ONCE A WEEK
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE DAY'S PLAY THE HOLIDAY ROUND THE SUNNY SIDE ONCE ON A TIME NOT THAT IT MATTERS IF I MAY FIRST PLAYS SECOND PLAYS MR. PIM
ONCE A WEEK
A. A. MILNE
AUTHOR OF "THE DAY'S PLAY" AND "THE HOLIDAY ROUND"
METHUEN & CO LTD. 36 ESSEX STREET W.C. LONDON
First Published October 15th, 1914 Second Edition March ... 1917 Third Edition 1922
Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. An expanded table of contents, in addition to the one originally published, has been provided below:
THE HEIR WINTER SPORT A BAKER'S DOZEN A TRAGEDY IN LITTLE THE FINANCIER THE DOUBLE A BREATH OF LIFE "UNDER ENTIRELY NEW MANAGEMENT" A FAREWELL TOUR THE TRUTH ABOUT HOME RAILS THE KING'S SONS DISAPPOINTMENT AMONG THE ANIMALS A TRAGEDY OF THE SEA OLD FRIENDS GETTING MARRIED HOME AFFAIRS AN INSURANCE ACT BACHELOR RELICS LORDS TEMPORAL THE MISSING CARD SILVER LININGS THE ORDER OF THE BATH A TRUNK CALL OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES THE PARTING GUEST THE LANDSCAPE GARDENER THE SAME OLD STORY THE SPREADING WALNUT TREE DEFINITIONS A BILLIARD LESSON BURLESQUES THE SEASIDE NOVELETTE THE SECRET OF THE ARMY AEROPLANE THE HALO THEY GAVE THEMSELVES A DIDACTIC NOVEL MERELY PLAYERS ON THE BAT'S BACK UNCLE EDWARD THE RENASCENCE OF BRITAIN THE BIRTHDAY PRESENT ONE OF OUR SUFFERERS IN THE SWIM THE MEN WHO SUCCEED THE HEIR THE STATESMAN THE MAGNATE THE DOCTOR THE NEWSPAPER PROPRIETOR THE COLLECTOR THE ADVENTURER THE EXPLORER
WHO BUYS THE INK AND PAPER LAUGHS AND, IN FACT, DOES ALL THE REALLY DIFFICULT PART OF THE BUSINESS THIS BOOK IS GRATEFULLY DEDICATED IN MEMORY OF A WINTER'S MORNING IN SWITZERLAND
PAGE THE HEIR 1
WINTER SPORT 29
A BAKER'S DOZEN 61
GETTING MARRIED 127
HOME AFFAIRS 149
OTHER PEOPLE'S HOUSES 183
MERELY PLAYERS 251
THE MEN WHO SUCCEED 281
These sketches have previously appeared in Punch, to whose proprietors I am much indebted for permission to reprint.
I.—HE INTRODUCES HIMSELF
"In less refined circles than ours," I said to Myra, "your behaviour would be described as swank. Really, to judge from the airs you put on, you might be the child's mother."
"He's jealous because he's not an aunt himself. Isn't he, ducksey darling?"
"I do wish you wouldn't keep dragging the baby into the conversation; we can make it go quite well as a duologue. As to being jealous—why, it's absurd. True, I'm not an aunt, but in a very short time I shall be an uncle by marriage, which sounds to me much superior. That is," I added, "if you're still equal to it."
Myra blew me a kiss over the cradle.
"Another thing you've forgotten," I went on, "is that I'm down for a place as a godfather. Archie tells me that it isn't settled yet, but that there's a good deal of talk about it in the clubs. Who's the other going to be? Not Thomas, I suppose? That would be making the thing rather a farce."
"Hasn't Dahlia broken it to you?" said Myra anxiously.
"Simpson?" I asked, in an awed whisper.
Myra nodded. "And, of course, Thomas," she said.
"Heavens! Not three of us? What a jolly crowd we shall be. Thomas can play our best ball. We might——"
"But of course there are only going to be two godfathers," she said, and leant over the cradle again.
I held up my three end fingers. "Thomas," I said, pointing to the smallest, "me," I explained, pointing to the next, "and Simpson, the tall gentleman in glasses. One, two, three."
"Oh, baby," sighed Myra, "what a very slow uncle by marriage you're going to have!"
I stood and gazed at my three fingers for some time.
"I've got it," I said at last, and I pulled down the middle one. "The rumour in the clubs was unauthorized. I don't get a place after all."
"Don't say you mind," pleaded Myra. "You see, Dahlia thought that as you were practically one of the family already, an uncle-elect by marriage, and as she didn't want to choose between Thomas and Samuel——"
"Say no more. I was only afraid that she might have something against my moral character. Child," I went on, rising and addressing the unresponsive infant, "England has lost a godfather this day, but the world has gained a——what? I don't know. I want my tea."
Myra gave the baby a last kiss and got up.
"Can I trust him with you while I go and see about Dahlia?"
"I'm not sure. It depends how I feel. I may change him with some poor baby in the village. Run away, aunt, and leave us men to ourselves. We have several matters to discuss."
When the child and I were alone together, I knelt by his cradle and surveyed his features earnestly. I wanted to see what it was he had to offer Myra which I could not give her. "This," I said to myself, "is the face which has come between her and me," for it was unfortunately true that I could no longer claim Myra's undivided attention. But the more I looked at him the more mysterious the whole thing became to me.
"Not a bad kid?" said a voice behind me.
I turned and saw Archie.
"Yours, I believe," I said, and I waved him to the cradle.
Archie bent down and tickled the baby's chin, making appropriate noises the while—one of the things a father has to learn to do.
"Who do you think he's like?" he asked proudly.
"The late Mr. Gladstone," I said, after deep thought.
"Wrong. Hallo, here's Dahlia coming out. I hope, for your sake, that the baby's all right. If she finds he's caught measles or anything, you'll get into trouble."
By a stroke of bad luck the child began to cry as soon as he saw the ladies. Myra rushed up to him.
"Poor little darling," she said soothingly. "Did his uncle by marriage frighten him, then?"
"Don't listen to her, Dahlia," I said. "I haven't done anything to him. We were chatting together quite amicably until he suddenly caught sight of Myra and burst into tears."
"He's got a little pain," said Dahlia gently taking him up and patting him.
"I think the trouble is mental," suggested Archie. "He looks to me as if he had something on his conscience. Did he say anything to you about it when you were alone?"
"He didn't say much," I confessed, "but he seemed to be keeping something back. I think he wants a bit of a run, really."
"Poor little lamb," said Dahlia. "There, he's better now, thank you." She looked up at Archie and me. "I don't believe you two love him a bit."
Archie smiled at his wife and went over to the tea-table to pour out. I sat on the grass and tried to analyse my feelings to my nephew by marriage.
"As an acquaintance," I said, "he is charming; I know no one who is better company. If I cannot speak of his more solid qualities, it is only because I do not know him well enough. But to say whether I love him or not is difficult; I could tell you better after our first quarrel. However, there is one thing I must confess. I am rather jealous of him."
"You envy his life of idleness?"
"No, I envy him the amount of attention he gets from Myra. The love she wastes on him which might be better employed on me is a heartrending thing to witness. As her betrothed I should expect to occupy the premier place in her affections, but, really, I sometimes think that if the baby and I both fell into the sea she would jump in and save the baby first."
"Don't talk about his falling into the sea," said Dahlia, with a shudder; "I can't a-bear it."
"I think it will be all right," said Archie, "I was touching wood all the time."
"What a silly godfather he nearly had!" whispered Myra at the cradle. "It quite makes you smile, doesn't it, baby? Oh, Dahlia, he's just like Archie when he smiles!"
"Oh, yes, he's the living image of Archie," said Dahlia confidently.
I looked closely at Archie and then at the baby.
"I should always know them apart," I said at last. "That," and I pointed to the one at the tea-table, "is Archie, and this," and I pointed to the one in the cradle, "is the baby. But then I've such a wonderful memory for faces."
"Baby," said Myra, "I'm afraid you're going to know some very foolish people."
II.—HE MEETS HIS GODFATHERS
Thomas and Simpson arrived by the twelve-thirty train, and Myra and I drove down in the wagonette to meet them. Myra handled the ribbons ("handled the ribbons"—we must have that again) while I sat on the box-seat and pointed out any traction-engines and things in the road. I am very good at this.
"I suppose," I said, "there will be some sort of ceremony at the station? The station-master will read an address while his little daughter presents a bouquet of flowers. You don't often get two godfathers travelling by the same train. Look out," I said, as we swung round a corner, "there's an ant coming."
"What did you say? I'm so sorry, but I listen awfully badly when I'm driving."
"As soon as I hit upon anything really good I'll write it down. So far I have been throwing off the merest trifles. When we are married, Myra——"
"Go on; I love that."
"When we are married we shan't be able to afford horses, so we'll keep a couple of bicycles, and you'll be able to hear everything I say. How jolly for you."
"All right," said Myra quietly.
There was no formal ceremony on the platform, but I did not seem to feel the want of it when I saw Simpson stepping from the train with an enormous Teddy-bear under his arm.
"Hallo, dear old chap," he said, "here we are! You're looking at my bear. I quite forgot it until I'd strapped up my bags, so I had to bring it like this. It squeaks," he added, as if that explained it. "Listen," and the piercing roar of the bear resounded through the station.
"Very fine. Hallo, Thomas!"
"Hallo!" said Thomas, and went to look after his luggage.
"I hope he'll like it," Simpson went on. "Its legs move up and down." He put them into several positions, and then squeaked it again. "Jolly, isn't it?"
"Ripping," I agreed. "Who's it for?"
He looked at me in astonishment for a moment.
"My dear old chap, for the baby."
"Oh, I see. That's awfully nice of you. He'll love it." I wondered if Simpson had ever seen a month-old baby. "What's its name?"
"I've been calling it Duncan in the train, but, of course, he will want to choose his own name for it."
"Well, you must talk it over with him to-night after the ladies have gone to bed. How about your luggage? We mustn't keep Myra waiting."
"Hallo, Thomas!" said Myra, as we came out. "Hallo, Samuel! Hooray!"
"Hallo, Myra!" said Thomas. "All right?"
"Myra, this is Duncan," said Simpson, and the shrill roar of the bear rang out once more.
Myra, her mouth firm, but smiles in her eyes, looked down lovingly at him. Sometimes I think that she would like to be Simpson's mother. Perhaps, when we are married, we might adopt him.
"For baby?" she said, stroking it with her whip. "But he won't be allowed to take it into church with him, you know. No, Thomas, I won't have the luggage next to me; I want some one to talk to. You come."
Inside the wagonette Simpson squeaked his bear at intervals, while I tried to prepare him for his coming introduction to his godson. Having known the baby for nearly a week, and being to some extent in Myra's confidence, I felt quite the family man beside Simpson.
"You must try not to be disappointed with his looks," I said. "Anyway, don't let Dahlia think you are. And if you want to do the right thing say that he's just like Archie. Archie doesn't mind this for some reason."
"Is he tall for his age?"
"Samuel, pull yourself together. He isn't tall at all. If he is anything he is long, but how long only those can say who have seen him in his bath. You do realize that he is only a month old?"
"My dear old boy, of course. One can't expect much from him. I suppose he isn't even toddling about yet?"
"No—no. Not actually toddling."
"Well, we can teach him later on. And I'm going to have a lot of fun with him. I shall show him my watch—babies always love that."
There was a sudden laugh from the front, which changed just a little too late into a cough. The fact is I had bet Myra a new golf-ball that Simpson would show the baby his watch within two minutes of meeting him. Of course, it wasn't a certainty yet, but I thought there would be no harm in mentioning the make of ball I preferred. So I changed the conversation subtly to golf.
Amidst loud roars from the bear we drove up to the house and were greeted by Archie.
"Hallo, Thomas! how are you? Hallo, Simpson! Good heavens! I know that face. Introduce me, Samuel."
"This is Duncan. I brought him down for your boy to play with."
"Duncan, of course. The boy will love it. He's tired of me already. He proposes to meet his godfathers at four p.m. precisely. So you'll have nearly three hours to think of something genial to say to him."
We spent the last of the three hours playing tennis, and at four p.m. precisely the introduction took place. By great good luck Duncan was absent; Simpson would have wasted his whole two minutes in making it squeak.
"Baby," said Dahlia, "this is your Uncle Thomas."
"Hallo!" said Thomas, gently kissing the baby's hand. "Good old boy," and he felt for his pipe.
"Baby," said Dahlia, "this is your Uncle Samuel."
As he leant over the child I whipped out my watch and murmured, "Go!" 4 hrs. 1 min. 25 sec. I wished Myra had not taken my "two minutes" so literally, but I felt that the golf-ball was safe.
Simpson looked at the baby as if fascinated, and the baby stared back at him. It was a new experience for both of them.
"He's just like Archie," he said at last, remembering my advice. "Only smaller," he added.
4 hrs. 2 min. 7 sec.
"I can see you, baby," he said. "Goo-goo."
Myra came and rested her chin on my shoulder. Silently I pointed to the finishing place on my watch, and she gave a little gurgle of excitement. There was only one minute left.
"I wonder what you're thinking about," said Simpson to the baby. "Is it my glasses you want to play with?"
"Help!" I murmured. "This will never do."
"He just looks and looks. Ah! but his Uncle Samuel knows what baby wants to see." (I squeezed Myra's arm. 4 hrs. 3 mins. 10 secs. There was just time.) "I wonder if it's anything in his uncle's waistcoat?"
"No!" whispered Myra to me in agony. "Certainly not."
"He shall see it if he wants to," said Simpson soothingly, and put his hand to his waistcoat pocket. I smiled triumphantly at Myra. He had five seconds to get the watch out—plenty of time.
"Bother!" said Simpson. "I left it upstairs."
III.—HE CHOOSES A NAME
The afternoon being wet we gathered round the billiard-room fire and went into committee.
"The question before the House," said Archie, "is what shall the baby be called, and why. Dahlia and I have practically decided on his names, but it would amuse us to hear your inferior suggestions and point out how ridiculous they are."
Godfather Simpson looked across in amazement at Godfather Thomas.
"Really, you are taking a good deal upon yourself, Archie," he said coldly. "It is entirely a matter for my colleague and myself to decide whether the ground is fit for—to decide, I should say, what the child is to be called. Unless this is quite understood we shall hand in our resignations."
"We've been giving a lot of thought to it," said Thomas, opening his eyes for a moment. "And our time is valuable." He arranged the cushions at his back and closed his eyes again.
"Well, as a matter of fact, the competition isn't quite closed," said Archie. "Entries can still be received."
"We haven't really decided at all," put in Dahlia gently. "It is so difficult."
"In that case," said Samuel, "Thomas and I will continue to act. It is my pleasant duty to inform you that we had a long consultation yesterday, and finally agreed to call him—er—Samuel Thomas."
"Thomas Samuel," said Thomas sleepily.
"How did you think of those names?" I asked. "It must have taken you a tremendous time."
"With a name like Samuel Thomas Mannering," went on Simpson ["Thomas Samuel Mannering," murmured Thomas], "your child might achieve almost anything. In private life you would probably call him Sam."
"Tom," said a tired voice.
"Or, more familiarly, Sammy."
"Tommy," came in a whisper from the sofa.
"What do you think of it?" asked Dahlia.
"I mustn't say," said Archie; "they're my guests. But I'll tell you privately some time."
There was silence for a little, and then a thought occurred to me.
"You know, Archie," I said, "limited as their ideas are, you're rather in their power. Because I was looking through the service in church on Sunday, and there comes a point when the clergyman says to the godfathers, 'Name this child.' Well, there you are, you know. They've got you. You may have fixed on Montmorency Plantagenet, but they've only to say 'Bert,' and the thing is done."
"You all forget," said Myra, coming over to sit on the arm of my chair, "that there's a godmother too. I shall forbid the Berts."
"Well, that makes it worse. You'll have Myra saying 'Montmorency Plantagenet,' and Samuel saying 'Samuel Thomas,' and Thomas saying 'Thomas Samuel.'"
"It will sound rather well," said Archie, singing it over to himself. "Thomas, you take the tenor part, of course: 'Thomas Samuel, Thomas Samuel, Thom-as Sam-u-el.' We must have a rehearsal."
For five minutes Myra, Thomas, and Simpson chanted in harmony, being assisted after the first minute by Archie, who took the alto part of "Solomon Joel." He explained that as this was what he and his wife really wanted the child christened ("Montmorency Plantagenet" being only an invention of the godmother's) it would probably be necessary for him to join in too.
"Stop!" cried Dahlia, when she could bear it no longer; "you'll wake baby."
There was an immediate hush.
"Samuel," said Archie in a whisper, "if you wake the baby I'll kill you."
The question of his name was still not quite settled, and once more we gave ourselves up to thought.
"Seeing that he's the very newest little Rabbit," said Myra, "I do think he might be called after some very great cricketer."
"That was the idea in christening him 'Samuel,'" said Archie.
"Gaukrodger Carkeek Butt Bajana Mannering," I suggested—"something like that?"
"Silly; I meant 'Charles,' after Fry."
"'Schofield,' after Haigh," murmured Thomas.
"'Warren,' after Bardsley, would be more appropriate to a Rabbit," said Simpson, beaming round at us. There was, however, no laughter. We had all just thought of it ourselves.
"The important thing in christening a future first-class cricketer," said Simpson, "is to get the initials right. What could be better than 'W. G.' as a nickname for Grace? But if 'W. G.'s' initials had been 'Z. Z.,' where would you have been?"
"Here," said Archie.
The shock of this reply so upset Simpson that his glasses fell off. He picked them out of the fender and resumed his theme.
"Now, if the baby were christened 'Samuel Thomas' his initials would be 'S. T.,' which are perfect. And the same as Coleridge's."
"Is that Coleridge the wicket-keeper, or the fast bowler?"
Simpson opened his mouth to explain, and then, just in time, decided not to.
"I forgot to say," said Archie, "that anyhow he's going to be called Blair, after his mamma."
"If his name's Blair Mannering," I said at once, "he'll have to write a book. You can't waste a name like that. The Crimson Spot, by Blair Mannering. Mr. Blair Mannering, the well-known author of The Gash. Our new serial, The Stain on the Bath Mat, has been specially written for us by Mr. and Mrs. Blair Mannering. It's simply asking for it."
"Don't talk about his wife yet, please," smiled Dahlia. "Let me have him a little while."
"Well, he can be a writer and a cricketer. Why not? There are others. I need only mention my friend, S. Simpson."
"But the darling still wants another name," said Myra. "Let's call him John to-day, and William to-morrow, and Henry the next day, and so on until we find out what suits him best."
"Let's all go upstairs now and call him Samuel," said Samuel.
"Thomas," said Thomas.
We looked at Dahlia. She got up and moved to the door. In single file we followed her on tip-toe to the nursery. The baby was fast asleep.
"Thomas," we all said in a whisper, "Thomas, Thomas."
There was no reply.
"I think," said Dahlia, "we'll call him Peter."
IV.—HE IS CHRISTENED
On the morning of the christening, as I was on my way to the bathroom, I met Simpson coming out of it. There are people who have never seen Simpson in his dressing-gown; people also who have never waited for the sun to rise in glory above the snow-capped peaks of the Alps; who have never stood on Waterloo Bridge and watched St. Paul's come through the mist of an October morning. Well, well, one cannot see everything.
"Hallo, old chap!" he said. "I was just coming to talk to you. I want your advice."
"A glass of hot water the last thing at night," I said, "no sugar or milk, a Turkish bath once a week and plenty of exercise. You'll get it down in no time."
"Don't be an ass. I mean about the christening. I've been to a wedding, of course, but that isn't quite the same thing."
"A moment, while I turn on the tap." I turned it on and came back to him. "Now then, I'm at your service."
"Well, what's the—er—usual costume for a christening?"
"Leave that to the mother," I said. "She'll see that the baby's dressed properly."
"I mean for a godfather."
Dahlia has conveniently placed a sofa outside the bathroom door. I dropped into it and surveyed the dressing-gown thoughtfully.
"Go like that," I said at last.
"What I want to know is whether it's a top-hat affair or not?"
"Have you brought a top-hat?"
"Then you must certainly—— I say! Come out of it, Myra!"
I jumped up from the sofa, but it was too late. She had stolen my bath.
"Well, of all the cheek——"
The door opened and Myra's head appeared round the corner.
"Hush! you'll wake the baby," she said. "Oh, Samuel, what a dream! Why haven't I seen it before?"
"You have, Myra. I've often dressed up in it."
"Then I suppose it looks different with a sponge. Because——"
"Really!" I said as I took hold of Simpson and led him firmly away; "if the baby knew that you carried on like this of a morning he'd be shocked."
Thomas is always late for breakfast. Simpson on this occasion was delayed by his elaborate toilet. They came in last together, by opposite doors, and stood staring at each other. Simpson wore a frock-coat, dashing double-breasted waistcoat, perfectly creased trousers, and a magnificent cravat; Thomas had on flannels and an old blazer.
"By Jove!" said Archie, seeing Simpson first, "you are a——" and then he caught sight of Thomas. "Hul-lo!" His eyes went from one to the other, and at last settled on the toast. He went on with his breakfast. "The two noble godfathers," he murmured.
Meanwhile the two godfathers continued to gaze at each other as if fascinated. At last Simpson spoke.
"We can't both be right," he said slowly to himself.
Thomas woke up.
"Is it the christening to-day? I quite forgot."
"It is, Thomas. The boat-race is to-morrow."
"Well, I can change afterwards. You don't expect me to wear anything like that?" he said, pointing to Simpson.
"Don't change," said Archie. "Both go as you are. Mick and Mack, the Comedy Duo. Simpson does the talking while Thomas falls over the pews."
Simpson collected his breakfast and sat down next to Myra.
"Am I all right?" he asked her doubtfully.
"Your tie's up at the back of your neck," I said.
"Because if Dahlia would prefer it," he went on, ignoring me, "I could easily wear a plain dark tweed."
"You're beautiful, Samuel," said Myra. "I hope you'll look as nice at my wedding."
"You don't think I shall be mistaken for the father?" he asked anxiously.
"By Peter? Well, that is just possible. Perhaps if——"
"I think you're right," said Simpson, and after breakfast he changed into the plain dark tweed.
As the hour approached we began to collect in the hall, Simpson reading the service to himself for the twentieth time.
"Do we have to say anything?" asked Thomas, as he lit his third pipe.
Simpson looked at him in horror.
"Say anything? Of course we do! Haven't you studied it? Here, you'll just have time to read it through."
"Too late now. Better leave it to the inspiration of the moment," I suggested. "Does anybody know if there's a collection, because if so I shall have to go and get some money."
"There will be a collection for the baby afterwards," said Archie. "I hope you've all been saving up."
"Here he comes!" said Simpson, and Peter Blair Mannering came down the stairs with Dahlia and Myra.
"Good morning, everybody," said Dahlia.
"Good morning. Say 'Good morning,' baby."
"He's rather nervous," said Myra. "He says he's never been christened before, and what's it like?"
"I expect he'll be all right with two such handsome godfathers," said Dahlia.
"Isn't Mr. Simpson looking well?" said Myra in a society voice. "And do you know, dear, that's the third suit I've seen him in to-day."
"Well, are we all ready?"
"You're quite sure about his name?" said Archie to his wife. "This is your last chance, you know. Say the word to Thomas before it's too late."
"I think Peter is rather silly," I said.
"Why Blair?" said Myra. "I ask you."
Dahlia smiled sweetly at us and led the way with P. B. Mannering to the car. We followed ... and Simpson on the seat next the driver read the service to himself for the last time.
. . . . .
"I feel very proud," said Archie as we came out of the church. "I'm not only a father, but my son has a name. And now I needn't call him 'er' any more."
"He was a good boy, wasn't he?" said Myra.
"Thomas, say at once that your godson was a good boy."
But Thomas was quiet. He looked years older.
"I've never read the service before," he said. "I didn't quite know what we were in for. It seems that Simpson and I have undertaken a heavy responsibility; we are practically answerable for the child's education. We are supposed to examine him every few years and find out if he is being taught properly."
"You can bowl to him later on if you like."
"No, no. It means more than that." He turned to Dahlia. "I think," he said, "Simpson and I will walk home. We must begin at once to discuss the lines on which we shall educate our child."
V.—HE SEES LIFE
There was no one in sight. If 'twere done well, 'twere well done quickly. I gripped the perambulator, took a last look round, and then suddenly rushed it across the drive and down a side path, not stopping until we were well concealed from the house. Panting, I dropped into a seat, having knocked several seconds off the quarter-mile record for babies under one.
"Hallo!" said Myra.
"Dash it, are there people everywhere to-day? I can't get a moment to myself. 'O solitude, where——'"
"What are you going to do with baby?"
"Peter and I are going for a walk." My eyes rested on her for more than a moment. She was looking at me over an armful of flowers ... and—well—"You can come too if you like," I said.
"I've got an awful lot to do," she smiled doubtfully.
"Oh, if you'd rather count the washing."
She sat down next to me.
"I don't know. We meant to have left a note for her, but we came away in rather a hurry. 'Back at twelve. Peter.'"
"'I am quite happy. Pursuit is useless,'" suggested Myra. "Poor Dahlia, she'll be frightened when she sees the perambulator gone."
"My dear, what could happen to it? Is this Russia?"
"Oh, what happens to perambulators in Russia?" asked Myra eagerly.
"They spell them differently," I said, after a little thought. "Anyhow, Dahlia's all right."
"Well, I'll just take these flowers in and then I'll come back. If you and Peter will have me?"
"I think so," I said.
Myra went in and left me to my reflections, which were mainly that Peter had the prettiest aunt in England, and that the world was very good. But my pleased and fatuous smile over these thoughts was disturbed by her announcement on her return.
"Dahlia says," she began, "that we may have Peter for an hour, but he must come in at once if he cries."
I got up in disgust.
"You've spoilt my morning," I said.
"I had a little secret from Dahlia, or rather Peter and I had a little secret together; at least, you and I and Peter had a secret. Anyhow, it was a secret. And I was feeling very wicked and happy—Peter and I both were; and we were going to let you feel wicked too. And now Dahlia knows all about the desperate deed we were planning, and, to make it worse, all she says is, 'Certainly! By all means! Only don't get his feet wet.' Peter," I said, as I bent over the sleeping innocent, "we are betrayed."
"Miss Mannering will now relate her experiences," said Myra. "I went into the hall to put down the flowers, and just as I was coming out I saw Dahlia in the corner with a book. And she said, 'Tell your young man——'"
"How vulgar!" I interrupted.
"'Do be careful with my baby.' And I said in great surprise, 'What baby?' And she said, 'He was very kindly running him up and down the drive just now. Peter loves it, but don't let them go on too long or there may be an accident.' And then she gave a few more instructions, and—here we are."
"Peter," I said to the somnolent one, "you can't deceive a woman. Also men are pigs. Wake up, and we will apologize to your aunt for doubting her. Sorry, Myra."
Myra pinned a flower in my coat and forgave me, and we walked off together with the perambulator.
"Peter is seeing a bit of life this morning," I said. "What shall we show him now?"
"Thomas and Samuel are playing golf," said Myra casually.
I looked at her doubtfully.
"Is that quite suitable?"
"I think if we didn't let him stay too long it would be all right. Dahlia wouldn't like him to be overexcited."
"Well, he can't be introduced to the game too early. Come on, Peter." And we pushed into more open country.
The 9-hole course which Simpson planned a year ago is not yet used for the Open Championship, though it is certainly better than it was last summer. But it is short and narrow and dog-legged, and, particularly when Simpson is playing on it, dangerous.
"We are now in the zone of fire," I said. "Samuel's repainted ninepenny may whiz past us at any moment. Perhaps I had better go first." I tied my handkerchief to Myra's sunshade and led the way with the white flag.
A ball came over the barn and rolled towards us, just reaching one of the wheels. I gave a yell.
"Hallo!" bellowed Simpson from behind the barn.
"You're firing on the ambulance," I shouted.
He hurried up, followed leisurely by Thomas.
"I say," he said excitedly, "have I hurt him?"
"You have not even waked him. He has the special gift of—was it Wellington or Napoleon?—that of being able to sleep through the heaviest battle."
"Hallo!" said Thomas. "Good old boy! What's he been learning to-day?" he added, with godfatherly interest.
"We're showing him life to-day. He has come to see Simpson play golf."
"Doesn't he ever sit up?" asked Simpson, looking at him with interest. "I don't see how he's going to see anything if he's always on his back. Unless it were something in the air."
"Don't you ever get the ball in the air?" said Myra innocently.
"What will his Uncle Samuel show him if he does sit up?" I asked. "Let's decide first if it's going to be anything worth watching. Which hole are you for? The third?"
"The eighth. My last shot had a bit of a slice."
"A slice! It had about the whole joint. I doubt," I said to Myra, "if we shall do much good here; let's push on."
But Myra had put down the hood and taken some of the clothes off Peter. Peter stirred slightly. He seemed to know that something was going on. Then suddenly he woke up, just in time to see Simpson miss the ball completely. Instantly he gave a cry.
"Now you've done it," said Myra. "He's got to go in. And I'm afraid he'll go away with quite a wrong idea of the game."
But I was not thinking of the baby. Although I am to be his uncle by marriage I had forgotten him.
"If that's about Simpson's form to-day," I said to Myra, "you and I could still take them on and beat them."
Myra looked up eagerly.
"What about Peter?" she asked; but she didn't ask it very firmly.
"We promised Dahlia to take him in directly he cried," I said. "She'd be very upset if she thought she couldn't trust us. And we've got to go in for our clubs, anyway," I added.
Peter was sleeping peacefully again, but a promise is a promise. After all, we had done a good deal for his education that morning. We had shown him human nature at work, and the position of golf in the universe.
"We'll meet you on the first tee," said Myra to Thomas.
"It's sad to think that to-morrow we shall be in London," said Simpson, with a sigh.
"Rotten," agreed Thomas, and took another peach.
There was a moment's silence.
"We shall miss you," I said, after careful thought. I waited in vain for Dahlia to say something, and then added, "You must both come again next year."
"Thank you very much."
"Not at all." I hate these awkward pauses. If my host or hostess doesn't do anything to smooth them over, I always dash in. "It's been delightful to have you," I went on. "Are you sure you can't stay till Wednesday?"
"I'm so sorry," said Dahlia, "but you took me by surprise. I had simply no idea. Are you really going?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Are you really staying?" said Archie to me. "Help!"
"What about Peter?" asked Myra. "Isn't he too young to be taken from his godfathers?"
"We've been talking that over," said Simpson, "and I think it will be all right. We've mapped his future out very carefully and we shall unfold it to you when the coffee comes."
"Thomas is doing it with peach-stones," I said. "Have another, and make him a sailor, Thomas," and I passed the plate.
"Sailor indeed," said Dahlia. "He's going to be a soldier."
"It's too late. Thomas has begun another one. Well, he'll have to swallow the stone."
"A trifle hard on the Admiralty," said Archie. "It loses both Thomas and Peter at one gulp. My country, what of thee?"
However, when Thomas had peeled the peach, I cleverly solved the difficulty by taking it on to my plate while he was looking round for the sugar.
"No, no sugar, thanks," I said, and waved it away.
With the coffee and cigars Simpson unfolded his scheme of education for Peter.
"In the first place," he said, "it is important that even as a child he should always be addressed in rational English and not in that ridiculous baby-talk so common with young mothers."
"Oh dear," said Dahlia.
"My good Samuel," I broke in, "this comes well from you. Why, only yesterday I heard you talking to him. I think you called him his nunkey's ickle petsy wetsy lambkin."
"You misunderstood me," said Simpson quickly. "I was talking to you."
"Oh!" I said, rather taken aback. "Well—well, I'm not." I lit a cigar. "And I shall be annoyed if you call me so again."
"At the age of four," Simpson went on, "he shall receive his first lesson in cricket. Thomas will bowl to him——"
"I suppose that means that Thomas will have to be asked down here again," said Archie. "Bother! Still, it's not for four years."
"Thomas will bowl to him, Archie will keep wicket, and I shall field."
"And where do I come in?" I asked.
"You come in after Peter. Unless you would rather have your lesson first."
"That's the second time I've been sat on," I said to Myra, "Why is Simpson so unkind to me to-night?"
"I suppose he's jealous because you're staying on another week."
"Probably; still, I don't like it. Could you turn your back on him, do you think, to indicate our heavy displeasure?"
Myra moved her chair round and rested her elbow on the table.
"Go on, Samuel," said Dahlia. "You're lovely to-night. I suppose these are Thomas's ideas as well as your own?"
"His signature is duly appended to them."
"I didn't read 'em all," said Thomas.
"That's very rash of you," said Archie. "You don't know what you mightn't let yourself in for. You may have promised to pay the child threepence a week pocket-money."
"No, there's nothing like that," said Simpson, to Archie's evident disappointment. "Well, then, at the age of ten he goes to a preparatory school."
"Has he learnt to read yet?" asked Dahlia. "I didn't hear anything about it."
"He can read at six. I forgot to say that I am giving him a book which I shall expect him to read aloud to Thomas and me on his sixth birthday."
"Thomas has got another invitation," said Archie. "Dash it!"
"At fourteen he goes to a public school. The final decision as to which public school he goes to will be left to you, but, of course, we shall expect to be consulted on the subject."
"I'll write and tell you what we decide on," said Archie hastily; "there'll be no need for you to come down and be told aloud."
"So far we have not arranged anything for him beyond the age of fourteen. I now propose to read out a few general rules about his upbringing which we must insist on being observed."
"The great question whether Simpson is kicked out of the house to-night, or leaves unobtrusively by the milk train to-morrow morning, is about to be settled," I murmured.
"'RULE ONE.—He must be brought up to be ambidextrous.' It will be very useful," explained Simpson, "when he fields cover for England."
"Or when he wants to shake hands with two people at once," said Archie.
"'RULE TWO.—He must be taught from the first to speak French and German fluently.' He'll thank you for that later on when he goes abroad."
"Or when he goes to the National Liberal Club," said Archie.
"'RULE THREE.—He should be surrounded as far as possible with beautiful things.' Beautiful toys, beautiful wall-paper, beautiful scenery——"
"Beautiful godfathers?" I asked doubtfully.
Simpson ignored me and went on hurriedly with the rest of his rules.
"Well," said Archie, at the end of them, "they're all fairly futile, but if you like to write them out neatly and frame them in gold I don't mind hanging them up in the bathroom. Has anybody else got anything fatuous to say before the ladies leave us?"
I filled my glass.
"I've really got a lot to say," I began, "because I consider that I've been rather left out of things. If you come to think of it, I'm the only person here who isn't anything important, all the rest of you being godfathers, or godmothers, or mothers, or fathers, or something. However, I won't dwell on that now. But there's one thing I must say, and here it is." I raised my glass. "Peter Blair Mannering, and may he grow up to be a better man than any of us!"
Upstairs, in happy innocence of the tremendous task in front of him, the child slept. Poor baby!
We drank solemnly, but without much hope.
"I had better say at once," I announced as I turned over the wine list, "that I have come out here to enjoy myself, and enjoy myself I shall. Myra, what shall we drink?"
"You had three weeks' honeymoon in October," complained Thomas, "and you're taking another three weeks now. Don't you ever do any work?"
Myra and I smiled at each other. Coming from Thomas, who spends his busy day leaning up against the wireless installation at the Admiralty, the remark amused us.
"We'll have champagne," said Myra, "because it's our opening night. Archie, after you with the head-waiter."
It was due to Dahlia, really, that the Rabbits were hibernating at the Hotel des Angeliques, Switzerland (central-heated throughout); for she had been ordered abroad, after an illness, to pull herself together a little, and her doctor had agreed with Archie that she might as well do it at a place where her husband could skate. On the point that Peter should come and skate too, however, Archie was firm. While admitting that he loved his infant son, he reminded Dahlia that she couldn't possibly get through Calais and Pontarlier without declaring Peter, and that the duty on this class of goods was remarkably heavy. Peter, therefore, was left behind. He had an army of nurses to look after him, and a stenographer to take down his more important remarks. With a daily bulletin and a record of his table-talk promised her, Dahlia was prepared to be content.
As for Myra and me, we might have hesitated to take another holiday so soon, had it not been for a letter I received one morning at breakfast.
"Simpson is going." I said. "He has purchased a pair of skis."
"That does it," said Myra decisively. And, gurgling happily to herself, she went out and bought a camera.
For Thomas I can find no excuses. At a moment of crisis he left his country's Navy in jeopardy and, the Admiralty yacht being otherwise engaged, booked a first return from Cook's. And so it was that at four o'clock one day we arrived together at the Hotel des Angeliques, and some three hours later were settling down comfortably to dinner.
"I've had a busy time," said Archie. "I've hired a small bob, a luge and a pair of skis for myself, a pair of snow-shoes and some skates for Dahlia, a—a tricycle horse for Simpson, and I don't know what else. All in French."
"What is the French for a pair of snow-shoes?" asked Myra.
"I pointed to them in French. The undersized Robert I got at a bargain. The man who hired it last week broke his leg before his fortnight was up, and so there was a reduction of several centimes."
"I've been busy too," I said. "I've been watching Myra unpack, and telling her where not to put my things."
"I packed jolly well—except for the accident."
"An accident to the boot-oil," I explained. "If I get down to my last three shirts you will notice it."
We stopped eating for a moment in order to drink Dahlia's health. It was Dahlia's health which had sent us there.
"Who's your friend, Samuel?" said Archie, as Simpson caught somebody's eye at another table and nodded.
"A fellow I met in the lift," said Simpson casually.
"Samuel, beware of elevator acquaintances," said Myra in her most solemn manner.
"He's rather a good chap. He was at Peterhouse with a friend of mine. He was telling me quite a good story about a 'wine' my friend gave there once, when——"
"Did you tell him about your 'ginger-beers' at Giggleswick?" I interrupted.
"My dear old chap, he's rather a man to be in with. He knows the President."
"I thought nobody knew the President of the Swiss Republic," said Myra. "Like the Man in the Iron Mask."
"Not that President, Myra. The President of the Angeliques Sports Club."
"Never heard of it," we all said.
Simpson polished his glasses and prepared delightedly to give an explanation.
"The Sports Club runs everything here," he began. "It gives you prizes for fancy costumes and skating and so on."
"Introduce me to the President at once," cooed Myra, patting her hair and smoothing down her frock.
"Even if you were the Treasurer's brother," said Archie, "you wouldn't get a prize for skating, Simpson."
"You've never seen him do a rocking seventeen, sideways."
Simpson looked at us pityingly.
"There's a lot more in it than that," he said. "The President will introduce you to anybody. One might see—er—somebody one rather liked the look of, and—er—— Well, I mean in an hotel one wants to enter into the hotel life and—er—meet other people."
"Who is she?" said Myra.
"Anybody you want to marry must be submitted to Myra for approval first," I said. "We've told you so several times."
Simpson hastily disclaimed any intention of marrying anybody, and helped himself lavishly to champagne.
It so happened that I was the first of our party to meet the President, an honour which, perhaps, I hardly deserved. While Samuel was seeking tortuous introductions to him through friends of Peterhouse friends of his, the President and I fell into each other's arms in the most natural way.
It occurred like this. There was a dance after dinner; and Myra, not satisfied with my appearance, sent me upstairs to put some gloves on. (It is one of the penalties of marriage that one is always being sent upstairs.) With my hands properly shod I returned to the ball-room, and stood for a moment in a corner while I looked about for her. Suddenly I heard a voice at my side.
"Do you want a partner?" it said.
I turned, and knew that I was face to face with the President.
"Well——" I began.
"You are a new-comer, aren't you? I expect you don't know many people. If there is anybody you would like to dance with——"
I looked round the room. It was too good a chance to miss.
"I wonder," I said. "That girl over there—in the pink frock—just putting up her fan——"
He almost embraced me.
"I congratulate you on your taste," he said. "Excellent! Come with me."
He went over to the girl in the pink dress, I at his heels.
"Er—may I introduce?" he said. "Mr.—er—er—yes, this is Miss—er—yes. H'r'm." Evidently he didn't know her name.
"Thank you," I said to him. He nodded and left us. I turned to the girl in the pink frock. She was very pretty.
"May I have this dance?" I asked. "I've got my gloves on," I added.
She looked at me gravely, trying hard not to smile.
"You may," said Myra.
II.—THE OPENING RUN
With a great effort Simpson strapped his foot securely into a ski and turned doubtfully to Thomas.
"Thomas," he said, "how do you know which foot is which?"
"It depends whose," said Thomas. He was busy tying a large rucksack of lunch on to himself, and was in no mood for Samuel's ball-room chatter.
"You've got one ski on one foot," I said. "Then the other ski goes on the foot you've got over. I should have thought you would have seen that."
"But I may have put the first one on wrong."
"You ought to know, after all these years, that you are certain to have done so," I said severely. Having had my own hired skis fixed on by the concierge I felt rather superior. Simpson, having bought his in London, was regarded darkly by that gentleman, and left to his own devices.
"Are we all ready?" asked Myra, who had kept us waiting for twenty minutes. "Archie, what about Dahlia?"
"Dahlia will join us at lunch. She is expecting a letter from Peter by the twelve o'clock post and refuses to start without it. Also she doesn't think she is up to ski-ing just yet. Also she wants to have a heart-to-heart talk with the girl in red, and break it to her that Thomas is engaged to several people in London already."
"Come on," growled Thomas, and he led the way up the hill. We followed him in single file.
It was a day of colour, straight from heaven. On either side the dazzling whiteness of the snow; above, the deep blue of the sky; in front of me the glorious apricot of Simpson's winter suiting. London seemed a hundred years away. It was impossible to work up the least interest in the Home Rule Bill, the Billiard Tournament, or the state of St. Paul's Cathedral.
"I feel extremely picturesque," said Archie. "If only we had a wolf or two after us, the illusion would be complete. The Boy Trappers, or Half-Hours among the Rocky Mountains."
"It is a pleasant thought, Archie," I said, "that in any wolf trouble the bachelors of the party would have to sacrifice themselves for us. Myra dear, the loss of Samuel in such circumstances would draw us very close together. There might be a loss of Thomas too, perhaps—for if there was not enough of Simpson to go round, if there was a hungry wolf left over, would Thomas hesitate?"
"No," said Thomas, "I should run like a hare."
Simpson said nothing. His face I could not see; but his back looked exactly like the back of a man who was trying to look as if he had been brought up on skis from a baby and was now taking a small party of enthusiastic novices out for their first lesson.
"What an awful shock it would be," I said, "if we found that Samuel really did know something about it after all; and, while we were tumbling about anyhow, he sailed gracefully down the steepest slopes. I should go straight back to Cricklewood."
"My dear chap, I've read a lot about it."
"Then we're quite safe."
"With all his faults," said Archie, "and they are many—Samuel is a gentleman. He would never take an unfair advantage of us. Hallo, here we are!"
We left the road and made our way across the snow to a little wooden hut which Archie had noticed the day before. Here we were to meet Dahlia for lunch; and here, accordingly, we left the rucksack and such garments as the heat of the sun suggested. Then, at the top of a long snow-slope, steep at first, more gentle later, we stood and wondered.
"Who's going first?" said Archie.
"What do you do?" asked Myra.
"You don't. It does it for you."
"But how do you stop?"
"Don't bother about that, dear," I said. "That will be arranged for you all right. Take two steps to the brink of the hill and pick yourself up at the bottom. Now then, Simpson! Be a man. The lady waits, Samuel. The—— Hallo! Hi! Help!" I cried, as I began to move off slowly. It was too late to do anything about it. "Good-bye," I called. And then things moved more quickly....
Suddenly there came a moment when I realized that I wasn't keeping up with my feet....
I shouted to my skis to stop. It was no good. They went on....
I decided to stop without them....
The ensuing second went by too swiftly for me to understand rightly what happened. I fancy that, rising from my sitting position and travelling easily on my head, I caught my skis up again and passed them....
Then it was their turn. They overtook me....
But I was not to be beaten. Once more I obtained the lead. This time I took the inside berth, and kept it....
There seemed to be a lot more snow than I really wanted.... I struggled bravely with it....
And then the earthquake ceased, and suddenly I was in the outer air. My first ski-run, the most glorious run of modern times, was over.
"Ripping!" I shouted up the hill to them. "But there's rather a nasty bump at the bottom," I added kindly, as I set myself to the impossible business of getting up....
"Jove," said Archie, coming to rest a few yards off, "that's splendid!" He had fallen in a less striking way than myself, and he got to his feet without difficulty. "Why do you pose like that?" he asked, as he picked up his stick.
"I'm a fixture," I announced. "Myra," I said, as she turned a somersault and arrived beaming at my side, "I'm here for some time; you'll have to come out every morning with crumbs for me. In the afternoon you can bring a cheering book and read aloud to your husband. Sometimes I shall dictate little things to you. They will not be my best little things; for this position, with my feet so much higher than my head, is not the one in which inspiration comes to me most readily. The flow of blood to the brain impairs reflection. But no matter."
"Are you really stuck?" asked Myra in some anxiety. "I should hate to have a husband who lived by himself in the snow," she said thoughtfully.
"Let us look on the bright side," said Archie. "The snow will have melted by April, and he will then be able to return to you. Hallo, here's Thomas! Thomas will probably have some clever idea for restoring the family credit."
Thomas got up in a businesslike manner and climbed slowly back to us.
"Thomas," I said, "you see the position. Indeed," I added, "it is obvious. None of the people round me seems inclined—or, it may be, able—to help. There is a feeling that if Myra lives in the hotel alone while I remain here—possibly till April—people will talk. You know how ready they are. There is also the fact that I have only hired the skis for three weeks. Also—a minor point, but one that touches me rather—that I shall want my hair cut long before March is out. Thomas, imagine me to be a torpedo-destroyer on the Maplin Sands, and tell me what on earth to do."
"Take your skis off."
"Oh, brilliant!" said Myra.
"Take my skis off?" I cried. "Never! Is it not my duty to be the last to leave my skis? Can I abandon—— Hallo! is that Dahlia on the sky-line? Hooray, lunch! Archie, take my skis off, there's a good fellow. We mustn't keep Dahlia waiting."
III.—A TYPICAL MORNING
"You take lunch out to-day—no?" said Josef, the head-waiter, in his invariable formula.
Myra and I were alone at breakfast, the first down. I was just putting some honey on to my seventh roll, and was not really in the mood for light conversation with Josef about lunch. By the way, I must say I prefer the good old English breakfast. With eggs and bacon and porridge you do know when you want to stop; with rolls and honey you hardly notice what you are doing, and there seems no reason why you should not go on for ever. Indeed, once ... but you would never believe me.
"We take lunch out to-day, yes, Josef. Lunch for—let me see——"
"Six?" suggested Myra.
"What are we all going to do? Archie said something about skating. I'm off that."
"But whatever we do we must lunch, and it's much nicer outdoors. Six, Josef."
Josef nodded and retired. I took my eighth roll.
"Do let's get off quickly to-day," I said. "There's always so much chat in the morning before we start."
"I've just got one swift letter to write," said Myra, as she got up, "and then I shall be pawing the ground."
Half an hour later I was in the lounge, booted, capped, gloved, and putteed—the complete St. Bernard. The lounge seemed to be entirely full of hot air and entirely empty of anybody I knew. I asked for letters; and, getting none, went out and looked at the thermometer. To my surprise I discovered that there were thirty-seven degrees of frost. A little alarmed, I tapped the thing impatiently. "Come, come," I said, "this is not the time for persiflage." However, it insisted on remaining at five degrees below zero. What I should have done about it I cannot say, but at that moment I remembered that it was a Centigrade thermometer with the freezing point in the wrong place. Slightly disappointed that there were only five degrees of frost (Centigrade) I returned to the lounge.
"Here you are at last," said Archie impatiently. "What are we all going to do?"
"Where's Dahlia?" asked Myra. "Let's wait till she comes and then we can all talk at once."
"Here she is. Dahlia, for Heaven's sake come and tell us the arrangements for the day. Start with the idea fixed in your mind that Myra and I have ordered lunch for six."
Dahlia shepherded us to a quiet corner of the lounge and we all sat down.
"By the way," said Simpson, "are there any letters for me?"
"No; it's your turn to write," said Archie.
"But, my dear chap, there must be one, because——"
"But you never acknowledged the bed-socks," I pointed out. "She can't write till you—— I mean, it was rather forward of her to send them at all; and if you haven't even——"
"Well," said Dahlia, "what does anybody want to do?"
Thomas was the first to answer the question. A girl in red came in from the breakfast-room and sat down near us. She looked up in our direction and met Thomas's eye.
"Good morning," said Thomas, with a smile, and he left us and moved across to her.
"That's the girl he danced with all last night," whispered Myra. "I can't think what's come over him. Is this our reserved Thomas—Thomas the taciturn, whom we know and love so well? I don't like the way she does her hair."
"She's a Miss Aylwyn," said Simpson in a loud voice. "I had one dance with her myself."
"The world," said Archie, "is full of people with whom Samuel has had one dance."
"Well, that washes Thomas out, anyway. He'll spend the day teaching her something. What are the rest of us going to do?"
There was a moment's silence.
"Oh, Archie," said Dahlia, "did you get those nails put in my boots?"
I looked at Myra ... and sighed.
"Sorry, dear," he said. "I'll take them down now. The man will do them in twenty minutes." He walked over to the lift at the same moment that Thomas returned to us.
"I say," began Thomas, a little awkwardly, "if you're arranging what to do, don't bother about me. I rather thought of—er—taking it quietly this morning. I think I overdid it a bit yesterday."
"We warned you at the time about the fourth hard-boiled egg," I said.
"I meant the ski-ing. We thought of—I thought of having lunch in the hotel, but, of course, you can have my rucksack to carry yours in. Er—I'll go and put it in for you."
He disappeared rather sheepishly in the direction of the dining-room.
"Now, Samuel," said Myra gently.
"Now what, Myra?"
"It's your turn. If you have a headache, tell us her name."
"My dear Myra, I want to ski to-day. Where shall we go? Let's go to the old slopes and practise the Christiania Turn."
"What you want to practise is the ordinary Hampstead Straight," I said. "A medium performance of yours yesterday, Samuel."
"But, my dear old chap," he said eagerly, "I told you it was the fault of my skis. They would stick to the snow. Oh, I say," he added, "that reminds me. I must go and buy some wax for them."
He dashed off. I looked at Myra ... and sighed.
"The nail-man won't be long," said Archie to Dahlia, on his return. "I'm to call for them in a quarter of an hour."
"Can't you wear some other boots, Dahlia, or your bedroom slippers or something? It's half-past eleven. We really must get off soon."
"But we haven't settled where we're going yet."
"Then for 'eving's sake let's do it. Myra and I thought we might go up above the wood at the back and explore. We can always ski down. It might be rather exciting."
"Remember," said Dahlia, "I'm not so expert as you are."
"Of course," said Myra, "we're the Oberland mixed champions."
"You know," said Archie, "I was talking to the man who's doing Dahlia's boots and he said the snow would be bad for ski-ing to-day."
"If he talked in French, no doubt you misunderstood him," I said, a little annoyed. "He was probably asking you to buy a pair of skates."
"Talking about that," said Archie, "why shouldn't we skate this morning, and have lunch at the hotel, and then get the bob out this afternoon?"
"Here you are," said Thomas, coming up with a heavy rucksack. "Lunch for six, so you'll have an extra one."
"I'd forgotten about lunch," said Archie. "Look here, just talk it over with Dahlia while I go and see about my skates. I don't suppose Josef will mind if we do stay in to lunch after all. What about Simpson?"
I looked at Myra ... and sighed.
"What about him?" I said.
. . . . .
Half an hour later two exhausted people—one of them with lunch for six on his back—began the ascent to the wood, trailing their skis behind them.
"Another moment," said Myra, "and I should have screamed."
IV.—THOMAS, AND A TURN
Myra finished her orange, dried her hands daintily on my handkerchief, and spoke her mind.
"This is the third time," she said, "that Thomas has given us the slip. If he gets engaged to that girl in red I shall cry."
"There are," I said, idly throwing a crust at Simpson and missing him, "engagements and Swiss engagements—just as there are measles and German measles. It is well known that Swiss engagements don't count."
"We got engaged in Kent. A bit of luck."
"I have nothing against Miss Aylwyn——" I went on.
"Except the way she does her hair."
"—but she doesn't strike me as being the essential Rabbit. We cannot admit her to the—er—fold."
"The covey," suggested Myra.
"The warren. Anyhow, she—— Simpson, for goodness' sake stop fooling about with your bearded friend and tell us what you think of it all."
We were finishing lunch in the lee of a little chalet, high above the hotel, and Simpson had picked up an acquaintance with a goat, which he was apparently trying to conciliate with a piece of chocolate. The goat, however, seemed to want a piece of Simpson.
"My dear old chap, he won't go away. Here—shoo! shoo! I wish I knew what his name was."
"Ernest," said Myra.
"I can't think why you ever got into such a hirsute set, Simpson. He probably wants your compass. Give it to him and let him withdraw."
Ernest, having decided that Simpson was not worth knowing, withdrew, and we resumed our conversation.
"When we elderly married folk have retired," I went on, "and you gay young bachelors sit up over a last cigar to discuss your conquests, has not Thomas unbent to you, Samuel, and told you of his hopes and fears?"
"He told me last night he was afraid he was going bald, and he said he hoped he wasn't."
"That's a bad sign," said Myra. "What did you say?"
"I said I thought he was."
With some difficulty I got up from my seat in the snow and buckled on my skis.
"Come on, let's forget Thomas for a bit. Samuel is now going to show us the Christiania Turn."
Simpson, all eagerness, began to prepare himself.
"I said I would, didn't I? I was doing it quite well yesterday. This is a perfect little slope for it. You understand the theory of it, don't you?"
"We hope to after the exhibition."
"Well, the great thing is to lean the opposite way to the way you think you ought to lean. That's what's so difficult."
"You understand, Myra? Samuel will lean the opposite way to what he thinks he ought to lean. Tell Ernest."
"But suppose you think you ought to lean the proper way, the way they do in Christiania," said Myra, "and you lean the opposite way, then what happens?"
"That is what Samuel will probably show us," I said.
Simpson was now ready.
"I am going to turn to the left," he said. "Watch carefully. Of course, I may not bring it off the first time."
"I can't help thinking you will," said Myra.
"It depends what you call bringing it off," I said. "We have every hope of—I mean we don't think our money will be wasted. Have you got the opera-glasses and the peppermints and the programme, darling? Then you may begin, Samuel."
Simpson started down the slope a little unsteadily. For one moment I feared that there might be an accident before the real accident, but he recovered himself nobly and sped to the bottom. Then a cloud of snow shot up, and for quite a long time there was no Simpson.
"I knew he wouldn't disappoint us," gurgled Myra.
We slid down to him and helped him up.
"You see the idea," he said. "I'm afraid I spoilt it a little at that end, but——"
"My dear Samuel, you improved it out of all knowledge."
"But that actually is the Christiania Turn."
"Oh, why don't we live in Christiania?" exclaimed Myra to me. "Couldn't we possibly afford it?"
"It must be a happy town," I agreed. "How the old streets must ring and ring again with jovial laughter."
"Shall I do it once more?"
"Can you?" said Myra, clasping her hands eagerly.
"Wait here," said Samuel, "and I'll do it quite close to you."
Myra unstrapped her camera.
Half an hour later, with several excellent films of the scene of the catastrophe, we started for home. It was more than a little steep, but the run down was accomplished without any serious trouble. Simpson went first to discover any hidden ditches (and to his credit be it said that he invariably discovered them); Myra, in the position of safety in the middle, profited by Samuel's frequent object-lessons; while I, at the back, was ready to help Myra up, if need arose, or to repel any avalanche which descended on us from above. On the level snow at the bottom we became more companionable.
"We still haven't settled the great Thomas question," said Myra. "What about to-morrow?"
"Why bother about to-morrow? Carpe diem. Latin."
"But the great tailing expedition is for to-morrow. The horses are ordered; everything is prepared. Only one thing remains to settle. Shall we have with us a grumpy but Aylwynless Thomas, or shall we let him bring her and spoil the party?"
"She can't spoil the party. I'm here to enjoy myself, and all Thomas's fiancees can't stop me. Let's have Thomas happy, anyway."
"She's really quite a nice girl," said Simpson. "I danced with her once."
"Right-o, then. I'll tell Dahlia to invite her."
We hurried on to the hotel; but as we passed the rink the President stopped me for a chat. He wanted me to recite at a concert that evening. Basely deserted by Myra and Samuel, I told him that I did not recite; and I took the opportunity of adding that personally I didn't think anybody else ought to. I had just persuaded him to my point of view when I noticed Thomas cutting remarkable figures on the ice. He picked himself up and skated to the side.
"Hallo!" he said. "Had a good day?"
"Splendid. What have you been doing?"
"I say, about this tailing expedition to-morrow——"
"Er—yes, I was just going to talk about that."
"Well, it's all right. Myra is getting Dahlia to ask her to come with us."
"Good!" said Thomas, brightening up.
"You see, we shall only be seven, even with Miss Aylwyn, and——"
"Miss Aylwyn?" said Thomas in a hollow voice.
"Yes, isn't that the name of your friend in red?"
"Oh, that one. Oh, but that's quite—I mean," he went on hurriedly, "Miss Aylwyn is probably booked up for to-morrow. It's Miss Cardew who is so keen on tailing. That girl in green, you know."
For a moment I stared at him blankly. Then I left him and dashed after Myra.
V.—A TAILING PARTY
The procession prepared to start in the following order:—
(1) A brace of sinister-looking horses.
(2) Gaspard, the Last of the Bandits; or "Why cause a lot of talk by pushing your rich uncle over the cliff, when you can have him stabbed quietly for one franc fifty?" (If ever I were in any vendetta business I should pick Gaspard first.)
(3) A sleigh full of lunch.
(4) A few well-known ladies and gentlemen (being the cream of the Hotel des Angeliques) on luges; namely, reading from left to right (which is really the best method—unless you are translating Hebrew), Simpson, Archie, Dahlia, Myra, me, Miss Cardew, and Thomas.
While Gaspard was putting the finishing knots to the luges, I addressed a few remarks to Miss Cardew, fearing that she might be feeling a little lonely amongst us. I said that it was a lovely day, and did she think the snow would hold off till evening? Also had she ever done this sort of thing before? I forget what her answers were.
Thomas meanwhile was exchanging badinage on the hotel steps with Miss Aylwyn. There must be something peculiar in the Swiss air, for in England Thomas is quite a respectable man ... and a godfather.
"I suppose we have asked the right one," said Myra doubtfully.
"His young affections are divided. There was a third girl in pink with whom he breakfasted a lot this morning. It is the old tradition of the sea, you know. A sailor—I mean an Admiralty civilian has a wife at every wireless station."
"Take your seats, please," said Archie. "The horses are sick of waiting."
We sat down. Archie took Dahlia's feet on his lap, Myra took mine, Miss Cardew took Thomas's. Simpson, alone in front, nursed a guide-book.
"En avant!" cried Simpson in his best French-taught-in-twelve-lessons accent.
Gaspard muttered an oath to his animals. They pulled bravely. The rope snapped—and they trotted gaily down the hill with Gaspard.
We hurried after them with the luges....
"It's a good joke," said Archie, after this had happened three times, "but, personally, I weary of it. Miss Cardew, I'm afraid we've brought you out under false pretences. Thomas didn't explain the thing to you adequately. He gave you to understand that there was more in it than this."
Gaspard, who seemed full of rope, produced a fourth piece and tied a knot that made even Simpson envious.
"Now, Samuel," I begged, "do keep the line taut this time. Why do you suppose we put your apricot suit right in the front? Is it, do you suppose, for the sunset effects at eleven o'clock in the morning, or is it that you may look after the rope properly?"
"I'm awfully sorry, Miss Cardew," said Simpson, feeling that somebody ought to apologize for something and knowing that Gaspard wouldn't, "but I expect it will be all right now."
We settled down again. Once more Gaspard cursed his horses, and once more they started off bravely. And this time we went with them.
"The idea all along," I explained to Miss Cardew.
"I rather suspected it," she said. Apparently she has a suspicious mind.
After the little descent at the start, we went uphill slowly for a couple of miles, and then more rapidly over the level. We had driven over the same road in a sleigh, coming from the station, and had been bitterly cold and extremely bored. Why our present position should be so much more enjoyable I didn't quite see.
"It's the expectation of an accident," said Archie. "At any moment somebody may fall off. Good."
"My dear old chap," said Simpson, turning round to take part in the conversation, "why anybody should fall off——"
We went suddenly round a corner, and quietly and without any fuss whatever Simpson left his luge and rolled on to the track. Luckily any possibility of a further accident was at once avoided. There was no panic at all. Archie kicked the body temporarily out of the way; after which Dahlia leant over and pushed it thoughtfully to the side of the road. Myra warded it off with a leg as she neared it; with both hands I helped it into the deep snow from which it had shown a tendency to emerge; Miss Cardew put a foot out at it for safety; and Thomas patted it gently on the head as the end of the "tail" went past....
As soon as we had recovered our powers of speech—all except Miss Cardew, who was in hysterics—we called upon Gaspard to stop. He indicated with the back of his neck that it would be dangerous to stop just then; and it was not until we were at the bottom of the hill, nearly a mile from the place where Simpson left us, that the procession halted, and gave itself up again to laughter.
"I hope he is not hurt," said Dahlia, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"He wouldn't spoil a good joke like that by getting hurt," said Myra confidently. "He's much too much of a sportsman."
"Why did he do it?" said Thomas.
"He suddenly remembered he hadn't packed his safety-razor. He's half-way back to the hotel by now."
Miss Cardew remained in hysterics.
Ten minutes later a brilliant sunset was observed approaching from the north. A little later it was seen to be a large dish of apricots and cream.
"He draws near," said Archie. "Now then, let's be stern with him."
At twenty yards' range Simpson began to talk. His trot had heated him slightly.
"I say," he said excitedly. "You——"
Myra shook her head at him.
"Not done, Samuel," she said reproachfully.
"Not what, Myra? What not——"
"You oughtn't to leave us like that without telling us."
"After all," said Archie, "we are all one party, and we are supposed to keep together. If you prefer to go about by yourself, that's all right; but if we go to the trouble of arranging something for the whole party——"
"You might have caused a very nasty accident," I pointed out. "If you were in a hurry, you had only to say a word to Gaspard and he would have stopped for you to alight. Now I begin to understand why you kept cutting the rope at the start."
"You have sent Miss Cardew into hysterics by your conduct," said Dahlia.
Miss Cardew gave another peal. Simpson looked at her in dismay.
"I say, Miss Cardew, I'm most awfully sorry. I really didn't—— I say, Dahlia," he went on confidentially, "oughtn't we to do something about this? Rub her feet with snow or—I mean, I know there's something you do when people have hysterics. It's rather serious if they go on. Don't you burn feathers under their nose?" He began to feel in his pockets. "I wonder if Gaspard's got a feather?"
With a great effort Miss Cardew pulled herself together. "It's all right, thank you," she said in a stifled voice.
"Then let's get on," said Archie.
We resumed our seats once more. Archie took Dahlia's feet on his lap. Myra took mine. Miss Cardew took Thomas's. Simpson clung tight to his luge with both hands.
"Right!" cried Archie.
Gaspard swore at his horses. They pulled bravely. The rope snapped—and they trotted gaily up the hill with Gaspard.
We hurried after them with the luges....
VI.—A HAPPY ENDING
"For our last night they might at least have had a dance," said Myra, "even if there was no public presentation."
"As we had hoped," I admitted.
"What is a gymkhana, anyway?" asked Thomas.
"A few little competitions," said Archie. "One must cater for the chaperons sometimes. You are all entered for the Hat-making and the Feather-blowing—Dahlia thought it would amuse you."
"At Cambridge," I said reminiscently, "I once blew the feather 119 feet 7 inches. Unfortunately I stepped outside the circle. My official record is 2 feet."
"Did you ever trim a hat at Cambridge?" asked Myra. "Because you've got to do one for me to-night."
I had not expected this. My view of the competition had been that I should have to provide the face and that she would have to invent some suitable frame for it.
"I'm full of ideas," I lied.
Nine o'clock found a small row of us prepared to blow the feather. The presidential instructions were that we had to race our feather across a chalk-line at the end of the room, anybody touching his feather to be disqualified.
"In the air or on the floor?" asked Simpson earnestly.
"Just as you like," said the President kindly, and came round with the bag.
I selected Percy with care—a dear little feather about half an inch long and of a delicate whity-brown colour. I should have known him again anywhere.
"Go!" said the President. I was rather excited, with the result that my first blow was much too powerful for Percy. He shot up to the ceiling and, in spite of all I could do, seemed inclined to stay there. Anxiously I waited below with my mouth open; he came slowly down at last; and in my eagerness I played my second just a shade too soon. It missed him. My third (when I was ready for it) went harmlessly over his head. A frantic fourth and fifth helped him downwards ... and in another moment my beautiful Percy was on the floor. I dropped on my knees and played my sixth vigorously. He swirled to the left; I was after him like a shot ... and crashed into Thomas. We rolled over in a heap.
"Sorry!" we apologized as we got back on to our hands and knees.
Thomas went on blowing.
"Where's my feather?" I said.
Thomas was now two yards ahead, blowing like anything. A terrible suspicion darted through my mind.
"Thomas," I said, "you've got my feather."
He made no answer. I scrambled after him.
"That's Percy," I said. "I should know him anywhere. You're blowing Percy. It's very bad form to blow another man's feather. If it got about, you would be cut by the county. Give me back my feather, Thomas."
"How do you know it's your feather?" he said truculently. "Feathers are just alike."
"How do I know?" I asked in amazement. "A feather that I've brought up from the egg? Of course I know Percy." I leant down to him. "P—percy," I whispered. He darted forward a good six inches. "You see," I said, "he knows his name."
"As a matter of fact," said Thomas, "his name's P—paul. Look, I'll show you."
"You needn't bother, Thomas," I said hastily. "This is mere trifling. I know that's my feather. I remember his profile distinctly."
"Then where's mine?"
"How do I know? You may have swallowed it. Go away and leave Percy and me to ourselves. You're only spoiling the knees of your trousers by staying here."
"Paul and I——" began Thomas.
He was interrupted by a burst of applause. Dahlia had cajoled her feather over the line first. Thomas rose and brushed himself. "You can 'ave him," he said.
"There!" I said, as I picked Percy up and placed him reverently in my waistcoat pocket. "That shows that he was mine. If he had been your own little Paul you would have loved him even in defeat. Oh, musical chairs now? Right-o." And at the President's touch I retired from the arena.
We had not entered for musical chairs. Personally I should have liked to, but it was felt that, if none of us did, then it would be more easy to stop Simpson doing so. For at musical chairs Simpson is—I am afraid there is only one word for it; it is a word that I hesitate to use, but the truth must prevail—Simpson is rough. He lets himself go. He plays all he knows. Whenever I take Simpson out anywhere I always whisper to my hostess, "Not musical chairs."
The last event of the evening was the hat-making competition. Each man of us was provided with five large sheets of coloured crinkly paper, a packet of pins, a pair of scissors, and a lady opposite to him.
"Have you any plans at all?" asked Myra.
"Heaps. Tell me, what sort of hat would you like? Something for the Park?" I doubled up a piece of blue paper and looked at it. "You know, if this is a success, Myra, I shall often make your hats for you."
Five minutes later I had what I believe is called a "foundation." Anyhow, it was something for Myra to put her head into.
"Our very latest Bond Street model," said Myra. "Only fifteen guineas—or three-and-ninepence if you buy it at our other establishment in Battersea."
"Now then, I can get going," I said, and I began to cut out a white feather. "Yes, your ladyship, this is from the genuine bird on our own ostrich farm in the Fulham Road. Plucked while the ingenuous biped had its head in the sand. I shall put that round the brim," and I pinned it round.
"What about a few roses?" said Myra, fingering the red paper.
"The roses are going there on the right." I pinned them on. "And a humming-bird and some violets next to them.... I say, I've got a lot of paper over. What about a nice piece of cabbage ... there ... and a bunch of asparagus ... and some tomatoes and a seagull's wing on the left. The back still looks rather bare—let's have some poppies."
"There's only three minutes more," said Myra, "and you haven't used all the paper yet."
"I've got about one William Allan Richardson and a couple of canaries over," I said, after examining my stock. "Let's put it inside as lining. There, Myra, my dear, I'm proud of you. I always say that in a nice quiet hat nobody looks prettier than you."
"Time!" said the President.
Anxious matrons prowled round us.
"We don't know any of the judges," I whispered. "This isn't fair."
The matrons conferred with the President. He cleared his throat. "The first prize," he said, "goes to——"
But I had swooned.
. . . . .
"Well," said Archie, "the Rabbits return to England with two cups won on the snowfields of Switzerland."
"Nobody need know," said Myra, "which winter-sport they were won at."
"Unless I have 'Ski-ing, First Prize' engraved on mine," I said, "as I had rather intended."
"Then I shall have 'Figure-Skating' on mine," said Dahlia.
"Two cups," reflected Archie, "and Thomas engaged to three charming girls. I think it has been worth it, you know."
A BAKER'S DOZEN
A TRAGEDY IN LITTLE
The great question of the day is, What will become of Sidney? Whenever I think of him now, the unbidden tear wells into my eye ... and wells down my cheek ... and wells on to my collar. My friends think I have a cold, and offer me lozenges; but it is Sidney who makes me weep. I fear that I am about to lose him.
He came into my life in the following way.
Some months ago I wanted to buy some silk stockings; not for myself, for I seldom wear them, but for a sister. The idea came suddenly to me that any woman with a brother and a birthday would simply love the one to give her silk stockings for the other. But, of course, they would have to be the right silk stockings—the fashionable shape for the year, the correct assortment of clocks, and so forth. Then as to material—could I be sure I was getting silk, and not silkette or something inferior? How maddening if, seeing that I was an unprotected man, they palmed off Jaeger on me! Clearly this was a case for outside assistance. So I called in Celia.
"This," I said to her, "is practically the only subject on which I am not an expert. At the same time I have a distinct feeling for silk stockings. If you can hurry me past all the embarrassing counters safely, and arrange for the lady behind the right one to show me the right line in silken hose, I will undertake to pick out half a dozen pairs that would melt any sister's heart."
Well, the affair went off perfectly. Celia took the matter into her own hands and behaved just as if I were buying them for her. The shop-assistant also behaved as if I were. Fortunately I kept my head when it came to giving the name and address. "No," I said firmly to Celia. "Not yours; my sister's." And I dragged her away to tea.
Now whether it was because Celia had particularly enjoyed her afternoon; or because she felt that a man who was as ignorant as I about silk stockings must lead a very lonely life; or because I had mentioned casually and erroneously that it was my own birthday that week, I cannot say; but on the following morning I received a little box, with a note on the outside which said in her handwriting, "Something for you. Be kind to him." And I opened it and found Sidney.
He was a Japanese dwarf-tree—the merest boy. At eighty or ninety, according to the photographs, he would be a stalwart fellow with thick bark on his trunk, and fir-cones or acorns (or whatever was his speciality) hanging all over him. Just at present he was barely ten. I had only eighty years to wait before he reached his prime.
Naturally I decided to lavish all my care upon his upbringing. I would water him after breakfast every morning, and (when I remembered it) at night. If there was any top-dressing he particularly fancied, he should have it. If he had any dead leaves to snip off, I would snip them.
It was at this moment that I discovered something else in the box—a card of instructions. I have not got it now, and I have forgotten the actual wording, but the spirit of it was this:
HINTS ON THE PROPER REARING AND BRINGING-UP OF A JAPANESE DWARF-TREE
The life of this tree is a precarious one, and if it is to be successfully brought to manhood the following rules must be carefully observed—
I. This tree requires, above all else, fresh air and exercise.
II. Whenever the sun is shining, the tree should be placed outside, in a position where it can absorb the rays.
III. Whenever the rain is raining, it should be placed outside, in a position where it can absorb the wet.
IV. It should be taken out for a trot at least once every day.
V. It simply loathes artificial light and artificial heat. If you keep it in your drawing-room, see that it is situated as far as possible from the chandelier and the gas-stove.
VI. It also detests noise. Do not place it on the top of the pianola.
VII. It loves moonlight. Leave it outside when you go to bed, in case the moon should come out.
VIII. On the other hand, it hates lightning. Cover it up with the canary's cloth when the lightning begins.
IX. If it shows signs of drooping, a course of massage will generally bring it round.
X. But in no case offer it buns.
Well, I read these instructions carefully, and saw at once that I should have to hand over the business of rearing Sidney to another. I have my living to earn the same as anybody else, and I should never get any work done at all if I had constantly to be rushing home from the office on the plea that it was time for Master Sidney's sun-bath.
So I called up my housekeeper, and placed the matter before her.
I said: "Let me introduce you to Sidney. He is very dear to me; dearer to me than a—a brother. No, on second thoughts my brother is perhaps—well, anyhow, Sidney is very dear to me. I will show my trust in you by asking you to tend him for me. Here are a few notes about his health. Frankly he is delicate. But the doctors have hope. With care, they think, he may live to be a hundred-and-fifty. His future is in your hands."
My housekeeper thanked me for this mark of esteem and took the card of instructions away with her. I asked her for it a week afterwards and it appeared that, having committed the rules to memory, she had lost it. But that she follows the instructions I have no doubt; and certainly she and Sidney understand each other's ways exactly. Automatically she gives him his bath, his massage, his run in the park. When it rains or snows or shines, she knows exactly what to do with Sidney.
But as a consequence I see little of him. I suppose it must always be so; we parents must make these sacrifices for our children. Think of a mother only seeing her eldest-born for fifteen weeks a year through the long period of his schooling; and think of me, doomed to catch only the most casual glimpses of Sidney until he is ninety.
For, you know, I might almost say that I never see him at all now. As I go to my work I may, if I am lucky, get a fleeting glance of him on the tiles, where he sits drinking in the rain or sun. In the evening, when I return, he is either out in the moonlight or, if indoors, shunning the artificial light with the cloth over his head. Indeed, the only times when I really see him to talk to are when Celia comes to tea with me. Then my housekeeper hurries him in from his walk or his sun-bath, and puts him, brushed and manicured, on my desk; and Celia and I whisper fond nothings to him. I believe Celia thinks he lives there!
. . . . .
As I began by saying, I weep for Sidney's approaching end. For my housekeeper leaves this week. A new one takes her place. How will she treat my poor Sidney? The old card of instructions is lost; what can I give her in its place? The legend that Sidney's is a precious life—that he must have his morning bath, his run, his glass of hot water after meals! She would laugh at it. Besides, she may not be at all the sort of foster-mother for a Japanese dwarf-tree....
It will break my heart if Sidney dies now, for I had so looked forward to celebrating his ninetieth birthday with him. It will hurt Celia too. But her grief, of course, will be an inferior affair. In fact, a couple of pairs of silk stockings will help her to forget him altogether.
THE FINANCIER. I
This is how I became a West African mining magnate with a stake in the Empire.
During February I grew suddenly tired of waiting for the summer to begin. London in the summer is a pleasant place, and chiefly so because you can keep on buying evening papers to see what Kent is doing. In February life has no such excitements to offer. So I wrote to my solicitor about it.
"I want you" (I wrote) "to buy me fifty rubber shares, so that I can watch them go up and down." And I added "Brokerage 1/8" to show that I knew what I was talking about.
He replied tersely as follows:—
"Don't be a fool. If you have any money to invest I can get you a safe mortgage at five per cent. Let me know."
It's a funny thing how the minds of solicitors run upon mortgages. If they would only stop to think for a moment they would see that you couldn't possibly watch a safe mortgage go up and down. I left my solicitor alone and consulted Henry on the subject. In the intervals between golf and golf Henry dabbles in finance.
"You don't want anything gilt-edged, I gather?" he said. It's wonderful how they talk.
"I want it to go up and down," I explained patiently, and I indicated the required movement with my umbrella.
"What about a little flutter in oil?" he went on, just like a financier in a novel.
"I'll have a little flutter in raspberry jam if you like. Anything as long as I can rush every night for the last edition of the evening papers and say now and then, 'Good heavens, I'm ruined.'"
"Then you'd better try a gold-mine," said Henry bitterly, in the voice of one who had tried. "Take your choice," and he threw the paper over to me.
"I don't want a whole mine—only a vein or two. Yes, this is very interesting," I went on, as I got among the West Africans. "The scoring seems to be pretty low; I suppose it must have been a wet wicket. 'H.E. Reef, 1-3/4, 2'—he did a little better in the second innings. '1/2, Boffin River, 5/16, 7/16'—they followed on, you see, but they saved the innings defeat. By the way, which figure do I really keep my eye on when I want to watch them go up and down?"
"Both. One eye on each. And don't talk about Boffin River to me."
"Is it like that, Henry? I am sorry. I suppose it's too late now to offer you a safe mortgage at five per cent? I know a man who has some. Well, perhaps you're right."
On the next day I became a magnate. The Jaguar Mine was the one I fixed upon—for two reasons. First, the figure immediately after it was 1, which struck me as a good point from which to watch it go up and down. Secondly, I met a man at lunch who knew somebody who had actually seen the Jaguar Mine.
"He says that there's no doubt about there being lots there."
"Lots of what? Jaguars or gold?"
"Ah, he didn't say. Perhaps he meant jaguars."
Anyhow, it was an even chance, and I decided to risk it. In a week's time I was the owner of what we call in the City a "block" of Jaguars—bought from one Herbert Bellingham, who, I suppose, had been got at by his solicitor and compelled to return to something safe. I was a West African magnate.
My first two months as a magnate were a great success. With my heart in my mouth I would tear open the financial editions of the evening papers, to find one day that Jaguars had soared like a rocket to 1-1/16, the next that they had dropped like a stone to 1-1/32. There was one terrible afternoon when for some reason which will never be properly explained we sank to 15/16. I think the European situation had something to do with it, though this naturally is not admitted. Lord Rothschild, I fancy, suddenly threw all his Jaguars on the market; he sold and sold and sold, and only held his hand when, in desperation, the Tsar granted the concession for his new Southend to Siberia railway. Something like that. But he never recked how the private investor would suffer; and there was I, sitting at home and sending out madly for all the papers, until my rooms were littered with copies of The Times, The Financial News, Answers, The Feathered World, and Home Chat. Next day we were up to 31/32, and I was able to breathe again.
But I had other pleasures than these. Previously I had regarded the City with awe, but now I felt a glow of possession come over me whenever I approached it. Often in those first two months I used to lean against the Mansion House in a familiar sort of way; once I struck a match against the Royal Exchange. And what an impression of financial acumen I could make in a drawing-room by a careless reference to my "block of Jaguars"! Even those who misunderstood me and thought I spoke of my "flock of jaguars" were startled. Indeed life was very good just then.
But lately things have not been going well. At the beginning of April Jaguars settled down at 1-1/16. Though I stood for hours at the club tape, my hair standing up on end and my eyeballs starting from their sockets, Jaguars still came through steadily at 1-1/16. To give them a chance of doing something, I left them alone for a whole week—with what agony you can imagine. Then I looked again; a whole week and anything might have happened. Pauper or millionaire?—No, still 1-1/16.
Worse was to follow. Editors actually took to leaving out Jaguars altogether. I suppose they were sick of putting 1-1/16 in every edition. But how ridiculous it made my idea seem of watching them go up and down! How blank life became again!
And now what I dreaded most of all has happened. I have received a "Progress Report" from the mine. It gives the "total footage" for the month, special reference being made to "cross-cutting, winzing, and sinking." The amount of "tons crushed" is announced. There is serious talk of "ore" being "extracted"; indeed there has already been a most alarming "yield in fine gold." In short, it can no longer be hushed up that the property may at any moment be "placed on a dividend-paying basis."
Probably I shall be getting a safe five per cent!
"Dash it all," as I said to my solicitor this morning, "I might just as well have bought a rotten mortgage."