Mrs. Jallatt’s young people’s parties were severely
exclusive; it came cheaper that way, because you could ask
fewer to them. Mrs. Jallatt didn’t study cheapness, but
somehow she generally attained it.
“There’ll be about ten girls,” speculated Rollo, as he
drove to the function, “and I suppose four fellows, unless
the Wrotsleys bring their cousin, which Heaven forbid. That
would mean Jack and me against three of them.”
Rollo and the Wrotsley brethren had maintained an undying
feud almost from nursery days. They only met now and then
in the holidays, and the meeting was usually tragic for
whichever happened to have the fewest backers on hand.
Rollo was counting tonight on the presence of a devoted and
muscular partisan to hold an even balance. As he arrived he
heard his prospective champion’s sister apologizing to the
hostess for the unavoidable absence of her brother; a moment
later he noted that the Wrotsleys had brought their cousin.
Two against three would have been exciting and possibly
unpleasant; one against three promised to be about as
amusing as a visit to a dentist. Rollo ordered his carriage
for as early as was decently possible, and faced the company
with a smile that he imagined the better sort of aristocrat
would have worn when mounting to the guillotine.
“So glad you were able to come,” said the elder Wrotsley
“Now, you children will like to play games, I suppose,”
said Mrs. Jallatt, by way of giving things a start, and as
they were too well-bred to contradict her there only
remained the question of what they were to play at.
“I know of a good game,” said the elder Wrotsley
innocently. “The fellows leave the room and think of a
word, then they come back again, and the girls have to find
out what the word is.”
Rollo knew that game. He would have suggested it himself
if his faction had been in the majority.
“It doesn’t promise to be very exciting,” sniffed the
superior Dolores Sneep as the boys filed out of the room.
Rollo thought differently. He trusted to Providence that
Wrotsley had nothing worse than knotted handkerchiefs at his
The word-choosers locked themselves in the library to
ensure that their deliberations should not be interrupted.
Providence turned out to be not even decently neutral; on a
rack on the library wall were a dog-whip and a whalebone
riding switch. Rollo thought it criminal negligence to
leave such weapons of precision lying about. He was given a
choice of evils, and chose the dog-whip; the next minute or
so he spent in wondering how he could have made such a
stupid selection. Then they went back to the languidly
“The word’s `camel,’ “ announced the Wrotsley cousin
“You stupid!” screamed the girls, “we’ve got to guess
the word. Now you’ll have to go back and think of
“Not for worlds,” said Rollo; “I mean, the word isn’t
really camel; we were rotting. Pretend it’s dromedary!” he
whispered to the others.
“I heard them say `dromedary’! I heard them. I don’t
care what you say; I heard them,” squealed the odious
Dolores. “With ears as long as hers one would hear
anything,” thought Rollo savagely.
“We shall have to go back, I suppose,” said the elder
The conclave locked itself once more into the library.
“Look here, I’m not going through that dog-whip business
again,” protested Rollo.
“Certainly not, dear,” said the elder Wrotsley; “we’ll
try the whalebone switch this time, and then you’ll know
which hurts most. It’s only by personal experience that one
finds out these things.”
It was swiftly borne in upon Rollo that his earlier
selection of the dog-whip had been a really sound one. The
conclave gave his under-lip time to steady itself while it
debated the choice of the necessary word. “Mustang” was
no good, as half the girls wouldn’t know what it meant;
finally “quagga” was pitched on.
“You must come and sit down over here,” chorused the
investigating committee on their return; but Rollo was
obdurate in insisting that the questioned person always
stood up. On the whole, it was a relief when the game ended
and supper was announced.
Mrs. Jallatt did not stint her young guests, but the more
expensive delicacies of her supper-table were never
unnecessarily duplicated, and it was usually good policy to
take what you wanted while it was still there. On this
occasion she had provided sixteen peaches to “go round”
among fourteen children; it was really not her fault that
the two Wrotsleys and their cousin, foreseeing the long
foodless drive home, had each quietly pocketed an extra
peach, but it was distinctly trying for Dolores and the fat
and good-natured Agnes Blaik to be left with one peach
“I suppose we had better halve it,” said Dolores sourly.
But Agnes was fat first and good-natured afterwards; those
were her guiding principles in life. She was profuse in her
sympathy for Dolores, but she hastily devoured the peach,
explaining that it would spoil it to divide it; the juice
ran out so.
“Now what would you all like to do?” demanded Mrs.
Jallatt by way of a diversion. “The professional conjurer
whom I had engaged has failed me at the last moment. Can
any of you recite?”
There were symptoms of a general panic. Dolores was known
to recite “Locksley Hall” on the least provocation. There
had been occasions when her opening line, “Comrades, leave
me here a little,” had been taken as a literal injunction
by a large section of her hearers. There was a murmur of
relief when Rollo hastily declared that he could do a few
conjuring tricks. He had never done one in his life, but
those two visits to the library had goaded him to unusual
“You’ve seen conjuring chaps take coins and cards out of
people,” he announced; “well, I’m going to take more
interesting things out of some of you. Mice, for
A shrill protest rose, as he had foreseen, from the
majority of his audience.
“Well, fruit, then.”
The amended proposal was received with approval. Agnes
Without more ado Rollo made straight for his trio of
enemies, plunged his hand successively into their
breast-pockets, and produced three peaches. There was no
applause, but no amount of hand-clapping would have given
the performer as much pleasure as the silence which greeted
“Of course, we were in the know,” said the Wrotsley
“That’s done it,” chuckled Rollo to himself.
“If they had been confederates they would have sworn they
knew nothing about it,” said Dolores, with piercing
“Do you know any more tricks?” asked Mrs. Jallatt
Rollo did not. He hinted that he might have changed the
three peaches into something else, but Agnes had already
converted one into girl-food, so nothing more could be done
in that direction.
“I know a game,” said the elder Wrotsley heavily,
“where the fellows go out of the room, and think of some
character in history; then they come back and act him, and
the girls have to guess who it’s meant for.”
“I’m afraid I must be going,” said Rollo to his hostess.
“Your carriage won’t be here for another twenty
minutes,” said Mrs. Jallatt.
“It’s such a fine evening I think I’ll walk and meet
“It’s raining rather steadily at present. You’ve just
time to play that historical game.”
“We haven’t heard Dolores recite,” said Rollo
desperately; as soon as he had said it he realized his
mistake. Confronted with the alternative of “Locksley
Hall,” public opinion declared unanimously for the history
Rollo played his last card. In an undertone meant
apparently for the Wrotsley boy, but carefully pitched to
reach Agnes, he observed:
“All right, old man; we’ll go and finish those chocolates
we left in the library.”
“I think it’s only fair that the girls should take their
turn in going out,” exclaimed Agnes briskly. She was great
on fairness. “Nonsense,” said the others; “there are too
many of us.”
“Well, four of us can go. I’ll be one of them.”
And Agnes darted off towards the library, followed by
three less eager damsels.
Rollo sank into a chair and smiled ever so faintly at the
Wrotsleys, just a momentary baring of the teeth; an otter,
escaping from the fangs of the hounds into the safety of a
deep pool, might have given a similar demonstration of its
From the library came the sound of moving furniture.
Agnes was leaving nothing unturned in her quest for the
mythical chocolates. And then came a more blessed sound,
wheels crunching wet gravel.
“It has been a most enjoyable evening,” said Rollo to