FILBOID STUDGE, THE STORY OF A MOUSE THAT HELPED

“I want to marry your daughter,” said Mark Spayley with

faltering eagerness. “I am only an artist with an income

of two hundred a year, and she is the daughter of an

enormously wealthy man, so I suppose you will think my offer

a piece of presumption.”

Duncan Dullamy, the great company inflator, showed no

outward sign of displeasure. As a matter of fact, he was

secretly relieved at the prospect of finding even a

two-hundred-a-year husband for his daughter Leonore. A

crisis was rapidly rushing upon him, from which he knew he

would emerge with neither money nor credit; all his recent

ventures had fallen flat, and flattest of all had gone the

wonderful new breakfast food, Pipenta, on the advertisement

of which he had sunk such huge sums. It could scarcely be

called a drug in the market; people bought drugs, but no one

bought Pipenta.

“Would you marry Leonore if she were a poor man’s

daughter?” asked the man of phantom wealth.

“Yes,” said Mark, wisely avoiding the error of

over-protestation. And to his astonishment Leonore’s father

not only gave his consent, but suggested a fairly early date

for the wedding.

“I wish I could show my gratitude in some way,” said

Mark with genuine emotion. “I’m afraid it’s rather like

the mouse proposing to help the lion.”

“Get people to buy that beastly muck,” said Dullamy,

nodding savagely at a poster of the despised Pipenta, “and

you’ll have done more than any of my agents have been able

to accomplish.”

“It wants a better name,” said Mark reflectively, “and

something distinctive in the poster line. Anyway, I’ll have

a shot at it.”

Three weeks later the world was advised of the coming of a

new breakfast food, heralded under the resounding name of

“Filboid Studge.” Spayley put forth no pictures of massive

babies springing up with fungus-like rapidity under its

forcing influence, or of representatives of the leading

nations of the world scrambling with fatuous eagerness for

its possession. One huge sombre poster depicted the Damned

in Hell suffering a new torment from their inability to get

at the Filboid Studge which elegant young fiends held in

transparent bowls just beyond their reach. The scene was

rendered even more gruesome by a subtle suggestion of the

features of leading men and women of the day in the

portrayal of the Lost Souls; prominent individuals of both

political parties, Society hostesses, well-known dramatic

authors and novelists, and distinguished aeroplanists were

dimly recognizable in that doomed throng; noted lights of

the musical-comedy stage flickered wanly in the shades of

the Inferno, smiling still from force of habit, but with the

fearsome smiling rage of baffled effort. The poster bore no

fulsome allusions to the merits of the new breakfast food,

but a single grim statement ran in bold letters along its

base: “They cannot buy it now.”

Spayley had grasped the fact that people will do things

from a sense of duty which they would never attempt as a

pleasure. There are thousands of respectable middle-class

men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath,

would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered

them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that

you went there because you liked it, they would stare in

pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive. In the same

way, whenever a massacre of Armenians is reported from Asia

Minor, every one assumes that it has been carried out

“under orders” from somewhere or another; no one seems to

think that there are people who might like to kill their

neighbours now and then.

And so it was with the new breakfast food. No one would

have eaten Filboid Studge as a pleasure, but the grim

austerity of its advertisement drove housewives in shoals to

the grocers’ shops to clamour for an immediate supply. In

small kitchens solemn pig-tailed daughters helped depressed

mothers to perform the primitive ritual of its preparation.

On the breakfast-tables of cheerless parlours it was

partaken of in silence. Once the womenfolk discovered that

it was thoroughly unpalatable, their zeal in forcing it on

their households knew no bounds. “You haven’t eaten your

Filboid Studge!” would be screamed at the appetiteless

clerk as he turned weariedly from the breakfast-table, and

his evening meal would be prefaced by a warmed-up mess which

would be explained as “your Filboid Studge that you didn’t

eat this morning.” Those strange fanatics who

ostentatiously mortify themselves, inwardly and outwardly,

with health biscuits and health garments, battened

aggressively on the new food. Earnest spectacled young men

devoured it on the steps of the National Liberal Club. A

bishop who did not believe in a future state preached

against the poster, and a peer’s daughter died from eating

too much of the compound. A further advertisement was

obtained when an infantry regiment mutinied and shot its

officers rather than eat the nauseous mess; fortunately,

Lord Birrell of Blatherstone, who was War Minister at the

moment, saved the situation by his happy epigram, that

“Discipline to be effective must be optional.”

Filboid Studge had become a household word, but Dullamy

wisely realized that it was not necessarily the last word in

breakfast dietary; its supremacy would be challenged as soon

as some yet more unpalatable food should be put on the

market. There might even be a reaction in favour of

something tasty and appetizing, and the Puritan austerity of

the moment might be banished from domestic cookery. At an

opportune moment, therefore, he sold out his interests in

the article which had brought him in colossal wealth at a

critical juncture, and placed his financial reputation

beyond the reach of cavil. As for Leonore, who was now an

heiress on a far greater scale than ever before, he

naturally found her something a vast deal higher in the

husband market than a two-hundred-a-year poster designer.

Mark Spayley, the brainmouse who had helped the financial

lion with such untoward effect, was left to curse the day he

produced the wonder-working poster.

“After all,” said Clovis, meeting him shortly afterwards

at his club, “you have this doubtful consolation, that ’tis

not in mortals to countermand success.”