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- The Holiday Round - 4/53 -
"Ugh!" she said. "Ugly!"
"Beast," I added, in order that there should be no doubt about what we thought. "Utter and deliberate beast."
We had arranged for a particularly pleasant day. We were to have sailed across to the mouth of the--I always forget its name, and then up the river to the famous old castle of-of-no, it's gone again; but anyhow, there was to have been a bathe in the river, and lunch, and a little exploration in the dinghy, and a lesson in the Morse code from Simpson, and tea in the woods with a real fire, and in the cool of the evening a ripping run home before the wind. But now the only thing that seemed certain was the cool of the evening.
"We'll light a fire and do something indoors," said Dahlia.
"This is an extraordinary house," said Archie. "There isn't a single book in it, except a lot of Strand Magazines for 1907. That must have been a very wet year."
"We can play games, dear."
"True, darling. Let's do a charade."
"The last time I played charades," I said, "I was Horatius, the front part of Elizabeth's favourite palfrey, the arrow which shot Rufus, Jonah, the two little Princes in the Tower, and Mrs Pankhurst."
"Which was your favourite part?" asked Myra.
"The front part of the palfrey. But I was very good as the two little Princes."
"It's no good doing charades, if there's nobody to do them to."
"Thomas is coming to-morrow," said Myra. "We could tell him all about it."
"Clumps is a jolly good game," suggested Simpson.
"The last time I was a clump," I said, "I was the first coin paid on account of the last pair of boots, sandals, or whatnot of the man who laid the first stone of the house where lived the prettiest aunt of the man who reared the goose which laid the egg from which came the goose which provided the last quill pen used by the third man Shakespeare met on the second Wednesday in June, 1595."
"He mightn't have had an aunt," said Myra, after a minute's profound thought.
"Well, anyhow, one way and another you've had a very adventurous career, my lad," said Archie. "What happened the last time you played ludo?"
"When I played clumps," put in Simpson, "I was the favourite spoke of Hall Caine's first bicycle. They guessed Hall Caine and the bicycle and the spoke very quickly, but nobody thought of suggesting the favourite spoke."
Myra went to the window again, and came back with the news that it would probably be a fine evening.
"Thank you," we all said.
"But I wasn't just making conversation. I have an idea."
"Silence for Myra's idea."
"Well, it's this. If we can't do anything without an audience, and if the audience won't come to us, let's go to them."
"Be a little more lucid, there's a dear. It isn't that we aren't trying."
"Well then, let's serenade the other houses about here to-night."
There was a powerful silence while everybody considered this.
"Good," said Archie at last. "We will."
The rest of the morning and all the afternoon were spent in preparations. Archie and Myra were all right; one plays the banjo and the other the guitar. (It is a musical family, the Mannerings.) Simpson keeps a cornet which he generally puts in his bag, but I cannot remember anyone asking him to play it. If the question has ever arisen, he has probably been asked not to play it. However, he would bring it out to-night. In any case he has a tolerable voice; while Dahlia has always sung like an angel. In short, I was the chief difficulty.
"I suppose there wouldn't be time to learn the violin?" I asked.
"Why didn't they teach you something when you were a boy?" wondered Myra.
"They did. But my man forgot to put it in my bag when he packed. He put in two tooth-brushes and left out the triangle. Do you think there's a triangle shop in the village? I generally play on an isosceles one, any two sides of which are together greater than the third. Likewise the angles which are opposite to the adjacent sides, each to each."
"Well, you must take the cap round for the money."
"I will. I forgot to say that my own triangle at home, the Strad, is in the chromatic scale of A, and has a splice. It generally gets the chromatics very badly in the winter."
While the others practised their songs, I practised taking the cap round, and by tea-time we all knew our parts perfectly. I had received permission to join in the choruses, and I was also to be allowed to do a little dance with Myra. When you think that I had charge of the financial arrangements as well, you can understand that I felt justified in considering myself the leader of the troupe.
"In fact," I said, "you ought to black your faces so as to distinguish yourselves from me."
"We won't black our faces," said Dahlia, "but we'll wear masks; and we might each carry a little board explaining why we're doing this."
"Right," said Archie; and he sat down and wrote a notice for himself--
"I AM AN ORPHAN. SO ARE THE OTHERS, BUT THEY ARE NOT SO ORPHAN AS I AM. I AM EXTREMELY FREQUENT."
"WE ARE DOING THIS FOR AN ADVERTISEMENT. IF YOU LIKE US, SEND A SHILLING FOR A FREE SAMPLE CONCERT, MENTIONING THIS PAPER. YOUR MONEY BACK IF WE ARE NOT SATISFIED WITH IT."
"WORLD'S LONG DISTANCE CORNETIST. HOLDER OF THE OBOE RECORD ON GRASS. RUNNER-UP IN THE OCARINA WELTER WEIGHTS (STRANGLE HOLD BARRED). MIXED ZITHER CHAMPION (1907, COVERED COURTS)."
"KIND FRIENDS, HELP US. WE WERE WRECKED THIS AFTERNOON. THE CORNET WAS SINKING FOR THE THIRD TIME WHEN IT WAS RESCUED, AND HAD TO BE BROUGHT ROUND BY ARTIFICIAL RESPIRATION. CAN YOU SPARE US A DRINK OF WATER?"
As for myself I had to hand the Simpson yachting cap round, and my notice said--
"WE WANT YOUR MONEY. IF YOU CANNOT GIVE US ANY, FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE KEEP THE CAP."
We had an early dinner, so as to be in time to serenade our victims when they were finishing their own meal and feeling friendly to the world. Then we went upstairs and dressed. Dahlia and Myra had kimonos, Simpson put on his dressing-gown, in which he fancies himself a good deal, and Archie and I wore brilliantly-coloured pyjamas over our other clothes.
"Let's see," said Simpson, "I start off with 'The Minstrel Boy,' don't I? And then what do we do?"
"Then we help you to escape," said Archie. "After that, Dahlia sings 'Santa Lucia,' and Myra and I give them a duet, and if you're back by then with your false nose properly fixed it might be safe for you to join in the chorus of a coon song. Now then, are we all ready?"
"What's that?" said Myra.
We all listened ... and then we opened the door.
It was pouring.
"Stroke, you're late," said Thomas, butting me violently in the back with his oar.
"My dear Thomas, when you have been in the Admiralty a little longer you will know that 'bow' is not the gentleman who sets the time. What do you suppose would happen at Queen's Hall if the second bird-call said to the conductor, 'Henry, you're late'?"
"The whole gallery would go out and get its hair cut," said Archie.
"I'm not used to the Morse system of rowing, that's the trouble,"
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