The Reticence of Lady
Anne by Saki
Egbert came into the large, dimly lit drawing-room with the
air of a man who is not certain whether he is entering a dovecote
or a bomb factory, and is prepared for either eventuality.
The little domestic quarrel over the luncheon-table had not been
fought to a definite finish, and the question was how far Lady
Anne was in a mood to renew or forgo hostilities. Her pose
in the arm-chair by the tea-table was rather elaborately rigid;
in the gloom of a December afternoon Egbert’s pince-nez did
not materially help him to discern the expression of her
By way of breaking whatever ice might be floating on the
surface he made a remark about a dim religious light. He or
Lady Anne were accustomed to make that remark between 4.30 and 6
on winter and late autumn evenings; it was a part of
their married life. There was no recognised rejoinder to
it, and Lady Anne made none.
Don Tarquinio lay astretch on the Persian rug, basking in the
firelight with superb indifference to the possible ill-humour of
Lady Anne. His pedigree was as flawlessly Persian as the
rug, and his ruff was coming into the glory of its second
winter. The page-boy, who had Renaissance tendencies, had
christened him Don Tarquinio. Left to themselves, Egbert
and Lady Anne would unfailingly have called him Fluff, but they
were not obstinate.
Egbert poured himself out some tea. As the silence gave
no sign of breaking on Lady Anne’s initiative, he braced
himself for another Yermak effort.
“My remark at lunch had a purely academic
application,” he announced; “you seem to put an
unnecessarily personal significance into it.”
Lady Anne maintained her defensive barrier of silence.
The bullfinch lazily filled in the interval with an air from
Iphigénie en Tauride. Egbert recognised it
immediately, because it was the only air the bullfinch whistled,
and he had come to them with the reputation for whistling
it. Both Egbert and Lady Anne would have preferred
something from The Yeomen of the Guard, which was their
favourite opera. In matters artistic they had a similarity
of taste. They leaned towards the honest and explicit in
art, a picture, for instance, that told its own story, with
generous assistance from its title. A riderless warhorse
with harness in obvious disarray, staggering into a courtyard
full of pale swooning women, and marginally noted “Bad
News”, suggested to their minds a distinct interpretation
of some military catastrophe. They could see what it was
meant to convey, and explain it to friends of duller
The silence continued. As a rule Lady Anne’s
displeasure became articulate and markedly voluble after four
minutes of introductory muteness. Egbert seized the
milk-jug and poured some of its contents into Don
Tarquinio’s saucer; as the saucer was already full to the
brim an unsightly overflow was the result. Don Tarquinio
looked on with a surprised interest that evanesced into elaborate
unconsciousness when he was appealed to by Egbert to come and
drink up some of the spilt matter. Don Tarquinio was
prepared to play many rôles in life, but
a vacuum carpet-cleaner was not one of them.
“Don’t you think we’re being rather
foolish?” said Egbert cheerfully.
If Lady Anne thought so she didn’t say so.
“I dare say the fault has been partly on my side,”
continued Egbert, with evaporating cheerfulness.
“After all, I’m only human, you know. You seem
to forget that I’m only human.”
He insisted on the point, as if there had been unfounded
suggestions that he was built on Satyr lines, with goat
continuations where the human left off.
The bullfinch recommenced its air from Iphigénie en
Tauride. Egbert began to feel depressed. Lady
Anne was not drinking her tea. Perhaps she was feeling
unwell. But when Lady Anne felt unwell she was not wont to
be reticent on the subject. “No one knows what I
suffer from indigestion” was one of her favourite
statements; but the lack of knowledge can only have been caused
by defective listening; the amount of information available on
the subject would have supplied material for a monograph.
Evidently Lady Anne was not feeling unwell.
Egbert began to think he was being unreasonably dealt
with; naturally he began to make concessions.
“I dare say,” he observed, taking as central a
position on the hearth-rug as Don Tarquinio could be persuaded to
concede him, “I may have been to blame. I am willing,
if I can thereby restore things to a happier standpoint, to
undertake to lead a better life.”
He wondered vaguely how it would be possible.
Temptations came to him, in middle age, tentatively and without
insistence, like a neglected butcher-boy who asks for a Christmas
box in February for no more hopeful reason that than he
didn’t get one in December. He had no more idea of
succumbing to them than he had of purchasing the fish-knives and
fur boas that ladies are impelled to sacrifice through the medium
of advertisement columns during twelve months of the year.
Still, there was something impressive in this unasked-for
renunciation of possibly latent enormities.
Lady Anne showed no sign of being impressed.
Egbert looked at her nervously through his glasses. To
get the worst of an argument with her was no new
experience. To get the worst of a
monologue was a humiliating novelty.
“I shall go and dress for diner,” he announced in
a voice into which he intended some shade of sternness to
At the door a final access of weakness impelled him to make a
“Aren’t we being very silly?”
“A fool” was Don Tarquinio’s mental comment
as the door closed on Egbert’s retreat. Then he
lifted his velvet forepaws in the air and leapt lightly on to a
bookshelf immediately under the bullfinch’s cage. It
was the first time he had seemed to notice the bird’s
existence, but he was carrying out a long-formed theory of action
with the precision of mature deliberation. The bullfinch,
who had fancied himself something of a despot, depressed himself
of a sudden into a third of his normal displacement; then he fell
to a helpless wing-beating and shrill cheeping. He had cost
twenty-seven shillings without the cage, but Lady Anne made no
sign of interfering. She had been dead for two hours.