MR. WALTER GRAVELL was, after forty years, a director of the Jannockshire and Chemical Manure Works. Chemicals and dyes were always needed, and certain gases, derived from them, had been specially in demand of late. Besides his money, which did not interest him greatly, he had his adored son, James, a long, saddish person with a dusky, mottled complexion and a pleuritic stitch which he had got during the War through a leaky gas-mask. Jemmy was in charge of the firm’s research-work, for he had taken to the scientific side of things even more keenly than his father had to the administrative.
But Mr. Gravell, having made his fortune out of solid manures, now naturally wished to render them all unnecessary by breathing into the soil such gases as should wake its dormant powers. He believed that he had had successes with flowerpots on balconies, but he needed a larger field, and a nice country-house, where Jemmy could bring down friends for week-ends, and he could listen to them talking and watch how they deferred to his son.
On a spring day, then, Mr. Gravell drove sixty miles by appointment to a largish, comfortable house, with a hundred acres of land. These included a ravishing little dell, planted with azaleas, and screened from the tarred road by a belt of evergreens — a windless hollow, where gas could lie undisturbedly to benefit vegetation.
Thereupon he bought the place, told Jemmy what he had done, and, as usual, asked him to attend to the rest. Jemmy overhauled drains and roofs; imported the housekeeper and staff of their London house; reserved a couple of rooms for his own week-ends, and settled in beside his father. There had been some talk lately, behind the latter’s back, of increased blood-pressures, which would benefit by country life.
After a blissful honeymoon of months, Jemmy asked him whether he had met a Major Kniveat in the village, who expected his name to be pronounced ‘Kniveed,’ the t being soft in that very particular family.
‘Is there a village here? No-o, my dear. Who is he?’
‘One of the natives. You might have run across him.’
‘No. I didn’t come down here to run across people. I’m busy.’ Mr. Gravell went off to the dell as usual, to help the vegetation.
Jem had asked because Mrs. Saul, their housekeeper and a born gossip, had told him that a Major Kniveat, retired, of the Regular Army, had told everyone at the Golf Club that Mr. Gravell had bought the house for the purpose of thrusting himself into local society, and that the Major was eagerly awaiting any attempt in this direction, so that the village might show how outsiders should be treated. Jem had not dwelt on this till, at a tennis-party, he had been cross-examined by the Rector’s very direct wife as to whether his father meant to offer himself for the Bench of Justices of the Peace, or the County, District, or Parish Councils. She hinted that the Major was ambitious — in those directions. Putting two and two together, as scientific men should, Jem made the total four.
The house was burdened with a ‘home farm,’ which sent up milk, butter, and eggs, at more than London prices. That month they were making some hay. Jefferies, the working-foreman, was carrying the last field, and, though it was Saturday, when ‘work’ in England stops at noon, had cajoled his men to ‘work’ till five, promising he would pay them their wages and overtime in a field near a public-house, and remote from wives. While Mr. Gravell was busy in his dell, a woman came upon him, crying: ‘You ain’t paid your men!’
‘I don’t,’ said Mr. Gravell.
‘But I’ve got to get into town for my week-end shoppin’s. Why ain’t you paid ’em off at noon, same as always?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Don’t ye? Then I lay you don’t know what I’m goin’ to do. I’m goin’ right up to the Street (village), an’ I’m goin’ to tell ’em there that this ’ouse don’t pay its people. That’s what I’m goin’ to say, and I’ll lay they’ll believe it.’
Mr. Gravell was so sure that this was one of the things Jemmy attended to that he forgot to mention her to him. But Mrs. Jefferies’s tale ran, by way of tradesmen, gardeners, and errand-boys, through the village. After Major Kniveat had had his turn, it was common knowledge that ‘them Gravellses’ (in the higher circles, ‘those manure-dealers’) were undischarged bankrupts, who had made a practice of cheating their ‘labour’ elsewhere, but who could not hope to work that trick here. Mrs. Saul told Jem, who asked Jefferies what it meant. Jefferies apologised for the temper of his wife, who had nerves above her station, and took tonic wines to steady them, and was sorry if there had been any ‘misunderstanding.’ Jemmy, survivor of an unfeudal generation which had had all the trouble it wanted, telephoned the county town auctioneer to offer all live and dead stock on the home farm at the first autumn sales. Next, he let the fields as accommodation-land to local butchers; arranged for dairy produce to be delivered at the house by a real farm at much lower rates, and — for the North pays its debts — brought down from the main Jannockshire Works a retired foreman, who had married Jem’s nurse, to sit rent-free in the farmhouse. But angry Mr. Jefferies joined the Public Services of his country, and worked on the roads for one-and-threepence an hour at Government stroke — till he became an overseer.
In six weeks nothing remained of the Gravells’ agricultural past save one Angelique, an enormous white sow, for whom none would bid at the sales; she being stricken in years and a notorious gatecrasher. What did not yield to the judicial end of her carried away before the executive, and then she would wander far afield, where, though well-meaning as a hound-pup (for she had been the weakling of her litter and brought up in a Christian kitchen) her face and figure were against her with strangers. That was why she was indicted by a local body — on Major Kniveat’s clamour — for obstructing a right-of-way by terrifying foot-passengers — three summer London Lady lodgers, to wit. They blocked her most-used gaps with barb-wire, which tickled her pleasantly, and she broke out again and again, till the local body, harried by the Major, indicted Mr. Gravell once more as proprietor of a public nuisance.
After this, she was kept in a solid brick sty at the home farm, where Mr. and Mrs. Enoch, the childless couple from the Jannockshire Works, made much of her. At intervals she would be let out to test stock-proof fencing or gates; when, often, Jemmy and his young friends would be judges, and her prize a cabbage.
Father and son passed a pleasant autumn together, varied by visits to town, and visits from young men who never showed up at church. But the imported staff, headed by Mrs. Saul, went there regularly for the honour of the establishment and to catch neighbourly comments after divine service. They heard, for a fact, that Mr. Gravell had ‘cohabitated’ with a person of colour, which explained his son’s Asiatic complexion.
‘All right,’ said Jemmy to Mrs. Saul, who was full of it. ‘Don’t let it get round to Dad, that’s all.’
‘And that Major Kniveat at their nasty little cat-parties he calls you “The ‘Alf–Caste,”’ Mrs. Saul insisted.
‘Nigger, if you like. Dad isn’t here for that sort of thing. He doesn’t know there is a village. Tell your wenches to keep their mouths shut, or I’ll sack ’em.’
On Saturday of the next week-end, when Mr. Gravell had gone to bed, Jemmy told the tale to Kit Birtle — all but his own brother. Kit was the son of Jem’s godfather and brevet-uncle, Sir Harry Birtle, who was the Works’ leading lawyer — and he ranked therefore as brevet-nephew to Mr. Gravell, and kept changes of raiment at his house. He had done time as an Army doctor, and now specialised in post-war afflictions visible and invisible. Jem’s point was that his own dusky colour gave an interesting clue to the composition of some gas which he had inhaled near Arras a few years before. Said Kit: ‘You do look rather a half-caste. Get yourself overhauled again by that man in France.’
‘L’Espinasse, you mean? I will, but not just yet. It ‘ud worry Dad. But talking about gas:’
Then they both talked, for they were interested in some new combinations which had produced interesting results.
‘And you might use Angelique as a control for some of it,’ Kit suggested. ‘She hasn’t any nerves.’
That brought out the tale of her doings, the footpaths that she was said to have blocked, and Major Kniveat’s public-spirited activities in general.
‘‘Can’t make him out,’ said Jem. ‘We came down here to be quiet, but this sword-merchant seems to take it as a personal insult. What’s the complex, Kit?’
‘We’ve something like it in our hamlet — a retired officer bung-full of public-spirit and simian malignity. Idleness explains a lot, but I’ve a theory it’s glands at bottom. ‘Rather noisome for you, though.’
‘Oh, Dad don’t notice anything. He hands it all over to me, and I haven’t time to fuss with the natives. What ‘ud you care for tomorrow? The golf course ain’t fit yet, but I’ve got another patent stock-gate if you like —’
‘Angelique every time!’ said Kit, who knew her of old, and often compared her to one Harry Tate, an artist in the stage-handling of deckchairs and motor-cars.
Sunday forenoon, they loafed over to the farm, released the lady, and introduced her to the patent gate. Her preliminary search for weak points was side-splitting enough: but by the time she had tucked up, as it were, her skirts, had backed through the gate with the weight and amplitude of a docking liner, had reached her cabbage, and stood with the stalk of it, cigarette-wise, in her mouth, asking them what they thought of Auntie now, the two young men were beating on the grass with their hands. Getting her back to her sty was no small affair either, for she valued her Sunday outings, and they laughed too much to head her off quickly. As they rolled back across the fields, reviewing the show, Major Kniveat appeared on a footpath near by. It was, he had given out, part of his Sabbath works to see that public paths were not closed by newly-arrived parvenues. The two passed him, still guffawing over Angelique, and Monday morn brought by hand a letter, complaining that the Major had been publicly mocked and derided by his neighbours (there was some reference also to ‘gentlemen’) till he had been practically hooted off a right-of-way. The car was due for town in half an hour, and Jemmy spent that while in written disclaimer of any intent to offend, and apology if offence had been taken. He did not want the thing to bother his father in his absence. Major Kniveat accepted the apology, and ran about quoting it to all above the rank of road-mender, as a sample of the spirit of half-castes when frontally tackled.
Then spring bulb-catalogues began to arrive, but, in spite of them, Mr. Gravell was worried by Jemmy’s increasing duskiness; and he and Kit at last got him shipped off to L’Espinasse, the French specialist, who dealt in his kind of trouble. Mr. Gravell went with him to the South of France, where the specialist wintered, and saw him bedded down for the treatment. Thence he botanised along the heathy Italian foreshore, branched north to Nancy, where the best lilacs are bred, and so home by bulbous Holland. Altogether five weeks’ refreshing holiday. On return he found a good deal of accumulated correspondence for Jem to attend to; but, since the boy was away, he opened one letter all by himself. It was from the same local body as had written about Angelique and her misdeeds. It informed Mr. Gravell that certain trees on his property overhung the main road to an extent constituting a nuisance of which ratepayers had complained, and which he was called upon to abate within a given time. Failing this, the local body would themselves abate the said nuisance, charging him with the cost of the labour involved. It had been posted two days after he had left England.
Mr. Gravell went to look.
For twenty yards along the main road, the mangled and lopped timber laid the dell open to passing cars and charabancs. Nor was that all. Under the trees ran a low sandstone wall, which time had hidden beneath laurel and rhododendron. In dropping on to, hauling over, or stacking behind it, the limbs that were cut, the rhododendrons had been badly torn, and lengths of wall had collapsed. A raw track showed where people had already entered the dell to pick primroses. A gardener came up to him.
‘They never told me,’ the man said. ‘If they’d said a word, I could have tipped back they few branches they fussed about, and ‘twould have been done. But they said naught to nobody. They done it all in one day like, and that Major Kniveat ‘e came down the road and told ’em what was to be done, like. They didn’t know nothing. So they did it as ‘e told ’em. They’ve fair savaged it — them and Jefferies.’
‘So I see,’ said Mr. Gravell. Then he wrote to the Company’s lawyer, Sir Harry Birtle, his lifelong friend.
The answer ran:
‘DEAR WALTER — I also live in Arcadia. My advice to you is not to make trouble with local authorities. They will regret that their employees have exceeded their instructions, and that will be all. This Major Kniveat of yours, not being on any public body, has no locus standi. I know the type. We have one with us. If you insist, of course, my firm will give you a losing run for your money; but you had much better come up and dine with me, and I’ll tell you pretty stories of this kind. Love to your Jem, who writes my Kit that he is bleaching out properly in France.
‘Ever as ever, HARRY.’
This was, on the whole, a relief, for, after sending the letter, Mr. Gravell saw that the weight of the campaign would fall on his son when he came back and could attend to rebuilding the wall.
So he ordered his own meals, took his car when he wanted it, instead of waiting till Jemmy should be free, and went up to the London Office of the Works with the padded arm-rest down, which was never the case when his Jemmy came along.
On his return he would visit the head of the dell before people were about, and discharge the contents of carefully stoppered phials into the traps of some two-inch land-drains, which had been laid down to carry off surplus water. These followed the contours of the slopes, and all met at the bottom of the hollow. By April he began to think that the grasses there were responding to the stimulus of the liquids that purred off softly into heavy gas, as he freed them down the traps. It cheered him, for it showed that, despite lack of early training, he was in the way to become such a scientist as his own wonderful Jemmy.
By early summer, when azaleas and such are worth picking, motor-traffic had increased on all roads, and the high, commanding charabancs were much interested by the sight of Mr. Gravell’s dell. Their drivers pulled up by the broken wall, which the publican at the White Hart, a little further up the road, recommended as a good pitch between drinks. So people used it more and more for picnics and pleasure, and after a Southern Counties Private Tour had removed as a trophy the pitiful little ‘Trespassers will be Prosecuted,’ which was Mr. Gravell’s one protest, the gaps in the wall widened by feet in a week; the rhododendron clumps shrank like water drops on a hot iron, and the dell became dotted with coloured streamers, burst balloons, tins, corks, food-bags, old paper, tyre-wrappers, bottles — intact or broken — rags of the foulest, cigarette-cartons, and copious filth. But Mr. Gravell’s traps were on the upper levels, and, as has been said, he attended to them before rush hours. He very rarely went down into what had now become a rubbish-heap; for he was a fastidious man.
About that time, two children at the White Hart, who sold little bunches of flowers to trippers, developed an eruption which puzzled Dr. Frole, the local practitioner. He had never before seen orange and greenish-copper blotches on the healthy young. But, as these faded entirely in a week or so, he wrote it down ‘errors of diet,’ and said there was no need to close the schools.
It was different when a private party of thirty-two gentlemen and ladies, mostly in the retail jewellery business, and all near enough neighbours in Shoreditch to use the same panel-doctor, poured into that man’s consulting-room, comparing blotches as far as they dared, and wailing before an offended Deity. They were asked where they had been and what they had eaten. They had, it seemed, been in ever so many places, and by the way had eaten everything in Leviticus and out of it. Then a practitioner in Bermondsey, where they also make up select tours to the Beauty Spots of England, wrote to a local paper about an interesting variety of summer rash. This — so bound together is the English world — let loose a ‘Welsh Mother,’ who had trusted four of her brood to a local pastor on a Beauties-of-England tour. She complained in a popular journal of unprecedented circulation that they had returned looking ‘like the Heathen.’
Some weeks of perfect touring weather followed, and, as the roads filled and stank with charabancs, Carlisle, Morecambe Bay, Frinton, Tavistock, the Isle of Man, Newquay, and Alnwick, among others, reported strange cases of ‘blotching’ in all ages and sexes.
Entered, duly, in the journals of the democracy, ‘specialists,’ who, after blood-curdling forecasts, ‘deprecated panic’ and variously ascribed the origin of the epidemic to different causes, but, supremely, to the laissez-faire attitude of the Government.
At the height of the discussion, Jemmy wrote that he was coming home on the Sunday boat, ready for anything.
Mr. Gravell, anxious to avoid an explosion à deux, had invited Sir Harry and Kit to help welcome and divert the prodigal, whose stitch and complexion had vastly improved. But Mrs. Saul waylaid Jem on the stairs with a summary of Major Kniveat’s doings in the past three months, and his open exultation over Jefferies’s work in the dell, which sent Jem down there before dinner. The trippers had gone, but he found Angelique busy among the remains of picnics. When he tried to chase her out, she lay down and refused to be moved. So he threw stones at her, sent word to the Enochs that she was loose again, and changed for dinner, not in the best temper, although he tried not to show it.
‘It don’t really matter,’ his father said. ‘Wait till you hear what your Uncle Harry tells us. Oh, but I’m glad you’re back, Jemmy! I’ve wanted you desperate.’
‘Me, too, Dad.’ The hug was returned. ‘You’re quite right. We won’t have a shindy about the wall.. It ain’t worth it.’
‘Then, run along and get up the champagne. Your tie’s crooked, my dear.’ He put up his hand tenderly, as a widower may who has had to wash and dress a year-old baby.
‘Oh, Dad, I am sorry! You must have had a hellish time of it.’ Jem hugged his parent again.
‘Not a bit!’ said Mr. Gravell, glad that the boy was taking it so well. ‘It hasn’t interfered with my experiments. I always finish before the trippers come. I’m on the track of a mixture now that really gingers up the bacteria. I’ll tell you about it, dear. Didn’t you notice how rich the grass was?’
‘I didn’t notice anything much except Angelique. I landed her one or two for herself with a rock, though.’
Dinner went delightfully. Sir Harry Birtle was full of tales of ‘bad neighbours elsewhere, and the wisdom of leaving them alone, which, he said, annoyed them most. The present business was to rebuild the wall, and Jem was sketching it on a tablecloth for Kit, when the Sunday paper came in. Sir Harry picked it up.
‘One thousand and thirty-seven cases up to date,’ he read aloud.
‘What of? ‘asked Mr. Gravell. ‘I don’t read the papers.’
‘They call it Bloody Measles, Uncle Wally,’ said Kit, the doctor. ‘It’s all over the place. It’s a sort of ten-days’ rash-greenish-copper blotches on the face and body. Not catching. No temperature; but no end of scratchin’. The papers have made rather a stunt of it.’
In time the young men went off to the billiard room, while the elders sat over the wine, each disparaging his own offspring that he might better draw the other’s rebuke and tribute.
Billiards ended with an inquiry into Jem’s treatment, and L’Espinasse’s views on gassing in general. ‘I was right about the gas that knocked me out,’ said Jem., ‘L’Espinasse admitted that, on my symptoms, it must have been Adler’s Mixture. That’s one up for me and the Works.’
‘But the Hun was only using straight mustardgas round Arras then,’ said Kit.
‘Not altogether. ‘Remember that purple-and-white-band big stuff that used to crack and whiflie? I got a dose in the cutting behind Fampoux waiting for the train. That was Adler’s . . . But — never mind that. I’ve got to knock Hell’s Bells out of the Major. He might have upset Dad a good deal. But he took that outrage on the dell like a lamb.’
‘There’s a reason for that, too,’ said Kit, and explained how Mr. Gravell’s blood-pressures had dropped satisfactorily.
‘‘Glad to hear it,’ said Jem. ‘But it won’t excuse Mister Field Officer when I’m abreast of my arrears.’
They talked till bed-time, went up to town together next morning, pursued their several businesses till Saturday, came down again, and that evening wandered round the home-made nine-hole course, and fetched up by Angelique’s sty near the barn. It was empty.
‘She’s broken out again,’ said Kit. ‘Give her a shout.’
Jem hailed, and was answered by the lady, in a muffled key, from the house.
They went to look. Mr. and Mrs. Enoch received them, and complimented Jem on his improved appearance.
‘Ah’m gradely,’ Jem went back to the speech of the Works, in which he and Kit had almost been born. ‘But what’s to doin’ wi’ t’owd la-ady in t’house, Liz?’
‘She’ve gotten Bloody Measles — like what’s in arl t’pa-apers. We’ve had her oop to t’washhouse,’ Enoch explained.
He led along a back passage, and in the brickfloored wash-house, well strawed, lay Angelique, patterned all over with greenish orange-brown blotches, which she wore coquettishly.
‘Good Lord!’ said Kit. ‘I didn’t know Bloody Measles attacked animals! She looks like a turtle with dropsy.’
‘‘Nowt to what she wor o’ Thursdaa. She wor like daffadillies an’ wall-flowers, Thursdaa.’ Enoch spoke with pride.
‘Ah, but she’s hearty — she’s rare an’ hearty. Tha’s none offen tha’ feed, is tha, ma luv?’ said Mrs. Enoch tenderly.
‘She’ll have to be killed,’ said Kit.
‘Kill nowt,’ said Mrs. Enoch. ‘She’ll lie oop here till t’spots gan off again. They showed oop a’ Tuesdaa neet, an’ to-morra’s Soondaa.’
‘What’s Sunday got to do with it?’ Kit cried.
‘T’ Major, blast him!’ said Enoch. Man and wife spoke together. Translated out of their dialect, which broadened as it flowed, the Major’s Sunday patrol of rights-of-way generally included the path round the barn beside Angelique’s sty. If he should notice her now — what his powers for making trouble might be they knew not, but feared the worst. But they did know that an Englishman’s house, even to his wash-house, is his castle. Thither, then, they had conveyed Angelique on Tuesday night, and there should she stay until her spots faded, as they had faded upon the publican’s brats at the White Hart.
‘She came out with ’em on Tuesday — did she?’ said Jem thoughtfully. ‘Well, we don’t want the Major poking his nose into this just now.’
That released Mrs. Enoch again. Mrs. Saul had said much about Major Kniveat, but the gleanings of Mrs. Enoch’s threshing-floor were richer than all the housekeeper’s harvests. She said he was consumed with desire to take some step which the ‘manure-makers’ should be compelled to notice. She reminded Jem of foremen and fore-women in the Works, who had given trouble on the same lines. Psychologically it was interesting, but Jem’s concern was that neither she nor her husband should talk to his father about it.
‘If this epidemic is going to attack livestock, there’ll be trouble,’ said Kit, on the way home.
‘I don’t think it will,’ said Jem, who had been silent for some while.
‘What’s the idea?’ his all-but-brother asked suspiciously.
‘My idea is that it’s Dad, if you want to know. Dad — and his dell!’
‘The Devil! Why?’
‘I asked our London Office (they were rather worried about it, too) what sort of stuff he’d been drawing from the Lab. while I was away, to ginger up his bacteria. Well, what he actually got was fairly hectic, but he tells me he’s taken to mixin’ ’em. So — Lord knows what they mayn’t throw up! Anyhow, the dell must be soaked with it. Wait a shake! Angelique was picnickin’ down there the Sunday night I got home. She came out with spots on Tuesday — call it forty-eight hours’ incubation.’
‘Stop! Let me take this in properly,’ said Kit. ‘You mean your dad — is responsible for — one thousand and thirty-seven cases of Bloody Picnickers — up to date?’
Jem nodded. ‘‘Looks like it. He’s transmitted his scientific twist of mind to me, but outside that he’s a rank amateur, you know.’
Here Kit sat down. ‘Amateur! You aren’t fit to have my own Uncle Wally for a father. An’ he doesn’t read the papers! An’— an’ the British Medical Association recommends treating Bloody Measles with chawal-muggra oil. And Sir Herbert Buskitt says it’s due to atonic glands. The whole of my sacred profession’s involved! Don’t you realise what your dad’s done, you — you parricide?’
‘Dam-well I do. Here are the bases of the stuff he’s been working on.’ Jem passed over some chemical formula that sent Kit into fresh hysterics. ‘You see, he’s avoided lethal constituents so far, but he’s strong on the colour-fixation bases. ‘Spose he wants it for the gorze-blooms. — Get up, you idiot! — Well! I’ve short-circuited that. He’ll have everything he writes for in future, as far as labels go. The muck don’t show or smell or taste. He’ll be just as happy.’
‘But I shan’t,’ said Kit, as soon as he could stand and talk straight. ‘I want more. Let’s lure the Major into the dell, and — er — Angelique him! He’d look rather pretty, ma luv!’
‘Not now. We’d be acting with guilty knowledge. The main thing is to get Angelique right before he spots her. She’ll come round, won’t she? ‘
‘‘Question of temperament — and sex. After all, she’s a lady. Wait and see. Oh, my Uncle Wally! And my dad! How are we to keep our faces straight with ’em?’
Since each of the Seven Ages of Man is separated from all the others by sound-and-X-ray-proof bulkheads, the parents only noticed that their young were in the spirits natural to their absurd thirty-odd years. Sunday passed, and the Major, too, on his rounds, in peace. They left Angelique in the wash-house Monday forenoon, visibly paling, but as interested and as interesting as ever. (Mrs. Enoch said she was company when one knitted.) On Saturday morning of that same week a wire from Enoch told Jem in town that she had cleared up. He showed it to Kit, who took him to lunch at a certain restaurant, before the drive down. There sat at the next table a globular female, with pendant mauve-washed cheeks, indigo eyelids, lips of orange vermilion, and locks of Titian red. She reminded Kit of Angelique in the height of her bloom, and . . . Here Jem and Kit together claimed the parentage of the Great Idea.
At any rate, in that hour, between them it was born. They went to a theatrical wigmaker and bought lavishly of grease-paints for Chinese, Red Indian, and Asiatic make-ups, as well as for clowns and corner-men.
They drove down, not a little to the public danger, and made a merry feast before their ancestors that summer evening. Next morning — Sunday at nine o’clock to be precise — Mrs. Enoch told them that her week in the wash-house had so filled Angelique with social aspirations, that ‘after setting with t’owd lady and readin’ t’pa-apers to her, ah hevn’t heart to give her t’ broomhead when she comes back again.’
‘Ask her oop,’ said Jem.
She came gratefully, and they told the Enochs what was in their minds.
‘He’ll say it’s t’Bloody Measles, an’ he’ll turn all his blasted committees on us,’ said Enoch. ‘He’s a tongue on ’im like a vi-iper, yon barstard.’
‘That’s what we’re gambling on. But she’s a bit too scurfy for the stuff to hold,’ said Jem, looking into the wash-house copper.
‘But tha winna mak’ a fool o’ t’poor dumb beast, will tha’, lads?’ Mrs. Enoch pleaded, as she dipped the broom in warm water and began on that enormous back.
Angelique lay down at command, sure that these things were but prelude to more admiration. They scrubbed her, till she was as white as a puff ball. Then, area by area, she was painted with dazzle-patterns of greenish-yellow and purple-brown, till it was hard to say whether she moved to or from the beholder. Jem took her head, jowl, and neck, where the space was limited. So he was forced to use spots which, by divine ordering, suggested the foullest evidences of decomposition. Remembering the lady in the restaurant, he paid special attention to her eyes and brows.
‘If t’Major niver had ’em before, she’ll give ’em to him proper,’ was Enoch’s verdict.
‘She lukes like nowt o’ God’s makin’ already,’ Mrs. Enoch agreed. ‘But she’s proud of hersen! — Sitha! She’s tryin’ to admire of her own belly! Wicked wumman! She’ll niver be t’saam to me again.’
‘It’ll wash off. Now we’ll go for a walk. Shove her into t’sty, Enoch, and pray the Major comes this morning.’
Their prayers were answered within the hour. They saw the Major, on his regular Sunday round, descend the slope to the home farm. Then they turned, on interior lines, which brought them face to face with him rounding the barn by Angelique’s sty. At the sound of their well-known voices, she reared up ponderously, and hitched her elbows over the low door, much as Jezebel, after her head was tyred, looked out of the window. It was not the loathly brown and yellow-green blotches on bosom and shoulder that appalled most, but the smaller ones on face, jowl, and neck, for she had been rubbing her cheeks a little, and the pattern had drawn into wedges and smears, perfectly simulating a mask of unspeakable agony coupled with desperate appeal. Moreover, so wholly is hearing dominated by sight, that her jovial grunt of welcome seemed the too-human plaint of a beast against realised death.
When, with haggard, purple-bordered eyes, she looked for applause and cabbage, the horror of that slow-turning head made even the artists forget their well-thought-out lines.
‘‘Mornin’, old lady,’ said Jem at last, and Kit echoed him.
But the Major’s greeting was otherwise. He blenched. He held out one dramatic arm. He stammered: ‘How — how long has that creature been like that?’
‘Always, hasn’t she, Jem?’ said Kit sweetly. ‘We’re just taking her for a walk.’
‘I— I forbid you to touch her. Look at her spots! Look at her spots!’
‘Spots?’ Kit seemed puzzled for a moment.
‘Yes. Spots!’ The voice shook.
‘Spo-ots! Oh yes. Of course.’ This was in Kit’s best bedside-manner. ‘Certainly we won’t let her out if you feel that way.’
‘Feel! Can’t you see? She’s infected to the marrow. She’s rotting alive. Put her out of her misery at once!’
Here Enoch appeared with a broom, and the Major commanded him to kill and keep the body.
Enoch merely opened the sty door, and Angelique came out. The Major backed several yards, calling and threatening. But everyone except a few female summer-visitors had always been kind to her. This person — she argued — might be good for an apple, or — she was not bigoted — cigarette-ends. So she went towards him smiling, and her smile, for reasons given, was like the rolling back of the Gates of Golgotha.
Whether she would have rubbed herself against his Sunday trousers, or fled when she had seen his face, are “matters arguable to all eternity.” It is only agreed that the Major floated out of her orbit by about a bow-shot in the direction of the village, and thence onward earnestly.
‘Well, that proves it ain’t glands, at any rate,’ Kit pronounced. ‘He’ll stay away for a bit, but we won’t take chances. Come along, Angelique! Washee-washee, ma luv!’
Then and there they treated her in the washhouse with petrol, which removes grease-paints, and sacking soaked in warm water, which takes off the sting of it, till she was fit to turn out into the orchard and root a bit, lest she should be too clean at any later inspection. By then it was nearly lunch-time.
‘Tha sees,’ said Jem, slipping on his coat. ‘Pe-wer as a lily! There’s nowt need come ‘twix thee an’ t’owd lady now, Liz — is there, ma luv?’
Upon which Mrs. Enoch very properly kissed him, while Enoch sat helpless on a swill-bucket.
Mrs. Saul and the rest of the staff came back from evening service fully informed, for the Major had spent every minute since his meeting with Angelique in talking about her to everyone. He said, among other things, that she had been wilfully hidden, that she was being taken out for secret exercise when he discovered her condition, and that he was going to attend to the matter himself.
Thus Mrs. Saul on the landing as the two young men went up to change. ‘Very good,’ said Jem. ‘Don’t go to Dad about it, though.’
‘But we — but I’ve been down to Enoch’s to look at her. She’s as clean as me. Isn’t it shocking to be that way — on a Sunday morning? He took the bag round, too! You can never tell what these old bachelors are really like . . . ’
They had finished dessert — the State-aided summer sunlight was still on the table — and the boys had gone to the billiard-room, when the Major was announced on an urgent matter.
‘Better have him in here, Wally,’ Sir Harry mildly suggested. ‘I believe he’s a bit of a bore.’
So he entered, and told his story, summarising the steps he would take, out of pure public spirit, to deal with this plague, and this menace, and these evasions.
‘I see! You’ve seen a spotted pig,’ said Mr. Gravell at last. ‘Well, that couldn’t have been our Angelique. She’s a Large White, you know, and — my son generally attends to this sort of thing.’
‘He saw her, too. As I’ve been telling you, your son saw her! He was perfectly cognisant of her condition. So was yours.’
The Major wheeled on Sir Harry, who was not a Company lawyer for nothing.
‘We won’t dispute that. Better call the boys in, Wally,’ said he.
They entered, without interest, as the young do when dragged from private conferences.
‘So far as I understand you, Major Kniveat,’ Sir Harry resumed, ‘you saw a pig — spotted yellow and green and purple, wasn’t it? — this morning?’
‘I did. I’m prepared to swear to it.’
‘I accept your word without question. There’s nothing to prevent anyone seeing spotted pigs on Sunday mornings, of course; but there are lots of things — on Saturday nights, for example — that may lead up to it. Can you recall any of them for us?’
The Major wished to know what Sir Harry might infer.
‘Oh, he saw them all right,’ Kit put in.
‘You did, too. You agreed with me at the time,’ the Major panted.
‘Naturally. Any medical man would — in the state you were then. Now, can you remember, sir, whether the spots were fixed or floating? Merely green and yellow, or iridescent with unstable black cores — oily and, perhaps, vermicular?’
The Major rose to his feet.
‘It’s all right — all right,’ Kit spoke soothingly. ‘It won’t come here! We won’t let the nasty pig come in here. And now, if you’ll put out your tongue, we’ll see if the tip trembles.’
‘Jem, what is it all about?’ Mr. Gravell wailed against the torrent of the Major’s speech.
‘Angelique,’ Jem answered, wearily. ‘He thinks she’s spotted green and purple and Lord knows what all.’
‘Then why doesn’t he go down to Enoch’s and look at her? There’s plenty of light still,’ the father answered. ‘Take him down and let him see her.’
‘I suppose we must. Come on, Kit, and help . . . Oh, hush! Hush! Yes! Yes! You shall have your dam’ pig!’
The Major, among other things, said he wished for impartial witnesses and no evasions.
‘About half the village have been down there already,’ said Kit. ‘You’ll have witnesses enough. Come along!’
‘That’s right. That’s all right, then,’ said Mr. Gravell, and dropped further interest in the matter, for he was of a stock that attended to their own business and held their own liquor. But Sir Harry Birtle joined the house-party. He knew his Kit better than Mr. Gravell knew his Jemmy.
They went down through the long last lights of evening to the home farm. People were there already — a little group by Angelique’s sty that melted as they neared, leaving only the local solicitor; Dr. Frole, the general practitioner; and a retired Navy Captain — a J.P. who did not much affect the Major. As the other folk of lower degree moved off, they halted for a few words with the Enochs at the farmhouse door. Thence they joined friends who were waiting for them in the lane.
‘Do you want more witnesses?’ Jem asked. The Major shook his head.
‘Major Knivead — to see Angelique,’ Jem announced to the local solicitor. ‘The Major says he saw her this morning after divine service spotted green and yellow and purple. Look at her now, Major Knivead, please. She is the only pig we have. Would you like an affidavit? . . . We-ell, old lady.’
Angelique, once again hitched her elbows akimbo over her sty door, crossed her front feet, smiled, and — white almost as a puff-ball — said in effect to the company: ‘Bless you, my children!’
‘Wait a minute. You haven’t seen all of her yet,’ Kit opened the door. She came out and — it was a trick of infancy learned in the Christian kitchen — sat on her haunches like a dog, leering at the Major, Dr. Frole, the solicitor, and the Navy J.P. This latter sniffed dryly but very audibly. Sir Harry Birtle said, in the tone that had swayed many juries: ‘Yes. I think we all see.’
‘Now,’ said Jem. ‘About your spots?’
The Major would have looked over his left shoulder, but Kit was there softly patting it. ‘It’s all right. It’s all right.’ said Kit. ‘The ugly pig won’t run after you this time. I’ll attend to that. Look at her from here and tell me how many spots you count now.’
‘None,’ said Major Kniveat. ‘They’re all gone. My God! Everything’s gone!’
‘Quite right. Everything’s gone now, and here’s Dr. Frole, isn’t it yes, your own kind Dr. Frole — to see you safe home.’
The generation that tolerates but does not pity went away. They did not even turn round when they heard the first dry sob of one from whom all hope of office, influence, and authority was stripped for ever — drowned by the laughter in the lane.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10