LOVE AMONG THE CHICKENS
A STORY OF THE HAPS AND MISHAPS ON AN ENGLISH CHICKEN FARM
BY P. G. WODEHOUSE
THE CIRCLE PUBLISHING COMPANY
Copyright, 1908, by A. E. BAERMAN
* * * * *
I. —A LETTER WITH A POSTSCRIPT
II. —UKRIDGE'S SCHEME
III. —WATERLOO, SOME FELLOW-TRAVELERS, AND A GIRL WITH BROWN HAIR
IV. —THE ARRIVAL
V. —BUCKLING TO
VI. —MR. GARNET'S NARRATIVE. HAS TO DO WITH A REUNION
VII. —THE ENTENTE CORDIALE IS SEALED
VIII. —A LITTLE DINNER AT UKRIDGE'S
IX. —DIES IRAE
X. —I ENLIST THE SERVICES OF A MINION
XI. —THE BRAVE PRESERVER
XII. —SOME EMOTIONS AND YELLOW LUBIN
XIII. —TEA AND TENNIS
XIV. —A COUNCIL OF WAR
XV. —THE ARRIVAL OF NEMESIS
XVI. —A CHANCE MEETING
XVII. —OF A SENTIMENTAL NATURE
XVIII. —UKRIDGE GIVES ME ADVICE
XIX. —I ASK PAPA
XX. —SCIENTIFIC GOLF
XXI. —THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
XXII. —THE STORM BREAKS
XXIII. —AFTER THE STORM
* * * * *
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Never mind the ink, old horse. It'll soak in" Frontispiece
They had a momentary vision of an excited dog, framed in the doorway
"I've only bin and drove 'im further up," said Mrs. Beale
Things were not going very well on our model chicken farm
"Mr. Garnet," he said, "we parted recently in anger. I hope that bygones will be bygones"
"I did think Mr. Garnet would have fainted when the best man said, 'I can't find it, old horse'"
* * * * *
A LETTER with a POSTSCRIPT
Mr. Jeremy Garnet stood with his back to the empty grate—for the time was summer—watching with a jaundiced eye the removal of his breakfast things.
"Mrs. Medley," he said.
"Would it bore you if I became auto-biographical?"
"Never mind. I merely wish to sketch for your benefit a portion of my life's history. At eleven o'clock last night I went to bed, and at once sank into a dreamless sleep. About four hours later there was a clattering on the stairs which shook the house like a jelly. It was the gentleman in the top room—I forget his name—returning to roost. He was humming a patriotic song. A little while later there were a couple of loud crashes. He had removed his boots. All this while snatches of the patriotic song came to me through the ceiling of my bedroom. At about four-thirty there was a lull, and I managed to get to sleep again. I wish when you see that gentleman, Mrs. Medley, you would give him my compliments, and ask him if he could shorten his program another night. He might cut out the song, for a start."
"He's a very young gentleman, sir," said Mrs. Medley, in vague defense of her top room.
"And it's highly improbable," said Garnet, "that he will ever grow old, if he repeats his last night's performance. I have no wish to shed blood wantonly, but there are moments when one must lay aside one's personal prejudices, and act for the good of the race. A man who hums patriotic songs at four o'clock in the morning doesn't seem to me to fit into the scheme of universal happiness. So you will mention it to him, won't you?"
"Very well, sir," said Mrs. Medley, placidly.
On the strength of the fact that he wrote for the newspapers and had published two novels, Mrs. Medley regarded Mr. Garnet as an eccentric individual who had to be humored. Whatever he did or said filled her with a mild amusement. She received his daily harangues in the same spirit as that in which a nurse listens to the outpourings of the family baby. She was surprised when he said anything sensible enough for her to understand.
His table being clear of breakfast and his room free from disturbing influences, the exhilaration caused by his chat with his landlady left Mr. Garnet. Life seemed very gray to him. He was a conscientious young man, and he knew that he ought to sit down and do some work. On the other hand, his brain felt like a cauliflower, and he could not think what to write about. This is one of the things which sour the young author even more than do those long envelopes which so tastefully decorate his table of a morning.
He felt particularly unfitted for writing at that moment. The morning is not the time for inventive work. An article may be polished then, or a half-finished story completed, but 11 A.M. is not the hour at which to invent.
Jerry Garnet wandered restlessly about his sitting room. Rarely had it seemed so dull and depressing to him as it did then. The photographs on the mantelpiece irritated him. There was no change in them. They struck him as the concrete expression of monotony. His eye was caught by a picture hanging out of the straight. He jerked it to one side, and the effect became worse. He jerked it back again, and the thing looked as if it had been hung in a dim light by an astigmatic drunkard. Five minutes' pulling and hauling brought it back to a position only a shade less crooked than that in which he had found it, and by that time his restlessness had grown like a mushroom.
He looked out of the window. The sunlight was playing on the house opposite. He looked at his boots. At this point conscience prodded him sharply.
"I won't," he muttered fiercely, "I will work. I'll turn out something, even if it's the worst rot ever written."
With which admirable sentiment he tracked his blotting pad to its hiding place (Mrs. Medley found a fresh one every day), collected ink and pens, and sat down.
There was a distant thud from above, and shortly afterwards a thin tenor voice made itself heard above a vigorous splashing. The young gentleman on the top floor was starting another day.
"Oi'll—er—sing thee saw-ongs"—brief pause, then in a triumphant burst, as if the singer had just remembered the name—"ovarraby."
Mr. Garnet breathed a prayer and glared at the ceiling.
The voice continued:
"Ahnd—er—ta-ales of fa-arr Cahsh-meerer."
Sudden and grewsome pause. The splashing ceased. The singer could hardly have been drowned in a hip bath, but Mr. Garnet hoped for the best.
His hopes were shattered.
"Come," resumed the young gentleman persuasively, "into the garden, Maud, for ther black batter nah-eet hath—er—florn."
Jerry Garnet sprang from his seat and paced the room.
"This is getting perfectly impossible," he said to himself. "I must get out of this. A fellow can't work in London. I'll go down to some farmhouse in the country. I can't think here. You might just as well try to work at a musical 'At Home.'"
Here followed certain remarks about the young man upstairs, who was now, in lighter vein, putting in a spell at a popular melody from the Gaiety Theater.
He resumed his seat and set himself resolutely to hammer out something which, though it might not be literature, would at least be capable of being printed. A search through his commonplace book brought no balm. A commonplace book is the author's rag bag. In it he places all the insane ideas that come to him, in the groundless hope that some day he will be able to convert them with magic touch into marketable plots.
This was the luminous item which first met Mr. Garnet's eye:
Mem. Dead body found in railway carriage under seat. Only one living occupant of carriage. He is suspected of being the murderer, but proves that he only entered carriage at twelve o'clock in the morning, while the body has been dead since the previous night.
To this bright scheme were appended the words:
This will want some working up.
"It will," thought Jerry Garnet grimly, "but it will have to go on wanting as far as I'm concerned."
The next entry he found was a perfectly inscrutable lyric outburst.
There are moments of annoyance, Void of every kind of joyance, In the complicated course of Man's affairs; But the very worst of any He experiences when he Meets a young, but active, lion on the stairs.
Sentiment unexceptionable. But as to the reason for the existence of the fragment, his mind was a blank. He shut the book impatiently. It was plain that no assistance was to be derived from it.
His thoughts wandered back to the idea of leaving London. London might have suited Dr. Johnson, but he had come to the conclusion that what he wanted to enable him to give the public of his best (as the reviewer of the Academy, dealing with his last work, had expressed a polite hope that he would continue to do) was country air. A farmhouse by the sea somewhere ... cows ... spreading boughs ... rooks ... brooks ... cream. In London the day stretches before a man, if he has no regular and appointed work to do, like a long, white, dusty road. It seems impossible to get to the end of it without vast effort. But in the country every hour has its amusements. Up with the lark. Morning dip. Cheery greetings. Local color. Huge breakfast. Long walks. Flannels. The ungirt loin. Good, steady spell of work from dinner till bedtime. The prospect fascinated him. His third novel was already in a nebulous state in his brain. A quiet week or two in the country would enable him to get it into shape.
He took from the pocket of his blazer a letter which had arrived some days before from an artist friend of his who was on a sketching tour in Devonshire and Somerset. There was a penciled memorandum on the envelope in his own handwriting:
Mem. Might work K. L.'s story about M. and the W—s's into comic yarn for one of the weeklies.
He gazed at this for a while, with a last hope that in it might be contained the germ of something which would enable him to turn out a morning's work; but having completely forgotten who K. L. was, and especially what was his (or her) story about M., whoever he (or she) might be, he abandoned this hope and turned to the letter in the envelope.
The earlier portions of the letter dealt tantalizingly with the scenery. "Bits," come upon by accident at the end of disused lanes and transferred with speed to canvas, were described concisely but with sufficient breadth to make Garnet long to see them for himself. There were brief resumes of dialogues between Lickford (the writer) and weird rustics. The whole letter breathed of the country and the open air. The atmosphere of Garnet's sitting room seemed to him to become stuffier with every sentence he read.
The postscript interested him.
"... By the way, at Yeovil I came across an old friend of yours. Stanley Featherstonhaugh Ukridge, of all people. As large as life—quite six foot two, and tremendously filled out. I thought he was abroad. The last I heard of him was that he had started for Buenos Ayres in a cattle-ship. It seems he has been in England sometime. I met him in the refreshment room at Yeovil station. I was waiting for a down train; he had changed on his way to town. As I opened the door I heard a huge voice in a more or less violent altercation, and there was S. F. U., in a villainous old suit of gray flannels (I'll swear it was the same one that he had on last time I saw him), and a mackintosh, though it was a blazing hot day. His pince-nez were tacked onto his ears with wire as usual. He greeted me with effusive shouts, and drew me aside. Then after a few commonplaces of greeting, he fumbled in his pockets, looked pained and surprised.
"'Look here, Licky,' he said. 'You know I never borrow. It's against my principles. But I must have a shilling, or I'm a ruined man. I seem to have had my pocket picked by some scoundrelly blackguard. Can you, my dear fellow, oblige me with a shilling until next Tuesday afternoon at three-thirty? I never borrow, so I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll let you have this (producing a beastly little three-penny-bit with a hole in it) until I can pay you back. This is of more value to me than I can well express, Licky, my boy. A very, very dear friend gave it to me when we parted, years ago. It's a wrench to part with it. But grim necessity ... I can hardly do it.... Still, no, no, ... you must take it, you must take it. Licky, old man, shake hands! Shake hands, my boy!'
"He then asked after you, and said you were the noblest man—except me—on earth. I gave him your address, not being able to get out of it, but if I were you I should fly while there is yet time."
"That," said Jerry Garnet, "is the soundest bit of advice I've heard. I will."
"Mrs. Medley," he said, when that lady made her appearance.
"I'm going away for a few weeks. You can let the rooms if you like. I'll drop you a line when I think of coming back."
"Yes, sir. And your letters. Where shall I send them, sir?"
"Till further notice," said Jerry Garnet, pulling out a giant portmanteau from a corner of the room and flinging it open, "care of the Dalai Lama, No. 3 Younghusband Terrace, Tibet."
"Yes, sir," said Mrs. Medley placidly.
"I'll write you my address to-night. I don't know where I'm going yet. Is that an A. B. C. over there? Good. Give my love to that bright young spirit on the top floor, and tell him that I hope my not being here to listen won't interfere in any way with his morning popular concerts."
"And, Mrs. Medley, if a man named ——"
Mrs. Medley had drifted silently away. During his last speech a thunderous knocking had begun on the front door.
Jerry Garnet stood and listened, transfixed. Something seemed to tell him who was at the business end of that knocker.
He heard Mrs. Medley's footsteps pass along the hall and pause at the door. Then there was the click of the latch. Then a volume of sound rushed up to him where he stood over his empty portmanteau.
"Is Mr. Garnet in?"
Mrs. Medley's reply was inaudible, but apparently in the affirmative.
"Where is he?" boomed the voice. "Show me the old horse. First floor. Thank you. Where is the man of wrath?"
There followed a crashing on the stairs such as even the young gentleman of the top floor had been unable to produce in his nocturnal rovings. The house shook.
And with the tramping came the thunderous voice, as the visitor once more gave tongue.
"Garnet! GARNET!! GARNET!!!"
Mr. Stanley Featherstonhaugh Ukridge dashed into the room, uttering a roar of welcome as he caught sight of Garnet, still standing petrified athwart his portmanteau.
"My dear old man," he shouted, springing at him and seizing his hand in a clutch that effectually woke Garnet from his stupor. "How are you, old chap? This is good. By Jove, this is good! This is fine, what?"
He dashed back to the door and looked out.
"Come on, Millie," he shouted.
Garnet was wondering who in the name of fortune Millie could possibly be, when there appeared on the further side of Mr. Ukridge the figure of a young woman. She paused in the doorway, and smiled pleasantly.
"Garnet, old horse," said Ukridge with some pride, "let me introduce you to my wife. Millie, this is old Garnet. You've heard me talk about him."
"Oh, yes," said Mrs. Ukridge.
Garnet bowed awkwardly. The idea of Ukridge married was something too overpowering to be assimilated on the instant. If ever there was a man designed by nature to be a bachelor, Stanley Ukridge was that man. Garnet could feel that he himself was not looking his best. He knew in a vague, impersonal way that his eyebrows were still somewhere in the middle of his forehead, whither they had sprung in the first moment of surprise, and that his jaw, which had dropped, had not yet resumed its normal posture. Before committing himself to speech he made a determined effort to revise his facial expression.
"Buck up, old horse," said Ukridge. He had a painful habit of addressing all and sundry by that title. In his school-master days he had made use of it while interviewing the parents of new pupils, and the latter had gone away, as a rule, with a feeling that this must be either the easy manner of genius or spirits, and hoping for the best. Later, he had used it to perfect strangers in the streets. On one occasion he had been heard to address a bishop by that title.
"Surprised to find me married, what? Garny, old boy"—sinking his voice to what was intended to be a whisper—"take my tip. You go and do the same. You feel another man. Give up this bachelor business. It's a mug's game. Go and get married, my boy, go and get married. By gad, I've forgotten to pay the cabby. Half a moment."
He was out of the door and on his way downstairs before the echoes of his last remark had ceased to shake the window of the sitting room. Garnet was left to entertain Mrs. Ukridge.
So far her share in the conversation had been small. Nobody talked very much when Ukridge was on the scene. She sat on the edge of Garnet's big basket chair, looking very small and quiet. She smiled pleasantly, as she had done during the whole of the preceding dialogue. It was apparently her chief form of expression.
Jerry Garnet felt very friendly toward her. He could not help pitying her. Ukridge, he thought, was a very good person to know casually, but a little of him, as his former headmaster had once said in a moody, reflective voice, went a very long way. To be bound to him for life was not the ideal state for a girl. If he had been a girl, he felt, he would as soon have married a volcano.
"And she's so young," he thought, as he looked across at the basket chair. "Quite a kid."
"You and Stanley have known each other a long time, haven't you?" said the object of his pity, breaking the silence.
"Yes. Oh, yes," said Garnet. "Several years. We were masters at the same school together."
Mrs. Ukridge leaned forward with round, shining eyes.
"Isn't he a wonderful man, Mr. Garnet!" she said ecstatically.
Not yet, to judge from her expression and the tone of her voice, had she had experience of the disadvantages attached to the position of Mrs. Stanley Ukridge.
Garnet could agree with her there.
"Yes, he is certainly wonderful," he said.
"I believe he could do anything."
"Yes," said Garnet. He believed that Ukridge was at least capable of anything.
"He has done so many things. Have you ever kept fowls?" she broke off with apparent irrelevance.
"No," said Garnet. "You see, I spend so much of my time in town. I should find it difficult."
Mrs. Ukridge looked disappointed.
"I was hoping you might have had some experience. Stanley, of course, can turn his hand to anything, but I think experience is such a good thing, don't you?"
"It is," said Garnet, mystified. "But—"
"I have bought a shilling book called 'Fowls and All About Them,' but it is very hard to understand. You see, we—but here is Stanley. He will explain it all."
"Well, Garnet, old horse," said Ukridge, reentering the room after another energetic passage of the stairs, "settle down and let's talk business. Found cabby gibbering on doorstep. Wouldn't believe I didn't want to bilk him. Had to give him an extra shilling. But now, about business. Lucky to find you in, because I've got a scheme for you, Garny, old boy. Yes, sir, the idea of a thousand years. Now listen to me for a moment."
He sat down on the table and dragged a chair up as a leg rest. Then he took off his pince-nez, wiped them, readjusted the wire behind his ears, and, having hit a brown patch on the knee of his gray flannel trousers several times in the apparent hope of removing it, began to speak.
"About fowls," he said.
"What about them?" asked Garnet. The subject was beginning to interest him. It showed a curious tendency to creep into the conversation.
"I want you to give me your undivided attention for a moment," said Ukridge. "I was saying to my wife only the other day: 'Garnet's the man. Clever man, Garnet. Full of ideas.' Didn't I, Millie?"
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Ukridge, smiling.
"Well?" said Garnet.
"The fact is," said Ukridge, with a Micawber-like burst of candor, "we are going to keep fowls."
He stopped and looked at Garnet in order to see the effect of the information. Garnet bore it with fortitude.
"Yes?" he said.
Ukridge shifted himself farther on to the table and upset the inkpot.
"Never mind," he said, "it'll soak in. Don't you worry about that, you keep listening to me. When I said we meant to keep fowls, I didn't mean in a small sort of way—two cocks and a couple of hens and a ping-pong ball for a nest egg. We are going to do it on a large scale. We are going to keep," he concluded impressively, "a chicken farm!"
"A chicken farm," echoed Mrs. Ukridge with an affectionate and admiring glance at her husband.
"Ah," said Garnet, who felt his responsibilities as chorus.
"I've thought it all out," continued Ukridge, "and it's as clear as mud. No expenses, large profits, quick returns. Chickens, eggs, and no work. By Jove, old man, it's the idea of a lifetime. Just listen to me for a moment. You buy your hen—"
"One hen?" inquired Garnet.
"Call it one for the sake of argument. It makes my calculations clearer. Very well, then. You buy your hen. It lays an egg every day of the week. You sell the eggs—say—six for fivepence. Keep of hen costs nothing. Profit at least fourpence, three farthings on every half-dozen eggs. What do you think of that, Bartholomew?"
Garnet admitted that it sounded like an attractive scheme, but expressed a wish to overhaul the figures in case of error.
"Error!" shouted Ukridge, pounding the table with such energy that it groaned beneath him. "Error? Not a bit of it. Can't you follow a simple calculation like that? The thing is, you see, you get your original hen for next to nothing. That's to say, on tick. Anybody will let you have a hen on tick. Now listen to me for a moment. You let your hen set, and hatch chickens. Suppose you have a dozen hens. Very well, then. When each of the dozen has a dozen chickens, you send the old hens back with thanks for the kind loan, and there you are, starting business with a hundred and forty-four free chickens to your name. And after a bit, when the chickens grow up and begin to lay, all you have to do is to sit back in your chair and gather in the big checks. Isn't that so, Millie?"
"Yes, dear," said Mrs. Ukridge with shining eyes.
"We've fixed it all up. Do you know Lyme Regis, in Dorsetshire? On the borders of Devon. Quiet little fishing village. Bathing. Sea air. Splendid scenery. Just the place for a chicken farm. I've been looking after that. A friend of my wife's has lent us a jolly old house with large grounds. All we've got to do is to get in the fowls. That's all right. I've ordered the first lot. We shall find them waiting for us when we arrive."
"Well," said Garnet, "I'm sure I wish you luck. Mind you let me know how you get on."
"Let you know!" roared Ukridge. "Why, old horse, you've got to come, too. We shall take no refusal. Shall we, Millie?"
"No, dear," murmured Mrs. Ukridge.
"Of course not," said Ukridge. "No refusal of any sort. Pack up to-night, and meet us at Waterloo to-morrow."
"It's awfully good of you—" began Garnet a little blankly.
"Not a bit of it, not a bit of it. This is pure business. I was saying to my wife when we came in that you were the very man for us. 'If old Garnet's in town,' I said, 'we'll have him. A man with his flow of ideas will be invaluable on a chicken farm.' Didn't I, Millie?"
Mrs. Ukridge murmured the response.
"You see, I'm one of these practical men. I go straight ahead, following my nose. What you want in a business of this sort is a touch of the dreamer to help out the practical mind. We look to you for suggestions, Montmorency. Timely suggestions with respect to the comfort and upbringing of the fowls. And you can work. I've seen you. Of course you take your share of the profits. That's understood. Yes, yes, I must insist. Strict business between friends. We must arrange it all when we get down there. My wife is the secretary of the firm. She has been writing letters to people, asking for fowls. So you see it's a thoroughly organized concern. There's money in it, old horse. Don't you forget that."
"We should be so disappointed if you did not come," said Mrs. Ukridge, lifting her childlike eyes to Garnet's face.
Garnet stood against the mantelpiece and pondered. In after years he recognized that that moment marked an epoch in his life. If he had refused the invitation, he would not have—but, to quote the old novelists, we anticipate. At any rate, he would have missed a remarkable experience. It is not given to everyone to see Mr. Stanley Ukridge manage a chicken farm.
"The fact is," he said at last, "I was thinking of going somewhere where I could get some golf."
Ukridge leaped on the table triumphantly.
"Lyme Regis is just the place for you, then. Perfect hotbed of golf. Fine links at the top of the hill, not half a mile from the farm. Bring your clubs. You'll be able to have a round or two in the afternoons. Get through serious work by lunch time."
"You know," said Garnet, "I am absolutely inexperienced as regards fowls."
"Excellent!" said Ukridge. "Then you're just the man. You will bring to the work a mind entirely unclouded by theories. You will act solely by the light of your intelligence."
"Er—yes," said Garnet.
"I wouldn't have a professional chicken farmer about the place if he paid to come. Natural intelligence is what we want. Then we can rely on you?"
"Very well," said Garnet slowly. "It's very kind of you to ask me."
"It's business, Cuthbert, business. Very well, then. We shall catch the eleven-twenty at Waterloo. Don't miss it. You book to Axminster. Look out for me on the platform. If I see you first, I'll shout."
Garnet felt that that promise rang true.
"Then good-by for the present. Millie, we must be off. Till to-morrow, Garnet."
"Good-by, Mr. Garnet," said Mrs. Ukridge.
Looking back at the affair after the lapse of years, Garnet was accustomed to come to the conclusion that she was the one pathetic figure in the farce. Under what circumstances she had married Ukridge he did not learn till later. He was also uncertain whether at any moment in her career she regretted it. But it was certainly pathetic to witness her growing bewilderment during the weeks that followed, as the working of Ukridge's giant mind was unfolded to her little by little. Life, as Ukridge understood the word, must have struck her as a shade too full of incident to be really comfortable. Garnet was wont to console himself by the hope that her very genuine love for her husband, and his equally genuine love for her, was sufficient to smooth out the rough places of life.
As he returned to his room, after showing his visitors to the door, the young man upstairs, who had apparently just finished breakfast, burst once more into song:
"We'll never come back no more, boys, We'll never come back no more."
Garnet could hear him wedding appropriate dance to the music.
"Not for a few weeks, at any rate," he said to himself, as he started his packing at the point where he had left off.
A GIRL WITH BROWN HAIR
Waterloo station is one of the things which no fellow can understand. Thousands come to it, thousands go from it. Porters grow gray-headed beneath its roof. Buns, once fresh and tender, become hard and misanthropic in its refreshment rooms, and look as if they had seen the littleness of existence and were disillusioned. But there the station stands, year after year, wrapped in a discreet gloom, always the same, always baffling and inscrutable. Not even the porters understand it. "I couldn't say, sir," is the civil but unsatisfying reply with which research is met. Now and then one, more gifted than his colleagues, will inform the traveler that his train starts from "No. 3 or No. 7," but a moment's reflection and he hedges with No. 12.
Waterloo is the home of imperfect knowledge. The booking clerks cannot state in a few words where tickets may be bought for any station. They are only certain that they themselves cannot sell them.
* * * * *
The gloom of the station was lightened on the following morning at ten minutes to eleven when Mr. Garnet arrived to catch the train to Axminster, by several gleams of sunshine and a great deal of bustle and movement on the various platforms. A cheery activity pervaded the place. Porters on every hand were giving their celebrated imitations of the car of Juggernaut, throwing as a sop to the wounded a crisp "by your leave." Agitated ladies were pouring forth questions with the rapidity of machine guns. Long queues surged at the mouths of the booking offices, inside which soured clerks, sending lost sheep empty away, were learning once more their lesson of the innate folly of mankind. Other crowds collected at the bookstalls, and the bookstall keeper was eying with dislike men who were under the impression that they were in a free library.
An optimistic porter had relieved Garnet of his portmanteau and golf clubs as he stepped out of his cab, and had arranged to meet him on No. 6 platform, from which, he asserted, with the quiet confidence which has made Englishmen what they are, the eleven-twenty would start on its journey to Axminster. Unless, he added, it went from No. 4.
Garnet, having bought a ticket, after drawing blank at two booking offices, made his way to the bookstall. Here he inquired, in a loud, penetrating voice, if they had got "Mr. Jeremy Garnet's last novel, 'The Maneuvers of Arthur.'" Being informed that they had not, he clicked his tongue cynically, advised the man in charge to order that work, as the demand for it might be expected shortly to be large, and spent a shilling on a magazine and some weekly papers. Then, with ten minutes to spare, he went off in search of Ukridge.
He found him on platform No. 6. The porter's first choice was, it seemed, correct. The eleven-twenty was already alongside the platform, and presently Garnet observed his porter cleaving a path toward him with the portmanteau and golf clubs.
"Here you are!" shouted Ukridge. "Good for you. Thought you were going to miss it."
Garnet shook hands with the smiling Mrs. Ukridge.
"I've got a carriage," said Ukridge, "and collared two corner seats. My wife goes down in another. She dislikes the smell of smoke when she's traveling. Let's pray that we get the carriage to ourselves. But all London seems to be here this morning. Get in, old horse. I'll just see her ladyship into her carriage and come back to you."
Garnet entered the compartment, and stood at the door, looking out in order, after the friendly manner of the traveling Briton, to thwart an invasion of fellow-travelers. Then he withdrew his head suddenly and sat down. An elderly gentleman, accompanied by a girl, was coming toward him. It was not this type of fellow-traveler whom he hoped to keep out. He had noticed the girl at the booking office. She had waited by the side of the line, while the elderly gentleman struggled gamely for the tickets, and he had plenty of opportunity of observing her appearance. For five minutes he had debated with himself as to whether her hair should rightly be described as brown or golden. He had decided finally on brown. It then became imperative that he should ascertain the color of her eyes. Once only had he met them, and then only for a second. They might be blue. They might be gray. He could not be certain. The elderly gentleman came to the door of the compartment and looked in.
"This seems tolerably empty, my dear Phyllis," he said.
Garnet, his glance fixed on his magazine, made a note of the name. It harmonized admirably with the hair and the eyes of elusive color.
"You are sure you do not object to a smoking carriage, my dear?"
"Oh, no, father. Not at all."
Garnet told himself that the voice was just the right sort of voice to go with the hair, the eyes, and the name.
"Then I think—" said the elderly gentleman, getting in. The inflection of his voice suggested the Irishman. It was not a brogue. There were no strange words. But the general effect was Irish. Garnet congratulated himself. Irishmen are generally good company. An Irishman with a pretty daughter should be unusually good company.
The bustle on the platform had increased momently, until now, when, from the snorting of the engine, it seemed likely that the train might start at any minute, the crowd's excitement was extreme. Shrill cries echoed down the platform. Lost sheep, singly and in companies, rushed to and fro, peering eagerly into carriages in the search for seats. Piercing cries ordered unknown "Tommies" and "Ernies" to "keep by aunty, now." Just as Ukridge returned, the dreaded "Get in anywhere" began to be heard, and the next moment an avalanche of warm humanity poured into the carriage. A silent but bitter curse framed itself on Garnet's lips. His chance of pleasant conversation with the lady of the brown hair and the eyes that were either gray or blue was at an end.
The newcomers consisted of a middle-aged lady, addressed as aunty; a youth called Albert, subsequently described by Garnet as the rudest boy on earth—a proud title, honestly won; lastly, a niece of some twenty years, stolid and seemingly without interest in life.
Ukridge slipped into his corner, adroitly foiling Albert, who had made a dive in that direction. Albert regarded him fixedly for a space, then sank into the seat beside Garnet and began to chew something grewsome that smelled of aniseed.
Aunty, meanwhile, was distributing her weight evenly between the toes of the Irish gentleman and those of his daughter, as she leaned out of the window to converse with a lady friend in a straw hat and hair curlers. Phyllis, he noticed, was bearing it with angelic calm. Her profile, when he caught sight of it round aunty, struck him as a little cold, even haughty. That, however, might be due to what she was suffering. It is unfair to judge a lady's character from her face, at a moment when she is in a position of physical discomfort. The train moved off with a jerk in the middle of a request on the part of the straw-hatted lady that her friend would "remember that, you know, about him," and aunty, staggering back, sat down on a bag of food which Albert had placed on the seat beside him.
"Clumsy!" observed Albert tersely.
"Albert, you mustn't speak to aunty so."
"Wodyer want sit on my bag for, then?" inquired Albert.
They argued the point.
Garnet, who should have been busy studying character for a novel of the lower classes, took up his magazine and began to read. The odor of aniseed became more and more painful. Ukridge had lighted a cigar, and Garnet understood why Mrs. Ukridge preferred to travel in another compartment. For "in his hand he bore the brand which none but he might smoke."
Garnet looked stealthily across the carriage to see how his lady of the hair and eyes was enduring this combination of evils, and noticed that she, too, had begun to read. And as she put down the book to look out of the window at the last view of London, he saw with a thrill that it was "The Maneuvers of Arthur." Never before had he come upon a stranger reading his work. And if "The Maneuvers of Arthur" could make the reader oblivious to surroundings such as these, then, felt Garnet, it was no common book—a fact which he had long since suspected.
The train raced on toward the sea. It was a warm day, and a torpid peace began to settle down on the carriage.
Soon only Garnet, the Irishman, and the lady were awake.
"What's your book, me dear?" asked the Irishman.
"'The Maneuvers of Arthur,' father," said Phyllis. "By Jeremy Garnet."
Garnet would not have believed without the evidence of his ears that his name could possibly have sounded so well.
"Dolly Strange gave it to me when I left the abbey," continued Phyllis. "She keeps a shelf of books for her guests when they are going away. Books that she considers rubbish and doesn't want, you know."
Garnet hated Dolly Strange without further evidence.
"And what do you think of it, me dear?"
"I like it," said Phyllis decidedly. The carriage swam before Garnet's eyes. "I think it is very clever. I shall keep it."
"Bless you," thought Garnet, "and I will write my precious autograph on every page, if you want it."
"I wonder who Jeremy Garnet is?" said Phyllis. "I imagine him rather an old young man, probably with an eyeglass and conceited. He must be conceited. I can tell that from the style. And I should think he didn't know many girls. At least, if he thinks Pamela Grant an ordinary sort of girl."
"Is she not?" asked her father.
"She's a cr-r-reature," said Phyllis emphatically.
This was a blow to Garnet, and demolished the self-satisfaction which her earlier criticisms had caused to grow within him. He had always looked on Pamela as something very much out of the ordinary run of feminine character studies. That scene between her and the curate in the conservatory.... And when she finds Arthur at the meet of the Blankshire.... He was sorry she did not like Pamela. Somehow it lowered Pamela in his estimation.
"But I like Arthur," said Phyllis, and she smiled—the first time Garnet had seen her do so.
Garnet also smiled to himself. Arthur was the hero. He was a young writer. Ergo, Arthur was himself.
The train was beginning to slow down. Signs of returning animation began to be noticeable among the sleepers. A whistle from the engine, and the train drew up in a station. Looking out of the window, Garnet saw that it was Yeovil. There was a general exodus. Aunty became instantly a thing of dash and electricity, collected parcels, shook Albert, replied to his thrusts with repartee, and finally headed a stampede out of the door.
To Garnet's chagrin the Irish gentleman and his daughter also rose. Apparently this was to be the end of their brief acquaintanceship. They alighted and walked down the platform.
"Where are we?" said Ukridge sleepily, opening his eyes. "Yeovil? Not far now, old horse."
With which remark he closed his eyes again and returned to his slumbers.
Garnet's eye, roving disconsolately over the carriage, was caught by something lying in the far corner. It was the criticized "Maneuvers of Arthur." The girl had left it behind.
What follows shows the vanity that obsesses our young and rising authors. It did not enter into his mind that the book might have been left behind of set purpose, as being of no further use to the owner. It only occurred to him that if he did not act swiftly the lady of the hair and eyes would suffer a loss beside which the loss of a purse or a hand bag were trivial.
He acted swiftly.
Five seconds later he was at the end of the platform, flushed but courteous.
"Excuse me," he said, "I think—"
"Thank you," said the girl.
Garnet made his way back to his carriage.
"They are blue," he said.
From Axminster to Lyme Regis the line runs through country as pretty as any that can be found in the island, and the train, as if in appreciation of this fact, does not hurry over the journey. It was late afternoon by the time the chicken farmers reached their destination.
The arrangements for the carrying of luggage at Lyme Regis border on the primitive. Boxes are left on the platform, and later, when he thinks of it, a carrier looks in and conveys them down into the valley and up the hill on the opposite side to the address written on the labels. The owner walks. Lyme Regis is not a place for the halt and maimed.
Ukridge led his band in the direction of the farm, which lay across the valley, looking through woods to the sea. The place was visible from the station, from which, indeed, standing as it did on the top of a hill, the view was extensive.
Halfway up the slope on the other side of the valley the party left the road and made their way across a spongy field, Ukridge explaining that this was a short cut. They climbed through a hedge, crossed a stream and another field, and after negotiating a difficult bank topped with barbed wire, found themselves in a kitchen garden.
Ukridge mopped his forehead and restored his pince-nez to their original position, from which the passage of the barbed wire had dislodged them.
"This is the place," he said. "We have come in by the back way. It saves time. Tired, Millie?"
"No, dear, thank you."
"Without being tired," said Garnet, "I am distinctly ready for tea. What are the prospects?"
"That'll be all right," said Ukridge, "don't you worry. A most competent man, of the name of Beale, and his wife are in charge at present. I wrote to them telling them that we were coming to-day. They will be ready for us."
They were at the front door by this time. Ukridge rang the bell. The noise reechoed through the house, but there were no answering footsteps. He rang again. There is no mistaking the note of a bell in an empty house. It was plain that the most competent man and his wife were out.
"Now what are you going to do?" said Garnet.
Mrs. Ukridge looked at her husband with quiet confidence.
Ukridge fell back on reminiscence.
"This," he said, leaning against the door and endeavoring to button his collar at the back, "reminds me of an afternoon in the Argentine. Two other men and myself tried for three quarters of an hour to get into an empty house, where there looked as if there might be something to eat, and we'd just got the door open when the owner turned up from behind a tree with a shotgun. It was a little difficult to explain. There was a dog, too. We were glad to say good-by."
At this moment history partially repeated itself. From the other side of the door came a dissatisfied whine, followed by a short bark.
"Halloo," said Ukridge, "Beale has a dog."
"And the dog," said Garnet, "will have us if we're not careful. What are you going to do?"
"Let's try the back," said Ukridge. "We must get in. What right," he added with pathos, "has a beastly mongrel belonging to a man I employ to keep me out of my own house? It's a little hard. Here am I, slaving to support Beale, and when I try to get into my house, his infernal dog barks at me. But we will try kindness first. Let me get to the keyhole. I will parley with the animal."
He put his mouth to the keyhole and roared the soothing words "Goo' dog!" through it. Instantly the door shook as some heavy object hurled itself against it. The barking rang through the house.
"Kindness seems to be a drug in the market," said Garnet. "Do you see your way to trying a little force?"
"I'll tell you what we'll do," said Ukridge, rising. "We'll go round and get in at the kitchen window."
"And how long are we to stay there? Till the dog dies?"
"I never saw such a man as you," protested Ukridge. "You have a perfect mania for looking on the dark side. The dog won't guard the kitchen door. We shall manage to shut him up somewhere."
"Oh," said Garnet.
"And now let's get in and have something to eat, for goodness' sake."
The kitchen window proved to be insecurely latched. Ukridge flung it open and they climbed in.
The dog, hearing the sound of voices, raced back along the passage and flung himself at the door. He then proceeded to scratch at the panels in the persevering way of one who feels that he is engaged upon a business at which he is a specialist.
Inside the kitchen, Ukridge took command.
"Never mind the dog," he said, "let it scratch."
"I thought," said Garnet, "we were going to shut it up somewhere?"
"Go out and shut it into the dining room, then. Personally, I mean to have some tea. Millie, you know how to light a fire. Garnet and I will be collecting cups and things. When that scoundrel Beale arrives, I shall tear him limb from limb. Deserting us like this! The man must be a thorough fraud. He told me he was an old soldier. If this was the sort of discipline they used to keep in his regiment, I don't wonder that the service is going to the dogs. There goes a plate! How is the fire getting on, Millie? I'll chop Beale into little bits. What's that you've got there, Garny, old horse? Tea? Good! Where's the bread? There! Another plate. Look here, I'll give that dog three minutes, and if it doesn't stop scratching that door by then, I'll take the bread knife and go out and have a soul-to-soul talk with it. It's a little hard. My own house, and the first thing I find in it when I arrive is somebody else's beastly dog scratching holes in the doors. Stop it, you beast!"
The dog's reply was to continue his operations piu mosso.
Ukridge's eyes gleamed behind their glasses.
"Give me a good large jug," he said with ominous calm.
He took the largest of the jugs from the dresser and strode with it into the scullery, whence came the sound of running water. He returned carrying the jug in both hands. His mien was that of a general who sees his way to a master stroke of strategy.
"Garny, old horse," he said, "tack on to the handle, and when I give the word fling wide the gates. Then watch that beast beyond the door get the surprise of its lifetime."
Garnet attached himself to the handle as directed. Ukridge gave the word. They had a momentary vision of an excited dog of the mongrel class framed in the open doorway, all eyes and teeth; then the passage was occupied by a spreading pool, and indignant barks from the distance told that the mongrel was thinking the thing over in some safe retreat.
"Settled his hash," said Ukridge complacently. "Nothing like resource, Garnet, my boy. Some men would have gone on letting a good door be ruined."
"And spoiled the dog for a ha-porth of water," said Garnet. "I suppose we shall have to clean up that mess some time."
"There you go," said Ukridge, "looking on the dark side. Be an optimist, my boy, be an optimist. Beale and Mrs. Beale shall clean that passage as a penance. How is the fire, Millie?"
"The kettle is just boiling, dear."
Over a cup of tea Ukridge became the man of business.
"I wonder when those fowls are going to arrive. They should have been here to-day. If they don't come to-morrow, I shall lodge a complaint. There must be no slackness. They must bustle about. After tea I'll show you the garden, and we will choose a place for a fowl run. To-morrow we must buckle to. Serious work will begin immediately after breakfast."
"Suppose," said Garnet, "the fowls arrive before we are ready for them?"
"Why, then, they must wait."
"But you can't keep fowls cooped up indefinitely in a crate. I suppose they will come in a crate. I don't know much about these things."
"Oh, that'll be all right. There's a basement to this house. We'll let 'em run about there till we're ready for them. There's always a way of doing things if you look for it."
"I hope you are going to let the hens hatch some of the eggs, Stanley, dear," said Mrs. Ukridge. "I should so love to have some dear little chickens."
"Of course," said Ukridge. "My idea was this: These people will send us fifty fowls of sorts. That means—call it forty eggs a day. Let 'em hatch out thirty a day, and we will use the other ten for the table. We shall want at least ten. Well, I'm hanged, that dog again! Where's that jug?"
But this time an unforeseen interruption prevented the maneuver from being the success it had been before. Garnet had turned the handle, and was just about to pull the door open, while Ukridge, looking like some modern and dilapidated version of Discobolus, stood beside him with his jug poised, when a hoarse voice spoke from the window.
"Stand still!" said the voice, "or I'll corpse you."
Garnet dropped the handle, Ukridge dropped the jug, Mrs. Ukridge screamed.
At the window, with a double-barreled gun in his hands, stood a short, square, red-headed man. The muzzle of his gun, which rested on the sill, was pointing in a straight line at the third button of Garnet's waistcoat. With a distant recollection of the Deadwood Dick literature of his childhood, Garnet flung both hands above his head.
Ukridge emitted a roar like that of a hungry lion.
"Beale!" he shouted. "You scoundrelly, unprincipled blackguard! What are you doing with that gun? Why were you out? What have you been doing? Why did you shout like that? Look what you've made me do."
He pointed to the floor. Broken crockery, spreading water, his own shoes—exceedingly old tennis shoes—well soaked, attested the fact that damage had been done.
"Lor'! Mr. Ukridge, sir, is that you?" said the red-headed man calmly. "I thought you was burglars."
A sharp bark from the other side of the kitchen door, followed by a renewal of the scratching, drew Mr. Beale's attention to his faithful hound.
"That's Bob," he said.
"I don't know what you call the brute," said Ukridge. "Come in and tie him up."
"'Ow am I to get in, Mr. Ukridge, sir?"
"Come in through the window, and mind what you're doing with that gun. After you've finished with the dog, I should like a brief chat with you, if you can spare the time and have no other engagements."
Mr. Beale, having carefully deposited his gun against the wall of the kitchen, and dropped a pair of very limp rabbits with a thud to the floor, proceeded to climb through the window. This operation performed, he stood on one side while the besieged garrison passed out by the same road.
"You will find me in the garden, Beale," said Ukridge. "I have one or two little things to say to you."
Mr. Beale grinned affably.
The cool air of the garden was grateful after the warmth of the kitchen. It was a pretty garden, or would have been, if it had not been so neglected. Garnet seemed to see himself sitting in a deck chair on the lawn, looking through the leaves of the trees at the harbor below. It was a spot, he felt, in which it would be an easy and pleasant task to shape the plot of his novel. He was glad he had come. About now, outside his lodgings in town, a particularly lethal barrel organ would be striking up the latest revolting air with which the halls had inflicted London.
"Here you are, Beale," said Ukridge, as the red-headed man approached. "Now, then, what have you to say?"
The hired man looked thoughtful for a while, then observed that it was a fine evening. Garnet felt that he was begging the question. He was a strong, healthy man, and should have scorned to beg.
"Fine evening?" shouted Ukridge. "What—on—earth has that got to do with it? I want to know why you and Mrs. Beale were both out when we arrived?"
"The missus went to Axminster, Mr. Ukridge, sir."
"She had no right to go to Axminster. I don't pay her large sums to go to Axminster. You knew I was coming this evening."
"No, Mr. Ukridge, sir."
"No, Mr. Ukridge, sir."
"Beale," said Ukridge with studied calm, "one of us two is a fool."
"I noticed that, sir."
"Let us sift this matter to the bottom. You got my letter?"
"No, Mr. Ukridge, sir."
"My letter saying that I should arrive to-night. You did not get it?"
"Now look here, Beale," said Ukridge, "I am certain that that letter was posted. I remember placing it in my pocket for that purpose. It is not there now. See. These are all the contents of my—well, I'm hanged!"
He stood looking at the envelope he had produced from his breast pocket. Mr. Beale coughed.
"Beale," said Ukridge, "you—er—there seems to have been a mistake."
"You are not so much to blame as I thought."
"Anyhow," said Ukridge, in inspired tones, "I'll go and slay that infernal dog. Where's your gun, Beale?"
But better counsels prevailed, and the proceedings closed with a cold but pleasant little dinner, at which the spared mongrel came out unexpectedly strong with brainy and diverting tricks.
Sunshine, streaming into his bedroom through the open window, woke Garnet next day as distant clocks were striking eight. It was a lovely morning, cool and fresh. The grass of the lawn, wet with dew, sparkled in the sun. A thrush, who knew all about early birds and their perquisites, was filling in the time before the arrival of the worm with a song or two as he sat in the bushes. In the ivy a colony of sparrows were opening the day well with a little brisk fighting. On the gravel in front of the house lay the mongrel Bob, blinking lazily.
The gleam of the sea through the trees turned Garnet's thoughts to bathing. He dressed quickly and went out. Bob rose to meet him, waving an absurdly long tail. The hatchet was definitely buried now. That little matter of the jug of water was forgotten.
"Well, Bob," said Garnet, "coming down to watch me bathe?"
Bob uttered a bark of approval and ran before him to the gate.
A walk of five minutes brought Garnet to the sleepy little town. He passed through the narrow street, and turned on to the beach, walking in the direction of the cob, that combination of pier and breakwater which the misadventures of one of Jane Austen's young misses have made known to the outside public.
The tide was high, and Garnet, leaving his clothes to the care of Bob, dived into twelve feet of clear, cold water. As he swam he compared it with the morning tub of town, and felt that he had done well to come with Ukridge to this pleasant spot. But he could not rely on unbroken calm during the whole of his visit. He did not know a great deal about chicken farming, but he was certain that Ukridge knew less. There would be some strenuous moments before that farm became a profitable commercial speculation. At the thought of Ukridge toiling on a hot afternoon to manage an undisciplined mob of fowls, and becoming more and more heated and voluble in the struggle, he laughed and promptly swallowed a generous mouthful of salt water. There are few things which depress the swimmer more than an involuntary draught of water. Garnet turned and swam back to Bob and the clothes.
As he strolled back along the beach he came upon a small, elderly gentleman toweling his head in a vigorous manner. Hearing Garnet's footsteps, he suspended this operation for a moment and peered out at him from beneath a turban of towel.
It was the elderly Irishman of the journey, the father of the blue-eyed Phyllis. Then they had come on to Lyme Regis after all. Garnet stopped, with some idea of going back and speaking to him; but realizing that they were perfect strangers, he postponed this action and followed Bob up the hill. In a small place like Lyme Regis it would surely not be difficult to find somebody who would introduce them. He cursed the custom which made such a thing necessary. In a properly constituted country everybody would know everybody else without fuss or trouble.
He found Ukridge, in his shirt sleeves and minus a collar, assailing a large ham. Mrs. Ukridge, looking younger and more childlike than ever in brown holland, smiled at him over the teapot.
"Here he is!" shouted Ukridge, catching sight of him. "Where have you been, old horse? I went to your room, but you weren't there. Bathing? Hope it's made you feel fit for work, because we've got to buckle to this morning."
"The fowls have arrived, Mr. Garnet," said Mrs. Ukridge, opening her eyes till she looked like an astonished kitten. "Such a lot of them! They're making such a noise!"
And to support her statement there floated through the window a cackling, which, for volume and variety of key, beat anything that Garnet had ever heard. Judging from the noise, it seemed as if England had been drained of fowls and the entire tribe of them dumped into the yard of the Ukridge's farm.
"There seems to have been no stint," he said, sitting down. "Did you order a million or only nine hundred thousand?"
"Good many, aren't there?" said Ukridge complacently. "But that's what we want. No good starting on a small scale. The more you have, the bigger the profits."
"What sort have you got mostly?"
"Oh, all sorts. Bless you, people don't mind what breed a fowl is, so long as it is a fowl. These dealer chaps were so infernally particular. 'Any Dorkings?' they said. 'All right,' I said, 'bring on your Dorkings.' 'Or perhaps you want a few Minorcas?' 'Very well,' I said, 'show Minorcas.' They were going on—they'd have gone on for hours, but I stopped 'em. 'Look here, Maximilian,' I said to the manager Johnny—decent old chap, with the manners of a marquis—'look here,' I said, 'life is short, and we're neither of us as young as we used to be. Don't let us waste the golden hours playing guessing games. I want fowls. You sell fowls. So give me some of all sorts.' And he has, by Jove! There must be one of every breed ever invented."
"Where are you going to put them?"
"That spot we chose by the paddock. That's the place. Plenty of mud for them to scratch about in, and they can go into the field when they want to, and pick up worms, or whatever they feed on. We must rig them up some sort of a shanty, I suppose, this morning. We'll go and tell 'em to send up some wire netting and stuff from the town."
"Then we shall want hencoops. We shall have to make those."
"Of course. So we shall. Millie, didn't I tell you that old Garnet was the man to think of things! I forgot the coops. We can't buy some, I suppose? On tick?"
"Cheaper to make them. Suppose we get a lot of boxes. Soap boxes are as good as any. It won't take long to knock up a few coops."
Ukridge thumped the table with enthusiasm.
"Garny, old horse, you're a marvel. You think of everything. We'll buckle to right away. What a noise those fowls are making. I suppose they don't feel at home in the yard. Wait till they see the A1 residential mansions we're going to put up for them. Finished breakfast? Then let's go out. Come along, Millie."
The red-headed Beale, discovered leaning in an attitude of thought on the yard gate, and observing the feathered mob below, was roused from his reflections and dispatched to the town for the wire and soap boxes. Ukridge, taking his place at the gate, gazed at the fowls with the affectionate eye of a proprietor.
"Well, they have certainly taken you at your word," said Garnet, "as far as variety is concerned."
The man with the manners of a marquis seemed to have been at great pains to send a really representative supply of fowls. There were blue ones, black ones, white, gray, yellow, brown, big, little, Dorkings, Minorcas, Cochin Chinas, Bantams, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and a host more. It was an imposing spectacle.
The hired man returned toward the end of the morning, preceded by a cart containing the necessary wire and boxes, and Ukridge, whose enthusiasm brooked no delay, started immediately the task of fashioning the coops, while Garnet, assisted by Beale, draped the wire netting about the chosen spot next to the paddock. There were little unpleasantnesses—once a roar of anguish told that Ukridge's hammer had found the wrong billet, and on another occasion Garnet's flannel trousers suffered on the wire—but the work proceeded steadily. By the middle of the afternoon things were in a sufficiently advanced state to suggest to Ukridge the advisability of a halt for refreshments.
"That's the way to do it," said he. "At this rate we shall have the place in A1 condition before bedtime. What do you think of those for coops, Beale?"
The hired man examined them gravely.
"I've seen worse, sir."
He continued his examination.
"But not many," he added. Beale's passion for truth had made him unpopular in three regiments.
"They aren't so bad," said Garnet, "but I'm glad I'm not a fowl."
"So you ought to be," said Ukridge, "considering the way you've put up that wire. You'll have them strangling themselves."
In spite of earnest labor, the housing arrangements of the fowls were still in an incomplete state at the end of the day. The details of the evening's work are preserved in a letter which Garnet wrote that night to his friend Lickford.
* * * * *
"... Have you ever played a game called 'Pigs in Clover'? We have just finished a bout of it (with hens instead of marbles) which has lasted for an hour and a half. We are all dead tired except the hired man, who seems to be made of India rubber. He has just gone for a stroll to the beach. Wants some exercise, I suppose. Personally, I feel as if I should never move again. I have run faster and farther than I have done since I was at school. You have no conception of the difficulty of rounding up fowls and getting them safely to bed. Having no proper place to put them, we were obliged to stow some of them inside soap boxes and the rest in the basement. It has only just occurred to me that they ought to have had perches to roost on. It didn't strike me before. I shall not mention it to Ukridge, or that indomitable man will start making some, and drag me into it, too. After all, a hen can rough it for one night, and if I did a stroke more work I should collapse. My idea was to do the thing on the slow but sure principle. That is to say, take each bird singly and carry it to bed. It would have taken some time, but there would have been no confusion. But you can imagine that that sort of thing would not appeal to Ukridge. There is a touch of the Napoleon about him. He likes his maneuvers to be daring and on a large scale. He said: 'Open the yard gate and let the fowls come out into the open, then sail in and drive them in a mass through the back door into the basement.' It was a great idea, but there was one fatal flaw in it. It didn't allow for the hens scattering. We opened the gate, and out they all came like an audience coming out of a theater. Then we closed in on them to bring off the big drive. For about three seconds it looked as if we might do it. Then Bob, the hired man's dog, an animal who likes to be in whatever's going on, rushed out of the house into the middle of them, barking. There was a perfect stampede, and Heaven only knows where some of those fowls are now. There was one in particular, a large yellow bird, which, I should imagine, is nearing London by this time. The last I saw of it, it was navigating at the rate of knots, so to speak, in that direction, with Bob after it barking his hardest. Presently Bob came back, panting, having evidently given up the job. We, in the meantime, were chasing the rest of the birds all over the garden. The thing had now resolved itself into the course of action I had suggested originally, except that instead of collecting them quietly and at our leisure, we had to run miles for each one we captured. After a time we introduced some sort of system into it. Mrs. Ukridge (fancy him married; did you know?) stood at the door. We chased the hens and brought them in. Then as we put each through into the basement, she shut the door on it. We also arranged Ukridge's soap-box coops in a row, and when we caught a fowl we put it into the coop and stuck a board in front of it. By these strenuous means we gathered in about two thirds of the lot. The rest are all over England. A few may be in Dorsetshire, but I should not like to bet on it.
"So you see things are being managed on the up-to-date chicken farm on good, sound, Ukridge principles. This is only the beginning. I look with confidence for further exciting events. I believe, if Ukridge kept white mice, he would manage to knock some feverish excitement out of it. He is at present lying on the sofa, smoking one of his infernal brand of cigars. From the basement I can hear faintly the murmur of innumerable fowls. We are a happy family; we are, we are, we ARE!
"P. S. Have you ever caught a fowl and carried it to roost? You take it under the wings, and the feel of it sets one's teeth on edge. It is a grisly experience. All the time you are carrying it, it makes faint protesting noises and struggles feebly to escape.
"P. P. S. You know the opinion of Pythagoras respecting fowls. That 'the soul of our granddam might haply inhabit a bird.' I hope that yellow hen which Bob chased into the purple night is not the grandmamma of any friend of mine."
The day was Thursday, the date July the twenty-second. We had been chicken farmers for a whole week, and things were beginning to settle down to a certain extent. The coops were finished. They were not masterpieces, and I have seen chickens pause before them in deep thought, as who should say: "Now what in the world have we struck here?" But they were coops, within the meaning of the act, and we induced the hens to become tenants. The hardest work had been the fixing of the wire netting. This was the department of the hired man and myself. Beale and I worked ourselves into a fever in the sun, while the senior partner of the firm sat in the house, writing out plans and ideas and scribbling down his accounts (which must have been complicated) on gilt-edged correspondence cards. From time to time he abused his creditors, who were numerous.
Ukridge's financial methods were always puzzling to the ordinary mind. We had hardly been at the farm a day before he began to order in a vast supply of necessary and unnecessary articles—all on credit. Some he got from the village, others from neighboring towns. He has a way with him, like Father O'Flynn, and the tradesmen behaved beautifully. The things began to pour in from all sides—suits, groceries (of the very best), a piano, a gramophone, and pictures of all kinds. He was not one of those men who want but little here below. He wanted a great deal, and of a superior quality. If a tradesman suggested that a small check on account would not be taken amiss, as one or two sordid fellows of the village did, he became pathetic.
"Confound it, sir," he would say with tears in his voice, laying a hand on the man's shoulder in an elder brotherly way, "it's a trifle hard when a gentleman comes to settle here, that you should dun him for things before he has settled the preliminary expenses about his house."
This sounded well, and suggested the disbursement of huge sums for rent. The fact that the house had been lent him rent free was kept with some care in the background. Having weakened the man with pathos, he would strike a sterner note. "A little more of this," he would go on, "and I'll close my account. As it is, I think I will remove my patronage to a firm which will treat me civilly. Why, sir, I've never heard anything like it in all my experience." Upon which the man would knuckle under and go away forgiven, with a large order for more goods.
Once, when Ukridge and I were alone, I ventured to expostulate. High finance was always beyond my mental grasp. "Pay?" he exclaimed, "of course we shall pay. You don't seem to realize the possibilities of this business. Garny, my boy, we are on to a big thing. The money isn't coming in yet. We must give it time. But soon we shall be turning over hundreds every week. I am in touch with Whiteley's and Harrod's and all the big places. Perfectly simple business matter. Here I am, I said, with a large chicken farm with all the modern improvements. You want eggs, I said. I supply them. I will let you have so many hundred eggs a week, I said; what will you give for them? Well, their terms did not come up to my scheduled prices, I admit, but we mustn't sneer at small prices at first."
The upshot of it was that the firms mentioned supplied us with a quantity of goods, agreeing to receive phantom eggs in exchange. This satisfied Ukridge. He had a faith in the laying powers of his hens which would have flattered those birds if they could have known of it. It might also have stimulated their efforts in that direction, which up to date were feeble. This, however, I attributed to the fact that the majority of our fowls—perhaps through some sinister practical joke on the part of the manager who had the manners of a marquis—were cocks. It vexed Ukridge. "Here we are," he said complainingly, "living well and drinking well, in a newly furnished house, having to keep a servant and maintain our position in life, with expenses mounting and not a penny coming in. It's absurd. We've got hundreds of hens (most of them cocks, it's true, but I forgot they didn't lay), and getting not even enough eggs for our own table. We must make some more arrangements. Come on in and let us think the thing out."
But this speech was the outcome of a rare moment of pessimism. In his brighter moods he continued to express unbounded faith in the hens, and was willing to leave the thing to time.
Meanwhile, we were creating quite a small sensation in the neighborhood. The interest of the natives was aroused at first by the fact that nearly all of them received informal visits from our fowls, which had strayed. Small boys would arrive in platoons, each bearing his quota of stragglers. "Be these your 'ens, zur?" was the formula. "If they be, we've got twenty-fower mower in our yard. Could 'ee coom over and fetch 'em?"
However, after the hired retainer and I had completed our work with the wire netting, desertions became less frequent. People poured in from villages for miles around to look at the up-to-date chicken farm. It was a pleasing and instructive spectacle to see Ukridge, in a pink shirt without a collar, and very dirty flannel trousers, lecturing to the intelligent natives on the breeding of fowls. They used to go away with the dazed air of men who have heard strange matters, and Ukridge, unexhausted, would turn to interview the next batch. I fancy we gave Lyme Regis something to think about. Ukridge must have been in the nature of a staggerer to the rustic mind.
It was now, as I have said, Thursday, the twenty-second of July, a memorable date to me. A glorious, sunny morning, of the kind which Nature provides occasionally, in an ebullition of benevolence. It is at times such as this that we dream our dreams and compose our masterpieces.
And a masterpiece I was, indeed, making. The new novel was growing nobly. Striking scenes and freshets of scintillating dialogue rushed through my mind. I had neglected my writing for the past week in favor of the tending of fowls, but I was making up for lost time now. Another uninterrupted quarter of an hour, and I firmly believe I should have completed the framework of a novel that would have placed me with the great, in that select band whose members have no Christian names. Another quarter of an hour and posterity would have known me as "Garnet."
But it was not to be. I had just framed the most poignant, searching conversation between my heroine and my hero, and was about to proceed, flushed with great thoughts, to further triumphs, when a distant shout brought me to earth.
"Stop her! Catch her! Garnet!"
I was in the paddock at the time. Coming toward me at her best pace was a small hen. Behind the hen was Bob, doing, as usual, the thing that he ought not to have done. Behind Bob—some way behind—was Ukridge. It was his shout that I had heard.
"After her, Garny, old horse!" he repeated. "A valuable bird. Must not be lost."
When not in a catalepsy of literary composition, I am essentially the man of action. I laid aside my novel for future reference, and, after a fruitless lunge at the hen as it passed, joined Bob in the chase.
We passed out of the paddock in the following order: First, the hen, as fresh as paint, and good for a five-mile spin; next, Bob, panting but fit for anything; lastly, myself, determined, but mistrustful of my powers of pedestrianism. In the distance Ukridge gesticulated and shouted advice.
After the first field Bob gave up the chase, and sauntered off to scratch at a rabbit hole. He seemed to think that he had done all that could be expected of him in setting the thing going. His air suggested that he knew the affair was in competent hands, and relied on me to do the right thing.
The exertions of the past few days had left me in very fair condition, but I could not help feeling that in competition with the hen I was overmatched. Neither in speed nor in staying power was I its equal. But I pounded along doggedly. Whenever I find myself fairly started on any business I am reluctant to give it up. I began to set an extravagant value on the capture of the small hen. All the abstract desire for fame which had filled my mind five minutes before was concentrated now on that one feat. In a calmer moment I might have realized that one bird more or less would not make a great deal of difference to the fortunes of the chicken farm, but now my power of logical reasoning had left me. All our fortunes seemed to me to center in the hen, now half a field in front of me.
We had been traveling downhill all this time, but at this point we crossed the road and the ground began to rise. I was in that painful condition which occurs when one has lost one's first wind and has not yet got one's second. I was hotter than I had ever been in my life.
Whether the hen, too, was beginning to feel the effects of its run I do not know, but it slowed down to a walk, and even began to peck in a tentative manner at the grass. This assumption on its part that the chase was at an end irritated me. I felt that I should not be worthy of the name of Englishman if I allowed myself to be treated as a cipher by a mere bird. It should realize yet that it was no light matter to be pursued by J. Garnet, author of "The Maneuvers of Arthur," etc.
A judicious increase of pace brought me within a yard or two of my quarry. But it darted from me with a startled exclamation and moved off rapidly up the hill. I followed, distressed. The pace was proving too much for me. The sun blazed down. It seemed to concentrate its rays on my back, to the exclusion of the surrounding scenery, in much the same way as the moon behaves to the heroine of a melodrama. A student of the drama has put it on record that he has seen the moon follow the heroine round the stage, and go off with her (left). The sun was just as attentive to me.
We were on level ground now. The hen had again slowed to a walk, and I was capable of no better pace. Very gradually I closed in on it. There was a high boxwood hedge in front of us. Just as I came close enough to stake my all on a single grab, the hen dived into this and struggled through in the mysterious way in which birds do get through hedges.
I was in the middle of the obstacle, very hot, tired, and dirty, when from the other side I heard a sudden shout of "Mark over! Bird to the right!" and the next moment I found myself emerging, with a black face and tottering knees, on to the gravel path of a private garden.
Beyond the path was a croquet lawn, on which I perceived, as through a glass darkly, three figures. The mist cleared from my eyes and I recognized two of the trio.
One was my Irish fellow-traveler, the other was his daughter.
The third member of the party was a man, a stranger to me. By some miracle of adroitness he had captured the hen, and was holding it, protesting, in a workman-like manner behind the wings.
THE ENTENTE CORDIALE
It has been well observed that there are moments and moments. The present, as far as I was concerned, belonged to the more painful variety.
Even to my exhausted mind it was plain that there was need here for explanations. An Irishman's croquet lawn is his castle, and strangers cannot plunge on to it unannounced through hedges without being prepared to give reasons.
Unfortunately, speech was beyond me. I could have done many things at that moment. I could have emptied a water butt, lain down and gone to sleep, or melted ice with a touch of the finger. But I could not speak. The conversation was opened by the other man, in whose soothing hand the hen now lay, apparently resigned to its fate.
"Come right in," he said pleasantly. "Don't knock. Your bird, I think?"
I stood there panting. I must have presented a quaint appearance. My hair was full of twigs and other foreign substances. My face was moist and grimy. My mouth hung open. I wanted to sit down. My legs felt as if they had ceased to belong to me.
"I must apologize—" I began, and ended the sentence with gasps.
Conversation languished. The elderly gentleman looked at me with what seemed to me indignant surprise. His daughter looked through me. The man regarded me with a friendly smile, as if I were some old crony dropped in unexpectedly.
"I'm afraid—" I said, and stopped again.
"Hard work, big-game hunting in this weather," said the man. "Take a long breath."
I took several and felt better.
"I must apologize for this intrusion," I said successfully. "Unwarrantable" would have rounded off the sentence nicely, but instinct told me not to risk it. It would have been mere bravado to have attempted unnecessary words of five syllables at that juncture.
"Say on," said the man with the hen encouragingly, "I'm a human being just like yourself."
"The fact is," I said, "I didn't—didn't know there was a private garden beyond the hedge. If you will give me my hen—"
"It's hard to say good-by," said the man, stroking the bird's head with the first finger of his disengaged hand. "She and I are just beginning to know and appreciate each other. However, if it must be—"
He extended the hand which held the bird, and at this point a hitch occurred. He did his part of the business—the letting go. It was in my department—the taking hold—that the thing was bungled. The hen slipped from my grasp like an eel, stood for a moment overcome by the surprise of being at liberty once more, then fled and intrenched itself in some bushes at the farther end of the lawn.
There are times when the most resolute man feels that he can battle no longer with fate; when everything seems against him and the only course left is a dignified retreat. But there is one thing essential to a dignified retreat. One must know the way out. It was that fact which kept me standing there, looking more foolish than anyone has ever looked since the world began. I could hardly ask to be conducted off the premises like the honored guest. Nor would it do to retire by the way I had come. If I could have leaped the hedge with a single bound, that would have made a sufficiently dashing and debonair exit. But the hedge was high, and I was incapable at the moment of achieving a debonair leap over a footstool.
The man saved the situation. He seemed to possess that magnetic power over his fellows which marks the born leader. Under his command we became an organized army. The common object, the pursuit of the hen, made us friends. In the first minute of the proceedings the Irishman was addressing me as "me dear boy," and the other man, who had introduced himself rapidly as Tom Chase, lieutenant in his Majesty's navy, was shouting directions to me by name. I have never assisted at any ceremony at which formality was so completely dispensed with. The ice was not merely broken, it was shivered into a million fragments.
"Go in and drive her out, Garnet," shouted Mr. Chase. "In my direction, if you can. Look out on the left, Phyllis."
Even in that disturbing moment I could not help noticing his use of the Christian name. It seemed to me sinister. I did not like the idea of dashing young lieutenants in the royal navy calling a girl Phyllis whose eyes had haunted me for just over a week—since, in fact, I had first seen them. Nevertheless, I crawled into the bushes and dislodged the hen. She emerged at the spot where Mr. Chase was waiting with his coat off, and was promptly enveloped in that garment and captured.
"The essence of strategy," observed Mr. Chase approvingly, "is surprise. A devilish neat piece of work."
I thanked him. He deprecated the thanks. He had, he said, only done his duty, as a man is bound to do. He then introduced me to the elderly Irishman, who was, it seemed, a professor—of what I do not know—at Dublin University. By name, Derrick. He informed me that he always spent the summer at Lyme Regis.
"I was surprised to see you at Lyme Regis," I said. "When you got out at Yeovil, I thought I had seen the last of you."
I think I am gifted beyond other men as regards the unfortunate turning of sentences.
"I meant," I added speedily, "I was afraid I had."
"Ah, of course," he said, "you were in our carriage coming down. I was confident I had seen you before. I never forget a face."
"It would be a kindness," said Mr. Chase, "if you would forget Garnet's as now exhibited. You'll excuse the personality, but you seem to have collected a good deal of the professor's property coming through that hedge."
"I was wondering," I said with gratitude. "A wash—if I might?"
"Of course, me boy, of course," said the professor. "Tom, take Mr. Garnet off to your room, and then we'll have some lunch. You'll stay to lunch, Mr. Garnet?"
I thanked him for his kindness and went off with my friend, the lieutenant, to the house. We imprisoned the hen in the stables, to its profound indignation, gave directions for lunch to be served to it, and made our way to Mr. Chase's room.
"So you've met the professor before?" he said, hospitably laying out a change of raiment for me—we were fortunately much of a height and build.
"I have never spoken to him," I said. "We traveled down together in a very full carriage, and I saw him next day on the beach."
"He's a dear old boy, if you rub him the right way."
"Yes?" I said.
"But—I'm telling you this for your good and guidance—he can cut up rough. And when he does, he goes off like a four point seven. I think, if I were you—you don't mind my saying this?—I think, if I were you, I should not mention Mr. Tim Healy at lunch."
I promised that I would try to resist the temptation.
"And if you could manage not to discuss home rule—"
"I will make an effort."
"On any other topic he will be delighted to hear your views. Chatty remarks on bimetallism would meet with his earnest attention. A lecture on what to do with the cold mutton would be welcomed. But not Ireland, if you don't mind. Shall we go down?"
We got to know one another very well at lunch.
"Do you hunt hens," asked Mr. Chase, who was mixing the salad—he was one of those men who seem to do everything a shade better than anyone else, "for amusement or by your doctor's orders?"
"Neither," I said, "and particularly not for amusement. The fact is I have been lured down here by a friend of mine who has started a chicken farm—"
I was interrupted. All three of them burst into laughter. Mr. Chase in his emotion allowed the vinegar to trickle on to the cloth, missing the salad bowl by a clear two inches.
"You don't mean to tell us," he said, "that you really come from the one and only chicken farm?"
I could not deny it.
"Why, you're the man we've all been praying to meet for days past. Haven't we, professor?"
"You're right, Tom," chuckled Mr. Derrick.
"We want to know all about it, Mr. Garnet," said Phyllis Derrick.
"Do you know," continued Mr. Chase, "that you are the talk of the town? Everybody is discussing you. Your methods are quite new and original, aren't they?"
"Probably," I replied. "Ukridge knows nothing about fowls. I know less. He considers it an advantage. He said our minds ought to be unbiased by any previous experience."
"Ukridge!" said the professor. "That was the name old Dawlish, the grocer, said. I never forget a name. He is the gentleman who lectures on the breeding of poultry, is he not? You do not?"
I hastened to disclaim any such feat.
"His lectures are very popular," said Phyllis with a little splutter of mirth.
"He enjoys them," I said.
"Look here, Garnet," said Mr. Chase, "I hope you won't consider all these questions impertinent, but you've no notion of the thrilling interest we all take—at a distance—in your farm. We have been talking of nothing else for a week. I have dreamed of it three nights running. Is Mr. Ukridge doing this as a commercial speculation, or is he an eccentric millionaire?"
"He's not a millionaire. I believe he intends to be, though, before long, with the assistance of the fowls. But I hope you won't look on me as in any way responsible for the arrangements at the farm. I am merely a laborer. The brain work of the business lies in Ukridge's department."
"Tell me, Mr. Garnet," said Phyllis, "do you use an incubator?"
"Oh, yes, we have an incubator."
"I suppose you find it very useful?"
"I'm afraid we use it chiefly for drying our boots when they get wet," I said.
Only that morning Ukridge's spare pair of tennis shoes had permanently spoiled the future of half-a-dozen eggs which were being hatched on the spot where the shoes happened to be placed. Ukridge had been quite annoyed.
"I came down here principally," I said, "in search of golf. I was told there were links, but up to the present my professional duties have monopolized me."
"Golf," said Professor Derrick. "Why, yes. We must have a round or two together. I am very fond of golf. I generally spend the summer down here improving my game."
I said I should be delighted.
* * * * *
There was croquet after lunch—a game at which I am a poor performer. Miss Derrick and I played the professor and Chase. Chase was a little better than myself; the professor, by dint of extreme earnestness and care, managed to play a fair game; and Phyllis was an expert.
"I was reading a book," said she, as we stood together watching the professor shaping at his ball at the other end of the lawn, "by an author of the same surname as you, Mr. Garnet. Is he a relation of yours?"
"I am afraid I am the person, Miss Derrick," I said.
"You wrote the book?"
"A man must live," I said apologetically.
"Then you must have—oh, nothing."
"I could not help it, I'm afraid. But your criticism was very kind."
"Did you know what I was going to say?"
"It was lucky I liked it," she said with a smile.
"Lucky for me," I said.
"It will encourage me to write another book. So you see what you have to answer for. I hope it will not trouble your conscience."
At the other end of the lawn the professor was still patting the balls about, Chase the while advising him to allow for windage and elevation and other mysterious things.
"I should not have thought," she said, "that an author cared a bit for the opinion of an amateur."
"It all depends."
"On the author?"
"On the amateur."
It was my turn to play at this point. I missed—as usual.
"I didn't like your heroine, Mr. Garnet."
"That was the one crumpled rose leaf. I have been wondering why ever since. I tried to make her nice. Three of the critics liked her."
"And the modern reviewer is an intelligent young man. What is a 'creature,' Miss Derrick?"
"Pamela in your book is a creature," she replied unsatisfactorily, with the slightest tilt of the chin.
"My next heroine shall be a triumph," I said.
She should be a portrait, I resolved, from life.
Shortly after, the game came somehow to an end. I do not understand the intricacies of croquet. But Phyllis did something brilliant and remarkable with the balls, and we adjourned for tea, which had been made ready at the edge of the lawn while we played.
The sun was setting as I left to return to the farm, with the hen stored neatly in a basket in my hand. The air was deliciously cool and full of that strange quiet which follows soothingly on the skirts of a broiling midsummer afternoon. Far away—the sound seemed almost to come from another world—the tinkle of a sheep bell made itself heard, deepening the silence. Alone in a sky of the palest blue there twinkled a small bright star.
I addressed this star.
"She was certainly very nice to me," I said. "Very nice, indeed."
The star said nothing.
"On the other hand," I went on, "I don't like that naval man. He is a good chap, but he overdoes it."
The star winked sympathetically.
"He calls her Phyllis," I said.
"Charawk," said the hen satirically from her basket.
A LITTLE DINNER
"Edwin comes to-day," said Mrs. Ukridge.
"And the Derricks," said Ukridge, sawing at the bread in his energetic way. "Don't forget the Derricks, Millie."
"No, dear. Mrs. Beale is going to give us a very nice dinner. We talked it over yesterday."
"Who is Edwin?" I asked.
We were finishing breakfast on the second morning after my visit to the Derricks. I had related my adventures to the staff of the farm on my return, laying stress on the merits of our neighbors and their interest in our doings, and the hired retainer had been sent off next morning with a note from Mrs. Ukridge, inviting them to look over the farm and stay to dinner.
"Edwin?" said Ukridge. "Beast of a cat."
"O Stanley!" said Mrs. Ukridge plaintively. "He's not. He's such a dear, Mr. Garnet. A beautiful, pure-bred Persian. He has taken prizes."
"He's always taking something—generally food. That's why he didn't come down with us."
"A great, horrid beast of a dog bit him, Mr. Garnet." Mrs. Ukridge's eyes became round and shining. "And poor Edwin had to go to a cats' hospital."
"And I hope," said Ukridge, "the experience will do him good. Sneaked a dog's bone, Garnet, under his very nose, if you please. Naturally, the dog lodged a protest."
"I'm so afraid that he will be frightened of Bob. He will be very timid, and Bob's so exceedingly boisterous. Isn't he, Mr. Garnet?"
I owned that Bob's manner was not that of a Vere de Vere.
"That's all right," said Ukridge; "Bob won't hurt him, unless he tries to steal his bone. In that case we will have Edwin made into a rug."
"Stanley doesn't like Edwin," said Mrs. Ukridge plaintively.
* * * * *
Edwin arrived early in the afternoon, and was shut into the kitchen. He struck me as a handsome cat, but nervous. He had an excited eye.
The Derricks followed two hours later. Mr. Chase was not of the party.
"Tom had to go to London," explained the professor, "or he would have been delighted to come. It was a disappointment to the boy, for he wanted to see the farm."
"He must come some other time," said Ukridge. "We invite inspection. Look here," he broke off suddenly—we were nearing the fowl run now, Mrs. Ukridge walking in front with Phyllis Derrick—"were you ever at Bristol?"
"Never, sir," said the professor.
"Because I knew just such another fat little buffer there a few years ago. Gay old bird, he was. He—"
"This is the fowl run, professor," I broke in, with a moist, tingling feeling across my forehead and up my spine. I saw the professor stiffen as he walked, while his face deepened in color. Ukridge's breezy way of expressing himself is apt to electrify the stranger.