Infomotions, Inc.If I May / Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander), 1882-1956



Author: Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander), 1882-1956
Title: If I May
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): day; people; time; man; alan; milne; alexander; whiting; halsey; francis
Contributor(s): Halsey, Francis W. (Francis Whiting), 1851-1919 [Editor]
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Identifier: etext7365
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Title: If I May

Author: A. A. Milne

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*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK IF I MAY ***




Produced by Stan Goodman and Curtis A. Weyant




IF I MAY

A. A. MILNE


	*        *        *        *        *

BY THE SAME AUTHOR


NOT THAT IT MATTERS


Named by _Life_ in its issue of October 28, 1920, as one of the best
six current books.


"No better book for vacation reading." --_Review_


E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

	*        *        *        *        *

IF I MAY


BY


A. A. MILNE


AUTHOR OF "NOT THAT IT MATTERS," ETC.


NEW YORK


E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY


682 FIFTH AVENUE


COPYRIGHT, 1921,


BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY


All Rights Reserved


_First Edition_, October, 1921


_New Popular Edition_, 1925


Printed in the United States of America

	*        *        *        *        *

These essays are reprinted, with such alterations and additions as
seemed proper, from _The Sphere_, _The Outlook_, _The Daily News_,
_The Sunday Express_ (London) and _Vanity Fair_ (New York).

A. A. M.


	*        *        *        *        *



CONTENTS



THE CASE FOR THE ARTIST


A LONDON GARDEN


THE GAME OF KINGS


FIXTURES AND FITTINGS


EXPERTS


THE ROBINSON TRADITION


GETTING THINGS DONE


CHRISTMAS GAMES


THE MATHEMATICAL MIND


GOING OUT TO DINNER


THE ETIQUETTE OF ESCAPE


GEOGRAPHICAL RESEARCH


CHILDREN'S PLAYS


THE ROAD TO KNOWLEDGE


A MAN OF PROPERTY


AN ORDNANCE MAP


THE LORD MAYOR


THE HOLIDAY PROBLEM


THE BURLINGTON ARCADE


STATE LOTTERIES


THE RECORD LIE


WEDDING BELLS


PUBLIC OPINION


THE HONOUR OF YOUR COUNTRY


A VILLAGE CELEBRATION


A TRAIN OF THOUGHT


MELODRAMA


A LOST MASTERPIECE


A HINT FOR NEXT CHRISTMAS


THE FUTURE


THE LARGEST CIRCULATION


THE WATSON TOUCH


SOME OLD COMPANIONS


A HAUNTED HOUSE


ROUND THE WORLD AND BACK


THE STATE OF THE THEATRE


THE FIRES OF AUTUMN


NOT GUILTY


A DIGRESSION


HIGH FINANCE


SECRET PAPERS

        *        *        *        *        *




IF I MAY


	*        *        *        *        *




IF I MAY






 The Case for the Artist



By an "artist" I mean Shakespeare and Me and Bach and Myself and
Velasquez and Phidias, and even You if you have ever written four
lines on the sunset in somebody's album, or modelled a Noah's Ark for
your little boy in plasticine. Perhaps we have not quite reached the
heights where Shakespeare stands, but we are on his track. Shakespeare
can be representative of all of us, or Velasquez if you prefer him.
One of them shall be President of our United Artists' Federation. Let
us, then, consider what place in the scheme of things our federation
can claim.


Probably we artists have all been a little modest about ourselves
lately. During the war we asked ourselves gloomily what use we were to
the State compared with the noble digger of coals, the much-to-be-
reverenced maker of boots, and the god-like grower of wheat. Looking
at the pictures in the illustrated papers of brawny, half-dressed men
pushing about blocks of red-hot iron, we have told ourselves that
these heroes were the pillars of society, and that we were just an
incidental decoration. It was a wonder that we were allowed to live.
And now in these days of strikes, when a single union of manual
workers can hold up the rest of the nation, it is a bitter refection
to us that, if we were to strike, the country would go on its way
quite happily, and nine-tenths of the population would not even know
that we had downed our pens and brushes.


If there is any artist who has been depressed by such thoughts as
these, let him take comfort. _We are all right._


I made the discovery that we were all right by studying the life of
the bee. All that I knew about bees until yesterday was derived from
that great naturalist, Dr. Isaac Watts. In common with every one who
has been a child I knew that the insect in question improved each
shining hour by something honey something something every something
flower. I had also heard that bees could not sting you if you held
your breath, a precaution which would make conversation by the
herbaceous border an affair altogether too spasmodic; and, finally,
that in any case the same bee could only sting you once--though,
apparently, there was no similar provision of Nature's that the same
person could not be stung twice.


Well, that was all that I knew about bees until yesterday. I used to
see them about the place from time to time, busy enough, no douht, but
really no busier than I was; and as they were not much interested in
me they had no reason to complain that I was not much interested in
them. But since yesterday, when I read a book which dealt fully, not
only with the public life of the bee, but with the most intimate
details of its private life, I have looked at them with a new interest
and a new sympathy. For there is no animal which does not get more out
of life than the pitiable insect which Dr. Watts holds up as an
example to us.


Hitherto, it may be, you have thought of the bee as an admirable and
industrious insect, member of a model community which worked day and
night to but one end--the well-being of the coming race. You knew
perhaps that it fertilized the flowers, but you also knew that the bee
didn't know; you were aware that, it any bee deliberately went about
trying to improve your delphiniums instead of gathering honey for the
State, it would be turned down promptly by the other workers. For
nothing is done in the hive without this one utilitarian purpose. Even
the drones take their place in the scheme of things; a minor place in
the stud; and when the next generation is assured, and the drones
cease to be useful and can now only revert to the ornamental, they are
ruthlessly cast out.


It comes, then, to this. The bee devotes its whole life to preparing
for the next generation. But what is the next generation going to do?
It is going to spend its whole life preparing for the third
generation... and so on for ever.


An admirable community, the moralists tell us. Poor moralists! To miss
so much of the joy of life; to deny oneself the pleasure (to mention
only one among many) of reclining lazily on one's back in a
snap-dragon, watching the little white clouds sail past upon a sea of
blue; to miss these things for no other reason than that the next
generation may also have an opportunity of missing them--is that
admirable? What do the bees think that they are doing? If they live a
life of toil and self-sacrifice merely in order that the next
generation may live a life of equal toil and self-sacrifice, what has
been gained? Ask the next bee you meet what it thinks it is doing in
this world, and the only answer it can give you is, "Keeping up the
supply of bees." Is that an admirable answer? How much more admirable
if it could reply that it was eschewing all pleasure and living the
life of a galley-slave in order that the next generation might have
leisure to paint the poppy a more glorious scarlet. But no. The next
generation is going at it just as hard for the same unproductive end;
it has no wish to leave anything behind it--a new colour, a new scent,
a new idea. It has one object only in this world--more bees. Could any
scheme of life be more sterile?


Having come to this conclusion about the bee, I took fresh courage. I
saw at once that it was the artist in Man which made him less
contemptible than the Bee. That god-like person the grower of wheat
assumed his proper level. Bread may be necessary to existence, but
what is the use of existence if you are merely going to employ it in
making bread? True, the farmer makes bread, not only for himself, but
for the miner; and the miner produces coal--not only for himself, but
for the farmer; and the farmer also Produces bread for the maker of
boots, who Produces boots, not only for himself, but for the farmer
and the miner. But you are still getting ting no further. It is the
Life of the Bee over again, with no other object in it but mere
existence. If this were all, there would be nothing to write on our
tombstones but "Born 1800; Died 1880. _He lived till then._"


But it is not all, because--and here I strike my breast
proudly--because of us artists. Not only can we write on Shakespeare's
tomb, "He wrote _Hamlet_" or "He was not for an age, but for all
time," but we can write on a contemporary baker's tomb, "He provided
bread for the man who wrote _Hamlet_," and on a contemporary
butcher's tomb, "He was not only for himself, but for Shakespeare."
We perceive, in fact, that the only matter upon which any worker,
other than the artist, can congratulate himself, whether he be
manual-worker, brain-worker, surgeon, judge, or politician, is that he
is helping to make the world tolerable for the artist. It is only the
artist who will leave anything behind him. He is the fighting-man, the
man who counts; the others are merely the Army Service Corps of
civilization. A world without its artists, a world of bees, would be
as futile and as meaningless a thing as an army composed entirely of
the A.S.C.


Possibly you put in a plea here for the explorer and the scientist.
The explorer perhaps may stand alone. His discovery of a peak in
Darien is something in itself, quite apart from the happy possibility
that Keats may be tempted to bring it into a sonnet. Yes, if a
Beef-Essence-Merchant has only provided sustenance for an Explorer he
has not lived in vain, however much the poets and the painters recoil
from his wares. But of the scientist I am less certain. I fancy that
his invention of the telephone (for instance) can only be counted to
his credit because it has brought the author into closer touch with
his publisher.


So we artists (yes, and explorers) may be of good faith. They may try
to pretend, these others, in their little times of stress, that we are
nothing--decorative, inessential; that it is they who make the world
go round. This will not upset us. We could not live without them;
true. But (a much more bitter thought) they would have no reason for
living at all, were it not for us.





 A London Garden



I have always wanted a garden of my own. Other people's gardens are
all very well, but the visitor never sees them at their best. He comes
down in June, perhaps, and says something polite about the roses. "You
ought to have seen them last year," says his host disparagingly, and
the visitor represses with difficulty the retort, "You ought to have
asked me down to see them last year." Or, perhaps, he comes down in
August, and lingers for a moment beneath the fig-tree. "Poor show of
figs," says the host, "I don't know what's happened to them. Now we
had a record crop of raspberries. Never seen them so plentiful
before." And the visitor has to console himself with the thought of
the raspberries which he has never seen, and will probably miss again
next year. It is not very comforting.


Give me, therefore, a garden of my own. Let me grow my own flowers,
and watch over them from seedhood to senility. Then shall I miss
nothing of their glory, and when visitors come I can impress them with
my stories of the wonderful show of groundsel which we had last year.


For the moment I am contenting myself with groundsel. To judge by the
present state of the garden, the last owner must have prided himself
chiefly on his splendid show of canaries. Indeed, it would not
surprise me to hear that he referred to his garden as "the
back-yard." This would take the heart out of anything which was
trying to flower there, and it is only natural that, with the
exception of the three groundsel beds, the garden is now a wilderness.
Perhaps "wilderness" gives you a misleading impression of space, the
actual size of the pleasaunce being about two hollyhocks by one, but
it is the correct word to describe the air of neglect which hangs over
the place. However, I am going to alter that.


With a garden of this size, though, one has to be careful. One cannot
decide lightly upon a croquet-lawn here, an orchard there, and a
rockery in the corner; one has to go all out for the one particular
thing, whether it is the last hoop and the stick of a croquet-lawn, a
mulberry-tree, or an herbaceous border. Which do we want most--a fruit
garden, a flower garden, or a water garden? Sometimes I think fondly
of a water garden, with a few perennial gold-fish flashing swiftly
across it, and ourselves walking idly by the margin and pointing them
out to our visitors; and then I realize sadly that, by the time an
adequate margin has been provided for ourselves and our visitors,
there will be no room left for the gold-fish.


At the back of my garden I have a high brick wall. To whom the bricks
actually belong I cannot say, but at any rate I own the surface rights
on this side of it. One of my ideas is to treat it as the back cloth
of a stage, and paint a vista on it. A long avenue of immemorial elms,
leading up to a gardener's lodge at the top of the wall--I mean at the
end of the avenue--might create a pleasing impression. My workroom
leads out into the garden, and I have a feeling that, if the door of
this room were opened, and then hastily closed again on the plea that
I mustn't be disturbed, a visitor might obtain such a glimpse of the
avenue and the gardener's lodge as would convince him that I had come
into property. He might even make an offer for the estate, if he were
set upon a country house in the heart of London.


But you have probably guessed already the difficulty in the way of my
vista. The back wall extends into the gardens of the householders on
each side of me. They might refuse to co-operate with me; they might
insist on retaining the blank ugliness of theirs walls, or
endeavouring (as they endeavour now, I believe) to grow some
unenterprising creeper up them; with the result that my vista would
fail to create the necessary illusion when looked at from the side,
This would mean that our guests would have to remain in one position,
and that even in this position they would have to stand to
attention--a state of things which might mar their enjoyment of our
hospitality. Until, then, our neighbours give me a free hand with
their segments of the wall, the vista must remain a beautiful dream.


However, there are other possibilities. Since there is no room in the
garden for a watchdog and a garden, it might be a good idea to paint a
phosphorescent and terrifying watchdog on the wall. Perhaps a
watchlion would be even more terrifying--and, presumably, just as easy
to paint. Any burglar would be deterred if he came across a lion
suddenly in the back garden. One way or another, it should be possible
to have something a little more interesting than mere bricks at the
end of the estate.


And if the worst comes to the worst--if it is found that no flowers
(other than groundsel) will flourish in my garden, owing to lack of
soil or lack of sun--then the flowers must be painted on the walls.
This would have its advantages, for we should waste no time over the
early and uninteresting stages of the plant, but depict it at once in
its full glory. And we should keep our garden up to date. When
delphiniums went out of season, we should rub them out and give you
chrysanthemums; and if an untimely storm uprooted the chrysanthemums,
in an hour or two we should have a wonderful show of dahlias to take
their place. And we should still have the floor-space free for a
sundial, or--if you insist on exercise--for the last hoop and the
stick of a full-sized croquet-lawn.





 The Game of Kings



I do not claim to be an authority on either the history or the
practice of chess, but, as the poet Gray observed when he saw his old
school from a long way off, it is sometimes an advantage not to know
too much of one's subject. The imagination can then be exercised more
effectively. So when I am playing Capablanca (or old Robinson) for the
championship of the home pastures, my thoughts are not fixed
exclusively upon the "mate" which is threatening; they wander off
into those enchanted lands of long ago, when flesh-and-blood knights
rode at stone-built castles, and thin-lipped bishops, all smiles and
side-long glances, plotted against the kings who ventured to oppose
them. This is the real fascination of chess.


You observe that I speak of castles, not of rooks. I do not know
whence came this custom of calling the most romantic piece on the
board by the name of a very ordinary bird, but I, at least, will not
be a party to it. I refuse to surrender the portcullis and the moat,
the bastion and the well-manned towers, which were the features of
every castle with which hitherto I have played, in order to take the
field with allies so unromantic as a brace of rooks. You may tell me
that "rook" is a corruption of this or that word, meaning something
which has never laid an egg in its life. It may be so, but in that
case you cannot blame me for continuing to call it the castle which
its shape proclaims it.


Knowing nothing of the origin of the game, I can tell myself stories
about it. That it was invented by a woman is obvious, for why else
should the queen be the most powerful piece of them all? She lived,
this woman, in a priest-ridden land, but she had no love for the
Church. Neither bland white bishop nor crooked-smiling black bishop
did she love; that is why she made them move sideways. Yet she could
not deny them their power. They were as powerful as the gallant young
knight who rode past her window singing to battle, where he swooped
upon the enemy impetuously from this side and that, heedless of the
obstacles in the way, or worked two of them into such a position that,
though one might escape, the other was doomed to bite the dust, Yet
the bishop, man of peace though he proclaimed himself, was as powerful
as he, but not so powerful as a baron in his well-fortified castle.
For sometimes there were places beyond the influence of the Church, if
one could reach them in safety; though when the Church hunted in
couples, the king's priest and the queen's priest out together, then
there was no certain refuge, and one must sally upon them bravely and
run the risk of being excommunicated.


No, she did not love the Church. Sometimes I think that she was
herself a queen, who had suffered at the hands of the bishops; and,
just as you or I put our enemies into a book, thereby gaining much
private satisfaction even though they do not recognize themselves, so
she made a game of her enemies and enjoyed her revenge in secret. But
if she were a queen, then she was a queen-mother, and the king was not
her husband but her little son. This would account for the perpetual
intrigues against him, and the fact that he was so powerless to aid
himself. Probably the enemy was too strong for him in the end, and he
and his mother were taken into captivity together. It was in prison
that she invented the royal game, the young king amused himself by
carving out the first rough pieces.


But was she a queen? Sometimes I think that I have the story wrong;
for what queen in those days would have assented to a proposition so
democratic as that a man-at-arms (a "pawn" in the language of the
unromantic) could rise by his own exertions to the dignity of Royalty
itself? But if she were a waiting-maid in love with the king's own
man-at-arms, then it would be natural that she should set no limit to
her ambitions for him. The man-at-arms crowned would be in keeping
with her most secret dreams.


These are the things of which I think when I push my king's
man-at-arms two leagues forward. A game of chess is a romance sport
when it is described in that dull official notation "P to K4 Kt to
KB3"; a story should be woven around it. One of these days, perhaps,
I shall tell the story of my latest defeat. Lewis Carroll had some
such intention when he began _Alice Through the Looking Glass_, but he
went at it half-heartedly. Besides, being a clergyman and writing as
he did for children, he was handicapped; he dared not introduce the
bishops. I shall have no such fears, and my story will be serious.


Consider for a moment the romance which underlies the most ordinary
game. You push out the king's pawn and your opponent does the same. It
is plain (is it not?) that these are the heralds, meeting at the
border-line between the two kingdoms--Ivoria and Ebonia, let us say.
There I have my first chapter: The history of the dispute, the
challenge by Ivoria, the acceptance of the challenge by Ebonia.
Chapter Two describes the sallying forth of the knights--"Kt to KB3,
Kt to QB3." In the next chapter the bishop gains the queen's ear and
suggests that he should take the field. He is no fighter, but he has
the knack of excommunicating. The queen, a young and beautiful widow,
with an infant son, consents ("B to QB4"), and set about removing
her child to a place of safety. She invokes the aid of Roqueblanc, an
independent chieftain, who, spurred on by love for her, throws all his
forces on to her side, offering at the same time his well-guarded
fastness as a sanctuary for her boy. ("Castles.") Then the queen
musters all her own troops and leads them into battle by the side of
the Baron Roqueblanc....


But I must not tell you the whole story now. You can imagine for
yourself some of the more exciting things which happen. You can
picture, for instance, that vivid chapter in which the young king, at
a moment when his very life is threatened by an Ebonian baron, is
saved by the self-sacrifices of Roqueblanc, who hurls himself in front
of the royal youth's person and himself falls a victim, to be avenged
immediately by a watchful man-at-arms. You can follow, if you will,
the further adventures of that man-at-arms, up to that last chapter
when he marries the still beautiful queen, and henceforward acts in
her name, taking upon himself a power similar to her own. In fact, you
can write the book yourself. But if you do not care to do this, let me
beg you at least to bring a little imagination to the next game which
you play. Then whether you win or (as is more likely) you lose, you
will at least be worthy of the Game of Kings.





 Fixtures and Fittings



There was once a young man who decided to be a poodle-clipper. He felt
that he had a natural bent for it, and he had been told that a
fashionable poodle-clipper could charge his own price for his
services. But his father urged him to seek another profession. "It is
an uncertain life, poodle-clipping," he said, "To begin with, very
few people keep poodles at all. Of these few, only a small proportion
wants its poodles clipped. And, of this small proportion, a still
smaller proportion is likely to want its poodles clipped by _you_."
So the young man decided to be a hair-dresser instead.


I thought of this story the other day when I was bargaining with a
house-agent about "fixtures," and I decided that no son of mine
should become a curtain-pole manufacturer. I suppose that the price of
a curtain-rod (pole or perch) is only a few shillings, and, once made,
it remains in a house for ever. Tenants come and go, new landlords buy
and sell, but the old brass rod stays firm at the top of the window,
supporting curtain after curtain. How many new sets are made in a
year? No more, it would seem, than the number of new houses built. Far
better, then to manufacture an individual possession like a
tooth-brush, which has the additional advantage of wearing out every
few months.


But from the consumer's point of view, a curtain-rod is a pleasant
thing. He has the satisfaction of feeling that, having once bought it,
he has bought it for the rest of his life. He may change his house and
with it his Fixtures, but there is no loss on the brass part of the
transaction, however much there may be on the bricks and mortar. What
he pays out with one hand, he takes in with the other. Nor is his
property subject to the ordinary mischances of life. There was an
historic character who "lost the big drum," but he would become even
more historic who had lost a curtain-rod, and neither parlour-maid nor
cat is ever likely to wear a guilty conscience over the breaking of
one.


I have not yet discovered, in spite of my recent familiarity with
house-agents, the difference between a fixture and a fitting. It is
possible that neither word has any virtue without the other, as is the
case with "spick" and "span." One has to be both; however dapper,
one would never be described as a span gentleman. In the same way it
may be that a curtain-rod or an electric light is never just a fixture
or a fitting, but always "included in the fixtures and fittings."
Then there is a distinction, apparently, between a "landlord's
fixture" and a "tenant's fixture," which is rather subtle. A
fire-dog is a landlord's fixture; so is a door-plate. If you buy a
house you get the fire-dogs and the door-plates thrown in, which seems
unnecessarily generous. I can understand the landlord deciding to
throw in the walls and the roof, because he couldn't do much with them
if you refused to take them, but it is a mystery why he should include
a door-plate, which can easily be removed and sold to somebody else.
And if a door-plate, why not a curtain-rod? A curtain-rod is a
necessity to the incoming tenant; a door-plate is merely a luxury for
the grubby-fingered to help them to keep the paint clean. One might
be expected to bring one's own door-plate with one, according to the
size of one's hand.


For the whole idea of a fixture or fitting can only be that it is
something about which there can be no individual taste. We furnish a
house according to our own private fancy; the "fixtures" are the
furnishings in regard to which we are prepared to accept the general
fancy. The other man's curtain-rod, though easily detachable and able
to fit a hundred other windows, is a fixture; his carpet-as-planned
(to use the delightful language of the house-agent), though securely
nailed down and the wrong size for any other room but this, is not a
fixture. Upon some such reasoning the first authorized schedule of
fixtures and fittings must have been made out.


It seems a pity that it has not been extended. There are other things
than curtain-rods and electric-light bulbs which might be left behind
in the old house and picked up again in the new. The silver
cigarette-box, which we have all had as a birthday or wedding present,
might safely be handed over to the incoming tenant, in the certainty
that another just like it will be waiting for us in our next house.
True, it will have different initials on it, but that will only make
it the more interesting, our own having become fatiguing to us by this
time. Possibly this sort of thing has already been done in an
unofficial way among neighbors. By mutual agreement they leave their
aspidistras and their "Maiden's Prayer" behind them. It saves
trouble and expense in the moving, which is an important thing in
these days, and there would always be the hope that the next
aspidistra might be on the eve of flowering or laying eggs, or
whatever it is that its owner expects from it.





 Experts



The man in front of the fire was telling us a story about his wife and
a bottle of claret. He had taken her to the best restaurant in Paris
and had introduced her to a bottle of the famous Chateau Whatsitsname,
1320 (or thereabouts), a wine absolutely priceless--although the
management, with its customary courtesy, had allowed him to pay a
certain amount for it. Not realizing that it was actually the famous
Whatsitsname, she had drunk it in the ordinary way, neither holding it
up to the light and saying, "Ah, there's a wine!" nor rolling it
round the palate before swallowing. On the next day they went to a
commonplace restaurant and drank a local and contemporary vintage at
five francs the bottle, of similar colour but very different
temperament. When she had finished her glass, she said hesitatingly,
"Of course, I don't know anything about wine, and I dare say I'm
quite wrong, but I can't help feeling that the claret we had last
night was better than this."


The man in front of the fire was rather amused by this, as were most
of his audience. For myself, I felt that the lady demanded my
admiration rather than my amusement. Without the assistance of the
labels, many of us might have decided that it was the five-franc
vintage which was the better wine. She didn't. Indeed, I am inclined
to read more into the story than is perhaps there; I believe that she
had misunderstood her husband, and had thought that the second bottle
was the famous, aged, and priceless Chateau Whatsitsname, and that, in
spite of this, she gave it as her opinion that the first wine, cheap
and modern though it might be, was the better. Hats off, then, to a
brave woman! How many of us would have her courage and her honesty?


But perhaps you who read this are an expert on wine. If so, you are
lucky. I am an expert on nothing--nothing, anyhow, that matters. I
envy all you experts tremendously. When I see a cigar-expert listening
to his cigar before putting it in his mouth I wish that I were as
great a man as he. Privately sometimes I have listened to a cigar, but
it has told me nothing. The only way I can tell whether it is good or
bad is by smoking it. Even then I could not tell you (without the
assistance of the band) whether it was a Sancho Panza or a Guoco
Piano. I could only tell you whether I liked it or not, a question of
no importance whatever.


Lately I have been trying to become a furniture-expert, but it is a
disheartening business. I have a book called Chats on Old Furniture--a
terrible title to have to ask for in a shop, but I asked boldly.
Perhaps the word "chat" does not make other people feel as unhappy
as it makes me. But even after reading this book I am not really an
expert. I know now that it is no good listening to a Chippendale chair
to see if it is really Chippendale; one must stroke it in order to
find out whether it is a "genuine antique" or only a modern
reproduction; but it is obvious that years of stroking would be
necessary before an article of furniture would be properly responsive.
Is it worth while wasting these years of one's life? Indeed, is it
worth while (I ask nervously) bothering whether a chair or a table is
antique or modern so long as it is both useful and beautiful?


Well, let me tell you what happened to us yesterday. We found a
dresser which appealed to us considerably, and we stood in front of
it, looking at it. We decided that except for a little curley-wiggle
at the top it was the jolliest dresser we had seen, "That's a fine
old dresser," said the shopman, coming up at that moment, and he
smacked it encouragingly. "A really fine old dresser, that." We
agreed. "Except for those curley-wiggles," I added, pointing to them
with my umbrella. "If we could take those off." He looked at me
reproachfully. "You wouldn't take those off----" he said. "Why,
that's what tells you that it's a Welsh dresser of 1720." We didn't
buy that dresser. We decided that the size or the price was all wrong.
But I wonder now, supposing we had bought it, whether we should have
had the pluck to remove the curley-wiggles (and let people mistake it
for an English dresser of 1920) in order that, so abbreviated, it
might have been more beautiful.


For furniture is not beautiful merely because it is old. It is absurd
to suppose that everything made in 1720--or 1620 or 1520--was made
beautifully, as it would be absurd to say that everything made in 1920
was beautiful. No doubt there will always be people who will regard
the passing of time as sufficient justification for any article of
furniture; I could wish that they were equally tolerant among the arts
as among the crafts, so that in 2120 this very article which I write
now could be referred to with awe as a genuine 1920; but all that the
passage of time can really do for your dresser is to give a more
beautiful surface and tone to the wood. This, surely, is a matter
which you can judge for yourself without being an expert. If your
dresser looks old you have got from it all that age can give you; if
it looks beautiful you have got from it all that a craftsman of any
period can give you; why worry, then, as to whether or not it is a
"genuine antique"? The expert may tell you that it is a fake, but
the fact that he has suddenly said so has not made your dining-room
less beautiful. Or if it is less beautiful, it is only because an
"expert" is now in it. Hurry him out.





 The Robinson Tradition



Having read lately an appreciation of that almost forgotten author
Marryat, and having seen in the shilling box of a second-hand
bookseller a few days afterward a copy of _Masterman Ready_, I went in
and bought the same. I had read it as a child, and remembered vaguely
that it combined desert-island adventure with a high moral tone; jam
and powder in the usual proportions. Reading it again, I found that
the powder was even more thickly spread than I had expected; hardly a
page but carried with it a valuable lesson for the young; yet this
particular jam (guava and cocoanut) has such an irresistible
attraction for me that I swallowed it all without a struggle, and was
left with a renewed craving for more and yet more desert-island
stories. Having, unfortunately, no others at hand, the only
satisfaction I can give myself is to write about them.


I would say first that, even if an author is writing for children (as
was Marryat), and even if morality can best be implanted in the young
mind with a watering of fiction, yet a desert-island story is the last
story which should be used for this purpose. For a desert-island is a
child's escape from real life and its many lessons. Ask yourself why
you longed for a desert-island when you were young, and you will find
the answer to be that you did what you liked there, ate what you
liked, and carried through your own adventures. It is the "Family"
which spoils _The Swiss Family Robinson_, just as it is the Seagrave
family which nearly wrecks _Masterman Ready_. What is the good of
imagining yourself (as every boy does) "Alone in the Pacific" if you
are not going to be alone? Well, perhaps we do not wish to be quite
alone; but certainly to have more than two on an island is to
overcrowd it, and our companion must be of a like age and disposition.


For this reason parents spoil any island for a healthy-minded boy. He
may love his father and mother as fondly as even they could wish, but
he does not want to take them bathing in the lagoon with him--still
less to have them on the shore, telling him that there are too many
sharks this morning and that it is quite time he came out. Nor for
that matter do parents want to be bothered with children on a South
Sea holiday. In _Masterman Ready_ there is a horrid little boy called
Tommy, aged six, who is always letting the musket off accidentally, or
getting bitten by a turtle, or taking more than his share of the
cocoanut milk. As a grown-up I wondered why his father did not give
him to the first savage who came by, and so allow himself a chance of
enjoying his island in peace; but at Tommy's age I should have
resented just as strongly a father who, even on a desert-island, could
not bear to see his boy making a fool of himself with turtle and
gunpowder.


I am not saying that a boy would really be happy for long, whether on
a desert-island or elsewhere, without his father and mother. Indeed it
is doubtful if he could survive, happily or unhappily. Possibly
William Seagrave could have managed it. William was only twelve, but
he talked like this: "I agree with you, Ready. Indeed I have been
thinking the same thing for many days past.... I wish the savages
would come on again, for the sooner they come the sooner the affair
will be decided." A boy who can talk like this at twelve is capable
of finding the bread-fruit tree for himself. But William is an
exception. I claim no such independence for the ordinary boy; I only
say that the ordinary boy, however dependent on his parents, does like
to pretend that he is capable of doing without them, wherefore he
gives them no leading part in the imaginary adventures which he
pursues so ardently. If they are there at all, it is only that he may
come back to them in the last chapter and tell them all about it...
and be suitably admired.


_Masterman Ready_ seems to me, then, to be the work of a father, not
of an understanding writer for boys. Marryat wrote it for his own
children, towards whom he had responsibilities; not for other people's
children, for whom he would only be concerned to provide
entertainment. But even if the book was meant for no wider circle than
the home, one would still feel that the moral teaching was overdone.
It should be possible to be edifying without losing one's sense of
humour. When Juno, the black servant, was struck by lightning and not
quite killed, she "appeared to be very sensible of the wonderful
preservation which she had had. She had always been attentive whenever
the Bible was read, but now she did not appear to think that the
morning and evening services were sufficient to express her
gratitude." Even a child would feel that Juno really need not have
been struck by lightning at all; even a child might wonder how many
services, on this scale of gratitude, were adequate for the rest of
the party whom the lightning had completely missed. And it was perhaps
a little self-centred of Ready to thank God for her recovery on the
grounds that she could "ill be spared" by a family rather
short-handed in the rainy season.


However, the story is the thing. As long as a desert-island book
contains certain ingredients, I do not mind if other superfluous
matter creeps in. Our demands--we of the elect who adore
desert-islands--are simple. The castaways must build themselves a hut
with the aid of a bag of nails saved from the wreck; they must catch
turtles by turning them over on their backs; they must find the
bread-fruit tree and have adventures with sharks. Twice they must be
visited by savages. On the first occasion they are taken by surprise,
but--the savages being equally surprised--no great harm is done. Then
the Hero says, "They will return when the wind is favourable," and
he arranges his defences, not forgetting to lay in a large stock of
water. The savages return in force, and then--this is most
important--at the most thirsty moment of the siege it is discovered
that the water is all gone! Generally a stray arrow has pierced the
water-butt, but in _Masterman Ready_ the insufferable Tommy has played
the fool with it. (He would.) This is the Hero's great opportunity. He
ventures to the spring to get more water, and returns with
it--wounded. Barely have the castaways wetted their lips with the
precious fluid when the attack breaks out with redoubled fury. It
seems now that all is lost... when, lo! a shell bursts into the middle
of the attacking hordes. (Never into the middle of the defenders. That
would be silly.) "Look," the Hero cries, "a vessel off-shore with
its main braces set and a jib-sail flying"--or whatever it may be.
And they return to London.


This is the story which we want, and we cannot have too many of them.
Should you ever see any of us with our noses over the shilling box and
an eager light in our eyes, you may be sure that we are on the track
of another one.





 Getting Things Done



In the castle of which I am honorary baron we are in the middle of an
orgy of "getting things done." It must always be so, I suppose, when
one moves into a new house. After the last furniture van has departed,
and the painters' bill has been receipted, one feels that one can now
settle down to enjoy one's new surroundings. But no. The discoveries
begin. This door wants a new lock on it, that fireplace wants a brick
taken out, the garden is in need of something else, somebody ought to
inspect the cistern. What about the drains? There are a hundred things
to be "done."


I have a method in these matters. When I observe that something wants
doing, I say casually to the baroness, "We ought to do something
about that fireplace," or whatever it is. I say it with the air of a
man who knows exactly what to do, and would do it himself if he were
not so infernally busy. The correct answer to this is, "Yes, I'll go
and see about it to-day." Sometimes the baroness tries to put it on
to me by saying, "We ought to do something about the cistern," but
she has not quite got the casual tone necessary, and I have no
difficulty in replying (with the air of a man who, etc.), "Yes, we
ought." The proper answer to this is, "Very well, then. I'll go and
see about it." In either case, as you will agree, action on the part
of the baroness should follow.


Unfortunately it doesn't. She, it appears, is a partner in my
weakness. We neither of us know how to get things done. It is a
knowledge which one can never acquire. Either you are born with an
instinct for the man round the corner who tests cisterns, or you are
born without it, in which case you never, never find him. There are
men with the instinct so highly developed that they can tell you at a
moment's notice the name and address, not merely of a man who will
test your cistern for you, but of the one man in your neighbourhood
who will test it most efficiently and most cheaply. If your canary
moulted unduly, and you said to your wife, "We must do something
about Ambrose," they could tell you at once of the best canary-mender
to approach. These are the men I admire. But there are weaklings (of
both sexes, unfortunately) who would not even know whether a
greengrocer or a veterinary surgeon was the man to send for, and who
are entirely vague as to whether a cistern is tested for water or for
lead-poisoning.


The press speaks of this or that politician sometimes as the
"Minister who gets things done." I have always felt that, given an
adequate permanent staff, I might go down to fame as the householder
who got things done. As you see, my staff lets me down. I am quite
capable of sitting in my office and saying to an under-secretary, "We
must do something about this shell business." This, in fact, is just
my line. I am quite capable of saying firmly, "I must have ten
million big guns by August." And if the undersecretary only made the
correct reply, "Very well, sir, I'll see about it," my photograph
would appear in the papers as that of "the man who got the guns."
But when your under-secretary refuses to carry on, where are you?


What I want, and what, I imagine, most people who have moved into a
new house want, is an intermediary to get things done for us. I
suggest this as a profession to any demobilized soldier looking for
work. He should walk about London, making a note of the houses which
have just been sold or let, and as soon as the new residents have
taken possession, he should send round his card. "Tell me what is
worrying you," he would say, "and I will see that something is done
about it." He might charge a couple of guineas as his fee. Perhaps it
would be better if he said, "Let me tell you what is likely to worry
you"--if, that is to say, his business was to go round your house
directly you got into it, to make a list of the jobs that wanted
doing, and then, armed with your authority, to go off and get them
done. Many people would gladly pay him two guineas for such excellent
services, and he could probably pick up a trifle more as commission
from the men to whom he gave the work. It would be worth trying
anyway.


But, of course, such a man would have to have a vast knowledge of
affairs. He would have to know, for instance, how one buys string. In
the ordinary way one doesn't buy string; it comes to you, and you take
it off and send it back again. But the occasion may arise when you
want lots and lots of it. Then it is necessary to look for a string
shop. A friend of mine spent the whole of one afternoon trying to buy
a ball of string. He wandered from one ironmonger to the other (he had
a fixed idea that an ironmonger was the man), and finally, in despair,
went into a large furnishing shop, noted for its "artistic suites."
He was very humble by this time, and his petition that they should
sell him some string because he was an old customer of theirs was
unfortunately worded. As far as I know he is still stringless, just as
I am still waiting for somebody to do something about the cistern.





 Christmas Games



The shops are putting on their Christmas dress. The cotton-wool, that
time-hallowed substitute for snow, is creeping into the plate-glass
windows; the pink lace collars are encircling again the cakes; and the
"charming wedding or birthday present" of a week ago renews its
youth as a "suitable Yuletide gift." Everything calls to us to get
our Christmas shopping done early this year, but, as usual, we shall
put it off until the latest possible day, and in that last mad rush we
shall get Aunt Emily the wrong pair of mittens and overlook poor Uncle
John altogether.


Before I begin my own shopping I am waiting for an announcement in the
papers. All that my paper has told me is that the Christmas toy
bazaars of the big stores are now open. I have not yet seen that list
and description of the new games of the season for which I wait so
eagerly. It is possible that this year will produce the
masterpiece--the game which possesses in the highest degree all the
qualities of the ideal Christmas game. The unfortunate thing is that,
even if such a game were to appear in this year's catalogue, we should
have lost it by next year; for the National Sporting Club (or whoever
arranges these things) has always been convinced that "novelty" is
the one quality required at Christmas, the hall-mark of excellence
which no Christmas shopper can resist. If a game is novel, it is
enough. To the manager of a toy department the continued vogue of
cricket must be very bewildering.


Let us consider the ideal Christmas game. In the first place, it must
be a round game; that is to say, at least six people must be able to
play it simultaneously. No game for two only is permissible at
Christmas--unless, of course, it be under the mistletoe. Secondly, it
must be a game into which skill does not enter, or, if it does, it
must be a skill which is as likely to be shown by a child of eight or
an old gentleman of eighty as by a 'Varsity blue. Such skill, for
instance, as manifests itself at Tiddleywinks, that noble game. Yet,
even so, Tiddleywinks is too skilful a pursuit. One cannot say what it
is that makes a good Tiddleywinker, whether eye or wrist or supple
finger-work, but it is obvious that one who is "winking" badly must
be depressed by the thought that he is appearing stupid and clumsy to
his neighbours, and that this feeling is not conducive to that
happiness which his many Christmas cards have called down upon him.


It is better, therefore, that the element of skill should be absent.
Let it be a game of luck only; and, since it is impossible to play a
Christmas game for money, you will not be depressed if you lose.


The third and last essential of the ideal game is that it must provoke
laughter. You cannot laugh at Tiddleywinks, nor at Ludo (as I hear,
but I have never yet discovered what Ludo is), nor at Happy Families.
But the ideal game is provocative of that best kind of laughter--
laughter at the undeserved misfortunes of others, seasoned by the
knowledge that at any moment a similar misfortune may happen to
oneself.


Just before the war I came across the ideal game. I forget what it was
called, unless it was some such name as "The Prince's Quest." Six
princes, suitably coloured, set out to win the hand of the beautiful
princess. They started at one end of a long and winding road, and she
waited for the first arrival at the other end. The road, which passed
through the most enthralling scenery, was numbered by milestones--"1"
to "200". Suppose you were the Red Prince, you shook a die (I mean the
half of two dice), and if a four turned up, you advanced to the fourth
milestone. And so on, in succession. So far it doesn't sound very
exciting. Rut you are forgetting the scenery. Perhaps at the twelfth
milestone there awaited you the shoes of swiftness, which carried you
in one bound to the twentieth milestone; thus by throwing a three at
the ninth, you advanced eleven miles, whereas if you had thrown a four
you would only have advanced four miles. On arriving at other lucky
milestones you received a cloak of darkness, which took you past
various obstacles which were holding the others up, or perhaps were
introduced to a potent dwarf, who showed you a short cut forbidden to
your rivals. One way and another you pushed ahead of the other
princes.


And then the inevitable happened. You arrived at the eighty-fourth
milestone (or whatever it was) and you found a wicked enchanter
waiting for you, who cast upon you a backward spell, as a result of
which you had to travel backwards for the next three turns. Undaunted
by this reverse, you returned bravely to it, and perhaps came upon the
eighty-fourth milestone again. But even so you did not despair, for
there was always hope. The Blue Prince, who is now leading, approaches
the ninety-sixth milestone. He is, indeed, at the ninety-fifth. A
breathless moment as he shakes the die. Will he? He does. He throws a
one, reaches the ninety-sixth milestone, topples headlong into the
underground river, and is swept back to the starting-point again.


A great game. But our edition of it went to some hospital during the
war, and I fear now that I shall never play it again. Yet I scan the
papers eagerly, hoping for some announcement of it. Not this actual
game, of course, but some version of it; some "Christmas novelty,"
in which, perhaps, the princes are called knights, but the laughter
remains the same.





 The Mathematical Mind



My daily paper just now is full of mathematical difficulties,
submitted by its readers for the amusement of one of its staff. Every
morning he appeals to us for assistance in solving tricky little
problems about pints of water and herrings and rectangular fields. The
magic number "9" has a great fascination for him. It is terrifying
to think that if you multiply any row of figures by 9 the sum of the
figures thus obtained is divisible by 9. It is uncanny to hear that if
a clock takes six seconds to strike six it takes as much as thirteen
seconds and a fifth to strike twelve.


As a relief from searching for news in a press devoid of news, the
study of these problems is welcome enough, and to the unmathematical
mind, no doubt, the solutions appear to be something miraculous. But
to the mathematical mind a thing more miraculous is the awe with which
the unmathematical regard the simplest manipulation of figures. Most
of my life at school was spent in such pursuits that I feel bound to
claim the mathematical mind to some extent, with the result that I can
look down wonderingly upon these deeps of ignorance yawning daily in
the papers--much, I dare say, as the senior wrangler looks down upon
me. Figures may puzzle me occasionally, but at least they never cause
me surprise or alarm.


Naturally, then, I am jealous for the mathematical mind. If a man who
makes a false quantity, or attributes Lycidas to Keats, is generally
admitted to be uncultured, I resent it very much that no stigma
attaches to the gentleman who cannot do short division. I remember
once at school having to do a piece of Latin prose about the Black
Hole of Calcutta. It was a moving story as told in our prose book, and
I had spent an interesting hour turning into fairly correct and wholly
uninspired Latin--the sort of Latin I suppose which a small uneducated
Roman child (who had heard the news) would have written to a
school-boy friend. The size of the Black Hole was given as "twenty
foot square." I had no idea how to render this idiomatically, but I
knew that a room 20 ft. square contained 400 square feet. Also I knew
the Latin for one square foot. But you will not be surprised to hear
that my form master, a man of culture and education, leapt upon me.


"Quadringenti," he snapped, "is 400, not 20."


"Quite so," I agreed. "The room had 400 square feet."


"Read it again. It says 20 square feet."


"No, no, 20 feet square."


He glared at me in indignation. "What's the difference?" he said.


I sighed and began to explain. I went on explaining. If there had not
been other things to do than teaching cultured and educated
schoolmasters, I might be explaining still.


Yes, I resented this; and I resent now the matter-of-fact way in which
we accept the ignorance of mathematics shown by our present
teachers--the press. At every election in which there are only two
candidates a dozen papers discover with amazement this astounding
coincidence in the figures: that the decrease in, say, the Liberal
vote subtracted from the increase in the Conservative vote is exactly
equal to the increase in the poll. If there should happen to be three
candidates for a seat, the coincidences discovered are yet more
numerous and astonishing. Last Christmas a paper let itself go still
further, and dived into the economics of the plum pudding. A plum
pudding contains raisins, flour, and sugar. Raisins had gone up 2d. a
pound, or whatever it was, flour 6d., and sugar 1d. Hence the pudding
now would cost 9d. a pound more!


Consider, too, the extraordinary antics of the press over the methods
of scoring in the cricket championship. Wonderful new suggestions are
made which, if followed, could only have the effect of bringing the
teams out in exactly the same order as before. The simplest of simple
problems in algebra would have shown them this, but they feared to mix
themselves up with such unknown powers of darkness. The Theory of
Probability, again, leaves the press entirely cold, so that it is
ready to father any childish "system" for Monte Carlo. And nine men
out of ten really believe that, if you toss a penny five times in the
air and it comes down heads each time, it is more likely to come down
tails than heads next time.


Yet papers and people who think like this are considered quite capable
of dealing with the extraordinarily complicated figures of national
finance. They may boom or condemn insurance bills and fiscal policies,
and we listen to them reverently. As long as they know what Mr.
Gladstone said in '74, it doesn't seem to matter at all what Mr.
Todhunter said in his "Arithmetic for Beginners."





 Going Out to Dinner



If you are one of those lucky people whose motor is not numbered (as
mine is) 19 or 11 or 22, it does not really matter where your host for
the evening prefers to live; Bayswater or Battersea or Blackheath--it
is all the same to your chauffeur. But for those of us who have to
fight for bus or train or taxicab, it is different. We have to say to
ourselves, "Is it worth it?" A man who lives in Chelsea (for
instance) demands more from an invitation to Hampstead than from an
invitation to Kensington. If such a man were interested in people
rather than in food, he might feel that one actor-manager and a rural
dean among his fellow-guests would be sufficient attraction in a
Kensington house, but that at least two archbishops and a
revue-producer would have to be forthcoming at Hampstead before the
journey on a wet night would be justified. On the other hand, if he
were a vulgar man who preferred food to people, he would divide London
up into whisky, burgundy, and champagne areas according to their
accessibility from his own house; and on receiving an invitation to a
house in the outer or champagne area (as it might be at Dulwich), he
would try to discover, either by inquiry among his friends or by
employing a private detective, whether this house fulfilled the
necessary condition. If not, of course, then he would write a polite
note to say that he would be in the country, or confined to his bed
with gout, on the day in question.


I am as fond of going out to dinner as anyone else is, but there is a
moment, just before I begin to array myself for it, when I wish that
it were on some other evening. If the telephone bell rings, I say,
"Thank Heavens, Mrs. Parkinson-Jones has died suddenly. I mean, how
sad," and, looking as solemn as I can, I pick up the receiver.


"Is that the Excelsior Laundry?" says a voice. "You only sent back
half a pair of socks this week."


I replace the receiver and go reluctantly upstairs to dress. There is
no help for it. As I dress, I wonder who my partner at the table will
be, and if at this moment she is feeling as gloomy about the prospects
as I am. How much better if we had both dined comfortably at home. I
remember some years ago taking in a Dowager Countess. Don't think that
I am priding myself on this; I realize as well as you do that a
mistake of some sort was made. Probably my hostess took me for
somebody else--Sir Thomas Lipton, it may have been. Anyway the Dowager
Countess and I led the way downstairs to the dining-room, and all the
other guests murmured to themselves, "Who on earth is that?" and
told each other that no doubt I was one of the Serbian Princes who had
recently arrived in the country. I forgot what the Countess and I
talked about; probably yachts, or tea; but I was not paying much
attention to our conversation. I had other things to think about.


For the Dowager Countess (wisely, I think) was dieting herself. She
went through the evening on a glass of water and two biscuits. Each
new dish on its way round the table was brought first to her; she
waved it away, and it came to me. There was nothing to be done. I had
to open it.


My partciular memory is of a quail-pie. Quails may be all right for
Moses in the desert, but, if they are served in the form of pie at
dinner, they should be distributed at a side-table, not handed round
from guest to guest. The Countess having shuddered at it and resumed
her biscuit, it was left to me to make the opening excavation. The
difficulty was to know where each quail began and ended; the job
really wanted a professional quail-finder, who might have indicated
the point on the surface of the crust at which it would be most
hopeful to dig for quails.


As it was, I had to dig at random, and, being unlucky, I plunged the
knife straight into the middle of a bird. It was impossible, of
course, to withdraw the quail through the slit I had thus made in the
pastry, nor could I get my knife out (with a bird sticking on the end
of it) in order to make a second slit at a suitable angle. I tried to
shake the quail off inside the pie, but it was fixed too firmly. I
tried pulling it off against the inside of the crust, but it became
obvious that if I persisted in this, the whole roof would come off.
The footman, with great presence of mind, realized my difficulty and
offered me a second knife. Unfortunately, I misjudged the width of
quails, and plunging this second knife into the pie a little farther
on, I landed into the middle of another quail no less retentive of
cutlery than the first. The dish now began to look more like a game
than a pie, and, waving away a third knife, I said (quite truly by
this time) that I didn't like quails, and that on second thoughts I
would ask the Dowager Countess to lend me a biscuit.


Fortunately, dinner is not all quail-pie. But even in the case of some
more amenable dish, the first-comer is in a position of great
responsibility. Casting a hasty eye round the company, he has to count
the number of diners, estimate the size of the dish, divide the one by
the other, and take a helping of the appropriate size, knowing that
the fashion which he inaugurates will be faithfully followed. How much
less exacting is the position of the more lowly-placed man; my own,
for instance, on ordinary occasions. There may be two quails and an
egg-cup left when the footman reaches me, or even only the egg-cup,
but at least I have nobody but myself to consider.


But let us get away from food for the body, and consider food for the
mind. I refer to that intellectual conversation which it is the
business of the guests at a dinner-party to contribute. Not "What
shall we eat?" but "What shall be talk about?" is the question
which is really disturbing us as we tug definitely at our necktie and
give a last look at ourselves in the glass before following the
servant upstairs.


"Will you take in Miss Montmorency?" says our hostess.


We bow to Miss Montmorency hopefully.


"Er--jolly day it's been, hasn't it?"


No, really, we can't say anything about the weather. We must be
original.


"Er--have you been to any theatres lately?"


No, no, everybody says that. Well, then, what can we say? Let us try
again.


"How do you do. Er--I see by the paper this evening that the
Bolsheviks have captured Omsk."


"Captured Whatsk?"


"Omsk." Or was it Tomsk? Fortunately it does not matter, for Miss
Montmorency is not the least interested.


"Oh!" she says.


I hate people who say "Oh!" It means that you have to begin all over
again.


"I've been playing golfsk--I mean golf--this afternoon," we try.
"Do you play at all?"


"No."


Then it is no good telling her what our handicap is.


"No doubt your prefer tennis," we hazard.


"Oh no."


"I mean bridge."


"I don't play any game," she answers.


Then the sooner she goes away and talks to somebody else the better.


"Ah, I expect you're more interested in the theatre?"


"I hardly ever go to the theatre."


"Well, of course, a good book by the fireside--"


"I never read," she says.


Dash the woman, what does she do? But before we can ask her, she lets
us into the great secret.


"I like talking," she says.


Good Heavens! What else have we been trying to do all this time?


However, it is only the very young girl at her first dinner-party whom
it is difficult to entertain. At her second dinner-party, and
thereafter, she knows the whole art of being amusing. All she has to
do is to listen; all we men have to do is to tell her about ourselves.
Indeed, sometimes I think that it is just as well to begin at once.
Let us be quite frank about it, and get to work as soon as we are
introduced.


"How do you do. Lovely day it has been, hasn't it? It was on just
such a day as this, thirty-five years ago, that I was born in the
secluded village of Puddlecome of humble but honest parents. Nestling
among the western hills..."


And so on. Ending, at the dessert, with the thousand we earned that
morning.





 The Etiquette of Escape



There is a girl in one of William de Morgan's books who interrupts the
narrator of a breathless tiger-hunting story with the rather
disconcerting warning, "I'm on the side of the tiger; I always am."
It was the sporting instinct. Tigers may be wicked beasts who defend
themselves when they are attacked, but one cannot help feeling a
little sorry for them. Their number is up. The hunters are too many,
the rifles too accurate, for the hunted to have any real chance. So
she was on the side of the tiger; she always was.


In the same way I am on the side of the convict; I always am. Not, of
course, until he is a convict. But when once the Law has condemned
him, and he is safely in prison, then he is only one against so many.
It is impossible not to sympathize with his attempts to escape.
Perhaps, if one lived close to a prison, in a cottage, say, whose
tenant was invariably called upon by any escaping prisoner and made to
exchange clothes with the help of a crow-bar, one might feel
differently. But in theory we are all of us inclined to applaud the
man who fights successfully such a lone battle against such tremendous
odds; yes, even if it was the blackest of crimes which sent him into
captivity.


It is, therefore, extraordinarily jolly to read about the escape of
political prisoners from gaol. One has to stifle no protests from
one's conscience while applauding them, for it is absurd to suppose
that the world is any the worse place for their being loose again.
Probably they are much more dangerous in prison than out of it. But
besides applauding them, one envies them heartily. What fun they must
have had when arranging it! What fun, too, to attempt an escape, when
the worst that can happen to you, if you are recaptured, is that the
next escape becomes a little more difficult. No bread and water, no
punishment cell for a political prisoner.


All the same, these are not quite the ideal escapes. I am a trifle
exigent in such matters. I allow my prisoners a little latitude, but
there are certain rules which must be observed. Sinn Feiners, for
instance, make it much too easy for themselves. Their friends from
outside are permitted to visit them, and to discuss openly (but of
course, in Irish) all the arrangements for the great day. When the day
comes, they make off by motor-car, and as likely as not have a
steam-yacht waiting for them on the coast. It was not thus that I used
to escape in the early nineties. I observed the rules.


The first rule was that the only means of communication with outside
was the roll of bread which formed one's principal meal. Biting
eagerly into the bread, the hungry prisoner found himself entangled in
a message from his loved one. Of course, in these last few years he
would just have thought that it was part of the bread, perhaps a
trifle more indigestible than usual, but in those days he would have
no excuse for not realizing that his Araminta was getting into touch
with him. This first message did not say much; just "All my love, and
I am sending a file to-morrow," so as to prevent him from breaking
his jaw on it. On the next day, he would open the roll cautiously, and
behold! a small file would be embedded within.


It is wonderful what can be done with quite a small file. But we must
remember that the world moved more slowly in those days. One had
leisure in which to do a job of work properly. Perhaps our prisoner
took a couple of years filing the gyves off his wrists (holding the
file carefully in the teeth), and another year to remove the manacles
from his ankles. Fortunately he was left alone to pursue these
avocations. The goaler pushed in the daily portion of bread and water,
but made no inquiry about his prisoner's well-being. Only the
essential tame rat kept him company, and Araminta outside, to whom he
dropped an occasional note to say that he had done another millimetre
that morning. Perhaps she did not get it; it was borne swiftly away by
the river which flowed beneath the walls, and never came to the
opposite bank, whereon she waited for him. But she did not lose hope.
These things always took a long time.


And then, when the fetters had been removed, and two of the bars in
the narrow window had been sawn through, there came the great moment.
The prisoner was now free to tear his sheet and his blanket and his
underclothes into strips, and plait himself a rope. One had to time
this for the summer, of course. One couldn't go cutting up one's shirt
in the middle of winter. So, upon a dark night in August, the prisoner
tied his rope to the remaining bar, squeezed through the window, and
let himself down into space. Was the rope long enough? It wasn't, of
course; it never was. But, once at the end of it, the prisoner would
realize, his senses quickened by the emergency, that it was too late
to go back. From the extreme end he breathed a prayer and dropped....
_Splash!_ And five minutes later he was embracing Araminta. There was
no pursuit; they were sportsmen in those days, and it was recognized
that he had won.


That is the classic mode of escape. But there are variants of it which
I am prepared to allow. The goaler may have a daughter, who, moved by
the romantic history and pallor of the prisoner, may exchange clothes
with him. The prisoner may pass himself off for dead, may be actually
buried, and then rescued from the grave just in time by the pre-warned
and ever-ready Araminta. There are many legitimate ways of escape, but
the essential thing is that all messages to the prisoner from his
Araminta outside should be conveyed in his loaf of bread. To whisper
them in Irish is too easy, too unromantic.


But in any case I am on the side of the prisoner. I always am.





 Geographical Research



The other day I met a man who didn't know where Tripoli was. Tripoli
happened to come into the conversation, and he was evidently at a
loss. "Let's see," he said. "Tripoli is just down by the--er--you
know. What's the name of that place?" "That's right," I answered,
"just opposite Thingumabob. I could show you in a minute on the map.
It's near--what do they call it?" At this moment the train stopped,
and I got out and went straight home to look at my atlas.


Of course I really knew exactly where Tripoli was. About thirty years
ago, when I learnt geography, one of the questions they were always
asking me was, "What are the exports of Spain, and where is
Tripoli?" But much may happen in twenty years; coast erosion and
tidal waves and things like that. I looked at the map in order to
assure myself that Tripoli had remained pretty firm. As far as I could
make it out it had moved. Certainly it must have looked different
thirty years ago, for I took some little time to locate it. But no
doubt one's point of view changes with the decades. To a boy Tripoli
might seem a long way from Italy--even in Asia Minor; but when he grew
up his standards of measurement would be altered. Tripoli would appear
in its proper place due south of Sicily.


I always enjoy these periodic excursions to my atlas. People talk a
good deal of nonsense about the importance of teaching geography at
school instead of useless subjects like Latin and Greek, but so long
as you have an atlas near you, of what use is geography? Why waste
time learning where Tripoli and Fiume are, when you can turn to a map
of Africa and spot them in a moment? In a leading article in _The
Times_ (no less--our premier English newspaper) it was stated during a
general election that Darlington was in Yorkshire. You may say that
_The Times_ leader writers ought to have been taught geography; I say
that unfortunately they have been taught geography. They learnt, or
thought they learnt, that Darlington was a Yorkshire town. If they had
been left in a state of decent ignorance, they would have looked for
Darlington in the map and found that it was in Durham. (One
moment--Map 29--Yes, Durham; that's right.) As it is, there are at
this moment some hundreds of retired colonels who go about believing
implicitly that Darlington is in Yorkshire because _The Times_ has
said it. How much more important than a knowledge of geography is the
possession of an atlas.


My own atlas is a particularly fine specimen. It contains all sorts of
surprising maps which never come into ordinary geography. I think my
favourite is a picture of the Pacific Ocean, coloured in varying
shades of blue according to the depths of the sea. The deep
ultramarine terrifies me. I tremble for a ship which is passing over
it, and only breathe again when it reaches the very palest blue. There
is one little patch--the Nero Deep in the Ladrone Basin--which is
actually 31,614 feet deep. I suppose if you sailed over it you would
find it no bluer than the rest of the sea, and if you fell into it you
would feel no more alarmed than if it were 31,613 feet deep; but still
you cannot see it in the atlas without a moment's awe.


Then my atlas has a map of "The British Empire showing the great
commercial highways"; another of "The North Polar regions showing
the progress of explorations"; maps of the trade routes, of gulf
streams, and beautiful things of that kind. It tells you how far it is
from Southampton to Fremantle, so that if you are interested in the
M.C.C. Australian team you can follow them day by day across the sea.
Why, with all your geographical knowledge you couldn't even tell me
the distance between Yokohama and Honolulu, but I can give the answer
in a moment--3,379 miles. Also I know exactly what a section of the
world along lat. 45 deg. N. looks like--and there are very few of our
most learned men who can say as much.


But my atlas goes even farther than this, though I for one do not
follow it. It gives diagrams of exports and imports; it tells you
where things are manufactured or where grown; it gives pictures of
sheep--an immense sheep representing New Zealand and a mere insect
representing Russia, and alas! no sheep at all for Canada and Germany
and China. Then there are large cigars for America and small mild
cigars for France and Germany; pictures in colour of such unfamiliar
objects as spindles and raw silk and miners and Mongolians and iron
ore; statistics of traffic receipts and diamonds. I say that I don't
follow my atlas here, because information of this sort does not seem
to belong properly to an atlas. This is not my idea of geography at
all. When I open my atlas I open it to look at maps--to find out where
Tripoli is--not to acquire information about flax and things; yet I
cannot forego the boast that if I wanted I could even speak at length
about flax.


And lastly there is the index. Running my eye down it, I can tell you
in less than a minute where such different places as Jorobado, Kabba,
Hidegkut, Paloo, and Pago Pago are to be found. Could you, even after
your first-class honours in the Geography Tripos, be as certain as I
am? Of Hidegkut, perhaps, or Jorobado, but not of Pago Pago.


On the other hand, you might possibly have known where Tripoli was.





 Children's Plays



At the beginning of every pantomime season, we are brought up against
two original discoveries. The first is that Mr. Arthur Collins has
undoubtedly surpassed himself; the other, that "the children's
pantomime" is not really a pantomime for children at all. Mr.
Collins, in fact, has again surpassed himself in providing an
entertainment for men and women of the world.


One has to ask oneself, then, what sort of pantomime children really
like. I ought to know, because I once tried to write one, and some
kind critic was found to say (as generally happens on these occasions)
that I showed "a wonderful insight into the child's mind." Perhaps
he was thinking of the elephant. The manager had a property elephant
left over from some other play which he had produced lately. There it
was, lying in the wings and getting in everybody's way. I think he had
left it about in the hope that I might be inspired by it. At one of
the final rehearsals, after I had fallen over this elephant several
times, he said, "It's a pity we aren't going to use the elephant.
Couldn't you get it in somewhere?" I said that I thought I could.
After all, getting an elephant into a play is merely a question of
stagecraft. If you cannot get an elephant on and off the stage in a
natural way, your technique is simply hopeless, and you had better
give up writing plays altogether. I need hardly say that my technique
was quite up to the work. At the critical moment the boy-hero said,
"Look, there's an elephant," pointing to that particular part of the
stage by which alone it could enter, and there, sure enough, the
elephant was. It then went through its trick of conveying a bun to its
mouth, after which the boy said, "Good-bye, elephant," and it was
hauled off backwards. Of course it intruded a certain gross
materialism into the delicate fancy of my play, but I did not care to
say so, because one has to keep in with the manager. Besides, there
was the elephant, eating its head off; it might just as well be used.


Well, so far as the children were concerned, the elephant was the
success of the play. Up to the moment of its entrance they were--well,
I hope not bored, but no more than politely interested. But as soon as
the hero said, "Look, there's an elephant," you could feel them all
jumping up and down in their seats and saying "Oo!" Nor was this
"Oo" atmosphere ever quite dispelled thereafter. The elephant had
withdrawn, but there was always the hope now that he might come on
again, and if an elephant, why not a giraffe, a hippopotamus, or a
polar-bear? For the rest of the pantomime every word was followed with
breathless interest. At any moment the hero might come out with
another brilliant line--"Look, there's a hippopotamus." Even when it
was proved, with the falling of the final curtain, that the author had
never again risen to these heights, there was still one chance left.
Perhaps if they clapped loudly enough, the elephant would hear, and
would take a call like the others.


What sort of pantomime do children like? It is a strange thing that we
never ask ourselves "What sort of plays--or books or pictures--do
public-school men like?" You say that that would be an absurd
question. Yet it is not nearly so absurd as the other. For the real
differences of thought and feeling between you and your neighbour were
there when you were children, and your agreements are the result of
the subsequent community of interests which you have shared--in
similar public-schools, universities, services, or professions. Why
should two children want to see the same pantomime? Apart from the
fact that "two children" may mean such different samples of humanity
as a boy of five and a girl of fifteen, is there any reason why
Smith's child and Robinson's child should think alike? And as for your
child, my dear sir (or madam), I have only to look at it--and at
you--to see at once how utterly different it is from every other child
which has ever been born. Obviously it would want something very much
superior to the sort of pantomime which would amuse those very
ordinary children of which Smith and Robinson are so proud.


I cannot, therefore, advance my own childish recollections of my first
pantomime as trustworthy evidence of what other children like. But I
should wish you to know that when I was taken to _Beauty and the
Beast_ at the age of seven, it was no elephant, nor any other kind of
beast, which made the afternoon sacred for me. It was Beauty. I just
gazed and gazed at Beauty. Never had I seen anything so lovely. For
weeks afterwards I dreamed about her. Nothing that was said or done on
the stage mattered so long as she was there. Probably the author had
put some of his most delightful work into that pantomime--"dialogue
which showed a wonderful insight into the child's mind"; I apologize
to him for not having listened to it. (I can sympathize with him now.)
Or it may be that the author had written for men and women of the
world; his dialogue was full of that sordid cynicism about married
life which is still considered amusing, so that the aunt who took me
wondered if this were really a pantomime suitable for children. Poor
dear!--as if I heard a word of it, I who was just waiting for Beauty
to come back.


What do children like? I do not think that there is any answer to that
question. They like anything; they like everything; they like so many
different things. But I am certain that there has never been an ideal
play for very young children. It will never be written, for the reason
that no self-respecting writer could bore himself so completely as to
write it. (Also it is doubtful if fathers and mothers, uncles and
aunts, would sacrifice themselves a second time, after they had once
sat through it.) For very young children do not want humour or
whimsicality or delicate fancy or any of the delightful properties
which we attribute to the ideal children's play. I do not say that
they will rise from their stalls and call loudly for their
perambulators, if these qualities creep into the play, but they can
get on very happily without them. All that they want is a continuous
procession of ordinary everyday events--the arrival of elephants (such
as they see at the Zoo), or of postmen and policemen (such as they see
in their street), the simplest form of clowning or of practical joke,
the most photographically dull dialogue. For a grown-up it would be an
appalling play to sit through, and still more appalling play to have
to write.


Perhaps you protest that your children love _Peter Pan_. Of course
they do. They would be horrible children if they didn't. And they
would be horrible children if they did not love (as I am sure they do)
a Drury Lane pantomime. A nice child would love _Hamlet_. But I also
love _Peter Pan_; and for this reason I feel that it cannot possibly
be the ideal play for children. I do not, however, love the Drury Lane
pantomime... which leaves me with the feeling that it may really be
"the children's pantomime" after all.





 The Road to Knowledge



My pipe being indubitably smoked out to the last grain, I put it in my
pocket and went slowly up to the nursery, trying to feel as much like
that impersonation of a bear which would inevitably be demanded of me
as is possible to a man of mild temperament. But I had alarmed myself
unnecessarily. There was no demand for bears. Each child lay on its
front, engrossed in a volume of _The Children's Encyclopaedia_. Nobody
looked up as I came in. Greatly relieved, I also took a volume of the
great work and lay down on my front. I came away from my week-end a
different man. For the first time in my life I was well informed. If
you had only met me on the Monday and asked me the right questions, I
could have surprised you. Perhaps, even now... but alas! my knowledge
is slipping away from me, and probably the last of it will be gone
before I have finished this article.


For this _Encyclopaedia_ (as you may have read in the advertisements)
makes a feature of answering all those difficult questions which
children ask grown-ups, and which grown-ups really want to ask
somebody else. Well, perhaps not all those questions. There are two to
which there were no answers in my volume, nor, I suspect, in any of
the other volumes, and yet these are the two questions more often
asked than any others. "How did God begin?" and "Where do babies
come from?" Perhaps they were omitted because the answers to them are
so easy. "That, my child, is something which you had better ask your
mother," one replies; or if one is the mother, "You must wait till
you are grown-up, dear." Nor did I see any mention of the most
difficult question of all, the question of the little girl who had
just been assured that God could do anything. "Then, if He can do
anything, can He make a stone so heavy that He can't lift it?"
Perhaps the editor is waiting for his second edition before he answers
that one. But upon such matters as "Why does a stone sink?" or
"Where does the wind come from?" or "What makes thunder?" he is
delightfully informing.


But I felt all the time that in this part of his book he really had
his eye on me and my generation rather than on the children. No child
wants to know why a stone sinks; it knows the answer already--"What
else could it do?" Even Sir Isaac Newton was a grown-up before he
asked why an apple fell, and there had been men in the world fifty
thousand years before that (yes I have been reading _The Outline of
History_, too), none of whom bothered his head about gravitation. Yes,
the editor was thinking all the time that you and I ought to know more
about these things. Of course, we should be too shy to order the book
for ourselves, but we could borrow it from our young friends
occasionally on the plea of seeing if it was suitable for them, and so
pick up a little of that general knowledge which we lack so sadly.
Where does the wind come from? Well, really, I don't think I know now.


The drawback of all _Guides to Knowledge_ is that one cannot have the
editor at hand in order to cross-examine him. This is particularly so
in the case of a _Children's Encyclopaedia_, for the child's first
question, "Why does this do that?" is meant to have no more finality
than tossing-up at cricket or dealing the cards at bridge. The child
does not really want to know, but it does want to keep up a friendly
conversation, or, if humourously inclined, to see how long you can go
on without getting annoyed. Not always, of course; sometimes it really
is interested; but in most cases, I suspect, the question, "What
makes thunder?" is inspired by politeness or mischief. The grown-up
is bursting to explain, and ought to be humoured; or else he obviously
doesn't know, and ought to be shown up.


But these would not be my motives if the editor of _The Children's
Encyclopaedia_ took me for a walk and allowed me to ask him questions.
The fact that light travels at so many hundred thousand miles an hour
does not interest me; I should accept the information and then ask him
my next question, "How did they find out?" That is always the
intriguing part of the business. Who first realized that light was not
instantaneous? What put him up to it? How did he measure its velocity?
The fact (to take another case) that a cricket chirps by rubbing his
knees together does not interest me; I want to know why he chirps. Is
it involuntary, or is it done with the idea of pleasing? Why does a
bird sing? The editor is prepared to tell me why a parrot is able to
talk, but that is a much less intriguing matter. Why does a bird sing?
I do not want an explanation of a thrush's song or a nightingale's,
but why does a silly bird go on saying "chiff-chaff" all day long?
Is it, for instance, happiness or hiccups?


Possibly these things are explained in some other volume than the one
which fell to me. Possibly they are inexplicable. We can dogmatize
about a star a billion miles away, but we cannot say with certainty
how an idea came to a man or a song to a bird. Indeed, I think,
perhaps, it would have been wiser of me to have left the chiff-chaff
out of it altogether. I have an uneasy feeling that all last year the
chiff-chaff was asking himself why I wrote every day. Was it
involuntary, he wondered, or was it done with the idea of pleasing?





 A Man of Property



Yes, a gardener's life is a disappointing one. When it was announced
that we were just too late for everything this year, I decided to buy
some ready-made gardens and keep them about the house, until such time
as Nature was ready to co-operate. So now I have three gardens. This
enables me to wear that superior look (which is so annoying for you)
when you talk about your one little garden in front of me. Then you
get off in disgust and shoot yourself, and they bury you in what you
proudly called your herbaceous border, and people wonder next year why
the delphiniums are so luxuriant--but you are not there to tell them.


Yes, I have three gardens. You come upon the first one as you are
shown up the staircase to the drawing-room. It is outside the
staircase window. This is the daffodil garden--3 ft. 8 ins. by 9 ins.
The vulgar speak of it as a window-box; that is how one knows that
they are vulgar. The maid has her instructions; we are not at home
when next they call.


Sometimes I sit on the stairs and count the daffodils in my garden.
There are seventy-eight of them; seventy-eight or seventy-nine--I
cannot say for certain, because they will keep nodding their heads, so
that sometimes one may escape me, or perhaps I may count another one
twice over. The wall round the daffodil garden is bright blue--I
painted it myself, and still carry patterns of it about with me--and
the result of all these yellow heads on their long green necks waving
above the blue walls of my garden is that we are always making excuses
to each other for going up and down stairs, and the bell in the
drawing-room is never rung.


But I have a fault to find with my daffodils. They turn their backs on
us. It is natural, I suppose, that they do not care to look in at the
window to see what we are doing, preferring the blue sky and the sun,
and all that they can catch of March and April, but the end of it is
that we see too little of their faces; for even if they are trained in
youth with a disposition towards the window, yet as soon as they begin
to come to their full glory they swing round towards the south and
hide their beauty from us. But the House Opposite sees them, and
brings his visitors, you may be sure, to his window to look at them.
Indeed, I should not be surprised if he boasted of it as "his
garden" and were even now writing in a book about it.


My second garden is circular--18 ins. in diameter, and, of course,
more than that all the way round. I can see it now as I write--or,
more accurately, if I stop writing for a moment--for it is just
outside the library window. The vulgar call it a tub--they would;
actually it is the Tulip Garden. At least, the man says so. For the
tulips have not bourgeoned yet. No, I am wrong. (That is the worst of
using these difficult words.) They have bourgeoned, but they have not
blossomed. Their heads are well above ground, they have swelled into
buds, but the buds have not broken. So, for all I know, they may yet
be sun-flowers. However, the man says they will be tulips; he was paid
for tulips; and he assures me that he has had experience in these
matters. For myself, I should never dare to speak with so much
authority. It is not our birth but our upbringing which makes us what
we are, and these tulips have had, during their short lives above
ground, a fatherly care and a watchfulness neither greater nor less
than were bestowed upon the daffodils. That they sprang from different
bulbs seems to me a small matter in comparison with this. However, the
man says that they will be tulips. Presumably yellow ones.


One's gardens get smaller and smaller. My third is only 11 ins. by 9
ins. The vulgar call it a Japanese garden--indeed, I don't see what
else they could call it. East is East and West is West and never the
twain shall meet, but this does not prevent my Japanese garden from
sitting on an old English refectory table in the dining-room. A
Japanese garden needs very careful management. I have three native
gardeners working at it day and night. At least they maintain the
attitudes of men hard at work, but they don't seem to do much; perhaps
they are afraid of throwing one another out of employment. The head
gardener spends his time pointing to the largest cactus, and saying (I
suppose in Japanese), "Look at my cactus!" The other two appear to
be washing his Sunday shirt for him, instead of pruning or potting
out, which is what I pay them for. However, the whole scene is one of
great activity, for in the ornamental water in the middle of the
garden two fishermen are hard at it, hoping to land something for my
breakfast. So far they have not had a bite.


My Japanese garden has this advantage over the others, that it is
independent of the seasons. The daffodils will bow their heads and
droop away. The tulips--well, let us be sure that they are tulips
first; but, if the man is correct, they too will wither. But the green
hedgehog which friends tell me is a cactus will just go on and on. It
must have some source of self-nourishment, for it can derive little
from the sand whereon it rests. Perhaps, like most of us, it thrives
on appreciation, and the gardener, who points to it so proudly day and
night, is rightly employed after all. He knows that if once he dropped
his hand, or looked the other way, the cactus would give it up
disheartened.


It is fortunate for you that I am writing this week, and not later,
for I have now ordered three more gardens, circular ones, to sit
outside the library. There is talk also of a couple of evergreen woods
for the front of the house. With six gardens, two woods, and an
ornamental lake I shall be unbearable. In all the gardens of England
people will be shooting themselves in disgust, and the herbaceous
borders will flourish as never before. But that is for the future.
To-day I write only of my three gardens. I would write of them at
greater length but that my daffodil garden is sending out an
irresistible call. I go to sit on the staircase.





 An Ordnance Map



Spring calls to us to be up and about. It shouts to us to stand
bareheaded upon hills and look down upon little woods and tiny red
cottages, and away up to where the pines stand straight into the sky.
Let the road, thin and white, wander on alone; we shall meet it again,
and it shall lead us if it will to some comfortable inn; but now we
are for the footpath and the stile--we are to stand in the fields and
listen to the skylark.


Must you stay and work in London? But you will have ten minutes to
spare. Look, I have an ordnance map--let us take our walk upon that.


We will start, if you please, at Buckley Cross. That is the best of
walking on the map; you may start where you like, and there are no
trains to catch. Our road goes north through the village--shall we
stop a moment to buy an apple or two? Apples go well in the open air;
we shall sit upon a gate presently and eat them before we light our
pipes and join the road again. A pound, if you will--and now with
bulging pockets for the north.


Over Buckley Common. You see by the dotted lines that it is an
unfenced road, as, indeed, it should be over gorse and heather. A mile
of it, and then it branches into two. Let us take this lane on the
left; the way seems more wooded to the west.


By now we should be passing Buckley Grove. Perhaps it is for sale. If
so, we might stop for a minute or two and buy it. We can work out how
many acres it is, because it is about three-quarters of an inch each
way, and if we could only remember how many acres went to a square
mile--well, anyhow, it is a good-sized place. But three miles from a
station, you say? Ah yes, but look at that little mark there just
round the corner. Do you know what _that_ stands for? A wind pump. How
jolly to have one at your very door. "Shall we go and look at the
wind pump?" you would say casually to your guests.


Let us leave the road. Do you see those dots going off to the right?
That is a footpath. I have an idea that that will take us to the
skylark. They do not mark skylarks on the map--I cannot say why--but
something tells me that about a mile farther on, where the dots begin
to bend.... Ah, do you hear? Up and up and up he goes into the blue,
fainter and fainter falls the music. He calls to us to follow him to
the clean morning of the world, whose magic light has shone for us in
our dreams so long, yet ever eluded us waking. Bathed in that light,
Youth is not so young as we, nor Beauty more beautiful; in that light
Happiness is ours at last, for Endeavour shall have its perfect
fulfilment, a fulfilment without regret....


Yes, let us have an apple.


Our path seems to end suddenly here. We shall have to go through this
farm. All the dogs barking, all the fowls cluttering, all the lambs
galloping--what a jolly, friendly commotion we've made! But we can get
into the road again this way. Indeed, we must get into the road soon
because it is hungry work out in the air, and two inches to the
north-west is written a word full of meaning--the most purposeful word
that can be written upon a map. "Inn," So now for a steady climb. We
have dropped down to "200" by the farmhouse, and the inn is marked
"500." But it is only two miles--well, barely that. Come along.


What shall we have? Ought it not to be bread and cheese and beer? But
if you will excuse me, I would rather not have beer. I know that it
sounds well to ask for it--as far as that goes, I will ask for it
willingly--but I have never been able to drink it in any comfort. I
think I shall have a gin and ginger. That also sounds well. More
important still, it drinks well; in fact, the only thing which I don't
like about it is the gin. "Oh, good morning. We want some bread and
cheese, please, and one pint of beer, and a gin and ginger.
And--er--you might leave out the gin." Yes, of course, I could have
asked straight off for a plain ginger beer, but that sounds so very
mild. My way I use the word "gin" twice. Let us be dashing on this
brave day.


After lunch a pipe, while we consider where to go next.


It is anywhere you like, you know. To the north there is Greymoor
Wood, and we pass a windmill; and to the east there is the little
village of Colesford which has a church without a steeple; and to the
west we go quite near another wind pump; and to the south--well, we
should have to cross the line pretty soon. That brings us into touch
with civilization; we do not want that just yet. So the north again
let it be....


This is Greymoor Wood. Yes; there is a footpath marked right through
it, but footpaths are hard to see beneath such a carpet of dead
leaves. I dare say we shall lose ourselves. One false step and we are
off the line of dots. There you are, there's a dot missing. We have
lost the track. Now we must get out as best we can.


Do you know the way of telling the north by the sun? You turn the hour
hand of your watch to the sun, and half-way between that and the XII
is the south. Or else you turn the XII to the sun and take half-way
between that and the hour hand. Anyhow you do find the south
eventually after one or two experiments, and having discovered the
south it is easy enough to locate the north. With your permission then
we will push due north through Greymoor Wood.


We are through and on the road, but it is getting late. I et us hurry
on. It would be tempting to wander down to that stream and follow its
banks for a little; it would be pleasant to turn into that
"unmetalled, unfenced" road--ah, doesn't one know those roads?--and
let it carry us to the village of Milden, rich in both telegraph
office and steeple. There is also, no more than two miles from where
we stand, a contour of 600 ft.--shall we make for the view at the top
of that? But no, perhaps you are right. We had best be getting home
now. It is growing chilly; the sun has gone in; if we lost ourselves
again, we could never find the north. Let us make for the nearest
station. Widdington, isn't it? Three miles away....


There! Now we're home again. And must you really get on with your
work? Well, but it has been a jolly day, hasn't it?





 The Lord Mayor



There is a story of a boy who was asked to name ten animals which
inhabit the polar regions. After a little thought he answered, "Six
penguins and four seals." In the same way I suspect that, if you were
asked to give the names of any three Lord Mayors of London, you would
say, "Dick Whittington, and--er--Dick Whittington, and of
course--er--Dick Whittington," knowing that he held that high office
three times, and being quite unable to think of anybody else. This is
where I have the advantage of you. In my youth there was a joke which
went like this: "Why does the Lord Mayor like pepper? Because without
his K.N., he'd be ill." I have an unfortunate habit of remembering
even the worst joke, and so I can tell you, all these years after,
that there was once a Lord Mayor called Knill. It is because I know
the names of four Lord Mayors that I can write with such authority
upon the subject.


To be a successful Lord Mayor demands years of training. Fortunately,
the aspiring apprentice has time for preparation. From the moment when
he is first elected a member of the Worshipful Company of Linendrapers
he can see it coming. He can say with confidence that in 1944--or '43,
if old Sir Joshua has his stroke next year, as seems probable--he will
become the first citizen of London; which gives him twenty-four years
in which to acquire the manner. It would be more interesting if this
were not so; it would be more interesting to you and me if there were
something of a struggle each year for the Lord Mayorality, so that we
could put our money on our respective fancies. If, towards the end of
October, we could read the Haberdashers' nominee had been for a
stripped gallop on Hackney Downs and had pulled up sweating badly; if
the Mayor could send a late wire from Aldgate to tell us that the
candidate from the Drysalters' stable was refusing his turtle soup; if
we could all try our luck at spotting the winner for November 9, then
it is possible that the name of the new Lord Mayor might be as
familiar in our mouths as that of this year's Derby favourite. As it
is, there is no excitement at all about the business. We are told
casually in a corner of the paper that Sir Tuttlebury Tupkins is to be
the next Lord Mayor, and we gather that it was inevitable. The name
conveys nothing to us, the face is the habitual face. He duly becomes
Lord Mayor and loses his identity. We can still only think of Dick
Whittington.


One cannot help wondering if it is worth it. He has his crowded year
of glorious life, but it is a year without a name. He is never
himself, he is just the Lord Mayor. He meets all the great people of
the day, soldiers, sailors, statesmen, even artists, but they would
never recognize him again. He cannot say that he knows them, even
though he has given them the freedom of the City or a jewelled sword.
He can do nothing to make his year of office memorable; nothing that
is, which his predecessor did not do before, or his successor will not
do again. If he raises a Mansion House Fund for the survivors of a
flood, his predecessor had an earthquake, and his successor is safe
for a famine. And nobody will remember whether it was in this year or
in Sir Joshua Potts' that the record was beaten.


For this one year of anonymous greatness the aspiring Lord Mayor has
to sacrifice his whole personality. He is to be the first citizen of
London, but he must be very careful that London has never heard of him
before. He has to live the life of a hermit, resolute neither to know
nor to be known. For a year he shakes hands mechanically, but in the
years before and the years afterwards, nobody, I imagine, has ever
smacked him on the back. Indeed, it is doubtful if anybody has even
seen him, so remote is his life from ours. He was dedicated to this
from birth, or anyhow from the moment when he was first elected a
member of the Worshipful Company of Linendrapers, and he has been
preparing that wooden expression ever since.


It is because he has had to spend so many years out of the world that
a City Remembrancer is provided for him. The City Remembrancer stands
at his elbow when he receives his guests and tells him who they are.
Without this aid, how should he know? Perhaps it is Mr. Thomas Hardy
who is arriving. "Mr. Thomas Hardy," says the gentleman with the
voice, and the Lord Mayor holds out his hand.


"I am very glad," he says, "to welcome such a very
well-known--h'm--such a distinguished--er----"


"Writer," says the City Remembrancer behind the hack of his hand.


"Such a distinguished writer. The author of so many famous biog----"


"Novels," breathes the City Remembrancer, gazing up at the ceiling.


"So many famous novels," continues the Lord Mayor quite undisturbed,
for he is used to it by this time. "The author of _East Lynne_----"


The City Remembrancer coughs and walks across to the other side of the
Lord Mayor, murmuring _Tess of the D'Urbervilles_ to the back of the
Mayoral head as he goes. The Lord Mayor then repeats that he is
delighted to welcome the author of _Death and the Door-bells_ to the
City, and holds out his hand to Mr. John Sargent.


"The painter," says the City Remembrancer, his lips, from long
practice, hardly moving.


In the sanctity of the home that evening, while removing his chains of
office, the Lord Mayor (we may suppose) tells his sleepy wife what an
interesting day he has had, and how Mr. Thomas Sargent, the famous
statesman, and Mr. John Hardy, the sculptor, both came to lunch.


And all the time the year is creeping on. Another day gone. Another
day nearer to that fatal November 8.... And here, inevitably, is
November 8, and by to-morrow he will be that most pathetic of all
living creatures, an ex-Lord Mayor of London. Where do they live, the
ex-Lord Mayors? They must have a colony of their own somewhere, a
Garden City in which they can live together as equals. Probably they
have some arrangement by which they take it in turns to be
reminiscent; Sir Tuttlebury Tupkins has "and Wednesdays" on his
card, and Sir Joshua Potts receives on "3rd Mondays"; and the other
Lord Mayors gather round and listen, nodding their heads. On their
birthdays they give each other gold caskets, and every November 10
they march in a body to the station to welcome the new arrival. Poor
fellow, the tears are streaming down his cheeks, and his paunch is
shaken with sobs, but there is a hot bowl of turtle soup waiting for
him at Lady Tupkins' house, The Mansion Cottage, and he will soon feel
more comfortable. He has been allotted the "4th Fridays," and it is
hoped that by Christmas he will have settled down quite happily at
Ichabod Lodge.





 The Holiday Problem



The time for a summer holiday is May, June. July, August, and
September--with, perhaps a fortnight in October if the weather holds
up. But it is difficult to cram all this into the few short weeks
allowed to most of us. We are faced accordingly with the business of
singling out one month from the others--a business invidious enough to
a lover of the country, but still more so to one who loves London as
well. The question for him is not only which month is most wonderful
by the sea, but also which month is most tolerable out of town.


I would wash my hands of London in May and come back brown from
cricket and golf and sailing in September with willingness. Alas I it
is impossible. But if I pick out July as the month for the open-air
life, I begin immediately to think of the superiority of July over
June as a month to spend in London. Not but what June is a delightful
month in town, and May and August for that matter. In May, for
instance----


Let us go into this question. May, of course, is hopeless for a
holiday. One must be near one's tailor in May to see about one's
summer clothes. Choosing a flannel suit in May is one of the moments
of one's life--only equalled by certain other great moments at the
hosier's and hatter's. "Ne'er cast a clout till May be out" says a
particularly idiotic saw, but as you have already disregarded it by
casting your fur coat, you may as well go through with the business
now. Socks; I ask you to think of summer socks. Have you ordered your
half-hose yet? No. Then how can you go away for your holiday?


Again, taxicabs pull down their shutters in May, and you are able to
see and be seen as you drive through London. Never forget when you
drive in a taxi that you own the car absolutely as long as the clock
is ticking; that you are a motorist, a fit member for the Royal
Automobile Club; that the driver is your chauffeur to obey your
orders; and, best of all, that, May being here, you can put your feet
upon the seat opposite in the sight of everybody. Will you miss the
glory? In June and July it will have lost something. Pay your five
shillings in May and expand, live; pay your five pounds if you like
and drive all down the Cromwell Road. Don't bury yourself in
Devonshire.


The long light evenings of June in London! The dances, the dinners in
the warm nights of June! The window-boxes in the squares, the pretty
people in the parks; are we going to leave them? There is so much
going on. We may not be in it, but we must be in London to feel that
we are helping. They also serve who only stand and stare. Besides--I
put it to you--strawberries are ripe in June. You will never get
enough in Cumberland or wherever you are. Not good ones; not the
shilling-a-seed kind.


Is it wise to go away in July? What about the Varsity match and
Gentlemen _v._ Players? You must be at Lord's for those. Yes; July is
the month for Lord's. Drive there, I beg you, in a hansom, if indeed
there is still one left. A taxi by all means in May or when you are in
a hurry, but a day at Lord's must be taken deliberately. Drive there
at your leisure; breathe deeply. Do not he afraid of taking your seat
before play begins--you can buy a _Sportsman_ on the ground and read
how Vallingwick nearly beat Upper Finchley. It is all part of the
great game, and if you are to enjoy your day truly, then you must go
with this feeling in the back of your mind--that you ought really to
be working. That is the right condiment for a cricket match.


Yes; we must be near St. John's Wood in July, but what about August?
Everybody, you say, goes away in August; but is not that rather a
reason for staying? I don't bother to point out that the country will
be crowded, only that London will be so pleasantly empty. In August
and September you can wander about in your oldest clothes and nobody
will mind. You can get a seat for any play without difficulty--indeed,
without paying, if you know the way. It is a rare time for seeing the
old churches of the City or for exploring the South Kensington Museum.
London is not London in August and September; it is a jolly old town
that you have never seen before. You can dine at the Savoy in your
shirt sleeves--well, nearly. I mean, that gives you the idea. And,
best of all, your friends will all be enjoying themselves in the
country, and they will ask you down for week-ends. Robinson, who is
having a cricket week for his schoolboy sons, and Smith, who has hired
a yacht, will be glad to see you from Friday to Tuesday. If you had
gone to Switzerland for the month, you couldn't have accepted their
kind invitations. "How I wish," you would have said as you paid the
extra centimes on their letters, "how I wish I had taken my holiday
in June." On the other hand, in June----


Well, you see how difficult it is for you. Of course, I don't really
mind what you do. For myself I have almost decided to have a week in
each month. The advantage of this is that I shall go away four times
instead of once. There is no joy in the world to equal that of
strolling after a London porter who is looking for an empty smoker in
which to put your golf clubs. To do it four times, each time with the
knowledge of a week's holiday ahead, is almost more than man deserves.
True that by this means I shall also come back four times instead of
once, but to a lover of London that is no great matter. Indeed, I like
it so.


And another advantage is that I can take five weeks in this way while
deluding my conscience into thinking that I am only taking four. A
holiday taken in a lump is taken and over. Taken in weeks, with odd
days at each end of the weeks, it always leaves a margin for error. I
shall take care that the error is on the right side. And if anybody
grumbles, "Why, you're always going away," I shall answer with
dignity, "Confound it! I'm always coming back."





 The Burlington Arcade



It is the fashion, I understand, to be late for dinner, but punctual
for lunch. What the perfect gentleman does when he accepts an
invitation to breakfast I do not know. Possibly he has to be early.
But for lunch the guests should arrive at the very stroke of the
appointed hour, even though it leads to a certain congestion on the
mat.


My engagement was for one-thirty, and for a little while my reputation
seemed to be in jeopardy. Two circumstances contributed to this. The
first one was the ever-present difficulty in these busy days of
synchronizing an arrival. A prudent man allows himself time for being
pushed off the first half-dozen omnibuses and trusts to surging up
with the seventh wave. I was so unlucky as to cleave my way on to the
first 'bus of all, with the result that when I descended from it I was
a good ten minutes early. Well, that was bad enough. But, just as I
was approaching the door, I realized that my calculations had been
made for a one o'clock lunch. It was now ten to one; I had forty
minutes in hand.


It is very difficult to know what to do with forty minutes in the
middle of Piccadilly, particularly when it is raining. Until a year
ago I had had a club there, and I had actually resigned from it (how
little one foresees the future!) on the plea that I never had occasion
to use it. I felt that I would cheerfully have paid the subscription
for the rest of my life in order to have had the loan of its roof at
that moment. My new club--like the National Gallery and the British
Museum, those refuges for the wet Londoner--was too far away. The
Academy had not yet opened.


And then a sudden inspiration drew me into the Burlington Arcade. They
say that the churches of London are ill-attended nowadays, but at
least St. James, Piccadilly, can have no cause for complaint, for I
suppose that the merchants of the Arcade, and all those dependent on
them, repair thither twice weekly to pray for wet weather. The
Burlington Arcade is indeed a beautiful place on a wet day. One can
move leisurely from window to window, passing from silk pyjamas to
bead necklaces and from bead necklaces back to silk pyjamas again; one
can look for a break in the weather from either the north or the
south; and at the south end there is a clock conveniently placed for
those who have a watch waiting its turn at the repairer's and a
luncheon engagement in forty minutes.


For a long time I hesitated between a bead necklace and a pair of
pyjamas. A few coloured stones on a chain were introduced to the
umbrella-less onlooker as "The Latest Fashion," followed by the
announcement, superfluous in the circumstances, that it was "Very
Stylish." It came as a shock to read further that one could be in the
fashion for so little a sum as six shillings. There were other
necklaces at the same price but of entirely different design, which
were equally "Stylish," and of a fashion no less up to date. In this
the merchant seemed to me to have made a mistake; for the whole glory
of wearing "The Latest Fashion" is the realization that the other
woman has just missed it by a bead or two. A fashion must be
exclusive. St. James, Piccadilly, is all very well, but one has also
to consider how to draw the umbrella-less within after one has got
their noses to the shop window.


I passed on to the pyjamas, which seemed to be mostly in regimental
colours. This war came upon us too suddenly, so that most of us rushed
into the army without a proper consideration of essentials. I doubt if
anyone who enlisted in the early days stopped to ask himself whether
the regimental colours would suit him. It will be different in the
next war. If anybody joins the infantry at all (which is doubtful), he
will at least join a regiment whose pyjamas may be worn with
self-respect in the happy peace days.


There are objections to turning up to lunch (however warmly invited)
with a pair of pyjamas under the arm. It looks as though you might
stay too long. I moved on to another row of bead necklaces. They
offered themselves for two shillings, and all that the owner could
find to say for them was that they were "Quite New." If he meant
that nobody had ever worn such a necklace before, he was probably
right, but I feel that he could have done better for them than this,
and that, "As supplied to the Queen of Denmark," or something of the
sort, would have justified an increase to two and threepence.


By this time nearly everybody was lunching except myself, and my clock
said one twenty-five. If I were to arrive with that exact punctuality
upon which I so credit myself, I must buy my bead necklace upon some
other day. I said good-bye to the Burlington Arcade, and stepped out
of it with the air of a man who has done a successful morning's
shopping. A clock in the hall was striking one-thirty as I entered.
Then I remembered. It was Tuesday's lunch which was to be at
one-thirty. To-day's was at one o'clock... However, I had discovered
the Burlington Arcade.





 State Lotteries



The popular argument against the State Lottery is an assertion that it
will encourage the gambling spirit. The popular argument in favour of
the State Lottery is an assertion that it is hypocritical to say that
it will encourage the gambling spirit, because the gambling spirit is
already amongst us. Having listened to a good deal of this sort of
argument on both sides, I thought it would be well to look up the word
"gamble" in my dictionary. I found it next to "gamboge," and I can
now tell you all about it.


To gamble, says my dictionary, is "to play for money in games of
skill or chance," and it adds the information that the word is
derived from the Anglo-Saxon _gamen_, which means "a game". Now, to
me this definition is particularly interesting, because it justifies
all that I have been thinking about the gambling spirit in connexion
with Premium Bonds. I am against Premium Bonds, but not for the
popular reason. I am against them because (as it seems to me) there is
so very little of the gamble about them. And now that I have looked up
"gamble" in the dictionary, I see that I was right. The "chance"
element in a state lottery is obvious enough, but the "game" element
is entirely absent. It is nothing so harmless and so human as the
gambling spirit which Premium Bonds would encourage.


We play for money in games of skill or chance--bridge, for instance.
But it isn't only of the money we are thinking. We get pleasure out of
the game. Probably we prefer it to a game of greater chance, such as
_vingt-et-un_. But even at _vingt-et-un_ or baccarat there is
something more than chance which is taking a hand in the game; not
skill, perhaps, but at least personality. If you are only throwing
dice, you are engaged in a personal struggle with another man, and you
are directing the struggle to this extent, that you can call the value
of the stakes, and decide whether to go on or to stop. And is there
any man who, having made a fortune at Monte Carlo, will admit that he
owes it entirely to chance? Will he not rather attribute it to his
wonderful system, or if not to that, at any rate to his wonderful
nerve, his perseverance, or his recklessness?


The "game" element, then, comes into all these forms of gambling,
and still more strongly does it pervade that most common form of
gambling, betting on horses. I do not suggest that the street-corner
boy who puts a shilling both ways on Bronchitis knows anything
whatever about horses, but at least he thinks he does; and if he wins
five shillings on that happy afternoon when Bronchitis proves himself
to be the 2.30 winner, his pleasure will not be solely in the money.
The thought that he is such a skilful follower of form, that he has
something of the national eye for a horse, will give him as much
pleasure as can be extracted from the five shillings itself.


This, then, is the gambling spirit. It has its dangers, certainly, hut
it is not entirely an evil spirit. It is possible that the State
should not encourage it, but it is not called upon to exorcise it with
bell, and book, and candle. I am not sure that I should favour a State
gamble, but my arguments against it would be much the same as my
arguments against State cricket or the solemn official endowment and
recognition of any other jolly game. However, I need not trouble you
with those arguments now, for nothing so harmless as a State gamble
has ever been suggested. Instead, we have from time to time a State
lottery offered to us, and that is a very different proposition.


For in a State lottery--with daily prizes of L50,000--the game
(or gambling) element does not exist. Buy your L100 bond, as a
thousand placards will urge you to do, and you simply take part in a
cold-blooded attempt to acquire money without working for it. You can
take no personal interest whatever in the manner of acquiring it.
Somebody turns a handle, and perhaps your number comes out. More
probably it doesn't. If it doesn't, you can call yourself a fool for
having thrown away your savings; if it does--well, you have got the
money. May you be happy with it! But you have considerably less on
which to congratulate yourself than had the street-corner boy who
backed Bronchitis. He had an eye for a horse. Probably you hadn't even
an eye for a row of figures.


Moreover, the State would be giving its official approval to the
unearned fortune. In these days, when the worker is asking for a week
of so many less hours and so many more shillings, the State would
answer: "I can show you a better way than that. What do you say to no
work at all, and L20 a week for it?" At a time when the one cry
is "Production!" the State adds (behind its hand), "Buy a Premium
Bond, and let the other man produce for you." After all these years
in which we have been slowly progressing towards the idea of a more
equitable distribution of wealth, the Government would show us the
really equitable way; it would collect the savings of the many, and
re-distribute them among the few. Instead of a million ten-pound
citizens, we should have a thousand ten-thousand-pounders and 999,000
with nothing. That would be the official way of making the country
happy and contented. But, in fact, our social and political
controversies are not kept alive by such arguments as these, nor by
the answers which can legitimately be made to such arguments. The case
of the average man in favour of State lotteries is, quite simply, that
he does not like Dr. Clifford. The case of the average man against
State lotteries is equally simple; he cannot bear to be on the same
side as Mr. Bottomley.





 The Record Lie



I have just seen it quoted again. Yes, it appears solemnly in print,
even now, at the end of the greatest war in history. _Si vis pacem,
para bellum._ And the writer goes on to say that the League of Nations
is all very well, but unfortunately we are "not angels." Dear, dear!


Being separated for the moment from my book of quotations, I cannot
say who was the Roman thinker who first gave this brilliant paradox to
the world, but I imagine him a fat, easy-going gentleman, who
occasionally threw off good things after dinner. He never thought very
much of _Si vis pacem, para bellum;_ it was not one of his best; but
it seemed to please some of his political friends, one of whom asked
if he might use it in his next speech in the Senate. Our fat gentleman
said: "Certainly, if you like," and added, with unusual frankness:
"I don't quite know what it means." But the other did not think that
that would matter very much. So he quoted it, and it had a
considerable vogue... and by and by they returned to the place from
which they had come, leaving behind them the record of the ages, the
lie which has caused more suffering than anything the Devil could have
invented for himself. Two thousand years from now people will still be
quoting it, and killing each other on the strength of it. Or perhaps I
am wrong. Perhaps two thousand years from now, if the English language
is sufficiently dead by then, the world will have some casual paradox
of Bernard Shaw's or Oscar Wilde's on its lips, passing it reverently
from mouth to mouth as if it were Holy Writ, and dropping bombs on
Mars to show that they know what it means. For a quotation is a handy
thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself,
always a laborious business.


_Si vis pacem, para bellum._ Yes, it sounds well. It has a conclusive
ring about it, particularly if the speaker stops there for a moment
and drinks a glass of water. "If you want peace, prepare for war,"
is not quite so convincing; that might have been his own idea, evolved
while running after a motor-bus in the morning; we should not be so
ready to accept it as Gospel. But _Si vis pacem_----! It is almost
blasphemous to doubt it.


Suppose for a moment that it is true. Well, but this certainly is
true: _Si vis bellum, para bellum._ So it follows that preparation for
war means nothing; it does not necessarily mean that you want war, it
does not necessarily mean that you want peace; it is an action which
is as likely to have been inspired by an evil motive as by a good
motive. When a gentleman with a van calls for your furniture you have
means of ascertaining whether he is the furniture-remover whom you
ordered or the burglar whom you didn't order, but there is no way of
discovering which of two Latin tags is inspiring a nation's armaments.
_Si vis pacem, para bellum_--it is a delightful excuse. Germany was
using it up to the last moment.


However, I can produce a third tag in the same language, which is
worth consideration. _Si vis amare bellum, para bellum_--said by
Quintus Balbus the Younger five minutes before he was called a
pro-Carthaginian. There seems to be something in it. I have been told
by women that it is great fun putting on a new frock, but I understand
that they like going out in it afterwards. After years in the schools
a painter does want to show the public what he has learnt. Soldiers
who have given their lives to preparing for war may be different; they
may be quite content to play about at manoeuvres and answer
examination papers. I learnt my golf (such as it is) by driving into a
net. Perhaps, if I had had the soldier's temperament, I should still
be driving into a net quite happily. On the other hand, soldiers may
be just like other people, and having prepared for a thing may want to
do it.


No; it is a pity, but Universal Peace will hardly come as the result
of universal preparedness for war, as these dear people seem to hope.
It will only come as the result of a universal feeling that war is the
most babyish and laughably idiotic thing that this poor world has
evolved. Our writer says sadly that there is no hope of doing without
armies--we are not angels. It is not a question of "not being
angels," it is a question of not being childish lunatics. Possibly
there is no hope of this either, but I think we might make an effort.


For opinions do spread, if one holds them firmly oneself and is not
afraid of confessing them. A _si-vis-pacem_ gentleman said to me once,
with a sneer: "How are you going to do it? Speeches and pamphlets?"
Well, that was how Christianity got about, even though Paul's letters
did not appear in a daily paper with a circulation of a million and a
telegraphic service to every part of the world.


But perhaps Christianity is an unfortunate example to give in an
argument about war; one begins to ask oneself if Christianity has
spread as much as one thought. There are dear people, of course, to
whom it has been revealed in the night that God is really much more
interested in nations than in persons; it is not your soul or my soul
that He is concerned about, but the British Empire's. Germany He
dislikes (although the Germans were under a silly misapprehension
about this once), and though the Japanese do not worship Him, yet they
are such active little fellows, not to say Allies of England, that
they too are under His special protection. And when He deprecated
lying and stealing and murder and bearing false witness, and all those
things, He meant that if they were done in a really wholesale way--by
nations, not by individuals--then it did not matter; for He can
forgive a nation anything, having so much more interest in it. All of
which may be true, but it is not Christianity.


However, as our writer says, "we are not angels," and apparently he
thinks that it would be rather wicked of us to try to be. Perhaps he
is right.





 Wedding Bells



Champagne is often pleasant at lunch, it is always delightful at
dinner, and it is an absolute necessity, if one is to talk freely
about oneself afterwards, at a dance supper. But champagne for tea is
horrible. Perhaps this is why a wedding always finds me melancholy
next morning. "She has married the wrong man," I say to myself. "I
wonder if it is too late to tell her."


The trouble of answering the invitation and of thinking of something
to give more original than a toast rack should, one feels, have its
compensations. From each wedding that I attend I expect an afternoon's
enjoyment in return for my egg stand. For one thing I have my best
clothes on. Few people have seen me in them (and these few won't
believe it), so that from the very beginning the day has a certain
freshness. It is not an ordinary day. It starts with this advantage,
that in my best clothes I am not difficult to please. The world smiles
upon me.


Once I am in church, however, my calm begins to leave me. As time
wears on, and the organist invents more and more tunes, I tremble lest
the bride has forgotten the day. The choir is waiting for her; the
bridegroom is waiting for her. I--I also--wait. What if she has
changed her mind at the last minute? But no. The organist has sailed
into his set piece; the choir advances; follows the bride looking so
lonely that I long to comfort her and remind her of my egg stand; and,
last of all, the pretty bridesmaids. The clergyman begins his drone.


You would think that, reassured by the presence of the bride, I could
be happy now. But there is still much to bother me. The bridegroom is
showing signs of having forgotten his part, the bride can't get her
glove off, one of the bridesmaids is treading on my hat. Worse than
all this, there is a painful want of unanimity among the congregation
as to when we stand up and when we sit down. Sometimes I am alone and
sitting when everybody else is standing, and that is easy to bear; but
sometimes I find myself standing when everybody else is sitting, and
that is very hard.


They have gone to the vestry. The choir sings an anthem to while away
the kissing-time, and, right or wrong, I am sitting down, comforting
my poor hat. There was a time when I, too, used to go into the vestry;
when I was something of an authority on weddings, and would attend
weekly in some minor official capacity. Any odd jobs that were going
seemed to devolve on me. If somebody was wanted suddenly to sign the
register, or kiss the bride's mother, or wind up the going-away car,
it used to be taken for granted that I was the man to do it. I wore a
white flower in my button-hole to show that I was available. I served,
I may say, in an entirely honorary capacity, except in so far as I was
expected to give the happy pair a slightly larger present than the
others. One day I happened to suggest to an intending groom that he
had other friends more ornamental, and therefore more suitable for
this sort of work, than I; to which he replied that they were all
married, and that etiquette demanded a bachelor for the business. Of
course, as soon as I heard this I got married too.


Here they come. "Doesn't she look sweet?" We hurry after them and
rush for the carriages. I am only a friend of the bridegroom's;
perhaps I had better walk.


It must be very easy to be a guest at a wedding reception, where each
of the two clans takes it for granted that all the extraordinary
strangers belong to the other clan. Indeed, nobody with one good suit,
and a stomach for champagne and sandwiches, need starve in London. He
or she can wander safely in wherever a red carpet beckons. I suppose I
must put in an appearance at this reception, but if I happen to pass
another piece of carpet on the way to the house, and the people going
in seem more attractive than our lot, I shall be tempted to join them.


This is, perhaps, the worst part of the ceremony, this three hundred
yards or so from the hymn-sheets to the champagne. All London is now
gazing at my old top-hat. When the war went on and on and on, and it
seemed as though it were going on for ever, I looked back on peace
much as those old retired warriors at the end of last century looked
back on their happy Crimean days; and in the same spirit as that in
which they hung their swords over the baronial fireplace, I decided to
suspend my old top-hat above the mantel-piece in the drawing-room. In
the years to come I would take my grandchildren on my knee and tell
them stories of the old days when grandfather was a civilian, of
desperate charges by church-wardens and organists, and warm
receptions; and sometimes I would hold the old top-hat reverently in
my hands, and a sudden gleam would come into my eyes, so that those
watching me would say to each other, "He is thinking of that
tea-fight at Rutland Gate in 1912." So I pictured the future for my
top-hat, never dreaming that in 1920 it would take the air again.


For I went into the war in order to make the world safe for democracy,
which I understood to mean (and was distinctly informed so by the
press) a world safe for those of us who prefer soft hats with a dent
in the middle. "The war," said the press, "has killed the
top-hat." Apparently it failed to do this, as it failed to do so many
of the things which we hoped from it. So the old veteran of 1912 dares
the sunlight again. We are arrived, and I am greeted warmly by the
bride's parents. I look at the mother closely so that I shall know her
again when I come to say good-bye, and give her a smile which tells
her that I was determined to come down to this wedding although I had
a good deal of work to do. I linger with the idea of pursuing this
point, for I want them to know that they nearly missed me, but I am
pushed on by the crowd behind me. The bride and bridegroom salute me
cordially but show no desire for intimate gossip. A horrible feeling
goes through me that my absence would not have been commented upon by
them at any inordinate length. It would not have spoilt the honeymoon,
for instance.


I move on and look at the presents. The presents are numerous and
costly. Having discovered my own I stand a little way back and listen
to the opinions of my neighbours upon it. On the whole the reception
is favourable. The detective, I am horrified to discover, is on the
other side of the room, apparently callous as to the fate of my egg
stand. I cannot help feeling that if he knew his business he would be
standing where I am standing now; or else there should be two
detectives. It is a question now whether it is safe for me to leave my
post and search for food... Now he is coming round; I can trust it to
him.


On my way to the refreshments I have met an old friend. I like to meet
my friends at weddings, but I wish I had not met this one. She has
sowed the seeds of disquiet in my mind by telling me that it is not
etiquette to begin to eat until the bride has cut the cake. I answer,
"Then why doesn't somebody tell the bride to cut the cake?" but the
bride, it seems, is busy. I wish now that I had not met my friend. Who
but a woman would know the etiquette of these things, and who but a
woman would bother about it?


The bride is cutting the cake. The bridegroom has lent her his sword,
or his fountain-pen, whatever is the emblem of his trade--he is a
stockbroker--and as she cuts, we buzz round her, hoping for one of the
marzipan pieces. I wish to leave now, before I am sorry, but my friend
tells me that it is not etiquette to leave until the bride and
bridegroom have gone. Besides, I must drink the bride's health. I
drink her health; hers, not mine.


Time rolls on. I was wrong to have had champagne. It doesn't suit me
at tea. However, for the moment life is bright enough. I have looked
at the presents and my own is still there. And I have been given a
bagful of confetti. The weary weeks one lives through without a
handful of anything to throw at anybody. How good to be young again. I
take up a strong position in the hall.


They come... Got him--got him! Now a long shot--got him! I feel
slightly better, and begin the search for my hostess....


I have shaken hands with all the bride's aunts and all the
bridegroom's aunts, and in fact all the aunts of everybody here. Each
one seems to me more like my hostess than the last. "Good-bye!"
Fool--of course--there she is. "Good-Bye!"


My hat and I take the air again. A pleasant afternoon; and yet
to-morrow morning I shall see things more clearly, and I shall know
that the bridegroom has married the wrong girl. But it will be too
late then to save him.





 Public Opinion



At the beginning of the last strike the papers announced that Public
Opinion was firmly opposed to dictation by a minority. Towards the end
of the strike the papers said that Public Opinion was strongly in
favour of a settlement which would leave neither side with a sense of
defeat. I do not complain of either of these statements, but I have
been wondering, as I have often wondered before, how a leader-writer
discovers what the Public Opinion is.


When one reads about Public Opinion in the press (and one reads a good
deal about it one way and another), it is a little difficult to
realize, particularly if the printer has used capital letters, that
this much-advertised Public Opinion is simply You and Me and the
Others. Now, since it is impossible for any man to get at the opinions
of all of us, it is necessary that he should content himself with a
sample half-dozen or so. But from where does he get his sample?
Possibly from his own club, limited perhaps to men of his own
political opinions; almost certainly from his own class. Public
Opinion in this case is simply what he thinks. Even if he takes the
opinion of strangers--the waiter who serves him at lunch, the
tobacconist, the policeman at the corner--the opinion may be one
specially prepared for his personal consumption, one inspired by tact,
boredom, or even a sense of humour. If, for instance, the process were
to be reversed, and my tobacconist were to ask me what I thought of
the strike, I should grunt and go out of his shop; but he would be
wrong to attribute "a dour grimness" to the nation in consequence.


Nor is the investigator likely to be more correct if he judges Public
Opinion from the evidence of his eyes rather than his ears. Thus one
reporter noticed on the faces of his companions in the omnibus "a
look of stern determination to see this thing through." If they were
all really looking like that, it must have been an impressive sight.
But it is at least possible that this distinctive look was one of
stern determination to get a more comfortable seat on the 'bus which
took them home again.


It must be very easy (and would certainly be extremely interesting) to
go about forming Public Opinion, I should like to initiate an
L.F.P.O., or League for Forming Public Opinion, and not only for
forming it, but for putting it, when formed, into direct action. Such
a League, even if limited to two hundred members, could by its
concerted action exercise a very remarkable effect. Suppose we decided
to attack profiteering. We should choose our shop--a hosier's, let us
say. Beginning on Monday morning, a member of the League would go in
and ask to be shown some ties. Having spent some time in looking
through the stock and selecting a couple, he would ask the price.
"Oh, but that's ridiculous," he would say. "I couldn't think of
paying that. If I can't get them cheaper somewhere else, I'll do
without them altogether." The shopman shrugs his shoulders and puts
his ties back again. Perhaps he tells himself contemptuously that he
doesn't cater for that sort of customer. The customer goes out, and
half an hour later the second member of the League arrives. This one
asks for collars. He is equally indignant at the price, and is equally
determined not to wear a collar at all rather than submit to such
extortion. Half an hour later the third member comes in. He wants
socks.... The fourth member wants ties again... The fifth wants
gloves....


Now this is going on, not only all through the day, but all through
the week, and for another week after that. Can you not imagine that,
after a fortnight of it, the haberdasher begins to feel that "Public
Opinion is strongly aroused against profiteering in the hosiery
trade"? Is it not possible that the loss of two hundred customers in
a fortnight would make him wonder whether a lower price might not
bring him in a greater profit? I think it is possible. I do not think
he could withstand a Public Opinion so well organized and so
relentlessly concentrated.


But such a League would have enormous power in many ways. If you were
to write to the editor of a paper complaining that So-and-So's
contributions (mine, if you like) were beneath contempt, the editor
would not be seriously concerned about it. Possibly he had a letter
the day before saying that So-and-So was beyond all other writers
delightful. But if twenty members of the League wrote every week for
ten weeks in succession, from two hundred different addresses, saying
that So-and-So's articles were beneath contempt, the editor would be
more than human if he did not tell himself that So-and-So had fallen
off a little and was obviously losing his hold on the popular
imagination. In a little while he would decide that it would be wiser
to make a change....


Of course, the League would not attack a writer or any other public
man from sheer wilfulness, but it would probably have no difficulty in
bringing down over-praised mediocrity to its proper level or in giving
a helping hand to unrecognized talent. But unless its president were a
man of unerring judgment and remarkable restraint, its sense of power
would probably be too much for it, and it would lose its head
altogether. Looking round for a suitable president, I can think of
nobody but myself. And I am too busy just now.





 The Honour of Your Country



We were resting after the first battle of the Somme. Naturally all the
talk in the Mess was of after-the-war. Ours was the H.Q. Mess, and I
was the only subaltern; the youngest of us was well over thirty. With
a gravity befitting our years and (except for myself) our rank, we
discussed not only restaurants and revues, but also Reconstruction.


The Colonel's idea of Reconstruction included a large army of
conscripts. He did not call them conscripts. The fact that he had
chosen to be a soldier himself, out of all the professions open to
him, made it difficult for him to understand why a million others
should not do the same without compulsion. At any rate, we must have
the men. The one thing the war had taught us was that we must have a
real Continental army.


I asked why. "Theirs not to reason why" on parade, but in the H.Q.
Mess on active service the Colonel is a fellow human being. So I asked
him why we wanted a large army after the war.


For the moment he was at a loss. Of course, he might have said
"Germany," had it not been decided already that there would be no
Germany after the war. He did not like to say "France," seeing that
we were even then enjoying the hospitality of the most delightful
French villages. So, after a little hesitation, he said "Spain."


At least he put it like this:--


"Of course, we must have an army, a large army."


"But why?" I said again.


"How else can you--can you defend the honour of your country?"


"The Navy."


"The Navy! Pooh! The Navy isn't a weapon of attack; it's a weapon of
defence."


"But you said `defend'."


"Attack," put in the Major oracularly, "is the best defence."


"Exactly."


I hinted at the possibilities of blockade. The Colonel was scornful.
"Sitting down under an insult for months and months," he called it,
until you starved the enemy into surrender. He wanted something much
more picturesque, more immediately effective than that. (Something,
presumably, more like the Somme.)


"But give me an example," I said, "of what you mean by `insults'
and `honour'."


Whereupon he gave me this extraordinary example of the need for a
large army.


"Well, supposing," he said, "that fifty English women in Madrid
were suddenly murdered, what would you do?"


I thought for a moment, and then said that I should probably decide
not to take my wife to Madrid until things had settled down a bit.


"I'm supposing that you're Prime Minister," said the Colonel, a
little annoyed. "What is England going to do?"


"Ah!... Well, one might do nothing. After all, what is one to do? One
can't restore them to life."


The Colonel, the Major, even the Adjutant, expressed his contempt for
such a cowardly policy. So I tried again.


"Well," I said, "I might decide to murder fifty Spanish women in
London, just to even things up."


The Adjutant laughed. But the Colonel was taking it too seriously for
that.


"Do you mean it?" he asked.


"Well, what would you do, sir?"


"Land an army in Spain," he said promptly, "and show them what it
meant to treat English women like that."


"I see. They would resist of course?"


"No doubt."


"Yes. But equally without doubt we should win in the end?"


"Certainly."


"And so re-establish England's honour."


"Quite so."


"I see. Well, sir, I really think my way is the better. To avenge the
fifty murdered English women, you are going to kill (say) 100,000
Spaniards who have had no connexion with the murders, and 50,000
Englishmen who are even less concerned. Indirectly also you will cause
the death of hundreds of guiltless Spanish women and children, besides
destroying the happiness of thousands of English wives and mothers.
Surely my way--of murdering only fifty innocents--is just as effective
and much more humane."


"That's nonsense," said the Colonel shortly.


"And the other is war."


We were silent for a little, and then the Colonel poured himself out a
whisky.


"All the same," he said, as he went back to his seat, "you haven't
answered my question."


"What was that, sir?"


"What you would do in the case I mentioned. Seriously."


"Oh! Well, I stick to my first answer. I would do nothing--except, of
course, ask for an explanation and an apology. If you can apologize
for that sort of thing."


"And if they were refused?"


"Have no more official relations with Spain."


"That's all you would do?"


"Yes."


"And you think that that is consistent with the honour of a great
nation like England?"


"Perfectly."


"Oh! Well, I don't."


An indignant silence followed.


"May I ask you a question now, sir?" I said at last.


"Well?"


"Suppose this time England begins. Suppose we murder all the Spanish
women in London first. What are you going to do--as Spanish Premier?"


"Er--I don't quite----"


"Are you going to order the Spanish Fleet to sail for the mouth of
the Thames, and hurl itself upon the British fleet?"


"Of course not, She has no fleet."


"Then do you agree with the--er Spanish Colonel, who goes about
saying that Spain's honour will never be safe until she has a fleet as
big as England's?"


"That's ridiculous. They couldn't possibly."


"Then what could Spain do in the circumstances?"


"Well, she--er--she could--er--protest."


"And would that be consistent with the honour of a small nation like
Spain?"


"In the circumstances," said the Colonel unwillingly, "er--yes."


"So that what it comes to is this. Honour only demands that you
should attack the other man if you are much bigger than he is. When a
man insults my wife, I look him carefully over; if he is a stone
heavier than I, then I satisfy my honour by a mild protest. But if he
only has one leg, and is three stone lighter, honour demands that I
should jump on him."


"We're talking of nations," said the Colonel gruffly, "not of men,
It's a question of prestige."


"Which would be increased by a victory over Spain?"


The Major began to get nervous. After all, I was only a subaltern. He
tried to cool the atmosphere a little.


"I don't know why poor old Spain should be dragged into it like
this," he said, with a laugh. "I had a very jolly time in Madrid
years ago."


"O, I only gave Spain as an example," said the Colonel casually.


"It might just as well have been Switzerland?" I suggested.


There was silence for a little.


"Talking of Switzerland----" I said, as I knocked out my pipe.


"Oh, go on," said the Colonel, with a good-humoured shrug. "I've
brought this on myself."


"Well, sir, what I was wondering was--What would happen to the honour
of England if fifty English women were murdered at Interlaken?"


The Colonel was silent.


"However large an army we had----" I went on.


The Colonel struck a match.


"It's a funny thing, honour," I said. "And prestige."


The Colonel pulled at his pipe.


"Just fancy," I murmured, "the Swiss can do what they like to
British subjects in Switzerland, and we can't get at them. Yet
England's honour does not suffer, the world is no worse a place to
live in, and one can spend quite a safe holiday at Interlaken."


"I remember being there in '94," began the Major hastily....





 A Village Celebration



Although our village is a very small one, we had fifteen men serving
in the Forces before the war was over. Fortunately, as the Vicar well
said, "we were wonderfully blessed in that none of us was called upon
to make the great sacrifice." Indeed, with the exception of Charlie
Rudd, of the Army Service Corps, who was called upon to be kicked by a
horse, the village did not even suffer any casualties. Our rejoicings
at the conclusion of Peace were whole-hearted.


Naturally, when we met to discuss the best way in which to give
expression to our joy, our first thoughts were with our returned
heroes. Miss Travers, who plays the organ with considerable expression
on Sundays, suggested that a drinking fountain erected on the village
green would be a pleasing memorial of their valour, if suitably
inscribed. For instance, it might say, "In gratitude to our brave
defenders who leaped to answer their country's call," followed by
their names. Embury, the cobbler, who is always a wet blanket on these
occasions, asked if "leaping" was the exact word for a young fellow
who got into khaki in 1918, and then only in answer to his country's
police. The meeting was more lively after this, and Mr. Bates, of Hill
Farm, had to be personally assured by the Vicar that for his part he
quite understood how it was that young Robert Bates had been unable to
leave the farm before, and he was sure that our good friend Embury
meant nothing personal by his, if he might say so, perhaps somewhat
untimely observation. He would suggest himself that some such phrase
as "who gallantly answered" would be more in keeping with Miss
Travers' beautiful idea. He would venture to put it to the meeting
that the inscription should be amended in this sense.


Mr. Clayton, the grocer and draper, interrupted to say that they were
getting on too fast. Supposing they agreed upon a drinking fountain,
who was going to do it? Was it going to be done in the village, or
were they going to get sculptors and architects and such-like people
from London? And if so The Vicar caught the eye of Miss
Travers, and signalled to her to proceed; whereupon she explained
that, as she had already told the Vicar in private, her nephew was
studying art in London, and she was sure he would be only too glad to
get Augustus James or one of those Academy artists to think of
something really beautiful.


At this moment Embury said that he would like to ask two questions.
First question--In what order were the names of our gallant defenders
to be inscribed? The Vicar said that, speaking entirely without
preparation and on the spur of the moment, he would imagine that an
alphabetical order would be the most satisfactory. There was a general
"Hear, hear," led by the Squire, who thus made his first
contribution to the debate. "That's what I thought," said Embury.
"Well, then, second question--What's coming out of the fountain?"
The Vicar, a little surprised, said that presumably, my dear Embury,
the fountain would give forth water. "Ah!" said Embury with great
significance, and sat down.


Our village is a little slow at getting on to things; "leaping" is
not the exact word for our movements at any time, either of brain or
body. It is not surprising, therefore, that even Bates failed to
realize for a moment that his son's name was to have precedence on a
water-fountain. But when once he realized it, he refused to be
pacified by the cobbler's explanation that he had only said "Ah!"
Let those who had anything to say, he observed, speak out openly, and
then we should know where we were. Embury's answer, that one could
generally guess where some people were, and not be far wrong, was
drowned in the ecclesiastical applause which greeted the rising of the
Squire.


The Squire said that he--er--hadn't--er--intended--er--to say
anything. But he thought--er--if he might--er--intervene--to--er--say
something on the matter of--er--a matter which--er--well, they all
knew what it was--in short--er--money. Because until they knew how
they--er--stood, it was obvious that--it was obvious--quite
obvious--well it was a question of how they stood. Whereupon he sat
down.


The Vicar said that as had often happened before, the sound
common-sense of Sir John had saved them from undue rashness and
precipitancy. They were getting on a little too fast. Their valued
friend Miss Travers had made what he was not ashamed to call a
suggestion both rare and beautiful, but alas! in these prosaic modern
days the sordid question of pounds, shillings and pence could not be
wholly disregarded. How much money would they have?


Everybody looked at Sir John. There was an awkward silence, in which
the Squire joined....


Amid pushings and whisperings from his corner of the room, Charlie
Rudd said that he would just like to say a few words for the boys, if
all were willing. The Vicar said that certainly, certainly he might,
my dear Rudd. So Charlie said that he would just like to say that with
all respect to Miss Travers, who was a real lady, and many was the
packet of fags he'd had from her out there, and all the other boys
could say the same, and if some of them joined up sooner than others,
well perhaps they did, but they all tried to do their bit, just like
those who stayed at home, and they'd thrashed Jerry, and glad of it,
fountains or no fountains, and pleased to be back again and see them
all, just the same as ever, Mr. Bates and Mr. Embury and all of them,
which was all he wanted to say, and the other boys would say the same,
hoping no offence was meant, and that was all he wanted to say.


When the applause had died down, Mr. Clayton said that, in his
opinion, as he had said before, they were getting on too fast. Did
they want a fountain, that was the question. Who wanted it? The Vicar
replied that it would be a beautiful memento for their children of the
stirring times through which their country had passed. Embury asked if
Mr. Bates' child wanted a memento of----"This is a general question,
my dear Embury," said the Vicar.


There rose slowly to his feet the landlord of the Dog and Duck.
Celebrations, he said. We were celebrating this here peace. Now, as
man to man, what did celebrations mean? He asked any of them. What did
it mean? Celebrations meant celebrating, and celebrating meant sitting
down hearty-like, sitting down like Englishmen and--and celebrating.
First, find how much money they'd got, same as Sir John said; that was
right and proper. Then if so be as they wanted to leave the rest to
him, well he'd be proud to do his best for them. They knew him. Do
fair by him and he'd do fair by them. Soon as he knew how much money
they'd got, and how many were going to sit down, then he could get to
work. That was all _he'd_ got to say about celebrations.


The enthusiasm was tremendous. Rut the Vicar looked anxious, and
whispered to the Squire. The Squire shrugged his shoulders and
murmured something, and the Vicar rose. They would be all glad to
hear, he said, glad but not surprised, that with his customary
generosity the Squire had decided to throw open his own beautiful
gardens and pleasure-grounds to them on Peace Day and to take upon his
own shoulders the burden of entertaining them. He would suggest that
they now give Sir John three hearty cheers. This was done, and the
proceedings closed.





 A Train of Thought



On the same day I saw two unsettling announcements in the papers. The
first said simply, underneath a suitable photograph, that the ski-ing
season was now in full swing in Switzerland; the second explained
elaborately why it cost more to go from London to the Riviera and back
than from the Riviera to London and back. Both announcements unsettled
me considerably. They would upset anybody for whom the umbrella season
in London was just opening, and who was wondering what was the cost of
a return ticket to Manchester.


At first I amused myself with trying to decide whether I should prefer
it to be the Riviera or Switzerland this Christmas. Switzerland won;
not because it is more invigorating, but because I had just discovered
a woollen helmet and a pair of ski-ing boots, relics of an earlier
visit. I am thus equipped for Switzerland already, whereas for the
Riviera I should want several new suits. One of the chief beauties of
Switzerland (other than the mountains) is that it is so uncritical of
the visitor's wardrobe. So long as he has a black coat for the
evenings, it demands nothing more. In the day-time he may fall about
in whatever he pleases. Indeed, it is almost an economy to go there
now and work off some of one's moth-collecting khaki on it. The socks
which are impossible with our civilian clothes could renew their youth
as the middle pair of three, inside a pair of ski-ing boots.


Yet to whichever I went this year, Switzerland or the Riviera, I think
it would be money wasted. I am one of those obvious people who detest
an uncomfortable railway journey, and the journey this year will
certainly be uncomfortable. But I am something more than this; I am
one of those uncommon people who enjoy a comfortable railway journey.
I mean that I enjoy it as an entertainment in itself, not only as a
relief from the hair-shirts of previous journeys. I would much sooner
go by _wagonlit_ from Calais to Monte Carlo in twenty hours, than by
magic carpet in twenty seconds. I am even looking forward to my
journey to Manchester, supposing that there is no great rush for the
place on my chosen day. The scenery as one approaches Manchester may
not be beautiful, but I shall be quite happy in my corner facing the
engine.


Nowhere can I think so happily as in a train. I am not inspired;
nothing so uncomfortable as that. I am never seized with a sudden idea
for a masterpiece, nor form a sudden plan for some new enterprise. My
thoughts are just pleasantly reflective. I think of all the good deeds
I have done, and (when these give out) of all the good deeds I am
going to do. I look out of the window and say lazily to myself, "How
jolly to live there"; and a little farther on, "How jolly not to
live there." I see a cow, and I wonder what it is like to be a cow,
and I wonder whether the cow wonders what it is to be like me; and
perhaps, by this time, we have passed on to a sheep, and I wonder if
it is more fun being a sheep. My mind wanders on in a way which would
annoy Pelman a good deal, but it wanders on quite happily, and the
"clankety-clank" of the train adds a very soothing accompaniment. So
soothing, indeed, that at any moment I can close my eyes and pass into
a pleasant state of sleep.


But this entertainment which my train provides for me is doubly
entertaining if it be but the overture to greater delights. If some
magic property which the train possesses--whether it be the motion or
the clankety-clank--makes me happy even when I am only thinking about
a cow, is it any wonder that I am happy in thinking about the
delightful new life to which I am travelling? We are going to the
Riviera, but I have had no time as yet in which to meditate properly
upon that delightful fact. I have been too busy saving up for it,
doing work in advance for it, buying cloth for it. Between London and
Dover I have been worrying, perhaps, about the crossing; between Dover
and Calais my worries have come to a head; but when I step into the
train at Calais, then at last I can give myself up with a whole mind
to the contemplation of the happy future. So long as the train does
not stop, so long as nobody goes in or out of my carriage, I care not
how many hours the journey takes. I have enough happy thoughts to fill
them.


All this, as I said, is not at all Pelman's idea of success in life;
one should be counting cows instead of thinking of them; although
presumably a train journey would seem in any case a waste of time to
The Man Who Succeeds. But to those of us to whom it is no more a waste
of time than any other pleasant form of entertainment, the
train-service to which we have had to submit lately has been doubly
distressing. The bliss of travelling from London to Manchester was
torn from us and we were given purgatory instead. Things are a little
better now in England; if one chooses the right day one can still come
sometimes upon the old happiness. But not yet on the Continent. In the
happy days before the war the journey out was almost the best part of
Switzerland on the Riviera. I must wait until those days come back
again.





 Melodrama



The most characteristic thing about a melodrama is that it always
begins at 7.30. The idea, no doubt, is that one is more in the mood
for this sort of entertainment after a high tea than after a late
dinner. Plain living leads to plain thinking, and a solid foundation
of eggs and potted meat leaves no room for appreciation of the finer
shades of conduct; Right is obviously Right, and Wrong is Wrong. Or it
may be also that the management wishes to allow us time for recovery
afterwards from the emotions of the evening; the play ends at 10.30,
so that we can build up the ravaged tissues again with a hearty
supper. But whatever the reason for the early start, the result is the
same. We arrive at 7.45 to find that we alone of the whole audience
have been left out of the secret as to why Lord Algernon is to be
pushed off the pier.


For melodrama, unlike the more fashionable comedy, gets to grips at
once. It is well understood by every dramatist that a late-dining
audience needs several minutes of dialogue before it recovers from its
bewilderment at finding itself in a theatre at all. Even the expedient
of printing the names of the characters on the programme in the order
in which they appear, and of letting them address each other frankly
by name as soon as they come on the stage, fails to dispel the mists.
The stalls still wear that vague, flustered look, as if they had
expected a concert or a prize-fight and have just remembered that the
concert, of course, is to-morrow. For this reason a wise dramatist
keeps back his story until the brain of the more expensive seats
begins to clear, and he is careful not to waste his jokes on the first
five pages of his dialogue.


But melodrama plays to cheap seats, and the purchaser of the cheap
seat has come there to have his money's worth. Directly the curtain
goes up he is ready to collaborate. It is perfectly safe for the
Villain to come on at once and reveal his dastardly plans; the
audience is alert for his confidences.


"Curse that young cub, Dick Vereker, what ill-fortune has sent him
across my path? Already he has established himself in the affections
of Lady Alicia, and if she consents to wed him my plans are foiled.
Fortunately she does not know as yet that, by the will of her late
Uncle Gregory, the ironmaster, two million pounds are settled upon the
man who wins her hand. With two million pounds I could pay back my
betting losses and prevent myself from being turned out of the
Constitutional Club. And now to put the marked ace of spades in young
Vereker's coat-tail pocket. Ha!"


No doubt the audience is the more ready to assimilate this because it
knew it was coming. As soon as the Villain steps on to the stage he is
obviously the Villain; one does not need to peer at one's programme
and murmur, "Who is this, dear?" It is known beforehand that the
Hero will be falsely accused, and that not until the last act will he
and his true love come together again. All that we are waiting to be
told is whether it is to be a marked card, a forged cheque, or a
bloodstain this time; and (if, as is probable, the Heroine is forced
into a marriage with the Villain) whether the Villain's first wife,
whom he had deserted, will turn up during the ceremony or immediately
afterwards. For the whole charm of a melodrama is that it is in
essentials just like every other melodrama that has gone before. The
author may indulge his own fancies to the extent of calling the
Villain Jasper or Eustace, of letting the Hero be ruined on the
battle-field or the Stock Exchange, but we are keeping an eye on him
to see that he plays no tricks with our national drama. It is our play
as well as his, and we have laid down the rules for it. Let the author
stick to them.


It is strange how unconvincing the Hero is to his fellows on the
stage, and how very convincing to us. That ringing voice, those
gleaming eyes--how is it that none of his companions seems able to
recognize Innocence when it is shining forth so obviously? "I feel
that I never want to see your face again," says the Heroine, when the
diamond necklace is found in his hat-box, and we feel that she has
never really seen it at all yet. "Good Heavens, madam," we long to
cry, "have you never been to a melodrama that you can be so deceived?
Look again! Is it not the face of the Falsely Accused?" But probably
she has not been to a melodrama. She moves in the best society, and
the thought of a high tea at 6.30 would appal her.


But let me confess that we in the audience are carried away sometimes
by that ringing voice, those gleaming eyes. He has us, this Hero, in
the hollow of his hand (to borrow a phrase from the Villain). When the
limelight is playing round his brow, and he stands in the centre of
the stage with clenched fists, oh! then he has us. "What! Betray my
aged mother for filthy gold!" he cries, looking at us scornfully as
if it was our suggestion. "Never, while yet breath remains in my
body!" What a cheer we give him then; a cheer which seems to imply
that, having often betrayed our own mothers for half a crown or so, we
are able to realize the heroic nature of his abstention on this
occasion. For in the presence of the Hero we lose our sense of values.
If he were to scorn an offer to sell his father for vivisectional
purposes, we should applaud enthusiastically his altruism.


But it is only the Hero who wins our cheers, only the Villain who wins
our hisses. The minor characters are necessary, but we are not greatly
interested in them. The Villain must have a confederate to whom he can
reveal his wicked thoughts when he is tired of soliloquizing; the Hero
must have friends who can tell each other all those things which a
modest man cannot say for himself; there must be characters of lower
birth, competent to relieve the tension by sitting down on their hats
or pulling chairs from beneath their acquaintances. We could not do
without them, but we do not give them our hearts. Even the Heroine
leaves us calm. However beautiful she be, she is not more than the
Hero deserves. It is the Hero whom we have come out to see, and it is
painful to reflect that in a little while he will he struggling to get
on the 'bus for Walham Green, and be pushed off again just like the
rest of us.





 A Lost Masterpiece



The short essay on "The Improbability of the Infinite" which I was
planning for you yesterday will now never be written. Last night my
brain was crammed with lofty thoughts on the subject--and for that
matter, on every other subject. My mind was never so fertile. Ten
thousand words on any theme from Tin-tacks to Tomatoes would have been
easy to me. That was last night. This morning I have only one word in
my brain, and I cannot get rid of it. The word is "Teralbay."


Teralbay is not a word which one uses much in ordinary life. Rearrange
the letters, however, and it becomes such a word. A friend--no, I can
call him a friend no longer--a person gave me this collection of
letters as I was going to bed and challenged me to make a proper word
of it. He added that Lord Melbourne--this, he alleged, is a well-known
historical fact--Lord Melbourne had given this word to Queen Victoria
once, and it had kept her awake the whole night. After this, one could
not be so disloyal as to solve it at once. For two hours or so,
therefore, I merely toyed with it. Whenever I seemed to be getting
warm I hurriedly thought of something else. This quixotic loyalty has
been the undoing of me; my chances of a solution have slipped by, and
I am beginning to fear that they will never return. While this is the
case, the only word I can write about is Teralbay.


Teralbay--what does it make? There are two ways of solving a problem
of this sort. The first is to waggle your eyes and see what you get.
If you do this, words like "alterably" and "laboratory" emerge,
which a little thought shows you to be wrong. You may then waggle your
eyes again, look at it upside down or sideways, or stalk it carefully
from the southwest and plunge upon it suddenly when it is not ready
for you. In this way it may be surprised into giving up its secret.
But if you find that it cannot be captured by strategy or assault,
then there is only one way of taking it. It must be starved into
surrender. This will take a long time, but victory is certain.


There are eight letters in Teralbay and two of them are the same, so
that there must be 181,440 ways of writing the letters out. This may
not be obvious to you at once; you may have thought that it was only
181,439; but you may take my word for it that I am right. (Wait a
moment while I work it out again.... Yes, that's it.) Well, now
suppose that you put down a new order of letters--such as
"raytable"--every six seconds, which is very easy going, and suppose
that you can spare an hour a day for it; then by the 303rd day--a year
hence, if you rest on Sundays--you are bound to have reached a
solution.


But perhaps this is not playing the game. This, I am sure, is not what
Queen Victoria did. And now I think of it, history does not tell us
what she did do, beyond that she passed a sleepless night. (And that
she still liked Melbourne afterwards--which is surprising.) Did she
ever guess it? Or did Lord Melbourne have to tell her in the morning,
and did she say, "Why, of _course_!" I expect so. Or did Lord
Melbourne say, "I'm awfully sorry, madam, but I find I put a `y' in
too many?" But no--history could not have remained silent over
such a tragedy as that. Besides, she went on liking him.


When I die "Teralbay" will be written on my heart. While I live it
shall be my telegraphic address. I shall patent a breakfast food
called "Teralbay"; I shall say "Teralbay!" when I miss a 2-ft.
putt; the Teralbay carnation will catch your eye at the Temple show. I
shall write anonymous letters over the name. "Fly at once; all is
discovered--Teralbay." Yes, that would look rather well.


I wish I knew more about Lord Melbourne. What sort of words did he
think of? The thing couldn't he "aeroplane" or "telephone" or
"googly," because these weren't invented in his time. That gives us
three words less. Nor, probably, would it be anything to eat; a Prime
Minister would hardly discuss such subjects with his Sovereign. I have
no doubt that after hours of immense labour you will triumphantly
suggest "rateably." I suggested that myself, but it is wrong. There
is no such word in the dictionary. The same objection applies to
"bat-early"--it ought to mean something, but it doesn't.


So I hand the word over to you. Please do not send the solution to me,
for by the time you read this I shall either have found it out or else
I shall be in a nursing home. In either case it will be of no use to
me. Send it to the Postmaster-General or one of the Geddeses or Mary
Pickford. You will want to get it off your mind.


As for myself I shall write to my fr----, to the person who first said
"Teralbay" to me, and ask him to make something of "sabet" and
"donureb." When he has worked out the corrections--which, in case he
gets the wrong ones, I may tell him here are "beast" and
"bounder"--I shall search the dictionary for some long word like
"intellectual." I shall alter the order of the letters and throw in
a couple of "g's" and a "k". And then I shall tell them to keep a
spare bed for him in my nursing home.


Well, I have got "Teralbay" a little off my mind. I feel better able
now to think of other things. Indeed, I might almost begin my famous
essay on "The Improbability of the Infinite." It would be a pity for
the country to lose such a masterpiece--she has had quite enough
trouble already what with one thing and another. For my view of the
Infinite is this: that although beyond the Finite, or, as one might
say, the Commensurate, there may or may not be a----


Just a moment. I think I have it now. T--R--A----No....





 A Hint for Next Christmas



There has been some talk lately of the standardization of golf balls,
but a more urgent reform is the standardization of Christmas presents.
It is no good putting this matter off; let us take it in hand now, so
that we shall be in time for next Christmas.


My crusade is on behalf of those who spend their Christmas away from
home. Last year I returned (with great difficulty) from such an
adventure and I am more convinced than ever that Christmas presents
should conform to a certain standard of size. My own little offerings
were thoughtfully chosen. A match-box, a lace handkerchief or two, a
cigarette-holder, a pencil and note-book, _Gems from Wilcox_, and so
on; such gifts not only bring pleasure (let us hope) to the recipient,
but take up a negligible amount of room in one's bag, and add hardly
anything to the weight of it. Of course, if your fellow-visitor says
to you, "How sweet of you to give me such a darling little
handkerchief--it's just what I wanted--how ever did you think of it?"
you do not reply, "Well, it was a choice between that and a
hundredweight of coal, and I'll give you two guesses why I chose the
handkerchief." No; you smile modestly and say, "As soon as I saw it,
I felt somehow that it was yours"; after which you are almost in a
position to ask your host casually where he keeps the mistletoe.


But it is almost a certainty that the presents you receive will not
have been chosen with such care. Probably the young son of the house
has been going in for carpentry lately, and in return for your tie-pin
he gives you a wardrobe of his own manufacture. You thank him
heartily, you praise its figure, but all the time you are wishing that
it had chosen some other occasion. Your host gives you a statuette or
a large engraving; somebody else turns up with a large brass
candle-stick. It is all very gratifying, but you have got to get back
to London somehow, and, thankful though you are not to have received
the boar-hound or parrot-in-cage which seemed at one time to be
threatening, you cannot help wishing that the limits of size for a
Christmas present had been decreed by some authority who was familiar
with the look of your dressing-case.


Obviously, too, there should be a standard value for a certain type of
Christmas present. One may give what one will to one's own family or
particular friends; that is all right. But in a Christmas house-party
there is a pleasant interchange of parcels, of which the string and
the brown paper and the kindly thought are the really important
ingredients, and the gift inside is nothing more than an excuse for
these things. It is embarrassing for you if Jones has apologized for
his brown paper with a hundred cigars, and you have only excused
yourself with twenty-five cigarettes; perhaps still more embarrassing
if it is you who have lost so heavily on the exchange. An
understanding that the contents were to be worth five shillings
exactly would avoid this embarassment.


And now I am reminded of the ingenuity of a friend of mine, William by
name, who arrived at a large country house for Christmas without any
present in his bag. He had expected neither to give nor to receive
anything, but to his horror he discovered on the 24th that everybody
was preparing a Christmas present for him, and that it was taken for
granted that he would require a little privacy and brown paper on
Christmas Eve for the purpose of addressing his own offerings to
others. He had wild thoughts of telegraphing to London for something
to be sent down, and spoke to other members of the house-party in
order to discover what sort of presents would be suitable.


"What are you giving our host P" he asked one of them.


"Mary and I are giving him a book," said John, referring to his
wife.


William then approached the youngest son of the house, and discovered
that he and his next brother Dick were sharing in this, that, and the
other. When he had heard this, William retired to his room and thought
profoundly. He was the first down to breakfast on Christmas morning.
All the places at the table were piled high with presents. He looked
at John's place. The top parcel said, "To John and Mary from
Charles." William took out his fountain-pen and added a couple of
words to the inscription. It then read, "To John and Mary from
Charles and William," and in William's opinion looked just as
effective as before. He moved on to the next place. "To Angela from
Father," said the top parcel. "And William," wrote William. At his
hostess' place he hesitated for a moment. The first present there was
for "Darling Mother, from her loving children." It did not seem that
an "and William" was quite suitable. But his hostess was not to be
deprived of William's kindly thought; twenty seconds later the
handkerchiefs "from John and Mary and William" expressed all the
nice things which he was feeling for her. He passed on to the next
place....


It is, of course, impossible to thank every donor of a joint gift; one
simply thanks the first person whose eye one happens to catch.
Sometimes William's eye was caught, sometimes not. But he was spared
all embarrassment; and I can recommend his solution of the problem
with perfect confidence to those who may be in a similar predicament
next Christmas.


There is a minor sort of Christmas present about which also a few
words must be said; I refer to the Christmas card.


The Christmas card habit is a very pleasant one, but it, too, needs to
be disciplined. I doubt if many people understand its proper function.
This is partly the result of our bringing up; as children we were
allowed (quite rightly) to run wild in the Christmas card shop, with
one of two results. Either we still run wild, or else the reaction has
set in and we avoid the Christmas card shop altogether. We convey our
printed wishes for a happy Christmas to everybody or to nobody. This
is a mistake. In our middle-age we should discriminate.


The child does not need to discriminate. It has two shillings in the
hand and about twenty-four relations. Even in my time two shillings
did not go far among twenty-four people. But though presents were out
of the question, one could get twenty-four really beautiful Christmas
cards for the money, and if some of them were ha'penny ones, then one
could afford real snow on a threepenny one for the most important
uncle, meaning by "most important," perhaps (but I have forgotten
now), the one most likely to be generous in return. Of the fun of
choosing those twenty-four cards I need not now speak, nor of the best
method of seeing to it that somebody else paid for the necessary
twenty-four stamps. But certainly one took more trouble in suiting the
tastes of those who were to receive the cards than the richest and
most leisured grown-up would take in selecting a diamond necklace for
his wife's stocking or motor-cars for his sons-in-law. It was not only
a question of snow, but also of the words in which the old, old wish
was expressed. If the aunt who was known to be fond of poetry did not
get something suitable from Eliza Cook, one might regard her Christmas
as ruined. How could one grudge the trouble necessary to make her
Christmas really happy for her? One might even explore the fourpenny
box.


But in middle-age--by which I mean anything over twenty and under
ninety--one knows too many people. One cannot give them a Christmas
card each; there is not enough powdered glass to go round. One has to
discriminate, and the way in which most of us discriminate is either
to send no cards to anybody or else to send them to the first twenty
or fifty or hundred of our friends (according to our income and
energy) whose names come into our minds. Such cards are meaningless;
but if we sent our Christmas cards to the right people, we could make
the simple words upon them mean something very much more than a mere
wish that the recipient's Christmas shall be "merry" (which it will
be anyhow, if he likes merriness) and his New Year "bright" (which,
let us hope, it will not be).


"A merry Christmas," with an old church in the background and a
robin in the foreground, surrounded by a wreath of holly-leaves. It
might mean so much. What I feel that it ought to mean is something
like this:--


"You live at Potters Bar and I live at Petersham. Of course, if we
did happen to meet at the Marble Arch one day, it would be awfully
jolly, and we could go and have lunch together somewhere, and talk
about old times. But our lives have drifted apart since those old
days. It is partly the fault of the train-service, no doubt. Glad as I
should be to see you, I don't like to ask you to come all the way to
Petersham to dinner, and if you asked me to Potters Bar--well, I
should come, but it would be something of a struggle, and I thank you
for not asking me. Besides, we have made different friends now, and
our tastes are different. After we had talked about the old days, I
doubt if we should have much to say to each other. Each of us would
think the other a bit of a bore, and our wives would wonder why we had
ever been friends at Liverpool. But don't think I have forgotten you.
I just send this card to let you know that I am still alive, still at
the same address, and that I still remember you. No need, if we ever
do meet, or if we ever want each other's help, to begin by saying: `I
suppose you have quite forgotten those old days at Liverpool.' We have
neither of us forgotten; and so let us send to each other, once a
year, a sign that we have not forgotten, and that once upon a time we
were friends. 'A merry Christmas to you.'"


That is what a Christmas card should say. It is absurd to say this to
a man or woman whom one is perpetually ringing up on the telephone; to
somebody whom one met last week or with whom one is dining the week
after; to a man whom one may run across at the club on almost any day,
or a woman whom one knows to shop daily at the same stores as oneself.
It is absurd to say it to a correspondent to whom one often writes.
Let us reserve our cards for the old friends who have dropped out of
our lives, and let them reserve their cards for us.


But, of course, we must have kept their addresses; otherwise we have
to print our cards publicly--as I am doing now. "Old friends will
please accept this, the only intimation."





 The Future



The recent decision that, if a fortune-teller honestly believes what
she is saying, she is not defrauding her client, may be good law, but
it does not sound like good sense. To a layman like myself it would
seem more sensible to say that, if the client honestly believes what
the fortune-teller is saying, then the client is not being defrauded.


For instance, a fortune-teller may inform you, having pocketed your
two guineas, that a rich uncle in Australia is going to leave you a
million pounds next year. She doesn't promise you the million pounds
herself; obviously that is coming to you anyhow, fortune-teller or no
fortune-teller. There is no suggestion on her part that she is
arranging your future for you. All that she promises to do for two
guineas is to give you a little advance information. She tells you
that you are coming into a million pounds next year, and if you
believe it, I should say that it was well worth the money. You have a
year's happiness (if that sort of thing makes you happy), a year in
which to tell yourself in every trouble, "Never mind, there's a good
time coming"; a year in which to make glorious plans for the future,
to build castles in the air, or (if your taste is not for castles)
country cottages and Mayfair flats. And all this for two guineas; it
is amazingly cheap.


And now consider what happens when the year is over. The
fortune-teller has done her part; she has given you a year's happiness
for two guineas. It is now your uncle's turn to step forward. He is
going to give you twenty years' happiness by leaving you a million
pounds. Probably he doesn't; he hasn't got a million pounds to leave;
he has, in fact, just written to you to ask you to lend him a fiver.
Well, surely it is the uncle who has let you down, not the
fortune-teller. Curse him by all means, cut him out of your will, but
don't blame the fortune-teller, who fulfilled her part of the
contract. The only reason why you went to her was to get your
happiness in advance. Well, you got it in advance; and seeing that it
was the only happiness you got, her claim on your gratitude shines out
the more clearly. You might decently send her another guinea.


This is the case if you honestly believe your fortune-teller. Now let
us suppose that you don't believe. It seems to me that in this case
you are entitled to the return of your money.


Of course, I am not supposing that you are a complete sceptic about
these things. It is plainly impossible for a fortune-teller to defraud
a sceptic, otherwise than by telling him the truth. For if a sceptic
went to consult the crystal, and was told that he would marry again
before the month was out, when in fact he was a bachelor, then he has
not been defrauded, for he is now in a position to tell all his
friends that fortune-telling is absolute nonsense--on evidence for
which he deliberately paid two guineas. Indeed, it is just on this
ground that police prosecutions seem to me to fail. For a policeman
(suitably disguised) pays his money simply for the purpose of getting
evidence against the crystal-gazer. Having got his evidence, it is
ridiculous of him to pretend that he has been cheated. But if he
wasted two guineas of the public money, and was told nothing but the
truth about himself and his family, then he could indeed complain that
the money had been taken from him under false pretences.


However, to get back to your own case. You, we assume, are not a
sceptic. You believe that certain inspired people can tell your
future, and that the fee which they ask for doing this is a reasonable
one. But on this particular occasion the spirits are not working
properly, and all that emerges is that your uncle in Australia----


But with the best will in the world you cannot believe this. The
spirits must have got mixed; they are slightly under-proof this
morning; you have no uncle. The fortune-teller gives you her word of
honour that she firmly believes you to have at least three uncles in
Australia, one of whom will shortly leave you a mill---- It is no
good. You cannot believe it. And it seems to me that on the morning's
transaction you have certainly been defrauded. You must insist on "a
tall dark man from India" at the next sitting.


It is "the tall dark man" which the amateur crystal-gazer really
wants. He doesn't want the future. There is so little to foretell in
most of our lives. Nobody is going to pay two guineas to be told that
he will be off his drive next Saturday and have a stomach-ache on the
following Monday. He wants something a little more romantic than that.
Even if he is never going to be influenced by a tall dark man from
India, it makes life a little more interesting to be told that he is
going to be.


For the average man finds life very uninteresting as it is. And I
think that the reason why he finds it uninteresting is that he is
always waiting for something to happen to him instead of setting to
work to make things happen. For one person who dreams of earning fifty
thousand pounds, a hundred people dream of being left fifty thousand
pounds. I imagine that if a young man went to a crystal-gazer and was
told that he would work desperately hard for the next twenty years,
and would by that time have earned (and saved) a fortune, he would be
very disappointed. Probably he would ask for his money back.





 The Largest Circulation



There died recently a gentleman named Nat Gould, twenty million copies
of whose books had been sold. They were hardly ever reviewed in the
literary papers; advertisements of them rarely appeared; no puffs nor
photographs of the author were thrust upon one, Unostentatiously he
wrote them--five in a year--and his million public was assured to him.
It is perhaps too late now to begin to read them, but we cannot help
wondering whence came his enormous popularity.


Mr. Gould, as all the world knows, wrote racing novels. They were
called, _Won by a Neck_, or _Lost by a Head_, or _Odds On_, or _The
Stable-lad's Dilemma_. Every third man in the Army carried one about
with him. I was unlucky in this matter, for all my men belonged to the
other two-thirds; they read detective stories about a certain Sexton
Blake, who kept bursting into rooms and finding finger-marks. In your
innocence you may think that Sherlock Holmes is the supreme British
detective, but he is a child to Blake. If I learnt nothing else in the
Army, I learnt that. Possibly these detective stories were a side-line
of Mr. Gould's, or possibly my regiment was the one anti-Gould
regiment in the Army. At any rate, I was demobilized without any
acquaintance with the _Won by a Neck_ stories.


There must be something about the followers of racing which makes them
different from the followers of any other sport. I suppose that I am
at least as keen on the Lunch Scores as any other man can be on the
Two-thirty Winner; yet I have no desire whatever to read a succession
of stories entitled _How's That, Umpire?_ or _Run Out_, or _Lost by a
Wicket_. I can waste my time and money with as much pleasure on the
golf-course as Mr. Gould's readers can on the race-course, but those
great works, _Stymied_ and _The Foozle on the Fifth Tee_, leave me
cold. My lack of interest in racing explains my lack of interest in
racing novels, but why is there no twenty million public for
_Off-side_ and _Fouled on the Touchline_? It is a mystery.


Though I have never read a racing novel, I can imagine it quite
easily. Lord Newmarket's old home is mortgaged, mortgaged everywhere.
His house is mortgaged, his park is mortgaged, his stud is mortgaged,
his tie-pin is mortgaged; yet he wants to marry Lady Angela. How can
he restore his old home to its earlier glories? There is only one
chance. He must put his shirt (the only thing that isn't mortgaged) on
Fido for the Portland Vase. Fido is a rank outsider--most of the
bookmakers thought that he was a fox-terrier, not a horse--and he is
starting at a thousand to one. When the starting-gate goes up, Fido
will carry not only Lord Newmarket's shirt, but Lady Angela's
happiness. Was there ever such a race before in the history of racing?
Only in the five thousand other racing novels. But Lord Newmarket is
reckoning without Rupert Blacknose. Blacknose has not only sworn to
wed Lady Angela, but it is he who holds the mortgages on Lord
Newmarket's old home. It is at Newmarket Villa that he means to settle
down when he is married. If Fido wins, his dreams are shattered. At
dead of night he climbs into Fido's stable, and paints him white with
a few black splotches. Surely _now_ he will be disqualified as a
fox-terrier! He climbs out again, laughing sardonically to himself....
The day of the great race dawns. The Portland Vasel Who has not heard
of it? In the far-away Malay Archipelago... in the remotest parts of
the Australian bush... in West Kensington... etc., etc. Anyway, the
downs were black with people, and the stands were black with more
people, and the paddock was packed with black people. But of all these
people none concealed beneath a mask of impassivity a heart more
anxious than Lord Newmarket's. He wandered restlessly into the
weighing-room. He weighed himself. He had gone down a pound. He
wandered out again. The downs were still black with humanity. Then
came a hoarse cry from twenty thousand throats. _"They're off!"_


Yes, well, Mr. Gould's novels are probably better than that. But it is
a terrifying thought that he wrote a hundred and thirty of them. A
hundred and thirty times he described that hoarse cry from twenty
thousand throats, "They're off!" A hundred and thirty times he
described the downs black with humanity, and the grandstand, and the
race itself, and what the bookmakers were saying, and the scene in the
paddock. How did he do it? Had he a special rubber stamp for all these
usual features, which saved him the trouble of writing them every
time? Or did he come quite fresh to it with each book? He wrote five
of them every year; did he forget in March what he said in January,
only to forget in June and visualize the scene afresh? To describe a
race-course a hundred thirty times--what a man!


Yet perhaps, after all, it is not difficult to understand why he was
so popular, why he had a following even greater than Mr. Garvice. Mr.
Garvice wrote love-stories, stories of that sweet and fair young
English girl and that charming, handsome, athletic young Englishman.
Every one who is not yet in love, or who is unhappily married, dreams
of meeting one or the other, and to read such stories transports the
loveless for a moment into the land where they would be. But then
there are many more moneyless people in the world than loveless; many
more people who want money than who want love. It is these people who
are transported by Mr. Nat Gould. He does not (I imagine) write of the
stern-chinned, silent millionaire who has forced his way to the top by
solid grit; we have no hopes of getting rich that way. But he does (I
imagine) write of the lucky fellow who puts his shirt both ways on an
outsider and pulls off a cool thousand. Well, that might happen to any
of us. It never has yet... but five times a year Mr. Gould carried us
away from the world where it never has into that beautiful dream-world
where it happens quite naturally. No wonder that he was popular.





 The Watson Touch



There used to be a song which affirmed (how truly, I do not know) that
every nice girl loved a sailor. I am prepared to state, though I do
not propose to make a song about it, that every nice man loves a
detective story. This week I have been reading the last adventures of
Sherlock Holmes--I mean really the last adventures, ending with his
triumph over the German spy in 1914. Having saved the Empire, Holmes
returned to his farm on the Sussex downs, and there, for all I mind,
he may stay. I have no great affection for the twentieth-century
Holmes. But I will give the warmest welcome to as many adventures of
the Baker Street Holmes as Watson likes to reconstruct for us. There
is no reason why the supply of these should ever give out. "It was, I
remember, at the close of a winter's day in 1894"--when Watson begins
like this, then I am prepared to listen. Fortunately, all the stories
in this last book, with the exception of the very indifferent spy
story, are of the Baker Street days, the days when Watson said,
"Holmes, this is marvellous!" Reading them now--with, I suppose, a
more critical mind than I exhibited twenty years ago--I see that
Holmes was not only a great detective, but a very lucky one. There is
an occasion when he suddenly asks the doctor why he had a Turkish
bath. Utterly unnerved, Watson asks how he knew, to which the great
detective says that it is as obvious as is the fact that the doctor
had shared a hansom with a friend that morning. But when Holmes
explains further, we see how lucky he is. Watson, he says, has some
mud on his left trouser; therefore he sat on the left side of a
hansom; therefore he shared it with a friend, for otherwise he would
have sat in the middle. Watson's boots, he continues, had obviously
been tied by a stranger; therefore he has had them off in a Turkish
bath or a boot shop, and since the newness of the boots makes it
unlikely that he has been buying another pair, therefore he must have
been to a Turkish bath. "Holmes," says Watson, "this is
marvellous!"


Marvellously lucky, anyway. For, however new his boots, poor old
Watson might have been buying a pair of pumps, or bedroom slippers, or
tennis shoes that morning, or even, if the practice allowed such
extravagance, a second pair of boots. And there was, of course, no
reason whatever why he should not have sat at the side of his hansom,
even if alone. It is much more comfortable, and is, in fact, what one
always did in the hansom days, and still does in a taxi. So if Holmes
was right on this occasion, he was right by luck and not by deduction.


But that must be the best of writing a detective story, that you can
always make the lucky shots come off. In no other form of fiction, I
imagine, does the author feel so certainly that he is the captain of
the ship. If he wants it so, he has it so. Is the solution going to be
too easy! Then he puts in an unexpected footprint in the geranium bed,
or a strange face at the window, and makes it more difficult, Is the
reader being kept too much in the dark? Then a conversation overheard
in the library will make it easier for him. The author's only trouble
is that he can never be certain whether his plot is too obscure or too
obvious. He knows himself that the governess is guilty, and, in
consequence, she can hardly raise her eyebrows without seeming to him
to give the whole thing away.


There was a time when I began to write a detective story for myself.
My murder, I thought, was rather cleverly carried out. The villain
sent a letter to his victim, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope
for an answer. The gum of the envelope was poisoned. I did not know,
nor did I bother to find out, whether it was possible, but this, as I
said just now, is the beauty of writing a detective story. If there is
no such quick-working poison, then you invent one. If up to the moment
when the doubt occurs to you, your villain had been living in Brixton,
you immediately send him to Central Africa, where he extracts a poison
from a "deadly root" according to the prescription of the chief
medicine-man. ("It is the poison into which the Swabiji dip their
arrows," you tell the reader casually, as if he really ought to have
known it for himself.) Well, then, I invented my poison, and my
villain put it on the gum of a self-addressed envelope, and enclosed
it with a letter asking for his victim's autograph. He then posted the
letter, whereupon a very tragic thing happened.


What happened was that, having left the letter in the post for some
years while I formed fours and saluted, I picked up a magazine in the
Mess one day and began to read a detective story. It was a very
baffling one, and I really didn't see how the murderer could possibly
have committed his foul deed. But the detective was on to it at once.
He searched the wastepaper basket, and, picking an envelope therefrom,
said "Ha!" It was just about then that I said "Ha!" too, and also
other things, for my half-finished story was now useless. Somebody
else had thought of the same idea. But though I was very sorry for
this, I could not help feeling proud that my idea made such a good
story. Indeed, since then I have fancied myself rather as a
detective-story-writer, and if only I could think of something which
nobody else would think of while I was thinking of it, I would try
again.





 Some Old Companions



In the days of the last-war-but-thirty-seven, when (as you will
remember) the Peers were fighting the People, Lord Curzon defended the
hereditary system by telling us that it worked very well in India,
where a tailor's son invariably became a tailor. The obvious answer,
if anyone bothered to give it, was that the tailor's son, having had
his career mapped out for him at birth, presumably prepared to be a
tailor, whereas a peer's eldest son, as far as one observed, did not
prepare to be a statesman. Indeed, the only profession in this country
to which one is apprenticed in one's childhood is that of royalty. The
future King can begin to learn the "tactful smile," the "memory for
faces," the knowledge of foreign languages and orders, almost as soon
as he begins to learn anything. He alone need not regret his youth and
say, "If only I had been taught this, that, and the other instead!"


These gloomy reflections have been forced on me by the re-discovery of
all those educational books which I absorbed, or was supposed to have
absorbed, at school and college. They made an imposing collection when
I had got them all together; fifty mathematical works by eminent Den,
from a well-thumbed, dog's-eared _Euclid_ to a clean uncut copy of
_Functions of a Quaternion_. It is doubtful if you even know what a
quaternion is, still less how it functions; probably you think of it
as a small four-legged animal with a hard shell. You may be right--it
is so long since I bought the book. But once I knew all about
quaternions; kept them, possibly, at the bottom of the garden; and now
I ask myself in Latin (for I learnt Latin too), _"Cui bono?"_ How
much better if I had learnt this, that, and the other instead!


History for instance. How useful a knowledge of history would be to me
now. To lighten an article like this with a reference to what
Garibaldi said to Cavour in '53; to round off a sentence with the
casual remark, "As was the custom in Alexander's day"; to trace back
a religious tendency, or a fair complexion, or the price of boots to
some barbarian invasion of a thousand years ago--how delightfully easy
it would be, I tell myself, to write with such knowledge at one's
disposal. One would never be at a loss for a subject, and plots for
stories, plays, and historical novels would be piled up in one's brain
for the choosing. But what can one do with mathematics--save count the
words of an article (when written) with rather more quickness and
accuracy than one's fellow writer? Did I spend ten years at
mathematics for this? The waste of it!


But perhaps those years were not so wasted as they seem to have been.
Not only Functions of a Quaternion, but other of these books, chatty
books about hydro-mechanics and dynamics of a particle (no, not an
article--that might have been helpful--a particle), gossipy books
about optics and differential equations, many of these have a
comforting air of cleanness; as if, having bought them at the
instigation of my instructor, I had felt that this was enough, and
that their mere presence in my bookcase was a sufficient talisman; a
talisman the more effective because my instructor had marked some of
the chapters "R"--meaning, no doubt, _"Read carefully"_--and other
chapters "RR" or _"Read twice as carefully."_ For these seem to be
the only marks in some of the books, and there are no traces of
midnight oil nor of that earnest thumb which one might expect from the
perspiring seeker after knowledge.


So I feel--indeed, I seem to remember--that the years were not so
wasted after all. When I should have been looking after my
quaternions, I was doing something else, something not so useful to
one who would be a mathematician, but perhaps more useful to a writer
who had already learnt enough to count the words in an article and to
estimate the number of guineas due to him. But whether this be so or
not, at least I have another reason for gratitude that I treated some
of these volumes so reverently. For I have now sold them all to a
secondhand bookseller, and he at least was influenced by the clean
look of those which I had placed upon the top.


So they stand now, my books, in a shelf outside the shop waiting for a
new master. Fifteen shillings I paid for some of them, and you or
anybody else can get them for three and sixpence, with my autograph
inside and the "R" and "RR" of some of our most learned
mathematicians. I should like to hear from the purchaser, and to know
that he is giving my books as kind a home as I gave them, treating
them as reverently, exercising them as gently. He can never be a
mathematician, or anything else, unless he has them on his shelves,
but let him not force his attentions upon them. Left to themselves
they will exert their own influence.


I shall wonder sometimes what he is going to be, this young fellow who
is now reading the books on which I was brought up. Spurred on by the
differential equations, will he decide to be a lawyer, or will the
dynamics of a particle help him to realize his ambition of painting?
Well, whatever he becomes, I wish him luck. And when he sells the
books again, may he get a better price than I did.





 A Haunted House



We have been trying to hide it from each other, but the truth must now
come out. Our house is haunted.


Well, of course, anybody's house might be haunted. Anybody might have
a headless ghost walking about the battlements or the bath-room at
midnight, and if it were no more than that, I should not trouble you
with the details. But our house is haunted in a peculiar way. No house
that I have heard of has ever been affected in quite this way before.


I must begin by explaining that it is a new house, built just before
the war. (Before the war, not after; this is a true story.) Its first
and only tenant was a Mrs. Watson-Watson, who lived here with her
daughter. Add her three servants, and you have filled the house. No
doubt she could have stowed people away in the cellar, but I have
never heard that she did; she preferred to keep it for such coal and
wood as came her way. When Mrs. Watson-Watson decided six months ago
to retire to the country, we took the house, and have lived here
since. And very comfortably, except for this haunting business.


As was to be expected, we were busy for the first few weeks in sending
on Mrs. Watson-Watson's letters. Gradually, as the news of her removal
got round to her less intimate friends, the flow of them grew less,
and at last--to our great relief, for we were always mislaying her
address--it ceased altogether. It was not until then that we felt
ourselves to be really in possession of our house.


We were not in possession for long. A month later a letter arrived for
Lady Elizabeth Mullins. Supposing this to be a _nom-de-guerre_ of Mrs.
Watson-Watson's, we searched for, and with great difficulty found, the
missing address, and sent the letter on. Next day there were two more
letters for Lady Elizabeth; by the end of the week there were half a
dozen; and for the rest of that month they came trickling in at the
rate of one a day. Mrs. Watson-Watson's address was now definitely
lost, so we tied Lady-Elizabeth's letters up in a packet and sent them
to the ground-landlord's solicitors. Solicitors like letters.


It was annoying at this time, when one was expecting, perhaps, a very
important cheque or communication from the Prime Minister, to go
downstairs eagerly at the postman's knock and find a couple of letters
for Lady Elizabeth and a belated copy of the _Church Times_ for Mrs.
Watson-Watson. It was still more annoying, that, just when we were
getting rid of Lady Elizabeth, Mr. J. Garcia should have arrived to
take her place.


Mr. Garcia seems to be a Spaniard. At any rate, most of his letters
came from Spain. This makes it difficult to know what to do with them.
There was something clever in Spanish on the back of the last one,
which may be the address to which we ought to return it, but on the
other hand, may be just the Spanish for "Always faithful" or
"Perseverance" or "Down with the bourgeoisie." He seems to be a
busier person than Lady Elizabeth. Ten people wrote to him the other
week, whereas there were never more than seven letters in a week for
her ladyship.


Until lately, I have always been annoyed by the fact that there is no
Sunday post in London. To come down to breakfast knowing that on this
morning anyhow there is no chance of an O.B.E. takes the edge off
one's appetite. But lately, I have been glad of the weekly respite.
For one day in seven I can do without the excitement of wondering
whether there will be three letters for Mr. Garcia this morning, or
two for Lady Elizabeth, or three for Lady Elizabeth, or one for Mrs.
Watson-Watson. I will gladly let my own correspondence go in order to
be saved from theirs. But on Sunday last, about tea-time, there came a
knock at the front-door and the unmistakable scuttle of a letter being
pushed through the slit and dropping into the hall, My senses are now
so acute in this matter, that I can almost distinguish the scuffle of
a genuine Garcia from that of a Mullins or even a Watson-Watson. There
was a novelty about this arrival which was interesting. I went into
the hall, and saw a letter on the floor, unstamped and evidently
delivered by hand. It was inscribed to Sir John Poling.


Will somebody offer an explanation? I have given you our
story--leaving out as accidental, and not of sufficient historic
interest, the postcard to the Countess of Westbury and the obvious
income-tax form to Colonel Todgers, C.B.--and I feel that it is up to
you or the Psychical Research Society or somebody to tell us what it
all means. My own explanation is this. I think that our house is
haunted by ghosts, but by the ghosts of living persons only, and that
these ghosts are visible to outsiders, but invisible to the inmates
Thus Mr. Lopez, while passing down our street, suddenly sees J. Garcia
looking at him from our drawing-room window. "Caramba!" he says, "I
thought he was in Barcelona." He makes a note of the address, and
when he gets back to Spain writes long letters to Garcia begging him
to come back to his Barcelonian wife and family. At another time
somebody else sees Sir John Poling letting himself in at the front
door with a latch-key. "So that's where he lives now," she says to
herself, and spreads the news among their mutual friends. Of course,
this is very annoying for us, and one cannot help wishing that these
ghosts would confine themselves to one of the back bedrooms. Failing
this, they might leave some kind of address in indelible letters on
the bath-mat.


Another explanation is that our address has become in some way a sort
of typical address, just as "Thomas Atkins" became the typical
soldier for the purpose of filling up forms, and "John Doe" the
typical litigant. When a busy woman puts our address on an envelope
beneath the name of Lady Elizabeth Mullins, all she means is that Lady
Elizabeth lives somewhere, and that the secretary had better look up
the proper address and write it in before posting the letter. Every
now and then the secretary forgets to do this, and the letter comes
here. This may be a compliment to the desirability of our house, but
it is a compliment of which we are getting tired. I must ask that it
should now cease.





 Round the World and Back



A friend of mine is just going off for his holiday. He is having a
longer holiday than usual this time. Instead of his customary three
weeks, he is having a year, and he is going to see the world. He
begins with India. Probably some of our Territorials will wonder why
he wants to see India particularly. They would gladly give him all of
it. However, he is determined to go, and I cannot do less than wish
him luck and a safe return.


There are several places to which I should be glad to accompany him,
but India is not one of them. Kipling ruined India for me, as I
suspect he did for many other of his readers. I picture India as full
of intriguing, snobbish Anglo-Indians, who are always damning the Home
Government for ruining the country. It is an odd thing that, although
I have lived between thirty and forty years in England, nobody
believes that I know how to govern England, and yet the stupidest
Anglo-Indian, who claims to know all about the proper government of
India because he has lived there ten or twenty years, is believed by
quite a number of people to be speaking with authority. No doubt my
friend will have the decisive word in future in all his arguments on
Indian questions with less travelled acquaintances. But he shall not
get round me.


From India he goes to China, and thither I would follow him with
greater willingness, albeit more tremulously. I can never get it out
of my head that the Chinese habitually torture the inquiring visitor.
Probably I read the wrong sort of books when I was young. One of them,
I remember, had illustrations. No doubt they were illustrations of
mediaeval implements; no doubt I am as foolish as the Chinaman would
be who had read about the Tower of London and feared to disembark at
Folkstone; but it is hard to dispel these early impressions. "Yes,
yes," I should say rather hastily, as they pointed out the Great Wall
to me, and I should lead the way unostentatiously but quite definitely
towards Japan.


Before deciding how long to stay in Japan, one would have to ask
oneself what one wants from a strange country. I think that the answer
in my case is "Scenery." The customs of Japan, or Thibet, or Utah
are interesting, no doubt, but one can be equally interested in a
description of them. The people of these countries are interesting,
but then I have by no means exhausted my interest in the people of
England, and five minutes or five months among an entirely new set of
people is not going to help me very much. But a five-second view of
(say) the Victoria Falls is worth acres of canvas or film on the
subject, and as many gallons of ink as you please. So I shall go to
Japan for what I can see, and (since it is so well worth seeing)
remain there as long as I can.


I am not sure where we go next. New Zealand, if the holiday were mine;
for I have always believed New Zealand to be the most beautiful
country in the world. Also it is from all accounts a nice clean
country. If I were to arrange a world-tour for myself, instead of
following some other traveller about in imagination, my course would
be settled, not, in the first place, by questions of climate or
scenery or the larger inhabitants, but by consideration of those
smaller natives--the Tarantula, the Scorpion, and the Centipede. If I
were told that in such-and-such a country one often found a lion in
one's bath, I might be prepared to risk it. I should feel that there
was always a chance that the lion might not object to me. But if I
heard that one might find a tarantula in one's hotel, then that
country would be barred to me for ever. For I should be dead long
before the beast had got to close quarters; dead of disgust.


This is why South America, which always looks so delightful on the
map, will never see me. I have had to give up most of Africa, India
(though, as I have said, this is a country which I can spare), the
West Indies, and many other places whose names I have forgotten. In a
world limited to inhabitants with not more than four legs I could
travel with much greater freedom. At present the two great
difficulties in my way are this insect trouble, and (much less
serious, but still more important) the language trouble. You can
understand, then, how it is that, since also it is a beautiful
country, I look so kindly on New Zealand.


But I doubt if I could be happy even in a dozen New Zealands, each one
more beautiful than the last, seeing that it would mean being away
from London for a year. The number of things which might happen in the
year while one was away! The new plays produced, the literary and
political reputations made and lost, a complete cricket championship
fought out; in one's over-anxious mind there would never be such a
year as the year which one was missing. My friend may retain his calm
as he hears of our distant doings in Kiplingized India, but it would
never do for me. Even to-day, after a fortnight in the country, I am
beginning to get restless. Really, I think I ought to get back
to-morrow.





 The State of the Theatre



We are told that the theatre is in a bad way, that the English Drama
is dead, but I suspect that every generation in its turn has been told
the same thing. I have been reading some old numbers of the Theatrical
Magazine of a hundred years ago. These were the palmy days of the
stage, when blank verse flourished, and every serious play had to
begin like this:


  _Scene. A place without._ Rinaldo _discovered dying.  Enter_ Marco_._
  _Mar._ What ho, Rinaldo! Lo, the horned moon
    Dims the cold radiance of the westering stars,
    Pale sentinels of the approaching dawn. How now, Rinaldo?
  _Rin._ Marco, I am dying, Struck down by Tomasino's treacherous hand.
  _Mar._ What, Tomasino?
  _Rin._ Tomasino. Ere
    The flaming chariot of Phoebus mounts
    The vaults of Heaven, Rinaldo will be dead.
  _Mar._ Oh, horror piled on horror!
    Lo, the moon----


And so on. The result was called--and I think rightly--"a tragedy."
The alternative to these tragedies was a farce, in which everybody
went to an inn and was mistaken for somebody else (causing great fun
and amusement), the heat and burden of the evening resting upon a
humorous man-servant called _Trickett_ (or something good like that).
And whether the superior people of the day said that English Drama was
dead, I do not know; but they may be excused for having thought that,
if it wasn't dead, it ought to have been.


Fortunately we are doing better than that to-day. But we are not doing
as well as we should be, and the reason generally given is that we
have not enough theatres. No doubt we have many more theatres than we
had a hundred years ago, even if you only count those which confine
themselves to plays without music, but the mass-effect of all these
music-hall-theatres is to make many people think and say that English
Drama is (once more) dead.


It is customary to blame the manager for this--the new type of
manager, the Mr. Albert de Lauributt who has been evolved by the war.
He existed before the war, of course, but he limited his activities to
the music-hall. Now he spreads himself over half a dozen theatres, and
produces a revue or a musical comedy at each. He does not care for
Art, but only for Money. He would be just as proud of a successful
production of _Kiss Me, Katie_, as of _Hamlet_; and, to do him
justice, as proud of a successful production of _Hamlet_, as of _Kiss
Me, Katie_. But by "successful" he means "financially successful";
no more and no less. He is frankly out for the stuff, and he thinks
that it is musical comedy which brings in the stuff.


It seems absurd to single him out for blame, when there are so many
thousands of other people in the world who are out for the stuff. Why
should Mr. Albert de Lauributt lose two thousand pounds over your or
my serious play, when he can make ten thousand over _Hug me, Harriet_?
We do not blame other rich men for being as little quixotic with their
money. We do not expect a financier to back a young inventor because
he is a genius, in preference to backing some other inventor because
he has discovered a saleable, though quite inartistic, breakfast food.
So if Mr. de Lauributt produces six versions in his six different
theatres of _Cuddle Me, Constance_, it is only because this happens to
be his way of making money. He may even be spending his own evenings
secretly at the "Old Vic." For he runs his theatre, not as an
artist, but as a business man; and, as any business man will tell you,
"Business is business, my boy."


We cannot blame him then. But we can regret that he is allowed to own
six different theatres. In Paris it is "one man, one theatre," and
if it were so in London then there would be less the matter with the
English Drama. But, failing such an enactment, all that remains is to
persuade the public that what it really wants is something a little
better than _Kiss Me, Katie_. For Mr. de Lauributt is quite ready to
provide Shakespeare, Ibsen, Galsworthy, modern drama, modern comedy,
anything you like as long as it brings him in pots of money. And he
would probably do the thing well. He would have the sense to know that
the producer of _Hug Me, Harriet_, would not be the best possible
producer of _The Wild Duck_; he would try to get the best possible
producer and the best possible designer and the best possible cast,
knowing that all these would help to bring in the best possible
box-office receipts. Yes, he would do the thing well, if only the
public really asked for it.


How can the public ask for it? Obviously it can only do this by
staying away from _Cuddle Me, Constance_, and visiting instead those
plays whose authors take themselves seriously, whenever such plays are
available. It should be the business, therefore, of the critics (the
people who are really concerned to improve the public taste in plays)
to lead the public in the right direction; away, that is, from the
Bareback Theatre, and towards those theatres whose managers have other
than financial standards. But it is unfortunately the fact that they
don't do this. Without meaning it, they lead the public the wrong way.
They mislead them simply because they have two standards of
criticism--which the public does not understand. They go to the
Bareback Theatre for the first night of _Kiss Me, Katie_, and they
write something like this:--


"Immense enthusiasm.... A feast of colour to delight the eye. Mr.
Albert de Lauributt has surpassed himself.... Delightfully catchy
music.... The audience laughed continuously.... Mr. Ponk, the new
comedian from America, was a triumphant success.... Ravishing Miss
Rosie Romeo was more ravishing than ever... Immense enthusiasm."


On the next night they go to see Mr. A. W. Galsbarrie's new play,
_Three Men_. They write like this:--


"Our first feeling is one of disappointment. Certainly not Galsbarrie
at his best.... The weak point of the play is that the character of
Sir John is not properly developed.... A perceptible dragging in the
Third Act.... It is a little difficult to understand why.... We should
hardly have expected Galsbarrie to have... The dialogue is perhaps a
trifle lacking in... Mr. Macready Jones did his best with the part of
Sir John, but as we have said... Mr. Kean-Smith was extremely unsuited
to the part of George.... The reception, on the whole, was
favourable."


You see the difference? Of course there is bound to be a difference,
and Mr. A. W. Galsbarrie would be very much disappointed if there were
not. He understands the critic's feeling, which is simply that _Kiss
Me, Katie_, is not worth criticizing, and that _Three Men_ most
emphatically is. Rut it is not surprising that the plain
man-in-the-street, who has saved up in order to take his girl to one
of the two new plays of the week, and is waiting for the reviews to
appear before booking his seats, should come to the conclusion that
_Three Men_ seems to be a pretty rotten play, and that, tired though
they are of musical comedy, _Kiss Me, Katie_, is evidently something
rather extra special which they ought not to miss.


Which means pots more money for Mr. Albert de Lauributt.





 The Fires of Autumn



The most important article of furniture in any room is the fireplace.
For half the year we sit round it, warming ourselves at its heat; for
the other half of the year we continue to sit round it, moved thereto
by habit and the position of the chairs. Yet how many people choose
their house by reason of its fireplaces, or, having chosen it for some
other reason, spend their money on a new grate rather than on a new
sofa or a grand piano? Not many.


For one who has so chosen his house the lighting of the first fire is
something of a ceremony. But in any case the first fire of the autumn
is a notable event. Much as I regret the passing of summer, I cannot
help rejoicing in the first autumn days, days so cheerful and so very
much alive. By November the freshness has left them; one's thoughts go
backwards regretfully to August or forwards hopefully to April; but
while October lasts, one can still live in the present. It is in
October that one tastes again the delights of the fireside, and finds
them to be even more attractive than one had remembered.


But though I write "October," let me confess that, Coal Controller
or no Coal Controller, it was in September that I lit my first fire
this year. Perhaps as the owner of a new and (as I think) very
attractive grate I may be excused. There was some doubt as to whether
a fireplace so delightful could actually support a fire, a doubt which
had to be resolved as soon as possible. The match was struck with all
solemnity; the sticks caught up the flame from the dying paper and
handed it on to the coal; in a little while the coal had made room for
the logs, and the first autumn fire was in being.


Among the benefits which the war has brought to London, and a little
less uncertain than some, is the log fire. In the country we have
always burnt logs, with the air of one who was thus identifying
himself with the old English manner, but in London never--unless it
were those ship's logs, which gave off a blue flame and very little
else, but seemed to bring the fact that we were an island people more
closely home to us. Now wood fires are universal. Whether the air will
be purer in consequence and fogs less common, let the scientist
decide; but we are all entitled to the opinion that our drawing-rooms
are more cheerful for the change.


However, if you have a wood fire, you must have a pair of bellows. I
know a man who always calls them "bellus," which is, I believe, the
professional pronunciation. He also talks about a "hussif" and a
"cold chisel." A cold chisel is apparently the ordinary sort of
chisel which you chisel with; what a hot chisel is I never discovered.
But whether one calls them "bellows" or "bellus," in these days
one cannot do without them. They are as necessary to a wood fire as a
poker is to a coal fire, and they serve much the same purpose. There
is something very soothing about poking a fire, even if one's
companions point out that one is doing it all wrong, and offer an
exhibition of the correct method. To play upon a wood fire with a
bellows gives one the same satisfaction, and is just as pleasantly
annoying to the onlookers. They alone know how to rouse the dying
spark and fan it gently to a flame, until the whole log is a
triumphant blaze again; you, they tell you, are merely blowing the
whole thing out.


It is necessary, then, that the bellows-making industry should revive.
My impression is that a pair of bellows is usually catalogued under
the heading, "antique furniture," and I doubt if it is possible to
buy a pair anywhere but in an old furniture shop. There must be a
limit to the number of these available, a limit which has very nearly
been reached. Here is a chance for our ironmongers (or carpenters, or
upholsterers, or whoever have the secret of it). Let them get to work
before we are swamped with German bellows. It is no use to offer us
pokers with which to keep our log fires burning; we must have wind.
There is one respect in which I must confess that the coal fire has
the advantage of the wood fire. If your favourite position is on the
hearth-rug with your back to whatever is burning, your right hand
gesticulating as you tell your hearers what is wrong with the
confounded Government, then it does not greatly matter what brings you
that pleasant dorsal warmth which inspires you to such eloquence. But
if your favourite position is in an armchair facing the fire, and your
customary habit one of passive thought rather than of active speech,
then you will not get those visions from the burning wood which the
pictures in a coal fire bring you. There are no deep, glowing caverns
in the logs from which friendly faces wink back at you as your head
begins gently to nod to them. Perhaps it is as well. These are not the
days for quiet reflection, but for action. At least, people tell me
so, and I am very glad to hand on the information.





 Not Guilty



As I descended the stairs to breakfast, the maid was coming up.


"A policeman to see you, sir," she said, in a hushed voice. "I've
shown him into the library."


"Thank you," I answered calmly, just as if I had expected him.


And in a sense, I suppose, I had expected him. Not particularly this
morning, of course; but I knew that the day was bound to come when I
should be arrested and hurried off to prison. Well, it was to be this
morning. I could have wished that it had been a little later in the
day, when I had more complete command of myself. I wondered if he
would let me have my breakfast first before taking me away. It is
impossible for an arrested man to do himself justice on an empty
stomach, but after breakfast he can play the part as it should be
played. He can "preserve a calm exterior" while at the same time
"hardly seeming to realize his position"; he can "go quietly" to
the police-station and "protest that he has a complete answer to the
charge." He can, in fact, do all the things which I decided to do as
I walked to the library--if only I was allowed to have my breakfast
first.


As I entered the library, I wondered what it was that I had done; or,
rather, what it was that I had looked as if I were doing. For that is
my trouble--that I look guilty so easily. I never cash a cheque at the
bank but I expect to feel a hand on my shoulder and to hear a stern
voice saying, "You cummer longer me." If I walk through any of the
big stores with a parcel in my hand I expect to hear a voice
whispering in my ear, "The manager would like to see you quietly in
his office." I have never forged or shoplifted in my life, but the
knowledge that a real forger or shoplifter would try to have the
outward appearance of a man as innocent as myself helps to give me the
outward appearance of a man as guilty as he. When I settle a bill by
cheque, my "face-of-a-man-whose-account-is-already-overdrawn" can be
read across the whole length of the shop as soon as I enter the door.
Indeed, it is so expressive that I had to give up banking at Cox's
during the war.


"Good morning," said the policeman. "I thought I'd better tell you
that I found your dining-room window open at six o'clock this morning
when I came on duty."


"Oh!" I said, rather disappointed.


For by this time I had prepared my speech from the dock, and it seemed
a pity to waste it. There is no part quite so popular as that of the
Wrongly Accused. Every hero of every melodrama has had to meet that
false accusation at some moment during the play; otherwise we should
not know that he was the hero. I saw myself in the dock, protesting my
innocence to the last; I saw myself entering the witness box and
remaining unshaken by the most relentless cross-examination; I saw my
friends coming forward to give evidence as to my unimpeachable
character....


And yet, after all, what could one's friends say? Imagine yourself in
the dock, on whatever charge it may be, and imagine this and that
friend coming forward to speak to you. What can they say?


What do they know? They know that you are a bore or not a bore, a
grouser or not a grouser, generous or mean, sentimental or cynical, an
optimist or a pessimist, and that you have or have not a sense of
humour. None of these is a criminal offence. Is there anything else
that your friends can say about you which can establish the likelihood
of your innocence? Not very much. Nor should we be flattered if there
were. When somebody says of us, "Oh, I can read old Jones like a
book; I know him inside and out--for the most straightforward, simple
creature," we protest indignantly. But if somebody says, "There's a
lot more in Jones than you think; I shall never quite understand
him," then we look modestly down our nose and tell ourselves that we
are Jones, the Human Enigma. Women have learnt all about this. They
realize that the best way to flatter us is to say earnestly, with a
shake of the head, "Your face is such a mask; I shall never know what
you're really thinking." How that makes us purr!


No, our friends cannot help us much, once we are in the dock. They
will protest, good friends that they are, that we are utterly
incapable of the crime of which we are accused (and in my case, of
course, they will be right), but the jury will know that our friends
do not really know; or at any rate the jury will guess that we have
not asked those of our friends who did know to speak for us. We must
rely on ourselves; on our speech from the dock; on our demeanour under
cross-examination; on----


"Your dining-room window open," said the policeman reproachfully.


"I'm sorry," I said; "I won't leave it open again."


Fortunately, however, they can't arrest you for it. So I led the way
out of the library and opened the front door. The policeman went
quietly.





 A Digression



My omnibus left the broad and easy way which leads to Victoria Station
and plunged into the strait and narrow paths which land you into the
river at Vauxhall if you aren't careful, and I peered over the back to
have another look at its number. The road-mending season is in full
swing now, but no amount of road-mending could account for such a
comprehensive compass as we were fetching. For a moment I thought that
the revolution had begun. "'Busful of Bourgeoisie Kidnapped" would
make a good head-line for the papers. Or perhaps it was merely a
private enterprise. We were to be held for ransom in some deserted
warehouse on the margin of the Thames, into which, if the money were
not forthcoming, we should be dropped with a weight at the feet on
some dark and lonely night.... Fortunately the conductor came up at
this stage of the journey and said "Ennimorfairplees," whereupon I
laid my fears before him and begged him to let me know the worst. He
replied briefly, "Shorerpersher," and went down again. So that was
it.


Why is the Shah of Persia so popular? Even in these days when kings
are two a penny, and there is a never-ending procession of Napoleons
and Nelsons to the Guildhall to receive swords and freedoms and
honorary degrees, the arrival of a Shah of Persia stirs the
imagination of the man in the street. He feels something of the old
thrill. But in the nineties, of course, we talked about nothing else
for weeks. "Have you seen the Shah?" was the popular catch-phrase of
the day; there were music hall songs about him; he was almost as
important as a jubilee.


It is curious that this should have been so, for a Shah of Persia is
not really as important as that. There was never a catch-phrase,
"Have you seen the French President?" or even "Have you seen the
Tsar?" both of whom one would expect to take precedence of a Persian
ruler. But they are more commonplace people. The Shah makes his
appeal, not on account of his importance but on account of his
romantic associations. He fills the mind with thoughts of uncut
rubies, diamond-studded swords, Arab chargers, veiled houris, and the
very best Persian sherbet. One does not stand outside Victoria in the
hope of seeing any of these things in the carriage with him, but one
feels that is the sort of man he is, and that if only he could talk
English like you or me, he could tell us a story worth the telling.
"Hooray for the Shah!"


Seated on my omnibus, and thinking of these things--(we had tacked by
this time, and were beating up for Pimlico)--I remembered suddenly a
little personal incident in connexion with the visit of that earlier
Shah which is not without its moral for all of us. It teaches us the
lesson that--well, we can settle this afterwards. Anyway, here is the
story.


The Shah of Persia was in England, and all England was talking about
him. Naturally, we were talking about him at my private school. I was
about nine at the time; it is not the age at which one knows much
about high politics, but it is almost the only age when one really
knows where Persia is. I have no doubt that we "did" Persia in that
term, out of honour to the Shah. One result of all this talk in the
school about the Persian Potentate was (as you might expect) that a
certain boy was nicknamed "The Shah," presumably on account of some
magnificence of person or costume. Now it happened that the school was
busying itself just then over some election--to the presidency of the
Debating Society, or membership of the Games Committee, or something
of that sort--and "The Shah" was a very popular candidate. I was one
of his humble but admiring supporters.


Observe me, then, on the polling day, busily at work in a corner of
the schoolroom. I am writing in bold capitals on a piece of exercise
paper, "Vote for the shah." Having written it, I pinned it proudly
up in a corner of the room, and stood back awhile to look at it. My
first effort at electioneering. There was no immediate sensation, for
everybody else was too busy over his own affairs to notice my little
poster, and so I went about from one little knot of talkers to
another, hanging shyly on the outskirts in the hope that, when it
broke up, I might lead the way casually towards my masterpiece--"VOTE
FOR THE SHAH."


Suddenly my attention was attracted to another boy, who, even as I had
been a few minutes ago, was now busily writing. I kept my eye on him,
and when he had finished his work, and was walking across the room
with a piece of paper in his hand, I followed him eagerly. He was at
least twelve; I was only nine. Can you wonder that he seemed to me
almost the last word in wisdom? So I followed him. Could it really be
that my poster had forstalled his? What glory if it were so! He pinned
up his notice. He moved away, and I read it. It said: "VOTE FOR THE
SHAR."


You can imagine my feelings. I went hot all over. "Shar," of course,
not "Shah." How ever could I have been such an idiot as to have
thought it was "Shah"? S-h-a-h obviously spelt shash, not shar. How
nearly I had exposed my appalling ignorance to my fellows! "Vote for
the--"; I blushed again, hardly able to think of it. And oh! how
thankful I was now that everybody else had been too busy to read my
poster. Hastily I went over to it, and tore it down; hastily I went
back to my desk and wrote another poster. Observe me now again. I am
writing in bold capitals on a piece of exercise paper: "VOTE FOR THE
SHAR."


And the moral? Well, my omnibus has now; fetched its compass round
Victoria, we are back on the main route again, and I think I must
leave the moral to you.





 High Finance



I know very little about the Stock Exchange. I know, of course, that
stockbrokers wear very shiny top-hats, which they remove when they
sing "God Save the King," as they invariably do in a crisis. When
they go out to lunch, the younger ones leave their top-hats behind
them, and take the air with plastered polls; and after lunch is over,
young and old alike have a round of dominoes before placing threepence
under the coffee-cup and returning to business. If business is slack,
they tell each other jokes, which get into the papers with some such
introduction as, "A good story going the round of the Stock
Exchange." Probably it was going the round of the nurseries in 72,
but the stockbrokers have been so busy making Consols go up and down
that they have not been able to listen to it before. Anyway, the
careful man always avoids a good story which is going the round of the
Stock Exchange.


But apart from these minor activities of the City, the financial world
has always been a mystery to me. To this day I do not understand why
Consols go up and down. Perhaps they only go down now, but there was a
time when they would be 78 1/4 in the morning, 78 1/2 after the Stock
Exchange had returned from its coffee, and 78 when it went out to play
dominoes again. When they thudded down to 78, this proved that the
Government had lost the confidence of the country. But I never heard
an explanation of it all which carried any conviction.


Once I asked a noted financial authority to tell me all about it in
words of one syllable. He did his best. He said it was "simply a
question of supply and demand." In that case one would expect
umbrellas to go up and down according to the weather--I mean, of
course, the price of umbrellas. But apparently umbrellas aren't so
sensitive as stocks, which are the most sensitive things in the world.
In the happy days before the war, when the President of Nicaragua sent
a stiff note to the President of Uruguay, Consols immediately dropped
a quarter of a point. The President of Uruguay answered, "Sorry, my
mistake," and Consols went back again. Evidently, several gentlemen,
who would have bought Consols in the ordinary way on that Thursday,
decided to buy Haricot Beans instead, as being, I suppose, more useful
in the event of a war between Nicaragua and Uruguay. So Consols
feeling the neglect, went down. But on the Friday, as soon as Uruguay
had apologized, the gentlemen who had just sold the Haricot Beans
hurried out to buy Consols, as being quite safe again now that there
was no more chance of war. So Consols went cheerfully up again. You
see?


But the financial problem is getting very much more difficult than
this, The vagaries of Consols, or even of the reputed gold-mine in
which I once had shares--(this is a sad story, but, fortunately, when
they had dropped to six-and-sixpence, there was a demand for them by a
man called Wilkinson, poor fellow, which arrested the fall just long
enough for me to get out. They are now three a penny, so I hope
Wilkinson found a demand, too)--well, then, even the vagaries of the
West African market are a simple matter compared with the vagaries of
the Exchange. The mystery of the mark, for instance, is so utterly
beyond that, in trying to understand it, I do not even know where to
begin. I see no mental foothold anywhere.


The mark, we are told, is now worth tuppence-ha'penny. Why? I mean,
who said so? Who is it who arranges these things? Is it Rockefeller or
one of the Geddeses or Samuel Gompers--a superman of some kind? Or is
it a Committee of the Stock Exchange and Greenwich Observatory? And
how does it decide? Does it put a mark up for auction and see what the
demand is like? Or does it decide on moral grounds? Does it say
contemptuously, "Oh, I should think about tuppence-ha'penny, and
serve 'em dashed well right for losing the war"?


Let us go slowly, and see if we can make any sense of it. Suppose that
I produce something worth a shilling, something, that is, which I can
sell in this country for a shilling--a blank verse tragedy, say. Let
us suppose also that, having received the shilling, I propose to buy a
bag of nuts. A German offers me a mark for my tragedy. Now that mark
has got to be spent in Germany by somebody; not, of course,
necessarily by me. I probably hand it to Thomas Cook or his Son, who
gives it to somebody else, who eventually takes it back to Germany
again. Obviously, then, what I have to consider, when I am offered a
mark instead of the customary shilling for my blank verse, is this:
"Can this mark purchase a similar-sized bag of nuts in Germany?" If
the answer is "Yes," then the mark is worth a shilling; if the answer
is that it will only buy a bag of about a fifth of the English size,
then the mark is worth tuppence-ha'penny.


Well, is everything in Germany five times as dear as it is in England?
No. Not by any means. If a mark is regarded as tuppence-ha'penny,
everything is extraordinarily cheap; much cheaper than in England.
Also it occurs to me suddenly that if this were the way in which the
pundits decided upon the price of the mark and the franc and the
peseta and the cowrie-shell, then the price of living in every country
would be exactly the same, and we should have nowhere to retire to
when the taxes were too high. Which would be absurd. So we must have
done the sum wrong. Let us try again.


The price of the mark (this is our new theory) depends on the amount
of goods which Germany is exporting. A German offers me a mark for my
tragedy, but if no other German has got anything to give me, or Thomas
Cook or his Son, in exchange for that mark, then the mark is obviously
no good to us. If, then, we say that the mark is worth tuppence-
ha'penny, we mean that Germany is importing (or buying) five times as
much as she is exporting (or selling). Similarly, when the rouble was
about ten a penny, Russia was importing a hundred times as much as she
was exporting. But she was not importing anything then because of the
blockade. Therefore--no, it's no good. You see, we can't do it. We
shall have to stand about on the Brighton road until one of those
stockbrokers comes by. He will explain it to us.


But perhaps a better man to consult in these matters of High Finance
is the Strong Man whom we see so often upon the stage. Sometimes he
builds bridges, and sometimes he makes steel, but the one I like best
is the one who controls the markets of the world. He strides to the
telephone and says grimly down it: "Sell Chilled Tomatoes.... No....
Yes... Keep on selling," and in far-away Nan-Kang-Foo a man shoots
himself. He had too many Chilled Tomatoes--or too few.


But the Strong Man goes on his way. He is married to a young and
beautiful girl, whom he has adored silently for years. He has never
told her; partly because he thought it would not be fair to her,
partly because he knows it would spoil the play. He is too busy to see
much of her, but sometimes they meet at dinner, and then he strokes
her head and asks her kindly what she is doing that evening. Probably
she is going out with George B. Pusher. What else could you expect?
All the time when Staunton is buying Tomatoes and Salmon and Tintacks
and Locomotives and Peanuts and lots of things that he doesn't really
want, George B. Pusher is in attendance on the Heroine.


There is a terrible scene when Staunton discovers what is going on.
Who is this puppy? George B. Pusher? That settles it. He will ruin
Pusher.


He sells Tomatoes. Pusher hasn't got any. He buys Raspberry Jam.
Pusher doesn't want any. Damn the fellow, he refuses to be ruined.
Everybody is shooting himself except Pusher.


At last. Wire Netting! Why didn't he think of Wire Netting before? He
buys all the Wire Netting that there is. Then he sells it all. George
R. Pusher is ruined. He comes round to beg for mercy.


Now, perhaps, if we listen very carefully, we shall understand how it
is all done.





 Secret Papers



The cabinet, or whatever I am to call it, has looked stolidly at me
from the corner of the library for years. It is nothing more than a
row of pigeon-holes in which I keep my secret papers. At least, the
man who sold it to me recommended it for this purpose, dwelling
lovingly as he did so upon the strength of the lock. So I bought
it--in those first days (how far away!) when I came to London to set
the Thames on fire.


It was not long before I lost the key. I made one or two half-hearted
efforts to get into it with a button-hook; but, finding that the lock
lived up to its reputation, I resigned myself to regarding it for the
future as an article for ornament, not for use. In this capacity it
has followed me about from house to house. As an ornament it is
without beauty, and many people have urged me to throw it away. My
answer has been that it contained my secret papers. Some day I would
get a locksmith to open it, and we should see what we should see.


The war being over, I came into the library and sat down at my desk.
Perhaps it was not too late, even now, to set the Thames on fire. I
would write an incendiary article on--what? The cabinet caught my eye.
I went idly up to it and pulled at the drawers, before I remembered
that it was locked. And suddenly I was annoyed with it for being
locked; the more I pulled at it, the more I was annoyed; and I ended
up by telling it with some heat that, if it persisted in its defiant
attitude, I would shoot it down with my revolver. (This is how the
hero breaks his way into the room wherein the heroine is immured, and
I have often envied him.)


However, the revolver was not necessary. The lock surrendered, after a
short struggle, to the poker. For the first time for seventeen years
my secret papers were before me. Can you not imagine how eagerly I
went through them?


They were a strange collection, these trifles which had (I suppose)
seemed so important to me seventeen years ago. There was the
inevitable dance programme, covered with initials which must have
stirred me delightfully once, but now left me cold. There was a
receipt from a Cambridge tailor, my last outstanding Cambridge bill,
perhaps--preserved as a sign that I was now free. There was a notice
of a short-story competition, stories not to exceed 5000 words;
another of a short-sketch competition, sketches not to exceed 1200
words. Apparently I was prepared to write you anything in those days.
There was an autograph of a famous man; "Many thanks" and the
signature on a postcard, I suppose I had told him that I admired his
style, or that I proposed to model myself on him, or had bought his
last book, or--who knows? At any rate, he had thanked me.


There were letters from editors; editors whom I know well now, but who
in those distant days addressed me as "Sir," and were mine
faithfully. They regretted that they could not use the present
contribution, but hoped that I would continue to write. I continued to
write. Trusting that I would persevere, they were mine very truly. I
persevered. Now they are mine ever. From what a long way off those
letters have come. "Dear Sir," the Great Man wrote to me, and
overawed I locked the precious letter up. Yesterday I smacked him on
the back.


There was a list of my first fifteen contributions to the Press. Three
of them were accepted; two of the three appeared in a paper which
immediately went bankrupt. For the fifteenth I seem to have received
fifteen shillings. A shilling an attempt, you see, for those early
efforts to set the Thames on fire. Reading the titles of them, I am
not surprised. One was called (I blush to record it) "The Diary of a
Free-Lance." Was there ever a literary aspirant who did not begin
with just such an article on just such a subject?--a subject so
engagingly fresh to himself, so hackneyed to the editor. I have
returned a hundred of them since without a word of encouragement to
the writers, blissfully forgetful of the fact (now brought to light)
that I, too, had begun like that.


And last of all, in this locked cabinet I came upon an actual
contribution, one of the fifteen which had gone the rounds and had
been put away, perhaps for a re-writing.... Dear, dear! I must have
been very hopeful in those days. Youth and hope--I am afraid that
those were my only qualifications for setting the Thames on fire.


Yet I was very scornful of editors seventeen years ago. The outsider,
I held forth, was not given a chance; the young writer with fresh
ideas was cold-shouldered. Well, well! Reading this early contribution
of mine seventeen years later, reading again what editors had to say
about it, I am no longer scornful of them. I can only wonder why they
hoped that I would go on writing.


But I shall not throw the broken cabinet away, even though it is no
longer available for secret papers. It must continue to sit in a
corner of the library, a corrective against secret pride.





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