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Berry and Co. By Dornford Yates Characters: 44007

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"As I have frequently observed," said Berry, "your education has been neglected. I'm not blaming those responsible. Your instruction must have been a thankless task."

"I should think the masters who taught you enjoyed their holidays."

Such a reply from Jill was like a sudden snowstorm in June, and Berry, who was in the act of drinking, choked with surprise. When he had recovered his breath-

"You rude child," he said. "My prizes are among my most cherished possessions."

"Where d'you keep them?"-suspiciously.

"Chancery Lane Safe Deposit," was the reply. "When I die I shall leave them to the Wallace Collection. The shoes I wore at the first night of Buzz-Buzz are already promised to the Imperial Institute."

"When you've quite finished," said Daphne, "I'll suggest that we go up for the day on Friday. I don't mean to-morrow, but the one after."

"It's a little early in the year," said I. "All the same, there's no reason why we shouldn't go up again later on. It's always open."

"If the weather holds," said Jonah, "it will be looking wonderful."

Oxford. Some reference had been made to the city while we sat at dessert, and in the midst of a banana Jill had confessed that she had never been there. The rest of us knew the place well. Berry had been at Magdalen, Jonah at New College, and I had fleeted four fat years carelessly as a member of "The House." But, while my sister had spent many hours there during my residence, Jill had not once visited her brother-largely, no doubt, because there was a disparity of six years, in her favour, between their ages.

"I warn you," said Berry, "that I may break down. My return to the haunts of early innocence may be too much for me. Yes," he added, "I shouldn't be at all surprised if I were to beat my breast somewhere near The Martyrs' Memorial."

"An appropriate locality," said Jonah. "If my memory serves me, it was for a crime committed almost under the shadow of that monument that you were irrevocably sent down."

Berry selected a cigar before replying. Then-

"Only a malignant reptile would refer to that miscarriage of justice. It was not my fault that the animal which I employed exceeded its instructions and, as it were, pushed on after attaining its objective."

"You expected it to consolidate the position?" said I.

"Precisely. To dig itself in. It was like this. It was expedient-no matter why-that a large boar should be introduced into Balliol College shortly before 10 p.m. A gigantic specimen was accordingly procured and brought to the Broad Street entrance in a hansom cab. It was then induced to take up a position commanding the wicket-door. The juxtaposition of two hurdles, held in place by my subordinates, frustrated any attempt at untimely evacuation. At a given signal the customary kick was administered to the gate, indicating that some person or persons sought admission to the foundation. Unhesitatingly the porter responded to the summons. The wicket was opened, and the pig passed in."

"I think it was very cruel," said Daphne.

"Not at all," said her husband. "There was more succulent grass upon the lawns of Balliol than was dreamt of in its ferocity. To continue. My mission accomplished, I entered the hansom and drove to the Club. It was during an unfortunate altercation with the cabman, who demanded an unreasonably exorbitant sum for the conveyance of the pig, that I was accosted by a proctor for being gownless. The cab was still redolent of its late occupant, and, although nothing was said at the time, it was this which afterwards led the authorities to suspect my complicity. Even so, nothing would have been said but for a most distressing development.

"I had expected that the pig would confine its attention to the quadrangles and gardens and to startling such members of the college as happened casually to encounter it. Fate, however, decreed otherwise. It appears that the creature's admission coincided with the opening of a door which led directly into the Senior Common Room, where the Master and Fellows were still discussing classical criticism and some '34 port. Attracted by the shaft of light and the mellow atmosphere of good cheer and hilarity which streamed into the comparative gloom of the quadrangle, the pig made a bee-line for the doorway, and a moment later the exclusive circle was enriched by the presence of this simple and unaffected guest. The details of what followed have never transpired, but from the Senior Proctor's demeanour at a subsequent interview, and the amount of the bill for damage which I was requested to pay, I am inclined to think that the pig must have been a confirmed Bolshevist."

"I hope you apologized to the Master."

"I did. I received in reply a letter which I shall always value. It ran as follows-


I beg that you will think no more of the matter. Youth must be served. Many years ago I assisted your father in a somewhat similar enterprise. Till the other evening I had always believed that the havoc provoked by the introduction of a dancing bear into a concert-room could not be surpassed. I am now less certain.

Yours very faithfully,


"I think," said Jill, "he was very forgiving."

"It was deep," said Berry, "calling to deep. By the way, you'll all be pleased to hear that I have received peremptory instructions 'within one week to abolish the existing number by which this house is distinguished, and to mark or affix on some conspicuous part thereof a new number, and to renew the same as often as it is obliterated or defaced.' Selah."

"Whatever," said Daphne, "do you mean?"

"Sorry," said Berry. "Let me put it another way. Some genii, masquerading as officials, have got a move on. Snuffing the air of 'Reconstruction,' they have realized with a shock that the numbers of the houses in this street have not been changed for over half a century. Thirstily they have determined to repair the omission. We've always been '38.' In a few days, with apologies to Wordsworth, we shall be '7.' A solemn thought."

"But can we do nothing?"

"Certainly. In that case somebody else will obliterate the existing number, and I shall be summoned to appear before a Justice of the Peace."

"It's outrageous," said Daphne. "It'll cause endless confusion, and think of all our notepaper and cards. All the dies will have to be scrapped and new ones cut."

"Go easy," said I. "After a decent interval they'll alter the name of the street. Many people feel that The Quadrant should be renamed 'The Salient,' and Piccadilly 'High Street.' I'm all for Progress."

"Is this renumbering stunt a fact?" said Jonah. "Or are you Just being funny?"

"It's a poisonous but copper-bottomed fact," said Berry. "This is the sort of thing we pay rates and taxes for. Give me Germany."

"Can't we refuse?"

"I've rung up Merry and Merry, and they've looked up the law, and say there's no appeal. We are at the mercy of some official who came out top in algebra in '64 and has never recovered. Let us be thankful it wasn't geography. Otherwise we should be required to name this house 'Sea View' or 'Clovelly.' Permit me to remark that the port has now remained opposite you for exactly four minutes of time, for three of which my goblet has been empty."

"I think it's cruel," said Jill, passing on the decanter. "I think--"

"Hush," said Berry. "That wonderful organ, my brain, is working." Rapidly he began to write upon the back of a menu. "We must inform the world through the medium of the Press. An attractive paragraph must appear in The Times. What could be more appropriate than an epitaph? Ply me with wine, child. The sage is in labour with a song." Jill filled his glass and he drank. "Another instant, and you shall hear the deathless words. I always felt I should be buried in the Abbey. Anybody give me a rhyme for 'bilge'? No, it doesn't matter. I have ingeniously circumvented the crisis."

He added one line, held the card at arm's length, regarded it as a painter a canvas, sighed, and began to read.

A painful tale I must relate.

We used to live at thirty-eight,

But as we hope to go to heaven,

We've come to live at number seven.

Now, if we'd lived at number nine,

I'd got a simply priceless line-

I didn't want to drag in heaven,

But nothing else will rhyme with seven.

"Soldier, mountebank, and rhymester too!" said Jonah. "And yet we breathe the same air."

"I admit it's strange," said my brother-in-law. "But it was foretold by my predecessor. I think you'll find the prophecy in Henry the Fifth. 'And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best, Neighboured by fruit of baser quality.' My game, I think. What?"

* * *

As was fitting, St. George's Day dawned fair and cloudless. Her passionate weeping of the day before dismissed, April was smiling-shyly at first, as if uncertain that her recent waywardness had been forgiven, and by and by so bravely that all the sweet o' the year rose up out of the snowy orchards, dewy and odorous, danced in the gleaming meadows and hung, glowing and breathless, in every swaying nursery that Spring had once more built upon the patient trees.

The Rolls sailed through the country, proudly indifferent to hill or dale, melting the leagues to miles with such swift deadliness as made you sorry for the lean old road that once had been so much to reckon with.

I was on the point of communicating this Quixotic reflection to Agatha Deriot, who was seated in front between Jill and myself, when there fell upon my reluctant ears that heavy sigh which only an expiring tire can heave. As I slowed up, it occurred to me that the puissance of the roads of England was still considerable.

"Which is it?" said Agatha.

"Off hind, I fancy." We were in the midst of a pleasant beechwood, and I pulled in to the side of the road with a grunt. "If it had to be, it might have happened in a less pleasing locality."

"I gather," said Berry's voice, "I gather that something untoward has befallen the automobile. Should I be wrong, correct me and explain the stoppage."

"With that singular clarity of intellect which never fails to recognize the obvious, you have correctly diagnosed the case. We have picked up a puncture."

"Speak for yourself," said Berry. "I always let them lie. I did gather a bunch of bursts once, but--"

"Sorry," said I. "I forgot how near we were to Oxford. What I meant was that some hostile body of a sharp nature had penetrated a tire, thus untimely releasing the air hitherto therein confined."

"Thank you," said Berry. "Experience leads me to anticipate a slight delay, the while you effect the necessary repairs. I shall therefore compose myself to slumber and meditation. Possibly I shall toy with a cigarette. Possibly--"

"Your programme will, I fear, miscarry for more than one reason. In the first place, you're sitting on the jack. In the second place, clumsy fool though you are, Jonah can change the wheel quicker if you help him." With that I climbed out of the driver's seat, and lighted a cigarette. "Who," I added, "will come for a little walk?"

"I'm coming," said Daphne, setting aside the rug and rising from her seat between Jonah and her husband.

"I forbid you," said the latter, "to consort with that blasphemous viper."

My sister leaned down and kissed him.

"A little gentle exercise," she said, "will do you good. I expect it'll make you hot, so take your coat off. Then you'll have something to put on again."

Coldly Berry regarded her.

"How long," he said, "did it take you to work that out?"

As we strolled down the sun-flecked road in the wake of Miss Deriot and Jill, I turned and looked back at the car. Something was squatting on the tarmac close to the petrol tank. The fact that Jonah was unstrapping a spare wheel suggested that my brother-in-law was taking exercise....

My sister slid an arm through mine, and we walked idly on. The road curled out of the wood into the unchecked sunlight, rising to where its flashing hedgerows fell back ten paces each, leaving a fair green ride on either side of the highway. Here jacketed elms made up a stately colonnade, ready to nod their gay green crests at each stray zephyr's touch, and throwing broad equidistant bars of shadow across the fresh turf and the still moist ribbon of metalling beyond. Two piles of stones lay heaped upon the sward, and, as we drew near, we heard the busy chink of a stone-breaker's hammer, a melodious sound that fitted both morning and venue to perfection. Again I fell to thinking on the old coach road....

The stone-breaker was an old, old man, but the tone in which he gave us "Good day" was blithe and good to hear, while he looked as fit as a fiddle.

"You work very fast," said I, as he reached for a mammoth flint.

"Aye," he said. "But it come easy, sir, after so many year."

"Have you always done this?" said Daphne.

The old fellow plucked the gauze from his brow and touched his battered hat.

"Naught else, m'm. Nine-and-seventy year come Michaelmas I've kep' the Oxford road. An' me father before me."

"That's a wonderful record," said I amazedly. "And you carry your years well."

"Thank you, sir. There's a many as tells me that. I'll be ninety-one in the month o' June. An' can't write me own name, sir."

"That's no shame," said I. "Tell me, you must remember the coaches."

"That do I. They was took off my road just afore I started breakin' meself, but long afore that I used to bring me father 'is dinner, an' I remember them well. Many a time I've watched the 'Tantivy' go by, an' Muster Cracknell drivin'. Always nodded to father, 'e did, an' passed the time o' day. An' father, 'e'd wave 'is 'ammer, an' call me an' tell me 'is name, an' what a fine coachman 'e were. 'Twas a Birmin'ham coach, the 'Tantivy,' but Muster Cracknell used to 'and over at Oxford. London to Oxford was 'is stretch, sir. An' back."

"Isn't that wonderful?" said Daphne.

Agatha and Jill, who had joined us, agreed in awestruck whispers.

The old fellow laughed.

"I've seen the coaches, m'm, and I've seen the motors, an' they can't neither of them do without the road, m'm. As it was in the beginnin', so ever it shall be. Soon I'll pass, but the road'll go on, an' others'll break for 'er. For she must needs be patched, you know, m'm, she must needs be patched...."

We gave him money, and he rose and uncovered and pulled his white forelock with the antique courtesy of his class. As we turned away, I pinched Daphne's arm.

"I'll bet no man's ever done that to you before."

She shook her head, smiling.

"I don't think so. It was very nice of him."

"What would you call him?" said Jill. "A stone-breaker?"

I raised my eyebrows.

"I suppose so. Or roadman."

"I know," said Agatha softly. "He's a Gentleman of the Road."

"Good for you," said I. "The title never became a highwayman one half so well."

As I spoke, the Rolls stole up alongside. We climbed in, Jill and I sitting behind for a change. With a foot on the step, Daphne looked at her husband.

"Did you get very hot?" she said.

"I did," said Berry. "Every pore in my body has been in action. I always think it's so nice to start a day like that."

"How would you like to break stones," said I, "for seventy-nine years?"

Jonah let in the clutch.

"I perceive," said Berry, "that you are under the influence of drink. At the present moment I am more interested in the breaking of backs. Have you ever jacked up a car?"

"Often. You must stoop to conquer."

"Stoop? You must have a comic spine. My trunk kept getting in the way. And my nether limbs were superfluous. To do it properly you should be severed below the armpits."

"The correct way," said I, "is to face the jack, and then bend backwards till you face it again. Then it's simplicity itself. You work, as it were, between your own legs."

My brother-in-law sighed.

"I used to do my boots up like that, when an agent in Germany. In that way no one could assault me from behind. Those detailed to stab me in the back were nonplussed and in several cases shot for incompetence."

A quarter of an hour later we slid over Magdalen Bridge.

* * *

The venerable city was unchanged. That same peculiar dignity, which no impertinence can scathe, that same abiding peace, the handiwork of labouring centuries, that immemorial youth, which drains the cups of Time and pays no reckoning-three wonders of the world, rose up to meet us visitors.

Oxford has but two moods.

This day she was allegro. The Sunshine Holyday of Spring had won her from her other soberer state, and Mirth was in all her ways. Her busy streets were bright, her blistered walls glowed and gave back the warmth vouchsafed them, her spires and towers were glancing, vivid against the blue: the unexpected green, that sprawled ragged upon scaly parapets, thrust boldly out between the reverend mansions and smothered up the songs of architects, trembled to meet its patron: the blowing meadows beamed, gates lifted up their heads, retired quadrangles smiled in their sleep, the very streams were lazy, and gardens, walks, spaces and alleyed lanes were all betimes a-Maying.

Perhaps because it was St. George's Day, ghosts that the grey old stones can conjure up, at Fancy's whim came thronging. The state of Kings rode by familiar, shrewd virgin Majesty swayed in a litter down the roaring streets, and the unruly pomp of a proud cardinal wended its scarlet way past kneeling citizens. Cavaliers ruffled it in the chequered walks, prelates and sages loaded the patient air with discourse, and phantom tuck of drum ushered a praise-God soldiery to emptied bursaries. With measured tread statesmen and scholars paced sober up and down the flags, absorbed in argument, poets roamed absent by, and Law and bustling Physic, learned and gowned and big with dignity, swept in and out the gates of colleges whose very fame, that spurred their young intent, they lived to magnify.

After a random drive about the city, in the course of which we visited St. John's and Magdalen, we put the car in a garage and repaired to The Mitre for lunch.

Such other spectacles as we proposed to view lay more or less close together, and could be inspected more conveniently without the car, which claimed the constant vigilance of one of us just at the very times we least could spare it.

Fortified by the deference shown him by his scout, whom we had encountered while visiting his old rooms overlooking the Deer Park, my brother-in-law had in some measure succeeded-so far as Jill and Agatha were concerned-in investing his sojourn at Magdalen with an ill-merited dignity; and Daphne, Jonah and I were quite justifiably delighted when a prosperous-looking individual, with a slip in his waistcoat and a diamond ring, left his table and laid a fat hand familiarly upon Berry's shoulder.

"Hullo, Pleydell, old man. How's things? Don't remember me, I suppose. Lewis." He mentioned the name of the minor college he had once adorned. "You were at Magdalen, weren't you?"

Taken completely by surprise, Berry hesitated before replying in a tone which would have chilled a glacier.

"Er-yes. I'm afraid my memory's not as good as yours. You must excuse me."

"That's all right," said the other, with a fat laugh. "I was one of the quiet little mice," he added archly, "and you were always such a gay dog." To our indescribable delectation he actually thrust a stubby forefinger into his victim's ribs.

"Er-yes," said Berry, moving his chair as far from his tormentor as space would permit. "I suppose you were. One of the mice, I think you said. You know, I still don't seem to remember your face or name. You're quite sure...."

"Anno Domini," was the cheerful reply. "We're both older, eh? Don't you remember the night we all--But p'r'aps I oughtn't to tell tales out of school, ought I, old bean?" Again the forefinger was employed, and its owner looked round expectantly. Beads of perspiration became visible upon Berry's forehead, and Jonah and I burst into a roar of laughter.

Greatly encouraged by our mirth, Mr. Lewis beamed with geniality, and, slapping Berry upon the back with the diamond ring, commended the good old times, observed that the undergraduates of to-day were of a very different class to "me and you," and added that England was in such a rotten state that, if the Coal Controller had not personally begged him to "carry on," he would have "up stick and cleared out to Australia long ago."

At his concluding words Daphne sat up as if she had been shot. Then, administering to me a kick, which she afterwards explained had been intended for Berry, she smiled very charmingly.

"I suppose you're just up for the day, Mr. Lewis. As we are," she inquired.

With an elaborate bow Mr. Lewis agreed, and in a moment the two were carrying on an absurd conversation, to which Jonah and I contributed by laughing unfeignedly whenever a remark justified an expression of mirth. Jill and Agatha were on the edge of hysteria, and Berry sat sunk in a condition of profound gloom, from which he occasionally emerged to fix one or other of us with a stare of such malevolence as only served to throw us into a fresh paroxysm of laughter.

Had Mr. Lewis for one moment appreciated the true cause of our amusement, he would have been a broken man. Happily his self-confidence was sublime, and, when Daphne finally bowed and remarked with a dazzling smile that no doubt he and her husband would like to have a little chat after luncheon, he retired in a perfect ecstasy of gratification.

When he was out of earshot-

"Why not ask him to come and live with us?" said Berry. "He could go to the Loganberrys' ball on Tuesday, and Jonah and I can put him up for the Club. He might even stay for Ascot."

"I think he's a topper," said I.

"Old college pal, I suppose," said Jonah. "Let's call th

e Stilton after him."

"Listen," said Daphne. "Didn't you hear him say he was something to do with coal? Well, the moment he said it, I thought of what I've been trying to remember ever since yesterday morning. We've got three hundredweight left, and we've had more than our ration already. For goodness' sake, get him to do something for us."

"You wicked woman," said Berry. "You wicked, deceitful woman."

"Nonsense," said Daphne. "It's just a stroke of luck. Of course, he mayn't be able to help, but it's worth trying. If you want to do without a hot bath-let alone fires-for the next three months, I don't."

"And I am to be the cat's-paw?" said Berry. "I'm to have the felicity of hobnobbing with that poisonous bounder--"

"You've done it before," said I. "He remembers it perfectly."

"Vermin," said Berry, "you lie. My association with that little pet was confined to the two solitary occasions upon which I was so misguided as to be the guest of a club of which he was not a member, but which was, nevertheless, an institution of the college which he adorned. After dinner it was customary to pay a short but eventful visit to the rooms of the most unpopular man in college. On each occasion Mr. Lewis's rooms were unanimously selected."

"Nemesis," said I. "He's getting his own back."

"I rejoice to think," said my brother-in-law, "that it was I who conceived the idea of secreting Chinese figs in every pair of his boots and shoes that could be found. If I remember, we used the best part of two boxes."

"I depend upon you," said Daphne. "Be civil to him for five minutes, and we'll-we'll wait for you between St. Mary's and The Radcliffe."

"But how nice of you! I should hate to suggest that you were not taking any risks. Of course, a punt moored in midstream would be safer."

"He might be worse," said I. "I admit I could spare the diamond, but at least he's not wearing a cummerbund and sand shoes."

"Hush," said Jonah. "He's keeping them for Henley. You won't catch him out on dress. Ah me," he added with a sigh, "I love to see old chums meet again, don't you?"

"There's nothing so touching," said I, "as a reunion of souls. To revive the memory of boyhood's intimacy, of joys and troubles shared, of visits to the tuck-shop.... If the truth were known, I expect they were always together, sort of inseparable, you know."

"No doubt. Naturally, Berry's a bit shy at first, but that's often the way. Before the afternoon's out, he'll be calling him ''Erb' again, and they'll have changed hats."

"This," said Berry, "is intolerable. A little more and I shall burst into large pear-shaped tears. Let's pay the bill, will you?" He rose to his feet. "And now I'm going to remember more things in five minutes than Mr. Lewis has forgotten in thirteen years. Will two tons be enough?"

"Make it three," said Daphne.

"And we are to reassemble between St. Mary's and The Radcliffe. Or was it between The Radcliffe and St. Mary's?"

"We shall wait five minutes and no more," said I. "That gives you one minute forty seconds a ton, or five seconds a hundredweight. Keep the home fires burning."

"Mathematician and imitation humorist," said Berry. "Isn't it wonderful? Don't forget to let me know what the bill comes to. Just as a matter of interest."

He sauntered in the direction of Mr. Lewis, who was watching him with the air of a terrier that hopes to be taken out for a walk....

I called for the bill, and five minutes later the rest of us were strolling across the cobbles under the shadow of The Radcliffe Camera.

"As soon as he comes," said Jonah, "we'll go to New College. We can sit in the gardens there for a bit and suck soda-mints. When the process of digestion is completed, we can see the chapel and hall, and then one of us can borrow a gown, and we'll look in at The Bodleian."

The project seemed admirable, but, as has been frequently remarked, Man but proposes.

More than four minutes had elapsed, and we were casually sauntering towards The High, to see if Berry was in sight, when the latter swung round the corner of Brasenose with Mr. Lewis stepping joyously by his side.

Instead of his grey Homburg, my brother-in-law was wearing a soft clerical hat which was too small for him. The ludicrous effect created by this substitution of headgear can be more easily imagined than described.

For a moment we wavered. Then Jill gave a shriek of laughter, and we broke and scattered something after the manner of a mounted reconnoitring patrol that has unexpectedly "bumped into" a battalion of the enemy. Our retreat, however, was not exactly precipitate, and we endeavoured to invest it with a semblance of hypocrisy not usually thought necessary in warfare; but it was in no sense dignified, and only a child, too young to differentiate between right and wrong, could have failed to recognize the true motive which prompted our withdrawal.

Seizing Agatha by the arm I turned left about, pointed vehemently to the dome of the Camera, and hurried her in the direction of the gate which admitted to that institution. Simultaneously Jonah wheeled right about and, apparently imparting information of a startling character concerning the east front of Brasenose to his sister and cousin, began to hustle them towards the entrance. To Berry's repeated nominal exhortations we paid not the slightest attention. Coal or no coal, the combination of Mr. Lewis and my brother-in-law-the latter in a mood which the assumption of so ridiculous a garb made it impossible to mistake-was too awful to contemplate. There are things which are worse than a cold bath.

I did not stop until we were safely on the leads of the Camera. Considerably out of breath, we leaned cautiously upon the balustrade, if possible from our eminence to observe the manoeuvres of our terror. Look where we would, there was no one to be seen.

"The brute must have followed the others into B.N.C.," I panted. "I'd love to see them come out."

"I think he's a scream," said Agatha. "If he could only see himself in that hat...."

She dissolved into peals of laughter.

"I agree. But I'd rather watch from the stalls than assist him in one of his turns."

"Stalls? This is more like the gallery."

"True. But remember. 'Who sups with the devil should hold a long spoon.' All the same, if you can bear another proverb, 'It's an ill wind,' etc. If I hadn't been hard up for a refuge, I should never have thought of bringing you up here, and for any one to get an idea of Oxford it's as good a place as I know."

Miss Deriot gazed at the magnificent prospect before replying.

"It ought to make me feel very small," she said suddenly, "but somehow it doesn't. It's so terribly old and all that, but it's got such a kind look."

"That," said I, "is the quality of Oxford. And I congratulate you. You are articulate where wise men have stood dumb. Perhaps it's because you're so much alike."


"You and Oxford."

"Am I so terribly old?"

I shook my head.

"But you're beautifully built, and you've got a kind look and handsome ways, and your temples are a dream, and all our swains commend you, and--"

"Stop, stop. You're getting mixed."

"Not at all. My intellect was never less clouded. In spite of two glasses of ginger beer, my hand is like a spade-I mean a rock. Insert a fly in your eye, and I will remove it unhesitatingly."

"I'll take your word for it," said Agatha.

"One of these days I shall compare you to a burst of melody. At the present moment I am between your dimple and the deep sea."

"The dimple you are," said Agatha, with a smile that promised laughter with difficulty suppressed.

Amusedly I regarded her.

She was very tastefully dressed. A blue silk coat and a white laced blouse beneath it, a pale grey skirt of some soft stuff, grey silk stockings and small grey shoes-these with a hat of crocheted silk that matched her jersey-suited her pretty figure and the April day to rare perfection.

Leaning easily against the worn masonry of the balustrade, slight, lithe and graceful, she was the embodiment of vitality in repose. She stood so still, but there was a light shining in the brown eyes, that were cast down and over the parapet, keeping a careful watch for any indication of Berry's activity, a tell-tale quiver of the sensitive nostrils, an eagerness hanging on the parted lips, which, with her flushed cheeks, lent to a striking face an air of freshness and a keen joie de vivre that was exhilarating beyond description.

"I wonder what's happening," said Agatha, nodding down at the gateway. "Can they get out another way?"

"I'm not sure. There is another gate, but--"

"At last," said a familiar voice. "I wouldn't have missed those stairs for anything. Think of the fools who've trodden them before." The next moment Berry, followed by Mr. Lewis, made his appearance. "Why, here are our little playmates." He advanced beaming. "Don't be shy any longer. And what a storied retreat you have selected!" He indicated the building with a sweep of his arm. "You know, originally this was a helter-skelter lighthouse, but Henry the Eighth lost his mat half-way down the chute, and had it closed down in revenge. There was a great deal of feeling about it. Especially on the part of the King. He hunted from a litter for months."

I addressed myself to Miss Deriot.

"Wonderfully well-informed, isn't he? Scratch the buffoon and you get the charlatan."

Berry turned to Mr. Lewis.

"Much of my crowded life," he said, "has been devoted to research. I am, as it were, a crystal fount of knowledge. I beg that you will bathe in me."

Not knowing exactly what reply to make to this offer, Mr. Lewis laughed heartily, while Agatha, overcome with emotion, hurriedly turned away and stared over the roofs of Oxford, shaking with long spasms of laughter.

Stifling a desire to join her, I crossed to Mr. Lewis and engaged him in reasonable conversation, while Berry seized the opportunity of indicating to Agatha the main points of the city, accompanying his gesticulations with a series of inaudible remarks, which, to judge from their reception, concerned Mr. Lewis more nearly than Oxford, and were of a grotesque character. I was just leading up to the question of fuel, when a cry from my brother-in-law interrupted me.

"My hag," he announced, "is below. With a notorious winebibber. Where are the women police?"

The next moment he had slid an arm through Agatha's and had begun to descend. I followed with Mr. Lewis....

I pass over the meeting in the street below, which I was just in time to witness. Berry's swoop was so sudden that his prey appeared to realize that the game was up, and made no attempt to fly. It was almost piteous. An apprehension of certain embarrassment to come extinguished the instant impulse to shriek with laughter which was written plain upon their faces, and my sister gave one wild glance about her before turning to face the delinquent.

As I came up she addressed him.

"Berry, I appeal to you to take off that hat."

"My tongue," was the reply, "I mean my hands, are clean. Bereft of my own headgear, I had no choice. Some absent-minded priest is now scandalizing his parishioners by parading in a pearl-grey Homburg which is four sizes too big for him, while I-would you have me go naked in the streets?"

Here the Vice-Chancellor passed, preceded by his Bedels with staves reversed, and Berry uncovered and fell upon his knees. Surprised by the unwonted attention, the dignitary raised his mortar-board and bowed.

"Let's go and touch him," said Berry excitedly. "Then we shan't get the King's Evil. That's the origin of inoculation."

"I implore you," said Daphne, "to behave yourself. As a personal favour--"

"You see in me," said her husband, "a huntleyed palmer seeking the tomb of Anne of Cloves. On finding it, I must scourge myself. Anyone who directs me to it will be assaulted."

"She's buried at Oranges," said Jonah. "But don't let that stop you."

Berry replaced his wideawake and stared at him.

"To mock me," he said, "is most dangerous. Several people have been transformed for such an offence. Only yesterday I was compelled to change a taxi-driver into a Gorgonzola of military age."

Several clocks struck the half-hour. Half-past two.

"Look here," said I. "We want to go to New College and 'The House,' but we can't push off if you're going to come with us looking like that. For Heaven's sake, go back to The Mitre and get your own hat. Mr. Lewis, won't you go and fix him up?"

Quick as a flash, Daphne threw her weight into the scale which I had slung.

"Yes, do," she implored. "You know, you oughtn't to have let him come out like that," she added, with a reproachful smile. "And then you can join us a New College."

Our manoeuvre was successful beyond all expectation. His vanity flattered, the gentleman addressed flung himself into the breach with every manifestation of delight, and, seizing my brother-in-law by the arm, haled him gleefully in the direction of The High, humouring his obvious reluctance with the familiar assurances which one usually associates with the persuasion of the unsober.

In silence we watched them till they had turned the corner. Then-

"Did I say New College?" said Daphne hurriedly.

"You did," said I. "So we'd better go straight to 'The House.'"

Three minutes later we were exploring my old rooms in Peckwater Quadrangle, Christ Church.

* * *

In spite of its inauspicious beginning, we spent an enjoyable afternoon. By common consent New College was ruled out of our itinerary, but Oxford cannot be viewed in a day, and we found much to delight our senses south of the High Street. Finally, a languorous journey by punt from the Barges to Magdalen Bridge more than compensated us for the somnolent half-hour which we had been proposing to spend under the shadow of the City Wall.

Our return to The Mitre-a movement which was effected with great caution-was eagerly awaited by the hall-porter, who inquired anxiously regarding my brother-in-law, and produced his grey Homburg with a note addressed To the Owner stuck in the hatband.

"The gentleman as was of your party, sir, was inquirin' about 'is 'at an hour or two back, sir. 'E 'adn't 'ardly gone, when a reverend gent come in, all of a state, with this 'at in 'is 'and. Seems he took it away absent-minded like, instead of 'is own, sir. Though 'ow 'e can 'ave made such a mistake I can't think, 'is bein' a Church 'at as plain as plain. But they're like that up 'ere, sir, some o' them."

We stared at one another, frankly astonished to learn that Berry's fantastic explanation was founded strictly upon fact.

"Did the clergyman get his own back?" said I.

"Yes, sir. 'Ere it was in the 'all."

Apparently neither the porter nor the divine had any idea of the abuse to which the latter's wideawake had been put.

"Oh, well, our friend'll be in presently," said Jonah, taking the Homburg. "When he comes, tell him we've got his hat and are having tea."

"Very good, sir. You see there's a note there, sir? The reverend wrote it 'ere. I think 'e was 'opin' to ave seen your gentleman and told 'im 'ow sorry 'e was, but when 'e 'card 'e was out, 'e sits down an' writes 'im a letter. 'E was in a state."

"Poor man," said Daphne, following after Jonah. "After all, there's no harm done."

"It was a near thing," said I. "But for my brain-wave--"

"Nonsense," said Daphne, "I got him away."

"To be candid," said Jonah, "if anybody's to get a mention, I'm inclined to think it should be Mr. Lewis."

While we were waiting for tea, I read the letter aloud.


I can never adequately express my regret for the distressing, if momentary, aberration unhappily responsible for my appropriation of a hat which in no way resembles my own.

I dare entertain no hope that inconvenience has not resulted to you, but I beg that you will accept, first, my fervid assurance that it was not of industry, but of case that I offended, and, secondly, my most humble apologies for the commission of so unfriendly a gest.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,

Luke St. J. Bildew, B.D.

When I had finished-

"I don't understand half of it," said Jill.

"I confess it needs annotating, but it's worth keeping, for it's the real thing, my dear-a human document. You see, Oxford is the most wonderful backwater in the world, but-it's a backwater."

"And if you stay in it always," said Agatha, "and never come out into the stream--"

"You are liable to take the wrong hat and to write letters that would be the better for footnotes."

Berry arrived with the tea.

In silence he received his own hat, compared it with one which he had just purchased, and then handed the latter to the waiter. In silence he read Mr. Bildew's note. In silence he selected a piece of bread and butter and sank into a chair.

"I can't bear it," said Daphne. "Where's Mr. Lewis?"

"Happily he decided to catch a train twenty minutes ago. Otherwise it would have been murder. I should have pleaded guilty to manslaughter, committed under extreme provocation. That man oughtn't to be allowed. I suppose you forgot to go to New College. Yes, just so."

"And the coal?" said I. "Have you fixed that up?"

"Three tons of the best nuts are to be delivered sub rosa between two and three to-morrow afternoon. Nothing is to be said, nothing signed. Nobody is to know anything about it. The carter will simply take up the plate, shoot the stuff in, and push off. As I happened to have six pounds ten shillings upon me, the transaction will not be recorded." With a depreciatory hand he waved aside the involuntary buzz of grateful admiration. "I am not long for this world. I am, as it were, ear-marked for a more worthy sphere. My translation may occur any moment. I should like Lewis to have some trifle in memory of me. A personal effect, I mean. I've got a gun-metal sovereign-case somewhere. But anything useful will do."

* * *

We made a point of being in upon the following afternoon. It was not often that we all sat down to lunch together, but the satisfaction of witnessing the delivery of three precious tons of coal in the teeth of the authorities was more than we could forego. The butler was admitted to our confidence, and instructed to stifle any attempt to allay curiosity, by interpretation of the carman, that might originate in the servants' hall, and immediately after luncheon, which finished at three minutes to two, an O.P. was established by the side of one of the dining-room windows, in which Jill was posted with orders to advise us directly the convoy appeared.

In the library we spent a restless time. Berry, usually somnolent at this hour, sat upon the club kerb and toyed with The Times. Jonah fidgeted with a refractory pipe. Daphne glanced from the clock to her novel and the novel to the clock at intervals of fifteen seconds, and I wrote four letters to the War Office about my gratuity, and very properly destroyed them as incoherent one after another.

At a quarter past two, by common consent, I visited Jill to see if she was asleep.... When I made my report we reminded one another that Mr. Lewis had said between two and three, and agreed that it was early as yet.

At half-past two Daphne left the room and did not return.

At twenty minutes to three I made no attempt to disguise my uneasiness, and joined my cousin and sister in the dining-room.

Ten minutes later Jonah and Berry came in.

After a hurried consultation it was decided that, if the coal had not arrived in ten minutes' time, Berry should telephone to Mr. Lewis forthwith. Almost immediately it was found that nobody knew the man's number, initials, or address, and reference to the Directory showed that there were four columns of subscribers all bearing his name.

At five minutes past three the strain was telling, and every one's temper began more or less to show signs of wear and tear.

"Are you sure," said Daphne for the fourth time, "that it was to come between two and three?"

"No," said her husband. "That's why I've been waiting."

"Fool," said his wife.

Berry sighed.

"Some people are very hard to please. If I were you, I should take a course of ventriloquism. Then you can ask yourself questions and give yourself any perishing answers you like. At times you might even revile yourself."

Five minutes later Jonah announced that he was going to Ranelagh, and inquired whether any one wanted a round of golf. Berry accepted the invitation, and they left together.

The arrival of Fitch with the car at half-past three reminded my sister that she was going to call upon some one in Regent's Park, and she withdrew in a state of profound depression.

Jill, who was on the very brink of tears, refused to leave her post until a quarter to four, and, when that hour arrived, slow-treading but coalless, it was only my promise to take her to see Charlie Chaplin forthwith that could coax the ghost of a smile to play about her lips.

As I closed the front-door behind us, a neighbouring clock struck four.

Moodily we walked down the street, talking of cinemas and thinking of coal. Had our thoughts been otherwise employed, the condition of the pavement outside a house about a hundred and twenty yards down on the opposite side would have recalled them pellmell to our disappointment. It was obvious that a considerable quantity of coal had been recently delivered to a more fortunate ménage. Idly I looked at the number of the house. From either pillar of the porch a freshly painted "38" grinned at me. For a moment I stared at them blankly. Then Jill gave a choking cry and caught at my arm....

I realized with a shock that, while Mr. Lewis had been as good as his word, my brother-in-law's recollection of our change of address was less dependable.

* * *

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