JONAH AND CO.
WARD, LOCK & CO., LIMITED
LONDON AND MELBOURNE
LIBRARY EDITIONS OF "JONAH AND CO."
First Published September 1922 Reprinted 2,000 October 1922 Reprinted 2,000 October 1923 Reprinted 2,000 September 1924 Reprinted 2,000 May 1925 Reprinted 3,000 February 1926 Reprinted 12,000 June 1927 Reprinted 8,000 March 1928 Reprinted 5,000 August 1929 Reprinted 10,000 August 1930 Reprinted 10,000 February 1933 Reprinted 8,000 December 1935 Reprinted 8,000 March 1939 Reprinted 5,000 February 1942 Reprinted 9,000 December 1943
BOOK PRODUCTION WAR ECONOMY STANDARD
THE TYPOGRAPHY OF THIS BOOK CONFORMS TO THE AUTHORIZED ECONOMY STANDARD.
MADE IN ENGLAND
Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London
ELM TREE ROAD
It is hard, sitting here, to believe that, if I would call for a cab, I could be in St. James's Street in less than ten minutes of time. Nevertheless, it is true. I have proved it so many times. Soon I shall prove it for the last time.
Better men than I will sit in this study and pace the lawn in the garden with the high walls. The lilies and laburnums and all the gay fellowship of flowers will find a new waterman. The thrushes and blackbirds and wood-pigeons will find a new victualler. The private forecourt, so richly hung with creeper, will give back my footfalls no more. Other eyes will dwell gratefully upon the sweet pretty house and look proudly out of its leaded window-panes.
The old order changeth, my lady. And so I am going, before I am driven out.
Nine years ago there was a farm upon the opposite side of the road—a little old English farm. Going out of my door of a morning, I used to meet ducks and geese that were taking the air. And horses came home at even, and cows lowed. Now the farm is gone, and a garage has taken its room. And other changes have come, and others still are coming.
So, you see, my lady, it is high time I was gone.
This quiet study has seen the making of my books. This—the last it will see—I make bold to offer to you for many reasons, but mainly because, for one thing, this house belongs to you and, for another, no hostess was ever so charming to the stranger within her gates.
I have the honour to be,
Your ladyship's humble servant, DORNFORD YATES.
I HOW BERRY STEPPED INTO THE BREACH, AND JONAH CAME FIRST AND WAS FIRST SERVED
II HOW THREE WAGERS WERE MADE, AND ADELE KILLED TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
III HOW A GOLDEN CALF WAS SET UP, AND NOBBY SHOWED HIMSELF A TRUE PROPHET
IV HOW BERRY MADE AN ENGAGEMENT, JILL A PICTURE, AND ADELE A SLIP OF SOME IMPORTANCE
V HOW LOVE CAME TO JILL, HERBERT TO THE RESCUE, AND A YOUNG MAN BY HIS RIGHT
VI HOW BERRY RAN CONTRABAND GOODS, AND THE DUKE OF PADUA PLIGHTED JILL HIS TROTH
VII HOW DAPHNE LOST HER BEDFELLOW, AND THE LINE OF LEAST RESISTANCE PROVED IRRESISTIBLE
VIII HOW ADELE BOUGHT A BOTTLE OF PERFUME WHICH HAD NO SMELL, AND I CUT EULALIE DEAD
IX HOW JONAH TOOK OFF HIS COAT, AND BERRY FLIRTED WITH FORTUNE FOR ALL HE WAS WORTH
X HOW BERRY SOUGHT COMFORT IN VAIN, AND NOBBY SLEPT UPON A QUEEN'S BED
XI HOW BERRY PUT OFF HIS MANHOOD, AND ADELE SHOWED A FAIR PAIR OF HEELS
XII HOW A TELEGRAM CAME FOR JILL, PIERS DEMANDED HIS SWEETHEART, AND I DROVE AFTER MY WIFE
All the characters in this story are imaginary and have no reference to any living person.
JONAH AND CO.
HOW BERRY STEPPED INTO THE BREACH, AND JONAH CAME FIRST AND WAS FIRST SERVED.
"Shall I massage it?" said Berry. The suggestion was loudly condemned.
"Right," replied my brother-in-law. "That reduces us to faith-healing. On the command 'One,' make your mind a blank—that shouldn't be difficult—realise that the agony you aren't suffering is imaginary, and close both legs. One! On the command 'Two'——"
"You can go," I said wearily. "You can go. I'll write to you when I want you. Don't bother to leave your address."
"But how vulgar," said Berry. "How very vulgar." He paused to glance at his watch. "Dear me! Half-past ten, and I haven't had my beer yet." He stepped to the door. "Should the pain become excruciating, turn upon the stomach and repeat Kipling's 'If.' Should——"
My sister and Jill fairly bundled him out of the doorway.
Sitting by my side upon the bed, Adele laid her cheek against mine.
"Is it any better, old chap?"
"The pain's practically stopped," said I, "thank Heaven. Putting it up's done that. But I'm in for a stiff leg, dear. I know that. Not that that matters really, but it means I can't drive."
It was unfortunate that, before I had been upon French soil for half an hour, I should be kicked by a testy cab-horse of whose existence—much less proximity—thanks to the poor lighting of Boulogne, I had been totally unaware. I had been kicked upon the same knee in 1916. On that occasion I had gone with a stiff leg for a fortnight. It seemed unpleasantly probable that history would wholly repeat itself.
"I can travel," I continued. "I shall be able to walk with a stick, but I shan't be able to drive. And, as Jonah can't drive more than one car at a time, Berry'll have to take the other."
At my words Daphne started, and Jill gave a little cry.
"B-but, Boy, he's only had three lessons."
"I know, but he'll get through somehow. I'll sit by his side. It'll shorten my life, of course, but what else can we do? Even if Fitch was here, there's no room for a chauffeur. And you'd find towing tedious after the first five hundred miles."
With a white forefinger to her lips, my sister regarded me.
"I know he's a disgrace," she said slowly, "but he's—he's the only husband I've got, Boy, and—he has his points," she concluded softly with the tenderest smile.
I stretched out a hand and drew her towards me.
"Isn't he my only brother, darling? Isn't he—Berry? I'll see he comes to no harm."
"You really think it's safe?"
"Perfectly. For one thing, I shall be able to reach the hand-brake rather more easily than he will...."
My sister kissed me.
"I like the sound of that," she said cheerfully.
It was the fifth day of November, and all six of us were for the Pyrenees.
A month ago Adele and I, new-wed, had visited Pau. We had found the place good, conceived the idea of spending the winter there, and wired for instructions. Within three days we had received four letters.
The first was from Jill.
How sweet of you both to think of it! We're all simply thrilled. Try and get one with a palm-tree and some wistaria. We miss you awfully. Tell Boy Nobby is splendid and sends his love. Oh, and he smells his coat every day. Isn't it pathetic P My hair won't go like yours, but I'm going to try again. All our love to you and your HUSBAND,
Then came Jonah's.
What about tobacco? You might examine the chances of smuggling. I'm sending you a hundred cigarettes conspicuously labelled BENGER'S FOOD, to see what happens. I suppose the roads are pretty bad. What about fishing?
(I subsequently received a curt communication to the effect that there was a package, addressed to me and purporting to contain "Farine," lying at the local custom-house. Adele was horrified. I endeavoured to reassure her, tore up the notice, and cursed my cousin savagely. When three days had passed, and I was still at liberty, Adele plucked up heart, but, for the rest of our visit, upon sight of a gendarme she was apt to become distrait and lose the thread of her discourse.)
A letter from Daphne had arrived the next day.
We're all delighted with the idea.
I don't think six months would be too long. I agree that a villa would be much the best, and we're perfectly content to leave the selection to you. You know what room we must have. I suppose two bathrooms would be too much to expect. About servants: we can bring some, but I think we ought to have a French cook to do the marketing, and perhaps one other to keep her company and help in the kitchen and house. Will you see what you can do? Plate and linen, of course, we can bring. By the way, Madge Willoughby tells me that last year in France they had some difficulty about coal; so tell Boy to see if he can order some now. All this, of course, if you can get a villa.
Your loving sister, DAPHNE.
Berry's came last.
So we shall ourselves winter this year at Pau? Eh bien! There are, perhaps, worse places. At least, the sun will shine. Ma foi, to think that upon you depend all the arrangements. Tant pis! My suite must face itself south and adjoin the bathroom. Otherwise I cannot answer for my health, or, for the matter of that, yours either.
Kindly omit from your next letter any reference to the mountains. "Impressions of the Pyrenees" by a fool who has been married for less than three weeks not only are valueless, but make my gorge rise—une elevation tres dangereuse.
Which brings me to your wife. How is the shrew? Tell her I have some socks for her to darn on her return.
It was thoughtful of you to emphasise the fact that the season of green figs, to a surfeit of which I sincerely hope you will succumb, will be over before I reach Pau. I am inclined to think that the five hundred cigars George sent you will be over even earlier. Besides, I shall at once console and distend myself with foie gras.
We must have a French cook, of course—a very priestess of Gluttony—skilful to lure the timid appetite from the fastness of satiety. Enfin....
I ask myself why I shall have made the trouble to write to you. You have, of course, an opportunity unique of making a mess with a copper bottom of my life for six months. Mais, mon Dieu, que vous serez puni!
Je t'embrasse, vieil haricot, sur les deux joues.
P.S.—This here letter is a talisman, and should be worn upon the exterior of the abdominal wall during a drought.
Considering the nature of our holiday, Adele and I did not do so badly. Before we left Pau, I had signed the lease of an attractive villa, standing well in its own grounds and commanding a prospect of the mountains as fine as could be. Adele had engaged a Frenchwoman and her daughter, both of whom were well spoken of, and had been in the service of English and American families before the War. A supply of fuel had been reserved and various minor arrangements had been concluded. Ere we were back at White Ladies, October was old.
It had been Jonah's belated suggestion that our migration should be accomplished by car. It was Jonah's enterprise that reduced the upheaval of our plans, consequent upon the instant adoption of his idea, to order and convenience. By the third of November everything had been arranged. The heavier stuff had been embarked for Bordeaux; the servants were ready to accompany the rest of the luggage by way of Paris; the Rolls had been sold. In the latter's place we had purchased two smaller cars—both new, both of the same make, both coupes, both painted blue. Indeed, but for their numbers, which were consecutive, we could not have told them apart. Each seated three inside—comfortably, while a respectable quantity of baggage could be easily bestowed in each of the capacious boots.
Certainly my cousin's staff work had been superb.
In the circumstances it seemed hardly fair that upon this, the first night of our venture, he should be faced with the labour of shepherding both cars, single-handed, first clear of the Customs, and then, one by one, through the cold, dark streets which led from the quay to the garage of the hotel.
As if she had read my thought—
"Poor Jonah!" said Adele suddenly. "I wonder——"
A knock upon the door interrupted her.
This, being opened, admitted Nobby, two porters, our luggage, two waiters, a large dish of sandwiches, some beer, coffee and its accessories, Jonah, and finally Berry.
"You must be tired," said the latter. "Let's sit down, shall I?" He sank into a chair. "And how's the comic patella? I well remember, when I was in Plumbago, a somewhat similar accident. A large cherry-coloured gibus, on its wrong side——"
"At the present moment," said I, wrestling with the Sealyham's advances, "we're more concerned with your future than with your past. It's the Bank of England to a ha'p'orth of figs that to-morrow morning I shall have a stiff leg. Very good." I paused. "Those three lessons you've had," I added carelessly, "will come in useful."
Jonah, who was filling a tumbler, started violently and spilled some beer. Then he leaned against the wall and began to laugh helplessly.
Coldly Berry regarded him.
"I fail," he said stiffly, "to see the point of your mirth. I gather that it is proposed to enjoy my services for the propulsion of one of the automobiles—that, while you will be responsible for the 'shoving' of Ping, these delicate hands will flick Pong across France. Very good. Let the Press be informed; call forth the ballad-mongers. What would have been a somewhat sordid drive will become a winged flight, sublime and deathless."
"I trust so," said Jonah. "Six hundred miles with a fool at the wheel is a tall order, but, if your companions survive the first two days, they ought to pull through. Try not to do more than five pounds' worth of damage to the gallon, won't you?"
"Sour grapes," said Berry. "The professional reviles the distinguished amateur."
"Seriously," said I, "it's no laughing matter."
"I agree," said Daphne. "You'll have to just crawl along all the way. After all, we've got six months to get there in. Promise me you won't try and pass anything."
"I promise," replied her husband. "Should another vehicle approach, I'll stop the engine and go and hide in a wood till it's gone."
"Fool," said his wife. "I meant 'overtake anything' of course. You know I did. Promise you won't try and rush past things just to get in front of them."
I took up the cudgels.
"We've got to get along, darling, and he can't give a promise like that. You wouldn't want to do fifty miles behind a traction-engine, would you? Remember, I shall be by his side. He may be holding the wheel, but I shall be driving the car. Make him promise to obey me implicitly, if you like."
"That's right," said Jill. "You will, won't you, Berry?"
The latter looked at Adele.
"Do you also subscribe to my humiliation?" he said.
Adele smiled and nodded.
"Unquestionably," she said. "By the time you get to Pau, you'll be an expert. And then you can teach me."
"The pill-gilder," said my brother-in-law. "Well, well. So far as in me lies, I'll do as I'm told. But I insist upon plain English. I'm not going to be suddenly yelled at to 'double-clutch,' or 'feel the brake,' or 'close the throttle,' or something. It makes me want to burst into tears. That fellow who was teaching me asked me, without any warning and in the middle of some sheep, what I should do if one of my 'big ends were to run out.' I said I should consult a specialist, but the question upset me. Indirectly, it also upset the shepherd.... Which reminds me, I never knew a human being could jump so far. The moment he felt the radiator...."
"You never told us this," said Daphne reproachfully. "If I'd known you'd knocked somebody down——"
"I never knocked him down," said Berry. "I tell you he jumped.... We stopped, of course, and explained. He was a little nettled at first, but we parted on the best of terms."
"It's all very well," said my sister, "but I'd no idea——"
"Every dog must have his bite," said I, laughing. "He won't do it again. And now, since I'm tethered, will somebody give me some beer?"
Then and there supper was consumed.
A vigorous discussion of the turn events had taken, and the advancement and scrutiny of a variety of high speculations regarding the probable style of our progress to Pau, prevailed until past twelve o'clock, but at length the others were evicted, and Adele, Nobby, and I were able to prepare for the night.
Out of the luxurious silence of a hot bath Adele's voice came floating into the bedroom.
"I wish I was going with you to-morrow instead of Daphne."
"So do I," I said heartily.
Adele sighed. Then—
"It can't be helped," she said. "I think, on the whole, she would have worried more than I shall."
"Not a doubt of it," said I cheerfully. "As she said, Berry's the only husband she's got."
Adele choked. Presently—
"The real reason," she said, "is because she mistrusts her husband even more than I trust mine."
When I had worked this out—
"Aha," I said pleasedly.
"But then, of course," said Adele, "she's been married much longer."
* * * * *
With Rouen as our objective, we left Boulogne the next morning at ten o'clock. To speak more accurately, we left the hotel at ten o'clock and Boulogne itself some forty minutes later. The negotiation of an up-gradient leading out of the town was responsible for the delay.
My sister and I shall remember that hill so long as we live. So, I imagine, will Berry. We were half-way up when he stopped the engine for the first time. We were still half-way up when he stopped it for the eighth time. Indeed, it was at this juncture that I suggested that he should rest from his labours and smoke a cigarette.
My brother-in-law shook his head.
"Shall I slide down backwards and begin again?" he inquired.
"No, thanks," said I. "I have a foolish preference for facing death."
"D'you think we could push it up?" said Daphne.
"Frankly," said I, "I don't. You see, she weighs over a ton without the luggage."
Berry cleared his throat.
"I am not," he said, "going through the farce of asking what I do wrong, because I know the answer. It's not the right one, but you seem incapable of giving any other."
"I am," said I.
"Well, don't say it," said Berry, "because, if you do, I shall scream. No man born of woman could let in that clutch more slowly, and yet you say it's too fast. The truth is, there's something wrong with the car."
"There soon will be," I retorted. "The starter will fail. Then every time you stop the engine you'll have to get out and crank. That'll make you think."
"'Make me think'?" yelled Berry. "D'you think I haven't been thinking? D'you think I'm not thinking now? Haven't I almost burst my brains with thinking?" Daphne began to laugh helplessly. "That's right," added her husband savagely. "See the humorous side. I may go mad any minute, but don't let that stop you." And, with that, he set his foot upon the self-starter.
When he had stopped the engine another three times, he applied the hand-brake with unnecessary violence, sank back in his seat, and folded his hands.
My sister and I clung to one another in an agony of stifled mirth.
Berry closed his eyes.
"My work," he said quietly, "is over. I now see that it is ordained that we shall not leave this spot. There's probably an angel in the way with a drawn sword, and the car sees it, although we can't. Any way, I'm not going to fight against Fate. And now don't speak to me. I'm going to dwell on bullock-carts and goat-chaises and other horse-drawn vehicles. I shan't last many minutes, and I should like to die in peace."
With a swift rush, Ping drew up alongside. From its interior Adele, Jill, Nobby and Jonah peered at us excitedly.
"Hullo!" said the latter. "What's up?"
"Go away," said Berry. "Drive on to your doom. An apparition has appeared to us, warning us not to proceed. It was quite definite about it. Good-bye."
"Jonah, old chap," said I, "I'm afraid you're for it. Unless you take us up, we shall be here till nightfall."
With a groan my cousin opened his door and descended into the road....
One minute later we were at the top of the hill.
"And now," said Daphne, with the Michelin Guide open upon her knees, "now for Montreuil."
When five minutes had passed and my brother-in-law was breathing through his nose less audibly, I lighted a cigarette and ventured to look about me.
It was certainly a fine highway that we were using. Broad, direct, smooth beyond all expectation, it lay like a clean-cut sash upon the countryside, rippling away into the distance as though it were indeed that long, long lane that hath no turning. Presently a curve would come to save the face of the proverb, but the bends were few in number, and, as a general rule, did little more than switch the road a point or two to east or west, as, the mood took them. There was little traffic, and the surface was dry.
Something had been said about the two cars keeping together, but I was not surprised when Jonah passed us like a whirlwind before we were half-way to Samer. He explained afterwards that he had stuck it as long as he could, but that to hold a car down to twenty on a road like a private racing-track was worse than "pulling."
Fired by Jonah's example, Berry laid hold of the wheel, and we took the next hill at twenty-five.
It was a brilliant day, but the cold was intense, and I think we were all glad that Pong was a closeable car. That Winter's reign had begun was most apparent. There was a bleak look upon the country's face: birch-rods that had been poplars made us gaunt avenues: here and there the cold jewellery of frost was sparkling. I fell to wondering how far south we must go to find it warmer.
Presently we came to Montreuil.
As we entered the little town—
"This," said I, "was the headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force. From behind these walls——"
"Don't talk," said Daphne, "or I shall make a mistake. Round to the left here. Wait a minute. No, that's right. And straight on. What a blessing this Michelin Guide is! Not too fast, Berry. Straight on. This ought to be Grande Rue." She peered out of the window. "Yes, that's right. Now, in a minute you turn to the left...."
After all, I reflected, we had to get to Rouen, and it was past mid-day.
We had sworn not to lunch before we had passed Abbeville, so, since we had breakfasted betimes, I furtively encouraged my brother-in-law to "put her along." His response was to overtake and pass a lorry upon the wrong side, drive an unsuspecting bicyclist into a ditch and swerve, like a drunken sea-gull, to avoid a dead fowl. As we were going over forty it was all over before we knew where we were, but the impression of impending death was vivid and lasting, and nearly a minute had elapsed before I could trust my voice.
"Are we still alive?" breathed Daphne. "I'm afraid to open my eyes."
"I think we must be," said I. "At least, I'm still thirsty, if that's anything to go by."
"I consider," said Berry, "that the way in which I extricated us from that impasse was little short of masterly. That cyclist ought to remember me in his prayers."
"I don't want to discourage you," I said grimly, "but I shouldn't bank on it."
The plan of Abbeville, printed in the Guide, was as simple to read as were my sister's directions to follow. At a critical moment, however, Berry felt unable to turn to the right.
"The trouble is," he explained, as we plunged into a maze of back streets, "I've only got two hands and feet. To have got round that corner, I should have had to take out the clutch, go into third, release the brake, put out a hand, accelerate, sound the clarion and put the wheel over simultaneously. Now, with seven limbs I could have done it. With eight, I could also have scratched myself—an operation, I may say, which can be no longer postponed." He drew up before a charcuterie and mopped his face. "What a beautiful bunch of sausages!" he added. "Shall we get some? Or d'you think they'd be dead before we get to Rouen?"
In contemptuous silence Daphne lowered her window, accosted the first passer-by, and asked the way. An admission that it was possible to reach the Neufchatel road without actually retracing our steps was at length extracted, and, after a prolonged study of the plan, my sister gave the word to proceed. Save that we twice mounted the pavement, grazed a waggon, and literally brushed an urchin out of the way, our emergence from Abbeville was accomplished without further incident.
With the knowledge that, barring accidents, we ought to reach Rouen by half-past five, we ventured to devour a wayside lunch some ten minutes later.
It was after Neufchatel that the surface of the great grey road argued neglect in no uncertain terms. For mile after mile, fat bulls of Basan, in the shape of gigantic pot-holes, gaped threateningly upon us. Berry, who was driving much better, did all that he could, but only a trick-cyclist could have picked his way between them. The car hiccoughed along piteously....
With the approach of darkness, driving became a burden, being driven a weariness of the flesh, and we were all thankful when we slid down a paved hill into the Cathedral City and, presently, past the great church and on to the very bank of the River Seine.
The others had been awaiting us for nearly two hours.
* * * * *
"With this sun," said Adele, "they ought to be glorious."
Impiously I reflected that Berry was almost certainly enjoying his breakfast in bed.
"I expect they will," I said abstractedly.
Adele slid an arm through mine.
"It's very sweet of you to come with me, Boy."
I stood still and looked at her.
"You're a wonderful child," I said. "When you speak like that, I want to kick myself and burst into song simultaneously. I suppose that's Love."
"I expect so," said Adele mischievously.
Five minutes later we were standing beneath the shadow of Chartres Cathedral.
We had come, my wife and I, to see the windows. The day before had been dull, and what light there was had been failing when we had visited the shrine. To-day, however, was all glorious.
If we had risen early, we had our reward.
The place had become a gallery with jewels for pictures. Out of the sombre depths the aged webs of magic glowed with the matchless flush of precious stones. From every side colours we had not dreamed of enriched our eyes. To make the great west rose, the world herself might have been spoiled of her gems. Looking upon this mystery, no man can wonder that the art is lost. Clearly it went the way of Babel. For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven. Windows the sun was lighting were at once more real and more magnificent. Crimsons and blues, purples and greens, yellows and violets, blazed with that ancient majesty which only lives to-day in the peal of a great organ, the call of a silver trumpet, or the proud roll of drums. Out of the gorgeous pageant mote-ridden rays issued like messengers, to badge the cold grey stone with tender images and set a smile upon the face of stateliness. "Such old, old panes," says someone. "Six hundred years and more. How wonderful!" Pardon me, but I have seen them, and it is not wonderful at all. Beneath their spell, centuries shrink to afternoons. The windows of Chartres are above Time. They are the peepholes of Immortality.
We returned to the hotel in time to contribute to a heated argument upon the subject of tipping.
"It's perfectly simple," said Berry. "You think of what you would hate to have given before the War, double it, add forty per cent. for the increased cost of living, halve it because of the Exchange, ask them whether they'd like it in notes or gold, and pay them in postage-stamps."
"I want to know," said Daphne, "what to give the chambermaid."
"Eight francs fifty. That's the equivalent of half-a-crown before the War."
"Nonsense," said his wife. "Five francs is heaps, and you know it."
"I think it's too much," said Berry. "Give her one instead, and tell her you've hidden the rest in the bathroom and that, when she touches the towel-rail, she's warm."
"As a matter of fact," said Jill uneasily, "it's all over. I've done it."
There was a dreadful silence. Then—
"Tell us the worst," said I, "and get it over."
"I'm—I'm afraid I gave her rather a lot, but she had a nice face."
"She had a nice step," said Berry. "I noticed that about five this morning."
"How much?" said I relentlessly.
Jill looked round guiltily.
"I gave her fifty," she said.
There was a shriek of laughter.
"Did she faint?" said Berry. "Or try to eat grass, or anything?"
Gravely Jill shook her head.
"She talked a great deal—very fast. I couldn't follow her. And then she turned away and began to cry. I was so glad I'd done it."
"So are we all," said Daphne.
She was supported heartily.
Jonah looked at his watch.
"I suggest," he said, "that we start at eleven, then we shall fetch up in time to see the cathedral."
"How far is Tours?" said Daphne.
"Let's keep together to-day," said Jill. "It's much more fun."
Her brother shook his head.
"I don't want," he said, "to be arrested for loitering."
"Don't you worry," said Berry. "We wouldn't be seen with you."
"Where there's a will there's a way," he murmured.
"More," said Berry. "We regard you rather less than the dust beneath our detachable wheels. You pollute the road with your hoghood. I suppose it's no use asking you to keep behind us."
"None whatever," replied our cousin. "Why should we?"
"Well," said Berry, "supposing a tire discovers that I'm driving and bursts with pride, who's going to change the wheel?"
Jonah stifled a yawn.
"You can't have it both ways," he said. "If we're to warn people not to shoot at you, we must be in front."
Berry regarded his finger-nails.
"Perhaps you're right," he said. "Think of me when you get your third puncture, won't you? And remember that my heart goes out to you in your tire trouble and that you have all my love. Then you won't sweat so much."
Half an hour later Pong stormed out of the garage and into the Place des Epars.
Adele's wish had been granted, and she was travelling with Berry and me instead of with Jonah.
For this new order of battle Nobby was solely responsible. Upon the first day's journey the terrier had whined all the way to Rouen because he had wanted to be with me. As one of his audience, Jonah had been offensively outspoken regarding this predilection. Upon the following day the dog's desire had been gratified, whereupon he had whined all the way to Chartres because he was apart from Adele. Commenting upon this unsuspected devotion, Berry had been quite as outspoken as Jonah, and much more offensive. Naturally, to withstand such importunity was out of the question, and, since it was impossible for me to leave Berry, the line of least resistance was followed, and Daphne and Adele changed places.
Our way out of Chartres was short and simple, and, with the exception of temporarily obstructing two trams by the artless expedient of remaining motionless upon the permanent way, Pong emerged from the city without a stain upon his character.
The Vendome road looked promising and proved excellent. Very soon we were flying. For all that, Jonah overtook us as we were nearing Bonneval....
It was some thirty minutes later, as we were leaving Chateaudun, that a sour-faced gendarme with a blue nose motioned to us to stop. Standing upon the near pavement, the fellow was at once conversing with a postman and looking malevolently in our direction. I think we all scented mischief.
"What can he want?" growled Berry, as he brought the car to a standstill.
"He's probably being officious," said I, getting our papers ready. "We're strangers, and he's in a bad humour. Consequently, he's going to scrutinise our triptyque, passports, passes and certificates, to see if he can accuse us of anything. Happily they're all in order, so he'll be disappointed. When he's thoroughly satisfied that he can bring no charge against us, he'll order us to proceed."
"He's taking his time about it," observed my brother-in-law.
I looked up from the documents.
My gentleman was still talking to the postman, while his pig's eyes were still surveying the car. From his companion's demeanour, he seemed to be whetting his wit at our expense.
"This is intolerable," said I. "Ask him what he wants, lady."
Adele leaned forward and put her head out of the window.
"I think you wished us to stop, Monsieur?"
The gendarme waved his hand.
"Wait," he said insolently.
The postman sniggered shamefacedly.
Adele sank back in her seat, her cheeks flaming.
In a voice trembling with passion I conjured Berry to proceed.
The moment the car moved, the official sprang forward, gesticulating furiously.
As we passed him, I put out my head.
"Now it's our turn," I said warmly, "to make the postman laugh."
From the hoarse yells which followed us, it was clear that we had left the fellow beside himself with rage. Looking back through the little window, I could see him dancing. Suddenly he stopped, peered after us, and then swung about and ran ridiculously up the street.
"Blast him, he's going to telephone!" said I. "Where's the map?"
Together Adele and I pored over the sections.
"If," said Berry, "you're going to direct me to turn off, for Heaven's sake be quick about it. At the present moment I'm just blinding along into the blue and, for all I know, an oversized hornets' nest. Of course they mayn't sting when there's an 'r' in the month, but then they mightn't know that. Or am I thinking of oysters?"
"They'll stop us at Vendome," said I. "Not before. Right oh! We must turn to the right at Cloyes and make for St. Calais. We can get round to Tours that way. It'll take us about twenty miles out of our way, but——"
"Yes, and when we don't show up at Vendome, they'll wire to Calais. Seriously, as Shakespeare says, I'm all of a doo-dah."
That we should be stopped at St. Calais was not likely, and I said as much. What did worry me, because it was far more probable, was that when they drew blank at Vendome, the authorities would telephone to Tours. Any apprehension, however, regarding our reception at that city was soon mercifully, unmercifully, and somewhat paradoxically overshadowed by a more instant anxiety lest we should never arrive there at all. From the moment we left the main road, the obstacles in the shape of uncharted roads and villages, pavements, cattle, goats, a horse fair, and finally a series of appalling gradients, opposed our passage. All things considered, my brother-in-law drove admirably. But it was a bad business, and, while my wife and Berry were very staunch, I think we all regretted that I had been so high with Blue Nose.
Night had fallen ere we slunk into Tours.
Fully expecting to find that the others had well-nigh given us up, we were astounded to learn at the hotel that Ping had not yet arrived. Indeed, we had finished dinner, and were debating seriously whether we should take a hired car and go to seek them, when there was a flurry of steps in the corridor, Nobby rushed to the door, and the next moment Daphne and Jill burst into the room.
"My darling," said Berry, advancing, "where on earth have you been?"
My sister put her arms about his neck and looked into his eyes.
"Kiss me 'Good-bye,'" she said. "Jonah's just coming."
Her husband stared at her. Then—
"Is it as bad as all that?" he said. "Dear, dear. And how did he get the booze?"
Somebody cleared his throat.
I swung round, to see Jonah regarding us.
"You three beauties," he said. "Four with Nobby."
"But what do you mean?" said Adele. "What have we done?"
"Done?" cried Jonah. "Done? Where d'you think we've been?"
"It can't have been goats that stopped you," said Berry, "because I had all the goats. There was a great rally of goats at St. Calais this afternoon. It was a wonderful smell—I mean sight."
"Guess again," said Jonah grimly.
"You haven't been waiting for us on the road?" said I.
"You're getting warmer," was the reply.
Adele gave a sudden cry.
"O-o-oh, Jonah," she gasped, "you've been at Vendome!"
I started violently, and Berry, who was about to speak, choked.
"That's right," said Jonah shortly. "Nice little place—what I saw of it.... Lovely view from the police-station." He leaned against the mantelpiece and lighted a cigarette. "It may amuse you to know," he added, "that the expiation of your crime took us six and a half hours and cost five hundred francs."
In response to our thirsty enquiries, the tale came bubbling.
My surmise that the blue-nosed gendarme would telephone to Vendome had been well-founded. He had forwarded an exact description of Pong, together with the letters and the first three figures of the four appearing upon the number-plate. Six minutes later Ping had sailed innocently into Vendome—and up to her doom....
The Vendome police could hardly believe their eyes. Here was the offending car, corresponding in every particular to the one described to them, admittedly fresh from Chateaudun, yet having covered the thirty-nine kilometres in eleven minutes. It was amazing ... almost incredible ... almost.... Of outlaws, however, all things were credible—even a speed of one hundred and thirty-six miles an hour. For it was without doubt that outlaw which had flouted Authority at Chateaudun. Oh, indubitably. And, having thus flouted Authority, what was more natural than that it should endeavour to outstrip the consequences of its deed? But, mon Dieu, what wickedness!
In vain had Jonah protested and Daphne declared their innocence. The telephone was again requisitioned, and the blue-nosed gendarme summoned and cross-examined. As luck would have it, he could not speak to the passengers, beyond affirming that they included one man and one woman.... When he gratuitously added that the reason why he could not swear to the whole of the number was because of the terrible pace at which the car was moving, the game was up....
Finding that the accusation of travelling at a horrifying speed was assuming a serious look, my sister and cousins at length decided that they had no alternative but to give us away. They had, of course, realised that Pong was implicated from the beginning. Consequently, with the flourish of one who has hit upon the solution of a problem, they divulged our existence. They were politely, but wholly disbelieved. In reply, they had politely, but confidently, invited the police to wait and see....
For over four hours they had anxiously awaited the arrival of Pong. When at last the humiliating truth began to dawn upon them, and it became evident that we had ruled Vendome out of our itinerary, the shock of realising, not only that they were to be denied an opportunity of refuting the charges preferred, but that they were destined to leave the town branded as three of the biggest and most unsuccessful liars ever encountered, had well-nigh reduced Daphne and Jill to tears. And when, upon the sickly resumption of negotiations, it appeared highly probable that they would not be permitted to proceed, Jill had wept openly....
France is nothing if not emotional.
Visibly affected by her distress, the police had immediately become less hostile. Observing this, Daphne had discreetly followed her cousin's example. Before the sledge-hammer blows of their lamentation two gendarmes began to sniff and a third broke down. The girls redoubled their sobs. They were practically there.
"You never saw anything like it," concluded Jonah. "Within three minutes four of the police were crying, and the head bottle-washer was beating his breast and imploring me in broken accents to explain away my guilt. I threw five hundred francs on his desk and covered my eyes. With tears rolling down his cheeks, he pushed the notes under a blotting-pad and wrote laboriously upon a buff sheet. Then a woman was produced. Between explosions of distress she made us some tea. In common decency we couldn't push off for a while. Besides, I wasn't quite sure that it was all over. However, everybody seemed too overcome to say anything, so, after a bit, we chanced it and made a move for the car. To my relief, they actually helped us in, and two of them fought as to who should start us up." He looked round coldly. "And now, perhaps, you'll be good enough to tell us what we've been punished for."
I told what there was to tell.
As I came to the end. Berry nodded at Jonah.
"Yes," he said unctuously, "and let this be a lesson to you, brother."
Speechless with indignation, our cousin regarded him.
"What d'you mean?" he demanded.
Berry raised his eyebrows.
"I hardly think," he said, "the penalty for—er—loitering would have been so vindictive."
HOW THREE WAGERS WERE MADE, AND ADELE KILLED TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE
We had slept, risen and breakfasted: we had visited Tours Cathedral: finally, we had mustered in the lounge of the hotel. It was when we had there been insulting one another for nearly an hour, that Jonah looked at his watch.
"We have now," he said, "wasted exactly forty-nine minutes in kicking against the pricks. Short of a European war, you can't alter the geography of France, and the laws of Mathematics take a lot of upsetting. It's no good wishing that Bordeaux was Biarritz, or that Pau was half the distance it is from Angouleme. If you don't want to go right through, you must stay at Bordeaux. It's the only possible place. If you don't want to stay at Bordeaux, you must go right through. I don't care which we do, but I do want to see something of Poitiers, and, if we don't get a move on, we shan't have time."
All the way from Boulogne France had made an excellent host. So far she had never failed to offer us a good night's lodging, with History as a bedfellow, at the end of a respectable run. Indeed, from the point of view of they that go down to the South in cars, her famous capitals could hardly have been more conveniently disposed. This very evening, by lodging us at Angouleme, she was to repeat such hospitality for the last time. Upon the morrow we should be faced with a choice of making a dash for the villa which was awaiting our arrival at Pau, or breaking the journey asunder—but by no means in half—by sleeping at Bordeaux.
"I must confess," said Daphne, "that, for some reason or other, Bordeaux doesn't attract me. Incidentally, I'm getting rather tired of unpacking and packing up."
"So far," said her husband, "as the bestowal and disinterment of my effects are concerned, I can confirm that statement. Indeed, if we had another week on the road, you'd both be exhausted. You left my sponge and bedroom-slippers at Boulogne, my dressing-gown at Rouen, and my pyjamas at Chartres. I wish you'd tell me what you've left here. I'm simply dying to know."
"No," said Daphne. "You must wait till Angouleme. I wouldn't spoil it for anything."
"Jade," said her husband. "And now, stand back, please, everybody. I want to do a little stock-taking." With that, from every pocket he produced French notes of all denominations, in all stages of decay, and heaped them upon the table. "Now, this one," he added, gingerly extracting a filthy and dilapidated rag, "is a particularly interesting specimen. Apparently, upon close inspection, merely a valuable security, worth, to be exact, a shade under twopence-half-penny, it is in reality a talisman. Whosoever touches it, cannot fail to contract at least two contagious diseases within the week. In view of the temperature of my coffee this morning, I'm saving it for the head-waiter."
"When," said I, "do you expect to go down?"
"The pure in heart," said Berry, "are proof against its malignity. Don't you come too near. And look at this sere and yellow leaf. Now, that represents one franc. When I think that, upon offering that to a bar-tender, I shall not only not be assaulted, but shall actually receive a large bottle of beer and be lent a two-and-sixpenny glass from which to imbibe the same, I feel the deepest reverence for the French Government. No other authority in the world could possibly put up such a bluff and get away with it."
"They are awful," said Jill, peering.
"They're perfectly beastly," said Berry, "and wholly ridiculous. However, since they're also legal tender, I suppose I may as well try and sort them out. What I really need is some rubber gloves and a box-respirator. Hullo! Just catch that one, will you? He's seen that dog over there.... You know, I'm not at all sure that they get enough air in my pocket. I suppose we couldn't get a hutch for the more advanced ones. I mean, I don't want to be cruel."
Again Jonah looked at his watch.
"We have now," he said, "wasted fifty-six minutes in——"
"Excuse me," said Berry, "but isn't this touching? Here's affectionate Albert." With the words, he laid a two-franc note tenderly upon my sleeve. "Now, I bet you don't get him off without tearing him."
Disgustedly I managed to detach Albert, who instantly adhered to my fingers.
There was a shriek of laughter.
"Stick to him," said Berry. "I've lost the bet."
The injunction was unnecessary.
After Albert had clung once to Adele's—happily, gloved—fingers and twice to each of my hands, I trod upon him. Some of Albert was still upon my boot that evening at Angouleme.
"For the last time," said Jonah, "I appeal to you all to let that dog-eared mountebank rake over his muck-heap, and attend to me."
My brother-in-law addressed Adele.
"It is," he said, "a discreditable but incontrovertible fact that saints have always been reviled. I suppose it's jealousy." He turned to his wife. "By the way, did you pack my aureola? I left it hanging on the towel-rail."
"If," said Daphne, "you're referring to your body-belt, it's with your bed-socks."
"And why not between your flannel vests?" said her husband. "The grey ones we found at Margate, I mean. With the imitation bone buttons. Ah, here we are. Now, if half a franc's no earthly, what'll who give me for two-thirds of fifty centimes?"
Jonah sank into a chair and closed his eyes.
"Look here," said I desperately. "Once for all, are we going to stay at Bordeaux, or are we going right through?"
"I think we'd all rather go right through," said Jill.
"I know I would," said her brother. "And if Boy's leg was all right, I shouldn't hesitate. I'll answer for Ping. But, frankly, with Berry driving, I doubt if Pong'll fetch up. I mean, two hundred and twenty-two miles takes some biting off."
There was a pregnant silence. Then—
"He'll never do it," said Daphne.
Her husband, who was still busy with his paper, looked up defiantly. Then he took a thousand-franc note and laid it apart from its fellows upon the table.
"I will wager that shekel," he said deliberately, "that, with a start of one hour to-morrow, Pong reaches Pau before Ping."
There was a gasp of astonishment.
"Done," said Jonah. "What's more, I'll bet you another you don't get in before ten."
Berry raised his eyes to heaven.
"An insult," he said. "Never mind. Your dross shall wipe it out. I take you."
"And I," said I, not to be outdone, "will put another on Pong for the double."
I felt that my honour was involved. After all, if I had not trained the mount, I was training the jockey.
"Right," said Jonah. "Will you both pay me now, or wait till you're out of hospital?"
"I think," said I, "we'll have a run for our money."
The bets were made, and there was an end of it. But when we were again in the car, and my brother-in-law was threading his way out of Tours, I began to repent my rashness.
Considering that, when he took the wheel at Boulogne, Berry had had only three lessons in the management of a car, he had done most creditably. My brother-in-law was no fool. Moreover, on leaving Rouen, he and I had joined forces. Sitting beside him in the coupe, I had driven the car with his hands—after a little practice—with astonishing results. In two days we had, we prided ourselves, raised such collaboration from the ranks of the Mechanical to the society of the Fine Arts. My part was comparatively easy. Sinking his initiative he had more nearly converted himself into an intelligent piece of mechanism than I would have believed possible. It would, of course, be vain to suggest that Pong would not have gone faster if I had been able to drive with my own hands, or Berry had had my experience. Still, we had come very well, and with a start of a whole hour and a little luck.... Another point in our favour was that Adele, who with Nobby completed our crew, had a pronounced gift for map-reading. She had an eye to country. She seemed to be able to scent the line we ought to take. The frequent treachery of signposts she laughed to scorn. Upon the morrow her confident assistance would be invaluable....
What, when I made my bet, I had entirely forgotten, was that we were not always upon the open road. There was the rub. From Angouleme to Pau towns would have to be penetrated—among them Bordeaux itself—and in the towns our system had broken down. In a crowded street, though I could still administer, Berry could not execute. When I endeavoured to allow for his inexperience of traffic, I found it impossible accurately to gauge his capabilities. After a failure or two, it had been agreed that he should negotiate such streets as we encountered without my interference.... Of my haste to support Pong's honour, I had forgotten the towns.
With years of practice behind us, Jonah and I could thrust through traffic, happy enough with an odd inch to spare. Naturally enough, Berry had no such confidence. An inch was of no use to him. He must have a good ell, and more also, before he would enter a gap. In the trough of a narrow street he laboured heavily.... There was no doubt about it. The towns through which we should have to pass on Wednesday would settle our chances. My money was as good as gone.
It seemed equally probable that Berry would save his stake. Barring accidents of the grosser sort, if we started betimes, we were bound to reach Pau before ten. Such a protasis robbed the bet of its savour. With a thousand francs at stake, it would be foolish not to take reasonable care. And the taking of reasonable care would all but eliminate the element of uncertainty.... There was no getting away from it. Of the two wagers, only the first was worth winning. To reach Pau before Jonah would be a veritable triumph.
Moodily I communicated my reflections to Adele.
"I thought it was rather rash at the time," she replied. "But I think there's a sporting chance."
"That's right," said Berry. "Put your money on uncle. With enough encouragement I can do anything."
"Permit me to encourage you to blow your horn," said I. "That child in front of you is too young to die." My brother-in-law obeyed. "All the same, I'm afraid we're for it. It isn't so much a question of pace, pure and simple, for Jonah's a careful driver. But his street work is beautiful."
"I suppose he'd pass between those two waggons," he said sarcastically.
"He would," said I.
"I don't think you quite see where I mean," said Berry, pointing. "I mean along that temporary passage, which would admit a small perambulator."
As he spoke, Ping brushed past us, slipped between the two wains, and disappeared.
Berry stared after it in silence. At length—
"I withdraw," he said. "I'm not a conjurer. If everybody stood well back I used to be able to produce an egg, broken or unbroken according to the temperature of my hands, from a handkerchief about six feet square. People were very nice about it, very nice. But an inability to introduce a quart into a pint pot has always been among my failings. Don't say I've got to turn to the left here, because I can't bear it."
"No," said Adele, smiling. "Straight on."
"What—past the steam roller? How very touching! Excuse me, messieurs, but would you mind suspending your somewhat boisterous travail? My little car is frightened.... No answer. I suppose I must pass it. Or shall we turn back? You know, I didn't really half see the cathedral!"
"Go on," I said mercilessly. "Jam your foot on the accelerator and shut your eyes. Oh, and you might hold Nobby a minute, will you? I want to light a cigarette."
Adele began to shake with laughter.
"With pleasure," said Berry acidly. "And then I'll help you on with your coat. I may say that, if you touch me with that mammal, I shall press and pull everything I can see and burst into tears. I'm all strung up, I am."
There was not much room, and the roller was ponderously closing in, but with a protruding tongue our luckless chauffeur crept slowly past the monster in safety, and a moment later we were scudding up the Poitiers road.
Now that we were clear of the town, we set to work diligently. Adele pored over the map and the Michelin Guide; Berry turned himself into a mechanical doll; and I maintained a steady issue of orders until my throat was sore.
The weather was fair and the going was good. Her new-born stiffness beginning to wear off, Pong went better than ever. Berry excelled himself.
With every kilometre we covered my spirits rose, and when we overtook Jonah on the outskirts of Chatellerault, I could have flung up my cap.
The latter was clearly immensely surprised to see us, and when we stopped, as was our custom, at a charcuterie to buy our lunch, and Ping had followed our example, leaned out of his window and asked me pointedly whether my leg was yet stiff.
Concealing a smile, I regretted that it was.
Jonah fingered his chin.
"Of course," he said warily, "it's a condition precedent that you don't drive to-morrow."
"Of course," I agreed.
The confession of uneasiness, however, did my heart good. It was plain that my imperturbable cousin was getting nervous.
As we moved off again—
"We must lunch soon," said Berry. "My mouth's watering so fast, I can't keep up with it."
I patted Adele's arm.
"Now you know the way to his heart," I said. "Straight through the stomach, and——"
"But how gross!" said Berry. "And how untrue! Naturally ascetic, but for the insistence of my physicians, I should long ago have let my hair grow and subsisted entirely on locusts and motionless lemonade. But a harsh Fate ruled otherwise. Excuse me, but I think that that there basket or ark in which the comfort is enshrined is rather near the conduit through which flows that sparkling liquid which, when vapoured, supplies our motive power. And foie gras is notoriously susceptible to the baneful influence of neighbouring perfumes. Thank you. If those bits of heaven were to taste of petrol, it would shorten my life. And now, where was I?"
I turned to Adele.
"He's off," said I. "The prospect of gluttony always loosens his tongue. There's really only one way to stop him. What about lunching at the top of this hill? Or can you bear it till we've passed Poitiers?"
A mischievous look came into Adele's brown eyes.
"It's not half-past twelve yet," she said slowly. My brother-in-law groaned. "Still ... I don't know.... After all, we did have breakfast rather early, didn't we?"
Berry smacked his lips.
"A sensible woman," he said, "is above boobies."
As he spoke, Ping swept by stormily.
There was a moment's silence. Then—
"Hurray," cried Adele excitedly; "we've got a rise!"
It was patently true. Jonah was wishful to reassure himself upon a point which an hour ago he had taken for granted. The reflection that at the moment we had not been trying to outdistance him increased our delight. All the same, his ability to out-drive us was unquestionable. But whether he could give us the start he had agreed to was another matter.
We ate a festive lunch....
An hour with Poitiers is like a sip of old wine.
The absence of the stir and bustle which fret her sister capitals is notable. So reverend and thoughtful is the old grey-muzzled town that it is hard to recognise the bristling war-dog that bestrode the toughest centuries, snarled in the face of Fate, and pulled down Time. The old soldier has got him a cassock and become a gentle-faced dominie. The sleepy music of bells calling, the pensive air of study, the odour of simple piety, the sober confidence of great possessions, are most impressive. Poitiers has beaten her swords into crosiers and her spears into tuning-forks. Never was there an old age so ripe, so mellow, so becoming. With this for evidence, you may look History in the eyes and swear that you have seen Poitiers in the prime of her full life. The dead will turn in their graves to hear you; children unborn will say you knew no better. And Poitiers will take the threefold compliment with a grave smile. She has heard it so often.
Celt, Roman, Visigoth, Moor, Englishman—all these have held Poitiers in turn. Proud of their tenure, lest History should forget, three at least of them have set up their boasts in stone. The place was, I imagine, a favourite. Kings used her, certainly. Dread Harry Plantagenet gave her a proud cathedral. Among her orchards Coeur de Lion worshipped Jehane, jousted, sang of a summer evening, and spent his happiest days. Beneath her shadow the Black Prince lighted such a candle of Chivalry as has never yet been put out. Not without honour of her own countrymen, for thirteen years the High Court of Parliament preferred her to Paris. Within her walls the sainted Joan argued her inspiration.
I have dived at random into her wallet, yet see what I have brought forth. If memories are precious, Poitiers is uncommon rich.
As if to console us for our departure, the road to Sister Angouleme was superb. Broad, straight, smooth as any floor, the great highway stretched like a strip of marquetry inlaid upon the countryside. Its invitation was irresistible....
We reached the windy town in time for a late tea.
As soon as this was over, Berry and I escaped and carried Pong off to a garage, there to be oiled and greased against the morrow's race. Somewhat to our amusement, before we had been there ten minutes, our cousin arrived with Ping and the same object. Had the incident occurred at Poitiers, I should have been encouraged as well. It was another sign that Jonah did not despise his opponents, and his opinion was worth having. As it was, the compliment left me unmoved....
The truth was, Berry had that afternoon contracted two habits. Again and again on the way from Poitiers he had shown a marked tendency to choke his engine, and five times he had failed to mesh the gears when changing speed. Twice we had had to stop altogether and start again. He had, of course, reproached himself violently, and I had made light of the matter. But, for all the comfort I offered him, I was seriously alarmed. In a word, his sudden lapse suggested that my brother-in-law was entering that most unpleasant stage which must be traversed by all who will become chauffeurs and are taught, so to speak, to run before they can walk.
It was after we had dined, and when my wife and I were seated—myself, by virtue of my injury, upon a couch, and she upon a cushion beside me—before the comfort of a glowing log-fire, that Adele laid down the Guide and leaned her head against my knee.
"I'm glad I married you," she said.
I looked at Nobby.
"So are we both," said I.
"I wonder," said Adele, "whether you are really, or whether you're just being nice."
"Personally, I'm just being nice. Nobby is really. Of course, he may be making the best of a bad job. As a worldly good of mine, I just endowed you with him, and that was that."
"You were both very happy before—before I came."
"We thought we were."
"O-o-oh," said Adele, twisting her head around, to see my face. "You were. You know you were."
The gleeful accusation of the soft brown eyes was irresistible. To gain time, I swallowed. Then—
"So were you," I said desperately.
"I know I was," was the disconcerting reply.
"Well, then, why shouldn't we——"
"But you said you weren't."
I called the Sealyham.
"Nobby," said I, "I'm being bullied. The woman we love is turning my words against me."
For a moment the dog looked at us. Then he sat up and begged.
"And what," said Adele, caressing him, "does that mean?"
"He's pleading my cause—obviously."
"I'm not so sure," said Adele. "I wish he could talk."
"You're a wicked, suspicious girl. Here are two miserable males, all pale and trembling for love of you—you've only got to smile to make them rich—and you set your small pink heel upon their devotion. I admit it's a soft heel—one of the very softest——"
"——I ever remember," flashed Adele. "How very interesting! 'Heels I have Held,' by Wild Oats. Were the others pink, too?"
Solemnly I regarded her.
"A little more," said I, "and I shan't teach her to drive."
Adele tossed her head.
"Berry's going to do that," she said. "Directly we get to Pau."
I laughed savagely.
"I'm talking of automobiles," I said, "not golf balls."
"I know," said my wife. "And Berry's going to——"
"Well, he's not!" I shouted. "For one thing, he can't, and, for another, it's my right, and I won't give it up. I've been looking forward to it ever since I knew you. I've dreamed about it. You're miles cleverer than I am, you're wise, you're quick-witted, you can play, you can sing like a nightingale, you can take me on at tennis, you can ride—driving a car's about the only thing I can teach you, and——"
Adele laid a smooth hand upon my mouth.
"Nobby and I," she said, "are very proud of you. They're not in the same street with their master, they know, but they're awfully proud to be his wife and dog."
To such preposterous generosity there was but one answer.
As I made it—
"May I teach you to drive, lady?"
A far-away look came into the soft brown eyes.
"If you don't," said Adele, "nobody shall."
* * * * *
The day of the race dawned, clear and jubilant. By eight o'clock the sun was high in a blue heaven, new-swept by a steady breeze. Limping into the courtyard before breakfast, I rejoiced to notice that the air was appreciably warmer than any I had breathed for a month.
We had hoped to leave Angouleme at nine o'clock. Actually it was a quarter to ten before the luggage was finally strapped into place and my brother-in-law climbed into the car. With a sigh for a bad beginning, I reflected that if we could not cover the two-hundred and twenty odd miles in twelve and a quarter hours, we ought to be shot.
Jonah stood by, watch in hand.
"Are you ready?" he said.
"Right," said my cousin. "I'm not sure we've picked the best route, but it's too late now. No divergence allowed."
"And you don't drive."
"It's out of the question."
"Right. Like to double the bets?"
"No," said Adele, "they wouldn't. I won't allow it. But I'll bet with you. I can't afford much, but I'll bet you a hundred francs we're there before you."
"I'll give you tens," said my cousin. "And I start in one hour from Now!"
When I say that, upon the word being given, Pong, whose manners had been hitherto above reproach, utterly refused to start or be started, it will be seen that Fate was against us....
It took us exactly two minutes to locate the trouble—which was in the magneto—and just over two hours to put it right.
As we slid out of Angouleme, an impatient clock announced that it was mid-day.
At least the delay had done something. So far as the second wager was concerned, it had altered the whole complexion of the case. We were no longer betting upon anything approaching a certainty. Indeed, unless we could break the back of the distance before daylight failed, our chances of reaching Pau before ten were worth little. If the road to Bordeaux were as fine as that from Poitiers, and Berry could find his form, we should probably run to time. We could not afford, however, to give a minute away.
As luck would have it, the state of the road was, on the whole, rather worse than any we had used since we left Boulogne. Presumably untouched for over six years, the wear and tear to which, as one of the arteries springing from a great port, it had been subjected, had turned a sleek highway into a shadow of itself. There was no flesh; the skin was broken; the very bones were staring.
For the first half hour we told one another that we had struck a bad patch. For the second we expressed nervous hopes that the going would grow no worse. After that, Berry and I lost interest and suffered in silence. Indeed, but for Adele, I think we should have thrown up the sponge and spent the night at Bordeaux.
My lady, however, kept us both going.
She had studied our route until she knew it by heart, and was just burning to pilot us through Bordeaux and thence across Gascony.
"They're sure to make mistakes after Bordeaux. You know what the sign-posts are like. And the road's really tricky. But I spent two hours looking it up yesterday evening. I took you through Barbezieux all right, didn't I?"
"Like a book, darling."
"Well, I can do that every time. And I daresay they'll have tire trouble. Besides, the road's no worse for us than it is for them, and after Bordeaux it'll probably be splendid. Of course we'll be there before ten—we can't help it. I want to be there before Jonah. I've got a hundred——"
"My dear," I expostulated, "I don't want to——"
"We've got a jolly good chance, any way. While you were getting her right, I got the lunch, and we can eat that without stopping. You can feed Berry. We'll gain half an hour like that."
Before such optimism I had not the face to point out that, if our opponents had any sense at all, they had lunched before leaving Angouleme.
"Here's a nice patch," added Adele. "Put her along, you two."
Spurred by her enthusiasm, we bent again to the oars.
Contrary to my expectation, my brother-in-law, if unusually silent, was driving well. But the road was against him. He had not sufficient experience to be able to keep his foot steady upon the accelerator when a high speed and a rude surface conspired to dislodge it—a shortcoming which caused us all three much discomfort and lost a lot of mileage. Then, again, I dared not let him drive too close to the side of the road. Right at the edge the surface was well preserved, and I knew that Jonah's off wheels would make good use of it. Such finesse, however, was out of Berry's reach. We pelted along upon what remained of the crown painfully.
Seventy-three miles separate Bordeaux from Angouleme, and at the end of two hours fifty-four of them lay behind us. All things considered, this was extremely good, and when Adele suggested that we should eat our lunch, I agreed quite cheerfully.
The suggestion, however, that I should feed Berry proved impracticable.
After four endeavours to introduce one end of a petit pain into his mouth—
"Would it be asking too much," said my brother-in-law, "if I suggested that you should suspend this assault? I don't know what part of your face you eat with, but I usually use my mouth. I admit it's a bit of a rosebud, but that's no excuse for all these 'outers.' Yes, I know it's a scream, but I was once told never to put foie gras upon the nose or cheeks. They say it draws the skin. Oh, and don't let's have any comic nonsense about the beer," he added shortly. "Pour it straight into my breast-pocket and have done with it. Then I can suck my handkerchief."
As he spoke, Nobby leaned forward and took the dishevelled sandwich out of my unready fingers.
"That's right," added Berry, with the laugh of a maniac. "Cast my portion to the dogs." He dabbed his face with a handkerchief. "Never mind. When his hour comes, you'll have to hold him out of the window. I'm not going to stop every time he wants to be sick."
Eventually it was decided that, since we should have to stop for petrol, Berry must seize that opportunity to devour some food.
"Besides," I concluded, "a rest of a quarter of an hour will do you good."
As the words left my mouth, I noticed for the first time that my brother-in-law was tiring.
For the moment I thought I was mistaken, for upon our previous runs he had never turned a hair. Now, however, he seemed to be driving with an effort. As if to confirm my suspicions, at the very next hill he missed his change.
"I think," I said quickly, "you ought to have your lunch right away. It's no good getting done in for want of food."
Berry shot me a pathetic glance.
"It isn't that, old chap. It's—— Hang it all, it's my shoulder! That cursed muscular rheumatism cropped up again yesterday...."
The murder was out.
After a little he admitted that, ever since we had left Poitiers, any quick movement of his left arm had caused him intense pain.
Of course both Adele and I besought him to stop there and then and let the race go to blazes. Of this he would not hear, declaring that, so long as Jonah was behind, victory was not out of sight, and that nothing short of paralysis would induce him to jilt the jade. After a little argument, we let him have his way ...
The road continued to offer an abominable passage, and when we stopped at a garage in Bordeaux, it was five minutes to three of a beautiful afternoon.
The third bidon was discharging its contents into Pong's tank, and Berry was sitting wearily upon the running-board, with his mouth full and a glass of beer in his hand, when, with an apologetic cough, Ping emerged from behind an approaching tram and slid past us over the cobbles with a smooth rush. The off-side window was open, and, as the car went by, Jonah waved to us.
There was no doubt about it, my cousin was out to win. It was also transparently clear that Adele and I, at any rate, had lost our money. We could not compete with an average of thirty-six miles an hour.
"Is that the last bidon?"
"Yes. But Berry won't have finished for at least ten minutes. Besides——"
"Couldn't I drive for a bit, just till he's finished his lunch?"
I stared at my wife. Then—
"I don't see why you shouldn't, dear, except that the streets of Bordeaux are rather rough on a beginner."
"I'll be very careful," pleaded Adele, "and—and, after all, we shall be moving. And it can't affect the bets. Nothing was said about Berry having to drive."
I smiled ruefully.
"As far as the bets are concerned, we might as well stay here the night. We've got a hundred and fifty miles in front of us, and seven hours—five of them after dark—to do them in. Berry's shoulder has put the lid on. We shan't get in before midnight."
"You never know," said Adele.
Berry suspended the process of mastication to put his oar in.
"Let her drive," he said huskily. "One thing's certain. She can't do any worse than I have."
"You never know," said Adele.
A minute later she was in the driver's seat, and I had folded the rug and placed it behind her back.
As Berry took his seat—
"That's right," I said. "Now let in the clutch gently.... Well done. Change.... Good girl! Now, I shouldn't try to pass this lorry until——"
"I think you would," said Adele, changing into third, and darting in front of the monster.
"Good Heavens!" I cried. Then: "Look out for that tram, lady. You'd better..."
As the tram was left standing, I caught my brother-in-law by the arm.
"She can drive!" I said stupidly.
"Nonsense," said Berry, "I'm willing her."
"You fool!" I shouted, shaking him. "I tell you she can drive!" We flashed between two waggons. "Look at that! She's a first-class driver, and she's going to save your stake!"
"What's really worrying me," said Adele, "is how we're to pass Jonah without him seeing us."
There was an electric silence. Then—
"For-rard!" yelled Berry. "For-r-a-r-d! Out of the way, fat face, or we'll take the coat off your back." A portly Frenchman leaped into safety with a scream. "That's the style. For-rard! Fill the fife, dear heart, fill the blinkin' fife; there's a cyciclist on the horizon. For-rard!"
To sound the horn would have been a work of supererogation. Maddened by our vociferous exuberance, Nobby lifted up his voice and barked like a demoniac. The ungodly hullaballoo with which we shook the dust of Bordeaux from off our tires will be remembered fearfully by all who witnessed our exit from that city.
When I had indulged my excitement, I left the terrier and Berry to finish the latter's lunch and turned to my wife.
Sitting there, with her little hands about the wheel, she made a bewitching picture. She had thrown her fur coat open, and the breeze from the open window was playing greedily with the embroidery about her throat. Her soft hair, too, was now at the wind's mercy, and but for a little suede hat, which would have suited Rosalind, the dark strand that lay flickering upon her cheek would have been one of many. Chin in air, eyebrows raised, lids lowered, the faintest of smiles hovering about her small red mouth, my lady leaned back with an indescribable air of easy efficiency which was most attractive. Only the parted lips at all betrayed her eagerness....
I felt very proud suddenly.
The road was vile, but Pong flew over it without a tremor. Looking upon his driver, I found it difficult to appreciate that a small silk-stockinged foot I could not see was setting and maintaining his beautiful steady pace.
As I stared at her, marvelling, the smile deepened, and a little gloved hand left the wheel and stole into mine.
I pulled the glove back and kissed the white wrist....
"And I was going to teach you," I said humbly.
"So was I," wailed Berry. "I'd arranged everything. I was going to be so patient."
"I was looking forward to it so much," I said wistfully.
"Oh, and don't you think I was?" cried Adele. "It was so dear of you, lad. I was going to pretend——"
"It was much more dearer of me," said Berry. "But then, I'm like that. Of course," he added, "you ought to have driven from Boulogne. Don't tell me why you held your peace, because I know. And I think it was just sweet of you, darling, and, but for your husband's presence, I should kiss you by force."
The car fled on.
There was little traffic, but thrice we came upon cows and once upon a large flock of sheep. We could only pray that Jonah had endured the same trials.
As we slid through Langon, thirty miles distant from Bordeaux, I looked at my watch. Two minutes to four. Adele noticed the movement and asked the time. When I told her, she frowned.
"Not good enough," she said simply.
The light was beginning to fail now, and I asked if she would have the lamps lit.
She shook her head.
"Not yet, Boy."
At last the road was presenting a better surface. As we flashed up a long incline, a glance at the speedometer showed me that we were doing fifty. As I looked again, the needle swung slowly to fifty-five....
I began to peer into the distance for Jonah's dust.
With a low snarl we swooped into La Reole, whipped unhesitatingly to right and left, coughed at cross-streets, and then swept out of the town ere Berry had found its name in the Michelin Guide.
Again I asked my wife if she would have the headlights.
"Not yet, Boy."
"Shall I raise the wind screen?"
Together Berry and I observed her wish, while with her own right hand she closed the window. The rush of the cool air was more than freshening, and I turned up her coat collar and fastened the heavy fur about her throat.
The car tore on.
Lights began to appear—one by one, stabbing the dusk with their beams, steady, conspicuous. One only, far in the distance, seemed ill-defined—a faint smudge against the twilight. Then it went out altogether.
"Jonah," said Adele quietly.
She was right.
Within a minute we could see the smear again—more clearly. It was Ping's tail-lamp.
I began to tremble with excitement. Beside me I could hear Berry breathing fast through his nose.
Half a dozen times we lost the light, only to pick it up again a moment later. Each time it was brighter than before. We were gaining rapidly....
We could not have been more than a furlong behind, when the sudden appearance of a cluster of bright pin-pricks immediately ahead showed that we were approaching Marmande.
Instantly Ping's tail-light began to grow bigger. Jonah was slowing up for the town. In a moment we should be in a position to pass....
In silence Berry and I clasped one another. Somewhere between us Nobby began to pant.
As we entered Marmande, there were not thirty paces between the two cars. And my unsuspecting cousin was going dead slow. A twitch of the wheel, and we should leave him standing....
Then, without any warning, Adele slowed up and fell in behind Ping.
I could have screamed to her to go by.
Deliberately she was throwing away the chance of a lifetime.
Desperately I laid my hand on her arm.
"Adele!" I cried hoarsely. "My darling, aren't you——"
By way of answer, she gave a little crow of rejoicing and turned sharp round to the right.
Jonah had passed straight on.
As Pong leaped forward, the scales fell from my eyes.
Adele was for the side-streets. If she could only rejoin the main road at a point ahead of Jonah, the latter would never know that we had passed him. If...
I began to hope very much that my wife knew the plan of Marmande rather better than I.
Through the dusk I could see that the street we were using ran on to a bridge. It was there, I supposed, that we should turn to the left....
To my horror, Adele thrust on to the bridge at an increased pace.
"A-aren't you going to turn?" I stammered. "I mean, we'll never——"
"I said the road was tricky," said Adele, "but I hardly dared to hope they'd make such a bad mistake." We sailed off the bridge and on to a beautiful road. "Ah, this is more like it. I don't know where Jonah's going, but this is the way to Pau.... And now I think it'll be safe to have the lights on. You might look behind first to see if they're coming. You see, if they'd seen us go by, the game would have been up. As it is..."
* * * * *
At half-past seven that evening we drove into Pau.
Arrived at our villa, we put the car away and hurried indoors.
It was almost eight o'clock when Ping discharged his passengers upon the front steps.
In silence and from the landing we watched them enter the hall.
When they were all inside, I released Nobby.
HOW A GOLDEN CALF WAS SET UP, AND NOBBY SHOWED HIMSELF A TRUE PROPHET
Five fat weeks had rolled by since Adele had eased Jonah of sixty pounds, and the Antoinette ring we had given her to commemorate the feat was now for the first time in danger of suffering an eclipse. In a word, a new star had arisen.
"I dreamed about it," said Daphne. "I knew I should."
I knitted my brows.
"I wish," said I, "I could share your enthusiasm."
"Ah, but you haven't seen it."
"I know, but I don't even want to. If you'd come back raving about a piece of furniture or a jewel or a picture, I should have been interested. But a shawl... A shawl leaves me cold."
"I agree," said Jonah. "I've learned to appear attentive to the description of a frock. I keep a special indulgent smile for the incoherence inspired by a hat. But when you pipe to me the praises of a shawl—well, I'm unable to dance."
"Wait till you see it," said Adele. "Besides, there were some lovely rugs."
"That's better," said I. "I like a good rug."
"Well, these were glorious," said Jill. "They had the most lovely sheen. But, of course, the shawl..."
"If anyone," said Jonah, "says that ugly word again, I shall scream."
It was half-past nine of a very beautiful morning, and we were breakfasting.
The last two days had been wet. In the night, however, the clouds had disappeared, leaving the great sky flawless, an atmosphere so rare as tempted shy Distance to approach, and the mountains in all the powdered glory of their maiden snow.
Seventy miles of magic—that is what Pau stares at. For the Pyrenees, viewed from this royal box, are purely magical. They do not rise so high—eleven thousand feet, as mountains go, is nothing wonderful. There is no might nor majesty about them—distant some thirty odd miles. They are just an exquisite wall, well and truly laid, and carved with that careless cunning of the great Artificer into the likeness of some screen in Heaven.
Where, then, is the magic? Listen. These mountains are never the same. To-day they are very nigh; to-morrow they will stand farther than you have ever seen them. On Monday they will lie a mere ridge above the foot-hills; on Tuesday they will be towering, so that you must lift up your eyes to find the summits. But yesterday you marvelled at their stablishment; this morning they will be floating above the world. One week the clear-cut beauty of their lines and curves gladdens your heart; the next, a mocking mystery of soft blurred battlements will tease your vision. Such shifting sorcery is never stale. Light, shade, and atmosphere play such fantastic tricks with Pau's fair heritage that the grey town, curled comfortably in the sunshine upon her plateau's edge, looks not on one, but upon many prospects. The pageant of the Pyrenees is never done.
As for the wedding garment which they had put on in the night—it made us all late for breakfast.
The door opened to admit Berry.
The look of resignation upon his face and the silence in which he took his seat where highly eloquent.
There was no need to ask what was the matter. We knew. Big with the knowledge, we waited upon the edge of laughter.
As he received his coffee—
"I'm not going on like this," he said shortly. "It's insanitary."
Adele's lips twitched, and Jill put a hand to her mouth.
"I can't think how it is," said Daphne. "Mine was all right."
"Of course it was," retorted her husband. "So was Adele's. So was Jill's. By the time you three nymphs are through, there's no hot water left."
"That," said I, "is where the geyser comes in. The agent was at some pains to point out that it was an auxiliary."
"Was he, indeed?" said Berry. "Well, if he'd been at some pains to point out that it leaked, stank, became white-hot, and was generally about the finest labour-wasting device ever invented, he'd 've been nearer the mark. If he'd added that it wasn't a geyser at all, but a cross between a magic lantern and a money-box——"
"Knack," said Jonah. "That's all it needs. You haven't got the hang of it yet."
The savagery with which my brother-in-law attacked a roll was almost frightening.
"W-why money-box?" said Jill tremulously.
"Because," said Berry, "it has to be bribed to devil you. Until you've put ten centimes in the metre, you don't get any gas. It's a pretty idea."
Adele began to shake with laughter.
"You must have done something wrong," said I.
Berry shrugged his shoulders.
"Provided," he said, "that you are fairly active and physically fit, you can't go wrong. But it's a strain on one's sanity.... No, I don't think I'll have any omelet. They're so impatient."
I decided to apply the spur.
"But the agent showed us exactly——"
"Look here," said Berry, "you enter that bathroom, clothed—after a fashion—and in your right mind. Then you leave it for some matches. On your return you turn on the gas. After wasting four matches, you laugh pleasantly, put on your dressing-gown again, and go about the house asking everyone for a ten-centime piece... This you place in the slot. Then you go out again and try to remember where you put the matches. By the time you're back, the whole room is full of gas, so you open the window wide and clean your teeth to fill up the time. Long before it's safe you strike another match. The thing lights with an explosion that shortens your life.... In about two minutes it emits a roaring sound and begins to shake all over. By now all the taps are red-hot, and, by the time you've burnt yourself to hell, you're wondering whether, if you start at once, you'll have time to leave the house before the thing bursts. Finally, you knock the gas off with the cork mat....
"After a decent interval you start again. This time you turn on the water first. Stone cold, of course. When you've used enough gas to roast an ox, you hope like anything and reduce the flow." He paused to pass a hand wearily across his eyes. "Have you ever seen Vesuvius in eruption?" he added. "I admit no rocks were discharged—at least, I didn't see any. There may be some in the bath. I didn't wait to look.... Blinded by the steam, deafened by the noise, you make a rush for the door. This seems to have been moved. You feel all over the walls, like a madman. In the frenzy of despair—it's astonishing how one clings to life—you hurl yourself at the bath and turn on both taps.... As if by magic the steam disappears, the roaring subsides, and two broad streams of pure cold water issue, like crystal founts, into the bath. Now you know why I'm so jolly this morning."
With tears running down her cheeks—
"You must have a bath in the dressing-room," wailed Daphne. "The others do."
"I won't," said Berry. "It faces North."
"Then you must have it at night."
"Not to-night," I interposed. "Nobby's bagged it."
With the laugh of a maniac, my brother-in-law requested that the facts should be laid before the Sealyham, and the latter desired to waive his rights.
"Of course," he concluded, "if you want me to become verminous, just say so."
There was a shriek of laughter.
"And now be quick," said Daphne, "or we shall be late for the meet. And I particularly want to see Sally."
Sarah Featherstone was the possessor of the coveted shawl.
We had met her by chance upon the boulevard two days before. No one of us had had any idea that she was not in Ireland, whither she had retired upon her marriage, and where her passion for hunting kept her most of the year, and when we learned that she had already spent six months in the Pyrenees, and would be at Pau all the winter, we could hardly believe our ears. Her little son, it appeared, had been ailing, and the air of the Pyrenees was to make him well. So their summer had been passed in the mountains, and, with three good hunters from Ireland, the winter was to be supported under the shadow of the healing hills.
"It hurts me to think of Ireland, but I'm getting to love this place. I want the rain on my face sometimes, and the earth doesn't smell so sweet; but the sun's a godsend—I've never seen it before—and the air makes me want to shout. Oh, I've got a lot to be thankful for. Peter's put on a stone and a half to date, George'll be out for Christmas, and, now that you've come to stay..."
We were all glad of Sarah—till yesterday.
Now, however, she had set up a golden calf, which our womenkind were worshipping out of all reason and convenience.
At the mention of the false prophet's name, Jonah and I pushed back our chairs.
"Don't leave me," said Berry, "I know what's coming. I had it last night until I fell asleep. Then that harpy"—he nodded at Daphne—"dared to rouse me out of a most refreshing slumber to ask me whether I thought 'the Chinese did both sides at once or one after the other.' With my mind running on baths, I said they probably began on their feet and washed upwards. By the time the misunderstanding had been cleared up, I was thoroughly awake and remained in a hideous and agonising condition of sleepless lassitude for the space of one hour. The tea came sharp at half-past seven, and the shawl rolled up twenty seconds later. I tell you I'm sick of the blasted comforter."
A squall of indignation succeeded this blasphemy.
When order had been restored—
"Any way," said Jill, "Sally says the sailor who sold it her 'll be back with some more things next month, and she's going to send him here. He only comes twice a year, and——"
"Isn't it curious," said Jonah, "how a sailor never dies at sea?"
"Most strange," said Berry. "The best way will be to ask him to stay here. Then he can have a bath in the morning, and we can bury him behind the garage."
* * * * *
With that confident accuracy which waits upon a player only when it is uncourted, Jill cracked her ball across the six yards of turf and into the hole.
"Look at that," said Adele.
Jonah raised his eyes to heaven.
"And the game," he said, "means nothing to her. It never has. Years ago she and I got into the final at Hunstanton. She put me dead on the green at the thirteenth, and I holed out. When I turned round to say we were three up, she wasn't there. Eventually I found her looking for her iron. She'd laid it down, to start on a daisy chain."
"I only put it down for a second," protested Jill, "and you must admit the daisies were simply huge."
"What happened?" said Adele, bubbling.
"The daisy chain won us the match. She was much more interested in the former, and actually continued its fabrication between her shots."
We passed to the next tee.
As I was addressing the ball—
"Don't top it," said Jill.
"Have I been topping them to-day?".
"No, Boy. Only do be careful. I believe there's a lark's nest down there, and it'd be a shame——"
"There you are," said Jonah.
"Now," said I, "I'm dead certain to top it."
"Well, then, drive more to the right," said Jill. "After all, it's only a game."
"I'll take your word for it," said I.
Of course, I topped the ball, but at the next hole my grey-eyed cousin discovered that our caddie had a puppy in his pocket, so we won easily.
As we made for the club-house—
"Only ten days to Christmas," said Adele. "Can you believe me?"
"With an effort," said I. "It's almost too hot to be true."
Indeed, it might have been a June morning.
The valley was sleepy beneath the mid-day sun; the slopes of the sheltering foot-hills looked warm and comfortable; naked but unashamed, the woods were smiling; southward, a long flash spoke of the sunlit peaks and the dead march of snow; and there, a league away, grey Pau was basking contentedly, her decent crinoline of villas billowing about her sides, lazily looking down on such a fuss and pother as might have bubbled out of the pot of Revolution, but was, in fact, the hospitable rite daily observed on the arrival of the Paris train.
"I simply must get some presents," continued my wife. "We'll start to-morrow."
"You can't get anything here," I protested. "And people don't expect presents when you're in the South of France."
"That's just when they do," said Adele. "All your friends consider that it's a chance in a lifetime, and, if you don't take it, they never forgive you."
"Well, I haven't got any friends," said I. "So that's that. And you used to tell me you had very few."
"Ah," said Adele, "that was before we were engaged. That was to excite your sympathy."
I appealed to my cousins for support.
"Nothing doing," said Jonah. "If you didn't want this sort of thing, what did you marry for? For longer than I can remember you've seen your brother-in-law led off like an ox to the shambles—he's there now—financially crippled, and then compelled to tie up and address innumerable parcels, for the simple reason that, when they're at the shops Daphne's faculty of allotment invariably refuses to function."