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Title:      Miss Mapp
Author:     E F Benson
eBook No.:  0600011.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          January 2006
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Title:      Miss Mapp
Author:     E F Benson







MISS MAPP

including

"THE MALE IMPERSONATOR"


E. F. Benson


1922

("The Male Impersonator" first published 1929.)



CONTENTS

Miss Mapp

The Male Impersonator



PREFACE


I lingered at the window of the garden-room from which Miss Mapp so
often and so ominously looked forth.  To the left was the front of
her house, straight ahead the steep cobbled way, with a glimpse of
the High Street at the end, to the right the crooked chimney and
the church.

The street was populous with passengers, but search as I might, I
could see none who ever so remotely resembled the objects of her
vigilance.

E. F. Benson.

Lamb House, Rye.



CHAPTER ONE


Miss Elizabeth Mapp might have been forty, and she had taken
advantage of this opportunity by being just a year or two older.
Her face was of high vivid colour and was corrugated by chronic
rage and curiosity; but these vivifying emotions had preserved to
her an astonishing activity of mind and body, which fully accounted
for the comparative adolescence with which she would have been
credited anywhere except in the charming little town which she had
inhabited so long.  Anger and the gravest suspicions about
everybody had kept her young and on the boil.

She sat, on this hot July morning, like a large bird of prey at the
very convenient window of her garden-room, the ample bow of which
formed a strategical point of high value.  This garden-room, solid
and spacious, was built at right angles to the front of her house,
and looked straight down the very interesting street which
debouched at its lower end into the High Street of Tilling.
Exactly opposite her front door the road turned sharply, so that as
she looked out from this projecting window, her own house was at
right angles on her left, the street in question plunged steeply
downwards in front of her, and to her right she commanded an
uninterrupted view of its further course which terminated in the
disused grave-yard surrounding the big Norman church.  Anything of
interest about the church, however, could be gleaned from a
guidebook, and Miss Mapp did not occupy herself much with such
coldly venerable topics.  Far more to her mind was the fact that
between the church and her strategic window was the cottage in
which her gardener lived, and she could thus see, when not
otherwise engaged, whether he went home before twelve, or failed to
get back to her garden again by one, for he had to cross the street
in front of her very eyes.  Similarly she could observe whether any
of his abandoned family ever came out from her garden door weighted
with suspicious baskets, which might contain smuggled vegetables.
Only yesterday morning she had hurried forth with a dangerous smile
to intercept a laden urchin, with inquires as to what was in "that
nice basket".  On that occasion that nice basket had proved to
contain a strawberry net which was being sent for repair to the
gardener's wife; so there was nothing more to be done except verify
its return.  This she did from a side window of the garden-room
which commanded the strawberry beds; she could sit quite close to
that, for it was screened by the large-leaved branches of a fig-
tree and she could spy unseen.

Otherwise this road to the right leading up to the church was of no
great importance (except on Sunday morning, when she could get a
practically complete list of those who attended Divine Service),
for no one of real interest lived in the humble dwellings which
lined it.  To the left was the front of her own house at right
angles to the strategic window, and with regard to that a good many
useful observations might be, and were, made.  She could, from
behind a curtain negligently half-drawn across the side of the
window nearest the house, have an eye on her housemaid at work, and
notice if she leaned out of a window, or made remarks to a friend
passing in the street, or waved salutations with a duster.  Swift
upon such discoveries, she would execute a flank march across the
few steps of garden and steal into the house, noiselessly ascend
the stairs, and catch the offender red-handed at this public
dalliance.  But all such domestic espionage to right and left was
flavourless and insipid compared to the tremendous discoveries
which daily and hourly awaited the trained observer of the street
that lay directly in front of her window.

There was little that concerned the social movements of Tilling
that could not be proved, or at least reasonably conjectured, from
Miss Mapp's eyrie.  Just below her house on the left stood Major
Flint's residence, of Georgian red brick like her own, and opposite
was that of Captain Puffin.  They were both bachelors, though Major
Flint was generally supposed to have been the hero of some
amazingly amorous adventures in early life, and always turned the
subject with great abruptness when anything connected with duelling
was mentioned.  It was not, therefore, unreasonable to infer that
he had had experiences of a bloody sort, and colour was added to
this romantic conjecture by the fact that in damp, rheumatic
weather his left arm was very stiff, and he had been known to say
that his wound troubled him.  What wound that was no one exactly
knew (it might have been anything from a vaccination mark to a
sabre-cut), for having said that his wound troubled him, he would
invariably add:  "Pshaw!  that's enough about an old campaigner";
and though he might subsequently talk of nothing else except the
old campaigner, he drew a veil over his old campaigns.  That he had
seen service in India was, indeed, probable by his referring to
lunch as tiffin, and calling to his parlour-maid with the
ejaculation of "Qui-hi".  As her name was Sarah, this was clearly a
reminiscence of days in bungalows.  When not in a rage, his manner
to his own sex was bluff and hearty; but whether in a rage or not,
his manner to the fairies, or lovely woman, was gallant and pompous
in the extreme.  He certainly had a lock of hair in a small gold
specimen case on his watch-chain, and had been seen to kiss it
when, rather carelessly, he thought that he was unobserved.

Miss Mapp's eye, as she took her seat in her window on this sunny
July morning, lingered for a moment on the Major's house, before
she proceeded to give a disgusted glance at the pictures on the
back page of her morning illustrated paper, which chiefly
represented young women dancing in rings in the surf, or lying on
the beach in attitudes which Miss Mapp would have scorned to adjust
herself to.  Neither the Major nor Captain Puffin were very early
risers, but it was about time that the first signals of animation
might be expected.  Indeed, at this moment, she quite distinctly
heard the muffled roar which to her experienced ear was easily
interpreted to be "Qui-hi!"

"So the Major has just come down to breakfast," she mechanically
inferred, "and it's close on ten o'clock.  Let me see: Tuesday,
Thursday, Saturday--Porridge morning."

Her penetrating glance shifted to the house exactly opposite to
that in which it was porridge morning, and even as she looked a
hand was thrust out of a small upper window and deposited a sponge
on the sill.  Then from the inside the lower sash was thrust firmly
down, so as to prevent the sponge from blowing away and falling
into the street.  Captain Puffin, it was therefore clear, was a
little later than the Major that morning.  But he always shaved and
brushed his teeth before his bath, so that there was but a few
minutes between them.

General manoeuvres in Tilling, the gradual burstings of fluttering
life from the chrysalis of the night, the emergence of the ladies
of the town with their wicker-baskets in their hands for
housekeeping purchases, the exodus of men to catch the 11.20 a.m.
stream-tram out to the golf-links, and other first steps in the
duties and diversions of the day, did not get into full swing till
half-past ten, and Miss Mapp had ample time to skim the headlines
of her paper and indulge in chaste meditations about the occupants
of these two houses, before she need really make herself alert to
miss nothing.  Of the two, Major Flint, without doubt, was the more
attractive to the feminine sense; for years Miss Mapp had tried to
cajole him into marrying her, and had not nearly finished yet.
With his record of adventure, with the romantic reek of India (and
camphor) in the tiger-skin of the rugs that strewed his hall and
surged like a rising tide up the wall, with his haughty and gallant
manner, with his loud pshawings and sniffs at "nonsense and
balderdash", his thumpings on the table to emphasize an argument,
with his wound and his prodigious swipes at golf, his intolerance
of any who believed in ghosts, microbes or vegetarianism, there was
something dashing and risky about him; you felt that you were in
the presence of some hot coal straight from the furnace of
creation.  Captain Puffin, on the other hand, was of clay so
different that he could hardly be considered to be made of clay at
all.  He was lame and short and meagre, with strings of peaceful
beads and Papuan aprons in his hall instead of wild tiger-skins,
and had a jerky, inattentive manner and a high-pitched voice.  Yet
to Miss Mapp's mind there was something behind his unimpressiveness
that had a mysterious quality--all the more so, because nothing of
it appeared on the surface.  Nobody could call Major Flint, with
his bawlings and his sniffings, the least mysterious.  He laid all
his loud cards on the table, great hulking kings and aces.  But
Miss Mapp felt far from sure that Captain Puffin did not hold a
joker which would some time come to light.  The idea of being Mrs.
Puffin was not so attractive as the other, but she occasionally
gave it her remote consideration.

Yet there was mystery about them both, in spite of the fact that
most of their movements were so amply accounted for.  As a rule,
they played golf together in the morning, reposed in the afternoon,
as could easily be verified by anyone standing on a still day in
the road between their houses and listening to the loud and
rhythmical breathings that fanned the tranquil air, certainly went
out to tea-parties afterwards and played bridge till dinner-time;
or if no such entertainment was proffered them, occupied armchairs
at the country club, or laboriously amassed a hundred at billiards.
Though tea-parties were profuse, dining out was very rare at
Tilling; Patience or a jig-saw puzzle occupied the hour or two that
intervened between domestic supper and bedtime; but again and
again, Miss Mapp had seen lights burning in the sitting-room of
those two neighbours at an hour when such lights as were still in
evidence at Tilling were strictly confined to bedrooms, and should,
indeed, have been extinguished there.  And only last week, being
plucked from slumber by some unaccountable indigestion (for which
she blamed a small green apple), she had seen at no less than
twelve-thirty in the morning the lights in Captain Puffin's sitting-
room still shining through the blind.  This had excited her so much
that at risk of toppling into the street, she had craned her neck
from her window, and observed a similar illumination in the house
of Major Flint.  They were not together then, for in that case any
prudent householder (and God knew that they both of them scraped
and saved enough, or, if He didn't know, Miss Mapp did) would have
quenched his own lights, if he were talking to his friend in his
friend's house.  The next night, the pangs of indigestion having
completely vanished, she set her alarum clock at the same timeless
hour, and had observed exactly the same phenomenon.  Such late
hours, of course, amply accounted for these late breakfasts; but
why, so Miss Mapp pithily asked herself, why these late hours?  Of
course they both kept summer-time, whereas most of Tilling utterly
refused (except when going by train) to alter their watches because
Mr. Lloyd George told them to; but even allowing for that . . .
then she perceived that summer-time made it later than ever for its
adherents, so that was no excuse.

Miss Mapp had a mind that was incapable of believing the
improbable, and the current explanation of these late hours was
very improbable, indeed.  Major Flint often told the world in
general that he was revising his diaries, and that the only
uninterrupted time which he could find in this pleasant whirl of
life at Tilling was when he was alone in the evening.  Captain
Puffin, on his part, confessed to a student's curiosity about the
ancient history of Tilling, with regard to which he was preparing a
monograph.  He could talk, when permitted, by the hour about the
reclamation from the sea of the marsh-land south of the town, and
about the old Roman road which was built on a raised causeway, of
which traces remained; but it argued, so thought Miss Mapp, an
unprecedented egoism on the part of Major Flint, and an equally
unprecedented love of antiquities on the part of Captain Puffin,
that they should prosecute their studies (with gas at the present
price) till such hours.  No; Miss Mapp knew better than that, but
she had not made up her mind exactly what it was that she knew.
She mentally rejected the idea that egoism (even in these days of
diaries and autobiographies) and antiquities accounted for so much
study, with the same healthy intolerance with which a vigorous
stomach rejects unwholesome food, and did not allow herself to be
insidiously poisoned by its retention.  But as she took up her
light aluminium opera-glasses to make sure whether it was Isabel
Poppit or not who was now stepping with that high, prancing tread
into the stationer's in the High Street, she exclaimed to herself,
for the three hundred and sixty-fifth time after breakfast; "It's
very baffling"; for it was precisely a year to-day since she had
first seen those mysterious midnight squares of illuminated blind.
"Baffling," in fact, was a word that constantly made short
appearances in Miss Mapp's vocabulary, though its retention for a
whole year over one subject was unprecedented.  But never yet had
"baffled" sullied her wells of pure undefiled English.

Movement had begun; Mrs. Plaistow, carrying her wicker basket, came
round the corner by the church, in the direction of Miss Mapp's
window, and as there was a temporary coolness between them
(following violent heat) with regard to some worsted of brilliant
rose-madder hue, which a forgetful draper had sold to Mrs.
Plaistow, having definitely promised it to Miss Mapp . . . but Miss
Mapp's large-mindedness scorned to recall the sordid details of
this paltry appropriation.  The heat had quite subsided, and Miss
Mapp was, for her part, quite prepared to let the coolness regain
the normal temperature of cordiality the moment that Mrs. Plaistow
returned that worsted.  Outwardly and publicly friendly
relationships had been resumed, and as the coolness had lasted six
weeks or so, it was probable that the worsted had already been
incorporated into the ornamental border of Mrs. Plaistow's jumper
or winter scarf, and a proper expression of regret would have to do
instead.  So the nearer Mrs. Plaistow approached, the more
invisible she became to Miss Mapp's eye, and when she was within
saluting distance had vanished altogether.  Simultaneously Miss
Poppit came out of the stationer's in the High Street.

Mrs. Plaistow turned the corner below Miss Mapp's window, and went
bobbing along down the steep hill.  She walked with the motion of
those mechanical dolls sold in the street, which have three legs
set as spokes to a circle, so that their feet emerge from their
dress with Dutch and rigid regularity, and her figure had a certain
squat rotundity that suited her gait.  She distinctly looked into
Captain Puffin's dining-room window as she passed, and with the
misplaced juvenility so characteristic of her, waggled her plump
little hand at it.  At the corner beyond Major Flint's house she
hesitated a moment, and turned off down the entry into the side
street where Mr. Wyse lived.  The dentist lived there, too, and as
Mr. Wyse was away on the continent of Europe, Mrs. Plaistow was
almost certain to be visiting the other.  Rapidly Miss Mapp
remembered that at Mrs. Bartlett's bridge party yesterday Mrs.
Plaistow had selected soft chocolates for consumption instead of
those stuffed with nougat or almonds.  That furnished additional
evidence for the dentist, for generally you could not get a nougat
chocolate at all if Godiva Plaistow had been in the room for more
than a minute or two. . . .  As she crossed the narrow cobbled
roadway, with the grass growing luxuriantly between the rounded
pebbles, she stumbled and recovered herself with a swift little
forward run, and the circular feet twinkled with the rapidity of
those of a thrush scudding over the lawn.

By this time Isabel Poppit had advanced as far as the fish shop
three doors below the turning down which Mrs. Plaistow had
vanished.  Her prancing progress paused there for a moment, and she
waited with one knee highly elevated, like a statue of a curveting
horse, before she finally decided to pass on.  But she passed no
farther than the fruit shop next door, and took the three steps
that elevated it from the street in a single prance, with her Roman
nose high in the air.  Presently she emerged, but with no obvious
rotundity like that of a melon projecting from her basket, so that
Miss Mapp could see exactly what she had purchased, and went back
to the fish shop again.  Surely she would not put fish on the top
of fruit, and even as Miss Mapp's lucid intelligence rejected this
supposition, the true solution struck her.  "Ice", she said to
herself, and, sure enough, projecting from the top of Miss Poppit's
basket when she came out was an angular peak, wrapped up in paper
already wet.

Miss Poppit came up the street and Miss Mapp put up her illustrated
paper again, with the revolting picture of the Brighton sea-nymphs
turned towards the window.  Peeping out behind it, she observed
that Miss Poppit's basket was apparently oozing with bright venous
blood, and felt certain that she had bought red currants.  That,
coupled with the ice, made conjecture complete.  She had bought red
currants slightly damaged (or they would not have oozed so
speedily), in order to make that iced red-currant fool of which she
had so freely partaken at Miss Mapp's last bridge party.  That was
a very scurvy trick, for iced red-currant fool was an invention of
Miss Mapp's, who, when it was praised, said that she inherited the
recipe from her grandmother.  But Miss Poppit had evidently entered
the lists against Grandmother Mapp, and she had as evidently
guessed that quite inferior fruit--fruit that was distinctly "off"--
was undetectable when severely iced.  Miss Mapp could only hope
that the fruit in the basket now bobbing past her window was so
much "off" that it had begun to ferment.  Fermented red-currant
fool was nasty to the taste, and, if persevered in, disastrous in
its effects.  General unpopularity might be needed to teach Miss
Poppit not to trespass on Grandmamma Mapp's preserves.

Isabel Poppit lived with a flashy and condescending mother just
round the corner beyond the gardener's cottage, and opposite the
west end of the church.  They were comparatively new inhabitants of
Tilling, having settled here only two or three years ago, and
Tilling had not yet quite ceased to regard them as rather
suspicious characters.  Suspicion smouldered, though it blazed no
longer.  They were certainly rich, and Miss Mapp suspected them of
being profiteers.  They kept a butler, of whom they were both in
considerable awe, who used almost to shrug his shoulders when Mrs.
Poppit gave him an order: they kept a motor-car to which Mrs.
Poppit was apt to allude more frequently than would have been
natural if she had always been accustomed to one, and they went to
Switzerland for a month every winter and to Scotland "for the
shooting-season", as Mrs. Poppit terribly remarked, every summer.
This all looked very black, and though Isabel conformed to the
manners or Tilling in doing household shopping every morning with
her wicker basket, and buying damaged fruit for food, and in
dressing in the original home-made manner indicated by good
breeding and narrow incomes, Miss Mapp was sadly afraid that these
habits were not the outcome of chaste and instinctive simplicity,
but of the ambition to be received by the old families of Tilling
as one of them.  But what did a true Tillingnite want with a butler
and a motorcar?  And if these were not sufficient to cast grave
doubts on the sincerity of the inhabitants of "Ye Smalle House",
there was still very vivid in Miss Mapp's mind that dreadful
moment, undimmed by the years that had passed over it, when Mrs.
Poppit broke the silence at an altogether too sumptuous lunch by
asking Mrs. Plaistow if she did not find the super-tax a grievous
burden on "our little incomes". . . .  Miss Mapp had drawn in her
breath sharply, as if in pain, and after a few gasps turned the
conversation. . . .  Worst of all, perhaps, because more recent,
was the fact that Mrs. Poppit had just received the dignity of the
M.B.E., or Member of the Order of the British Empire, and put it on
her cards too, as if to keep the scandal alive.  Her services in
connection with the Tilling hospital had been entirely confined to
putting her motor-car at its disposal when she did not want it
herself, and not a single member of the Tilling Working Club, which
had knitted its fingers to the bone and made enough seven-tailed
bandages to reach to the moon, had been offered a similar
decoration.  If anyone had she would have known what to do: a
stinging letter to the Prime Minister saying that she worked not
with hope of distinction, but from pure patriotism, would have
certainly been Miss Mapp's rejoinder.  She actually drafted the
letter, when Mrs. Poppit's name appeared, and diligently waded
through column after column of subsequent lists, to make sure that
she, the originator of the Tilling Working Club, had not been the
victim of a similar insult.  Mrs. Poppit was a climber: that was
what she was, and Miss Mapp was obliged to confess that very nimble
she had been.  The butler and the motor-car (so frequently at the
disposal of Mrs. Poppit's friends) and the incessant lunches and
teas had done their work; she had fed rather than starved Tilling
into submission, and Miss Mapp felt that she alone upheld the
dignity of the old families.  She was positively the only old
family (and a solitary spinster at that) who had not surrendered to
the Poppits.  Naturally she did not carry her staunchness to the
extent, so to speak, of a hunger-strike, for that would be singular
conduct, only worthy of suffragettes, and she partook of the
Poppit's hospitality to the fullest extent possible, but (here her
principles came in) she never returned the hospitality of the
Member of the British Empire, though she occasionally asked Isobel
to her house, and abused her soundly on all possible occasions. . . .

This spiteful retrospect passed swiftly and smoothly through Miss
Mapp's mind, and did not in the least take off from the acuteness
with which she observed the tide in the affairs of Tilling which,
after the ebb of the night, was now flowing again, nor did it, a
few minutes after Isabel's disappearance round the corner, prevent
her from hearing the faint tinkle of the telephone in her own
house.  At that she started to her feet, but paused again at the
door.  She had shrewd suspicions about her servants with regard to
the telephone: she was convinced (though at present she had not
been able to get any evidence on the point) that both her cook and
her parlourmaid used it for their own base purposes at her expense,
and that their friends habitually employed it for conversation with
them.  And perhaps--who knows?--her housemaid was the worst of the
lot, for she affected an almost incredible stupidity with regard to
the instrument, and pretended not to be able either to speak
through it or to understand its cacklings.  All that might very
well be assumed in order to divert suspicion, so Miss Mapp paused
by the door to let any of these delinquents get deep in
conversation with her friend: a soft and stealthy advance towards
the room called the morning-room (a small apartment opening out of
the hall, and used chiefly for the bestowal of hats and cloaks and
umbrellas) would then enable her to catch one of them red-mouthed,
or at any rate to overhear fragments of conversation which would
supply equally direct evidence.

She had got no farther than the garden-door into her house when
Withers, her parlourmaid, came out.  Miss Mapp thereupon began to
smile and hum a tune.  Then the smile widened and the tune stopped.

"Yes, Withers?" she said.  "Were you looking for me?"

"Yes, Miss," said Withers.  "Miss Poppit has just rung you up--"

Miss Mapp looked much surprised.

"And to think that the telephone should have rung without my
hearing it," she said.  "I must be growing deaf, Withers, in my old
age.  What does Miss Poppit want?"

"She hopes you will be able to go to tea this afternoon and play
bridge.  She expects that a few friends may look in at a quarter to
four."

A flood of lurid light poured into Miss Mapp's mind.  To expect
that a few friends may look in was the orthodox way of announcing a
regular party to which she had not been asked, and Miss Mapp knew
as if by a special revelation that if she went, she would find that
she made the eighth to complete two tables of bridge.  When the
butler opened the door, he would undoubtedly have in his hand a
half sheet of paper on which were written the names of the expected
friends, and if the caller's name was not on that list, he would
tell her with brazen impudence that neither Mrs. Poppit nor Miss
Poppit were at home, while, before the baffled visitor had turned
her back, he would admit another caller who duly appeared on his
reference paper. . . .  So then the Poppits were giving a bridge-
party to which she had only been bidden at the last moment, clearly
to take the place of some expected friend who had developed
influenza, lost an aunt or been obliged to go to London: here, too,
was the explanation of why (as she had overheard yesterday) Major
Flint and Captain Puffin were only intending to play one round of
golf to-day, and to come back by the 2.20 train.  And why seek any
further for the explanation of the lump of ice and the red currants
(probably damaged) which she had observed Isabel purchase?  And
anyone could see (at least Miss Mapp could) why she had gone to the
stationer's in the High Street just before.  Packs of cards.

Who the expected friend was who had disappointed Mrs. Poppit could
be thought out later: at present, as Miss Mapp smiled at Withers
and hummed her tune again, she had to settle whether she was going
to be delighted to accept, or obliged to decline.  The argument in
favour of being obliged to decline was obvious: Mrs. Poppit
deserved to be "served out" for not including her among the
original guests, and if she declined it was quite probable that at
this late hour her hostess might not be able to get anyone else,
and so one of her tables would be completely spoiled.  In favour of
accepting was the fact that she would get a rubber of bridge and a
good tea, and would be able to say something disagreeable about the
red-currant fool, which would serve Miss Poppit out for attempting
to crib her ancestral dishes. . . .

A bright, a joyous, a diabolical idea struck her, and she went
herself to the telephone, and genteelly wiped the place where
Withers had probably breathed on it.

"So kind of you, Isabel," she said, "but I am very busy to-day, and
you didn't give me much notice, did you?  So I'll try to look in if
I can, shall I?  I might be able to squeeze it in."

There was a pause, and Miss Mapp knew that she had put Isabel in a
hole.  If she successfully tried to get somebody else, Miss Mapp
might find she could squeeze it in, and there would be nine.  If
she failed to get someone else, and Miss Mapp couldn't squeeze it
in, then there would be seven . . . Isabel wouldn't have a tranquil
moment all day.

"Ah, do squeeze it in," she said in those horrid wheedling tones
which for some reason Major Flint found so attractive.  That was
one of the weak points about him, and there were many, many others.
But that was among those which Miss Mapp found it difficult to
condone.

"If I possibly can," said Miss Mapp.  "But at this late hour--
Good-bye, dear, or only au reservoir, we hope."

She heard Isabel's polite laugh at this nearly new and delicious
malaprop before she rang off.  Isabel collected malaprops and wrote
them out in a note book.  If you reversed the note-book and began
at the other end, you would find the collection of spoonerisms,
which were very amusing, too.

Tea, followed by a bridge-party, was, in summer, the chief
manifestation of the spirit of hospitality in Tilling.  Mrs.
Poppit, it is true, had attempted to do something in the way of
dinner-parties, but though she was at liberty to give as many
dinner-parties as she pleased, nobody else had followed her
ostentatious example.  Dinner-parties entailed a higher scale of
living; Miss Mapp, for one, had accurately counted the cost of
having three hungry people to dinner, and found that one such
dinner-party was not nearly compensated for, in the way of expense,
by being invited to three subsequent dinner-parties by your guests.
Voluptuous teas were the rule, after which you really wanted no
more than little bits of things, a cup of soup, a slice of cold
tart, or a dished-up piece of fish and some toasted cheese.  Then,
after the excitement of bridge (and bridge was very exciting in
Tilling), a jig-saw puzzle or Patience cooled your brain and
composed your nerves.  In winter, however, with its scarcity of
daylight, Tilling commonly gave evening bridge-parties, and asked
the requisite number of friends to drop in after dinner, though
everybody knew that everybody else had only partaken of bits of
things.  Probably the ruinous price of coal had something to do
with these evening bridge-parties, for the fire that warmed your
room when you were alone would warm all your guests as well, and
then, when your hospitality was returned, you could let your
sitting-room fire go out.  But though Miss Mapp was already
planning something in connection with winter bridge, winter was a
long way off yet. . . .

Before Miss Mapp got back to her window in the garden-room Mrs.
Poppit's great offensive motor-car, which she always alluded to as
"the Royce", had come round the corner and, stopping opposite Major
Flint's house, was entirely extinguishing all survey of the street
beyond.  It was clear enough then that she had sent the Royce to
take the two out to the golf-links, so that they should have time
to play their round and catch the 2.20 back to Tilling again, so as
to be in good time for the bridge-party.  Even as she looked, Major
Flint came out of his house on one side of the Royce and Captain
Puffin on the other.  The Royce obstructed their view of each
other, and simultaneously each of them shouted across to the house
of the other.  Captain Puffin emitted a loud "Coo-ee, Major" (an
Australian ejaculation, learned on his voyages), while Major Flint
bellowed "Qui-hi, Captain," which, all the world knew, was of
Oriental origin.  The noise each of them made prevented him from
hearing the other, and presently one in a fuming hurry to start ran
round in front of the car at the precise moment that the other ran
round behind it, and they both banged loudly on each other's
knockers.  These knocks were not so precisely simultaneous as the
shouts had been, and this led to mutual discovery, hailed with
peals of falsetto laughter on the part of Captain Puffin and the
more manly guffaws of the Major. . . .  After that the Royce
lumbered down the grass-grown cobbles of the street, and after a
great deal of reversing managed to turn the corner.

Miss Mapp set off with her basket to do her shopping.  She carried
in it the weekly books, which she would leave, with payment but not
without argument, at the tradesmen's shops.  There was an item for
suet which she intended to resist to the last breath in her body,
though her butcher would probably surrender long before that.
There was an item for eggs at the dairy which she might have to
pay, though it was a monstrous overcharge.  She had made up her
mind about the laundry, she intended to pay that bill with an icy
countenance and say "Good morning for ever," or words to that
effect, unless the proprietor instantly produced the--the article
of clothing which had been lost in the wash (like King John's
treasures), or refunded an ample sum for the replacing of it.  All
these quarrelsome errands were meat and drink to Miss Mapp: Tuesday
morning, the day on which she paid and disputed her weekly bills,
was as enjoyable as Sunday mornings when, sitting close under the
pulpit, she noted the glaring inconsistencies and grammatical
errors in the discourse.  After the bills were paid and business
was done, there was pleasure to follow, for there was a fitting-on
at the dressmaker's, the fitting-on of a tea-gown, to be worn at
winter-evening bridge-parties, which, unless Miss Mapp was sadly
mistaken, would astound and agonize by its magnificence all who set
eyes on it.  She had found the description of it, as worn by Mrs.
Titus W. Trout, in an American fashion paper; it was of what was
described as kingfisher blue, and had lumps and wedges of lace
round the edge of the skirt, and orange chiffon round the neck.  As
she set off with her basket full of tradesmen's books, she pictured
to herself with watering mouth the fury, the jealousy, the madness
of envy which it would raise in all properly-constituted breasts.

In spite of her malignant curiosity and her cancerous suspicions
about all her friends, in spite, too, of her restless activities,
Miss Mapp was not, as might have been expected, a lady of lean and
emaciated appearance.  She was tall and portly, with plump hands, a
broad, benignant face and dimpled, well-nourished cheeks.  An acute
observer might have detected a danger warning in the sidelong
glances of her rather bulgy eyes, and in a certain tightness at the
corners of her expansive mouth, which boded ill for any who came
within snapping distance, but to a more superficial view she was a
rollicking, good-natured figure of a woman.  Her mode of address,
too, bore out this misleading impression: nothing, for instance,
could have been more genial just now than her telephone voice to
Isabel Poppit, or her smile to Withers, even while she so strongly
suspected her of using the telephone for her own base purposes, and
as she passed along the High Street, she showered little smiles and
bows on acquaintances and friends.  She markedly drew back her lips
in speaking, being in no way ashamed of her long white teeth, and
wore a practically perpetual smile when there was the least chance
of being under observation.  Though at sermon time on Sunday, as
has been already remarked, she greedily noted the weaknesses and
errors of which those twenty minutes were so rewardingly full, she
sat all the time with down-dropped eyes and a pretty sacred smile
on her lips, and now, when she spied on the other side of the
street the figure of the vicar, she tripped slantingly across the
road to him, as if by the move of a knight at chess, looking
everywhere else, and only perceiving him with glad surprise at the
very last moment.  He was a great frequenter of tea-parties and
except in Lent an assiduous player of bridge, for a clergyman's
duties, so he very properly held, were not confined to visiting the
poor and exhorting the sinner.  He should be a man of the world,
and enter into the pleasures of his prosperous parishioners, as
well as into the trials of the troubled.  Being an accomplished
card-player he entered not only into their pleasures but their
pockets, and there was no lady of Tilling who was not pleased to
have Mr. Bartlett for a partner.  His winnings, so he said, he gave
annually to charitable objects, though whether the charities he
selected began at home was a point on which Miss Mapp had quite
made up her mind.  "Not a penny of that will the poor ever see,"
was the gist of her reflections when on disastrous days she paid
him seven-and-ninepence.  She always called him "Padre", and had
never actually caught him looking over his adversaries' hands.

"Good morning, Padre," she said as soon as she perceived him.
"What a lovely day!  The white butterflies were enjoying themselves
so in the sunshine in my garden.  And the swallows!"

Miss Mapp, as every reader will have perceived, wanted to know
whether he was playing bridge this afternoon at the Poppits.  Major
Flint and Captain Puffin certainly were, and it might be taken for
granted that Godiva Plaistow was.  With the Poppits and herself
that made six. . . .

Mr. Bartlett was humorously archaic in speech.  He interlarded
archaism with Highland expressions, and his face was knobby, like a
chest of drawers.

"Ha, good morrow, fair dame," he said.  "And prithee, art not thou
even as ye white butterflies?"

"Oh, Mr. Bartlett," said the fair dame with a provocative glance.
"Naughty!  Comparing me to a delicious butterfly!"

"Nay, prithee, why naughty?" said he.  "Yea, indeed, it's a day to
make ye little fowles rejoice!  Ha!  I perceive you are on the
errands of the guid wife Martha."  And he pointed to the basket.

"Yes: Tuesday morning," said Miss Mapp.  "I pay all my household
books on Tuesday.  Poor but honest, dear Padre.  What a rush life
is to-day!  I hardly know which way to turn.  Little duties in all
directions!  And you; you're always busy!  Such a busy bee!"

"Busy B?  Busy Bartlett, quo' she!  Yes, I'm a busy B to-day,
Mistress Mapp.  Sermon all morning: choir practice at three, a
baptism at six.  No time for a walk to-day, let alone a bit turn at
the gowf."

Miss Mapp saw her opening, and made a busy bee line for it.

"Oh, but you should get regular exercise, Padre," said she.  "You
take no care of yourself.  After the choir practice now, and before
the baptism, you could have a brisk walk.  To please me!"

"Yes.  I had meant to get a breath of air then," said he.  "But ye
guid Dame Poppit has insisted that I take a wee hand at the cartes
with them, the wifey and I.  Prithee, shall we meet there?"

("That makes seven without me," thought Miss Mapp in parenthesis.)
Aloud she said:

"If I can squeeze it in, Padre.  I have promised dear Isabel to do
my best."

"Well, and a lassie can do no mair," said he.  "Au reservoir
then."

Miss Mapp was partly pleased, partly annoyed by the agility with
which the Padre brought out her own particular joke.  It was she
who had brought it down to Tilling, and she felt she had an option
on it at the end of every interview, if she meant (as she had done
on this occasion) to bring it out.  On the other hand it was
gratifying to see how popular it had become.  She had heard it last
month when on a visit to a friend at that sweet and refined village
called Riseholme.  It was rather looked down on there, as not being
sufficiently intellectual.  But within a week of Miss Mapp's
return, Tilling rang with it, and she let it be understood that she
was the original humorist.

Godiva Plaistow came whizzing along the pavement, a short, stout,
breathless body who might, so thought Miss Mapp, have acted up to
the full and fell associations of her Christian name without
exciting the smallest curiosity on the part of the lewd.  (Miss
Mapp had much the same sort of figure, but her height, so she was
perfectly satisfied to imagine, converted corpulence into majesty.)
The swift alternation of those Dutch-looking feet gave the
impression that Mrs. Plaistow was going at a prodigious speed, but
they could stop revolving without any warning, and then she stood
still.  Just when a collision with Miss Mapp seemed imminent, she
came to a dead halt.

It was as well to be quite certain that she was going to the
Poppits, and Miss Mapp forgave and forgot about the worsted until
she had found out.  She could never quite manage the indelicacy
of saying "Godiva", whatever Mrs. Plaistow's figure and age
might happen to be, but always addressed her as "Diva", very
affectionately, whenever they were on speaking terms.

"What a lovely morning, Diva darling," she said; and noticing that
Mr. Bartlett was well out of earshot, "The white butterflies were
enjoying themselves so in the sunshine in my garden.  And the
swallows."

Godiva was telegraphic in speech.

"Lucky birds," she said.  "No teeth.  Beaks."

Miss Mapp remembered her disappearance round the dentist's corner
half an hour ago, and her own firm inference on the problem.

"Toothache, darling?" she said.  "So sorry."

"Wisdom," said Godiva.  "Out at one o'clock.  Gas.  Ready for
bridge this afternoon.  Playing?  Poppits."

"If I can squeeze it in, dear," said Miss Mapp.  "Such a hustle to-
day."

Diva put her hand to her face as "wisdom" gave her an awful twinge.
Of course she did not believe in the "hustle," but her pangs
prevented her from caring much.

"Meet you then," she said.  "Shall be all comfortable then.  Au--"

This was more than could be borne, and Miss Mapp hastily
interrupted.

"Au reservoir, Diva, dear," she said with extreme acerbity, and
Diva's feet began swiftly revolving again.

The problem about the bridge-party thus seemed to be solved.  The
two Poppits, the two Bartletts, the Major and the Captain with Diva
darling and herself made eight, and Miss Mapp with a sudden
recrudescence of indignation against Isabel with regard to the red-
currant fool and the belated invitation, made up her mind that she
would not be able to squeeze it in, thus leaving the party one
short.  Even apart from the red-currant fool it served the Poppits
right for not asking her originally, but only when, as seemed now
perfectly clear, somebody else had disappointed them.  But just as
she emerged from the butcher's shop, having gained a complete
victory in the matter of that suet, without expending the last
breath in her body or anything like it, the whole of the seemingly
solid structure came toppling to the ground.  For on emerging,
flushed with triumph, leaving the baffled butcher to try his tricks
on somebody else if he chose but not on Miss Mapp, she ran straight
into the Disgrace of Tilling and her sex, the suffragette, post-
impressionist artist (who painted from the nude, both male and
female), the socialist and the Germanophil, all incarnate in one
frame.  In spite of these execrable antecedents, it was quite in
vain that Miss Mapp had tried to poison the collective mind of
Tilling against this Creature.  If she hated anybody, and she
undoubtedly did, she hated Irene Coles.  The bitterest part of it
all was that if Miss Coles was amused at anybody, and she
undoubtedly was, she was amused at Miss Mapp.

Miss Coles was strolling along in the attire to which Tilling
generally had got accustomed, but Miss Mapp never.  She had an old
wide-awake hat jammed down on her head, a tall collar and stock, a
large loose coat, knickerbockers and grey stockings.  In her mouth
was a cigarette, in her hand she swung the orthodox wicker-basket.
She had certainly been to the other fishmonger's at the end of the
High Street, for a lobster, revived perhaps after a sojourn on the
ice, by this warm sun, which the butterflies and the swallows had
been rejoicing in, was climbing with claws and waving legs over the
edge of it.

Irene removed her cigarette from her mouth and did something in the
gutter which is usually associated with the floor of third-class
smoking carriages.  Then her handsome, boyish face, more boyish
because her hair was closely clipped, broke into a broad grin.

"Hullo, Mapp!" she said.  "Been giving the tradesmen what for on
Tuesday morning?"

Miss Mapp found it extremely difficult to bear this obviously
insolent form of address without a spasm of rage.  Irene called her
Mapp because she chose to, and Mapp (more bitterness) felt it wiser
not to provoke Coles.  She had a dreadful, humorous tongue, an
indecent disregard of public or private opinion, and her gift of
mimicry was as appalling as her opinion about the Germans.
Sometimes Miss Mapp alluded to her as "quaint Irene", but that was
as far as she got in the way of reprisals.

"Oh, you sweet thing!" she said.  "Treasure!"

Irene, in some ghastly way, seemed to take note of this.  Why men
like Captain Puffin and Major Flint found Irene "fetching" and
"killing" was more than Miss Mapp could understand, or wanted to
understand.

Quaint Irene looked down at her basket.

"Why, there's my lunch going over the top like those beastly
British Tommies," she said.  "Get back, love."

Miss Mapp could not quite determine whether "love" was a sarcastic
echo of "Treasure."  It seemed probable.

"Oh, what a dear little lobster," she said.  "Look at his sweet
claws."

"I shall do more than look at them soon," said Irene, poking it
into her basket again.  "Come and have tiffin, qui-hi, I've got to
look after myself to-day."

"What has happened to your devoted Lucy?" asked Miss Mapp.  Irene
lived in a very queer way with one gigantic maid, who, but for her
sex, might have been in the Guards.

"Ill.  I suspect scarlet-fever," said Irene.  "Very infectious,
isn't it?  I was up nursing her all last night."

Miss Mapp recoiled.  She did not share Major Flint's robust views
about microbes.

"But I hope, dear, you've thoroughly disinfected--"

"Oh, yes.  Soap and water," said Irene.  "By the way, are you
Poppiting this afternoon?"

"If I can squeeze it in," said Miss Mapp.

"We'll meet again, then.  Oh--"

"Au reservoir," said Miss Mapp instantly.

"No: not that silly old chestnut!" said Irene.  "I wasn't going to
say that.  I was only going to say:  'Oh, do come to tiffin.'  You
and me and the lobster.  Then you and me.  But it's a bore about
Lucy.  I was painting her.  Fine figure, gorgeous legs.  You
wouldn't like to sit for me till she's well again?"

Miss Mapp gave a little squeal and bolted into her dressmaker's.
She always felt battered after a conversation with Irene, and
needed kingfisher blue to restore her.



CHAPTER TWO


There is not in all England a town so blatantly picturesque as
Tilling, nor one, for the lover of level marsh land, of tall reedy
dykes, of enormous sunsets and rims of blue sea on the horizon,
with so fortunate an environment.  The hill on which it is built
rises steeply from the level land, and, crowned by the great grave
church so conveniently close to Miss Mapp's residence, positively
consists of quaint corners, rough-cast and timber cottages, and
mellow Georgian fronts.  Corners and quaintnesses, gems, glimpses
and bits are an obsession to the artist, and in consequence, during
the summer months, not only did the majority of its inhabitants
turn out into the cobbled ways with sketching-blocks, canvases and
paint-boxes, but every morning brought into the town charabancs
from neighbouring places loaded with passengers, many of whom
joined the artistic residents, and you would have thought (until an
inspection of their productions convinced you of the contrary) that
some tremendous outburst of Art was rivalling the Italian
Renaissance.  For those who were capable of tackling straight lines
and the intricacies of perspective, there were the steep cobbled
streets of charming and irregular architecture, while for those who
rightly felt themselves colourists rather than architectural
draughtsmen, there was the view from the top of the hill over the
marshes.  There, but for one straight line to mark the horizon (and
that could easily be misty) there were no petty conventionalities
in the way of perspective, and the eager practitioner could almost
instantly plunge into vivid greens and celestial blues, or, at
sunset, into pinks and chromes and rose-madder.

Tourists who had no pictorial gifts would pick their way among the
sketchers, and search the shops for cracked china and bits of
brass.  Few if any of them left without purchasing one of the
famous Tilling money-boxes, made in the shape of a pottery pig, who
bore on his back that remarkable legend of his authenticity which
ran:


     "I won't be druv,
     Though I am willing,
     Good morning, my love,
     Said the Pig of Tilling."


Miss Mapp had a long shelf full of these in every colour to adorn
her dining-room.  The one which completed her collection, of a
pleasant magenta colour, had only just been acquired.  She called
them "My sweet rainbow of piggies," and often when she came down to
breakfast, especially if Withers was in the room, she said:  "Good
morning, quaint little piggies."  When Withers had left the room
she counted them.

The corner where the street took a turn towards the church, just
below the window of her garden-room, was easily the most popular
stance for sketchers.  You were bewildered and bowled over by
"bit".  For the most accomplished of all there was that rarely
attempted feat, the view of the steep downward street, which, in
spite of all the efforts of the artist, insisted, in the sketch, on
going up hill instead.  Then, next in difficulty, was the street
after it had turned, running by the gardener's cottage up to the
churchyard and the church.  This, in spite of its difficulty, was a
very favourite subject, for it included, on the right of the
street, just beyond Miss Mapp's garden wall, the famous crooked
chimney, which was continually copied from every point of view.
The expert artist would draw it rather more crooked than it really
was, in order that there might be no question that he had not drawn
it crooked by accident.  This sketch was usually negotiated from
the three steps in front of Miss Mapp's front door.  Opposite the
church-and-chimney-artists would sit others, drawing the front door
itself (difficult), and moistening their pencils at their cherry
lips, while a little farther down the street was another battalion
hard at work at the gabled front of the garden-room and its
picturesque bow.  It was a favourite occupation of Miss Mapp's,
when there was a decent gathering of artists outside, to pull a
table right into the window of the garden-room, in full view of
them, and, quite unconscious of their presence, to arrange flowers
there with a smiling and pensive countenance.  She had other little
playful public pastimes: she would get her kitten from the house,
and induce it to sit on the table while she diverted it with the
tassel of the blind, and she would kiss it on its sweet little
sooty head, or she would write letters in the window, or play
Patience there, and then suddenly become aware that there was no
end of ladies and gentlemen looking at her.  Sometimes she would
come out of the house, if the steps were very full, with her own
sketching paraphernalia in her hands and say, ever so coyly:  "May
I scriggle through?" or ask the squatters on her own steps if they
could find a little corner for her.  That was so interesting for
them: they would remember afterwards that just while they were
engaged on their sketches, the lady of that beautiful house at the
corner, who had been playing with her kitten in the window, came
out to sketch too.  She addressed gracious and yet humble remarks
to them:  "I see you are painting my sweet little home.  May I
look?  Oh, what a lovely little sketch!"  Once, on a never-to-be-
forgotten day, she observed one of them take a camera from his
pocket and rapidly focus her as she stood on the top step.  She
turned full-faced and smiling to the camera just in time to catch
the click of the shutter, but then it was too late to hide her
face, and perhaps the picture might appear in the Graphic or the
Sketch, or among the posturing nymphs of a neighbouring watering-
place. . . .

This afternoon she was content to "scriggle" through the sketchers,
and humming a little tune, she passed up to the churchyard.
("Scriggle" was one of her own words, highly popular; it connoted
squeezing and wriggling.)  There she carefully concealed herself
under the boughs of the weeping ash tree directly opposite the
famous south porch of the church.  She had already drawn in the
lines of this south porch on her sketching-block, transferring them
there by means of a tracing from a photograph, so that formed a
very promising beginning to her sketch.  But she was nicely placed
not only with regard to her sketch, for, by peeping through the
pretty foliage of the tree, she could command the front door or
Mrs. Poppit's (M.B.E.) house.

Miss Mapp's plans for the bridge-party had, of course, been
completely upset by the encounter with Irene in the High Street.
Up till that moment she had imagined that, with the two ladies of
the house and the Bartletts and the Major and the Captain and
Godiva and herself, two complete tables of bridge would be formed,
and she had, therefore, determined that she would not be able to
squeeze the party into her numerous engagements, thereby spoiling
the second table.  But now everything was changed: there were eight
without her, and unless, at a quarter to four, she saw reason to
suppose, by noting the arrivals at the house, that three bridge
tables were in contemplation, she had made up her mind to "squeeze
it in", so that there would be nine gamblers, and Isabel or her
mother, if they had any sense of hospitality to their guests, would
be compelled to sit out for ever and ever.  Miss Mapp had been
urgently invited: sweet Isabel had made a great point of her
squeezing it in, and if sweet Isabel, in order to be certain of a
company of eight, had asked quaint Irene as well, it would serve
her right.  An additional reason, besides this piece of good-nature
in managing to squeeze it in, for the sake of sweet Isabel, lay in
the fact that she would be able to take some red-currant fool, and
after one spoonful exclaim "Delicious", and leave the rest uneaten.

The white butterflies and the swallows were still enjoying
themselves in the sunshine, and so, too, were the gnats, about
whose pleasure, especially when they settled on her face, Miss Mapp
did not care so much.  But soon she quite ceased to regard them,
for, before the quaint little gilded boys on each side of the clock
above the north porch had hammered out the three-quarters after
three on their bells, visitors began to arrive at the Poppits's
door, and Miss Mapp was very active looking through the boughs of
the weeping ash and sitting down again to smile and ponder over her
sketch with her head a little on one side, if anybody approached.
One by one the expected guests presented themselves and were
admitted: Major Flint and Captain Puffin, the Padre and his wife,
darling Diva with her head muffled in a "cloud", and finally Irene,
still dressed as she had been in the morning, and probably reeking
with scarlet-fever.  With the two Poppits these made eight players,
so as soon as Irene had gone in, Miss Mapp hastily put her
sketching things away, and holding her admirably-accurate drawing
with its wash of sky not quite dry, in her hand, hurried to the
door, for it would never do to arrive after the two tables had
started, since in that case it would be she who would have to sit
out.

Boon opened the door to her three staccato little knocks, and
sulkily consulted his list.  She duly appeared on it and was
admitted.  Having banged the door behind her he crushed the list up
in his hand and threw it into the fireplace: all those whose
presence was desired had arrived, and Boon would turn his bovine
eye on any subsequent caller, and say that his mistress was out.

"And may I put my sketching things down here, please, Boon," said
Miss Mapp ingratiatingly.  "And will no one touch my drawing.
It's a little wet still.  The church porch."

Boon made a grunting noise like the Tilling pig, and slouched away
in front of her down the passage leading to the garden, sniffing.
There they were, with the two bridge-tables set out in a shady
corner of the lawn, and a buffet vulgarly heaped with all sorts of
dainty confections which made Miss Mapp's mouth water, obliging her
to swallow rapidly once or twice before she could manage a wide,
dry smile: Isabel advanced.

"De-do, dear," said Miss Mapp.  "Such a rush!  But managed to
squeeze it in, as you wouldn't let me off."

"Oh, that was nice of you, Miss Mapp," said Isabel.

A wild and awful surmise seized Miss Mapp.

"And your dear mother?" she said.  "Where is Mrs. Poppit?"

"Mamma had to go to town this morning.  She won't be back till
close on dinner-time."

Miss Mapp's smile closed up like a furled umbrella.  The trap had
snapped behind her: it was impossible now to scriggle away.  She
had completed, instead of spoiling, the second table.

"So we're just eight," said Isabel, poking at her, so to speak,
through the wires.  "Shall we have a rubber first and then some
tea?  Or tea first.  What says everybody?"

Restless and hungry murmurs, like those heard at the sea-lions'
enclosure in the Zoological Gardens when feeding-time approaches,
seemed to indicate tea first, and with gallant greetings from the
Major, and archaistic welcomes from the Padre, Miss Mapp headed the
general drifting movement towards the buffet.  There may have been
tea there, but there was certainly iced coffee and Lager beer and
large jugs with dew on the outside and vegetables floating in a
bubbling liquid in the inside, and it was all so vulgar and opulent
that with one accord everyone set to work in earnest, in order that
the garden should present a less gross and greedy appearance.  But
there was no sign at present of the red-currant fool, which was
baffling. . . .

"And have you had a good game of golf, Major?" asked Miss Mapp,
making the best of these miserable circumstances.  "Such a lovely
day!  The white butterflies were enjoying--"

She became aware that Diva and the Padre, who had already heard
about the white butterflies, were in her immediate neighbourhood,
and broke off.

"Which of you beat?  Or should I say 'won'?" she asked.

Major Flint's long moustache was dripping with Lager beer, and he
made a dexterous, sucking movement.

"Well, the Army and the Navy had it out," he said.  "And if for
once Britain's Navy was not invincible, eh, Puffin?"

Captain Puffin limped away pretending not to hear, and took his
heaped plate and brimming glass in the direction of Irene.

"But I'm sure Captain Puffin played quite beautifully too," said
Miss Mapp in the vain attempt to detain him.  She liked to collect
all the men round her, and then scold them for not talking to the
other ladies.

"Well, a game's a game," said the Major.  "It gets through the
hours, Miss Mapp.  Yes: we finished at the fourteenth hole, and
hurried back to more congenial society.  And what have you done to-
day?  Fairy-errands, I'll be bound.  Titania!  Ha!"

Suet errands and errands about a missing article of underclothing
were really the most important things that Miss Mapp had done to-
day, now that her bridge-party scheme had so miscarried, but
naturally she would not allude to these.

"A little gardening," she said.  "A little sketching.  A little
singing.  Not time to change my frock and put on something less
shabby.  But I wouldn't have kept sweet Isabel's bridge-party
waiting for anything, and so I came straight from my painting here.
Padre, I've been trying to draw the lovely south porch.  But so
difficult!  I shall give up trying to draw, and just enjoy myself
with looking.  And there's your dear Evie!  How de do, Evie love?"

Godiva Plaistow had taken off her cloud for purposes of mastication,
but wound it tightly round her head again as soon as she had eaten
as much as she could manage.  This had to be done on one side of her
mouth, or with the front teeth in the nibbling manner of a rabbit.
Everybody, of course, by now knew that she had had a wisdom tooth
out at one p.m. with gas, and she could allude to it without
explanation.

"Dreamed I was playing bridge," she said, "and had a hand of aces.
As I played the first it went off in my hand.  All over.  Blood.
Hope it'll come true.  Bar the blood."

Miss Mapp found herself soon afterwards partnered with Major Flint
and opposed by Irene and the Padre.  They had hardly begun to
consider their first hands when Boon staggered out into the garden
under the weight of a large wooden bucket, packet with ice, that
surrounded an interior cylinder.

"Red-currant fool at last," thought Miss Mapp, adding aloud:  "Oh
poor little me, is it, to declare?  Shall I say 'no trumps'?"

"Mustn't consult your partner, Mapp," said Irene, puffing the end
of her cigarette out of its holder.  Irene was painfully literal.

"I don't, darling," said Miss Mapp, beginning to fizz a little.
"No trumps.  Not a trump.  Not any sort of trump.  There!  What are
we playing for, by the way?"

"Bob a hundred," said the Padre, forgetting to be either Scotch or
archaic.

"Oh, gambler!  You want the poor-box to be the rich box, Padre,"
said Miss Mapp, surveying her magnificent hand with the greatest
satisfaction.  If it had not contained so many court-cards, she
would have proposed playing for sixpence, not a shilling a hundred.

All semblance of manners was invariably thrown to the winds by the
ladies of Tilling when once bridge began; primeval hatred took
their place.  The winners of any hand were exasperatingly
condescending to the losers, and the losers correspondingly bitter
and tremulous.  Miss Mapp failed to get her contract, as her
partner's contribution to success consisted of more twos and threes
than were ever seen together before, and when quaint Irene at the
end said:  "Bad luck, Mapp," Miss Mapp's hands trembled so much
with passion that she with difficulty marked the score.  But she
could command her voice sufficiently to say:  "Lovely of you to be
sympathetic, dear."  Irene in answer gave a short, hoarse laugh and
dealed.

By this time Boon had deposited at the left hand of each player a
cup containing a red creamy fluid, on the surface of which bubbles
intermittently appeared.  Isabel, at this moment being dummy, had
strolled across from the other table to see that everybody was
comfortable and provided with sustenance in times of stress, and
here was clearly the proper opportunity for Miss Mapp to take a
spoonful of this attempt at red-currant fool, and with a wry face,
hastily (but not too hastily) smothered in smiles, to push the
revolting compound away from her.  But the one spoonful that she
took was so delicious and exhilarating, that she was positively
unable to be good for Isabel.  Instead, she drank her cup to the
dregs in an absent manner, while considering how many trumps were
out.  The red-currant fool made a similarly agreeable impression on
Major Flint.

"'Pon my word," he said.  "That's amazingly good.  Cooling on a hot
day like this.  Full of champagne."

Miss Mapp, seeing that it was so popular, had, of course, to claim
it again as a family invention.

"No, dear Major," she said.  "There's no champagne in it.  It's my
Grandmamma Mapp's famous red-currant fool, with little additions
perhaps by me.  No champagne: yolk of egg and a little cream.  Dear
Isabel has got it very nearly right."

The Padre had promised to take more tricks in diamonds than he had
the slightest chance of doing.  His mental worry communicated
itself to his voice.

"And why should there be nary a wee drappie o' champagne in it?" he
said, "though your Grandmamma Mapp did invent it.  Weel, let's see
your hand, partner.  Eh, that's a sair sight."

"And there'll be a sair wee score agin us when ye're through with
the playin' o' it," said Irene, in tones that could not be
acquitted of a mocking intent.  "Why the hell--hallelujah did you
go on when I didn't support you?"

Even that one glass of red-currant fool, though there was no
champagne in it, had produced, together with the certainty that her
opponent had overbidden his hand, a pleasant exhilaration in Miss
Mapp; but yolk of egg, as everybody knew, was a strong stimulant.
Suddenly the name red-currant fool seemed very amusing to her.

"Red-currant fool!" she said.  "What a quaint, old-fashioned name!
I shall invent some others.  I shall tell my cook to make some
gooseberry-idiot, or strawberry-donkey. . . .  My play, I think.  A
ducky little ace of spades."

"Haw! haw! gooseberry idiot!" said her partner.  "Capital!  You
won't beat that in a hurry!  And a two of spades on the top of it."

"You wouldn't expect to find a two of spades at the bottom of it,"
said the Padre with singular acidity.

The Major was quick to resent this kind of comment from a man,
cloth or no cloth.

"Well, by your leave, Bartlett, by your leave, I repeat," he said,
"I shall expect to find twos of spades precisely where I please,
and when I want your criticism--"

Miss Mapp hastily intervened.

"And after my wee ace, a little king-piece," she said.  "And if my
partner doesn't play the queen to it!  Delicious!  And I play just
one more. . . .  Yes . . . lovely, partner puts wee trumpy on it!
I'm not surprised; it takes more than that to surprise me; and then
Padre's got another spade, I ken fine!"

"Hoots!" said the Padre with temperate disgust.

The hand proceeded for a round or two in silence, during which, by
winks and gestures to Boon, the Major got hold of another cupful of
red-currant fool.  There was already a heavy penalty of tricks
against Miss Mapp's opponents, and after a moment's refreshment,
the Major led a club, of which, at this period, Miss Mapp seemed to
have none.  She felt happier than she had been ever since, trying
to spoil Isabel's second table, she had only succeeded in
completing it.

"Little trumpy again," she said, putting it on with the lightness
of one of the white butterflies and turning the trick.  "Useful
little trumpy--"

She broke off suddenly from the chant of victory which ladies of
Tilling were accustomed to indulge in during cross-roughs, for she
discovered in her hand another more than useless little clubby. . . .
The silence that succeeded became tense in quality.  Miss Mapp
knew she had revoked and squeezed her brains to think how she could
possibly dispose of the card, while there was a certain calmness
about the Padre, which but too clearly indicated that he was quite
content to wait for the inevitable disclosure.  This came at the
last trick, and though Miss Mapp made one forlorn attempt to thrust
the horrible little clubby underneath the other cards and gather
them up, the Padre pounced on it.

"What ho, fair lady!" he said, now completely restored.  "Methinks
thou art forsworn!  Let me have a keek at the last trick but three!
Verily I wis that thou didst trump ye club aforetime.  I said so;
there it is.  Eh, that's bonny for us, partner!"

Miss Mapp, of course, denied it all, and a ruthless reconstruction
of the tricks took place.  The Major, still busy with red-currant
fool, was the last to grasp the disaster, and then instantly
deplored the unsportsmanlike greed of his adversaries.

"Well, I should have thought in a friendly game like this--" he
said.  "Of course, you're within your right, Bartlett: might is
right, hey? but upon my word, a pound of flesh, you know. . . .
Can't think what made you do it, partner."

"You never asked me if I had any more clubs," said Miss Mapp
shrilly, giving up for the moment the contention that she had not
revoked.  "I always ask if my partner has no more of a suit, and I
always maintain that a revoke is more the partner's fault than the
player's.  Of course, if our adversaries claim it--"

"Naturally we do, Mapp," said Irene.  "You were down on me sharp
enough the other day."

Miss Mapp wrinkled her face up into the sweetest and extremest
smile of which her mobile features were capable.

"Darling, you won't mind my telling you that just at this moment
you are being dummy," she said, "and so you mustn't speak a single
word.  Otherwise there is no revoke, even if there was at all,
which I consider far from proved yet."

There was no further proof possible beyond the clear and final
evidence of the cards, and since everybody, including Miss Mapp
herself, was perfectly well aware that she had revoked, their
opponents merely marked up the penalty and the game proceeded.
Miss Mapp, of course, following the rule of correct behaviour after
revoking, stiffened into a state of offended dignity, and was
extremely polite and distant with partner and adversaries alike.
This demeanour became even more majestic when in the next hand the
Major led out of turn.  The moment he had done it, Miss Mapp
hurriedly threw a random card out of her hand on to the table, in
the hope that Irene, by some strange aberration, would think she
had led first.

"Wait a second," said she.  "I call a lead.  Give me a trump,
please."

Suddenly the awful expression as of some outraged empress faded
from Miss Mapp's face, and she gave a little shriek of laughter
which sounded like a squeaking slate pencil.

"Haven't got one, dear," she said.  "Now may I have your permission
to lead what I think best?  Thank you."

There now existed between the four players that state of violent
animosity which was the usual atmosphere towards the end of a
rubber.  But it would have been a capital mistake to suppose that
they were not all enjoying themselves immensely.  Emotion is the
salt of life, and here was no end of salt.  Everyone was
overbidding his hand, and the penalty tricks were a glorious cause
of vituperation, scarcely veiled, between the partners who had
failed to make good, and caused epidemics of condescending sympathy
from the adversaries which produced a passion in the losers far
keener than their fury at having lost.  What made the concluding
stages of this contest the more exciting was that an evening breeze
suddenly arising just as a deal was ended, made the cards rise in
the air like a covey of partridges.  They were recaptured, and all
the hands were found to be complete with the exception of Miss
Mapp's, which had a card missing.  This, an ace of hearts, was
discovered by the Padre, face upwards, in a bed of mignonette, and
he was vehement in claiming a fresh deal, on the grounds that the
card was exposed.  Miss Mapp could not speak at all in answer to
this preposterous claim: she could only smile at him, and proceed
to declare trumps as if nothing had happened. . . .  The Major
alone failed to come up to the full measure of these enjoyments,
for though all the rest of them were as angry with him as they were
with each other, he remained in a most indecorous state of good-
humour, drinking thirstily of the red-currant fool, and when he was
dummy, quite failing to mind whether Miss Mapp got her contract or
not.  Captain Puffin, at the other table, seemed to be behaving
with the same impropriety, for the sound of his shrill, falsetto
laugh was as regular as his visits to the bucket of red-currant
fool.  What if there was champagne in it after all, so Miss Mapp
luridly conjectured!  What if this unseemly good-humour was due to
incipient intoxication?  She took a little more of that delicious
decoction herself.

It was unanimously determined, when the two rubbers came to an end
almost simultaneously, that, as everything was so pleasant and
agreeable, there should be no fresh sorting of the players.
Besides, the second table was only playing stakes of sixpence a
hundred, and it would be very awkward and unsettling that anyone
should play these moderate points in one rubber and those high ones
the next.  But at this point Miss Mapp's table was obliged to
endure a pause, for the Padre had to hurry away just before six to
administer the rite of baptism in the church which was so
conveniently close.  The Major afforded a good deal of amusement,
as soon as he was out of hearing, by hoping that he would not
baptize the child the Knave of Hearts if it was a boy, or,
if a girl, the Queen of Spades; but in order to spare the 
susceptibilities of Mrs. Bartlett, this admirable joke was not
communicated to the next table, but enjoyed privately.  The author
of it, however, made a note in his mind to tell it to Captain
Puffin, in the hopes that it would cause him to forget his ruinous
half-crown defeat at golf this morning.  Quite as agreeable was the
arrival of a fresh supply of red-currant fool, and as this had been
heralded a few minutes before by a loud pop from the butler's
pantry, which looked on to the lawn, Miss Mapp began to waver in
her belief that there was no champagne in it, particularly as it
would not have suited the theory by which she accounted for the
Major's unwonted good humour, and her suggestion that the pop they
had all heard so clearly was the opening of a bottle of stone
ginger-beer was not delivered with conviction.  To make sure,
however, she took one more sip of the new supply, and, irradiated
with smiles, made a great concession.

"I believe I was wrong," she said.  "There is something in it
beyond yolk of egg and cream.  Oh, there's Boon; he will tell us."

She made a seductive face at Boon, and beckoned to him.

"Boon, will you think it very inquisitive of me," she asked archly,
"if I ask you whether you have put a teeny drop of champagne into
this delicious red-currant fool?"

"A bottle and a half, Miss," said Boon morosely, "and half a pint
of old brandy.  Will you have some more, Miss?"

Miss Mapp curbed her indignation at this vulgar squandering of
precious liquids, so characteristic of Poppits.  She gave a shrill
little laugh.

"Oh, no, thank you, Boon!" she said.  "I mustn't have any more.
Delicious, though."

Major Flint let Boon fill up his cup while he was not looking.

"And we owe this to your grandmother, Miss Mapp?" he asked
gallantly.  "That's a second debt."

Miss Mapp acknowledged this polite subtlety with a reservation.

"But not the champagne in it, Major," she said.  "Grandmamma Nap--"

The Major beat his thigh in ecstasy.  "Ha!  That's a good
Spoonerism for Miss Isabel's book," he said.  "Miss Isabel, we've
got a new--"

Miss Mapp was very much puzzled at this slight confusion in her
speech, for her utterance was usually remarkably distinct.  There
might be some little joke made at her expense on the effect of
Grandmamma Mapp's invention if this lovely Spoonerism was
published.  But if she who had only just tasted the red-currant
fool tripped in her speech, how amply were Major Flint's good
nature and Captain Puffin's incessant laugh accounted for.  She
herself felt very good-natured, too.  How pleasant it all was!

"Oh, naughty!" she said to the Major.  "Pray, hush! you're
disturbing them at their rubber.  And here's the Padre back again!"

The new rubber had only just begun (indeed, it was lucky that they
cut their cards without any delay) when Mrs. Poppit appeared on her
return from her expedition to London.  Miss Mapp begged her to take
her hand, and instantly began playing.

"It would really be a kindness to me, Mrs. Poppit," she said; "(No
diamonds at all, partner?) but of course, if you won't--You've been
missing such a lovely party.  So much enjoyment!"

Suddenly she saw that Mrs. Poppit was wearing on her ample breast a
small piece of riband with a little cross attached to it.  Her
entire stock of good-humour vanished, and she smiled her widest.

"We needn't ask what took you to London," she said.
"Congratulations!  How was the dear King?"

This rubber was soon over, and even as they were adding up the
score, there arose a shrill outcry from the next table, where Mrs.
Plaistow, as usual, had made the tale of her winnings sixpence in
excess of what anybody else considered was due to her.  The sound
of that was so familiar that nobody looked up or asked what was
going on.

"Darling Diva and her bawbees, Padre," said Miss Mapp in an aside.
"So modest in her demands.  Oh, she's stopped!  Somebody has given
her sixpence.  Not another rubber?  Well, perhaps it is rather
late, and I must say good night to my flowers before they close up
for the night.  All those shillings mine?  Fancy!"

Miss Mapp was seething with excitement, curiosity and rage, as with
Major Flint on one side of her and Captain Puffin on the other, she
was escorted home.  The excitement was due to her winnings, the
rage to Mrs. Poppit's Order, the curiosity to the clue she believed
she had found to those inexplicable lights that burned so late in
the houses of her companions.  Certainly it seemed that Major Flint
was trying not to step on the joints of the paving-stones, and
succeeding very imperfectly, while Captain Puffin, on her left, was
walking very unevenly on the cobbles.  Even making due allowance
for the difficulty of walking evenly there at any time, Miss Mapp
could not help thinking that a teetotaller would have made a better
job of it than that.  Both gentlemen talked at once, very agreeably
but rather carefully, Major Flint promising himself a studious
evening over some very interesting entries in his Indian Diary,
while Captain Puffin anticipated the speedy solution of that
problem about the Roman road which had puzzled him so long.  As
they said their "Au reservoirs" to her on her doorstep, they took
off their hats more often than politeness really demanded.

Once in her house Miss Mapp postponed her good nights to her sweet
flowers, and hurried with the utmost speed of which she was capable
to her garden-room, in order to see what her companions were doing.
They were standing in the middle of the street, and Major Flint,
with gesticulating forefinger, was being very impressive over
something. . . .


Interesting as was Miss Mapp's walk home, and painful as was the
light which it had conceivably thrown on the problem that had
baffled her for so long, she might have been even more acutely
disgusted had she lingered on with the rest of the bridge-party in
Mrs. Poppit's garden, so revolting was the sycophantic loyalty of
the newly-decorated Member of the British Empire. . . .  She
described minutely her arrival at the Palace, her momentary
nervousness as she entered the Throne-room, the instantaneousness
with which that all vanished when she came face to face with her
Sovereign.

"I assure you, he gave the most gracious smile," she said, "just as
if we had known each other all our lives, and I felt at home at
once.  And he said a few words to me--such a beautiful voice he
has.  Dear Isabel, I wish you had been there to hear it, and then--"

"Oh, Mamma, what did he say?" asked Isabel, to the great relief of
Mrs. Plaistow and the Bartletts, for while they were bursting with
eagerness to know with the utmost detail all that had taken place,
the correct attitude in Tilling was profound indifference to
anybody of whatever degree who did not live at Tilling, and to
anything that did not happen there.  In particular, any
manifestation of interest in kings or other distinguished people
was held to be a very miserable failing. . . .  So they all
pretended to look about them, and take no notice of what Mrs.
Poppit was saying, and you might have heard a pin drop.  Diva
silently and hastily unwound her cloud from over her ears, risking
catching cold in the hole where her tooth had been, so terrified
was she of missing a single syllable.

"Well, it was very gratifying," said Mrs. Poppit; "he whispered to
some gentleman standing near him, who I think was the Lord
Chamberlain, and then told me how interested he had been in the
good work of the Tilling hospital, and how especially glad he was
to be able--and just then he began to pin my Order on--to be able
to recognize it.  Now I call that wonderful to know all about the
Tilling hospital!  And such neat, quick fingers he has: I am sure
it would take me double the time to make a safety-pin hold, and
then he gave me another smile, and passed me on, so to speak, to
the Queen, who stood next him, and who had been listening to all he
had said."

"And did she speak to you too?" asked Diva, quite unable to
maintain the right indifference.

"Indeed she did: she said, 'So pleased,' and what she put into
those two words I'm sure I can never convey to you.  I could hear
how sincere they were: it was no set form of words, as if she meant
nothing by it.  She WAS pleased: she was just as interested in what
I had done for the Tilling hospital as the King was.  And the
crowds outside: they lined the Mall for at least fifty yards.  I
was bowing and smiling on this side and that till I felt quite
dizzy."

"And was the Prince of Wales there?" asked Diva, beginning to wind
her head up again.  She did not care about the crowds.

"No, he wasn't there," said Mrs. Poppit, determined to have no
embroidery in her story, however much other people, especially Miss
Mapp, decorated remarkable incidents till you hardly recognized
them.  "He wasn't there.  I daresay something had unexpectedly
detained him, though I shouldn't wonder if before long we all saw
him.  For I noticed in the evening paper which I was reading on the
way down here, after I had seen the King, that he was going to stay
with Lord Ardingly for this very next week-end.  And what's the
station for Ardingly Park if it isn't Tilling?  Though it's quite a
private visit, I feel convinced that the right and proper thing for
me to do is to be at the station, or, at any rate, just outside,
with my Order on.  I shall not claim acquaintance with him, or
anything or that kind," said Mrs. Poppit, fingering her Order; "but
after my reception to-day at the Palace, nothing can be more likely
than that His Majesty might mention--quite casually, of course--to
the Prince that he had just given a decoration to Mrs. Poppit of
Tilling.  And it would make me feel very awkward to think that that
had happened, and I was not somewhere about to make my curtsy."

"Oh, Mamma, may I stand by you, or behind you?" asked Isabel,
completely dazzled by the splendour of this prospect and prancing
about the lawn. . . .

This was quite awful: it was as bad as, if not worse than, the
historically disastrous remark about super-tax, and a general
rigidity, as of some partial cataleptic seizure, froze Mrs.
Poppit's guests, rendering them, like incomplete Marconi
installations, capable of receiving, but not of transmitting.  They
received these impressions, they also continued (mechanically) to
receive more chocolates and sandwiches, and such refreshments as
remained on the buffet; but no one could intervene and stop Mrs.
Poppit from exposing herself further.  One reason for this, of
course, as already indicated, was that they all longed for her to
expose herself as much as she possibly could, for if there was a
quality--and, indeed, there were many--on which Tilling prided
itself, it was on its immunity from snobbishness: there were, no
doubt, in the great world with which Tilling concerned itself so
little kings and queens and dukes and Members of the Order of the
British Empire; but every Tillingite knew that he or she
(particularly she) was just as good as any of them, and indeed
better, being more fortunate than they in living in Tilling. . . .
And if there was a process in the world which Tilling detested, it
was being patronized, and there was this woman telling them all
what she felt it right and proper for her, as Mrs. Poppit of
Tilling (M.B.E.), to do, when the Heir Apparent should pass through
the town on Saturday.  The rest of them, Mrs. Poppit implied, might
do what they liked, for they did not matter; but she--she must put
on her Order and make her curtsy.  And Isabel, by her expressed
desire to stand beside, or even behind, her mother for this
degrading moment had showed of what stock she came.

Mrs. Poppit had nothing more to say on this subject; indeed, as
Diva reflected, there was really nothing more that could be said,
unless she suggested that they should all bow and curtsy to her for
the future, and their hostess proceeded, as they all took their
leave, to hope that they had enjoyed the bridge-party which she had
been unavoidably prevented from attending.

"But my absence made it possible to include Miss Mapp," she said.
"I should not have liked poor Miss Mapp to feel left out; I am
always glad to give Miss Mapp pleasure.  I hope she won her rubber;
she does not like losing.  Will no one have a little more red-
currant fool?  Boon has made it very tolerably to-day.  A Scotch
recipe of my great-grandmother's."

Diva gave a little cackle of laughter as she enfolded herself in
her cloud again.  She had heard Miss Mapp's ironical inquiry as to
how the dear King was, and had thought at the time that it was
probably a pity that Miss Mapp had said that.


Though abhorrence of snobbery and immunity from any taint of it was
so fine a characteristic of public social life at Tilling, the
expected passage of this distinguished visitor through the town on
Saturday next became very speedily known, and before the wicker-
baskets of the ladies in their morning marketings next day were
half full, there was no quarter which the news had failed to reach.
Major Flint had it from Mrs. Plaistow, as he went down to the
eleven-twenty tram out to the golf-links, and though he had not
much time to spare (for his work last night on his old diaries had
caused him to breakfast unusually late that morning to the
accompaniment of a dismal headache from over-application), he had
stopped to converse with Miss Mapp immediately afterwards, with one
eye on the time, for naturally he could not fire off that sort of
news point-blank at her, as if it was a matter of any interest or
importance.

"Good morning, dear lady," he said.  "By Jove! what a picture of
health and freshness you are!"

Miss Mapp cast one glance at her basket to see that the paper quite
concealed that article of clothing which the perfidious laundry had
found.  (Probably the laundry knew where it was all the time, and--
in a figurative sense, of course--was "trying it on".)

"Early to bed and early to rise, Major," she said.  "I saw my sweet
flowers open their eyes this morning!  Such a beautiful dew!"

"Well, my diaries kept me up late last night," he said.  "When all
you fascinating ladies have withdrawn is the only time at which I
can bring myself to sit down to them."

"Let me recommend six to eight in the morning, Major," said Miss
Mapp earnestly.  "Such freshness of brain then."

That seemed to be a cul-de-sac in the way of leading up to the
important subject, and the Major tried another turning.

"Good, well-fought game of bridge we had yesterday," he said.
"Just met Mrs. Plaistow; she stopped on for a chat after we had
gone."

"Dear Diva; she loves a good gossip," said Miss Mapp effusively.
"Such an interest she has in other people's affairs.  So human and
sympathetic.  I'm sure our dear hostess told her all about her
adventures at the Palace."

There was only seven minutes left before the tram started, and
though this was not a perfect opening, it would have to do.
Besides, the Major saw Mrs. Plaistow coming energetically along the
High Street with whirling feet.

"Yes, and we haven't finished with--ha--royalty yet," he said,
getting the odious word out with difficulty.  "The Prince of Wales
will be passing through the town on Saturday, on his way to
Ardingly Park, where he is spending the Sunday."

Miss Mapp was not betrayed into the smallest expression of
interest.

"That will be nice for him," she said.  "He will catch a glimpse of
our beautiful Tilling."

"So he will!  Well, I'm off for my game of golf.  Perhaps the Navy
will be a bit more efficient to-day."

"I'm sure you will both play perfectly!" said Miss Mapp.

Diva had "popped" into the grocer's.  She always popped everywhere
just now; she popped across to see a friend, and she popped home
again; she popped into church on Sunday, and occasionally popped up
to town, and Miss Mapp was beginning to feel that somebody ought to
let her know, directly or by insinuation, that she popped too much.
So, thinking that an opportunity might present itself now, Miss
Mapp read the news-board outside the stationer's till Diva popped
out of the grocer's again.  The headlines of news, even the largest
of them, hardly reached her brain, because it was entirely absorbed
in another subject.  Of course, the first thing was to find out by
what train . . .

Diva trundled swiftly across the street

"Good morning, Elizabeth," she said.  "You left the party too early
yesterday.  Missed a lot.  How the King smiled!  How the Queen said
'So pleased'."

"Our dear hostess would like that," said Miss Mapp pensively.  "She
would be so pleased, too.  She and the Queen would both be pleased.
Quite a pair of them."

"By the way, on Saturday next--" began Diva.

"I know, dear," said Miss Mapp.  "Major Flint told me.  It seemed
quite to interest him.  Now I must pop into the stationer's--"

Diva was really very obtuse.

"I'm popping in there, too," she said.  "Want a timetable of the
trains."

Wild horses would not have dragged from Miss Mapp that this was
precisely what she wanted.

"I only wanted a little ruled paper," she said.  "Why, here's dear
Evie popping out just as we pop in!  Good morning, sweet Evie.
Lovely day again."

Mrs. Bartlett thrust something into her basket which very much
resembled a railway time-table.  She spoke in a low, quick voice,
as if afraid of being overheard, and was otherwise rather like a
mouse.  When she was excited she squeaked.

"So good for the harvest," she said.  "Such an important thing to
have a good harvest.  I hope next Saturday will be fine; it would
be a pity if he had a wet day.  We were wondering, Kenneth and I,
what would be the proper thing to do, if he came over for service--
oh, here is Kenneth!"

She stopped abruptly, as if afraid that she had betrayed too much
interest in next Saturday and Sunday.  Kenneth would manage it much
better.

"Ha! lady fair," he exclaimed.  "Having a bit crack with wee wifey?
Any news this bright morning?"

"No, dear Padre," said Miss Mapp, showing her gums.  "At least,
I've heard nothing of any interest.  I can only give you the news
of my garden.  Such lovely new roses in bloom to-day, bless them!"

Mrs. Plaistow had popped into the stationer's, so this perjury was
undetected.

The Padre was noted for his diplomacy.  Just now he wanted to
convey the impression that nothing which could happen next Saturday
or Sunday could be of the smallest interest to him; whereas he had
spent an almost sleepless night in wondering whether it would, in
certain circumstances, be proper to make a bow at the beginning of
his sermon and another at the end; whether he ought to meet the
visitor at the west door; whether the mayor ought to be told, and
whether there ought to be special psalms. . . .

"Well, lady fair," he said.  "Gossip will have it that ye Prince of
Wales is staying at Ardingly for the Sunday; indeed, he will, I
suppose, pass through Tilling on Saturday afternoon--"

Miss Mapp put her forefinger to her forehead, as if trying to
recollect something.

"Yes, now somebody did tell me that," she said.  "Major Flint, I
believe.  But when you asked for news I thought you meant something
that really interested me.  Yes, Padre?"

"Aweel, if he comes to service on Sunday--?"

"Dear Padre, I'm sure he'll hear a very good sermon.  Oh, I see
what you mean!  Whether you ought to have any special hymn?  Don't
ask poor little me!  Mrs. Poppit, I'm sure, would tell you.  She
knows all about courts and etiquette."

Diva popped out of the stationer's at this moment.

"Sold out," she announced.  "Everybody wanted timetables this
morning.  Evie got the last.  Have to go to the station."

"I'll walk with you, Diva, dear," said Miss Mapp.  "There's a
parcel that--Good-bye, dear Evie, au reservoir."

She kissed her hand to Mrs. Bartlett, leaving a smile behind it, as
it fluttered away from her face, for the Padre.

Miss Mapp was so impenetrably wrapped in thought as she worked
among her sweet flowers that afternoon, that she merely stared at a
"love-in-a-mist", which she had absently rooted up instead of a
piece of groundsel, without any bleeding of the heart for one of
her sweet flowers.  There were two trains by which he might arrive--
one at 4.15, which would get him to Ardingly for tea, the other at
6.45.  She was quite determined to see him, but more inflexible
than that resolve was the Euclidean postulate that no one in
Tilling should think that she had taken any deliberate step to do
so.  For the present she had disarmed suspicion by the blankness of
her indifference as to what might happen on Saturday or Sunday; but
she herself strongly suspected that everybody else, in spite of the
public attitude of Tilling to such subjects, was determined to see
him too.  How to see and not be seen was the question which
engrossed her, and though she might possibly happen to be at that
sharp corner outside the station where every motor had to go slow,
on the arrival of the 4.15, it would never do to risk being seen
there again precisely at 6.45.  Mrs. Poppit, shameless in her
snobbery, would no doubt be at the station with her Order on at
both these hours, if the arrival did not take place by the first
train, and Isabel would be prancing by or behind her, and, in fact,
dreadful though it was to contemplate, all Tilling, she reluctantly
believed, would be hanging about. . . .  Then an idea struck her,
so glorious, that she put the uprooted love-in-a-mist in the weed-
basket, instead of planting it again, and went quickly indoors, up
to the attics, and from there popped--really popped, so tight was
the fit--through a trap-door on to the roof.  Yes: the station was
plainly visible, and if the 4.15 was the favoured train, there
would certainly be a motor from Ardingly Park waiting there in good
time for its arrival.  From the house-roof she could ascertain
that, and she would then have time to trip down the hill and get to
her coal merchant's at that sharp corner outside the station, and
ask, rather peremptorily, when the coke for her central heating
might be expected.  It was due now, and though it would be
unfortunate if it arrived before Saturday, it was quite easy to
smile away her peremptory manner, and say that Withers had not told
her.  Miss Mapp hated prevarication, but a major force sometimes
came along. . . .  But if no motors from Ardingly Park were in
waiting for the 4.15 (as spied from her house-roof), she need not
risk being seen in the neighbourhood of the station, but would
again make observations some few minutes before the 6.45 was due.
There was positively no other train by which he could come. . . .

The next day or two saw no traceable developments in the situation,
but Miss Mapp's trained sense told her that there was underground
work of some kind going on: she seemed to hear faint hollow taps
and muffled knockings, and, so to speak, the silence of some
unusual pregnancy.  Up and down the High Street she observed short
whispered conversations going on between her friends, which broke
off on her approach.  This only confirmed her view that these
secret colloquies were connected with Saturday afternoon, for it
was not to be expected that, after her freezing reception of the
news, any projected snobbishness should be confided to her, and
though she would have liked to know what Diva and Irene and darling
Evie were meaning to do, the fact that they none of them told her,
showed that they were aware that she, at any rate, was utterly
indifferent to and above that sort of thing.  She suspected, too,
that Major Flint had fallen victim to this unTilling-like mania,
for on Friday afternoon, when passing his door, which happened to
be standing open, she quite distinctly saw him in front of his
glass in the hall (standing on the head of one of the tigers to
secure a better view of himself), trying on a silk top-hat.  Her
own errand at this moment was to the draper's, where she bought a
quantity of pretty pale blue braid, for a little domestic
dressmaking which was in arrears, and some riband of the same tint.
At this clever and unusual hour for shopping, the High Street was
naturally empty, and after a little hesitation and many anxious
glances to right and left, she plunged into the toyshop and bought
a pleasant little Union Jack with a short stick attached to it.
She told Mr. Dabnet very distinctly that it was a present for her
nephew, and concealed it inside her parasol, where it lay quite
flat and made no perceptible bulge. . . .

At four o'clock on Saturday afternoon, she remembered that the damp
had come in through her bedroom ceiling in a storm last winter, and
told Withers she was going to have a look to see if any tiles were
loose.  In order to ascertain this for certain, she took up through
the trap door a pair of binocular glasses, through which it was
also easy to identify anybody who might be in the open yard outside
the station.  Even as she looked, Mrs. Poppit and Isabel crossed
the yard into the waiting-room and ticket-office.  It was a little
surprising that there were not more friends in the station-yard,
but at the moment she heard a loud Qui-hi in the street below, and
cautiously peering over the parapet, she got an admirable view of
the Major in a frock-coat and tall hat.  A "Coo-ee" answered him,
and Captain Puffin, in a new suit (Miss Mapp was certain of it) and
a Panama hat, joined him.  They went down the street and turned the
corner. . . .  Across the opening to the High Street there shot the
figure of darling Diva.

While waiting for them to appear again in the station-yard, Miss
Mapp looked to see what vehicles were standing there.  It was
already ten minutes past four, and the Ardingly motors must have
been there by this time, if there was anything "doing" by the 4.15.
But positively the only vehicle there was an open trolly laden with
a piano in a sack.  Apart from knowing all about that piano, for
Mrs. Poppit had talked about little else than her new upright
Bluthner before her visit to Buckingham Palace, a moment's
reflection convinced Miss Mapp that this was a very unlikely mode
of conveyance for any guest. . . .  She watched for a few moments
more, but as no other friends appeared in the station-yard, she
concluded that they were hanging about the street somewhere, poor
things, and decided not to make inquiries about her coke just yet.

She had tea while she arranged flowers, in the very front of the
window in her garden-room, and presently had the satisfaction of
seeing many of the baffled loyalists trudging home.  There was no
need to do more than smile and tap the window and kiss her hand:
they all knew that she had been busy with her flowers, and that she
knew what they had been busy about. . . .  Out again they all came
towards half-past six, and when she had watched the last of them
down the hill, she hurried back to the roof again, to make a final
inspection of the loose tiles through her binoculars.  Brief but
exciting was the inspection for opposite the entrance to the
station was drawn up a motor.  So clear was the air and so
serviceable her binoculars that she could distinguish the vulgar
coronet on the panels, and as she looked Mrs. Poppit and Isabel
hurried across the station-yard.  It was then but the work of a
moment to slip on the dust-cloak trimmed with blue braid, adjust
the hat with the blue riband, and take up the parasol with its
furled Union Jack inside it.  The stick of the flag was uppermost;
she could whip it out in a moment.


Miss Mapp had calculated her appearance to a nicety.  Just as she
got to the sharp corner opposite the station, where all cars slowed
down and her coal-merchants' office was situated, the train drew
up.  By the gates into the yard were standing the Major in his top-
hat, the Captain in his Panama, Irene in a civilized skirt; Diva in
a brand-new walking dress, and the Padre and wee wifey.  They were
all looking in the direction of the station, and Miss Mapp stepped
into the coal-merchant's unobserved.  Oddly enough the coke
had been sent three days before, and there was no need for
peremptoriness.

"So good of you, Mr. Wootten!" she said; "and why is everyone
standing about this afternoon?"

Mr. Wootten explained the reason of this, and Miss Mapp, grasping
her parasol went out again as the car left the station.  There were
too many dear friends about, she decided, to use the Union Jack,
and having seen what she wanted to she determined to slip quietly
away again.  Already the Major's hat was in his hand, and he was
bowing low, so too were Captain Puffin and the Padre, while Irene,
Diva and Evie were making little ducking movements. . . .  Miss
Mapp was determined, when it came to her turn, to show them, as she
happened to be on the spot, what a proper curtsy was.

The car came opposite her, and she curtsied so low that recovery
was impossible, and she sat down in the road.  Her parasol flew out
of her hand and out of her parasol flew the Union Jack.  She saw a
young man looking out of the window, dressed in khaki, grinning
broadly, but not, so she thought, graciously, and it suddenly
struck her that there was something, beside her own part in the
affair, which was not as it should be.  As he put his head in again
there was loud laughter from the inside of the car.

Mr. Wootten helped her up and the entire assembly of her friends
crowded round her, hoping she was not hurt.

"No, dear Major, dear Padre, not at all, thanks," she said.  "So
stupid: my ankle turned.  Oh, yes, the Union Jack I bought for my
nephew, it's his birthday to-morrow.  Thank you.  I just came to
see about my coke: of course I thought the Prince had arrived when
you all went down to meet the 4.15.  Fancy my running straight into
it all!  How well he looked."

This was all rather lame, and Miss Mapp hailed Mrs. Poppit's
appearance from the station as a welcome diversion. . . .  Mrs.
Poppit was looking vexed.

"I hope you saw him well, Mrs. Poppit," said Miss Mapp, "after
meeting two trains, and taking all that trouble."

"Saw who?" said Mrs. Poppit with a deplorable lack both of manner
and grammar.  "Why"--light seemed to break on her odious
countenance.  "Why, you don't think that was the Prince, do you,
Miss Mapp?  He arrived here at one, so the station-master has just
told me, and has been playing golf all afternoon."

The Major looked at the Captain, and the Captain at the Major.  It
was months and months since they had missed their Saturday
afternoon's golf.

"It was the Prince of Wales who looked out of that car-window,"
said Miss Mapp firmly.  "Such a pleasant smile.  I should know it
anywhere."

"The young man who got into the car at the station was no more the
Prince of Wales than you are," said Mrs. Poppit shrilly.  "I was
close to him as he came out: I curtsied to him before I saw."

Miss Mapp instantly changed her attack: she could hardly hold her
smile on to her face for rage.

"How very awkward for you," she said.  "What a laugh they will all
have over it this evening!  Delicious!"

Mrs. Poppit's face suddenly took on an expression of the tenderest
solicitude.

"I hope, Miss Mapp, you didn't jar yourself when you sat down in
the road just now," she said.

"Not at all, thank you so much," said Miss Mapp, hearing her heart
beat in her throat. . . .  If she had had a naval fifteen-inch gun
handy, and had known how to fire it, she would, with a sense of
duty accomplished, have discharged it point-blank at the Member of
the Order of the British Empire, and at anybody else who might be
within range. . . .


Sunday, of course, with all the opportunities of that day, still
remained, and the seats of the auxiliary choir, which were
advantageously situated, had never been so full, but as it was all
no use, the Major and Captain Puffin left during the sermon to
catch the 12.20 tram out to the links.  On this delightful day it
was but natural that the pleasant walk there across the marsh was
very popular, and golfers that afternoon had a very trying and
nervous time, for the ladies of Tilling kept bobbing up from behind
sand-dunes and bunkers, as, regardless of the players, they
executed swift flank marches in all directions.  Miss Mapp returned
exhausted about tea-time to hear from Withers that the Prince had
spent an hour or more rambling about the town, and had stopped
quite five minutes at the corner by the garden-room.  He had
actually sat down on Miss Mapps steps and smoked a cigarette.  She
wondered if the end of the cigarette was there still: it was
hateful to have cigarette-ends defiling the steps to her front-
door, and often before now, when sketches were numerous, she had
sent her housemaid out to remove these untidy relics.  She searched
for it, but was obliged to come to the reluctant conclusion that
there was nothing to remove. . . .



CHAPTER THREE


Diva was sitting at the open drawing-room window of her house in
the High Street, cutting with a pair of sharp nail scissors into
the old chintz curtains which her maid had told her no longer "paid
for the mending".  So, since they refused to pay for their mending
any more she was preparing to make them pay, pretty smartly too, in
other ways.  The pattern was of little bunches of pink roses
peeping out through trellis work, and it was these which she had
just begun to cut out.  Though Tilling was noted for the ingenuity
with which its more fashionable ladies devised novel and quaint
effects in the dress in an economical manner, Diva felt sure,
ransack her memory though she might, that nobody had thought of
THIS before.

The hot weather had continued late into September and showed no
signs of breaking yet, and it would be agreeable to her and acutely
painful to others that just at the end of the summer she should
appear in a perfectly new costume, before the days of jumpers and
heavy skirts and large woollen scarves came in.  She was preparing,
therefore, to take the light white jacket which she wore over her
blouse, and cover the broad collar and cuffs of it with these
pretty roses.  The belt of the skirt would be similarly decorated,
and so would the edge of it, if there were enough clean ones.  The
jacket and skirt had already gone to the dyer's, and would be back
in a day or two, white no longer, but of a rich purple hue, and by
that time she would have hundreds of these little pink roses ready
to be tacked on.  Perhaps a piece of the chintz, trellis and all,
could be sewn over the belt, but she was determined to have single
little bunches of roses peppered all over the collar and cuffs of
the jacket, and, if possible, round the edge of the skirt.  She had
already tried the effect, and was of the opinion that nobody could
possibly guess what the origin of these roses was.  When carefully
sewn on they looked as if they were a design in the stuff.

She let the circumcised roses fall on to the window-seat, and from
time to time, when they grew numerous, swept them into a cardboard
box.  Though she worked with zealous diligence, she had an eye to
the movements in the street outside, for it was shopping-hour, and
there were many observations to be made.  She had not anything like
Miss Mapp's genius for conjecture, but her memory was appallingly
good, and this was the third morning running on which Elizabeth had
gone into the grocer's.  It was odd to go to your grocer's every
day like that: groceries twice a week was sufficient for most
people.  From here on the floor above the street she could easily
look into Elizabeth's basket, and she certainly was carrying
nothing away with her from the grocer's, for the only thing there
was a small bottle done up in white paper with sealing wax, which,
Diva had no need to be told, certainly came from the chemist's, and
was no doubt connected with too many plums.

Miss Mapp crossed the street to the pavement below Diva's house,
and precisely as she reached it, Diva's maid opened the door into
the drawing-room, bringing in the second post, or rather not
bringing in the second post, but the announcement that there wasn't
any second post.  This opening of the door caused a draught, and
the bunches of roses which littered the window-seat rose brightly
in the air.  Diva managed to beat most of them down again, but two
fluttered out of the window.  Precisely then, and at no other time,
Miss Mapp looked up, and one settled on her face, the other fell
into her basket.  Her trained faculties were all on the alert, and
she thrust them both inside her glove for future consideration,
without stopping to examine them just then.  She only knew that
they were little pink roses, and that they had fluttered out of
Diva's window. . . .

She paused on the pavement, and remembered that Diva had not yet
expressed regret about the worsted, and that she still "popped" as
much as ever.  Thus Diva deserved a punishment of some sort, and
happily, at that very moment she thought of a subject on which she
might be able to make her uncomfortable.  The street was full, and
it would be pretty to call up to her, instead of ringing her bell,
in order to save trouble to poor overworked Janet.  (Diva only kept
two servants, though of course poverty was no crime.)

"Diva darling!" she cooed.

Diva's head looked out like a cuckoo in a clock preparing to chime
the hour.

"Hullo!" she said.  "Want me?"

"May I pop up for a moment, dear?" said Miss Mapp.  "That's to say
if you're not very busy."

"Pop away," said Diva.  She was quite aware that Miss Mapp said
"pop" in crude inverted commas, so to speak, for purposes of
mockery, and so she said it herself more than ever.  "I'll tell my
maid to pop down and open the door."

While this was being done, Diva bundled her chintz curtains
together and stored them and the roses she had cut out into her
work-cupboard, for secrecy was an essential to the construction of
these decorations.  But in order to appear naturally employed, she
pulled out the woollen scarf she was knitting for the autumn and
winter, forgetting for the moment that the rose-madder stripe at
the end on which she was now engaged was made of that fatal worsted
which Miss Mapp considered to have been feloniously appropriated.
That was the sort of thing Miss Mapp never forgot.  Even among her
sweet flowers.  Her eye fell on it the moment she entered the room,
and she tucked the two chintz roses more securely into her glove.

"I thought I would just pop across from the grocer's," she said.
"What a pretty scarf, dear!  That's a lovely shade of rose-madder.
Where can I have seen something like it before?"

This was clearly ironical, and had best be answered by irony.  Diva
was no coward.

"Couldn't say, I'm sure," she said.

Miss Mapp appeared to recollect, and smiled as far back as her
wisdom-teeth.  (Diva couldn't do that.)

"I have it," she said.  "It was the wool I ordered at Heynes's, and
then he sold it you, and I couldn't get any more."

"So it was," said Diva.  "Upset you a bit.  There was the wool in
the shop.  I bought it."

"Yes, dear; I see you did.  But that wasn't what I popped in about.
This coal-strike, you know."

"Got a cellar-full," said Diva.

"Diva, you've not been hoarding, have you?" asked Miss Mapp with
great anxiety.  "They can take away every atom of coal you've got,
if so, and fine you I don't know what for every hundredweight of
it."

"Pooh!" said Diva, rather forcing the indifference of this rude
interjection.

"Yes, love, pooh by all means, if you like poohing!" said Miss
Mapp.  "But I should have felt very unfriendly if one morning I
found you were fined--found you were fined--quite a play upon words--
and I hadn't warned you."

Diva felt a little less poohish.

"But how much do they allow you to have?" she asked.

"Oh, quite a little: enough to go on with.  But I daresay they
won't discover you.  I just took the trouble to come and warn you."

Diva did remember something about hoarding; there had surely been
dreadful exposures of prudent housekeepers in the papers which were
very uncomfortable reading.

"But all these orders were only for the period of the war," she
said.

"No doubt you're right, dear," said Miss Mapp brightly.  "I'm sure
I hope you are.  Only if the coal strike comes on, I think you'll
find that the regulations against hoarding are quite as severe as
they ever were.  Food hoarding, too.  Twemlow--such a civil man--
tells me that he thinks we shall have plenty of food, or anyhow
sufficient for everybody for quite a long time, provided that
there's no hoarding.  Not been hoarding food, too, dear Diva?  You
naughty thing: I believe that great cupboard is full of sardines
and biscuits and Bovril."

"Nothing of the kind," said Diva indignantly.  "You shall see for
yourself"--and then she suddenly remembered that the cupboard was
full of chintz curtains and little bunches of pink roses, neatly
cut out of them, and a pair of nail scissors.

There was a perfectly perceptible pause, during which Miss Mapp
noticed that there were no curtains over the window.  There
certainly used to be, and they matched with the chintz cover of the
window-seat, which was decorated with little bunches of pink roses
peeping through trellis.  This was in the nature of a bonus: she
had not up till then connected the chintz curtains with the little
things that had fluttered down upon her and were now safe in her
glove; her only real object in this call had been to instill a
general uneasiness into Diva's mind about the coal strike and the
danger of being well provided with fuel.  That she humbly hoped
that she had accomplished.  She got up.

"Must be going," she said.  "Such a lovely little chat!  But what
has happened to your pretty curtains?"

"Gone to the wash,'" said Diva firmly.

"Liar," thought Miss Mapp, as she tripped downstairs.  "Diva would
have sent the cover of the window-seat too, if that was the case.
Liar," she thought again as she kissed her hand to Diva, who was
looking gloomily out of the window.


As soon as Miss Mapp had gained her garden-room, she examined the
mysterious treasures in her left-hand glove.  Without the smallest
doubt Diva had taken down her curtains (and high time too, for they
were sadly shabby), and was cutting the roses out of them.  But
what on earth was she doing that for?  For what garish purpose
could she want to use bunches of roses cut out of chintz curtains?

Miss Mapp had put the two specimens of which she had so
providentially become possessed in her lap, and they looked very
pretty against the navy-blue of her skirt.  Diva was very
ingenious: she used up all sorts of odds and ends in a way that did
credit to her undoubtedly parsimonious qualities.  She could trim a
hat with a tooth-brush and a banana in such a way that it looked
quite Parisian till you firmly analysed its component parts, and
most of her ingenuity was devoted to dress: the more was the pity
that she had such a round-about figure that her waistband always
reminded you of the equator. . . .

"Eureka!" said Miss Mapp aloud, and, though the telephone bell was
ringing, and the postulant might be one of the servants' friends
ringing them up at an hour when their mistress was usually in the
High Street, she glided swiftly to the large cupboard underneath
the stairs which was full of the things which no right-minded
person could bear to throw away: broken basket-chairs, pieces of
brown paper, cardboard boxes without lids, and cardboard lids
without boxes, old bags with holes in them, keys without locks and
locks without keys and worn chintz covers.  There was one--it had
once adorned the sofa in the garden-room--covered with red poppies
(very easy to cut out), and Miss Mapp dragged it dustily from its
corner, setting in motion a perfect cascade of cardboard lids and
some door-handles.

Withers had answered the telephone, and came to announce that
Twemlow the grocer regretted he had only two large tins of corned
beef, but--

"Then say I will have the tongue as well, Withers," said Miss Mapp.
"Just a tongue--and then I shall want you and Mary to do some
cutting out for me."

The three went to work with feverish energy, for Diva had got a
start, and by four o'clock that afternoon there were enough poppies
cut out to furnish, when in seed, a whole street of opium dens.
The dress selected for decoration was, apart from a few mildew-
spots, the colour of ripe corn, which was superbly appropriate for
September.  "Poppies in the corn," said Miss Mapp over and over to
herself, remembering some sweet verses she had once read by Bernard
Shaw or Clement Shorter or somebody like that about a garden of
sleep somewhere in Norfolk. . . .

"No one can work as neatly as you, Withers," she said gaily, "and I
shall ask you to do the most difficult part.  I want you to sew my
lovely poppies over the collar and facings of the jacket, just
spacing them a little and making a dainty irregularity.  And then
Mary--won't you, Mary?--will do the same with the waistband while I
put a border of them round the skirt, and my dear old dress will
look quite new and lovely.  I shall be at home to nobody, Withers,
this afternoon, even if the Prince of Wales came and sat on my
doorstep again.  We'll all work together in the garden, shall we,
and you and Mary must scold me if you think I'm not working hard
enough.  It will be delicious in the garden."

Thanks to this pleasant plan, there was not much opportunity for
Withers and Mary to be idle. . . .


Just about the time that this harmonious party began their work, a
far from harmonious couple were being just as industrious in the
grand spacious bunker in front of the tee to the last hole on the
golf-links.  It was a beautiful bunker, consisting of a great slope
of loose, steep sand against the face of the hill, and solidly
shored up with timber.  The Navy had been in better form to-day,
and after a decisive victory over the Army in the morning and an
indemnity of half a crown, its match in the afternoon, with just
the last hole to play, was all square.  So Captain Puffin, having
the honour, hit a low, nervous drive that tapped loudly at the
timbered wall of the bunker, and cuddled down below it, well
protected from any future assault.

"Phew!  That about settles it," said Major Flint boisterously.
"Bad place to top a ball!  Give me the hole?"

This insolent question needed no answer, and Major Flint drove,
skying the ball to a prodigious height.  But it had to come to
earth sometime, and it fell like Lucifer, son of the morning, in
the middle of the same bunker. . . .  So the Army played three
more, and, sweating profusely, got out.  Then it was the Navy's
turn, and the Navy had to lie on its keel above the boards of the
bunker, in order to reach its ball at all, and missed it twice.

"Better give it up, old chap," said Major Flint.  "Unplayable."

"Then see me play it," said Captain Puffin, with a chewing motion
of his jaws.

"We shall miss the tram," said the Major, and, with the intention
of giving annoyance, he sat down in the bunker with his back to
Captain Puffin, and lit a cigarette.  At his third attempt nothing
happened; at the fourth the ball flew against the boards, rebounded
briskly again into the bunker, trickled down the steep, sandy slope
and hit the Major's boot.

"Hit you, I think," said Captain Puffin.  "Ha!  So it's my hole,
Major!"

Major Flint had a short fit of aphasia.  He opened and shut his
mouth and foamed.  Then he took a half-crown from his pocket.

"Give that to the Captain," he said to his caddie, and without
looking round, walked away in the direction of the tram.  He had
not gone a hundred yards when the whistle sounded, and it puffed
away homewards with ever-increasing velocity.

Weak and trembling from passion, Major Flint found that after a few
tottering steps in the direction of Tilling he would be totally
unable to get there unless fortified by some strong stimulant, and
turned back to the club-house to obtain it.  He always went dead-
lame when beaten at golf, while Captain Puffin was lame in any
circumstances, and the two, no longer on speaking terms, hobbled
into the club-house, one after the other, each unconscious of the
other's presence.  Summoning his last remaining strength Major
Flint roared for whisky, and was told that, according to
regulation, he could not be served until six.  There was lemonade
and stone ginger-beer. . . .  You might as well have offered a man-
eating tiger bread and milk.  Even the threat that he would
instantly resign his membership unless provided with drink produced
no effect on a polite steward, and he sat down to recover as best
he might with an old volume of Punch.  This seemed to do him little
good.  His forced abstemiousness was rendered the more intolerable
by the fact that Captain Puffin, hobbling in immediately
afterwards, fetched from his locker a large flask of the required
elixir, and proceeded to mix himself a long, strong tumblerful.
After the Major's rudeness in the matter of the half-crown, it was
impossible for any sailor of spirit to take the first step towards
reconciliation.

Thirst is a great leveller.  By the time the refreshed Puffin had
penetrated half-way down his glass, the Major found it impossible
to be proud and proper any longer.  He hated saying he was sorry
(no man more) and he wouldn't have been sorry if he had been able
to get a drink.  He twirled his moustache a great many times and
cleared his throat--it wanted more than that to clear it--and
capitulated.

"Upon my word, Puffin, I'm ashamed of myself for--ha!--for not
taking my defeat better," he said.  "A man's no business to let a
game ruffle him."

Puffin gave his alto cackling laugh.

"Oh, that's all right, Major," he said.  "I know it's awfully hard
to lose like a gentleman."

He let this sink in, then added:

"Have a drink, old chap?"

Major Flint flew to his feet.

"Well, thank ye, thank ye," he said.  "Now where's that soda water
you offered me just now?" he shouted to the steward.

The speed and completeness of the reconciliation was in no way
remarkable, for when two men quarrel whenever they meet, it follows
that they make it up again with corresponding frequency, else there
could be no fresh quarrels at all.  This one had been a shade more
acute than most, and the drop into amity again was a shade more
precipitous.

Major Flint in his eagerness had put most of his moustache into the
life-giving tumbler, and dried it on his handkerchief.

"After all, it was a most amusing incident," he said.  "There was I
with my back turned, waiting for you to give it up, when your bl----
wretched little ball hit my foot.  I must remember that.  I'll
serve you with the same spoon some day, at least I would if I
thought it sportsmanlike.  Well, well, enough said.  Astonishing
good whisky, that of yours."

Captain Puffin helped himself to rather more than half of what now
remained in the flask.

"Help yourself, Major," he said.

"Well, thank ye, I don't mind if I do," he said, reversing the
flask over the tumbler.  "There's a good tramp in front of us now
that the last tram has gone.  Tram and tramp!  Upon my word, I've
half a mind to telephone for a taxi."

This, of course, was a direct hint.  Puffin ought clearly to pay
for a taxi, having won two half-crowns to-day.  This casual drink
did not constitute the usual drink stood by the winner, and paid
for with cash over the counter.  A drink (or two) from a flask was
not the same thing. . . .  Puffin naturally saw it in another
light.  He had paid for the whisky which Major Flink had drunk (or
owed for it) in his wine-merchant's bill.  That was money just as
much as a florin pushed across the counter.  But he was so
excessively pleased with himself over the adroitness with which he
had claimed the last hole, that he quite overstepped the bounds of
his habitual parsimony.

"Well, you trot along to the telephone and order a taxi," he said,
"and I'll pay for it."

"Done with you," said the other.

Their comradeship was now on its most felicitous level again, and
they sat on the bench outside the club-house till the arrival of
their unusual conveyance.

"Lunching at the Poppit's to-morrow?" asked Major Flint.

"Yes.  Meet you there?  Good.  Bridge afterwards I suppose."

"Sure to be.  Wish there was a chance of more red-currant fool.
That was a decent tipple, all but the red-currants.  If I had had
all the old brandy that was served for my ration in one glass, and
all the champagne in another, I should have been better content."

Captain Puffin was a great cynic in his own misogynistic way.

"Camouflage for the fair sex," he said.  "A woman will lick up half
a bottle of brandy if it's called plum-pudding, and ask for more,
whereas if you offered her a small brandy-and-soda, she would think
you were insulting her."

"Bless them, the funny little fairies," said the Major.

"Well, what I tell you is true, Major," said Puffin.  "There's old
Mapp.  Teetotaller she calls herself, but she played a bo'sun's
part in that red-currant fool.  Bit rosy, I thought her, as we
escorted her home."

"So she was," said the Major.  "So she was.  Said good-bye to us on
her doorstep as if she thought she was a perfect Venus Ana--Ana
something."

"Anno Domini," giggled Puffin.

"Well, well, we all get long in the tooth in time," said Major
Flint charitably.  "Fine figure of a woman, though."

"Eh?" said Puffin archly.

"Now none of your sailor-talk ashore, Captain," said the Major, in
high good humour.  "I'm not a marrying man any more than you are.
Better if I had been perhaps, more years ago than I care to think
about.  Dear me, my wound's going to trouble me to-night."

"What do you do for it, Major?" asked Puffin.

"Do for it?  Think of old times a bit over my diaries."

"Going to let the world have a look at them some day?" asked
Puffin.

"No, sir, I am not," said Major Flint.  "Perhaps a hundred years
hence--the date I have named in my will for their publication--
someone may think them not so uninteresting.  But all this toasting
and buttering and grilling and frying your friends, and serving
them up hot for all the old cats at a tea-table to mew over--Pah!"

Puffin was silent a moment in appreciation of these noble
sentiments.

"But you put in a lot of work over them," he said at length.
"Often when I'm going up to bed, I see the light still burning in
your sitting-room window."

"And if it comes to that," rejoined the Major, "I'm sure I've often
dozed off when I'm in bed and woken again, and pulled up my blind,
and what not, and there's your light still burning.  Powerful long
roads those old Romans must have made, Captain."

The ice was not broken, but it was cracking in all directions under
this unexampled thaw.  The two had clearly indicated a mutual
suspicion of each other's industrious habits after dinner. . . .
They had never got quite so far as this before: some quarrel had
congealed the surface again.  But now, with a desperate
disagreement just behind them, and the unusual luxury of a taxi
just in front, the vernal airs continued blowing in the most spring-
like manner.

"Yes, that's true enough," said Puffin.  "Long roads they were, and
dry roads at that, and if I stuck to them from after my supper
every evening till midnight or more I should be smothered in dust."

"Unless you washed the dust down just once in a while," said Major
Flint.

"Just so.  Brain-work's an exhausting process; requires a little
stimulant now and again," said Puffin.  "I sit in my chair, you
understand, and perhaps doze for a bit after my supper, and then
I'll get my maps out, and have them handy beside me.  And then, if
there's something interesting in the evening paper, perhaps I'll
have a look at it, and bless me, if by that time it isn't already
half-past ten or eleven, and it seems useless to tackle archæology
then.  And I just--just while away the time till I'm sleepy.  But
there seems to be a sort of legend among the ladies here, that I'm
a great student of local topography and Roman roads, and all sorts
of truck, and I find it better to leave it at that.  Tiresome to go
into long explanations.  In fact," added Puffin in a burst of
confidence, "the study I've done on Roman roads these last six
months wouldn't cover a threepenny piece."

Major Flint gave a loud, choking guffaw and beat his fat leg.

"Well, if that's not the best joke I've heard for many a long day,"
he said.  "There I've been in the house opposite you these last two
years, seeing your light burning late night after night, and
thinking to myself:  'There's my friend Puffin still at it!  Fine
thing to be an enthusiastic archæologist like that.  That makes
short work of a lonely evening for him if he's so buried in his
books or his maps--Mapps, ha! ha!--that he doesn't seem to notice
whether it's twelve o'clock or one or two, maybe!'  And all the
time you've been sitting snoozing and boozing in your chair, with
your glass handy to wash the dust down."

Puffin added his falsetto cackle to this merriment.

"And, often I've thought to myself," he said, "'There's my friend
the Major in his study opposite, with all his diaries round him,
making a note here, and copying an extract there, and conferring
with the Viceroy one day, and reprimanding the Maharajah of Bom-be-
boo another.  He's spending the evening on India's coral strand, he
is, having tiffin and shooting tigers and Gawd knows what--'"

The Major's laughter boomed out again.

"And I never kept a diary in my life!" he cried.  "Why there's
enough cream in this situation to make a dishful of meringues.  You
and I, you know, the students of Tilling!  The serious-minded
students who do a hard day's work when all the pretty ladies have
gone to bed.  Often and often has old--I mean has that fine woman,
Miss Mapp, told me that I work too hard at night!  Recommended me
to get earlier to bed, and do my work between six and eight in the
morning!  Six and eight in the morning!  That's a queer time of day
to recommend an old campaigner to be awake at!  Often she's talked
to you, too, I bet my hat, about sitting up late and exhausting the
nervous faculties."

Major Flint choked and laughed and inhaled tobacco smoke till he
got purple in the face.

"And you sitting up one side of the street," he gasped, "pretending
to be interested in Roman roads, and me on the other pulling a long
face over my diaries, and neither of us with a Roman road or a
diary to our names.  Let's have an end to such unsociable
arrangements, old friend; you lining your Roman roads and the
bottle to lay the dust over to me one night, and I'll bring my
diaries and my peg over to you the next.  Never drink alone--one of
my maxims in life--if you can find someone to drink with you.  And
there were you within a few yards of me all the time sitting by
your old solitary self, and there was I sitting by my old solitary
self, and we each thought the other a serious-minded old buffer,
busy on his life-work.  I'm blessed if I ever heard of two such
pompous old frauds as you and I, Captain!  What a sight of
hypocrisy there is in the world, to be sure!  No offence--mind: I'm
as bad as you, and you're as bad as me, and we're both as bad as
each other.  But no more solitary confinement of an evening for
Benjamin Flint, as long as you're agreeable."

The advent of the taxi was announced, and arm in arm they limped
down the steep path together to the road.  A little way off to the
left was the great bunker which, primarily, was the cause of their
present amity.  As they drove by it, the Major waggled his red hand
at it.

"Au reservoir," he said.  "Back again soon!"


It was late that night when Miss Mapp felt that she was physically
incapable of tacking on a single poppy more to the edge of her
skirt, and went to the window of the garden-room where she had been
working, to close it.  She glanced up at the top story of her own
house, and saw that the lights in the servants' rooms were out: she
glanced to the right and concluded that her gardener had gone to
bed: finally, she glanced down the street and saw with a pang of
pleasure that the windows of the Major's house showed no sign of
midnight labour.  This was intensely gratifying: it indicated that
her influence was at work in him, for in response to her wish, so
often and so tactfully urged on him, that he would go to bed
earlier and not work so hard at night, here was the darkened
window, and she dismissed as unworthy the suspicion which had been
aroused by the red-currant fool.  The window of his bedroom was
dark too: he must have already put out his light, and Miss Mapp
made haste over her little tidyings so that she might not be found
a transgressor to her own precepts.  But there was a light in
Captain Puffin's house: he had a less impressionable nature than
the Major and was in so many ways far inferior.  And did he really
find Roman roads so wonderfully exhilarating?  Miss Mapp sincerely
hoped that he did, and that it was nothing else of less pure and
innocent allurement that kept him up. . . .  As she closed the
window very gently, it did just seem to her that there had been
something equally baffling in Major Flint's egoistical vigils over
his diaries; that she had wondered whether there was not something
else (she had hardly formulated what) which kept his lights burning
so late.  But she would now cross him--dear man--and his late
habits, out of the list of riddles about Tilling which awaited
solution.  Whatever it had been (diaries or what not) that used to
keep him up, he had broken the habit now, whereas Captain Puffin
had not.  She took her poppy-bordered skirt over her arm, and
smiled her thankful way to bed.  She could allow herself to wonder
with a little more definiteness, now that the Major's lights were
out and he was abed, what it could be which rendered Captain Puffin
so oblivious to the passage of time, when he was investigating
Roman roads.  How glad she was that the Major was not with him. . . .
"Benjamin Flint!" she said to herself as, having put her window
open, she trod softly (so as not to disturb the slumberer next
door) across her room on her fat white feet to her big white bed.
"Good night, Major Benjy," she whispered, as she put her light out.


It was not to be supposed that Diva would act on Miss Mapp's
alarming hints that morning as to the fate of coal-hoarders, and
give, say, a ton of fuel to the hospital at once, in lieu of her
usual smaller Christmas contribution, without making further
inquiries in the proper quarters as to the legal liabilities of
having, so she ascertained, three tons in her cellar, and as soon
as her visitor had left her this morning, she popped out to see Mr.
Wootten, her coal-merchant.  She returned in a state of fury, for
there were no regulations whatever in existence with regard to the
amount of coal that any householder might choose to amass, and Mr.
Wootten complimented her on her prudence in having got in a
reasonable supply, for he thought it quite probable that, if the
coal strike took place, there would be some difficulty in a month's
time from now in replenishing cellars.  "But we've had a good
supply all the summer," added agreeable Mr. Wootten, "and all my
customers have got their cellars well stocked."

Diva rapidly recollected that the perfidious Elizabeth was among
them.

"Oh, but, Mr. Wootten," she said, "Miss Mapp popped--dropped in to
see me just now.  Told me she had hardly got any."

Mr. Wootten turned up his ledger.  It was not etiquette to disclose
the affairs of one client to another, but if there was a
cantankerous customer, one who was never satisfied with prices and
quality, that client was Miss Mapp. . . .

He allowed a broad grin to overspread his agreeable face.

"Well, ma'am, if in a month's time I'm short of coal, there are
friends of yours in Tilling who can let you have plenty," he
permitted himself to say. . . .

It was idle to attempt to cut out bunches of roses while her hand
was so feverish, and she trundled up and down the High Street to
cool off.  Had she not been so prudent as to make inquiries, as
likely as not she would have sent a ton of coal that very day to
the hospital, so strongly had Elizabeth's perfidious warning
inflamed her imagination as to the fate of hoarders, and all the
time Elizabeth's own cellars were glutted, though she had asserted
that she was almost fuelless.  Why, she must have in her possession
more coal than Diva herself, since Mr. Wootten had clearly implied
that it was Elizabeth who could be borrowed from!  And all because
of a wretched piece of rose-madder worsted. . . .

By degrees she calmed down, for it was no use attempting to plan
revenge with a brain at fever-heat.  She must be calm and icily
ingenious.  As the cooling process went on she began to wonder
whether it was worsted alone that had prompted her friend's
diabolical suggestion.  It seemed more likely that another motive
(one strangely Elizabethan) was the cause of it.  Elizabeth might
be taken for certain as being a coal-hoarder herself, and it was
ever so like her to divert suspicion by pretending her cellar was
next to empty.  She had been equally severe on any who might happen
to be hoarding food, in case transport was disarranged and supplies
fell short, and with a sudden flare of authentic intuition, Diva's
mind blazed with the conjecture that Elizabeth was hoarding food as
well.

Luck ever attends the bold and constructive thinker: the apple, for
instance, fell from the tree precisely when Newton's mind was
groping after the law of gravity, and as Diva stepped into her
grocer's to begin her morning's shopping (for she had been occupied
with roses ever since breakfast) the attendant was at the telephone
at the back of the shop.  He spoke in a lucid telephone-voice.

"We've only two of the big tins of corned beef," he said; and there
was a pause, during which, to a psychic, Diva's ears might have
seemed to grow as pointed with attention as a satyr's.  But she
could only hear little hollow quacks from the other end.

"Tongue as well.  Very good.  I'll send them up at once," he added,
and came forward into the shop.

"Good morning," said Diva.  Her voice was tremulous with anxiety
and investigation.  "Got any big tins of corned beef?  The ones
that contain six pounds."

"Very sorry, ma'am.  We've only got two, and they've just been
ordered."

"A small pot of ginger then, please," said Diva recklessly.  "Will
you send it round immediately?"

"Yes, ma'am.  The boy's just going out."

That was luck.  Diva hurried into the street, and was absorbed by
the headlines of the news outside the stationer's.  This was a
favourite place for observation, for you appeared to be quite taken
up by the topics of the day, and kept an oblique eye on the true
object of your scrutiny. . . .  She had not got to wait long, for
almost immediately the grocer's boy came out of the shop with a
heavy basket on his arm, delivered the small pot of ginger at her
own door, and proceeded along the street.  He was, unfortunately, a
popular and a conversational youth, who had a great deal to say to
his friends, and the period of waiting to see if he would turn up
the steep street that led to Miss Mapp's house was very protracted.
At the corner he deliberately put down the basket altogether and
lit a cigarette, and never had Diva so acutely deplored the spread
of the tobacco-habit among the juvenile population.

Having refreshed himself he turned up the steep street.

He passed the fishmonger's and the fruiterer's; he did not take the
turn down to the dentist's and Mr. Wyse's.  He had no errand to the
Major's house or to the Captain's.  Then, oh then, he rang the bell
at Miss Mapp's back door.  All the time Diva had been following
him, keeping her head well down so as to avert the possibility of
observation from the window of the garden-room, and walking so
slowly that the motion of her feet seemed not circular at all. . . .
Then the bell was answered, and he delivered into Withers's
hands one, two tins of corned beef and a round ox-tongue.  He put
the basket on his head and came down the street again, shrilly
whistling.  If Diva had had any reasonably small change in her
pocket, she would assuredly have given him some small share in it.
Lacking this, she trundled home with all speed, and began cutting
out roses with swift and certain strokes of the nail-scissors.

Now she had already noticed that Elizabeth had paid visits to the
grocer's on three consecutive days (three consecutive days: think
of it!), and given that her purchases on other occasions had been
on the same substantial scale as to-day, it became a matter of
thrilling interest as to where she kept these stores.  She could
not keep them in the coal-cellar, for that was already bursting
with coal, and Diva, who had assisted her (the base one) in making
a prodigious quantity of jam that year from her well-stocked
garden, was aware that the kitchen cupboards were like to be as
replete as the coal-cellar, before those hoardings of dead oxen
began.  Then there was the big cupboard under the stairs, but that
could scarcely be the site of this prodigious cache, for it was
full of cardboard and curtains and carpets and all the rubbishy
accumulations which Elizabeth could not bear to part with.  Then
she had large cupboards in her bedroom and spare rooms full to
overflowing of mouldy clothes, but there was positively not another
cupboard in the house that Diva knew of, and she crushed her
temples in her hands in the attempt to locate the hiding-place of
the hoard.

Diva suddenly jumped up with a happy squeal of discovery, and in
her excitement snapped her scissors with so random a stroke that
she completely cut in half the bunch of roses that she was engaged
on.  There was another cupboard, the best and biggest of all and
the most secret and the most discreet.  It lay embedded in the wall
of the garden-room, cloaked and concealed behind the shelves of a
false book-case, which contained no more than the simulacra of
books, just books with titles that had never yet appeared on any
honest book.  There were twelve volumes of "The Beauties of
Nature", a shelf full of "Elegant Extracts", there were volumes
simply called "Poems", there were "Commentaries", there were
"Travels" and "Astronomy" and the lowest and tallest shelf was full
of "Music".  A card-table habitually stood in front of this false
repository of learning, and it was only last week that Diva, prying
casually round the room while Elizabeth had gone to take off her
gardening-gloves, had noticed a modest catch let into the woodwork.
Without doubt, then, the bookcase was the door of the cupboard, and
with a stroke of intuition, too sure to be called a guess, Diva was
aware that she had correctly inferred the storage of this nefarious
hoard.  It only remained to verify her conclusion, and, if
possible, expose it with every circumstance of public ignominy.
She was in no hurry: she could bide her time, aware that, in all
probability, every day that passed would see an addition to its
damning contents.  Some day, when she was playing bridge and the
card-table had been moved out, in some rubber when she herself was
dummy and Elizabeth greedily playing the hand, she would secretly
and accidentally press the catch which her acute vision had so
providentially revealed to her. . . .

She attacked her chintz curtains again with her appetite for the
pink roses agreeably whetted.  Another hour's work would give her
sufficient bunches for her purpose, and unless the dyer was as
perfidious as Elizabeth, her now purple jacket and skirt would
arrive that afternoon.  Two days' hard work would be sufficient for
so accomplished a needlewoman as herself to make these original
decorations.

In the meantime, for Diva was never idle, and was chiefly occupied
with dress, she got out a certain American fashion paper.  There
was in it the description of a tea-gown worn by Mrs. Titus W. Trout
which she believed was within her dressmaking capacity.  She would
attempt it, anyhow, and if it proved to be beyond her, she could
entrust the more difficult parts to that little dressmaker whom
Elizabeth employed, and who was certainly very capable.  But the
costume was of so daring and splendid a nature that she feared to
take anyone into her confidence about it, lest some hint or gossip--
for Tilling was a gossipy place--might leak out.  Kingfisher blue!
It made her mouth water to dwell on the sumptuous syllables!


Miss Mapp was so feverishly occupied all next morning with the
application of poppies to the corn-coloured skirt that she paid
very little attention to the opening gambits of the day, either as
regards the world in general, or, more particularly, Major Benjy.
After his early retirement last night he was probably up with the
lark this morning, and when between half-past ten and eleven his
sonorous "Qui-hi!" sounded through her open window, the shock she
experienced interrupted for a moment her floral industry.  It was
certainly very odd that, having gone to bed at so respectable an
hour last night, he should be calling for his porridge only now,
but with an impulse of unusual optimism, she figured him as having
been at work on his diaries before breakfast, and in that absorbing
occupation having forgotten how late it was growing.  That, no
doubt, was the explanation, though it would be nice to know for
certain, if the information positively forced itself on her
notice. . . .  As she worked (framing her lips with elaborate
motions to the syllables) she dumbly practised the phrase "Major
Benjy". Sometimes in moments of gallantry he called her "Miss
Elizabeth", and she meant, when she had got accustomed to it by
practice, to say "Major Benjy" to him by accident, and he would,
no doubt, beg her to make a habit of that friendly slip of the
tongue. . . .  "Tongue" led to a new train of thought, and
presently she paused in her work, and pulling the card-table away
from the deceptive book-case, she pressed the concealed catch of
the door, and peeped in.

There was still room for further small precautions against
starvation owing to the impending coal strike, and she took stock
of her provisions.  Even if the strike lasted quite a long time,
there would now be no immediate lack of the necessaries of life,
for the cupboard glistened with tinned meats, and the flour-
merchant had sent a very sensible sack.  This with considerable
exertion she transferred to a high shelf in the cupboard, instead
of allowing it to remain standing on the floor, for Withers had
informed her of an unpleasant rumour about a mouse, which Mary had
observed, lost in thought in front of the cupboard.  "So mousie
shall only find tins on the floor now," thought Miss Mapp.  "Mousie
shall try his teeth on tins." . . .  There was tea and coffee in
abundance, jars of jam filled the kitchen shelves, and if this
morning she laid in a moderate supply of dried fruits, there was no
reason to face the future with anything but fortitude.  She would
see about that now, for, busy though she was, she could not miss
the shopping-parade.  Would Diva, she wondered, be at her window,
snipping roses out of chintz curtains?  The careful, thrifty soul.
Perhaps this time to-morrow, Diva, looking out of her window, would
see that somebody else had been quicker about being thrifty than
she.  That would be fun!

The Major's dining-room window was open, and as Miss Mapp passed
it, she could not help hearing loud, angry remarks about eggs
coming from inside.  That made it clear that he was still at
breakfast, and that if he had been working at his diaries in the
fresh morning hours and forgetting the time, early rising, in spite
of his early retirement last night, could not be supposed to suit
his Oriental temper.  But a change of habits was invariably known
to be upsetting, and Miss Mapp was hopeful that in a day or two he
would feel quite a different man.  Farther down the street was
quaint Irene lounging at the door of her new studio (a converted
coach-house), smoking a cigarette and dressed like a jockey.

"Hullo, Mapp," she said.  "Come and have a look round my new
studio.  You haven't seen it yet.  I shall give a house-warming
next week.  Bridge-party!"

Miss Mapp tried to steel herself for the hundredth time to appear
quite unconscious that she was being addressed when Irene said
"Mapp" in that odious manner.  But she never could summon up
sufficient nerve to be rude to so awful a mimic. . . .

"Good morning, dear one," she said sycophantically.  "Shall I peep
in for a moment?"

The decoration of the studio was even more appalling than might
have been expected.  There was a German stove in the corner made of
pink porcelain, the rafters and roof were painted scarlet, the
walls were of magenta distemper and the floor was blue.  In the
corner was a very large orange-coloured screen.  The walls were
hung with specimens of Irene's art, there was a stout female with
no clothes on at all, whom it was impossible not to recognize as
being Lucy; there were studies of fat legs and ample bosoms, and on
the easel was a picture, evidently in process of completion, which
represented a man.  From this Miss Mapp instantly averted her eyes.

"Eve," said Irene, pointing to Lucy.

Miss Mapp naturally guessed that the gentleman who was almost in
the same costume was Adam, and turned completely away from him.

"And what a lovely idea to have a blue floor, dear," she said.
"How original you are.  And that pretty scarlet ceiling.  But don't
you find when you're painting that all these bright colours disturb
you?"

"Not a bit: they stimulate your sense of colour."

Miss Mapp moved towards the screen.

"What a delicious big screen," she said.

"Yes, but don't go behind it, Mapp," said Irene, "or you'll see my
model undressing."

Miss Mapp retreated from it precipitately, as from a wasp's nest,
and examined some of the studies on the wall, for it was more than
probable from the unfinished picture on the easel that Adam lurked
behind the delicious screen.  Terrible though it all was, she was
conscious of an unbridled curiosity to know who Adam was.  It was
dreadful to think that there could be any man in Tilling so
depraved as to stand to be looked at with so little on. . . .

Irene strolled round the walls with her.

"Studies of Lucy," she said.

"I see, dear," said Miss Mapp.  "How clever!  Legs and things!  But
when you have your bridge-party, won't you perhaps cover some of
them up, or turn them to the wall?  We should all be looking at
your pictures instead of attending to our cards.  And if you were
thinking of asking the Padre, you know . . ."

They were approaching the corner of the room where the screen
stood, when a movement there as if Adam had hit it with his elbow
made Miss Mapp turn round.  The screen fell flat on the ground and
within a yard of her stood Mr. Hopkins, the proprietor of the fish-
shop just up the street.  Often and often had Miss Mapp had
pleasant little conversations with him, with a view to bringing
down the price of flounders.  He had little bathing-drawers
on. . . .

"Hullo, Hopkins, are you ready," said Irene.  "You know Miss Mapp,
don't you?"

Miss Mapp had not imagined that Time and Eternity combined could
hold so embarrassing a moment.  She did not know where to look, but
wherever she looked, it should not be at Hopkins.  But (wherever
she looked) she could not be unaware that Hopkins raised his large
bare arm and touched the place where his cap would have been, if he
had had one.

"Good morning, Hopkins," she said.  "Well, Irene darling, I must be
trotting, and leave you to your--" she hardly knew what to call it--
"to your work."

She tripped from the room, which seemed to be entirely full of
unclothed limbs, and redder than one of Mr. Hopkins's boiled
lobsters hurried down the street.  She felt that she could never
face him again, but would be obliged to go to the establishment in
the High Street where Irene dealt, when it was fish she wanted from
a fish-shop. . . .  Her head was in a whirl at the brazenness of
mankind, especially womankind.  How had Irene started the overtures
that led to this?  Had she just said to Hopkins one morning:  "Will
you come to my studio and take off all your clothes?"  If Irene had
not been such a wonderful mimic, she would certainly have felt it
her duty to go straight to the Padre, and, pulling down her veil,
confide to him the whole sad story.  But as that was out of the
question, she went into Twemlow's and ordered four pounds of dried
apricots.



CHAPTER FOUR


The dyer, as Diva had feared, proved perfidious, and it was not
till the next morning that her maid brought her the parcel
containing the coat and skirt of the projected costume.  Diva had
already done her marketing, so that she might have no other calls
on her time to interfere with the tacking on of the bunches of pink
roses, and she hoped to have the dress finished in time for
Elizabeth's afternoon bridge-party next day, an invitation to which
had just reached her.  She had also settled to have a cold lunch to-
day, so that her cook as well as her parlourmaid could devote
themselves to the job.

She herself had taken the jacket for decoration, and was just
tacking the first rose on to the collar, when she looked out of the
window, and what she saw caused her needle to fall from her
nerveless hand.  Tripping along the opposite pavement was
Elizabeth.  She had on a dress, the material of which, after a
moment's gaze, Diva identified: it was that corn-coloured coat and
skirt which she had worn so much last spring.  But the collar, the
cuffs, the waistband and the hem of the skirt were covered with
staring red poppies.  Next moment, she called to remembrance the
chintz that had once covered Elizabeth's sofa in the garden-room.

Diva wasted no time, but rang the bell.  She had to make certain.

"Janet," she said, "go straight out into the High Street, and walk
close behind Miss Mapp.  Look very carefully at her dress; see if
the poppies on it are of chintz."

Janet's face fell.

"Why, ma'am, she's never gone and--" she began.

"Quick!" said Diva in a strangled voice.

Diva watched from her window.  Janet went out, looked this way and
that, spied the quarry, and skimmed up the High Street on feet that
twinkled as fast as her mistress's.  She came back much out of
breath with speed and indignation.

"Yes, ma'am," she said.  "They're chintz sure enough.  Tacked on,
too, just as you were meaning to do.  Oh, ma'am--"

Janet quite appreciated the magnitude of the calamity and her voice
failed.

"What are we to do, ma'am?" she added.

Diva did not reply for a moment, but sat with eyes closed in
profound and concentrated thought.  It required no reflection to
decide how impossible it was to appear herself to-morrow in a dress
which seemed to ape the costume which all Tilling had seen
Elizabeth wearing to-day, and at first it looked as if there was
nothing to be done with all those laboriously acquired bunches of
rosebuds; for it was clearly out of the question to use them as the
decoration for any costume, and idle to think of sewing them back
into the snipped and gashed curtains.  She looked at the purple
skirt and coat that hungered for their flowers, and then she looked
at Janet.  Janet was a short, roundabout person; it was ill-
naturedly supposed that she had much the same figure as her
mistress. . . .

Then the light broke, dazzling and diabolical, and Diva bounced to
her feet, blinded by its splendour.

"My coat and skirt are yours, Janet," she said.  "Get on with the
work both of you.  Bustle.  Cover it with roses.  Have it finished
to-night.  Wear it to-morrow.  Wear it always."

She gave a loud cackle of laughter and threaded her needle.

"Lor, ma'am!" said Janet, admiringly.  "That's a teaser!  And thank
you, ma'am!"

"It was roses, roses all the way."  Diva had quite miscalculated
the number required, and there were sufficient not only to cover
collar, cuffs and border of the skirt with them but to make another
line of them six inches above the hem.  Original and gorgeous as
the dress would be, it was yet a sort of parody of Elizabeth's
costume which was attracting so much interest and attention as she
popped in and out of shops to-day.  To-morrow that would be worn by
Janet, and Janet (or Diva was much mistaken) should encourage her
friends to get permission to use up old bits of chintz.  Very
likely chintz decoration would become quite a vogue among the
servant maids of Tilling. . . .  How Elizabeth had got hold of the
idea mattered nothing, but anyhow she would be surfeited with the
idea before Diva had finished with her.  It was possible, of course
(anything was possible), that it had occurred to her independently,
but Diva was loath to give so innocent an ancestry to her adoption
of it.  It was far more sensible to take for granted that she had
got wind of Diva's invention by some odious, underhand piece of
spying.  What that might be must be investigated (and probably
determined) later, but at present the business of Janet's roses
eclipsed every other interest.

Miss Mapp's shopping that morning was unusually prolonged, for it
was important that every woman in Tilling should see the poppies on
the corn-coloured ground, and know that she had worn that dress
before Diva appeared in some mean adaptation of it.  Though the
total cost of her entire purchases hardly amounted to a shilling,
she went in and out of an amazing number of shops, and made a
prodigious series of inquiries into the price of commodities that
ranged from motor-cars to sealing-wax, and often entered a shop
twice because (wreathed in smiling apologies for her stupidity) she
had forgotten what she was told the first time.  By twelve o'clock
she was satisfied that practically everybody, with one exception,
had seen her, and that her costume had aroused a deep sense of
jealousy and angry admiration.  So cunning was the handiwork of
herself, Withers and Mary that she felt fairly sure that no one had
the slightest notion of how this decoration of poppies was
accomplished, for Evie had run round her in small mouselike
circles, murmuring to herself:  "Very effective idea; is it woven
into the cloth, Elizabeth?  Dear me, I wonder where I could get
some like it," and Mrs. Poppit had followed her all up the street,
with eyes glued to the hem of her skirt, and a completely puzzled
face: "but then," so thought Elizabeth sweetly "even Members of the
Order of the British Empire can't have everything their own way."
As for the Major, he had simply come to a dead stop when he bounced
out of his house as she passed, and said something very gallant and
appropriate.  Even the absence of that one inhabitant of Tilling,
dear Diva, did not strike a jarring note in this pæan of triumph,
for Miss Mapp was quite satisfied that Diva was busy indoors,
working her fingers to the bone over the application of bunches of
roses, and, as usual, she was perfectly correct in her conjecture.
But dear Diva would have to see the new frock to-morrow afternoon,
at the latest, when she came to the bridge-party.  Perhaps she
would then, for the first time, be wearing the roses herself, and
everybody would very pleasantly pity her.  This was so rapturous a
thought, that when Miss Mapp, after her prolonged shopping and with
her almost empty basket, passed Mr. Hopkins standing outside his
shop on her return home again, she gave him her usual smile, though
without meeting his eye, and tried to forget how much of him she
had seen yesterday.  Perhaps she might speak to him to-morrow and
gradually resume ordinary relations, for the prices at the other
fish-shop were as high as the quality of the fish was low. . . .
She told herself that there was nothing actually immoral in the
human skin, however embarrassing it was.


Miss Mapp had experienced a cruel disappointment last night, though
the triumph of this morning had done something to soothe it, for
Major Benjy's window had certainly been lit up to a very late hour,
and so it was clear that he had not been able, twice in succession,
to tear himself away from his diaries, or whatever else detained
him, and go to bed at a proper time.  Captain Puffin, however, had
not sat up late; indeed he must have gone to bed quite unusually
early, for his window was dark by half-past nine.  To-night, again
the position was reversed, and it seemed that Major Benjy was
"good" and Captain Puffin was "bad".  On the whole, then, there was
cause for thankfulness, and as she added a tin of biscuits and two
jars of Bovril to her prudent stores, she found herself a conscious
sceptic about those Roman roads.  Diaries (perhaps) were a little
different, for egoism was a more potent force than archæology, and
for her part she now definitely believed that Roman roads spelt
some form of drink.  She was sorry to believe it, but it was her
duty to believe something of the kind, and she really did not know
what else to believe.  She did not go so far as mentally to accuse
him of drunkenness, but considering the way he absorbed red-currant
fool, it was clear that he was no foe to alcohol and probably
watered the Roman roads with it.  With her vivid imagination she
pictured him--

Miss Mapp recalled herself from this melancholy reflection and put
up her hand just in time to save a bottle of Bovril which she had
put on the top shelf in front of the sack of flour from tumbling to
the ground.  With the latest additions she had made to her larder,
it required considerable ingenuity to fit all the tins and packages
in, and for a while she diverted her mind from Captain Puffin's
drinking to her own eating.  But by careful packing and balancing
she managed to stow everything away with sufficient economy of
space to allow her to shut the door, and then put the card-table in
place again.  It was then late, and with a fond look at her sweet
flowers sleeping in the moonlight, she went to bed.  Captain
Puffin's sitting-room was still alight, and even as she deplored
this, his shadow in profile crossed the blind.  Shadows were queer
things--she could make a beautiful shadow-rabbit on the wall by a
dexterous interlacement of fingers and thumbs--and certainly this
shadow, in the momentary glance she had of it, appeared to have a
large moustache.  She could make nothing whatever out of that,
except to suppose that just as fingers and thumbs became a rabbit,
so his nose became a moustache, for he could not have grown one
since he came back from golf. . . .


She was out early for her shopping next morning, for there were
some delicacies to be purchased for her bridge-party, more
particularly some little chocolate cakes she had lately discovered
which looked very small and innocent, but were in reality of so
cloying and substantial a nature, that the partaker thereof would
probably not feel capable of making any serious inroads into other
provisions.  Naturally she was much on the alert to-day, for it was
more than possible that Diva's dress was finished and in evidence.
What colour it would be she did not know, but a large quantity of
rosebuds would, even at a distance, make identification easy.  Diva
was certainly not at her window this morning, so it seemed more
than probable that they would soon meet.

Far away, just crossing the High Street at the farther end, she
caught sight of a bright patch of purple, very much of the required
shape.  There was surely a pink border round the skirt and a pink
panel on the collar, and just as surely Mrs. Bartlett, recognizable
for her gliding mouse-like walk, was moving in its fascinating
wake.  Then the purple patch vanished into a shop, and Miss Mapp,
all smiles and poppies, went with her basket up the street.
Presently she encountered Evie, who, also all smiles, seemed to
have some communication to make, but only got as far as "Have
you seen"--when she gave a little squeal of laughter, quite
inexplicable, and glided into some dark entry.  A minute afterwards,
the purple patch suddenly appeared from a shop and almost collided
with her.  It was not Diva at all, but Diva's Janet.

The shock was so indescribably severe that Miss Mapp's smile was
frozen, so to speak, as by some sudden congealment on to her face,
and did not thaw off it till she had reached the sharp turn at the
end of the street, where she leaned heavily on the railing and
breathed through her nose.  A light autumnal mist overlay the miles
of marsh, but the sun was already drinking it up, promising the
Tillingites another golden day.  The tidal river was at the flood,
and the bright water lapped the bases of the turf-covered banks
that kept it within its course.  Beyond that was the tram-station
towards which presently Major Benjy and Captain Puffin would be
hurrying to catch the tram that would take them out to the golf-
links.  The straight road across the marsh was visible, and the
railway bridge.  All these things were pitilessly unchanged, and
Miss Mapp noted them blankly, until rage began to restore the
numbed current of her mental processes.


If the records of history contained any similar instance of such
treachery and low cunning as was involved in this plot of Diva's to
dress Janet in the rosebud chintz, Miss Mapp would have liked to be
told clearly and distinctly what it was.  She could trace the
workings of Diva's base mind with absolute accuracy, and if all the
archangels in the hierarchy of heaven had assured her that Diva had
originally intended the rosebuds for Janet, she would have scorned
them for their clumsy perjury.  Diva had designed and executed that
dress for herself, and just because Miss Mapp's ingenuity (inspired
by the two rosebuds that had fluttered out of the window) had
forestalled her, she had taken this fiendish revenge.  It was
impossible to pervade the High Street covered with chintz poppies
when a parlourmaid was being equally pervasive in chintz rosebuds,
and what was to be done with this frock executed with such mirth
and malice by Withers, Mary and herself she had no idea.  She might
just as well give it Withers, for she could no longer wear it
herself, or tear the poppies from the hem and bestrew the High
Street with them. . . .  Miss Mapp's face froze into immobility
again, for here, trundling swiftly towards her, was Diva herself.

Diva appeared not to see her till she got quite close.

"Morning, Elizabeth," she said.  "Seen my Janet anywhere?"

"No," said Miss Mapp.

Janet (no doubt according to instructions received) popped out of a
shop, and came towards her mistress.

"Here she is," said Diva.  "All right, Janet.  You can go home.
I'll see to the other things."

"It's a lovely day," said Miss Mapp, beginning to lash her tail.
"So bright."

"Yes.  Pretty trimming of poppies," said Diva.  "Janet's got
rosebuds."

This was too much.

"Diva, I didn't think it of you," said Miss Mapp in a shaking
voice.  "You saw my new frock yesterday, and you were filled with
malice and envy, Diva, just because I had thought of using flowers
off an old chintz as well as you, and came out first with it.  You
had meant to wear that purple frock yourself--though I must say it
fits Janet perfectly--and just because I was first in the field you
did this.  You gave Janet that frock, so that I should be dressed
in the same style as your parlourmaid, and you've got a black
heart, Diva!"

"That's nonsense," said Diva firmly.  "Heart's as red as anybody's,
and talking of black hearts doesn't become YOU, Elizabeth.  You
knew I was cutting out roses from my curtains--"

Miss Mapp laughed shrilly.

"Well, if I happen to notice that you've taken your chintz curtains
down," she said with an awful distinctness that showed the wisdom-
teeth of which Diva had got three at the most, "and pink bunches of
roses come flying out of your window into the High Street, even my
poor wits, small as they are, are equal to drawing the conclusion
that you are cutting roses out of curtains.  Your well-known
fondness for dress did the rest.  With your permission, Diva, I
intend to draw exactly what conclusions I please on every occasion,
including this one."

"Ho!  That's how you got the idea then," said Diva.  "I knew you
had cribbed it from me."

"Cribbed?" asked Miss Mapp, in ironical ignorance of what so vulgar
and slangy an expression meant.

"Cribbed means taking what isn't yours," said Diva.  "Even then, if
you had only acted in a straightforward manner--"

Miss Mapp, shaken as with palsy, regretted that she had let slip,
out of pure childlike joy, in irony, the manner in which she had
obtained the poppy-notion, but in a quarrel regrets are useless,
and she went on again.

"And would you very kindly explain how or when I have acted in a
manner that was not straightforward," she asked with laborious
politeness.  "Or do I understand that a monopoly of cutting up
chintz curtains for personal adornment has been bestowed on you by
Act of Parliament?"

"You knew I was meaning to make a frock with chintz roses on it,"
said Diva.  "You stole my idea.  Worked night and day to be first.
Just like you.  Mean behaviour."

"It was meaner to give that frock to Janet," said Miss Mapp.

"You can give yours to Withers," snapped Diva.

"Much obliged, Mrs. Plaistow," said Miss Mapp.


Diva had been watching Janet's retreating figure, and feeling that
though revenge was sweet, revenge was also strangely expensive, for
she had sacrificed one of the most strikingly successful frocks she
had ever made on that smoking altar.  Now her revenge was
gratified, and deeply she regretted the frock.  Miss Mapp's heart
was similarly wrung by torture: revenge too had been hers (general
revenge on Diva for existing), but this dreadful counter-stroke had
made it quite impossible for her to enjoy the use of this frock any
more, for she could not habit herself like a housemaid.  Each, in
fact, had, as matters at present stood, completely wrecked the
other, like two express trains meeting in top-speed collision, and,
since the quarrel had clearly risen to its utmost height, there was
no further joy of battle to be anticipated, but only the melancholy
task of counting the corpses.  So they paused, breathing very
quickly and trembling, while both sought for some way out.  Besides
Miss Mapp had a bridge-party this afternoon, and if they parted now
in this extreme state of tension, Diva might conceivably not come,
thereby robbing herself of her bridge and spoiling her hostess's
table.  Naturally any permanent quarrel was not contemplated by
either of them, for if quarrels were permanent in Tilling, nobody
would be on speaking terms any more with anyone else in a day or
two, and (hardly less disastrous) there could be no fresh quarrels
with anybody, since you could not quarrel without words.  There
might be songs without words, as Mendelssohn had proved, but not
rows without words.  By what formula could this deadly antagonism
be bridged without delay?

Diva gazed out over the marsh.  She wanted desperately to regain
her rosebud frock, and she knew that Elizabeth was starving for
further wearing of her poppies.  Perhaps the wide, serene plain
below inspired her with a hatred of littleness.  There would be no
loss of dignity in making a proposal that her enemy, she felt sure,
would accept: it merely showed a Christian spirit, and set an
example to Elizabeth, to make the first move.  Janet she did not
consider.

"If you are in a fit state to listen to reason, Elizabeth," she
began.

Miss Mapp heaved a sigh of relief.  Diva had thought of something.
She swallowed the insult at a gulp.

"Yes, dear," she said.

"Got an idea.  Take away Janet's frock, and wear it myself.  Then
you can wear yours.  Too pretty for parlourmaids.  Eh?"

A heavenly brightness spread over Miss Mapp's face.

"Oh, how wonderful of you to have thought of that, Diva," she said.
"But how shall we explain it all to everybody?"

Diva clung to her rights.  Though clearly Christian, she was human.

"Say I thought of tacking chintz on and told you," she said.

"Yes, darling," said Elizabeth.  "That's beautiful, I agree.  But
poor Janet!"

"I'll give her some other old thing," said Diva.  "Good sort,
Janet.  Wants me to win."

"And about her having been seen wearing it."

"Say she hasn't ever worn it.  Say they're mad," said Diva.

Miss Mapp felt it better to tear herself away before she began
distilling all sorts of acidities that welled up in her fruitful
mind.  She could, for instance, easily have agreed that nothing
was more probable than that Janet had been mistaken for her
mistress. . . .

"Au reservoir then, dear," she said tenderly.  "See you at about
four?  And will you wear your pretty rosebud frock?"

This was agreed to, and Diva went home to take it away from Janet.


The reconciliation of course was strictly confined to matters
relating to chintz and did not include such extraneous subjects as
coal strike or food-hoarding, and even in the first glowing moments
of restored friendliness, Diva began wondering whether she would
have the opportunity that afternoon of testing the truth of her
conjecture about the cupboard in the garden-room.  Cudgel her
brains as she might she could think of no other cache that could
contain the immense amount of provisions that Elizabeth had
probably accumulated, and she was all on fire to get to practical
grips with the problem.  As far as tins of corned beef and tongues
went, Elizabeth might possibly have buried them in her garden in
the manner of a dog, but it was not likely that a hoarder would
limit herself to things in tins.  No: there was a cupboard
somewhere ready to burst with strong supporting foods. . . .

Diva intentionally arrived a full quarter of an hour on the hither
side of punctuality, and was taken by Withers out into the garden-
room, where tea was laid, and two card-tables were in readiness.
She was, of course, the first of the guests, and the moment Withers
withdrew to tell her mistress that she had come, Diva stealthily
glided to the cupboard, from in front of which the bridge-table had
been removed, feeling the shrill joy of some romantic treasure
hunter.  She found the catch, she pressed it, she pulled open the
door and the whole of the damning profusion of provisions burst
upon her delighted eyes.  Shelf after shelf was crowded with
eatables; there were tins of corned beef and tongues (that she knew
already), there was a sack of flour, there were tubes of Bath
Oliver biscuits, bottles of Bovril, the yield of a thousand
condensed Swiss cows, jars of prunes. . . .  All these were in the
front row, flush with the door, and who knew to what depth the
cupboard extended?  Even as she feasted her eyes on this incredible
store, some package on the top shelf wavered and toppled, and she
had only just time to shut the door again, in order to prevent it
falling out on to the floor.  But this displacement prevented the
door from wholly closing, and push and shove as Diva might, she
could not get the catch to click home, and the only result of her
energy and efforts was to give rise to a muffled explosion from
within, just precisely as if something made of cardboard had burst.
That mental image was so vivid that to her fevered imagination it
seemed to be real.  This was followed by certain faint taps from
within against "Elegant Extracts" and "Astronomy".

Diva grew very red in the face, and said "Drat it" under her
breath.  She did not dare open the door again in order to push
things back, for fear of an uncontrollable stream of "things"
pouring out.  Some nicely balanced equilibrium had clearly been
upset in those capacious shelves, and it was impossible to tell,
without looking, how deep and how extensive the disturbance was.
And in order to look, she had to open the bookcase again. . . .
Luckily the pressure against the door was not sufficiently heavy to
cause it to swing wide, so the best she could do was to leave it
just ajar with temporary quiescence inside.  Simultaneously she
heard Miss Mapp's step, and had no more than time to trundle at the
utmost speed of her whirling feet across to the window, where she
stood looking out, and appeared quite unconscious of her hostess's
entry.

"Diva darling, how sweet of you to come so early!" she said.  "A
little cosy chat before the others arrive."

Diva turned round, much startled.

"Hullo!" she said.  "Didn't hear you.  Got Janet's frock you see."

("What makes Diva's face so red?" thought Miss Mapp.)

"So I see, darling," she said.  "Lovely rose-garden.  How well it
suits you, dear!  Did Janet mind?"

"No.  Promised her a new frock at Christmas."

"That will be nice for Janet," said Elizabeth enthusiastically.
"Shall we pop into the garden, dear, till my guests come?"

Diva was glad to pop into the garden and get away from the
immediate vicinity of the cupboard, for though she had planned and
looked forward to the exposure of Elizabeth's hoarding, she had not
meant it to come, as it now probably would, in crashes of tins and
bursting of Bovril bottles.  Again she had intended to have opened
that door quite casually and innocently while she was being dummy,
so that everyone could see how accidental the exposure was, and to
have gone poking about the cupboard in Elizabeth's absence was a
shade too professional, so to speak, for the usual detective work
of Tilling.  But the fuse was set now.  Sooner or later the
explosion must come.  She wondered as they went out to commune with
Elizabeth's sweet flowers till the other guests arrived how great a
torrent would be let loose.  She did not repent her exploration--
far from it--but her pleasurable anticipations were strongly
diluted with suspense.

Miss Mapp had found such difficulty in getting eight players
together to-day, that she had transgressed her principles and asked
Mrs. Poppit as well as Isabel, and they, with Diva, the two
Bartletts, and the Major and the Captain, formed the party.  The
moment Mrs. Poppit appeared, Elizabeth hated her more than ever,
for she put up her glasses, and began to give her patronizing
advice about her garden, which she had not been allowed to see
before.

"You have quite a pretty little piece of garden, Miss Mapp," she
said, "though, to be sure, I fancied from what you said that it was
more extensive.  Dear me, your roses do not seem to be doing very
well.  Probably they are old plants and want renewing.  You must
send your gardener round--you keep a gardener?--and I will let you
have a dozen vigorous young bushes."

Miss Mapp licked her dry lips.  She kept a kind of gardener: two
days a week.

"Too good of you," she said, "but that rose-bed is quite sacred,
dear Mrs. Poppit.  Not all the vigorous young bushes in the world
would tempt me.  It's my 'Friendship's Border:' some dear friend
gave me each of my rose-trees."

Mrs. Poppit transferred her gaze to the wistaria that grew over the
steps up to the garden-room.  Some of the dear friends she thought
must be centenarians.

"Your wistaria wants pruning sadly," she said.  "Your gardener does
not understand wistarias.  That corner there was made, I may say,
for fuchsias.  You should get a dozen choice fuchsias."

Miss Mapp laughed.

"Oh, you must excuse me," she said with a glance at Mrs. Poppit's
brocaded silk.  "I can't bear fuchsias.  They always remind me of
over-dressed women.  Ah, there's Mr. Bartlett.  How de do, Padre.
And dear Evie!"

Dear Evie appeared fascinated by Diva's dress.

"Such beautiful rosebuds," she murmured, "and what a lovely shade
of purple.  And Elizabeth's poppies too, quite a pair of you.  But
surely this morning, Diva, didn't I see your good Janet in just
such another dress, and I thought at the time how odd it was that--"

"If you saw Janet this morning," said Diva quite firmly, "you saw
her in her print dress."

"And here's Major Benjy," said Miss Mapp, who had made her slip
about his Christian name yesterday, and had been duly entreated to
continue slipping.  "And Captain Puffin.  Well, that is nice!
Shall we go into my little garden shed, dear Mrs. Poppit, and have
our tea?"

Major Flint was still a little lame, for his golf to-day had been
of the nature of gardening, and he hobbled up the steps behind the
ladies, with that little cock-sparrow sailor following him and
telling the Padre how badly and yet how successfully he himself had
played.

"Pleasantest room in Tilling, I always say, Miss Elizabeth," said
he, diverting his mind from a mere game to the fairies.

"My dear little room," said Miss Mapp, knowing that it was much
larger than anything in Mrs. Poppit's house.  "So tiny!"

"Oh, not a bad-sized little room," said Mrs. Poppit encouragingly.
"Much the same proportions, on a very small scale, as the throne-
room at Buckingham Palace."

"That beautiful throne-room!" exclaimed Miss Mapp.  "A cup of tea,
dear Mrs. Poppit?  None of that naughty red-currant fool, I am
afraid.  And a little chocolate-cake?"

These substantial chocolate cakes soon did their fell work of
producing the sense of surfeit, and presently Elizabeth's guests
dropped off gorged from the tea-table.  Diva fortunately remembered
their consistency in time, and nearly cleared a plate of jumbles
instead, which the hostess had hoped would form a pleasant
accompaniment to her dessert at her supper this evening, and was
still crashingly engaged on them when the general drifting movement
towards the two bridge-tables set in.  Mrs. Poppit, with her
glasses up, followed by Isabel was employed in making a tour of the
room, in case, as Miss Mapp had already determined, she never saw
it again, examining the quality of the carpet, the curtains, the
chair-backs with the air of a doubtful purchaser.

"And quite a quantity of books, I see," she announced as she came
opposite the fatal cupboard.  "Look, Isabel, what a quantity of
books.  There is something strange about them, though; I do not
believe they are real."

She put out her hand and pulled at the back of one of the volumes
of "Elegant Extracts".  The door swung open, and from behind it
came a noise of rattling, bumping and clattering.  Something soft
and heavy thumped on to the floor, and a cloud of floury dust
arose.  A bottle of Bovril embedded itself quietly there without
damage, and a tin of Bath Oliver biscuits beat a fierce tattoo on
one of corned beef.  Innumerable dried apricots from the burst
package flew about like shrapnel, and tapped at the tins.  A jar of
prunes, breaking its fall on the flour, rolled merrily out into the
middle of the floor.

The din was succeeded by complete silence.  The Padre had said
"What ho, i' fegs?" during the tumult, but his voice had been
drowned by the rattling of the dried apricots.  The Member of the
Order of the British Empire stepped free of the provisions that
bumped round her, and examined them through her glasses.  Diva
crammed the last jumble into her mouth and disposed of it with the
utmost rapidity.  The birthday of her life had come, as Miss
Rossetti said.

"Dear Elizabeth!" she exclaimed.  "What a disaster!  All your
little stores in case of the coal strike.  Let me help to pick them
up.  I do not think anything is broken.  Isn't that lucky?"

Evie hurried to the spot.

"Such a quantity of good things," she said rapidly, under her
breath.  "Tinned meats and Bovril and prunes, and ever so many
apricots.  Let me pick them all up, and with a little dusting. . . .
Why, what a big cupboard, and such a quantity of good things."

Miss Mapp had certainly struck a streak of embarrassments.  What
with naked Mr. Hopkins, and Janet's frock and this unveiling of her
hoard, life seemed at the moment really to consist of nothing else
than beastly situations.  How on earth that catch of the door had
come undone, she had no idea, but much as she would have liked to
suspect foul play from somebody, she was bound to conclude that
Mrs. Poppit with her prying hands had accidentally pressed it.  It
was like Diva, of course, to break the silence with odious
allusions to hoarding, and bitterly she wished that she had not
started the topic the other day, but had been content to lay in her
stores without so pointedly affirming that she was doing nothing of
the kind.  But this was no time for vain laments, and restraining a
natural impulse to scratch and beat Mrs. Poppit, she exhibited an
admirable inventiveness and composure.  Though she knew it would
deceive nobody, everybody had to pretend he was deceived.

"Oh, my poor little Christmas presents for your needy parishioners,
Padre," she said.  "You've seen them before you were meant to, and
you must forget all about them.  And so little harm done, just an
apricot or two.  Withers will pick them all up, so let us get to
our bridge."

Withers entered the room at this moment to clear away tea, and Miss
Mapp explained it all over again.

"All our little Christmas presents have come tumbling out,
Withers," she said.  "Will you put as many as you can back in the
cupboard and take the rest indoors?  Don't tread on the apricots."

It was difficult to avoid doing this, as the apricots were
everywhere, and their colour on the brown carpet was wonderfully
protective.  Miss Mapp herself had already stepped on two, and
their adhesive stickiness was hard to get rid of.  In fact, for the
next few minutes the coal-shovel was in strong request for their
removal from the soles of shoes, and the fender was littered with
their squashed remains. . . .  The party generally was distinctly
thoughtful as it sorted itself out into two tables, for every
single member of it was trying to assimilate the amazing
proposition that Miss Mapp had, half-way through September, loaded
her cupboard with Christmas presents on a scale that staggered
belief.  The feat required thought: it required a faith so
childlike as to verge on the imbecile.  Conversation during deals
had an awkward tendency towards discussion of the coal strike.  As
often as it drifted there the subject was changed very abruptly,
just as if there was some occult reason for not speaking of so
natural a topic.  It concerned everybody, but it was rightly felt
to concern Miss Mapp the most. . . .



CHAPTER FIVE


It was the Major's turn to entertain his friend, and by half-past
nine, on a certain squally October evening, he and Puffin were
seated by the fire in the diary-room, while the rain volleyed at
the windows and occasional puffs of stinging smoke were driven down
the chimney by the gale that squealed and buffeted round the house.
Puffin, by way of keeping up the comedy of Roman roads, had brought
a map of the district across from his house, but the more essential
part of his equipment for this studious evening was a bottle of
whisky.  Originally the host had provided whisky for himself and
his guest at these pleasant chats, but there were undeniable
objections to this plan, because the guest always proved unusually
thirsty, which tempted his host to keep pace with him, while if
they both drank at their own expense, the causes of economy and
abstemiousness had a better chance.  Also, while the Major took his
drinks short and strong in a small tumbler, Puffin enriched his
with lemons and sugar in a large one, so that nobody could really
tell if equality as well as fraternity was realized.  But if each
brought his own bottle . . .

It had been a trying day, and the Major was very lame.  A drenching
storm had come up during their golf, while they were far from the
club-house, and Puffin, being three up, had very naturally refused
to accede to his opponent's suggestion to call the match off.  He
was perfectly willing to be paid his half-crown and go home, but
Major Flint, remembering that Puffin's game usually went to pieces
if it rained, had rejected this proposal with the scorn that it
deserved.  There had been other disagreeable incidents as well.
His driver, slippery from rain, had flown out of the Major's hands
on the twelfth tee, and had "shot like a streamer of the northern
morn", and landed in a pool of brackish water left by an unusually
high tide.  The ball had gone into another pool nearer the tee.
The ground was greasy with moisture, and three holes farther on
Puffin had fallen flat on his face instead of lashing his fifth
shot home on to the green, as he had intended.  They had given each
other stymies, and each had holed his opponent's ball by mistake;
they had wrangled over the correct procedure if you lay in a rabbit-
scrape or on the tram lines: the Major had lost a new ball; there
was a mushroom on one of the greens between Puffin's ball and the
hole. . . .  All these untoward incidents had come crowding in
together, and from the Major's point of view, the worst of them all
had been the collective incident that Puffin, so far from being put
off by the rain, had, in spite of mushroom and falling down, played
with a steadiness of which he was usually quite incapable.
Consequently Major Flint was lame and his wound troubled him, while
Puffin, in spite of his obvious reasons for complacency, was
growing irritated with his companion's ill-temper, and was half-
blinded by wood-smoke.

He wiped his streaming eyes.

"You should get your chimney swept," he observed.

Major Flint had put his handkerchief over his face to keep the wood-
smoke out of his eyes.  He blew it off with a loud, indignant puff.

"Oh!  Ah!  Indeed!" he said.

Puffin was rather taken aback by the violence of these interjections;
they dripped with angry sarcasm.

"Oh, well!  No offence," he said.

"A man," said the Major impersonally, "makes an offensive remark,
and says 'No offence'.  If your own fireside suits you better than
mine, Captain Puffin, all I can say is that you're at liberty to
enjoy it!"

This was all rather irregular: they had indulged in a good stiff
breeze this afternoon, and it was too early to ruffle the calm
again.  Puffin plucked and proffered an olive-branch.

"There's your handkerchief," he said, picking it up.  "Now let's
have one of our comfortable talks.  Hot glass of grog and a chat
over the fire: that's the best thing after such a wetting as we got
this afternoon.  I'll take a slice of lemon, if you'll be so good
as to give it me, and a lump of sugar."

The Major got up and limped to his cupboard.  It struck him
precisely at that moment that Puffin scored considerably over
lemons and sugar, because he was supplied with them gratis every
other night; whereas he himself, when Puffin's guest, took nothing
off his host but hot water.  He determined to ask for some
biscuits, anyhow, to-morrow. . . .

"I hardly know whether there's a lemon left," he grumbled.  "I must
lay in a store of lemons.  As for sugar--"

Puffin chose to disregard this suggestion.

"Amusing incident the other day," he said brightly, "when Miss
Mapp's cupboard door flew open.  The old lady didn't like it.
Don't suppose the poor of the parish will see much of that corned
beef."

The Major became dignified.

"Pardon me," he said.  "When an esteemed friend like Miss Elizabeth
tells me that certain provisions are destined for the poor of the
parish, I take it that her statement is correct.  I expect others
of my friends, while they are in my presence, to do the same.  I
have the honour to give you a lemon, Captain Puffin, and a slice of
sugar.  I should say a lump of sugar.  Pray make yourself
comfortable."

This dignified and lofty mood was often one of the aftereffects of
an unsuccessful game of golf.  It generally yielded quite quickly
to a little stimulant.  Puffin filled his glass from the bottle and
the kettle, while his friend put his handkerchief again over his
face.

"Well, I shall just have my grog before I turn in," he observed,
according to custom.  "Aren't you going to join me, Major?"

"Presently, sir," said the Major.

Puffin knocked out the consumed cinders in his pipe against the
edge of the fender.  Major Flint apparently was waiting for this,
for he withdrew his handkerchief and closely watched the process.
A minute piece of ash fell from Puffin's pipe on to the hearthrug,
and he jumped to his feet and removed it very carefully with the
shovel.

"I have your permission, I hope?" he said witheringly.

"Certainly, certainly," said Puffin.  "Now get your glass, Major.
You'll feel better in a minute or two."

Major Flint would have liked to have kept up this magnificent
attitude, but the smell of Puffin's steaming glass beat dignity
down, and after glaring at him, he limped back to the cupboard for
his whisky bottle.  He gave a lamentable cry when he beheld it.

"But I got that bottle in only the day before yesterday," he
shouted, "and there's hardly a drink left in it."

"Well, you did yourself pretty well last night," said Puffin.
"Those small glasses of yours, if frequently filled up, empty a
bottle quicker than you seem to realize."

Motives of policy prevented the Major from receiving this with the
resentment that was proper to it, and his face cleared.  He would
get quits over these incessant lemons and lumps of sugar.

"Well, you'll have to let me borrow from you to-night," he said
genially, as he poured the rest of the contents of his bottle into
the glass.  "Ah, that's more the ticket!  A glass of whisky a day
keeps the doctor away."

The prospect of sponging on Puffin was most exhilarating, and he
put his large slippered feet on to the fender.

"Yes, indeed, that was a highly amusing incident about Miss Mapp's
cupboard," he said.  "And wasn't Mrs. Plaistow down on her like a
knife about it?  Our fair friends, you know, have a pretty sharp
eye for each other's little failings.  They've no sooner finished
one squabble than they begin another, the pert little fairies.
They can't sit and enjoy themselves like two old cronies I could
tell you of, and feel at peace with all the world."

He finished his glass at a gulp, and seemed much surprised to find
it empty.

"I'll be borrowing a drop from you, old friend," he said.

"Help yourself, Major," said Puffin, with a keen eye as to how much
he took.

"Very obliging of you.  I feel as if I caught a bit of a chill this
afternoon.  My wound."

"Be careful not to inflame it," said Puffin.

"Thank ye for the warning.  It's this beastly climate that touches
it up.  A winter in England adds years on to a man's life unless he
takes care of himself.  Take care of yourself, old boy.  Have some
more sugar."

Before long the Major's hand was moving slowly and instinctively
towards Puffin's whisky bottle again.

"I reckon that big glass of yours, Puffin," he said, "holds between
three and a half times to four times what my little tumbler holds.
Between three and a half and four I should reckon.  I may be
wrong."

"Reckoning the water in, I daresay you're not far out, Major," said
he.  "And according to my estimate you mix your drink somewhere
about three and a half times to four stronger than I mix mine."

"Oh, come, come!" said the Major.

"Three and a half to four times, _I_ should say," repeated Puffin.
"You won't find I'm far out."

He replenished his big tumbler, and instead of putting the bottle
back on the table, absently deposited it on the floor on the far
side of his chair.  This second tumbler usually marked the most
convivial period of the evening, for the first would have healed
whatever unhappy discords had marred the harmony of the day, and,
those being disposed of, they very contentedly talked through their
hats about past prowesses, and took a rosy view of the youth and
energy which still beat in their vigorous pulses.  They would
begin, perhaps, by extolling each other: Puffin, when informed that
his friend would be fifty-four next birthday, flatly refused
(without offence) to believe it, and, indeed, he was quite right in
so doing, because the Major was in reality fifty-six.  In turn,
Major Flint would say that his friend had the figure of a boy of
twenty, which caused Puffin presently to feel a little cramped and
to wander negligently in front of the big looking-glass between the
windows, and find this compliment much easier to swallow than the
Major's age.  For the next half-hour they would chiefly talk about
themselves in a pleasant glow of self-satisfaction.  Major Flint,
looking at the various implements and trophies that adorned the
room, would suggest putting a sporting challenge in The Times.

"'Pon my word, Puffin," he would say, "I've half a mind to do it.
Retired Major of His Majesty's Forces--the King, God bless him!"
(and he took a substantial sip); "'Retired Major, aged fifty-four,
challenges any gentleman of fifty years or over.'"

"Forty," said Puffin sycophantically, as he thought over what he
would say about himself when the old man had finished.

"Well, we'll halve it, we'll say forty-five, to please you, Puffin--
let's see, where had I got to?--'Retired Major challenges any
gentleman of forty-five years or over to--to a shooting match in
the morning, followed by half a dozen rounds with four-ounce
gloves, a game of golf, eighteen holes, in the afternoon, and a
billiards match of two hundred up after tea.'  Ha! ha!  I shouldn't
feel much anxiety as to the result."

"My confounded leg!" said Puffin.  "But I know a retired captain
from His Majesty's merchant service--the King, God bless him!--aged
fifty--"

"Ho! ho!  Fifty, indeed!" said the Major, thinking to himself that
a dried-up little man like Puffin might be as old as an Egyptian
mummy.  Who can tell the age of a kipper? . . .

"Not a day less, Major.  'Retired Captain, aged fifty, who'll take
on all comers of forty-two and over, at a steeplechase, round of
golf, billiards match, hopping match, gymnastic competition,
swinging Indian clubs--'  No objection, gentlemen?  Then carried
mem. con."

This gaseous mood, athletic, amatory or otherwise (the amatory ones
were the worst), usually faded slowly, like the light from the
setting sun or an exhausted coal in the grate, about the end of
Puffin's second tumbler, and the gentlemen after that were usually
somnolent, but occasionally laid the foundation for some
disagreement next day, which they were too sleepy to go into now.
Major Flint by this time would have had some five small glasses of
whisky (equivalent, as he bitterly observed, to one in prewar
days), and as he measured his next with extreme care and a slightly
jerky movement, would announce it as being his night-cap, though
you would have thought he had plenty of night-caps on already.
Puffin correspondingly took a thimbleful more (the thimble
apparently belonging to some housewife of Anak), and after another
half-hour of sudden single snores and startings awake again, of
pipes frequently lit and immediately going out, the guest, still
perfectly capable of coherent speech and voluntary motion in the
required direction, would stumble across the dark cobbles to his
house, and doors would be very carefully closed for fear of
attracting the attention of the lady who at this period of the
evening was usually known as "Old Mappy".  The two were perfectly
well aware of the sympathetic interest that Old Mappy took in all
that concerned them, and that she had an eye on their evening
séances was evidenced by the frequency with which the corner of her
blind in the window of the garden-room was raised between, say,
half-past nine and eleven at night.  They had often watched with
giggles the pencil of light that escaped, obscured at the lower end
by the outline of Old Mappy's head, and occasionally drank to the
"Guardian Angel".  Guardian Angel, in answer to direct inquiries,
had been told by Major Benjy during the last month that he worked
at his diaries on three nights in the week and went to bed early on
the others, to the vast improvement of his mental grasp.

"And on Sunday night, dear Major Benjy?" asked Old Mappy in the
character of Guardian Angel.

"I don't think you knew my beloved, my revered mother, Miss
Elizabeth," said Major Benjy.  "I spend Sunday evening as--Well,
well."

The very next Sunday evening Guardian Angel had heard the sound of
singing.  She could not catch the words, and only fragments of the
tune, which reminded her of "The roseate morn hath passed away".
Brimming with emotion, she sang it softly to herself as she
undressed, and blamed herself very much for ever having thought
that dear Major Benjy--She peeped out of her window when she had
extinguished her light, but fortunately the singing had ceased.


To-night, however, the epoch of Puffin's second big tumbler was not
accompanied by harmonious developments.  Major Benjy was determined
to make the most of this unique opportunity of drinking his
friend's whisky, and whether Puffin put the bottle on the farther
side of him, or under his chair, or under the table, he came
padding round in his slippers and standing near the ambush while he
tried to interest his friend in tales of love or tiger-shooting so
as to distract his attention.  When he mistakenly thought he had
done so, he hastily refilled his glass, taking unusually stiff
doses for fear of not getting another opportunity, and altogether
omitting to ask Puffin's leave for these maraudings.  When this had
happened four or five times, Puffin, acting on the instinct of the
polar bear who eats her babies for fear that anybody else should
get them, surreptitiously poured the rest of his bottle into his
glass, and filled it up to the top with hot water, making a mixture
of extraordinary power.

Soon after this Major Flint came rambling round the table again.
He was not sure whether Puffin had put the bottle by his chair or
behind the coal-scuttle, and was quite ignorant of the fact that
wherever it was, it was empty.  Amorous reminiscences to-night had
been the accompaniment to Puffin's second tumbler.

"Devilish fine woman she was," he said, "and that was the last
Benjamin Flint ever saw of her.  She went up to the hills next
morning--"

"But the last you saw of her just now was on the deck of the P. and
O. at Bombay," objected Puffin.  "Or did she go up to the hills on
the deck of the P. and O.?  Wonderful line!"

"No, sir," said Benjamin Flint, "that was Helen, la belle Hélène.
It was la belle Hélène whom I saw off at the Apollo Bunder.  I
don't know if I told you--By Gad, I've kicked the bottle over.  No
idea you'd put it there.  Hope the cork's in."

"No harm if it isn't," said Puffin, beginning on his third most
fiery glass.  The strength of it rather astonished him.

"You don't mean to say it's empty?" asked Major Flint.  "Why just
now there was close on a quarter of a bottle left."

"As much as that?" asked Puffin, "Glad to hear it."

"Not a drop less.  You don't mean to say--Well, if you can drink
that and can say hippopotamus afterwards, I should put that among
your challenges, to men of four hundred and two: I should say forty-
two.  It's a fine thing to have a strong head, though if I drank
what you've got in your glass, I should be tipsy, sir."

Puffin laughed in his irritating falsetto manner.

"Good thing that it's in my glass then, and not your glass," he
said.  "And lemme tell you, Major, in case you don't know it, that
when I've drunk every drop of this and sucked the lemon, you'll
have had far more out of my bottle this evening than I have.  My
usual twice and--and my usual night-cap, as you say, is what's my
ration, and I've had no more than my ration.  Eight Bells."

"And a pretty good ration you've got there," said the baffled
Major.  "Without your usual twice."

Puffin was beginning to be aware of that as he swallowed the fiery
mixture, but nothing in the world would now have prevented his
drinking every single drop of it.  It was clear to him, among so
much that was dim owing to the wood-smoke, that the Major would
miss a good many drives to-morrow morning.

"And whose whisky is it?" he said, gulping down the fiery stuff.

"I know whose it's going to be," said the other.

"And I know whose it is now," retorted Puffin, "and I know whose
whisky it is that's filled you up ti' as a drum.  Tight as a drum,"
he repeated very carefully.

Major Flint was conscious of an unusual activity of brain, and,
when he spoke, of a sort of congestion and entanglement of words.
It pleased him to think that he had drunk so much of somebody
else's whisky, but he felt that he ought to be angry.

"That's a very unmentionable sor' of thing to say," he remarked.
"An' if it wasn't for the sacred claims of hospitality, I'd make
you explain just what you mean by that, and make you eat your
words.  'Pologize, in fact."

Puffin finished his glass at a gulp, and rose to his feet.

"'Pologies be blowed," he said.  "Hittopopamus!"

"And were you addressing that to me?" asked Major Flint with deadly
calm.

"Of course, I was.  Hippot--same animal as before.  Pleasant old
boy.  And as for the lemon you lent me, well, I don't want it any
more.  Have a suck at it, ole fellow!  I don't want it any more."

The Major turned purple in the face, made a course for the door
like a knight's move at chess (a long step in one direction and a
short one at right angles to the first) and opened it.  The door
thus served as an aperture from the room and a support to himself.
He spoke no word of any sort or kind: his silence spoke for him in
a far more dignified manner than he could have managed for himself.

Captain Puffin stood for a moment wreathed in smiles, and fingering
the slice of lemon, which he had meant playfully to throw at his
friend.  But his smile faded, and by some sort of telepathic
perception he realized how much more decorous it was to say (or,
better, to indicate) goodnight in a dignified manner than to throw
lemons about.  He walked in dots and dashes like a Morse code out
of the room, bestowing a naval salute on the Major as he passed.
The latter returned it with a military salute and a suppressed
hiccup.  Not a word passed.

Then Captain Puffin found his hat and coat without much difficulty,
and marched out of the house, slamming the door behind him with a
bang that echoed down the street and made Miss Mapp dream about a
thunderstorm.  He let himself into his own house, and bent down
before his expired fire, which he tried to blow into life again.
This was unsuccessful, and he breathed in a quantity of wood-ash.

He sat down by his table and began to think things out.  He told
himself that he was not drunk at all, but that he had taken an
unusual quantity of whisky, which seemed to produce much the same
effect as intoxication.  Allowing for that, he was conscious that
he was extremely angry about something, and had a firm idea that
the Major was very angry too.

"But woz'it all been about?" he vainly asked himself.  "Woz'it all
been about?"

He was roused from his puzzling over this unanswerable conundrum by
the clink of the flap in his letter-box.  Either this was the first
post in the morning, in which case it was much later than he
thought, and wonderfully dark still, or it was the last post at
night, in which case it was much earlier than he thought.  But,
whichever it was, a letter had been slipped into his box, and he
brought it in.  The gum on the envelope was still wet, which saved
trouble in opening it.  Inside was a half sheet containing but a
few words.  This curt epistle ran as follows:


SIR,

My seconds will wait on you in the course of to-morrow morning.

                             Your faithful obedient servant,

                                              BENJAMIN FLINT

Captain Puffin.


Puffin felt as calm as a tropic night, and as courageous as a
captain.  Somewhere below his courage and his calm was an appalling
sense of misgiving.  That he successfully stifled.

"Very proper," he said aloud.  "Qui' proper.  Insults.  Blood.
Seconds won't have to wait a second.  Better get a good sleep."

He went up to his room, fell on to his bed and instantly began to
snore.


It was still dark when he awoke, but the square of his window was
visible against the blackness, and he concluded that though it was
not morning yet, it was getting on for morning, which seemed a
pity.  As he turned over on to his side his hand came in contact
with his coat, instead of a sheet, and he became aware that he had
all his clothes on.  Then, as with a crash of cymbals and the
beating of a drum in his brain, the events of the evening before
leaped into reality and significance.  In a few hours now
arrangements would have been made for a deadly encounter.  His
anger was gone, his whisky was gone, and in particular his courage
was gone.  He expressed all this compendiously by moaning "Oh,
God!"

He struggled to a sitting position, and lit a match at which he
kindled his candle.  He looked for his watch beside it, but it was
not there.  What could have happened--then he remembered that it
was in its accustomed place in his waistcoat pocket.  A
consultation of it followed by holding it to his ear only revealed
the fact that it had stopped at half-past five.  With the lucidity
that was growing brighter in his brain, he concluded that this
stoppage was due to the fact that he had not wound it up. . . .  It
was after half-past five then, but how much later only the Lords of
Time knew--Time which bordered so closely on Eternity.

He felt that he had no use whatever for Eternity but that he must
not waste Time.  Just now, that was far more precious.

From somewhere in the Cosmic Consciousness there came to him a
thought, namely, that the first train to London started at half-
past six in the morning.  It was a slow train, but it got there,
and in any case it went away from Tilling.  He did not trouble to
consider how that thought came to him: the important point was that
it had come.  Coupled with that was the knowledge that it was now
an undiscoverable number of minutes after half-past five.

There was a Gladstone bag under his bed.  He had brought it back
from the club-house only yesterday after that game of golf which
had been so full of disturbances and wet stockings, but which now
wore the shimmering security of peaceful, tranquil days long past.
How little, so he thought to himself, as he began swiftly storing
shirts, ties, collars and other useful things into his bag, had he
appreciated the sweet amenities of life, its pleasant conversations
and companionships, its topped drives, and mushrooms and
incalculable incidents.  Now they wore a glamour and a preciousness
that was bound up with life itself.  He starved for more of them,
not knowing while they were his how sweet they were.

The house was not yet astir, when ten minutes later he came
downstairs with his bag.  He left on his sitting-room table, where
it would catch the eye of his housemaid, a sheet of paper on which
he wrote "Called away" (he shuddered as he traced the words).
"Forward no letters.  Will communicate. . . ."  (Somehow the
telegraphic form seemed best to suit the urgency of the situation.)
Then very quietly he let himself out of his house.

He could not help casting an apprehensive glance at the windows of
his quondam friend and prospective murderer.  To his horror he
observed that there was a light behind the blind of the Major's
bedroom, and pictured him writing to his seconds--he wondered who
the "seconds" were going to be--or polishing up his pistols.  All
the rumours and hints of the Major's duels and affairs of honour,
which he had rather scorned before, not wholly believing them,
poured like a red torrent into his mind, and he found that now he
believed them with a passionate sincerity.  Why had he ever
attempted (and with such small success) to call this fire-eater a
hippopotamus?

The gale of the night before had abated, and thick chilly rain was
falling from a sullen sky as he tiptoed down the hill.  Once round
the corner and out of sight of the duellist's house, he broke into
a limping run, which was accelerated by the sound of an engine-
whistle from the station.  It was mental suspense of the most
agonizing kind not to know how long it was after his watch had
stopped that he had awoke, and the sound of that whistle, followed
by several short puffs of steam, might prove to be the six-thirty
bearing away to London, on business or pleasure, its secure and
careless pilgrims.  Splashing through puddles, lopsidedly weighted
by his bag, with his mackintosh flapping against his legs, he
gained the sanctuary of the waiting-room and booking-office, which
was lighted by a dim expiring lamp, and scrutinized the face of the
murky clock. . . .

With a sob of relief he saw that he was in time.  He was, indeed,
in exceptionally good time, for he had a quarter of an hour to
wait.  An anxious internal debate followed as to whether or not he
should take a return ticket.  Optimism, that is to say, the hope
that he would return to Tilling in peace and safety before the six
months for which the ticket was available inclined him to the
larger expense, but in these disquieting circumstances, it was
difficult to be optimistic and he purchased a first-class single,
for on such a morning, and on such a journey, he must get what
comfort he could from looking-glasses, padded seats and coloured
photographs of places of interest on the line.  He formed no vision
at all of the future: that was a dark well into which it was
dangerous to peer.  There was no bright speck in its unplumbable
depths: unless Major Flint died suddenly without revealing the
challenge he had sent last night, and the promptitude with which
its recipient had disappeared rather than face his pistol, he could
not frame any grouping of events which would make it possible for
him to come back to Tilling again, for he would either have to
fight (and this he was quite determined not to do) or be pointed at
by the finger of scorn as the man who had refused to do so, and
this was nearly as unthinkable as the other.  Bitterly he blamed
himself for having made a friend (and worse than that, an enemy) of
one so obsolete and old-fashioned as to bring duelling into modern
life. . . .  As far as he could be glad of anything he was glad
that he had taken a single, not a return ticket.

He turned his eyes away from the blackness of the future and let
his mind dwell on the hardly less murky past.  Then, throwing up
his hands, he buried his face in them with a hollow groan.  By some
miserable forgetfulness he had left the challenge on his chimney-
piece, where his housemaid would undoubtedly find and read it.
That would explain his absence far better than the telegraphic
instructions he had left on his table.  There was no time to go
back for it now, even if he could have faced the risk of being seen
by the Major, and in an hour or two the whole story, via Withers,
Janet, etc., would be all over Tilling.

It was no use then thinking of the future nor of the past, and in
order to anchor himself to the world at all and preserve his sanity
he had to confine himself to the present.  The minutes, long though
each tarried, were slipping away and provided his train was
punctual, the passage of five more of these laggards would see him
safe.  The news-boy took down the shutters of his stall, a porter
quenched the expiring lamp, and Puffin began to listen for the
rumble of the approaching train.  It stayed three minutes here: if
up to time it would be in before a couple more minutes had passed.

There came from the station-yard outside the sound of heavy
footsteps running.  Some early traveller like himself was afraid of
missing the train.  The door burst open, and, streaming with rain
and panting for breath, Major Flint stood at the entry.  Puffin
looked wildly round to see whether he could escape, still perhaps
unobserved, on to the platform, but it was too late, for their eyes
met.

In that instant of abject terror, two things struck Puffin.  One
was that the Major looked at the open door behind him as if
meditating retreat, the second that he carried a Gladstone bag.
Simultaneously Major Flint spoke, if indeed that reverberating
thunder of scornful indignation can be called speech.

"Ha!  I guessed right then," he roared.  "I guessed, sir, that you
might be meditating flight, and I--in fact, I came down to see
whether you were running away.  I was right.  You are a coward,
Captain Puffin!  But relieve your mind, sir.  Major Flint will not
demean himself to fight with a coward."

Puffin gave one long sigh of relief, and then, standing in front of
his own Gladstone bag, in order to conceal it, burst into a
cackling laugh.

"Indeed!" he said.  "And why, Major, was it necessary for you to
pack a Gladstone bag in order to stop me from running away?  I'll
tell you what has happened.  You were running away, and you know
it.  I guessed you would.  I came to stop you, you, you quaking
runaway.  Your wound troubled you, hey?  Didn't want another, hey?"

There was an awful pause, broken by the entry from behind the Major
of the outside porter, panting under the weight of a large
portmanteau.

"You had to take your portmanteau, too," observed Puffin
witheringly, "in order to stop me.  That's a curious way of
stopping me.  You're a coward, sir!  But go home.  You're safe
enough.  This will be a fine story for tea-parties."

Puffin turned from him in scorn, still concealing his own bag.
Unfortunately the flap of his coat caught it, precariously perched
on the bench, and it bumped to the ground.

"What's that?" said Major Flint.

They stared at each other for a moment and then simultaneously
burst into peals of laughter.  The train rumbled slowly into the
station, but neither took the least notice of it, and only shook
their heads and broke out again when the station-master urged them
to take their seats.  The only thing that had power to restore
Captain Puffin to gravity was the difficulty of getting the money
for his ticket refunded, while the departure of the train with his
portmanteau in it did the same for the Major.


The events of that night and morning, as may easily be imagined,
soon supplied Tilling with one of the most remarkable conundrums
that had ever been forced upon its notice.  Puffin's housemaid,
during his absence at the station, found and read not only the
notice intended for her eyes, but the challenge which he had left
on the chimney-piece.  She conceived it to be her duty to take it
down to Mrs. Gashly, his cook, and while they were putting the
bloodiest construction on these inscriptions, their conference was
interrupted by the return of Captain Puffin in the highest spirits,
who, after a vain search for the challenge, was quite content, as
its purport was no longer fraught with danger and death, to suppose
that he had torn it up.  Mrs. Gashly, therefore, after preparing
breakfast at this unusually early hour, went across to the back
door of the Major's house, with the challenge in her hand, to
borrow a nutmeg grater, and gleaned the information that Mrs.
Dominic's employer (for master he could not be called) had gone off
in a great hurry to the station early that morning with a Gladstone
bag and a portmanteau, the latter of which had been seen no more,
though the Major had returned.  So Mrs. Gashly produced the
challenge, and having watched Miss Mapp off to the High Street at
half past ten, Dominic and Gashly went together to her house, to
see if Withers could supply anything of importance, or, if not, a
nutmeg grater.  They were forced to be content with the grater, but
pored over the challenge with Withers, and she having an errand to
Diva's house, told Janet, who without further ceremony bounded
upstairs to tell her mistress.  Hardly had Diva heard, than she
plunged into the High Street, and, with suitable additions, told
Miss Mapp, Evie, Irene and the Padre under promise in each case, of
the strictest secrecy.  Ten minutes later Irene had asked the
defenceless Mr. Hopkins, who was being Adam again, what he knew
about it, and Evie, with her mouse-like gait that looked so rapid
and was so deliberate had the mortification of seeing Miss Mapp
outdistance her and be admitted into the Poppit's house, just as
she came in view of the front-door.  She rightly conjectured that,
after the affair of the store-cupboard in the garden-room, there
could be nothing of lesser importance than "the duel" which could
take that lady through those abhorred portals.  Finally, at ten
minutes past eleven, Major Flint and Captain Puffin were seen by
one or two fortunate people (the morning having cleared up) walking
together to the tram, and, without exception, everybody knew that
they were on their way to fight their duel in some remote hollow of
the sand-dunes.

Miss Mapp had gone straight home from her visit to the Poppits just
about eleven, and stationed herself in the window where she could
keep an eye on the houses of the duellists.  In her anxiety to
outstrip Evie and be the first to tell the Poppits, she had not
waited to hear that they had both come back and knew only of the
challenge and that they had gone to the station.  She had already
formed a glorious idea of her own as to what the history of the
duel (past or future) was, and intoxicated with emotion had retired
from the wordy fray to think about it, and, as already mentioned,
to keep an eye on the two houses just below.  Then there appeared
in sight the Padre, walking swiftly up the hill, and she had barely
time under cover of the curtain to regain the table where her sweet
chrysanthemums were pining for water when Withers announced him.
He wore a furrowed brow and quite forgot to speak either Scotch or
Elizabethan English.  A few rapid words made it clear that they
both had heard the main outlines.

"A terrible situation," said the Padre.  "Duelling is in direct
contravention of all Christian principles, and, I believe, of the
civil law.  The discharge of a pistol, in unskilful hands, may lead
to deplorable results.  And Major Flint, so one has heard, is an
experienced duellist. . . .  That, of course, makes it even more
dangerous."

It was at this identical moment that Major Flint came out of his
house and qui-hied cheerily to Puffin.  Miss Mapp and the Padre,
deep in these bloody possibilities, neither saw nor heard them.
They passed together down the road and into the High Street,
unconscious that their every look and action was being more
commented on than the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Inside the garden-
room Miss Mapp sighed, and bent her eyes on her chrysanthemums.

"Quite terrible!" she said.  "And in our peaceful, tranquil
Tilling!"

"Perhaps the duel has already taken place, and--and they've
missed," said the Padre.  "They were both seen to return to their
houses early this morning."

"By whom?" asked Miss Mapp jealously.  She had not heard that.

"By Hopkins," said he.  "Hopkins saw them both return."

"I shouldn't trust that man too much," said Miss Mapp.  "Hopkins
may not be telling the truth.  I have no great opinion of his moral
standard."

"Why is that?"

This was no time to discuss the nudity of Hopkins and Miss Mapp put
the question aside.

"That does not matter now, dear Padre," she said.  "I only wish I
thought the duel had taken place without accident.  But Major
Benjy's--I mean Major Flint's--portmanteau has not come back to his
house.  Of that I'm sure.  What if they have sent it away to some
place where they are unknown, full of pistols and things?"

"Possible--terribly possible," said the Padre.  "I wish I could see
my duty clear.  I should not hesitate to--well, to do the best I
could to induce them to abandon this murderous project.  And what
do you imagine was the root of the quarrel?"

"I couldn't say, I'm sure," said Miss Mapp.  She bent her head over
the chrysanthemums.

"Your distracting sex," said he with a moment's gallantry, "is
usually the cause of quarrel.  I've noticed that they both seemed
to admire Miss Irene very much."

Miss Mapp raised her head and spoke with great animation.

"Dear, quaint Irene, I'm sure, has nothing whatever to do with it,"
she said with perfect truth.  "Nothing whatever!"

There was no mistaking the sincerity of this, and the Padre,
Tillingite to the marrow, instantly concluded that Miss Mapp knew
what (or who) was the cause of all this unique disturbance.  And as
she bent her head again over the chrysanthemums, and quite
distinctly grew brick-red in the face, he felt that delicacy
prevented his inquiring any further.

"What are you going to do, dear Padre?" she asked in a low voice,
choking with emotion.  "Whatever you decide will be wise and
Christian.  Oh, these violent men!  Such babies, too!"

The Padre was bursting with curiosity, but since his delicacy
forbade him to ask any of the questions which effervesced like
sherbet round his tongue, he propounded another plan.

"I think my duty is to go straight to the Major," he said, "who
seems to be the principal in the affair, and tell him that I know
all--and guess the rest," he added.

"Nothing that I have said," declared Miss Mapp in great confusion,
"must have anything to do with your guesses.  Promise me that,
Padre."

This intimate and fruitful conversation was interrupted by the
sound of two pairs of steps just outside, and before Withers had
had time to say "Mrs. Plaistow," Diva burst in.

"They have both taken the 11.20 tram," she said, and sank into the
nearest chair.

"Together?" asked Miss Mapp, feeling a sudden chill of
disappointment at the thought of a duel with pistols trailing off
into one with golf clubs.

"Yes, but that's a blind," panted Diva.  "They were talking and
laughing together.  Sheer blind!  Duel among the sand-dunes!"

"Padre, it is your duty to stop it," said Miss Mapp faintly.

"But if the pistols are in a portmanteau--" he began.

"What portmanteau?" screamed Diva, who hadn't heard about that.

"Darling, I'll tell you presently," said Miss Mapp.  "That was only
a guess of mine, Padre.  But there's no time to lose."

"But there's no tram to catch," said the Padre.  "It has gone by
this time."

"A taxi then, Padre!  Oh, lose no time!"

"Are you coming with me?" he said in a low voice.  "Your presence--"

"Better not," she said.  "It might--Better not," she repeated.

He skipped down the steps and was observed running down the street.

"What about the portmanteau?" asked the greedy Diva.


It was with strong misgivings that the Padre started on his
Christian errand, and had not the sense of adventure spiced it, he
would probably have returned to his sermon instead, which was
Christian, too.  To begin with, there was the ruinous expense of
taking a taxi out to the golf-links, but by no other means could he
hope to arrive in time to avert an encounter that might be fatal.
It must be said to his credit that, though this was an errand
distinctly due to his position as the spiritual head of Tilling, he
rejected, as soon as it occurred to him, the idea of charging the
hire of the taxi to Church Expenses, and as he whirled along the
flat road across the marsh, the thing which chiefly buoyed up his
drooping spirits and annealed his courage was the romantic nature
of his mission.  He no longer, thanks to what Miss Mapp had so
clearly refrained from saying, had the slightest doubt that she, in
some manner that scarcely needed conjecture, was the cause of the
duel he was attempting to avert.  For years it had been a matter of
unwearied and confidential discussion as to whether and when she
would marry either Major Flint or Captain Puffin, and it was
superfluous to look for any other explanation.  It was true that
she, in popular parlance, was "getting on", but so, too, and at
exactly the same rate, were the representatives of the United
Services, and the sooner that two out of the three of them "got on"
permanently, the better.  No doubt some crisis had arisen, and
inflamed with love. . . .  He intended to confide all this to his
wife on his return.

On his return!  The unspoken words made his heart sink.  What if he
never did return?  For he was about to place himself in a position
of no common danger.  His plan was to drive past the club-house,
and then on foot, after discharging the taxi, to strike directly
into the line of tumbled sand-dunes which, remote and undisturbed
and full of large convenient hollows, stretched along the coast
above the flat beach.  Any of those hollows, he knew, might prove
to contain the duellists in the very act of firing, and over the
rim of each he had to pop his unprotected head.  He (if in time)
would have to separate the combatants, and who knew whether, in
their very natural chagrin at being interrupted, they might not
turn their combined pistols on him first, and settle with each
other afterwards?  One murder the more made little difference to
desperate men.  Other shocks, less deadly but extremely unnerving,
might await him.  He might be too late, and pop his head over the
edge of one of these craters only to discover it full of bleeding
if not mangled bodies.  Or there might be only one mangled body,
and the other, unmangled, would pursue him through the sand-dunes
and offer him life at the price of silence.  That, he painfully
reflected, would be a very difficult decision to make.  Luckily,
Captain Puffin (if he proved to be the survivor) was lame. . . .

With drawn face and agonized prayers on his lips, he began a
systematic search of the sand-dunes.  Often his nerve nearly failed
him, and he would sink panting among the prickly bents before he
dared to peer into the hollow up the sides of which he had climbed.
His ears shuddered at the anticipation of hearing from near at hand
the report of pistols, and once a back-fire from a motor passing
along the road caused him to leap high in the air.  The sides of
these dunes were steep, and his shoes got so full of sand, that
from time to time, in spite of the urgency of his errand, he was
forced to pause in order to empty them out.  He stumbled in rabbit
holes, he caught his foot and once his trousers in strands of
barbed wire, the remnant of coast defences in the Great War, he
crashed among potsherds and abandoned kettles but with a
thoroughness that did equal credit to his wind and his Christian
spirit, he searched a mile of perilous dunes from end to end, and
peered into every important hollow.  Two hours later, jaded and
torn and streaming with perspiration, he came, in the vicinity of
the club-house, to the end of his fruitless search.

He staggered round the corner of it and came in view of the
eighteenth green.  Two figures were occupying it, and one of these
was in the act of putting.  He missed.  Then he saw who the figures
were: it was Captain Puffin who had just missed his putt, it was
Major Flint who now expressed elated sympathy.

"Bad luck, old boy," he said.  "Well, a jolly good match and we
halve it.  Why, there's the Padre.  Been for a walk?  Join us in a
round this afternoon, Padre!  Blow your sermon!"



CHAPTER SIX


The same delightful prospect at the end of the High Street, over
the marsh, which had witnessed not so long ago the final encounter
in the Wars of the Roses and the subsequent armistice, was, of
course, found to be peculiarly attractive that morning to those who
knew (and who did not?) that the combatants had left by the 11.20
steam-tram to fight among the sand-dunes, and that the intrepid
Padre had rushed after them in a taxi.  The Padre's taxi had
returned empty, and the driver seemed to know nothing whatever
about anything, so the only thing for everybody to do was to put
off lunch and wait for the arrival of the next tram, which occurred
at 1.37.  In consequence, all the doors in Tilling flew open like
those of cuckoo clocks at ten minutes before that hour, and this
pleasant promenade was full of those who so keenly admired autumn
tints.

From here the progress of the tram across the plain was in full
view; so, too, was the shed-like station across the river, which
was the terminus of the line, and expectation, when the two-
waggoned little train approached the end of its journey, was so
tense that it was almost disagreeable.  A couple of hours had
elapsed since, like the fishers who sailed away into the West and
were seen no more till the corpses lay out on the shining sand, the
three had left for the sand-dunes, and a couple of hours, so
reasoned the Cosmic Consciousness of Tilling, gave ample time for a
duel to be fought, if the Padre was not in time to stop it, and for
him to stop it if he was.  No surgical assistance, as far as was
known, had been summoned, but the reason for that might easily be
that a surgeon's skill was no longer, alas! of any avail for one,
if not both, of the combatants.  But if such was the case, it was
nice to hope that the Padre had been in time to supply spiritual
aid to anyone whom first-aid and probes were powerless to succour.

The variety of denouements which the approaching tram, that had now
cut off steam, was capable of providing was positively bewildering.
They whirled through Miss Mapp's head like the autumn leaves which
she admired so much, and she tried in vain to catch them all, and,
when caught, tick them off on her fingers.  Each, moreover,
furnished diverse and legitimate conclusion.  For instance (taking
the thumb).

I.  If nobody of the slightest importance arrived by the tram, that
might be because

     (a) Nothing had happened, and they were all playing golf.

     (b) The worst had happened, and, as the Padre had feared, the
     duellists had first shot him and then each other.

     (c) The next worst had happened, and the Padre was arranging
     for the reverent removal of the corpse of

          (i) Major Benjy, or

          (ii) Captain Puffin, or those of

          (iii) Both.

Miss Mapp let go of her thumb and lightly touched her forefinger.

II.  The Padre might arrive alone.

In that case anything or nothing might have happened to either or
both of the others, and the various contingencies hanging on this
arrival were so numerous that there was not time to sort them out.

III.  The Padre might arrive with two limping figures whom he
assisted.

Here it must not be forgotten that Captain Puffin always limped,
and the Major occasionally.  Miss Mapp did not forget it.

IV.  The Padre might arrive with a stretcher.  Query--Whose?

V.  The Padre might arrive with two stretchers.

VI.  Three stretchers might arrive from the shining sands, at the
town where the women were weeping and wringing their hands.

In that case Miss Mapp saw herself busily employed in strengthening
poor Evie, who now was running about like a mouse from group to
group picking up crumbs of Cosmic Consciousness.

Miss Mapp had got as far as sixthly, though she was aware she had
not exhausted the possibilities, when the tram stopped.  She
furtively took out from her pocket (she had focused them before she
put them in) the opera-glasses through which she had watched the
station-yard on a day which had been very much less exciting than
this.  After one glance she put them back again, feeling vexed and
disappointed with herself, for the denouement which they had so
unerringly disclosed was one that had not entered her mind at all.
In that moment she had seen that out of the tram there stepped
three figures and no stretcher.  One figure, it is true, limped,
but in a manner so natural, that she scorned to draw any deductions
from that halting gait.  They proceeded, side by side, across the
bridge over the river towards the town.

It is no use denying that the Cosmic Consciousness of the ladies of
Tilling was aware of a disagreeable anticlimax to so many hopes and
fears.  It had, of course, hoped for the best, but it had not
expected that the best would be quite as bad as this.  The best, to
put it frankly, would have been a bandaged arm, or something of
that kind.  There was still room for the more hardened optimist to
hope that something of some sort had occurred, or that something of
some sort had been averted, and that the whole affair was not, in
the delicious new slang phrase of the Padre's, which was spreading
like wildfire through Tilling, a "washout".  Pistols might have
been innocuously discharged for all that was known to the contrary.
But it looked bad.

Miss Mapp was the first to recover from the blow, and took Diva's
podgy hand.

"Diva, darling," she said, "I feel so deeply thankful.  What a
wonderful and beautiful end to all our anxiety!"

There was a subconscious regret with regard to the anxiety.  The
anxiety was, so to speak, a dear and beloved departed. . . .  And
Diva did not feel so sure that the end was so beautiful and
wonderful.  Her grandfather, Miss Mapp had reason to know, had been
a butcher, and probably some inherited indifference to slaughter
lurked in her tainted blood.

"There's the portmanteau still," she said hopefully.  "Pistols in
the portmanteau.  Your idea, Elizabeth."

"Yes, dear," said Elizabeth; "but thank God I must have been very
wrong about the portmanteau.  The outside-porter told me that he
brought it up from the station to Major Benjy's house half an hour
ago.  Fancy your not knowing that!  I feel sure he is a truthful
man, for he attends the Padre's confirmation class.  If there had
been pistol's in it, Major Benjy and Captain Puffin would have gone
away too.  I am quite happy about that now.  It went away and it
has come back.  That's all about the portmanteau."

She paused a moment.

"But what does it contain, then?" she said quickly, more as if she
was thinking aloud than talking to Diva.  "Why did Major Benjy pack
it and send it to the station this morning?  Where has it come back
from?  Why did it go there?"

She felt that she was saying too much, and pressed her hand to her
head.

"Has all this happened this morning?" she said.  "What a full
morning, dear!  Lovely autumn leaves!  I shall go home and have my
lunch and rest.  Au reservoir, Diva."

Miss Mapp's eternal reservoirs had begun to get on Diva's nerves,
and as she lingered here a moment more a great idea occurred to
her, which temporarily banished the disappointment about the
duellists.  Elizabeth, as all the world knew, had accumulated a
great reservoir of provisions in the false book-case in her garden-
room, and Diva determined that, if she could think of a neat
phrase, the very next time Elizabeth said au reservoir to her, she
would work in an allusion to Elizabeth's own reservoir of corned
beef, tongue, flour, Bovril, dried apricots and condensed milk.
She would have to frame some stinging rejoinder which would "escape
her" when next Elizabeth used that stale old phrase: it would have
to be short, swift and spontaneous, and therefore required careful
thought.  It would be good to bring "pop" into it also.  "Your
reservoir in the garden-room hasn't gone 'pop' again, I hope,
darling?" was the first draft that occurred to her, but that was
not sufficiently condensed.  "Pop goes the reservoir", on the
analogy of the weasel, was better.  And, better than either, was
there not some sort of corn called pop-corn, which Americans
ate? . . .  "Have you any popcorn in your reservoir?"  That would
be a nasty one. . . .

But it all required thinking over, and the sight of the Padre and
the duellists crossing the field below, as she still lingered on
this escarpment of the hill, brought the duel back to her mind.  It
would have been considered inquisitive even at Tilling to put
direct questions to the combatants, and (still hoping for the best)
ask them point-blank "Who won?" or something of that sort; but
until she arrived at some sort of information, the excruciating
pangs of curiosity that must be endured could be likened only to
some acute toothache of the mind with no dentist to stop or remove
the source of the trouble.  Elizabeth had already succumbed to
these pangs of surmise and excitement, and had frankly gone home to
rest, and her absence, the fact that for the next hour or two she
could not, except by some extraordinary feat on the telephone, get
hold of anything which would throw light on the whole prodigious
situation, inflamed Diva's brain to the highest pitch of
inventiveness.  She knew that she was Elizabeth's inferior in point
of reconstructive imagination, and the present moment, while the
other was recuperating her energies for fresh assaults on the
unknown, was Diva's opportunity.  The one person who might be
presumed to know more than anybody else was the Padre, but while he
was with the duellists, it was as impossible to ask him what had
happened as to ask the duellists who had won.  She must, while Miss
Mapp rested, get hold of the Padre without the duellists.

Even as Athene sprang full grown and panoplied from the brain of
Zeus, so from Diva's brain there sprang her plan complete.  She
even resisted the temptation to go on admiring autumn tints, in
order to see how the interesting trio "looked" when, as they must
presently do, they passed close to where she stood, and hurried
home, pausing only to purchase, pay for, and carry away with her
from the provision shop a large and expensively dressed crab, a
dainty of which the Padre was inordinately fond.  Ruinous as this
was, there was a note of triumph in her voice when, on arrival, she
called loudly for Janet, and told her to lay another place on the
luncheon table.  Then putting a strong constraint on herself, she
waited three minutes by her watch, in order to give the Padre time
to get home, and then rang him up and reminded him that he had
promised to lunch with her that day.  It was no use asking him to
lunch in such a way that he might refuse: she employed without
remorse this pitiless force majeure.

The engagement was short and brisk.  He pleaded that not even now
could he remember even having been asked (which was not
surprising), and said that he and wee wifie had begun lunch.  On
which Diva unmasked her last gun, and told him that she had ordered
a crab on purpose.  That silenced further argument, and he said
that he and wee wifie would be round in a jiffy, and rang off.  She
did not particularly want wee wifie, but there was enough crab.

Diva felt that she had never laid out four shilling to better
purpose, when, a quarter of an hour later, the Padre gave her the
full account of his fruitless search among the sand-dunes, so
deeply impressive was his sense of being buoyed up to that
incredibly fatiguing and perilous excursion by some Power outside
himself.  It never even occurred to her to think that it was an
elaborate practical joke on the part of the Power outside himself,
to spur him on to such immense exertions to no purpose at all.  He
had only got as far as this over his interrupted lunch with wee
wifie, and though she, too, was in agonized suspense as to what
happened next, she bore the repetition with great equanimity, only
making small mouse-like noises of impatience which nobody heard.
He was quite forgetting to speak either Scotch or Elizabethan
English, so obvious was the absorption of his hearers, without
these added aids to command attention.

"And then I came round the corner of the club-house," he said, "and
there were Captain Puffin and the Major finishing their match on
the eighteenth hole."

"Then there's been no duel at all," said Diva, scraping the shell
of the crab.

"I feel sure of it.  There wouldn't have been time for a duel and a
round of golf, in addition to the impossibility of playing golf
immediately after a duel.  No nerves could stand it.  Besides, I
asked one of the caddies.  They had come straight from the tram to
the club-house, and from the club-house to the first tee.  They had
not been alone for a moment."

"Wash-out," said Diva, wondering whether this had been worth four
shillings, so tame was the conclusion.

Mrs. Bartlett gave a little squeak which was her preliminary to
speech.

"But I do not see why there may not be a duel yet, Kenneth," she
said.  "Because they did not fight this morning--excellent crab,
dear Diva, so good of you to ask us--there's no reason why there
shouldn't be a duel this afternoon.  Oh, dear me, and cold beef as
well: I shall be quite stuffed.  Depend upon it a man doesn't take
the trouble to write a challenge and all that, unless he means
business."

The Padre held up his hand.  He felt that he was gradually growing
to be the hero of the whole affair.  He had certainly looked over
the edge of numberless hollows in the sand-dunes with vivid
anticipations of having a bullet whizz by him on each separate
occasion.  It behoved him to take a sublime line.

"My dear," he said, "business is hardly a word to apply to murder.
That within the last twenty-four hours there was the intention of
fighting a duel, I don't deny.  But something has decidedly
happened which has averted that deplorable calamity.  Peace and
reconciliation is the result of it, and I have never seen two men
so unaffectedly friendly."

Diva got up and whirled round the table to get the port for the
Padre, so pleased was she at a fresh idea coming to her while still
dear Elizabeth was resting.  She attributed it to the crab.

"We've all been on a false scent," she said.  "Peace and
reconciliation happened before they went out to the sand-dunes at
all.  It happened at the station.  They met at the station, you
know.  It is proved that Major Flint went there.  Major wouldn't
send portmanteau off alone.  And it's proved that Captain Puffin
went there too, because the note which his housemaid found on the
table before she saw the challenge from the Major, which was on the
chimney-piece, said that he had been called away very suddenly.
No; they both went to catch the early train in order to go away
before they could be stopped, and kill each other.  But why didn't
they go?  What happened?  Don't suppose the outside porter showed
them how wicked they were, confirmation-class or no confirmation-
class.  Stumps me.  Almost wish Elizabeth was here.  She's good at
guessing."

The Padre's eye brightened.  Reaction after the perils of the
morning, crab and port combined to make a man of him.

"Eh, 'tis a bonney wee drappie of port whatever, Mistress
Plaistow," he said.  "And I dinna ken that ye're far wrang in
jaloosing that Mistress Mapp might have a wee bitty word to say
aboot it a', 'gin she had the mind."

"She was wrong about the portmanteau," said Diva.  "Confessed she
was wrong."

"Hoots!  I'm not mindin' the bit pochmantie," said the Padre.

"What else does she know?" asked Diva feverishly.

There was no doubt that the Padre had the fullest attention of the
two ladies again, and there was no need to talk Scotch any more.

"Begin at the beginning," he said.  "What do we suppose was the
cause of the quarrel?"

"Anything," said Diva.  "Golf, tiger-skins, coal strike, summer-
time."

He shook his head.

"I grant you words may pass on such subjects," he said.  "We feel
keenly, I know, about summer-time in Tilling, though we shall all
be reconciled over that next Sunday, when real time, God's time, as
I am venturing to call it in my sermon, comes in again."

Diva had to bite her tongue to prevent herself bolting off on this
new scent.  After all, she had invested in crab to learn about
duelling, not about summer-time.

"Well?" she said.

"We may have had words on that subject," said the Padre, booming as
if he was in the pulpit already, "but we should, I hope, none of us
go so far as to catch the earliest train with pistols, in defence
of our conviction about summer-time.  No, Mrs. Plaistow, if you are
right, and there is something to be said for your view, in thinking
that they both went to such lengths as to be in time for the early
train, in order to fight a duel undisturbed, you must look for a
more solid cause than that."

Diva vainly racked her brains to think of anything more worthy of
the highest pitches of emotion than this.  If it had been she and
Miss Mapp who had been embroiled, hoarding and dress would have
occurred to her.  But as it was, no one in his senses could dream
that the Captain and the Major were sartorial rivals, unless they
had quarrelled over the question as to which of them wore the
snuffiest old clothes.

"Give it up," she said.  "What did they quarrel about?"

"Passion!" said the Padre, in those full, deep tones in which next
Sunday he would allude to God's time.  "I do not mean anger, but
the flame that exalts man to heaven or--or does exactly the
opposite!"

"But whomever for?" asked Diva, quite thrown off her bearings.
Such a thing had never occurred to her, for, as far as she was
aware, passion, except in the sense of temper, did not exist in
Tilling.  Tilling was far too respectable.

The Padre considered this a moment.

"I am betraying no confidence," he said, "because no one has
confided in me.  But there certainly is a lady in this town--I do
not allude to Miss Irene--who has long enjoyed the Major's
particular esteem.  May not some deprecating remark--"

Wee wifie gave a much louder squeal than usual.

"He means poor Elizabeth," she said in a high, tremulous voice.
"Fancy, Kenneth!"

Diva, a few seconds before, had seen no reason why the Padre should
drink the rest of her port, and was now in the act of drinking some
of that unusual beverage herself.  She tried to swallow it, but it
was too late, and next moment all the openings in her face were
fountains of that delicious wine.  She choked and she gurgled,
until the last drop had left her windpipe--under the persuasion of
pattings on the back from the others--and then she gave herself up
to loud, hoarse laughter, through which there shrilled the staccato
squeaks of wee wifie.  Nothing, even if you are being laughed at
yourself, is so infectious as prolonged laughter, and the Padre
felt himself forced to join it.  When one of them got a little
better, a relapse ensued by reason of infection from the others,
and it was not till exhaustion set in, that this triple volcano
became quiescent again.

"Only fancy!" said Evie faintly.  "How did such an idea get into
your head, Kenneth?"

His voice shook as he answered.

"Well, we were all a little worked up this morning," he said.  "The
idea--really, I don't know what we have all been laughing at--"

"I do," said Diva.  "Go on.  About the idea--"

A feminine, a diabolical inspiration flared within wee wifie's
mind.

"Elizabeth suggested it herself," she squealed.

Naturally Diva could not help remembering that she had found Miss
Mapp and the Padre in earnest conversation together when she forced
her way in that morning with the news that the duellists had left
by the 11.20 tram.  Nobody could be expected to have so short a
memory as to have forgotten THAT.  Just now she forgave Elizabeth
for anything she had ever done.  That might have to be reconsidered
afterwards, but at present it was valid enough.

"Did she suggest it?" she asked.

The Padre behaved like a man, and lied like Ananias.

"Most emphatically she did not," he said.

The disappointment would have been severe, had the two ladies
believed this confident assertion, and Diva pictured a delightful
interview with Elizabeth, in which she would suddenly tell her the
wild surmise the Padre had made with regard to the cause of the
duel, and see how she looked then.  Just see how she looked then:
that was all--self-consciousness and guilt would fly their
colours. . . .


Miss Mapp had been tempted when she went home that morning, after
enjoying the autumn tints, to ask Diva to lunch with her, but
remembered in time that she had told her cook to broach one of the
tins of corned-beef which no human wizard could coax into the store-
cupboard again, if he shut the door after it.  Diva would have been
sure to say something acid and allusive, to remark on its
excellence being happily not wasted on the poor people in the
hospital, or, if she had not said anything at all about it, her
silence as she ate a great deal would have had a sharp flavour.
But Miss Mapp would have liked, especially when she went to take
her rest afterwards on the big sofa in the garden-room, to have
had somebody to talk to, for her brain seethed with conjectures as
to what had happened, was happening and would happen, and
discussion was the best method of simplifying a problem, of
narrowing it down to the limits of probability, whereas when she
was alone now with her own imaginings, the most fantastic of them
seemed plausible.  She had, however, handed a glorious suggestion
to the Padre, the one, that is, which concerned the cause of the
duel, and it had been highly satisfactory to observe the sympathy
and respect with which he had imbibed it.  She had, too, been so
discreet about it; she had not come within measurable distance of
asserting that the challenge had been in any way connected with
her.  She had only been very emphatic on the point of its not being
connected with poor dear Irene, and then occupied herself with her
sweet flowers.  That had been sufficient, and she felt in her bones
and marrow that he inferred what she had meant him to infer. . . .

The vulture of surmise ceased to peck at her for a few moments as
she considered this, and followed up a thread of gold. . . .
Though the Padre would surely be discreet, she hoped that he would
"let slip" to dear Evie in the course of the vivid conversation
they would be sure to have over lunch, that he had a good guess as
to the cause which had led to that savage challenge.  Upon which
dear Evie would be certain to ply him with direct squeaks and
questions, and when she "got hot" (as in animal, vegetable and
mineral) his reticence would lead her to make a good guess too.
She might be incredulous, but there the idea would be in her mind,
while if she felt that these stirring days were no time for
scepticism, she could hardly fail to be interested and touched.
Before long (how soon Miss Mapp was happily not aware) she would
"pop in" to see Diva, or Diva would "pop in" to see her, and Evie,
observing a discretion similar to that of the Padre and herself,
would soon enable dear Diva to make a good guess too.  After that,
all would be well, for dear Diva ("such a gossiping darling") would
undoubtedly tell everybody in Tilling, under vows of secrecy (so
that she should have the pleasure of telling everybody herself)
just what her good guess was.  Thus, very presently, all Tilling
would know exactly that which Miss Mapp had not said to the dear
Padre, namely, that the duel which had been fought (or which hadn't
been fought) was "all about" her.  And the best of it was, that
though everybody knew, it would still be a great and beautiful
secret, reposing inviolably in every breast or chest, as the case
might be.  She had no anxiety about anybody asking direct questions
of the duellists, for if duelling, for years past, had been a
subject which no delicately-minded person alluded to purposely in
Major Benjy's presence, how much more now after this critical
morning would that subject be taboo?  That certainly was a good
thing, for the duellists if closely questioned might have a
different explanation, and it would be highly inconvenient to have
two contradictory stories going about.  But, as it was, nothing
could be nicer: the whole of the rest of Tilling, under promise of
secrecy, would know, and even if under further promises of secrecy
they communicated their secret to each other, there would be no
harm done. . . .

After this excursion into Elysian fields, poor Miss Mapp had to get
back to her vulture again, and the hour's rest that she had felt
was due to herself as the heroine of a duel became a period of
extraordinary cerebral activity.  Puzzle as she might, she could
make nothing whatever of the portmanteau and the excursion to the
early train, and she got up long before her hour was over, since
she found that the more she thought, the more invincible were the
objections to any conclusion that she drowningly grasped at.
Whatever attack she made on this mystery, the garrison failed to
march out and surrender but kept their flag flying, and her
conjectures were woefully blasted by the forces of the most
elementary reasons.  But as the agony of suspense, if no fresh
topic of interest intervened, would be frankly unendurable, she
determined to concentrate no more on it, but rather to commit it to
the ice-house or safe of her subconscious mind, from which at will,
when she felt refreshed and reinvigorated, she could unlock it and
examine it again.  The whole problem was more superlatively
baffling than any that she could remember having encountered in all
these inquisitive years, just as the subject of it was more
majestic than any, for it concerned not hoarding, nor visits of the
Prince of Wales, nor poppy-trimmed gowns, but life and death and
firing of deadly pistols.  And should love be added to this august
list?  Certainly not by her, though Tilling might do what it liked.
In fact Tilling always did.

She walked across to the bow-window from which she had conducted so
many exciting and successful investigations.  But to-day the view
seemed as stale and unprofitable as the world appeared to Hamlet,
even though Mrs. Poppit at that moment went waddling down the
street and disappeared round the corner where the dentist and Mr.
Wyse lived.  With a sense of fatigue Miss Mapp recalled the fact
that she had seen the housemaid cleaning Mr. Wyse's windows
yesterday--("Children dear, was it yesterday?")--and had noted her
industry, and drawn from it the irresistible conclusion that Mr.
Wyse was probably expected home.  He usually came back about mid-
October, and let slip allusions to his enjoyable visits in Scotland
and his villeggiatura (so he was pleased to express it) with his
sister the Contessa di Faraglione at Capri.  That Contessa
Faraglione was rather a mythical personage to Miss Mapp's mind: she
was certainly not in a medieval copy of "Who's Who?" which was the
only accessible handbook in matters relating to noble and notable
personages, and though Miss Mapp would not have taken an oath that
she did not exist, she saw no strong reason for supposing that she
did.  Certainly she had never been to Tilling, which was strange as
her brother lived there, and there was nothing but her brother's
allusions to certify her.  About Mrs. Poppit now: had she gone to
see Mr. Wyse or had she gone to the dentist?  One or other it must
be, for apart from them that particular street contained nobody who
counted, and at the bottom it simply conducted you out into the
uneventful country.  Mrs. Poppit was all dressed up, and she would
never walk in the country in such a costume.  It would do either
for Mr. Wyse or the dentist, for she was the sort of woman who
would like to appear grand in the dentist's chair, so that he might
be shy of hurting such a fine lady.  Then again, Mrs. Poppit had
wonderful teeth, almost too good to be true, and before now she had
asked who lived at that pretty little house just round the corner,
as if to show that she didn't know where the dentist lived!  Or
had she found out by some underhand means that Mr. Wyse had come
back, and had gone to call on him and give him the first news
of the duel, and talk to him about Scotland?  Very likely they
had neither of them been to Scotland at all: they conspired to
say that they had been to Scotland and stayed at shooting-lodges
(keepers' lodges more likely) in order to impress Tilling with
their magnificence. . . .

Miss Mapp sat down on the central-heating pipes in her window, and
fell into one of her reconstructive musings.  Partly, if Mr. Wyse
was back, it was well just to run over his record; partly she
wanted to divert her mind from the two houses just below, that of
Major Benjy on the one side and that of Captain Puffin on the
other, which contained the key to the great, insoluble mystery,
from conjecture as to which she wanted to obtain relief.  Mr. Wyse,
anyhow, would serve as a mild opiate, for she had never lost an
angry interest in him.  Though he was for eight months of the year,
or thereabouts, in Tilling, he was never, for a single hour, OF
Tilling.  He did not exactly invest himself with an air of
condescension and superiority--Miss Mapp did him that justice--but
he made other people invest him with it, so that it came to the
same thing: he was invested.  He did not drag the fact of his
sister being the Contessa Faraglione into conversation, but if talk
turned on sisters, and he was asked about his, he confessed to her
nobility.  The same phenomenon appeared when the innocent county of
Hampshire was mentioned, for it turned out that he knew the county
well, being one of the Wyses of Whitchurch.  You couldn't say he
talked about it, but he made other people talk about it. . . .  He
was quite impervious to satire on such points, for when, goaded to
madness, Miss Mapp had once said that she was one of the Mapps of
Maidstone, he had merely bowed and said:  "A very old family, I
believe," and when the conversation branched off on to old families
he had rather pointedly said "we" to Miss Mapp.  So poor Miss Mapp
was sorry she had been satirical. . . .  But, for some reason,
Tilling never ceased to play up to Mr. Wyse, and there was not a
tea-party or a bridge-party given during the whole period of his
residence there to which he was not invited.  Hostesses always
started with him, sending him round a note with "To await answer",
written in the top left-hand corner, since he had clearly stated
that he considered the telephone an undignified instrument only fit
to be used for household purposes, and had installed his in the
kitchen, in the manner of the Wyses of Whitchurch.  That alone,
apart from Mr. Wyse's old-fashioned notions on the subject, made
telephoning impossible, for your summons was usually answered by
his cook, who instantly began scolding the butcher irrespective and
disrespectful of whom you were.  When her mistake was made known to
her, she never apologized, but grudgingly said she would call Mr.
Figgis, who was Mr. Wyse's valet.  Mr. Figgis always took a long
time in coming, and when he came he sneezed or did something
disagreeable and said:  "Yes, yes; what is it?" in a very testy
manner.  After explanations he would consent to tell his master,
which took another long time, and even then Mr. Wyse did not come
himself, and usually refused the proffered invitation.  Miss Mapp
had tried the expedient of sending Withers to the telephone when
she wanted to get at Mr. Wyse's, but this had not succeeded, for
Withers and Mr. Wyse's cook quarrelled so violently before they got
to business that Mr. Figgis had to calm the cook and Withers to
complain to Miss Mapp. . . .  This, in brief, was the general
reason why Tilling sent notes to Mr. Wyse.  As for chatting through
the telephone, which was the main use of telephones, the thing was
quite out of the question.

Miss Mapp revived a little as she made this piercing analysis of
Mr. Wyse, and the warmth of the central heating pipes, on this
baffling day of autumn tints, was comforting. . . .  No one could
say that Mr. Wyse was not punctilious in matters of social
etiquette, for though he refused three-quarters of the invitations
which were showered on him, he invariably returned the compliment
by an autograph note hoping that he might have the pleasure of
entertaining you at lunch on Thursday next, for he always gave a
small luncheon-party on Thursday.  These invitations were couched
in Chesterfield terms: Mr. Wyse said that he had met a mutual
friend just now who had informed him that you were in residence,
and had encouraged him to hope that you might give him the pleasure
of your company, etc.  This was alluring diction: it presented the
image of Mr. Wyse stepping briskly home again, quite heartened up
by this chance encounter, and no longer the prey to melancholy at
the thought that you might not give him the joy.  He was encouraged
to hope. . . .  These polite expressions were traced in a neat
upright hand on paper which, when he had just come back from Italy,
often bore a coronet on the top with "Villa Faraglione, Capri"
printed on the right-hand top corner and "Amelia" (the name of his
putative sister) in sprawling gilt on the left, the whole being
lightly erased.  Of course he was quite right to filch a few
sheets, but it threw rather a lurid light on his character that
they should be such grand ones.

Last year only, in a fit of passion at Mr. Wyse having refused six
invitations running on the plea of other engagements, Miss Mapp had
headed a movement, the object of which was that Tilling should not
accept any of Mr. Wyse's invitations unless he accepted its.  This
had met with theoretical sympathy; the Bartletts, Diva, Irene, the
Poppits had all agreed--rather absently--that it would be a very
proper thing to do, but the very next Thursday they had all,
including the originator, met on Mr. Wyse's doorstep for a luncheon-
party, and the movement then and there collapsed.  Though they all
protested and rebelled against such a notion, the horrid fact
remained that everybody basked in Mr. Wyse's effulgence whenever it
was disposed to shed itself on them.  Much as they distrusted the
information they dragged out of him, they adored hearing about the
Villa Faraglione, and dressed themselves in their very best clothes
to do so.  Then again there was the quality of the lunch itself:
often there was caviare, and it was impossible (though the
interrogator who asked whether it came from Twemlow's feared the
worst) not to be mildly excited to know, when Mr. Wyse referred the
question to Figgis, that the caviare had arrived from Odessa that
morning.  The haunch of roe-deer came from Perthshire; the wine, on
the subject of which the Major could not be silent, and which often
made him extremely talkative, was from "my brother-in-law's
vineyard".  And Mr. Wyse would taste it with the air of a
connoisseur and say:  "Not quite as good as last year: I must tell
the Cont--I mean my sister."

Again when Mr. Wyse did condescend to honour a tea-party or a
bridge-party, Tilling writhed under the consciousness that their
general deportment was quite different from that which they
ordinarily practised among themselves.  There was never any
squabbling at Mr. Wyse's table, and such squabbling as took place
at the other tables was conducted in low hissings and whispers, so
that Mr. Wyse should not hear.  Diva never haggled over her gains
or losses when he was there, the Padre never talked Scotch or
Elizabethan English.  Evie never squeaked like a mouse, no shrill
recriminations or stately sarcasms took place between partners, and
if there happened to be a little disagreement about the rules, Mr.
Wyse's decision, though he was not a better player than any of
them, was accepted without a murmur.  At intervals for refreshment,
in the same way, Diva no longer filled her mouth and both hands
with nougat-chocolate; there was no scrambling or jostling, but the
ladies were waited on by the gentlemen, who then refreshed
themselves.  And yet Mr. Wyse in no way asserted himself, or
reduced them all to politeness by talking about the polished manner
of Italians; it was Tilling itself which chose to behave in this
unusual manner in his presence.  Sometimes Diva might forget
herself for a moment, and address something withering to her
partner, but the partner never replied in suitable terms, and Diva
became honey-mouthed again.  It was, indeed, if Mr. Wyse had
appeared at two or three parties, rather a relief not to find him
at the next, and breathe freely in less rarefied air.  But whether
he came or not he always returned the invitation by one to a
Thursday luncheon-party, and thus the high circles of Tilling met
every week at his house.

Miss Mapp came to the end of this brief retrospect, and determined,
when once it was proved that Mr. Wyse had arrived, to ask him to
tea on Tuesday.  That would mean lunch with him on Thursday, and it
was unnecessary to ask anybody else unless Mr. Wyse accepted.  If
he refused, there would be no tea-party. . . .  But, after the
events of the last twenty-four hours, there was no vividness in
these plans and reminiscences, and her eye turned to the profile of
the Colonel's house.

"The portmanteau," she said to herself. . . .  No; she must take
her mind off that subject.  She would go for a walk, not into the
High Street, but into the quiet level country, away from the
turmoil of passion (in the Padre's sense) and quarrels (in her
own), where she could cool her curiosity and her soul with
contemplation of the swallows and the white butterflies (if they
had not all been killed by the touch of frost last night) and the
autumn tints of which there were none whatever in the treeless
marsh. . . .  Decidedly the shortest way out of the town was that
which led past Mr. Wyse's house.  But before leaving the garden-
room she practised several faces at the looking-glass opposite the
door, which should suitably express, if she met anybody to whom the
cause of the challenge was likely to have spread, the bewildering
emotion which the unwilling cause of it must feel.  There must be a
wistful wonder, there must be a certain pride, there must be the
remains of romantic excitement, and there must be deep womanly
anxiety.  The carriage of the head "did" the pride, the wide-open
eyes "did" the wistful wonder and the romance, the deep womanly
anxiety lurked in the tremulous smile, and a violent rubbing of the
cheeks produced the colour of excitement.  In answer to any
impertinent questions, if she encountered such, she meant to give
an absent answer, as if she had not understood.  Thus equipped she
set forth.

It was rather disappointing to meet nobody, but as she passed Mr.
Wyse's bow-window she adjusted the chrysanthemums she wore, and she
had a good sight of his profile and the back of Mrs. Poppit's head.
They appeared deep in conversation, and Miss Mapp felt that the
tiresome woman was probably giving him a very incomplete account of
what had happened.  She returned late for tea, and broke off her
apologies to Withers for being such a trouble because she saw a
note on the hall table.  There was a coronet on the back of the
envelope, and it was addressed in the neat, punctilious hand which
so well expressed its writer.  Villa Faraglione, Capri, a coronet
and Amelia all lightly crossed out headed the page, and she read:


DEAR MISS MAPP,

It is such a pleasure to find myself in our little Tilling again,
and our mutual friend Mrs. Poppit, M.B.E., tells me you are in
residence, and encourages me to hope that I may induce you to take
déjeuner with me on Thursday, at one o'clock.  May I assure you,
with all delicacy, that you will not meet here anyone whose
presence could cause you the slightest embarrassment?

Pray excuse this hasty note.  Figgis will wait for your answer if
you are in.

                                     Yours very sincerely,

                                                 ALGERNON WYSE.


Had not Withers been present, who might have misconstrued her
action, Miss Mapp would have kissed the note; failing that, she
forgave Mrs. Poppit for being an M.B.E.

"The dear woman!" she said.  "She has heard, and has told him."

Of course she need not ask Mr. Wyse to tea now. . . .



CHAPTER SEVEN


A white frost on three nights running and a terrible blackening of
dahlias, whose reputation was quite gone by morning, would probably
have convinced the ladies of Tilling that it was time to put summer
clothing in camphor and winter clothing in the back-yard to get
aired, even if the Padre had not preached that remarkable sermon on
Sunday.  It was so remarkable that Miss Mapp quite forgot to note
grammatical lapses and listened entranced.

The text was:  "He made summer and winter", and after repeating the
words very impressively, so that there might be no mistake about
the origin of the seasons, the Padre began to talk about something
quite different--namely, the unhappy divisions which exist in
Christian communities.  That did not deceive Miss Mapp for a
moment: she saw precisely what he was getting at over his
oratorical fences.  He got at it. . . .

Ever since summer-time had been inaugurated a few years before, it
had been one of the chronic dissensions of Tilling.  Miss Mapp,
Diva and the Padre flatly refused to recognize it, except when they
were going by train or tram, when principle must necessarily go to
the wall, or they would never have succeeded in getting anywhere,
while Miss Mapp, with the halo of martyrdom round her head, had
once arrived at a summer-time party an hour late, in order to bear
witness to the truth, and, in consequence, had got only dregs of
tea and the last faint strawberry.  But the Major and Captain
Puffin used the tram so often, that they had fallen into the
degrading habit of dislocating their clocks and watches on the
first of May, and dislocating them again in the autumn, when they
were forced into uniformity with properly-minded people.  Irene was
flippant on the subject, and said that any old time would do for
her.  The Poppits followed convention, and Mrs. Poppit, in naming
the hour for a party to the stalwarts, wrote "4.30 (your 3.30)".
The King, after all, had invited her to be decorated at a
particular hour, summer-time, and what was good enough for the King
was good enough for Mrs. Poppit.

The sermon was quite uncompromising.  There was summer and winter,
by Divine ordinance, but there was nothing said about summer-time
and winter-time.  There was but one Time, and even as Life only
stained the white radiance of eternity, as the gifted but, alas!
infidel poet remarked, so, too, did Time.  But ephemeral as Time
was, noon in the Bible clearly meant twelve o'clock, and not one
o'clock: towards even, meant towards even, and not the middle of a
broiling afternoon.  The sixth hour similarly was the Roman way of
saying twelve.  Winter-time, in fact, was God's time, and though
there was nothing wicked (far from it) in adopting strange
measures, yet the simple, the childlike, clung to the sacred
tradition, which they had received from their fathers and
forefathers at their mother's knee.  Then followed a long and
eloquent passage, which recapitulated the opening about unhappy
divisions, and contained several phrases, regarding the lengths to
which such divisions might go, which were strikingly applicable to
duelling.  The peroration recapitulated the recapitulation, in case
anyone had missed it, and the coda, the close itself, in the full
noon of the winter sun, was full of joy at the healing of all such
unhappy divisions.  And now . . .  The rain rattling against the
windows drowned the Doxology.

The doctrine was so much to her mind that Miss Mapp gave a shilling
to the offertory instead of her usual sixpence, to be devoted to
the organist and choir-fund.  The Padre, it is true, had changed
the hour of services to suit the heresy of the majority, and this
for a moment made her hand falter.  But the hope, after this
convincing sermon, that next year morning service would be at the
hour falsely called twelve decided her not to withdraw this
handsome contribution.

Frosts and dead dahlias and sermons then were together
overwhelmingly convincing, and when Miss Mapp went out on Monday
morning to do her shopping, she wore a tweed skirt and jacket, and
round her neck a long woollen scarf to mark the end of the summer.
Mrs. Poppit, alone in her disgusting ostentation, had seemed to
think two days ago that it was cold enough for furs, and she
presented a truly ridiculous aspect in an enormous sable coat,
under the weight of which she could hardly stagger, and stood
rooted to the spot when she stepped out of the Royce.  Brisk
walking and large woollen scarves saved the others from feeling the
cold and from being unable to move, and this morning the High
Street was dazzling with the shifting play of bright colours.
There was quite a group of scarves at the corner, where Miss Mapp's
street debouched into the High Street: Irene was there (for it was
probably too cold for Mr. Hopkins that morning), looking quainter
than ever in corduroys and mauve stockings with an immense orange
scarf bordered with pink.  Diva was there, wound up in so delicious
a combination of rose-madder and Cambridge blue, that Miss Mapp,
remembering the history of the rose-madder, had to remind herself
how many things there were in the world more important than
worsted.  Evie was there in vivid green with a purple border, the
Padre had a knitted magenta waistcoat, and Mrs. Poppit that great
sable coat which almost prevented movement.  They were all talking
together in a very animated manner when first Miss Mapp came in
sight, and if, on her approach, conversation seemed to wither, they
all wore, besides their scarves, very broad, pleasant smiles.  Miss
Mapp had a smile, too, as good as anybody's.

"Good morning, all you dear things," she said.  "How lovely you all
look--just like a bed of delicious flowers!  Such nice colours!  My
poor dahlias are all dead."

Quaint Irene uttered a hoarse laugh, and, swinging her basket, went
quickly away.  She often did abrupt things like that.  Miss Mapp
turned to the Padre.

"Dear Padre, what a delicious sermon!" she said.  "So glad you
preached it!  Such a warning against all sorts of divisions!"

The Padre had to compose his face before he responded to these
compliments.

"I'm reecht glad, fair lady," he replied, "that my bit discourse
was to your mind.  Come, wee wifie, we must be stepping."

Quite suddenly all the group, with the exception of Mrs. Poppit,
melted away.  Wee wifie gave a loud squeal, as if to say something,
but her husband led her firmly off, while Diva, with rapidly
revolving feet, sped like an arrow up the centre of the High
Street.

"Such a lovely morning!" said Miss Mapp to Mrs. Poppit, when there
was no one else to talk to.  "And everyone looks so pleased and
happy, and all in such a hurry, busy as bees, to do their little
businesses.  Yes."

Mrs. Poppit began to move quietly away with the deliberate tortoise-
like progression necessitated by the fur coat.  It struck Miss Mapp
that she, too, had intended to take part in the general breaking up
of the group, but had merely been unable to get under way as fast
as the others.

"Such a lovely fur coat," said Mrs. Mapp sycophantically.  "Such
beautiful long fur!  And what is the news this morning?  Has a
little bird been whispering anything?"

"Nothing," said Mrs. Poppit very decidedly, and having now
sufficient way on to turn, she went up the street down which Miss
Mapp had just come.  The latter was thus left all alone with her
shopping basket and her scarf.

With the unerring divination which was the natural fruit of so many
years of ceaseless conjecture, she instantly suspected the worst.
All that busy conversation which her appearance had interrupted,
all those smiles which her presence had seemed but to render
broader and more hilarious, certainly concerned her.  They could
not still have been talking about that fatal explosion from the
cupboard in the garden-room, because the duel had completely
silenced the last echoes of that, and she instantly put her finger
on the spot.  Somebody had been gossiping (and how she hated
gossip); somebody had given voice to what she had been so
studiously careful not to say.  Until that moment, when she had
seen the rapid breaking up of the group of her friends all radiant
with merriment, she had longed to be aware that somebody had given
voice to it, and that everybody (under seal of secrecy) knew the
unique queenliness of her position, the overwhelming interesting
role that the violent passions of men had cast her for.  She had
not believed in the truth of it herself, when that irresistible
seizure of coquetry took possession of her as she bent over her
sweet chrysanthemums; but the Padre's respectful reception of it
had caused her to hope that everybody else might believe in it.
The character of the smiles, however, that wreathed the faces of
her friends did not quite seem to give fruition to that hope.
There were smiles and smiles, respectful smiles, sympathetic
smiles, envious and admiring smiles, but there were also smiles of
hilarious and mocking incredulity.  She concluded that she had to
deal with the latter variety.

"Something," thought Miss Mapp, as she stood quite alone in the
High Street, with Mrs. Poppit labouring up the hill, and Diva
already a rose-madder speck in the distance, "has got to be done,"
and it only remained to settle what.  Fury with the dear Padre for
having hinted precisely what she meant, intended and designed that
he should hint, was perhaps the paramount emotion in her mind; fury
with everybody else for not respectfully believing what she did not
believe herself made an important pendant.

"What am I to do?" said Miss Mapp aloud, and had to explain to Mr.
Hopkins, who had all his clothes on, that she had not spoken to
him.  Then she caught sight again of Mrs. Poppit's sable coat
hardly farther off than it had been when first this thunderclap of
an intuition deafened her, and still reeling from the shock, she
remembered that it was almost certainly Mrs. Poppit who was the
cause of Mr. Wyse writing her that exquisitely delicate note with
regard to Thursday.  It was a herculean task, no doubt, to plug up
all the fountains of talk in Tilling which were spouting so merrily
at her expense, but a beginning must be made before she could
arrive at the end.  A short scurry of nimble steps brought her up
to the sables.

"Dear Mrs. Poppit," she said, "if you are walking by my little
house, would you give me two minutes' talk?  And--so stupid of me
to forget just now--will you come in after dinner on Wednesday for
a little rubber?  The days are closing in now; one wants to make
the most of the daylight, and I think it is time to begin our
pleasant little winter evenings."

This was a bribe, and Mrs. Poppit instantly pocketed it, with the
effect that two minutes later she was in the garden-room, and had
deposited her sable coat on the sofa ("Quite shook the room with
the weight of it," said Miss Mapp to herself while she arranged her
plan).

She stood looking out of the window for a moment, writhing with
humiliation at having to be suppliant to the Member of the British
Empire.  She tried to remember Mrs. Poppit's Christian name, and
was even prepared to use that, but this crowning ignominy was saved
her, as she could not recollect it.

"Such an annoying thing has happened," she said, though the words
seemed to blister her lips.  "And you, dear Mrs. Poppit, as a woman
of the world, can advise me what to do.  The fact is that somehow
or other, and I can't think how, people are saying that the duel
last week, which was so happily averted, had something to do with
poor little me.  So absurd!  But you know what gossips we have in
our dear little Tilling."

Mrs. Poppit turned on her a fallen and disappointed face.

"But hadn't it?" she said.  "Why, when they were all laughing about
it just now" ("I was right, then," thought Miss Mapp, "and what a
tactless woman!"), "I said I believed it.  And I told Mr. Wyse."

Miss Mapp cursed herself for her frankness.  But she could
obliterate that again, and not lose a rare (goodness knew how
rare!) believer.

"I am in such a difficult position," she said.  "I think I ought to
let it be understood that there is no truth whatever in such an
idea, however much truth there may be.  And did dear Mr. Wyse
believe--in fact, I know he must have, for he wrote me, oh, such a
delicate, understanding note.  He, at any rate, takes no notice of
all that is being said and hinted."

Miss Mapp was momentarily conscious that she meant precisely the
opposite of this.  Dear Mr. Wyse DID take notice, most respectful
notice, of all that was being said and hinted, thank goodness!  But
a glance at Mrs. Poppit's fat and interested face showed her that
the verbal discrepancy had gone unnoticed, and that the luscious
flavour of romance drowned the perception of anything else.  She
drew a handkerchief out, and buried her thoughtful eyes in it a
moment, rubbing them with a stealthy motion, which Mrs. Poppit did
not perceive, though Diva would have.

"My lips are sealed," she continued, opening them very wide, "and I
can say nothing, except that I want this rumour to be contradicted.
I daresay those who started it thought it was true, but, true or
false, I must say nothing.  I have always led a very quiet life in
my little house, with my sweet flowers for my companions, and if
there is one thing more than another that I dislike, it is that my
private affairs should be made matters of public interest.  I do no
harm to anybody, I wish everybody well, and nothing--nothing will
induce me to open my lips upon this subject.  I will not," cried
Miss Mapp, "say a word to defend or justify myself.  What is true
will prevail.  It comes in the Bible."

Mrs. Poppit was too much interested in what she said to mind where
it came from.

"What can I do?" she asked.

"Contradict, dear, the rumour that I have had anything to do with
the terrible thing which might have happened last week.  Say on my
authority that it is so.  I tremble to think"--here she trembled
very much--"what might happen if the report reached Major Benjy's
ears, and he found out who had started it.  We must have no more
duels in Tilling.  I thought I should never survive that morning."

"I will go and tell Mr. Wyse instantly--dear," said Mrs. Poppit.

That would never do.  True believers were so scarce that it was
wicked to think of unsettling their faith.

"Poor Mr. Wyse!" said Miss Mapp with a magnanimous smile.  "Do not
think, dear, of troubling him with these little trumpery affairs.
He will not take part in these little tittle-tattles.  But if you
could let dear Diva and quaint Irene and sweet Evie and the good
Padre know that I laugh at all such nonsense--"

"But they laugh at it, too," said Mrs. Poppit.

That would have been baffling for anyone who allowed herself to be
baffled, but that was not Miss Mapp's way.

"Oh, that bitter laughter!" she said.  "It hurt me to hear it.  It
was envious laughter, dear, scoffing, bitter laughter.  I heard!  I
cannot bear that the dear things should feel like that.  Tell them
that I say how silly they are to believe anything of the sort.
Trust me, I am right about it.  I wash my hands of such nonsense."

She made a vivid dumb-show of this, and after drying them on an
imaginary towel, let a sunny smile peep out of the eyes which she
had rubbed.

"All gone!" she said; "and we will have a dear little party on
Wednesday to show we are all friends again.  And we meet for lunch
at dear Mr. Wyse's the next day?  Yes?  He will get tired of poor
little me if he sees me two days running, so I shall not ask him.
I will just try to get two tables together, and nobody shall
contradict dear Diva, however many shillings she says she has won.
I would sooner pay them all myself than have any more of our
unhappy divisions.  You will have talked to them all before
Wednesday, will you not, dear?"

As there were only four to talk to, Mrs. Poppit thought that she
could manage it, and spent a most interesting afternoon.  For two
years now she had tried to unfreeze Miss Mapp, who, when all was
said and done, was the centre of the Tilling circle, and who, if
any attempt was made to shove her out towards the circumference,
always gravitated back again.  And now, on these important errands
she was Miss Mapp's accredited ambassador, and all the terrible
business of the opening of the store cupboard and her decoration as
M.B.E. was quite forgiven and forgotten.  There would be so much
walking to be done from house to house, that it was impossible
to wear her sable coat unless she had the Royce to take her
about. . . .

The effect of her communications would have surprised anybody who
did not know Tilling.  A less subtle society, when assured from a
first-hand, authoritative source that a report which it had
entirely refused to believe was false, would have prided itself on
its perspicacity, and said that it had laughed at such an idea, as
soon as ever it heard it, as being palpably (look at Miss Mapp!)
untrue.  Not so Tilling.  The very fact that, by the mouth of her
ambassador, she so uncompromisingly denied it, was precisely why
Tilling began to wonder if there was not something in it, and from
wondering if there was not something in it, surged to the
conclusion that there certainly was.  Diva, for instance, the
moment she was told that Elizabeth (for Mrs. Poppit remembered her
Christian name perfectly) utterly and scornfully denied the truth
of the report, became intensely thoughtful.

"Say there's nothing in it?" she observed.  "Can't understand
that."

At that moment Diva's telephone bell rang, and she hurried out and
in.

"Party at Elizabeth's on Wednesday," she said.  "She saw me
laughing.  Why ask me?"

Mrs. Poppit was full of her sacred mission.

"To show how little she minds your laughing," she suggested.

"As if it wasn't true, then.  Seems like that.  Wants us to think
it's not true."

"She was very earnest about it," said the ambassador.

Diva got up, and tripped over the outlying skirts of Mrs. Poppit's
fur coat as she went to ring the bell.

"Sorry," she said.  "Take it off and have a chat.  Tea's coming.
Muffins!"

"Oh, no, thanks!" said Mrs. Poppit.  "I've so many calls to make."

"What?  Similar calls?" asked Diva.  "Wait ten minutes.  Tea,
Janet.  Quickly."

She whirled round the room once or twice, all corrugated with
perplexity, beginning telegraphic sentences, and not finishing
them:  "Says it's not true--laughs at notion of--And Mr. Wyse
believes--The Padre believed.  After all, the Major--Little cock-
sparrow Captain Puffin--Or t'other way round, do you think?--No
other explanation, you know--Might have been blood--"

She buried her teeth in a muffin.

"Believe there's something in it," she summed up.

She observed her guest had neither tea nor muffin.

"Help yourself," she said.  "Want to worry this out."

"Elizabeth absolutely denies it," said Mrs. Poppit.  "Her eyes were
full of--"

"Oh, anything," said Diva.  "Rubbed them.  Or pepper if it was at
lunch.  That's no evidence."

"But her solemn assertion--" began Mrs. Poppit, thinking that she
was being a complete failure as an ambassador.  She was carrying no
conviction at all.

"Saccharine!" observed Diva, handing her a small phial.  "Haven't
got more than enough sugar for myself.  I expect Elizabeth's got
plenty--well, never mind that.  Don't you see?  If it wasn't true
she would try to convince us that it was.  Seemed absurd on the
face of it.  But if she tries to convince us that it isn't true--
well, something in it."

There was the gist of the matter, and Mrs. Poppit proceeding next
to the Padre's house, found more muffins and incredulity.  Nobody
seemed to believe Elizabeth's assertion that there was "nothing in
it".  Evie ran round the room with excited squeaks, the Padre
nodded his head, in confirmation of the opinion which, when he
first delivered it, had been received with mocking incredulity over
the crab.  Quaint Irene, intent on Mr. Hopkins's left knee in the
absence of the model, said:  "Good old Map; better late than
never."  Utter incredulity, in fact, was the ambassador's
welcome . . . and all the incredulous were going to Elizabeth's
party on Wednesday.

Mrs. Poppit had sent the Royce home for the last of her calls, and
staggered up the hill past Elizabeth's house.  Oddly enough, just
as she passed the garden-room, the window was thrown up."

"Cup of tea, dear Susan?" said Elizabeth.  She had found an old
note of Mrs. Poppit's among the waste paper for the firing of the
kitchen oven fully signed.

"Just two minutes' talk, Elizabeth," she promptly responded.


The news that nobody in Tilling believed her left Miss Mapp more
than calm, on the bright side of calm, that is to say.  She had a
few indulgent phrases that tripped readily off her tongue for the
dear things who hated to be deprived of their gossip, but Susan
certainly did not receive the impression that this playful
magnanimity was attained with an effort.  Elizabeth did not seem
really to mind: she was very gay.  Then, skilfully changing the
subject, she mourned over her dead dahlias.

Though Tilling with all its perspicacity could not have known it,
the intuitive reader will certainly have perceived that Miss Mapp's
party for Wednesday night had, so to speak, further irons in its
fire.  It had originally been a bribe to Susan Poppit, in order to
induce her to spread broadcast that that ridiculous rumour (whoever
had launched it) had been promptly denied by the person whom it
most immediately concerned.  It served a second purpose in showing
that Miss Mapp was too high above the mire of scandal, however
interesting, to know or care who might happen to be wallowing in
it, and for this reason she asked everybody who had done so.  Such
loftiness of soul had earned her an amazing bonus, for it had
induced those who sat in the seat of the scoffers before to come
hastily off, and join the thin but unwavering ranks of the true
believers, who up till then had consisted only of Susan and Mr.
Wyse.  Frankly, so blest a conclusion had never occurred to Miss
Mapp: it was one of those unexpected rewards that fall like ripe
plums into the lap of the upright.  By denying a rumour she had got
everybody to believe it, and when on Wednesday morning she went out
to get the chocolate cakes which were so useful in allaying the
appetites of guests, she encountered no broken conversations and
gleeful smiles, but sidelong glances of respectful envy.

But what Tilling did not and could not know was that this, the
first of the autumn after-dinner bridge-parties, was destined to
look on the famous tea-gown of kingfisher-blue, as designed for
Mrs. Trout.  No doubt other ladies would have hurried up their new
gowns, or at least have camouflaged their old ones, in honour of
the annual inauguration of evening bridge, but Miss Mapp had no
misgivings about being outshone.  And once again here she felt that
luck waited on merit, for though when she dressed that evening she
found she had not anticipated that artificial light would cast a
somewhat pale (though not ghastly) reflection from the vibrant blue
on to her features, similar in effect to (but not so marked as) the
light that shines on the faces of those who lean over the burning
brandy and raisins of "snapdragons", this interesting pallor seemed
very aptly to bear witness to all that she had gone through.  She
did not look ill--she was satisfied as to that--she looked gorgeous
and a little wan.

The bridge tables were not set out in the garden-room, which
entailed a scurry over damp gravel on a black, windy night, but in
the little square parlour above her dining-room, where Withers, in
the intervals of admitting her guests, was laying out plates of
sandwiches and the chocolate cakes, reinforced when the interval
for refreshments came with hot soup, whisky and syphons, and a jug
of "cup" prepared according to an ancestral and economical recipe,
which Miss Mapp had taken a great deal of trouble about.  A single
bottle of white wine, with suitable additions of ginger, nutmeg,
herbs and soda-water, was the mother of a gallon of a drink that
seemed aflame with fiery and probably spirituous ingredients.
Guests were very careful how they partook of it, so stimulating it
seemed.

Miss Mapp was reading a book on gardening upside down (she had
taken it up rather hurriedly) when the Poppits arrived, and sprang
to her feet with a pretty cry at being so unexpectedly but
delightfully disturbed.

"Susan!  Isabel!" she said.  "Lovely of you to have come!  I was
reading about flowers, making plans for next year."

She saw the four eyes riveted to her dress.  Susan looked quite
shabby in comparison, and Isabel did not look anything at all.

"My dear, too lovely!" said Mrs. Poppit slowly.

Miss Mapp looked brightly about, as if wondering what was too
lovely: at last she guessed.

"Oh, my new frock?" she said.  "Do you like it, dear?  How sweet of
you.  It's just a little nothing that I talked over with that nice
Miss Greele in the High Street.  We put our heads together, and
invented something quite cheap and simple.  And here's Evie and the
dear Padre.  So kind of you to look in."

Four more eyes were riveted on it.

"Enticed you out just once, Padre," went on Miss Mapp.  "So sweet
of you to spare an evening.  And here's Major Benjy and Captain
Puffin.  Well, that is nice!"

This was really tremendous of Miss Mapp.  Here was she meeting
without embarrassment or awkwardness the two, who if the duel had
not been averted, would have risked their very lives over some
dispute concerning her.  Everybody else, naturally, was rather
taken aback for the moment at this situation, so deeply dyed in the
dramatic.  Should either of the gladiators have heard that it was
the Padre who undoubtedly had spread the rumour concerning their
hostess, Mrs. Poppit was afraid that even his cloth might not
protect him.  But no such deplorable calamity occurred, and only
four more eyes were riveted to the kingfisher-blue.

"Upon my word," said the Major, "I never saw anything more
beautiful than that gown, Miss Elizabeth.  Straight from Paris, eh?
Paris in every line of it."

"Oh, Major Benjy," said Elizabeth.  "You're all making fun of me
and my simple little frock.  I'm getting quite shy.  Just a bit of
old stuff that I had.  But so nice of you to like it.  I wonder
where Diva is.  We shall have to scold her for being late.  Ah--she
shan't be scolded.  Diva, darl--"

The endearing word froze on Miss Mapp's lips and she turned deadly
white.  In the doorway, in equal fury and dismay, stood Diva,
dressed in precisely the same staggeringly lovely costume as her
hostess.  Had Diva and Miss Greele put their heads together too?
Had Diva got a bit of old stuff . . . ?

Miss Mapp pulled herself together first and moistened her dry lips.

"So sweet of you to look in, dear," she said.  "Shall we cut?"

Naturally the malice of cards decreed that Miss Mapp and Diva
should sit next each other as adversaries at the same table, and
the combined effect of two lots of kingfisher-blue was blinding.
Complete silence on every subject connected, however remotely, with
dress was, of course, the only line for correct diplomacy to
pursue, but then Major Benjy was not diplomatic, only gallant.

"Never saw such stunning gowns, eh, Padre?" he said.  "Dear me,
they are very much alike too, aren't they?  Pair of exquisite
sisters."

It would be hard to say which of the two found this speech the more
provocative of rage, for while Diva was four years younger than
Miss Mapp, Miss Mapp was four inches taller than Diva.  She cut the
cards to her sister with a hand that trembled so much that she had
to do it again, and Diva could scarcely deal.


Mr. Wyse frankly confessed the next day when, at one o'clock,
Elizabeth found herself the first arrival at his house, that he had
been very self-indulgent.

"I have given myself a treat, dear Miss Mapp," he said.  "I have
asked three entrancing ladies to share my humble meal with me, and
have provided--is it not shocking of me?--nobody else to meet them.
Your pardon, dear lady, for my greediness."

Now this was admirably done.  Elizabeth knew very well why two out
of the three men in Tilling had not been asked (very gratifying,
that reason was), and with the true refinement of which Mr. Wyse
was so amply possessed, here he was taking all the blame on
himself, and putting it so prettily.  She bestowed her widest smile
on him.

"Oh, Mr. Wyse," she said.  "We shall all quarrel over you."

Not until Miss Mapp had spoken did she perceive how subtle her
words were.  They seemed to bracket herself and Mr. Wyse together:
all the men (two out of the three, at any rate) had been
quarrelling over her, and now there seemed a very fair prospect of
three of the women quarrelling over Mr. Wyse. . . .

Without being in the least effeminate, Mr. Wyse this morning looked
rather like a modern Troubadour.  He had a velveteen coat on, a
soft, fluffy, mushy tie which looked as if made of Shirley poppies,
very neat knickerbockers, brown stockings with blobs, like the
fruit of plane trees, dependent from elaborate "tops", and shoes
with a cascade of leather frilling covering the laces.  He might
almost equally well be about to play golf over putting-holes on the
lawn as the guitar.  He made a gesture of polished, polite dissent,
not contradicting, yet hardly accepting this tribute, remitting it
perhaps, just as the King when he enters the City of London touches
the sword of the Lord Mayor and tells him to keep it. . . .

"So pleasant to be in Tilling again," he said.  "We shall have a
cosy, busy winter, I hope.  You, I know, Miss Mapp, are always
busy."

"The day is never long enough for me," said Elizabeth
enthusiastically.  "What with my household duties in the morning,
and my garden, and our pleasant little gatherings, it is always
bedtime too soon.  I want to read a great deal this winter, too."

Diva (at the sight of whom Elizabeth had to make a strong effort of
self-control) here came in, together with Mrs. Poppit, and the
party was complete.  Elizabeth would have been willing to bet that,
in spite of the warmness of the morning, Susan would have on her
sable coat, and though, technically, she would have lost, she more
than won morally, for Mr. Wyse's repeated speeches about his
greediness were hardly out of his mouth when she discovered that
she had left her handkerchief in the pocket of her sable coat,
which she had put over the back of a conspicuous chair in the hall.
Figgis, however, came in at the moment to say that lunch was ready,
and she delayed them all very much by a long, ineffectual search
for it, during which Figgis, with a visible effort, held up the
sable coat, so that it was displayed to the utmost advantage.  And
then, only fancy, Susan discovered that it was in her sable muff
all the time!

All three ladies were on tenterhooks of anxiety as to who was to be
placed on Mr. Wyse's right, who on his left, and who would be given
only the place between two other women.  But his tact was equal to
anything.

"Miss Mapp," he said, "will you honour me by taking the head of my
table and be hostess for me?  Only I must have that vase of flowers
removed, Figgis; I can look at my flowers when Miss Mapp is not
here.  Now, what have we got for breakfast--lunch, I should say?"

The macaroni which Mr. Wyse had brought back with him from Naples
naturally led on to Italian subjects, and the general scepticism
about the Contessa di Faraglione had a staggering blow dealt it.

"My sister," began Mr. Wyse (and by a swift sucking motion, Diva
drew into her mouth several serpents of dependent macaroni in order
to be able to listen better without this agitating distraction),
"my sister, I hope, will come to England this winter, and spend
several weeks with me."  (Sensation.)

"And the Count?" asked Diva, having swallowed the serpents.

"I fear not; Cecco--Francesco, you know--is a great stay-at-home.
Amelia is looking forward very much to seeing Tilling.  I shall
insist on her making a long stay here, before she visits our
relations at Whitchurch."

Elizabeth found herself reserving judgment.  She would believe in
the Contessa Faraglione--no one more firmly--when she saw her, and
had reasonable proofs of her identity.

"Delightful!" she said, abandoning with regret the fruitless
pursuit with a fork of the few last serpents that writhed on her
plate.  "What an addition to our society!  We shall all do our best
to spoil her, Mr. Wyse.  When do you expect her?"

"Early in December.  You must be very kind to her, dear ladies.
She is an insatiable bridge-player.  She has heard much of the
great players she will meet here."

That decided Mrs. Poppit.  She would join the correspondence class
conducted by "Little Slam", in "Cosy Corner".  Little Slam, for the
sum of two guineas, payable in advance, engaged to make first-class
players of anyone with normal intelligence.  Diva's mind flew off
to the subject of dress, and the thought of the awful tragedy
concerning the tea-gown of kingfisher-blue, combined with the
endive salad, gave a wry twist to her mouth for a moment.

"I, as you know," continued Mr. Wyse, "am no hand at bridge."

"Oh, Mr. Wyse, you play beautifully," interpolated Elizabeth.

"Too flattering of you, Miss Mapp.  But Amelia and Cecco do not
agree with you.  I am never allowed to play when I am at the Villa
Faraglione, unless a table cannot be made up without me.  But I
shall look forward to seeing many well-contested games."

The quails and the figs had come from Capri, and Miss Mapp,
greedily devouring each in turn, was so much incensed by the
information that she had elicited about them, that, though she
joined in the general Lobgesang, she was tempted to inquire whether
the ice had not been brought from the South Pole by some Antarctic
expedition.  Her mind was not, like poor Diva's, taken up with
obstinate questionings about the kingfisher-blue tea-gown, for she
had already determined what she was going to do about it.
Naturally it was impossible to contemplate fresh encounters like
that of last night, but another gown, crimson-lake, the colour of
Mrs. Trout's toilet for the second evening of the Duke of
Hampshire's visit, as Vogue informed her, had completely
annihilated Newport with its splendour.  She had already consulted
Miss Greele about it, who said that if the kingfisher-blue was
bleached first the dye of crimson-lake would be brilliant and
pure. . . .  The thought of that, and the fact that Miss Greele's
lips were professionally sealed, made her able to take Diva's arm as
they strolled about the garden afterwards.  The way in which both
Diva and Susan had made up to Mr. Wyse during lunch was really very
shocking, though it did not surprise Miss Mapp, but she supposed
their heads had been turned by the prospect of playing bridge with a
countess.  Luckily she expected nothing better of either of them, so
their conduct was in no way a blow or a disappointment to her.

This companionship with Diva was rather prolonged, for the adhesive
Susan, staggering about in her sables, clung close to their host
and simulated a clumsy interest in chrysanthemums; and whatever the
other two did, manoeuvred herself into a strong position between
them and Mr. Wyse, from which, operating on interior lines, she
could cut off either assailant.  More depressing yet (and throwing
a sad new light on his character), Mr. Wyse seemed to appreciate
rather than resent the appropriation of himself, and instead of
making a sortie through the beleaguering sables, would beg Diva and
Elizabeth, who were so fond of fuchsias and knew about them so
well, to put their heads together over an afflicted bed of these
flowers in quite another part of the garden, and tell him what was
the best treatment for their anæmic condition.  Pleasant and proper
though it was to each of them that Mr. Wyse should pay so little
attention to the other, it was bitter as the endive salad to both
that he should tolerate, if not enjoy, the companionship which the
forwardness of Susan forced on him, and while they absently stared
at the fuchsias, the fire kindled, and Elizabeth spake with her
tongue.

"How very plain poor Susan looks to-day," she said.  "Such a
colour, though to be sure I attribute that more to what she ate and
drank than to anything else.  Crimson.  Oh, those poor fuchsias!  I
think I should throw them away."

The common antagonism, Diva felt, had drawn her and Elizabeth into
the most cordial of understandings.  For the moment she felt
nothing but enthusiastic sympathy with Elizabeth, in spite of her
kingfisher-blue gown. . . .  What on earth, in parenthesis, was she
to do with hers?  She could not give it to Janet: it was impossible
to contemplate the idea of Janet walking about the High Street in a
tea-gown of kingfisher-blue just in order to thwart Elizabeth. . . .

"Mr. Wyse seems taken with her," said Diva.  "How he can!  Rather a
snob.  M.B.E.  She's always popping in here.  Saw her yesterday
going round the corner of the street."

"What time, dear?" asked Elizabeth, nosing the scent.

"Middle of the morning."

"And I saw her in the afternoon," said Elizabeth.  "That great
lumbering Rolls-Royce went tacking and skidding round the corner
below my garden-room."

"Was she in it?" asked Diva.

This appeared rather a slur on Elizabeth's reliability in
observation.

"No, darling, she was sitting on the top," she said, taking the
edge off the sarcasm, in case Diva had not intended to be critical,
by a little laugh.  Diva drew the conclusion that Elizabeth had
actually seen her inside.

"Think it's serious?" she said.  "Think he'll marry her?"

The idea of course, repellent and odious as it was, had occurred to
Elizabeth, so she instantly denied it.

"Oh, you busy little match-maker," she said brightly.  "Such an
idea never entered my head.  You shouldn't make such fun of dear
Susan.  Come, dear, I can't look at fuchsias any more.  I must be
getting home and must say good-bye--au reservoir, rather--to Mr.
Wyse, if Susan will allow me to get a word in edgeways."

Susan seemed delighted to let Miss Mapp get this particular word in
edgewise, and after a little speech from Mr. Wyse, in which he said
that he would not dream of allowing them to go yet, and immediately
afterwards shook hands warmly with them both, hoping that the
reservoir would be a very small one, the two were forced to leave
the artful Susan in possession of the field. . . .

It all looked rather black.  Miss Mapp's vivid imagination
altogether failed to picture what Tilling would be like if Susan
succeeded in becoming Mrs. Wyse and the sister-in-law of a
countess, and she sat down in her garden-room and closed her eyes
for a moment, in order to concentrate her power of figuring the
situation.  What dreadful people these climbers were!  How swiftly
they swarmed up the social ladder with their Rolls-Royces and their
red-currant fool, and their sables!  A few weeks ago she herself
had never asked Susan into her house, while the very first time she
came she unloosed the sluices of the store cupboard, and now, owing
to the necessity of getting her aid in stopping that mischievous
rumour, which she herself had been so careful to set on foot,
regarding the cause of the duel, Miss Mapp had been positively
obliged to flatter and to "Susan" her.  And if Diva's awful surmise
proved to be well-founded, Susan would be in a position to
patronize them all, and talk about counts and countesses with the
same air of unconcern as Mr. Wyse.  She would be bidden to the
Villa Faraglione, she would play bridge with Cecco and Amelia, she
would visit the Wyses of Whitchurch. . . .

What was to be done?  She might head another movement to put Mr.
Wyse in his proper place; this, if successful, would have the
agreeable result of pulling down Susan a rung or two should she
carry out her design.  But the failure of the last attempt and Mr.
Wyse's eminence did not argue well for any further manoeuvre of
the kind.  Or should she poison Mr. Wyse's mind with regard to
Susan? . . .  Or was she herself causelessly agitated?

Or--

Curiosity rushed like a devastating tornado across Miss Mapp's
mind, rooting up all other growths, buffeting her with the
necessity of knowing what the two whom she had been forced to leave
in the garden were doing now, and snatching up her opera-glasses
she glided upstairs, and let herself out through the trap-door on
to the roof.  She did not remember if it was possible to see Mr.
Wyse's garden or any part of it from that watch-tower, but there
was a chance. . . .

Not a glimpse of it was visible.  It lay quite hidden behind the
red-brick wall which bounded it, and not a chrysanthemum or a
fuchsia could she see.  But her blood froze as, without putting the
glasses down, she ran her eye over such part of the house-wall as
rose above the obstruction.  In his drawing-room window on the
first floor were seated two figures.  Susan had taken her sables
off: it was as if she intended remaining there for ever, or at
least for tea. . . .



CHAPTER EIGHT


The hippopotamus quarrel over their whisky between Major Flint and
Captain Puffin, which culminated in the challenge and all the
shining sequel, had had the excellent effect of making the united
services more united than ever.  They both knew that, had they not
severally run away from the encounter, and, so providentially, met
at the station, very serious consequences might have ensued.  Had
not both but only one of them been averse from taking or risking
life, the other would surely have remained in Tilling, and spread
disastrous reports about the bravery of the refugee; while if
neither of them had had scruples on the sacredness of human
existence there might have been one if not two corpses lying on the
shining sands.  Naturally the fact that they both had taken the
very earliest opportunity of averting an encounter by flight, made
it improbable that any future quarrel would be proceeded with to
violent extremes, but it was much safer to run no risks, and not
let verbal disagreements rise to hippopotamus-pitch again.
Consequently when there was any real danger of such savagery as was
implied in sending challenges, they hastened, by mutual
concessions, to climb down from these perilous places, where loss
of balance might possibly occur.  For which of them could be
absolutely certain that next time the other of them might not be
more courageous? . . .  They were coming up from the tram-station
one November evening, both fizzing and fuming a good deal, and the
Major was extremely lame, lamer than Puffin.  The rattle of the
tram had made argument impossible during the transit from the
links, but they had both in this enforced silence thought of
several smart repartees, supposing that the other made the
requisite remarks to call them out, and on arrival at the Tilling
station they went on at precisely the same point at which they had
broken off on starting from the station by the links.

"Well, I hope I can take a beating in as English a spirit as
anybody," said the Major.

This was lucky for Captain Puffin: he had thought it likely that he
would say just that, and had got a stinger for him.

"And it worries you to find that your hopes are doomed to
disappointment," he swiftly said.

Major Flint stepped in a puddle which cooled his foot but not his
temper.

"Most offensive remark," he said.  "I wasn't called Sporting Benjy
in the regiment for nothing.  But never mind that.  A worm-cast--"

"It wasn't a worm-cast," said Puffin.  "It was sheep's-dung!"

Luck had veered here: the Major had felt sure that Puffin would
reiterate that utterly untrue contention.

"I can't pretend to be such a specialist as you in those matters,"
he said, "but you must allow me sufficient power of observation to
know a worm-cast when I see it.  It was a worm-cast, sir, a cast of
a worm, and you had no right to remove it.  If you will do me the
favour to consult the rules of golf--?"

"Oh, I grant you that you are more a specialist in the rules of
golf, Major, than in the practice of it," said Puffin brightly.

Suddenly it struck Sporting Benjy that the red signals of danger
danced before his eyes, and though the odious Puffin had scored
twice to his once, he called up all his powers of self-control, for
if his friend was anything like as exasperated as himself, the
breeze of disagreement might develop into a hurricane.  At the
moment he was passing through a swing-gate which led to a short cut
back to the town, but before he could take hold of himself he had
slammed it back in his fury, hitting Puffin, who was following him,
on the knee.  Then he remembered he was a sporting Christian
gentleman, and no duellist.

"I'm sure I beg your pardon, my dear fellow," he said, with the
utmost solicitude.  "Uncommonly stupid of me.  The gate flew out of
my hand.  I hope I didn't hurt you."

Puffin had just come to the same conclusion as Major Flint:
magnanimity was better than early trains, and ever so much better
than bullets.  Indeed there was no comparison. . . .

"Not hurt a bit, thank you, Major," he said, wincing with the
shrewdness of the blow, silently cursing his friend for what he
felt sure was no accident, and limping with both legs.  "It didn't
touch me.  Ha!  What a brilliant sunset.  The town looks amazingly
picturesque."

"It does indeed," said the Major.  "Fine subject for Miss Mapp."

Puffin shuffled alongside.

"There's still a lot of talk going on in the town," he said, "about
that duel of ours.  Those fairies of yours are all agog to know
what it was about.  I am sure they all think that there was a lady
in the case.  Just like the vanity of the sex.  If two men have a
quarrel, they think it must be because of their silly faces."

Ordinarily the Major's gallantry would have resented this view, but
the reconciliation with Puffin was too recent to risk just at
present.

"Poor little devils," he said.  "It makes an excitement for them.
I wonder who they think it is.  It would puzzle me to name a woman
in Tilling worth catching an early train for."

"There are several who'd be surprised to hear you say that, Major,"
said Puffin archly.

"Well, well," said the other, strutting and swelling, and walking
without a sign of lameness. . . .

They had come to where their houses stood opposite each other on
the steep cobbled street, fronted at its top end by Miss Mapp's
garden-room.  She happened to be standing in the window, and the
Major made a great flourish of his cap, and laid his hand on his
heart.

"And there's one of them," said Puffin, as Miss Mapp acknowledged
these florid salutations with a wave of her hand, and tripped away
from the window.

"Poking your fun at me," said the Major.  "Perhaps she was the
cause of our quarrel, hey?  Well, I'll step across, shall I, about
half-past nine, and bring my diaries with me?"

"I'll expect you.  You'll find me at my Roman roads."

The humour of this joke never staled, and they parted with hoots
and guffaws of laughter.

It must not be supposed that duelling, puzzles over the
portmanteau, or the machinations of Susan had put out of Miss
Mapp's head her amiable interest in the hour at which Major Benjy
went to bed.  For some time she had been content to believe, on
direct information from him, that he went to bed early and worked
at his diaries on alternate evenings, but maturer consideration had
led her to wonder whether he was being quite as truthful as a
gallant soldier should be.  For though (on alternate evenings) his
house would be quite dark by half-past nine, it was not for twelve
hours or more afterwards that he could be heard qui-hi-ing for his
breakfast, and unless he was in some incipient stage of sleeping-
sickness, such hours provided more than ample slumber for a growing
child, and might be considered excessive for a middle-aged man.
She had a mass of evidence to show that on the other set of
alternate nights his diaries (which must, in parenthesis, be of
extraordinary fullness) occupied him into the small hours, and to
go to bed at half-past nine on one night and after one o'clock on
the next implied a complicated kind of regularity which cried aloud
for elucidation.  If he had only breakfasted early on the mornings
after he had gone to bed early, she might have allowed herself to
be weakly credulous, but he never qui-hied earlier than half-past
nine, and she could not but think that to believe blindly in such
habits would be a triumph not for faith but for foolishness.
"People," said Miss Mapp to herself, as her attention refused to
concentrate on the evening paper, "don't do it.  I never heard of a
similar case."

She had been spending the evening alone, and even the conviction
that her cold apple tart had suffered diminution by at least a
slice, since she had so much enjoyed it hot at lunch, failed to
occupy her mind for long, for this matter had presented itself with
a clamouring insistence that drowned all other voices.  She had
tried, when, at the conclusion of her supper, she had gone back to
the garden-room, to immerse herself in a book, in an evening paper,
in the portmanteau problem, in a jig-saw puzzle, and in Patience,
but none of these supplied the stimulus to lead her mind away from
Major Benjy's evenings, or the narcotic to dull her unslumbering
desire to solve a problem that was rapidly becoming one of the
greater mysteries.

Her radiator made a seat in the window agreeably warm, and a chink
in the curtains gave her a view of the Major's lighted window.
Even as she looked, the illumination was extinguished.  She had
expected this, as he had been at his diaries late--quite naughtily
late--the evening before, so this would be a night of infant
slumber for twelve hours or so.

Even as she looked, a chink of light came from his front door,
which immediately enlarged itself into a full oblong.  Then it went
completely out.  "He has opened the door, and has put out the hall-
light," whispered Miss Mapp to herself. . . .  "He has gone out and
shut the door. . . .  (Perhaps he is going to post a letter.) . . .
He has gone into Captain Puffin's house without knocking.  So he is
expected."

Miss Mapp did not at once guess that she held in her hand the key
to the mystery.  It was certainly Major Benjy's night for going to
bed early. . . .  Then a fierce illumination beat on her brain.
Had she not, so providentially, actually observed the Major cross
the road, unmistakable in the lamplight, and had she only looked
out of her window after the light in his was quenched, she would
surely have told herself that good Major Benjy had gone to bed.
But good Major Benjy, on ocular evidence, she now knew to have done
nothing of the kind: he had gone across to see Captain Puffin. . . .
He was not good.

She grasped the situation in its hideous entirety.  She had been
deceived and hoodwinked.  Major Benjy never went to bed early at
all: on alternate nights he went and sat with Captain Puffin.  And
Captain Puffin, she could not but tell herself, sat up on the other
set of alternate nights with the Major, for it had not escaped her
observation that when the Major seemed to be sitting up, the
Captain seemed to have gone to bed.  Instantly, with strong
conviction, she suspected orgies.  It remained to be seen (and she
would remain to see it) to what hour these orgies were kept up.

About eleven o'clock a little mist had begun to form in the street,
obscuring the complete clarity of her view, but through it there
still shone the light from behind Captain Puffin's red blind, and
the mist was not so thick as to be able wholly to obscure the
figure of Major Flint when he should pass below the gas lamp again
into his house.  But no such figure.  Did he then work at his
diaries every evening?  And what price, to put it vulgarly, Roman
roads?

Every moment her sense of being deceived grew blacker, and every
moment her curiosity as to what they were doing became more
unbearable.  After a spasm of tactical thought she glided back into
her house from the garden-room, and, taking an envelope in her
hand, so that she might, if detected, say that she was going down
to the letter-box at the corner to catch the early post, she
unbolted her door and let herself out.  She crossed the street and
tip-toed along the pavement to where the red light from Captain
Puffin's window shone like a blurred danger-signal through the
mist.

From inside came a loud duet of familiar voices; sometimes they
spoke singly, sometimes together.  But she could not catch the
words; they sounded blurred and indistinct, and she told herself
that she was very glad that she could not hear what they said, for
that would have seemed like eavesdropping.  The voices sounded
angry.  Was there another duel pending?  And what was it about this
time?

Quite suddenly, from so close at hand that she positively leaped
off the pavement into the middle of the road, the door was thrown
open and the duet, louder than ever, streamed out into the street.
Major Benjy bounced out on to the threshold, and stumbled down the
two steps that led from the door.

"Tell you it was a worm-cast," he bellowed.  "Think I don't know a
worm-cast when I see a worm-cast?"

Suddenly his tone changed; this was getting too near a quarrel.

"Well, good night, old fellow," he said.  "Jolly evening."

He turned and saw, veiled and indistinct in the mist, the female
figure in the roadway.  Undying coquetry, as Mr. Stevenson so
finely remarked, awoke, for the topic preceding the worm-cast had
been "the sex".

"Bless me," he crowed, "if there isn't an unprotected lady all
'lone here in the dark, and lost in the fog.  'Llow me to 'scort
you home, madam.  Lemme introduce myself and friend--Major Flint,
that's me, and my friend Captain Puffin."

He put up his hand and whispered an aside to Miss Mapp:
"Revolutionized the theory of navigation."

Major Benjy was certainly rather gay and rather indistinct, but his
polite gallantry could not fail to be attractive.  It was naughty
of him to have said that he went to bed early on alternate nights,
but really . . . still, it might be better to slip away
unrecognized, and, thinking it would be nice to scriggle by him and
disappear in the mist, she made a tactical error in her scriggling,
for she scriggled full into the light that streamed from the open
door where Captain Puffin was standing.

He gave a shrill laugh.

"Why, it's Miss Mapp," he said in his high falsetto.  "Blow me, if
it isn't our mutual friend Miss Mapp.  What a 'strordinary
coincidence."

Miss Mapp put on her most winning smile.  To be dignified and at
the same time pleasant was the proper way to deal with this
situation.  Gentlemen often had a glass of grog when they thought
the ladies had gone upstairs.  That was how, for the moment, she
summed things up.

"Good evening," she said.  "I was just going down to the pillar-box
to post a letter," and she exhibited her envelope.  But it dropped
out of her hand, and the Major picked it up for her.

"I'll post it for you," he said very pleasantly.  "Save you the
trouble.  Insist on it.  Why, there's no stamp on it!  Why, there's
no address on it!  I say, Puffie, here's a letter with no address
on it.  Forgotten the address, Miss Mapp?  Think they'll remember
it at the post office?  Well, that's one of the mos' comic things I
ever came across.  An, an anonymous letter, eh?"

The night air began to have a most unfortunate effect on Puffin.
When he came out it would have been quite unfair to have described
him as drunk.  He was no more than gay and ready to go to bed.  Now
he became portentously solemn, as the cold mist began to do its
deadly work.

"A letter," he said impressively, "without an address is an
uncommonly dangerous thing.  Hic!  Can't tell into whose hands it
may fall.  I would sooner go 'bout with a loaded pistol than with a
letter without any address.  Send it to the bank for safety.  Send
for the police.  Follow my advice and send for the p'lice.
Police!"

Miss Mapp's penetrating mind instantly perceived that that dreadful
Captain Puffin was drunk, and she promised herself that Tilling
should ring with the tale of his excesses to-morrow.  But Major
Benjy, whom, if she mistook not, Captain Puffin had been trying,
with perhaps some small success, to lead astray, was a gallant
gentleman still, and she conceived the brilliant but madly mistaken
idea of throwing herself on his protection.

"Major Benjy," she said, "I will ask you to take me home.  Captain
Puffin has had too much to drink--"

"Woz that?" asked Captain Puffin, with an air of great interest.

Miss Mapp abandoned dignity and pleasantness, and lost her temper.

"I said you were drunk," she said with great distinctness.  "Major
Benjy, will you--"

Captain Puffin came carefully down the two steps from the door on
to the pavement.

"Look here," he said, "this all needs 'splanation.  You say I'm
drunk, do you?  Well, I say you're drunk, going out like this in
mill' of the night to post letter with no 'dress on it.  Shamed of
yourself, mill'aged woman going out in the mill' of the night in
the mill' of Tilling.  Very shocking thing.  What do you say,
Major?"

Major Benjy drew himself up to his full height, and put on his hat
in order to take it off to Miss Mapp.

"My fren' Cap'n Puffin," he said, "is a man of strictly 'stemious
habits.  Boys together.  Very serious thing to call a man of my
fren's character drunk.  If you call him drunk, why shouldn't he
call you drunk?  Can't take away man's character like that."

"Abso--" began Captain Puffin.  Then he stopped and pulled himself
together.

"Absolooly," he said without a hitch.

"Tilling shall hear of this to-morrow," said Miss Mapp, shivering
with rage and sea-mist.

Captain Puffin came a step closer.

"Now I'll tell you what it is, Miss Mapp," he said.  "If you dare
to say that I was drunk, Major and I, my fren' the Major and I will
say you were drunk.  Perhaps you think my fren' the Major's drunk
too.  But sure's I live, I'll say we were taking lil' walk in the
moonlight and found you trying to post a letter with no 'dress on
it, and couldn't find the slit to put it in.  But 'slong as you say
nothing, I say nothing.  Can't say fairer than that.  Liberal
terms.  Mutual Protection Society.  Your lips sealed, our lips
sealed.  Strictly private.  All trespassers will be prosecuted.  By
order.  Hic!"

Miss Mapp felt that Major Benjy ought instantly to have challenged
his ignoble friend to another duel for this insolent suggestion,
but he did nothing of the kind, and his silence, which had some
awful quality of consent about it, chilled her mind, even as the
sea-mist, now thick and cold, made her certain that her nose was
turning red.  She still boiled with rage, but her mind grew cold
with odious apprehensions.  She was like an ice-pudding with
scalding sauce. . . .  There they all stood, veiled in vapours, and
outlined by the red light that streamed from the still-open door of
the intoxicated Puffin, getting colder every moment.

"Yessorno," said Puffin, with chattering teeth.

Bitter as it was to accept those outrageous terms, there really
seemed, without the Major's support, to be no way out of it.

"Yes," said Miss Mapp.

Puffin gave a loud crow.

"The ayes have it, Major," he said.  "So we're all frens again.
Goonight everybody."


Miss Mapp let herself into her house in an agony of mortification.
She could scarcely realize that her little expedition, undertaken
with so much ardent and earnest curiosity only a quarter of an hour
ago, had ended in so deplorable a surfeit of sensation.  She had
gone out in obedience to an innocent and, indeed, laudable desire
to ascertain how Major Benjy spent those evenings on which he had
deceived her into imagining that, owing to her influence, he had
gone ever so early to bed, only to find that he sat up ever so late
and that she was fettered by a promise not to breathe to a soul a
single word about the depravity of Captain Puffin, on pain of being
herself accused out of the mouth of two witnesses of being equally
depraved herself.  More wounding yet was the part played by her
Major Benjy in these odious transactions, and it was only possible
to conclude that he put a higher value on his fellowship with his
degraded friend than on chivalry itself. . . .  And what did his
silence imply?  Probably it was a defensive one; he imagined that
he, too, would be included in the stories that Miss Mapp proposed
to sow broadcast upon the fruitful fields of Tilling, and, indeed,
when she called to mind his bellowing about worm-casts, his general
instability of speech and equilibrium, she told herself that he had
ample cause for such a supposition.  He, when his lights were out,
was abetting, assisting and perhaps joining Captain Puffin.  When
his window was alight on alternate nights she made no doubt now
that Captain Puffin was performing a similar role.  This had been
going on for weeks under her very nose, without her having the
smallest suspicion of it.

Humiliated by all that had happened, and flattened in her own
estimation by the sense of her blindness, she penetrated to the
kitchen and lit a gas-ring to make herself some hot cocoa, which
would at least comfort her physical chatterings.  There was a
letter for Withers, slipped sideways into its envelope, on the
kitchen table, and mechanically she opened and read it by the
bluish flame of the burner.  She had always suspected Withers of
having a young man, and here was proof of it.  But that he should
be Mr. Hopkins of the fish-shop!

There is known to medical science a pleasant device known as a
counter-irritant.  If the patient has an aching and rheumatic joint
he is counselled to put some hot burning application on the skin,
which smarts so agonizingly that the ache is quite extinguished.
Metaphorically, Mr. Hopkins was thermogene to Miss Mapp's outraged
and aching consciousness, and the smart occasioned by the knowledge
that Withers must have encouraged Mr. Hopkins (else he could
scarcely have written a letter so familiar and amorous), and thus
be contemplating matrimony, relieved the aching humiliation of all
that had happened in the sea-mist.  It shed a new and lurid light
on Withers, it made her mistress feel that she had nourished a
serpent in her bosom, to think that Withers was contemplating so
odious an act of selfishness as matrimony.  It would be necessary
to find a new parlour-maid, and all the trouble connected with that
would not nearly be compensated for by being able to buy fish at a
lower rate.  That was the least that Withers could do for her, to
insist that Mr. Hopkins should let her have dabs and plaice
exceptionally cheap.  And ought she to tell Withers that she had
seen Mr. Hopkins . . . no, that was impossible: she must write it,
if she decided (for Wither's sake) to make this fell communication.

Miss Mapp turned and tossed on her uneasy bed, and her mind went
back to the Major and the Captain and that fiasco in the fog.  Of
course she was perfectly at liberty (having made her promise under
practical compulsion) to tell everybody in Tilling what had
occurred, trusting to the chivalry of the men not to carry
out their counter threat, but looking at the matter quite
dispassionately, she did not think it would be wise to trust too
much to chivalry.  Still, even if they did carry out their unmanly
menace, nobody would seriously believe that she had been drunk.
But they might make a very disagreeable joke of pretending to do
so, and, in a word, the prospect frightened her.  Whatever Tilling
did or did not believe, a residuum of ridicule would assuredly
cling to her, and her reputation of having perhaps been the cause
of the quarrel which, so happily did not end in a duel, would be
lost for ever.  Evie would speak, quaint Irene would certainly
burst into hoarse laughter when she heard the story.  It was very
inconvenient that honesty should be the best policy.

Her brain still violently active switched off for a moment on to
the eternal problem of the portmanteau.  Why, so she asked herself
for the hundredth time, if the portmanteau contained the fatal
apparatus of duelling, did not the combatants accompany it?  And if
(the only other alternative) it did not--?

An idea so luminous flashed across her brain that she almost
thought the room had leaped into light.  The challenge distinctly
said that Major Benjy's seconds would wait upon Captain Puffin in
the course of the morning.  With what object then could the former
have gone down to the station to catch the early train?  There
could be but one object, namely to get away as quickly as possible
from the dangerous vicinity of the challenged Captain.  And why did
Captain Puffin leave that note on his table to say that he was
suddenly called away, except in order to escape from the ferocious
neighbourhood of his challenger?

"The cowards!" ejaculated Miss Mapp.  "They both ran away from each
other!  How blind I've been!"

The veil was rent.  She perceived how, carried away with the notion
that a duel was to be fought among the sand-dunes, Tilling had
quite overlooked the significance of the early train.  She felt
sure that she had solved everything now, and gave herself up to a
rapturous consideration of what use she would make of the precious
solution.  All regrets for the impossibility of ruining the
character of Captain Puffin with regard to intoxicants were gone,
for she had an even deadlier blacking to hand.  No faintest
hesitation at ruining the reputation of Major Benjy as well crossed
her mind; she gloried in it, for he had not only caused her to
deceive herself about the early hours on alternate nights, but by
his infamous willingness to back up Captain Puffin's bargain, he
had shown himself imperviously waterproof to all chivalrous
impulses.  For weeks now the sorry pair of them had enjoyed the
spurious splendours of being men of blood and valour, when all the
time they had put themselves to all sorts of inconvenience in
catching early trains and packing bags by candle-light in order to
escape the hot impulses of quarrel that, as she saw now, were
probably derived from drained whisky-bottles.  That mysterious
holloaing about worm-casts was just such another disagreement.
And, crowning rapture of all, her own position as cause of the
projected duel was quite unassailed.  Owing to her silence about
drink, no one would suspect a mere drunken brawl: she would still
figure as heroine, though the heroes were terribly dismantled.  To
be sure, it would have been better if their ardour about her had
been such that one of them, at the least, had been prepared to face
the ordeal, that they had not both preferred flight, but even
without that she had much to be thankful for.  "It will serve them
both," said Miss Mapp (interrupted by a sneeze, for she had been
sitting up in bed for quite a considerable time), "right."

To one of Miss Mapp's experience, the first step of her new and
delightful strategic campaign was obvious, and she spent hardly any
time at all in the window of her garden-room after breakfast next
morning, but set out with her shopping-basket at an unusually early
hour.  She shuddered as she passed between the front doors of her
miscreant neighbours, for the chill of last night's mist and its
dreadful memories still lingered there, but her present errand
warmed her soul even as the tepid November day comforted her body.
No sign of life was at present evident in those bibulous abodes, no
qui-his had indicated breakfast, and she put her utmost irony into
the reflection that the United Services slept late after their
protracted industry last night over diaries and Roman roads.  By a
natural revulsion, violent in proportion to the depth of her
previous regard for Major Benjy, she hugged herself more closely on
the prospect of exposing him than on that of exposing the other.
She had had daydreams about Major Benjy and the conversion of these
into nightmares annealed her softness into the semblance of some
red-hot stone, giving vengeance a concentrated sweetness as of
saccharine contrasted with ordinary lump sugar.  This sweetness was
of so powerful a quality that she momentarily forgot all about the
contents of Withers's letter on the kitchen table, and tripped
across to Mr. Hopkins with an oblivious smile for him.

"Good morning, Mr. Hopkins," she said.  "I wonder if you've got a
nice little dab for my dinner to-day?  Yes?  Will you send it up
then, please?  What a mild morning, like May!"

The opening move, of course, was to tell Diva about the revelation
that had burst on her the night before.  Diva was incomparably the
best disseminator of news: she walked so fast, and her telegraphic
style was so brisk and lucid.  Her terse tongue, her revolving
feet!  Such a gossip!

"Diva darling, I had to look in a moment," said Elizabeth, pecking
her affectionately on both cheeks.  "Such a bit of news!"

"Oh, Contessa di Faradidleony," said Diva sarcastically.  "I heard
yesterday.  Journey put off."

Miss Mapp just managed to stifle the excitement which would have
betrayed that this was news to her.

"No, dear, not that," she said.  "I didn't suspect you of not
knowing that.  Unfortunate though, isn't it, just when we were all
beginning to believe that there was a Contessa di Faradidleony!
What a sweet name!  For my part I shall believe in her when I see
her.  Poor Mr. Wyse!"

"What's the news then?" asked Diva.

"My dear, it all came upon me in a flash," said Elizabeth.  "It
explains the portmanteau and the early train and the duel."

Diva looked disappointed.  She thought this was to be some solid
piece of news, not one of Elizabeth's ideas only.

"Drive ahead," she said.

"They ran away from each other," said Elizabeth, mouthing her words
as if speaking to a totally deaf person who understood lip-reading.
"Never mind the cause of the duel; that's another affair.  But
whatever the cause," here she dropped her eyes, "the Major having
sent the challenge packed his portmanteau.  He ran away, dear Diva,
and met Captain Puffin at the station running away too."

"But did--" began Diva.

"Yes, dear, the note on Captain Puffin's table to his housekeeper
said he was called away suddenly.  What called him away?
Cowardice, dear!  How ignoble it all is.  And we've all been
thinking how brave and wonderful they were.  They fled from each
other, and came back together and played golf.  I never thought it
was a game for men.  The sand-dunes where they were supposed to be
fighting!  They might lose a ball there, but that would be the
utmost.  Not a life.  Poor Padre!  Going out there to stop a duel,
and only finding a game of golf.  But I understand the nature of
men better now.  What an eye-opener!"

Diva by this time was trundling away round the room, and longing to
be off in order to tell everybody.  She could find no hole in
Elizabeth's arguments; it was founded as solidly as a Euclidean
proposition.

"Ever occurred to you that they drink?" she asked.  "Believe in
Roman roads and diaries?  I don't."

Miss Mapp bounded from her chair.  Danger flags flapped and
crimsoned in her face.  What if Diva went flying round Tilling,
suggesting that in addition to being cowards those two men were
drunkards?  They would, as soon as any hint of the further exposure
reached them, conclude that she had set the idea on foot, and then--

"No, Diva darling," she said, "don't dream of imagining such a
thing.  So dangerous to hint anything of the sort.  Cowards they
may be, and indeed are, but never have I seen anything that leads
me to suppose that they drink.  We must give them their due, and
stick to what we know; we must not launch accusations wildly about
other matters, just because we know they are cowards.  A coward
need not be a drunkard, thank God!  It is all miserable enough, as
it is!"

Having averted this danger, Miss Mapp, with her radiant, excited
face, seemed to be bearing all the misery very courageously, and as
Diva could no longer be restrained from starting on her morning
round they plunged together into the maelstrom of the High Street,
riding and whirling in its waters with the solution of the
portmanteau and the early train for life-buoy.  Very little
shopping was done that morning, for every permutation and
combination of Tilling society (with the exception, of course, of
the cowards) had to be formed on the pavement with a view to the
amplest possible discussion.  Diva, as might have been expected,
gave proof of her accustomed perfidy before long, for she certainly
gave the Padre to understand that the chain of inductive reasoning
was of her own welding and Elizabeth had to hurry after him to
correct this grabbing impression; but the discovery in itself was
so great, that small false notes like these could not spoil the
glorious harmony.  Even Mr. Wyse abandoned his usual neutrality
with regard to social politics and left his tall malacca cane in
the chemist's, so keen was his gusto, on seeing Miss Mapp on the
pavement outside, to glean any fresh detail of evidence.

By eleven o'clock that morning, the two duellists were universally
known as "the cowards", the Padre alone demurring, and being
swampingly outvoted.  He held (sticking up for his sex) that the
Major had been brave enough to send a challenge (on whatever
subject) to his friend, and had, though he subsequently failed to
maintain that high level, shown courage of a high order, since, for
all he knew, Captain Puffin might have accepted it.  Miss Mapp was
spokesman for the mind of Tilling on this too indulgent judgment.

"Dear Padre," she said, "you are too generous altogether.  They
both ran away: you can't get over that.  Besides you must remember
that, when the Major sent the challenge, he knew Captain Puffin, oh
so well, and quite expected he would run away--"

"Then why did he run away himself?" asked the Padre.

This was rather puzzling for a moment, but Miss Mapp soon thought
of the explanation.

"Oh, just to make sure," she said, and Tilling applauded her ready
irony.

And then came the climax of sensationalism, when at about ten
minutes past eleven the two cowards emerged into the High Street on
their way to catch the 11.20 tram out to the links.  The day
threatened rain, and they both carried bags which contained a
change of clothes.  Just round the corner of the High Street was
the group which had applauded Miss Mapp's quickness, and the
cowards were among the breakers.  They glanced at each other,
seeing that Miss Mapp was the most towering of the breakers, but it
was too late to retreat, and they made the usual salutations.

"Good morning," said Diva, with her voice trembling.  "Off to catch
the early train together--I mean the tram."

"Good morning, Captain Puffin," said Miss Mapp with extreme
sweetness.  "What a nice little travelling bag!  Oh, and the
Major's got one too!  H'm!"

A certain dismay looked from Major Flint's eyes, Captain Puffin's
mouth fell open, and he forgot to shut it.

"Yes; change of clothes," said the Major.  "It looks a threatening
morning."

"Very threatening," said Miss Mapp.  "I hope you will do nothing
rash or dangerous."

There was a moment's silence, and the two looked from one face to
another of this fell group.  They all wore fixed, inexplicable
smiles.

"It will be pleasant among the sand-dunes," said the Padre, and his
wife gave a loud squeak.

"Well, we shall be missing our tram," said the Major.  "Au--au
reservoir, ladies."

Nobody responded at all, and they hurried off down the street,
their bags bumping together very inconveniently.

"Something's up, Major," said Puffin, with true Tilling
perspicacity, as soon as they had got out of hearing. . . .


Precisely at the same moment Miss Mapp gave a little cooing laugh.

"Now I must run and do my bittie shopping, Padre," she said, and
kissed her hand all round. . . .  The curtain had to come down for
a little while on so dramatic a situation.  Any discussion, just
then, would be an anti-climax.



CHAPTER NINE


Captain Puffin found but a sombre diarist when he came over to
study his Roman roads with Major Flint that evening, and indeed he
was a sombre antiquarian himself.  They had pondered a good deal
during the day over their strange reception in the High Street that
morning and the recondite allusions to bags, sand-dunes and early
trains, and the more they pondered the more probable it became that
not only was something up, but, as regards the duel, everything was
up.  For weeks now they had been regarded by the ladies of Tilling
with something approaching veneration, but there seemed singularly
little veneration at the back of the comments this morning.
Following so closely on the encounter with Miss Mapp last night,
this irreverent attitude was probably due to some atheistical
manoeuvre of hers.  Such, at least, was the Major's view, and when
he held a view he usually stated it, did Sporting Benjy.

"We've got you to thank for this, Puffin," he said.  "Upon my soul,
I was ashamed of you for saying what you did to Miss Mapp last
night.  Utter absence of any chivalrous feeling hinting that if she
said you were drunk, you would say she was.  She was as sober and
lucid last night as she was this morning.  And she was devilish
lucid, to my mind, this morning."

"Pity you didn't take her part last night," said Puffin.  "You
thought that was a very ingenious idea of mine to make her hold her
tongue."

"There are finer things in this world, sir, than ingenuity," said
the Major.  "What your ingenuity has led to is this public
ridicule.  You may not mind that yourself--you may be used to it--
but a man should regard the consequences of his act on others. . . .
My status in Tilling is completely changed.  Changed for the
worse, sir."

Puffin emitted his fluty, disagreeable laugh.

"If your status in Tilling depended on a reputation for
bloodthirsty bravery," he said, "the sooner it was changed the
better.  We're in the same boat: I don't say I like the boat, but
there we are.  Have a drink, and you'll feel better.  Never mind
your status."

"I've a good mind never to have a drink again," said the Major,
pouring himself out one of his stiff little glasses, "if a drink
leads to this sort of thing."

"But it didn't," said Puffin.  "How it all got out, I can't say,
nor for that matter can you.  If it hadn't been for me last night,
it would have been all over Tilling that you and I were tipsy as
well.  That wouldn't have improved our status that I can see."

"It was in consequence of what you said to Mapp--" began the Major.

"But, good Lord, where's the connection?" asked Puffin.  "Produce
the connection!  Let's have a look at the connection!  There ain't
any connection!  Duelling wasn't as much as mentioned last night."

Major Flint pondered this in gloomy, sipping silence.

"Bridge-party at Mrs. Poppit's the day after to-morrow," he said.
"I don't feel as if I could face it.  Suppose they all go on making
allusions to duelling and early trains and that?  I shan't be able
to keep my mind on the cards for fear of it.  More than a sensitive
man ought to be asked to bear."

Puffin made a noise that sounded rather like "Fudge!"

"Your pardon?" said the Major haughtily.

"Granted by all means," said Puffin.  "But I don't see what you're
in such a taking about.  We're no worse off than we were before we
got a reputation for being such fire-eaters.  Being fire-eaters is
a wash-out, that's all.  Pleasant while it lasted, and now we're as
we were."

"But we're not," said the Major.  "We're detected frauds!  That's
not the same as being a fraud; far from it.  And who's going to rub
it in, my friend?  Who's been rubbing away for all she's worth?
Miss Mapp, to whom, if I may say so without offence, you behaved
like a cur last night."

"And another cur stood by and wagged his tail," retorted Puffin.

This was about as far as it was safe to go, and Puffin hastened to
say something pleasant about the hearthrug, to which his friend had
a suitable rejoinder.  But after the affair last night, and the
dark sayings in the High Street this morning, there was little
content or cosiness about the session.  Puffin's brazen optimism
was but a tinkling cymbal, and the Major did not feel like tinkling
at all.  He but snorted and glowered, revolving in his mind how to
square Miss Mapp.  Allied with her, if she could but be won over,
he felt he could face the rest of Tilling with indifference, for
hers would be the most penetrating shafts, the most stinging
pleasantries.  He had more too, so he reflected, to lose than
Puffin, for till the affair of the duel the other had never been
credited with deeds of bloodthirsty gallantry, whereas he had
enjoyed no end of a reputation in amorous and honourable affairs.
Marriage no doubt would settle it satisfactorily, but this bachelor
life, with plenty of golf and diaries, was not to be lightly
exchanged for the unknown.  Short of that . . .

A light broke, and he got to his feet, following the gleam and
walking very lame out of general discomfiture.

"Tell you what it is, Puffin," he said.  "You and I, particularly
you, owe that estimable lady a very profound apology for what
happened last night.  You ought to withdraw every word you said,
and I every word that I didn't say."

"Can't be done," said Puffin.  "That would be giving up my hold
over your lady friend.  We should be known as drunkards all over
the shop before you could say winkie.  Worse off than before."

"Not a bit of it.  If it's Miss Mapp, and I'm sure it is, who has
been spreading these--these damaging rumours about our duel it's
because she's outraged and offended quite rightly, at your conduct
to her last night.  Mine, too, if you like.  Ample apology, sir,
that's the ticket."

"Dog-ticket," said Puffin.  "No thanks."

"Very objectionable expression," said Major Flint.  "But you shall
do as you like.  And so, with your permission, shall I.  I shall
apologize for my share in that sorry performance, in which, thank
God, I only played a minor role.  That's my view, and if you don't
like it, you may dislike it."

Puffin yawned.

"Mapp's a cat," he said.  "Stroke a cat and you'll get scratched.
Shy a brick at a cat, and she'll spit at you and skedaddle.  You're
poor company to-night, Major, with all these qualms."

"Then, sir, you can relieve yourself of my company," said the
Major, "by going home."

"Just what I was about to do.  Good night, old boy.  Same time to-
morrow for the tram, if you're not too badly mauled."

Miss Mapp, sitting by the hot-water pipes in the garden-room,
looked out not long after to see what the night was like.  Though
it was not yet half-past ten the cowards' sitting-rooms were both
dark, and she wondered what precisely that meant.  There was no
bridge-party anywhere that night, and apparently there were no
diaries or Roman roads either.  Why this sober and chastened
darkness. . . ?

The Major qui-hied for his breakfast at an unusually early hour
next morning, for the courage of his resolve to placate, if
possible, the hostility of Miss Mapp had not, like that of the
challenge, oozed out during the night.  He had dressed himself in
his frock-coat, seen last on the occasion when the Prince of Wales
proved not to have come by the 6.45, and no female breast however
furious could fail to recognize the compliment of such a formality.
Dressed thus, with top-hat and patent-leather boots, he was clearly
observed from the garden-room to emerge into the street just when
Captain Puffin's hand thrust the sponge on to the window-sill of
his bath room.  Probably he too had observed this apparition, for
his fingers prematurely loosed hold of the sponge, and it bounded
into the street.  Wild surmises flashed into Miss Mapp's active
brain, the most likely of which was that Major Benjy was going to
propose to Mrs. Poppit, for if he had been going up to London for
some ceremonial occasion, he would be walking down the street
instead of up it.  And then she saw his agitated finger press the
electric bell of her own door.  So he was not on his way to propose
to Mrs. Poppit. . . .

She slid from the room and hurried across the few steps of garden
to the house just in time to intercept Withers though not with any
idea of saying that she was out.  Then Withers, according to
instructions, waited till Miss Mapp had tiptoed upstairs, and
conducted the Major to the garden-room, promising that she would
"tell" her mistress.  This was unnecessary, as her mistress knew.
The Major pressed a half-crown into her astonished hand, thinking
it was a florin.  He couldn't precisely account for that impulse,
but general propitiation was at the bottom of it.

Miss Mapp meantime had sat down on her bed, and firmly rejected the
idea that his call had anything to do with marriage.  During all
these years of friendliness he had not got so far as that, and,
whatever the future might hold, it was not likely that he would
begin now at this moment when she was so properly punishing him for
his unchivalrous behaviour.  But what could the frock-coat mean?
(There was Captain Puffin's servant picking up the sponge.  She
hoped it was covered with mud.)  It would be a very just
continuation of his punishment to tell Withers she would not see
him, but the punishment which that would entail on herself would be
more than she could bear, for she would not know a moment's peace
while she was ignorant of the nature of his errand.  Could he be on
his way to the Padre's to challenge him for that very stinging
allusion to sand-dunes yesterday, and was he come to give her fair
warning, so that she might stop a duel?  It did not seem likely.
Unable to bear the suspense any longer, she adjusted her face in
the glass to an expression of frozen dignity and threw over her
shoulders the cloak trimmed with blue in which, on the occasion of
the Prince's visit, she had sat down in the middle of the road.
That matched the Major's frock-coat.

She hummed a little song as she mounted the few steps to the garden-
room, and stopped just after she had opened the door.  She did not
offer to shake hands.

"You wish to see me, Major Flint?" she said, in such a voice as
icebergs might be supposed to use when passing each other by night
in the Arctic seas.

Major Flint certainly looked as if he hated seeing her, instead of
wishing it, for he backed into a corner of the room and dropped his
hat.

"Good morning, Miss Mapp," he said.  "Very good of you.  I--I
called."

He clearly had a difficulty in saying what he had come to say, but
if he thought that she was proposing to give him the smallest
assistance, he was in error.

"Yes, you called," said she.  "Pray be seated."

He did so; she stood; he got up again.

"I called," said the Major, "I called to express my very deep
regret at my share, or, rather, that I did not take a more active
share--I allowed, in fact, a friend of mine to speak to you in a
manner that did equal discredit--"

Miss Mapp put her head on one side, as if trying to recollect some
trivial and unimportant occurrence.

"Yes?" she said.  "What was that?"

"Captain Puffin," began the Major.

Then Miss Mapp remembered it all.

"I hope, Major Flint," she said, "that you will not find it
necessary to mention Captain Puffin's name to me.  I wish him
nothing but well, but he and his are no concern of mine.  I have
the charity to suppose that he was quite drunk on the occasion to
which I imagine you allude.  Intoxication alone could excuse what
he said.  Let us leave Captain Puffin out of whatever you have come
to say to me."

This was adroit; it compelled the Major to begin all over again.

"I come entirely on my own account," he began.

"I understand," said Miss Mapp, instantly bringing Captain Puffin
in again.  "Captain Puffin, now I presume sober, has no regret for
what he said when drunk.  I quite see, and I expected no more and
no less from him.  Yes.  I am afraid I interrupted you."

Major Flint threw his friend overboard like ballast from a bumping
balloon.

"I speak for myself," he said.  "I behaved, Miss Mapp, like a--ha--
worm.  Defenceless lady, insolent fellow drunk--I allude to Captain
P--.  I'm very sorry for my part in it."

Up till this moment Miss Mapp had not made up her mind whether she
intended to forgive him or not; but here she saw how crushing a
penalty she might be able to inflict on Puffin if she forgave the
erring and possibly truly repentant Major.  He had already spoken
strongly about his friend's offence, and she could render life
supremely nasty for them both--particularly Puffin--if she made the
Major agree that he could not, if truly sorry, hold further
intercourse with him.  There would be no more golf, no more
diaries.  Besides, if she was observed to be friendly with
the Major again and to cut Captain Puffin, a very natural
interpretation would be that she had learned that in the original
quarrel the Major had been defending her from some odious tongue to
the extent of a challenge, even though he subsequently ran away.
Tilling was quite clever enough to make that inference without any
suggestion from her. . . .  But if she forgave neither of them,
they would probably go on boozing and golfing together, and saying
quite dreadful things about her, and not care very much whether she
forgave them or not.  Her mind was made up, and she gave a wan
smile.

"Oh, Major Flint," she said, "it hurt me so dreadfully that you
should have stood by and heard that man--if he is a man--say those
awful things to me and not take my side.  It made me feel so
lonely.  I had always been such good friends with you, and then you
turned your back on me like that.  I didn't know what I had done to
deserve it.  I lay awake ever so long."

This was affecting, and he violently rubbed the nap of his hat the
wrong way. . . .  Then Miss Mapp broke into her sunniest smile.

"Oh, I'm so glad you came to say you were sorry!" she said.  "Dear
Major Benjy, we're quite friends again."

She dabbed her handkerchief on her eyes.

"So foolish of me!" she said.  "Now sit down in my most comfortable
chair and have a cigarette."

Major Flint made a peck at the hand she extended to him, and
cleared his throat to indicate emotion.  It really was a great
relief to think that she would not make awful allusions to duels in
the middle of bridge-parties.

"And since you feel as you do about Captain Puffin," she said, "of
course, you won't see anything more of him.  You and I are quite
one, aren't we, about that?  You have dissociated yourself from him
completely.  The fact of your being sorry does that."

It was quite clear to the Major that this condition was involved in
his forgiveness, though that fact, so obvious to Miss Mapp, had not
occurred to him before.  Still, he had to accept it, or go
unhouseled again.  He could explain to Puffin, under cover of
night, or perhaps in deaf-and-dumb alphabet from his window. . . .

"Infamous, unforgivable behaviour!" he said.  "Pah!"

"So glad you feel that," said Miss Mapp, smiling till he saw the
entire row of her fine teeth.  "And oh, may I say one little thing
more?  I feel this: I feel that the dreadful shock to me of being
insulted like that was quite a lovely little blessing in disguise,
now that the effect has been to put an end to your intimacy with
him.  I never liked it, and I liked it less than ever the other
night.  He's not a fit friend for you.  Oh, I'm so thankful!"

Major Flint saw that for the present he was irrevocably committed
to this clause in the treaty of peace.  He could not face seeing it
torn up again, as it certainly would be, if he failed to accept it
in its entirety, nor could he imagine himself leaving the room with
a renewal of hostilities.  He would lose his game of golf to-day as
it was, for apart from the fact that he would scarcely have time to
change his clothes (the idea of playing golf in a frock-coat and
top-hat was inconceivable) and catch the 11.20 tram, he could not
be seen in Puffin's company at all.  And, indeed, in the future,
unless Puffin could be induced to apologize and Miss Mapp to
forgive, he saw, if he was to play golf at all with his friend,
that endless deceptions and subterfuges were necessary in order to
escape detection.  One of them would have to set out ten minutes
before the other, and walk to the tram by some unusual and
circuitous route; they would have to play in a clandestine and
furtive manner, parting company before they got to the club-house;
disguises might be needful; there was a peck of difficulties ahead.
But he would have to go into these later; at present he must be
immersed in the rapture of his forgiveness.

"Most generous of you, Miss Elizabeth," he said.  "As for that--
well, I won't allude to him again."

Miss Mapp gave a happy little laugh, and having made a further
plan, switched away from the subject of captains and insults with
alacrity.

"Look!" she said.  "I found these little rosebuds in flower still,
though it is the end of November.  Such brave little darlings,
aren't they?  One for your buttonhole, Major Benjy?  And then I
must do my little shoppings or Withers will scold me--Withers is so
severe with me, keeps me in such order!  If you are going into the
town, will you take me with you?  I will put on my hat."

Requests for the present were certainly commands, and two minutes
later they set forth.  Luck, as usual, befriended ability, for
there was Puffin at his door, itching for the Major's return (else
they would miss the tram); and lo! there came stepping along Miss
Mapp in her blue-trimmed cloak, and the Major attired as for
marriage--top-hat, frock-coat and button-hole.  She did not look at
Puffin and cut him; she did not seem (with the deceptiveness of
appearances) to see him at all, so eager and agreeable was her
conversation with her companion.  The Major, so Puffin thought,
attempted to give him some sort of dazed and hunted glance; but he
could not be certain even of that, so swiftly had it to be
transformed into a genial interest in what Miss Mapp was saying,
and Puffin stared open-mouthed after them, for they were terrible
as an army with banners.  Then Diva, trundling swiftly out of the
fish-shop, came, as well she might, to a dead halt, observing this
absolutely inexplicable phenomenon.

"Good morning, Diva darling," said Miss Mapp.  "Major Benjy and I
are doing our little shopping together.  So kind of him, isn't it?
and very naughty of me to take up his time.  I told him he ought to
be playing golf.  Such a lovely day!  Au reservoir, sweet!  Oh, and
there's the Padre, Major Benjy!  How quickly he walks!  Yes, he
sees us!  And there's Mrs. Poppit; everybody is enjoying the
sunshine.  What a beautiful fur coat, though I should think she
found it very heavy and warm.  Good morning, dear Susan!  You
shopping, too, like Major Benjy and me?  How is your dear Isabel?"

Miss Mapp made the most of that morning; the magnanimity of her
forgiveness earned her incredible dividends.  Up and down the High
Street she went, with Major Benjy in attendance, buying grocery,
stationery, gloves, eau-de-Cologne, boot-laces, the "Literary
Supplement" of The Times, dried camomile flowers, and every
conceivable thing that she might possibly need in the next week, so
that her shopping might be as protracted as possible.  She allowed
him (such was her firmness in "spoiling" him) to carry her shopping-
basket, and when that was full, she decked him like a sacrificial
ram with little parcels hung by loops of string.  Sometimes she
took him into a shop in case there might be someone there who had
not seen him yet on her leash; sometimes she left him on the
pavement in a prominent position, marking, all the time, just as if
she had been a clinical thermometer, the feverish curiosity that
was burning in Tilling's veins.  Only yesterday she had spread the
news of his cowardice broadcast; to-day their comradeship was of
the chattiest and most genial kind.  There he was, carrying her
basket, and wearing frock-coat and top-hat and hung with parcels
like a Christmas-tree, spending the entire morning with her instead
of golfing with Puffin.  Miss Mapp positively shuddered as she
tried to realize what her state of mind would have been, if she had
seen him thus coupled with Diva.  She would have suspected (rightly
in all probability) some loathsome intrigue against herself.  And
the cream of it was that until she chose, nobody could possibly
find out what had caused this metamorphosis so paralysing to
inquiring intellects, for Major Benjy would assuredly never tell
anyone that there was a reconciliation, due to his apology for his
rudeness, when he had stood by and permitted an intoxicated Puffin
to suggest disgraceful bargains.  Tilling--poor Tilling--would go
crazy with suspense as to what it all meant.

Never had there been such a shopping!  It was nearly lunch-time
when, at her front door, Major Flint finally stripped himself of
her parcels and her companionship and hobbled home, profusely
perspiring, and lame from so much walking on pavements in tight
patent-leather shoes.  He was weary and footsore; he had had no
golf, and, though forgiven, was but a wreck.  She had made him
ridiculous all the morning with his frock-coat and top-hat and his
porterages, and if forgiveness entailed any more of these nightmare
sacraments of friendliness, he felt that he would be unable to
endure the fatiguing accessories of the regenerate state.  He hung
up his top-hat and wiped his wet and throbbing head; he kicked off
his shoes and shed his frock-coat, and furiously qui-hied for a
whisky-and-soda and lunch.

His physical restoration was accompanied by a quickening of dismay
at the general prospect.  What (to put it succinctly) was life
worth, even when unharassed by allusions to duels, without the
solace of golf, quarrels and diaries in the companionship of
Puffin?  He hated Puffin--no one more so--but he could not possibly
get on without him, and it was entirely due to Puffin that he had
spent so outrageous a morning, for Puffin, seeking to silence Miss
Mapp by his intoxicated bargain, had been the prime cause of all
this misery.  He could not even, for fear of that all-seeing eye in
Miss Mapp's garden-room, go across to the house of the unforgiven
sea-captain, and by a judicious recital of his woes induce him to
beg Miss Mapp's forgiveness instantly.  He would have to wait till
the kindly darkness fell. . . .  "Mere slavery!" he exclaimed with
passion.

A tap at his sitting-room door interrupted the chain of these
melancholy reflections, and his permission to enter was responded
to by Puffin himself.  The Major bounced from his seat.

"You mustn't stop here," he said in a low voice, as if afraid that
he might be overhead.  "Miss Mapp may have seen you come in."

Puffin laughed shrilly.

"Why, of course she did," he gaily assented.  "She was at her
window all right.  Ancient Lights, I shall call her.  What's this
all about now?"

"You must go back," said Major Flint agitatedly.  "She must see you
go back.  I can't explain now.  But I'll come across after dinner
when it's dark.  Go; don't wait."

He positively hustled the mystified Puffin out of the house, and
Miss Mapp's face, which had grown sharp and pointed with doubts and
suspicions when she observed him enter Major Benjy's house,
dimpled, as she saw him return, into the sunniest smiles.  "Dear
Major Benjy," she said, "he has refused to see him," and she cut
the string of the large cardboard box which had just arrived from
the dyer's with the most pleasurable anticipations. . . .

Well, it was certainly very magnificent, and Miss Greele was quite
right, for there was not the faintest tinge to show that it had
originally been kingfisher-blue.  She had not quite realized how
brilliant crimson-lake was in the piece; it seemed almost to cast a
ruddy glow on the very ceiling, and the fact that she had caused
the orange chiffon with which the neck and sleeves were trimmed to
be dyed black (following the exquisite taste of Mrs. Titus Trout)
only threw the splendour of the rest into more dazzling radiance.
Kingfisher-blue would appear quite ghostly and corpse-like in its
neighbourhood; and painful though that would be for Diva, it would,
as all her well-wishers must hope, be a lesson to her not to
indulge in such garishness.  She should be taught her lesson
(D.V.), thought Miss Mapp, at Susan's bridge-party to-morrow
evening.  Captain Puffin was being taught a lesson, too, for we are
never too old to learn, or, for that matter, to teach.

Though the night was dark and moonless, there was an inconveniently
brilliant gas-lamp close to the Major's door, and that strategist,
carrying his round roll of diaries, much the shape of a bottle,
under his coat, went about half-past nine that evening to look at
the rain-gutter which had been weeping into his yard, and let
himself out of the back door round the corner.  From there he went
down past the fishmonger's, crossed the road, and doubled back
again up Puffin's side of the street, which was not so vividly
illuminated, though he took the precaution of making himself little
with bent knees, and of limping.  Puffin was already warming
himself over the fire and imbibing Roman roads, and was disposed to
be hilarious over the Major's shopping.

"But why top-hat and frock-coat, Major?" he asked.  "Another visit
of the Prince of Wales, I asked myself, or the Voice that breathed
o'er Eden?  Have a drink--one of mine, I mean?  I owe you a drink
for the good laugh you gave me."

Had it not been for this generosity and the need of getting on the
right side of Puffin, Major Flint would certainly have resented
such clumsy levity, but this double consideration caused him to
take it with unwonted good-humour.  His attempt to laugh, indeed,
sounded a little hollow, but that is the habit of self-directed
merriment.

"Well, I allow it must have seemed amusing," he said.  "The fact
was that I thought she would appreciate my putting a little
ceremony into my errand of apology, and then she whisked me off
shopping before I could go and change."

"Kiss and friends again, then?" asked Puffin.

The Major grew a little stately over this.

"No such familiarity passed," he said.  "But she accepted my
regrets with--ha--the most gracious generosity.  A fine-spirited
woman, sir; you'll find the same."

"I might if I looked for it," said Puffin.  "But why should I want
to make it up?  You've done that, and that prevents her talking
about duelling and early trams.  She can't mock at me because of
you.  You might pass me back my bottle, if you've taken your
drink."

The Major reluctantly did so.

"You must please yourself, old boy," he said.  "It's your business,
and no one's ever said that Benjy Flint interfered in another man's
affairs.  But I trust you will do what good feeling indicates.  I
hope you value our jolly games of golf and our pleasant evenings
sufficiently highly."

"Eh! how's that?" asked Puffin.  "You going to cut me too?"

The Major sat down and put his large feet on the fender.  "Tact and
diplomacy, Benjy, my boy," he reminded himself.

"Ha!  That's what I like," he said, "a good fire and a friend, and
the rest of the world may go hang.  There's no question of cutting,
old man; I needn't tell you that--but we must have one of our good
talks.  For instance, I very unceremoniously turned you out of my
house this afternoon and I owe you an explanation of that.  I'll
give it you in one word: Miss Mapp saw you come in.  She didn't see
me come in here this evening--ha! ha!--and that's why I can sit at
my ease.  But if she knew--"

Puffin guessed.

"What has happened, Major, is that you've thrown me over for Miss
Mapp," he observed.

"No, sir, I have not," said the Major with emphasis.  "Should I be
sitting here and drinking your whisky if I had?  But this morning,
after that lady had accepted my regret for my share in what
occurred the other night, she assumed that since I condemned my own
conduct unreservedly, I must equally condemn yours.  It really was
like a conjuring trick; the thing was done before I knew anything
about it.  And before I'd had time to say, 'Hold on a bit,' I was
being led up and down the High Street, carrying as much merchandize
as a drove of camels.  God, sir, I suffered this morning; you don't
seem to realize that I suffered; I couldn't stand any more mornings
like that: I haven't the stamina."

"A powerful woman," said Puffin reflectively.

"You may well say that," observed Major Flint.  "That is finely
said.  A powerful woman she is, with a powerful tongue, and able to
be powerful nasty, and if she sees you and me on friendly terms
again, she'll turn the full hose on to us both unless you make it
up with her."

"H'm, yes.  But as likely as not she'll tell me and my apologies to
go hang."

"Have a try, old man," said the Major encouragingly.

Puffin looked at his whisky-bottle.

"Help yourself, Major," he said.  "I think you'll have to help me
out, you know.  Go and interview her: see if there's a chance of my
favourable reception."

"No, sir," said the Major firmly.  "I will not run the risk of
another morning's shopping in the High Street."

"You needn't.  Watch till she comes back from her shopping to-
morrow."

Major Benjy clearly did not like the prospect at all, but Puffin
grew firmer and firmer in his absolute refusal to lay himself open
to rebuff, and presently, they came to an agreement that the Major
was to go on his ambassadorial errand next morning.  That being
settled, the still undecided point about the worm-cast gave rise to
a good deal of heat, until, it being discovered that the window was
open, and that their voices might easily carry as far as the garden-
room, they made malignant rejoinders to each other in whispers.
But it was impossible to go on quarrelling for long in so
confidential a manner, and the disagreement was deferred to a more
convenient occasion.  It was late when the Major left, and after
putting out the light in Puffin's hall, so that he should not be
silhouetted against it, he slid into the darkness, and reached his
own door by a subtle detour.

Miss Mapp had a good deal of division of her swift mind, when, next
morning, she learned the nature of Major Benjy's second errand.  If
she, like Mr. Wyse, was to encourage Puffin to hope that she would
accept his apologies, she would be obliged to remit all further
punishment of him, and allow him to consort with his friend again.
It was difficult to forgo the pleasure of his chastisement, but, on
the other hand, it was just possible that the Major might break
away, and, whether she liked it or not (and she would not), refuse
permanently to give up Puffin's society.  That would be awkward
since she had publicly paraded her reconciliation with him.  What
further inclined her to clemency, was that this very evening the
crimson-lake tea-gown would shed its effulgence over Mrs. Poppit's
bridge-party, and Diva would never want to hear the word
"kingfisher" again.  That was enough to put anybody in a good
temper.  So the diplomatist returned to the miscreant with the glad
tidings that Miss Mapp would hear his supplication with a
favourable ear, and she took up a stately position in the garden-
room, which she selected as audience chamber, near the bell so that
she could ring for Withers if necessary.


Miss Mapp's mercy was largely tempered with justice, and she
proposed, in spite of the leniency which she would eventually
exhibit, to give Puffin "what for", first.  She had not for him, as
for Major Benjy, that feminine weakness which had made it a
positive luxury to forgive him: she never even thought of Puffin as
Captain Dicky, far less let the pretty endearment slip off her
tongue accidentally, and the luxury which she anticipated from the
interview was that of administering a quantity of hard slaps.  She
had appointed half-past twelve as the hour for his suffering, so
that he must go without his golf again.

She put down the book she was reading when he appeared, and gazed
at him stonily without speech.  He limped into the middle of the
room.  This might be forgiveness, but it did not look like it, and
he wondered whether she had got him here on false pretences.

"Good morning," said he.

Miss Mapp inclined her head.  Silence was gold.

"I understood from Major Flint--" began Puffin.

Speech could be gold too.

"If," said Miss Mapp, "you have come to speak about Major Flint you
have wasted your time.  And mine!"

(How different from Major Benjy, she thought.  What a shrimp!)

The shrimp gave a slight gasp.  The thing had got to be done, and
the sooner he was out of range of this powerful woman the better.

"I am extremely sorry for what I said to you the other night," he
said.

"I am glad you are sorry," said Miss Mapp.

"I offer you my apologies for what I said," continued Puffin.

The whip whistled.

"When you spoke to me on the occasion to which you refer," said
Miss Mapp, "I saw, of course, at once that you were not in a
condition to speak to anybody.  I instantly did you that justice,
for I am just to everybody.  I paid no more attention to what you
said than I should have paid to any tipsy vagabond in the slums.  I
daresay you hardly remember what you said, so that before I hear
your expression of regret, I will remind you of it.  You
threatened, unless I promised to tell nobody in what a disgusting
condition you were, to say that I was tipsy.  Elizabeth Mapp tipsy!
That was what you said, Captain Puffin."

Captain Puffin turned extremely red.  ("Now the shrimp's being
boiled," thought Miss Mapp.)

"I can't do more than apologize," said he.  He did not know whether
he was angrier with his ambassador or her.

"Did you say you couldn't do 'more'," said Miss Mapp with an air of
great interest.  "How curious!  I should have thought you couldn't
have done less."

"Well, what more can I do?" asked he.

"If you think," said Miss Mapp, "that you hurt me by your conduct
that night, you are vastly mistaken.  And if you think you can do
no more than apologize, I will teach you better.  You can make an
effort, Captain Puffin, to break with your deplorable habits, to
try to get back a little of the self-respect, if you ever had any,
which you have lost.  You can cease trying, oh, so unsuccessfully,
to drag Major Benjy down to your level.  That's what you can do."

She let these withering observations blight him.

"I accept your apologies," she said.  "I hope you will do better in
the future, Captain Puffin, and I shall look anxiously for signs of
improvement.  We will meet with politeness and friendliness when we
are brought together and I will do my best to wipe all remembrance
of your tipsy impertinence from my mind.  And you must do your best
too.  You are not young, and engrained habits are difficult to get
rid of.  But do not despair, Captain Puffin.  And now I will ring
for Withers and she will show you out."

She rang the bell, and gave a sample of her generous oblivion.

"And we meet, do we not, this evening at Mrs. Poppit's?" she said,
looking not at him, but about a foot above his head.  "Such
pleasant evenings one always has there, I hope it will not be a wet
evening, but the glass is sadly down.  Oh, Withers, Captain Puffin
is going.  Good morning, Captain Puffin.  Such a pleasure!"

Miss Mapp hummed a rollicking little tune as she observed him
totter down the street.

"There!" she said, and had a glass of Burgundy for lunch as a
treat.



CHAPTER TEN


The news that Mr. Wyse was to be of the party that evening at Mrs.
Poppit's and was to dine there first, en famille (as he casually
let slip in order to air his French), created a disagreeable
impression that afternoon in Tilling.  It was not usual to do
anything more than "have a tray" for your evening meal, if one of
these winter bridge-parties followed, and there was, to Miss Mapp's
mind, a deplorable tendency to ostentation in this dinner-giving
before a party.  Still, if Susan was determined to be extravagant,
she might have asked Miss Mapp as well, who resented this want of
hospitality.  She did not like, either, this hole-and-corner en
famille work with Mr. Wyse; it indicated a pushing familiarity to
which, it was hoped, Mr. Wyse's eyes were open.

There was another point: the party, it had been ascertained, would
in all number ten, and if, as was certain, there would be two
bridge-tables, that seemed to imply that two people would have to
cut out.  There were often nine at Mrs. Poppit's bridge-parties
(she appeared to be unable to count), but on those occasions Isabel
was generally told by her mother that she did not care for bridge,
and so there was no cutting out, but only a pleasant book for
Isabel.  But what would be done with ten?  It was idle to hope that
Susan would sit out: as hostess she always considered it part of
her duties to play solidly the entire evening.  Still, if the
cutting of cards malignantly ordained that Miss Mapp was ejected,
it was only reasonable to expect that after her magnanimity to the
United Services, either Major Benjy or Captain Puffin would be so
obdurate in his insistence that she must play instead of him, that
it would be only ladylike to yield.

She did not, therefore, allow this possibility to dim the pleasure
she anticipated from the discomfiture of darling Diva, who would be
certain to appear in the kingfisher-blue tea-gown, and find herself
ghastly and outshone by the crimson-lake which was the colour of
Mrs. Trout's second toilet, and Miss Mapp, after prolonged thought
as to her most dramatic moment of entrance in the crimson-lake,
determined to arrive when she might expect the rest of the guests
to have already assembled.  She would risk, it is true, being out
of a rubber for a little, since bridge might have already begun,
but play would have to stop for a minute of greetings when she came
in, and she would beg everybody not to stir; and would seat herself
quite, quite close to Diva, and openly admire her pretty frock,
"like one I used to have . . . !"

It was, therefore, not much lacking of ten o'clock when, after she
had waited a considerable time on Mrs. Poppit's threshold, Boon
sulkily allowed her to enter, but gave no answer to her timid
inquiry of:  "Am I very late, Boon?"  The drawing-room door was a
little ajar, and as she took off the cloak that masked the
splendour of the crimson-lake, her acute ears heard the murmur of
talk going on, which indicated that bridge had not yet begun, while
her acute nostrils detected the faint but certain smell of roast
grouse, which showed what Susan had given Mr. Wyse for dinner,
probably telling him that the birds were a present to her from the
shooting-lodge where she had stayed in the summer.  Then, after she
had thrown herself a glance in the mirror, and put on her smile,
Boon preceded her, slightly shrugging his shoulders, to the drawing-
room door, which he pushed open, and grunted loudly, which was his
manner of announcing a guest.  Miss Mapp went tripping in, almost
at a run, to indicate how vexed she was with herself for being
late, and there, just in front of her, stood Diva, dressed not in
kingfisher-blue at all, but in the crimson-lake of Mrs. Trout's
second toilet.  Perfidious Diva had had her dress dyed too. . . .

Miss Mapp's courage rose to the occasion.  Other people, Majors and
tipsy Captains, might be cowards, but not she.  Twice now (omitting
the matter of the Wars of the Roses) had Diva by some cunning,
which it was impossible not to suspect of a diabolical origin, clad
her odious little roundabout form in splendours identical with Miss
Mapp's, but now, without faltering even when she heard Evie's loud
squeak, she turned to her hostess, who wore the Order of M.B.E. on
her ample breast, and made her salutations in a perfectly calm
voice.

"Dear Susan, don't scold me for being so late," she said, "though I
know I deserve it.  So sweet of you!  Isabel darling and dear Evie!
Oh, and Mr. Wyse!  Sweet Irene!  Major Benjy and Captain Puffin!
Had a nice game of golf?  And the Padre! . . ."

She hesitated a moment wondering, if she could, without screaming
or scratching, seem aware of Diva's presence.  Then she soared,
lambent as flame.

"Diva darling!" she said, and bent and kissed her, even as St.
Stephen in the moment of martyrdom prayed for those who stoned him.
Flesh and blood could not manage more, and she turned to Mr. Wyse,
remembering that Diva had told her that the Contessa Faradiddleony's
arrival was postponed.

"And your dear sister has put off her journey, I understand," she
said.  "Such a disappointment!  Shall we see her at Tilling at all,
do you think?"

Mr. Wyse looked surprised.

"Dear lady," he said, "you're the second person who has said that
to me.  Mrs. Plaistow asked me just now--"

"Yes; it was she who told me," said Miss Mapp in case there was a
mistake.  "Isn't it true?"

"Certainly not.  I told my housekeeper that the Contessa's maid was
ill, and would follow her, but that's the only foundation I know of
for this rumour.  Amelia encourages me to hope that she will be
here early next week."

"Oh, no doubt that's it!" said Miss Mapp in an aside so that Diva
could hear.  "Darling Diva's always getting hold of the most
erroneous information.  She must have been listening to servants'
gossip.  So glad she's wrong about it."

Mr. Wyse made one of his stately inclinations of the head.

"Amelia will regret very much not being here to-night," he said,
"for I see all the great bridge players are present."

"Oh, Mr. Wyse!" said she.  "We shall all be humble learners
compared with the Contessa, I expect."

"Not at all!" said Mr. Wyse.  "But what a delightful idea of yours
and Mrs. Plaistow's to dress alike in such lovely gowns.  Quite
like sisters."

Miss Mapp could not trust herself to speak on this subject, and
showed all her teeth, not snarling but amazingly smiling.  She had
no occasion to reply, however, for Captain Puffin joined them,
eagerly deferential.

"What a charming surprise you and Mrs. Plaistow have given us, Miss
Mapp," he said, "in appearing again in the same beautiful dresses.
Quite like--"

Miss Mapp could not bear to hear what she and Diva were like, and
wheeled about, passionately regretting that she had forgiven
Puffin.  This manoeuvre brought her face to face with the Major.

"Upon my word, Miss Elizabeth," he said, "you look magnificent to-
night."

He saw the light of fury in her eyes, and guessed, mere man as he
was, what it was about.  He bent to her and spoke low.

"But, by Jove!" he said with supreme diplomacy, "somebody ought to
tell our good Mrs. Plaistow that some women can wear a wonderful
gown and others--ha!"

"Dear Major Benjy," said she.  "Cruel of you to poor Diva."

But instantly her happiness was clouded again, for the Padre had a
very ill-inspired notion.

"What ho! fair Madam Plaistow," he humorously observed to Miss
Mapp.  "Ah!  Peccavi!  I am in error.  It is Mistress Mapp.  But
let us to the cards!  Our hostess craves thy presence at yon
table."

Contrary to custom Mrs. Poppit did not sit firmly down at a table,
nor was Isabel told that she had an invincible objection to playing
bridge.  Instead she bade everybody else take their seats, and said
that she and Mr. Wyse had settled at dinner that they much
preferred looking on and learning to playing.  With a view to
enjoying this incredible treat as fully as possible, they at once
seated themselves on a low sofa at the far end of the room where
they could not look or learn at all, and engaged in conversation.
Diva and Elizabeth, as might have been expected from the malignant
influence which watched over their attire, cut in at the same table
and were partners, so that they had, in spite of the deadly
antagonism of identical tea-gowns, a financial interest in common,
while a further bond between them was the eagerness with which they
strained their ears to overhear anything that their hostess and Mr.
Wyse were saying to each other.

Miss Mapp and Diva alike were perhaps busier when they were being
dummy than when they were playing the cards.  Over the background
of each mind was spread a hatred of the other, red as their tea-
gowns, and shot with black despair as to what on earth they should
do now with those ill-fated pieces of pride.  Miss Mapp was
prepared to make a perfect chameleon of hers, if only she could get
away from Diva's hue, but what if, having changed, say, to purple,
Diva became purple too?  She could not stand a third coincidence,
and besides, she much doubted whether any gown that had once been
of so pronounced a crimson-lake, could successfully attempt to
appear of any other hue except perhaps black.  If Diva died, she
might perhaps consult Miss Greele as to whether black would be
possible, but then if Diva died, there was no reason for not
wearing crimson-lake for ever, since it would be an insincerity of
which Miss Mapp humbly hoped she was incapable, to go into mourning
for Diva just because she died.

In front of this lurid background of despair moved the figures
which would have commanded all her attention, have aroused all the
feelings of disgust and pity of which she was capable, had only
Diva stuck to kingfisher-blue.  There they sat on the sofa, talking
in voices which it was impossible to overhear, and if ever a woman
made up to a man, and if ever a man was taken in by shallow
artifices, "they", thought Miss Mapp, "are the ones".  There was no
longer any question that Susan was doing her utmost to inveigle Mr.
Wyse into matrimony, for no other motive, not politeness, not the
charm of conversation, not the low, comfortable seat by the fire
could possibly have had force enough to keep her for a whole
evening from the bridge-table.  That dinner en famille, so Miss
Mapp sarcastically reflected--what if it was the first of hundreds
of similar dinners en famille?  Perhaps, when safely married, Susan
would ask her to one of the family dinners, with a glassful of foam
which she called champagne, and the leg of a crow which she called
game from the shooting-lodge. . . .  There was no use in denying
that Mr. Wyse seemed to be swallowing flattery and any other form
of bait as fast as they were supplied him; never had he been so
made up to since the day, now two years ago, when Miss Mapp herself
wrote him down as uncapturable.  But now, on this awful evening of
crimson-lake, it seemed only prudent to face the prospect of his
falling into the nets which were spread for him. . . .  Susan the
sister-in-law of a Contessa.  Susan the wife of the man whose
urbanity made all Tilling polite to each other, Susan a Wyse of
Whitchurch!  It made Miss Mapp feel positively weary of earth. . . .

Nor was this the sum of Miss Mapp's mental activities, as she sat
being dummy to Diva, for, in addition to the rage, despair and
disgust with which these various topics filled her, she had
narrowly to watch Diva's play, in order, at the end, to point out
to her with lucid firmness all the mistakes she had made, while
with snorts and sniffs and muttered exclamations and jerks of the
head and pullings-out of cards and puttings of them back with
amazing assertions that she had not quitted them, she wrestled with
the task she had set herself of getting two no-trumps.  It was
impossible to count the tricks that Diva made, for she had a habit
of putting her elbow on them after she had raked them in, as if in
fear that her adversaries would filch them when she was not
looking, and Miss Mapp, distracted with other interests, forgot
that no-trumps had been declared and thought it was hearts, of
which Diva played several after their adversaries' hands were quite
denuded of them.  She often did that "to make sure".

"Three tricks," she said triumphantly at the conclusion, counting
the cards in the cache below her elbow.

Miss Mapp gave a long sigh, but remembered that Mr. Wyse was
present.

"You could have got two more," she said, "if you hadn't played
those hearts, dear.  You would have been able to trump Major
Benjy's club and the Padre's diamond, and we should have gone out.
Never mind, you played it beautifully otherwise."

"Can't trump when it's no trumps," said Diva, forgetting that Mr.
Wyse was there.  "That's nonsense.  Got three tricks.  Did go out.
Did you think it was hearts?  Wasn't."

Miss Mapp naturally could not demean herself to take any notice of
this.

"Your deal, is it, Major Benjy?" she asked.  "Me to cut?"

Diva had remembered just after her sharp speech to her partner that
Mr. Wyse was present, and looked towards the sofa to see if there
were any indications of pained surprise on his face which might
indicate that he had heard.  But what she saw there--or, to be more
accurate, what she failed to see there--forced her to give an
exclamation which caused Miss Mapp to look round in the direction
where Diva's bulging eyes were glued. . . .  There was no doubt
whatever about it: Mrs. Poppit and Mr. Wyse were no longer there.
Unless they were under the sofa they had certainly left the room
together and altogether.  Had she gone to put on her sable coat on
this hot night?  Was Mr. Wyse staggering under its weight as he
fitted her into it?  Miss Mapp rejected the supposition; they had
gone to another room to converse more privately.  This looked very
black indeed, and she noted the time on the clock in order to
ascertain, when they came back, how long they had been absent.

The rubber went on its wild way, relieved from the restraining
influence of Mr. Wyse, and when, thirty-nine minutes afterwards, it
came to its conclusion and neither the hostess nor Mr. Wyse had
returned, Miss Mapp was content to let Diva muddle herself madly,
adding up the score with the assistance of her fingers, and went
across to the other table till she should be called back to check
her partner's figures.  They would be certain to need checking.

"Has Mr. Wyse gone away already, dear Isabel?" she said.  "How
early!"

("And four makes nine," muttered Diva, getting to her little
finger.)

Isabel was dummy, and had time for conversation.

"I think he has only gone with Mamma into the conservatory," she
said--"no more diamonds, partner?--to advise her about the
orchids."

Now the conservatory was what Miss Mapp considered a potting-shed
with a glass roof, and the orchids were one anæmic odontoglossum,
and there would scarcely be room besides that for Mrs. Poppit and
Mr. Wyse.  The potting-shed was visible from the drawing-room
window, over which curtains were drawn.

"Such a lovely night," said Miss Mapp.  "And while Diva is checking
the score may I have a peep at the stars, dear?  So fond of the
sweet stars."

She glided to the window (conscious that Diva was longing to glide
too, but was preparing to quarrel with the Major's score) and took
her peep at the sweet stars.  The light from the hall shone full
into the potting-shed, but there was nobody there.  She made quite
sure of that.

Diva had heard about the sweet stars, and for the first time in her
life made no objection to her adversaries' total.

"You're right, Major Flint, eighteen-pence," she said.  "Stupid of
me: I've left my handkerchief in the pocket of my cloak.  I'll pop
out and get it.  Back in a minute.  Cut again for partners."

She trundled to the door and popped out of it before Miss Mapp had
the slightest chance of intercepting her progress.  This was bitter
because the dining-room opened out of the hall, and so did the book-
cupboard with a window which dear Susan called her boudoir.  Diva
was quite capable of popping into both of these apartments.  In
fact, if the truants were there, it was no use bothering about the
sweet stars any more, and Diva would already have won. . . .

There was a sweet moon as well, and just as baffled Miss Mapp was
turning away from the window, she saw that which made her
positively glue her nose to the cold window-pane, and tuck the
curtain in, so that her silhouette should not be visible from
outside.  Down the middle of the garden path came the two truants,
Susan in her sables and Mr. Wyse close beside her with his coat-
collar turned up.  Her ample form with the small round head on the
top looked like a short-funnelled locomotive engine, and he like
the driver on the footplate.  The perfidious things had said they
were going to consult over the orchid.  Did orchids grow on the
lawn?  It was news to Miss Mapp if they did.

They stopped, and Mr. Wyse quite clearly pointed to some celestial
object, moon or star, and they both gazed at it.  The sight of two
such middle-aged people behaving like this made Miss Mapp feel
quite sick, but she heroically continued a moment more at her post.
Her heroism was rewarded, for immediately after the inspection of
the celestial object, they turned and inspected each other.  And
Mr. Wyse kissed her.

Miss Mapp "scriggled" from behind the curtain into the room again.

"Aldebaran!" she said.  "So lovely!"

Simultaneously Diva re-entered with her handkerchief, thwarted and
disappointed, for she had certainly found nobody either in the
boudoir or in the dining-room.  But there was going to be a sit-
down supper, and as Boon was not there, she had taken a marron
glacé.

Miss Mapp was flushed with excitement and disgust, and almost
forgot about Diva's gown.

"Found your hanky, dear?" she said.  "Then shall we cut for
partners again?  You and me, Major Benjy.  Don't scold me if I play
wrong."

She managed to get a seat that commanded a full-face view of the
door, for the next thing was to see how "the young couple" (as she
had already labelled them in her sarcastic mind) "looked" when they
returned from their amorous excursion to the orchid that grew on
the lawn.  They entered, most unfortunately, while she was in the
middle of playing a complicated hand, and her brain was so switched
off from the play by their entrance that she completely lost the
thread of what she was doing, and threw away two tricks that simply
required to be gathered up by her, but now lurked below Diva's
elbow.  What made it worse was that no trace of emotion, no
heightened colour, no coy and downcast eye betrayed a hint of what
had happened on the lawn.  With brazen effrontery Susan informed
her daughter that Mr. Wyse thought a little leaf-mould . . .

"What a liar!" thought Miss Mapp, and triumphantly put her
remaining trump on to her dummy's best card.  Then she prepared to
make the best of it.

"We've lost three, I'm afraid, Major Benjy," she said.  "Don't you
think you overbid your hand just a little wee bit?"

"I don't know about that, Miss Elizabeth," said the Major.  "If you
hadn't let those two spades go, and hadn't trumped my best heart--"

Miss Mapp interrupted with her famous patter.

"Oh, but if I had taken the spades," she said quickly, "I should
have had to lead up to Diva's clubs, and then they would have got
the rough in diamonds, and I should have never been able to get
back into your hand again.  Then at the end if I hadn't trumped
your heart, I should have had to lead the losing spade and Diva
would have over-trumped, and brought in her club, and we should
have gone down two more.  If you follow me, I think you'll agree
that I was right to do that.  But all good players overbid their
hands sometimes, Major Benjy.  Such fun!"

The supper was unusually ostentatious, but Miss Mapp saw the reason
for that; it was clear that Susan wanted to impress poor Mr. Wyse
with her wealth, and probably when it came to settlements, he would
learn some very unpleasant news.  But there were agreeable little
circumstances to temper her dislike of this extravagant display,
for she was hungry, and Diva, always a gross feeder, spilt some hot
chocolate sauce on the crimson-lake, which, if indelible, might
supply a solution to the problem of what was to be done now about
her own frock.  She kept an eye, too, on Captain Puffin, to see if
he showed any signs of improvement in the direction she had
indicated to him in her interview, and was rejoiced to see that one
of these glances was clearly the cause of his refusing a second
glass of port.  He had already taken the stopper out of the
decanter when their eyes met . . . and then he put it back again.
Improvement already!

Everything else (pending the discovery as to whether chocolate on
crimson-lake spelt ruin) now faded into a middle distance, while
the affairs of Susan and poor Mr. Wyse occupied the entire
foreground of Miss Mapp's consciousness.  Mean and cunning as
Susan's conduct must have been in entrapping Mr. Wyse when others
had failed to gain his affection, Miss Mapp felt that it would be
only prudent to continue on the most amicable of terms with her,
for as future sister-in-law to a countess, and wife to the man who
by the mere exercise of his presence could make Tilling sit up and
behave, she would doubtless not hesitate about giving Miss Mapp
some nasty ones back if retaliation demanded.  It was dreadful to
think that this audacious climber was so soon to belong to the
Wyses of Whitchurch, but since the moonlight had revealed that such
was Mr. Wyse's intention, it was best to be friends with the Mammon
of the British Empire.  Poppit-cum-Wyse was likely to be a very
important centre of social life in Tilling, when not in Scotland or
Whitchurch or Capri, and Miss Mapp wisely determined that even the
announcement of the engagement should not induce her to give voice
to the very proper sentiments which it could not help inspiring.

After all she had done for Susan, in letting the door of high-life
in Tilling swing open for her when she could not possibly keep it
shut any longer, it seemed only natural that, if she only kept on
good terms with her now, Susan would insist that her dear Elizabeth
must be the first to be told of the engagement.  This made her
pause before adopting the obvious course of setting off immediately
after breakfast next morning, and telling all her friends, under
promise of secrecy, just what she had seen in the moonlight last
night.  Thrilling to the narrator as such an announcement would be,
it would be even more thrilling, provided only that Susan had
sufficient sense of decency to tell her of the engagement before
anybody else, to hurry off to all the others and inform them that
she had known of it ever since the night of the bridge-party.

It was important, therefore, to be at home whenever there was the
slightest chance of Susan coming round with her news, and Miss Mapp
sat at her window the whole of that first morning, so as not to
miss her, and hardly attended at all to the rest of the pageant of
life that moved within the radius of her observation.  Her heart
beat fast when, about the middle of the morning, Mr. Wyse came
round the dentist's corner, for it might be that the bashful Susan
had sent him to make the announcement, but, if so, he was bashful
too, for he walked by her house without pause.  He looked rather
worried, she thought (as well he might), and passing on he
disappeared round the church corner, clearly on his way to his
betrothed.  He carried a square parcel in his hand, about as big as
some jewel-case that might contain a tiara.  Half an hour
afterwards, however, he came back, still carrying the tiara.  It
occurred to her that the engagement might have been broken off. . . .
A little later, again with a quickened pulse, Miss Mapp saw the
Royce lumber down from the church corner.  It stopped at her house,
and she caught a glimpse of sables within.  This time she felt
certain that Susan had come with her interesting news, and waited
till Withers, having answered the door, came to inquire, no doubt,
whether she would see Mrs. Poppit.  But, alas, a minute later the
Royce lumbered on, carrying the additional weight of the Christmas
number of Punch which Miss Mapp had borrowed last night and had
not, of course, had time to glance at yet.

Anticipation is supposed to be pleasanter than any fulfilment,
however agreeable, and if that is the case, Miss Mapp during the
next day or two had more enjoyment than the announcement of fifty
engagements could have given her, so constantly (when from the
garden-room she heard the sound of the knocker on her front door)
did she spring up in certainty that this was Susan, which it never
was.  But, however enjoyable it all might be, she appeared to
herself at least to be suffering tortures of suspense, through
which by degrees an idea, painful and revolting in the extreme, yet
strangely exhilarating, began to insinuate itself into her mind.
There seemed a deadly probability of the correctness of the
conjecture, as the week went by without further confirmation of
that kiss, for, after all, who knew anything about the character
and antecedents of Susan?  As for Mr. Wyse, was he not a constant
visitor to the fierce and fickle south, where, as everyone knew,
morality was wholly extinct?  And how, if it was all too true,
should Tilling treat this hitherto unprecedented situation?  It was
terrible to contemplate this moral upheaval, which might prove to
be a social upheaval also.  Time and again, as Miss Mapp vainly
waited for news, she was within an ace of communicating her
suspicions to the Padre.  He ought to know, for Christmas (as was
usual in December) was daily drawing nearer. . . .

There came some half-way through that month a dark and ominous
afternoon, the rain falling sad and thick, and so unusual a density
of cloud dwelling in the upper air that by three o'clock Miss Mapp
was quite unable, until the street lamp at the corner was lit, to
carry out the minor duty of keeping an eye on the houses of Captain
Puffin and Major Benjy.  The Royce had already lumbered by her door
since lunch-time, but so dark was it that, peer as she might, it
was lost in the gloom before it came to the dentist's corner, and
Miss Mapp had to face the fact that she really did not know whether
it had turned into the street where Susan's lover lived or had gone
straight on.  It was easier to imagine the worst, and she had
already pictured to herself a clandestine meeting between those
passionate ones, who under cover of this darkness were imperviously
concealed from any observation (beneath an umbrella) from her house-
roof.  Nothing but a powerful searchlight could reveal what was
going on in the drawing-room window of Mr. Wyse's house, and apart
from the fact that she had not got a powerful searchlight, it was
strongly improbable that anything of a very intimate nature was
going on there . . . it was not likely that they would choose the
drawing-room window.  She thought of calling on Mr. Wyse and asking
for the loan of a book, so that she would see whether the sables
were in the hall, but even then she would not really be much
further on.  Even as she considered this a sea-mist began to creep
through the street outside, and in a few minutes it was blotted
from view.  Nothing was visible, and nothing audible but the
hissing of the shrouded rain.

Suddenly from close outside came the sound of a doorknocker
imperiously plied, which could be no other than her own.  Only a
telegram or some urgent errand could bring anyone out on such a
day, and unable to bear the suspense of waiting till Withers had
answered it, she hurried into the house to open the door herself.
Was the news of the engagement coming to her at last?  Late though
it was, she would welcome it even now, for it would atone, in part
at any rate. . . .  It was Diva.

"Diva dear!" said Miss Mapp enthusiastically, for Withers was
already in the hall.  "How sweet of you to come round.  Anything
special?"

"Yes," said Diva, opening her eyes very wide, and spreading a
shower of moisture as she whisked off her mackintosh.  "She's
come."

This could not refer to Susan. . . .

"Who?" asked Miss Mapp.

"Faradiddleony," said Diva.

"No!" said Miss Mapp very loud, so much interested that she quite
forgot to resent Diva's being the first to have the news.  "Let's
have a comfortable cup of tea in the garden-room.  Tea, Withers."

Miss Mapp lit the candles there, for, lost in meditation, she had
been sitting in the dark, and with reckless hospitality poked the
fire to make it blaze.

"Tell me all about it," she said.  That would be a treat for Diva,
who was such a gossip.

"Went to the station just now," said Diva.  "Wanted a new time-
table.  Besides the Royce had just gone down.  Mr. Wyse and Susan
on the platform.

"Sables?" asked Miss Mapp parenthetically, to complete the picture.

"Swaddled.  Talked to them.  Train came in.  Woman got out.  Kissed
Mr. Wyse.  Shook hands with Susan.  Both hands.  While luggage was
got out."

"Much?" asked Miss Mapp quickly.

"Hundreds.  Covered with coronets and Fs.  Two cabs."

Miss Mapp's mind, on a hot scent, went back to the previous
telegraphic utterance.

"Both hands did you say, dear?" she asked.  "Perhaps that's the
Italian fashion."

"Maybe.  Then what else do you think?  Faradiddleony kissed Susan!
Mr. Wyse and she must be engaged.  I can't account for it any other
way.  He must have written to tell his sister.  Couldn't have told
her then at the station.  Must have been engaged some days and we
never knew.  They went to look at the orchid.  Remember?  That was
when."

It was bitter, no doubt, but the bitterness could be transmuted
into an amazing sweetness.

"Then now I can speak," said Miss Mapp with a sigh of great relief.
"Oh, it has been so hard keeping silence, but I felt I ought to.  I
knew all along, Diva dear, all, all along."

"How?" asked Diva with a fallen crest.

Miss Mapp laughed merrily.

"I looked out of the window, dear, while you went for your hanky
and peeped into dining-room and boudoir, didn't you?  There they
were on the lawn, and they kissed each other.  So I said to myself:
'Dear Susan has got him!  Perseverance rewarded!'"

"H'm.  Only a guess of yours.  Or did Susan tell you?"

"No, dear, she said nothing.  But Susan was always secretive."

"But they might not have been engaged at all," said Diva with a
brightened eye.  "Man doesn't always marry a woman he kisses!"

Diva had betrayed the lowness of her mind now by hazarding that
which had for days dwelt in Miss Mapp's mind as almost certain.
She drew in her breath with a hissing noise as if in pain.

"Darling, what a dreadful suggestion," she said.  "No such idea
ever occurred to me.  Secretive I thought Susan might be, but
immoral, never.  I must forget you ever thought that.  Let's talk
about something less painful.  Perhaps you would like to tell me
more about the Contessa."

Diva had the grace to look ashamed of herself, and to take refuge
in the new topic so thoughtfully suggested.

"Couldn't see clearly," she said.  "So dark.  But tall and lean.
Sneezed."

"That might happen to anybody, dear," said Miss Mapp, "whether tall
or short.  Nothing more?"

"An eyeglass," said Diva after thought.

"A single one?" asked Miss Mapp.  "On a string?  How strange for a
woman."

That seemed positively the last atom of Diva's knowledge, and
though Miss Mapp tried on the principles of psycho-analysis to
disinter something she had forgotten, the catechism led to no
results whatever.  But Diva had evidently something else to say,
for after finishing her tea she whizzed backwards and forwards from
window to fireplace with little grunts and whistles, as was her
habit when she was struggling with utterance.  Long before it came
out, Miss Mapp had, of course, guessed what it was.  No wonder Diva
found difficulty in speaking of a matter in which she had behaved
so deplorably. . . .

"About that wretched dress," she said at length.  "Got it stained
with chocolate first time I wore it, and neither I nor Janet can
get it out."

("Hurrah," thought Miss Mapp.)

"Must have it dyed again," continued Diva.  "Thought I'd better
tell you.  Else you might have yours dyed the same colour as mine
again.  Kingfisher-blue to crimson-lake.  All came out of Vogue and
Mrs. Trout.  Rather funny, you know, but expensive.  You should
have seen your face, Elizabeth, when you came in to Susan's the
other night."

"Should I, dearest?" said Miss Mapp, trembling violently.

"Yes.  Wouldn't have gone home with you in the dark for anything.
Murder."

"Diva dear," said Miss Mapp anxiously, "you've got a mind which
likes to put the worst construction on everything.  If Mr. Wyse
kisses his intended you think things too terrible for words; if I
look surprised you think I'm full of hatred and malice.  Be more
generous, dear.  Don't put evil constructions on all you see."

"Ho!" said Diva with a world of meaning.

"I don't know what you intend to convey by ho," said Miss Mapp,
"and I shan't try to guess.  But be kinder, darling, and it will
make you happier.  Thinketh no evil, you know!  Charity!"

Diva felt that the limit of what was tolerable was reached when
Elizabeth lectured her on the need of charity, and she would no
doubt have explained tersely and unmistakably exactly what she
meant by "Ho!" had not Withers opportunely entered to clear away
tea.  She brought a note with her, which Miss Mapp opened.
"Encourage me to hope," were the first words that met her eye: Mrs.
Poppit had been encouraging him to hope again.

"To dine at Mr. Wyse's to-morrow," she said.  "No doubt the
announcement will be made then.  He probably wrote it before he
went to the station.  Yes, a few friends.  You going dear?"

Diva instantly got up.

"Think I'll run home and see," she said.  "By the by, Elizabeth,
what about the--the teagown, if I go?  You or I?"

"If yours is all covered with chocolate, I shouldn't think you'd
like to wear it," said Miss Mapp.

"Could tuck it away," said Diva, "just for once.  Put flowers.
Then send it to dyer's.  You won't see it again.  Not crimson-lake,
I mean."

Miss Mapp summoned the whole of her magnanimity.  It had been put
to a great strain already and was tired out, but it was capable of
one more effort.

"Wear it then," she said.  "It'll be a treat to you.  But let me
know if you're not asked.  I daresay Mr. Wyse will want to keep it
very small.  Good-bye, dear; I'm afraid you'll get very wet going
home."



CHAPTER ELEVEN


The sea-mist and the rain continued without intermission next
morning, but shopping with umbrellas and mackintoshes was unusually
brisk, for there was naturally a universally felt desire to catch
sight of a Contessa with as little delay as possible.  The foggy
conditions perhaps added to the excitement, for it was not possible
to see more than a few yards, and thus at any moment anybody might
almost run into her.  Diva's impressions, meagre though they were,
had been thoroughly circulated, but the morning passed, and the
ladies of Tilling went home to change their wet things and take a
little ammoniated quinine as a precaution after so long and chilly
an exposure, without a single one of them having caught sight of
the single eyeglass.  It was disappointing, but the disappointment
was bearable since Mr. Wyse, so far from wanting his party to be
very small, had been encouraged by Mrs. Poppit to hope that it
would include all his world of Tilling with one exception.  He had
hopes with regard to the Major and the Captain, and the Padre and
wee wifie, and Irene and Miss Mapp, and of course Isabel.  But
apparently he despaired of Diva.

She alone therefore was absent from this long, wet shopping, for
she waited indoors, almost pen in hand, to answer in the
affirmative the invitation which had at present not arrived.  Owing
to the thickness of the fog, her absence from the street passed
unnoticed, for everybody supposed that everybody else had seen her,
while she, biting her nails at home, waited and waited and waited.
Then she waited.  About a quarter past one she gave it up, and duly
telephoned, according to promise, via Janet and Withers, to Miss
Mapp to say that Mr. Wyse had not yet hoped.  It was very
unpleasant to let them know, but if she had herself rung up and
been answered by Elizabeth, who usually rushed to the telephone,
she felt that she would sooner have choked than have delivered this
message.  So Janet telephoned and Withers said she would tell her
mistress.  And did.

Miss Mapp was steeped in pleasant conjectures.  The most likely of
all was that the Contessa had seen that roundabout little busybody
in the station, and taken an instant dislike to her through her
single eyeglass.  Or she might have seen poor Diva inquisitively
inspecting the luggage with the coronets and the Fs on it, and have
learned with pain that this was one of the ladies of Tilling.
"Algernon," she would have said (so said Miss Mapp to herself),
"who is that queer little woman?  Is she going to steal some of my
luggage?"  And then Algernon would have told her that this was poor
Diva, quite a decent sort of little body.  But when it came to
Algernon asking his guests for the dinner-party in honour of his
betrothal and her arrival at Tilling, no doubt the Contessa would
have said, "Algernon, I beg . . ." or if Diva--poor Diva--was right
in her conjectures that the notes had been written before the
arrival of the train, it was evident that Algernon had torn up the
one addressed to Diva, when the Contessa heard whom she was to meet
the next evening. . . .  Or Susan might easily have insinuated that
they would have two very pleasant tables of bridge after dinner
without including Diva, who was so wrong and quarrelsome over the
score.  Any of these explanations were quite satisfactory, and
since Diva would not be present, Miss Mapp would naturally don the
crimson-lake.  They would all see what crimson-lake looked like
when it decked a suitable wearer and was not parodied on the other
side of a card-table.  How true, as dear Major Benjy had said, that
one woman could wear what another could not. . . .  And if there
was a woman who could not wear crimson-lake it was Diva. . . .  Or
was Mr. Wyse really ashamed to let his sister see Diva in the
crimson-lake?  It would be just like him to be considerate of Diva,
and not permit her to make a guy of herself before the Italian
aristocracy.  No doubt he would ask her to lunch some day, quite
quietly.  Or had . . . Miss Mapp bloomed with pretty conjectures,
like some Alpine meadow when smitten into flower by the spring, and
enjoyed her lunch very much indeed.

The anxiety and suspense of the morning, which, instead of being
relieved, had ended in utter gloom, gave Diva a headache, and she
adopted her usual strenuous methods of getting rid of it.  So,
instead of lying down and taking aspirin and dozing, she set out
after lunch to walk it off.  She sprinted and splashed along the
miry roads, indifferent as to whether she stepped in puddles or
not, and careless how wet she got.  She bit on the bullet of her
omission from the dinner-party this evening, determining not to
mind one atom about it, but to look forward to a pleasant evening
at home instead of going out (like this) in the wet.  And never--
never under any circumstances would she ask any of the guests what
sort of an evening had been spent, how Mr. Wyse announced the news,
and how the Faradiddleony played bridge.  (She said that satirical
word aloud, mouthing it to the puddles and the dripping hedgerows.)
She would not evince the slightest interest in it all; she would
cover it with spadefuls of oblivion, and when next she met Mr. Wyse
she would, whatever she might feel, behave exactly as usual.  She
plumed herself on this dignified resolution, and walked so fast
that the hedge-rows became quite transparent.  That was the proper
thing to do; she had been grossly slighted, and, like a true lady,
would be unaware of that slight; whereas poor Elizabeth, under such
circumstances, would have devised a hundred petty schemes for
rendering Mr. Wyse's life a burden to him.  But if--if (she only
said "if") she found any reason to believe that Susan was at the
bottom of this, then probably she would think of something worthy
not so much of a true lady but of a true woman.  Without asking any
questions, she might easily arrive at information which would
enable her to identify Susan as the culprit, and she would then act
in some way which would astonish Susan.  What that way was she need
not think yet, and so she devoted her entire mind to the question
all the way home.

Feeling better and with her headache quite gone, she arrived in
Tilling again drenched to the skin.  It was already after tea-time,
and she abandoned tea altogether, and prepared to console herself
for her exclusion from gaiety with a "good blow-out" in the shape
of regular dinner, instead of the usual muffin now and a tray
later.  To add dignity to her feast, she put on the crimson-lake
tea-gown for the last time that it would be crimson-lake (though
the same tea-gown still), since to-morrow it would be sent to the
dyer's to go into perpetual mourning for its vanished glories.  She
had meant to send it to-day, but all this misery and anxiety had
put it out of her head.

Having dressed thus, to the great astonishment of Janet, she sat
down to divert her mind from trouble by Patience.  As if to reward
her for her stubborn fortitude, the malignity of the cards
relented, and she brought out an intricate matter three times
running.  The clock on her mantelpiece chiming a quarter to eight,
surprised her with the lateness of the hour, and recalled to her
with a stab of pain that it was dinner-time at Mr. Wyse's, and at
this moment some seven pairs of eager feet were approaching the
door.  Well, she was dining at a quarter to eight, too; Janet would
enter presently to tell her that her own banquet was ready, and
gathering up her cards, she spent a pleasant though regretful
minute in looking at herself and the crimson-lake for the last time
in her long glass.  The tremendous walk in the rain had given her
an almost equally high colour.  Janet's foot was heard on the
stairs, and she turned away from the glass.  Janet entered.

"Dinner?" said Diva.

"No, ma'am, the telephone," said Janet.  "Mr. Wyse is on the
telephone, and wants to speak to you very particularly."

"Mr. Wyse himself?" asked Diva, hardly believing her ears, for she
knew Mr. Wyse's opinion of the telephone.

"Yes, ma'am."

Diva walked slowly, but reflected rapidly.  What must have happened
was that somebody had been taken ill at the last moment--was it
Elizabeth?--and that he now wanted her to fill the gap. . . .  She
was torn in two.  Passionately as she longed to dine at Mr. Wyse's,
she did not see how such a course was compatible with dignity.  He
had only asked her to suit his own convenience; it was not out of
encouragement to hope that he invited her now.  No; Mr. Wyse should
want.  She would say that she had friends dining with her; that was
what the true lady would do.

She took up the ear-piece and said:  "Hullo!"

It was certainly Mr. Wyse's voice that spoke to her, and it seemed
to tremble with anxiety.

"Dear lady," he began, "a most terrible thing has happened--"

(Wonder if Elizabeth's very ill, thought Diva.)

"Quite terrible," said Mr. Wyse.  "Can you hear?"

"Yes," said Diva, hardening her heart.

"By the most calamitous mistake the note which I wrote you
yesterday was never delivered.  Figgis has just found it in the
pocket of his overcoat.  I shall certainly dismiss him unless you
plead for him.  Can you hear?"

"Yes," said Diva excitedly.

"In it I told you that I had been encouraged to hope that you would
dine with me to-night.  There was such a gratifying response to my
other invitations that I most culpably and carelessly, dear lady,
thought that everybody had accepted.  Can you hear?"

"Of course I can!" shouted Diva.

"Well, I come on my knees to you.  Can you possibly forgive the
joint stupidity of Figgis and me, and honour me after all?  We will
put dinner off, of course.  At what time, in case you are ever so
kind and indulgent as to come, shall we have it?  Do not break my
heart by refusing.  Su--Mrs. Poppit will send her car for you."

"I have already dressed for dinner," said Diva proudly.  "Very
pleased to come at once."

"You are too kind; you are angelic," said Mr. Wyse.  "The car shall
start at once; it is at my door now."

"Right," said Diva.

"Too good--too kind," murmured Mr. Wyse.  "Figgis, what do I do
next?"

Diva clapped the instrument into place.

"Powder," she said to herself, remembering what she had seen in the
glass, and whizzed upstairs.  Her fish would have to be degraded
into kedgeree, though plaice would have done just as well as sole
for that; the cutlets could be heated up again, and perhaps the
whisking for the apple-meringue had not begun yet, and could still
be stopped.

"Janet!" she shouted.  "Going out to dinner!  Stop the meringue."

She dashed an interesting pallor on to her face as she heard the
hooting of the Royce, and coming downstairs, stepped into its warm
luxuriousness, for the electric lamp was burning.  There were
Susan's sables there--it was thoughtful of Susan to put them in,
but ostentatious--and there was a carriage rug, which she was
convinced was new, and was very likely a present from Mr. Wyse.
And soon there was the light streaming out from Mr. Wyse's open
door, and Mr. Wyse himself in the hall to meet and greet and thank
and bless her.  She pleaded for the contrite Figgis, and was
conducted in a blaze of triumph into the drawing-room, where all
Tilling was awaiting her.  She was led up to the Contessa, with
whom Miss Mapp, wreathed in sycophantic smiles, was eagerly
conversing.

The crimson-lakes . . .


There were embarrassing moments during dinner; the Contessa
confused by having so many people introduced to her in a lump, got
all their names wrong, and addressed her neighbours as Captain
Flint and Major Puffin, and thought that Diva was Mrs. Mapp.  She
seemed vivacious and good-humoured, dropped her eyeglass into her
soup, talked with her mouth full, and drank a good deal of wine,
which was a very bad example for Major Puffin.  Then there were
many sudden and complete pauses in the talk, for Diva's news of the
kissing of Mrs. Poppit by the Contessa had spread like wildfire
through the fog this morning, owing to Miss Mapp's dissemination of
it, and now, whenever Mr. Wyse raised his voice ever so little,
everybody else stopped talking, in the expectation that the news
was about to be announced.  Occasionally, also, the Contessa
addressed some remark to her brother in shrill and voluble Italian,
which rather confirmed the gloomy estimate of her table-manners in
the matter of talking with her mouth full, for to speak in Italian
was equivalent to whispering, since the purport of what she said
could not be understood by anybody except him. . . .  Then also,
the sensation of dining with a countess produced a slight feeling
of strain, which, in addition to the correct behaviour which Mr.
Wyse's presence always induced, almost congealed correctness into
stiffness.  But as dinner went on her evident enjoyment of herself
made itself felt, and her eccentricities, though carefully observed
and noted by Miss Mapp, were not succeeded by silences and hurried
bursts of conversation.

"And is your ladyship making a long stay in Tilling?" asked the
(real) Major, to cover the pause which had been caused by Mr. Wyse
saying something across the table to Isabel.

She dropped her eyeglass with quite a splash into her gravy, pulled
it out again by the string as if landing a fish, and sucked it.

"That depends on you gentlemen," she said with greater audacity
than was usual in Tilling.  "If you and Major Puffin and that sweet
little Scotch clergyman all fall in love with me, and fight duels
about me, I will stop for ever. . . ."

The Major recovered himself before anybody else.

"Your ladyship may take that for granted," he said gallantly, and a
perfect hubbub of conversation rose to cover this awful topic.

She laid her hand on his arm.

"You must not call me ladyship, Captain Flint," she said.  "Only
servants say that.  Contessa, if you like.  And you must blow away
this fog for me.  I have seen nothing but bales of cotton-wool out
of the window.  Tell me this, too: why are those ladies dressed
alike?  Are they sisters?  Mrs. Mapp, the little round one, and her
sister, the big round one?"

The Major cast an apprehensive eye on Miss Mapp seated just
opposite, whose acuteness of hearing was one of the terrors of
Tilling. . . .  His apprehensions were perfectly well founded, and
Miss Mapp hated and despised the Contessa from that hour.

"No, not sisters," said he, "and your la--you've made a little
error about the names.  The one opposite is Miss Mapp, the other
Mrs. Plaistow."

The Contessa moderated her voice.

"I see; she looks vexed, your Miss Mapp.  I think she must have
heard, and I will be very nice to her afterwards.  Why does not one
of you gentlemen marry her?  I see I shall have to arrange that.
The sweet little Scotch clergyman now; little men like big wives.
Ah!  Married already is he to the mouse?  Then it must be you,
Captain Flint.  We must have more marriages in Tilling."

Miss Mapp could not help glancing at the Contessa, as she made this
remarkable observation.  It must be the cue, she thought, for the
announcement of that which she had known so long. . . .  In the
space of a wink the clever Contessa saw that she had her attention,
and spoke rather loudly to the Major.

"I have lost my heart to your Miss Mapp," she said.  "I am jealous
of you, Captain Flint.  She will be my great friend in Tilling, and
if you marry her, I shall hate you, for that will mean that she
likes you best."

Miss Mapp hated nobody at that moment, not even Diva, off whose
face the hastily-applied powder was crumbling, leaving little red
marks peeping out like the stars on a fine evening.  Dinner came to
an end with roasted chestnuts brought by the Contessa from Capri.

"I always scold Amelia for the luggage she takes with her," said
Mr. Wyse to Diva.  "Amelia, dear, you are my hostess to-night"--
everybody saw him look at Mrs. Poppit--"you must catch somebody's
eye."

"I will catch Miss Mapp's," said Amelia, and all the ladies rose as
if connected with some hidden mechanism which moved them
simultaneously. . . .  There was a great deal of pretty diffidence
at the door, but the Contessa put an end to that.

"Eldest first," she said, and marched out, making Miss Mapp, Diva
and the mouse feel remarkably young.  She might drop her eyeglass
and talk with her mouth full, but really such tact. . . .  They all
determined to adopt this pleasing device in the future.  The
disappointment about the announcement of the engagement was
sensibly assuaged, and Miss Mapp and Susan, in their eagerness to
be younger than the Contessa, and yet take precedence of all the
rest, almost stuck in the doorway.  They rebounded from each other,
and Diva whizzed out between them.  Quaint Irene went in her right
place--last.  However quaint Irene was, there was no use in
pretending that she was not the youngest.

However hopelessly Amelia had lost her heart to Miss Mapp, she did
not devote her undivided attention to her in the drawing-room, but
swiftly established herself at the card-table, where she proceeded,
with a most complicated sort of Patience and a series of
cigarettes, to while away the time till the gentlemen joined them.
Though the ladies of Tilling had plenty to say to each other, it
was all about her, and such comments could not conveniently be made
in her presence.  Unless, like her, they talked some language
unknown to the subject of their conversation, they could not talk
at all, and so they gathered round her table, and watched the
lightning rapidity with which she piled black knaves on red queens
in some packs and red knaves on black queens in others.  She had
taken off all her rings in order to procure a greater freedom of
finger, and her eyeglass continued to crash on to a glittering mass
of magnificent gems.  The rapidity of her motions was only equalled
by the swift and surprising monologue that poured from her mouth.

"There, that odious king gets in my way," she said.  "So like a man
to poke himself in where he isn't wanted.  Bacco!  No, not that: I
have a cigarette.  I hear all you ladies are terrific bridge-
players: we will have a game presently, and I shall sink into the
earth with terror at your Camorra!  Dio! there's another king, and
that's his own queen whom he doesn't want at all.  He is amoroso
for that black queen, who is quite covered up, and he would liked
to be covered up with her.  Susan, my dear" (that was interesting,
but they all knew it already), "kindly ring the bell for coffee.  I
expire if I do not get my coffee at once, and a toothpick.  Tell me
all the scandal of Tilling, Miss Mapp, while I play--all the
dreadful histories of that Major and that Captain.  Such a grand
air has the Captain--no, it is the Major, the one who does not
limp.  Which of all you ladies do they love most?  It is Miss Mapp,
I believe: that is why she does not answer me.  Ah! here is the
coffee, and the other king: three lumps of sugar, dear Susan, and
then stir it up well, and hold it to my mouth, so that I can drink
without interruption.  Ah, the ace!  He is the intervener, or is it
the King's Proctor?  It would be nice to have a proctor who told
you all the love-affairs that were going on.  Susan, you must get
me a proctor: you shall be my proctor.  And here are the men--the
wretches, they have been preferring wine to women, and we will have
our bridge, and if anybody scolds me, I shall cry, Miss Mapp, and
Captain Flint will hold my hand and comfort me."

She gathered up a heap of cards and rings, dropped them on the
floor, and cut with the remainder.

Miss Mapp was very lenient with the Contessa, who was her partner,
and pointed out the mistakes of her and their adversaries with the
most winning smile and eagerness to explain things clearly.  Then
she revoked heavily herself, and the Contessa, so far from being
angry with her, burst into peals of unquenchable merriment.  This
way of taking a revoke was new to Tilling, for the right thing was
for the revoker's partner to sulk and be sarcastic for at least
twenty minutes after.  The Contessa's laughter continued to spurt
out at intervals during the rest of the rubber, and it was all very
pleasant; but at the end she said she was not up to Tilling
standards at all, and refused to play any more.  Miss Mapp, in the
highest good-humour urged her not to despair.

"Indeed, dear Contessa," she said, "you play very well.  A little
overbidding of your hand, perhaps, do you think? but that is a
tendency we are all subject to: I often overbid my hand myself.
Not a little wee rubber more.  I'm sure I should like to be your
partner again.  You must come and play at my house some afternoon.
We will have tea early, and get a good two hours.  Nothing like
practice."

The evening came to an end without the great announcement being
made, but Miss Mapp, as she reviewed the events of the party,
sitting next morning in her observation-window, found the whole
evidence so overwhelming that it was no longer worth while to form
conjectures, however fruitful, on the subject, and she diverted her
mind to pleasing reminiscences and projects for the future.  She
had certainly been distinguished by the Contessa's marked regard,
and her opinion of her charm and ability was of the very
highest. . . .  No doubt her strange remark about duelling at
dinner had been humorous in intention, but many a true word is
spoken in jest, and the Contessa--perspicacious woman--had seen at
once that Major Benjy and Captain Puffin were just the sort of men
who might get to duelling (or, at any rate, challenging) about a
woman.  And her asking which of the ladies the men were most in
love with, and her saying that she believed it was Miss Mapp!  Miss
Mapp had turned nearly as red as poor Diva when that came out, so
lightly and yet so acutely. . . .

Diva!  It had, of course, been a horrid blow to find that Diva had
been asked to Mr. Wyse's party in the first instance, and an even
shrewder one when Diva entered (with such unnecessary fussing and
apology on the part of Mr. Wyse) in the crimson-lake.  Luckily, it
would be seen no more, for Diva had promised--if you could trust
Diva--to send it to the dyer's; but it was a great puzzle to know
why Diva had it on at all, if she was preparing to spend a solitary
evening at home.  By eight o'clock she ought by rights to have
already had her tray, dressed in some old thing; but within three
minutes of her being telephoned for she had appeared in the crimson-
lake, and eaten so heartily that it was impossible to imagine,
greedy though she was, that she had already consumed her tray. . . .
But in spite of Diva's adventitious triumph, the main feeling in
Miss Mapp's mind was pity for her.  She looked so ridiculous in
that dress with the powder peeling off her red face.  No wonder the
dear Contessa stared when she came in.

There was her bridge-party for the Contessa to consider.  The
Contessa would be less nervous, perhaps, if there was only one
table: that would be more homey and cosy, and it would at the same
time give rise to great heart-burnings and indignation in the
breasts of those who were left out.  Diva would certainly be one of
the spurned, and the Contessa would not play with Mr. Wyse. . . .
Then there was Major Benjy, he must certainly be asked, for it was
evident that the Contessa delighted in him. . . .

Suddenly Miss Mapp began to feel less sure that Major Benjy must be
of the party.  The Contessa, charming though she was, had said
several very tropical, Italian things to him.  She had told him
that she would stop here for ever if the men fought duels about
her.  She had said "you dear darling" to him at bridge when, as
adversary, he failed to trump her losing card, and she had asked
him to ask her to tea ("with no one else, for I have a great deal
to say to you"), when the general macédoine of sables, au
reservoirs, and thanks for such a nice evening took place in the
hall.  Miss Mapp was not, in fact, sure when she thought it over,
that the Contessa was a nice friend for Major Benjy.  She did not
do him the injustice of imagining that he would ask her to tea
alone; the very suggestion proved that it must be a piece of the
Contessa's Southern extravagance of expression.  But, after all,
thought Miss Mapp to herself, as she writhed at the idea, her other
extravagant expressions were proved to cover a good deal of truth.
In fact, the Major's chance of being asked to the select bridge-
party diminished swiftly towards vanishing point.

It was time (and indeed late) to set forth on morning marketings,
and Miss Mapp had already determined not to carry her capacious
basket with her to-day, in case of meeting the Contessa in the High
Street.  It would be grander and Wysier and more magnificent to go
basketless, and direct that the goods should be sent up, rather
than run the risk of encountering the Contessa with a basket
containing a couple of mutton cutlets, a ball of wool and some
tooth-powder.  So she put on her Prince of Wales's cloak, and,
postponing further reflection over the bridge-party till a less
busy occasion, set forth in unencumbered gentility for the morning
gossip.  At the corner of the High Street, she ran into Diva.

"News," said Diva.  "Met Mr. Wyse just now.  Engaged to Susan.  All
over the town by now.  Everybody knows.  Oh, there's the Padre for
the first time."

She shot across the street, and Miss Mapp, shaking the dust of Diva
off her feet, proceeded on her chagrined way.  Annoyed as she was
with Diva, she was almost more annoyed with Susan.  After all she
had done for Susan, Susan ought to have told her long ago, pledging
her to secrecy.  But to be told like this by that common Diva,
without any secrecy at all, was an affront that she would find it
hard to forgive Susan for.  She mentally reduced by a half the sum
that she had determined to squander on Susan's wedding-present.  It
should be plated, not silver, and if Susan was not careful, it
shouldn't be plated at all.

She had just come out of the chemist's, after an indignant
interview about precipitated chalk.  He had deposited the small
packet on the counter, when she asked to have it sent up to her
house.  He could not undertake to deliver small packages.  She left
the precipitated chalk lying there.  Emerging, she heard a loud,
foreign sort of scream from close at hand.  There was the Contessa,
all by herself, carrying a marketing basket of unusual size and
newness.  It contained a bloody steak and a crab.

"But where is your basket, Miss Mapp?" she exclaimed.  "Algernon
told me that all the great ladies of Tilling went marketing in the
morning with big baskets, and that if I aspired to be du monde, I
must have my basket, too.  It is the greatest fun, and I have
already written to Cecco to say I am just going marketing with my
basket.  Look, the steak is for Figgis, and the crab is for
Algernon and me, if Figgis does not get it.  But why are you not du
monde?  Are you du demi-monde.  Miss Mapp?"

She gave a croak of laughter and tickled the crab. . . .

"Will he eat the steak, do you think?" she went on.  "Is he not
lively?  I went to the shop of Mr. Hopkins, who was not there,
because he was engaged with Miss Coles.  And was that not Miss
Coles last night at my brother's?  The one who spat in the fire
when nobody but I was looking?  You are enchanting at Tilling.
What is Mr. Hopkins doing with Miss Coles?  Do they kiss?  But your
market basket: that disappoints me, for Algernon said you had the
biggest market-basket of all.  I bought the biggest I could find:
is it as big as yours?"

Miss Mapp's head was in a whirl.  The Contessa said in the loudest
possible voice all that everybody else only whispered; she
displayed (in her basket) all that everybody else covered up with
thick layers of paper.  If Miss Mapp had only guessed that the
Contessa would have a market-basket, she would have paraded the
High Street with a leg of mutton protruding from one end and a pair
of Wellington boots from the other. . . .  But who could have
suspected that a Contessa . . .

Black thoughts succeeded.  Was it possible that Mr. Wyse had been
satirical about the affairs of Tilling?  If so, she wished him
nothing worse than to be married to Susan.  But a playful face must
be put, for the moment, on the situation.

"Too lovely of you, dear Contessa," she said.  "May we go marketing
together to-morrow, and we will measure the size of our baskets?
Such fun I have, too, laughing at the dear people in Tilling.  But
what thrilling news this morning about our sweet Susan and your
dear brother, though of course I knew it long ago."

"Indeed! how was that?" said the Contessa quite sharply.

Miss Mapp was "nettled" at her tone.

"Oh, you must allow me two eyes," she said, since it was merely
tedious to explain how she had seen them from behind a curtain
kissing in the garden.  "Just two eyes."

"And a nose for scent," remarked the Contessa very genially.

This was certainly coarse, though probably Italian.  Miss Mapp's
opinion of the Contessa fluctuated violently like a barometer
before a storm and indicated "Changeable".

"Dear Susan is such an intimate friend," she said.

The Contessa looked at her very fixedly for a moment, and then
appeared to dismiss the matter.

"My crab, my steak," she said.  "And where does your nice Captain,
no, Major Flint live?  I have a note to leave on him, for he has
asked me to tea all alone, to see his tiger skins.  He is going to
be my flirt while I am in Tilling, and when I go he will break his
heart, but I will have told him who can mend it again."

"Dear Major Benjy!" said Miss Mapp, at her wits' end to know how to
deal with so feather-tongued a lady.  "What a treat it will be to
him to have you to tea.  To-day, is it?"

The Contessa quite distinctly winked behind her eyeglass, which she
had put up to look at Diva, who whirled by on the other side of the
street.

"And if I said 'To-day'," she remarked, "you would--what is it that
that one says"--and she indicated Diva--"yes, you would pop in, and
the good Major would pay no attention to me.  So if I tell you I
shall go to-day, you will know that it is a lie, you clever Miss
Mapp, and so you will go to tea with him to-morrow and find me
there.  Bene!  Now where is his house?"

This was a sort of scheming that had never entered into Miss Mapp's
life, and she saw with pain how shallow she had been all these
years.  Often and often she had, when inquisitive questions were
put her, answered them without any strict subservience to truth,
but never had she thought of confusing the issues like this.  If
she told Diva a lie, Diva probably guessed it was a lie, and acted
accordingly, but she had never thought of making it practically
impossible to tell whether it was a lie or not.  She had no more
idea when she walked back along the High Street with the Contessa
swinging her basket by her side, whether that lady was going to tea
with Major Benjy to-day or to-morrow or when, than she knew whether
the crab was going to eat the beefsteak.

"There's his house," she said, as they paused at the dentist's
corner, "and there's mine next it, with the little bow-window of my
garden-room looking out on to the street.  I hope to welcome you
there, dear Contessa, for a tiny game of bridge and some tea one of
these days very soon.  What day do you think?  To-morrow?"

(Then she would know if the Contessa was going to tea with Major
Benjy to-morrow . . . unfortunately the Contessa appeared to know
that she would know it, too.)

"My flirt!" she said.  "Perhaps I may be having tea with my flirt
to-morrow."

Better anything than that.

"I will ask him, too, to meet you," said Miss Mapp, feeling in some
awful and helpless way that she was playing her adversary's game.
"Adversary?" did she say to herself?  She did.  The inscrutable
Contessa was "up to" that too.

"I will not amalgamate my treats," she said.  "So that is his
house!  What a charming house!  How my heart flutters as I ring the
bell!"

Miss Mapp was now quite distraught.  There was the possibility that
the Contessa might tell Major Benjy that it was time he married,
but on the other hand she was making arrangements to go to tea with
him on an unknown date, and the hero of amorous adventures in India
and elsewhere might lose his heart again to somebody quite
different from one whom he could hope to marry.  By daylight the
dear Contessa was undeniably plain: that was something, but in
these short days, tea would be conducted by artificial light, and
by artificial light she was not so like a rabbit.  What was worse
was that by any light she had a liveliness which might be mistaken
for wit, and a flattering manner which might be taken for
sincerity.  She hoped men were not so easily duped as that, and was
sadly afraid that they were.  Blind fools!


The number of visits that Miss Mapp made about tea-time in this
week before Christmas to the post-box at the corner of the High
Street, with an envelope in her hand containing Mr. Hopkins's bill
for fish (and a postal order enclosed), baffles computation.
Naturally, she did not intend, either by day or night, to risk
being found again with a blank unstamped envelope in her hand, and
the one enclosing Mr. Hopkins's bill and the postal order would
have passed scrutiny for correctness, anywhere.  But fair and calm
as was the exterior of that envelope, none could tell how agitated
was the hand that carried it backwards and forwards until the edges
got crumpled and the inscription clouded with much fingering.
Indeed, of all the tricks that Miss Mapp had compassed for others,
none was so sumptuously contrived as that in which she had now
entangled herself.

For these December days were dark, and in consequence not only
would the Contessa be looking her best (such as it was) at tea-
time, but from Miss Mapp's window it was impossible to tell whether
she had gone to tea with him on any particular afternoon, for there
had been a strike at the gas-works, and the lamp at the corner,
which, in happier days, would have told all, told nothing whatever.
Miss Mapp must therefore trudge to the letter-box with Mr.
Hopkins's bill in her hand as she went out, and (after a feint of
posting it) with it in her pocket as she came back, in order to
gather from the light in the windows, from the sound of
conversation that would be audible as she passed close beneath
them, whether the Major was having tea there or not, and with whom.
Should she hear that ringing laugh which had sounded so pleasant
when she revoked, but now was so sinister, she had quite determined
to go in and borrow a book or a tiger-skin--anything.  The Major
could scarcely fail to ask her to tea, and, once there, wild horses
should not drag her away until she had outstayed the other visitor.
Then, as her malady of jealousy grew more feverish, she began to
perceive, as by the ray of some dreadful dawn, that lights in the
Major's room and sounds of elfin laughter were not completely
trustworthy as proofs that the Contessa was there.  It was
possible, awfully possible, that the two might be sitting in the
firelight, that voices might be hushed to amorous whisperings, that
pregnant smiles might be taking the place of laughter.  On one such
afternoon, as she came back from the letter-box with patient Mr.
Hopkins's overdue bill in her pocket, a wild certainty seized her,
when she saw how closely the curtains were drawn, and how still it
seemed inside his room, that firelight dalliance was going on.

She rang the bell, and imagined she heard whisperings inside while
it was being answered.  Presently the light went up in the hall,
and the Major's Mrs. Dominic opened the door.

"The Major is in, I think, isn't he, Mrs. Dominic?" said Miss Mapp,
in her most insinuating tones.

"No, miss; out," said Dominic uncompromisingly.  (Miss Mapp
wondered if Dominic drank.)

"Dear me!  How tiresome, when he told me--" said she, with playful
annoyance.  "Would you be very kind, Mrs. Dominic, and just see for
certain that he is not in his room?  He may have come in."

"No, miss, he's out," said Dominic, with the parrot-like utterance
of the determined liar.  "Any message?"

Miss Mapp turned away, more certain than ever that he was in and
immersed in dalliance.  She would have continued to be quite
certain about it, had she not, glancing distractedly down the
street, caught sight of him coming up with Captain Puffin.

Meantime she had twice attempted to get up a cosy little party of
four (so as not to frighten the Contessa) to play bridge from tea
till dinner, and on both occasions the Faradiddleony (for so she
had become) was most unfortunately engaged.  But the second of
these disappointing replies contained the hope that they would meet
at their marketings to-morrow morning, and though poor Miss Mapp
was really getting very tired with these innumerable visits to the
post-box, whether wet or fine, she set forth next morning with the
hopes anyhow of finding out whether the Contessa had been to tea
with Major Flint, or on what day she was going. . . .  There she
was, just opposite the post office, and there--oh, shame!--was
Major Benjy on his way to the tram, in light-hearted conversation
with her.  It was a slight consolation that Captain Puffin was
there too.

Miss Mapp quickened her steps to a little tripping run.

"Dear Contessa, so sorry I am late," she said.  "Such a lot of
little things to do this morning.  (Major Benjy!  Captain Puffin!)
Oh, how naughty of you to have begun your shopping without me!"

"Only been to the grocer's," said the Contessa.  "Major Benjy has
been so amusing that I haven't got on with my shopping at all.  I
have written to Cecco, to say that there is no one so witty."

(Major Benjy! thought Miss Mapp bitterly, remembering how long it
had taken her to arrive at that.  And "witty".  She had not arrived
at that yet.)

"No, indeed!" said the Major.  "It was the Contessa, Miss Mapp, who
has been so entertaining."

"I'm sure she would be," said Miss Mapp, with an enormous smile.
"And, oh, Major Benjy, you'll miss your tram unless you hurry, and
get no golf at all, and then be vexed with us for keeping you.  You
men always blame us poor women."

"Well, upon my word, what's a game of golf compared with the
pleasure of being with the ladies?" asked the Major, with a great
fat bow.

"I want to catch that tram," said Puffin quite distinctly, and Miss
Mapp found herself more nearly forgetting his inebriated insults
than ever before.

"You poor Captain Puffin," said the Contessa, "you shall catch it.
Be off, both of you, at once.  I will not say another word to
either of you.  I will never forgive you if you miss it.  But to-
morrow afternoon, Major Benjy."

He turned round to bow again, and a bicycle luckily (for the rider)
going very slowly, butted softly into him behind.

"Not hurt?" called the Contessa.  "Good!  Ah, Miss Mapp, let us get
to our shopping!  How well you manage those men!  How right you are
about them!  They want their golf more than they want us, whatever
they may say.  They would hate us, if we kept them from their golf.
So sorry not to have been able to play bridge with you yesterday,
but an engagement.  What a busy place Tilling is.  Let me see!
Where is the list of things that Figgis told me to buy?  That
Figgis!  A roller-towel for his pantry, and some blacking for his
boots, and some flannel I suppose for his fat stomach.  It is all
for Figgis.  And there is that swift Mrs. Plaistow.  She comes like
a train with a red light in her face and wheels and whistlings.
She talks like a telegram--Good morning, Mrs. Plaistow."

"Enjoyed my game of bridge, Contessa," panted Diva.  "Delightful
game of bridge yesterday."

The Contessa seemed in rather a hurry to reply.  But long before
she could get a word out Miss Mapp felt she knew what had
happened. . . .

"So pleased," said the Contessa quickly.  "And now for Figgis's
towels, Miss Mapp.  Ten and sixpence apiece, he says.  What a price
to give for a towel!  But I learn housekeeping like this, and Cecco
will delight in all the economies I shall make.  Quick, to the
draper's, lest there should be no towels left."

In spite of Figgis's list, the Contessa's shopping was soon over,
and Miss Mapp having seen her as far as the corner, walked on, as
if to her own house, in order to give her time to get to Mr.
Wyse's, and then fled back to the High Street.  The suspense was
unbearable: she had to know without delay when and where Diva and
the Contessa had played bridge yesterday.  Never had her eye so
rapidly scanned the movement of passengers in that entrancing
thoroughfare in order to pick Diva out, and learn from her
precisely what had happened. . . .  There she was, coming out of
the dyer's with her basket completely filled by a bulky package,
which it needed no ingenuity to identify as the late crimson-lake.
She would have to be pleasant with Diva, for much as that
perfidious woman might enjoy telling her where this furtive bridge-
party had taken place, she might enjoy even more torturing her with
uncertainty.  Diva could, if put to it, give no answer whatever to
a direct question, but, skilfully changing the subject, talk about
something utterly different.

"The crimson-lake," said Miss Mapp, pointing to the basket.  "Hope
it will turn out well, dear."

There was rather a wicked light in Diva's eyes.

"Not crimson-lake," she said.  "Jet-black."

"Sweet of you to have it dyed again, dear Diva," said Miss Mapp.
"Not very expensive, I trust?"

"Send the bill into you, if you like," said Diva.

Miss Mapp laughed very pleasantly.

"That would be a good joke," she said.  "How nice it is that the
dear Contessa takes so warmly to our Tilling ways.  So amusing she
was about the commissions Figgis had given her.  But a wee bit
satirical, do you think?"

This ought to put Diva in a good temper, for there was nothing she
liked so much as a few little dabs at somebody else.  (Diva was not
very good-natured.)

"She is rather satirical," said Diva.

"Oh, tell me some of her amusing little speeches!" said Miss Mapp
enthusiastically.  "I can't always follow her, but you are so
quick!  A little coarse too, at times, isn't she?  What she said
the other night when she was playing Patience, about the queens and
kings, wasn't quite--was it?  And the toothpick."

"Yes.  Toothpick," said Diva.

"Perhaps she has bad teeth," said Miss Mapp; "it runs in families,
and Mr. Wyse's, you know--We're lucky, you and I."

Diva maintained a complete silence, and they had now come nearly as
far as her door.  If she would not give the information that she
knew Miss Mapp longed for, she must be asked for it, with the
uncertain hope that she would give it then.

"Been playing bridge lately, dear?" asked Miss Mapp.

"Quite lately," said Diva.

"I thought I heard you say something about it to the Contessa.
Yesterday, was it?  Whom did you play with?"

Diva paused, and, when they had come quite to her door, made up her
mind.

"Contessa, Susan, Mr. Wyse, me," she said.

"But I thought she never played with Mr. Wyse," said Miss Mapp.

"Had to get a four," said Diva.  "Contessa wanted her bridge.
Nobody else."

She popped into her house.

There is no use in describing Miss Mapp's state of mind, except by
saying that for the moment she quite forgot that the Contessa was
almost certainly going to tea with Major Benjy to-morrow.



CHAPTER TWELVE


"Peace on earth and mercy mild," sang Miss Mapp, holding her head
back with her uvula clearly visible.  She sat in her usual seat
close below the pulpit, and the sun streaming in through a stained
glass window opposite made her face of all colours, like Joseph's
coat.  Not knowing how it looked from outside, she pictured to
herself a sort of celestial radiance coming from within, though
Diva, sitting opposite, was reminded of the iridescent hues
observable on cold boiled beef.  But then, Miss Mapp had registered
the fact that Diva's notion of singing alto was to follow the
trebles at the uniform distance of a minor third below, so that
matters were about square between them.  She wondered between the
verses if she could say something very tactful to Diva, which might
before next Christmas induce her not to make that noise. . . .

Major Flint came in just before the first hymn was over, and held
his top-hat before his face by way of praying in secret, before he
opened his hymn-book.  A piece of loose holly fell down from the
window-ledge above him on the exact middle of his head, and the
jump that he gave was, considering his baldness, quite justifiable.
Captain Puffin, Miss Mapp was sorry to see, was not there at all.
But he had been unwell lately with attacks of dizziness, one of
which had caused him, in the last game of golf that he had played,
to fall down on the eleventh green and groan.  If these attacks
were not due to his lack of perseverance, no right-minded person
could fail to be very sorry for him.

There was a good deal more peace on earth as regards Tilling than
might have been expected considering what the week immediately
before Christmas had been like.  A picture by Miss Coles (who had
greatly dropped out of society lately, owing to her odd ways)
called "Adam", which was certainly Mr. Hopkins (though no one could
have guessed) had appeared for sale in the window of a dealer in
pictures and curios, but had been withdrawn from public view at
Miss Mapp's personal intercession and her revelation of whom,
unlikely as it sounded, the picture represented.  The unchivalrous
dealer had told the artist the history of its withdrawal, and it
had come to Miss Mapp's ears (among many other things) that quaint
Irene had imitated the scene of intercession with such piercing
fidelity that her servant, Lucy-Eve, had nearly died of laughing.
Then there had been clandestine bridge at Mr. Wyse's house on three
consecutive days, and on none of these occasions was Miss Mapp
asked to continue the instruction which she had professed herself
perfectly willing to give to the Contessa.  The Contessa, in fact--
there seemed to be no doubt about it--had declared that she would
sooner not play bridge at all than play with Miss Mapp, because the
effort of not laughing would put an unwarrantable strain on those
muscles which prevented you from doing so. . . .  Then the Contessa
had gone to tea quite alone with Major Benjy, and though her shrill
and senseless monologue was clearly audible in the street as Miss
Mapp went by to post her letter again, the Major's Dominic had
stoutly denied that he was in, and the notion that the Contessa was
haranguing all by herself in his drawing-room was too ridiculous to
be entertained for a moment. . . .  And Diva's dyed dress had
turned out so well that Miss Mapp gnashed her teeth at the thought
that she had not had hers dyed instead.  With some green chiffon
round the neck, even Diva looked quite distinguished--for Diva.

Then, quite suddenly, an angel of Peace had descended on the
distracted garden-room, for the Poppits, the Contessa and Mr. Wyse
all went away to spend Christmas and the New Year with the Wyses of
Whitchurch.  It was probable that the Contessa would then continue
a round of visits with all that coroneted luggage, and leave for
Italy again without revisiting Tilling.  She had behaved as if that
was the case, for taking advantage of a fine afternoon, she had
borrowed the Royce and whirled round the town on a series of calls,
leaving P.P.C. cards everywhere, and saying only (so Miss Mapp
gathered from Withers) "Your mistress not in?  So sorry," and had
driven away before Withers could get out the information that her
mistress was very much in, for she had a bad cold.

But there were the P.P.C. cards, and the Wyses with their future
connections were going to Whitchurch, and after a few hours of rage
against all that had been going on, without revenge being now
possible, and of reaction after the excitement of it, a different
reaction set in.  Odd and unlikely as it would have appeared a
month or two earlier, when Tilling was seething with duels, it was
a fact that it was possible to have too much excitement.  Ever
since the Contessa had arrived, she had been like an active volcano
planted down among dangerously inflammable elements, and the
removal of it was really a matter of relief.  Miss Mapp felt that
she would be dealing again with materials whose properties she
knew, and since, no doubt, the strain of Susan's marriage would
soon follow, it was a merciful dispensation that the removal of the
volcano granted Tilling a short restorative pause.  The young
couple would be back before long, and with Susan's approaching
elevation certainly going to her head, and making her talk in a
manner wholly intolerable about the grandeur of the Wyses of
Whitchurch, it was a boon to be allowed to recuperate for a little,
before settling to work afresh to combat Susan's pretensions.
There was no fear of being dull: for plenty of things had been
going on in Tilling before the Contessa flared on the High Street,
and plenty of things would continue to go on after she had taken
her explosions elsewhere.

By the time that the second lesson was being read the sun had
shifted from Miss Mapp's face, and enabled her to see how ghastly
dear Evie looked when focused under the blue robe of Jonah, who was
climbing out of the whale.  She had had her disappointments to
contend with, for the Contessa had never really grasped at all who
she was.  Sometimes she mistook her for Irene, sometimes she did
not seem to see her, but never had she appeared fully to identify
her as Mr. Bartlett's wee wifey.  But then, dear Evie was very
insignificant even when she squeaked her loudest.  Her best
friends, among whom was Miss Mapp, would not deny that.  She had
been wilted by non-recognition; she would recover again, now that
they were all left to themselves.

The sermon contained many repetitions and a quantity of split
infinitives.  The Padre had once openly stated that Shakespeare was
good enough for him, and that Shakespeare was guilty of many split
infinitives.  On that occasion there had nearly been a breach
between him and Mistress Mapp, for Mistress Mapp had said:  "But
then you are not Shakespeare, dear Padre."  And he could find
nothing better to reply than "Hoots!" . . .  There was nothing more
of interest about the sermon.

At the end of the service Miss Mapp lingered in the church looking
at the lovely decorations of holly and laurel, for which she was so
largely responsible, until her instinct assured her that everybody
else had shaken hands and was wondering what to say next about
Christmas.  Then, just then, she hurried out.

They were all there, and she came like the late and honoured guest
(poor Diva).

"Diva, darling," she said.  "Merry Christmas!  And Evie!  And the
Padre.  Padre, dear, thank you for your sermon!  And Major Benjy!
Merry Christmas, Major Benjy.  What a small company we are, but not
the less Christmassy.  No Mr. Wyse, no Susan, no Isabel.  Oh, and
no Captain Puffin.  Not quite well again, Major Benjy?  Tell me
about him.  Those dreadful fits of dizziness.  So hard to
understand."

She beautifully succeeded in detaching the Major from the rest.
With the peace that had descended on Tilling, she had forgiven him
for having been made a fool of by the Contessa.

"I'm anxious about my friend Puffin," he said.  "Not at all up to
the mark.  Most depressed.  I told him he had no business to be
depressed.  It's selfish to be depressed, I said.  If we were all
depressed it would be a dreary world, Miss Elizabeth.  He's sent
for the doctor.  I was to have had a round of golf with Puffin this
afternoon, but he doesn't feel up to it.  It would have done him
much more good than a host of doctors."

"Oh, I wish I could play golf, and not disappoint you of your
round, Major Benjy," said she.

Major Benjy seemed rather to recoil from the thought.  He did not
profess, at any rate, any sympathetic regret.

"And we were going to have had our Christmas dinner together to-
night," he said, "and spend a jolly evening afterwards."

"I'm sure quiet is the best thing for Captain Puffin with his
dizziness," said Miss Mapp firmly.

A sudden audacity seized her.  Here was the Major feeling lonely as
regards his Christmas evening: here was she delighted that he
should not spend it "jollily" with Captain Puffin . . . and there
was plenty of plum-pudding.

"Come and have your dinner with me," she said.  "I'm alone too."

He shook his head.

"Very kind of you, I'm sure, Miss Elizabeth," he said, "but I think
I'll hold myself in readiness to go across to poor old Puffin, if
he feels up to it.  I feel lost without my friend Puffin."

"But you must have no jolly evening, Major Benjy," she said.  "So
bad for him.  A little soup and a good night's rest.  That's the
best thing.  Perhaps he would like me to go in and read to him.  I
will gladly.  Tell him so from me.  And if you find he doesn't want
anybody, not even you, well, there's a slice of plum-pudding at
your neighbour's, and such a warm welcome."

She stood on the steps of her house, which in summer were so
crowded with sketchers, and would have kissed her hand to him had
not Diva been following close behind, for even on Christmas Day
poor Diva was capable of finding something ill-natured to say about
the most tender and womanly action . . . and Miss Mapp let herself
into her house with only a little wave of her hand. . . .

Somehow the idea that Major Benjy was feeling lonely and missing
the quarrelsome society of his debauched friend was not entirely
unpleasing to her.  It was odd that there should be anybody who
missed Captain Puffin.  Without wishing Captain Puffin any
unpleasant experience, she would have borne with equanimity the
news of his settled melancholia, or his permanent dizziness, for
Major Benjy with his bright robustness was not the sort of man to
prove a willing comrade to a chronically dizzy or melancholic
friend.  Nor would it be right that he should be so.  Men in
the prime of life were not meant for that.  Nor were they meant
to be the victims of designing women, even though Wyses of
Whitchurch. . . .  He was saved from that by their most opportune
departure.

In spite of her readiness to be interrupted at any moment, Miss
Mapp spent a solitary evening.  She had pulled a cracker with
Withers, and severely jarred a tooth over a threepenny-piece in the
plum-pudding, but there had been no other events.  Once or twice,
in order to see what the night was like, she had gone to the window
of the garden-room, and been aware that there was a light in Major
Benjy's house, but when half-past ten struck, she had despaired of
company and gone to bed.  A little carol-singing in the streets
gave her a Christmas feeling, and she hoped that the singers got a
nice supper somewhere.

Miss Mapp did not feel as genial as usual when she came down to
breakfast next day, and omitted to say good morning to her rainbow
of piggies.  She had run short of wool for her knitting, and Boxing
Day appeared to her a very ill-advised institution.  You would have
imagined, thought Miss Mapp, as she began cracking her egg, that
the tradespeople had had enough relaxation on Christmas Day,
especially when, as on this occasion, it was immediately preceded
by Sunday, and would have been all the better for getting to work
again.  She never relaxed her effort for a single day in the year,
and why--

An overpowering knocking on her front-door caused her to stop
cracking her egg.  That imperious summons was succeeded by but a
moment of silence, and then it began again.  She heard the hurried
step of Withers across the hall, and almost before she could have
been supposed to reach the front door, Diva burst into the room.

"Dead!" she said.  "In his soup.  Captain Puffin.  Can't wait!"

She whirled out again and the front door banged.

Miss Mapp ate her egg in three mouthfuls, had no marmalade at all,
and putting on the Prince of Wales's cloak, tripped down into the
High Street.  Though all shops were shut, Evie was there with her
market-basket, eagerly listening to what Mrs. Brace, the doctor's
wife, was communicating.  Though Mrs. Brace was not, strictly
speaking, "in society", Miss Mapp waived all social distinctions,
and pressed her hand with a mournful smile.

"Is it all too terribly true?" she asked.

Mrs. Brace did not take the smallest notice of her, and, dropping
her voice, spoke to Evie in tones so low that Miss Mapp could not
catch a single syllable except the word soup, which seemed to imply
that Diva had got hold of some correct news at last.  Evie gave a
shrill little scream at the concluding words, whatever they were,
as Mrs. Brace hurried away.

Miss Mapp firmly cornered Evie, and heard what had happened.
Captain Puffin had gone up to bed last night, not feeling well,
without having any dinner.  But he had told Mrs. Gashly to make him
some soup, and he would not want anything else.  His parlour-maid
had brought it to him, and had soon afterwards opened the door to
Major Flint, who, learning that his friend had gone to bed, went
away.  She called her master in the morning, and found him sitting,
still dressed, with his face in the soup which he had poured out
into a deep soup-plate.  This was very odd, and she had called Mrs.
Gashly.  They settled that he was dead, and rang up the doctor who
agreed with them.  It was clear that Captain Puffin had had a
stroke of some sort, and had fallen forward into the soup which he
had just poured out. . . .

"But he didn't die of his stroke," said Evie in a strangled
whisper.  "He was drowned."

"Drowned, dear?" said Miss Mapp.

"Yes.  Lungs were full of ox-tail, oh, dear me!  A stroke first,
and he fell forward with his face in his soup-plate and got his
nose and mouth quite covered with the soup.  He was drowned.  All
on dry land and in his bedroom.  Too terrible.  What dangers we are
all in!"

She gave a loud squeak and escaped, to tell her husband.


Diva had finished calling on everybody, and approached rapidly.

"He must have died of a stroke," said Diva.  "Very much depressed
lately.  That precedes a stroke."

"Oh, then, haven't you heard, dear?" said Miss Mapp.  "It is all
too terrible!  On Christmas Day, too!"

"Suicide?" asked Diva.  "Oh, how shocking!"

"No, dear.  It was like this. . . ."


Miss Mapp got back to her house long before she usually left it.
Her cook came up with the proposed bill of fare for the day.

"That will do for lunch," said Miss Mapp.  "But not soup in the
evening.  A little fish from what was left over yesterday, and some
toasted cheese.  That will be plenty.  Just a tray."

Miss Mapp went to the garden-room and sat at her window.

"All so sudden," she said to herself.

She sighed.

"I daresay there may have been much that was good in Captain
Puffin," she thought, "that we knew nothing about."

She wore a wintry smile.

"Major Benjy will feel very lonely," she said.



EPILOGUE


Miss Mapp went to the garden-room and sat at her window. . . .

It was a warm, bright day of February, and a butterfly was enjoying
itself in the pale sunshine on the other window, and perhaps (so
Miss Mapp sympathetically interpreted its feelings) was rather
annoyed that it could not fly away through the pane.  It was not a
white butterfly, but a tortoise-shell, very pretty, and in order to
let it enjoy itself more, she opened the window and it fluttered
out into the garden.  Before it had flown many yards, a starling
ate most of it up, so the starling enjoyed itself too.

Miss Mapp fully shared in the pleasure first of the tortoise-shell
and then of the starling, for she was enjoying herself very much
too, though her left wrist was terribly stiff.  But Major Benjy was
so cruel: he insisted on her learning that turn of the wrist which
was so important in golf.

"Upon my word, you've got it now, Miss Elizabeth," he had said to
her yesterday, and then made her do it all over again fifty times
more.  ("Such a bully!")  Sometimes she struck the ground,
sometimes she struck the ball, sometimes she struck the air.  But
he had been very much pleased with her.  And she was very much
pleased with him.  She forgot about the butterfly and remembered
the starling.

It was idle to deny that the last six weeks had been a terrific
strain, and the strain on her left wrist was nothing to them.  The
worst tension of all, perhaps, was when Diva had bounced in with
the news that the Contessa was coming back.  That was so like Diva:
the only foundation for the report proved to be that Figgis had
said to her Janet that Mr. Wyse was coming back, and either Janet
had misunderstood Figgis, or Diva (far more probably) had
misunderstood Janet, and Miss Mapp only hoped that Diva had not
done so on purpose, though it looked like it.  Stupid as poor Diva
undoubtedly was, it was hard for Charity itself to believe that she
had thought that Janet really said that.  But when this report
proved to be totally unfounded, Miss Mapp rose to the occasion, and
said that Diva had spoken out of stupidity and not out of malice
towards her. . . .

Then in due course Mr. Wyse had come back and the two Poppits had
come back, and only three days ago one Poppit had become a Wyse,
and they had all three gone for a motor tour on the Continent in
the Royce.  Very likely they would go as far south as Capri, and
Susan would stay with her new grand Italian connections.  What she
would be like when she got back Miss Mapp forbore to conjecture,
since it was no use anticipating trouble; but Susan had been so
grandiose about the Wyses, multiplying their incomes and their
acreage by fifteen or twenty, so Miss Mapp conjectured, and talking
so much about country families, that the liveliest imagination
failed to picture what she would make of the Faragliones.  She
already alluded to the Count as "My brother-in-law Cecco
Faraglione", but had luckily heard Diva say "Faradiddleony" in a
loud aside, which had made her a little more reticent.  Susan had
taken the insignia of the Member of the British Empire with her, as
she at once conceived the idea of being presented to the Queen of
Italy by Amelia, and going to a court ball, and Isabel had taken
her manuscript book of Malaprops and Spoonerisms.  If she put down
all the Italian malaprops that Mrs. Wyse would commit, it was
likely that she would bring back two volumes instead of one.

Though all these grandeurs were so rightly irritating, the
departure of the "young couple" and Isabel had left Tilling,
already shocked and shattered by the death of Captain Puffin,
rather flat and purposeless.  Miss Mapp alone refused to be flat,
and had never been so full of purpose.  She felt that it would be
unpardonably selfish of her if she regarded for a moment her own
loss, when there was one in Tilling who suffered so much more
keenly, and she set herself with admirable singleness of purpose to
restore Major Benjy's zest in life, and fill the gap.  She wanted
no assistance from others in this: Diva, for instance, with her
jerky ways would be only too apt to jar on him, and her black dress
might remind him of his loss if Miss Mapp had asked her to go
shares in the task of making the Major's evenings less lonely.
Also the weather, during the whole of January, was particularly
inclement, and it would have been too much to expect of Diva to
come all the way up the hill in the wet, while it was but a step
from the Major's door to her own.  So there was little or nothing
in the way of winter-bridge as far as Miss Mapp and the Major were
concerned.  Piquet with a single sympathetic companion who did not
mind being rubiconned at threepence a hundred was as much as he was
up to at present.

With the end of the month a balmy foretaste of spring (such as had
encouraged the tortoise-shell butterfly to hope) set in, and the
Major used to drop in after breakfast and stroll round the garden
with her, smoking his pipe.  Miss Mapp's sweet snowdrops had begun
to appear, and green spikes of crocuses pricked the black earth,
and the sparrows were having such fun in the creepers.  Then one
day the Major, who was going out to catch the 11.20 tram, had a
"golf-stick", as Miss Mapp so foolishly called it, with him, and a
golf-ball, and after making a dreadful hole in her lawn, she had
hit the ball so hard that it rebounded from the brick-wall, which
was quite a long way off, and came back to her very feet, as if
asking to be hit again by the golf-stick--no, golf-club.  She
learned to keep her wonderfully observant eye on the ball and
bought one of her own.  The Major lent her a mashie, and before
anyone would have thought it possible, she had learned to propel
her ball right over the bed where the snowdrops grew, without
beheading any of them in its passage.  It was the turn of the wrist
that did that, and Withers cleaned the dear little mashie
afterwards, and put it safely in the corner of the garden-room.

To-day was to be epoch-making.  They were to go out to the real
links by the 11.20 tram (consecrated by so many memories), and he
was to call for her at eleven.  He had qui-hied for porridge fully
an hour ago.

After letting out the tortoise-shell butterfly from the window
looking into the garden, she moved across to the post of
observation on the street, and arranged snowdrops in to a little
glass vase.  There were a few over when that was full, and she saw
that a reel of cotton was close at hand, in case she had an idea of
what to do with the remainder.  Eleven o'clock chimed from the
church, and on the stroke she saw him coming up the few yards of
street that separated his door from hers.  So punctual!  So manly!

Diva was careering about the High Street as they walked along it,
and Miss Mapp kissed her hand to her.

"Off to play golf, darling," she said.  "Is that not grand?  Au
reservoir."

Diva had not missed seeing the snowdrops in the Major's button-
hole, and stood stupefied for a moment at this news.  Then she
caught sight of Evie, and shot across the street to communicate her
suspicions.  Quaint Irene joined them and the Padre.

"Snowdrops, i'fegs!" said he. . . .




THE MALE IMPERSONATOR


Miss Elizabeth Mapp was sitting, on this warm September morning, in
the little public garden at Tilling, busy as a bee with her water-
colour sketch.  She had taken immense pains with the drawing of the
dykes that intersected the marsh, of the tidal river which ran
across it from the coast, and of the shipyard in the foreground:
indeed she had procured a photograph of this particular view and,
by the judicious use of tracing-paper, had succeeded in seeing the
difficult panorama precisely as the camera saw it: now the
rewarding moment was come to use her paint-box.  She was intending
to be very bold over this, following the method which Mr. Sargent
practised with such satisfactory results, namely of painting not
what she knew was there but what her eye beheld, and there was no
doubt whatever that the broad waters of the high tide, though
actually grey and muddy, appeared to be as blue as the sky which
they reflected.  So, with a fierce glow of courage she filled her
broad brush with the same strong solution of cobalt as she had used
for the sky, and unhesitatingly applied it.

"There!" she said to herself.  "That's what he would have done.
And now I must wait till it dries."

The anxiety of waiting to see the effect of so reckless a
proceeding by no means paralysed the natural activity of Miss
Mapp's mind, and there was plenty to occupy it.  She had returned
only yesterday afternoon from a month's holiday in Switzerland, and
there was much to plan and look forward to.  Already she had made a
minute inspection of her house and garden, satisfying herself that
the rooms had been kept well-aired, that no dusters or dish-cloths
were missing, that there was a good crop of winter lettuces, and
that all her gardener's implements were there except one trowel,
which she might possibly have overlooked: she did not therefore at
present entertain any dark suspicions on the subject.  She had also
done her marketing in the High Street, where she had met several
friends, of whom Godiva Plaistow was coming to tea to give her all
the news, and thus, while the cobalt dried, she could project her
mind into the future.  The little circle of friends, who made life
so pleasant and busy (and sometimes so agitating) an affair in
Tilling would all have returned now for the winter, and the days
would scurry by in a round of housekeeping, bridge, weekly visits
to the workhouse, and intense curiosity as to anything of domestic
interest which took place in the strenuous world of this little
country town.

The thought of bridge caused a slight frown to gather on her
forehead.  Bridge was the chief intellectual pursuit of her circle
and, shortly before she went away, that circle had been convulsed
by the most acute divergences of opinion with regard to majority-
calling.  Miss Mapp had originally been strongly against it.

"I'm sure I don't know by what right the Portland Club tells us how
to play bridge," she witheringly remarked.  "Tilling might just as
well tell the Portland Club to eat salt with gooseberry tart, and
for my part I shall continue to play the game I prefer."

But then one evening Miss Mapp held no less than nine clubs in her
hand and this profusion caused her to see certain advantages in
majority-calling to which she had hitherto been blind, and she
warmly espoused it.  Unfortunately, of the eight players who spent
so many exciting evenings together, there were thus left five who
rejected majority (which was a very inconvenient number since one
must always be sitting out) and three who preferred it.  This was
even more inconvenient, for they could not play bridge at all.

"We really must make a compromise," thought Miss Mapp, meaning that
everybody must come round to her way of thinking, "or our dear
little cosy bridge evenings won't be possible."

The warm sun had now dried her solution of cobalt, and, holding her
sketch at arm's length, she was astonished to observe how blue she
had made the river, and wondered if she had seen it quite as
brilliant as that.  But the cowardly notion of toning it down a
little was put out of her head by the sound of the church clock
striking one, and it was time to go home to lunch.

The garden where she had been sketching was on the southward slope
of the hill below the Church square, and having packed her artistic
implements she climbed the steep little rise.  As she skirted along
one side of this square, which led into Curfew Street, she saw a
large pantechnicon van lumbering along its cobbled way.  It
instantly occurred to her that the house at the far end of the
street, which had stood empty so long, had been taken at last, and
since this was one of the best residences in Tilling, it was
naturally a matter of urgent importance to ascertain if this
surmise was true.  Sure enough the van stopped at the door, and
Miss Mapp noticed that the bills in the windows of "Suntrap" which
announced that it was for sale, had been taken down.  That was
extremely interesting, and she wondered why Diva Plaistow, who, in
the brief interview they had held in the High Street this morning,
had been in spate with a torrent of miscellaneous gossip, had not
mentioned a fact of such primary importance.  Could it be that dear
Diva was unaware of it?  It was pleasant to think that after a few
hours in Tilling she knew more local news than poor Diva who had
been here all August.

She retraced her steps and hurried home.  Just as she opened the
door she heard the telephone bell ringing, and was met by the
exciting intelligence that this was a trunk call.  Trunk calls were
always thrilling; no one trunked over trivialities.  She applied
ear and mouth to the proper places.

"Tilling 76?" asked a distant insect-like voice.

Now, Miss Mapp's real number was Tilling 67, but she had a
marvellous memory, and it instantly flashed through her mind that
the number of Suntrap was 76.  The next process was merely
automatic, and she said, "Yes."  If a trunk call was coming for
Suntrap and a pantechnicon van had arrived at Suntrap, there was no
question of choice: the necessity of hearing what was destined for
Suntrap knew no law.

"Her ladyship will come down by motor this afternoon," said the
insect, "and she--"

"Who will come down?" asked Miss Mapp, with her mouth watering.

"Lady Deal, I tell you.  Has the first van arrived?"

"Yes," said Miss Mapp.

"Very well.  Fix up a room for her ladyship.  She'll get her food
at some hotel, but she'll stop for a night or two settling in.  How
are you getting on, Susie?"

Miss Mapp did not feel equal to saying how Susie was getting on,
and she slid the receiver quietly into its place.

She sat for a moment considering the immensity of her trove,
feeling perfectly certain that Diva knew nothing about it all, or
the fact that Lady Deal had taken Suntrap must have been her very
first item of news.  Then she reflected that a trunk call had been
expended on Susie, and that she could do no less than pass the
message on.  A less scrupulous woman might have let Susie languish
in ignorance, but her fine nature dictated the more honourable
course.  So she rang up Tilling 76, and in a hollow voice passed on
the news.  Susie asked if it was Jane speaking, and Miss Mapp again
felt she did not know enough about Jane to continue the
conversation.

"It's only at Tilling that such interesting things happen," she
thought as she munched her winter lettuce. . . .  She had enjoyed
her holiday at the Riffel Alp, and had had long talks to a Bishop
about the revised prayer book, and to a Russian exile about
Bolshevism and to a member of the Alpine Club about Mount Everest,
but these remote cosmic subjects really mattered far less than the
tenant of Suntrap, for the new prayer book was only optional, and
Russia and Mount Everest were very far away and had no bearing on
daily life, as she had not the smallest intention of exploring
either of them.  But she had a consuming desire to know who Susie
was, and since it would be a pleasant little stroll after lunch to
go down Curfew Street, and admire the wide view at the end of it,
she soon set out again.  The pantechnicon van was in process of
unlading, and as she lingered a big bustling woman came to the door
of Suntrap, and told the men where to put the piano.  It was a
slight disappointment to see that it was only an upright: Miss Mapp
would have preferred a concert-grand for so territorially-sounding
a mistress.  When the piano had bumped its way into the rather
narrow entrance, she put on her most winning smile, and stepped up
to Susie with a calling-card in her hand, of which she had turned
down the right-hand corner to show by this mystic convention that
she had delivered it in person.

"Has her ladyship arrived yet?" she asked.  "No?  Then would you
kindly give her my card when she gets here?  THANK you!"

Miss Mapp had a passion for indirect procedure: it was so much more
amusing, when in pursuit of any object, however trivial and
innocent, to advance with stealth under cover rather than march up
to it in the open and grab it, and impersonating Susie and Jane,
though only for a moment at the end of a wire, supplied that
particular sauce which rendered her life at Tilling so justly
palatable.  But she concealed her stalkings under the brushwood, so
to speak, of a frank and open demeanour, and though she was sure
she had a noble quarry within shot, did not propose to disclose
herself just yet.  Probably Lady Deal would return her card next
day, and in the interval she would be able to look her up in the
Peerage, of which she knew she had somewhere an antique and
venerable copy, and she would thus be in a position to deluge Diva
with a flood of information: she might even have ascertained Lady
Deal's views on majority-calling at bridge.  She made a search for
this volume, but without success, in the bookshelves of her big
garden-room, which had been the scene of so much of Tilling's
social life, and of which the bow-window, looking both towards the
church and down the cobbled way which ran down to the High Street,
was so admirable a post for observing the activities of the town.
But she knew this book was somewhere in the house, and she could
find it at leisure when she had finished picking Diva's brains of
all the little trifles and shreds of news which had happened in
Tilling during her holiday.

Though it was still only four o'clock, Miss Mapp gazing attentively
out of her window suddenly observed Diva's round squat little
figure trundling down the street from the church in the direction
of her house, with those short twinkling steps of hers which so
much resembled those of a thrush scudding over the lawn in search
of worms.  She hopped briskly into Miss Mapp's door, and presently
scuttled into the garden-room, and began to speak before the door
was more than ajar.

"I know I'm very early, Elizabeth," she said, "but I felt I must
tell you what has happened without losing a moment.  I was going up
Curfew Street just now, and what do you think!  Guess!"

Elizabeth gave a half-yawn and dexterously transformed it into an
indulgent little laugh.

"I suppose you mean that the new tenant is settling into Suntrap,"
she said.

Diva's face fell: all the joy of the herald of great news died out
of it.

"What?  You know?" she said.

"Oh, dear me, yes," replied Elizabeth.  "But thank you, Diva, for
coming to tell me.  That was a kind intention."

This was rather irritating: it savoured of condescension.

"Perhaps you know who the tenant is," said Diva with an
unmistakable ring of sarcasm in her voice.

Miss Mapp gave up the idea of any further secrecy, for she could
never find a better opportunity for making Diva's sarcasm look
silly.

"Oh yes, it's Lady Deal," she said.  "She is coming down--let me
see, Thursday isn't it?--she is coming down today."

"But how did you know?" asked Diva.

Miss Mapp put a meditative finger to her forehead.  She did not
mean to lie, but she certainly did not mean to tell the truth.

"Now, who was it who told me?" she said.  "Was it someone at the
Riffel Alp?  No, I don't think so.  Someone in London, perhaps:
yes, I feel sure that was it.  But that doesn't matter: it's Lady
Deal anyhow who has taken the house.  In fact, I was just glancing
round to see if I could find a Peerage: it might be useful just to
ascertain who she was.  But here's tea.  Now it's your turn, dear:
you shall tell me all the news of Tilling, and then we'll see about
Lady Deal."

After this great piece of intelligence, all that poor Diva had to
impart of course fell very flat: the forthcoming harvest festival,
the mistake (if it was a mistake) that Mrs. Poppit had made in
travelling first-class with a third-class ticket, the double revoke
made by Miss Terling at bridge, were all very small beer compared
to this noble vintage, and presently the two ladies were engaged in
a systematic search for the Peerage.  It was found eventually in a
cupboard in the spare bedroom, and Miss Mapp eagerly turned up
"Deal".

"Viscount," she said.  "Born, succeeded and so on.  Ah, married--"

She gave a cry of dismay and disgust.

"Oh, how shocking!" she said.  "Lady Deal was Helena Herman.  I
remember seeing her at a music hall."

"No!" said Diva.

"Yes," said Miss Mapp firmly.  "And she was a male impersonator.
That's the end of her; naturally we can have nothing to do with
her, and I think everybody ought to know at once.  To think that a
male impersonator should come to Tilling and take one of the best
houses in the place!  Why, it might as well have remained empty."

"Awful!" said Diva.  "But what an escape I've had, Elizabeth.  I
very nearly left my card at Suntrap, and then I should have had
this dreadful woman calling on me.  What a mercy I didn't."

Miss Mapp found bitter food for thought in this, but that had to be
consumed in private, for it would be too humiliating to tell Diva
that she had been caught in the trap which Diva had avoided.  Diva
must not know that, and when she had gone Miss Mapp would see about
getting out.

At present Diva showed no sign of going.

"How odd that your informant in London didn't tell you what sort of
a woman Lady Deal was," she said, "and how lucky we've found her
out in time.  I am going to the choir practice this evening, and I
shall be able to tell several people.  All the same, Elizabeth, it
would be thrilling to know a male impersonator, and she may be a
very decent woman."

"Then you can go and leave your card, dear," said Miss Mapp, "and I
should think you would know her at once."

"Well, I suppose it wouldn't do," said Diva regretfully.  As
Elizabeth had often observed with pain, she had a touch of
Bohemianism about her.

Though Diva prattled endlessly on, it was never necessary to attend
closely to what she was saying, and long before she left Miss Mapp
had quite made up her mind as to what to do about that card.  She
only waited to see Diva twinkle safely down the street and then set
off in the opposite direction for Suntrap.  She explained to Susie
with many apologies that she had left a card here by mistake,
intending to bestow it next door, and thus triumphantly recovered
it.  That she had directed that the card should be given to Lady
Deal was one of those trumpery little inconsistencies which never
troubled her.


The news of the titled male-impersonator spread like influenza
through Tilling, and though many ladies secretly thirsted to know
her, public opinion felt that such moral proletarianism was
impossible.  Classes, it was true, in these democratic days were
being sadly levelled, but there was a great gulf between male
impersonators and select society which even viscountesses could not
bridge.  So the ladies of Tilling looked eagerly but furtively at
any likely stranger they met in their shoppings, but their eyes
assumed a glazed expression when they got close.  Curfew Street,
however, became a very favourite route for strolls before lunch
when shopping was over, for the terrace at the end of it not only
commanded a lovely view of the marsh but also of Suntrap.  Miss
Mapp, indeed, abandoned her Sargentesque sketch of the river, and
began a new one here.  But for a couple of days there were no great
developments in the matter of the male impersonator.

Then one morning the wheels of fate began to whizz.  Miss Mapp saw
emerging from the door of Suntrap a bath-chair, and presently,
heavily leaning on two sticks, there came out an elderly lady who
got into it, and was propelled up Curfew Street by Miss Mapp's part-
time gardener.  Curiosity was a quality she abhorred, and with a
strong effort but a trembling hand she went on with her sketch
without following the bath-chair, or even getting a decent view of
its occupant.  But in ten minutes she found it was quite hopeless
to pursue her artistic efforts when so overwhelming a human
interest beckoned, and, bundling her painting materials into her
satchel, she hurried down towards the High Street, where the bath-
chair had presumably gone.  But before she reached it, she met Diva
scudding up towards her house.  As soon as they got within speaking
distance they broke into telegraphic phrases, being both rather out
of breath.

"Bath-chair came out of Suntrap," began Miss Mapp.

"Thought so," panted Diva.  "Saw it through the open door
yesterday."

"Went down towards the High Street," said Miss Mapp.

"I passed it twice," said Diva proudly.

"What's she like?" asked Miss Mapp.  "Only got a glimpse."

"Quite old," said Diva.  "Should think between fifty and sixty.
How long ago did you see her at the music hall?"

"Ten years.  But she seemed quite young then. . . .  Come into the
garden-room, Diva.  We shall see in both directions from there, and
we can talk quietly."

The two ladies hurried into the bow-window of the garden-room, and
having now recovered their breath went on less spasmodically.

"That's very puzzling you know," said Miss Mapp.  "I'm sure it
wasn't more than ten years ago, and, as I say, she seemed quite
young.  But of course make-up can do a great deal, and also I
should think impersonation was a very ageing life.  Ten years of it
might easily have made her an old woman."

"But hardly as old as this," said Diva.  "And she's quite lame: two
sticks, and even then great difficulty in walking.  Was she lame
when you saw her on the stage?"

"I can't remember that," said Miss Mapp.  "Indeed, she couldn't
have been lame, for she was Romeo, and swarmed up to a high
balcony.  What was her face like?"

"Kind and nice," said Diva, "but much wrinkled and a good deal of
moustache."

Miss Mapp laughed in a rather unkind manner.

"That would make the male impersonation easier," she said.  "Go on,
Diva, what else?"

"She stopped at the grocer's, and Cannick came hurrying out in the
most sycophantic manner.  And she ordered something--I couldn't
hear what--to be sent up to Suntrap.  Also she said some name,
which I couldn't hear, but I'm sure it wasn't Lady Deal.  That
would have caught my ear at once."

Miss Mapp suddenly pointed down the street.

"Look! there's Cannick's boy coming up now," she said.  "They have
been quick.  I suppose that's because she's a viscountess.  I'm
sure I wait hours sometimes for what I order.  Such a snob!  I've
got an idea!"

She flew out into the street.

"Good morning, Thomas," she said.  "I was wanting to order--let me
see now, what was it?  What a heavy basket you've got.  Put it down
on my steps, while I recollect."

The basket may have been heavy, but its contents were not, for it
contained but two small parcels.  The direction on them was clearly
visible, and having ascertained that, Miss Mapp ordered a pound of
apples and hurried back to the garden-room.

"To Miss Mackintosh, Suntrap," she said.  "What do you make of
that, Diva?"

"Nothing," said Diva.

"Then I'll tell you.  Lady Deal wants to live down her past, and
she has changed her name.  I call that very deceitful, and I think
worse of her than ever.  Lucky that I could see through it."

"That's far-fetched," said Diva, "and it doesn't explain the rest.
She's much older than she could possibly be if she was on the stage
ten years ago, and she says she isn't Lady Deal at all.  She may be
right, you know."

Miss Mapp was justly exasperated, the more so because some faint
doubt of the sort had come into her own mind, and it would be most
humiliating if all her early and superior information proved false.
But her vigorous nature rejected such an idea and she withered
Diva.

"Considering I know that Lady Deal has taken Suntrap," she said,
"and that she was a male impersonator, and that she did come down
here some few days ago, and that this woman and her bath-chair came
out of Suntrap, I don't think there can be much question about it.
So that, Diva, is that."

Diva got up in a huff.

"As you always know you're right, dear," she said, "I won't stop to
discuss it."

"So wise, darling," said Elizabeth.

Now Miss Mapp's social dictatorship among the ladies of Tilling had
long been paramount, but every now and then signs of rebellious
upheavals showed themselves.  By virtue of her commanding
personality these had never assumed really serious proportions, for
Diva, who was generally the leader in these uprisings, had not the
same moral massiveness.  But now when Elizabeth was so exceedingly
superior, the fumes of Bolshevism mounted swiftly to Diva's head.
Moreover, the sight of this puzzling male impersonator, old,
wrinkled, and moustached, had kindled to a greater heat her desire
to know her and learn what it felt like to be Romeo on the music-
hall stage and, after years of that delirious existence, to subside
into a bath-chair and Suntrap and Tilling.  What a wonderful
life! . . .  And behind all this there was a vague notion that
Elizabeth had got her information in some clandestine manner and had
muddled it.  For all her clear-headedness and force Elizabeth did
sometimes make a muddle and it would be sweeter than honey and the
honeycomb to catch her out.  So in a state of brooding resentment
Diva went home to lunch and concentrated on how to get even with
Elizabeth.

Now, it had struck her that Mrs. Bartlett, the wife of the vicar of
Tilling, had not been so staggered when she was informed at the
choir practice of the identity and of the lurid past of the new
parishioner as might have been expected: indeed, Mrs. Bartlett had
whispered, "Oh dear me, how exciting--I mean, how shocking," and
Diva suspected that she did not mean "shocking".  So that afternoon
she dropped in at the Vicarage with a pair of socks which she had
knitted for the Christmas tree at the workhouse, though that event
was still more than three months away.  After a cursory allusion to
her charitable errand, she introduced the true topic.

"Poor woman!" she said.  "She was being wheeled about the High
Street this morning and looked so lonely.  However many males she
has impersonated, that's all over for her.  She'll never be Romeo
again."

"No indeed, poor thing!" said Mrs. Bartlett; "and, dear me, how she
must miss the excitement of it.  I wonder if she'll write her
memoirs: most people do if they've had a past.  Of course, if they
haven't, there's nothing to write about.  Shouldn't I like to read
Lady Deal's memoirs!  But how much more exciting to hear her talk
about it all, if we only could!"

"I feel just the same," said Diva, "and, besides, the whole thing
is mysterious.  What if you and I went to call?  Indeed, I think
it's almost your duty to do so, as the clergyman's wife.  Her
settling in Tilling looks very like repentance, in which case you
ought to set the example, Evie, of being friendly."

"But what would Elizabeth Mapp say?" asked Mrs. Bartlett.  "She
thought nobody ought to know her."

"Pooh," said Diva.  "If you'll come and call, Evie, I'll come with
you.  And is it really quite certain that she is Lady Deal?"

"Oh, I hope so," said Evie.

"Yes, so do I, I'm sure, but all the authority we have for it at
present is that Elizabeth said that Lady Deal had taken Suntrap.
And who told Elizabeth that?  There's too much Elizabeth in it.
Let's go and call there, Evie: now, at once."

"Oh, but dare we?" said the timorous Evie.  "Elizabeth will see us.
She's sketching at the corner there."

"No, that's her morning sketch," said Diva.  "Besides, who cares if
she does?"

The socks for the Christmas tree were now quite forgotten and, with
this parcel still unopened, the two ladies set forth, with Mrs.
Bartlett giving fearful sidelong glances this way and that.  But
there were no signs of Elizabeth, and they arrived undetected at
Suntrap, and enquired if Lady Deal was in.

"No, ma'am," said Susie.  "Her ladyship was only here for two
nights settling Miss Mackintosh in, but she may be down again
tomorrow.  Miss Mackintosh is in."

Susie led the way to the drawing-room, and there, apparently, was
Miss Mackintosh.

"How good of you to come and call on me," she said.  "And will you
excuse my getting up?  I am so dreadfully lame.  Tea, Susie,
please!"

Of course it was a disappointment to know that the lady in the bath-
chair was not the repentant male impersonator, but the chill of
that was tempered by the knowledge that Elizabeth had been
completely at sea, and how far from land, no one yet could
conjecture.  Their hostess seemed an extremely pleasant woman, and
under the friendly stimulus of tea even brighter prospects
disclosed themselves.

"I love Tilling already," said Miss Mackintosh, "and Lady Deal
adores it.  It's her house, not mine, you know--but I think I had
better explain it all, and then I've got some questions to ask.
You see, I'm Florence's old governess, and Susie is her old nurse,
and Florence wanted to make us comfortable, and at the same time to
have some little house to pop down to herself when she was utterly
tired out with her work."

Diva's head began to whirl.  It sounded as if Florence was Lady
Deal, but then, according to the Peerage, Lady Deal was Helena
Herman.  Perhaps she was Helena Florence Herman.

"It may get clearer soon," she thought to herself, "and, anyhow,
we're coming to Lady Deal's work."

"Her work must be very tiring indeed," said Evie.

"Yes, she's very naughty about it," said Miss Mackintosh.  "Girl-
guides, mothers' meetings, Primrose League, and now she's standing
for Parliament.  And it was so like her; she came down here last
week, before I arrived, in order to pull furniture about and make
the house comfortable for me when I got here.  And she's coming
back tomorrow to spend a week here I hope.  Won't you both come in
and see her?  She longs to know Tilling.  Do you play bridge by any
chance?  Florence adores bridge."

"Yes, we play a great deal in Tilling," said Diva.  "We're devoted
to it too."

"That's capital.  Now, I'm going to insist that you should both
dine with us tomorrow, and we'll have a rubber and a talk.  I hope
you both hate majority-calling as much as we do."

"Loathe it," said Diva.

"Splendid.  You'll come, then.  And now I long to know something.
Who was the mysterious lady who called here in the afternoon when
Florence came down to move furniture, and returned an hour or two
afterwards and asked for the card she had left with instructions
that it should be given to Lady Deal?  Florence is thrilled about
her.  Some short name, Tap or Rap.  Susie couldn't remember it."

Evie suddenly gave vent to a shrill cascade of squeaky laughter.

"Oh dear me," she said.  "That would be Miss Mapp.  Miss Mapp is a
great figure in Tilling.  And she called!  Fancy!"

"But why did she come back and take her card away?" asked Miss
Mackintosh.  "I told Florence that Miss Mapp had heard something
dreadful about her.  And how did she know that Lady Deal was coming
here at all?  The house was taken in my name."

"That's just what we all long to find out," said Diva eagerly.
"She said that somebody in London told her."

"But who?" asked Miss Mackintosh.  "Florence only settled to come
at lunch time that day, and she told her butler to ring up Susie
and say she would be arriving."

Diva's eyes grew round and bright with inductive reasoning.

"I believe we're on the right tack," she said.  "Could she have
received Lady Deal's butler's message, do you think?  What's your
number?"

"Tilling 76," said Miss Mackintosh.

Evie gave three ecstatic little squeaks.

"Oh, that's it, that's it!" she said.  "Elizabeth Mapp is Tilling
67.  So careless of them, but all quite plain.  And she did hear it
from somebody in London.  Quite true, and so dreadfully false and
misleading, and SO like her.  Isn't it, Diva?  Well, it does serve
her right to be found out."

Miss Mackintosh was evidently a true Tillingite.

"How marvellous!" she said.  "Tell me much more about Miss Mapp.
But let's go back.  Why did she take that card away?"

Diva looked at Evie, and Evie looked at Diva.

"You tell her," said Evie.

"Well, it was like this," said Diva.  "Let us suppose that she
heard the butler say that Lady Deal was coming--"

"And passed it on," interrupted Miss Mackintosh.  "Because Susie
got the message and said it was wonderfully clear for a trunk call.
That explains it.  Please go on."

"And so Elizabeth Mapp called," said Diva, "and left her card.  I
didn't know that until you told me just now.  And now I come in.  I
met her that very afternoon, and she told me that Lady Deal, so she
had heard in London, had taken this house.  So we looked up Lady
Deal in a very old Peerage of hers--"

Miss Mackintosh waved her arms wildly.

"Oh, please stop, and let me guess," she cried.  "I shall go crazy
with joy if I'm right.  It was an old Peerage, and so she found
that Lady Deal was Helena Herman--"

"Whom she had seen ten years ago at a music hall as a male
impersonator," cried Diva.

"And didn't want to know her," interrupted Miss Mackintosh.

"Yes, that's it, but that is not all.  I hope you won't mind, but
it's too rich.  She saw you this morning coming out of your house
in your bath-chair, and was quite sure that you were THAT Lady
Deal."

The three ladies rocked with laughter.  Sometimes one recovered,
and sometimes two, but they were re-infected by the third, and so
they went on, solo and chorus, and duet and chorus, till exhaustion
set in.

"But there's still a mystery," said Diva at length, wiping her
eyes.  "Why did the Peerage say that Lady Deal was Helena Herman?"

"Oh, that's the last Lady Deal," said Miss Mackintosh.  "Helena
Herman's Lord Deal died without children and Florence's Lord Deal,
my Lady Deal, succeeded.  Cousins."

"If that isn't a lesson for Elizabeth Mapp," said Diva.  "Better go
to the expense of a new Peerage than make such a muddle.  But what
a long call we've made.  We must go."

"Florence shall hear every word of it to-morrow night," said Miss
Mackintosh.  "I promise not to tell her till then.  We'll all tell
her."

"Oh, that is kind of you," said Diva.

"It's only fair.  And what about Miss Mapp being told?"

"She'll find it out by degrees," said the ruthless Diva.  "It will
hurt more in bits."

"Oh, but she mustn't be hurt," said Miss Mackintosh.  "She's too
precious, I adore her."

"So do we," said Diva.  "But we like her to be found out
occasionally.  You will, too, when you know her."



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