(From The Story-Teller)


Best British Short Stories

It was the maddest and most picturesque hotel at which we have ever stopped. Tony and I were touring North Wales. We had left Llandudno that morning in the twoseater, lunched at Festiniog, and late in the afternoon were trundling down a charming valley with the reluctant assistance of a road whose surface, if it ever had possessed such an asset, had long since vanished. On rounding one of the innumerable hairpin bends on our road, there burst upon us the most gorgeous miniature scene that we had ever encountered. I stopped the car almost automatically.

"Oh, George, what a charming hotel!" exclaimed Tony. "Let's stop and have tea."

Tony, I should mention, is my wife. She is intensely practical.

I had not noticed the hotel, for before us the valley opened out into a perfect stage setting. From the road the land fell sharply a hundred feet to a rocky mountain stream, the rustle of whose water came up to us faintly like the music heard in a sea-shell. Beyond rose hills—hill upon hill lit patchily by the sun, so that their contours were a mingling of brilliant purple heather, red-brown bracken, and indigo shadow. Far down the valley the stream glinted, mirror-like, through a veil of trees.

And Tony spoke of tea!

I dragged my eyes from the magnet of the view and found that I had stopped the car within a few yards of a little hotel that must have been planted there originally by someone with a soul. It lay by the open roadside five miles from anywhere. It was built of the rough grey-green stone of the district, but it was rescued from the commonplace by its leaded windows, the big old beams that angled across its white plastered gables, and by the clematis and late tea roses that clung about its porch.

I could hardly blame Tony for her materialism. The hotel blended admirably with its surroundings. There was nothing about it of the beerhouse-on-the-mountain-top so dear to the German mind. It looked quiet, refined and restful, and one felt instinctively that it would be managed in a fashion in keeping with all about it.

"By Jove, Tony!" I said, as I drew up to the clematis-covered porch, "we might do worse than stop here for a day or two."

"We'll have tea anyhow, and see what we think of it." I clattered over the red-tiled floor, and when my eyes had grown accustomed to the dim light that contrasted so well with the sunshine without, found myself in a small sunshiny room, with a low ceiling, oak-rafted, some comfortable chairs, an old eight-day clock stopped at ten-thirty-five, and a man.

He was a long thin man, clean-shaven, wearing an old shooting coat and a pair of shabby grey flannel trousers. He smoked a pipe and read in a book. At my entrance he did not look up, and I set him down as a guest in the hotel.

One side of the room was built of obscured glass panes, with an open square in the middle and a ledge upon which rested several suggestive empty glasses, so I crossed to this hospitable-looking gap, and tapped upon the ledge. Several repetitions bringing no response, I turned to the only living creature who appeared to be available.

"Can you tell me, sir, if we can have tea in the hotel," I asked.

The long man started, looked up, closed his book, and jumped to his feet as if galvanized to life.

"Of course, of course, of course," he cried hastily, and added, as by an afterthought, "of course."

I may have shown a natural surprise at this almost choral response, for he pulled himself together and became something more explicit.

"I'll see to it at once," he said hurriedly. "I'm—I'm the proprietor, you know. You won't mind if we're—if we're a little upset. You see, I—I've just moved in. Left me by an uncle, you know, an uncle in Australia. I'll see to it at once. Anything you would like—specially fancy? Bread and butter now, or cake perhaps? Will you take a seat—two seats." (Tony had followed me in). "And look at yesterday's paper. Oh yes, you can have tea—of course, of course, of course. Of——"

His words petered out, as he clattered off down a like-flagged passage.
I looked at Tony and raised my eyebrows.

"Seems a trifle mad," I said.

"How delightfully cool," said she, looking round the old-fashioned room appraisingly, "and so clean! I think we'll stop."

"Let's have tea before we decide," I suggested. "The proprietor is distinctly eccentric, to say the least of it."

"He looked quite a superior man. I thought," said Tony. "Not the least like a Welshman."

Tony herself comes from far north of the Tweed.

The hotel was small, and the kitchen, apparently, not far away, for we could not avoid hearing sounds of what appeared to be a heated argument coming from the direction in which mine host had vanished. We were used to heated arguments in the hotels at which we had put up, but they had invariably taken place in Welsh, whereas this one was undoubtedly in English. Snatches of it reached our ears.

"… haven't the pluck of a rabbit, Bill."

"… all very well, but——"

"I'm not afraid, I'll——"

Then our host returned.

"It's coming, it's coming, it's coming," he said, his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets, jingling loose change in a manner that suggested agitation.

He stood looking down at us as though we were something he didn't quite know what to do with, and then an idea seemed to strike him, and be vanished for a moment to reappear almost immediately in the square gap of the bar window.

"Have a drink while you're waiting?" he asked, much more naturally.

I looked at my watch. It was half-past four. Very free-and-easy with the licensing laws, I thought.

"I thought six o'clock was opening time?" I said.

The thin man was overcome with confusion. His face flushed red, he shut the window down with a bang, and a moment after came round to us again.

"Awfully sorry," he stammered apologetically. "Might get the house a bad name. Deuced inconsiderate of—of my uncle not to leave me a book of the rules. Very bad break, that—what?"

Evidently Tony was not so much impressed by the eccentricities of our host as was I. She approved of the hotel and its situation, and had made up her mind to stop. I could tell it by her face as she addressed the proprietor.

"Have you accommodation if we should make up our minds to stay here for a few days?" she asked.

"Stay here? You want to stay?" he repeated, consternation written large all over his face. "Good G—— I mean certainly, of course, of course."

He bolted down the passage like a rabbit, and we heard hoarse whispering from the direction in which he had gone.

"Dotty?" I suggested.

"Not a bit of it," retorted Tony. "Nervous because he is new to his job, but very anxious to be obliging. We shall do splendidly here."

I shrugged my shoulders and said no more, because I know Tony. I have been married to her for years and years.

Light steps upon the tiles heralded something new—different, but equally surprising.

"Tea is served, madam, if you will step this way."

She was the apotheosis of all waitresses. Her frock was black, but it was of silk and finely cut. Her apron, of coarse white cotton, was grotesque against it. She had neat little feet encased in high-heeled shoes, and her stockings were of silk. Her common cap that she wore sat coquettishly on her dark curls, and her face was charming, though petrified in that unnatural expression of distance which, as a rule, only the very best menials can attain.

There were no other guests in the coffee-room, and this marvel of maids devoted the whole of her attention to us, standing over us like a column of ice which thawed only to attend upon our wants. There was no getting past her veil of reticence. Tony tried her with questions, but "Yes, madam," "No, madam," and "Certainly, madam," appeared the sum of her vocabulary. Yet when we sent her to the kitchen for more hot water, we were conscious of a whispering and giggling which assured us that off the stage she could thaw.

"We must stay a day or two," said Tony. "I'm dying to paidle in that burn."

"My dear, how often have you promised me that you would never subject me to Scotch after we were married!" I protested.

"When I see a burn I e'en must juist paidle in it," retorted Tony, deliberately forswearing herself. "So we'll book that room."

At that moment the celestial waitress returned with the hot water, and Tony made known her determination. I drive the car, but Tony supplies the driving-power.

"Certainly, madam. I shall speak to Mr. Gunthorpe." Quickly she returned.

"Number ten is vacant. The boots and chambermaid are both away at a sheep-trial, but we expect them back any moment. I shall show you the room, madam, and if you will leave the car, sir, until the boots returns——"

"That will be all right. No hurry, no hurry."

While we were examining our bedroom and finding it all that could be desired, I heard a car draw up before the hotel, and the sound of voices in conversation. A few minutes later, on going downstairs, I made the acquaintance of the boots. He was obviously awaiting me by my car, and touched his forelock in a manner rarely seen off the stage. He wore khaki cord breeches with leather leggings, a striped shirt open at the neck, and chewed a straw desperately. In no other respect did he resemble the boots of an out-of-the-way hotel.

"Garage round this way, sir," he said, guiding me to my destination, which, I found, already contained a two-seater of the same make as my own.

"Ripping little car, eh?" said the boots, chewing vigorously at his straw as he stood, his hands deep in what are graphically known as "go-to-hell" pockets and his legs well straddled. "Hop over anything, what? Topping weather we're having—been like this for weeks. If you don't mind, old chap, you might wiggle her over this way a bit. Something else might blow in, eh?"

I looked at this latest manifestation with undisguised astonishment, but he was imperturbable, and merely chewed his straw with renewed energy.

"That's the stuff, old lad," he said, as I laid the car in position. "What now? Shall I give you a hand up with the trunk, or will you hump it yourself? Don't mind me a bit. I'm ready for anything."

He looked genial, but I found him familiar, so with a curt:

"Take it to number ten," I strode off to overtake Tony, whom I saw half-way down a rough path that led to her beloved "burn."

"I've seen the chambermaid," she said, when I overtook her. "Such a pretty girl, but very shy and unsophisticated. Quite a girl, but wears a wedding-ring."

I watched Tony "paidling" for some time, but as the amusement consisted mainly of getting her under-apparel wet, I grew tired of it, and climbed back to the hotel.

The bar-window was open once more in the little lounge, and Mr.
Gunthorpe was behind, his arms resting upon the ledge.

"Have a drink?" he said, as I entered. "It's all right now. The balloon's gone up."

I looked at my watch. It was after six o'clock.

"I'll have a small Scotch and soda," I decided.

"This is on the house," said the eccentric landlord.

He produced two glasses and filled them, and I noticed that he took money from his pocket and placed it in the till.

"Well, success to the new management!" I said, raising my glass to his.

"Cheerio, and thank you," said he, smiling genially upon me.

He seemed to me more self-possessed and less eccentric than he had appeared upon our arrival. I determined to draw him out.

"It's funny that an Australian should have owned an hotel away up in the Welsh hills," I hazarded. "Did he die recently?"

"Australia? You must have misunderstood me," said Mr. Gunthorpe with a hunted look in his eyes. "Very likely—very likely I said Ostend."

"Ostend? Well, possibly I did," I agreed, feeling certain that I had made no mistake. "Had he a hotel there as well?"

"Yes, yes. Of course, of course, of course," agreed the landlord, largely redundant.

"And are you running that as well?"

"Heaven forbid!" he exclaimed, with a shudder. "You see … this—this is just a small legacy. It'll be all right by and by. All right, all right. Let's have another drink."

"With me," I insisted.

"Not at all, not at all. On the house. All for the good of the house.
Come along, Bob, have a drink!"

It was the boots who had now entered, and he strolled up to the bar with all the self-possession of a welcome guest.

"Just a spot of Scotch, old thing!" he said brightly. "It's a hard life. Shaking down good and comfy, laddie?"—this last to me. "Ask for anything you fancy. It doesn't follow you'll get it, but if we have it, it's yours. Tinkle, tinkle; crash, crash!" With this unusual toast he raised his glass and drained it.

"Have another," he said. "Three Scotches, Boniface."

I protested. This was too hot and fast for me altogether. Besides, I did not fancy being indebted to this somewhat overwhelming boots. My protest was of no avail. The glasses were filled while yet the words were upon my lips. I thought of Tony, and trembled. Common decency would force me to stand still another round before I could cry a halt.

"All well in the buttery?" asked the boots, in a confidential tone of the landlord.

"The banquet is in preparation," replied the latter. "Everything is in train."

"Heaven grant that it comes out of train reasonably, laddie," said boots fervently. "But you know Molly. I wouldn't trust an ostrich to her cooking. Here's hoping for the best."

He drained his glass again, and this time I managed to get a show. "Three more whiskies, please landlord," and Tony in clear view cut up into nice squares by the little leaded panes. I got mine absorbed just in time, and was on the doorstep to meet her, draggle-skirted and untidy, but enthusiastic about her "burn." She broke her vows three times on the way up to number ten, and excused her lapses on the ground that the "burn" was the perfect image of one near a place she called "Pairth."

When she rang for hot water to wash away the traces of her ablutions in the burn, I had my first view of the chambermaid. I found her even more ravishing than the waitress downstairs, and with the additional advantage that she was not stand-offish—indeed, she was a giggler. She giggled at my slightest word, and Tony altered her first impression and dubbed her a forward hussy. Personally, I liked the girl, though she broke all precedent by attending upon us in a silk blouse and a tailor-made tweed skirt.

When I wandered downstairs before dinner I came upon her again, this time unmistakably in the arms of the ubiquitous boots. I had walked innocently into a small sitting-room where a lamp already shone, and I came upon the romantic picture unexpectedly. With a murmured word of inarticulate apology I made to retire.

"It's all right, old fruit, don't hurry away," said boots affably. "Awfully sorry, and all that. Quite forgot it was a public room, don't you know."

The chambermaid giggled once more and bolted, straightening her cap as she went.

"You don't mind, do you?" continued boots, making a clumsy show of trimming the lamp. "Warm is the greeting when seas have rolled between us. Perhaps not quite that, but you see the idea, eh?"

He would doubtless have said more, being evidently of a cheery nature, had not the waitress of the afternoon appeared in the doorway, her face as frozen as a mask of ice.

"Bob—kennel!" she said sharply, and held the door wide.

The cheeriness vanished and the boots followed it through the open doorway.

"I trust you will excuse him, sir," said the waitress deferentially. "He is just a little deranged, but quite harmless. We employ him out of charity, sir."

I may have been mistaken, but a sound uncommonly like the chambermaid's giggle came to me from the passage without.

The sound of a car stopping outside the hotel drew me to the window as the waitress left me, and I was in time to see an old gentleman with a long white beard step from the interior of a Daimler landaulette, the door of which was held open by a dignified chauffeur, whose attire seemed to consist mainly of brass buttons.

A consultation evidently took place in the smoking-room or bar between this patriarch and the proprietor, and then I heard agitated voices in the passage without.

"It's a blinking invasion," said Mr. Gunthorpe. "I tell you we can't do it. Good heavens, they threaten to stop a month if they are comfortable."

"Don't worry then, old bean. They won't stop long." This in the voice of boots.

"And they want special diet. Old girl can't eat meat. Suffers from a duodenal ulcer. I tell you, we got quick intimate! We can't do it, Molly."

"Fathead, of course we can. I'll concoct her something the like of which her what-you-may-call-it has never before tackled. Run along, Bill, and be affable."

"Shall I stand them a drink?"—Mr. Gunthorpe again.

"Do, old bean. I'll come and have one, too," said boots.

"You won't, Bob. You'll see to the chauffeur and the car, and the luggage."

"Hang the luggage! I'll stand the chauffeur a drink."

Then the female voice spoke warningly.

"You've had enough drinks already, both of you," it said. "You ought to bear in mind that you're not running the hotel just for your two selves."

"It's all right, old girl. There's plenty for everybody. Cellar's full of it."

The voices died away, and I strolled out into the bar once more. Mr. Gunthorpe was being affable, according to instructions, to the old gentleman, while an old lady in a bonnet looked on piercingly.

"Quite all right about the diet," the landlord was saying as I entered. "We make a specialty of special diets. In fact, our ordinary diet is a special diet. Certainly, of course. We've got mulligatawny soup, sardines, roast beef, trifle and gorgonzola cheese. Perhaps you'll have a drink while you wait?"

"Certainly not, sir," replied the old gentleman testily. "You seem to be unable to comprehend. My wife has a duodenal ulcer, sir. Had it for fourteen years in September, and you talk to me of mulligatawny soup."

"I quite understand, of course, of course," replied Mr. Gunthorpe urbanely. "Everything of a—an irritating character will be left out of the—"

"Then it won't be mulligatawny soup, you fool!" exploded the old lady, whose pressure I had seen rising for some time.

"Certainly not, madam. Of course, indubitably. We'll call it beef-tea, and it will never know."

"What will never know?" asked the old gentleman, with an air of puzzlement.

"Madam's duodenal ulcer, sir," replied the landlord, with a deferential bow, dedicated, doubtless, to that organ.

Each separate hair in the old gentleman's beard began to curl and coil with the electricity of exasperation, and at every moment I expected to see sparks fly out from it. The old lady folded her hands across her treasure, and looked daggers at the landlord.

"How far is it to the nearest hotel, John?" she demanded acidly.

"Too far to go to-night, Mary. I'm afraid we must put up with this—this sanatorium," replied her husband.

As a diversion I demanded an appetizer—a gin and bitters.

Mr. Gunthorpe's face lit up and he bolted behind the bar.

"Certainly, of course. Have it with me!" he exclaimed eagerly, his eyes full of gratitude for the diversion.

I had the greatest difficulty in paying for our two drinks, for of course Mr. Gunthorpe would not let me drink alone, and I was equally insistent that the house had done enough for me.

"Then we must have another," he declared, as the only way out of the difficulty.

Fortunately for me, Tony appeared on the scene, clothed and in her right mind, speaking once more the English language, and I contrived to avoid further stimulation. Mr. Gunthorpe looked at me reproachfully as I moved off with my wife. I could see that he dreaded further interrogation on the subject of diets.

Nothing further of moment occurred before dinner. Tony and I went out and admired the wonderful view in the dim half-light, and just as the midges got the better of us—even my foul old pipe did not give us the victory—the gong sounded for dinner and covered our retreat.

It was the maddest dinner in which I have ever participated. Three tables were laid in the little coffee-room, and, as Tony and I were the first to put in an appearance, I had the curiosity to look at the bill of fare at the first table I came to.

"This way, sir, if you please," said the chilling voice of our exemplary waitress.

Already I had deciphered "beef-tea" and "steamed sole" on the card, and concluded that the table was reserved for the duodenal ulcer. At the table to which we were conducted I found "mulligatawny soup" figuring on the menu, and I wondered.

The old lady and gentleman were ushered to their seats by the boots, now smartly dressed in striped trousers and black coat and waistcoat. I say "smartly," because the clothes were of good material, and the wearer looked easily the best-clad man in the hotel.

The two places laid at the third table were taken by a boy and girl of such youthful appearance that both Tony and I were astonished to find them living alone in an hotel. The boy might have been fifteen and the girl twelve at the most; but that they were overwhelmingly at home in their surroundings was quickly manifest, as was the fact that they were brother and sister. This latter fact was evidenced by the manner in which the boy bullied the girl, and contradicted her at every opportunity.

There was something of a strained wait when all of us had taken our places. I saw the old gentleman, eye-glasses on the tip of his nose, studying the bill of fare intently. Then he turned to his wife.

"Minced chicken and rice—peptonized," he said suspiciously. "Did you ever hear of such a dish, Mary?"

"Never. But nothing would surprise me in this place," replied his wife, looking round the room with a censorious eye that even included the innocent Tony and myself.

The two children chuckled. They wore an air of expectancy such as I have noticed in my nephews and nieces when I have been inveigled into taking them to Maskelyne's show. They seemed on very intimate terms with the waitress, and the mere sight of the boots sent them into fits of suppressed chuckling. He, standing by the sideboard, napkin over arm, added to their hilarity by winking violently at regular intervals. Catching my eye upon him, he crossed to our table.

"Everything all right, eh?" he said, glancing over the lay-out of our table.

"Everything—except that so far we have had no food," I replied.

"It's the soup," he said, leaning confidentially to my ear. "The cat fell into it, and they're combing it out of her fur. Have a drink while you wait? No! All right, old thing. I dare say you know best when you've had enough. Shut up, you kids! Don't you see you're irritating the old boy."

This in a hoarse aside to the children at the next table. It made them giggle the more.

"Surely they are very young to be stopping here alone!" said Tony, with a touch of her national inquisitiveness.

"Very sad case, madam," replied the boots. "We found them here when we came. You know—wrapped in a blanket on the doorstep. Not quite, perhaps, but you see the idea. Sort of wards of the hotel."

He was interrupted by the entrance of the waitress with soup. She gave him a frozen glance and a jerk of the head, and he vanished to the kitchen, to return with more soup, and at last we got a start on our meal. The soup was good notwithstanding the story of the cat. It really was mulligatawny. There was no doubt about that.

The old couple were not so well satisfied. They sipped a little, had a whispered consultation, and beckoned the boots.

"Waiter, why do you call this beef-tea?" demanded the old gentleman.

"You can't have me there, my lad," retorted boots cheerily. "From the Latin beef, beef and tea, tea—beef-tea. Take a spoonful of tea and a lump of beef, shake well together, simmer gently till ready, and serve with a ham-frill."

The old gentleman's face showed deep purple against his white whiskers, and the waitress left our table hurriedly, hustled the boots from the room, and crossed to the old couple. I could not hear all she said, but I understood that the boots was liable to slight delusions, but quite harmless. The beef-tea was the best that could be prepared on such short notice, and so on.

It was the main course of the meal that brought the climax. It was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, excellently cooked, and, so far as we were concerned, efficiently served. The irrepressible boots had, however, by this time drifted back to duty. I saw him bear plates to the old people's table containing a pale mess which I rightly concluded was the "minced chicken and rice—peptonized," already referred to by the old gentleman. The couple eyed it suspiciously while their attendant hovered near, apparently awaiting the congratulations which were bound to follow the consumption of the dish.

"John, it's beef!" screamed the old lady, starting to her feet and spluttering.

"Damme, so it is!" confirmed her husband, after a bare mouthful. "Hi, you—scoundrel, poisoner, assassin—send the manager here at once."

He waved his napkin in fury, and boots cocked an eye at him curiously.

"Won't you have another try?" he urged. "Be sporty about it. Hang it, it looks like chopped chicken, and it is chopped. I chopped it myself. Have another try. You'll believe it in time if you persevere. It's the first step that counts, you know. I used to be able to say that in French, but—"

He only got so far because the old gentleman had been inarticulate with rage.

"Fetch the manager, and don't dare utter another word, confound you!" he shouted.

A few moments later our friend Mr. Gunthorpe entered. His eyes were bright, and a satisfied smile rested on his lips.

"Good evening, sir," he began affably. "I believe you sent for me. I hope everything is to your taste?"

"Everything is nothing of the sort, sir!" retorted the old gentleman. "You have attempted a gross fraud upon us, sir. I find on the menu, chicken, and it is nothing more nor less than chopped beef. And 'peptonized'—peptonized be hanged, sir! It's no more peptonized than my hat!"

"Well, sir, as for your hat I can say nothing, but—"

"None of your insolence, sir. I insist on having this—filth taken away and something suitable put before us. My wife has possessed a duodenal ulcer for fourteen years come September, and—"

"Be hanged to your duodenal ulcer! As this isn't its birthday, why should it have a blinking banquet. Let it take pot-luck with the rest of us."

A sudden burst of uncontrollable laughter made me turn sharply, to find that the reserve had fallen from our chilly waitress, who was vainly endeavouring to smother her laughter in her professional napkin.

"Oh, Bill!" she cried, "you've done it now. The game's up."

The old lady and gentleman arose in outraged dignity and started to leave the room, when a diversion was caused by the entrance of a pleasant-faced lady in hat and cloak. I had been semi-conscious for some moments of a motor-engine running at the hotel door.

"Oh, Mr. Gunthorpe, what luck!" cried the newcomer. "I've collected a full staff, and brought them all up from Dolgelly with me, look you."

"Thank heaven!" exclaimed the proprietor. "As soon as your barmaid is on her job we'll drink all their healths. I hope you won't be annoyed, Miss Jones, but I fear, I very greatly fear, you will lose a couple of likely customers at dawn or soon after. Here they are. Perhaps you can still pacify them. I can't."

Miss Jones turned to the old couple, who were waiting for the doorway to clear, with a disarming and conciliatory smile.

"I hope you will make allowances," she said, with a musical Welsh intonation. "I am the manageress, and everything is at sixes and sevens, look you. This morning I had trouble with the staff, and just to annoy me they all cleared off together. I had to leave the hotel to see what I could find in Dolgelly. Mr. Gunthorpe and the other guests in the hotel very kindly offered to see to things while I was away, and I'm sure they have done their best, indeed."

"Done their best to poison us, certainly," growled the old gentleman.
"My wife has a duo—"

"That's all right, old chap," interrupted Mr. Gunthorpe. "Miss Jones is an expert in those things. She'll feed it the proper tack, believe me. Give her a chance, and don't blame her for our shortcomings."

By this time the whole mock staff had taken the stage—waitress, boots, chambermaid, and a pleasant-faced lady of matronly appearance who, I learnt, was Mrs. Gunthorpe and the mother of the two children of whom we had been told such a harrowing history.

"And just think, dear," said Tony, smiling at me across the table. "The boots and the chambermaid are on their honeymoon. He is a journalist."

"How do you know all this?" I demanded suspiciously.

"I wormed the whole thing out of the chambermaid at the very beginning," said Tony. "I didn't tell you because I thought it would be more fun."

Miss Jones succeeded in pacifying the old couple somehow—mainly, I think, by promises of a new régime—and we left them in the coffee-room looking almost cheerful.

Tony and I went out to talk in the moonlight, while I smoked an after-dinner cigar. We were gone for some time, and on our return decided to go straight upstairs to bed. I noticed that lights still burned in the coffee-room, and heard the sound of voices from that direction. Thinking that some late guests had arrived during our absence, I had the curiosity to glance round the door. The whole of our late staff sat round a table, on which were arrayed much food and several gilt-topped bottles.

"Come along. Do join us!" cried Mr. Gunthorpe, sighting us at once.

"Come and celebrate the end of this bat in the belfry sort of management," added boots, holding high a sparkling glass.

It ended in Tony and I being dragged into the celebration, and that ended in quite a late sitting.

Tony and I lingered on for over a week at the Bat and Belfry Inn, as we all called it, and so, strange to say, did the duodenal couple, whom, indeed, we left there, special-dieting to their hearts' content.