The Knight Of The Chimney-Piece by A. A. Milne

We don’t know his real name, but we have decided to call him “Arthur” (“Sir Arthur,” I suppose he would be). He stands in bronze upon the chimney-piece, and in his right hand is a javelin; this makes him a very dangerous person. Opposite him, but behind the clock (Coward!), stands the other fellow, similarly armed. Most people imagine that the two are fighting for the hand of the lady on the clock, and they aver that they can hear her heart beating with the excitement of it; but, to let you into the secret, the other fellow doesn’t come into the story at all. Only Margery and I know the true story. I think I told it to her one night when she wouldn’t go to sleep–or perhaps she told it to me.

The best of this tale (I say it as the possible author) is that it is modern. It were easy to have invented something more in keeping with the knight’s armour, but we had to remember that this was the twentieth century, and that here in this twentieth century was Sir Arthur on the chimney-piece, with his javelin drawn back. For whom is he waiting?

“It all began,” I said, “a year ago, when Sir Arthur became a member of the South African Chartered Incorporated Co-operative Stores Society Limited Ten per cents at Par (Men only). He wasn’t exactly a real member, having been elected under Rule Two for meritorious performances, Rule One being that this club shall be called what I said just now; but for nearly a year he enjoyed all the privileges of membership, including those of paying a large entrance fee and a still larger subscription. At the end of a year, however, a dreadful thing happened. They made a Third Rule; to wit, that no member should go to sleep on the billiard table.

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“Of course, Sir Arthur having only got in under Rule Two, had to resign. He had, as I have said, paid his entrance fee, and (as it happened) his second year’s subscription in advance. Naturally he was annoyed….

“And that, in fact, is why he stands on the chimney-piece with his javelin drawn back. He is waiting for the Secretary. Sir Arthur is considered to be a good shot, and the Secretary wants all the flowers to be white.”

At this point Margery said her best word, “Gorky,” which means, “A thousand thanks for the verisimilitude of your charming and interesting story, but is not the love element a trifle weak?” (Margery is a true woman.)

“We must leave something to the imagination,” I pleaded. “The Secretary no doubt had a delightful niece, and Sir Arthur’s hopeless passion for her, after he had hit her uncle in a vital spot, would be the basis of a most powerful situation.”

Margery said “Gorky” again, which, as I have explained, means, “Are such distressing situations within the province of the Highest Art?”

When Margery says “Gorky” twice in one night, it is useless to argue. I gave in at once. “Butter,” I said, “placed upon the haft of the javelin, would make it slip, and put him off his shot. He would miss the Secretary and marry the niece.” So we put a good deal of butter on Sir Arthur, and for the moment the Secretary is safe. I don’t know if we shall be able to keep it there; but in case jam does as well, Margery has promised to stroke him every day.

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However, I anticipate. As soon as the secretarial life was saved, Margery said “Agga,” which is as it were, “Encore,” or “Bis,” so that I have her permission to tell you that story all over again. Instead I will give you the tragedy of George, the other fellow (no knight he), as she told it to me afterwards.

“George was quite a different man from Sir Arthur. So far from being elected to anything under Rule Two, he got blackballed for the North London Toilet Club. Opinions differed as to why this happened; some said that it was his personal unpopularity (he had previously been up, without success, for the membership of the local Ratepayers Association) others (among them the Proprietor), that his hair grew too quickly. Anyhow, it was a great shock to George, and they had to have a man in to break it to him. (It’s always the way when you have a man in.)

“George was stricken to the heart. This last blow was too much for what had always been a proud nature. He decided to emigrate. Accordingly he left home, and moved to Islington. Whether he is still there or not I cannot say; but a card with that postmark reached his niece only this week. It was unsigned, and bore on the space reserved for inland communications these words: ‘The old, old wish–A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.’”

“But what about the javelin?” I asked Margery. (This fellow had a javelin too, you remember.)

“Gorky,” said Margery for the third time, which means—-

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Well, upon my word, I don’t know what it means. But it would explain it all.

Meanwhile Sir Arthur (he was in my story, you know) is still waiting for the Secretary. In case the butter gives out, have I mentioned that the Secretary wants all the flowers to be white?

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