WHEN I am not feeling very well I go to Beatrice for sympathy and advice. Anyhow I get the advice.
“I think,” I said carelessly, wishing to break it to her as gently as possible, “I think I have hay-fever.”
“Nonsense,” said Beatrice.
That annoyed me. Why shouldn’t I have hay-fever if I wanted to?
“If you’re going to begrudge me every little thing,” I began.
“You haven’t even got a cold.”
As luck would have it a sneeze chose that moment for its arrival.
“There!” I said triumphantly.
“Why, my dear boy, if you had hay-fever you’d be sneezing all day.”
“That was only a sample. There are lots more where that came from.”
“Don’t be so silly. Fancy starting hay-fever in September.”
“I’m not starting it. I am, I earnestly hope, just finishing it. If you want to know, I’ve had a cold all the summer.”
“Well, I haven’t noticed it.”
“That’s because I’m such a good actor. I’ve been playing the part of a man who hasn’t had a cold all the summer. My performance is considered to be most life-like.”
Beatrice disdained to answer, and by and by I sneezed again.
“You certainly have a cold,” she said, putting down her work.
“Come, this is something.”
“You must be careful. How did you catch it?”
“I didn’t catch it. It caught me.”
“No, last May.”
Beatrice picked up her work again impatiently. I sneezed a third time.
“Is this more the sort of thing you want?” I said.
“What I say is that you couldn’t have had hay-fever all the summer without people knowing.”
“But, my dear Beatrice, people do know. In this quiet little suburb you are rather out of the way of the busy world. Rumours of war, depressions on the Stock Exchange, my hay-fever–these things pass you by. But the clubs are full of it. I assure you that, all over the country, England’s stately homes have been plunged into mourning by the news of my sufferings, historic piles have bowed their heads and wept.”
“I suppose you mean that in every house you’ve been to this summer you’ve told them that you had it, and they’ve been foolish enough to believe you.”
“That’s putting it a little crudely. What happens is–“
“Well, all I can say is, you know a very silly lot of people.”
“What happens is that when the mahogany has been cleared of its polished silver and choice napery, and wine of a rare old vintage is circulating from hand to hand–“
“If they wanted to take any notice of you at all, they could have given you a bread poultice and sent you to bed.”
“Then, as we impatiently bite the ends off our priceless Havanas–“
“They might know that you couldn’t possibly have hay-fever.”
I sat up suddenly and spoke to Beatrice.
“Why on earth SHOULDN’T I have hay-fever?” I demanded. “Have you any idea what hay-fever is? I suppose you think I ought to be running about wildly, trying to eat hay–or yapping and showing an unaccountable aversion from dried grass? I take it that there are grades of hay-fever, as there are of everything else. I have it at present in a mild form. Instead of being thankful that it is no worse, you–“
“My dear boy, hay-fever is a thing people have all their lives, and it comes on every summer. You’ve never even pretended to have it before this year.”
“Yes, but you must start SOME time. I’m a little backward, perhaps. Just because there are a few infant prodigies about, don’t despise me. In a year or two I shall be as regular as the rest of them.” And I sneezed again.
Beatrice got up with an air of decision and left the room. For a moment I thought she was angry and had gone for a policeman, but as the minutes went by and she didn’t return I began to fear that she might have left the house for good. I was wondering how I should break the news to her husband when, to my relief, she came in again.
“You may be right,” she said, putting down a small package and unpinning her hat. “Try this. The chemist says it’s the best hay-fever cure there is.”
“It’s in a lot of languages,” I said as I took the wrapper off. “I suppose German hay is the same as any other sort of hay? Oh, here it is in English. I say, this is a what-d’-you-call-it cure.”
“So the man said.”
“Homeopathic. It’s made from the pollen that causes hay-fever. Yes. Ah, yes.” I coughed slightly and looked at Beatrice out of the corner of my eye. “I suppose,” I said carelessly, “if anybody took this who HADN’T got hay-fever, the results might be rather–I mean that he might then find that he-in fact, er–HAD got it.”
“Sure to,” said Beatrice.
“Yes. That makes us a little thoughtful; we don’t want to over-do this thing.” I went on reading the instructions. “You know, it’s rather odd about my hay-fever–it’s generally worse in town than in the country.”
“But then you started so late, dear. You haven’t really got into the swing of it yet.”
“Yes, but still–you know, I have my doubts about the gentleman who invented this. We don’t see eye to eye in this matter. Beatrice, you may be right–perhaps I haven’t got hay-fever.”
“Oh, don’t give up.”
“But all the same I know I’ve got something. It’s a funny thing about my being worse in town than in the country. That looks rather as if–By Jove, I know what it is–I’ve got just the opposite of hay-fever.”
“What is the opposite of hay?”
“Why, bricks and things.”
I gave a last sneeze and began to wrap up the cure.
“Take this pollen stuff back,” I said to Beatrice, “and ask the man if he’s got anything homoeopathic made from paving-stones. Because, you know, that’s what I really want.”
“You HAVE got a cold,” said Beatrice.
A MODERN CINDERELLA
ONCE upon a time there was a beautiful girl who lived in a mansion in Park Lane with her mother and her two sisters and a crowd of servants. Cinderella, for that was her name, would have dearly loved to have employed herself about the house sometimes; but whenever she did anything useful, like arranging the flowers or giving the pug a bath, her mother used to say, “Cinderella! What DO you think I engage servants for? Please don’t make yourself so common.”
Cinderella’s two sisters were much older and plainer than herself, and their mother had almost given up hope about them, but she used to drag Cinderella to balls and dances night after night, taking care that only the right sort of person was introduced to her. There were many nights when Cinderella would have preferred a book at home in front of the fire, for she soon found that her partners’ ideas of waltzing were as catholic as their conversation was limited. It was, indeed, this fondness for the inglenook that had earned her the name of Cinderella.
One day, when she was in the middle of a delightful story, her mother came in suddenly and cried:
“Cinderella! Why aren’t you resting, as I told you? You know we are going to the Hogbins’ to-night.”
“Oh, mother,” pleaded Cinderella, “NEED I go to the dance?”
“Don’t be so absurd! Of course you’re going!”
“But I’ve got nothing to wear.”
“I’ve told Jennings what you’re to wear. Now go and lie down. I want you to look your best to-night, because I hear that young Mr Hogbin is back again from Australia.” Young Mr Hogbin was not the King’s son; he was the son of a wealthy gelatine manufacturer.
“Then may I come away at twelve?” begged Cinderella.
“You’ll come away when I tell you.”
Cinderella made a face and went upstairs. “Oh, dear,” she thought to herself, “I wish I were as old as my two sisters, and could do what I liked. I’m sure if my godmother were here she would get me off going.” But, alas! her godmother lived at Leamington, and Cinderella, after a week at Leamington, had left her there only yesterday.
Cinderella indeed looked beautiful as they started for the ball; but her mother, who held a review of her in the drawing-room, was not quite satisfied.
“Cinderella!” she said. “You know I said you were to wear the silver slippers!”
“Oh, mother, they ARE so tight,” pleaded Cinderella. “Don’t you remember I told you at the time they were much too small for me?”
“Nonsense. Go and put them on at once.”
The dance was in full swing when Cinderella arrived. Although her lovely appearance caused several of the guests to look at her, they did not ask each other eagerly who she was, for most of them knew her already as Miss Partington-Smith. A brewer’s son led her off to dance.
The night wore on slowly. One young man after another trod on Cinderella’s toes, trotted in circles round her, ran her violently backwards into some other man, or swooped with her into the fireplace. Cinderella, whose feet seemed mechanically to adapt themselves to the interpretation of the Boston that was forming in her partner’s brain, bore it from each one as long as she could; and then led the way to a quiet corner, where she confessed frankly that she had NOT bought all her Christmas presents yet, and that she WAS going to Switzerland for the winter.
The gelatine manufacturer’s son took her in to supper. It was noticed that Cinderella looked much happier as soon as they had sat down, and indeed throughout the meal she was in the highest spirits. For some reason or other she seemed to find even Mr Hogbin endurable. But just as they were about to return to the ball-room an expression of absolute dismay came over her face.
“Anything the matter?” said her partner.
“N–no,” said Cinderella; but she made no effort to move.
“Well, shall we come?”
She waited a moment longer, dropped her fan under the table, picked it up slowly, and followed him out.
“Let’s sit down here,” she said in the hall; “not upstairs.”
They sat in silence; for he had exhausted his stock of questions at the end of their first dance, and had told her all about Australia during supper; while she apparently had no desire for conversation of any kind, being wrapped up in her thoughts.
“I’ll wait here,” she said, as a dance began. “If you see mother, I wish you’d send her to me.”
Her mother came up eagerly.
“Well, dear?” she said.
“Mother,” said Cinderella, “do take me home at once. Something extraordinary has happened.”
“It’s young Mr Hogbin! I knew it!”
“Who? Oh–er–yes, of course. I’ll tell you all about it in the carriage, mother.”
“Is my little girl going to be happy?”
“I don’t know,” said Cinderella anxiously. “There’s just a chance.”
The chance must have come off, for, once in the carriage, Cinderella gave a deep sigh of happiness.
“Well, dear?” said her mother again.
“You’ll NEVER guess, mother,” laughed Cinderella. “Try.”
“I guess that my little daughter thinks of running away from me,” said her mother archly. “Am I right?”
“Oh, how lovely! Why, running away is simply the LAST thing I could do. Look!” She stretched out her foot-clothed only in a pale blue stocking.
“I TOLD you they were too tight,” she explained rapidly, “and I was trodden on by every man in the place, and I simply HAD to kick them off at supper, and–and I only got one back. I don’t know what happened to the other; I suppose it got pushed along somewhere, but, anyhow, I wasn’t going under the table after it.” She laughed suddenly and softly to herself. “I wonder what they’ll do when they find the slipper?” she said.
. . . . . . . .
Of course the King’s son (or anyhow, Mr Hogbin) ought to have sent it round to all the ladies in Mayfair, taking knightly oath to marry her whom it fitted. But what actually happened was that a footman found it, and, being very sentimental and knowing that nobody would ever dare to claim it, carried it about with him ever afterwards–thereby gaining a great reputation with his cronies as a nut.
Oh, and by the way–I ought to put in a good word for the godmother. She did her best.
“Cinderella!” said her mother at lunch next day, as she looked up from her letters. “Why didn’t you tell me your godmother was ill?”
“She wasn’t very well when I left her, but I didn’t think it was anything much. Is she bad? I AM sorry.”
“She writes that she has obtained measles. I suppose that means YOU’RE infectious. Really, it’s very inconvenient. Well, I’m glad we didn’t know yesterday or you couldn’t have gone to the dance.”
“Dear fairy godmother!” said Cinderella to herself. “She was a day too late, but how sweet of her to think of it at all!”