The Strand Magazine, November 1926
THE village Choral Society had been giving a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Sorcerer” in aid of the Church Organ Fund; and, as we sat in the window of the Anglers’ Rest, smoking our pipes, the audience came streaming past us down the little street. Snatches of song floated to our ears, and Mr. Mulliner began to croon in unison.
“ ‘Ah me! I was a pa-ale you-oung curate then!’ ” chanted Mr. Mulliner in the rather snuffling voice in which the amateur singer seems to find it necessary to render the old songs.
“Remarkable,” he said, resuming his natural tones, “how fashions change, even in clergymen. There are very few pale young curates nowadays.”
“True,” I agreed. “Most of them are beefy young fellows who rowed for their colleges. I don’t believe I have ever seen a pale young curate.”
“You never met my nephew Augustine, I think?”
“The description in the song would have fitted him perfectly. You will want to hear all about my nephew Augustine.”
AT the time of which I am speaking (said Mr. Mulliner) my nephew Augustine was a curate, and very young and extremely pale. As a boy he had completely outgrown his strength, and I rather think that at his Theological College some of the wilder spirits must have bullied him; for when he went to Lower Briskett-in-the-Midden to assist the vicar, the Rev. Stanley Brandon, in his cure of souls, he was as meek and mild a young man as you could meet in a day’s journey. He had flaxen hair, weak blue eyes, and the general demeanour of a saintly but timid codfish. Precisely, in short, the sort of young curate who seems to have been so common in the ’eighties, or whenever it was that Gilbert wrote “The Sorcerer.”
The personality of his immediate superior did little or nothing to help him to overcome his native diffidence. The Rev. Stanley Brandon was a huge and sinewy man of violent temper, whose red face and glittering eyes might well have intimidated the toughest curate. The Rev. Stanley had been a heavyweight boxer at Cambridge, and I gather from Augustine that he seemed to be always on the point of introducing into debates on parish matters the methods which had made him so successful in the roped ring. I remember Augustine telling me that once, on the occasion when he had ventured to oppose the other’s views in the matter of decorating the church for the Harvest Festival, he thought for a moment that the vicar was going to drop him with a right hook to the chin. It was some quite trivial point that had come up—a question as to whether the pumpkin would look better in the apse or the clerestory, if I recollect rightly—but for several seconds it seemed as if blood was about to be shed.
Such was the Rev. Stanley Brandon. And yet it was to the daughter of this formidable man that Augustine Mulliner had permitted himself to lose his heart. Truly, Cupid makes heroes of us all.
Jane was a very nice girl, and just as fond of Augustine as he was of her. But, as each lacked the nerve to go to the girl’s father and put him abreast of the position of affairs, they were forced to meet surreptitiously. This jarred upon Augustine, who, like all the Mulliners, loved the truth and hated any form of deception. And one evening, as they paced beside the laurels at the bottom of the vicarage garden, he rebelled.
“My dearest,” said Augustine, “I can no longer brook this secrecy. I shall go into the house immediately and ask your father for your hand.”
Jane paled and clung to his arm. She knew so well that it was not her hand but her father’s foot which he would receive if he carried out this mad scheme.
“No, no, Augustine! You must not!”
“But, darling, it is the only straightforward course.”
“But not to-night. I beg of you, not to-night.”
“Because father is in a very bad temper. He has just had a letter from the bishop, rebuking him for wearing too many orphreys on his chasuble, and it has upset him terribly. You see, he and the bishop were at school together, and father can never forget it. He said at dinner that if old Boko Bickerton thought he was going to order him about he would jolly well show him.”
“And the bishop comes here to-morrow for the Confirmation services!” gasped Augustine.
“Yes. And I’m so afraid they will quarrel. It’s such a pity father hasn’t some other bishop over him. He always remembers that he once hit this one in the eye for pouring ink on his collar, and this lowers his respect for his spiritual authority. So you won’t go in and tell him to-night, will you?”
“I will not,” Augustine assured her with a slight shiver.
“And you will be sure to put your feet in hot mustard and water when you get home? The dew has made the grass so wet.”
“I will indeed, dearest.”
“You are not strong, you know.”
“No, I am not strong.”
“You ought to take some really good tonic.”
“Perhaps I ought. Good night, Jane.”
“Good night, Augustine.”
The lovers parted. Jane slipped back into the vicarage like a homing rabbit, and Augustine made his way to his cosy rooms in the High Street. And the first thing he noticed on entering was a parcel on the table, and beside it a letter.
He opened it listlessly, his thoughts far away.
“My dear Augustine.”
He turned to the last page and glanced at the signature. The letter was from his Aunt Angela, the wife of my brother, Wilfred Mulliner. You may remember that I once told you the story of how these two came together. If so, you will recall that my brother Wilfred was the eminent chemical researcher who had invented, among other specifics, such world-famous preparations as Mulliner’s Raven Gipsy Face Cream and the Mulliner Snow of the Mountains Lotion. He and Augustine had never been particularly intimate, but between Augustine and his aunt there had always existed a warm friendship.
My dear Augustine (wrote Angela Mulliner)—
I have been thinking so much about you lately, and I cannot forget that, when I saw you last, you seemed very fragile and deficient in vitamines. I do hope you take care of yourself.
I have been feeling for some time that you ought to take a tonic, and by a lucky chance Wilfred has just invented one which he tells me is the finest thing he has ever done. It is called Buck-U-Uppo, and acts directly on the red corpuscles. It is not yet on the market, but I have managed to smuggle a sample bottle from Wilfred’s laboratory, and I want you to try it at once. I am sure it is just what you need.
Your affectionate aunt,
P.S.—You take a tablespoonful before going to bed, and another just before breakfast.
Augustine was not an unduly superstitious young man, but the coincidence of this tonic arriving so soon after Jane had told him that a tonic was what he needed affected him deeply. It seemed to him that this thing must have been meant. He shook the bottle, uncorked it, and, pouring out a liberal tablespoonful, shut his eyes and swallowed it.
The medicine, he was glad to find, was not unpleasant to the taste. It had a slightly pungent flavour, rather like old boot-soles beaten up in sherry. Having taken the dose, he read for awhile in a book of theological essays, and then went to bed.
And, as his feet slipped between the sheets, he was annoyed to find that Mrs. Wardle, his housekeeper, had once more forgotten his hot-water bottle.
“Oh, dash!” said Augustine.
He was thoroughly upset. He had told the woman over and over again that he suffered from cold feet and could not get to sleep unless the dogs were properly warmed up. He sprang out of bed and went to the head of the stairs.
“Mrs. Wardle!” he cried.
There was no reply.
“Mrs. Wardle!” bellowed Augustine in a voice that displaced a flake of plaster from the ceiling. Until to-night he had always been very much afraid of his housekeeper and had both walked and talked softly in her presence. But now he was conscious of a strange new fortitude. His head was singing a little, and he felt equal to a dozen Mrs. Wardles.
Shuffling footsteps made themselves heard.
“Well, what is it now?” asked a querulous voice.
Augustine snorted, and another flake of plaster fell from the ceiling.
“I’ll tell you what it is now,” he roared. “How many times have I told you always to put a hot-water bottle in my bed? You’ve forgotten it again, you old cloth-head!”
Mrs. Wardle peered up, astounded and militant.
“Mr. Mulliner, I am not accustomed——”
“Shut up!” thundered Augustine. “What I want from you is less back-chat and more hot-water bottles. Bring it up at once, or I leave to-morrow. Let me endeavour to get it into your concrete skull that you aren’t the only person letting rooms in this village. Any more lip and I walk straight round the corner, where I’ll be appreciated. Hot-water bottle ho! And look slippy about it.”
“Yes, Mr. Mulliner. Certainly, Mr. Mulliner. In one moment, Mr. Mulliner.”
“Action! Action!” boomed Augustine. “Show some speed. Put a little snap into it.”
“Yes, yes, most decidedly, Mr. Mulliner,” replied the chastened voice from below.
An hour later, as he was dropping off to sleep, a thought crept into Augustine’s mind. Had he not been a little brusque with Mrs. Wardle? Had there not been in his manner something a shade abrupt—almost rude? Yes, he decided regretfully, there had. He lit a candle and reached for the diary which lay on the table at his bedside.
He made an entry.
The meek shall inherit the earth. Am I sufficiently meek? I wonder. This evening, when reproaching Mrs. Wardle, my worthy housekeeper, for omitting to place a hot-water bottle in my bed, I spoke quite crossly. The provocation was severe, but still I was surely to blame for allowing my passions to run riot. Mem.: Must guard agst this.
But, when he woke next morning, different feelings prevailed. He took his ante-breakfast dose of Buck-U-Uppo: and, looking at the entry in the diary, could scarcely believe that it was he who had written it. “Quite cross?” Of course he had been quite cross. Wouldn’t anybody be quite cross who was for ever being persecuted by beetle-wits who forgot hot-water bottles?
Erasing the words with one strong dash of a thick-leaded pencil, he scribbled in the margin a hasty “Applesauce! Served the old idiot right!” and went down to breakfast.
He felt most amazingly fit. Undoubtedly, in asserting that this tonic of his acted forcefully upon the red corpuscles, his Uncle Wilfred had been right. Until that moment Augustine had never supposed that he had any red corpuscles; but now, as he sat waiting for Mrs. Wardle to bring him his fried egg, he could feel them dancing about all over him. They seemed to be forming rowdy parties and sliding down his spine. His eyes sparkled, and from sheer joy of living he sang a few bars from the hymn for those of riper years at sea.
He was still singing when Mrs. Wardle entered with a dish.
“What’s this?” demanded Augustine, eyeing it dangerously.
“A nice fried egg, sir.”
“And what, pray, do you mean by nice? It may be an amiable egg. It may be a civil, well-meaning egg. But if you think it is fit for human consumption, adjust that impression. Go back to your kitchen, woman; select another; and remember this time that you are a cook, not an incinerating machine. Between an egg that is fried and an egg that is cremated there is a wide and substantial difference. This difference, if you wish to retain me as a lodger in these far too expensive rooms, you will endeavour to appreciate.”
THE glowing sense of well-being with which Augustine had begun the day did not diminish with the passage of time. It seemed, indeed, to increase. So full of effervescing energy did the young man feel that, departing from his usual custom of spending the morning crouched over the fire, he picked up his hat, stuck it at a rakish angle on his head, and sallied out for a healthy tramp across the fields.
It was while he was returning, flushed and rosy, that he observed a sight which is rare in the country districts of England—the spectacle of a bishop running. It is not often in a place like Lower Briskett-in-the-Midden that you see a bishop at all; and when you do he is either riding in a stately car or pacing at a dignified walk. This one was sprinting like a Derby winner, and Augustine paused to drink in the sight.
The bishop was a large, burly bishop, built for endurance rather than speed; but he was making excellent going. He flashed past Augustine in a whirl of flying gaiters: and then, proving himself thereby no mere specialist but a versatile all-round athlete, suddenly dived for a tree and climbed rapidly into its branches. His motive, Augustine readily divined, was to elude a rough, hairy dog which was toiling in his wake. The dog reached the tree a moment after his quarry had climbed it, and stood there, barking.
Augustine strolled up.
“Having a little trouble with the dumb friend, bish?” he asked, genially.
The bishop peered down from his eyrie.
“Young man,” he said, “save me!”
“Right most indubitably ho!” replied Augustine. “Leave it to me.”
Until to-day he had always been terrified of dogs, but now he did not hesitate. Almost quicker than words can tell, he picked up a stone, discharged it at the animal, and whooped cheerily as it got home with a thud. The dog, knowing when he had had enough, removed himself at some forty-five m.p.h.; and the bishop, descending cautiously, clasped Augustine’s hand in his.
“My preserver!” said the bishop.
“Don’t give it another thought,” said Augustine, cheerily. “Always glad to do a pal a good turn. We clergymen must stick together.”
“I thought he had me for a minute.”
“Quite a nasty customer. Full of rude energy.”
The bishop nodded.
“ ‘His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.’—Deuteronomy xxxiv. 7,” he agreed. “I wonder if you can direct me to the vicarage? I fear I have come a little out of my way.”
“I’ll take you there.”
“Thank you. Perhaps it would be as well if you did not come in. I have a serious matter to discuss with old Pieface—I mean, with the Rev. Stanley Brandon.”
“I have a serious matter to discuss with his daughter. I’ll just hang about the garden.”
“You are a very excellent young man,” said the bishop, as they walked along. “You are a curate, eh?”
“At present. But,” said Augustine, tapping his companion on the chest, “just watch my smoke. That’s all I ask you to do—just watch my smoke.”
“I will. You should rise to great heights—to the very top of the tree.”
“Like you did just now, eh? Ha, ha!”
“Ha, ha!” said the bishop. “You young rogue!”
He poked Augustine in the ribs.
“Ha, ha, ha!” said Augustine.
He slapped the bishop on the back.
“But all joking aside,” said the bishop as they entered the vicarage grounds, “I really shall keep my eye on you and see that you receive the swift preferment which your talents and character deserve. I say to you, my dear young friend, speaking seriously and weighing my words, that the way you picked that dog off with that stone was the smoothest thing I ever saw. And I am a man who always tells the strict truth.”
“ ‘Great is truth and mighty above all things.’—Esdras iv. 41,” said Augustine.
He turned away and strolled towards the laurel bushes, which were his customary meeting-place with Jane. The bishop went on to the front door and rang the bell.
ALTHOUGH they had made no definite appointment, Augustine was surprised when the minutes passed and no Jane appeared. He did not know that she had been told off by her father to entertain the bishop’s wife that morning, and show her the sights of Lower Briskett-in-the-Midden. He waited some quarter of an hour with growing impatience, and was about to leave when suddenly from the house there came to his ears the sound of voices raised angrily.
He stopped. The voices appeared to proceed from a room on the ground floor facing the garden.
Running lightly over the turf, Augustine paused outside the window and listened. The window was open at the bottom, and he could hear quite distinctly.
The vicar was speaking in a voice that vibrated with a strong man’s anger.
“Is that so?” said the vicar.
“Yes, it is!” said the bishop.
“Ha, ha! to you, and see how you like it!” rejoined the bishop with spirit.
Augustine drew a step closer. It was plain that Jane’s fears had been justified and that there was serious trouble afoot between these two old schoolfellows. He peeped in. The vicar, his hands behind his coat-tails, was striding up and down the carpet, while the bishop, his back to the fireplace, glared defiance at him from the hearth-rug.
“Who ever told you you were an authority on chasubles?” demanded the vicar.
“That’s all right who told me,” retorted the Bishop.
“I don’t believe you know what a chasuble is.”
“Is that so?”
“Well, what is it, then?”
“It’s a circular cloak hanging from the shoulders, elaborately embroidered with a pattern and with orphreys. And you can argue as much as you like, young Pieface, but you can’t get away from the fact that there are too many orphreys on yours. And what I’m telling you is that you’ve jolly well got to switch off a few of those orphreys or you’ll get it in the neck.”
The vicar’s eyes glittered furiously.
“Is that so?” he said. “Well, I just won’t, so there! And it’s like your cheek coming here and trying to high-hat me. You seem to have forgotten that I knew you when you were an inky-faced kid at school, and that, if I liked, I could tell the world one or two things about you which would probably amuse it.”
“My past is an open book.”
“Is it?” The vicar laughed malevolently. “Who put the white mouse in the French master’s desk?”
The bishop started.
“Who put jam in the dormitory prefect’s bed?” he retorted.
“Who couldn’t keep his collar clean?”
“Who used to wear a dickey?” The bishop’s wonderful organ-like voice, whose softest whisper could be heard throughout a vast cathedral, rang out in tones of thunder. “Who was sick at the house supper?”
The vicar quivered from head to foot. His rubicund face turned a deeper crimson.
“You know jolly well,” he said, in shaking accents, “that there was something wrong with the turkey. Might have upset anyone.”
“The only thing wrong with the turkey was that you ate too much of it. If you had paid as much attention to developing your soul as you did to developing your tummy, you might by now,” said the bishop “have risen to my own eminence.”
“Oh, might I?”
“No, perhaps I am wrong. You never had the brain.”
The vicar uttered another discordant laugh.
“Brain is good! We know all about your eminence, as you call it, and how you rose to that eminence.”
“What do you mean?”
“You are a bishop. How you became one we will not inquire.”
“What do you mean?”
“What I say. We will not inquire.”
“Why won’t you inquire?”
“Because,” said the vicar, “it is better not!”
The bishop’s self-control left him. His face contorted with fury, he took a step forward. And simultaneously Augustine sprang lightly into the room.
“Now, now, now!” said Augustine. “Now, now, now, now, now!”
The two men stood transfixed. They stared at the intruder dumbly.
“Come, come!” said Augustine.
The vicar was the first to recover. He glowered at Augustine.
“What do you mean by jumping through my window?” he thundered. “Are you a curate or a harlequin?”
Augustine met his gaze with an unfaltering eye.
“I am a curate,” he replied, with a dignity that well became him. “And, as a curate, I cannot stand by and see two superiors of the cloth, who are moreover old schoolfellows, forgetting themselves. It isn’t right. Absolutely not right, my dear old superiors of the cloth.”
The vicar bit his lip. The bishop bowed his head.
“Listen,” proceeded Augustine, placing a hand on the shoulder of each. “I hate to see you two dear good chaps quarrelling like this.”
“He started it,” said the vicar, sullenly.
“Never mind who started it.” Augustine silenced the bishop with a curt gesture as he made to speak. “Be sensible, my dear fellows. Respect the decencies of debate. Exercise a little good-humoured give-and-take. You say,” he went on, turning to the bishop, “that our good friend here has too many orphreys on his chasuble?”
“I do. And I stick to it.”
“Yes, yes, yes. But what,” said Augustine, soothingly, “are a few orphreys between friends. Reflect! You and our worthy vicar here were at school together. You are bound by the sacred ties of the old Alma Mater. With him you sported on the green. With him you shared a crib and threw inked darts in the hour supposed to be devoted to the study of French. Do these things mean nothing to you? Do these memories touch no chord?” He turned appealingly from one to the other. “Vicar! Bish!”
THE vicar had moved away and was wiping his eyes. The bishop fumbled for a pocket-handkerchief. There was a silence.
“Sorry, Pieface,” said the bishop, in a choking voice.
“Shouldn’t have spoken as I did, Boko,” mumbled the vicar.
“If you want to know what I think,” said the bishop, “you are right in attributing your indisposition at the house supper to something wrong with the turkey. I recollect saying at the time that the bird should never have been served in such a condition.”
“And when you put that white mouse in the French master’s desk,” said the vicar, “you performed one of the noblest services to humanity of which there is any record. They ought to have made you a bishop on the spot.”
The two men clasped hands.
“Splendid!” said Augustine. “Everything hotsy-totsy now?”
“Quite, quite,” said the vicar.
“As far as I am concerned, completely hotsy-totsy,” said the bishop. He turned to his old friend solicitously. “You will continue to wear all the orphreys you want, will you not, Pieface?”
“No, no. I see now that I was wrong. From now on, Boko, I abandon orphreys altogether.”
“It’s all right,” the vicar assured him. “I can take them or leave them alone.”
“Splendid fellow!” The bishop coughed to hide his emotion, and there was another silence. “I think, perhaps,” he went on, after a pause, “I should be leaving you now, my dear chap, and going in search of my wife. She is with your daughter, I believe, somewhere in the village.”
“They are coming up the drive now.”
“Ah, yes, I see them. A charming girl, your daughter.”
Augustine clapped him on the shoulder.
“Bish,” he exclaimed, “you said a mouthful. She is the dearest, sweetest girl in the whole world. And I should be glad, vicar, if you would give your consent to our immediate union. I love Jane with a good man’s fervour, and I am happy to inform you that my sentiments are returned. Assure us, therefore, of your approval, and I will go at once and have the banns put up.”
The vicar leaped as though he had been stung. Like so many vicars, he had a poor opinion of curates, and he had always regarded Augustine as rather below than above the general norm or level of the despised class.
“What!” he cried.
“A most excellent idea,” said the bishop, beaming. “A very happy notion, I call it.”
“My daughter!” The vicar seemed dazed. “My daughter marry a curate!”
“You were a curate once yourself, Pieface.”
“Yes, but not a curate like that.”
“No!” said the bishop. “You were not. Nor was I. Better for us both, had we been. This young man, I would have you know, is the most outstandingly excellent young man I have ever encountered. Are you aware that scarcely an hour ago he saved me with the most consummate address from a large shaggy dog with black spots and a kink in his tail? I was sorely pressed, Pieface, when this young man came up and, with a readiness of resource and an accuracy of aim which it would be impossible to over-praise, got that dog in the short ribs with a rock and sent him flying.”
The vicar seemed to be struggling with some powerful emotion. His eyes had widened.
“A dog with black spots?”
“Very black spots. But no blacker, I fear, than the heart they hid.”
“And he really plugged him in the short ribs?”
“As far as I could see, squarely in the short ribs.”
The vicar held out his hand.
“Mulliner,” he said, “I was not aware of this. In the light of the facts which have just been drawn to my attention, I have no hesitation in saying that my objections are removed. I have had it in for that dog since the second Sunday before Septuagesima, when he pinned me by the ankle as I paced beside the river composing a sermon on Certain Alarming Manifestations of the So-Called Modern Spirit. Take Jane. I give my consent freely. And may she be as happy as any girl with such a husband ought to be.”
A few more affecting words were exchanged, and then the bishop and Augustine left the house. The bishop was silent and thoughtful.
“I owe you a great deal, Mulliner,” he said at length.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Augustine. “Would you say that?”
“A very great deal. You saved me from a terrible disaster. Had you not leaped through that window at that precise juncture and intervened, I really believe I should have pasted my dear old friend Brandon in the eye. I was sorely exasperated.”
“Our good vicar can be trying at times,” agreed Augustine.
“My fist was already clenched, and I was just hauling off for the swing when you checked me. What the result would have been, had you not exhibited a tact and discretion beyond your years, I do not like to think. I might have been unfrocked.” He shivered at the thought, though the weather was mild. “I could never have shown my face at the Athenæum again. But, tut, tut!” went on the bishop, patting Augustine on the shoulder, “let us not dwell on what might have been. Speak to me of yourself. The vicar’s charming daughter—you really love her?”
“I do, indeed.”
The bishop’s face had grown grave.
“Think well, Mulliner,” he said. “Marriage is a serious affair. Do not plunge into it without due reflection. I myself am a husband, and, though singularly blessed in the possession of a devoted helpmeet, cannot but feel sometimes that a man is better off as a bachelor. Women, Mulliner, are odd.”
“True,” said Augustine.
“My own dear wife is the best of women. And, as I never weary of saying, a good woman is a wondrous creature, cleaving to the right and the good under all change; lovely in youthful comeliness, lovely all her life in comeliness of heart. And yet——”
“And yet?” said Augustine.
THE bishop mused for a moment. He wriggled a little with an expression of pain, and scratched himself between the shoulder-blades.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” said the bishop. “It is a warm and pleasant day to-day, is it not?”
“Exceptionally clement,” said Augustine.
“A fair, sunny day, made gracious by a temperate westerly breeze. And yet, Mulliner, if you will credit my statement, my wife insisted on my putting on my thick winter woollies this morning. Truly,” sighed the bishop, “ ‘as a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.’ Proverbs eleven, twenty-one.”
“Twenty-two,” corrected Augustine.
“I should have said twenty-two. They are made of thick flannel, and I have an exceptionally sensitive skin. Oblige me, my dear fellow, by rubbing me in the small of the back with the ferrule of your stick. I think it will ease the irritation.”
“But, my poor dear old bish,” said Augustine, sympathetically, “this must not be.”
The bishop shook his head ruefully.
“You would not speak so hardily, Mulliner, if you knew my wife. There is no appeal from her decrees.”
“Nonsense,” cried Augustine, cheerily. He looked through the trees to where the lady bishopess, escorted by Jane, was examining a lobelia through her lorgnette with just the right blend of cordiality and condescension. “I’ll fix that for you in a second.”
The bishop clutched at his arm.
“My boy! What are you going to do?”
“I’m just going to have a word with your wife and put the matter up to her as a reasonable woman. Thick winter woollies on a day like this! Absurd!” said Augustine. “Preposterous! I never heard such rot.”
The bishop gazed after him with a leaden heart. Already he had come to love this young man like a son: and to see him charging so light-heartedly into the very jaws of destruction afflicted him with a deep and poignant sadness. He knew what his wife was like when even the highest in the land attempted to thwart her; and this brave lad was but a curate. In another moment she would be looking at him through her lorgnette: and England was littered with the shrivelled remains of curates at whom the lady bishopess had looked through her lorgnette. He had seen them wilt like salted slugs at the episcopal breakfast-table.
He held his breath. Augustine had reached the lady bishopess, and the lady bishopess was even now raising her lorgnette.
The bishop shut his eyes and turned away. And then—years afterwards, it seemed to him—a cheery voice hailed him: and, turning, he perceived Augustine bounding back through the trees.
“It’s all right, bish,” said Augustine.
“All—all right?” faltered the bishop.
“Yes. She says you can go and change into the thin cashmere.”
The bishop reeled.
“But—but—but what did you say to her? What arguments did you employ?”
“Oh, I just pointed out what a warm day it was and jollied her along a bit——”
“Jollied her along a bit!”
“And she agreed in the most friendly and cordial manner. She has asked me to call at the Palace one of these days.”
The bishop seized Augustine’s hand.
“My boy,” he said in a broken voice, “you shall do more than call at the Palace. You shall come and live at the Palace. Become my secretary, Mulliner, and name your own salary. If you intend to marry, you will require an increased stipend. Become my secretary, boy, and never leave my side. I have needed somebody like you for years.”
IT was late in the afternoon when Augustine returned to his rooms, for he had been invited to lunch at the vicarage and had been the life and soul of the cheery little party.
“A letter for you, sir,” said Mrs. Wardle, obsequiously.
Augustine took the letter.
“I am sorry to say I shall be leaving you shortly, Mrs. Wardle.”
“Oh, sir! If there’s anything I can do——”
“Oh, it’s not that. The fact is, the bishop has made me his secretary, and I shall have to shift my toothbrush and spats to the Palace, you see.”
“Well, fancy that, sir! Why, you’ll be a bishop yourself one of these days.”
“Possibly,” said Augustine. “Possibly. And now let me read this.”
He opened the letter. A thoughtful frown appeared on his face as he read.
My dear Augustine,—
I am writing in some haste to tell you that the impulsiveness of your aunt has led to a rather serious mistake.
She tells me that she dispatched to you yesterday by parcels post a sample bottle of my new Buck-U-Uppo, which she obtained without my knowledge from my laboratory. Had she mentioned what she was intending to do, I could have prevented a very unfortunate occurrence.
Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo is of two grades or qualities—the A and the B. The A is a mild, but strengthening, tonic designed for human invalids. The B, on the other hand, is purely for circulation in the animal kingdom, and was invented to fill a long-felt want throughout our Indian possessions.
As you are doubtless aware, the favourite pastime of the Indian Maharajahs is the hunting of the tiger of the jungle from the backs of elephants; and it has happened frequently in the past that hunts have been spoiled by the failure of the elephant to see eye to eye with its owner in the matter of what constitutes sport.
Too often elephants, on sighting the tiger, have turned and galloped home: and it was to correct this tendency on their part that I invented Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo “B.” One teaspoonful of the Buck-U-Uppo “B” administered in its morning bran-mash will cause the most timid elephant to trumpet loudly and charge the fiercest tiger without a qualm.
Abstain, therefore, from taking any of the contents of the bottle you now possess,
And believe me,
Your affectionate uncle,
Augustine remained for some time in deep thought after perusing this communication. Then, rising, he whistled a few bars of the psalm appointed for the twenty-sixth of June and left the room.
Half an hour later a telegraphic message was speeding over the wires.
It ran as follows:—
Letter received. Send immediately, C.O.D., three cases of the “B.” “Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store.”—Deuteronomy xxviii. 5.
(Next month: “Jeeves and the Impending Doom.”)
See our annotations to this story as it appeared in volume form in Meet Mr. Mulliner (1927/28).