I.–THE ORDEAL BY WATER
“We will now bathe,” said a voice at the back of my neck.
I gave a grunt and went on with my dream. It was a jolly dream, and nobody got up early in it.
“We will now bathe,” repeated Archie.
“Go away,” I said distinctly.
Archie sat down on my knees and put his damp towel on my face.
“When my wife and I took this commodious residence for six weeks,” he said, “and engaged the sea at great expense to come up to its doors twice a day, it was on the distinct understanding that our guests should plunge into it punctually at seven o’clock every morning.”
“Don’t be silly, it’s about three now. And I wish you’d get off my knees.”
“It’s a quarter-past seven.”
“Then there you are, we’ve missed it. Well, we must see what we can do for you to-morrow. Good-night.”
Archie pulled all the clothes off me and walked with them to the window.
“Jove, what a day!” he said. “And can’t you smell the sea?”
“I can. Let that suffice. I say, what’s happened to my blanket? I must have swallowed it in my sleep.”
“Where’s his sponge?” I heard him murmuring to himself as he came away from the window.
“No, no, I’m up,” I shouted, and I sprang out of bed and put on a shirt and a pair of trousers with great speed. “Where do I take these off again?” I asked. “I seem to be giving myself a lot of trouble.”
“There is a tent.”
“Won’t the ladies want it? Because, if so, I can easily have my bathe later on.”
“The ladies think it’s rather too rough to-day.”
“Perhaps they’re right,” I said hopefully. “A woman’s instinct–No, I’m NOT a coward.”
It wasn’t so bad outside–sun and wind and a blue-and-white sky and plenty of movement on the sea.
“Just the day for a swim,” said Archie cheerily, as he led the way down to the beach.
“I’ve nothing against the day; it’s the hour I object to. The Lancet says you mustn’t bathe within an hour of a heavy meal. Well, I’m going to have a very heavy meal within about twenty minutes. That isn’t right, you know.”
By the time I was ready the wind had got much colder. I looked out of the tent and shivered.
“Isn’t it jolly and fresh?” said Archie, determined to be helpful. “There are points about the early morning, after all.”
“There are plenty of points about this morning. Where do they get all the sharp stones from? Look at that one there–he’s simply waiting for me.”
“You ought to have bought some bathing shoes. I got this pair in the village.”
“Why didn’t you tell me so last night?”
“It was too late last night.”
“Well, it’s much too early this morning. If you were a gentleman you’d lend me one of yours, and we’d hop down together.”
Archie being no gentleman, he walked and I hobbled to the edge, and there we sat down while he took off his shoes.
“I should like to take this last opportunity,” I said, “of telling you that up till now I haven’t enjoyed this early morning bathe one little bit. I suppose there will be a notable moment when the ecstasy actually begins, but at present I can’t see it coming at all. The only thing I look forward to with any pleasure is the telling Dahlia and Myra at breakfast what I think of their cowardice. That and the breakfast itself. Good-bye.”
I got up and waded into the surf.
“One last word,” I said as I looked back at him. “In my whole career I shall never know a more absolutely beastly and miserable moment than this.” Then a wave knocked me down, and I saw that I had spoken too hastily.
The world may be divided into two classes–those who drink when they swim and those who don’t. I am one of the drinkers. For this reason I prefer river bathing to sea bathing.
“It’s about time we came out,” I shouted to Archie after the third pint. “I’m exceeding my allowance.”
“Aren’t you glad now you came?” he cried from the top of a wave.
“Very,” I said a moment later from inside it.
But I really did feel glad ten minutes afterwards as I sat on the beach in the sun and smoked a cigarette, and threw pebbles lazily into the sea.
“Holbein, how brave of you!” cried a voice behind me.
“Good-morning. I’m not at all sure that I ought to speak to you.”
“Have you really been taking the sea so early,” said Myra as she sat down between us, “or did you rumple each other’s hair so as to deceive me?”
“I have been taking the sea,” I confessed. “What you observe out there now is what I left.”
“Oh, but that’s what I do. That’s why I didn’t come to-day–because I had so much yesterday.”
“I’m a three-bottle man. I can go on and on and on. And after all these years I have the most sensitive palate of any man living. For instance, I can distinguish between Scarborough and Llandudno quite easily with my eyes shut. Speaking as an expert, I may say that there is nothing to beat a small Cromer and seltzer; though some prefer a Ventnor and dash. Ilfracombe with a slice of lemon is popular, but hardly appeals to the fastidious.”
“Do you know,” said Archie, “that you are talking drivel? Nobody ought to drivel before breakfast. It isn’t decent. What does Dahlia want to do to-day, Myra?”
“Mr Simpson is coming by the one-thirty.”
“Good; then we’ll have a slack day. The strain of meeting Simpson will be sufficient for us. I do hope he comes in a yachting cap–we’ll send him back if he doesn’t.”
“I told him to bring one,” said Myra. “I put a P.S. in Dahlia’s letter–please bring your telescope and yachting cap. She thought we could have a good day’s sailing to-morrow, if you’d kindly arrange about the wind.”
“I’ll talk to the crew about it and see what he can do. If we get becalmed we can always throw somebody overboard, of course. Well, I must go in and finish my toilet.”
We got up and climbed slowly back to the house.
“And then,” I said, “then for the heavy meal.”
“Well,” said Dahlia, giving up the tiller with a sigh, “if this is all that you and Joe can do in the way of a breeze, you needn’t have worried.”
“Don’t blame the crew,” said Archie nobly, “he did his best. He sat up all night whistling.”
“ARE we moving?” asked Myra, from a horizontal position on the shady side of the mainsail.
“We are not,” I said, from a similar position on the sunny side. “Let’s get out.”
Simpson took off his yachting cap and fanned himself with a nautical almanac. “How far are we from anywhere?” he asked cheerfully.
“Miles,” said Archie. “To be more accurate, we are five miles from a public-house, six from a church, four from a post-office, and three from the spacious walled-in kitchen-garden and tennis-court. On the other hand, we are quite close to the sea.”
“You will never see your friends again, Simpson. They will miss you … at first … perhaps; but they will soon forget. The circulation of the papers that you wrote for will go up, the brindled bull-pup will be fed by another and a smaller hand, but otherwise all will be as it was before.”
My voice choked, and at the same moment something whizzed past me into the sea.
“Yachting cap overboard! Help!” cried Myra.
“You aren’t in The Spectator office now, Simpson,” said Archie severely, as he fished with the boat-hook. “There is a time for ballyragging. By the way, I suppose you do want it back again?”
“It’s my fault,” I confessed remorsefully; “I told him yesterday I didn’t like it.”
“Myra and I do like it, Mr Simpson. Please save it, Archie.”
Archie let it drip from the end of the boat-hook for a minute, and then brought it in.
“Morning, Sir Thomas,” I said, saluting it as it came on board. “Lovely day for a sail. We’ve got the new topmast up, but Her Grace had the last of the potted-meat for lunch yesterday.”
Simpson took his cap and stroked it tenderly. “Thirteen and ninepence in the Buckingham Palace Road,” he murmured. “Thanks, old chap.”
Quiet settled down upon the good ship Armadillo again. There was no cloud in the sky, no ripple on the water, no sound along the deck. The land was hazy in the distance; hazy in the distance was public-house, church, post-office, walled-in kitchen-garden and tennis-court. But in the little cabin Joe was making a pleasant noise with plates….
“Splendid,” said Archie, putting down his glass and taking out his pipe. “Now what shall we do? I feel full of energy.”
“Then you and Simpson can get the dinghy out and tow,” I suggested. “I’ll coach from the Armadillo.”
“We might go for a long bicycle ride,” said Myra; “or call on the Vicarage girls.”
“There isn’t really very much to do, is there?” said Dahlia, gently. “I’m sorry.”
Simpson leapt excitedly into the breach.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do–I’ll teach you all the different knots and things. I learnt them coming down in the train. Everybody ought to know them. Archie, old man, can you let me have a piece of rope?”
“Certainly. Take any piece you like. Only spare the main-sheet.”
Simpson went forward to consult Joe, and came back with enough to hang himself with. He sat down opposite to us, wrapped the rope once round his waist, and then beamed at us over his spectacles.
“Now supposing you had fallen down a well,” he began, “and I let this rope down to you, what would you do with YOUR end?”
We thought deeply for a moment.
“I should wait until you were looking over the edge, and then give it a sharp jerk,” said Archie.
“One MUST have company in a well,” I agreed.
“They’re being silly again,” apologized Myra. “Tell ME, Mr Simpson! I should love to know–I’m always falling down wells.”
“Well, you tie it round you like this. Through there–and over there–and then back under there. You see, it simply CAN’T slip. Then I should pull you up.”
“But how nice of you. Let me try. … Oh, yes, that’s easy.”
“Well, then there’s the hangman’s knot.”
Archie and I looked at each other.
“The predicaments in which Simpson finds himself are extraordinarily varied,” I said.
“One of these days he’ll be in a well, and we shall let down a rope to him, and he’ll hang himself by mistake.”
“That would look very determined. On the other hand there must be annoying occasions when he starts out to strangle somebody and finds that he’s pulling him out of the cistern.”
“Why, how delightful, Mr Simpson,” said Myra. “Do show us some more.”
“Those are the most important ones. Then there are one or two fancy ones. Do you know the Monkey’s Claw?”
“Don’t touch it,” said Archie solemnly. “It’s poison.”
“Oh, I must show you that.”
Joe showed me the Monkey’s Claw afterwards, and it is a beautiful thing, but it was not a bit like Simpson’s. Simpson must have started badly, and I think he used too much rope. After about twenty minutes there was hardly any of him visible at all.
“Take your time, Houdini,” said Archie, “take your time. Just let us know when you’re ready to be put into the safe, that’s all.”
“You would hardly think, to look at him now,” I said a minute later, “that one day he’ll be a dear little butterfly.”
“Where’s the sealing-wax, Maria? You know, I’m certain he’ll never go for threepence.”
“What I say is, it’s simply hypnotic suggestion. There’s no rope there at all, really.”
An anxious silence followed.
“No,” said Simpson suddenly, “I’m doing it wrong.”
“From to-night,” said Archie, after tea, “you will be put on rations. One cobnut and a thimbleful of sherry wine per diem. I hope somebody’s brought a thimble.”
“There really isn’t so very much left,” said Dahlia.
“Then we shall have to draw lots who is to be eaten.”
“Don’t we eat our boots and things first?” asked Myra.
“The doctor says I mustn’t have anything more solid than a lightly-boiled shoe-lace the last thing at night.”
“After all, there’s always the dinghy,” said Archie. “If we put in a tin of corned beef and a compass and a keg of gunpowder, somebody might easily row in and post the letters. Personally, as captain, I must stick to my ship.”
“There’s another way I’ve just thought of,” I said. “Let’s sail in.”
I pointed out to sea, and there, unmistakably, was the least little breeze coming over the waters. A minute later and our pennant napped once Simpson moistened a finger and held it up.
The sprint for home had begun.
III.–A DAY ASHORE
“Well, which is it to be?” asked Archie.
“Just whichever you like,” said Dahlia, “only make up your minds.”
“Well, I can do you a very good line in either. I’ve got a lot of sea in the front of the house, and there’s the Armadillo straining at the leash; and I’ve had some land put down at the back of the house, and there’s the Silent-Knight eating her carburettor off in the kennels.”
“Oh, what can ail thee, Silent-Knight, alone and palely loitering?” asked Simpson. “Keats,” he added kindly.
“Ass (Shakespeare),” I said.
“Of course, if we sailed,” Simpson went on eagerly, “and we got becalmed again, I could teach you chaps signalling.”
Archie looked from one to the other of us.
“I think that settles it,” he said, and went off to see about the motor.
“Little Chagford,” said Archie, as he slowed down. “Where are we going to, by the way?”
“I thought we’d just go on until we found a nice place for lunch.”
“And then on again till we found a nice place for tea,” added Myra.
“And so home to dinner,” I concluded.
“Speaking for myself–” began Simpson.
“Oh, why not?”
“I should like to see a church where Katharine of Aragon or somebody was buried.”
“Samuel’s morbid craving for sensation–“
“Wait till we get back to London, and I’ll take you to Madame Tussaud’s, Mr Simpson.”
“Well, I think he’s quite right,” said Dahlia. “There is an old Norman church, I believe, and we ought to go and see it. The Philistines needn’t come in if they don’t want to.”
“Philistines!” I said indignantly. “Well, I’m–“
“Agagged,” suggested Archie. “Oh no, he was an Amalekite.”
“You’ve lived in the same country as this famous old Norman church for years and years and years, and you care so little about it that you’ve never been to see it and aren’t sure whether it was Katharine of Aragon or Alice-for-short who was buried here, and now that you HAVE come across it by accident you want to drive up to it in a brand-new 1910 motor-car, with Simpson in his 1910 gent.’s fancy vest knocking out the ashes of his pipe against the lych-gate as he goes in. … And that’s what it is to be one of the elect!”
“Little Chagford’s noted back-chat comedians,” commented Archie. “Your turn, Dahlia.”
“There was once a prince who was walking in a forest near his castle one day–that’s how all the nice stories begin–and he suddenly came across a beautiful maiden, and he said to himself, ‘I’ve lived here for years and years and years, and I’ve never seen her before, and I’m not sure whether her name is Katharine or Alice, or where her uncle was buried, and I’ve got a new surcoat on which doesn’t match her wimple at all, so let’s leave her and go home to lunch….’ And THAT’S what it is to be one of the elect!”
“Don’t go on too long,” said Archie. “There are the performing seals to come after you.”
I jumped out of the car and joined her in the road.
“Dahlia, I apologize,” I said. “You are quite right. We will visit this little church together, and see who was buried there.”
Myra looked up from the book she had been studying, Jovial Jaunts Round Jibmouth.
“There isn’t a church at Little Chagford,” she said. “At least there wasn’t two years ago, when this book was published. So that looks as though it can’t be VERY early Norman.”
“Then let’s go on,” said Archie, after a deep silence.
We found a most delightful little spot (which wasn’t famous for anything) for lunch, and had the baskets out of the car in no time.
“Now, are you going to help get things ready,” asked Myra, “or are you going to take advantage of your sex and watch Dahlia and me do all the work?”
“I thought women always liked to keep the food jobs for themselves,” I said. “I know I’m never allowed in the kitchen at home. Besides, I’ve got more important work to do–I’m going to make the fire.”
“You can’t really lead the simple life and feel at home with Nature until you have laid a fire of twigs and branches, rubbed two sticks together to procure a flame, and placed in the ashes the pemmican or whatever it is that falls to your rifle.”
“Well, I did go out to look for pemmican this morning, but there were none rising.”
“Then I shall have my ham sandwich hot.”
“Bread, butter, cheese, eggs, sandwiches, fruit,” catalogued Dahlia, as she took them out; “what else do you want?”
“I’m waiting here for cake,” I said.
“Bother, I forgot the cake.”
“Look here, this picnic isn’t going with the swing that one had looked for. No pemmican, no cake, no early Norman church. We might almost as well be back in the Cromwell Road.”
“Does your whole happiness depend on cake?” asked Myra scornfully.
“To a large extent it does. Archie,” I called out, “there’s no cake.”
Archie stopped patting the car and came over to us. “Good. Let’s begin,” he said; “I’m hungry.”
“You didn’t hear. I said there WASN’T any cake–on the contrary, there is an entire absence of it, a shortage, a vacuum, not to say a lacuna. In the place where it should be there is an aching void or mere hard-boiled eggs or something of that sort. I say, doesn’t ANYBODY mind, except me?”
Apparently nobody did, so that it was useless to think of sending Archie back for it. Instead, I did a little wrist-work with the corkscrew….
“Now,” said Archie, after lunch, “before you all go off with your butterfly nets, I’d better say that we shall be moving on at about half-past three. That is, unless one of you has discovered the slot of a Large Cabbage White just then, and is following up the trail very keenly.”
“I know what I’m going to do,” I said, “if the flies will let me alone.”
“Tell me quickly before I guess,” begged Myra.
“I’m going to lie on my back and think about–who do you think do the hardest work in the world?”
“Then I shall think about stevedores.”
“Are you sure,” asked Simpson, “that you wouldn’t like me to show you that signalling now?”
I closed my eyes. You know, I wonder sometimes what it is that makes a picnic so pleasant. Because all the important things, the eating and the sleeping, one can do anywhere.
IV.–IN THE WET
Myra gazed out of the window upon the driving rain and shook her head at the weather.
“Ugh!” she said. “Ugly!”
“Beast,” I added, in order that there should be no doubt about what we thought. “Utter and deliberate beast.”
We had arranged for a particularly pleasant day. We were to have sailed across to the mouth of the–I always forget its name, and then up the river to the famous old castle of-of-no, it’s gone again; but anyhow, there was to have been a bathe in the river, and lunch, and a little exploration in the dinghy, and a lesson in the Morse code from Simpson, and tea in the woods with a real fire, and in the cool of the evening a ripping run home before the wind. But now the only thing that seemed certain was the cool of the evening.
“We’ll light a fire and do something indoors,” said Dahlia.
“This is an extraordinary house,” said Archie. “There isn’t a single book in it, except a lot of Strand Magazines for 1907. That must have been a very wet year.”
“We can play games, dear.”
“True, darling. Let’s do a charade.”
“The last time I played charades,” I said, “I was Horatius, the front part of Elizabeth’s favourite palfrey, the arrow which shot Rufus, Jonah, the two little Princes in the Tower, and Mrs Pankhurst.”
“Which was your favourite part?” asked Myra.
“The front part of the palfrey. But I was very good as the two little Princes.”
“It’s no good doing charades, if there’s nobody to do them to.”
“Thomas is coming to-morrow,” said Myra. “We could tell him all about it.”
“Clumps is a jolly good game,” suggested Simpson.
“The last time I was a clump,” I said, “I was the first coin paid on account of the last pair of boots, sandals, or whatnot of the man who laid the first stone of the house where lived the prettiest aunt of the man who reared the goose which laid the egg from which came the goose which provided the last quill pen used by the third man Shakespeare met on the second Wednesday in June, 1595.”
“He mightn’t have had an aunt,” said Myra, after a minute’s profound thought.
“Well, anyhow, one way and another you’ve had a very adventurous career, my lad,” said Archie. “What happened the last time you played ludo?”
“When I played clumps,” put in Simpson, “I was the favourite spoke of Hall Caine’s first bicycle. They guessed Hall Caine and the bicycle and the spoke very quickly, but nobody thought of suggesting the favourite spoke.”
Myra went to the window again, and came back with the news that it would probably be a fine evening.
“Thank you,” we all said.
“But I wasn’t just making conversation. I have an idea.”
“Silence for Myra’s idea.”
“Well, it’s this. If we can’t do anything without an audience, and if the audience won’t come to us, let’s go to them.”
“Be a little more lucid, there’s a dear. It isn’t that we aren’t trying.”
“Well then, let’s serenade the other houses about here to-night.”
There was a powerful silence while everybody considered this.
“Good,” said Archie at last. “We will.”
The rest of the morning and all the afternoon were spent in preparations. Archie and Myra were all right; one plays the banjo and the other the guitar. (It is a musical family, the Mannerings.) Simpson keeps a cornet which he generally puts in his bag, but I cannot remember anyone asking him to play it. If the question has ever arisen, he has probably been asked not to play it. However, he would bring it out to-night. In any case he has a tolerable voice; while Dahlia has always sung like an angel. In short, I was the chief difficulty.
“I suppose there wouldn’t be time to learn the violin?” I asked.
“Why didn’t they teach you something when you were a boy?” wondered Myra.
“They did. But my man forgot to put it in my bag when he packed. He put in two tooth-brushes and left out the triangle. Do you think there’s a triangle shop in the village? I generally play on an isosceles one, any two sides of which are together greater than the third. Likewise the angles which are opposite to the adjacent sides, each to each.”
“Well, you must take the cap round for the money.”
“I will. I forgot to say that my own triangle at home, the Strad, is in the chromatic scale of A, and has a splice. It generally gets the chromatics very badly in the winter.”
While the others practised their songs, I practised taking the cap round, and by tea-time we all knew our parts perfectly. I had received permission to join in the choruses, and I was also to be allowed to do a little dance with Myra. When you think that I had charge of the financial arrangements as well, you can understand that I felt justified in considering myself the leader of the troupe.
“In fact,” I said, “you ought to black your faces so as to distinguish yourselves from me.”
“We won’t black our faces,” said Dahlia, “but we’ll wear masks; and we might each carry a little board explaining why we’re doing this.”
“Right,” said Archie; and he sat down and wrote a notice for himself–
“I AM AN ORPHAN. SO ARE THE OTHERS, BUT THEY ARE NOT SO ORPHAN AS I AM. I AM EXTREMELY FREQUENT.”
“WE ARE DOING THIS FOR AN ADVERTISEMENT. IF YOU LIKE US, SEND A SHILLING FOR A FREE SAMPLE CONCERT, MENTIONING THIS PAPER. YOUR MONEY BACK IF WE ARE NOT SATISFIED WITH IT.”
“WORLD’S LONG DISTANCE CORNETIST. HOLDER OF THE OBOE RECORD ON GRASS. RUNNER-UP IN THE OCARINA WELTER WEIGHTS (STRANGLE HOLD BARRED). MIXED ZITHER CHAMPION (1907, COVERED COURTS).”
“KIND FRIENDS, HELP US. WE WERE WRECKED THIS AFTERNOON. THE CORNET WAS SINKING FOR THE THIRD TIME WHEN IT WAS RESCUED, AND HAD TO BE BROUGHT ROUND BY ARTIFICIAL RESPIRATION. CAN YOU SPARE US A DRINK OF WATER?”
As for myself I had to hand the Simpson yachting cap round, and my notice said–
“WE WANT YOUR MONEY. IF YOU CANNOT GIVE US ANY, FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE KEEP THE CAP.”
We had an early dinner, so as to be in time to serenade our victims when they were finishing their own meal and feeling friendly to the world. Then we went upstairs and dressed. Dahlia and Myra had kimonos, Simpson put on his dressing-gown, in which he fancies himself a good deal, and Archie and I wore brilliantly-coloured pyjamas over our other clothes.
“Let’s see,” said Simpson, “I start off with ‘The Minstrel Boy,’ don’t I? And then what do we do?”
“Then we help you to escape,” said Archie. “After that, Dahlia sings ‘Santa Lucia,’ and Myra and I give them a duet, and if you’re back by then with your false nose properly fixed it might be safe for you to join in the chorus of a coon song. Now then, are we all ready?”
“What’s that?” said Myra.
We all listened … and then we opened the door.
It was pouring.
“Stroke, you’re late,” said Thomas, butting me violently in the back with his oar.
“My dear Thomas, when you have been in the Admiralty a little longer you will know that ‘bow’ is not the gentleman who sets the time. What do you suppose would happen at Queen’s Hall if the second bird-call said to the conductor, ‘Henry, you’re late’?”
“The whole gallery would go out and get its hair cut,” said Archie.
“I’m not used to the Morse system of rowing, that’s the trouble,” explained Thomas. “Long-short, short-short-long, short-long. You’re spelling out the most awful things, if you only knew.”
“Be careful how you insult me, Thomas. A little more and I shall tell them what happened to you on the ornamental waters in Regent’s Park that rough day.”
“Really?” asked Simpson with interest.
“Yes; I fancy he had been rather overdoing it at Swedish drill that morning.”
We gave her ten in silence, and then by mutual consent rested on our oars.
“There’s a long way yet,” said Myra. “Dahlia and I will row if you’re tired.”
“This is an insult, Thomas. Shall we sit down under it?”
“Yes,” said Thomas, getting up; “only in another part of the boat.”
We gave up our seats to the ladies (even in a boat one should be polite) and from a position in the stern waited with turned-up coat-collars for the water to come on board.
“We might have sailed up a little higher,” remarked Simpson. “It’s all right, I’m not a bit wet, thanks.”
“It’s too shallow, except at high tide,” said Myra. “The Armadillo would have gone aground and lost all her–her shell. Do armadilloes have shells, or what?”
“Well, we’re a pretty good bank-holiday crowd for the dinghy,” said Archie. “Simpson, if we upset, save the milk and the sandwiches; my wife can swim.”
The woods were now beginning to come down to the river on both sides, but on the right a grassy slope broke them at the water’s edge for some fifty yards. Thither we rowed, and after a little complicated manoeuvring landed suddenly, Simpson, who was standing in the bows with the boat-hook, being easily the first to reach the shore. He got up quickly, however, apologized, and helped the ladies and the hampers out. Thereafter he was busy for some time, making the dinghy fast with a knot peculiarly his own.
“The first thing to do is to build a palisade to keep the savages off,” said Archie, and he stuck the boat-hook into the ground. “After which you are requested to light fires to frighten the wild beasts. The woodbines are very wild at this time of the year.”
“We shall have to light a fire anyhow for the tea, so that will be very useful,” said the thoughtful Dahlia.
“I myself,” I said, “will swim out to the wreck for the musket and the bag of nails.”
“As you’re going,” said Myra, unpacking, “you might get the sugar as well. We’ve forgotten it.”
“Now you’ve spoilt my whole holiday. It was bad enough with the cake last week, but this is far, far worse. I shall go into the wood and eat berries.”
“It’s all right, here it is. Now you’re happy again. I wish, if you aren’t too busy, you’d go into the wood and collect sticks for the fire.”
“I am unusually busy,” I said, “and there is a long queue of clients waiting for me in the ante-room. An extremely long queue–almost a half-butt in fact.”
I wandered into the wood alone. Archie and Dahlia had gone arm-in-arm up the hill to look at a view, Simpson was helping Myra with the hampers, and Thomas, the latest arrival from town, was lying on his back, telling them what he alleged to be a good story now going round London. Myra told it to me afterwards, and we agreed that as a boy it had gone round the world several times first. Yet I heard her laugh unaffectedly–what angels women are!
Ten minutes later I returned with my spoil, and laid it before them.
“A piece of brown bread from the bread-fruit tree, a piece of indiarubber from the mango tree, a chutney from the banana grove, and an omelet from the turtle run, I missed the chutney with my first barrel, and brought it down rather luckily with the ricochet.”
“But how funny; they all look just like sticks of wood.”
“That is Nature’s plan of protective colouring. In the same way apricots have often escaped with their lives by sitting in the cream and pretending to be poached eggs.”
“The same instinct of self-preservation,” added Archie, “has led many a pill called Beauchamp to pronounce its name Cholmondeley.”
Simpson begged to be allowed to show us how to light a fire, and we hadn’t the heart to refuse him. It was, he said, the way they lit fires on the veldt (and other places where they wanted fires), and it went out the first time because the wind must have changed round after he had begun to lay the wood. He got the draught in the right place the next time, and for a moment we thought we should have to take to the boats; but the captain averted a panic, and the fire was got under. Then the kettle was put on, and of all the boiled water I have ever tasted this was the best.
“You know,” said Archie, “in Simpson the nation has lost a wonderful scoutmaster.”
“Oh, Samuel,” cried Myra, “tell us how you tracked the mules that afternoon, and knew they were wounded because of the blood.”
“Tell us about that time when you bribed the regimental anchovy of Troop B to betray the secret password to you.”
“I ignore you because you’re jealous. May I have some more tea, Miss Mannering?”
“Call me Myra, Scoutmaster Simpson of The Spectator troop, and you shall.”
“I blush for my unblushing sex,” said Dahlia.
“I blush for my family,” said Archie. “That a young girl of gentle birth, nurtured in a peaceful English home, brought up in an atmosphere of old-world courtesy, should so far forget herself as to attempt to wheedle a promising young scoutmaster, who can light a fire, practically speaking, backwards–this, I repeat, is too much.”
It was Thomas who changed the subject so abruptly.
“I suppose the tide comes as far as this?” he said.
“It does, captain.”
“Then that would account for the boat having gone.”
“That and Simpson’s special knot,” I said, keeping calm for the sake of the women and children.
Archie jumped up with a shout. The boat was about twenty yards from the shore, going very slowly upstream.
“It’s very bad to bathe just after a heavy meal,” I reminded him.
“I’m not sure that I’m going to, but I’m quite sure that one of us will have to.”
“Walk up the river with it,” said Myra, “while Dahlia and I pack, and the one who’s first digested goes in.”
We walked up. I felt that in my own case the process of assimilation would be a lengthy one.
VI.–A LITTLE CRICKET FOR AN ENDING
We came back from a “Men Only” sail to find Myra bubbling over with excitement.
“I’ve got some news for you,” she said, “but I’m not going to tell you till dinner. Be quick and change.”
“Bother, she’s going to get married,” I murmured.
Myra gurgled and drove us off.
“Put on all your medals and orders, Thomas,” she called up the stairs; “and, Archie, it’s a champagne night.”
“I believe, old fellow,” said Simpson, “she’s married already.”
Half an hour later we were all ready for the news.
“Just a moment, Myra,” said Archie. “I’d better warn you that we’re expecting a good deal, and that if you don’t live up to the excitement you’ve created, you’ll be stood in the corner for the rest of dinner.”
“She’s quite safe,” said Dahlia.
“Of course I am. Well, now I’m going to begin. This morning, about eleven, I went and had a bathe, and I met another girl in the sea.”
“Horribly crowded the sea is getting nowadays,” commented Archie.
“And she began to talk about what a jolly day it was and so on, and I gave her my card–I mean I said, ‘I’m Myra Mannering.’ And she said, ‘I’m sure you’re keen on cricket.’”
“I like the way girls talk in the sea,” said Archie. “So direct.”
“What is there about our Myra,” I asked, “that stamps her as a cricketer, even when she’s only got her head above water?”
“She’d seen me on land, silly. Well, we went on talking, and at last she said, ‘Will you play us at mixed cricket on Saturday?’ And a big wave came along and went inside me just as I was saying yes.”
“Hooray! Myra, your health.”
“We’re only six, though,” added Archie. “Didn’t you swim up against anybody else who looked like a cricketer and might play for us?”
“But we can easily pick up five people by Saturday,” said Myra confidently. “And oh, I do hope we’re in form; we haven’t played for years.”
. . . . . . .
We lost the toss, and Myra led her team out on to the field. The last five places in the eleven had been filled with care: a preparatory school-boy and his little sister (found by Dahlia on the beach), Miss Debenham (found by Simpson on the road with a punctured bicycle), Mrs Oakley (found by Archie at the station and re-discovered by Myra in the Channel), and Sarah, a jolly girl of sixteen (found by me and Thomas in the tobacconist’s, where she was buying The Sportsman).
“Where would you all like to field?” asked the captain.
“Let’s stand round in groups, just at the start, and then see where we’re wanted. Who’s going to bowl?”
“Me and Samuel. I wonder if I dare bowl over-hand.”
“I’m going to,” said Simpson.
“You can’t, not with your left hand.”
“Why not? Hirst does.”
“Then I shan’t field point,” said Thomas with decision.
However, as it happened, it was short leg who received the first two balls, beautiful swerving wides, while the next two were well caught and returned by third man. Simpson’s range being thus established, he made a determined attack on the over proper with lobs, and managed to wipe off half of it. Encouraged by this, he returned with such success to overhand that the very next ball got into the analysis, the batsman reaching out and hitting it over the hedge for six. Two more range-finders followed before Simpson scored another dot with a sneak; and then, at what should have been the last ball, a tragedy occurred.
“Wide,” said the umpire.
“But–but I was b-bowling UNDERHAND,” stammered Simpson.
“Now you’ve nothing to fall back on,” I pointed out.
Simpson considered the new situation. “Then you fellows can’t mind if I go on with overhand,” he said joyfully, and he played his twelfth.
It was the batsman’s own fault. Like a true gentleman he went after the ball, caught it up near point, and hit it hard in the direction of cover. Sarah shot up a hand unconcernedly.
“One for six,” said Simpson, and went over to Miss Debenham to explain how he did it.
“He must come off,” said Archie. “We have a reputation to keep up. It’s his left hand, of course, but we can’t go round to all the spectators and explain that he can really bowl quite decent long hops with his right.”
In the next over nothing much happened, except that Miss Debenham missed a sitter. Subsequently Simpson caught her eye from another part of the field, and explained telegraphically to her how she should have drawn her hands in to receive the ball. The third over was entrusted to Sarah.
“So far,” said Dahlia, half an hour later, “the Rabbits have not shone. Sarah is doing it all.”
“Hang it, Dahlia, Thomas and I discovered the child. Give the credit where it is due.”
“Well, why don’t you put my Bobby on, then? Boys are allowed to play right-handed, you know.”
So Bobby went on, and with Sarah’s help finished off the innings.
“Jolly good rot,” he said to Simpson, “you’re having to bowl left-handed.”
“My dear Robert,” I said, “Mr Simpson is a natural base-ball pitcher, he has an acquired swerve at bandy, and he is a lepidopterist of considerable charm. But he can’t bowl with either hand.”
“Coo!” said Bobby.
The allies came out even more strongly when we went in to bat. I was the only Rabbit who made ten, and my whole innings was played in an atmosphere of suspicion very trying to a sensitive man. Mrs Oakley was in when I took guard, and I played out the over with great care, being morally bowled by every ball. At the end of it a horrible thought occurred to me: I had been batting right-handed! Naturally I changed round for my next ball. (Movements of surprise.)
“Hallo,” said the wicket-keeper, “I thought you were left-handed; why aren’t you playing right?”
“No, I’m really right-handed,” I said. “I played that way by mistake just now. Sorry.”
He grunted sceptically, and the bowler came up to have things explained to her. The next ball I hit left-handed for six. (LOUD MUTTERS.)
“Is he really right-handed?” the bowler asked Mrs Oakley.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I’ve never seen him before.” (SENSATION.)
“I think, if you don’t mind, we’d rather you played right-handed.”
“Certainly.” The next ball was a full pitch, and I took a right-handed six. There was an awful hush. I looked round at the field and prepared to run for it. I felt that they suspected me of all the undiscovered crimes of the year.
“Look here,” I said, nearly crying, “I’ll play any way you like–sideways, or upside down, or hanging on to the branch of a tree, or–“
The atmosphere was too much for me. I trod on my wickets, burst into tears, and bolted to the tent.
. . . . . . .
“Well,” said Dahlia, “we won.”
“Yes,” we all agreed, “we won.”
“Even if we didn’t do much of it ourselves,” Simpson pointed out, “we had jolly good fun.”
“We always have THAT,” said Myra.