Whitebait was announced winner at the comfortable price of
fourteen to one.


It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq.,
was aglow with the amiability and random mirth which the occasion
demanded. A long and lavish dinner had been partaken of, waits had
been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled itself with
more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which,
even in a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as
ragging. In the midst of the general glow, however, there was one
black unkindled cinder.

Bertie Steffink, nephew of the aforementioned Luke, had early in
life adopted the profession of ne'er-do-weel; his father had been
something of the kind before him. At the age of eighteen Bertie had
commenced that round of visits to our Colonial possessions, so
seemly and desirable in the case of a Prince of the Blood, so
suggestive of insincerity in a young man of the middle-class. He
had gone to grow tea in Ceylon and fruit in British Columbia, and to
help sheep to grow wool in Australia. At the age of twenty he had
just returned from some similar errand in Canada, from which it may
be gathered that the trial he gave to these various experiments was
of the summary drum-head nature. Luke Steffink, who fulfilled the
troubled role of guardian and deputy-parent to Bertie, deplored the
persistent manifestation of the homing instinct on his nephew's
part, and his solemn thanks earlier in the day for the blessing of
reporting a united family had no reference to Bertie's return.

Arrangements had been promptly made for packing the youth off to a
distant corner of Rhodesia, whence return would be a difficult
matter; the journey to this uninviting destination was imminent, in
fact a more careful and willing traveller would have already begun
to think about his packing. Hence Bertie was in no mood to share in
the festive spirit which displayed itself around him, and resentment
smouldered within him at the eager, self-absorbed discussion of
social plans for the coming months which he heard on all sides.
Beyond depressing his uncle and the family circle generally by
singing "Say au revoir, and not good-bye," he had taken no part in
the evening's conviviality.

Eleven o'clock had struck some half-hour ago, and the elder
Steffinks began to throw out suggestions leading up to that process
which they called retiring for the night.

"Come, Teddie, it's time you were in your little bed, you know,"
said Luke Steffink to his thirteen-year-old son.

"That's where we all ought to be," said Mrs. Steffink.

"There wouldn't be room," said Bertie.

The remark was considered to border on the scandalous; everybody ate
raisins and almonds with the nervous industry of sheep feeding
during threatening weather.

"In Russia," said Horace Bordenby, who was staying in the house as a
Christmas guest, "I've read that the peasants believe that if you go
into a cow-house or stable at midnight on Christmas Eve you will
hear the animals talk. They're supposed to have the gift of speech
at that one moment of the year."

"Oh, DO let's ALL go down to the cow-house and listen to what
they've got to say!" exclaimed Beryl, to whom anything was thrilling
and amusing if you did it in a troop.

Mrs. Steffink made a laughing protest, but gave a virtual consent by
saying, "We must all wrap up well, then." The idea seemed a
scatterbrained one to her, and almost heathenish, but if afforded an
opportunity for "throwing the young people together," and as such
she welcomed it. Mr. Horace Bordenby was a young man with quite
substantial prospects, and he had danced with Beryl at a local
subscription ball a sufficient number of times to warrant the
authorised inquiry on the part of the neighbours whether "there was
anything in it." Though Mrs. Steffink would not have put it in so
many words, she shared the idea of the Russian peasantry that on
this night the beast might speak.

The cow-house stood at the junction of the garden with a small
paddock, an isolated survival, in a suburban neighbourhood; of what
had once been a small farm. Luke Steffink was complacently proud of
his cow-house and his two cows; he felt that they gave him a stamp
of solidity which no number of Wyandottes or Orpingtons could
impart. They even seemed to link him in a sort of inconsequent way
with those patriarchs who derived importance from their floating
capital of flocks and herbs, he-asses and she-asses. It had been an
anxious and momentous occasion when he had had to decide definitely
between "the Byre" and "the Ranch" for the naming of his villa
residence. A December midnight was hardly the moment he would have
chosen for showing his farm-building to visitors, but since it was a
fine night, and the young people were anxious for an excuse for a
mild frolic, Luke consented to chaperon the expedition. The
servants had long since gone to bed, so the house was left in charge
of Bertie, who scornfully declined to stir out on the pretext of
listening to bovine conversation.

"We must go quietly," said Luke, as he headed the procession of
giggling young folk, brought up in the rear by the shawled and
hooded figure of Mrs. Steffink; "I've always laid stress on keeping
this a quiet and orderly neighbourhood."

It was a few minutes to midnight when the party reached the cow-
house and made its way in by the light of Luke's stable lantern.
For a moment every one stood in silence, almost with a feeling of
being in church.

"Daisy--the one lying down--is by a shorthorn bull out of a Guernsey
cow," announced Luke in a hushed voice, which was in keeping with
the foregoing impression.

"Is she?" said Bordenby, rather as if he had expected her to be by

"Myrtle is--"

Myrtle's family history was cut short by a little scream from the
women of the party.

The cow-house door had closed noiselessly behind them and the key
had turned gratingly in the lock; then they heard Bertie's voice
pleasantly wishing them good-night and his footsteps retreating
along the garden path.

Luke Steffink strode to the window; it was a small square opening of
the old-fashioned sort, with iron bars let into the stonework.

"Unlock the door this instant," he shouted, with as much air of
menacing authority as a hen might assume when screaming through the
bars of a coop at a marauding hawk. In reply to his summons the
hall-door closed with a defiant bang.

A neighbouring clock struck the hour of midnight. If the cows had
received the gift of human speech at that moment they would not have
been able to make themselves heard. Seven or eight other voices
were engaged in describing Bertie's present conduct and his general
character at a high pressure of excitement and indignation.

In the course of half an hour or so everything that it was
permissible to say about Bertie had been said some dozens of times,
and other topics began to come to the front--the extreme mustiness
of the cow-house, the possibility of it catching fire, and the
probability of it being a Rowton House for the vagrant rats of the
neighbourhood. And still no sign of deliverance came to the
unwilling vigil-keepers.

Towards one o'clock the sound of rather boisterous and undisciplined
carol-singing approached rapidly, and came to a sudden anchorage,
apparently just outside the garden-gate. A motor-load of youthful
"bloods," in a high state of conviviality, had made a temporary halt
for repairs; the stoppage, however, did not extend to the vocal
efforts of the party, and the watchers in the cow-shed were treated
to a highly unauthorised rendering of "Good King Wenceslas," in
which the adjective "good" appeared to be very carelessly applied.

The noise had the effect of bringing Bertie out into the garden, but
he utterly ignored the pale, angry faces peering out at the cow-
house window, and concentrated his attention on the revellers
outside the gate.

"Wassail, you chaps!" he shouted.

"Wassail, old sport!" they shouted back; "we'd jolly well drink y'r
health, only we've nothing to drink it in."

"Come and wassail inside," said Bertie hospitably; "I'm all alone,
and there's heap's of 'wet'."

They were total strangers, but his touch of kindness made them
instantly his kin. In another moment the unauthorised version of
King Wenceslas, which, like many other scandals, grew worse on
repetition, went echoing up the garden path; two of the revellers
gave an impromptu performance on the way by executing the staircase
waltz up the terraces of what Luke Steffink, hitherto with some
justification, called his rock-garden. The rock part of it was
still there when the waltz had been accorded its third encore.
Luke, more than ever like a cooped hen behind the cow-house bars,
was in a position to realise the feelings of concert-goers unable to
countermand the call for an encore which they neither desire or

The hall door closed with a bang on Bertie's guests, and the sounds
of merriment became faint and muffled to the weary watchers at the
other end of the garden. Presently two ominous pops, in quick
succession, made themselves distinctly heard.

"They've got at the champagne!" exclaimed Mrs. Steffink.

"Perhaps it's the sparkling Moselle," said Luke hopefully.

Three or four more pops were heard.

"The champagne and the sparkling Moselle," said Mrs. Steffink.

Luke uncorked an expletive which, like brandy in a temperance
household, was only used on rare emergencies. Mr. Horace Bordenby
had been making use of similar expressions under his breath for a
considerable time past. The experiment of "throwing the young
people together" had been prolonged beyond a point when it was
likely to produce any romantic result.

Some forty minutes later the hall door opened and disgorged a crowd
that had thrown off any restraint of shyness that might have
influenced its earlier actions. Its vocal efforts in the direction
of carol singing were now supplemented by instrumental music; a
Christmas-tree that had been prepared for the children of the
gardener and other household retainers had yielded a rich spoil of
tin trumpets, rattles, and drums. The life-story of King Wenceslas
had been dropped, Luke was thankful to notice, but it was intensely
irritating for the chilled prisoners in the cow-house to be told
that it was a hot time in the old town to-night, together with some
accurate but entirely superfluous information as to the imminence of
Christmas morning. Judging by the protests which began to be
shouted from the upper windows of neighbouring houses the sentiments
prevailing in the cow-house were heartily echoed in other quarters.

The revellers found their car, and, what was more remarkable,
managed to drive off in it, with a parting fanfare of tin trumpets.
The lively beat of a drum disclosed the fact that the master of the
revels remained on the scene.

"Bertie!" came in an angry, imploring chorus of shouts and screams
from the cow-house window.

"Hullo," cried the owner of the name, turning his rather errant
steps in the direction of the summons; "are you people still there?
Must have heard everything cows got to say by this time. If you
haven't, no use waiting. After all, it's a Russian legend, and
Russian Chrismush Eve not due for 'nother fortnight. Better come

After one or two ineffectual attempts he managed to pitch the key of
the cow-house door in through the window. Then, lifting his voice
in the strains of "I'm afraid to go home in the dark," with a lusty
drum accompaniment, he led the way back to the house. The hurried
procession of the released that followed in his steps came in for a
good deal of the adverse comment that his exuberant display had

It was the happiest Christmas Eve he had ever spent. To quote his
own words, he had a rotten Christmas.


Alethia Debchance sat in a corner of an otherwise empty railway
carriage, more or less at ease as regarded body, but in some
trepidation as to mind. She had embarked on a social adventure of
no little magnitude as compared with the accustomed seclusion and
stagnation of her past life. At the age of twenty-eight she could
look back on nothing more eventful than the daily round of her
existence in her aunt's house at Webblehinton, a hamlet four and a
half miles distant from a country town and about a quarter of a
century removed from modern times. Their neighbours had been
elderly and few, not much given to social intercourse, but helpful
or politely sympathetic in times of illness. Newspapers of the
ordinary kind were a rarity; those that Alethia saw regularly were
devoted exclusively either to religion or to poultry, and the world
of politics was to her an unheeded unexplored region. Her ideas on
life in general had been acquired through the medium of popular
respectable novel-writers, and modified or emphasised by such
knowledge as her aunt, the vicar, and her aunt's housekeeper had put
at her disposal. And now, in her twenty-ninth year, her aunt's
death had left her, well provided for as regards income, but
somewhat isolated in the matter of kith and kin and human
companionship. She had some cousins who were on terms of friendly,
though infrequent, correspondence with her, but as they lived
permanently in Ceylon, a locality about which she knew little,
beyond the assurance contained in the missionary hymn that the human
element there was vile, they were not of much immediate use to her.
Other cousins she also possessed, more distant as regards
relationship, but not quite so geographically remote, seeing that
they lived somewhere in the Midlands. She could hardly remember
ever having met them, but once or twice in the course of the last
three or four years they had expressed a polite wish that she should
pay them a visit; they had probably not been unduly depressed by the
fact that her aunt's failing health had prevented her from accepting
their invitation. The note of condolence that had arrived on the
occasion of her aunt's death had included a vague hope that Alethia
would find time in the near future to spend a few days with her
cousins, and after much deliberation and many hesitations she had
written to propose herself as a guest for a definite date some week
ahead. The family, she reflected with relief, was not a large one;
the two daughters were married and away, there was only old Mrs.
Bludward and her son Robert at home. Mrs. Bludward was something of
an invalid, and Robert was a young man who had been at Oxford and
was going into Parliament. Further than that Alethia's information
did not go; her imagination, founded on her extensive knowledge of
the people one met in novels, had to supply the gaps. The mother
was not difficult to place; she would either be an ultra-amiable old
lady, bearing her feeble health with uncomplaining fortitude, and
having a kind word for the gardener's boy and a sunny smile for the
chance visitor, or else she would be cold and peevish, with eyes
that pierced you like a gimlet, and a unreasoning idolatry of her
son. Alethia's imagination rather inclined her to the latter view.
Robert was more of a problem. There were three dominant types of
manhood to be taken into consideration in working out his
classification; there was Hugo, who was strong, good, and beautiful,
a rare type and not very often met with; there was Sir Jasper, who
was utterly vile and absolutely unscrupulous, and there was Nevil,
who was not really bad at heart, but had a weak mouth and usually
required the life-work of two good women to keep him from ultimate
disaster. It was probable, Alethia considered, that Robert came
into the last category, in which case she was certain to enjoy the
companionship of one or two excellent women, and might possibly
catch glimpses of undesirable adventuresses or come face to face
with reckless admiration-seeking married women. It was altogether
an exciting prospect, this sudden venture into an unexplored world
of unknown human beings, and Alethia rather wished that she could
have taken the vicar with her; she was not, however, rich or
important enough to travel with a chaplain, as the Marquis of
Moystoncleugh always did in the novel she had just been reading, so
she recognised that such a proceeding was out of the question.

The train which carried Alethia towards her destination was a local
one, with the wayside station habit strongly developed. At most of
the stations no one seemed to want to get into the train or to leave
it, but at one there were several market folk on the platform, and
two men, of the farmer or small cattle-dealer class, entered
Alethia's carriage. Apparently they had just foregathered, after a
day's business, and their conversation consisted of a rapid exchange
of short friendly inquiries as to health, family, stock, and so
forth, and some grumbling remarks on the weather. Suddenly,
however, their talk took a dramatically interesting turn, and
Alethia listened with wide-eyed attention.

"What do you think of Mister Robert Bludward, eh?"

There was a certain scornful ring in his question.

"Robert Bludward? An out-an'-out rotter, that's what he is. Ought
to be ashamed to look any decent man in the face. Send him to
Parliament to represent us--not much! He'd rob a poor man of his
last shilling, he would."

"Ah, that he would. Tells a pack of lies to get our votes, that's
all that he's after, damn him. Did you see the way the Argus showed
him up this week? Properly exposed him, hip and thigh, I tell you."

And so on they ran, in their withering indictment. There could be
no doubt that it was Alethia's cousin and prospective host to whom
they were referring; the allusion to a Parliamentary candidature
settled that. What could Robert Bludward have done, what manner of
man could he be, that people should speak of him with such obvious

"He was hissed down at Shoalford yesterday," said one of the

Hissed! Had it come to that? There was something dramatically
biblical in the idea of Robert Bludward's neighbours and
acquaintances hissing him for very scorn. Lord Hereward Stranglath
had been hissed, now Alethia came to think of it, in the eighth
chapter of Matterby Towers, while in the act of opening a Wesleyan
bazaar, because he was suspected (unjustly as it turned out
afterwards) of having beaten the German governess to death. And in
Tainted Guineas Roper Squenderby had been deservedly hissed, on the
steps of the Jockey Club, for having handed a rival owner a forged
telegram, containing false news of his mother's death, just before
the start for an important race, thereby ensuring the withdrawal of
his rival's horse. In placid Saxon-blooded England people did not
demonstrate their feelings lightly and without some strong
compelling cause. What manner of evildoer was Robert Bludward?

The train stopped at another small station, and the two men got out.
One of them left behind him a copy of the Argus, the local paper to
which he had made reference. Alethia pounced on it, in the
expectation of finding a cultured literary endorsement of the
censure which these rough farming men had expressed in their homely,
honest way. She had not far to look; "Mr. Robert Bludward,
Swanker," was the title of one of the principal articles in the
paper. She did not exactly know what a swanker was, probably it
referred to some unspeakable form of cruelty, but she read enough in
the first few sentences of the article to discover that her cousin
Robert, the man at whose house she was about to stay, was an
unscrupulous, unprincipled character, of a low order of
intelligence, yet cunning withal, and that he and his associates
were responsible for most of the misery, disease, poverty, and
ignorance with which the country was afflicted; never, except in one
or two of the denunciatory Psalms, which she had always supposed to
have be written in a spirit of exaggerated Oriental imagery, had she
read such an indictment of a human being. And this monster was
going to meet her at Derrelton Station in a few short minutes. She
would know him at once; he would have the dark beetling brows, the
quick, furtive glance, the sneering, unsavoury smile that always
characterised the Sir Jaspers of this world. It was too late to
escape; she must force herself to meet him with outward calm.

It was a considerable shock to her to find that Robert was fair,
with a snub nose, merry eye, and rather a schoolboy manner. "A
serpent in duckling's plumage," was her private comment; merciful
chance had revealed him to her in his true colours.

As they drove away from the station a dissipated-looking man of the
labouring class waved his hat in friendly salute. "Good luck to
you, Mr. Bludward," he shouted; "you'll come out on top! We'll
break old Chobham's neck for him."

"Who was that man?" asked Alethia quickly.

"Oh, one of my supporters," laughed Robert; "a bit of a poacher and
a bit of a pub-loafer, but he's on the right side."

So these were the sort of associates that Robert Bludward consorted
with, thought Alethia.

"Who is the person he referred to as old Chobham?" she asked.

"Sir John Chobham, the man who is opposing me," answered Robert;
"that is his house away there among the trees on the right."

So there was an upright man, possibly a very Hugo in character, who
was thwarting and defying the evildoer in his nefarious career, and
there was a dastardly plot afoot to break his neck! Possibly the
attempt would be made within the next few hours. He must certainly
be warned. Alethia remembered how Lady Sylvia Broomgate, in
Nightshade Court, had pretended to be bolted with by her horse up to
the front door of a threatened county magnate, and had whispered a
warning in his ear which saved him from being the victim of foul
murder. She wondered if there was a quiet pony in the stables on
which she would be allowed to ride out alone. The chances were that
she would be watched. Robert would come spurring after her and
seize her bridle just as she was turning in at Sir John's gates.

A group of men that they passed in a village street gave them no
very friendly looks, and Alethia thought she heard a furtive hiss; a
moment later they came upon an errand boy riding a bicycle. He had
the frank open countenance, neatly brushed hair and tidy clothes
that betoken a clear conscience and a good mother. He stared
straight at the occupants of the car, and, after he had passed them,
sang in his clear, boyish voice:

"We'll hang Bobby Bludward on the sour apple tree."

Robert merely laughed. That was how he took the scorn and
condemnation of his fellow-men. He had goaded them to desperation
with his shameless depravity till they spoke openly of putting him
to a violent death, and he laughed.

Mrs. Bludward proved to be of the type that Alethia had suspected,
thin-lipped, cold-eyed, and obviously devoted to her worthless son.
From her no help was to be expected. Alethia locked her door that
night, and placed such ramparts of furniture against it that the
maid had great difficulty in breaking in with the early tea in the

After breakfast Alethia, on the pretext of going to look at an
outlying rose-garden, slipped away to the village through which they
had passed on the previous evening. She remembered that Robert had
pointed out to her a public reading-room, and here she considered it
possible that she might meet Sir John Chobham, or some one who knew
him well and would carry a message to him. The room was empty when
she entered it; a Graphic twelve days old, a yet older copy of
Punch, and one or two local papers lay upon the central table; the
other tables were stacked for the most part with chess and draughts-
boards, and wooden boxes of chessmen and dominoes. Listlessly she
picked up one of the papers, the Sentinel, and glanced at its
contents. Suddenly she started, and began to read with breathless
attention a prominently printed article, headed "A Little Limelight
on Sir John Chobham." The colour ebbed away from her face, a look
of frightened despair crept into her eyes. Never, in any novel that
she had read, had a defenceless young woman been confronted with a
situation like this. Sir John, the Hugo of her imagination, was, if
anything, rather more depraved and despicable than Robert Bludward.
He was mean, evasive, callously indifferent to his country's
interests, a cheat, a man who habitually broke his word, and who was
responsible, with his associates, for most of the poverty, misery,
crime, and national degradation with which the country was
afflicted. He was also a candidate for Parliament, it seemed, and
as there was only one seat in this particular locality, it was
obvious that the success of either Robert or Sir John would mean a
check to the ambitions of the other, hence, no doubt, the rivalry
and enmity between these otherwise kindred souls. One was seeking
to have his enemy done to death, the other was apparently trying to
stir up his supporters to an act of "Lynch law". All this in order
that there might be an unopposed election, that one or other of the
candidates might go into Parliament with honeyed eloquence on his
lips and blood on his heart. Were men really so vile?

"I must go back to Webblehinton at once," Alethia informed her
astonished hostess at lunch time; "I have had a telegram. A friend
is very seriously ill and I have been sent for."

It was dreadful to have to concoct lies, but it would be more
dreadful to have to spend another night under that roof.

Alethia reads novels now with even greater appreciation than before.
She has been herself in the world outside Webblehinton, the world
where the great dramas of sin and villainy are played unceasingly.
She had come unscathed through it, but what might have happened if
she had gone unsuspectingly to visit Sir John Chobham and warn him
of his danger? What indeed! She had been saved by the fearless
outspokenness of the local Press.


In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the
Karpathians, a man stood one winter night watching and listening, as
though he waited for some beast of the woods to come within the
range of his vision, and, later, of his rifle. But the game for
whose presence he kept so keen an outlook was none that figured in
the sportsman's calendar as lawful and proper for the chase; Ulrich
von Gradwitz patrolled the dark forest in quest of a human enemy.

The forest lands of Gradwitz were of wide extent and well stocked
with game; the narrow strip of precipitous woodland that lay on its
outskirt was not remarkable for the game it harboured or the
shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all
its owner's territorial possessions. A famous law suit, in the days
of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a
neighbouring family of petty landowners; the dispossessed party had
never acquiesced in the judgment of the Courts, and a long series of
poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the
relationships between the families for three generations. The
neighbour feud had grown into a personal one since Ulrich had come
to be head of his family; if there was a man in the world whom he
detested and wished ill to it was Georg Znaeym, the inheritor of the
quarrel and the tireless game-snatcher and raider of the disputed
border-forest. The feud might, perhaps, have died down or been
compromised if the personal ill-will of the two men had not stood in
the way; as boys they had thirsted for one another's blood, as men
each prayed that misfortune might fall on the other, and this wind-
scourged winter night Ulrich had banded together his foresters to
watch the dark forest, not in quest of four-footed quarry, but to
keep a look-out for the prowling thieves whom he suspected of being
afoot from across the land boundary. The roebuck, which usually
kept in the sheltered hollows during a storm-wind, were running like
driven things to-night, and there was movement and unrest among the
creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours. Assuredly
there was a disturbing element in the forest, and Ulrich could guess
the quarter from whence it came.

He strayed away by himself from the watchers whom he had placed in
ambush on the crest of the hill, and wandered far down the steep
slopes amid the wild tangle of undergrowth, peering through the tree
trunks and listening through the whistling and skirling of the wind
and the restless beating of the branches for sight and sound of the
marauders. If only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he
might come across Georg Znaeym, man to man, with none to witness--
that was the wish that was uppermost in his thoughts. And as he
stepped round the trunk of a huge beech he came face to face with
the man he sought.

The two enemies stood glaring at one another for a long silent
moment. Each had a rifle in his hand, each had hate in his heart
and murder uppermost in his mind. The chance had come to give full
play to the passions of a lifetime. But a man who has been brought
up under the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve
himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word
spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honour. And
before the moment of hesitation had given way to action a deed of
Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both. A fierce shriek of the
storm had been answered by a splitting crash over their heads, and
ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech tree had thundered
down on them. Ulrich von Gradwitz found himself stretched on the
ground, one arm numb beneath him and the other held almost as
helplessly in a tight tangle of forked branches, while both legs
were pinned beneath the fallen mass. His heavy shooting-boots had
saved his feet from being crushed to pieces, but if his fractures
were not as serious as they might have been, at least it was evident
that he could not move from his present position till some one came
to release him. The descending twig had slashed the skin of his
face, and he had to wink away some drops of blood from his eyelashes
before he could take in a general view of the disaster. At his
side, so near that under ordinary circumstances he could almost have
touched him, lay Georg Znaeym, alive and struggling, but obviously
as helplessly pinioned down as himself. All round them lay a thick-
strewn wreckage of splintered branches and broken twigs.

Relief at being alive and exasperation at his captive plight brought
a strange medley of pious thank-offerings and sharp curses to
Ulrich's lips. Georg, who was early blinded with the blood which
trickled across his eyes, stopped his struggling for a moment to
listen, and then gave a short, snarling laugh.

"So you're not killed, as you ought to be, but you're caught,
anyway," he cried; "caught fast. Ho, what a jest, Ulrich von
Gradwitz snared in his stolen forest. There's real justice for

And he laughed again, mockingly and savagely.

"I'm caught in my own forest-land," retorted Ulrich. "When my men
come to release us you will wish, perhaps, that you were in a better
plight than caught poaching on a neighbour's land, shame on you."

Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly:

"Are you sure that your men will find much to release? I have men,
too, in the forest to-night, close behind me, and THEY will be here
first and do the releasing. When they drag me out from under these
damned branches it won't need much clumsiness on their part to roll
this mass of trunk right over on the top of you. Your men will find
you dead under a fallen beech tree. For form's sake I shall send my
condolences to your family."

"It is a useful hint," said Ulrich fiercely. "My men had orders to
follow in ten minutes time, seven of which must have gone by
already, and when they get me out--I will remember the hint. Only
as you will have met your death poaching on my lands I don't think I
can decently send any message of condolence to your family."

"Good," snarled Georg, "good. We fight this quarrel out to the
death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to
come between us. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz."

"The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest-thief, game-snatcher."

Both men spoke with the bitterness of possible defeat before them,
for each knew that it might be long before his men would seek him
out or find him; it was a bare matter of chance which party would
arrive first on the scene.

Both had now given up the useless struggle to free themselves from
the mass of wood that held them down; Ulrich limited his endeavours
to an effort to bring his one partially free arm near enough to his
outer coat-pocket to draw out his wine-flask. Even when he had
accomplished that operation it was long before he could manage the
unscrewing of the stopper or get any of the liquid down his throat.
But what a Heaven-sent draught it seemed! It was an open winter,
and little snow had fallen as yet, hence the captives suffered less
from the cold than might have been the case at that season of the
year; nevertheless, the wine was warming and reviving to the wounded
man, and he looked across with something like a throb of pity to
where his enemy lay, just keeping the groans of pain and weariness
from crossing his lips.

"Could you reach this flask if I threw it over to you?" asked Ulrich
suddenly; "there is good wine in it, and one may as well be as
comfortable as one can. Let us drink, even if to-night one of us

"No, I can scarcely see anything; there is so much blood caked round
my eyes," said Georg, "and in any case I don't drink wine with an

Ulrich was silent for a few minutes, and lay listening to the weary
screeching of the wind. An idea was slowly forming and growing in
his brain, an idea that gained strength every time that he looked
across at the man who was fighting so grimly against pain and
exhaustion. In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling
the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.

"Neighbour," he said presently, "do as you please if your men come
first. It was a fair compact. But as for me, I've changed my mind.
If my men are the first to come you shall be the first to be helped,
as though you were my guest. We have quarrelled like devils all our
lives over this stupid strip of forest, where the trees can't even
stand upright in a breath of wind. Lying here to-night thinking
I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things
in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbour,
if you will help me to bury the old quarrel I--I will ask you to be
my friend."

Georg Znaeym was silent for so long that Ulrich thought, perhaps, he
had fainted with the pain of his injuries. Then he spoke slowly and
in jerks.

"How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the
market-square together. No one living can remember seeing a Znaeym
and a von Gradwitz talking to one another in friendship. And what
peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud
to-night. And if we choose to make peace among our people there is
none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside . . . You would
come and keep the Sylvester night beneath my roof, and I would come
and feast on some high day at your castle . . . I would never fire a
shot on your land, save when you invited me as a guest; and you
should come and shoot with me down in the marshes where the wildfowl
are. In all the countryside there are none that could hinder if we
willed to make peace. I never thought to have wanted to do other
than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about
things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wineflask
. . . Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."

For a space both men were silent, turning over in their minds the
wonderful changes that this dramatic reconciliation would bring
about. In the cold, gloomy forest, with the wind tearing in fitful
gusts through the naked branches and whistling round the tree-
trunks, they lay and waited for the help that would now bring
release and succour to both parties. And each prayed a private
prayer that his men might be the first to arrive, so that he might
be the first to show honourable attention to the enemy that had
become a friend.

Presently, as the wind dropped for a moment, Ulrich broke silence.

"Let's shout for help," he said; he said; "in this lull our voices
may carry a little way."

"They won't carry far through the trees and undergrowth," said
Georg, "but we can try. Together, then."

The two raised their voices in a prolonged hunting call.

"Together again," said Ulrich a few minutes later, after listening
in vain for an answering halloo.

"I heard nothing but the pestilential wind," said Georg hoarsely.

There was silence again for some minutes, and then Ulrich gave a
joyful cry.

"I can see figures coming through the wood. They are following in
the way I came down the hillside."

Both men raised their voices in as loud a shout as they could

"They hear us! They've stopped. Now they see us. They're running
down the hill towards us," cried Ulrich.

"How many of them are there?" asked Georg.

"I can't see distinctly," said Ulrich; "nine or ten,"

"Then they are yours," said Georg; "I had only seven out with me."

"They are making all the speed they can, brave lads," said Ulrich

"Are they your men?" asked Georg. "Are they your men?" he repeated
impatiently as Ulrich did not answer.

"No," said Ulrich with a laugh, the idiotic chattering laugh of a
man unstrung with hideous fear.

"Who are they?" asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what
the other would gladly not have seen.



"The outlook is not encouraging for us smaller businesses," said Mr.
Scarrick to the artist and his sister, who had taken rooms over his
suburban grocery store. "These big concerns are offering all sorts
of attractions to the shopping public which we couldn't afford to
imitate, even on a small scale--reading-rooms and play-rooms and
gramophones and Heaven knows what. People don't care to buy half a
pound of sugar nowadays unless they can listen to Harry Lauder and
have the latest Australian cricket scores ticked off before their
eyes. With the big Christmas stock we've got in we ought to keep
half a dozen assistants hard at work, but as it is my nephew Jimmy
and myself can pretty well attend to it ourselves. It's a nice
stock of goods, too, if I could only run it off in a few weeks time,
but there's no chance of that--not unless the London line was to get
snowed up for a fortnight before Christmas. I did have a sort of
idea of engaging Miss Luffcombe to give recitations during
afternoons; she made a great hit at the Post Office entertainment
with her rendering of 'Little Beatrice's Resolve'."

"Anything less likely to make your shop a fashionable shopping
centre I can't imagine," said the artist, with a very genuine
shudder; "if I were trying to decide between the merits of Carlsbad
plums and confected figs as a winter dessert it would infuriate me
to have my train of thought entangled with little Beatrice's resolve
to be an Angel of Light or a girl scout. No," he continued, "the
desire to get something thrown in for nothing is a ruling passion
with the feminine shopper, but you can't afford to pander
effectively to it. Why not appeal to another instinct; which
dominates not only the woman shopper but the male shopper--in fact,
the entire human race?"

"What is that instinct, sir?" said the grocer.

* * *

Mrs. Greyes and Miss Fritten had missed the 2.18 to Town, and as
there was not another train till 3.12 they thought that they might
as well make their grocery purchases at Scarrick's. It would not be
sensational, they agreed, but it would still be shopping.

For some minutes they had the shop almost to themselves, as far as
customers were concerned, but while they were debating the
respective virtues and blemishes of two competing brands of anchovy
paste they were startled by an order, given across the counter, for
six pomegranates and a packet of quail seed. Neither commodity was
in general demand in that neighbourhood. Equally unusual was the
style and appearance of the customer; about sixteen years old, with
dark olive skin, large dusky eyes, and think, low-growing, blue-
black hair, he might have made his living as an artist's model. As
a matter of fact he did. The bowl of beaten brass that he produced
for the reception of his purchases was distinctly the most
astonishing variation on the string bag or marketing basket of
suburban civilisation that his fellow-shoppers had ever seen. He
threw a gold piece, apparently of some exotic currency, across the
counter, and did not seem disposed to wait for any change that might
be forthcoming.

"The wine and figs were not paid for yesterday," he said; "keep what
is over of the money for our future purchases."

"A very strange-looking boy?" said Mrs. Greyes interrogatively to
the grocer as soon as his customer had left.

"A foreigner, I believe," said Mr. Scarrick, with a shortness that
was entirely out of keeping with his usually communicative manner.

"I wish for a pound and a half of the best coffee you have," said an
authoritative voice a moment or two later. The speaker was a tall,
authoritative-looking man of rather outlandish aspect, remarkable
among other things for a full black beard, worn in a style more in
vogue in early Assyria than in a London suburb of the present day.

"Has a dark-faced boy been here buying pomegranates?" he asked
suddenly, as the coffee was being weighed out to him.

The two ladies almost jumped on hearing the grocer reply with an
unblushing negative.

"We have a few pomegranates in stock," he continued, "but there has
been no demand for them."

"My servant will fetch the coffee as usual," said the purchaser,
producing a coin from a wonderful metal-work purse. As an apparent
afterthought he fired out the question: "Have you, perhaps, any
quail seed?"

"No," said the grocer, without hesitation, "we don't stock it."

"What will he deny next?" asked Mrs. Greyes under her breath. What
made it seem so much worse was the fact that Mr. Scarrick had quite
recently presided at a lecture on Savonarola.

Turning up the deep astrachan collar of his long coat, the stranger
swept out of the shop, with the air, Miss Fritten afterwards
described it, of a Satrap proroguing a Sanhedrim. Whether such a
pleasant function ever fell to a Satrap's lot she was not quite
certain, but the simile faithfully conveyed her meaning to a large
circle of acquaintances.

"Don't let's bother about the 3.12," said Mrs. Greyes; "let's go and
talk this over at Laura Lipping's. It's her day."

When the dark-faced boy arrived at the shop next day with his brass
marketing bowl there was quite a fair gathering of customers, most
of whom seemed to be spinning out their purchasing operations with
the air of people who had very little to do with their time. In a
voice that was heard all over the shop, perhaps because everybody
was intently listening, he asked for a pound of honey and a packet
of quail seed.

"More quail seed!" said Miss Fritten. "Those quails must be
voracious, or else it isn't quail seed at all."

"I believe it's opium, and the bearded man is a detective," said
Mrs. Greyes brilliantly.

"I don't," said Laura Lipping; "I'm sure it's something to do with
the Portuguese Throne."

"More likely to be a Persian intrigue on behalf of the ex-Shah,"
said Miss Fritten; "the bearded man belongs to the Government Party.
The quail-seed is a countersign, of course; Persia is almost next
door to Palestine, and quails come into the Old Testament, you

"Only as a miracle," said her well-informed younger sister; "I've
thought all along it was part of a love intrigue."

The boy who had so much interest and speculation centred on him was
on the point of departing with his purchases when he was waylaid by
Jimmy, the nephew-apprentice, who, from his post at the cheese and
bacon counter, commanded a good view of the street.

"We have some very fine Jaffa oranges," he said hurriedly, pointing
to a corner where they were stored, behind a high rampart of biscuit
tins. There was evidently more in the remark than met the ear. The
boy flew at the oranges with the enthusiasm of a ferret finding a
rabbit family at home after a long day of fruitless subterranean
research. Almost at the same moment the bearded stranger stalked
into the shop, and flung an order for a pound of dates and a tin of
the best Smyrna halva across the counter. The most adventurous
housewife in the locality had never heard of halva, but Mr. Scarrick
was apparently able to produce the best Smyrna variety of it without
a moment's hesitation.

"We might be living in the Arabian Nights," said Miss Fritten,

"Hush! Listen," beseeched Mrs. Greyes.

"Has the dark-faced boy, of whom I spoke yesterday, been here to-
day?" asked the stranger.

"We've had rather more people than usual in the shop to-day," said
Mr. Scarrick, "but I can't recall a boy such as you describe."

Mrs. Greyes and Miss Fritten looked round triumphantly at their
friends. It was, of course, deplorable that any one should treat
the truth as an article temporarily and excusably out of stock, but
they felt gratified that the vivid accounts they had given of Mr.
Scarrick's traffic in falsehoods should receive confirmation at
first hand.

"I shall never again be able to believe what he tells me about the
absence of colouring matter in the jam," whispered an aunt of Mrs.
Greyes tragically.

The mysterious stranger took his departure; Laura Lipping distinctly
saw a snarl of baffled rage reveal itself behind his heavy moustache
and upturned astrachan collar. After a cautious interval the seeker
after oranges emerged from behind the biscuit tins, having
apparently failed to find any individual orange that satisfied his
requirements. He, too, took his departure, and the shop was slowly
emptied of its parcel and gossip laden customers. It was Emily
Yorling's "day", and most of the shoppers made their way to her
drawing-room. To go direct from a shopping expedition to a tea
party was what was known locally as "living in a whirl".

Two extra assistants had been engaged for the following afternoon,
and their services were in brisk demand; the shop was crowded.
People bought and bought, and never seemed to get to the end of
their lists. Mr. Scarrick had never had so little difficulty in
persuading customers to embark on new experiences in grocery wares.
Even those women whose purchases were of modest proportions dawdled
over them as though they had brutal, drunken husbands to go home to.
The afternoon had dragged uneventfully on, and there was a distinct
buzz of unpent excitement when a dark-eyed boy carrying a brass bowl
entered the shop. The excitement seemed to have communicated itself
to Mr. Scarrick; abruptly deserting a lady who was making insincere
inquiries about the home life of the Bombay duck, he intercepted the
newcomer on his way to the accustomed counter and informed him, amid
a deathlike hush, that he had run out of quail seed.

The boy looked nervously round the shop, and turned hesitatingly to
go. He was again intercepted, this time by the nephew, who darted
out from behind his counter and said something about a better line
of oranges. The boy's hesitation vanished; he almost scuttled into
the obscurity of the orange corner. There was an expectant turn of
public attention towards the door, and the tall, bearded stranger
made a really effective entrance. The aunt of Mrs. Greyes declared
afterwards that she found herself sub-consciously repeating "The
Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold" under her breath, and
she was generally believed.

The newcomer, too, was stopped before he reached the counter, but
not by Mr. Scarrick or his assistant. A heavily veiled lady, whom
no one had hitherto noticed, rose languidly from a seat and greeted
him in a clear, penetrating voice.

"Your Excellency does his shopping himself?" she said.

"I order the things myself," he explained; "I find it difficult to
make my servants understand."

In a lower, but still perfectly audible, voice the veiled lady gave
him a piece of casual information.

"They have some excellent Jaffa oranges here." Then with a tinkling
laugh she passed out of the shop.

The man glared all round the shop, and then, fixing his eyes
instinctively on the barrier of biscuit tins, demanded loudly of the
grocer: "You have, perhaps, some good Jaffa oranges?"

Every one expected an instant denial on the part of Mr. Scarrick of
any such possession. Before he could answer, however, the boy had
broken forth from his sanctuary. Holding his empty brass bowl
before him he passed out into the street. His face was variously
described afterwards as masked with studied indifference, overspread
with ghastly pallor, and blazing with defiance. Some said that his
teeth chattered, others that he went out whistling the Persian
National Hymn. There was no mistaking, however, the effect produced
by the encounter on the man who had seemed to force it. If a rabid
dog or a rattlesnake had suddenly thrust its companionship on him he
could scarcely have displayed a greater access of terror. His air
of authority and assertiveness had gone, his masterful stride had
given way to a furtive pacing to and fro, as of an animal seeking an
outlet for escape. In a dazed perfunctory manner, always with his
eyes turning to watch the shop entrance, he gave a few random
orders, which the grocer made a show of entering in his book. Now
and then he walked out into the street, looked anxiously in all
directions, and hurried back to keep up his pretence of shopping.
From one of these sorties he did not return; he had dashed away into
the dusk, and neither he nor the dark-faced boy nor the veiled lady
were seen again by the expectant crowds that continued to throng the
Scarrick establishment for days to come.

* * *

"I can never thank you and your sister sufficiently," said the

"We enjoyed the fun of it," said the artist modestly, "and as for
the model, it was a welcome variation on posing for hours for 'The
Lost Hylas'."

"At any rate," said the grocer, "I insist on paying for the hire of
the black beard."


Demosthenes Platterbaff, the eminent Unrest Inducer, stood on his
trial for a serious offence, and the eyes of the political world
were focussed on the jury. The offence, it should be stated, was
serious for the Government rather than for the prisoner. He had
blown up the Albert Hall on the eve of the great Liberal Federation
Tango Tea, the occasion on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was
expected to propound his new theory: "Do partridges spread
infectious diseases?" Platterbaff had chosen his time well; the
Tango Tea had been hurriedly postponed, but there were other
political fixtures which could not be put off under any
circumstances. The day after the trial there was to be a by-
election at Nemesis-on-Hand, and it had been openly announced in the
division that if Platterbaff were languishing in gaol on polling day
the Government candidate would be "outed" to a certainty.
Unfortunately, there could be no doubt or misconception as to
Platterbaff's guilt. He had not only pleaded guilty, but had
expressed his intention of repeating his escapade in other
directions as soon as circumstances permitted; throughout the trial
he was busy examining a small model of the Free Trade Hall in
Manchester. The jury could not possibly find that the prisoner had
not deliberately and intentionally blown up the Albert Hall; the
question was: Could they find any extenuating circumstances which
would permit of an acquittal? Of course any sentence which the law
might feel compelled to inflict would be followed by an immediate
pardon, but it was highly desirable, from the Government's point of
view, that the necessity for such an exercise of clemency should not
arise. A headlong pardon, on the eve of a bye-election, with
threats of a heavy voting defection if it were withheld or even
delayed, would not necessarily be a surrender, but it would look
like one. Opponents would be only too ready to attribute ungenerous
motives. Hence the anxiety in the crowded Court, and in the little
groups gathered round the tape-machines in Whitehall and Downing
Street and other affected centres.

The jury returned from considering their verdict; there was a
flutter, an excited murmur, a death-like hush. The foreman
delivered his message:

"The jury find the prisoner guilty of blowing up the Albert Hall.
The jury wish to add a rider drawing attention to the fact that a
by-election is pending in the Parliamentary division of Nemesis-on-

"That, of course," said the Government Prosecutor, springing to his
feet, "is equivalent to an acquittal?"

"I hardly think so," said the Judge, coldly; "I feel obliged to
sentence the prisoner to a week's imprisonment."

"And may the Lord have mercy on the poll," a Junior Counsel
exclaimed irreverently.

It was a scandalous sentence, but then the Judge was not on the
Ministerial side in politics.

The verdict and sentence were made known to the public at twenty
minutes past five in the afternoon; at half-past five a dense crowd
was massed outside the Prime Minister's residence lustily singing,
to the air of "Trelawney":

"And should our Hero rot in gaol,
For e'en a single day,
There's Fifteen Hundred Voting Men
Will vote the other way."

"Fifteen hundred," said the Prime Minister, with a shudder; "it's
too horrible to think of. Our majority last time was only a
thousand and seven."

"The poll opens at eight to-morrow morning," said the Chief
Organiser; "we must have him out by 7 a.m."

"Seven-thirty," amended the Prime Minister; "we must avoid any
appearance of precipitancy."

"Not later than seven-thirty, then," said the Chief Organiser; "I
have promised the agent down there that he shall be able to display
posters announcing 'Platterbaff is Out,' before the poll opens. He
said it was our only chance of getting a telegram 'Radprop is In'

At half-past seven the next morning the Prime Minister and the Chief
Organiser sat at breakfast, making a perfunctory meal, and awaiting
the return of the Home Secretary, who had gone in person to
superintend the releasing of Platterbaff. Despite the earliness of
the hour a small crowd had gathered in the street outside, and the
horrible menacing Trelawney refrain of the "Fifteen Hundred Voting
Men" came in a steady, monotonous chant.

"They will cheer presently when they hear the news," said the Prime
Minister hopefully; "hark! They are booing some one now! That must
be McKenna."

The Home Secretary entered the room a moment later, disaster written
on his face.

"He won't go!" he exclaimed.

"Won't go? Won't leave gaol?"

"He won't go unless he has a brass band. He says he never has left
prison without a brass band to play him out, and he's not going to
go without one now."

"But surely that sort of thing is provided by his supporters and
admirers?" said the Prime Minister; "we can hardly be supposed to
supply a released prisoner with a brass band. How on earth could we
defend it on the Estimates?"

"His supporters say it is up to us to provide the music," said the
Home Secretary; "they say we put him in prison, and it's our affair
to see that he leaves it in a respectable manner. Anyway, he won't
go unless he has a band."

The telephone squealed shrilly; it was a trunk call from Nemesis.

"Poll opens in five minutes. Is Platterbaff out yet? In Heaven's
name, why--"

The Chief Organiser rang off.

"This is not a moment for standing on dignity," he observed bluntly;
"musicians must be supplied at once. Platterbaff must have his

"Where are you going to find the musicians?" asked the Home
Secretary wearily; "we can't employ a military band, in fact, I
don't think he'd have one if we offered it, and there ain't any
others. There's a musicians' strike on, I suppose you know."

"Can't you get a strike permit?" asked the Organiser.

"I'll try," said the Home Secretary, and went to the telephone.

Eight o'clock struck. The crowd outside chanted with an increasing
volume of sound:

"Will vote the other way."

A telegram was brought in. It was from the central committee rooms
at Nemesis. "Losing twenty votes per minute," was its brief

Ten o'clock struck. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the
Chief Organiser, and several earnest helpful friends were gathered
in the inner gateway of the prison, talking volubly to Demosthenes
Platterbaff, who stood with folded arms and squarely planted feet,
silent in their midst. Golden-tongued legislators whose eloquence
had swayed the Marconi Inquiry Committee, or at any rate the greater
part of it, expended their arts of oratory in vain on this stubborn
unyielding man. Without a band he would not go; and they had no

A quarter past ten, half-past. A constant stream of telegraph boys
poured in through the prison gates.

"Yamley's factory hands just voted you can guess how," ran a
despairing message, and the others were all of the same tenour.
Nemesis was going the way of Reading.

"Have you any band instruments of an easy nature to play?" demanded
the Chief Organiser of the Prison Governor; "drums, cymbals, those
sort of things?"

"The warders have a private band of their own," said the Governor,
"but of course I couldn't allow the men themselves--"

"Lend us the instruments," said the Chief Organiser.

One of the earnest helpful friends was a skilled performer on the
cornet, the Cabinet Ministers were able to clash cymbals more or
less in tune, and the Chief Organiser has some knowledge of the

"What tune would you prefer?" he asked Platterbaff.

"The popular song of the moment," replied the Agitator after a
moment's reflection.

It was a tune they had all heard hundreds of times, so there was no
difficulty in turning out a passable imitation of it. To the
improvised strains of "I didn't want to do it" the prisoner strode
forth to freedom. The word of the song had reference, it was
understood, to the incarcerating Government and not to the destroyer
of the Albert Hall.

The seat was lost, after all, by a narrow majority. The local Trade
Unionists took offence at the fact of Cabinet Ministers having
personally acted as strike-breakers, and even the release of
Platterbaff failed to pacify them.

The seat was lost, but Ministers had scored a moral victory. They
had shown that they knew when and how to yield.


Sir Lulworth Quayne sat in the lounge of his favourite restaurant,
the Gallus Bankiva, discussing the weaknesses of the world with his
nephew, who had lately returned from a much-enlivened exile in the
wilds of Mexico. It was that blessed season of the year when the
asparagus and the plover's egg are abroad in the land, and the
oyster has not yet withdrawn into it's summer entrenchments, and Sir
Lulworth and his nephew were in that enlightened after-dinner mood
when politics are seen in their right perspective, even the politics
of Mexico.

"Most of the revolutions that take place in this country nowadays,"
said Sir Lulworth, "are the product of moments of legislative panic.
Take, for instance, one of the most dramatic reforms that has been
carried through Parliament in the lifetime of this generation. It
happened shortly after the coal strike, of unblessed memory. To
you, who have been plunged up to the neck in events of a more
tangled and tumbled description, the things I am going to tell you
of may seem of secondary interest, but after all we had to live in
the midst of them."

Sir Lulworth interrupted himself for a moment to say a few kind
words to the liqueur brandy he had just tasted, and them resumed his

"Whether one sympathises with the agitation for female suffrage or
not one has to admit that its promoters showed tireless energy and
considerable enterprise in devising and putting into action new
methods for accomplishing their ends. As a rule they were a
nuisance and a weariness to the flesh, but there were times when
they verged on the picturesque. There was the famous occasion when
they enlivened and diversified the customary pageantry of the Royal
progress to open Parliament by letting loose thousands of parrots,
which had been carefully trained to scream 'Votes for women,' and
which circled round his Majesty's coach in a clamorous cloud of
green, and grey and scarlet. It was really rather a striking
episode from the spectacular point of view; unfortunately, however,
for its devisers, the secret of their intentions had not been well
kept, and their opponents let loose at the same moment a rival swarm
of parrots, which screeched 'I DON'T think' and other hostile cries,
thereby robbing the demonstration of the unanimity which alone could
have made it politically impressive. In the process of recapture
the birds learned a quantity of additional language which unfitted
them for further service in the Suffragette cause; some of the green
ones were secured by ardent Home Rule propagandists and trained to
disturb the serenity of Orange meetings by pessimistic reflections
on Sir Edward Carson's destination in the life to come. In fact,
the bird in politics is a factor that seems to have come to stay;
quite recently, at a political gathering held in a dimly-lighted
place of worship, the congregation gave a respectful hearing for
nearly ten minutes to a jackdaw from Wapping, under the impression
that they were listening to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was
late in arriving."

"But the Suffragettes," interrupted the nephew; "what did they do

"After the bird fiasco," said Sir Lulworth, "the militant section
made a demonstration of a more aggressive nature; they assembled in
force on the opening day of the Royal Academy Exhibition and
destroyed some three or four hundred of the pictures. This proved
an even worse failure than the parrot business; every one agreed
that there was always far too many pictures in the Academy
Exhibition, and the drastic weeding out of a few hundred canvases
was regarded as a positive improvement. Moreover, from the artists'
point of view it was realised that the outrage constituted a sort of
compensation for those whose works were persistently 'skied', since
out of sight meant also out of reach. Altogether it was one of the
most successful and popular exhibitions that the Academy had held
for many years. Then the fair agitators fell back on some of their
earlier methods; they wrote sweetly argumentative plays to prove
that they ought to have the vote, they smashed windows to show that
they must have the vote, and they kicked Cabinet Ministers to
demonstrate that they'd better have the vote, and still the coldly
reasoned or unreasoned reply was that they'd better not. Their
plight might have been summed up in a perversion of Gilbert's lines

"Twenty voteless millions we,
Voteless all against our will,
Twenty years hence we shall be
Twenty voteless millions still."

And of course the great idea for their master-stroke of strategy
came from a masculine source. Lena Dubarri, who was the captain-
general of their thinking department, met Waldo Orpington in the
Mall one afternoon, just at a time when the fortunes of the Cause
were at their lowest ebb. Waldo Orpington is a frivolous little
fool who chirrups at drawing-room concerts and can recognise bits
from different composers without referring to the programme, but all
the same he occasionally has ideas. He didn't care a twopenny
fiddlestring about the Cause, but he rather enjoyed the idea of
having his finger in the political pie. Also it is possible, though
I should think highly improbable, that he admired Lena Dubarri.
Anyhow, when Lena gave a rather gloomy account of the existing state
of things in the Suffragette World, Waldo was not merely sympathetic
but ready with a practical suggestion. Turning his gaze westward
along the Mall, towards the setting sun and Buckingham Palace, he
was silent for a moment, and then said significantly, 'You have
expended your energies and enterprise on labours of destruction; why
has it never occurred to you to attempt something far more

"'What do you mean?' she asked him eagerly.


"'Do you mean create disturbances? We've been doing nothing else
for months,' she said.

"Waldo shook his head, and continued to look westward along the
Mall. He's rather good at acting in an amateur sort of fashion.
Lena followed his gaze, and then turned to him with a puzzled look
of inquiry.

"'Exactly,' said Waldo, in answer to her look.

"'But--how can we create?' she asked; 'it's been done already.'

"'Do it AGAIN,' said Waldo, 'and again and again--'

"Before he could finish the sentence she had kissed him. She
declared afterwards that he was the first man she had ever kissed,
and he declared that she was the first woman who had ever kissed him
in the Mall, so they both secured a record of a kind.

"Within the next day or two a new departure was noticeable in
Suffragette tactics. They gave up worrying Ministers and Parliament
and took to worrying their own sympathisers and supporters--for
funds. The ballot-box was temporarily forgotten in the cult of the
collecting-box. The daughters of the horseleech were not more
persistent in their demands, the financiers of the tottering ancien
regime were not more desperate in their expedients for raising money
than the Suffragist workers of all sections at this juncture, and in
one way and another, by fair means and normal, they really got
together a very useful sum. What they were going to do with it no
one seemed to know, not even those who were most active in
collecting work. The secret on this occasion had been well kept.
Certain transactions that leaked out from time to time only added to
the mystery of the situation.

"'Don't you long to know what we are going to do with our treasure
hoard?' Lena asked the Prime Minister one day when she happened to
sit next to him at a whist drive at the Chinese Embassy.

"'I was hoping you were going to try a little personal bribery,' he
responded banteringly, but some genuine anxiety and curiosity lay
behind the lightness of his chaff; 'of course I know,' he added,
'that you have been buying up building sites in commanding
situations in and around the Metropolis. Two or three, I'm told,
are on the road to Brighton, and another near Ascot. You don't mean
to fortify them, do you?'

"'Something more insidious than that,' she said; 'you could prevent
us from building forts; you can't prevent us from erecting an exact
replica of the Victoria Memorial on each of those sites. They're
all private property, with no building restrictions attached.'

"'Which memorial?' he asked; 'not the one in front of Buckingham
Palace? Surely not that one?'

"'That one,' she said.

"'My dear lady,' he cried, 'you can't be serious. It is a beautiful
and imposing work of art--at any rate one is getting accustomed to
it, and even if one doesn't happen to admire it one can always look
in another direction. But imagine what life would be like if one
saw that erection confronting one wherever one went. Imagine the
effect on people with tired, harassed nerves who saw it three times
on the way to Brighton and three times on the way back. Imagine
seeing it dominate the landscape at Ascot, and trying to keep your
eye off it on the Sandwich golf links. What have your countrymen
done to deserve such a thing?'

"'They have refused us the vote,' said Lena bitterly.

"The Prime Minister always declared himself an opponent of anything
savouring of panic legislation, but he brought a Bill into
Parliament forthwith and successfully appealed to both Houses to
pass it through all its stages within the week. And that is how we
got one of the most glorious measures of the century."

"A measure conferring the vote on women?" asked the nephew.

"Oh dear, no. An Act which made it a penal offence to erect
commemorative statuary anywhere within three miles of a public


It was Reggie Bruttle's own idea for converting what had threatened
to be an albino elephant into a beast of burden that should help him
along the stony road of his finances. "The Limes," which had come
to him by inheritance without any accompanying provision for its
upkeep, was one of those pretentious, unaccommodating mansions which
none but a man of wealth could afford to live in, and which not one
wealthy man in a hundred would choose on its merits. It might
easily languish in the estate market for years, set round with
noticeboards proclaiming it, in the eyes of a sceptical world, to be
an eminently desirable residence.

Reggie's scheme was to turn it into the headquarters of a prolonged
country-house party, in session during the months from October till
the end of March--a party consisting of young or youngish people of
both sexes, too poor to be able to do much hunting or shooting on a
serious scale, but keen on getting their fill of golf, bridge,
dancing, and occasional theatre-going. No one was to be on the
footing of a paying guest, but every one was to rank as a paying
host; a committee would look after the catering and expenditure, and
an informal sub-committee would make itself useful in helping
forward the amusement side of the scheme.

As it was only an experiment, there was to be a general agreement on
the part of those involved in it to be as lenient and mutually
helpful to one another as possible. Already a promising nucleus,
including one or two young married couples, had been got together,
and the thing seemed to be fairly launched.

"With good management and a little unobtrusive hard work, I think
the thing ought to be a success," said Reggie, and Reggie was one of
those people who are painstaking first and optimistic afterwards.

"There is one rock on which you will unfailingly come to grief,
manage you never so wisely," said Major Dagberry, cheerfully; "the
women will quarrel. Mind you," continued this prophet of disaster,
"I don't say that some of the men won't quarrel too, probably they
will; but the women are bound to. You can't prevent it; it's in the
nature of the sex. The hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world,
in a volcanic sense. A woman will endure discomforts, and make
sacrifices, and go without things to an heroic extent, but the one
luxury she will not go without is her quarrels. No matter where she
may be, or how transient her appearance on a scene, she will instal
her feminine feuds as assuredly as a Frenchman would concoct soup in
the waste of the Arctic regions. At the commencement of a sea
voyage, before the male traveller knows half a dozen of his fellow
passengers by sight, the average woman will have started a couple of
enmities, and laid in material for one or two more--provided, of
course, that there are sufficient women aboard to permit quarrelling
in the plural. If there's no one else she will quarrel with the
stewardess. This experiment of yours is to run for six months; in
less than five weeks there will be war to the knife declaring itself
in half a dozen different directions."

"Oh, come, there are only eight women in the party; they won't pick
quarrels quite so soon as that," protested Reggie.

"They won't all originate quarrels, perhaps," conceded the Major,
"but they will all take sides, and just as Christmas is upon you,
with its conventions of peace and good will, you will find yourself
in for a glacial epoch of cold, unforgiving hostility, with an
occasional Etna flare of open warfare. You can't help it, old boy;
but, at any rate, you can't say you were not warned."

The first five weeks of the venture falsified Major Dagberry's
prediction and justified Reggie's optimism. There were, of course,
occasional small bickerings, and the existence of certain jealousies
might be detected below the surface of everyday intercourse; but, on
the whole, the womenfolk got on remarkably well together. There
was, however, a notable exception. It had not taken five weeks for
Mrs. Pentherby to get herself cordially disliked by the members of
her own sex; five days had been amply sufficient. Most of the women
declared that they had detested her the moment they set eyes on her;
but that was probably an afterthought.

With the menfolk she got on well enough, without being of the type
of woman who can only bask in male society; neither was she lacking
in the general qualities which make an individual useful and
desirable as a member of a co-operative community. She did not try
to "get the better of" her fellow-hosts by snatching little
advantages or cleverly evading her just contributions; she was not
inclined to be boring or snobbish in the way of personal
reminiscence. She played a fair game of bridge, and her card-room
manners were irreproachable. But wherever she came in contact with
her own sex the light of battle kindled at once; her talent of
arousing animosity seemed to border on positive genius.

Whether the object of her attentions was thick-skinned or sensitive,
quick-tempered or good-natured, Mrs. Pentherby managed to achieve
the same effect. She exposed little weaknesses, she prodded sore
places, she snubbed enthusiasms, she was generally right in a matter
of argument, or, if wrong, she somehow contrived to make her
adversary appear foolish and opinionated. She did, and said,
horrible things in a matter-of-fact innocent way, and she did, and
said, matter-of-fact innocent things in a horrible way. In short,
the unanimous feminine verdict on her was that she was

There was no question of taking sides, as the Major had anticipated;
in fact, dislike of Mrs. Pentherby was almost a bond of union
between the other women, and more than one threatening disagreement
had been rapidly dissipated by her obvious and malicious attempts to
inflame and extend it; and the most irritating thing about her was
her successful assumption of unruffled composure at moments when the
tempers of her adversaries were with difficulty kept under control.
She made her most scathing remarks in the tone of a tube conductor
announcing that the next station is Brompton Road--the measured,
listless tone of one who knows he is right, but is utterly
indifferent to the fact that he proclaims.

On one occasion Mrs. Val Gwepton, who was not blessed with the most
reposeful of temperaments, fairly let herself go, and gave Mrs.
Pentherby a vivid and truthful resume of her opinion of her. The
object of this unpent storm of accumulated animosity waited
patiently for a lull, and then remarked quietly to the angry little
woman -

"And now, my dear Mrs. Gwepton, let me tell you something that I've
been wanting to say for the last two or three minutes, only you
wouldn't given me a chance; you've got a hairpin dropping out on the
left side. You thin-haired women always find it difficult to keep
your hairpins in."

"What can one do with a woman like that?" Mrs. Val demanded
afterwards of a sympathising audience.

Of course, Reggie received numerous hints as to the unpopularity of
this jarring personality. His sister-in-law openly tackled him on
the subject of her many enormities. Reggie listened with the
attenuated regret that one bestows on an earthquake disaster in
Bolivia or a crop failure in Eastern Turkestan, events which seem so
distant that one can almost persuade oneself they haven't happened.

"That woman has got some hold over him," opined his sister-in-law,
darkly; "either she is helping him to finance the show, and presumes
on the fact, or else, which Heaven forbid, he's got some queer
infatuation for her. Men do take the most extraordinary fancies."

Matters never came exactly to a crisis. Mrs. Pentherby, as a source
of personal offence, spread herself over so wide an area that no one
woman of the party felt impelled to rise up and declare that she
absolutely refused to stay another week in the same house with her.
What is everybody's tragedy is nobody's tragedy. There was ever a
certain consolation in comparing notes as to specific acts of
offence. Reggie's sister-in-law had the added interest of trying to
discover the secret bond which blunted his condemnation of Mrs.
Pentherby's long catalogue of misdeeds. There was little to go on
from his manner towards her in public, but he remained obstinately
unimpressed by anything that was said against her in private.

With the one exception of Mrs. Pentherby's unpopularity, the house-
party scheme was a success on its first trial, and there was no
difficulty about reconstructing it on the same lines for another
winter session. It so happened that most of the women of the party,
and two or three of the men, would not be available on this
occasion, but Reggie had laid his plans well ahead and booked plenty
of "fresh blood" for the departure. It would be, if any thing,
rather a larger party than before.

"I'm so sorry I can't join this winter," said Reggie's sister-in-
law, "but we must go to our cousins in Ireland; we've put them off
so often. What a shame! You'll have none of the same women this

"Excepting Mrs. Pentherby," said Reggie, demurely.

"Mrs. Pentherby! SURELY, Reggie, you're not going to be so idiotic
as to have that woman again! She'll set all the women's backs up
just as she did this time. What IS this mysterious hold she's go
over you?"

"She's invaluable," said Reggie; "she's my official quarreller."

"Your--what did you say?" gasped his sister-in-law.

"I introduced her into the house-party for the express purpose of
concentrating the feuds and quarrelling that would otherwise have
broken out in all directions among the womenkind. I didn't need the
advice and warning of sundry friends to foresee that we shouldn't
get through six months of close companionship without a certain
amount of pecking and sparring, so I thought the best thing was to
localise and sterilise it in one process. Of course, I made it well
worth the lady's while, and as she didn't know any of you from Adam,
and you don't even know her real name, she didn't mind getting
herself disliked in a useful cause."

"You mean to say she was in the know all the time?"

"Of course she was, and so were one or two of the men, so she was
able to have a good laugh with us behind the scenes when she'd done
anything particularly outrageous. And she really enjoyed herself.
You see, she's in the position of poor relation in a rather
pugnacious family, and her life has been largely spent in smoothing
over other people's quarrels. You can imagine the welcome relief of
being able to go about saying and doing perfectly exasperating
things to a whole houseful of women--and all in the cause of peace."

"I think you are the most odious person in the whole world," said
Reggie's sister-in-law. Which was not strictly true; more than
anybody, more than ever she disliked Mrs. Pentherby. It was
impossible to calculate how many quarrels that woman had done her
out of.


Augustus Mellowkent was a novelist with a future; that is to say, a
limited but increasing number of people read his books, and there
seemed good reason to suppose that if he steadily continued to turn
out novels year by year a progressively increasing circle of readers
would acquire the Mellowkent habit, and demand his works from the
libraries and bookstalls. At the instigation of his publisher he
had discarded the baptismal Augustus and taken the front name of

"Women like a name that suggests some one strong and silent, able
but unwilling to answer questions. Augustus merely suggests idle
splendour, but such a name as Mark Mellowkent, besides being
alliterative, conjures up a vision of some one strong and beautiful
and good, a sort of blend of Georges Carpentier and the Reverend

One morning in December Augustus sat in his writing-room, at work on
the third chapter of his eighth novel. He had described at some
length, for the benefit of those who could not imagine it, what a
rectory garden looks like in July; he was now engaged in describing
at greater length the feelings of a young girl, daughter of a long
line of rectors and archdeacons, when she discovers for the first
time that the postman is attractive.

"Their eyes met, for a brief moment, as he handed her two circulars
and the fat wrapper-bound bulk of the East Essex News. Their eyes
met, for the merest fraction of a second, yet nothing could ever be
quite the same again. Cost what it might she felt that she must
speak, must break the intolerable, unreal silence that had fallen on
them. 'How is your mother's rheumatism?' she said."

The author's labours were cut short by the sudden intrusion of a

"A gentleman to see you, sir," said the maid, handing a card with
the name Caiaphas Dwelf inscribed on it; "says it's important."

Mellowkent hesitated and yielded; the importance of the visitor's
mission was probably illusory, but he had never met any one with the
name Caiaphas before. It would be at least a new experience.

Mr. Dwelf was a man of indefinite age; his high, narrow forehead,
cold grey eyes, and determined manner bespoke an unflinching
purpose. He had a large book under his arm, and there seemed every
probability that he had left a package of similar volumes in the
hall. He took a seat before it had been offered him, placed the
book on the table, and began to address Mellowkent in the manner of
an "open letter."

"You are a literary man, the author of several well-known books--"

"I am engage on a book at the present moment--rather busily
engaged," said Mellowkent, pointedly.

"Exactly," said the intruder; "time with you is a commodity of
considerable importance. Minutes, even, have their value."

"They have," agreed Mellowkent, looking at his watch.

"That," said Caiaphas, "is why this book that I am introducing to
your notice is not a book that you can afford to be without. 'Right
Here' is indispensable for the writing man; it is no ordinary
encyclopaedia, or I should not trouble to show it to you. It is an
inexhaustible mine of concise information--"

"On a shelf at my elbow," said the author, "I have a row of
reference books that supply me with all the information I am likely
to require."

"Here," persisted the would-be salesman, "you have it all in one
compact volume. No matter what the subject may be which you wish to
look up, or the fact you desire to verify, 'Right Here' gives you
all that you want to know in the briefest and most enlightening
form. Historical reference, for instance; career of John Huss, let
us say. Here we are: 'Huss, John, celebrated religious reformer.
Born 1369, burned at Constance 1415. The Emperor Sigismund
universally blamed.'"

"If he had been burnt in these days every one would have suspected
the Suffragettes," observed Mellowkent.

"Poultry-keeping, now," resumed Caiaphas, "that's a subject that
might crop up in a novel dealing with English country life. Here we
have all about it: 'The Leghorn as egg-producer. Lack of maternal
instinct in the Minorca. Gapes in chickens, its cause and cure.
Ducklings for the early market, how fattened.' There, you see,
there it all is, nothing lacking."

"Except the maternal instinct in the Minorca, and that you could
hardly be expected to supply."

"Sporting records, that's important, too; now how many men, sporting
men even, are there who can say off-hand what horse won the Derby in
any particular year? Now it's just a little thing of that sort--"

"My dear sir," interrupted Mellowkent, "there are at least four men
in my club who can not only tell me what horse won in any given
year, but what horse ought to have won and why it didn't. If your
book could supply a method for protecting one from information of
that sort it would do more than anything you have yet claimed for

"Geography," said Caiaphas, imperturbably; "that's a thing that a
busy man, writing at high pressure, may easily make a slip over.
Only the other day a well-known author made the Volga flow into the
Black Sea instead of the Caspian; now, with this book--"

"On a polished rose-wood stand behind you there reposes a reliable
and up-to-date atlas," said Mellowkent; "and now I must really ask
you to be going."

"An atlas," said Caiaphas, "gives merely the chart of the river's
course, and indicates the principal towns that it passes. Now Right
Here gives you the scenery, traffic, ferry-boat charges, the
prevalent types of fish, boatmen's slang terms, and hours of sailing
of the principal river steamers. If gives you--"

Mellowkent sat and watched the hard-featured, resolute, pitiless
salesman, as he sat doggedly in the chair wherein he had installed
himself, unflinchingly extolling the merits of his undesired wares.
A spirit of wistful emulation took possession of the author; why
could he not live up to the cold stern name he had adopted? Why
must he sit here weakly and listen to this weary, unconvincing
tirade, why could he not be Mark Mellowkent for a few brief moments,
and meet this man on level terms?

A sudden inspiration flashed across his.

"Have you read my last book, The Cageless Linnet?" he asked.

"I don't read novels," said Caiaphas tersely.

"Oh, but you ought to read this one, every one ought to," exclaimed
Mellowkent, fishing the book down from a shelf; "published at six
shillings, you can have it at four-and-six. There is a bit in
chapter five that I feel sure you would like, where Emma is alone in
the birch copse waiting for Harold Huntingdon--that is the man her
family want her to marry. She really wants to marry him, too, but
she does not discover that till chapter fifteen. Listen: 'Far as
the eye could stretch rolled the mauve and purple billows of
heather, lit up here and there with the glowing yellow of gorse and
broom, and edged round with the delicate greys and silver and green
of the young birch trees. Tiny blue and brown butterflies fluttered
above the fronds of heather, revelling in the sunlight, and overhead
the larks were singing as only larks can sing. It was a day when
all Nature--"

"In 'Right Here' you have full information on all branches of Nature
study," broke in the bookagent, with a tired note sounding in his
voice for the first time; "forestry, insect life, bird migration,
reclamation of waste lands. As I was saying, no man who has to deal
with the varied interests of life--"

"I wonder if you would care for one of my earlier books, The
Reluctance of Lady Cullumpton," said Mellowkent, hunting again
through the bookshelf; "some people consider it my best novel. Ah,
here it is. I see there are one or two spots on the cover, so I
won't ask more than three-and-ninepence for it. Do let me read you
how it opens:

"'Beatrice Lady Cullumpton entered the long, dimly-lit drawing-room,
her eyes blazing with a hope that she guessed to be groundless, her
lips trembling with a fear that she could not disguise. In her hand
she carried a small fan, a fragile toy of lace and satinwood.
Something snapped as she entered the room; she had crushed the fan
into a dozen pieces.'

"There, what do you think of that for an opening? It tells you at
once that there's something afoot."

"I don't read novels," said Caiaphas sullenly.

"But just think what a resource they are," exclaimed the author, "on
long winter evenings, or perhaps when you are laid up with a
strained ankle--a thing that might happen to any one; or if you were
staying in a house-party with persistent wet weather and a stupid
hostess and insufferably dull fellow-guests, you would just make an
excuse that you had letters to write, go to your room, light a
cigarette, and for three-and-ninepence you could plunge into the
society of Beatrice Lady Cullumpton and her set. No one ought to
travel without one or two of my novels in their luggage as a stand-
by. A friend of mine said only the other day that he would as soon
think of going into the tropics without quinine as of going on a
visit without a couple of Mark Mellowkents in his kit-bag. Perhaps
sensation is more in your line. I wonder if I've got a copy of The
Python's Kiss."

Caiaphas did not wait to be tempted with selections from that
thrilling work of fiction. With a muttered remark about having no
time to waste on monkey-talk, he gathered up his slighted volume and
departed. He made no audible reply to Mellowkent's cheerful "Good
morning," but the latter fancied that a look of respectful hatred
flickered in the cold grey eyes.


A "Mixed Double" of young people were contesting a game of lawn
tennis at the Rectory garden party; for the past five-and-twenty
years at least mixed doubles of young people had done exactly the
same thing on exactly the same spot at about the same time of year.
The young people changed and made way for others in the course of
time, but very little else seemed to alter. The present players
were sufficiently conscious of the social nature of the occasion to
be concerned about their clothes and appearance, and sufficiently
sport-loving to be keen on the game. Both their efforts and their
appearance came under the fourfold scrutiny of a quartet of ladies
sitting as official spectators on a bench immediately commanding the
court. It was one of the accepted conditions of the Rectory garden
party that four ladies, who usually knew very little about tennis
and a great deal about the players, should sit at that particular
spot and watch the game. It had also come to be almost a tradition
that two ladies should be amiable, and that the other two should be
Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Hatch-Mallard.

"What a singularly unbecoming way Eva Jonelet has taken to doing her
hair in," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard; "it's ugly hair at the best of
times, but she needn't make it look ridiculous as well. Some one
ought to tell her."

Eva Jonelet's hair might have escaped Mrs. Hatch-Mallard's
condemnation if she could have forgotten the more glaring fact that
Eva was Mrs. Dole's favourite niece. It would, perhaps, have been a
more comfortable arrangement if Mrs. Hatch-Mallard and Mrs. Dole
could have been asked to the Rectory on separate occasions, but
there was only one garden party in the course of the year, and
neither lady could have been omitted from the list of invitations
without hopelessly wrecking the social peace of the parish.

"How pretty the yew trees look at this time of year," interposed a
lady with a soft, silvery voice that suggested a chinchilla muff
painted by Whistler.

"What do you mean by this time of year?" demanded Mrs. Hatch-
Mallard. "Yew trees look beautiful at all times of the year. That
is their great charm."

"Yew trees never look anything but hideous under any circumstances
or at any time of year," said Mrs. Dole, with the slow, emphatic
relish of one who contradicts for the pleasure of the thing. "They
are only fit for graveyards and cemeteries."

Mrs. Hatch-Mallard gave a sardonic snort, which, being translated,
meant that there were some people who were better fitted for
cemeteries than for garden parties.

"What is the score, please?" asked the lady with the chinchilla

The desired information was given her by a young gentleman in
spotless white flannels, whose general toilet effect suggested
solicitude rather than anxiety.

"What an odious young cub Bertie Dykson has become!" pronounced Mrs.
Dole, remembering suddenly that Bertie was a favourite with Mrs.
Hatch-Mallard. "The young men of to-day are not what they used to
be twenty years ago."

"Of course not," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard; "twenty years ago Bertie
Dykson was just two years old, and you must expect some difference
in appearance and manner and conversation between those two

"Do you know," said Mrs. Dole, confidentially, "I shouldn't be
surprised if that was intended to be clever."

"Have you any one interesting coming to stay with you, Mrs.
Norbury?" asked the chinchilla voice, hastily; "you generally have a
house party at this time of year."

"I've got a most interesting woman coming," said Mrs. Norbury, who
had been mutely struggling for some chance to turn the conversation
into a safe channel; "an old acquaintance of mine, Ada Bleek--"

"What an ugly name," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard.

"She's descended from the de la Bliques, an old Huguenot family of
Touraine, you know."

"There weren't any Huguenots in Touraine," said Mrs. Hatch-Mallard,
who thought she might safely dispute any fact that was three hundred
years old.

"Well, anyhow, she's coming to stay with me," continued Mrs.
Norbury, bringing her story quickly down to the present day, "she
arrives this evening, and she's highly clairvoyante, a seventh
daughter of a seventh daughter, you now, and all that sort of

"How very interesting," said the chinchilla voice; "Exwood is just
the right place for her to come to, isn't it? There are supposed to

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest