About this time he was commissioned to write three paragraphs each day for an evening paper. The first of them always began: "Mr Asquith's admission in the House of Commons yesterday that he had never done so and so is not without parallel. In 1746 the elder Pitt ..." The second always began: "Mention of the elder Pitt recalls the fact that ..." The third always began: "It may not be generally known ..."
Until he began to write these paragraphs Annesley Bupp had no definite political views.
Annesley Bupp is now at the zenith of his fame. The "buppy" of old days he still writes occasionally, but he no longer signs it in full. A modest "A. B." in the corner, supposed by the ignorant to stand for "Arthur Balfour," is the only evidence of the author. (I say "the only evidence," for he has had, like all great men, his countless imitators.) Trams also he deserted with the publication of his great work on the subject—Tramiana. But as a writer on Literature and Old London he has a European reputation, and his recent book, In the Track of Shakespeare: A Record of a Visit to Stratford-on-Avon, created no little stir.
He is in great request at public dinners, where his speech in reply to the toast of Literature is eagerly attended.
He contributes to every symposium in the popular magazines.
It is all the more to be regretted that his autobiography, The Last of the Bupps, is to be published posthumously.
LITTLE PLAYS FOR AMATEURS
"FAIR MISTRESS DOROTHY"
THE SCENE IS AN APARTMENT IN THE MANSION OF Sir Thomas Farthingale. THERE IS NO NEED TO DESCRIBE THE FURNITURE IN IT, AS REHEARSALS WILL GRADUALLY SHOW WHAT IS WANTED. A PICTURE OR TWO OF PREVIOUS Sir Thomas's MIGHT BE SEEN ON THE WALLS, IF YOU HAVE AN ARTISTIC FRIEND WHO COULD ARRANGE THIS; BUT IT IS A MISTAKE TO HANG UP YOUR OWN ANCESTORS AS SOME OF YOUR GUESTS MAY RECOGNIZE THEM, AND THUS PIERCE BENEATH THE VRAISEMBLANCE OF THE SCENE.
THE PERIOD IS THAT OF CROMWELL—SIXTEEN SOMETHING.
THE COSTUMES ARE, IF POSSIBLE, OF THE SAME PERIOD.
Mistress Dorothy Farthingale IS SEATED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE, READING A LETTER AND OCCASIONALLY SIGHING.
ENTER My Lord Carey.
CAREY. Mistress Dorothy alone! Truly Fortune smiles upon me.
DOROTHY (HIDING THE LETTER QUICKLY). An she smiles, my lord, I needs must frown.
CAREY (USED TO THIS SORT OF THING AND NO LONGER PUT OFF BY IT). Nay, give me but one smile, sweet mistress. (SHE SIGHS HEAVILY.) You sigh! Is't for me?
DOROTHY (FEELING THAT THE SOONER HE AND THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION THE BETTER). I sigh for another, my lord, who is absent.
CAREY (ANNOYED). Zounds, and zounds again!
A pest upon the fellow! (He strides up and down the room, keeping out of the way of his sword as much as possible.) Would that I might pink the pesky knave!
DOROTHY (turning upon him a look of hate). Would that you might have the chance, my lord, so it were in fair fighting. Methinks Roger's sword-arm will not have lost its cunning in the wars.
CAREY. A traitor to fight against his King!
DOROTHY. He fights for what he thinks is right. (She takes out his letter and kisses it.)
CAREY (observing the action). You have a letter from him!
DOROTHY (hastily concealing it, and turning pale). How know you that?
CAREY. Give it to me! (She shrieks and rises.) By heavens, madam, I will have it! [He struggles with her and seizes it.
Enter Sir Thomas.
SIR THOMAS. Odds life, my lord, what means this?
CAREY (straightening himself). It means, Sir Thomas, that you harbour a rebel within your walls. Master Roger Dale, traitor, corresponds secretly with your daughter. [Who, I forgot to say, has swooned.
SIR THOMAS (sternly). Give me the letter. Ay, 'tis Roger's hand, I know it well. (He reads the letter, which is full of thoughtful metaphors about love, aloud to the audience. Suddenly his eyebrows go up and down to express surprise. He seizes Lord Carey by the arm.) Ha! Listen! "To-morrow, when the sun is upon the western window of the gallery, I will be with thee." The villain!
CAREY (who does not know the house very well). When is that?
SIR THOMAS. Why,'tis now, for I have but recently passed through the gallery and did mark the sun.
CAREY (FIERCELY). In the name of the King, Sir Thomas, I call upon you to arrest this traitor.
SIR THOMAS (sighing). I loved the boy well, yet—[He shrugs his shoulders expressively and goes out with Lord Carey to collect sufficient force for the arrest.
Enter Roger by a secret door, R.
ROGER. My love!
DOROTHY (opening her eyes). Roger!
ROGER. At last!
[For the moment they talk in short sentences like this. Then DOROTHY puts her hand to her brow as if she is remembering something horrible.
DOROTHY. Roger! Now I remember! It is not safe for you to stay!
ROGER (very brave). Am I a puling child to be afraid?
DOROTHY. My Lord Carey is here. He has read your letter.
ROGER. The black-livered dog! Would I had him at my sword's point to teach him manners.
[He puts his hand to his heart and staggers into a chair.
DOROTHY. Oh, you are wounded!
ROGER. Faugh,'tis but a scratch. Am I a puling—
[He faints. She binds up his ankle.
Enter Lord Carey with two soldiers.
CAREY. Arrest this traitor! (ROGER is led away by the soldiers.)
Dorothy (stretching out her hands to him). Roger! (She sinks into a chair.)
Carey (choosing quite the wrong moment for a proposal). Dorothy, I love you! Think no more of this traitor, for he will surely hang. 'Tis your father's wish that you and I should wed.
Dorothy (refusing him). Go, lest I call in the grooms to whip you.
Carey. By heaven—(thinking better of it) I go to fetch your father.
Enter Roger by secret door, L.
Dorothy. Roger! You have escaped!
Roger. Knowest not the secret passage from the wine cellar, where we so often played as children? 'Twas in that same cellar the thick-skulled knaves immured me.
Dorothy. Roger, you must fly! Wilt wear a cloak of mine to elude our enemies?
Roger (missing the point rather). Nay, if I die, let me die like a man, not like a puling girl. Yet, sweetheart—
Enter Lord Carey by ordinary door.
Carey (forgetting himself in his confusion). Odds my zounds, dod sink me! What murrain is this?
Roger (seizing Sir Thomas's sword, which had been accidentally left behind on the table, as I ought to have said before, and advancing threateningly). It means, my lord, that a villain's time has come. Wilt say a prayer?
[They fight, and Carey is disarmed before they can hurt each other.
Carey (dying game). Strike, Master Dale!
Roger. Nay, I cannot kill in cold blood.
[He throws down his sword. Lord Carey exhibits considerable emotion at this, and decides to turn over an entirely new leaf.
Enter two soldiers.
Carey. Arrest that man! (Roger is seized again.) Mistress Dorothy, it is for you to say what shall be done with the prisoner.
Dorothy (standing up if she was sitting down, and sitting down if she was standing up). Ah, give him to me, my lord!
Carey (joining the hands of Roger and Dorothy). I trust to you, sweet mistress, to see that the prisoner does not escape again.
[Dorothy and Roger embrace each other, if they can do it without causing a scandal in the neighbourhood, and the curtain goes down.
"A SLIGHT MISUNDERSTANDING"
The scene is a drawing-room (in which the men are allowed to smoke—or a smoking-room in which the women are allowed to draw—it doesn't much matter) in the house of somebody or other in the country. George Turnbull and his old College friend, Henry Peterson, are confiding in each other, as old friends will, over their whiskies and cigars. It is about three o'clock in the afternoon.
George (dreamily helping himself to a stiff soda). Henry, do you remember that evening at Christ Church College, Oxford, five years ago, when we opened our hearts to each other...
Henry (lighting a cigar and hiding it in a fern-pot). That moonlight evening on the Backs, George, when I had failed in my Matriculation examination?
George. Yes; and we promised that when either of us fell in love the other should be the first to hear of it? (Rising solemnly.) Henry, the moment has come. (With shining eyes.) I am in love.
Henry (jumping up and grasping him by both hands). George! My dear old George! (In a voice broken with emotion.) Bless you, George!
[He pats him thoughtfully on the back three times, nods his own head twice, gives him a final grip of the hand, and returns to his chair.
George (more moved by this than he cares to show). Thank you, Henry. (Hoarsely.) You're a good fellow.
Henry (airily, with a typically British desire to conceal his emotion). Who is the lucky little lady?
George (taking out a picture postcard of the British Museum and kissing it passionately). Isobel Barley!
[If Henry is not careful he will probably give a start of surprise here, with the idea of suggesting to the audience that he (1) knows something about the lady's past, or (2) is in love with her himself. He is, however, thinking of a different play. We shall come to that one in a moment.
Henry (in a slightly dashing manner). Little Isobel? Lucky dog!
George. I wish I could think so. (Sighs.) But I have yet to approach her, and she may be another's. (Fiercely.) Heavens, Henry, if she should be another's!
Isobel (brightly). So I've run you to earth at last. Now, what have you got to say for yourselves?
Henry (like a man). By Jove! (looking at his watch)—I had no idea—is it really—poor old Joe—waiting—
[Dashes out tactfully in a state of incoherence.
George (rising and leading Isobel to the front of the stage). Miss Barley, now that we are alone, I have something I want to say to you.
Isobel (looking at her watch). Well, you must be quick. Because I'm engaged—
[George drops her hand and staggers away from her.
Isobel. Why, what's the matter?
George (to the audience, in a voice expressing the very deeps of emotion). Engaged! She is engaged! I am too late!
[He sinks into a chair and covers his face with his hands.
Isobel (surprised). Mr Turnbull! What has happened?
George (waving her away with one hand). Go! Leave me! I can bear this best alone. (Exit Isobel.) Merciful heavens, she is plighted to another!
Henry (eagerly). Well, old man?
George (raising a face white with misery—that is to say, if he has remembered to put the French chalk in the palms of his hands). Henry, I am too late! She is another's!
Henry (in surprise). Whose?
George (with dignity). I did not ask her. It is nothing to me. Good-bye, Henry. Be kind to her.
Henry. Why, where are you going?
George (firmly). To the Rocky Mountains. I shall shoot some bears. Grizzly ones. It may be that thus I shall forget my grief.
Henry (after a pause). Perhaps you are right, George. What shall I tell—her?
George. Tell her—nothing. But should anything (feeling casually in his pockets) happen to me—if (going over them again quickly) I do not come back, then (searching them all, including the waistcoat ones, in desperate haste), give her—give her—give her (triumphantly bringing his handkerchief out of the last pocket) this, and say that my last thought was of her. Good-bye, my old friend. Good-bye.
[Exit to Rocky Mountains.
Isabel. Why, where's Mr Turnbull?
Henry (sadly). He's gone.
Isabel. Gone? Where?
Henry. To the Rocky Mountains—to shoot bears. (Feeling that some further explanation is needed.) Grizzly ones.
Isobel. But he was HERE a moment ago.
Henry. Yes, he's only JUST gone.
Isobel. Why didn't he say good-bye? (Eagerly.) But perhaps he left a message for me? (Henry shakes his head.) Nothing? (Henry bows silently and leaves the room.) Oh! (She gives a cry and throws herself on the sofa.) And I loved him! George, George, why didn't you speak?
Enter George hurriedly. He is fully dressed for a shooting expedition in the Rocky Mountains, and carries a rifle under his arm.
George (to the audience). I have just come back for my pocket-handkerchief. I must have dropped it in here somewhere. (He begins to search for it, and in the ordinary course of things comes upon Isobel on the sofa. He puts his rifle down carefully on a table, with the muzzle pointing at the prompter rather than at the audience, and staggers back.) Merciful heavens! Isobel! Dead! (He falls on his knees beside the sofa.) My love, speak to me!
Isobel (softly). George!
George. She is alive! Isobel!
Isobel. Don't go, George!
George. My dear, I love you! But when I heard that you were another's, honour compelled me—
Isobel (sitting up quickly). What do you mean by another's?
George. You said you were engaged!
Isobel (suddenly realizing how the dreadful misunderstanding arose which nearly wrecked two lives). But I only meant I was engaged to play tennis with Lady Carbrook!
George. What a fool I have been! (He hurries on before the audience can assent.) Then, Isobel, you WILL be mine?
Isobel. Yes, George. And you won't go and shoot nasty bears, will you, dear? Not even grizzly ones?
George (taking her in his arms). Never, darling. That was only (turning to the audience with the air of one who is making his best point) A Slight Misunderstanding.
As the curtain goes up two ladies are discovered in the morning-room of Honeysuckle Lodge engaged in work of a feminine nature. Miss Alice Prendergast is doing something delicate with a crochet-hook, but it is obvious that her thoughts are far away. She sighs at intervals, and occasionally lays down her work and presses both hands to her heart. A sympathetic audience will have no difficulty in guessing that she is in love. On the other hand, her elder sister, Miss Prendergast, is completely wrapped up in a sock for one of the poorer classes, over which she frowns formidably. The sock, however, has no real bearing upon the plot, and she must not make too much of it.
Alice (hiding her emotions). Did you have a pleasant dinner-party last night, Jane?
Jane (to herself). Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. (Looking up.) Very pleasant indeed, Alice. The Blizzards were there, and the Podbys, and the Slumphs. (These people are not important and should not be over-emphasized.) Mrs Podby's maid has given notice.
Alice. Who took you in?
Jane (brightening up). Such an interesting man, my dear. He talked most agreeably about Art during dinner, and we renewed the conversation in the drawing-room. We found that we agreed upon all the main principles of Art, considered as such.
Alice (with a look in her eyes which shows that she is recalling a tender memory). When I was in Shropshire last week—What was your man's name?
Jane (with a warning glance at the audience). You know how difficult it is to catch names when one is introduced. I am certain he never heard mine. (As the plot depends partly upon this, she pauses for it to sink in.) But I inquired about him afterwards, and I find that he is a Mr—
Enter Mary, the Parlour-maid.
Mary (handing letter). A letter for you, miss.
Jane (taking it). Thank you, Mary. (Exit Mary to work up her next line.) A letter! I wonder who it is from! (Reading the envelope.) "Miss Prendergast, Honeysuckle Lodge." (She opens it with the air of one who has often received letters before, but feels that this one may play an important part in her life.) "Dear Miss Prendergast, I hope you will pardon the presumption of what I am about to write to you, but whether you pardon me or not, I ask you to listen to me. I know of no woman for whose talents I have a greater admiration, or for whose qualities I have a more sincere affection than yourself. Since I have known you, you have been the lodestar of my existence, the fountain of my inspiration. I feel that, were your life joined to mine, the joint path upon which we trod would be the path to happiness, such as I have as yet hardly dared to dream of. In short, dear Miss Prendergast, I ask you to marry me, and I will come in person for my answer. Yours truly—" (In a voice of intense surprise) "Jas. Bootle!"
[At the word "Bootle," a wave of warm colour rushes over Alice and dyes her from neck to brow. If she is not an actress of sufficient calibre to ensure this, she must do the best she can by starting abruptly and putting her hand to her throat.
Alice (aside, in a choking voice). Mr Bootle! In love with Jane!
Jane. My dear! The man who took me down to dinner! Well!
Alice (picking up her work again and trying to be calm). What will you say?
Jane (rather pleased with herself). Well, really—I—this is—Mr Bootle! Fancy!
Alice (starting up). Was that a ring? (She frowns at the prompter and a bell is heard to ring.) It is Mr Bootle! I know his ring, I mean I know—Dear, I think I will go and lie down. I have a headache.
[She looks miserably at the audience, closes her eyes, and goes off with her handkerchief to her mouth, taking care not to fall over the furniture.
Enter Mary, followed by James Bootle.
Mary. Mr Bootle. (Exit finally.)
Jane. Good-morning, Mr Bootle!
Bootle. I beg—I thought—Why, of course! It's Miss—er-h'm, yes—How do you do? Did you get back safely last night?
Jane. Yes, thank you, (Coyly.) I got your letter.
Bootle. My letter? (Sees his letter on the table. Furiously.) You opened my letter!
Jane (mistaking his fury for passion). Yes—James. And (looking down on the ground) the answer is "Yes."
Bootle (realizing the situation). By George!
(Aside.) I have proposed to the wrong lady! Tchck!
Jane. You may kiss me, James.
Bootle. Have you a sister?
Jane (missing the connection). Yes, I have a younger sister, Alice. (Coldly.) But I hardly see—
Bootle (beginning to understand how he made the mistake). A younger sister! Then you are Miss Prendergast? And my letter—Ah!
Alice. You are wanted, Jane, a moment.
Jane. Will you excuse me, Mr Bootle? [Exit.
Bootle (to Alice, as she follows her sister out). Don't go!
Alice (wanly—if she knows how). Am I to stay and congratulate you?
Bootle. Alice! (They approach the footlights, while Jane, having finished her business, comes in unobserved and watches from the back.) It is all a mistake! I didn't know your Christian name—I didn't know you had a sister. The letter I addressed to Miss Prendergast I meant for Miss Alice Prendergast.
Alice. James! My love! But what can we do?
Bootle (gloomily). Nothing. As a man of honour I cannot withdraw. So two lives are ruined!
Alice. You are right, James. Jane must never know. Good-bye!
[They give each other a farewell embrace.
Jane (aside). They love. (Fiercely.) But he is mine; I will hold him to his promise! (Picking up a photograph of Alice as a small child from an occasional table.) Little Alice! And I promised to take care of her—to protect her from the cruel world Baby Alice! (She puts her handkerchief to her eyes.) No! I will not spoil two lives! (Aloud.) Why "Good-bye," Alice?
[Bootle and Alice, who have been embracing all this time—unless they can think of something else to do—break away in surprise.
Jane (calmly). Dear Alice! I understand perfectly. Mr Bootle said in his letter to you that he was coming for his answer, and I see what answer you have given him. (To Bootle.) You remember I told you it would be "Yes." I know my little sister, you see.
Bootle (tactlessly). But—you told me I could kiss you!
Jane (smiling). And I tell you again now. I believe it is usual for men to kiss their sisters-in-law? (She offers her cheek. Bootle, whose day it is, salutes her respectfully.) And now (gaily) perhaps I had better leave you young people alone!
[Exit, with a backward look at the audience expressive of the fact that she has been wearing the mask.
Bootle. Alice, then you are mine, after all.
Alice. James! (They k—No, perhaps better not. There has been quite enough for one evening.) And to think that she knew all the time! Now I am quite, quite happy. And James—you WILL remember in future that I am Miss ALICE Prendergast?
Bootle (gaily). My dear, I shall only be able to remember that you are The Future Mrs Bootle!
"AT DEAD OF NIGHT"
The stage is in semi-darkness as Dick Trayle throws open the window from outside, puts his knee on the sill, and falls carefully into the drawing-room of Beeste Hall. He is dressed in a knickerbocker suit with arrows on it (such as can always be borrowed from a friend), and, to judge from the noises which he emits, is not in the best of training. The lights go on suddenly; and, he should seize this moment to stagger to the door and turn on the switch. This done, he sinks into the nearest chair and closes his eyes.
If he has been dancing very late the night before he may drop into a peaceful sleep; in which case the play ends here. Otherwise, no sooner are his eyes closed than he opens them with a sudden start and looks round in terror.
Dick (striking the keynote at once). No, no! Let me out—I am innocent! (He gives a gasp of relief as he realizes the situation.) Free! It is true, then! I have escaped! I dreamed that I was back in prison again! (He shudders and helps himself to a large whisky-and-soda, which he swallows at a gulp.) That's better! Now I feel a new man—the man I was three years ago. Three years! It has been a lifetime! (Pathetically to the audience.) Where is Millicent now?
[He falls into a reverie, from which he is suddenly wakened by a noise outside. He starts, and then creeps rapidly to the switch, arriving there at the moment when the lights go out. Thence he goes swiftly behind the window curtain. The lights go up again as Jasper Beeste comes in with a revolver in one hand and a bull's-eye lantern of apparently enormous candle-power in the other.
Jasper (in immaculate evening dress). I thought I heard a noise, so I slipped on some old things hurriedly and came down. (Fingering his perfectly-tied tie.) But there seems to be nobody here. (Turns round suddenly to the window.) Ha, who's there? Hands up, blow you—(He ought to swear rather badly here, really)—hands up, or I fire!
[The stage is suddenly plunged into darkness, there is the noise of a struggle, and the lights go on to reveal Jasper by the door covering Dick with his revolver.
Jasper. Let's have a little light on you. (Brutally.) Now then, my man, what have you got to say for yourself? Ha! An escaped convict, eh?
Dick (to himself in amazement). Jasper Beeste!
Jasper. So you know my name?
Dick (in the tones of a man whose whole life has been blighted by the machinations of a false friend). Yes, Jasper Beeste, I know your name. For two years I have said it to myself every night, when I prayed Heaven that I should meet you again.
Jasper. Again? (Uneasily.) We have met before?
Dick (slowly). We have met before, Jasper Beeste. Since then I have lived a lifetime of misery. You may well fail to recognize me.
Enter Millicent Wilsdon—in a dressing-gown, with her hair over her shoulders, if the county will stand it.
Millicent (to Jasper). I couldn't sleep—I heard a noise—I—(suddenly seeing the other) Dick! (She trembles.)
Dick. Millicent! (He trembles too.)
Jasper. Trayle! (So does he.)
Dick (bitterly). You shrink from me, Millicent. (With strong common sense.) What is an escaped convict to the beautiful Miss Wilsdon?
Millicent. Dick—I—you—when you were sentenced—
Dick. When I was sentenced—the evidence was black against me, I admit—I wrote and released you from your engagement. You are married now?
Millicent (throwing herself on the sofa). Oh, Dick!
Jasper (recovering himself). Enough of this. Miss Wilsdon is going to marry me to-morrow.
Dick. To marry YOU! (He strides over to the sofa and pulls Millicent to her feet.) Millicent, look me in the eyes! Do you love him? (She turns away.) Say "Yes," and I will go back quietly to my prison. (She raises her eyes to his.) Ha! I thought so! You don't love him! Now then I can speak.
Jasper (advancing threateningly). Yes, to your friends the warders. Millicent, ring the bell.
Dick (wresting the revolver from his grasp). Ha, would you? Now stand over there and listen to me. (He arranges his audience, Millicent on a sofa on the right, Jasper, biting his finger-nails, on the left.) Three years ago Lady Wilsdon's diamond necklace was stolen. My flat was searched and the necklace was found in my hatbox. Although I protested my innocence, I was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to ten years' penal servitude, followed by fifteen years' police supervision.
Millicent (raising herself on the sofa). Dick, you were innocent—I know it. (She falls back again.)
Dick. I was. But how could I prove it? I went to prison. For a year black despair gnawed at my heart. And then something happened. The prisoner in the cell next to mine tried to communicate with me by means of taps. We soon arranged a system and held conversations together. One day he told me of a robbery in which he and another man had been engaged—the robbery of a diamond necklace.
Jasper (jauntily). Well?
Dick (sternly). A diamond necklace, Jasper Beeste, which the other man hid in the hatbox of another man in order that he might woo the other man's fiancee! (Millicent shrieks.)
Jasper (blusteringly). Bah!
Dick (quietly). The man in the cell next to mine wants to meet this gentleman again. It seems that he has some old scores to pay off.
Jasper (sneeringly). And where is he?
Dick. Ah, where is he? (He goes to the window and gives a low whistle. A Stranger in knickerbockers jumps in and advances with a crab-like movement.) Good! here you are. Allow me to present you to Mr Jasper Beeste.
Jasper (in horror). Two-toed Thomas! I am undone!
Two-toed Thomas (after a series of unintelligible snarls). Say the word, guv'nor, and I'll kill him. (He prowls round Jasper thoughtfully.)
Dick (sternly). Stand back! Now, Jasper Beeste, what have you to say?
Jasper (hysterically). I confess. I will sign anything. I will go to prison. Only keep that man off me.
Dick (going up to a bureau and writing aloud at incredible speed). "I, Jasper Beeste, of Beeste Hall, do hereby declare that I stole Lady Wilsdon's diamond necklace and hid it in the hatbox of Richard Trayle; and I further declare that the said Richard Trayle is innocent of any complicity in the affair." (Advancing with the paper and a fountain pen.) Sign, please.
[Jasper signs. At this moment two warders burst into the room.
First Warder. There they are!
[He seizes Dick. Two-toed Thomas leaps from the window, pursued by the second Warder. Millicent picks up the confession and advances dramatically.
Millicent. Do not touch that man! Read this!
[She hands him the confession with an air of superb pride.
First Warder (reading). Jasper Beeste! (Slipping a pair of handcuffs on Jasper.) You come along with me, my man. We've had our suspicions of you for some time. (To Millicent, with a nod at Dick.) You'll look after that gentleman, miss?
Millicent. Of course! Why, he's engaged to me. Aren't you, Dick?
Dick. This time, Millicent, for ever!
"THE LOST HEIRESS"
The scene is laid outside a village inn in that county of curious dialects, Loamshire. The inn is easily indicated by a round table bearing two mugs of liquid, while a fallen log emphasizes the rural nature of the scene. Gaffer Jarge and Gaffer Willyum are seated at the table, surrounded by a fringe of whisker, Jarge being slightly more of a gaffer than Willyum.
Jarge (who missed his dinner through nervousness and has been ordered to sustain himself with soup—as he puts down the steaming mug). Eh, bor, but this be rare beer. So it be.
Willyum (who had too much dinner and is now draining his sanatogen). You be right, Gaffer Jarge. Her be main rare beer. (He feels up his sleeve, but thinking better of it wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.) Main rare beer, zo her be. (Gagging.) Zure-lie.
Jarge. Did I ever tell 'ee, bor, about t' new squoire o' these parts—him wot cum hum yesterday from furren lands? Gaffer Henry wor a-telling me.
Willyum (privately bored). Thee didst tell 'un, lad, sartain sure thee didst. And Gaffer Henry, he didst tell 'un too. But tell 'un again. It du me good to hear 'un, zo it du. Zure-lie.
Jarge. A rackun it be a main queer tale, queerer nor any them writing chaps tell about. It wor like this. (Dropping into English, in his hurry to get his long speech over before he forgets it.) The old Squire had a daughter who disappeared when she was three weeks old, eighteen years ago. It was always thought she was stolen by somebody, and the Squire would have it that she was still alive. When he died a year ago he left the estate and all his money to a distant cousin in Australia, with the condition that if he did not discover the missing baby within twelve months everything was to go to the hospitals. (Remembering his smock and whiskers with a start.) And here du be the last day, zo it be, and t' Squoire's daughter, her ain't found.
Willyum (puffing at a new and empty clay pipe). Zure-lie. (Jarge, a trifle jealous of Willyum's gag, pulls out a similar pipe, but smokes it with the bowl upside down to show his independence.) T' Squire's darter (Jarge frowns), her bain't (Jarge wishes he had thought of "bain't")—her bain't found. (There is a dramatic pause, only broken by the prompter.) Her ud be little Rachel's age now, bor?
Jarge (reflectively). Ay, ay. A main queer lass little Rachel du be. Her bain't like one of us.
Willyum. Her do be that fond of zoap and water. (Laughter.)
Jarge (leaving nothing to chance). Happen she might be a real grand lady by birth, bor.
Enter Rachel, beautifully dressed in the sort of costume in which one would go to a fancy-dress ball as a village maiden.
Rachel (in the most expensive accent). Now Uncle George (shaking a finger at him), didn't you promise me you'd go straight home? It would serve you right if I never tied your tie for you again. (She smiles brightly at him.)
Jarge (slapping his thigh in ecstasy). Eh, lass, yer du keep us old 'uns in order. (He bursts into a falsetto chuckle, loses the note, blushes and buries his head in his mug.)
Willyum (rising). Us best be gettin' down along, Jarge, a rackun.
Jarge. Ay, bor, time us chaps was moving. Don't 'e be long, lass. [Exeunt, limping heavily.
Rachel (sitting down on the log). Dear old men! How I love them all in this village! I have known it all my life. How strange it is that I have never had a father or mother. Sometimes I seem to remember a life different to this—a life in fine houses and spacious parks, among beautifully dressed people (which is surprising, seeing that she was only three weeks old at the time; but the audience must be given a hint of the plot), and then it all fades away again. (She looks fixedly into space.)
Enter Hugh Fitzhugh, Squire.
Fitzhugh (standing behind Rachel, but missing her somehow). Did ever man come into stranger inheritance? A wanderer in Central Australia, I hear unexpectedly of my cousin's death through an advertisement in an old copy of a Sunday newspaper. I hasten home—too late to soothe his dying hours; too late indeed to enjoy my good fortune for more than one short day. To-morrow I must give up all to the hospitals, unless by some stroke of Fate this missing girl turns up. (Impatiently.) Pshaw! She is dead. (Suddenly he notices Rachel.) By heaven, a pretty girl in this out-of-the-way village! (He walks round her.) Gad, she is lovely! Hugh, my boy, you are in luck. (He takes off his hat.) Good-evening, my dear!
Rachel (with a start). Good-evening.
Fitzhugh (aside). She is adorable. She can be no common village wench. (Aloud.) Do you live here, my girl?
Rachel. Yes, I have always lived here. (Aside.) How handsome he is. Down, fluttering heart.
Fitzhugh (sitting on the log beside her). And who is the lucky village lad who is privileged to woo such beauty?
Rachel. I have no lover, sir.
Fitzhugh (taking her hand). Can Hodge be so blind?
Rachel (innocently). Are you making love to me?
Fitzhugh. Upon my word I—(He gets up from the log, which is not really comfortable.) What is your name?
Rachel. Rachel. (She rises.)
Fitzhugh. It is the most beautiful name in the world. Rachel, will you be my wife?
Rachel. But we have known each other such a short time!
Fitzhugh (lying bravely). We have known each other for ever.
Rachel. And you are a rich gentleman, while I—
Fitzhugh. A gentleman, I hope, but rich—no. To-morrow I shall be a beggar. No, not a beggar, if I have your love, Rachel.
Rachel (making a lucky shot at his name). Hugh! (They embrace.)
Fitzhugh. Let us plight our troth here. See, I give you my ring!
Rachel. And I give you mine.
[She takes one from the end of a chain which is round her neck, and puts it on his finger. Fitzhugh looks at it and staggers back.
Fitzhugh. Heavens! They are the same ring! (In great excitement.) Child, child, who are you? How came you by the crest of the Fitzhughs?
Rachel. Ah, who am I? I never had any parents. When they found me they found that ring on me, and I have kept it ever since!
Fitzhugh. Let me look at you! It must be! The Squire's missing daughter!
[Gaffers Jarge and Willyum, having entered unobserved at the back some time ago, have been putting in a lot of heavy byplay until wanted.
Jarge (at last). Lor' bless 'ee, Willyum, if it bain't Squire a-kissin' our Rachel!
Willyum. Zo it du be. Here du be goings-on! What will t' passon say?
Jarge (struck with an idea). Zay, bor, don't 'ee zee a zort o' loikeness atween t' maid and t' Squire?
Willyum. Jarge, if you bain't right, lad. Happen she do have t' same nose!
[Hearing something, Fitzhugh and Rachel turn round.
Fitzhugh. Ah, my men! I'm your new Squire. Do you know who this is?
Willyum. Why, her du be our Rachel.
Fitzhugh. On the contrary, allow me to introduce you to Miss Fitzhugh, daughter of the late Squire!
Jarge. Well, this du be a day! To think of our Rachel now!
Fitzhugh. MY Rachel now.
Rachel (who, it is to be hoped, has been amusing herself somehow since her last speech). Your Rachel always!
"WILLIAM SMITH, EDITOR"
The scene is the Editor's room in the office of The Lark. Two walls of the room are completely hidden from floor to ceiling by magnificently-bound books: the third wall at the back is hidden by boxes of immensely expensive cigars. The windows, of course, are in the fourth wall, which, however, need not be described, as it is never quite practicable on the stage. The floor of this apartment is chastely covered with rugs shot by the Editor in his travels, or in the Tottenham Court Road; or, in some cases, presented by admiring readers from abroad. The furniture is both elegant and commodious.
William Smith, Editor, comes in. He is superbly dressed in a fur coat and an expensive cigar. There is a blue pencil behind his ear, and a sheaf of what we call in the profession "typewritten manuscripts" under his arm. He sits down at his desk and pulls the telephone towards him.
Smith (at the telephone). Hallo, is that you, Jones? ... Yes, it's me. Just come up a moment. (Puts down telephone and begins to open his letters.)
Enter Jones, his favourite sub-editor. He is dressed quite commonly, and is covered with ink. He salutes respectfully as he comes into the room.
Jones. Good-afternoon, chief.
Smith. Good-afternoon. Have a cigar?
Jones. Thank you, chief.
Smith. Have you anything to tell me?
Jones. The circulation is still going up, chief. It was three million and eight last week.
Smith (testily). How often have I told you not to call me "chief," except when there are ladies present? Why can't you do what you're told?
Jones. Sorry, sir, but the fact is there ARE ladies present.
Smith (fingering his moustache). Show them up. Who are they?
Jones. There is only one. She says she's the lady who has been writing our anonymous "Secrets of the Boudoir" series which has made such a sensation.
Smith (in amazement). I thought you told me YOU wrote these.
Jones (simply). I did.
Smith. Then why—
Jones. I mean I did tell you. The truth is, they came in anonymously, and I thought they were more likely to be accepted if I said I had written them. (With great emotion.) Forgive me, chief, but it was for the paper's sake. (In matter-of-fact tones.) There were one or two peculiarities of style I had to alter. She had a way of—
Smith (sternly). How many cheques for them have you accepted for the paper's sake?
Jones. Eight. For a thousand pounds each.
Smith (with tears in his eyes). If your mother were to hear of this—
Jones (sadly). Ah, chief, I have never had a mother.
Smith (slightly put out, but recovering himself quickly). What would your father say, if—
Jones. Alas, I have no relations. I was a foundling.
Smith (nettled). In that case, I shall certainly tell the master of your workhouse. To think that there should be a thief in this office!
Jones (with great pathos). Chief, chief, I am not so vile as that. I have carefully kept all the cheques in an old stocking, and—
Smith (in surprise). Do you wear stockings?
Jones. When I bicycle. And as soon as the contributor comes forward—
Smith (stretching out his hand and grasping that of Jones). My dear boy, forgive me. You have been hasty, perhaps, but zealous. In any case, your honesty is above suspicion. Leave me now. I have much to think of. (Rests his head on his hands. Then, dreamily.) YOU have never seen your father; for thirty years I have not seen my wife. ... Ah, Arabella!
Jones. Yes, sir. (Rings bell.)
Smith. She WOULD split her infinitives. ... We quarrelled. ... She left me. ... I have never seen her again.
Jones (excitedly). Did you say she split her infinitives?
Smith. Yes. That was what led to our separation. Why?
Jones. Nothing, only—it's very odd. I wonder—
Boy. Did you ring, sir?
Smith. No. But you can show the lady up. (Exit Boy.) You'd better clear out, Jones. I'll explain to her about the money.
Jones. Right you are, sir.
[Smith leans back in his chair and stares in front of him.
Smith (to himself). Arabella!
Enter Boy, followed by a stylishly-dressed lady of middle age.
Boy. Mrs Robinson.
[Mrs Robinson stops short in the middle of the room and stares at the Editor; then staggers and drops on to the sofa.
Smith (in wonder). Arabella!
Mrs Robinson. William!
[They fall into each other's arms.
Arabella. I had begun to almost despair. (Smith winces.) "Almost to despair," I mean, darling.
Smith (with a great effort). No, no, dear. You were right.
Arabella. How sweet of you to think so, William.
Smith. Yes, yes, it's the least I can say. ... I have been very lonely without you, dear. ... And now, what shall we do? Shall we get married again quietly?
Arabella. Wouldn't that be bigamy?
Smith. I think not, but I will ask the printer's reader. He knows everything. You see, there will be such a lot to explain otherwise.
Arabella. Dear, can you afford to marry?
Smith. Well, my salary as editor is only twenty thousand a year, but I do a little reviewing for other papers.
Arabella. And I have—nothing. How can I come to you without even a trousseau?
Smith. Yes, that's true. ... (Suddenly.) By Jove, though, you have got something! You have eight thousand pounds! We owe you that for your articles. (With a return to his professional manner.) Did I tell you how greatly we all appreciated them? (Goes to telephone.) Is that you, Jones? Just come here a moment. (To Arabella.) Jones is my sub-editor; he is keeping your money for you.
Jones (producing an old stocking). I've just been round to my rooms to get that money—(sees Arabella)—oh, I beg your pardon.
Smith (waving an introduction). Mrs Smith—my wife. This is our sub-editor, dear—Mr Jones. (Arabella puts her hand to her heart and seems about to faint.) Why, what's the matter?
Arabella (hoarsely). Where did you get that stocking?
Smith (pleasantly). It's one he wears when he goes bicycling.
Jones. No; I misled you this afternoon, chief. This stocking was all the luggage I had when I first entered the Leamington workhouse.
Arabella (throwing herself into his arms). My son! This is your father! William—our boy!
Smith (shaking hands with Jones). How are you. I say, Arabella, then that was one of MY stockings?
Arabella (to her boy). When I saw you on the stairs you seemed to dimly remind me—
Jones. To remind you dimly, mother.
Smith. No, my boy. In future, nothing but split infinitives will appear in our paper. Please remember that.
Jones (with emotion). I will endeavour to always remember it, dad.
A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS
John walked eight miles over the cliffs to the nearest town in order to buy tobacco. He came back to the farmhouse with no tobacco and the news that he had met some friends in the town who had invited us to dinner and Bridge the next evening.
"But that's no reason why you should have forgotten the tobacco," I said.
"One can't remember everything. I accepted for both of us. We needn't dress. Put on that nice blue flannel suit of yours—"
"And that nice pair of climbing boots with the nails—"
"Is that all you've got?"
"All I'm going to walk eight miles in on a muddy path."
"Then we shall have to take a bag with us. And we can put in pyjamas and stay the night at an hotel; it will save us walking back in the dark. We don't want to lose you over the cliff."
I took out a cigar.
"This is the last," I said. "If, instead of wandering about and collecting invitations, you had only remembered—Shall we cut it up or smoke half each?"
"Call," said John, bringing out a penny. "Heads it is. You begin."
I struck a match and began.
. . . . .
Next day, after lunch, John brought out his little brown bag.
"It won't be very heavy," he said, "and we can carry it in turns. An hour each."
"I don't think that's quite fair," I said. "After all, it's YOUR bag. If you take it for an hour and a half, I don't mind taking the other half."
"Your shoes are heavier than mine, anyhow."
"My pyjamas weigh less. Such a light blue as they are."
"Ah, but my tooth-brush has lost seven bristles. That makes a difference."
"What I say is, let every man carry his own bag. This is a rotten business, John. I don't wish to be anything but polite, but for a silly ass commend me to the owner of that brown thing."
John took no notice and went on packing.
"I shall buy a collar in the town," he said.
"Better let me do it for you. You would only go getting an invitation to a garden-party from the haberdasher. And that would mean another eight miles with a portmanteau."
"There we are," said John, as he closed the bag, "quite small and light. Now, who'll take the first hour?"
"We'd better toss, if you're quite sure you won't carry it all the way. Tails. Just my luck."
John looked out of the window and then at his watch.
"They say two to three is the hottest hour of the day," he said. "It will be cooler later on. I shall put you in."
I led the way up the cliffs with that wretched bag. I insisted upon that condition anyhow—that the man with the bag should lead the way. I wasn't going to have John dashing off at six miles an hour, and leaving himself only two miles at the end.
"But you can come and talk to me," I said to him after ten minutes of it. "I only meant that I was going to set the pace."
"No, no, I like watching you. You do it so gracefully. This is my man," he explained to some children who were blackberrying. "He is just carrying my bag over the cliffs for me. No, he is not very strong."
"You wait," I growled.
John laughed. "Fifty minutes more," he said. And then after a little silence, "I think the bag-carrying profession is overrated. What made you take it up, my lad? The drink? Ah, just so. Dear, dear, what a lesson to all of us."
"There's a good time coming," I murmured to myself, and changed hands for the eighth time.
"I don't care what people say," said John, argumentatively; "brown and blue DO go together. If you wouldn't mind—"
For the tenth time I rammed the sharp corner of the bag into the back of my knee.
"There, that's what I mean. You see it perfectly like that—the brown against the blue of the flannel. Thank you very much."
I stumbled up a steep little bit of slippery grass, and told myself that in three-quarters of an hour I would get some of my own back again. He little knew how heavy that bag could become.
"They say," said John to the heavens, "that if you have weights in your hands you can jump these little eminences much more easily. I suppose one hand alone doesn't do. What a pity he didn't tell me before—I would have lent him another bag with pleasure."
"Nobody likes blackberries more than I do," said John. "But even I would hesitate to come out here on a hot afternoon and fill a great brown bag with blackberries, and then carry them eight miles home. Besides, it looks rather greedy.... I beg your pardon, my lad, I didn't understand. You are taking them home to your aged mother? Of course, of course. Very commendable. If I had a penny, I would lend it to you. No, I only have a sixpence on me, and I have to give that to the little fellow who is carrying my bag over the cliffs for me.... Yes, I picked him up about a couple of miles back. He has mud all up his trousers, I know."
"Half an hour more," I told myself, and went on doggedly, my right shoulder on fire.
"Dear, dear," he said solicitously, "how lopsided the youth of to-day is getting. Too much lawn-tennis, I suppose. How much better the simply healthy exercises of our forefathers; the weightlifting after lunch, the—"
He was silent for ten minutes, and then broke out rapturously once more.
"What a heavenly day! I AM glad we didn't bring a bag—it would have spoilt it altogether. We can easily borrow some slippers, and it will be jolly walking back by moonlight. Now, if you had had your way—"
"One minute more," I said joyfully; "and oh, my boy, how glad I am we brought a bag. What a splendid idea of yours! By the way, you haven't said much lately. A little tired by the walk?"
"I make it TWO minutes," said John.
"Half a minute now.... There! And may I never carry the confounded thing another yard."
I threw the bag down and fell upon the grass. The bag rolled a yard or two away. Then it rolled another yard, slipped over the edge, and started bouncing down the cliff. Finally it leapt away from the earth altogether, and dropped two hundred feet into the sea.
"MY bag," said John stupidly.
And that did for me altogether.
"I don't care a hang about your bag," I cried. "And I don't care a hang if I've lost my pyjamas and my best shoes and my only razor. And I've been through an hour's torture for nothing, and I don't mind that. But oh!—to think that you aren't going to have YOUR hour—"
"By Jove, neither I am," said John, and he sat down and roared with laughter.
A CROWN OF SORROWS
There is something on my mind, of which I must relieve myself. If I am ever to face the world again with a smile I must share my trouble with others. I cannot bear my burden alone.
Friends, I have lost my hat. Will the gentleman who took it by mistake, and forgot to leave his own in its place, kindly return my hat to me at once?
I am very miserable without my hat. It was one of those nice soft ones with a dent down the middle to collect the rain; one of those soft hats which wrap themselves so lovingly round the cranium that they ultimately absorb the personality of the wearer underneath, responding to his every emotion. When people said nice things about me my hat would swell in sympathy; when they said nasty things, or when I had had my hair cut, it would adapt itself automatically to my lesser requirements. In a word, it fitted—and that is more than can be said for your hard unyielding bowler.
My hat and I dropped into a hall of music one night last week. I placed it under the seat, put a coat on it to keep it warm, and settled down to enjoy myself. My hat could see nothing, but it knew that it would hear all about the entertainment on the way home. When the last moving picture had moved away, my hat and I prepared to depart together. I drew out the coat and felt around for my—Where on earth ...
I was calm at first.
"Excuse me," I said politely to the man next to me, "but have you got two hats?"
"Several," he replied, mistaking my meaning.
I dived under the seat again, and came up with some more dust.
"Someone," I said to a programme girl, "has taken my hat."
"Have you looked under the seat for it?" she asked.
It was such a sound suggestion that I went under the seat for the third time.
"It may have been kicked further along," suggested another attendant. She walked up and down the row looking for it, and, in case somebody had kicked it into the row above, walked up and down that one too; and, in case somebody had found touch with it on the other side of the house, many other girls spread themselves in pursuit; and soon we had the whole pack hunting for it.
Then the fireman came up, suspecting the worst. I told him it was even worse than that—my hat had been stolen.
He had a flash of inspiration.
"Are you sure you brought it with you?" he asked.
The programme girls seemed to think that it would solve the whole mystery if I hadn't brought it with me.
"Are you sure you are the fireman?" I said coldly.
He thought for a moment, and then unburdened himself of another idea.
"Perhaps it's just been kicked under the seat," he said.
I left him under the seat and went downstairs with a heavy heart. At the door I said to the hall porter, "Have you seen anybody going out with two hats by mistake?"
"What's the matter?" he said. "Lost your hat?"
"It has been stolen."
"Have you looked under the seats? It may have been kicked along a bit."
"Perhaps I'd better see the manager," I said. "Is it any good looking under the seats for HIM?"
"I expect it's just been kicked along a bit," the hall porter repeated confidently. "I'll come up with you and look for it."
"If there's any more talk about being kicked along a bit," I said bitterly, "somebody WILL be. I want the manager."
I was led to the manager's room, and there I explained the matter to him. He was very pleasant about it.
"I expect you haven't looked for it properly," he said, with a charming smile. "Just take this gentleman up," he added to the hall porter, "and find his hat for him. It has probably been kicked under one of the other seats."
We were smiled irresistibly out, and I was dragged up to the grand circle again. The seats by this time were laid out in white draperies; the house looked very desolate; I knew that my poor hat was dead. With an air of cheery confidence the hall porter turned into the first row of seats....
"It may have been kicked on to the stage," I said, as he began to slow down. "It may have jumped into one of the boxes. It may have turned into a rabbit. You know, I expect you aren't looking for it properly."
The manager was extremely sympathetic when we came back to him. He said, "Oh, I'm sorry." Just like that—"Oh, I'm sorry."
"My hat," I said firmly, "has been stolen."
"I'm sorry," he repeated with a bored smile, and turned to look at himself in the glass.
Then I became angry with him and his attendants and his whole blessed theatre.
"My hat," I said bitingly, "has been stolen from me—while I slept."
. . . . . . .
You must have seen me wearing it in the dear old days. Greeny brown it was in colour; but it wasn't the colour that drew your eyes to it—no, nor yet the shape, nor the angle at which it sat. It was just the essential rightness of it. If you have ever seen a hat which you felt instinctively was a clever hat, an alive hat, a profound hat, then that was my hat—and that was myself underneath it.
NAPOLEON AT WORK
When I am in any doubt or difficulty I say to myself, "What would Napoleon have done?" The answer generally comes at once: "He would have borrowed from Henry," or "He would have said his aunt was ill"—the one obviously right and proper thing. Then I weigh in and do it.
"What station is this?" said Beatrice, as the train began to slow up. "Baby and I want to get home."
"Whitecroft, I expect," said John, who was reading the paper. "Only four more."
"It's grown since we were here last," I observed. "Getting quite a big place."
"Good; then we're at Hillstead. Only three more stations."
I looked out of the window, and had a sudden suspicion.
"Where have I heard the name Byres before?" I murmured thoughtfully.
"You haven't," said John. "Nobody has."
"Say 'Byres,' baby," urged Beatrice happily.
"You're quite sure that there isn't anything advertised called 'Byres'? You're sure you can't drink Byres or rub yourself down with Byres?"
"Well, then, we must be AT Byres."
There was a shriek from Beatrice, as she rushed to the window.
"We're in the wrong train—Quick! Get the bags!—Have you got the rug?—Where's the umbrella?—Open the window, stupid!"
I got up and moved her from the door.
"Leave this to me," I said calmly. "Porter!— PORTER!!—PORTER!!!—Oh, guard, what station's this?"
"Yes, sir." He blew his whistle and the train went on again.
"At any rate we know now that it WAS Byres," I remarked, when the silence began to get oppressive.
"It's all very well for you," Beatrice burst out indignantly, "but you don't think about Baby. We don't know a bit where we are—"
"That's the one thing we do know," I said. "We're at this little Byres place."
"It was the porter's fault at Liverpool Street," said John consolingly. "He told us it was a through carriage."
"I don't care whose fault it was; I'm only thinking of Baby."
"What time do babies go to bed as a rule?" I asked.
"This one goes at six."
"Well, then, she's got another hour. Now, what would Napoleon have done?"
"Napoleon," said John, after careful thought, "would have turned all your clothes out of your bag, would have put the baby in it diagonally, and have bored holes in the top for ventilation. That's as good as going to bed—you avoid the worst of the evening mists. And people would only think you kept caterpillars."
Beatrice looked at him coldly.
"That's a way to talk of your daughter," she said in scorn.
"Don't kill him," I begged, "We may want him. Now I've got another idea. If you look out of the window you observe that we are on a SINGLE line."
"Well, I envy it. And, however single it is, we're going away from home in it."
"True. But the point is that no train can come back on it until we've stopped going forward. So, you see, there's no object in getting out of this train until it has finished for the day. Probably it will go back itself before long, out of sheer boredom. And it's much better waiting here than on a draughty Byres platform."
Beatrice, quite seeing the point, changed the subject.
"There's my trunk will go on to Brookfield, and the wagonette will meet the train, and as we aren't there it will go away without the trunk, and all baby's things are in it."
"She's not complaining," I said. "She's just mentioning it."
"Look here," said John reproachfully, "we're doing all we can. We're both thinking like anything." He picked up his paper again.
I was beginning to get annoyed. It was, of course, no good to get as anxious and excited as Beatrice; that wouldn't help matters at all. On the other hand, the entire indifference of John and the baby was equally out of place. It seemed to me that there was a middle and Napoleonic path in between these two extremes which only I was following. To be convinced that one is the only person doing the right thing is always annoying.
"I've just made another discovery," I said in a hurt voice. "There's a map over John's head, if he'd only had the sense to look there before. There we are," and I pointed with my stick; "there's Byres. The line goes round and round and eventually goes through Dearmer. We get out at Dearmer, and we're only three miles from Brookfield."
"What they call a loop line," assisted John, "because it's in the shape of a loop."
"It's not so bad as it might be," admitted Beatrice grudgingly, after studying the map, "but it's five miles home from Dearmer; and what about my trunk?"
I sighed and pulled out a pencil.
"It's very simple. We write a telegram:—
'Stationmaster, Brookfield. Send wagonette and trunk to wait for us at Dearmer Station.'"
"Love to mother and the children," added John.
Our train stopped again. I summoned a porter and gave him the telegram.
"It's so absurdly simple," I repeated, as the train went on. "Just a little presence of mind; that's all."
We got out at Dearmer and gave up our tickets to the porter-station-master-signalman.
"What's this?" he said. "These are no good to me."
"Well, they're no good to us. We've finished with them."
We sat in the waiting-room with him for half an hour and explained the situation. We said that, highly as we thought of Dearmer, we had not wantonly tried to defraud the Company in order to get a sight of the place; and that, so far from owing him three shillings apiece, we were prepared to take a sovereign to say nothing more about it.... And still the wagonette didn't come.
"Is there a post-office here?" I asked the man. "Or a horse?"
"There might be a horse at the 'Lion.' There's no post-office."
"Well, I suppose I could wire to Brookfield Station from here?"
"Not to Brookfield."
"But supposing you want to tell the station-master there that the train's off the line, or that you've won the first prize at the Flower Show in the vegetable class, how would you do it?"
"Brookfield's not on this line. That's why you've got to pay three shill—"
"Yes, yes. You said all that. Then I shall go and explore the village."
I explored, as Napoleon would have done, and I came back with a plan.
"There is no horse," I said to my eager audience; "but I have found a bicycle. The landlady of the 'Lion' will be delighted to look after Beatrice and the baby, and will give her tea; John will stay here with the bags in case the wagonette turns up, and I will ride to Brookfield and summon help."
"That's all right," said John, "only I would suggest that I go to the 'Lion' and have tea, and Beatrice and the child—"
We left him in disgust at his selfishness. I established the ladies at the inn, mounted the bicycle, and rode off. It was a windy day, and I had a long coat and a bowler hat. After an extremely unpleasant two miles something drove past me. I lifted up my head and looked round. It was the wagonette.
I rode back behind it in triumph. When it turned up the road to the station, I hurried straight on to the "Lion" to prepare Beatrice. I knocked, and peered into rooms, and knocked again, and at last the landlady came.
"Er—is the lady—"
"Oh, she's gone, sir, a long time ago. A gentleman she knew drove past, and she asked him to give her a lift home in his trap. She was going to tell the other gentleman, and he'd wait for you."
"Oh yes. That's all right."
I returned my bicycle to its owner, distributed coppers to his children, and went up to the station. The porter came out to meet me. He seemed surprised.
"The gentleman thought you wouldn't be coming back, sir, as you didn't come with the wagonette."
"I just went up to the 'Lion'—"
"Yessir. Well, he drove off quarter of an hour ago; said it was no good waiting for you, as you'd ride straight 'ome when you found at Brookfield that the wagonette 'ad come."
And now I ask you—What would Napoleon have said?
THE PORTUGUESE CIGAR
EVERYTHING promised well for my week-end with Charles. The weather was warm and sunny, I was bringing my golf clubs down with me, and I had just discovered (and meant to put into practice) an entirely new stance which made it impossible to miss the object ball. It was this that I was explaining to Charles and his wife at dinner on Friday, when the interruption occurred.
"By the way," said Charles, as I took out a cigarette, "I've got a cigar for you. Don't smoke that thing."
"You haven't let him go in for cigars?" I said reproachfully to Mrs Charles. I can be very firm about other people's extravagances.
"This is one I picked up in Portugal," explained Charles. "You can get them absurdly cheap out there. Let's see, dear; where did I put it?"
"I saw it on your dressing-table last week," said his wife, getting up to leave us. He followed her out and went in search of it, while I waited with an interest which I made no effort to conceal. I had never heard before of a man going all the way to Portugal to buy one cigar for a friend.
"Here it is," said Charles, coming in again. He put down in front of me an ash-tray, the matches and a—and a—well, as I say, a cigar. I examined it slowly. Half of it looked very tired.
"Well," said Charles, "what do you think of it?"
"When you say you—er—PICKED IT UP in Portugal," I began carefully, "I suppose you don't mean—" I stopped and tried to bite the end off.
"Have a knife," said Charles.
I had another bite, and then I decided to be frank.
"WHY did you pick it up?" I asked.
"The fact was," said Charles, "I found myself one day in Lisbon without my pipe, and so I bought that thing; I never smoke them in the ordinary way."
"Did you smoke this?" I asked. It was obvious that SOMETHING had happened to it.
"No, you see, I found some cigarettes at the last moment, and so, knowing that you liked cigars, I thought I'd bring it home for you."
"It's very nice of you, Charles. Of course I can see that it has travelled. Well, we must do what we can with it."
I took the knife and started chipping away at the mahogany end. The other end—the brown-paper end, which had come ungummed—I intended to reserve for the match. When everything was ready I applied a light, leant back in my chair, and pulled.
"That's all right, isn't it?" said Charles. "And you'd be surprised if I told you what I paid for it."
"No, no, you mustn't think that," I protested. "Probably things are dearer in Portugal." I put it down by my plate for a moment's rest. "All I've got against it at present is that its pores don't act as freely as they should."
"I've got a cigar-cutter somewhere, if—"
"No, don't bother. I think I can do it with the nut-crackers. There's no doubt it was a good cigar once, but it hasn't wintered well."
I squeezed it as hard as I could, lit it again, pressed my feet against the table and pulled.
"Now it's going," said Charles.
"I'm afraid it keeps very reticent at my end. The follow-through is poor. Is your end alight still?"
"It's a pity that I should be missing all that. How would it be if we were to make a knitting-needle red-hot, and bore a tunnel from this end? We might establish a draught that way. Only there's always the danger, of course, of coming out at the side."
I took the cigar up and put it to my ear.
"I can't HEAR anything wrong," I said. "I expect what it really wants is massage."
Charles filled his pipe again and got up. "Let's go for a stroll," he said. "It's a beautiful night. Bring your cigar with you."
"It may prefer the open air," I said. "There's always that. You know we mustn't lose sight of the fact that the Portuguese climate is different from ours. The thing's pores may have acted more readily in the South. On the other hand, the unfastened end may have been more adhesive. I gather that though you have never actually met anybody who has smoked a cigar like this, yet you understand that the experiment is a practicable one. As far as you know, this had no brothers. No, no, Charles, I'm going on with it, but I should like to know all that you can tell me of its parentage. It had a Portuguese father and an American mother, I should say, and there has been a good deal of trouble in the family. One moment"—and as we went outside I stopped and cracked it in the door.
It was an inspiration. At the very next application of the match I found that I had established a connection with the lighted end. Not a long and steady connection, but one that came in gusts. After two gusts I decided that it was perhaps safer to blow from my end, and for a little while we had in this way as much smoke around us as the most fastidious cigar-smoker could want. Then I accidentally dropped it; something in the middle of it shifted, I suppose—and for the rest of my stay behind it only one end was at work.
"Well," said Charles, when we were back in the smoking-room, and I was giving the cigar a short breather, "it's not a bad one, is it?"
"I have enjoyed it," I said truthfully, for I like trying to get the mastery over a thing that defies me.
"You'll never guess what it cost," he chuckled.
"Tell me," I said. "I daren't guess."
"Well, in English money it works out at exactly three farthings."
I looked at him for a long time and then shook my head sadly.
"Charles, old friend," I said, "you've been done."
A COLD WORLD
Herbert is a man who knows all about railway tickets, and packing, and being in time for trains, and things like that. But I fancy I have taught him a lesson at last. He won't talk quite so much about tickets in future.
I was just thinking about getting up when he came into my room. He looked at me in horror.
"My dear fellow!" he said. "And you haven't even packed! You'll be late. Here, get up, and I'll pack for you while you dress."
"Do," I said briefly.
"First of all, what clothes are you going to travel in?"
There was no help for it. I sat up in bed and directed operations.
"Right," said Herbert. "Now, what about your return ticket? You mustn't forget that."
"You remind me of a little story," I said. "I'll tell it you while you pack—that will be nice for you. Once upon a time I lost my return ticket, and I had to pay two pounds for another. And a month afterwards I met a man—a man like you who knows all about tickets—and he said, 'You could have got the money back if you had applied at once.' So I said, 'Give me a cigarette now, and I'll transfer all my rights in the business to you.' And he gave me a cigarette; but unfortunately—"
"It was too late?"
"No. Unfortunately it wasn't. He got the two pounds. The most expensive cigarette I've ever smoked."
"Well, that just shows you," said Herbert. "Here's your ticket. Put it in your waistcoat pocket now."
"But I haven't got a waistcoat on, silly."
"Which one are you going to put on?"
"I don't know yet. This is a matter which requires thought. Give me time, give me air."
"Well, I shall put the ticket here on the dressing-table, and then you can't miss it." He looked at his watch. "And the trap starts in half an hour."
"Help!" I cried, and I leapt out of bed.
Half an hour later I was saying good-bye to Herbert.
"I've had an awfully jolly time," I said, "and I'll come again."
"You've got the ticket all right?"
"Rather!" and I drove away amidst cheers. Cheers of sorrow.
It was half an hour's drive to the station. For the first ten minutes I thought how sickening it was to be leaving the country; then I had a slight shock; and for the next twenty minutes I tried to remember how much a third single to the nearest part of London cost. Because I had left my ticket on the dressing-table after all.
I gave my luggage to a porter and went off to the station-master.
"I wonder if you can help me," I said. "I've left my return ticket on the dress—Well, we needn't worry about that, I've left it at home."
He didn't seem intensely excited.
"What did you think of doing?" he asked.
"I had rather hoped that YOU would do something."
"You can buy another ticket, and get the money back afterwards."
"Yes, yes; but can I? I've only got about one pound six."
"The fare to London is one pound five and tenpence ha'penny."
"Ah; well, that leaves a penny ha'penny to be divided between the porter this end, lunch, tea, the porter the other end, and the cab. I don't believe it's enough. Even if I gave it all to the porter here, think how reproachfully he would look at you ever afterwards. It would haunt you."
The station-master was evidently moved. He thought for a moment, and then asked if I knew anybody who would vouch for me. I mentioned Herbert confidently. He had never even heard of Herbert.
"I've got a tie-pin," I said (station-masters have a weakness for tie-pins), "and a watch and a cigarette case. I shall be happy to lend you any of those."
The idea didn't appeal to him.
"The best thing you can do," he said, "is to take a ticket to the next station and talk to them there. This is only a branch line, and I have no power to give you a pass."
So that was what I had to do. I began to see myself taking a ticket at every stop and appealing to the station-master at the next. Well, the money would last longer that way, but unless I could overcome quickly the distrust which I seemed to inspire in station-masters there would not be much left for lunch. I gave the porter all I could afford—a ha'penny, mentioned apologetically that I was coming back, and stepped into the train.
At the junction I jumped out quickly and dived into the sacred office.
"I've left my ticket on the dressing—that is to say I forgot—well, anyhow I haven't got it," I began, and we plunged into explanations once more. This station-master was even more unemotional than the last. He asked me if I knew anybody who could vouch for me—I mentioned Herbert diffidently. He had never even heard of Herbert. I showed him my gold watch, my silver cigarette case, and my emerald and diamond tie-pin—that was the sort of man I was.
"The best thing you can do," he said, walking with me to the door," is to take a ticket to Plymouth and speak to the station-master there—"
"This is a most interesting game," I said bitterly. "What is 'home'? When you speak to the station-master at London, I suppose? I've a good mind to say 'Snap!'"
Extremely annoyed I strode out, and bumped into—you'll never guess—Herbert!
"Ah, here you are," he panted; "I rode after you—the train was just going—jumped into it—been looking all over the station for you."
"It's awfully nice of you, Herbert. Didn't I say good-bye?"
"Your ticket." He produced it. "Left it on the dressing-table." He took a deep breath. "I told you you would."
"Bless you," I said, as I got happily into my train. "You've saved my life. I've had an awful time. I say, do you know, I've met two station-masters already this morning who've never even heard of you. You must inquire into it."
At that moment a porter came up.
"Did you give up your ticket, sir?" he asked Herbert.
"I hadn't time to get one," said Herbert, quite at his ease. "I'll pay now," and he began to feel in his pockets.... The train moved out of the station.
A look of horror came over Herbert's face. I knew what it meant. He hadn't any money on him. "Hi!" he shouted to me, and then we swung round a bend out of sight....
Well, well, he'll have to get home somehow. His watch is only nickel and his cigarette case leather, but luckily that sort of thing doesn't weigh much with station-masters. What they want is a well- known name as a reference. Herbert is better off than I was: he can give them MY name. It will be idle for them to pretend that they have never heard of me.
"May I look at my watch?" I asked my partner, breaking a silence which had lasted from the beginning of the waltz.
"Oh, HAVE you got a watch?" she drawled. "How exciting!"
"I wasn't going to show it to you," I said, "But I always think it looks so bad for a man to remove his arm from a lady's waist in order to look at his watch—I mean without some sort of apology or explanation. As though he were wondering if he could possibly stick another five minutes of it."
"Let me know when the apology is beginning," said Miss White. Perhaps, after all, her name wasn't White, but, anyhow, she was dressed in white, and it's her own fault if wrong impressions arise.
"It begins at once. I've got to catch a train home. There's one at 12.45, I believe. If I started now I could just miss it."
"You don't live in these Northern Heights then?"
"No. Do you?"
I looked at my watch again.
"I should love to discuss with you the relative advantages of London and Greater London," I said; "the flats and cats of one and the big gardens of the other. But just at the moment the only thing I can think of is whether I shall like the walk home. Are there any dangerous passes to cross?"
"It's a nice wet night for a walk," said Miss White reflectively.
"If only I had brought my bicycle."
"A watch AND a bicycle! You ARE lucky!"
"Look here, it may be a joke to you, but I don't fancy myself coming down the mountains at night."
"The last train goes at one o'clock, if that's any good to you."
"All the good in the world," I said joyfully. "Then I needn't walk." I looked at my watch. "That gives us five minutes more. I could almost tell you all about myself in the time."
"It generally takes longer than that," said Miss White. "At least it seems to." She sighed and added, "My partners have been very autobiographical to-night."
I looked at her severely.
"I'm afraid you're a Suffragette," I said.
As soon as the next dance began I hurried off to find my hostess. I had just caught sight of her, when—
"Our dance, isn't it?" said a voice.
I turned and recognized a girl in blue.
"Ah," I said, coldly cheerful, "I was just looking for you. Come along."
We broke into a gay and happy step, suggestive of twin hearts utterly free from care.
"Why do you look so thoughtful?" asked the girl in blue after ten minutes of it.
"I've just heard some good news," I said.
"Oh, do tell me!"
"I don't know if it would really interest you."
"I'm sure it would."
"Well, several miles from here there may be a tram, if one can find it, which goes nobody quite knows where up till one-thirty in the morning probably. It is now," I added, looking at my watch (I was getting quite good at this), "just on one o'clock and raining hard. All is well."
The dance over, I searched in vain for my hostess. Every minute I took out my watch and seemed to feel that another tram was just starting off to some unknown destination. At last I could bear it no longer and, deciding to write a letter of explanation on the morrow, I dashed off.
My instructions from Miss White with regard to the habitat of trams (thrown in by her at the last moment in case the train failed me) were vague. Five minutes' walk convinced me that I had completely lost any good that they might ever have been to me. Instinct and common sense were the only guides left. I must settle down to some heavy detective work.
The steady rain had washed out any footprints that might have been of assistance, and I was unable to follow up the slot of a tram conductor of which I had discovered traces in Two-hundred-and- fifty-first Street. In Three-thousand-eight-hundred- and-ninety-seventh Street I lay with my ear to the ground and listened intently, for I seemed to hear the ting-ting of the electric car, but nothing came of it; and in Four-millionth Street I made a new resolution. I decided to give up looking for trams and to search instead for London—the London that I knew.
I felt pretty certain that I was still in one of the Home Counties, and I did not seem to remember having crossed the Thames, so that if only I could find a star which pointed to the south I was in a fair way to get home. I set out to look for a star; with the natural result that, having abandoned all hope of finding a man, I immediately ran into him.
"Now then," he said good-naturedly.
"Could you tell me the way to—" I tried to think of some place near my London—"to Westminster Abbey?"
He looked at me in astonishment. His feeling seemed to be that I was too late for the Coronation and too early for the morning service.
"Or—or anywhere," I said hurriedly. "Trams, for instance."
He pointed nervously to the right and disappeared.
Imagine my joy; there were tram-lines, and, better still, a tram approaching. I tumbled in, gave the conductor a penny, and got a workman's ticket in exchange. Ten minutes later we reached the terminus.
I had wondered where we should arrive, whether Gray's Inn Road or Southampton Row, but didn't much mind so long as I was again within reach of a cab. However, as soon as I stepped out of the tram, I knew at once where I was.
"Tell me," I said to the conductor; "do you now go back again?"
"In ten minutes. There's a tram from here every half-hour."
"When is the last?"
"There's no last. Backwards and forwards all night."
I should have liked to stop and sympathize, but it was getting late. I walked a hundred yards up the hill and turned to the right.... As I entered the gates I could hear the sound of music.
"Isn't this our dance?" I said to Miss White, who was taking a breather at the hall door. "One moment," I added, and I got out of my coat and umbrella.
"Is it? I thought you'd gone."
"Oh no, I decided to stay after all. I found out that the trams go all night."
We walked in together.
"I won't be more autobiographical than I can help," I said, "but I must say it's a hard life, a doctor's. One is called away in the middle of a dance to a difficult case of—of mumps or something, and—well, there you are. A delightful evening spoilt. If one is lucky, one may get back in time for a waltz or two at the end.
"Indeed," I said, as we began to dance; "at one time to-night I quite thought I wasn't going to get back here at all."
THE THINGS THAT MATTER
RONALD, surveying the world from his taxi—that pleasant corner of the world, St James's Park—gave a sigh of happiness. The blue sky, the lawn of daffodils, the mist of green upon the trees were but a promise of the better things which the country held for him. Beautiful as he thought the daffodils, he found for the moment an even greater beauty in the Gladstone bags at his feet. His eyes wandered from one to the other, and his heart sang to him, "I'm going away—I'm going away—I'm going away."
The train was advertised to go at 2.22, and at 2.20 Ronald joined the Easter holiday crowd upon the platform. A porter put down his luggage and was then swallowed up in a sea of perambulators and flustered parents. Ronald never saw him again. At 2.40, amidst some applause, the train came in.
Ronald seized a lost porter.
"Just put these in for me," he said. "A first smoker."
"All this lot yours, sir?"
"The three bags—not the milk-cans," said Ronald.
It had been a beautiful day before, but when a family of sixteen which joined Ronald in his carriage was ruthlessly hauled out by the guard, the sun seemed to shine with a warmth more caressing than ever. Even when the train moved out of the station, and the children who had been mislaid emerged from their hiding-places and were bundled in anywhere by the married porters, Ronald still remained splendidly alone ... and the sky took on yet a deeper shade of blue.
He lay back in his corner, thinking. For a time his mind was occupied with the thoughts common to most of us when we go away—thoughts of all the things we have forgotten to pack. I don't think you could fairly have called Ronald over-anxious about clothes. He recognized that it was the inner virtues which counted; that a well-dressed exterior was nothing without some graces of mind or body. But at the same time he did feel strongly that, if you are going to stay at a house where you have never visited before, and if you are particularly anxious to make a good impression, it IS a pity that an accident of packing should force you to appear at dinner in green knickerbockers and somebody else's velvet smoking-jacket.
Ronald couldn't help feeling that he had forgotten something. It wasn't the spare sponge; it wasn't the extra shaving-brush; it wasn't the second pair of bedroom slippers. Just for a moment the sun went behind a cloud as he wondered if he had included the reserve razor-strop; but no, he distinctly remembered packing that.
The reason for his vague feeling of unrest was this. He had been interrupted while getting ready that afternoon; and as he left whatever he had been doing in order to speak to his housekeeper he had said to himself, "If you're not careful, you'll forget about that when you come back." And now he could not remember what it was he had been doing, nor whether he HAD in the end forgotten to go on with it. Was he selecting his ties, or brushing his hair, or—
The country was appearing field by field; the train rushed through cuttings gay with spring flowers; blue was the sky between the baby clouds ... but it all missed Ronald. What COULD he have forgotten?
He went over the days that were coming; he went through all the changes of toilet that the hours might bring. He had packed this and this and this and this—he was all right for the evening. Supposing they played golf? ... He was all right for golf. He might want to ride .... He would be able to ride. It was too early for lawn-tennis, but ... well, anyhow, he had put in flannels.
As he considered all the possible clothes that he might want, it really seemed that he had provided for everything. If he liked, he could go to church on Friday morning; hunt otters from twelve to one on Saturday; toboggan or dig for badgers on Monday. He had the different suits necessary for those who attend a water-polo meeting, who play chess, or who go out after moths with a pot of treacle. And even, in the last resort, he could go to bed.
Yes, he was all right. He had packed EVERYTHING; moreover, his hair was brushed and he had no smut upon his face. With a sigh of relief he lowered the window and his soul drank in the beautiful afternoon. "We are going away—we are going away—we are going away," sang the train.
At the prettiest of wayside stations the train stopped and Ronald got out. There were horses to meet him. "Better than a car," thought Ronald, "on an afternoon like this." The luggage was collected—"Nothing left out," he chuckled to himself, and was seized with an insane desire to tell the coach-man so; and then they drove off through the fresh green hedgerows, Ronald trying hard not to cheer.
His host was at the door as they arrived. Ronald, as happy as a child, jumped out and shook him warmly by the hand, and told him what a heavenly day it was; receiving with smiles of pleasure the news in return that it was almost like summer.
"You're just in time for tea. Really, we might have it in the garden."
"By Jove, we might," said Ronald, beaming.
However, they had it in the hall, with the doors wide open. Ronald, sitting lazily with his legs stretched out and a cup of tea in his hands, and feeling already on the friendliest terms with everybody, wondered again at the difference which the weather could make to one's happiness.
"You know," he said to the girl on his right, "on a day like this, NOTHING seems to matter."
And then suddenly he knew that he was wrong; for he had discovered what it was which he had told himself not to forget ... what it was which he had indeed forgotten.
And suddenly the birds stopped singing and there was a bitter chill in the air.
And the sun went violently out.
. . . . . . .
He was wearing only half a pair of spats.
STORIES OF SUCCESSFUL LIVES
The office was at its busiest, for it was Friday afternoon. John Blunt leant back in his comfortable chair and toyed with the key of the safe, while he tried to realize his new position. He, John Blunt, was junior partner in the great London firm of Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton & Macnaughton!
He closed his eyes, and his thoughts wandered back to the day when he had first entered the doors of the firm as one of two hundred and seventy-eight applicants for the post of office-boy. They had been interviewed in batches, and old Mr Sanderson, the senior partner, had taken the first batch.
"I like your face, my boy," he had said heartily to John.
"And I like yours," replied John, not to be outdone in politeness.
"Now I wonder if you can spell 'mortgage'?"
"One 'm'?" said John tentatively.
Mr Sanderson was delighted with the lad's knowledge, and engaged him at once.
For three years John had done his duty faithfully. During this time he had saved the firm more than once by his readiness—particularly on one occasion, when he had called old Mr Sanderson's attention to the fact that he had signed a letter to a firm of stockbrokers, "Your loving husband Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton & Macnaughton." Mr Sanderson, always a little absentminded, corrected the error, and promised the boy his articles. Five years later John Blunt was a solicitor.
And now he was actually junior partner in the firm—the firm of which it was said in the City, "If a man has Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton & Macnaughton behind him, he is all right." The City is always coining pithy little epigrams like this.
There was a knock at the door of the inquiry office and a prosperous-looking gentleman came in.
"Can I see Mr Macnaughton," he said politely to the office-boy.
"There isn't no Mr Macnaughton," replied the latter. "They all died years ago."
"Well, well, can I see one of the partners?"
"You can't see Mr Sanderson, because he's having his lunch," said the boy. "Mr Thorpe hasn't come back from lunch yet, Mr Peters has just gone out to lunch, Mr Williams is expected back from lunch every minute, Mr Gourlay went out to lunch an hour ago, Mr Beamish—"
"Tut, tut, isn't anybody in?"
"Mr Blunt is in," said the boy, and took up the telephone. "If you wait a moment I'll see if he's awake."
Half an hour later Mr Masters was shown into John Blunt's room.
"I'm sorry I was engaged," said John. "A most important client. Now, what can I do for you, Mr—er—Masters?"
"I wish to make my will."
"By all means," said John cordially.
"I have only one child, to whom I intend to leave all my money."
"Ha!" said John, with a frown. "This will be a lengthy and difficult business."
"But you can do it?" asked Mr Masters anxiously. "They told me at the hairdresser's that Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton, Macnaughton & Macnaughton was the cleverest firm in London."
"We can do it," said John simply, "but it will require all our care; and I think it would be best if I were to come and stay with you for the week-end. We could go into it properly then."
"Thank you," said Mr Masters, clasping the other's hand. "I was just going to suggest it. My motor-car is outside. Let us go at once."
"I will follow you in a moment," said John, and pausing only to snatch a handful of money from the safe for incidental expenses, and to tell the boy that he would be back on Monday, he picked up the well-filled week-end bag which he always kept ready, and hurried after the other.
Inside the car Mr Masters was confidential.
"My daughter," he said, "comes of age to-morrow."
"Oh, it's a daughter?" said John, in surprise. "Is she pretty?"
"She is considered to be the prettiest girl in the county."
"Really?" said John. He thought a moment, and added, "Can we stop at a post-office? I must send an important business telegram." He took out a form and wrote:
"Macmacmacmacmac, London. Shall not be back till Wednesday.—BLUNT."
The car stopped and then sped on again.
"Amy has never been any trouble to me," said Mr Masters, "but I am getting old now, and I would give a thousand pounds to see her happily married."
"To whom would you give it," asked John, whipping out his pocket-book.
"Tut, tut, a mere figure of speech. But I would settle a hundred thousand pounds on her on the wedding-day."
"Indeed?" said John thoughtfully. "Can we stop at another post-office?" he added, bringing out his fountain-pen again. He took out a second telegraph form and wrote:
"Macmacmacmacmac, London. Shall not be back till Friday.—BLUNT."
The car dashed on again, and an hour later arrived it a commodious mansion standing in its own well-timbered grounds of upwards of several acres. At the front-door a graceful figure was standing.