There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Five stories by Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928)

...you know what it is—one often reads some fantastic story of that sort, and one simply does not believe it. It's like freak diners' and explorers' yarns. One thinks, 'Yes, yes,' and then you turn to see who won the semi-finals at Wimbledon….


--The Kidnapped 'General'




Stacy Aumonier (1877-1928) is my latest short story writer infatuation. 


I started yesterday searching out stories by Frank O'Connor (1903-1966) to read. But, as Frost wrote, "Way leads unto way." (This has usually been my method of selecting what fiction to read next.)


Ultimately, I read three or four stories by Stacy Aumonier yesterday, and will read more. 


Aumonier will not be to everyone's taste. But if like me you appreciate that certain tone of voice in Bierce, Maupassant, Saki, Collier, Dahl, Waugh (and Maugham at his most acidic), Aumonier will be worth a look.


His stories are not brief by today's standards (or at least by my standards). Slowly accumulating setting, context, and characters through concrete action, they take their time. 



Old Fags (1917)


"Old Fags" is one of the most compelling and emotionally upsetting stories I have read. That it raised gooseflesh and made me laugh (uncomfortably! I assure you) only serves to underscore its power and Aumonier's craft.


Set entirely within the lower depths of destitute working class London, it shows us the life of Fags, who survives by picking up salvageable ends of cigar and cigarette. His tenement neighbors, Mrs. Birdle and her daughter Minnie, are as close to physical extinction as Old Fags. As their distress escalates, Fags fumes at his powerlessness. 


The solution, the means of life-saving material solidarity to the Birdles, is delivered to Old Fags through his acquaintance with Meads. Meads is "groom" to the wonderfully named Mrs. Bastien-Melland; Meads is not in charge of the lady's horses, but her dogs: Chows and Pekinese.


"Old Fags" offers lots of satisfying what-goes-around-comes-around comeuppance. There's not too much coincidence in connections among characters. The mood of grim poverty persists until the end, but Aumonier creates excitement and suspense through remorseless deployment of humor and the grotesque.



The Kidnapped 'General'


"The Kidnapped 'General'" spends most of its time as an ingratiating and rollicking (yes, rollicking) comedy. It would have been perfect for  Ealing Studios in its wonder years, with Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as Jim Parker and the narrator. Only at the end does Aumonier impose his plot turnabout on the reader; from there "The Kidnapped 'General'" rises to a higher level of the sublimely heartbreaking and ridiculous.


     We rambled far afield. On this occasion we were just over the border in Buckinghamshire. Jim Parker sighed.

     "I wonder they haven't turned this into one of their beastly golf courses," he said.

     "Touch wood," I answered. "We're not across it yet." But no, there was no golf course on this nameless common. It was a delightful and deserted spot. We walked across it for half a mile, when we came to a kind of dingle formed by the opening into a long, narrow sand-pit. We were just passing it when Jim remarked:

     "There's a queer habitation for you!"

     I looked in the direction his stick was pointing, and beheld half-way up the dingle an odd-looking shanty in red and white.

     "Um," I answered. "Let's go and have a look at it."

     We entered the dingle and approached the rustic dwelling. At first it appeared to be a double-storeyed cabin painted rather gaily, with pots of flowers hanging from a balcony. On closer inspection the truth became apparent. On the lower part of the dwelling, dim but quite perceptible, was the word "General." It was an old converted "General" motor-bus! The owner had certainly been rather clever about it. The wheels had either been removed or were buried in the sand. The lower part remained practically intact, except for a surrounding wooden platform. The upper part had been roofed in with timber, and a balcony built out, supported by wooden posts. The woodwork was painted white; there were chintz curtains at the windows, and flowers in profusion in pots and tubs. A gay little dwelling. It was, I suppose, deplorably bad manners for Jim Parker and me to stand there and laugh. But there was something about the association of the "General" with this obscure and picturesque retreat that was irresistible. We were still laughing when a man came out on to the lower platform and regarded us. He was a tall, strongly-built man, with a neat, pointed brown beard, close-cropped hair turning grey, cold blue eyes, and the skin of a man who lives in the open. He bowed to us gravely, and said:

     "Good morning, gentlemen."

     We pulled ourselves together and responded. Then he added:

     "I presume they have sent you from the inn to hear the story of the kidnapped General?"




A Source of Irritation (1918)


"A Source of Irritation" is a perfect story. It shows what a skilled short story writer can do when he does not set a food wrong. 


     To look at old Sam Gates you would never suspect him of having nerves. His sixty-nine years of close application to the needs of the soil had given him a certain earthy stolidity. To observe him hoeing, or thinning out a broad field of turnips, hardly attracted one's attention. He seemed so much part and parcel of the whole scheme. He blended into the soil like a glorified swede. Nevertheless, the half-dozen people who claimed his acquaintance knew him to be a man who suffered from little moods of irritability.

     And on this glorious morning a little incident annoyed him unreasonably. It concerned his niece Aggie. She was a plump girl with clear blue eyes and a face as round and inexpressive as the dumplings for which the county was famous. She came slowly across the long sweep of the downland and putting down the bundle wrapped up in a red handkerchief which contained his breakfast and dinner, she said:

     "Well, Uncle, is there any noos?"

     Now this may not appear to the casual reader to be a remark likely to cause irritation, but it affected old Sam Gates as a very silly and unnecessary question. It was, moreover, the constant repetition of it which was beginning to anger him. He met his niece twice a day. In the morning she brought his bundle of food at seven, and when he passed his sister's cottage on the way home to tea at five she was invariably hanging about the gate. And on each occasion she always said, in exactly the same voice:

     "Well, Uncle, is there any noos?"

     "Noos!" What "noos" should there be? For sixty-nine years he had never lived further than five miles from Halvesham. For nearly sixty of those years he had bent his back above the soil. There were indeed historic occasions: once, for instance, when he had married Annie Hachet. And there was the birth of his daughter. There was also a famous occasion when he had visited London. Once he had been to a flower show at Market Roughborough. He either went or didn't go to church on Sundays. He had had many interesting chats with Mr. James at "The Cowman," and three years ago had sold a pig to Mrs. Waig. But he couldn't always have interesting "noos" of this sort up his sleeve. Didn't the silly gaffir know that for the last three weeks he had been thinning out turnips for Mr. Dodge on this very same field? What "noos" could there be?

     He blinked at his niece, and didn't answer. She undid the parcel, and said:

     "Mrs. Goping's fowl got out again last night."

     He replied, "Ah!" in a non-committal manner, and began to munch his bread and bacon. His niece picked up the handkerchief, and humming to herself, walked back across the field. It was a glorious morning, and a white sea-mist added to the promise of a hot day. He sat there munching, thinking of nothing in particular, but gradually subsiding into a mood of placid content. He noticed the back of Aggie disappear in the distance. It was a mile to the cottage, and a mile and a half to Halvesham. Silly things, girls! They were all alike. One had to make allowances. He dismissed her from his thoughts and took a long swig of tea out of a bottle. Insects buzzed lazily. He tapped his pocket to assure himself that his pouch of shag was there, and then he continued munching. When he had finished, he lighted his pipe and stretched himself comfortably. He looked along the line of turnips he had thinned, and then across the adjoining field of swedes. Silver streaks appeared on the sea below the mist. In some dim way he felt happy in his solitude amidst this sweeping immensity of earth and sea and sky.

     And then something else came to irritate him....



Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty (1922)


Miss Bracegirdle recalls some of the very proper unmarried women in stories by Maugham and E. F. Benson. She knows she must tread carefully each day to avoid any act that might risk her reputation. The grand comedy of "Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty" is in the urgent crisis its protagonist faces and overcomes, her grace under pressure.


     There would be lots to tell the dear dean when she wrote to him on the morrow—nearly losing her spectacles on the restaurant car; the amusing remarks of an American child on the train to Paris; the curious food everywhere, nothing simple and plain; the two English ladies at the hotel in Paris who told her about the death of their uncle—the poor man being taken ill on Friday and dying on Sunday afternoon, just before tea-time; the kindness of the hotel proprietor who had sat up for her; the prettiness of the chambermaid. Oh, yes, everyone was really very kind. The French people, after all, were very nice. She had seen nothing—nothing but was quite nice and decorous. There would be lots to tell the dean to-morrow.

     Her body glowed with the friction of the towel. She again donned her night attire and her thick, woollen dressing-gown. She tidied up the bathroom carefully in exactly the same way she was accustomed to do at home, then once more gripping her sponge-bag and towel, and turning out the light, she crept down the passage to her room. Entering the room she switched on the light and shut the door quickly. Then one of those ridiculous things happened—just the kind of thing you would expect to happen in a foreign hotel. The handle of the door came off in her hand....



The Perfect Murder (1926)


I'm hard-pressed to think of a short story that begins as deliciously as "The Perfect Murder."


     One evening in November two brothers were seated in a little café in the Rue de la Roquette discussing murders. The evening papers lay in front of them, and they all contained a lurid account of a shocking affair in the Landes district, where a charcoal-burner had killed his wife and two children with a hatchet. From discussing this murder in particular they went on to discussing murder in general....


The two brothers see their financial prospects plummet in the tale; their plans, plots, and schemes will repeatedly be dashed to bits. In the end, they will face the scorpion-sting of cruel and bloody irony.


In short, it's a delectable story.


     'I've never yet read a murder case without being impressed by the extraordinary clumsiness of it,' remarked Paul, the younger brother. 'Here's this fellow murders his victims with his own hatchet, leaves his hat behind in the shed, and arrives at a village hard by with blood on his boots.'

     'They lose their heads,' said Henri, the elder. 'In cases like that they are mentally unbalanced, hardly responsible for their actions.'

     'Yes,' replied Paul, 'but what impresses me is— what a lot of murders must be done by people who take trouble, who leave not a trace behind.'

     Henri shrugged his shoulders. 'I shouldn't think it was so easy, old boy; there's always something that crops up.'

     'Nonsense! I'll guarantee there are thousands done every year. If you are living with anyone, for instance, it must be the easiest thing in the world to murder them.'

     'How?'

     'Oh, some kind of accident— and then you go screaming into the street, "Oh, my poor wife! Help!" You burst into tears, and everyone consoles you. I read of a woman somewhere who murdered her husband by leaving the window near the bed open at night when he was suffering from pneumonia. Who's going to suspect a case like that? Instead of that, people must always select revolvers, or knives, or go and buy poison at the chemist's across the way.'

     'It sounds as though you were contemplating a murder yourself,' laughed Henri.

     'Well, you never know,' answered Paul; 'circumstances might arise when a murder would be the only way out of a difficulty. If ever my time comes I shall take a lot of trouble about it. I promise you I shall leave no trace behind.'

     As Henri glanced at his brother making this remark he was struck by the fact that there was indeed nothing irreconcilable between the idea of a murder and the idea of Paul doing it. He was a big, saturnine-looking gentleman with a sallow, dissolute face, framed in a black square beard and swathes of untidy grey hair. His profession was that of a traveller in cheap jewellery, and his business dealings were not always of the straightest. Henri shuddered. With his own puny physique, bad health, and vacillating will, he was always dominated by his younger brother. He himself was a clerk in a drapery store, and he had a wife and three children. Paul was unmarried.

     The brothers saw a good deal of each other, and were very intimate. But the word friendship would be an extravagant term to apply to their relationship. They were both always hard up, and they borrowed money from each other when every other source failed.




Jay

20 September 2021


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Richard Connell's tale of a most dangerous game at a grim house in Pelham Manor, NY



Richard Connell (1893-1949), author of "The Most Dangerous Game" (1924), wrote countless short stories in a variety of moods and genres, as used to be the case with most fiction writers before they found work at the troughs of academe. 


"The Grim House" (Detective Story Magazine, 28 May 1921) is a non-supernatural weird menace thriller. The narrator, a local doctor living in "the suburb of Pelham Manor, on the rim of Greater New York," observes a new neighbor moving into the empty, sinister house next door.


     "Oh, my dear Doctor Wain, forgive my rudeness," he said in a voice that seemed to me to purr. "One naturally must be on one's guard in a strange place, you know."

     "Of course," I assented, "but you need not worry about thieves or tramps out here. The place is singularly free from them."

     "That is fortunate— for them," he said.

     "For them?" I repeated, mystified.

     "You see," explained my neighbor, "I am a somewhat nervous man, so I keep four very large and fierce Great Danes. They are trained to tear the throat out of any person who should venture on my property after dark."

     He looked at me steadily as he said this, and there was a note in his voice that disturbed me; I could not help feeling that he was giving me a warning.

     "Well, good night," he said abruptly and went crunching up the gravel walk to my own house

     I walked on. He had not mentioned his name. He had given me no clew as to why he had taken The Grim House. But he had given me a very definite warning not to go there after dark.

     The next morning I glanced at the old house, but there were no signs of occupancy ; the new tenant was not to be seen. But late that night I heard the chug of a motor van and from my study window I saw the midnight movers at work again.

     I do not approve of prying into one's neighbors' private affairs, but I felt that The circumstances in this case warranted my watching The Grim House. The objects the men carried were evidently quite heavy; frequently it took all four of them to carry one piece The sky was overcast and the moon gave forth only an occasional feeble beam, so that it was impossible for me o see what they were carrying into the house ; of one thing I felt sure, and that was that their load was not ordinary furniture. Once, as they were carrying what I thought at first to be an enormous vase, as tall as a man, the moon, for just a second, came from be- hind a cloud, and its rays were reflected by the shiny surface of the strange object. Then the moon retired, and in the dimmer light I saw one of the men slip and I heard the shivering crash of breaking glass. My bearded neighbor broke into a fit of swearing.

     I never remember hearing a man so completely lose control of himself; he raged and cursed like a wild thing.

     "You clumsy dogs," I heard him say angrily, "that was worth two thousand dollars."

     Several more of these large glass objects were unloaded, with great care, and carried into the house. Then I heard what I believed to be hammer blows, as if some repairing were being done.

     I sat at my window, letting my fancy supply all sorts of strange solutions to the riddle I had witnessed, when I heard a sound that froze my blood.

     It was a prolonged, eerie, moaning sound, now very loud, now falling way to a deep, guttural muttering. Then the moon came out, and I made out, vaguely, several black shapes roving through the tall grass of The Grim House lawn. Animals as big as small ponies! I had heard the baying of the giant dogs that my neighbor said would tear the throat out of any nocturnal visitor.


The new neighbor, Dr. Karl Raffin, has a reputation even Dr. Wain has heard of: "That was the name of a physician who had published in Vienna, some years before, some curious monographs on the possibility of a man creating human life. His theories had been generally discredited in the medical world, but they had been so plausible and so daring that for a time he had created quite a stir."


Raffin's household habits strike an odd note, to say the least:


     About a week after The Grim House had become inhabited, I became aware that my neighbor with the black beard was not a hermit; he had a companion. I made this discovery as the result of an odd adventure.

     I was strolling along past the privet hedge that girdled the old house, having found out that the dogs were kenneled up during the day, and was peering through the hedge, where it was thin enough, when I became aware that two sharp eyes were watching me through the leaves.

     I paused, and made out the sketchy outlines of a face; it was not my neighbor of the beard, but a little, old man, with a weazened, lined face, like faded leather; it was the sort of face one seldom sees except on beds of pain.

     As our eyes met, he looked alarmed; he glanced behind him several times, as if to see if he were watched.

     "Good evening," I said to him.

     For reply the old man opened wide his mouth and pointed into it. Then he shut it and motioned with his arm toward my house; it was a motion as if he would push me away. The gesture said as plainly as words could that I had better go to my own home and avoid the vicinity of The Grim House. But although the old man seemed to have a real concern for my safety, I stood rooted to the spot, for with the trained eye of a physician I had followed the finger of the man when he had pointed to his open mouth, and I had seen a shocking thing. The man had no tongue!

     Before I could answer his wordless warning, the old man turned and scurried away toward the house like a venerable frightened rabbit. As he went I could see that he was dressed in the semiformal garb of an English man-servant.

     A fascination that was stronger than my half-formed fears caused me to pass close to the hedge at about the same time the following evening; I was convinced that his gesture had not been a hostile one. As I passed along the hedge a wrinkled, bony hand was thrust through the hedge, and I started back, fearing, in a sudden panic, a knife thrust, but the hand of the tongueless old man contained nothing more deadly than a scrap of paper, which I took. I unfolded the scrap of rough wrapping paper, but before I could read the message he had turned and hurried away.

     In a convulsive, hurried scrawl, I read:

     

     If my master asks you to dinner, for God sake, don't come

     

     Back in my study I read the note again and again, and I looked out at the great, square shape of the old house with a renewed interest.

     That night I was called to New York for a consultation, and didn't get home till nearly one o'clock. It was a cool, crisp autumn night and before retiring I looked out at the shadowy outlines of The Grim House. A beam of light stealing through a chink in the blinds told me that it was brilliantly lighted inside, but there was nothing unusual that. My neighbor, I had long since concluded, was a very late reader, or else he was afraid of the dark. Tired, I went to bed at once, and had fallen into a doze, when the night was cut by a sound so ghastly and terrible that I bounded from my bed, trembling, It was the scream of a human being, a man, in an extremity of pain and terror, and it came from The Grim House. it was followed by words, shrieked, almost squealed :

     "Mercy, mercy, for God's Sake man, mercy, mer—"

     And then there was a muffled crash, and dead, awful silence.

     I did not go up to The Grim House, as a braver man might have done; I quieted my conscience by telling my- self that the tall with the black beard could take care of himself. As for the old servant, it could not have been he who cried out.

     I did not sleep well the rest of the night, and at daybreak I was awake. I looked out of the window where I could see the sickly gray walls of The Grim House, looking like the ghost of a dwelling in the morning mist. I saw that my fears for the safety of my bearded neighbor were unfounded, for I made out his figure, surrounded his huge dogs, which fawned about him and sprang into the air to snatch bits of meat from his hand. Then a second figure, bent and small, from the house, carrying more meat on a platter, and I recognized the tongueless servant, who held the platter while the black-bearded man made the great brutes beg for their breakfast. Who was it, then, who had cried out in the night in such anguish of body and spirit? 

     After that incident I decided that it was my duty as a member of the community to keep an even closer watch on The Grim House. My curiosity had a lot to do with it, too, for what I had seen and heard had served to deepen the atmosphere of mystery old place had always held for me. 

     Two nights after I had heard the cry, the noise of a motor car at The Grim House gate brought me to my observation post, and I saw the tall,  bearded tenant alight from one of the public taxicabs, followed by another man. The man, so far as I could tell in the moonlight, was young, rather fat, and roughly dressed. From the way he lurched as he went up the walk, I judged that he had been drinking. 

     My neighbor, however, walked with a steady step, sometimes helping his companion by taking him by the arm. They disappeared into the house, the lights were lit, and I heard no more that night. 

     The nocturnal visitors of my bearded neighbor increased in number. Sometimes for a whole week straight, he brought home some one with him every night, usually around midnight, and always— of this I felt certain— a different person. 

     Most of his visitors appeared to be young. Several times there were women. This continued for nearly a month. The visitors were quiet enough; once the door of The Grim House closed behind them, I had no cause to complain, for I never heard a sound after that. 

     The Great Danes could be seen, now and then, roaming through the uncut grass of the lawn, but they, too, it seemed, had taken on the silence of the old house, and their baying grew more and more infrequent. 

     A motley collection of visitors came out with my bearded neighbor, always at night, and I had about decided to put him down as a harmless eccentric, possibly a bit demented, who enjoyed playing the Caliph of Bagdad, when one of those clear and obvious things which are often so near and plain that one does not perceive them, struck me. Although I had seen my strange neighbor leave the grounds early in the evening numerous times, I had never seen a single one of his guests leave! 

     The only exit from the grounds of The Grim House lay directly in the path of my observation, and I felt sure that had any of that numerous company of nocturnal visitors left I'd have seen them. I smoked many a pipe over the problem that night, and strange, disquieting theories crossed my mind. When I finally retired, only one thought was clear in my brain, and that was that I must get to the bottom of this strange-looking business.


The unravelling of all this, the rise in action, is handled in a fruitful way by Connell. Instead of Wain figuring out the mystery and the weird crime on his own, he observes the final dramatic explosions, then reads depositions of three people involved to various degrees with Raffin and the carnage. It's a clever cubist-collagist way to ring changes and preserve some dramatic plausibility.


"The Grim House" can be read here.



Jay

18 September 2021





    


"A Source of Irritation" by Stacy Aumonier (1918)

[Not the world's greatest short story, perhaps, but it will suffice until the greatest comes along.]



"A Source of Irritation" by Stacy Aumonier (1918)


[The Strand Magazine, February 1918]


     To look at old Sam Gates you would never suspect him of having nerves. His sixty-nine years of close application to the needs of the soil had given him a certain earthy stolidity. To observe him hoeing, or thinning out a broad field of turnips, hardly attracted one's attention. He seemed so much part and parcel of the whole scheme. He blended into the soil like a glorified swede. Nevertheless, the half-dozen people who claimed his acquaintance knew him to be a man who suffered from little moods of irritability.

     And on this glorious morning a little incident annoyed him unreasonably. It concerned his niece Aggie. She was a plump girl with clear blue eyes and a face as round and inexpressive as the dumplings for which the county was famous. She came slowly across the long sweep of the downland and putting down the bundle wrapped up in a red handkerchief which contained his breakfast and dinner, she said:

     "Well, Uncle, is there any noos?"

     Now this may not appear to the casual reader to be a remark likely to cause irritation, but it affected old Sam Gates as a very silly and unnecessary question. It was, moreover, the constant repetition of it which was beginning to anger him. He met his niece twice a day. In the morning she brought his bundle of food at seven, and when he passed his sister's cottage on the way home to tea at five she was invariably hanging about the gate. And on each occasion she always said, in exactly the same voice:

     "Well, Uncle, is there any noos?"

     "Noos!" What "noos" should there be? For sixty-nine years he had never lived further than five miles from Halvesham. For nearly sixty of those years he had bent his back above the soil. There were indeed historic occasions: once, for instance, when he had married Annie Hachet. And there was the birth of his daughter. There was also a famous occasion when he had visited London. Once he had been to a flower show at Market Roughborough. He either went or didn't go to church on Sundays. He had had many interesting chats with Mr. James at "The Cowman," and three years ago had sold a pig to Mrs. Waig. But he couldn't always have interesting "noos" of this sort up his sleeve. Didn't the silly gaffir know that for the last three weeks he had been thinning out turnips for Mr. Dodge on this very same field? What "noos" could there be?

     He blinked at his niece, and didn't answer. She undid the parcel, and said:

     "Mrs. Goping's fowl got out again last night."

     He replied, "Ah!" in a non-committal manner, and began to munch his bread and bacon. His niece picked up the handkerchief, and humming to herself, walked back across the field. It was a glorious morning, and a white sea-mist added to the promise of a hot day. He sat there munching, thinking of nothing in particular, but gradually subsiding into a mood of placid content. He noticed the back of Aggie disappear in the distance. It was a mile to the cottage, and a mile and a half to Halvesham. Silly things, girls! They were all alike. One had to make allowances. He dismissed her from his thoughts and took a long swig of tea out of a bottle. Insects buzzed lazily. He tapped his pocket to assure himself that his pouch of shag was there, and then he continued munching. When he had finished, he lighted his pipe and stretched himself comfortably. He looked along the line of turnips he had thinned, and then across the adjoining field of swedes. Silver streaks appeared on the sea below the mist. In some dim way he felt happy in his solitude amidst this sweeping immensity of earth and sea and sky.

     And then something else came to irritate him. It was one of "these dratted airyplanes." "Airyplanes" were his pet aversion. He could find nothing to be said in their favour. Nasty, noisy, vile-smelling things that seared the heavens, and make the earth dangerous. And every day there seemed to be more and more of them. Of course "this old war" was responsible for a lot of them, he knew. The war was "a plaguey noosance." They were short-handed on the farm. Beer and tobacco were dear, and Mrs. Stevens' nephew had been and got wounded in the foot.

     He turned his attention once more to the turnips. But an "airyplane" has an annoying genius for gripping one's attention. When it appears on the scene, however much we dislike it it has a way of taking stage-centre; we cannot help constantly looking at it. And so it was with old Sam Gates. He spat on his hands, and blinked up at the sky. And suddenly the aeroplane behaved in a very extraordinary manner. It was well over the sea when it seemed to lurch in a drunken manner, and skimmed the water. Then it shot up at a dangerous angle and zigzagged. It started to go farther out, and then turned and made for the land. The engines were making a curious grating noise. It rose once more, and then suddenly dived downwards and came plump down right in the middle of Mr. Dodge's field of swedes!

     Finally, as if not content with this desecration, it ran along the ground, ripping and tearing up twenty-five yards of good swedes, and then came to a stop. Old Sam Gates was in a terrible state. The aeroplane was more than a hundred yards away, but he waved his arms, and called out:

     "Hi! you there, you mustn't land in they swedes! They're Mister Dodge's."

     The instant the aeroplane stopped a man leapt out, and gazed quickly round. He glanced at Sam Gates, and seemed uncertain whether to address him or whether to concentrate his attention on the flying-machine. The latter arrangement appeared to be his ultimate decision. He dived under the engine, and became frantically busy. Sam had never seen anyone work with such furious energy. But all the same, it was not to be tolerated. It was disgraceful. Sam started out across the field, almost hurrying in his indignation. When he approached within earshot of the aviator, he cried out again:

     "Hi! you mustn't rest your old airyplane here. You've kicked up all Mr. Dodge's swedes. A nice thing you've done!"

     He was within five yards when suddenly the aviator turned and covered him with a revolver! And, speaking in a sharp, staccato voice, he said:

     "Old Grandfather, you must sit down. I am very occupied. If you interfere or attempt to go away, I shoot you. So!"

     Sam gazed at the horrid glittering little barrel, and gasped. Well he never! To be threatened with murder when you're doing your duty in your employer's private property! But, still, perhaps the man was mad. A man must be more or less mad to go up in one of those crazy things. And life was very sweet on that summer morning, in spite of sixty-nine years. He sat down among the swedes.

     The aviator was so busy with his cranks and machinery that he hardly deigned to pay him any attention, except to keep the revolver handy. He worked feverishly, and Sam sat watching him. At the end of ten minutes he seemed to have solved his troubles with the machine, but he still seemed very scared. He kept on glancing round and out to sea. When his repairs were completed, he straightened his back and wiped the perspiration from his brow. He was apparently on the point of springing back into the machine and going off, when a sudden mood of facetiousness, caused by relief from the strain he had endured, came to him. He turned to old Sam, and smiled; at the same time remarking:

     "Well, old grandfather, and now we shall be all right, isn't it?"

     He came close up to Sam, and then suddenly started back.

     "Gott!" he cried. "Paul Jouperts!"

     Sam gazed at him, bewildered, and the madman started talking to him in some foreign tongue. Sam shook his head.

     "You no right," he remarked, "to come bargin' through they swedes of Mr. Dodge's."

     And then the aviator behaved in a most peculiar manner. He came up and examined his face very closely, and gave a gentle tug at his beard and hair, as if to see whether it were real or false.

     "What is your name, old man?" he said.

     "Sam Gates."

     The aviator muttered some words that sounded something like "mare vudish!" and then turned to his machine. He appeared to be dazed and in a great state of doubt. He fumbled with some cranks, but kept glancing at old Sam. At last he got into the car and started the engine. Then he stopped, and sat there deep in thought. At last he suddenly sprang out again, and, approaching Sam, he said very deliberately:

     "Old grandfather, I shall require you to accompany me."

     Sam gasped.

     "Eh?" he said. "What be talkin' about? 'company? I got these here lines o' tarnips—I be already behoind——"

     The disgusting little revolver once more flashed before his eyes.

     "There must be no discussion," came the voice. "It is necessary that you mount the seat of the car without delay. Otherwise I shoot you like the dog you are. So!"

     Old Sam was hale and hearty. He had no desire to die so ignominiously. The pleasant smell of the downland was in his nostrils. His foot was on his native heath. He mounted the seat of the car, contenting himself with a mutter:

     "Well, that be a noice thing, I must say! Flyin' about the country with all they tarnips on'y half thinned——"

     He found himself strapped in. The aviator was in a fever of anxiety to get away. The engines made a ghastly splutter and noise. The thing started running along the ground. Suddenly it shot upwards, giving the swedes a last contemptuous kick. At twenty minutes to eight that morning old Sam found himself being borne right up above his fields and out to sea! His breath came quickly. He was a little frightened.

     "God forgive me!" he murmured.

     The thing was so fantastic and sudden, his mind could not grasp it. He only felt in some vague way that he was going to die, and he struggled to attune his mind to the change. He offered up a mild prayer to God, Who, he felt, must be very near, somewhere up in these clouds. Automatically he thought of the vicar at Halvesham, and a certain sense of comfort came to him at the reflection that on the previous day he had taken a "cooking of runner beans" to God's representative in that village. He felt calmer after that, but the horrid machine seemed to go higher and higher. He could not turn in his seat and he could see nothing but sea and sky. Of course the man was mad, mad as a March hare. Of what earthly use could he be to anyone? Besides, he had talked pure gibberish, and called him Paul Something, when he had already told him that his name was Sam. The thing would fall down into the sea soon, and they would both be drowned. Well, well! He had reached the three-score years and ten.

     He was protected by a screen, but it seemed very cold. What on earth would Mr. Dodge say? There was no one left to work the land but a fool of a boy named Billy Whitehead at Deric's Cross. On, on, on they went at a furious pace. His thoughts danced disconnectedly from incidents of his youth, conversations with the vicar, hearty meals in the open, a frock his sister wore on the day of the postman's wedding, the drone of a psalm, the illness of some ewes belonging to Mr. Dodge. Everything seemed to be moving very rapidly, upsetting his sense of time. He felt outraged and yet at moments there was something entrancing in the wild experience. He seemed to be living at an incredible pace. Perhaps he was really dead, and on his way to the Kingdom of God? Perhaps this was the way they took people?

     After some indefinite period he suddenly caught sight of a long strip of land. Was this a foreign country? or were they returning? He had by this time lost all feeling of fear. He became interested, and almost disappointed. The "airyplane" was not such a fool as it looked. It was very wonderful to be right up in the sky like this. His dreams were suddenly disturbed by a fearful noise. He thought the machine was blown to pieces. It dived and ducked through the air, and things were bursting all round it and making an awful din; and then it went up higher and higher. After a while these noises ceased, and he felt the machine gliding downwards. They were really right above solid land, trees, and fields, and streams, and white villages. Down, down, down they glided. This was a foreign country. There were straight avenues of poplars and canals. This was not Halvesham. He felt the thing glide gently and bump into a field. Some men ran forward and approached them, and the mad aviator called out to them. They were mostly fat men in grey uniforms, and they all spoke this foreign gibberish. Someone came and unstrapped him. He was very stiff, and could hardly move. An exceptionally gross-looking man punched him in the ribs, and roared with laughter. They all stood round and laughed at him, while the mad aviator talked to them and kept pointing at him. Then he said:

     "Old grandfather, you must come with me."

     He was led to a zinc-roofed building, and shut in a little room. There were guards outside with fixed bayonets. After a while the mad aviator appeared again, accompanied by two soldiers. He beckoned him to follow. They marched through a quadrangle and entered another building. They went straight into an office where a very important-looking man, covered with medals, sat in an easy chair. There was a lot of saluting and clicking of heels.

     The aviator pointed at Sam and said something, and the man with the medals started at sight of him, and then came up and spoke to him in English.

     "What is your name? Where do you come from? Your age? The name and birthplace of your parents?"

     He seemed intensely interested, and also pulled his hair and beard to see if they came off. So well and naturally did he and the aviator speak English that after a voluble cross-examination they drew apart, and continued the conversation in that language. And the extraordinary conversation was of this nature:

     "It is a most remarkable resemblance," said the man with medals. "Unglaublich! But what do you want me to do with him, Hausemann?"

     "The idea came to me suddenly, excellency," replied the aviator, "and you may consider it worthless. It is just this. The resemblance is so amazing. Paul Jouperts has given us more valuable information than anyone at present in our service. And the English know that. There is an award of twenty-five thousand francs on his head. Twice they have captured him, and each time he escaped. All the company commanders and their staff have his photograph. He is a serious thorn in their flesh."

     "Well?" replied the man with the medals.

     The aviator whispered confidently:

     "Suppose, your excellency, that they found the dead body of Paul Jouperts?"

     "Well?" replied the big man.

     "My suggestion is this. To-morrow, as you know, the English are attacking Hill 701, which we have for tactical reasons decided to evacuate. If after the attack they find the dead body of Paul Jouperts in, say, the second lines, they will take no further trouble in the matter. You know their lack of thoroughness. Pardon me, I was two years at Oxford University. And consequently Paul Jouperts will be able to—prosecute his labours undisturbed."

     The man with the medals twirled his moustache and looked thoughtfully at his colleague.

     "Where is Paul at the moment?" he asked.

     "He is acting as a gardener at the Convent of St. Eloise at Mailleton-en-haut, which, as you know, is one hundred metres from the headquarters of the British central army staff."

     The man with the medals took two or three rapid turns up and down the room. Then he said:

     "Your plan is excellent, Hausemann. The only point of difficulty is that the attack started this morning."

     "This morning?" exclaimed the other.

     "Yes. The English attacked unexpectedly at dawn. We have already evacuated the first line. We shall evacuate the second line at eleven-fifty. It is now ten-fifteen. There may be just time."

     He looked suddenly at old Sam in the way that a butcher might look at a prize heifer at an agricultural show, and remarked casually:

     "Yes, it is a remarkable resemblance. It seems a pity not to . . . do something with it."

     Then, speaking in German, he added:

     "It is worth trying, and if it succeeds, the higher authorities shall hear of your lucky accident and inspiration, Herr Hausemann. Instruct Oberleutnant Schutz to send the old fool by two orderlies to the east extremity of trench 38. Keep him there till the order of evacuation is given. Then shoot him, but don't disfigure him, and lay him out face upwards."

     The aviator saluted and withdrew, accompanied by his victim. Old Sam had not understood the latter part of the conversation, and he did not catch quite all that was said in English, but he felt that somehow things were not becoming too promising, and it was time to assert himself. So he remarked when they got outside:

     "Now, look'ee here, mister, when be I goin' back to my tarnips?"

     And the aviator replied with a pleasant smile:

     "Do not be disturbed, old grandfather; you shall . . . get back to the soil quite soon."

     In a few moments he found himself in a large grey car, accompanied by four soldiers. The aviator left him. The country was barren and horrible, full of great pits and rents, and he could hear the roar of artillery and the shriek of shells. Overhead, aeroplanes were buzzing angrily. He seemed to be suddenly transported from the Kingdom of God to the Pit of Darkness. He wondered whether the vicar had enjoyed the runner beans. He could not imagine runner beans growing here, runner beans, ay! or anything else. If this was a foreign country, give him dear old England.

     Gr-r-r-r—Bang! Something exploded just at the rear of the car. The soldiers ducked, and one of them pushed him in the stomach and swore.

     "An ugly-looking lout," he thought. "If I was twenty years younger I'd give him a punch in the eye that 'ud make him sit up."

     The car came to a halt by a broken wall. The party hurried out and dived behind a mound. He was pulled down a kind of shaft and found himself in a room buried right underground, where three officers were drinking and smoking. The soldiers saluted and handed a typewritten despatch. The officers looked at him drunkenly, and one came up and pulled his beard and spat in his face, and called him "an old English swine." He then shouted out some instructions to the soldiers, and they led him out into the narrow trench. One walked behind him and occasionally prodded him with the butt-end of a gun. The trenches were half-full of water, and reeked of gases, powder, and decaying matter. Shells were constantly bursting overhead, and in places the trenches had crumbled and were nearly blocked up. They stumbled on, sometimes falling, sometimes dodging moving masses, and occasionally crawling over the dead bodies of men. At last they reached a deserted-looking trench, and one of the soldiers pushed him into the corner of it and growled something, and then disappeared round the angle. Old Sam was exhausted. He lay panting against the mud wall, expecting every minute to be blown to pieces by one of those infernal things that seemed to be getting more and more insistent. The din went on for nearly twenty minutes, and he was alone in the trench. He fancied he heard a whistle amidst the din. Suddenly one of the soldiers who had accompanied him came stealthily round the corner. And there was a look in his eye old Sam did not like. When he was within five yards the soldier raised his rifle and pointed it at Sam's body. Some instinct impelled the old man at that instant to throw himself forward on his face. As he did so, he was conscious of a terrible explosion, and he had just time to observe the soldier falling in a heap near him, when he lost consciousness.

     His consciousness appeared to return to him with a snap. He was lying on a plank in a building, and he heard someone say:

     "I believe the old boy's English."

     He looked round. There were a lot of men lying there, and others in khaki and white overalls were busy amongst them. He sat up and rubbed his head, and said:

     "Hi, mister, where be I now?"

     Someone laughed, and a young man came up and said:

     "Well, old thing, you were very nearly in hell. Who the devil are you?"

     Someone else came up, and the two of them were discussing him. One of them said:

     "He's quite all right. He was only knocked out. Better take him to the colonel. He may be a spy."

     The other came up, and touched his shoulder, and remarked:

     "Can you walk, uncle?"

     He replied:

     "Ay, I can walk all right."

     "That's an old sport!"

     The young man took his arm and helped him out of the room, into a courtyard. They entered another room, where an elderly, kind-faced officer was seated at a desk. The officer looked up, and exclaimed:

     "Good God! Bradshaw, do you know who you've got there?"

     The younger one said, "No. Who, sir?"

     "By God! it's Paul Jouperts!" exclaimed the colonel.

     "Paul Jouperts! Great Scott!"

     The older officer addressed himself to Sam. He said:

     "Well, we've got you once more, Paul. We shall have to be a little more careful this time."

     The young officer said:

     "Shall I detail a squad, sir?"

     "We can't shoot him without a court-martial," replied the kind-faced senior.

     Then Sam interpolated:

     "Look'ee, here, sir. I'm fair sick of all this. My name bean't Paul. My name's Sam. I was a-thinnin' a line of tarnips——"

     Both officers burst out laughing, and the younger one said:

     "Good! damn good! Isn't it amazing, sir, the way they not only learn the language, but even take the trouble to learn a dialect?"

     The older man busied himself with some papers.

     "Well, Sam," he remarked, "you shall be given a chance to prove your identity. Our methods are less drastic than those of your Boche masters. What part of England are you supposed to come from? Let's see how much you can bluff us with your topographical knowledge."

     "Oi was a-thinnin' a loine o' tarnips this morning at 'alf-past seven on Mr. Dodge's farm at Halvesham, when one o' these 'ere airyplanes come roight down among the swedes. I tells e' to get clear o' that, when the feller gets out o' the car, 'e drahs a revowlver and e' says, 'You must 'company—I—' "

     "Yes, yes," interrupted the senior officer; "that's all very good. Now, tell me—Where is Halvesham? What is the name of the local vicar? I'm sure you'd know that."

     Old Sam rubbed his chin.

     "I sits under the Reverend David Pryce, mister, and a good God-fearin' man he be. I took him a cookin' o' runner beans only yesterday. I works for Mr. Dodge what owns Greenway Manor and 'as a stud farm at Newmarket they say."

     "Charles Dodge?" asked the younger officer.

     "Ay, Charlie Dodge. You write and ask 'un if he knows old Sam Gates."

     The two officers looked at each other, and the older one looked at Sam more closely.

     "It's very extraordinary," he remarked.

     "Everybody knows Charlie Dodge," added the younger officer.

     It was at that moment that a wave of genius swept over old Sam. He put his hand to his head, and suddenly jerked out:

     "What's more, I can tell 'ee where this yere Paul is. He's acting a gardener in a convent at——"

     He puckered up his brow and fumbled with his hat, and then got out:

     "Mighteno."

     The older officer gasped:

     "Mailleton-en-haut! Good God! What makes you say that, old man?"

     Sam tried to give an account of his experience, and the things he had heard said by the German officers. But he was getting tired, and he broke off in the middle to say:

     "Ye haven't a bite o' somethin' to eat, I suppose, mister, and a glass o' beer? I usually 'as my dinner at twelve o'clock."

     Both the officers laughed, and the older said:

     "Get him some food, Bradshaw, and a bottle of beer from the mess. We'll keep this old man here. He interests me."

     While the younger man was doing this, the chief pressed a button and summoned another junior officer.

     "Gateshead," he remarked, "ring up G.H.Q. and instruct them to arrest the gardener in that convent at the top of the hill, and then to report."

     The officer saluted and went out, and in a few minutes a tray of hot food and a large bottle of beer was brought to the old man, and he was left alone in the corner of the room to negotiate this welcome compensation. And in the execution he did himself and his county credit. In the meanwhile the officers were very busy. People were coming and going and examining maps and telephone-bells were ringing furiously. They did not disturb old Sam's gastronomic operations. He cleaned up the mess tins and finished the last drop of beer. The senior officer found time to offer him a cigarette, but he replied:

     "Thank'ee kindly, but I'd rather smoke my pipe."

     "Oh, all right. Smoke away."

     He lighted up, and the fumes of the shag permeated the room. Someone opened another window, and the young officer who had addressed him at first suddenly looked at him and exclaimed:

     "Innocent, by God! You couldn't get snag like that anywhere but in Norfolk."

     It must have been over an hour later when another officer entered, and saluted.

     "Message from G.H.Q., sir," he said.

     "Well?"

     "They have arrested the gardener at the convent of St. Eloise, and they have every reason to believe that he is the notorious Paul Jouperts."

     The colonel stood up, and his eyes beamed. He came over to old Sam and shook his hand.

     "Mr. Gates," he said, "you are an old brick. You will probably hear more of this. You have probably been the means of delivering something very useful into our hands. Your own honour is vindicated. A loving government will probably award you five shillings or a Victoria Cross, or something of that sort. In the meantime, what can I do for you?"

     Old Sam scratched his chin.

     "Oi want to get back 'ome," he said.

     "Well, even that might be arranged."

     "Oi want to get back 'ome in toime for tea."

     "What time do you have tea?"

     "Foive o'clock or thereabouts."

     "I see."

     A kindly smile came into the eyes of the colonel. He turned to another officer standing by the table, and said:

     "Raikes, is anyone going across this afternoon with despatches?"

     "Yes, sir," replied the other officer. "Commander Jennings is leaving at three o'clock."

     "You might ask him to come and see me."

     Within ten minutes a young man in a flight-commander's uniform entered.

     "Ah, Jennings," said the colonel, "here is a little affair which concerns the honour of the British army. My friend here, Sam Gates, has come over from Halvesham in Norfolk in order to give us valuable information. I have promised him that he shall get home to tea at five o'clock. Can you take a passenger?"

     The young man threw back his head and laughed.

     "Lord!" he exclaimed. "What an old sport! Yes, I expect I could just manage it. Where is the Godforsaken place?"

     A large ordnance-map of Norfolk (which had been captured from a German officer) was produced, and the young man studied it closely.

     At three o'clock precisely old Sam, finding himself something of a hero and quite glad to escape from the embarrassment which this position entailed, once more sped skywards in an "airyplane."

     At twenty minutes to five he landed once more amongst Mr. Dodge's swedes. The breezy young airman shook hands with him and departed inland. Old Sam sat down and surveyed the field.

     "A noice thing, I must say," he muttered to himself, as he looked along the lines of unthinned turnips. He still had twenty minutes, and so he went slowly along and completed a line which he had commenced in the morning. He then deliberately packed up his dinner-things and his tools, and started out for home.

     As he came round the corner of Stillway's Meadow, and the cottage came in view, his niece stepped out of the copse with a basket on her arm.

     "Well, Uncle," she said, "is there any noos?"

     It was then that old Sam became really irritated.

     "Noos!" he said. "Noos! drat the girl! What noos should there be? Sixty-nine year I live in these here parts, hoein' and weedin' and thinnin' and mindin' Charlie Dodge's sheep. Am I one o' these here story-book folk havin' noos 'appen to me all the time? Ain't it enough, ye silly dab-faced zany, to earn enough to buy a bite o' some'at to eat, and a glass o' beer, and a place to rest a's head o'night, without always wantin' noos, noos, noos! I tell 'ee, it's this that leads 'ee to 'alf the troubles in the world. Devil take the noos!"

     And turning his back on her, he went fuming up the hill.


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