Actions and Reactions, by Rudyard Kipling

The Puzzler

I had not seen Penfentenyou since the Middle Nineties, when he was Minister of Ways and Woodsides in De Thouar’s first Administration. Last summer, though he nominally held the same portfolio, he was his Colony’s Premier in all but name, and the idol of his own province, which is two and a half times the size of England. Politically, his creed was his growing country; and he came over to England to develop a Great Idea in her behalf.

Believing that he had put it in train, I made haste to welcome him to my house for a week.

That he was chased to my door by his own Agent–General in a motor; that they turned my study into a Cabinet Meeting which I was not invited to attend; that the local telegraph all but broke down beneath the strain of hundred word coded cables; and that I practically broke into the house of a stranger to get him telephonic facilities on a Sunday, are things I overlook. What I objected to was his ingratitude, while I thus tore up England to help him. So I said: “Why on earth didn’t you see your Opposite Number in Town instead of bringing your office work here?”

“Eh? Who?” said he, looking up from his fourth cable since lunch.

“See the English Minister for Ways and Woodsides.”

“I saw him,” said Penfentenyou, without enthusiasm.

It seemed that he had called twice on the gentleman, but without an appointment —(“I thought if I wasn’t big enough, my business was”)— and each time had found him engaged. A third party intervening, suggested that a meeting might be arranged if due notice were given.

“Then,” said Penfentenyou, “I called at the office at ten o’clock.”

“But they’d be in bed,” I cried.

“One of the babies was awake. He told me that — that ‘my sort of questions “’— he slapped the pile of cables —“were only taken between 11 and 2 P.M. So I waited.”

“And when you got to business?” I asked.

He made a gesture of despair. “It was like talking to children. They’d never heard of it.”

“And your Opposite Number?”

Penfentenyou described him.

“Hush! You mustn’t talk like that!” I shuddered. “He’s one of the best of good fellows. You should meet him socially.”

“I’ve done that too,” he said. “Have you?”

“Heaven forbid!” I cried; “but that’s the proper thing to say.”

“Oh, he said all the proper things. Only I thought as this was England that they’d more or less have the hang of all the — general hang-together of my Idea. But I had to explain it from the beginning.”

“Ah! They’d probably mislaid the papers,” I said, and I told him the story of a three-million pound insurrection caused by a deputy Under–Secretary sitting upon a mass of green-labelled correspondence instead of reading it.

“I wonder it doesn’t happen every week,” the answered. “D’you mind my having the Agent–General to dinner again tonight? I’ll wire, and he can motor down.”

The Agent–General arrived two hours later, a patient and expostulating person, visibly torn between the pulling Devil of a rampant Colony, and the placid Baker of a largely uninterested England. But with Penfentenyou behind him he had worked; for he told us that Lord Lundie — the Law Lord was the final authority on the legal and constitutional aspects of the Great Idea, and to him it must be referred.

“Good Heavens alive!” thundered Penfentenyou. “I told you to get that settled last Christmas.”

“It was the middle of the house-party season,” said the Agent–General mildly. “Lord Lundie’s at Credence Green now — he spends his holidays there. It’s only forty miles off.”

“Shan’t I disturb his Holiness?” said Penfentenyou heavily. “Perhaps ‘my sort of questions,”’ he snorted, “mayn’t be discussed except at midnight.”

“Oh, don’t be a child,” I said.

“What this country needs,” said Penfentenyou, “is —” and for ten minutes he trumpeted rebellion.

“What you need is to pay for your own protection,” I cut in when he drew breath, and I showed him a yellowish paper, supplied gratis by Government, which is called Schedule D. To my merciless delight he had never seen the thing before, and I completed my victory over him and all the Colonies with a Brassey’s “Naval Annual” and a “Statesman’s Year Book.”

The Agent–General interposed with agent-generalities (but they were merely provocateurs) about Ties of Sentiment.

“They be blowed!” said Penfentenyou. “What’s the good of sentiment towards a Kindergarten?”

“Quite so. Ties of common funk are the things that bind us together; and the sooner you new nations realize it the better. What you need is an annual invasion. Then you’d grow up.”

“Thank you! Thank you!” said the Agent–General. “That’s what I am always trying to tell my people.”

“But, my dear fool,” Penfentenyou almost wept, “do you pretend that these banana-fingered amateurs at home are grown up?”

“You poor, serious, pagan man,” I retorted, “if you take ’em that way, you’ll wreck your Great Idea.”

“Will you take him to Lord Lundie’s tomorrow?” said the Agent–General promptly.

“I suppose I must,” I said, “if you won’t.”

“Not me! I’m going home,” said the Agent–General, and departed. I am glad that I am no colony’s Agent–General.

Penfentenyou continued to argue about naval contributions till 1.15 A.M., though I was victor from the first.

At ten o’clock I got him and his correspondence into the motor, and he had the decency to ask whether he had been unpolished over-night. I replied that I waited an apology. This he made excuse for renewed arguments, and used wayside shows as illustrations of the decadence of England.

For example we burst a tyre within a mile of Credence Green, and, to save time, walked into the beautifully kept little village. His eye was caught by a building of pale-blue tin, stencilled “Calvinist Chapel,” before whose shuttered windows an Italian organ-grinder with a petticoated monkey was playing “Dolly Grey-”

“Yes. That’s it!” snapped the egoist. “That’s a parable of the general situation in England. And look at those brutes!” A huge household removals van was halted at a public-house. The men in charge were drinking beer from blue and white mugs. It seemed to me a pretty sight, but Penfentenyou said it represented Our National Attitude.

Lord Lundie’s summer resting-place we learned was a farm, a little out of the village, up a hill round which curled a high hedged road. Only an initiated few spend their holidays at Credence Green, and they have trained the householders to keep the place select. Penfentenyou made a grievance of this as we walked up the lane, followed at a distance by the organ-grinder.

“Suppose he is having a house-party,” he said: “Anything’s possible in this insane land.”

Just at that minute we found ourselves opposite an empty villa. Its roof was of black slate, with bright unweathered ridge-tiling; its walls were of blood-coloured brick, cornered and banded with vermiculated stucco work, and there was cobalt, magenta, and purest apple-green window-glass on either side of the front door. The whole was fenced from the road by a low, brick-pillared, flint wall, topped with a cast-iron Gothic rail, picked out in blue and gold.

Tight beds of geranium, calceolaria, and lobelia speckled the glass-plat, from whose centre rose one of the finest araucarias (its other name by the way is “monkey-puzzler”), that it has ever been my lot to see. It must have been full thirty feet high, and its foliage exquisitely answered the iron railings. Such bijou ne plus ultras, replete with all the amenities, do not, as I pointed out to Penfentenyou, transpire outside of England.

A hedge, swinging sharp right, flanked the garden, and above it on a slope of daisy-dotted meadows we could see Lord Lundie’s tiled and half-timbered summer farmhouse. Of a sudden we heard voices behind the tree — the fine full tones of the unembarrassed English, speaking to their equals — that tore through the hedge like sleet through rafters.

“That it is not called ‘monkey-puzzler’ for nothing, I willingly concede”— this was a rich and rolling note —“but on the other hand —”

“I submit, me lud, that the name implies that it might, could, would, or should be ascended by a monkey, and not that the ascent is a physical impossibility. I believe one of our South American spider monkeys wouldn’t hesitate . . . By Jove, it might be worth trying, if —”

This was a crisper voice than the first. A third, higher-pitched, and full of pleasant affectations, broke in.

“Oh, practical men, there is no ape here. Why do you waste one of God’s own days on unprofitable discussion? Give me a match!”

“I’ve a good mind to make you demonstrate in your own person. Come on, Bubbles! We’ll make Jimmy climb!”

There was a sound of scuffling, broken by squeaks from Jimmy of the high voice. I turned back and drew Penfentenyou into the side of the flanking hedge. I remembered to have read in a society paper that Lord Lundie’s lesser name was “Bubbles.”

“What are they doing?” Penfentenyou said sharply. “Drunk?”

“Just playing! Superabundant vitality of the Race, you know. We’ll watch ’em,” I answered. The noise ceased.

“My deliver,” Jimmy gasped. “The ram caught in the thicket, and — I’m the only one who can talk Neapolitan! Leggo my collar!” He cried aloud in a foreign tongue, and was answered from the gate.

“It’s the Calvinistic organ-grinder,” I whispered. I had already found a practicable break at the bottom of the hedge. “They’re going to try to make the monkey climb, I believe.”

“Here — let me look!” Penfentenyou flung himself down, and rooted till he too broke a peep-hole. We lay side by side commanding the entire garden at ten yards’ range.

“You know ’em?” said Penfentenyou, as I made some noise or other.

“By sight only. The big fellow in flannels is Lord Lundie; the light-built one with the yellow beard painted his picture at the last Academy: He’s a swell R.A., James Loman.”

“And the brown chap with the hands?”

“Tomling, Sir Christopher Tomling, the South American engineer who built the —”

“San Juan Viaduct. I know,” said Penfentenyou. “We ought to have had him with us. . . . Do you think a monkey would climb the tree?”

The organ-grinder at the gate fenced his beast with one arm as Jimmy-talked.

“Don’t show off your futile accomplishments,” said Lord Lundie. “Tell him it’s an experiment. Interest him!”

“Shut up, Bubbles. You aren’t in court,” Jimmy replied. “This needs delicacy. Giuseppe says —”

“Interest the monkey,” the brown engineer interrupted. “He won’t climb for love. Cut up to the house and get some biscuits, Bubbles — sugar ones and an orange or two. No need to tell our womenfolk.”

The huge white figure lobbed off at a trot which would not have disgraced a boy of seventeen. I gathered from something Jimmy let fall that the three had been at Harrow together.

“That Tomling has a head on his Shoulders,” muttered Penfentenyou. “Pity we didn’t get him for the Colony. But the question is, will the monkey climb?”

“Be quick, Jimmy. Tell the man we’ll give him five bob for the loan of the beast. Now run the organ under the tree, and we’ll dress it when Bubbles comes back,” Sir Christopher cried.

“I’ve often wondered,” said Penfentenyou, “whether it would puzzle a monkey?” He had forgotten the needs of his Growing Nation, and was earnestly parting the white-thorn stems with his fingers.

Giuseppe and Jimmy did as they were told, the monkey following them with a wary and malignant eye.

“Here’s a discovery,” said Jimmy. “The singing part of this organ comes off the wheels.” He spoke volubly to the proprietor. “Oh, it’s so as Giuseppe can take it to his room o’ nights. And play it. D’you hear that? The organ-grinder, after his day’s crime, plays his accursed machine for love. For love, Chris! And Michael Angelo was one of ’em!”

“Don’t jaw! Tell him to take the beast’s petticoat off,” said Sir Christopher Tomling.

Lord Lundie returned, very little winded, through a gap higher up the hedge.

“They’re all out, thank goodness!” he cried, “but I’ve raided what I could. Macrons glaces, candied fruit, and a bag of oranges.”

“Excellent!” said the world-renowned contractor.

“Jimmy, you’re the light-weight; jump up on the organ and impale these things on the leaves as I hand ’em!”

“I see,” said Jimmy, capering like a springbuck. “Upward and onward, eh? First, he’ll reach out for — how infernal prickly these leaves are! — this biscuit. Next we’ll lure him on —(that’s about the reach of his arm)— with the marron glare, and then he’ll open out this orange. How human! How like your ignoble career, Bubbles!”

With care and elaboration they ornamented that tree’s lower branches with sugar-topped biscuits, oranges, bits of banana, and marrons glares till it looked very ape’s path to Paradise.

“Unchain the Gyascutis!” said Sir Christopher commandingly. Giuseppe placed the monkey atop of the organ, where the beast, misunderstanding, stood on his head.

“He’s throwing himself on the mercy of the Court, me lud,” said Jimmy. “No — now he’s interested. Now he’s reaching after higher things. What wouldn’t I give to have here” (he mentioned a name not unhonoured in British Art). “Ambition plucking apples of Sodom!” (the monkey had pricked himself and was swearing). “Genius hampered by Convention? Oh, there’s a whole bushelful of allegories in it!”

“Give him time. He’s balancing the probabilities,” said Lord Lundie.

The three closed round the monkey — hanging on his every motion with an earnestness almost equal to ours. The great judge’s head — seamed and vertical forehead, iron mouth, and pike-like under-jaw, all set on that thick neck rising out of the white flannelled collar — was thrown against the puckered green silk of the organ-front as it might have been a cameo of Titus. Jimmy, with raised eyes and parted lips, fingered his grizzled chestnut beard, and I was near enough to-note, the capable beauty of his hands. Sir Christopher stood a little apart, his arms folded behind his back, one heavy brown boot thrust forward, chin in as curbed, and black eyebrows lowered to shade the keen eyes.

Giuseppe’s dark face between flashing earrings, a twisted rag of red and yellow silk round his throat, turned from the reaching yearning monkey to the pink and white biscuits spiked on the bronzed leafage. And upon them all fell the serious and workmanlike sun of an English summer forenoon.

“Fils de Saint Louis, montez au ciel!” said Lord Lundie suddenly in a voice that made me think of Black Caps. I do not know what the monkey thought, because at that instant he leaped off the organ and disappeared.

There was a clash of broken glass behind the tree.

The monkey’s face, distorted with passion, appeared at an upper window of the house, and a starred hole in the stained-glass window to the left of ‘the front door showed the first steps of his upward path.

“We’ve got to catch him,” cried Sir Christopher. “Come along!”

They pushed at the door, which was unlocked.

“Yes. But consider the ethics of the case,” said Jimmy. “Isn’t this burglary or something, Bubbles?”

“Settle that when he’s caught,” said Sir Christopher. “We’re responsible for the beast.”

A furious clanging of bells broke out of the empty house, followed by muffed gurglings and trumpetings.

“What the deuce is that?” I asked, half aloud.

“The plumbing, of course,” said Penfentenyou. “What a pity! I believe he’d have climbed if Lord Lundie hadn’t put him off!”

“Wait a moment, Chris,” said Jimmy the interpreter; “Guiseppe says he may answer to the music of his infancy. Giuseppe, therefore, will go in with the organ. Orpheus with his lute, you know. Avante, Orpheus! There’s no Neapolitan for bathroom, but I fancy your friend is there.”

“I’m not going into another man’s house with a hurdy-gurdy,” said Lord Lundie, recoiling, as Giuseppe unshipped the working mechanism of the organ (it developed a hang-down leg) from its wheels, slipped a strap round his shoulders, and gave the handle a twist.

“Don’t be a cad, Bubbles,” was Jimmy’s answer. “You couldn’t leave us now if you were on the Woolsack. Play, Orpheus! The Cadi accompanies.”

With a whoop, a buzz, and a crash, the organ sprang to life under the hand of Giuseppe, and the procession passed through the rained-to-imitate-walnut front door. A moment later we saw the monkey ramping on the roof.

“He’ll be all over the township in a minute if we don’t head him,” said Penfentenyou, leaping to his feet, and crashing into the garden. We headed him with pebbles till he retired through a window to the tuneful reminder that he had left a lot of little things behind him. As we passed the front door it swung open, and showed Jimmy the artist sitting at the bottom of a newly-cleaned staircase. He waggled his hands at us, and when we entered we saw that the man was stricken speechless. His eyes grew red — red like a ferret’s — and what little breath he had whistled shrilly. At first we thought it was a fit, and then we saw that it was mirth — the inopportune mirth of the Artistic Temperament.

The house palpitated to an infamous melody punctuated by the stump of the barrel-organ’s one leg, as Giuseppe, above, moved from room to room after his rebel slave. Now and again a floor shook a little under the combined rushes of Lord Lundie and Sir Christopher Tomling, who gave many and contradictory orders. But when they could they cursed Jimmy with splendid thoroughness.

“Have you anything to do with the house?” panted Jimmy at last. “Because we’re using it just now.” He gulped. “And I’m ah — keeping cave.”

“All right,” said Penfentenyou, and shut the hall door.

“Jimmy, you unspeakable blackguard, Jimmy, you cur! You coward!” (Lord Lundie’s voice overbore the flood of melody.) “Come up here! Giussieppe’s saying something we don’t understand.”

Jimmy listened and interpreted between hiccups.

“He says you’d better play the organ, Bubbles, and let him do the stalking. The monkey knows him.”

“By Jove, he’s quite right,” said Sir Christopher from the landing. “Take it, Bubbles, at once.”

“My God!” said Lord Lundie in horror.

The chase reverberated over our heads, from the attics to the first floor and back again. Bodies and Voices met in collision and argument, and once or twice the organ hit walls and doors. Then it broke forth in a new manner.

“He’s playing it,” said Jimmy. “I know his acute Justinian ear. Are you fond of music?”

“I think Lord Lundie plays very well for a beginner,” I ventured.

“Ah! That’s the trained legal intellect. Like mastering a brief. I haven’t got it.” He wiped his eyes and shook.

“Hi!” said Penfentenyou, looking through the stained glass window down the garden. “What’s that!”

A household removals van, in charge of four men, had halted at the gate. A husband and his wife householders beyond question — quavered irresolutely up the path. He looked tired. She was certainly cross. In all this haphazard world the last couple to understand a scientific experiment.

I laid hands on Jimmy — the clamour above drowning speech and with Penfentenyou’s aid, propped him against the window, that he should see.

He saw, nodded, fell as an umbrella can fall, and kneeling, beat his forehead on the shut door. Penfentenyou slid the bolt.

The furniture men reinforced the two figures on the path, and advanced, spreading generously.

“Hadn’t we better warn them up-stairs?” I suggested:

“No. I’ll die first!” said Jimmy. “I’m pretty near it now. Besides, they called me names.”

I turned from the Artist to the Administrator.

“Coeteris paribus, I think we’d better be going,” said Penfentenyou, dealer in crises.

“Ta — take me with you,” said Jimmy. “I’ve no reputation to lose, but I’d like to watch ’em from — er — outside the picture.”

“There’s always a modus viviendi,” Penfentenyou murmured, and tiptoed along the hall to a back door, which he opened quite silently. We passed into a tangle of gooseberry bushes where, at his statesmanlike example, we crawled on all fours, and regained the hedge.

Here we lay up, secure in our alibi.

“But your firm,”— the woman was wailing to the furniture removals men —“your firm promised me everything should be in yesterday. And it’s today! You should have been here yesterday!”

“The last tenants ain’t out yet, lydy,” said one of them.

Lord Lundie was rapidly improving in technique, though organ-grinding, unlike the Law, is more of a calling than a trade, and he hung occasionally on a dead centre. Giuseppe, I think, was singing, but I could not understand the drift of Sir Christopher’s remarks. They were Spanish.

The woman said something we did not catch.

“You might ‘ave sub-let it,” the man insisted. “Or your gentleman ’ere might.”

“But I didn’t. Send for the Police at once.”

“I wouldn’t do that, lydy. They’re only fruit pickers on a beano. They aren’t particular where they sleep.”

“D’you mean they’ve been sleeping there? I only had it cleaned last week. Get them out.”

“Oh, if you say so, we’ll ‘ave ’em out of it in two twos. Alf, fetch me the spare swingle-bar.”

“Don’t! You’ll knock the paint off the door. Get them out!”

“What the ‘ell else am I trying to do for you, lydy?” the man answered with pathos; but the woman wheeled on her mate.

“Edward! They’re all drunk here, and they’re all mad there. Do something!” she said.

Edward took one short step forward, and sighed “Hullo!” in the direction of the turbulent house. The woman walked up and down, the very figure of Domestic Tragedy. The furniture men swayed a little on their heels, and —

“Got him!” The shout rang through all the windows at once. It was followed by a blood-hound-like bay from Sir Christopher, a maniacal prestissimo on the organ, and loud cries, for Jimmy. But Jimmy, at my side, rolled his congested eyeballs, owl-wise.

“I never knew them,” he said. “I’m an orphan.”

The front, door opened, and the three came forth to short-lived triumph. I had never before seen a Law Lord dressed as for tennis, with a stump-leg barrel-organ strapped to his shoulder. But it is a shy bird in this plumage. Lord Lundie strove to disembarrass himself of his accoutrements much as an ill-trained Punch and Judy dog tries to escape backwards through his frilled collar. Sir Christopher, covered with limewash, cherished a bleeding thumb, and the almost crazy monkey tore at Giuseppe’s hair.

The men on both sides reeled, but the woman stood her ground. “Idiots!” she said, and once more, “Idiots!”

I could have gladdened a few convicts of my acquaintance with a photograph of Lord Lundie at that instant.

“Madam,” he began, wonderfully preserving the roll in his voice, “it was a monkey.”

Sir Christopher sucked his thumb and nodded.

“Take it away and go,” she replied. “Go away!”

I would have gone, and gladly, on this permission, but these still strong men must ever be justifying themselves. Lord Lundie turned to the husband, who for the first time spoke.

“I have rented this house. I am moving in,” he said.

“We ought to have been in yesterday,” the woman interrupted.

“Yes. We ought to have been in yesterday. Have you slept there overnight?” said the man peevishly.

“No; I assure you we haven’t,” said Lord Lundie.

“Then go away. Go quite away,” cried the woman.

They went — in single file down the path. They went silently, restrapping the organ on its wheels, and rechaining the monkey to the organ.

“Damn it all!” said Penfentenyou. “They do face the music, and they do stick by each other in private life!”

“Ties of Common Funk,” I answered. Giuseppe ran to the gate and fled back to the possible world. Lord Lundie and Sir Christopher, constrained by tradition, paced slowly.

Then it came to pass that the woman, who walked behind them, lifted up her eyes, and beheld the tree which they had dressed.

“Stop!” she called; and they stopped. “Who did that?”

There was no answer. The Eternal Bad Boy in every man hung its head before the Eternal Mother in every woman.

“Who put these disgusting things there?” she repeated.

Suddenly Penfentenyou, Premier of his Colony in all but name, left Jimmy and me, and appeared at the gate. (If he is not turned out of office, that is how he will appear on the Day of Armageddon.)

“Well done you!” he cried zealously, and doffed his hat to the woman. “Have you any children, madam?” he demanded.

“Yes, two. They should have been here today. The firm promised —”

“Then we’re not a minute too soon. That monkey escaped. It was a very dangerous beast. ‘Might have frightened your children into fits. All the organ-grinder’s fault! A most lucky thing these gentlemen caught it when they did. I hope you aren’t badly mauled, Sir Christopher?” Shaken as I was (I wanted to get away and laugh) I could not but admire the scoundrel’s consummate tact in leading his second highest trump. An ass would have introduced Lord Lundie and they would not have believed him.

It took the trick. The couple smiled, and gave respectful thanks for their deliverance by such hands from such perils.

“Not in the least,” said Lord Lundie. “Anybody — any father would have done as much, and pray don’t apologize your mistake was quite natural.” A furniture man sniggered here, and Lord Lundie rolled an Eye of Doom on their ranks. “By the way, if you have trouble with these persons — they seem to have taken as much as is good for them — please let me know. Er — Good morning!”

They turned into the lane.

“Heavens!” said Jimmy, brushing himself down. “Who’s that real man with the real head?” and we hurried after them, for they were running unsteadily, squeaking like rabbits as they ran. We overtook them in a little nut wood half a mile up the road, where they had turned aside, and were rolling. So we rolled with them, and ceased not till we had arrived at the extremity of exhaustion.

“You — you saw it all, then?” said Lord Lundie, rebuttoning his nineteen-inch collar.

“I saw it was a vital question from the first,” responded Penfentenyou, and blew his nose.

“It was. By the way, d’you mind telling me your name?”

Summa. Penfentenyou’s Great Idea has gone through, a little chipped at the edges, but in fine and far-reaching shape. His Opposite Number worked at it like a mule — a bewildered mule, beaten from behind, coaxed from in front, and propped on either soft side by Lord Lundie of the compressed mouth and the searing tongue.

Sir Christopher Tomling has been ravished from the Argentine, where, after all, he was but preparing trade-routes for hostile peoples, and now adorns the forefront of Penfentenyou’s Advisory Board. This was an unforeseen extra, as was Jimmy’s gratis full-length —(it will be in this year’s Academy) of Penfentenyou, who has returned to his own place.

Now and again, from afar off, between the slam and bump of his shifting scenery, the glare of his manipulated limelight, and the controlled rolling of his thunder-drums, I catch his voice, lifted in encouragement and advice to his fellow-countrymen. He is quite sound on Ties of Sentiment, and — alone of Colonial Statesmen ventures to talk of the Ties of Common Funk.

Herein I have my reward.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/k/kipling/rudyard/actions/chapter11.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 21:44