THE PEACE OFFERING

“I want you to help me in getting up a dramatic

entertainment of some sort,” said the Baroness to Clovis.

“You see, there’s been an election petition down here, and

a member unseated and no end of bitterness and ill-feeling,

and the County is socially divided against itself. I

thought a play of some kind would be an excellent

opportunity for bringing people together again, and giving

them something to think of besides tiresome political

squabbles.”

The Baroness was evidently ambitious of reproducing

beneath her own roof the pacifying effects traditionally

ascribed to the celebrated Reel of Tullochgorum.

“We might do something on the lines of Greek tragedy,”

said Clovis, after due reflection; “the Return of Agamemnon,

for instance.”

The Baroness frowned.

“It sounds rather reminiscent of an election result,

doesn’t it?”

“It wasn’t that sort of return,” explained Clovis; “it

was a homecoming.”

“I thought you said it was a tragedy.”

“Well, it was. He was killed in his bathroom, you

know.”

“Oh, now I know the story, of course. Do you want me to

take the part of Charlotte Corday?”

“That’s a different story and a different century,” said

Clovis; “the dramatic unities forbid one to lay a scene in

more than one century at a time. The killing in this case

has to be done by Clytemnestra.”

“Rather a pretty name. I’ll do that part. I suppose you

want to be Aga-whatever his name is?”

“Dear no. Agamemnon was the father of grown-up children,

and probably wore a beard and looked prematurely aged. I

shall be his charioteer or bath-attendant, or something

decorative of that kind. We must do everything in the

Sumurun manner, you know.”

“I don’t know,” said the Baroness; “at least, I should

know better if you would explain exactly what you mean by

the Sumurun manner.”

Clovis obliged: “Weird music, and exotic skippings and

flying leaps, and lots of drapery and undrapery.

Particularly undrapery.”

“I think I told you the County are coming. The County

won’t stand anything very Greek.”

“You can get over any objection by calling it Hygiene, or

limb-culture, or something of that sort. After all, every

one exposes their insides to the public gaze and sympathy

nowadays, so why not one’s outside?”

“My dear boy, I can ask the County to a Greek play, or to

a costume play, but to a Greek-costume play, never. It

doesn’t do to let the dramatic instinct carry one too far;

one must consider one’s environment. When one lives among

greyhounds one should avoid giving life-like imitations of a

rabbit, unless one wants one’s head snapped off. Remember,

I’ve got this place on a seven years’ lease. And then,”

continued the Baroness, “as to skippings and flying leaps;

I must ask Emily Dushford to take a part. She’s a dear good

thing, and will do anything she’s told, or try to; but can

you imagine her doing a flying leap under any

circumstances?”

“She can be Cassandra, and she need only take flying

leaps into the future, in a metaphorical sense.”

“Cassandra; rather a pretty name. What kind of character

is she?”

“She was a sort of advance-agent for calamities. To know

her was to know the worst. Fortunately for the gaiety of

the age she lived in, no one took her very seriously.

Still, it must have been fairly galling to have her turning

up after every catastrophe with a conscious air of `perhaps

another time you’ll believe what I say.’ “

“I should have wanted to kill her.”

“As Clytemnestra I believe you gratify that very natural

wish.”

“Then it has a happy ending, in spite of it being a

tragedy?”

“Well, hardly,” said Clovis; “you see, the satisfaction

of putting a violent end to Cassandra must have been

considerably damped by the fact that she had foretold what

was going to happen to her. She probably dies with an

intensely irritating `what-did-I-tell-you’ smile on her

lips. By the way, of course all the killing will be done in

the Sumurun manner.”

“Please explain again,” said the Baroness, taking out a

notebook and pencil.

“Little and often, you know, instead of one sweeping

blow. You see, you are at your own home, so there’s no need

to hurry over the murdering as though it were some

disagreeable but necessary duty.”

“And what sort of end do I have? I mean, what curtain do

I get?”

“I suppose you rush into your lover’s arms. That is

where one of the flying leaps will come in.”

The getting-up and rehearsing of the play seemed likely to

cause, in a restricted area, nearly as much heart-burning

and ill-feeling as the election petition. Clovis, as

adapter and stage-manager, insisted, as far as he was able,

on the charioteer being quite the most prominent character

in the play, and his panther-skin tunic caused almost as

much trouble and discussion as Clytemnestra’s spasmodic

succession of lovers, who broke down on probation with

alarming uniformity. When the cast was at length fixed

beyond hope of reprieve matters went scarcely more smoothly.

Clovis and the Baroness rather overdid the Sumurun manner,

while the rest of the company could hardly be said to

attempt it at all. As for Cassandra, who was expected to

improvise her own prophecies, she appeared to be as

incapable of taking flying leaps into futurity as of

executing more than a severely plantigrade walk across the

stage.

“Woe! Trojans, woe to Troy!” was the most inspired

remark she could produce after several hours of

conscientious study of all the available authorities.

“It’s no earthly use foretelling the fall of Troy,”

expostulated Clovis, “because Troy has fallen before the

action of the play begins. And you mustn’t say too much

about your own impending doom either, because that will give

things away too much to the audience.”

After several minutes of painful brain-searching,

Cassandra smiled reassuringly.

“I know. I’ll predict a long and happy reign for George

the Fifth.”

“My dear girl,” protested Clovis, “have you reflected

that Cassandra specialized in foretelling calamities?”

There was another prolonged pause and another triumphant

issue.

“I know. I’ll foretell a most disastrous season for the

foxhounds.”

“On no account,” entreated Clovis; “do remember that

all Cassandra’s predictions came true. The M.F.H. and the

Hunt Secretary are both awfully superstitious, and they are

both going to be present.”

Cassandra retreated hastily to her bedroom to bathe her

eyes before appearing at tea.

The Baroness and Clovis were by this time scarcely on

speaking terms. Each sincerely wished their respective

ro^le to be the pivot round which the entire production

should revolve, and each lost no opportunity for furthering

the cause they had at heart. As fast as Clovis introduced

some effective bit of business for the charioteer (and he

introduced a great many), the Baroness would remorselessly

cut it out, or more often dovetail it into her own part,

while Clovis retaliated in a similar fashion whenever

possible. The climax came when Clytemnestra annexed some

highly complimentary lines, which were to have been

addressed to the charioteer by a bevy of admiring Greek

damsels, and put them into the mouth of her lover. Clovis

stood by in apparent unconcern while the words:

“Oh, lovely stripling, radiant as the dawn,” were

transposed into:

“Oh, Clytemnestra, radiant as the dawn,” but there was a

dangerous glitter in his eye that might have given the

Baroness warning. He had composed the verse himself,

inspired and thoroughly carried away by his subject; he

suffered, therefore, a double pang in beholding his tribute

deflected from its destined object, and his words mutilated

and twisted into what became an extravagant panegyric on the

Baroness’s personal charms. It was from this moment that he

became gentle and assiduous in his private coaching of

Cassandra.

The County, forgetting its dissensions, mustered in full

strength to witness the much-talked-of production. The

protective Providence that looks after little children and

amateur theatricals made good its traditional promise that

everything should be right on the night. The Baroness and

Clovis seemed to have sunk their mutual differences, and

between them dominated the scene to the partial eclipse of

all the other characters, who, for the most part, seemed

well content to remain in the shadow. Even Agamemnon, with

ten years of strenuous life around Troy standing to his

credit, appeared to be an unobtrusive personality compared

with his flamboyant charioteer. But the moment came for

Cassandra (who had been excused from any very definite

outpourings during rehearsals) to support her role by

delivering herself of a few well-chosen anticipations of

pending misfortune. The musicians obliged with

appropriately lugubrious wailings and thumpings, and the

Baroness seized the opportunity to make a dash to the

dressing-room to effect certain repairs in her make-up.

Cassandra nervous but resolute, came down to the footlights

and, like one repeating a carefully learned lesson, flung

her remarks straight at the audience:

“I see woe for this fair country if the brood of corrupt,

self-seeking, unscrupulous, unprincipled politicians” (here

she named one of the two rival parties in the State)

“continue to infest and poison our local councils and

undermine our Parliamentary representation; if they continue

to snatch votes by nefarious and discreditable means—”

A humming as of a great hive of bewildered and affronted

bees drowned her further remarks and wore down the droning

of the musicians. The Baroness, who should have been

greeted on her return to the stage with the pleasing

invocation, “Oh, Clytemnestra, radiant as the dawn,” heard

instead the imperious voice of Lady Thistledale ordering her

carriage, and something like a storm of open discord going

on at the back of the room.

*

The social divisions in the County healed themselves after

their own fashion; both parties found common ground in

condemning the Baroness’s outrageously bad taste and

tactlessness.

She has been fortunate in sub-letting for the greater part

of her seven years’ lease.