Arlington Stringham made a joke in the House of Commons. It
was a thin House, and a very thin joke; something about the
Anglo-Saxon race having a great many angles. It is possible
that it was unintentional, but a fellow-member, who did not
wish it to be supposed that he was asleep because his eyes
were shut, laughed. One or two of the papers noted “a
laugh” in brackets, and another, which was notorious for
the carelessness of its political news, mentioned
“laughter.” Things often begin in that way.
“Arlington made a joke in the House last night,” said
Eleanor Stringham to her mother; “in all the years we’ve
been married neither of us has made jokes, and I don’t like
it now. I’m afraid it’s the beginning of the rift in the
“What lute?” said her mother.
“It’s a quotation,” said Eleanor.
To say that anything was a quotation was an excellent
method, in Eleanor’s eyes, for withdrawing it from
discussion, just as you could always defend indifferent lamb
late in the season by saying “It’s mutton.”
And, of course, Arlington Stringham continued to tread the
thorny path of conscious humour into which Fate had beckoned
“The country’s looking very green, but, after all, that’s
what it’s there for,” he remarked to his wife two days
“That’s very modern, and I daresay very clever, but I’m
afraid it’s wasted on me,” she observed coldly. If she had
known how much effort it had cost him to make the remark she
might have greeted it in a kinder spirit. It is the tragedy
of human endeavour that it works so often unseen and
Arlington said nothing, not from injured pride, but
because he was thinking hard for something to say. Eleanor
mistook his silence for an assumption of tolerant
superiority, and her anger prompted her to a further gibe.
“You had better tell it to Lady Isobel. I’ve no doubt
she would appreciate it.”
Lady Isobel was seen everywhere with a fawn-coloured
collie at a time when every one else kept nothing but
Pekinese, and she had once eaten four green apples at an
afternoon tea in the Botanical Gardens, so she was widely
credited with a rather unpleasant wit. The censorious said
she slept in a hammock and understood Yeats’s poems, but her
family denied both stories.
“The rift is widening to an abyss,” said Eleanor to her
mother that afternoon.
“I should not tell that to any one,” remarked her
mother, after long reflection.
“Naturally, I should not talk about it very much,” said
Eleanor, “but why shouldn’t I mention it to any one?”
“Because you can’t have an abyss in a lute. There isn’t
Eleanor’s outlook on life did not improve as the afternoon
wore on. The page-boy had brought from the library By Mere
and Wold instead of By Mere Chance, the book which every
one denied having read. The unwelcome substitute appeared
to be a collection of nature notes contributed by the author
to the pages of some Northern weekly, and when one had been
prepared to plunge with disapproving mind into a regrettable
chronicle of ill-spent lives it was intensely irritating to
read “the dainty yellow-hammers are now with us, and flaunt
their jaundiced livery from every bush and hillock.”
Besides, the thing was so obviously untrue; either there
must be hardly any bushes or hillocks in those parts or the
country must be fearfully overstocked with yellow-hammers.
The thing scarcely seemed worth telling such a lie about.
And the page-boy stood there, with his sleekly brushed and
parted hair, and his air of chaste and callous indifference
to the desires and passions of the world. Eleanor hated
boys, and she would have liked to have whipped this one long
and often. It was perhaps the yearning of a woman who had
no children of her own.
She turned at random to another paragraph. “Lie quietly
concealed in the fern and bramble in the gap by the old
rowan tree, and you may see, almost every evening during
early summer, a pair of lesser whitethroats creeping up and
down the nettles and hedge-growth that mask their
The insufferable monotony of the proposed recreation!
Eleanor would not have watched the most brilliant
performance at His Majesty’s Theatre for a single evening
under such uncomfortable circumstances, and to be asked to
watch lesser whitethroats creeping up and down a nettle
“almost every evening” during the height of the season
struck her as an imputation on her intelligence that was
positively offensive. Impatiently she transferred her
attention to the dinner menu, which the boy had thoughtfully
brought in as an alternative to the more solid literary
fare. “Rabbit curry,” met her eye, and the lines of
disapproval deepened on her already puckered brow. The cook
was a great believer in the influence of environment, and
nourished an obstinate conviction that if you brought rabbit
and curry-powder together in one dish a rabbit curry would
be the result. And Clovis and the odious Bertie van Tahn
were coming to dinner. Surely, thought Eleanor, if
Arlington knew how much she had had that day to try her, he
would refrain from joke-making.
At dinner that night it was Eleanor herself who mentioned
the name of a certain statesman, who may be decently covered
under the disguise of X.
“X.,” said Arlington Stringham, “has the soul of a
It was a useful remark to have on hand, because it applied
equally well to four prominent statesmen of the day, which
quadrupled the opportunities for using it.
“Meringues haven’t got souls,” said Eleanor’s mother.
“It’s a mercy that they haven’t,” said Clovis; “they
would be always losing them, and people like my aunt would
get up missions to meringues, and say it was wonderful how
much one could teach them and how much more one could learn
“What could you learn from a meringue?” asked Eleanor’s
“My aunt has been known to learn humility from an
ex-Viceroy,” said Clovis.
“I wish cook would learn to make curry, or have the sense
to leave it alone,” said Arlington, suddenly and savagely.
Eleanor’s face softened. It was like one of his old
remarks in the days when there was no abyss between them.
It was during the debate on the Foreign Office vote that
Stringham made his great remark that “the people of Crete
unfortunately make more history than they can consume
locally.” It was not brilliant, but it came in the middle
of a dull speech, and the House was quite pleased with it.
Old gentlemen with bad memories said it reminded them of
It was Eleanor’s friend, Gertrude Ilpton, who drew her
attention to Arlington’s newest outbreak. Eleanor in these
days avoided the morning papers.
“It’s very modern, and I suppose very clever,” she
“Of course it’s clever,” said Gertrude; “all Lady
Isobel’s sayings are clever, and luckily they bear
“Are you sure it’s one of her sayings?” asked Eleanor.
“My dear, I’ve heard her say it dozens of times.”
“So that is where he gets his humour,” said Eleanor
slowly, and the hard lines deepened round her mouth.
The death of Eleanor Stringham from an overdose of
chloral, occurring at the end of a rather uneventful season,
excited a certain amount of unobtrusive speculation.
Clovis, who perhaps exaggerated the importance of curry in
the home, hinted at domestic sorrow.
And of course Arlington never knew. It was the tragedy of
his life that he should miss the fullest effect of his