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

Part 4 out of 4

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what happened; he was very naughty, I know."

"He was in his goat-carriage, and met the Gaffins in their
perambulator, and he drove the goat full tilt at them and sent the
perambulator spinning. Little Jacky Gaffin was pinned down under
the wreckage, and while the nurse had her hands full with the goat
Hyacinth was laying into Jacky's legs with his belt like a small
fury."

"I'm not defending him," said Matilda, "but they must have done
something to annoy him."

"Nothing intentionally, but some one had unfortunately told him that
they were half French--their mother was a Duboc, you know--and he
had been having a history lesson that morning, and had just heard of
the final loss of Calais by the English, and was furious about it.
He said he'd teach the little toads to go snatching towns from us,
but we didn't know at the time that he was referring to the Gaffins.
I told him afterwards that all bad feeling between the two nations
had died out long ago, and that anyhow the Gaffins were only half
French, and he said that it was only the French half of Jacky that
he had been hitting; the rest had been buried under the
perambulator. If the loss of Calais unloosed such fury in him, I
tremble to think what the possible loss of the election might
entail."

"All that happened when he was eight; he's older now and knows
better."

"Children with Hyacinth's temperament don't know better as they grow
older; they merely know more."

"Nonsense. He will enjoy the fun of the election, and in any case
he'll be tired out by the time the poll is declared, and the new
sailor suit that I've had made for him is just in the right shade of
blue for our election colours, and it will exactly match the blue of
his eyes. He will be a perfectly charming note of colour."

"There is such a thing as letting one's aesthetic sense override
one's moral sense," said Mrs. Panstreppon. "I believe you would
have condoned the South Sea Bubble and the persecution of the
Albigenses if they had been carried out in effective colour schemes.
However, if anything unfortunate should happen down at Luffbridge,
don't say it wasn't foreseen by one member of the family."

The election was keenly but decorously contested. The newly-
appointed Colonial Secretary was personally popular, while the
Government to which he adhered was distinctly unpopular, and there
was some expectancy that the majority of four hundred, obtained at
the last election, would be altogether wiped out. Both sides were
hopeful, but neither could feel confident. The children were a
great success; the little Jutterlys drove their chubby donkeys
solemnly up and down the main streets, displaying posters which
advocated the claims of their father on the broad general grounds
that he was their father, while as for Hyacinth, his conduct might
have served as a model for any seraph-child that had strayed
unwittingly on to the scene of an electoral contest. Of his own
accord, and under the delighted eyes of half a dozen camera
operators, he had gone up to the Jutterly children and presented
them with a packet of butterscotch; "we needn't be enemies because
we're wearing the opposite colours," he said with engaging
friendliness, and the occupants of the donkey-cart accepted his
offering with polite solemnity. The grown-up members of both
political camps were delighted at the incident--with the exception
of Mrs. Panstreppon, who shuddered.

"Never was Clytemnestra's kiss sweeter than on the night she slew
me," she quoted, but made the quotation to herself.

The last hour of the poll was a period of unremitting labour for
both parties; it was generally estimated that not more than a dozen
votes separated the candidates, and every effort was made to bring
up obstinately wavering electors. It was with a feeling of
relaxation and relief that every one heard the clocks strike the
hour for the close of the poll. Exclamations broke out from the
tired workers, and corks flew out from bottles.

"Well, if we haven't won; we've done our level best." "It has been
a clean straight fight, with no rancour." "The children were quite
a charming feature, weren't they?"

The children? It suddenly occurred to everybody that they had seen
nothing of the children for the last hour. What had become of the
three little Jutterlys and their donkey-cart, and, for the matter of
that, what had become of Hyacinth. Hurried, anxious embassies went
backwards and forwards between the respective party headquarters and
the various committee-rooms, but there was blank ignorance
everywhere as to the whereabouts of the children. Every one had
been too busy in the closing moments of the poll to bestow a thought
on them. Then there came a telephone call at the Unionist Women's
Committee-rooms, and the voice of Hyacinth was heard demanding when
the poll would be declared.

"Where are you, and where are the Jutterly children?" asked his
mother.

"I've just finished having high-tea at a pastry-cook's," came the
answer, "and they let me telephone. I've had a poached egg and a
sausage roll and four meringues."

"You'll be ill. Are the little Jutterlys with you?"

"Rather not. They're in a pigstye."

"A pigstye? Why? What pigstye?"

"Near the Crawleigh Road. I met them driving about a back road, and
told them they were to have tea with me, and put their donkeys in a
yard that I knew of. Then I took them to see an old sow that had
got ten little pigs. I got the sow into the outer stye by giving
her bits of bread, while the Jutterlys went in to look at the
litter, then I bolted the door and left them there."

"You wicked boy, do you mean to say you've left those poor children
there alone in the pigstye?"

"They're not alone, they've got ten little pigs in with them;
they're jolly well crowded. They were pretty mad at being shut in,
but not half as mad as the old sow is at being shut out from her
young ones. If she gets in while they're there she'll bite them
into mincemeat. I can get them out by letting a short ladder down
through the top window, and that's what I'm going to do IF WE WIN.
If their blighted father gets in, I'm just going to open the door
for the sow, and let her do what she dashed well likes to them.
That's why I want to know when the poll will be declared."

Here the narrator rang off. A wild stampede and a frantic sending-
off of messengers took place at the other end of the telephone.
Nearly all the workers on either side had disappeared to their
various club-rooms and public-house bars to await the declaration of
the poll, but enough local information could be secured to determine
the scene of Hyacinth's exploit. Mr. John Ball had a stable yard
down near the Crawleigh Road, up a short lane, and his sow was known
to have a litter of ten young ones. Thither went in headlong haste
both the candidates, Hyacinth's mother, his aunt (Mrs. Panstreppon),
and two or three hurriedly-summoned friends. The two Nubian
donkeys, contentedly munching at bundles of hay, met their gaze as
they entered the yard. The hoarse savage grunting of an enraged
animal and the shriller note of thirteen young voices, three of them
human, guided them to the stye, in the outer yard of which a huge
Yorkshire sow kept up a ceaseless raging patrol before a closed
door. Reclining on the broad ledge of an open window, from which
point of vantage he could reach down and shoot the bolt of the door,
was Hyacinth, his blue sailor-suit somewhat the worse of wear, and
his angel smile exchanged for a look of demoniacal determination.

"If any of you come a step nearer," he shouted, "the sow will be
inside in half a jiffy."

A storm of threatening, arguing, entreating expostulation broke from
the baffled rescue party, but it made no more impression on Hyacinth
than the squealing tempest that raged within the stye.

"If Jutterly heads the poll I'm going to let the sow in. I'll teach
the blighters to win elections from us."

"He means it," said Mrs. Panstreppon; "I feared the worst when I saw
that butterscotch incident."

"It's all right, my little man," said Jutterly, with the duplicity
to which even a Colonial Secretary can sometimes stoop, "your father
has been elected by a large majority."

"Liar!" retorted Hyacinth, with the directness of speech that is not
merely excusable, but almost obligatory, in the political
profession; "the votes aren't counted yet. You won't gammon me as
to the result, either. A boy that I've palled with is going to fire
a gun when the poll is declared; two shots if we've won, one shot if
we haven't."

The situation began to look critical. "Drug the sow," whispered
Hyacinth's father.

Some one went off in the motor to the nearest chemist's shop and
returned presently with two large pieces of bread, liberally dosed
with narcotic. The bread was thrown deftly and unostentatiously
into the stye, but Hyacinth saw through the manoeuvre. He set up a
piercing imitation of a small pit in Purgatory, and the infuriated
mother ramped round and round the stye; the pieces of bread were
trampled into slush.

At any moment now the poll might be declared. Jutterly flew back to
the Town Hall, where the votes were being counted. His agent met
him with a smile of hope.

"You're eleven ahead at present, and only about eighty more to be
counted; you're just going to squeak through."

"I mustn't squeak through," exclaimed Jutterly, hoarsely. "You must
object to every doubtful vote on our side that can possibly be
disallowed. I must NOT have the majority."

Then was seen the unprecedented sight of a party agent challenging
the votes on his own side with a captiousness that his opponents
would have hesitated to display. One or two votes that would have
certainly passed muster under ordinary circumstances were
disallowed, but even so Jutterly was six ahead with only thirty more
to be counted.

To the watchers by the stye the moments seemed intolerable. As a
last resort some one had been sent for a gun with which to shoot the
sow, though Hyacinth would probably draw the bolt the moment such a
weapon was brought into the yard. Nearly all the men were away from
their homes, however, on election night, and the messenger had
evidently gone far afield in his search. It must be a matter of
minutes now to the declaration of the poll.

A sudden roar of shouting and cheering was heard from the direction
of the Town Hall. Hyacinth's father clutched a pitchfork and
prepared to dash into the stye in the forlorn hope of being in time.

A shot rang out in the evening air. Hyacinth stooped down from his
perch and put his finger on the bolt. The sow pressed furiously
against the door.

"Bang," came another shot.

Hyacinth wriggled back, and sent a short ladder down through the
window of the inner stye.

"Now you can come up, you unclean little blighters," he sang out;
"my daddy's got in, not yours. Hurry up, I can't keep the sow
waiting much longer. And don't you jolly well come butting into any
election again where I'm on the job."

In the reaction that set in after the deliverance furious
recrimination were indulged in by the lately opposed candidates,
their women folk, agents, and party helpers. A recount was
demanded, but failed to establish the fact that the Colonial
Secretary had obtained a majority. Altogether the election left a
legacy of soreness behind it, apart from any that was experienced by
Hyacinth in person.

"It is the last time I shall let him go to an election," exclaimed
his mother.

"There I think you are going to extremes," said Mrs. Panstreppon;
"if there should be a general election in Mexico I think you might
safely let him go there, but I doubt whether our English politics
are suited to the rough and tumble of an angel-child."

THE IMAGE OF THE LOST SOLE

There were a number of carved stone figures placed at intervals
along the parapets of the old Cathedral; some of them represented
angels, others kings and bishops, and nearly all were in attitudes
of pious exaltation and composure. But one figure, low down on the
cold north side of the building, had neither crown, mitre, not
nimbus, and its face was hard and bitter and downcast; it must be a
demon, declared the fat blue pigeons that roosted and sunned
themselves all day on the ledges of the parapet; but the old belfry
jackdaw, who was an authority on ecclesiastical architecture, said
it was a lost soul. And there the matter rested.

One autumn day there fluttered on to the Cathedral roof a slender,
sweet-voiced bird that had wandered away from the bare fields and
thinning hedgerows in search of a winter roosting-place. It tried
to rest its tired feet under the shade of a great angel-wing or to
nestle in the sculptured folds of a kingly robe, but the fat pigeons
hustled it away from wherever it settled, and the noisy sparrow-folk
drove it off the ledges. No respectable bird sang with so much
feeling, they cheeped one to another, and the wanderer had to move
on.

Only the effigy of the Lost Soul offered a place of refuge. The
pigeons did not consider it safe to perch on a projection that
leaned so much out of the perpendicular, and was, besides, too much
in the shadow. The figure did not cross its hands in the pious
attitude of the other graven dignitaries, but its arms were folded
as in defiance and their angle made a snug resting-place for the
little bird. Every evening it crept trustfully into its corner
against the stone breast of the image, and the darkling eyes seemed
to keep watch over its slumbers. The lonely bird grew to love its
lonely protector, and during the day it would sit from time to time
on some rainshoot or other abutment and trill forth its sweetest
music in grateful thanks for its nightly shelter. And, it may have
been the work of wind and weather, or some other influence, but the
wild drawn face seemed gradually to lose some of its hardness and
unhappiness. Every day, through the long monotonous hours, the song
of his little guest would come up in snatches to the lonely watcher,
and at evening, when the vesper-bell was ringing and the great grey
bats slid out of their hiding-places in the belfry roof, the bright-
eyed bird would return, twitter a few sleepy notes, and nestle into
the arms that were waiting for him. Those were happy days for the
Dark Image. Only the great bell of the Cathedral rang out daily its
mocking message, "After joy . . . sorrow."

The folk in the verger's lodge noticed a little brown bird flitting
about the Cathedral precincts, and admired its beautiful singing.
"But it is a pity," said they, "that all that warbling should be
lost and wasted far out of hearing up on the parapet." They were
poor, but they understood the principles of political economy. So
they caught the bird and put it in a little wicker cage outside the
lodge door.

That night the little songster was missing from its accustomed
haunt, and the Dark Image knew more than ever the bitterness of
loneliness. Perhaps his little friend had been killed by a prowling
cat or hurt by a stone. Perhaps . . . perhaps he had flown
elsewhere. But when morning came there floated up to him, through
the noise and bustle of the Cathedral world, a faint heart-aching
message from the prisoner in the wicker cage far below. And every
day, at high noon, when the fat pigeons were stupefied into silence
after their midday meal and the sparrows were washing themselves in
the street-puddles, the song of the little bird came up to the
parapets--a song of hunger and longing and hopelessness, a cry that
could never be answered. The pigeons remarked, between mealtimes,
that the figure leaned forward more than ever out of the
perpendicular.

One day no song came up from the little wicker cage. It was the
coldest day of the winter, and the pigeons and sparrows on the
Cathedral roof looked anxiously on all sides for the scraps of food
which they were dependent on in hard weather.

"Have the lodge-folk thrown out anything on to the dust-heap?"
inquired one pigeon of another which was peering over the edge of
the north parapet.

"Only a little dead bird," was the answer.

There was a crackling sound in the night on the Cathedral roof and a
noise as of falling masonry. The belfry jackdaw said the frost was
affecting the fabric, and as he had experienced many frosts it must
have been so. In the morning it was seen that the Figure of the
Lost Soul had toppled from its cornice and lay now in a broken mass
on the dustheap outside the verger's lodge.

"It is just as well," cooed the fat pigeons, after they had peered
at the matter for some minutes; "now we shall have a nice angel put
up there. Certainly they will put an angel there."

"After joy . . . sorrow," rang out the great bell.

THE PURPLE OF THE BALKAN KINGS

Luitpold Wolkenstein, financier and diplomat on a small, obtrusive,
self-important scale, sat in his favoured cafe in the world-wise
Habsburg capital, confronted with the Neue Freie Presse and the cup
of cream-topped coffee and attendant glass of water that a sleek-
headed piccolo had just brought him. For years longer than a dog's
lifetime sleek-headed piccolos had placed the Neue Freie Presse and
a cup of cream-topped coffee on his table; for years he had sat at
the same spot, under the dust-coated, stuffed eagle, that had once
been a living, soaring bird on the Styrian mountains, and was now
made monstrous and symbolical with a second head grafted on to its
neck and a gilt crown planted on either dusty skull. To-day
Luitpold Wolkenstein read no more than the first article in his
paper, but read it again and again.

"The Turkish fortress of Kirk Kilisseh has fallen . . . The Serbs,
it is officially announced, have taken Kumanovo . . . The fortress
of Kirk Kilisseh lost, Kumanovo taken by the Serbs, these are tiding
for Constantinople resembling something out of Shakspeare's
tragedies of the kings . . . The neighbourhood of Adrianople and
the Eastern region, where the great battle is now in progress, will
not reveal merely the future of Turkey, but also what position and
what influence the Balkan States are to have in the world."

For years longer than a dog's lifetime Luitpold Wolkenstein had
disposed of the pretensions and strivings of the Balkan States over
the cup of cream-topped coffee that sleek-headed piccolos had
brought him. Never travelling further eastward than the horse-fair
at Temesvar, never inviting personal risk in an encounter with
anything more potentially desperate than a hare or partridge, he had
constituted himself the critical appraiser and arbiter of the
military and national prowess of the small countries that fringed
the Dual Monarchy on its Danube border. And his judgment had been
one of unsparing contempt for small-scale efforts, of unquestioning
respect for the big battalions and full purses. Over the whole
scene of the Balkan territories and their troubled histories had
loomed the commanding magic of the words "the Great Powers"--even
more imposing in their Teutonic rendering, "Die Grossmachte."

Worshipping power and force and money-mastery as an elderly nerve-
ridden woman might worship youthful physical energy, the
comfortable, plump-bodied cafe-oracle had jested and gibed at the
ambitions of the Balkan kinglets and their peoples, had unloosed
against them that battery of strange lip-sounds that a Viennese
employs almost as an auxiliary language to express the thoughts when
his thoughts are not complimentary. British travellers had visited
the Balkan lands and reported high things of the Bulgarians and
their future, Russian officers had taken peeps at their army and
confessed "this is a thing to be reckoned with, and it is not we who
have created it, they have done it by themselves." But over his
cups of coffee and his hour-long games of dominoes the oracle had
laughed and wagged his head and distilled the worldly wisdom of his
castle. The Grossmachte had not succeeded in stifling the roll of
the war-drum, that was true; the big battalions of the Ottoman
Empire would have to do some talking, and then the big purses and
big threatenings of the Powers would speak and the last word would
be with them. In imagination Luitpold heard the onward tramp of the
red-fezzed bayonet bearers echoing through the Balkan passes, saw
the little sheepskin-clad mannikins driven back to their villages,
saw the augustly chiding spokesman of the Powers dictating,
adjusting, restoring, settling things once again in their allotted
places, sweeping up the dust of conflict, and now his ears had to
listen to the war-drum rolling in quite another direction, had to
listen to the tramp of battalions that were bigger and bolder and
better skilled in war-craft than he had deemed possible in that
quarter; his eyes had to read in the columns of his accustomed
newspaper a warning to the Grossmachte that they had something new
to learn, something new to reckon with, much that was time-honoured
to relinquish. "The Great Powers will have not little difficulty in
persuading the Balkan States of the inviolability of the principle
that Europe cannot permit any fresh partition of territory in the
East without her approval. Even now, while the campaign is still
undecided, there are rumours of a project of fiscal unity, extending
over the entire Balkan lands, and further of a constitutional union
in imitation of the German Empire. That is perhaps only a political
straw blown by the storm, but it is not possible to dismiss the
reflection that the Balkan States leagued together command a
military strength with which the Great Powers will have to reckon .
. . The people who have poured out their blood on the battlefields
and sacrificed the available armed men of an entire generation in
order to encompass a union with their kinsfolk will not remain any
longer in an attitude of dependence on the Great Powers or on
Russia, but will go their own ways . . . The blood that has been
poured forth to-day gives for the first time a genuine tone to the
purple of the Balkan Kings. The Great Powers cannot overlook the
fact that a people that has tasted victory will not let itself be
driven back again within its former limits. Turkey has lost to-day
not only Kirk Kilisseh and Kumanovo, but Macedonia also."

Luitpold Wolkenstein drank his coffee, but the flavour had somehow
gone out of it. His world, his pompous, imposing, dictating world,
had suddenly rolled up into narrower dimensions. The big purses and
the big threats had been pushed unceremoniously on one side; a force
that he could not fathom, could not comprehend, had made itself
rudely felt. The august Caesars of Mammon and armament had looked
down frowningly on the combat, and those about to die had not
saluted, had no intention of saluting. A lesson was being imposed
on unwilling learners, a lesson of respect for certain fundamental
principles, and it was not the small struggling States who were
being taught the lesson.

Luitpold Wolkenstein did not wait for the quorum of domino players
to arrive. They would all have read the article in the Freie
Presse. And there are moments when an oracle finds its greatest
salvation in withdrawing itself from the area of human questioning.

THE CUPBOARD OF THE YESTERDAYS

"War is a cruelly destructive thing," said the Wanderer, dropping
his newspaper to the floor and staring reflectively into space.

"Ah, yes, indeed," said the Merchant, responding readily to what
seemed like a safe platitude; "when one thinks of the loss of life
and limb, the desolated homesteads, the ruined--"

"I wasn't thinking of anything of the sort," said the Wanderer; "I
was thinking of the tendency that modern war has to destroy and
banish the very elements of picturesqueness and excitement that are
its chief excuse and charm. It is like a fire that flares up
brilliantly for a while and then leaves everything blacker and
bleaker than before. After every important war in South-East Europe
in recent times there has been a shrinking of the area of
chronically disturbed territory, a stiffening of the area of
chronically disturbed territory, a stiffening of frontier lines, an
intrusion of civilised monotony. And imagine what may happen at the
conclusion of this war if the Turk should really be driven out of
Europe."

"Well, it would be a gain to the cause of good government, I
suppose," said the Merchant.

"But have you counted the loss?" said the other. "The Balkans have
long been the last surviving shred of happy hunting-ground for the
adventurous, a playground for passions that are fast becoming
atrophied for want of exercise. In old bygone days we had the wars
in the Low Countries always at our doors, as it were; there was no
need to go far afield into malaria-stricken wilds if one wanted a
life of boot and saddle and licence to kill and be killed. Those
who wished to see life had a decent opportunity for seeing death at
the same time."

"It is scarcely right to talk of killing and bloodshed in that way,"
said the Merchant reprovingly; "one must remember that all men are
brothers."

"One must also remember that a large percentage of them are younger
brothers; instead of going into bankruptcy, which is the usual
tendency of the younger brother nowadays, they gave their families a
fair chance of going into mourning. Every bullet finds a billet,
according to a rather optimistic proverb, and you must admit that
nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to find billets for a
lot of young gentlemen who would have adorned, and probably
thoroughly enjoyed, one of the old-time happy-go-lucky wars. But
that is not exactly the burden of my complaint. The Balkan lands
are especially interesting to us in these rapidly-moving days
because they afford us the last remaining glimpse of a vanishing
period of European history. When I was a child one of the earliest
events of the outside world that forced itself coherently under my
notice was a war in the Balkans; I remember a sunburnt, soldierly
man putting little pin-flags in a war-map, red flags for the Turkish
forces and yellow flags for the Russians. It seemed a magical
region, with its mountain passes and frozen rivers and grim
battlefields, its drifting snows, and prowling wolves; there was a
great stretch of water that bore the sinister but engaging name of
the Black Sea--nothing that I ever learned before or after in a
geography lesson made the same impression on me as that strange-
named inland sea, and I don't think its magic has ever faded out of
my imagination. And there was a battle called Plevna that went on
and on with varying fortunes for what seemed like a great part of a
lifetime; I remember the day of wrath and mourning when the little
red flag had to be taken away from Plevna--like other maturer
judges, I was backing the wrong horse, at any rate the losing horse.
And now to-day we are putting little pin-flags again into maps of
the Balkan region, and the passions are being turned loose once more
in their playground."

"The war will be localised," said the Merchant vaguely; "at least
every one hopes so."

"It couldn't wish for a better locality," said the Wanderer; "there
is a charm about those countries that you find nowhere else in
Europe, the charm of uncertainty and landslide, and the little
dramatic happenings that make all the difference between the
ordinary and the desirable."

"Life is held very cheap in those parts," said the Merchant.

"To a certain extent, yes," said the Wanderer. "I remember a man at
Sofia who used to teach me Bulgarian in a rather inefficient manner,
interspersed with a lot of quite wearisome gossip. I never knew
what his personal history was, but that was only because I didn't
listen; he told it to me many times. After I left Bulgaria he used
to send me Sofia newspapers from time to time. I felt that he would
be rather tiresome if I ever went there again. And then I heard
afterwards that some men came in one day from Heaven knows where,
just as things do happen in the Balkans, and murdered him in the
open street, and went away as quietly as they had come. You will
not understand it, but to me there was something rather piquant in
the idea of such a thing happening to such a man; after his dullness
and his long-winded small-talk it seemed a sort of brilliant esprit
d'esalier on his part to meet with an end of such ruthlessly planned
and executed violence."

The Merchant shook his head; the piquancy of the incident was not
within striking distance of his comprehension.

"I should have been shocked at hearing such a thing about any one I
had known," he said.

"The present war," continued his companion, without stopping to
discuss two hopelessly divergent points of view, "may be the
beginning of the end of much that has hitherto survived the
resistless creeping-in of civilisation. If the Balkan lands are to
be finally parcelled out between the competing Christian Kingdoms
and the haphazard rule of the Turk banished to beyond the Sea of
Marmora, the old order, or disorder if you like, will have received
its death-blow. Something of its spirit will linger perhaps for a
while in the old charmed regions where it bore sway; the Greek
villagers will doubtless be restless and turbulent and unhappy where
the Bulgars rule, and the Bulgars will certainly be restless and
turbulent and unhappy under Greek administration, and the rival
flocks of the Exarchate and Patriarchate will make themselves
intensely disagreeable to one another wherever the opportunity
offers; the habits of a lifetime, of several lifetimes, are not laid
aside all at once. And the Albanians, of course, we shall have with
us still, a troubled Moslem pool left by the receding wave of Islam
in Europe. But the old atmosphere will have changed, the glamour
will have gone; the dust of formality and bureaucratic neatness will
slowly settle down over the time-honoured landmarks; the Sanjak of
Novi Bazar, the Muersteg Agreement, the Komitadje bands, the Vilayet
of Adrianople, all those familiar outlandish names and things and
places, that we have known so long as part and parcel of the Balkan
Question, will have passed away into the cupboard of yesterdays, as
completely as the Hansa League and the wars of the Guises.

"They were the heritage that history handed down to us, spoiled and
diminished no doubt, in comparison with yet earlier days that we
never knew, but still something to thrill and enliven one little
corner of our Continent, something to help us to conjure up in our
imagination the days when the Turk was thundering at the gates of
Vienna. And what shall we have to hand down to our children? Think
of what their news from the Balkans will be in the course of another
ten or fifteen years. Socialist Congress at Uskub, election riot at
Monastir, great dock strike at Salonika, visit of the Y.M.C.A. to
Varna. Varna--on the coast of that enchanted sea! They will drive
out to some suburb to tea, and write home about it as the Bexhill of
the East.

"War is a wickedly destructive thing."

"Still, you must admit--" began the Merchant. But the Wanderer was
not in the mood to admit anything. He rose impatiently and walked
to where the tape-machine was busy with the news from Adrianople.

FOR THE DURATION OF THE WAR

The Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton, in one of those clerical migrations
inconsequent-seeming to the lay mind, had removed from the
moderately fashionable parish of St. Luke's, Kensingate, to the
immoderately rural parish of St. Chuddocks, somewhere in
Yondershire. There were doubtless substantial advantages connected
with the move, but there were certainly some very obvious drawbacks.
Neither the migratory clergyman nor his wife were able to adapt
themselves naturally and comfortably to the conditions of country
life. Beryl, Mrs. Gaspilton, had always looked indulgently on the
country as a place where people of irreproachable income and
hospitable instincts cultivated tennis-lawns and rose-gardens and
Jacobean pleasaunces, wherein selected gatherings of interested
week-end guests might disport themselves. Mrs. Gaspilton considered
herself as distinctly an interesting personality, and from a limited
standpoint she was doubtless right. She had indolent dark eyes and
a comfortable chin, which belied the slightly plaintive inflection
which she threw into her voice at suitable intervals. She was
tolerably well satisfied with the smaller advantages of life, but
she regretted that Fate had not seen its way to reserve for her some
of the ampler successes for which she felt herself well qualified.
She would have liked to be the centre of a literary, slightly
political salon, where discerning satellites might have recognised
the breadth of her outlook on human affairs and the undoubted
smallness of her feet. As it was, Destiny had chosen for her that
she should be the wife of a rector, and had now further decreed that
a country rectory should be the background to her existence. She
rapidly made up her mind that her surroundings did not call for
exploration; Noah had predicted the Flood, but no one expected him
to swim about in it. Digging in a wet garden or trudging through
muddy lanes were exertions which she did not propose to undertake.
As long as the garden produced asparagus and carnations at
pleasingly frequent intervals Mrs. Gaspilton was content to approve
of its expense and otherwise ignore its existence. She would fold
herself up, so to speak, in an elegant, indolent little world of her
own, enjoying the minor recreations of being gently rude to the
doctor's wife and continuing the leisurely production of her one
literary effort, The Forbidden Horsepond, a translation of Baptiste
Leopoy's L'Abreuvoir interdit. It was a labour which had already
been so long drawn-out that it seemed probable that Baptiste Lepoy
would drop out of vogue before her translation of his temporarily
famous novel was finished. However, the languid prosecution of the
work had invested Mrs. Gaspilton with a certain literary dignity,
even in Kensingate circles, and would place her on a pinnacle in St.
Chuddocks, where hardly any one read French, and assuredly no one
had heard of L'Abreuvoir interdit.

The Rector's wife might be content to turn her back complacently on
the country; it was the Rector's tragedy that the country turned its
back on him. With the best intention in the world and the immortal
example of Gilbert White before him, the Rev. Wilfrid found himself
as bored and ill at ease in his new surroundings as Charles II would
have been at a modern Wesleyan Conference. The birds that hopped
across his lawn hopped across it as though it were their lawn, and
not his, and gave him plainly to understand that in their eyes he
was infinitely less interesting than a garden worm or the rectory
cat. The hedgeside and meadow flowers were equally uninspiring; the
lesser celandine seemed particularly unworthy of the attention that
English poets had bestowed on it, and the Rector knew that he would
be utterly miserable if left alone for a quarter of an hour in its
company. With the human inhabitants of his parish he was no better
off; to know them was merely to know their ailments, and the
ailments were almost invariably rheumatism. Some, of course, had
other bodily infirmities, but they always had rheumatism as well.
The Rector had not yet grasped the fact that in rural cottage life
not to have rheumatism is as glaring an omission as not to have been
presented at Court would be in more ambitious circles. And with all
this death of local interest there was Beryl shutting herself off
with her ridiculous labours on The Forbidden Horsepond.

"I don't see why you should suppose that any one wants to read
Baptiste Lepoy in English," the Reverend Wilfrid remarked to his
wife one morning, finding her surrounded with her usual elegant
litter of dictionaries, fountain pens, and scribbling paper; "hardly
any one bothers to read him now in France."

"My dear," said Beryl, with an intonation of gentle weariness,
"haven't two or three leading London publishers told me they
wondered no one had ever translated L'Abreuvoir interdit, and begged
me--"

"Publishers always clamour for the books that no one has ever
written, and turn a cold shoulder on them as soon as they're
written. If St. Paul were living now they would pester him to write
an Epistle to the Esquimaux, but no London publisher would dream of
reading his Epistle to the Ephesians."

"Is there any asparagus in the garden?" asked Beryl; "because I've
told cook--"

"Not anywhere in the garden," snapped the Rector, "but there's no
doubt plenty in the asparagus-bed, which is the usual place for it."

And he walked away into the region of fruit trees and vegetable beds
to exchange irritation for boredom. It was there, among the
gooseberry bushes and beneath the medlar trees, that the temptation
to the perpetration of a great literary fraud came to him.

Some weeks later the Bi-Monthly Review gave to the world, under the
guarantee of the Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton, some fragments of Persian
verse, alleged to have been unearthed and translated by a nephew who
was at present campaigning somewhere in the Tigris valley. The Rev.
Wilfrid possessed a host of nephews, and it was of course, quite
possible that one or more of them might be in military employ in
Mesopotamia, though no one could call to mind any particular nephew
who could have been suspected of being a Persian scholar.

The verses were attributed to one Ghurab, a hunter, or, according to
other accounts, warden of the royal fishponds, who lived, in some
unspecified century, in the neighbourhood of Karmanshah. They
breathed a spirit of comfortable, even-tempered satire and
philosophy, disclosing a mockery that did not trouble to be bitter,
a joy in life that was not passionate to the verge of being
troublesome.

"A Mouse that prayed for Allah's aid
Blasphemed when no such aid befell:
A Cat, who feasted on that mouse,
Thought Allah managed vastly well.

Pray not for aid to One who made
A set of never-changing Laws,
But in your need remember well
He gave you speed, or guile--or claws.

Some laud a life of mild content:
Content may fall, as well as Pride.
The Frog who hugged his lowly Ditch
Was much disgruntled when it dried.

'You are not on the Road to Hell,'
You tell me with fanatic glee:
Vain boaster, what shall that avail
If Hell is on the road to thee?

A Poet praised the Evening Star,
Another praised the Parrot's hue:
A Merchant praised his merchandise,
And he, at least, praised what he knew."

It was this verse which gave the critics and commentators some clue
as to the probable date of the composition; the parrot, they
reminded the public, was in high vogue as a type of elegance in the
days of Hafiz of Shiraz; in the quatrains of Omar it makes no
appearance.

The next verse, it was pointed out, would apply to the political
conditions of the present day as strikingly as to the region and era
for which it was written -

"A Sultan dreamed day-long of Peace,
The while his Rivals' armies grew:
They changed his Day-dreams into sleep
- The Peace, methinks, he never knew."

Woman appeared little, and wine not at all in the verse of the
hunter-poet, but there was at least one contribution to the love-
philosophy of the East -

"O Moon-faced Charmer, and Star-drowned Eyes,
And cheeks of soft delight, exhaling musk,
They tell me that thy charm will fade; ah well,
The Rose itself grows hue-less in the Dusk."

Finally, there was a recognition of the Inevitable, a chill breath
blowing across the poet's comfortable estimate of life -

"There is a sadness in each Dawn,
A sadness that you cannot rede:
The joyous Day brings in its train
The Feast, the Loved One, and the Steed.

Ah, there shall come a Dawn at last
That brings no life-stir to your ken,
A long, cold Dawn without a Day,
And ye shall rede its sadness then."

The verses of Ghurab came on the public at a moment when a
comfortable, slightly quizzical philosophy was certain to be
welcome, and their reception was enthusiastic. Elderly colonels,
who had outlived the love of truth, wrote to the papers to say that
they had been familiar with the works of Ghurab in Afghanistan, and
Aden, and other suitable localities a quarter of a century ago. A
Ghurab-of-Karmanshah Club sprang into existence, the members of
which alluded to each other as Brother Ghurabians on the slightest
provocation. And to the flood of inquiries, criticisms, and
requests for information, which naturally poured in on the
discoverer, or rather the discloser, of this long-hidden poet, the
Rev. Wilfrid made one effectual reply: Military considerations
forbade any disclosures which might throw unnecessary light on his
nephew's movements.

After the war the Rector's position will be one of unthinkable
embarrassment, but for the moment, at any rate, he has driven The
Forbidden Horsepond out of the field.

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