Reginald in Russia
by Saki (H.H.Munro)
Reginald sat in a corner of the Princess's salon and tried
to forgive the furniture, which started out with an obvious
intention of being Louis Quinze, but relapsed at frequent
intervals into Wilhelm II.
He classified the Princess with that distinct type of
woman that looks as if it habitually went out to feed hens
in the rain.
Her name was Olga; she kept what she hoped and believed to
be a fox-terrier, and professed what she thought were
Socialist opinions. It is not necessary to be called Olga
if you are a Russian Princess; in fact, Reginald knew quite
a number who were called Vera; but the fox-terrier and the
Socialism are essential.
``The Countess Lomshen keeps a bull-dog,'' said the
Princess suddenly. ``In England is it more chic to have a
bull-dog than a fox-terrier?''
Reginald threw his mind back over the canine fashions of
the last ten years and gave an evasive answer.
``Do you think her handsome, the Countess Lomshen?'' asked
Reginald thought the Countess's complexion suggested an
exclusive diet of macaroons and pale sherry. He said so.
``But that cannot be possible,'' said the Princess
triumphantly; ``I've seen her eating fish-soup at Donon's.''
The Princess always defended a friend's complexion if it
was really bad. With her, as with a great many of her sex,
charity began at homeliness and did not generally progress
Reginald withdrew his macaroon and sherry theory, and
became interested in a case of miniatures.
``That?'' said the Princess; ``that is the old Princess
Lorikoff. She lived in Millionaya Street, near the Winter
Palace, and was one of the Court ladies of the Old Russian
school. Her knowledge of people and events was extremely
limited; but she used to patronize every one who came in
contact with her. There was a story that when she died and
left the Millionaya for Heaven she addressed St. Peter in
her formal staccato French: `Je suis la Princesse
Lor-i-koff. Il me donne grand plaisir <a`> faire votre
connaissance. Je vous en prie me pr<e'>senter au Bon Dieu.'
St. Peter made the desired introduction, and the Princess
addressed le Bon Dieu: `Je suis la Princesse Lor-i-koff. Il
me donne grand plaisir <a`> faire votre connaissance. On a
souvent parl<e'> de vous <a`> l'<e'>glise de la rue
``Only the old and the clergy of Established churches know
how to be flippant gracefully,'' commented Reginald; ``which
reminds me that in the Anglican Church in a certain foreign
capital, which shall be nameless, I was present the other
day when one of the junior chaplains was preaching in aid of
distressed somethings or other, and he brought a really
eloquent passage to a close with the remark, `The tears of
the afflicted, to what shall I liken them---to diamonds?'
The other junior chaplain, who had been dozing out of
professional jealousy, awoke with a start and asked
hurriedly, `Shall I play to diamonds, partner?' It didn't
improve matters when the senior chaplain remarked dreamily
but with painful distinctness, `Double diamonds.' Every one
looked at the preacher, half expecting him to redouble, but
be contented himself with scoring what points he could under
``You English are always so frivolous,'' said the
Princess. ``In Russia we have too many troubles to permit of
our being light-hearted.''
Reginald gave a delicate shiver, such as an Italian
greyhound might give in contemplating the approach of an ice
age of which he personally disapproved, and resigned himself
to the inevitable political discussion.
``Nothing that you hear about us in England is true,'' was
the Princess's hopeful beginning.
``I always refused to learn Russian geography at school,''
observed Reginald; ``I was certain some of the names must be
``Everything is wrong with our system of government,''
continued the Princess placidly. ``The Bureaucrats think
only of their pockets, and the people are exploited and
plundered in every direction, and everything is
``With us,'' said Reginald, ``a Cabinet usually gets the
credit of being depraved and worthless beyond the bounds of
human conception by the time it has been in office about
``But if it is a bad Government you can turn it out at
the election,'' argued the Princess. ``As far as I
remember, we generally do,'' said Reginald.
``But here it is dreadful, every one goes to such
extremes. In England you never go to extremes.''
``We go to the Albert Hall,'' explained Reginald.
``There is always a see-saw with us between repression and
violence,'' continued the Princess; ``and the pity of it is
the people are really not in the least inclined to be
anything but peaceable. Nowhere will you find people more
good-natured, or family circles where there is more
``There I agree with you,'' said Reginald. ``I know a boy
who lives somewhere on the French Quay who is a case in
point. His hair curls naturally, especially on Sundays, and
he plays bridge well, even for a Russian, which is saying
much. I don't think he has any other accomplishments, but
his family affection is really of a very high order. When
his maternal grandmother died he didn't go as far as to give
up bridge altogether but be declared on nothing but black
suits for the next three months. That, I think, was really
The Princess was not impressed.
``I think you must be very self-indulgent and live only
for amusement,'' she said. ``A life of pleasure-seeking and
card-playing and dissipation brings only dissatisfaction.
You will find that out some day.''
``Oh, I know it turns out that way sometimes,'' assented
Reginald. ``Forbidden fizz is often the sweetest.''
But the remark was wasted on the Princess, who preferred
champagne that had at least a suggestion of dissolved
``I hope you will come and see me again,'' she said in a
tone that prevented the hope from becoming too infectious;
adding as a happy after-thought, ``you must come to stay
with us in the country.''
Her particular part of the country was a few hundred
versts the other side of Tamboff, with some fifteen miles of
agrarian disturbance between her and the nearest neighbour.
Reginald felt that there is some privacy which should be
sacred from intrusion.
THE RETICENCE OF LADY ANNE
Egbert came into the large, dimly lit drawing-room with
the air of a man who is not certain whether he is entering a
dovecote or a bomb factory, and is prepared for either
eventuality. The little domestic quarrel over the
luncheon-table had not been fought to a definite finish, and
the question was how far Lady Anne was in a mood to renew or
forgo hostilities. Her pose in the arm-chair by the
tea-table was rather elaborately rigid; in the gloom of a
December afternoon Egbert's pince-nez did not materially
help him to discern the expression of her face.
By way of breaking whatever ice might be floating on the
surface he made a remark about a dim religious light. He or
Lady Anne were accustomed to make that remark between 4.30
and 6 on winter and late autumn evenings; it was a part of
their married life. There was no recognized rejoinder to
it, and Lady Anne made none.
Don Tarquinio lay astretch on the Persian rug, basking in
the firelight with superb indifference to the possible
ill-humour of Lady Anne. His pedigree was as flawlessly
Persian as the rug, and his ruff was coming into the glory
of its second winter. The page-boy, who had Renaissance
tendencies, had christened him Don Tarquinio. Left to
themselves, Egbert and Lady Anne would unfailingly have
called him Fluff, but they were not obstinate.
Egbert poured himself out some tea. As the silence gave
no sign of breaking on Lady Anne's initiative, he braced
himself for another Yermak effort.
``My remark at lunch had a purely academic application,''
he announced; ``you seem to put an unnecessarily personal
significance into it.''
Lady Anne maintained her defensive barrier of silence.
The bullfinch lazily filled in the interval with an air from
_Iphig<e'>nie en Tauride_. Egbert recognized it
immediately, because it was the only air the bullfinch
whistled, and he had come to them with the reputation for
whistling it. Both Egbert and Lady Anne would have
preferred something from _The Yeoman of the Guard_, which
was their favourite opera. In matters artistic they had a
similarity of taste. They leaned toward the honest and
explicit in art, a picture, for instance, that told its own
story, with generous assistance from its title. A riderless
warhorse with harness in obvious disarray, staggering into a
courtyard full of pale swooning women, and marginally noted
``Bad News,'' suggested to their minds a distinct
interpretation of some military catastrophe. They could see
what it was meant to convey, and explain it to friends of
The silence continued. As a rule Lady Anne's displeasure
became articulate and markedly voluble after four minutes of
introductory muteness. Egbert seized the milk-jug and
poured some of its contents into Don Tarquinio's saucer; as
the saucer was already full to the brim an unsightly
overflow was the result. Don Tarquinio looked on with a
surprised interest that evanesced into elaborate
unconsciousness when he was appealed to by Egbert to come
and drink up some of the spilt matter. Don Tarquinio was
prepared to play many r<o^>les in life, but a vacuum
carpet-cleaner was not one of them.
``Don't you think we're being rather foolish?'' said
If Lady Anne thought so she didn't say so.
``I daresay the fault has been partly on my side,''
continued Egbert, with evaporating cheerfulness. ``After
all, I'm only human, you know. You seem to forget that I'm
He insisted on the point, as if there had been unfounded
suggestions that he was built on Satyr lines, with goat
continuations where the human left off.
The bullfinch recommenced its air from _Iphig<e'>nie en
Tauride_. Egbert began to feel depressed. Lady Anne was
not drinking her tea. Perhaps she was feeling unwell. But
when Lady Anne felt unwell she was not wont to be reticent
on the subject. ``No one knows what I suffer from
indigestion'' was one of her favourite statements; but the
lack of knowledge can only have been caused by defective
listening; the amount of information available on the
subject would have supplied material for a monograph.
Evidently Lady Anne was not feeling unwell.
Egbert began to think he was being unreasonably dealt
with; naturally he began to make concessions.
``I daresay,'' be observed, taking as central a position
on the hearth-rug as Don Tarquinio could be persuaded to
concede him, ``I may have been to blame. I am willing, if I
can thereby restore things to a happier standpoint, to
undertake to lead a better life.''
He wondered vaguely how it would be possible. Temptations
came to him, in middle age, tentatively and without
insistence, like a neglected butcher-boy who asks for a
Christmas box in February for no more hopeful reason than
that he didn't get one in December. He had no more idea of
succumbing to them than he had of purchasing the fish-knives
and fur boas that ladies are impelled to sacrifice through
the medium of advertisement columns during twelve months of
the year. Still, there was something impressive in this
unasked-for renunciation of possibly latent enormities.
Lady Anne showed no sign of being impressed.
Egbert looked at her nervously through his glasses. To
get the worst of an argument with her was no new experience.
To get the worst of a monologue was a humiliating novelty.
``I shall go and dress for dinner,'' he announced in a
voice into which he intended some shade of sternness to
At the door a final access of weakness impelled him to
make a further appeal.
``Aren't we being very silly?''
``A fool,'' was Don Tarquinio's mental comment as the door
closed on Egbert's retreat. Then he lifted his velvet
forepaws in the air and leapt lightly on to a bookshelf
immediately under the bullfinch's cage. It was the first
time he had seemed to notice the bird's existence, but he
was carrying out a long-formed theory of action with the
precision of mature deliberation. The bullfinch, who had
fancied himself something of a despot, depressed himself of
a sudden into a third of his normal displacement; then he
fell to a helpless wingbeating and shrill cheeping. He had
cost twenty-seven shillings without the cage, but Lady Anne
made no sign of interfering. She had been dead for two
THE LOST SANJAK
The prison Chaplain entered the condemneds cell for the
last time, to give such consolation as he might.
``The only consolation I crave for,'' said the condemned,
``is to tell my story in its entirety to some one who will
at least give it a respectful hearing.''
``We must not be too long over it,'' said the Chaplain,
looking at his watch.
The condemned repressed a shiver and commenced.
``Most people will be of opinion that I am paying the
penalty of my own violent deeds. In reality I am a victim
to a lack of specialization in my education and character.''
``Lack of specialization!'' said the Chaplain.
``Yes. If I had been known as one of the few men in
England familiar with the fauna of the Outer Hebrides, or
able to repeat stanzas of Camo<e:>ns' poetry in the
original, I should have had no difficulty in proving my
identity in the crisis when my identity became a matter of
life and death for me. But my education was merely a
moderately good one, and my temperament was of the general
order that avoids specialization. I know a little in a
general way about gardening and history and old masters, but
I could never tell you off-hand whether `Stella van der
Loopen' was a chrysanthemum or a heroine of the American War
of Independence, or something by Romney in the Louvre.''
The Chaplain shifted uneasily in his seat. Now that the
alternatives had been suggested they all seemed dreadfully
``I fell in love, or thought I did, with the local
doctor's wife,'' continued the condemned. ``Why I should
have done so, I cannot say, for I do not remember that she
possessed any particular attractions of mind or body. On
looking back at past events it seems to me that she must
have been distinctly ordinary, but I suppose the doctor had
fallen in love with her once, and what man has done man can
do. She appeared to be pleased with the attentions which I
paid her, and to that extent I suppose I might say she
encouraged me, but I think she was honestly unaware that I
meant anything more than a little neighbourly interest.
When one is face to face with Death one wishes to be just.''
The Chaplain murmured approval. ``At any rate, she was
genuinely horrified when I took advantage of the doctor's
absence one evening to declare what I believed to be my
passion. She begged me to pass out of her life and I could
scarcely do otherwise than agree, though I hadn't the
dimmest idea of how it was to be done. In novels and plays
I knew it was a regular occurrence, and if you mistook a
lady's sentiments or intentions you went off to India and
did things on the frontier as a matter of course. As I
stumbled along the doctor's carriage-drive I had no very
clear idea as to what my line of action was to be, but I had
a vague feeling that I must look at the _Times_ Atlas before
going to bed. Then, on the dark and lonely highway, I came
suddenly on a dead body.''
The Chaplain's interest in the story visibly quickened.
``Judging by the clothes it wore the corpse was that of a
Salvation Army captain. Some shocking accident seemed to
have struck him down, and the head was crushed and battered
out of all human semblance. Probably, I thought, a
motor-car fatality; and then, with a sudden overmastering
insistence, came another thought, that here was a remarkable
opportunity for losing my identity and passing out of the
life of the doctor's wife for ever. No tiresome and risky
voyage to distant lands, but a mere exchange of clothes and
identity with the unknown victim of an unwitnessed accident.
With considerable difficulty I undressed the corpse, and
clothed it anew in my own garments. Any one who has valeted
a dead Salvation Army captain in an uncertain light will
appreciate the difficulty. With the idea, presumably, of
inducing the doctor's wife to leave her husband's roof-tree
for some habitation which would be run at my expense, I had
crammed my pockets with a store of banknotes, which
represented a good deal of my immediate worldly wealth.
When, therefore, I stole away into the world in the guise of
a nameless Salvationist, I was not without resources which
would easily support so humble a r<o^>le for a considerable
period. I tramped to a neighbouring market-town, and, late
as the hour was, the production of a few shillings procured
me supper and a night's lodging in a cheap coffee-house.
The next day I started forth on an aimless course of
wandering from one small town to another. I was already
somewhat disgusted with the upshot of my sudden freak; in a
few hours' time I was considerably more so. In the
contents-bill of a local news sheet I read the announcement
of my own murder at the hands of some person unknown; on
buying a copy of the paper for a detailed account of the
tragedy, which at first had aroused in me a certain grim
amusement, I found that the deed was ascribed to a wandering
Salvationist of doubtful antecedents, who had been seen
lurking in the roadway near the scene of the crime. I was
no longer amused. The matter promised to be embarrassing.
What I had mistaken for a motor accident was evidently a
case of savage assault and murder, and, until the real
culprit was found, I should have much difficulty in
explaining my intrusion into the affair. Of course I could
establish my own identity; but how, without disagreeably
involving the doctor's wife, could I give any adequate
reason for changing clothes with the murdered man? While my
brain worked feverishly at this problem, I subconsciously
obeyed a secondary instinct---to get as far away as possible
from the scene of the crime, and to get rid at all costs of
my incriminating uniform. There I found a difficulty. I
tried two or three obscure clothes shops, but my entrance
invariably aroused an attitude of hostile suspicion in the
proprietors, and on one excuse or another they avoided
serving me with the now ardently desired change of clothing.
The uniform that I had so thoughtlessly donned seemed as
difficult to get out of as the fatal shirt of---You know, I
forget the creature's name.''
``Yes, yes,'' said the Chaplain hurriedly. ``Go on with
``Somehow, until I could get out of those compromising
garments, I felt it would not be safe to surrender myself to
the police. The thing that puzzled me was why no attempt
was made to arrest me, since there was no question as to the
suspicion which followed me, like an inseparable shadow,
wherever I went. Stares, nudgings, whisperings, and even
loud-spoken remarks of `that's 'im' greeted my every
appearance, and the meanest and most deserted eating-house
that I patronized soon became filled with a crowd of
furtively watching customers. I began to sympathize with
the feelings of Royal personages trying to do a little
private shopping under the unsparing scrutiny of an
irrepressible public. And still, with all this inarticulate
shadowing, which weighed on my nerves almost worse than open
hostility would have done, no attempt was made to interfere
with my liberty. Later on I discovered the reason. At the
time of the murder on the lonely highway a series of
important blood-hound trials had been taking place in the
near neighbourhood, and some dozen and a half couples of
trained animals had been put on the track of the supposed
murderer---on my track. One of our most public-spirited
London dailies had offered a princely prize to the owner of
the pair that should first track me down, and betting on the
chances of the respective competitors became rife throughout
the land. The dogs ranged far and wide over about thirteen
counties, and though my own movements had become by this
time perfectly well known to police and public alike, the
sporting instincts of the nation stepped in to prevent my
premature arrest. `Give the dogs a chance,' was the
prevailing sentiment, whenever some ambitious local
constable wished to put an end to my drawn-out evasion of
justice. My final capture by the winning pair was not a
very dramatic episode, in fact, I'm not sure that they would
have taken any notice of me if I hadn't spoken to them and
patted them, but the event gave rise to an extraordinary
amount of partisan excitement. The owner of the pair who
were next nearest up at the finish was an American, and he
lodged a protest on the ground that an otterhound had
married into the family of the winning pair six generations
ago, and that the prize had been offered to the first pair
of bloodhounds to capture the murderer, and that a dog that
had one sixty-fourth part of otterhound blood in it couldn't
technically be considered a bloodhound. I forget how the
matter was ultimately settled, but it aroused a tremendous
amount of acrimonious discussion on both sides of the
Atlantic. My own contribution to the controversy consisted
in pointing out that the whole dispute was beside the mark,
as the actual murderer had not yet been captured; but I soon
discovered that on this point there was not the least
divergence of public or expert opinion. I had looked
forward apprehensively to the proving of my identity and the
establishment of my motives as a disagreeable necessity; I
speedily found out that the most disagreeable part of the
business was that it couldn't be done. When I saw in the
glass the haggard and hunted expression which the
experiences of the past few weeks had stamped on my
erstwhile placid countenance, I could scarcely feel
surprised that the few friends and relations I possessed
refused to recognize me in my altered guise, and persisted
in their obstinate but widely shared belief that it was I
who had been done to death on the highway. To make matters
worse, infinitely worse, an aunt of the really murdered man,
an appalling female of an obviously low order of
intelligence, identified me as her nephew, and gave the
authorities a lurid account of my depraved youth and of her
laudable but unavailing efforts to spank me into a better
way. I believe it was even proposed to search me for
``But,'' said the Chaplain, ``surely your educational
``That was just the crucial point,'' said the condemned;
``that was where my lack of specialization told so fatally
against me. The dead Salvationist, whose identity I had so
lightly and so disastrously adopted, had possessed a veneer
of cheap modern education. It should have been easy to
demonstrate that my learning was on altogether another plane
to his, but in my nervousness I bungled miserably over test
after test that was put to me. The little French I had ever
known deserted me; I could not render a simple phrase about
the gooseberry of the gardener into that language, because I
had forgotten the French for gooseberry.''
The Chaplain again wriggled uneasily in his seat. ``And
then,'' resumed the condemned, ``came the final
discomfiture. In our village we had a modest little
debating club, and I remembered having promised, chiefly, I
suppose, to please and impress the doctor's wife, to give a
sketchy kind of lecture on the Balkan Crisis. I had relied
on being able to get up my facts from one or two standard
works, and the back-numbers of certain periodicals. The
prosecution had made a careful note of the circumstance that
the man whom I claimed to be---and actually was---had posed
locally as some sort of second-hand authority on Balkan
affairs, and, in the midst of a string of questions on
indifferent topics, the examining counsel asked me with a
diabolical suddenness if I could tell the Court the
whereabouts of Novibazar. I felt the question to be a
crucial one; something told me that the answer was St.
Petersburg or Baker Street. I hesitated, looked helplessly
round at the sea of tensely expectant faces, pulled myself
together, and chose Baker Street. And then I knew that
everything was lost. The prosecution had no difficulty in
demonstrating that an individual, even moderately versed in
the affairs of the Near East, could never have so
unceremoniously dislocated Novibazar from its accustomed
corner of the map. It was an answer which the Salvation
Army captain might conceivably have made---and I had made
it. The circumstantial evidence connecting the Salvationist
with the crime was overwhelmingly convincing, and I had
inextricably identified myself with the Salvationist. And
thus it comes to pass that in ten minutes' time I shall be
hanged by the neck until I am dead in expiation of the
murder of myself, which murder never took place, and of
which, in any case, I am necessarily innocent.''
When the Chaplain returned to his quarters, some fifteen
minutes later, the black flag was floating over the prison
tower. Breakfast was waiting for him in the dining-room,
but he first passed into his library, and, taking up the
_Times_ Atlas, consulted a map of the Balkan Peninsula. ``A
thing like that,'' he observed, closing the volume with a
snap, ``might happen to any one.''
THE SEX THAT DOESN'T SHOP
The opening of a large new centre for West End shopping,
particularly feminine shopping, suggests the reflection, Do
women ever really shop? Of course, it is a well-attested
fact that they go forth shopping as assiduously as a bee
goes flower-visiting, but do they shop in the practical
sense of the word? Granted the money, time, and energy, a
resolute course of shopping transactions would naturally
result in having one's ordinary domestic needs unfailingly
supplied, whereas it is notorious that women servants (and
housewives of all classes) make it almost a point of honour
not to be supplied with everyday necessities. ``We shall be
out of starch by Thursday,'' they say with fatalistic
foreboding, and by Thursday they are out of starch. They
have predicted almost to a minute the moment when their
supply would give out, and if Thursday happens to be early
closing day their triumph is complete. A shop where starch
is stored for retail purposes possibly stands at their very
door, but the feminine mind has rejected such an obvious
source for replenishing a dwindling stock. ``We don't deal
there'' places it at once beyond the pale of human resort.
And it is noteworthy that just as a sheep-worrying dog
seldom molests the flocks in his near neighbourhood, so a
woman rarely deals with shops in her immediate vicinity.
The more remote the source of supply the more fixed seems to
be the resolve to run short of the commodity. The Ark had
probably not quitted its last moorings five minutes before
some feminine voice gloatingly recorded a shortage of
bird-seed. A few days ago two lady acquaintances of mine
were confessing to some mental uneasiness because a friend
had called just before lunch-time, and they had been unable
to ask her to stop and share their meat as (with a touch of
legitimate pride) ``there was nothing in the house.'' I
pointed out that they lived in a street that bristled with
provision shops and that it would have been easy to mobilize
a very passable luncheon in less than five minutes.
``That,'' they said, with quiet dignity, ``would not have
occurred to us,'' and I felt that I had suggested something
bordering on the indecent.
But it is in catering for her literary wants that a
woman's shopping capacity breaks down most completely. If
you have perchance produced a book which has met with some
little measure of success, you are certain to get a letter
from some lady whom you scarcely know to bow to, asking you
``how it can be got.'' She knows the name of the book, its
author, and who published it, but how to get into actual
contact with it is still an unsolved problem to her. You
write back pointing out that to have recourse to an
ironmonger or a corn-dealer will only entail delay and
disappointment, and suggest an application to a bookseller
as the most hopeful thing you can think of. In a day or two
she writes again: ``It is all right; I have borrowed it from
your aunt.'' Here, of course, we have an example of the
Beyond-Shopper, one who has learned the Better Way, but the
helplessness exists even when such bypaths of relief are
closed. A lady who lives in the West End was expressing to
me the other day her interest in West Highland terriers, and
her desire to know more about the breed, so when, a few days
later, I came across an exhaustive article on that subject
in the current number of one of our best known
outdoor-weeklies, I mentioned the circumstance in a letter,
giving the date of that number. ``I cannot get the paper,''
was her telephoned response. And she couldn't. She lived
in a city where news-agents are numbered, I suppose, by the
thousand, and she must have passed dozens of such shops in
her daily shopping excursions, but as far as she was
concerned that article on West Highland terriers might as
well have been written in a missal stored away in some
Buddhist monastery in Eastern Thibet.
The brutal directness of the masculine shopper arouses a
certain combative derision in the feminine onlooker. A cat
that spreads one shrew-mouse over the greater part of a long
summer afternoon, and then possibly loses him, doubtless
feels the same contempt for the terrier who compresses his
rat into ten seconds of the strenuous life. I was finishing
off a short list of purchases a few afternoons ago when I
was discovered by a lady of my acquaintance whom, swerving
aside from the lead given us by her god-parents thirty years
ago, we will call Agatha.
``You're surely not buying blotting-paper here?'' she
exclaimed in an agitated whisper, and she seemed so
genuinely concerned that I stayed my hand.
``Let me take you to Winks and Pinks,'' she said as soon
as we were out of the building: ``they've got such lovely
shades of blotting-paper---pearl and heliotrope and _momie_
``But I want ordinary white blotting-paper,'' I said.
``Never mind. They know me at Winks and Pinks,'' she
replied inconsequently. Agatha apparently has an idea that
blotting-paper is only sold in small quantities to persons
of known reputation, who may be trusted not to put it to
dangerous or improper uses. After walking some two hundred
yards she began to feel that her tea was of more immediate
importance than my blotting-paper.
``What do you want blotting-paper for?'' she asked
suddenly. I explained patiently.
``I use it to dry up the ink of wet manuscript without
smudging the writing. Probably a Chinese invention of the
second century before Christ, but I'm not sure. The only
other use for it that I can think of is to roll it into a
ball for a kitten to play with.''
``But you haven't got a kitten,'' said Agatha, with a
feminine desire for stating the entire truth on most
``A stray one might come in at any moment,'' I replied.
Anyway I didn't get the blotting-paper.
THE BLOOD-FEUD OF TOAD-WATER
A WEST-COUNTRY EPIC
The Cricks lived at Toad-Water; and in the same lonely
upland spot Fate had pitched the home of the Saunderses, and
for miles around these two dwellings there was never a
neighbour or a chimney or even a burying-ground to bring a
sense of cheerful communion or social intercourse. Nothing
but fields and spinneys and barns, lanes and waste-lands.
Such was Toad-Water; and, even so, Toad-Water had its
Thrust away in the benighted hinterland of a scattered
market district, it might have been supposed that these two
detached items of the Great Human Family would have leaned
towards one another in a fellowship begotten of kindred
circumstances and a common isolation from the outer world.
And perhaps it had been so once, but the way of things had
brought it otherwise. Indeed, otherwise. Fate, which had
linked the two families in such unavoidable association of
habitat, had ordained that the Crick household should
nourish and maintain among its earthly possessions sundry
head of domestic fowls, while to the Saunderses was given a
disposition towards the cultivation of garden crops. Herein
lay the material, ready to hand, for the coming of feud and
ill-blood. For the grudge between the man of herbs and the
man of live stock is no new thing; you will find traces of
it in the fourth chapter of Genesis. And one sunny
afternoon in late spring-time the feud came---came, as such
things mostly do come, with seeming aimlessness and
triviality. One of the Crick hens, in obedience to the
nomadic instincts of her kind, wearied of her legitimate
scratching-grounds, and flew over the low wall that divided
the holdings of the neighbours. And there, on the yonder
side, with a hurried consciousness that her time and
opportunities might be limited, the misguided bird scratched
and scraped and beaked and delved in the soft yielding bed
that had been prepared for the solace and well-being of a
colony of seedling onions. Little showers of earth-mould
and root-fibres went spraying before the hen and behind her,
and every minute the area of her operations widened. The
onions suffered considerably. Mrs. Saunders, sauntering at
this luckless moment down the garden path, in order to fill
her soul with reproaches at the iniquity of the weeds, which
grew faster than she or her good man cared to remove them,
stopped in mute discomfiture before the presence of a more
magnificent grievance. And then, in the hour of her
calamity, she turned instinctively to the Great Mother, and
gathered in her capacious hands large clods of the hard
brown soil that lay at her feet. With a terrible sincerity
of purpose, though with a contemptible inadequacy of aim,
she rained her earth bolts at the marauder, and the bursting
pellets called forth a flood of cackling protest and panic
from the hastily departing fowl. Calmness under misfortune
is not an attribute of either menfolk or womenkind, and
while Mrs. Saunders declaimed over her onion bed such
portions of the slang dictionary as are permitted by the
Nonconformist conscience to be said or sung, the Vasco da
Gama fowl was waking the echoes of Toad-Water with crescendo
bursts of throat music which compelled attention to her
griefs. Mrs. Crick had a long family, and was therefore
licensed, in the eyes of her world, to have a short temper,
and when some of her ubiquitous offspring had informed her,
with the authority of eye-witnesses, that her neighbour had
so far forgotten herself as to heave stones at her hen---her
best hen, the best layer in the countryside---her thoughts
clothed themselves in language ``unbecoming to a Christian
woman''---so at least said Mrs. Saunders, to whom most of
the language was applied. Nor was she, on her part,
surprised at Mrs. Crick's conduct in letting her hens stray
into other body's gardens, and then abusing of them, seeing
as how she remembered things against Mrs. Crick---and the
latter simultaneously had recollections of lurking episodes
in the past of Susan Saunders that were nothing to her
credit. ``Fond memory, when all things fade we fly to
thee,'' and in the paling light of an April afternoon the
two women confronted each other from their respective sides
of the party wall, recalling with shuddering breath the
blots and blemishes of their neighbour's family record.
There was that aunt of Mrs. Crick's who had died a pauper
in Exeter workhouse---every one knew that Mrs. Saunders'
uncle on her mother's side drank himself to death ---then
there was that Bristol cousin of Mrs. Crick's! From the
shrill triumph with which his name was dragged in, his crime
must have been pilfering from a cathedral at least, but as
both remembrancers were speaking at once it was difficult to
distinguish his infamy from the scandal which beclouded the
memory of Mrs. Saunders' brother's wife's mother---who may
have been a regicide, and was certainly not a nice person as
Mrs. Crick painted her. And then, with an air of
accumulating and irresistible conviction, each belligerent
informed the other that she was no lady---after which they
withdrew in a great silence, feeling that nothing further
remained to be said. The chaffinches clinked in the apple
trees and the bees droned round the berberis bushes, and the
waning sunlight slanted pleasantly across the garden plots,
but between the neighbour households had sprung up a barrier
of hate, permeating and permanent.
The male heads of the families were necessarily drawn into
the quarrel, and the children on either side were forbidden
to have anything to do with the unhallowed offspring of the
other party. As they had to travel a good three miles along
the same road to school every day, this was awkward, but
such things have to be. Thus all communication between the
households was sundered. Except the cats. Much as Mrs.
Saunders might deplore it, rumour persistently pointed to
the Crick he-cat as the presumable father of sundry kittens
of which the Saunders she-cat was indisputably the mother.
Mrs. Saunders drowned the kittens, but the disgrace
Summer succeeded spring, and winter summer, but the feud
outlasted the waning seasons. Once, indeed, it seemed as
though the healing influences of religion might restore to
Toad-Water its erstwhile peace; the hostile families found
themselves side by side in the soul-kindling atmosphere of a
Revival Tea, where hymns were blended with a beverage that
came of tea-leaves and hot water and took after the latter
parent, and where ghostly counsel was tempered by
garnishings of solidly fashioned buns---and here, wrought up
by the environment of festive piety, Mrs. Saunders so far
unbent as to remark guardedly to Mrs. Crick that the evening
had been a fine one. Mrs. Crick, under the influence of
her ninth cup of tea and her fourth hymn, ventured on the
hope that it might continue fine, but a maladroit allusion
on the part of the Saunders good man to the backwardness of
garden crops brought the Feud stalking forth from its comer
with all its old bitterness. Mrs. Saunders joined heartily
in the singing of the final hymn, which told of peace and
joy and archangels and golden glories; but her thoughts were
dwelling on the pauper aunt of Exeter.
Years have rolled away, and some of the actors in this
wayside drama have passed into the Unknown; other onions
have arisen, have flourished, have gone their way, and the
offending hen has long since expiated her misdeeds and lain
with trussed feet and look of ineffable peace under the
arched roof of Barnstaple market. But the Blood-feud of
Toad-Water survives to this day.
A YOUNG TURKISH CATASTROPHE
IN TWO SCENES
The Minister for Fine Arts (to whose Department had been
lately added the new subsection of Electoral Engineering)
paid a business visit to the Grand Vizier. According to
Eastern etiquette they discoursed for a while on indifferent
subjects. The Minister only checked himself in time from
making a passing reference to the Marathon Race, remembering
that the Vizier had a Persian grandmother and might consider
any allusion to Marathon as somewhat tactless. Presently
the Minister touched the subject of his interview.
``Under the new Constitution are women to have votes?'' he
``To have votes? Women?'' exclaimed the Vizier in some
astonishment. ``My dear Pasha, the New Departure has a
flavour of the absurd as it is; don't let's try and make it
altogether ridiculous. Women have no souls and no
intelligence; why on earth should they have votes?''
``I know it sounds absurd,'' said the Minister, ``but they
are seriously considering the idea in the West.''
``Then they must have a larger equipment of seriousness
than I gave them credit for. After a lifetime of
specialized effort in maintaining my gravity I can scarcely
restrain an inclination to smile at the suggestion. Why,
our womenfolk in most cases don't know how to read or write.
How could they perform the operation of voting?''
``They could be shown the names of the candidates and
where to make their cross.''
``I beg your pardon?'' interrupted the Vizier.
``Their crescent, I mean,'' corrected the Minister, ``It
would be to the liking of the Young Turkish Party,'' he
``Oh, well,'' said the Vizier, ``if we are to do the thing
at all we may as well go the whole h---'' he pulled up just
as he was uttering the name of an unclean animal, and
continued, ``the complete camel. I will issue instructions
that womenfolk are to have votes.''
The poll was drawing to a close in the Lakoumistan
division. The candidate of the Young Turkish Party was
known to be three or four hundred votes ahead, and he was
already drafting his address, returning thanks to the
electors. His victory had been almost a foregone
conclusion, for he had set in motion all the approved
electioneering machinery of the West. He had even employed
motor-cars. Few of his supporters had gone to the poll in
these vehicles, but, thanks to the intelligent driving of
his chauffeurs, many of his opponents had gone to their
graves or to the local hospitals, or otherwise abstained
from voting. And then something unlooked-for happened. The
rival candidate, Ali the Blest, arrived on the scene with
his wives and womenfolk, who numbered, roughly, six hundred.
Ali had wasted little effort on election literature, but had
been heard to remark that every vote given to his opponent
meant another sack thrown into the Bosporus. The Young
Turkish candidate, who had conformed to the Western custom
of one wife and hardly any mistresses, stood by helplessly
while his adversary's poll swelled to a triumphant majority.
``Cristabel Columbus!'' he exclaimed, invoking in some
confusion the name of a distinguished pioneer; ``who would
have thought it?''
``Strange,'' mused Ali, ``that one who harangued so
clamorously about the Secret Ballot should have overlooked
the Veiled Vote.''
And, walking homeward with his constituents, he murmured
in his beard an improvisation on the heretic poet of Persia:
``One, rich in metaphors, his Cause contrives
To urge with edg<e`>d words, like Kabul knives;
And I, who worst him in this sorry game,
Was never rich in anything but---wives.''
JUDKIN OF THE PARCELS
A figure in an indefinite tweed suit, carrying brown-paper
parcels. That is what we met suddenly, at the bend of a
muddy Dorsetshire lane, and the roan mare stared and
obviously thought of a curtsy. The mare is road-shy, with
intervals of stolidity, and there is no telling what she
will pass and what she won't. We call her Redford. That
was my first meeting with Judkin, and the next time the
circumstances were the same; the same muddy lane, the same
rather apologetic figure in the tweed suit, the same---or
very similar---parcels. Only this time the roan looked
straight in front of her.
Whether I asked the groom or whether he advanced the
information, I forget; but someway I gradually reconstructed
the life-history of this trudger of the lanes. It was much
the same, no doubt, as that of many others who are from time
to time pointed out to one as having been aforetime in crack
cavalry regiments and noted performers in the saddle; men
who have breathed into their lungs the wonder of the East,
have romped through life as through a cotillon, have had a
thrust perhaps at the Viceroy's Cup, and done fantastic
horsefleshy things around the Gulf of Aden. And then a
golden stream has dried up, the sunlight has faded suddenly
out of things, and the gods have nodded ``Go.'' And they
have not gone. They have turned instead to the muddy lanes
and cheap villas and the marked-down ills of life, to watch
pear trees growing and to encourage hens for their eggs.
And Judkin was even as these others; the wine had been
suddenly spilt from his cup of life, and he had stayed to
suck at the dregs which the wise throw away. In the days of
his scorn for most things he would have stared the roan mare
and her turn-out out of all pretension to smartness, as he
would have frozen a cheap claret behind its cork, or a plain
woman behind her veil; and now he was walking stoically
through the mud, in a tweed suit that would eventually go on
to the gardener's boy, and would perhaps fit him. The dear
gods, who know the end before the beginning, were perhaps
growing a gardener's boy somewhere to fit the garments, and
Judkin was only a caretaker, inhabiting a portion of them.
That is what I like to think, and I am probably wrong. And
Judkin, whose clothes had been to him once more than a
religion, scarcely less sacred than a family quarrel, would
carry those parcels back to his villa and to the wife who
awaited him and them---a wife who may, for all we know to
the contrary, have had a figure once, and perhaps has yet a
heart of gold---of nine-carat gold, let us say at the
least---but assuredly a soul of tape. And he that has
fetched and carried will explain how it had fared with him
in his dealings, and if he has brought the wrong sort of
sugar or thread he will wheedle away the displeasure from
that leaden face as a pastrycook girl will drive bluebottles
off a stale bun. And that man has known what it was to coax
the fret of a thoroughbred, to soothe its toss and sweat as
it danced beneath him in the glee and chafe of its pulses
and the glory of its thews. He has been in the raw places
of the earth, where the desert beasts have whimpered their
unthinkable psalmody, and their eyes have shone back the
reflex of the midnight stars---and he can immerse himself in
the tending of an incubator. It is horrible and wrong, and
yet when I have met him in the lanes his face has worn a
look of tedious cheerfulness that might pass for happiness.
Has Judkin of the Parcels found something in the lees of
life that I have missed in going to and fro over many
waters? Is there more wisdom in his perverseness than in the
madness of the wise? The dear gods know.
I don't think I saw Judkin more than three times all told,
and always the lane was our point of contact; but as the
roan mare was taking me to the station one heavy,
cloud-smeared day, I passed a dull-looking villa that the
groom, or instinct, told me was Judkin's home. From beyond
a hedge of ragged elder-bushes could be heard the thud, thud
of a spade, with an occasional clink and pause, as if some
one had picked out a stone and thrown it to a distance, and
I knew that he was doing nameless things to the roots of a
pear tree. Near by him, I felt sure, would be lying a large
and late vegetable marrow, and its largeness and lateness
would be a theme of conversation at luncheon. It would be
suggested that it should grace the harvest thanksgiving
service; the harvest having been so generally
unsatisfactory, it would be unfair to let the fanners supply
all the material for rejoicing.
And while I was speeding townwards along the rails Judkin
would be plodding his way to the vicarage bearing a
vegetable marrow and a basketful of dahlias. The basket to
``There is a wild beast in your woods,'' said the artist
Cunningham, as he was being driven to the station. It was
the only remark he had made during the drive, but as Van
Cheele had talked incessantly his companion's silence had
not been noticeable.
``A stray fox or two and some resident weasels. Nothing
more formidable,'' said Van Cheele. The artist said
``What did you mean about a wild beast?'' said Van Cheele
later, when they were on the platform.
``Nothing. My imagination. Here is the train,'' said
That afternoon Van Cheele went for one of his frequent
rambles through his woodland property. He had a stuffed
bittern in his study, and knew the names of quite a number
of wild flowers, so his aunt had possibly some justification
in describing him as a great naturalist. At any rate, he
was a great walker. It was his custom to take mental notes
of everything he saw during his walks, not so much for the
purpose of assisting contemporary science as to provide
topics for conversation afterwards. When the bluebells
began to show themselves in flower he made a point of
informing every one of the fact; the season of the year
might have warned his hearers of the likelihood of such an
occurrence, but at least they felt that he was being
absolutely frank with them.
What Van Cheele saw on this particular afternoon was,
however, something far removed from his ordinary range of
experience. On a shelf of smooth stone overhanging a deep
pool in the hollow of an oak coppice a boy of about sixteen
lay asprawl, drying his wet brown limbs luxuriously in the
sun. His wet hair, parted by a recent dive, lay close to
his head, and his light-brown eyes, so light that there was
an almost tigerish gleam in them, were turned towards Van
Cheele with a certain lazy watchfulness. It was an
unexpected apparition, and Van Cheele found himself engaged
in the novel process of thinking before he spoke. Where on
earth could this wild-looking boy hail from? The miller's
wife had lost a child some two months ago, supposed to have
been swept away by the mill-race, but that had been a mere
baby, not a half-grown lad.
``What are you doing there?'' he demanded.
``Obviously, sunning myself,'' replied the boy.
``Where do you live?''
``Here, in these woods.''
``You can't live in the woods,'' said Van Cheele.
``They are very nice woods,'' said the boy, with a touch
of patronage in his voice.
``But where do you sleep at night?''
``I don't sleep at night; that's my busiest time.''
Van Cheele began to have an irritated feeling that he was
grappling with a problem that was eluding him.
``What do you feed on?'' he asked.
``Flesh,'' said the boy, and he pronounced the word with
slow relish, as though he were tasting it.
``Flesh! What flesh?''
``Since it interests you, rabbits, wild-fowl, hares,
poultry, lambs in their season, children when I can get any;
they're usually too well locked in at night, when I do most
of my hunting. It's quite two months since I tasted
Ignoring the chaffing nature of the last remark Van Cheele
tried to draw the boy on the subject of possible poaching
``You're talking rather through your hat when you speak of
feeding on hares.'' (Considering the nature of the boys
toilet the simile was hardly an apt one.) ``Our hillside
hares aren't easily caught.''
``At night I hunt on four feet,'' was the somewhat cryptic
``I suppose you mean that you hunt with a dog?'' hazarded
The boy rolled slowly over on to his back, and laughed a
weird low laugh, that was pleasantly like a chuckle and
disagreeably like a snarl.
``I don't fancy any dog would be very anxious for my
company, especially at night.''
Van Cheele began to feel that there was something
positively uncanny about the strange-eyed, strange-tongued
``I can't have you staying in these woods,'' he declared
``I fancy you'd rather have me here than in your house,''
said the boy.
The prospect of this wild, nude animal in Van Cheele's
primly ordered house was certainly an alarming one.
``If you don't go I shall have to make you,'' said Van
The boy turned like a flash, plunged into the pool, and in
a moment had flung his wet and glistening body half-way up
the bank where Van Cheele was standing. In an otter the
movement would not have been remarkable; in a boy Van Cheele
found it sufficiently startling. His foot slipped as he
made an involuntary backward movement, and he found himself
almost prostrate on the slippery weed-grown bank, with those
tigerish yellow eyes not very far from his own. Almost
instinctively he half raised his hand to his throat. The
boy laughed again, a laugh in which the snarl had nearly
driven out the chuckle, and then, with another of his
astonishing lightning movements, plunged out of view into a
yielding tangle of weed and fern.
``What an extraordinary wild animal!'' said Van Cheele as
he picked himself up. And then be recalled Cunningham's
remark, ``There is a wild beast in your woods.''
Walking slowly homeward, Van Cheele began to turn over in
his mind various local occurrences which might be traceable
to the existence of this astonishing young savage.
Something had been thinning the game in the woods lately,
poultry had been missing from the farms, hares were growing
unaccountably scarcer, and complaints had reached him of
lambs being carried off bodily from the hills. Was it
possible that this wild boy was really hunting the
countryside in company with some clever poacher dog? He had
spoken of hunting ``four-footed'' by night, but then, again,
he had hinted strangely at no dog caring to come near him,
``especially at night.'' It was certainly puzzling. And
then, as Van Cheele ran his mind over the various
depredations that had been committed during the last month
or two, he came suddenly to a dead stop, alike in hiss walk
and his speculations. The child missing from the mill two
months ago---the accepted theory was that it had tumbled
into the mill-race and been swept away; but the mother had
always declared she had heard a shriek on the hill side of
the house, in the opposite direction from the water. It was
unthinkable, of course, but he wished that the boy had not
made that uncanny remark about childflesh eaten two months
ago. Such dreadful things should not be said even in fun.
Van Cheele, contrary to his usual wont, did not feel
disposed to be communicative about his discovery in the
wood. His position as a parish councillor and justice of
the peace seemed somehow compromised by the fact that he was
harbouring a personality of such doubtful repute on his
property; there was even a possibility that a heavy bill of
damages for raided lambs and poultry might be laid at his
door. At dinner that night he was quite unusually silent.
``Where's your voice gone to?'' said his aunt. ``One
would think you had seen a wolf.''
Van Cheele, who was not familiar with the old saying,
thought the remark rather foolish; if he _had_ seen a wolf
on his property his tongue would have been extraordinarily
busy with the subject.
At breakfast next morning Van Cheele was conscious that
his feeling of uneasiness regarding yesterday's episode had
not wholly disappeared, and he resolved to go by train to
the neighbouring cathedral town, hunt up Cunningham, and
learn from him what he had really seen that had prompted the
remark about a wild beast in the woods. With this
resolution taken, his usual cheerfulness partially returned,
and he hummed a bright little melody as he sauntered to the
morning-room for his customary cigarette. As he entered the
room the melody made way abruptly for a pious invocation.
Gracefully asprawl on the ottoman, in an attitude of almost
exaggerated repose, was the boy of the woods. He was drier
than when Van Cheele had last seen him, but no other
alteration was noticeable in his toilet.
``How dare you come here?'' asked Van Cheele furiously.
``You told me I was not to stay in the woods,'' said the
``But not to come here. Supposing my aunt should see
And with a view to minimizing that catastrophe Van Cheele
hastily obscured as much of his unwelcome guest as possible
under the folds of a _Morning Post_. At that moment his
aunt entered the room.
``This is a poor boy who has lost his way---and lost his
memory. He doesn't know who he is or where he comes from,''
explained Van Cheele desperately, glancing apprehensively at
the waif's face to see whether he was going to add
inconvenient candour to his other savage propensities.
Miss Van Cheele was enormously interested.
``Perhaps his underlinen is marked,'' she suggested.
``He seems to have lost most of that, too,'' said Van
Cheele, making frantic little grabs at the _Morning Post_ to
keep it in its place.
A naked homeless child appealed to Miss Van Cheele as
warmly as a stray kitten or derelict puppy would have done.
``We must do all we can for him,'' she decided, and in a
very short time a messenger, dispatched to the rectory,
where a page-boy was kept, had returned with a suit of
pantry clothes, and the necessary accessories of shirt,
shoes, collar, etc. Clothed, clean, and groomed, the boy
lost none of his uncanniness in Van Cheele's eyes, but his
aunt found him sweet.
``We must call him something till we know who he really
is,'' she said. ``Gabriel-Ernest, I think; those are nice
Van Cheele agreed, but he privately doubted whether they
were being grafted on to a nice suitable child. His
misgivings were not diminished by the fact that his staid
and elderly spaniel had bolted out of the house at the first
incoming of the boy, and now obstinately remained shivering
and yapping at the farther end of the orchard, while the
canary, usually as vocally industrious as Van Cheele
himself, had put itself on an allowance of frightened
cheeps. More than ever he was resolved to consult
Cunningham without loss of time.
As he drove off to the station his aunt was arranging that
Gabriel-Ernest should help her to entertain the infant
members of her Sunday-school class at tea that afternoon.
Cunningham was not at first disposed to be communicative.
``My mother died of some brain trouble,'' he explained,
``so you will understand why I am averse to dwelling on
anything of an impossibly fantastic nature that I may see or
think that I have seen.''
``But what _did_ you see?'' persisted Van Cheele.
``What I thought I saw was something so extraordinary that
no really sane man could dignify it with the credit of
having actually happened. I was standing, the last evening
I was with you, half-hidden in the hedgegrowth by the
orchard gate, watching the dying glow of the sunset.
Suddenly I became aware of a naked boy, a bather from some
neighbouring pool, I took him to be, who was standing out on
the bare hillside also watching the sunset. His pose was so
suggestive of some wild faun of Pagan myth that I instantly
wanted to engage him as a model, and in another moment I
think I should have hailed him. But just then the sun
dipped out of view, and all the orange and pink slid out of
the landscape, leaving it cold and grey. And at the same
moment an astounding thing happened---the boy vanished
``What! vanished away into nothing?'' asked Van Cheele
``No; that is the dreadful part of it,'' answered the
artist; ``on the open hillside where the boy had been
standing a second ago, stood a large wolf, blackish in
colour, with gleaming fangs and cruel, yellow eyes. You may
But Van Cheele did not stop for anything as futile as
thought. Already he was tearing at top speed towards the
station. He dismissed the idea of a telegram.
``Gabriel-Ernest is a werewolf'' was a hopelessly inadequate
effort at conveying the situation, and his aunt would think
it was a code message to which he had omitted to give her
the key. His one hope was that he might reach home before
sundown. The cab which he chartered at the other end of the
railway journey bore him with what seemed exasperating
slowness along the country roads, which were pink and mauve
with the flush of the sinking sun. His aunt was putting
away some unfinished jams and cake when he arrived.
``Where is Gabriel-Ernest?'' he almost screamed.
``He is taking the little Toop child home,'' said his
aunt. ``It was getting so late, I thought it wasn't safe to
let it go back alone. What a lovely sunset, isn't it?''
But Van Cheele, although not oblivious of the glow in the
western sky, did not stay to discuss its beauties. At a
speed for which he was scarcely geared he raced along the
narrow lane that led to the home of the Toops. On one side
ran the swift current of the mill-stream, on the other rose
the stretch of bare hillside. A dwindling rim of red sun
showed still on the skyline, and the next turning must bring
him in view of the ill-assorted couple he was pursuing.
Then the colour went suddenly out of things, and a grey
light settled itself with a quick shiver over the landscape.
Van Cheele heard a shrill wail of fear, and stopped running.
Nothing was ever seen again of the Toop child or
Gabriel-Ernest, but the latter's discarded garments were
found lying in the road, so it was assumed that the child
had fallen into the water, and that the boy had stripped and
jumped in, in a vain endeavour to save it. Van Cheele and
some workmen who were near by at the time testified to
having heard a child scream loudly just near the spot where
the clothes were found. Mrs. Toop, who had eleven other
children, was decently resigned to her bereavement, but Miss
Van Cheele sincerely mourned her lost foundling. It was on
her initiative that a memorial brass was put up in the
parish church to ``Gabriel-Ernest, an unknown boy, who
bravely sacrificed his life for another.''
Van Cheele gave way to his aunt in most things, but he
flatly refused to subscribe to the Gabriel-Ernest memorial.
THE SAINT AND THE GOBLIN
The little stone Saint occupied a retired niche in a side
aisle of the old cathedral. No one quite remembered who he
had been, but that in a way was a guarantee of
respectability. At least so the Goblin said. The Goblin
was a very fine specimen of quaint stone carving, and lived
up in the corbel on the wall opposite the niche of the
little Saint. He was connected with some of the best
cathedral folk, such as the queer carvings in the choir
stalls and chancel screen, and even the gargoyles high up on
the roof. All the fantastic beasts and manikins that
sprawled and twisted in wood or stone or lead overhead in
the arches or away down in the crypt were in some way akin
to him; consequently he was a person of recognized
importance in the cathedral world.
The little stone Saint and the Goblin got on very well
together, though they looked at most things from different
points of view. The Saint was a philanthropist in an
old-fashioned way; he thought the world, as he saw it, was
good, but might be improved. In particular he pitied the
church mice, who were miserably poor. The Goblin, on the
other hand, was of opinion that the world, as he knew it,
was bad, but had better be let alone. It was the function
of the church mice to be poor.
``All the same,'' said the Saint, ``I feel very sorry for
``Of course you do,'' said the Goblin; ``it's _your_
function to feel sorry for them. If they were to leave off
being poor you couldn't fulfil your functions. You'd be a
He rather hoped that the Saint would ask him what a
sinecure meant, but the latter took refuge in a stony
silence. The Goblin might be right, but still, he thought,
he would like to do something for the church mice before
winter came on; they were so very poor.
Whilst he was thinking the matter over he was startled by
something falling between his feet with a hard metallic
clatter. It was a bright new thaler; one of the cathedral
jackdaws, who collected such things, had flown in with it to
a stone cornice just above his niche, and the banging of the
sacristy door had startled him into dropping it. Since the
invention of gun powder the family nerves were not what they
``What have you got there?'' asked the Goblin.
``A silver thaler,'' said the Saint. ``Really,' he
continued, ``it is most fortunate; now I can do something
for the church mice.''
``How will you manage it?'' asked the Goblin.
The Saint considered.
``I will appear in a vision to the vergeress who sweeps
the floors. I will tell her that she will find a silver
thaler between my feet, and that she must take it and buy a
measure of corn and put it on my shrine. When she finds the
money she will know that it was a true dream, and she will
take care to follow my directions. Then the mice will have
food all winter.''
``Of course you can do that,'' observed the Goblin. ``Now,
I can only appear to people after they have had a heavy
supper of indigestible things. My opportunities with the
vergeress would be limited. There is some advantage in
being a saint after all.''
All this while the coin was lying at the Saint's feet. It
was clean and glittering and had the Elector's arms
beautifully stamped upon it. The Saint began to reflect
that such an opportunity was too rare to be hastily disposed
of. Perhaps indiscriminate charity might be harmful to the
church mice. After all, it was their function to be poor;
the Goblin had said so, and the Goblin was generally right.
``I've been thinking,'' he said to that personage, ``that
perhaps it would be really better if I ordered a thaler's
worth of candles to be placed on my shrine instead of the
He often wished, for the look of the thing, that people
would sometimes burn candles at his shrine; but as they had
forgotten who he was it was not considered a profitable
speculation to pay him that attention.
``Candles would be more orthodox,'' said the Goblin.
``More orthodox, certainly,' agreed the Saint, ``and the
mice could have the ends to eat; candle-ends are most
The Goblin was too well bred to wink; besides, being a
stone goblin, it was out of the question.
``Well, if it ain't there, sure enough!'' said the
vergeress next morning. She took the shining coin down from
the gusty niche and turned it over and over in her grimy
hands. Then she put it to her mouth and bit it.
``She can't be going to eat it,'' thought the Saint, and
fixed her with his stoniest stare.
``Well,' said the woman, in a somewhat shriller key,
``who'd have thought it! A saint, too!''
Then she did an unaccountable thing. She hunted an old
piece of tape out of her pocket, and tied it crosswise, with
a big loop, round the thaler, and hung it round the neck of
the little Saint.
Then she went away.
``The only possible explanation,'' said the Goblin, ``is
that it's a bad one.''
``What is that decoration your neighbour is wearing?''
asked a wyvern that was wrought into the capital of an
The Saint was ready to cry with mortification, only, being
of stone, he couldn't.
``It's a coin of---ahem---fabulous value,'' replied the
And the news went round the Cathedral that the shrine of
the little stone Saint had been enriched by a priceless
``After all, it's something to have the conscience of a
goblin,'' said the Saint to himself.
The church mice were as poor as ever. But that was their
THE SOUL OF LAPLOSHKA
Laploshka was one of the meanest men I have ever met, and
quite one of the most entertaining. He said horrid things
about other people in such a charming way that one forgave
him for the equally horrid things he said about oneself
behind one's back. Hating anything in the way of
ill-natured gossip ourselves, we are always grateful to
those who do it for us and do it well. And Laploshka did it
Naturally Laploshka had a large circle of acquaintances,
and as he exercised some care in their selection it followed
that an appreciable proportion were men whose bank balances
enabled them to acquiesce indulgently in his rather
one-sided views on hospitality. Thus, although possessed of
only moderate means, he was able to live comfortably within
his income, and still more comfortably within those of
various tolerantly disposed associates.
But towards the poor or to those of the same limited
resources as himself his attitude was one of watchful
anxiety; he seemed to be haunted by a besetting fear lest
some fraction of a shilling or franc, or whatever the
prevailing coinage might be, should be diverted from his
pocket or service into that of a hard-up companion. A
two-franc cigar would be cheerfully offered to a wealthy
patron, on the principle of doing evil that good may come,
but I have known him indulge in agonies of perjury rather
than admit the incriminating possession of a copper coin
when change was needed to tip a waiter. The coin would have
been duly returned at the earliest opportunity---he would
have taken means to ensure against forgetfulness on the part
of the borrower---but accidents might happen, and even the
temporary estrangement from his penny or sou was a calamity
to be avoided.
The knowledge of this amiable weakness offered a perpetual
temptation to play upon Laploshka's fears of involuntary
generosity. To offer him a lift in a cab and pretend not to
have enough money to pay the fare, to fluster him with a
request for a sixpence when his hand was full of silver just
received in change, these were a few of the petty torments
that ingenuity prompted as occasion afforded. To do justice
to Laploshka's resourcefulness it must be admitted that he
always emerged somehow or other from the most embarrassing
dilemma without in any way compromising his reputation for
saying ``No.'' But the gods send opportunities at some time
to most men, and mine came one evening when Laploshka and I
were supping together in a cheap boulevard restaurant.
(Except when he was the bidden guest of some one with an
irreproachable income, Laploshka was wont to curb his
appetite for high living; on such fortunate occasions he let
it go on an easy snaffle.) At the conclusion of the meal a
somewhat urgent message called me away, and without heeding
my companion's agitated protest, I called back cruelly,
``Pay my share; I'll settle with you tomorrow.'' Early on
the morrow Laploshka hunted me down by instinct as I walked
along a side street that I hardly ever frequented. He had
the air of a man who had not slept.
``You owe me two francs from last night,'' was his
I spoke evasively of the situation in Portugal, where more
trouble seemed brewing. But Laploshka listened with the
abstraction of the deaf adder, and quickly returned to the
subject of the two francs.
``I'm afraid I must owe it to you,'' I said lightly and
brutally. ``I haven't a sou in the world,'' and I added
mendaciously, ``I'm going away for six months or perhaps
Laploshka said nothing, but his eyes bulged a little and
his cheeks took on the mottled hues of an ethnographical map
of the Balkan Peninsula. That same day, at sundown, he
died. ``Failure of the heart's action'' was the doctor's
verdict; but I, who knew better, knew that be had died of
There arose the problem of what to do with his two francs.
To have killed Laploshka was one thing; to have kept his
beloved money would have argued a callousness of feeling of
which I am not capable. The ordinary solution, of giving it
to the poor, would by no means fit the present situation,
for nothing would have distressed the dead man more than
such a misuse of his property. On the other hand, the
bestowal of two francs on the rich was an operation which
called for some tact. An easy way out of the difficulty
seemed, however, to present itself the following Sunday, as
I was wedged into the cosmopolitan crowd which fined the
side-aisle of one of the most popular Paris churches. A
collecting-bag, for ``the poor of Monsieur le Cur<e'>,'' was
buffeting its tortuous way across the seemingly impenetrable
human sea, and a German in front of me, who evidently did
not wish his appreciation of the magnificent music to be
marred by a suggestion of payment, made audible criticisms
to his companion on the claims of the said charity.
``They do not want money,'' he said; ``they have too much
money. They have no poor. They are all pampered.''
If that were really the case my way seemed clear. I
dropped Laploshka's two francs into the bag with a murmured
blessing on the rich of Monsieur le Cur<e'>.
Some three weeks later chance had taken me to Vienna, and
I sat one evening regaling myself in a humble but excellent
little Gasthaus up in the W<a:>hringer quarter. The
appointments were primitive, but the Schnitzel, the beer,
and the cheese could not have been improved on. Good cheer
brought good custom, and with the exception of one small
table near the door every place was occupied. Half-way
through my meal I happened to glance in the direction of
that empty seat, and saw that it was no longer empty.
Poring over the bill of fare with the absorbed scrutiny of
one who seeks the cheapest among the cheap was Laploshka.
Once he looked across at me, with a comprehensive glance at
my repast, as though to say, ``It is my two francs you are
eating,'' and then looked swiftly away. Evidently the poor
of Monsieur le Cur<e'> had been genuine poor. The Schnitzel
turned to leather in my mouth, the beer seemed tepid; I left
the Ementhaler untasted. My one idea was to get away from
the room, away from the table where that was seated; and as
I fled I felt Laploshka's reproachful eyes watching the
amount that I gave to the piccolo--out of his two francs. I
lunched next day at an expensive restaurant which I felt
sure that the living Laploshka would never have entered on
his own account, and I hoped that the dead Laploshka would
observe the same barriers. I was not mistaken but as I came
out I found him miserably studying the bill of fare stuck up
on the portals. Then he slowly made his way over to a
milk-hall. For the first time in my experience I missed the
charm and gaiety of Vienna life.
After that, in Paris or London or wherever I happened to
be, I continued to see a good deal of Laploshka. If I had a
seat in a box at a theatre I was always conscious of his
eyes furtively watching me from the dim recesses of the
gallery. As I turned into my club on a rainy afternoon I
would see him taking inadequate shelter in a doorway
opposite. Even if I indulged in the modest luxury of a
penny chair in the Park he generally confronted me from one
of the free benches, never staring at me, but always
elaborately conscious of my presence. My friends began to
comment on my changed looks, and advised me to leave off
heaps of things. I should have liked to have left off
On a certain Sunday---it was probably Easter, for the
crush was worse than ever---I was again wedged into the
crowd listening to the music in the fashionable Paris
church, and again the collection-bag was buffeting its way
across the human sea. An English lady behind me was making
ineffectual efforts to convey a coin into the still distant
bag, so I took the money at her request and helped it
forward to its destination. It was a two-franc piece. A
swift inspiration came to me, and I merely dropped my own
sou into the bag and slid the silver coin into my pocket. I
had withdrawn Laploshka's two francs from the poor, who
should never have had that legacy. As I backed away from
the crowd I heard a woman's voice say, ``I don't believe he
put my money in the bag. There are swarms of people in
Paris like that!'' But my mind was lighter than it had been
for a long time.
The delicate mission of bestowing the retrieved sum on the
deserving rich still confronted me. Again I trusted to the
inspiration of accident, and again fortune favoured me. A
shower drove me, two days later, into one of the historic
churches on the left bank of the Seine, and there I found,
peering at the old wood-carvings, the Baron R., one of the
wealthiest and most shabbily dressed men in Paris. It was
now or never. Putting a strong American inflection into the
French which I usually talked with an unmistakable British
accent, I catechized the Baron as to the date of the
church's building, its dimensions, and other details which
an American tourist would be certain to want to know.
Having acquired such information as the Baron was able to
impart on short notice, I solemnly placed the two-franc
piece in his hand, with the hearty assurance that it was
``pour vous,'' and turned to go. The Baron was slightly
taken aback, but accepted the situation with a good grace.
Walking over to a small box fixed in the wall, he dropped
Laploshka's two francs into the slot over the box was the
inscription, ``Pour les pauvres de M. le Cur<e'>.''
That evening, at the crowded corner by the Caf<e'> de la
Paix, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Laploshka. He smiled,
slightly raised his hat, and vanished. I never saw him
again. After all, the money had been given to the deserving
rich, and the soul of Laploshka was at peace.
``The Major is coming in to tea,'' said Mrs. Hoopington to
her niece. He's just gone round to the stables with his
horse. Be as bright and lively as you can; the poor man's
got a fit of the glooms.''
Major Pallaby was a victim of circumstances, over which he
had no control, and of his temper, over which he had very
little. He had taken on the Mastership of the Pexdale
Hounds in succession to a highly popular man who had fallen
foul of his committee, and the Major found himself
confronted with the overt hostility of at least half the
hunt, while his lack of tact and amiability had done much to
alienate the remainder. Hence subscriptions were beginning
to fall off, foxes grew provokingly scarcer, and wire
obtruded itself with increasing frequency. The Major could
plead reasonable excuse for his fit of the glooms.
In ranging herself as a partisan on the side of Major
Pallaby Mrs. Hoopington had been largely influenced by the
fact that she had made up her mind to marry him at an early
date. Against his notorious bad temper she set his three
thousand a year, and his prospective succession to a
baronetcy gave a casting vote in his favour. The Major's
plans on the subject of matrimony were not at present in
such an advanced stage as Mrs. Hoopington's, but he was
beginning to find his way over to Hoopington Hall with a
frequency that was already being commented on.
``He had a wretchedly thin field out again yesterday,''
said Mrs. Hoopington. ``Why you didn't bring one or two
hunting men down with you, instead of that stupid Russian
boy, I can't think.''
``Vladimir isn't stupid,'' protested her niece; ``he's one
of the most amusing boys I ever met. just compare him for a
moment with some of your heavy hunting men---''
``Anyhow, my dear Norah, he can't ride.''
``Russians never can; but he shoots.''
``Yes; and what does he shoot? Yesterday he brought home a
woodpecker in his game-bag.''
``But he'd shot three pheasants and some rabbits as well.''
``That's no excuse for including a woodpecker in his
``Foreigners go in for mixed bags more than we do. A
Grand Duke pots a vulture just as seriously as we should
stalk a bustard. Anyhow, I've explained to Vladimir that
certain birds are beneath his dignity as a sportsman. And
as he's only nineteen, of course, his dignity is a sure
thing to appeal to.''
Mrs. Hoopington sniffed. Most people with whom Vladimir
came in contact found his high spirits infectious, but his
present hostess was guaranteed immune against infection of
``I hear him coming in now,'' she observed. ``I shall go
and get ready for tea. We're going to have it here in the
hall. Entertain the Major if he comes in before I'm down,
and, above all, be bright.''
Norah was dependent on her aunt's good graces for many
little things that made life worth living, and she was
conscious of a feeling of discomfiture because the Russian
youth whom she had brought down as a welcome element of
change in the country-house routine was not making a good
impression. That young gentleman, however, was supremely
unconscious of any shortcomings, and burst into the hall,
tired, and less sprucely groomed than usual, but distinctly
radiant. His game-bag looked comfortably full.
``Guess what I have shot,'' he demanded.
``Pheasants, wood-pigeons, rabbits,'' hazarded Norah.
``No; a large beast; I don't know what you call it in
English. Brown, with a darkish tail.'' Norah changed
``Does it live in a tree and eat nuts?'' she asked, hoping
that the use of the adjective ``large'' might be an
``Oh, no; not a _biyelka_.''
``Does it swim and eat fish?'' asked Norah, with a fervent
prayer in her heart that it might turn out to be an otter.
``No,'' said Vladimir, busy with the straps of his
game-bag; ``it lives in the woods, and eats rabbits and
Norah sat down suddenly, and hid her face in her hands.
``Merciful Heaven!'' she wailed; ``he's shot a fox!''
Vladimir looked up at her in consternation. In a torrent
of agitated words she tried to explain the horror of the
situation. The boy understood nothing, but was thoroughly
``Hide it, hide it!'' said Norah frantically, pointing to
the still unopened bag. ``My aunt and the Major will be
here in a moment. Throw it on the top of that chest; they
won't see it there.''
Vladimir swung the bag with fair aim; but the strap caught
in its flight on the outstanding point of an antler fixed in
the wall, and the bag, with its terrible burden, remained
suspended just above the alcove where tea would presently be
laid. At that moment Mrs. Hoopington and the Major entered
``The Major is going to draw our covers tomorrow,''
announced the lady, with a certain heavy satisfaction.
``Smithers is confident that we'll be able to show him some
sport; he swears he's seen a fox in the nut copse three
times this week.''
``I'm sure I hope so; I hope so,'' said the Major moodily.
``I must break this sequence of blank days. One hears so
often that a fox has settled down as a tenant for life in
certain covers, and then when you go to turn him out there
isn't a trace of him. I'm certain a fox was shot or trapped
in Lady Widden's woods the very day before we drew them.''
``Major, if any one tried that game on in my woods they'd
get short shrift,'' said Mrs. Hoopington.
Norah found her way mechanically to the tea-table and made
her fingers frantically busy in rearranging the parsley
round the sandwich dish. On one side of her loomed the
morose countenance of the Major, on the other she was
conscious of the seared, miserable eyes of Vladimir. And
above it all hung that. She dared not raise her eyes above
the level of the tea-table, and she almost expected to see a
spot of accusing vulpine blood drip down and stain the
whiteness of the cloth. Her aunt's manner signalled to her
the repeated message to ``be bright''; for the present she
was fully occupied in keeping her teeth from chattering.
``What did you shoot today?'' asked Mrs. Hoopington
suddenly of the unusually silent Vladimir.
``Nothing---nothing worth speaking of,'' said the boy.
Norah's heart, which had stood still for a space, made up
for lost time with a most disturbing bound.
``I wish you'd find something that was worth speaking
about,'' said the hostess; ``every one seems to have lost
``When did Smithers last see that fox?'' said the Major.
``Yesterday morning; a fine dog-fox, with a dark brush,''
confided Mrs. Hoopington.
``Aha, we'll have a good gallop after that brush
tomorrow,'' said the Major, with a transient gleam of good
humour. And then gloomy silence settled again round the
tea-table, a silence broken only by despondent munchings and
the occasional feverish rattle of a teaspoon in its saucer.
A diversion was at last afforded by Mrs. Hoopington's
fox-terrier, which had jumped on to a vacant chair, the
better to survey the delicacies of the table, and was now
sniffing in an upward direction at something apparently more
interesting than cold tea-cake.
``What is exciting him?'' asked his mistress, as the dog
suddenly broke into short, angry barks, with a running
accompaniment of tremulous whines.
``Why,'' she continued, ``It's your game-bag, Vladimir!
What have you got in it?''
``By Gad,'' said the Major, who was now standing up;
``there's a pretty warm scent!''
And then a simultaneous idea flashed on himself and Mrs.
Hoopington. Their faces flushed to distinct but harmonious
tones of purple, and with one accusing voice they screamed,
``You've shot the fox!''
Norah tried hastily to palliate Vladimir's misdeed in
their eyes, but it is doubtful whether they heard her. The
Major's fury clothed and reclothed itself in words as
frantically as a woman up in town for one day's shopping
tries on a succession of garments. He reviled and railed at
fate and the general scheme of things, he pitied himself
with a strong, deep pity too poignant for tears, he
condemned every one with whom he had ever come in contact to
endless and abnormal punishments. In fact, he conveyed the
impression that if a destroying angel had been lent to him
for a week it would have had very little time for private
study. In the lulls of his outcry could be heard the
querulous monotone of Mrs. Hoopington and the sharp staccato
barking of the fox-terrier. Vladimir, who did not
understand a tithe of what was being said, sat fondling a
cigarette and repeating under his breath from time to time a
vigorous English adjective which he had long ago taken
affectionately into his vocabulary. His mind strayed back
to the youth in the old Russian folk-tale who shot an
enchanted bird with dramatic results. Meanwhile, the Major,
roaming round the hall like an imprisoned cyclone, had
caught sight of and joyfully pounced on the telephone
apparatus, and lost no time in ringing up the hunt secretary
and announcing his resignation of the Mastership. A servant
had by this time brought his horse round to the door, and in
a few seconds Mrs. Hoopington's shrill monotone had the
field to itself. But after the Major's display her best
efforts at vocal violence missed their full effect; it was
as though one had come straight out from a Wagner opera into
a rather tame thunderstorm. Realizing, perhaps, that her
tirades were something of an anticlimax, Mrs. Hoopington
broke suddenly into some rather necessary tears and marched
out of the room, leaving behind her a silence almost as
terrible as the turmoil which had preceded it.
``What shall I do with---_that?_'' asked Vladimir at last.
``Bury it,'' said Norah.
``Just plain burial?'' said Vladimir, rather relieved. He
had almost expected that some of the local clergy would have
insisted on being present, or that a salute might have to be
fired over the grave.
And thus it came to pass that in the dusk of a November
evening the Russian boy, murmuring a few of the prayers of
his Church for luck, gave hasty but decent burial to a large
polecat under the lilac trees at Hoopington.
Mrs. Jallatt's young people's parties were severely
exclusive; it came cheaper that way, because you could ask
fewer to them. Mrs. Jallatt didn't study cheapness, but
somehow she generally attained it.
``There'll be about ten girls,'' speculated Rollo, as he
drove to the function, ``and I suppose four fellows, unless
the Wrotsleys bring their cousin, which Heaven forbid. That
would mean Jack and me against three of them.''
Rollo and the Wrotsley brethren had maintained an undying
feud almost from nursery days. They only met now and then
in the holidays, and the meeting was usually tragic for
whichever happened to have the fewest backers on hand.
Rollo was counting tonight on the presence of a devoted and
muscular partisan to hold an even balance. As he arrived he
heard his prospective champion's sister apologizing to the
hostess for the unavoidable absence of her brother; a moment
later he noted that the Wrotsleys had brought their cousin.
Two against three would have been exciting and possibly
unpleasant; one against three promised to be about as
amusing as a visit to a dentist. Rollo ordered his carriage
for as early as was decently possible, and faced the company
with a smile that he imagined the better sort of aristocrat
would have worn when mounting to the guillotine.
``So glad you were able to come,'' said the elder Wrotsley
``Now, you children will like to play games, I suppose,''
said Mrs. Jallatt, by way of giving things a start, and as
they were too well-bred to contradict her there only
remained the question of what they were to play at.
``I know of a good game,'' said the elder Wrotsley
innocently. ``The fellows leave the room and think of a
word, then they come back again, and the girls have to find
out what the word is.''
Rollo knew that game. He would have suggested it himself
if his faction had been in the majority.
``It doesn't promise to be very exciting,'' sniffed the
superior Dolores Sneep as the boys filed out of the room.
Rollo thought differently. He trusted to Providence that
Wrotsley had nothing worse than knotted handkerchiefs at his
The word-choosers locked themselves in the library to
ensure that their deliberations should not be interrupted.
Providence turned out to be not even decently neutral; on a
rack on the library wall were a dog-whip and a whalebone
riding switch. Rollo thought it criminal negligence to
leave such weapons of precision lying about. He was given a
choice of evils, and chose the dog-whip; the next minute or
so he spent in wondering how he could have made such a
stupid selection. Then they went back to the languidly
``The word's `camel,' '' announced the Wrotsley cousin
``You stupid!'' screamed the girls, ``we've got to _guess_
the word. Now you'll have to go back and think of
``Not for worlds,'' said Rollo; ``I mean, the word isn't
really camel; we were rotting. Pretend it's dromedary!'' he
whispered to the others.
``I heard them say `dromedary'! I heard them. I don't
care what you say; I heard them,'' squealed the odious
Dolores. ``With ears as long as hers one would hear
anything,'' thought Rollo savagely.
``We shall have to go back, I suppose,'' said the elder
The conclave locked itself once more into the library.
``Look here, I'm not going through that dog-whip business
again,'' protested Rollo.
``Certainly not, dear,'' said the elder Wrotsley; ``we'll
try the whalebone switch this time, and then you'll know
which hurts most. It's only by personal experience that one
finds out these things.''
It was swiftly borne in upon Rollo that his earlier
selection of the dog-whip had been a really sound one. The
conclave gave his under-lip time to steady itself while it
debated the choice of the necessary word. ``Mustang'' was
no good, as half the girls wouldn't know what it meant;
finally ``quagga'' was pitched on.
``You must come and sit down over here,'' chorused the
investigating committee on their return; but Rollo was
obdurate in insisting that the questioned person always
stood up. On the whole, it was a relief when the game ended
and supper was announced.
Mrs. Jallatt did not stint her young guests, but the more
expensive delicacies of her supper-table were never
unnecessarily duplicated, and it was usually good policy to
take what you wanted while it was still there. On this
occasion she had provided sixteen peaches to ``go round''
among fourteen children; it was really not her fault that
the two Wrotsleys and their cousin, foreseeing the long
foodless drive home, had each quietly pocketed an extra
peach, but it was distinctly trying for Dolores and the fat
and good-natured Agnes Blaik to be left with one peach
``I suppose we had better halve it,'' said Dolores sourly.
But Agnes was fat first and good-natured afterwards; those
were her guiding principles in life. She was profuse in her
sympathy for Dolores, but she hastily devoured the peach,
explaining that it would spoil it to divide it; the juice
ran out so.
``Now what would you all like to do?'' demanded Mrs.
Jallatt by way of a diversion. ``The professional conjurer
whom I had engaged has failed me at the last moment. Can
any of you recite?''
There were symptoms of a general panic. Dolores was known
to recite ``Locksley Hall'' on the least provocation. There
had been occasions when her opening line, ``Comrades, leave
me here a little,'' had been taken as a literal injunction
by a large section of her hearers. There was a murmur of
relief when Rollo hastily declared that he could do a few
conjuring tricks. He had never done one in his life, but
those two visits to the library had goaded him to unusual
``You've seen conjuring chaps take coins and cards out of
people,'' he announced; ``well, I'm going to take more
interesting things out of some of you. Mice, for
A shrill protest rose, as he had foreseen, from the
majority of his audience.
``Well, fruit, then.''
The amended proposal was received with approval. Agnes
Without more ado Rollo made straight for his trio of
enemies, plunged his hand successively into their
breast-pockets, and produced three peaches. There was no
applause, but no amount of hand-clapping would have given
the performer as much pleasure as the silence which greeted
``Of course, we were in the know,'' said the Wrotsley
``That's done it,'' chuckled Rollo to himself.
``If they had been confederates they would have sworn they
knew nothing about it,'' said Dolores, with piercing
``Do you know any more tricks?'' asked Mrs. Jallatt
Rollo did not. He hinted that he might have changed the
three peaches into something else, but Agnes had already
converted one into girl-food, so nothing more could be done
in that direction.
``I know a game,'' said the elder Wrotsley heavily,
``where the fellows go out of the room, and think of some
character in history; then they come back and act him, and
the girls have to guess who it's meant for.''
``I'm afraid I must be going,'' said Rollo to his hostess.
``Your carriage won't be here for another twenty
minutes,'' said Mrs. Jallatt.
``It's such a fine evening I think I'll walk and meet
``It's raining rather steadily at present. You've just
time to play that historical game.''
``We haven't heard Dolores recite,'' said Rollo
desperately; as soon as he had said it he realized his
mistake. Confronted with the alternative of ``Locksley
Hall,'' public opinion declared unanimously for the history
Rollo played his last card. In an undertone meant
apparently for the Wrotsley boy, but carefully pitched to
reach Agnes, he observed:
``All right, old man; we'll go and finish those chocolates
we left in the library.''
``I think it's only fair that the girls should take their
turn in going out,'' exclaimed Agnes briskly. She was great
on fairness. ``Nonsense,'' said the others; ``there are too
many of us.''
``Well, four of us can go. I'll be one of them.''
And Agnes darted off towards the library, followed by
three less eager damsels.
Rollo sank into a chair and smiled ever so faintly at the
Wrotsleys, just a momentary baring of the teeth; an otter,
escaping from the fangs of the hounds into the safety of a
deep pool, might have given a similar demonstration of its
From the library came the sound of moving furniture.
Agnes was leaving nothing unturned in her quest for the
mythical chocolates. And then came a more blessed sound,
wheels crunching wet gravel.
``It has been a most enjoyable evening,'' said Rollo to
Vanessa Pennington had a husband who was poor, with few
extenuating circumstances, and an admirer who, though
comfortably rich, was cumbered with a sense of honour. His
wealth made him welcome in Vanessa's eyes, but his code of
what was right impelled him to go away and forget her, or at
the most to think of her in the intervals of doing a great
many other things. And although Alaric Clyde loved Vanessa,
and thought he should always go on loving her, he gradually
and unconsciously allowed himself to be wooed and won by a
more alluring mistress; he fancied that his continued
shunning of the haunts of men was a self-imposed exile, but
his heart was caught in the spell of the Wilderness, and the
Wilderness was kind and beautiful to him. When one is young
and strong and unfettered the wild earth can be very kind
and very beautiful. Witness the legion of men who were once
young and unfettered and now eat out their souls in
dustbins, because, having erstwhile known and loved the
Wilderness, they broke from her thrall and turned aside into
In the high waste places of the world Clyde roamed and
hunted and dreamed, death-dealing and gracious as some god
of Hellas, moving with his horses and servants and
four-footed camp followers from one dwelling ground to
another, a welcome guest among wild primitive village folk
and nomads, a friend and slayer of the fleet, shy beasts
around him. By the shores of misty upland lakes he shot the
wild fowl that had winged their way to him across half the
old world; beyond Bokhara he watched the wild Aryan horsemen
at their gambols; watched, too, in some dim-lit tea-house
one of those beautiful uncouth dances that one can never
wholly forget; or, making a wide cast down to the valley of
the Tigris, swam and rolled in its snow-cooled racing
waters. Vanessa, meanwhile, in a Bayswater back street, was
making out the weekly laundry list, attending bargain sales,
and, in her more adventurous moments, trying new ways of
cooking whiting. Occasionally she went to bridge parties,
where, if the play was not illuminating, at least one
learned a great deal about the private life of some of the
Royal and Imperial Houses. Vanessa, in a way, was glad that
Clyde had done the proper thing. She had a strong natural
bias towards respectability, though she would have preferred
to have been respectable in smarter surroundings, where her
example would have done more good. To be beyond reproach
was one thing, but it would have been nicer to have been
nearer to the Park.
And then of a sudden her regard for respectability and
Clyde's sense of what was right were thrown on the scrapheap
of unnecessary things. They had been useful and highly
important in their time, but the death of Vanessa's husband
made them of no immediate moment.
The news of the altered condition of things followed Clyde
with leisurely persistence from one place of call to
another, and at last ran him to a standstill somewhere in
the Orenburg Steppe. He would have found it exceedingly
difficult to analyze his feelings on receipt of the tidings.
The Fates had unexpectedly (and perhaps just a little
officiously) removed an obstacle from his path. He supposed
he was overjoyed, but he missed the feeling of elation which
he had experienced some four months ago when he had bagged a
snow-leopard with a lucky shot after a day's fruitless
stalking. Of course he would go back and ask Vanessa to
marry him, but he was determined on enforcing a condition:
on no account would he desert his newer love. Vanessa would
have to agree to come out into the Wilderness with him.
The lady hailed the return of her lover with even more
relief than had been occasioned by his departure. The death
of John Pennington had left his widow in circumstances which
were more straitened than ever, and the Park had receded
even from her note-paper, where it had long been retained as
a courtesy title on the principle that addresses are given
to us to conceal our whereabouts. Certainly she was more
independent now than heretofore, but independence, which
means so much to many women, was of little account to
Vanessa, who came under the heading of the mere female. She
made little ado about accepting Clyde's condition, and
announced herself ready to follow him to the end of the
world; as the world was round she nourished a complacent
idea that in the ordinary course of things one would find
oneself in the neighbourhood of Hyde Park Corner sooner or
later no matter how far afield one wandered.
East of Budapest her complacency began to filter away, and
when she saw her husband treating the Black Sea with a
familiarity which she had never been able to assume towards
the English Channel, misgivings began to crowd in upon her.
Adventures which would have presented an amusing and
enticing aspect to a better-bred woman aroused in Vanessa
only the twin sensations of fright and discomfort. Flies
bit her, and she was persuaded that it was only sheer
boredom that prevented camels from doing the same. Clyde
did his best, and a very good best it was, to infuse
something of the banquet into their prolonged desert
picnics, but even snow-cooled Heidsieck lost its flavour
when you were convinced that the dusky cupbearer who served
it with such reverent elegance was only waiting a convenient
opportunity to cut your throat. it was useless for Clyde to
give Yussuf a character for devotion such as is rarely found
in any Western servant. Vanessa was well enough educated to
know that all dusky-skinned people take human life as
unconcernedly as Bayswater folk take singing lessons.
And with a growing irritation and querulousness on her
part came a further disenchantment, born of the inability of
husband and wife. to find a common ground of interest. The
habits and migrations of the sand grouse, the folklore and
customs of Tartars and Turkomans, the points of a Cossack
pony---these were matters which evoked only a bored
indifference in Vanessa. On the other hand, Clyde was not
thrilled on being informed that the Queen of Spain detested
mauve, or that a certain Royal duchess, for whose tastes he
was never likely to be called on to cater, nursed a violent
but perfectly respectable passion for beef olives.
Vanessa began to arrive at the conclusion that a husband
who added a roving disposition to a settled income was a
mixed blessing. It was one thing to go to the end of the
world; it was quite another thing to make oneself at home
there. Even respectability seemed to lose some of its
virtue when one practised it in a tent.
Bored and disillusioned with the drift of her new life,
Vanessa was undisguisedly glad when distraction offered
itself in the person of Mr. Dobrinton, a chance acquaintance
whom they had first run against in the primitive hostelry of
a benighted Caucasian town. Dobrinton was elaborately
British, in deference perhaps to the memory of his mother,
who was said to have derived part of her origin from an
English governess who had come to Lemberg a long way back in
the last century. If you had called him Dobrinski when off
his guard he would probably have responded readily enough;
holding, no doubt, that the end crowns all, he had taken a
slight liberty with the family patronymic. To look at, Mr.
Dobrinton was not a very attractive specimen of masculine
humanity, but in Vanessa's eyes he was a link with that
civilization which Clyde seemed so ready to ignore and
forgo. He could sing ``Yip-I-Addy'' and spoke of several
duchesses as if he knew them---in his more inspired moments
almost as if they knew him. He even pointed out blemishes
in the cuisine or cellar departments of some of the more
august London restaurants, a species of Higher Criticism
which was listened to by Vanessa in awestricken admiration.
And, above all, he sympathized, at first discreetly,
afterwards with more latitude, with her fretful discontent
at Clyde's nomadic instincts. Business connected with
oil-wells had brought Dobrinton to the neighbourhood of
Baku; the pleasure of appealing to an appreciative female
audience induced him to deflect his return journey so as to
coincide a good deal with his new acquaintances' line of
march. And while Clyde trafficked with Persian
horse-dealers or hunted the wild grey pigs in their lairs
and added to his notes on Central Asian game-fowl, Dobrinton
and the lady discussed the ethics of desert respectability
from points of view that showed a daily tendency to
converge. And one evening Clyde dined alone, reading
between the courses a long letter from Vanessa, justifying
her action in flitting to more civilized lands with a more
It was distinctly evil luck for Vanessa, who really was
thoroughly respectable at heart, that she and her lover
should run into the hands of Kurdish brigands on the first
day of their flight. To be mewed up in a squalid Kurdish
village in close companionship with a man who was only your
husband by adoption, and to have the attention of all Europe
drawn to your plight, was about the least respectable thing
that could happen. And there were international
complications, which made things worse. ``English lady and
her husband, of foreign nationality, held by Kurdish
brigands who demand ransom'' had been the report of the
nearest Consul. Although Dobrinton was British at heart,
the other portions of him belonged to the Habsburgs, and
though the Habsburgs took no great pride or pleasure in this
particular unit of their wide and varied possessions, and
would gladly have exchanged him for some interesting bird or
mammal for the Schoenbrunn Park, the code of international
dignity demanded that they should display a decent
solicitude for his restoration. And while the Foreign
Offices of the two countries were taking the usual steps to
secure the release of their respective subjects a further
horrible complication ensued. Clyde, following on the track
of the fugitives, not with any special desire to overtake
them, but with a dim feeling that it was expected of him,
fell into the hands of the same community of brigands.
Diplomacy, while anxious to do its best for a lady in
misfortune, showed signs of becoming restive at this
expansion of its task; as a frivolous young gentleman in
Downing Street remarked, ``Any husband of Mrs. Dobrinton's
we shall be glad to extricate, but let us know how many
there are of them.'' For a woman who valued respectability
Vanessa really had no luck.
Meanwhile the situation of the captives was not free from
embarrassment. When Clyde explained to the Kurdish headmen
the nature of his relationship with the runaway couple they
were gravely sympathetic, but vetoed any idea of summary
vengeance, since the Habsburgs would be sure to insist on
the delivery of Dobrinton alive, and in a reasonably
undamaged condition. They did not object to Clyde
administering a beating to his rival for half an hour every
Monday and Thursday, but Dobrinton turned such a sickly
green when he heard of this arrangement that the chief was
obliged to withdraw the concession.
And so, in the cramped quarters of a mountain hut, the
ill-assorted trio watched the insufferable hours crawl
slowly by. Dobrinton was too frightened to be
conversational, Vanessa was too mortified to open her lips,
and Clyde was moodily silent. The little Lemberg
_n<e'>gociant_ plucked up heart once to give a quavering
rendering of ``Yip-I-Addy,'' but when he reached the
statement ``home was never like this'' Vanessa tearfully
begged him to stop. And silence fastened itself with
growing insistence on the three captives who were so
tragically herded together; thrice a day they drew near to
one another to swallow the meal that had been prepared for
them, like desert beasts meeting in mute suspended hostility
at the drinking-pool, and then drew back to resume the vigil
Clyde was less carefully watched than the others.
``Jealousy will keep him to the woman's side,'' thought his
Kurdish captors. They did not know that his wilder, truer
love was calling to him with a hundred voices from beyond
the village bounds. And one evening, finding that he was
not getting the attention to which he was entitled, Clyde
slipped away down the mountain side and resumed his study of
Central Asian game-fowl. The remaining captives were
guarded henceforth with greater rigour, but Dobrinton at any
rate scarcely regretted Clyde's departure.
The long arm, or perhaps one might better say the long
purse, of diplomacy at last effected the release of the
prisoners, but the Habsburgs were never to enjoy the guerdon
of their outlay. On the quay of the little Black Sea Port,
where the rescued pair came once more into contact with
civilization, Dobrinton was bitten by a dog which was
assumed to be mad, though it may only have been
indiscriminating. The victim did not wait for symptoms of
rabies to declare themselves, but died forthwith of fright,
and Vanessa made the homeward journey alone, conscious
somehow of a sense of slightly restored respectability.
Clyde, in the intervals of correcting the proofs of his book
on the game-fowl of Central Asia, found time to press a
divorce suit through the Courts, and as soon as possible
hied him away to the congenial solitudes of the Gobi Desert
to collect material for a work on the fauna of that region.
Vanessa, by virtue perhaps of her earlier intimacy with the
cooking rites of the whiting, obtained a place on the
kitchen staff of a West End Club. It was not brilliant, but
at least it was within two minutes of the Park.
THE BAKER'S DOZEN
MAJOR RICHARD DUMBARTON
_Scene_---Deck of eastward-bound steamer. Major Dumbarton
seated on deck-chair, another chair by his side, with the
name ``Mrs. Carewe'' painted on it, a third near by.
(Enter, R., Mrs. Carewe, seats herself leisurely in her
deck-chair, the Major affecting to ignore her presence.)
_Major_ (turning suddenly): Emily! After all these years!
This is fate!
_Em._: Fate! Nothing of the sort; it's only me. You men
are always such fatalists. I deferred my departure three
whole weeks, in order to come out in the same boat that I
saw you were travelling by. I bribed the steward to put our
chairs side by side in an unfrequented corner, and I took
enormous pains to be looking particularly attractive this
morning, and then you say, ``This is fate.'' I am looking
particularly attractive, am I not?
_Maj._: More than ever. Time has only added a ripeness to
_Em._: I knew you'd put it exactly in those words. The
phraseology of love-making is awfully limited, isn't it?
After all, the chief charm is in the fact of being made love
to. You are making love to me, aren't you?
_Maj._: Emily dearest, I had already begun making
advances, even before you sat down here. I also bribed the
steward to put our seats together in a secluded corner.
``You may consider it done, sir,'' was his reply. That was
immediately after breakfast.
_Em._: How like a man to have his breakfast first. I
attended to the seat business as soon as I left my cabin.
_Maj._: Don't be unreasonable. It was only at breakfast
that I discovered your blessed presence on the boat. I paid
violent and unusual attention to a flapper all through the
meal in order to make you jealous. She's probably in her
cabin writing reams about me to a fellow-flapper at this
_Em._: You needn't have taken all that trouble to make me
jealous, Dickie. You did that years ago, when you married
_Maj._: Well, you had gone and married another man---a
widower, too, at that.
_Em._: Well, there's no particular harm in marrying a
widower, I suppose. I'm ready to do it again, if I meet a
really nice one.
_Maj._: Look here, Emily, it's not fair to go at that
rate. You're a lap ahead of me the whole time. It's my
place to propose to you; all you've got to do is to say
_Em._: Well, I've practically said it already, so we
needn't dawdle over that part.
_Maj._: Oh, well---
(They look at each other, then suddenly embrace with
_Maj._: We dead-heated it that time. (Suddenly jumping to
his feet.) Oh, d--- --- I'd forgotten!
_Em._: Forgotten what?
_Maj._: The children. I ought to have told you. Do you
_Em._: Not in moderate quantities. How many have you got?
_Maj._ (counting hurriedly on his fingers): Five.
_Maj._ (anxiously): Is that too many?
_Em._: It's rather a number. The worst of it is, I've
_Maj._: Eight in six years! Oh, Emily!
_Em._: Only four were my own. The other four were by my
husband's first marriage. Still, that practically makes
_Maj._: And eight and five make thirteen. We can't start
our married life with thirteen children; it would be most
unlucky. (Walks up and down in agitation.) Some way must be
found out of this. If we could only bring them down to
twelve. Thirteen is so horribly unlucky.
_Em._: Isn't there some way by which we could part with
one or two? Don't the French want more children? I've often
seen articles about it in the _Figaro_.
_Maj._: I fancy they want French children. Mine don't
even speak French.
_Em._: There's always a chance that one of them might turn
out depraved and vicious, and then you could disown him.
I've heard of that being done.
_Maj._: But, good gracious, you've got to educate him
first. You can't expect a boy to be vicious till he's been
to a good school.
_Em._: Why couldn't he be naturally depraved? Lots of boys
_Maj._: Only when they inherit it from depraved parents.
You don't suppose there's any depravity in me, do you?
_Em._: It sometimes skips a generation, you know. Weren't
any of your family bad?
_Maj._: There was an aunt who was never spoken of.
_Em._: There you are!
_Maj._: But one can't build too much on that. In
mid-Victorian days they labelled all sorts of things as
unspeakable that we should speak about quite tolerantly. I
daresay this particular aunt had only married a Unitarian,
or rode to hounds on both sides of her horse, or something
of that sort. Anyhow, we can't wait indefinitely for one of
the children to take after a doubtfully depraved great aunt.
Something else must be thought of.
_Em._: Don't people ever adopt children from other
_Maj._: I've heard of it being done by childless couples,
and those sort of people---
_Em._: Hush! Some one's coming. Who is it?
_Maj._: Mrs. Paly-Paget.
_Em._: The very person!
_Maj._: What, to adopt a child? Hasn't she got any?
_Em._: Only one miserable hen-baby.
_Maj._: Let's sound her on the subject.
(Enter Mrs. Paly-Paget, R.)
Ah, good morning, Mrs. Paly-Paget. I was just wondering
at breakfast where did we meet last?
_Mrs. P.-P._: At the Criterion, wasn't it? (Drops into
_Maj._: At the Criterion, of course.
_Mrs. P.-P._: I was dining with Lord and Lady Slugford.
Charming people, but so mean. They took us afterwards to
the Velodrome, to see some dancer interpreting Mendelssohn's
``songs without clothes.'' We were all packed up in a little
box near the roof, and you may imagine how hot it was. It
was like a Turkish bath. And, of course, one couldn't see
_Maj._: Then it was not like a Turkish bath.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Major!
_Em._: We were just talking of you when you joined us.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Really! Nothing very dreadful, I hope.
_Em._: Oh, dear, no! It's too early on the voyage for that
sort of thing. We were feeling rather sorry for you.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Sorry for me? Whatever for?
_Maj._: Your childless hearth and all that, you know. No
little pattering feet.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Major! How dare you? I've got my little
girl, I suppose you know. Her feet can patter as well as
_Maj._: Only one pair of feet.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Certainly. My child isn't a centipede.
Considering the way they move us about in those horrid
jungle stations, without a decent bungalow to set one's foot
in, I consider I've got a hearthless child, rather than a
childless hearth. Thank you for your sympathy all the same.
I daresay it was well meant. Impertinence often is.
_Em._: Dear Mrs. Paly-Paget, we were only feeling sorry
for your sweet little girl when she grows older, you know.
No little brothers and sisters to play with.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Mrs. Carewe, this conversation strikes me as
being indelicate, to say the least of it. I've only been
married two and a half years, and my family is naturally a
_Maj._: Isn't it rather an exaggeration to talk of one
little female child as a family? A family suggests numbers.
_Mrs. P.-P._: Really, Major, your language is
extraordinary. I daresay I've only got a little female
child, as you call it, at present---
_Maj._: Oh, it won't change into a boy later on, if that's
what you're counting on. Take our word for it; we've had so
much more experience in these affairs than you have. Once a
female, always a female. Nature is not infallible, but she
always abides by her mistakes.
_Mrs. P.-P._ (rising): Major Dumbarton, these boats are
uncomfortably small, but I trust we shall find ample
accommodation for avoiding each other's society during the
rest of the voyage. The same wish applies to you, Mrs.
(Exit Mrs. Paly-Paget, L.)
_Maj._: What an unnatural mother! (Sinks into chair.)
_Em._: I wouldn't trust a child with any one who had a
temper like hers. Oh, Dickie, why did you go and have such
a large family? You always said you wanted me to be the
mother of your children.
_Maj._: I wasn't going to wait while you were founding and
fostering dynasties in other directions. Why you couldn't
be content to have children of your own, without collecting
them like batches of postage stamps I can't think. The idea
of marrying a man with four children!
_Em._: Well, you're asking me to marry one with five.
_Maj._: Five! (Springing to his feet.) Did I say five?
_Em._: You certainly said five.
_Maj._: Oh, Emily, supposing I've miscounted them! Listen
now, keep count with me. Richard---that's after me, of
_Maj._: Albert-Victor---that must have been in Coronation
_Maj._: Maud. She's called after---
_Em._: Never mind who she's called after. Three!
_Maj._: And Gerald.
_Maj._: That's the lot.
_Em._: Are you sure?
_Maj._: I swear that's the lot. I must have counted
Albert-Victor as two.
Theodoric Voler had been brought up, from infancy to the
confines of middle age, by a fond mother whose chief
solicitude had been to keep him screened from what she
called the coarser realities of life. When she died she
left Theodoric alone in a world that was as real as ever,
and a good deal coarser than he considered it had any need
to be. To a man of his temperament and upbringing even a
simple railway journey was crammed with petty annoyances and
minor discords, and as he settled himself down in a
second-class compartment one September morning he was
conscious of ruffled feelings and general mental
discomposure. He had been staying at a country vicarage,
the inmates of which had been certainly neither brutal nor
bacchanalian, but their supervision of the domestic
establishment had been of that lax order which invites
disaster. The pony carriage that was to take him to the
station had never been properly ordered, and when the moment
for his departure drew near the handyman who should have
produced the required article was nowhere to be found. In
this emergency Theodoric, to his mute but very intense
disgust, found himself obliged to collaborate with the
vicar's daughter in the task of harnessing the pony, which
necessitated groping about in an ill-lighted outhouse called
a stable, and smelling very like one---except in patches
where it smelt of mice. Without being actually afraid of
mice, Theodoric classed them among the coarser incidents of
life, and considered that Providence, with a little exercise
of moral courage, might long ago have recognized that they
were not indispensable, and have withdrawn them from
circulation. As the train glided out of the station
Theodoric's nervous imagination accused himself of exhaling
a weak odour of stableyard, and possibly of displaying a
mouldy straw or two on his usually well-brushed garments.
Fortunately the only other occupant of the compartment, a
lady of about the same age as himself, seemed inclined for
slumber rather than scrutiny; the train was not due to stop
till the terminus was reached, in about an hour's time, and
the carriage was of the old-fashioned sort, that held no
communication with a corridor, therefore no further
travelling companions were likely to intrude on Theodoric's
semi-privacy. And yet the train had scarcely attained its
normal speed before he became reluctantly but vividly aware
that he was not alone with the slumbering lady; he was not
even alone in his own clothes. A warm, creeping movement
over his flesh betrayed the unwelcome and highly resented
presence, unseen but poignant, of a strayed mouse, that had
evidently dashed into its present retreat during the episode
of the pony harnessing. Furtive stamps and shakes and
wildly directed pinches failed to dislodge the intruder,
whose motto, indeed, seemed to be Excelsior; and the lawful
occupant of the clothes lay back against the cushions and
endeavoured rapidly to evolve some means for putting an end
to the dual ownership. It was unthinkable that he should
continue for the space of a whole hour in the horrible
position of a Rowton House for vagrant mice (already his
imagination had at least doubled the numbers of the alien
invasion). On the other hand, nothing less drastic than
partial disrobing would ease him of his tormentor, and to
undress in the presence of a lady, even for so laudable a
purpose, was an idea that made his eartips tingle in a blush
of abject shame. He had never been able to bring himself
even to the mild exposure of open-work socks in the presence
of the fair sex. And yet---the lady in this case was to all
appearances soundly and securely asleep; the mouse, on the
other hand, seemed to be trying to crowd a Wanderjahr into a
few strenuous minutes. If there is any truth in the theory
of transmigration, this particular mouse must certainly have
been in a former state a member of the Alpine Club.
Sometimes in its eagerness it lost its footing and slipped
for half an inch or so; and then, in fright, or more
probably temper, it bit. Theodoric was goaded into the most
audacious undertaking of his life. Crimsoning to the hue of
a beetroot and keeping an agonized watch on his slumbering
fellow-traveller, he swiftly and noiselessly secured the
ends of his railway-rug to the racks on either side of the
carriage, so that a substantial curtain hung athwart the
compartment. In the narrow dressing-room that he had thus
improvised he proceeded with violent haste to extricate
himself partially and the mouse entirely from the
surrounding casings of tweed and half-wool. As the
unravelled mouse gave a wild leap to the floor, the rug,
slipping its fastening at either end, also came down with a
heart-curdling flop, and almost simultaneously the awakened
sleeper opened her eyes. With a movement almost quicker
than the mouse's, Theodoric pounced on the rug, and hauled
its ample folds chin-high over his dismantled person as he
collapsed into the further corner of the carriage. The
blood raced and beat in the veins of his neck and forehead,
while he waited dumbly for the communication-cord to be
pulled. The lady, however, contented herself with a silent
stare at her strangely muffled companion. How much had she
seen, Theodoric queried to himself, and in any case what on
earth must she think of his present posture?
``I think I have caught a chill,'' he ventured
``Really, I'm sorry,'' she replied. ``I was just going to
ask you if you would open this window.''
``I fancy it's malaria,' he added, his teeth chattering
slightly, as much from fright as from a desire to support
``I've got some brandy in my hold-all, if you'll kindly
reach it down for me,'' said his companion.
``Not for worlds---I mean, I never take anything for it,''
be assured her earnestly.
``I suppose you caught it in the Tropics?''
Theodoric, whose acquaintance with the Tropics was limited
to an annual present of a chest of tea from an uncle in
Ceylon, felt that even the malaria was slipping from him.
Would it be possible, he wondered, to disclose the real
state of affairs to her in small instalments?
``Are you afraid of mice?'' he ventured, growing, if
possible, more scarlet in the face.
``Not unless they came in quantities, like those that ate
up Bishop Hatto. Why do you ask?''
``I had one crawling inside my clothes just now,'' said
Theodoric in a voice that hardly seemed his own. ``It was a
most awkward situation.''
``It must have been, if you wear your clothes at all
tight,'' she observed; ``but mice have strange ideas of
``I had to got rid of it while you were asleep,'' he
continued; then, with a gulp, he added, ``it was getting rid
of it that brought me to---to this.''
``Surely leaving off one small mouse wouldn't bring on a
chill,'' she exclaimed, with a levity that Theodoric
Evidently she had detected something of his predicament,
and was enjoying his confusion. All the blood in his body
seemed to have mobilized in one concentrated blush, and an
agony of abasement, worse than a myriad mice, crept up and
down over his soul. And then, as reflection began to assert
itself, sheer terror took the place of humiliation. With
every minute that passed the train was rushing nearer to the
crowded and bustling terminus where dozens of prying eyes
would be exchanged for the one paralyzing pair that watched
him from the further corner of the carriage. There was one
slender despairing chance, which the next few minutes must
decide. His fellow-traveller might relapse into a blessed
slumber. But as the minutes throbbed by that chance ebbed
away. The furtive glance which Theodoric stole at her from
time to time disclosed only an unwinking wakefulness.
``I think we must be getting near now,'' she presently
Theodoric had already noted with growing terror the
recurring stacks of small, ugly dwellings that heralded the
journey's end. The words acted as a signal. Like a hunted
beast breaking cover and dashing madly towards some other
haven of momentary safety he threw aside his rug, and
struggled frantically into his dishevelled garments. He was
conscious of dull suburban stations racing past the window,
of a choking, hammering sensation in his throat and heart,
and of an icy silence in that corner towards which he dared
not look. Then as he sank back in his seat, clothed and
almost delirious, the train slowed down to a final crawl,
and the woman spoke.
``Would you be so kind,'' she asked, ``as to get me a
porter to put me into a cab? It's a shame to trouble you
when you're feeling unwell, but being blind makes one so
helpless at a railway station.''
[End of H.H.Munro's Reginald in Russia]