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