THE REMOULDING OF GROBY LINGTON

“A man is known by the company he keeps.”

In the morning-room of his sister-in-law’s house Groby

Lington fidgeted away the passing minutes with the demure

restlessness of advanced middle age. About a quarter of an

hour would have to elapse before it would be time to say his

good-byes and make his way across the village green to the

station, with a selected escort of nephews and nieces. He

was a good-natured, kindly dispositioned man, and in theory

he was delighted to pay periodical visits to the wife and

children of his dead brother William; in practice, he

infinitely preferred the comfort and seclusion of his own

house and garden, and the companionship of his books and his

parrot to these rather meaningless and tiresome incursions

into a family circle with which he had little in common. It

was not so much the spur of his own conscience that drove

him to make the occasional short journey by rail to visit

his relatives, as an obedient concession to the more

insistent but vicarious conscience of his brother, Colonel

John, who was apt to accuse him of neglecting poor old

William’s family. Groby usually forgot or ignored the

existence of his neighbour kinsfolk until such time as he

was threatened with a visit from the Colonel, when he would

put matters straight by a burned pilgrimage across the few

miles of intervening country to renew his acquaintance with

the young people and assume a kindly if rather forced

interest in the well-being of his sister-in-law. On this

occasion he had cut matters so fine between the timing of

his exculpatory visit and the coming of Colonel John, that

he would scarcely be home before the latter was due to

arrive. Anyhow, Groby had got it over, and six or seven

months might decently elapse before he need again sacrifice

his comforts and inclinations on the altar of family

sociability. He was inclined to be distinctly cheerful as

he hopped about the room, picking up first one object, then

another, and subjecting each to a brief bird-like scrutiny.

Presently his cheerful listlessness changed sharply to

an attitude of vexed attention. In a scrap-book of drawings

and caricatures belonging to one of his nephews he had come

across an unkindly clever sketch of himself and his parrot,

solemnly confronting each other in postures of ridiculous

gravity and repose, and bearing a likeness to one another

that the artist had done his utmost to accentuate. After

the first flush of annoyance had passed away, Groby laughed

good-naturedly and admitted to himself the cleverness of the

drawing. Then the feeling of resentment repossessed him,

resentment not against the caricaturist who had embodied the

idea in pen and ink, but against the possible truth that the

idea represented. Was it really the case that people grew

in time to resemble the animals they kept as pets, and had

he unconsciously become more and more like the comically

solemn bird that was his constant companion? Groby was

unusually silent as he walked to the train with his escort

of chattering nephews and nieces, and during the short

railway journey his mind was more and more possessed with an

introspective conviction that he had gradually settled down

into a sort of parrot-like existence. What, after all, did

his daily routine amount to but a sedate meandering and

pecking and perching, in his garden, among his fruit trees,

in his wicker chair on the lawn, or by the fireside in his

library? And what was the sum total of his conversation with

chance-encountered neighbours? “Quite a spring day, isn’t

it?” “It looks as though we should have some rain.”

“Glad to see you about again; you must take care of

yourself.” “How the young folk shoot up, don’t they?”

Strings of stupid, inevitable perfunctory remarks came to

his mind, remarks that were certainly not the mental

exchange of human intelligences, but mere empty parrot-talk.

One might really just as well salute one’s acquaintances

with “Pretty Polly. Puss, puss, miaow!” Groby began to

fume against the picture of himself as a foolish feathered

fowl which his nephews sketch had first suggested, and which

his own accusing imagination was filling in with such

unflattering detail.

“I’ll give the beastly bird away,” he said resentfully;

though he knew at the same time that he would do no such

thing. It would look so absurd after all the years that he

had kept the parrot and made much of it suddenly to try and

find it a new home.

“Has my brother arrived?” he asked of the stable-boy,

who had come with the pony-carriage to meet him.

“Yessir, came down by the two-fifteen. Your parrot’s

dead.” The boy made the latter announcement with the relish

which his class finds in proclaiming a catastrophe.

“My parrot dead?” said Groby. “What caused its

death?”

“The ipe,” said the boy briefly.

“The ipe?” queried Groby. “Whatever’s that?”

“The ipe what the Colonel brought down with him,” came

the rather alarming answer.

“Do you mean to say my brother is ill?” asked Groby.

“Is it something infectious?”

“Th’ Coloners so well as ever he was,” said the boy; and

as no further explanation was forthcoming Groby had to

possess himself in mystified patience till he reached home.

His brother was waiting for him at the hall door.

“Have you heard about the parrot?” he asked at once.

“’Pon my soul I’m awfully sorry. The moment he saw the

monkey I’d brought down as a surprise for you he squawked

out, `Rats to you, sir!’ and the blessed monkey made one

spring at him, got him by the neck and whirled him round

like a rattle. He was as dead as mutton by the time I’d got

him out of the little beggar’s paws. Always been such a

friendly little beast, the monkey has, should never have

thought he`d got it in him to see red like that. Can’t tell

you how sorry I feel about it, and now of course you’ll hate

the sight of the monkey.”

“Not at all,’ said Groby sincerely. A few hours earlier

the tragic end which had befallen his parrot would have

presented itself to him as a calamity; now it arrived almost

as a polite attention on the part of the Fates.

“The bird was getting old, you know,” he went on, in

explanation of his obvious lack of decent regret at the loss

of his pet. “I was really beginning to wonder if it was an

unmixed kindness to let him go on living till he succumbed

to old age. What a charming little monkey!” he added, when

he was introduced to the culprit.

The new-comer was a small, long-tailed monkey from the

Western Hemisphere, with a gentle, half-shy, half-trusting

manner that instantly captured Groby’s confidence; a student

of simian character might have seen in the fitful red light

in its eyes some indication of the underlying temper which

the parrot had so rashly put to the test with such dramatic

consequences for itself. The servants, who had come to

regard the defunct bird as a regular member of the

household, and one who gave really very little trouble, were

scandalized to find his bloodthirsty aggressor installed in

his place as an honoured domestic pet.

“A nasty heathen ipe what don’t never say nothing

sensible and cheerful, same as pore Polly did,” was the

unfavourable verdict of the kitchen quarters.

;One Sunday morning, some twelve or fourteen months after

the visit of Colonel John and the parrot-tragedy, Miss

Wepley sat decorously in her pew in the parish church,

immediately in front of that occupied by Groby Lington. She

was, comparatively speaking, a new-comer in the

neighbourhood, and was not personally acquainted with her

fellow-worshipper in the seat behind, but for the past two

years the Sunday morning service had brought them regularly

within each other’s sphere of consciousness. Without having

paid particular attention to the subject, she could probably

have given a correct rendering of the way in which he

pronounced certain words occurring in the responses, while

he was well aware of the trivial fact that, in addition to

her prayer book and handkerchief, a small paper packet of

throat lozenges always reposed on the seat beside her. Miss

Wepley rarely had recourse to her lozenges, but in case she

should be taken with a fit of coughing she wished to have

the emergency duly provided for. On this particular Sunday

the lozenges occasioned an unusual diversion in the even

tenor of her devotions, far more disturbing to her

personally than a prolonged attack of coughing would have

been. As she rose to take part in the singing of the first

hymn, she fancied that she saw the hand of her neighbour,

who was alone in the pew behind her, make a furtive downward

grab at the packet lying on the seat; on turning sharply

round she found that the packet had certainly disappeared,

but Mr. Lington was to all outward seeming serenely intent

on his hymn-book. No amount of interrogatory glaring on the

part of the despoiled lady could bring the least shade of

conscious guilt to his face.

“Worse was to follow,” as she remarked afterwards to a

scandalized audience of friends and acquaintances. “I had

scarcely knelt in prayer when a lozenge, one of my lozenges,

came whizzing into the pew, just under my nose. I turned

round and stared, but Mr. Lington had his eyes closed and

his lips moving as though engaged in prayer. The moment I

resumed my devotions another lozenge came rattling in, and

then another. I took no notice for a while, and then turned

round suddenly just as the dreadful man was about to flip

another one at me. He hastily pretended to be turning over

the leaves of his book but I was not to be taken in that

time. He saw that he had been discovered and no more

lozenges came. Of course I have changed my pew.”

“No gentleman would have acted in such a disgraceful

manner,” said one of her listeners; “and yet Mr. Lington

used to be so respected by everybody. He seems to have

behaved like a little ill-bred schoolboy.”

“He behaved like a monkey,” said Miss Wepley.

Her unfavourable verdict was echoed in other quarters

about the same time. Groby Lington had never been a hero in

the eyes of his personal retainers, but he had shared the

approval accorded to his defunct parrot as a cheerful

well-dispositioned body, who gave no particular trouble. Of

late months, however, this character would hardly have been

endorsed by the members of his domestic establishment. The

stolid stable-boy, who had first announced to him the tragic

end of his feathered pet, was one of the first to give voice

to the murmurs of disapproval which became rampant and

general in the servants’ quarters, and he had fairly

substantial grounds for his disaffection. In a burst of hot

summer weather he had obtained permission to bathe in a

modest-sized pond in the orchard, and thither one afternoon

Groby had bent his steps, attracted by loud imprecations of

anger mingled with the shriller chattering of

monkey-language. He beheld his plump diminutive servitor,

clad only in a waistcoat and a pair of socks, storming

ineffectually at the monkey which was seated on a low branch

of an apple tree, abstractedly fingering the remainder of

the boy’s outfit, which he had removed just out of his

reach.

“The ipe’s been an’ took my clothes,” whined the boy,

with the passion of his kind for explaining the obvious.

His incomplete toilet effect rather embarrassed him, but he

hailed the arrival of Groby with relief, as promising moral

and material support in his efforts to get back his raided

garments. The monkey had ceased its defiant jabbering, and

doubtless with a little coaxing from its master it would

hand back the plunder.

“If I lift you up,” suggested Groby, “you will just be

able to reach the clothes.”

The boy agreed, and Groby clutched him firmly by the

waistcoat, which was about all there was to catch hold of,

and lifted him clear of the ground. Then, with a deft swing

he sent him crashing into a clump of tag nettles, which

closed receptively round him. The victim had not been

brought up in a school which teaches one to repress one’s

emotions—if a fox had attempted to gnaw at his vitals he

would have flown to complain to the nearest hunt committee

rather than have affected an attitude of stoical

indifference. On this occasion the volume of sound which he

produced under the stimulus of pain and rage and

astonishment was generous and sustained, but above his

bellowings he could distinctly hear the triumphant

chattering of his enemy in the tree, and a peal of shrill

laughter from Groby.

When the boy had finished an improvised St. Vitus

caracole, which would have brought him fame on the boards of

the Coliseum, and which indeed met with ready appreciation

and applause from the retreating figure of Groby Lington, he

found that the monkey had also discreetly retired, while his

clothes were scattered on the grass at the foot of the tree.

“They’m two ipes, that’s what they be,” he muttered

angrily, and if his judgment was severe, at least he spoke

under the sting of considerable provocation.

It was a week or two later that the parlour-maid gave

notice, having been terrified almost to tears by an outbreak

of sudden temper on the part of the master anent some under

done cutlets. “’E gnashed ‘is teeth at me, ‘e did reely,”

she informed a sympathetic kitchen audience.

“I’d like to see ‘im talk like that to me, I would,”

said the cook defiantly, but her cooking from that moment

showed a marked improvement.

It was seldom that Groby Lington so far detached himself

from his accustomed habits as to go and form one of a

house-party, and he was not a little piqued that Mrs.

Glenduff should have stowed him away in the musty old

Georgian wing of the house, in the next room, moreover, to

Leonard Spabbink, the eminent pianist.

“He plays Liszt like an angel,” had been the hostess’s

enthusiastic testimonial.

“He may play him like a trout for all I care,” had been

Groby’s mental comment, “but I wouldn’t mind betting that

be snores. He’s just the sort and shape that would. And if

I hear him snoring through those ridiculous thin-panelled

walls, there’ll be trouble.”

He did, and there was.

Groby stood it for about two and a quarter minutes, and

then made his way through the corridor into Spabbink’s room.

Under Groby’s vigorous measures the musicians flabby,

redundant figure sat up in bewildered semi-consciousness

like an ice-cream that has been taught to beg. Groby

prodded him into complete wakefulness, and then the pettish

self-satisfied pianist fairly lost his temper and slapped

his domineering visitant on the hand. In another moment

Spabbink was being nearly stifled and very effectually

gagged by a pillow-case tightly bound round his head, while

his plump pyjama’d limbs were hauled out of bed and smacked,

pinched, kicked, and bumped in a catch-as-catch-can progress

across the floor, towards the flat shallow bath in whose

utterly inadequate depths Groby perseveringly strove to

drown him. For a few moments the room was almost in

darkness: Groby’s candle had overturned in an early stage of

the scuffle, and its flicker scarcely reached to the spot

where splashings, smacks, muffled cries, and splutterings,

and a chatter of ape-like rage told of the struggle that was

being waged round the shores of the bath. A few instants

later the one-sided combat was brightly lit up by the flare

of blazing curtains and rapidly kindling panelling.

When the hastily aroused members of the house-party

stampeded out on to the lawn, the Georgian wing was well

alight and belching forth masses of smoke, but some moments

elapsed before Groby appeared with the half-drowned pianist

in his arms, having just bethought him of the superior

drowning facilities offered by the pond at the bottom of the

lawn. The cool night air sobered his rage, and when he

found that he was innocently acclaimed as the heroic rescuer

of poor Leonard Spabbink, and loudly commended for his

presence of mind in tying a wet cloth round his head to

protect him from smoke suffocation, he accepted the

situation, and subsequently gave a graphic account of his

finding the musician asleep with an overturned candle by his

side and the conflagration well started. Spabbink gave his

version some days later, when he had partially recovered

from the shock of his midnight castigation and immersion,

but the gentle pitying smiles and evasive comments with

which his story was greeted warned him that the public ear

was not at his disposal. He refused, however, to attend the

ceremonial presentation of the Royal Humane Society’s

life-saving medal.

It was about this time that Groby’s pet monkey fell a

victim to the disease which attacks so many of its kind when

brought under the influence of a northern climate. Its

master appeared to be profoundly affected by its loss, and

never quite recovered the level of spirits that he had

recently attained. In company with the tortoise, which

Colonel John presented to him on his last visit, he potters

about his lawn and kitchen garden, with none of his

erstwhile sprightliness; and his nephews and nieces are

fairly well justified in alluding to him as “Old Uncle

Groby.”