Part 3 out of 4
be several ghosts there."
"That is why she was so anxious to come," said Mrs. Norbury; "she
put off another engagement in order to accept my invitation. She's
had visions and dreams, and all those sort of things, that have come
true in a most marvellous manner, but she's never actually seen a
ghost, and she's longing to have that experience. She belongs to
that Research Society, you know."
"I expect she'll see the unhappy Lady Cullumpton, the most famous of
all the Exwood ghosts," said Mrs. Dole; "my ancestor, you know, Sir
Gervase Cullumpton, murdered his young bride in a fit of jealousy
while they were on a visit to Exwood. He strangled her in the
stables with a stirrup leather, just after they had come in from
riding, and she is seen sometimes at dusk going about the lawns and
the stable yard, in a long green habit, moaning and trying to get
the thong from round her throat. I shall be most interested to hear
if your friend sees--"
"I don't know why she should be expected to see a trashy,
traditional apparition like the so-called Cullumpton ghost, that is
only vouched for by housemaids and tipsy stable-boys, when my uncle,
who was the owner of Exwood, committed suicide there under the most
tragical circumstances, and most certainly haunts the place."
"Mrs. Hatch-Mallard has evidently never read Popple's County
History," said Mrs. Dole icily, "or she would know that the
Cullumpton ghost has a wealth of evidence behind it--"
"Oh, Popple!" exclaimed Mrs. Hatch-Mallard scornfully; "any rubbishy
old story is good enough for him. Popple, indeed! Now my uncle's
ghost was seen by a Rural Dean, who was also a Justice of the Peace.
I should think that would be good enough testimony for any one.
Mrs. Norbury, I shall take it as a deliberate personal affront if
your clairvoyante friend sees any other ghost except that of my
"I daresay she won't see anything at all; she never has yet, you
know," said Mrs. Norbury hopefully.
"It was a most unfortunate topic for me to have broached," she
lamented afterwards to the owner of the chinchilla voice; "Exwood
belongs to Mrs. Hatch-Mallard, and we've only got it on a short
lease. A nephew of hers has been wanting to live there for some
time, and if we offend her in any way she'll refuse to renew the
lease. I sometimes think these garden-parties are a mistake."
The Norburys played bridge for the next three nights till nearly one
o'clock; they did not care for the game, but it reduced the time at
their guest's disposal for undesirable ghostly visitations.
"Miss Bleek is not likely to be in a frame of mind to see ghosts,"
said Hugo Norbury, "if she goes to bed with her brain awhirl with
royal spades and no trumps and grand slams."
"I've talked to her for hours about Mrs. Hatch-Mallard's uncle,"
said his wife, "and pointed out the exact spot where he killed
himself, and invented all sorts of impressive details, and I've
found an old portrait of Lord John Russell and put it in her room,
and told her that it's supposed to be a picture of the uncle in
middle age. If Ada does see a ghost at all it certainly ought to be
old Hatch-Mallard's. At any rate, we've done our best."
The precautions were in vain. On the third morning of her stay Ada
Bleek came down late to breakfast, her eyes looking very tired, but
ablaze with excitement, her hair done anyhow, and a large brown
volume hugged under her arm.
"At last I've seen something supernatural!" she exclaimed, and gave
Mrs. Norbury a fervent kiss, as though in gratitude for the
opportunity afforded her.
"A ghost!" cried Mrs. Norbury, "not really!"
"Really and unmistakably!"
"Was it an oldish man in the dress of about fifty years ago?" asked
Mrs. Norbury hopefully.
"Nothing of the sort," said Ada; "it was a white hedgehog."
"A white hedgehog!" exclaimed both the Norburys, in tones of
"A huge white hedgehog with baleful yellow eyes," said Ada; "I was
lying half asleep in bed when suddenly I felt a sensation as of
something sinister and unaccountable passing through the room. I
sat up and looked round, and there, under the window, I saw an evil,
creeping thing, a sort of monstrous hedgehog, of a dirty white
colour, with black, loathsome claws that clicked and scraped along
the floor, and narrow, yellow eyes of indescribable evil. It
slithered along for a yard or two, always looking at me with its
cruel, hideous eyes, then, when it reached the second window, which
was open it clambered up the sill and vanished. I got up at once
and went to the window; there wasn't a sign of it anywhere. Of
course, I knew it must be something from another world, but it was
not till I turned up Popple's chapter on local traditions that I
realised what I had seen."
She turned eagerly to the large brown volume and read: "'Nicholas
Herison, an old miser, was hung at Batchford in 1763 for the murder
of a farm lad who had accidentally discovered his secret hoard. His
ghost is supposed to traverse the countryside, appearing sometimes
as a white owl, sometimes as a huge white hedgehog."
"I expect you read the Popple story overnight, and that made you
THINK you saw a hedgehog when you were only half awake," said Mrs.
Norbury, hazarding a conjecture that probably came very near the
Ada scouted the possibility of such a solution of her apparition.
"This must be hushed up," said Mrs. Norbury quickly; "the servants--
"Hushed up!" exclaimed Ada, indignantly; "I'm writing a long report
on it for the Research Society."
It was then that Hugo Norbury, who is not naturally a man of
brilliant resource, had one of the really useful inspirations of his
"It was very wicked of us, Miss Bleek," he said, "but it would be a
shame to let it go further. That white hedgehog is an old joke of
ours; stuffed albino hedgehog, you know, that my father brought home
from Jamaica, where they grow to enormous size. We hide it in the
room with a string on it, run one end of the string through the
window; then we pull if from below and it comes scraping along the
floor, just as you've described, and finally jerks out of the
window. Taken in heaps of people; they all read up Popple and think
it's old Harry Nicholson's ghost; we always stop them from writing
to the papers about it, though. That would be carrying matters too
Mrs. Hatch-Mallard renewed the lease in due course, but Ada Bleek
has never renewed her friendship.
THE MAPPINED LIFE
"These Mappin Terraces at the Zoological Gardens are a great
improvement on the old style of wild-beast cage," said Mrs. James
Gurtleberry, putting down an illustrated paper; "they give one the
illusion of seeing the animals in their natural surroundings. I
wonder how much of the illusion is passed on to the animals?"
"That would depend on the animal," said her niece; "a jungle-fowl,
for instance, would no doubt think its lawful jungle surroundings
were faithfully reproduced if you gave it a sufficiency of wives, a
goodly variety of seed food and ants' eggs, a commodious bank of
loose earth to dust itself in, a convenient roosting tree, and a
rival or two to make matters interesting. Of course there ought to
be jungle-cats and birds of prey and other agencies of sudden death
to add to the illusion of liberty, but the bird's own imagination is
capable of inventing those--look how a domestic fowl will squawk an
alarm note if a rook or wood pigeon passes over its run when it has
"You think, then, they really do have a sort of illusion, if you
give them space enough--"
"In a few cases only. Nothing will make me believe that an acre or
so of concrete enclosure will make up to a wolf or a tiger-cat for
the range of night prowling that would belong to it in a wild state.
Think of the dictionary of sound and scent and recollection that
unfolds before a real wild beat as it comes out from its lair every
evening, with the knowledge that in a few minutes it will be hieing
along to some distant hunting ground where all the joy and fury of
the chase awaits it; think of the crowded sensations of the brain
when every rustle, every cry, every bent twig, and every whiff
across the nostrils means something, something to do with life and
death and dinner. Imagine the satisfaction of stealing down to your
own particular drinking spot, choosing your own particular tree to
scrape your claws on, finding your own particular bed of dried grass
to roll on. Then, in the place of all that, put a concrete
promenade, which will be of exactly the same dimensions whether you
race or crawl across it, coated with stale, unvarying scents and
surrounded with cries and noises that have ceased to have the least
meaning or interest. As a substitute for a narrow cage the new
enclosures are excellent, but I should think they are a poor
imitation of a life of liberty."
"It's rather depressing to think that," said Mrs. Gurtleberry; "they
look so spacious and so natural, but I suppose a good deal of what
seems natural to us would be meaningless to a wild animal."
"That is where our superior powers of self-deception come in," said
the niece; "we are able to live our unreal, stupid little lives on
our particular Mappin terrace, and persuade ourselves that we really
are untrammelled men and women leading a reasonable existence in a
"But good gracious," exclaimed the aunt, bouncing into an attitude
of scandalised defence, "we are leading reasonable existences! What
on earth do you mean by trammels? We are merely trammelled by the
ordinary decent conventions of civilised society."
"We are trammelled," said the niece, calmly and pitilessly, "by
restrictions of income and opportunity, and above all by lack of
initiative. To some people a restricted income doesn't matter a
bit, in fact it often seems to help as a means for getting a lot of
reality out of life; I am sure there are men and women who do their
shopping in little back streets of Paris, buying four carrots and a
shred of beef for their daily sustenance, who lead a perfectly real
and eventful existence. Lack of initiative is the thing that really
cripples one, and that is where you and I and Uncle James are so
hopelessly shut in. We are just so many animals stuck down on a
Mappin terrace, with this difference in our disfavour, that the
animals are there to be looked at, while nobody wants to look at us.
As a matter of fact there would be nothing to look at. We get colds
in winter and hay fever in summer, and if a wasp happens to sting
one of us, well, that is the wasp's initiative, not ours; all we do
is to wait for the swelling to go down. Whenever we do climb into
local fame and notice, it is by indirect methods; if it happens to
be a good flowering year for magnolias the neighbourhood observes:
'Have you seen the Gurtleberry's magnolia? It is a perfect mass of
flowers,' and we go about telling people that there are fifty-seven
blossoms as against thirty-nine the previous year."
"In Coronation year there were as many as sixty," put in the aunt,
"your uncle has kept a record for the last eight years."
"Doesn't it ever strike you," continued the niece relentlessly,
"that if we moved away from here or were blotted out of existence
our local claim to fame would pass on automatically to whoever
happened to take the house and garden? People would say to one
another, 'Have you seen the Smith-Jenkins' magnolia? It is a
perfect mass of flowers,' or else 'Smith-Jenkins tells me there
won't be a single blossom on their magnolia this year; the east
winds have turned all the buds black.' Now if, when we had gone,
people still associated our names with the magnolia tree, no matter
who temporarily possessed it, if they said, 'Ah, that's the tree on
which the Gurtleberrys hung their cook because she sent up the wrong
kind of sauce with the asparagus,' that would be something really
due to our own initiative, apart from anything east winds or
magnolia vitality might have to say in the matter."
"We should never do such a thing," said the aunt.
The niece gave a reluctant sigh.
"I can't imagine it," she admitted. "Of course," she continued,
"there are heaps of ways of leading a real existence without
committing sensational deeds of violence. It's the dreadful little
everyday acts of pretended importance that give the Mappin stamp to
our life. It would be entertaining, if it wasn't so pathetically
tragic, to hear Uncle James fuss in here in the morning and
announce, 'I must just go down into the town and find out what the
men there are saying about Mexico. Matters are beginning to look
serious there.' Then he patters away into the town, and talks in a
highly serious voice to the tobacconist, incidentally buying an
ounce of tobacco; perhaps he meets one or two others of the world's
thinkers and talks to them in a highly serious voice, then he
patters back here and announces with increased importance, 'I've
just been talking to some men in the town about the condition of
affairs in Mexico. They agree with the view that I have formed,
that things there will have to get worse before they get better.'
Of course nobody in the town cared in the least little bit what his
views about Mexico were or whether he had any. The tobacconist
wasn't even fluttered at his buying the ounce of tobacco; he knows
that he purchases the same quantity of the same sort of tobacco
every week. Uncle James might just as well have lain on his back in
the garden and chattered to the lilac tree about the habits of
"I really will not listen to such things about your uncle,"
protested Mrs. James Gurtleberry angrily.
"My own case is just as bad and just as tragic," said the niece,
dispassionately; "nearly everything about me is conventional make-
believe. I'm not a good dancer, and no one could honestly call me
good-looking, but when I go to one of our dull little local dances
I'm conventionally supposed to 'have a heavenly time,' to attract
the ardent homage of the local cavaliers, and to go home with my
head awhirl with pleasurable recollections. As a matter of fact,
I've merely put in some hours of indifferent dancing, drunk some
badly-made claret cup, and listened to an enormous amount of
laborious light conversation. A moonlight hen-stealing raid with
the merry-eyed curate would be infinitely more exciting; imagine the
pleasure of carrying off all those white minorcas that the Chibfords
are always bragging about. When we had disposed of them we could
give the proceeds to a charity, so there would be nothing really
wrong about it. But nothing of that sort lies within the Mappined
limits of my life. One of these days somebody dull and decorous and
undistinguished will 'make himself agreeable' to me at a tennis
party, as the saying is, and all the dull old gossips of the
neighbourhood will begin to ask when we are to be engaged, and at
last we shall be engaged, and people will give us butter-dishes and
blotting-cases and framed pictures of young women feeding swans.
Hullo, Uncle, are you going out?"
"I'm just going down to the town," announced Mr. James Gurtleberry,
with an air of some importance: "I want to hear what people are
saying about Albania. Affairs there are beginning to take on a very
serious look. It's my opinion that we haven't seen the worst of
In this he was probably right, but there was nothing in the
immediate or prospective condition of Albania to warrant Mrs.
Gurtleberry in bursting into tears.
Rex Dillot was nearly twenty-four, almost good-looking and quite
penniless. His mother was supposed to make him some sort of an
allowance out of what her creditors allowed her, and Rex
occasionally strayed into the ranks of those who earn fitful
salaries as secretaries or companions to people who are unable to
cope unaided with their correspondence or their leisure. For a few
months he had been assistant editor and business manager of a paper
devoted to fancy mice, but the devotion had been all on one side,
and the paper disappeared with a certain abruptness from club
reading-rooms and other haunts where it had made a gratuitous
appearance. Still, Rex lived with some air of comfort and well-
being, as one can live if one is born with a genius for that sort of
thing, and a kindly Providence usually arranged that his week-end
invitations coincided with the dates on which his one white dinner-
waistcoat was in a laundry-returned condition of dazzling cleanness.
He played most games badly, and was shrewd enough to recognise the
fact, but he had developed a marvellously accurate judgement in
estimating the play and chances of other people, whether in a golf
match, billiard handicap, or croquet tournament. By dint of
parading his opinion of such and such a player's superiority with a
sufficient degree of youthful assertiveness he usually succeeded in
provoking a wager at liberal odds, and he looked to his week-end
winnings to carry him through the financial embarrassments of his
mid-week existence. The trouble was, as he confided to Clovis
Sangrail, that he never had enough available or even prospective
cash at his command to enable him to fix the wager at a figure
really worth winning.
"Some day," he said, "I shall come across a really safe thing, a bet
that simply can't go astray, and then I shall put it up for all I'm
worth, or rather for a good deal more than I'm worth if you sold me
up to the last button."
"It would be awkward if it didn't happen to come off," said Clovis.
"It would be more than awkward," said Rex; "it would be a tragedy.
All the same, it would be extremely amusing to bring it off. Fancy
awaking in the morning with about three hundred pounds standing to
one's credit. I should go and clear out my hostess's pigeon-loft
before breakfast out of sheer good-temper."
"Your hostess of the moment mightn't have a pigeon-loft," said
"I always choose hostesses that have," said Rex; "a pigeon-loft is
indicative of a careless, extravagant, genial disposition, such as I
like to see around me. People who strew corn broadcast for a lot of
feathered inanities that just sit about cooing and giving each other
the glad eye in a Louis Quatorze manner are pretty certain to do you
"Young Strinnit is coming down this afternoon," said Clovis
reflectively; "I dare say you won't find it difficult to get him to
back himself at billiards. He plays a pretty useful game, but he's
not quite as good as he fancies he is."
"I know one member of the party who can walk round him," said Rex
softly, an alert look coming into his eyes; "that cadaverous-looking
Major who arrived last night. I've seen him play at St. Moritz. If
I could get Strinnit to lay odds on himself against the Major the
money would be safe in my pocket. This looks like the good thing
I've been watching and praying for."
"Don't be rash," counselled Clovis, "Strinnit may play up to his
self-imagined form once in a blue moon."
"I intend to be rash," said Rex quietly, and the look on his face
corroborated his words.
"Are you all going to flock to the billiard-room?" asked Teresa
Thundleford, after dinner, with an air of some disapproval and a
good deal of annoyance. "I can't see what particular amusement you
find in watching two men prodding little ivory balls about on a
"Oh, well," said her hostess, "it's a way of passing the time, you
"A very poor way, to my mind," said Mrs. Thundleford; "now I was
going to have shown all of you the photographs I took in Venice last
"You showed them to us last night," said Mrs. Cuvering hastily.
"Those were the ones I took in Florence. These are quite a
"Oh, well, some time to-morrow we can look at them. You can leave
them down in the drawing-room, and then every one can have a look."
"I should prefer to show them when you are all gathered together, as
I have quite a lot of explanatory remarks to make, about Venetian
art and architecture, on the same lines as my remarks last night on
the Florentine galleries. Also, there are some verses of mine that
I should like to read you, on the rebuilding of the Campanile. But,
of course, if you all prefer to watch Major Latton and Mr. Strinnit
knocking balls about on a table--"
"They are both supposed to be first-rate players," said the hostess.
"I have yet to learn that my verses and my art causerie are of
second-rate quality," said Mrs. Thundleford with acerbity.
"However, as you all seem bent on watching a silly game, there's no
more to be said. I shall go upstairs and finish some writing.
Later on, perhaps, I will come down and join you."
To one, at least, of the onlookers the game was anything but silly.
It was absorbing, exciting, exasperating, nerve-stretching, and
finally it grew to be tragic. The Major with the St. Moritz
reputation was playing a long way below his form, young Strinnit was
playing slightly above his, and had all the luck of the game as
well. From the very start the balls seemed possessed by a demon of
contrariness; they trundled about complacently for one player, they
would go nowhere for the other.
"A hundred and seventy, seventy-four," sang out the youth who was
marking. In a game of two hundred and fifty up it was an enormous
lead to hold. Clovis watched the flush of excitement die away from
Dillot's face, and a hard white look take its place.
"How much have you go on?" whispered Clovis. The other whispered
the sum through dry, shaking lips. It was more than he or any one
connected with him could pay; he had done what he had said he would
do. He had been rash.
"Two hundred and six, ninety-eight."
Rex heard a clock strike ten somewhere in the hall, then another
somewhere else, and another, and another; the house seemed full of
striking clocks. Then in the distance the stable clock chimed in.
In another hour they would all be striking eleven, and he would be
listening to them as a disgraced outcast, unable to pay, even in
part, the wager he had challenged.
"Two hundred and eighteen, a hundred and three." The game was as
good as over. Rex was as good as done for. He longed desperately
for the ceiling to fall in, for the house to catch fire, for
anything to happen that would put an end to that horrible rolling to
and fro of red and white ivory that was jostling him nearer and
nearer to his doom.
"Two hundred and twenty-eight, a hundred and seven."
Rex opened his cigarette-case; it was empty. That at least gave him
a pretext to slip away from the room for the purpose of refilling
it; he would spare himself the drawn-out torture of watching that
hopeless game played out to the bitter end. He backed away from the
circle of absorbed watchers and made his way up a short stairway to
a long, silent corridor of bedrooms, each with a guests' name
written in a little square on the door. In the hush that reigned in
this part of the house he could still hear the hateful click-click
of the balls; if he waited for a few minutes longer he would hear
the little outbreak of clapping and buzz of congratulation that
would hail Strinnit's victory. On the alert tension of his nerves
there broke another sound, the aggressive, wrath-inducing breathing
of one who sleeps in heavy after-dinner slumber. The sound came
from a room just at his elbow; the card on the door bore the
announcement "Mrs. Thundleford." The door was just slightly ajar;
Rex pushed it open an inch or two more and looked in. The august
Teresa had fallen asleep over an illustrated guide to Florentine
art-galleries; at her side, somewhat dangerously near the edge of
the table, was a reading-lamp. If Fate had been decently kind to
him, thought Rex, bitterly, that lamp would have been knocked over
by the sleeper and would have given them something to think of
besides billiard matches.
There are occasions when one must take one's Fate in one's hands.
Rex took the lamp in his.
"Two hundred and thirty-seven, one hundred and fifteen." Strinnit
was at the table, and the balls lay in good position for him; he had
a choice of two fairly easy shots, a choice which he was never to
decide. A sudden hurricane of shrieks and a rush of stumbling feet
sent every one flocking to the door. The Dillot boy crashed into
the room, carrying in his arms the vociferous and somewhat
dishevelled Teresa Thundleford; her clothing was certainly not a
mass of flames, as the more excitable members of the party
afterwards declared, but the edge of her skirt and part of the
table-cover in which she had been hastily wrapped were alight in a
flickering, half-hearted manner. Rex flung his struggling burden on
the billiard table, and for one breathless minute the work of
beating out the sparks with rugs and cushions and playing on them
with soda-water syphons engrossed the energies of the entire
"It was lucky I was passing when it happened," panted Rex; "some one
had better see to the room, I think the carpet is alight."
As a matter of fact the promptitude and energy of the rescuer had
prevented any great damage being done, either to the victim or her
surroundings. The billiard table had suffered most, and had to be
laid up for repairs; perhaps it was not the best place to have
chosen for the scene of salvage operations; but then, as Clovis
remarked, when one is rushing about with a blazing woman in one's
arms one can't stop to think out exactly where one is going to put
Tom Yorkfield had always regarded his half-brother, Laurence, with a
lazy instinct of dislike, toned down, as years went on, to a
tolerant feeling of indifference. There was nothing very tangible
to dislike him for; he was just a blood-relation, with whom Tom had
no single taste or interest in common, and with whom, at the same
time, he had had no occasion for quarrel. Laurence had left the
farm early in life, and had lived for a few years on a small sum of
money left him by his mother; he had taken up painting as a
profession, and was reported to be doing fairly well at it, well
enough, at any rate, to keep body and soul together. He specialised
in painting animals, and he was successful in finding a certain
number of people to buy his pictures. Tom felt a comforting sense
of assured superiority in contrasting his position with that of his
half-brother; Laurence was an artist-chap, just that and nothing
more, though you might make it sound more important by calling an
animal painter; Tom was a farmer, not in a very big way, it was
true, but the Helsery farm had been in the family for some
generations, and it had a good reputation for the stock raised on
it. Tom had done his best, with the little capital at his command,
to maintain and improve the standard of his small herd of cattle,
and in Clover Fairy he had bred a bull which was something rather
better than any that his immediate neighbours could show. It would
not have made a sensation in the judging-ring at an important cattle
show, but it was as vigorous, shapely, and healthy a young animal as
any small practical farmer could wish to possess. At the King's
Head on market days Clover Fairy was very highly spoken of, and
Yorkfield used to declare that he would not part with him for a
hundred pounds; a hundred pounds is a lot of money in the small
farming line, and probably anything over eighty would have tempted
It was with some especial pleasure that Tom took advantage of one of
Laurence's rare visits to the farm to lead him down to the enclosure
where Clover Fairy kept solitary state--the grass widower of a
grazing harem. Tom felt some of his old dislike for his half-
brother reviving; the artist was becoming more languid in his
manner, more unsuitably turned-out in attire, and he seemed inclined
to impart a slightly patronising tone to his conversation. He took
no heed of a flourishing potato crop, but waxed enthusiastic over a
clump of yellow-flowering weed that stood in a corner by a gateway,
which was rather galling to the owner of a really very well weeded
farm; again, when he might have been duly complimentary about a
group of fat, black-faced lambs, that simply cried aloud for
admiration, he became eloquent over the foliage tints of an oak
copse on the hill opposite. But now he was being taken to inspect
the crowning pride and glory of Helsery; however grudging he might
be in his praises, however backward and niggardly with his
congratulations, he would have to see and acknowledge the many
excellences of that redoubtable animal. Some weeks ago, while on a
business journey to Taunton, Tom had been invited by his half-
brother to visit a studio in that town, where Laurence was
exhibiting one of his pictures, a large canvas representing a bull
standing knee-deep in some marshy ground; it had been good of its
kind, no doubt, and Laurence had seemed inordinately pleased with
it; "the best thing I've done yet," he had said over and over again,
and Tom had generously agreed that it was fairly life-like. Now,
the man of pigments was going to be shown a real picture, a living
model of strength and comeliness, a thing to feast the eyes on, a
picture that exhibited new pose and action with every shifting
minute, instead of standing glued into one unvarying attitude
between the four walls of a frame. Tom unfastened a stout wooden
door and led the way into a straw-bedded yard.
"Is he quiet?" asked the artist, as a young bull with a curly red
coat came inquiringly towards them.
"He's playful at times," said Tom, leaving his half-brother to
wonder whether the bull's ideas of play were of the catch-as-catch-
can order. Laurence made one or two perfunctory comments on the
animal's appearance and asked a question or so as to his age and
such-like details; then he coolly turned the talk into another
"Do you remember the picture I showed you at Taunton?" he asked.
"Yes," grunted Tom; "a white-faced bull standing in some slush.
Don't admire those Herefords much myself; bulky-looking brutes,
don't seem to have much life in them. Daresay they're easier to
paint that way; now, this young beggar is on the move all the time,
aren't you, Fairy?"
"I've sold that picture," said Laurence, with considerable
complacency in his voice.
"Have you?" said Tom; "glad to hear it, I'm sure. Hope you're
pleased with what you've got for it."
"I got three hundred pounds for it," said Laurence.
Tom turned towards him with a slowly rising flush of anger in his
face. Three hundred pounds! Under the most favourable market
conditions that he could imagine his prized Clover Fairy would
hardly fetch a hundred, yet here was a piece of varnished canvas,
painted by his half-brother, selling for three times that sum. It
was a cruel insult that went home with all the more force because it
emphasised the triumph of the patronising, self-satisfied Laurence.
The young farmer had meant to put his relative just a little out of
conceit with himself by displaying the jewel of his possessions, and
now the tables were turned, and his valued beast was made to look
cheap and insignificant beside the price paid for a mere picture.
It was so monstrously unjust; the painting would never be anything
more than a dexterous piece of counterfeit life, while Clover Fairy
was the real thing, a monarch in his little world, a personality in
the countryside. After he was dead, even, he would still be
something of a personality; his descendants would graze in those
valley meadows and hillside pastures, they would fill stall and byre
and milking-shed, their good red coats would speckle the landscape
and crowd the market-place; men would note a promising heifer or a
well-proportioned steer, and say: "Ah, that one comes of good old
Clover Fairy's stock." All that time the picture would be hanging,
lifeless and unchanging, beneath its dust and varnish, a chattel
that ceased to mean anything if you chose to turn it with its back
to the wall. These thoughts chased themselves angrily through Tom
Yorkfield's mind, but he could not put them into words. When he
gave tongue to his feelings he put matters bluntly and harshly.
"Some soft-witted fools may like to throw away three hundred pounds
on a bit of paintwork; can't say as I envy them their taste. I'd
rather have the real thing than a picture of it."
He nodded towards the young bull, that was alternately staring at
them with nose held high and lowering its horns with a half-playful,
half-impatient shake of the head.
Laurence laughed a laugh of irritating, indulgent amusement.
"I don't think the purchaser of my bit of paintwork, as you call it,
need worry about having thrown his money away. As I get to be
better known and recognised my pictures will go up in value. That
particular one will probably fetch four hundred in a sale-room five
or six years hence; pictures aren't a bad investment if you know
enough to pick out the work of the right men. Now you can't say
your precious bull is going to get more valuable the longer you keep
him; he'll have his little day, and then, if you go on keeping him,
he'll come down at last to a few shillingsworth of hoofs and hide,
just at a time, perhaps, when my bull is being bought for a big sum
for some important picture gallery."
It was too much. The united force of truth and slander and insult
put over heavy a strain on Tom Yorkfield's powers of restraint. In
his right hand he held a useful oak cudgel, with his left he made a
grab at the loose collar of Laurence's canary-coloured silk shirt.
Laurence was not a fighting man; the fear of physical violence threw
him off his balance as completely as overmastering indignation had
thrown Tom off his, and thus it came to pass that Clover Fairy was
regaled with the unprecedented sight of a human being scudding and
squawking across the enclosure, like the hen that would persist in
trying to establish a nesting-place in the manger. In another
crowded happy moment the bull was trying to jerk Laurence over his
left shoulder, to prod him in the ribs while still in the air, and
to kneel on him when he reached the ground. It was only the
vigorous intervention of Tom that induced him to relinquish the last
item of his programme.
Tom devotedly and ungrudgingly nursed his half brother to a complete
recovery from his injuries, which consisted of nothing more serious
than a dislocated shoulder, a broken rib or two, and a little
nervous prostration. After all, there was no further occasion for
rancour in the young farmer's mind; Laurence's bull might sell for
three hundred, or for six hundred, and be admired by thousands in
some big picture gallery, but it would never toss a man over one
shoulder and catch him a jab in the ribs before he had fallen on the
other side. That was Clover Fairy's noteworthy achievement, which
could never be taken away from him.
Laurence continues to be popular as an animal artist, but his
subjects are always kittens or fawns or lambkins--never bulls.
The Olympic Toy Emporium occupied a conspicuous frontage in an
important West End street. It was happily named Toy Emporium,
because one would never have dreamed of according it the familiar
and yet pulse-quickening name of toyshop. There was an air of cold
splendour and elaborate failure about the wares that were set out in
its ample windows; they were the sort of toys that a tired shop-
assistant displays and explains at Christmas time to exclamatory
parents and bored, silent children. The animal toys looked more
like natural history models than the comfortable, sympathetic
companions that one would wish, at a certain age, to take to bed
with one, and to smuggle into the bath-room. The mechanical toys
incessantly did things that no one could want a toy to do more than
a half a dozen times in its life-time; it was a merciful reflection
that in any right-minded nursery the lifetime would certainly be
Prominent among the elegantly-dressed dolls that filled an entire
section of the window frontage was a large hobble-skirted lady in a
confection of peach-coloured velvet, elaborately set off with
leopard skin accessories, if one may use such a conveniently
comprehensive word in describing an intricate feminine toilette.
She lacked nothing that is to be found in a carefully detailed
fashion-plate--in fact, she might be said to have something more
than the average fashion-plate female possesses; in place of a
vacant, expressionless stare she had character in her face. It must
be admitted that it was bad character, cold, hostile, inquisitorial,
with a sinister lowering of one eyebrow and a merciless hardness
about the corners of the mouth. One might have imagined histories
about her by the hour, histories in which unworthy ambition, the
desire for money, and an entire absence of all decent feeling would
play a conspicuous part.
As a matter of fact, she was not without her judges and biographers,
even in this shop-window stage of her career. Emmeline, aged ten,
and Bert, aged seven, had halted on the way from their obscure back
street to the minnow-stocked water of St. James's Park, and were
critically examining the hobble-skirted doll, and dissecting her
character in no very tolerant spirit. There is probably a latent
enmity between the necessarily under-clad and the unnecessarily
over-dressed, but a little kindness and good fellowship on the part
of the latter will often change the sentiment to admiring devotion;
if the lady in peach-coloured velvet and leopard skin had worn a
pleasant expression in addition to her other elaborate furnishings,
Emmeline at least might have respected and even loved her. As it
was, she gave her a horrible reputation, based chiefly on a
secondhand knowledge of gilded depravity derived from the
conversation of those who were skilled in the art of novelette
reading; Bert filled in a few damaging details from his own limited
"She's a bad lot, that one is," declared Emmeline, after a long
unfriendly stare; "'er 'usbind 'ates 'er."
"'E knocks 'er abart," said Bert, with enthusiasm.
"No, 'e don't, cos 'e's dead; she poisoned 'im slow and gradual, so
that nobody didn't know. Now she wants to marry a lord, with 'eaps
and 'eaps of money. 'E's got a wife already, but she's going to
poison 'er, too."
"She's a bad lot," said Bert with growing hostility.
"'Er mother 'ates her, and she's afraid of 'er, too, cos she's got a
serkestic tongue; always talking serkesms, she is. She's greedy,
too; if there's fish going, she eats 'er own share and 'er little
girl's as well, though the little girl is dellikit."
"She 'ad a little boy once," said Bert, "but she pushed 'im into the
water when nobody wasn't looking."
"No she didn't," said Emmeline, "she sent 'im away to be kep' by
poor people, so 'er 'usbind wouldn't know where 'e was. They ill-
treat 'im somethink cruel."
"Wot's 'er nime?" asked Bert, thinking that it was time that so
interesting a personality should be labelled.
"'Er nime?" said Emmeline, thinking hard, "'er nime's Morlvera." It
was as near as she could get to the name of an adventuress who
figured prominently in a cinema drama. There was silence for a
moment while the possibilities of the name were turned over in the
"Those clothes she's got on ain't paid for, and never won't be,"
said Emmeline; "she thinks she'll get the rich lord to pay for 'em,
but 'e won't. 'E's given 'er jools, 'underds of pounds' worth."
"'E won't pay for the clothes," said Bert, with conviction.
Evidently there was some limit to the weak good nature of wealthy
At that moment a motor carriage with liveried servants drew up at
the emporium entrance; a large lady, with a penetrating and rather
hurried manner of talking, stepped out, followed slowly and sulkily
by a small boy, who had a very black scowl on his face and a very
white sailor suit over the rest of him. The lady was continuing an
argument which had probably commenced in Portman Square.
"Now, Victor, you are to come in and buy a nice doll for your cousin
Bertha. She gave you a beautiful box of soldiers on your birthday,
and you must give her a present on hers."
"Bertha is a fat little fool," said Victor, in a voice that was as
loud as his mother's and had more assurance in it.
"Victor, you are not to say such things. Bertha is not a fool, and
she is not in the least fat. You are to come in and choose a doll
The couple passed into the shop, out of view and hearing of the two
"My, he is in a wicked temper," exclaimed Emmeline, but both she and
Bert were inclined to side with him against the absent Bertha, who
was doubtless as fat and foolish as he had described her to be.
"I want to see some dolls," said the mother of Victor to the nearest
assistant; "it's for a little girl of eleven."
"A fat little girl of eleven," added Victor by way of supplementary
"Victor, if you say such rude things about your cousin, you shall go
to bed the moment we get home, without having any tea."
"This is one of the newest things we have in dolls," said the
assistant, removing a hobble-skirted figure in peach-coloured velvet
from the window; "leopard skin toque and stole, the latest fashion.
You won't get anything newer than that anywhere. It's an exclusive
"Look!" whispered Emmeline outside; "they've bin and took Morlvera."
There was a mingling of excitement and a certain sense of
bereavement in her mind; she would have liked to gaze at that
embodiment of overdressed depravity for just a little longer.
"I 'spect she's going away in a kerridge to marry the rich lord,"
"She's up to no good," said Emmeline vaguely.
Inside the shop the purchase of the doll had been decided on.
"It's a beautiful doll, and Bertha will be delighted with it,"
asserted the mother of Victor loudly.
"Oh, very well," said Victor sulkily; "you needn't have it stuck
into a box and wait an hour while it's being done up into a parcel.
I'll take it as it is, and we can go round to Manchester Square and
give it to Bertha, and get the thing done with. That will save me
the trouble of writing: 'For dear Bertha, with Victor's love,' on a
bit of paper."
"Very well," said his mother, "we can go to Manchester Square on our
way home. You must wish her many happy returns of to-morrow, and
give her the doll."
"I won't let the little beast kiss me," stipulated Victor.
His mother said nothing; Victor had not been half as troublesome as
she had anticipated. When he chose he could really be dreadfully
Emmeline and Bert were just moving away from the window when
Morlvera made her exit from the shop, very carefully in Victor's
arms. A look of sinister triumph seemed to glow in her hard,
inquisitorial face. As for Victor, a certain scornful serenity had
replaced the earlier scowls; he had evidently accepted defeat with a
contemptuous good grace.
The tall lady gave a direction to the footman and settled herself in
the carriage. The little figure in the white sailor suit clambered
in beside her, still carefully holding the elegantly garbed doll.
The car had to be backed a few yards in the process of turning.
Very stealthily, very gently, very mercilessly Victor sent Morlvera
flying over his shoulder, so that she fell into the road just behind
the retrogressing wheel. With a soft, pleasant-sounding scrunch the
car went over the prostrate form, then it moved forward again with
another scrunch. The carriage moved off and left Bert and Emmeline
gazing in scared delight at a sorry mess of petrol-smeared velvet,
sawdust, and leopard skin, which was all that remained of the
hateful Morlvera. They gave a shrill cheer, and then raced away
shuddering from the scene of so much rapidly enacted tragedy.
Later that afternoon, when they were engaged in the pursuit of
minnows by the waterside in St. James's Park, Emmeline said in a
solemn undertone to Bert -
"I've bin finking. Do you know oo 'e was? 'E was 'er little boy
wot she'd sent away to live wiv poor folks. 'E come back and done
On a late spring afternoon Ella McCarthy sat on a green-painted
chair in Kensington Gardens, staring listlessly at an uninteresting
stretch of park landscape, that blossomed suddenly into tropical
radiance as an expected figure appeared in the middle distance.
"Hullo, Bertie!" she exclaimed sedately, when the figure arrived at
the painted chair that was the nearest neighbour to her own, and
dropped into it eagerly, yet with a certain due regard for the set
of its trousers; "hasn't it been a perfect spring afternoon?"
The statement was a distinct untruth as far as Ella's own feelings
were concerned; until the arrival of Bertie the afternoon had been
anything but perfect.
Bertie made a suitable reply, in which a questioning note seemed to
"Thank you ever so much for those lovely handkerchiefs," said Ella,
answering the unspoken question; "they were just what I've been
wanting. There's only one thing spoilt my pleasure in your gift,"
she added, with a pout.
"What was that?" asked Bertie anxiously, fearful that perhaps he had
chosen a size of handkerchief that was not within the correct
"I should have liked to have written and thanked you for them as
soon as I got them," said Ella, and Bertie's sky clouded at once.
"You know what mother is," he protested; "she opens all my letters,
and if she found I'd been giving presents to any one there'd have
been something to talk about for the next fortnight."
"Surely, at the age of twenty--" began Ella.
"I'm not twenty till September," interrupted Bertie.
"At the age of nineteen years and eight months," persisted Ella,
"you might be allowed to keep your correspondence private to
"I ought to be, but things aren't always what they ought to be.
Mother opens every letter that comes into the house, whoever it's
for. My sisters and I have made rows about it time and again, but
she goes on doing it."
"I'd find some way to stop her if I were in your place," said Ella
valiantly, and Bertie felt that the glamour of his anxiously
deliberated present had faded away in the disagreeable restriction
that hedged round its acknowledgment.
"Is anything the matter?" asked Bertie's friend Clovis when they met
that evening at the swimming-bath.
"Why do you ask?" said Bertie.
"When you wear a look of tragic gloom in a swimming-bath," said
Clovis, "it's especially noticeable from the fact that you're
wearing very little else. Didn't she like the handkerchiefs?"
Bertie explained the situation.
"It is rather galling, you know," he added, "when a girl has a lot
of things she wants to write to you and can't send a letter except
by some roundabout, underhand way."
"One never realises one's blessings while one enjoys them," said
Clovis; "now I have to spend a considerable amount of ingenuity
inventing excuses for not having written to people."
"It's not a joking matter," said Bertie resentfully: "you wouldn't
find it funny if your mother opened all your letters."
"The funny thing to me is that you should let her do it."
"I can't stop it. I've argued about it--"
"You haven't used the right kind of argument, I expect. Now, if
every time one of your letters was opened you lay on your back on
the dining-table during dinner and had a fit, or roused the entire
family in the middle of the night to hear you recite one of Blake's
'Poems of Innocence,' you would get a far more respectful hearing
for future protests. People yield more consideration to a mutilated
mealtime or a broken night's rest, than ever they would to a broken
"Oh, dry up," said Bertie crossly, inconsistently splashing Clovis
from head to foot as he plunged into the water.
It was a day or two after the conversation in the swimming-bath that
a letter addressed to Bertie Heasant slid into the letter-box at his
home, and thence into the hands of his mother. Mrs. Heasant was one
of those empty-minded individuals to whom other people's affairs are
perpetually interesting. The more private they are intended to be
the more acute is the interest they arouse. She would have opened
this particular letter in any case; the fact that it was marked
"private," and diffused a delicate but penetrating aroma merely
caused her to open it with headlong haste rather than matter-of-
course deliberation. The harvest of sensation that rewarded her was
beyond all expectations.
"Bertie, carissimo," it began, "I wonder if you will have the nerve
to do it: it will take some nerve, too. Don't forget the jewels.
They are a detail, but details interest me.
"Yours as ever, Clotilde."
"Your mother must not know of my existence. If questioned swear you
never heard of me."
For years Mrs. Heasant had searched Bertie's correspondence
diligently for traces of possible dissipation or youthful
entanglements, and at last the suspicions that had stimulated her
inquisitorial zeal were justified by this one splendid haul. That
any one wearing the exotic name "Clotilde" should write to Bertie
under the incriminating announcement "as ever" was sufficiently
electrifying, without the astounding allusion to the jewels. Mrs.
Heasant could recall novels and dramas wherein jewels played an
exciting and commanding role, and here, under her own roof, before
her very eyes as it were, her own son was carrying on an intrigue in
which jewels were merely an interesting detail. Bertie was not due
home for another hour, but his sisters were available for the
immediate unburdening of a scandal-laden mind.
"Bertie is in the toils of an adventuress," she screamed; "her name
is Clotilde," she added, as if she thought they had better know the
worst at once. There are occasions when more harm than good is done
by shielding young girls from a knowledge of the more deplorable
realities of life.
By the time Bertie arrived his mother had discussed every possible
and improbable conjecture as to his guilty secret; the girls limited
themselves to the opinion that their brother had been weak rather
"Who is Clotilde?" was the question that confronted Bertie almost
before he had got into the hall. His denial of any knowledge of
such a person was met with an outburst of bitter laughter.
"How well you have learned your lesson!" exclaimed Mrs. Heasant.
But satire gave way to furious indignation when she realised that
Bertie did not intend to throw any further light on her discovery.
"You shan't have any dinner till you've confessed everything," she
Bertie's reply took the form of hastily collecting material for an
impromptu banquet from the larder and locking himself into his
bedroom. His mother made frequent visits to the locked door and
shouted a succession of interrogations with the persistence of one
who thinks that if you ask a question often enough an answer will
eventually result. Bertie did nothing to encourage the supposition.
An hour had passed in fruitless one-sided palaver when another
letter addressed to Bertie and marked "private" made its appearance
in the letter-box. Mrs. Heasant pounced on it with the enthusiasm
of a cat that has missed its mouse and to whom a second has been
unexpectedly vouchsafed. If she hoped for further disclosures
assuredly she was not disappointed.
"So you have really done it!" the letter abruptly commenced; "Poor
Dagmar. Now she is done for I almost pity her. You did it very
well, you wicked boy, the servants all think it was suicide, and
there will be no fuss. Better not touch the jewels till after the
Anything that Mrs. Heasant had previously done in the way of outcry
was easily surpassed as she raced upstairs and beat frantically at
her son's door.
"Miserable boy, what have you done to Dagmar?"
"It's Dagmar now, is it?" he snapped; "it will be Geraldine next."
"That it should come to this, after all my efforts to keep you at
home of an evening," sobbed Mrs. Heasant; "it's no use you trying to
hide things from me; Clotilde's letter betrays everything."
"Does it betray who she is?" asked Bertie; "I've heard so much about
her, I should like to know something about her home-life.
Seriously, if you go on like this I shall fetch a doctor; I've often
enough been preached at about nothing, but I've never had an
imaginary harem dragged into the discussion."
"Are these letters imaginary?" screamed Mrs. Heasant; "what about
the jewels, and Dagmar, and the theory of suicide?"
No solution of these problems was forthcoming through the bedroom
door, but the last post of the evening produced another letter for
Bertie, and its contents brought Mrs. Heasant that enlightenment
which had already dawned on her son.
"Dear Bertie," it ran; "I hope I haven't distracted your brain with
the spoof letters I've been sending in the name of a fictitious
Clotilde. You told me the other day that the servants, or somebody
at your home, tampered with your letters, so I thought I would give
any one that opened them something exciting to read. The shock
might do them good.
Mrs. Heasant knew Clovis slightly, and was rather afraid of him. It
was not difficult to read between the lines of his successful hoax.
In a chastened mood she rapped once more at Bertie's door.
"A letter from Mr. Sangrail. It's all been a stupid hoax. He wrote
those other letters. Why, where are you going?"
Bertie had opened the door; he had on his hat and overcoat.
"I'm going for a doctor to come and see if anything's the matter
with you. Of course it was all a hoax, but no person in his right
mind could have believed all that rubbish about murder and suicide
and jewels. You've been making enough noise to bring the house down
for the last hour or two."
"But what was I to think of those letters?" whimpered Mrs. Heasant.
"I should have known what to think of them," said Bertie; "if you
choose to excite yourself over other people's correspondence it's
your own fault. Anyhow, I'm going for a doctor."
It was Bertie's great opportunity, and he knew it. His mother was
conscious of the fact that she would look rather ridiculous if the
story got about. She was willing to pay hush-money.
"I'll never open your letters again," she promised. And Clovis has
no more devoted slave than Bertie Heasant.
THE SEVEN CREAM JUGS
"I suppose we shall never see Wilfred Pigeoncote here now that he
has become heir to the baronetcy and to a lot of money," observed
Mrs. Peter Pigeoncote regretfully to her husband.
"Well, we can hardly expect to," he replied, "seeing that we always
choked him off from coming to see us when he was a prospective
nobody. I don't think I've set eyes on him since he was a boy of
"There was a reason for not wanting to encourage his
acquaintanceship," said Mrs. Peter. "With that notorious failing of
his he was not the sort of person one wanted in one's house."
"Well, the failing still exists, doesn't it?" said her husband; "or
do you suppose a reform of character is entailed along with the
"Oh, of course, there is still that drawback," admitted the wife,
"but one would like to make the acquaintance of the future head of
the family, if only out of mere curiosity. Besides, cynicism apart,
his being rich will make a difference in the way people will look at
his failing. When a man is absolutely wealthy, not merely well-to-
do, all suspicion of sordid motive naturally disappears; the thing
becomes merely a tiresome malady."
Wilfrid Pigeoncote had suddenly become heir to his uncle, Sir
Wilfrid Pigeoncote, on the death of his cousin, Major Wilfrid
Pigeoncote, who had succumbed to the after-effects of a polo
accident. (A Wilfrid Pigeoncote had covered himself with honours in
the course of Marlborough's campaigns, and the name Wilfrid had been
a baptismal weakness in the family ever since.) The new heir to the
family dignity and estates was a young man of about five-and-twenty,
who was known more by reputation than by person to a wide circle of
cousins and kinsfolk. And the reputation was an unpleasant one.
The numerous other Wilfrids in the family were distinguished one
from another chiefly by the names of their residences or
professions, as Wilfrid of Hubbledown, and young Wilfrid the Gunner,
but this particular scion was known by the ignominious and
expressive label of Wilfrid the Snatcher. From his late schooldays
onward he had been possessed by an acute and obstinate form of
kleptomania; he had the acquisitive instinct of the collector
without any of the collector's discrimination. Anything that was
smaller and more portable than a sideboard, and above the value of
ninepence, had an irresistible attraction for him, provided that it
fulfilled the necessary condition of belonging to some one else. On
the rare occasions when he was included in a country-house party, it
was usual and almost necessary for his host, or some member of the
family, to make a friendly inquisition through his baggage on the
eve of his departure, to see if he had packed up "by mistake" any
one else's property. The search usually produced a large and varied
"This is funny," said Peter Pigeoncote to his wife, some half-hour
after their conversation; "here's a telegram from Wilfrid, saying
he's passing through here in his motor, and would like to stop and
pay us his respects. Can stay for the night if it doesn't
inconvenience us. Signed 'Wilfrid Pigeoncote.' Must be the
Snatcher; none of the others have a motor. I suppose he's bringing
us a present for the silver wedding."
"Good gracious!" said Mrs. Peter, as a thought struck her; "this is
rather an awkward time to have a person with his failing in the
house. All those silver presents set out in the drawing-room, and
others coming by every post; I hardly know what we've got and what
are still to come. We can't lock them all up; he's sure to want to
"We must keep a sharp look-out, that's all," said Peter
"But these practised kleptomaniacs are so clever," said his wife,
apprehensively, "and it will be so awkward if he suspects that we
are watching him."
Awkwardness was indeed the prevailing note that evening when the
passing traveller was being entertained. The talk flitted nervously
and hurriedly from one impersonal topic to another. The guest had
none of the furtive, half-apologetic air that his cousins had rather
expected to find; he was polite, well-assured, and, perhaps, just a
little inclined to "put on side". His hosts, on the other hand,
wore an uneasy manner that might have been the hallmark of conscious
depravity. In the drawing-room, after dinner, their nervousness and
"Oh, we haven't shown you the silver-wedding presents," said Mrs.
Peter, suddenly, as though struck by a brilliant idea for
entertaining the guest; "here they all are. Such nice, useful
gifts. A few duplicates, of course."
"Seven cream jugs," put in Peter.
"Yes, isn't it annoying," went on Mrs. Peter; "seven of them. We
feel that we must live on cream for the rest of our lives. Of
course, some of them can be changed."
Wilfrid occupied himself chiefly with such of the gifts as were of
antique interest, carrying one or two of them over to the lamp to
examine their marks. The anxiety of his hosts at these moments
resembled the solicitude of a cat whose newly born kittens are being
handed round for inspection.
"Let me see; did you give me back the mustard-pot? This is its
place here," piped Mrs. Peter.
"Sorry. I put it down by the claret-jug," said Wilfrid, busy with
"Oh, just let me have the sugar-sifter again," asked Mrs. Peter,
dogged determination showing through her nervousness; "I must label
it who it comes from before I forget."
Vigilance was not completely crowned with a sense of victory. After
they had said "Good-night" to their visitor, Mrs. Peter expressed
her conviction that he had taken something.
"I fancy, by his manner, that there was something up," corroborated
her husband; "do you miss anything?"
Mrs. Peters hastily counted the array of gifts.
"I can only make it thirty-four, and I think it should be thirty-
five," she announced; "I can't remember if thirty-five includes the
Archdeacon's cruet-stand that hasn't arrived yet."
"How on earth are we to know?" said Peter. "The mean pig hasn't
brought us a present, and I'm hanged if he shall carry one off."
"To-morrow, when's he having his bath," said Mrs. Peter excitedly,
"he's sure to leave his keys somewhere, and we can go through his
portmanteau. It's the only thing to do."
On the morrow an alert watch was kept by the conspirators behind
half-closed doors, and when Wilfrid, clad in a gorgeous bath-robe,
had made his way to the bath-room, there was a swift and furtive
rush by two excited individuals towards the principal guest-chamber.
Mrs. Peter kept guard outside, while her husband first made a
hurried and successful search for the keys, and then plunged at the
portmanteau with the air of a disagreeably conscientious Customs
official. The quest was a brief one; a silver cream jug lay
embedded in the folds of some zephyr shirts.
"The cunning brute," said Mrs. Peters; "he took a cream jug because
there were so many; he thought one wouldn't be missed. Quick, fly
down with it and put it back among the others."
Wilfrid was late in coming down to breakfast, and his manner showed
plainly that something was amiss.
"It's an unpleasant thing to have to say," he blurted out presently,
"but I'm afraid you must have a thief among your servants.
Something's been taken out of my portmanteau. It was a little
present from my mother and myself for your silver wedding. I should
have given it to you last night after dinner, only it happened to be
a cream jug, and you seemed annoyed at having so many duplicates, so
I felt rather awkward about giving you another. I thought I'd get
it changed for something else, and now it's gone."
"Did you say it was from your MOTHER and yourself?" asked Mr. and
Mrs. Peter almost in unison. The Snatcher had been an orphan these
"Yes, my mother's at Cairo just now, and she wrote to me at Dresden
to try and get you something quaint and pretty in the old silver
line, and I pitched on this cream jug."
Both the Pigeoncotes had turned deadly pale. The mention of Dresden
had thrown a sudden light on the situation. It was Wilfrid the
Attache, a very superior young man, who rarely came within their
social horizon, whom they had been entertaining unawares in the
supposed character of Wilfrid the Snatcher. Lady Ernestine
Pigeoncote, his mother, moved in circles which were entirely beyond
their compass or ambitions, and the son would probably one day be an
Ambassador. And they had rifled and despoiled his portmanteau!
Husband and wife looked blankly and desperately at one another. It
was Mrs. Peter who arrived first at an inspiration.
"How dreadful to think there are thieves in the house! We keep the
drawing-room locked up at night, of course, but anything might be
carried off while we are at breakfast."
She rose and went out hurriedly, as though to assure herself that
the drawing-room was not being stripped of its silverware, and
returned a moment later, bearing a cream jug in her hands.
"There are eight cream jugs now, instead of seven," she cried; "this
one wasn't there before. What a curious trick of memory, Mr.
Wilfrid! You must have slipped downstairs with it last night and
put it there before we locked up, and forgotten all about having
done it in the morning."
"One's mind often plays one little tricks like that," said Mr.
Peter, with desperate heartiness. "Only the other day I went into
the town to pay a bill, and went in again next day, having clean
forgotten that I'd--"
"It is certainly the jug I bought for you," said Wilfrid, looking
closely at it; "it was in my portmanteau when I got my bath-robe out
this morning, before going to my bath, and it was not there when I
unlocked the portmanteau on my return. Some one had taken it while
I was away from the room."
The Pigeoncotes had turned paler than ever. Mrs. Peter had a final
"Get me my smelling-salts, dear," she said to her husband; "I think
they're in the dressing-room."
Peter dashed out of the room with glad relief; he had lived so long
during the last few minutes that a golden wedding seemed within
Mrs. Peter turned to her guest with confidential coyness.
"A diplomat like you will know how to treat this as if it hadn't
happened. Peter's little weakness; it runs in the family."
"Good Lord! Do you mean to say he's a kleptomaniac, like Cousin
"Oh, not exactly," said Mrs. Peter, anxious to whitewash her husband
a little greyer than she was painting him. "He would never touch
anything he found lying about, but he can't resist making a raid on
things that are locked up. The doctors have a special name for it.
He must have pounced on your portmanteau the moment you went to your
bath, and taken the first thing he came across. Of course, he had
no motive for taking a cream jug; we've already got seven, as you
know--not, of course, that we don't value the kind of gift you and
your mother--hush here's Peter coming."
Mrs. Peter broke off in some confusion, and tripped out to meet her
husband in the hall.
"It's all right," she whispered to him; "I've explained everything.
Don't say anything more about it."
"Brave little woman," said Peter, with a gasp of relief; "I could
never have done it."
* * *
Diplomatic reticence does not necessarily extend to family affairs.
Peter Pigeoncote was never able to understand why Mrs. Consuelo van
Bullyon, who stayed with them in the spring, always carried two very
obvious jewel-cases with her to the bath-room, explaining them to
any one she chanced to meet in the corridor as her manicure and
THE OCCASIONAL GARDEN
"Don't talk to me about town gardens," said Elinor Rapsley; "which
means, of course, that I want you to listen to me for an hour or so
while I talk about nothing else. 'What a nice-sized garden you've
got,' people said to us when we first moved here. What I suppose
they meant to say was what a nice-sized site for a garden we'd got.
As a matter of fact, the size is all against it; it's too large to
be ignored altogether and treated as a yard, and it's too small to
keep giraffes in. You see, if we could keep giraffes or reindeer or
some other species of browsing animal there we could explain the
general absence of vegetation by a reference to the fauna of the
garden: 'You can't have wapiti AND Darwin tulips, you know, so we
didn't put down any bulbs last year.' As it is, we haven't got the
wapiti, and the Darwin tulips haven't survived the fact that most of
the cats of the neighbourhood hold a parliament in the centre of the
tulip bed; that rather forlorn looking strip that we intended to be
a border of alternating geranium and spiraea has been utilised by
the cat-parliament as a division lobby. Snap divisions seem to have
been rather frequent of late, far more frequent than the geranium
blooms are likely to be. I shouldn't object so much to ordinary
cats, but I do complain of having a congress of vegetarian cats in
my garden; they must be vegetarians, my dear, because, whatever
ravages they may commit among the sweet pea seedlings, they never
seem to touch the sparrows; there are always just as many adult
sparrows in the garden on Saturday as there were on Monday, not to
mention newly-fledged additions. There seems to have been an
irreconcilable difference of opinion between sparrows and Providence
since the beginning of time as to whether a crocus looks best
standing upright with its roots in the earth or in a recumbent
posture with its stem neatly severed; the sparrows always have the
last word in the matter, at least in our garden they do. I fancy
that Providence must have originally intended to bring in an
amending Act, or whatever it's called, providing either for a less
destructive sparrow or a more indestructible crocus. The one
consoling point about our garden is that it's not visible from the
drawing-room or the smoking-room, so unless people are dinning or
lunching with us they can't spy out the nakedness of the land. That
is why I am so furious with Gwenda Pottingdon, who has practically
forced herself on me for lunch on Wednesday next; she heard me offer
the Paulcote girl lunch if she was up shopping on that day, and, of
course, she asked if she might come too. She is only coming to
gloat over my bedraggled and flowerless borders and to sing the
praises of her own detestably over-cultivated garden. I'm sick of
being told that it's the envy of the neighbourhood; it's like
everything else that belongs to her--her car, her dinner-parties,
even her headaches, they are all superlative; no one else ever had
anything like them. When her eldest child was confirmed it was such
a sensational event, according to her account of it, that one almost
expected questions to be asked about it in the House of Commons, and
now she's coming on purpose to stare at my few miserable pansies and
the gaps in my sweet-pea border, and to give me a glowing, full-
length description of the rare and sumptuous blooms in her rose-
"My dear Elinor," said the Baroness, "you would save yourself all
this heart-burning and a lot of gardener's bills, not to mention
sparrow anxieties, simply by paying an annual subscription to the
"Never heard of it," said Elinor; "what is it?"
"The Occasional-Oasis Supply Association," said the Baroness; "it
exists to meet cases exactly like yours, cases of backyards that are
of no practical use for gardening purposes, but are required to
blossom into decorative scenic backgrounds at stated intervals, when
a luncheon or dinner-party is contemplated. Supposing, for
instance, you have people coming to lunch at one-thirty; you just
ring up the Association at about ten o'clock the same morning, and
say 'lunch garden'. That is all the trouble you have to take. By
twelve forty-five your yard is carpeted with a strip of velvety
turf, with a hedge of lilac or red may, or whatever happens to be in
season, as a background, one or two cherry trees in blossom, and
clumps of heavily-flowered rhododendrons filling in the odd corners;
in the foreground you have a blaze of carnations or Shirley poppies,
or tiger lilies in full bloom. As soon as the lunch is over and
your guests have departed the garden departs also, and all the cats
in Christendom can sit in council in your yard without causing you a
moment's anxiety. If you have a bishop or an antiquary or something
of that sort coming to lunch you just mention the fact when you are
ordering the garden, and you get an old-world pleasaunce, with
clipped yew hedges and a sun-dial and hollyhocks, and perhaps a
mulberry tree, and borders of sweet-williams and Canterbury bells,
and an old-fashioned beehive or two tucked away in a corner. Those
are the ordinary lines of supply that the Oasis Association
undertakes, but by paying a few guineas a year extra you are
entitled to its emergency E.O.N. service."
"What on earth is an E.O.N. service?"
"It's just a conventional signal to indicate special cases like the
incursion of Gwenda Pottingdon. It means you've got some one coming
to lunch or dinner whose garden is alleged to be 'the envy of the
"Yes," exclaimed Elinor, with some excitement, "and what happens
"Something that sounds like a miracle out of the Arabian Nights.
Your backyard becomes voluptuous with pomegranate and almond trees,
lemon groves, and hedges of flowering cactus, dazzling banks of
azaleas, marble-basined fountains, in which chestnut-and-white pond-
herons step daintily amid exotic water-lilies, while golden
pheasants strut about on alabaster terraces. The whole effect
rather suggests the idea that Providence and Norman Wilkinson have
dropped mutual jealousies and collaborated to produce a background
for an open-air Russian Ballet; in point of fact, it is merely the
background to your luncheon party. If there is any kick left in
Gwenda Pottingdon, or whoever your E.O.N. guest of the moment may
be, just mention carelessly that your climbing putella is the only
one in England, since the one at Chatsworth died last winter. There
isn't such a thing as a climbing putella, but Gwenda Pottingdon and
her kind don't usually know one flower from another without
"Quick," said Elinor, "the address of the Association."
Gwenda Pottingdon did not enjoy her lunch. It was a simple yet
elegant meal, excellently cooked and daintily served, but the
piquant sauce of her own conversation was notably lacking. She had
prepared a long succession of eulogistic comments on the wonders of
her town garden, with its unrivalled effects of horticultural
magnificence, and, behold, her theme was shut in on every side by
the luxuriant hedge of Siberian berberis that formed a glowing
background to Elinor's bewildering fragment of fairyland. The
pomegranate and lemon trees, the terraced fountain, where golden
carp slithered and wriggled amid the roots of gorgeous-hued irises,
the banked masses of exotic blooms, the pagoda-like enclosure, where
Japanese sand-badgers disported themselves, all these contributed to
take away Gwenda's appetite and moderate her desire to talk about
"I can't say I admire the climbing putella," she observed shortly,
"and anyway it's not the only one of its kind in England; I happen
to know of one in Hampshire. How gardening is going out of fashion;
I suppose people haven't the time for it nowadays."
Altogether it was quite one of Elinor's most successful luncheon
It was distinctly an unforeseen catastrophe that Gwenda should have
burst in on the household four days later at lunch-time and made her
way unbidden into the dining-room.
"I thought I must tell you that my Elaine has had a water-colour
sketch accepted by the Latent Talent Art Guild; it's to be exhibited
at their summer exhibition at the Hackney Gallery. It will be the
sensation of the moment in the art world--Hullo, what on earth has
happened to your garden? It's not there!"
"Suffragettes," said Elinor promptly; "didn't you hear about it?
They broke in and made hay of the whole thing in about ten minutes.
I was so heart-broken at the havoc that I had the whole place
cleared out; I shall have it laid out again on rather more elaborate
"That," she said to the Baroness afterwards "is what I call having
an emergency brain."
The enemy had declared "no trumps." Rupert played out his ace and
king of clubs and cleared the adversary of that suit; then the
Sheep, whom the Fates had inflicted on him for a partner, took the
third round with the queen of clubs, and, having no other club to
lead back, opened another suit. The enemy won the remainder of the
tricks--and the rubber.
"I had four more clubs to play; we only wanted the odd trick to win
the rubber," said Rupert.
"But I hadn't another club to lead you," exclaimed the Sheep, with
his ready, defensive smile.
"It didn't occur to you to throw your queen away on my king and
leave me with the command of the suit," said Rupert, with polite
"I suppose I ought to have--I wasn't certain what to do. I'm
awfully sorry," said the Sheep.
Being awfully and uselessly sorry formed a large part of his
occupation in life. If a similar situation had arisen in a
subsequent hand he would have blundered just as certainly, and he
would have been just as irritatingly apologetic.
Rupert stared gloomily across at him as he sat smiling and fumbling
with his cards. Many men who have good brains for business do not
possess the rudiments of a card-brain, and Rupert would not have
judged and condemned his prospective brother-in-law on the evidence
of his bridge play alone. The tragic part of it was that he smiled
and fumbled through life just as fatuously and apologetically as he
did at the card-table. And behind the defensive smile and the well-
worn expressions of regret there shone a scarcely believable but
quite obvious self-satisfaction. Every sheep of the pasture
probably imagines that in an emergency it could become terrible as
an army with banners--one has only to watch how they stamp their
feet and stiffen their necks when a minor object of suspicion comes
into view and behaves meekly. And probably the majority of human
sheep see themselves in imagination taking great parts in the
world's more impressive dramas, forming swift, unerring decisions in
moments of crisis, cowing mutinies, allaying panics, brave, strong,
simple, but, in spite of their natural modesty, always slightly
"Why in the name of all that is unnecessary and perverse should
Kathleen choose this man for her future husband?" was the question
that Rupert asked himself ruefully. There was young Malcolm
Athling, as nice-looking, decent, level-headed a fellow as any one
could wish to meet, obviously her very devoted admirer, and yet she
must throw herself away on this pale-eyed, weak-mouthed embodiment
of self-approving ineptitude. If it had been merely Kathleen's own
affair Rupert would have shrugged his shoulders and philosophically
hoped that she might make the best of an undeniably bad bargain.
But Rupert had no heir; his own boy lay underground somewhere on the
Indian frontier, in goodly company. And the property would pass in
due curse to Kathleen and Kathleen's husband. The Sheep would live
there in the beloved old home, rearing up other little Sheep,
fatuous and rabbit-faced and self-satisfied like himself, to dwell
in the land and possess it. It was not a soothing prospect.
Towards dusk on the afternoon following the bridge experience Rupert
and the Sheep made their way homeward after a day's mixed shooting.
The Sheep's cartridge bag was nearly empty, but his game bag showed
no signs of over-crowding. The birds he had shot at had seemed for
the most part as impervious to death or damage as the hero of a
melodrama. And for each failure to drop his bird he had some
explanation or apology ready on his lips. Now he was striding along
in front of his host, chattering happily over his shoulder, but
obviously on the look-out for some belated rabbit or woodpigeon that
might haply be secured as an eleventh-hour addition to his bag. As
they passed the edge of a small copse a large bird rose from the
ground and flew slowly towards the trees, offering an easy shot to
the oncoming sportsmen. The Sheep banged forth with both barrels,
and gave an exultant cry.
"Horray! I've shot a thundering big hawk!"
"To be exact, you've shot a honey-buzzard. That is the hen bird of
one of the few pairs of honey-buzzards breeding in the United
Kingdom. We've kept them under the strictest preservation for the
last four years; every game-keeper and village gun loafer for twenty
miles round has been warned and bribed and threatened to respect
their sanctity, and egg-snatching agents have been carefully guarded
against during the breeding season. Hundreds of lovers of rare
birds have delighted in seeing their snap-shotted portraits in
Country Life, and now you've reduced the hen bird to a lump of
Rupert spoke quietly and evenly, but for a moment or two a gleam of
positive hatred shone in his eyes.
"I say, I'm so sorry," said the Sheep, with his apologetic smile.
"Of course I remember hearing about the buzzards, but somehow I
didn't connect this bird with them. And it was such an east shot--"
"Yes," said Rupert; "that was the trouble."
Kathleen found him in the gun-room smoothing out the feathers of the
dead bird. She had already been told of the catastrophe.
"What a horrid misfortune," she said sympathetically.
"It was my dear Robbie who first discovered them, the last time he
was home on leave. Don't you remember how excited he was about
them? Let's go and have some tea."
Both bridge and shooting were given a rest for the next two or three
weeks. Death, who enters into no compacts with party whips, had
forced a Parliamentary vacancy on the neighbourhood at the least
convenient season, and the local partisans on either side found
themselves immersed in the discomforts of a mid-winter election.
Rupert took his politics seriously and keenly. He belonged to that
type of strangely but rather happily constituted individuals which
these islands seem to produce in a fair plenty; men and women who
for no personal profit or gain go forth from their comfortable
firesides or club card-rooms to hunt to and fro in the mud and rain
and wind for the capture or tracking of a stray vote here and there
on their party's behalf--not because they think they ought to, but
because they want to. And his energies were welcome enough on this
occasion, for the seat was a closely disputed possession, and its
loss or retention would count for much in the present position of
the Parliamentary game. With Kathleen to help him, he had worked
his corner of the constituency with tireless, well-directed zeal,
taking his share of the dull routine work as well as of the livelier
episodes. The talking part of the campaign wound up on the eve of
the poll with a meeting in a centre where more undecided votes were
supposed to be concentrated than anywhere else in the division. A
good final meeting here would mean everything. And the speakers,
local and imported, left nothing undone to improve the occasion.
Rupert was down for the unimportant task of moving the complimentary
vote to the chairman which should close the proceedings.
"I'm so hoarse," he protested, when the moment arrived; "I don't
believe I can make my voice heard beyond the platform."
"Let me do it," said the Sheep; "I'm rather good at that sort of
The chairman was popular with all parties, and the Sheep's opening
words of complimentary recognition received a round of applause.
The orator smiled expansively on his listeners and seized the
opportunity to add a few words of political wisdom on his own
account. People looked at the clock or began to grope for umbrellas
and discarded neckwraps. Then, in the midst of a string of
meaningless platitudes, the Sheep delivered himself of one of those
blundering remarks which travel from one end of a constituency to
the other in half an hour, and are seized on by the other side as
being more potent on their behalf than a ton of election literature.
There was a general shuffling and muttering across the length and
breadth of the hall, and a few hisses made themselves heard. The
Sheep tried to whittle down his remark, and the chairman
unhesitatingly threw him over in his speech of thanks, but the
damage was done.
"I'm afraid I lost touch with the audience rather over that remark,"
said the Sheep afterwards, with his apologetic smile abnormally
"You lost us the election," said the chairman, and he proved a true
A month or so of winter sport seemed a desirable pick-me-up after
the strenuous work and crowning discomfiture of the election.
Rupert and Kathleen hied them away to a small Alpine resort that was
just coming into prominence, and thither the Sheep followed them in
due course, in his role of husband-elect. The wedding had been
fixed for the end of March.
It was a winter of early and unseasonable thaws, and the far end of
the local lake, at a spot where swift currents flowed into it, was
decorated with notices, written in three languages, warning skaters
not to venture over certain unsafe patches. The folly of
approaching too near these danger spots seemed to have a natural
fascination for the Sheep.
"I don't see what possible danger there can be," he protested, with
his inevitable smile, when Rupert beckoned him away from the
proscribed area; "the milk that I put out on my window-sill last
night was frozen an inch deep."
"It hadn't got a strong current flowing through it," said Rupert;
"in any case, there is not much sense in hovering round a doubtful
piece of ice when there are acres of good ice to skate over. The
secretary of the ice-committee has warned you once already."
A few minutes later Rupert heard a loud squeal of fear, and saw a
dark spot blotting the smoothness of the lake's frozen surface. The
Sheep was struggling helplessly in an ice-hole of his own making.
Rupert gave one loud curse, and then dashed full tilt for the shore;
outside a low stable building on the lake's edge he remembered
having seen a ladder. If he could slide it across the ice-hole
before the Sheep went under the rescue would be comparatively simple
work. Other skaters were dashing up from a distance, and, with the
ladder's help, they could get him out of his death-trap without
having to trust themselves on the margin of rotten ice. Rupert
sprang on to the surface of lumpy, frozen snow, and staggered to
where the ladder lay. He had already lifted it when the rattle of a
chain and a furious outburst of growls burst on his hearing, and he
was dashed to the ground by a mass of white and tawny fur. A sturdy
young yard-dog, frantic with the pleasure of performing his first
piece of actice guardian service, was ramping and snarling over him,
rendering the task of regaining his feet or securing the ladder a
matter of considerable difficulty. When he had at last succeeded in
both efforts he was just by a hair's-breadth too late to be of any
use. The Sheep had definitely disappeared under the ice-rift.
Kathleen Athling and her husband stay the greater part of the year
with Rupert, and a small Robbie stands in some danger of being
idolised by a devoted uncle. But for twelve months of the year
Rupert's most inseparable and valued companion is a sturdy tawny and
"It's like a Chinese puzzle," said Lady Prowche resentfully, staring
at a scribbled list of names that spread over two or three loose
sheets of notepaper on her writing-table. Most of the names had a
pencil mark running through them.
"What is like a Chinese puzzle?" asked Lena Luddleford briskly; she
rather prided herself on being able to grapple with the minor
problems of life.
"Getting people suitably sorted together. Sir Richard likes me to
have a house party about this time of year, and gives me a free hand
as to whom I should invite; all he asks is that it should be a
peaceable party, with no friction or unpleasantness."
"That seems reasonable enough," said Lena.
"Not only reasonable, my dear, but necessary. Sir Richard has his
literary work to think of; you can't expect a man to concentrate on
the tribal disputes of Central Asian clansmen when he's got social
feuds blazing under his own roof."
"But why should they blaze? Why should there be feuds at all within
the compass of a house party?"
"Exactly; why should they blaze or why should they exist?" echoed
Lady Prowche; "the point is that they always do. We have been
unlucky; persistently unlucky, now that I come to look back on
things. We have always got people of violently opposed views under
one roof, and the result has been not merely unpleasantness but
"Do you mean people who disagree on matters of political opinion and
religious views?" asked Lena.
"No, not that. The broader lines of political or religious
difference don't matter. You can have Church of England and
Unitarian and Buddhist under the same roof without courting
disaster; the only Buddhist I ever had down here quarrelled with
everybody, but that was on account of his naturally squabblesome
temperament; it had nothing to do with his religion. And I've
always found that people can differ profoundly about politics and
meet on perfectly good terms at breakfast. Now, Miss Larbor Jones,
who was staying here last year, worships Lloyd George as a sort of
wingless angel, while Mrs. Walters, who was down here at the same
time, privately considers him to be--an antelope, let us say."
"Well, not an antelope exactly, but something with horns and hoofs
"Oh, I see."
"Still, that didn't prevent them from being the chummiest of mortals
on the tennis court and in the billiard-room. They did quarrel
finally, about a lead in a doubled hand of no-trumps, but that of
course is a thing that no account of judicious guest-grouping could
prevent. Mrs. Walters had got king, knave, ten, and seven of clubs-
"You were saying that there were other lines of demarcation that
caused the bother," interrupted Lena.
"Exactly. It is the minor differences and side-issues that give so
much trouble," said Lady Prowche; "not to my dying day shall I
forget last year's upheaval over the Suffragette question. Laura
Henniseed left the house in a state of speechless indignation, but
before she had reached that state she had used language that would
not have been tolerated in the Austrian Reichsrath. Intensive bear-
gardening was Sir Richard's description of the whole affair, and I
don't think he exaggerated."
"Of course the Suffragette question is a burning one, and lets loose
the most dreadful ill-feeling," said Lena; "but one can generally
find out beforehand what people's opinions--"
"My dear, the year before it was worse. It was Christian Science.
Selina Goobie is a sort of High Priestess of the Cult, and she put
down all opposition with a high hand. Then one evening, after
dinner, Clovis Sangrail put a wasp down her back, to see if her
theory about the non-existence of pain could be depended on in an
emergency. The wasp was small, but very efficient, and it had been
soured in temper by being kept in a paper cage all the afternoon.
Wasps don't stand confinement well, at least this one didn't. I
don't think I ever realised till that moment what the word
'invective' could be made to mean. I sometimes wake in the night
and think I still hear Selina describing Clovis's conduct and
general character. That was the year that Sir Richard was writing
his volume on 'Domestic Life in Tartary.' The critics all blamed it
for a lack of concentration."
"He's engaged on a very important work this year, isn't he?" asked
"'Land-tenure in Turkestan,'" said Lady Prowche; "he is just at work
on the final chapters and they require all the concentration he can
give them. That is why I am so very anxious not to have any
unfortunate disturbance this year. I have taken every precaution I
can think of to bring non-conflicting and harmonious elements
together; the only two people I am not quite easy about are the
Atkinson man and Marcus Popham. They are the two who will be down
here longest together, and if they are going to fall foul of one
another about any burning question, well, there will be more
"Can't you find out anything about them? About their opinions, I
"Anything? My dear Lena, there's scarcely anything that I haven't
found out about them. They're both of them moderate Liberal,
Evangelical, mildly opposed to female suffrage, they approve of the
Falconer Report, and the Stewards' decision about Craganour. Thank
goodness in this country we don't fly into violent passions about
Wagner and Brahms and things of that sort. There is only one thorny
subject that I haven't been able to make sure about, the only stone
that I have left unturned. Are they unanimously anti-vivisectionist
or do they both uphold the necessity for scientific experiment?
There has been a lot of correspondence on the subject in our local
newspapers of late, and the vicar is certain to preach a sermon
about it; vicars are dreadfully provocative at times. Now, if you
could only find out for me whether these two men are divergently for
"I!" exclaimed Lena; "how am I to find out? I don't know either of
them to speak to."
"Still you might discover, in some roundabout way. Write to them,
under as assumed name of course, for subscriptions to one or other
cause--or, better still, send a stamped type-written reply postcard,
with a request for a declaration for or against vivisection; people
who would hesitate to commit themselves to a subscription will
cheerfully write Yes or No on a prepaid postcard. If you can't
manage it that way, try and meet them at some one's house and get
into argument on the subject. I think Milly occasionally has one or
other of them at her at-homes; you might have the luck to meet both
of them there the same evening. Only it must be done soon. My
invitations ought to go out by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest,
and to-day is Friday.
"Milly's at-homes are not very amusing, as a rule," said Lena, "and
one never gets a chance of talking uninterruptedly to any one for a
couple of minutes at a time; Milly is one of those restless
hostesses who always seem to be trying to see how you look in
different parts of the room, in fresh grouping effects. Even if I
got to speak to Popham or Atkinson I couldn't plunge into a topic
like vivisection straight away. No, I think the postcard scheme
would be more hopeful and decidedly less tiresome. How would it be
best to word them?"
"Oh, something like this: 'Are you in favour of experiments on
living animals for the purpose of scientific research--Yes or No?'
That is quite simple and unmistakable. If they don't answer it will
at least be an indication that they are indifferent about the
subject, and that is all I want to know."
"All right," said Lena, "I'll get my brother-in-law to let me have
them addressed to his office, and he can telephone the result of the
plebiscite direct to you."
"Thank you ever so much," said Lady Prowche gratefully, "and be sure
to get the cards sent off as soon as possible."
On the following Tuesday the voice of an office clerk, speaking
through the telephone, informed Lady Prowche that the postcard poll
showed unanimous hostility to experiments on living animals.
Lady Prowche thanked the office clerk, and in a louder and more
fervent voice she thanked Heaven. The two invitations, already
sealed and addressed, were immediately dispatched; in due course
they were both accepted. The house party of the halcyon hours, as
the prospective hostess called it, was auspiciously launched.
Lena Luddleford was not included among the guests, having previously
committed herself to another invitation. At the opening day of a
cricket festival, however, she ran across Lady Prowche, who had
motored over from the other side of the county. She wore the air of
one who is not interested in cricket and not particularly interested
in life. She shook hands limply with Lena, and remarked that it was
a beastly day.
"The party, how has it gone off?" asked Lena quickly.
"Don't speak of it!" was the tragical answer; "why do I always have
such rotten luck?"
"But what has happened?"
"It has been awful. Hyaenas could not have behaved with greater
savagery. Sir Richard said so, and he has been in countries where
hyaenas live, so he ought to know. They actually came to blows!"
"Blows and curses. It really might have been a scene from one of
Hogarth's pictures. I never felt so humiliated in my life. What
the servants must have thought!"
"But who were the offenders?"
"Oh, naturally the very two that we took all the trouble about."
"I thought they agreed on every subject that one could violently
disagree about--religion, politics, vivisection, the Derby decision,
the Falconer Report; what else was there left to quarrel about?"
"My dear, we were fools not to have thought of it. One of them was
Pro-Greek and the other Pro-Bulgar."
"The new fashion of introducing the candidate's children into an
election contest is a pretty one," said Mrs. Panstreppon; "it takes
away something from the acerbity of party warfare, and it makes an
interesting experience for children to look back on in after years.
Still, if you will listen to my advice, Matilda, you will not take
Hyacinth with you down to Luffbridge on election day."
"Not take Hyacinth!" exclaimed his mother; "but why not? Jutterly
is bringing his three children, and they are going to drive a pair
of Nubian donkeys about the town, to emphasise the fact that their
father has been appointed Colonial Secretary. We are making the
demand for a strong Navy a special feature in our campaign, and it
will be particularly appropriate to have Hyacinth dressed in his
sailor suit. He'll look heavenly."
"The question is, not how he'll look, but how he'll behave. He's a
delightful child, of course, but there is a strain of unbridled
pugnacity in him that breaks out at times in a really alarming
fashion. You may have forgotten the affair of the little Gaffin
children; I haven't."
"I was in India at the time, and I've only a vague recollection of