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Among The Animals
by [?]

Jeremy was looking at a card which his wife had just passed across the table to him.

“‘Lady Bendish. At Home,'” he read. “‘Pets.’ Is this for us?”

“Of course,” said Mrs. Jeremy.

“Then I think ‘Pets’ is rather familiar. ‘Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Smith’ would have been more correct.”

“Don’t be silly, Jeremy. It means it’s a Pet party. You have to bring some sort of pet with you, and there are prizes for the prettiest, and the most intelligent, and the most companionable, and so on.” She looked at the fox-terrier curled up in front of the fire-place. “We could take Rags, of course.”

“Or Baby,” said Jeremy. “We’ll enter her in the Fat Class.”

But when the day arrived Jeremy had another idea. He came in from the garden with an important look on his face, and joined his wife in the hall.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s start.”

“But where’s Rags?”

“Rags isn’t coming. I’m taking Hereward instead.” He opened his cigarette-case and disclosed a small green animal. “Hereward,” he said.

“Why, Jeremy,” cried his wife, “it’s–why, it’s blight from the rose-tree!”

“It isn’t just blight, dear; it’s one particular blight. A blight. Hereward, the Last of the Blights.” He wandered round the hall. “Where’s the lead?” he asked.

“Jeremy, don’t be absurd.”

“My dear, I must have something to lead him up for his prize on. During the parade he can sit on my shoulder informally, but when we come to the prize-giving, ‘Mr. J. P. Smith’s blight, Hereward,’ must be led on properly.” He pulled open a drawer. “Oh, here we are. I’d better take the chain; he might bite through the leather one.”

They arrived a little late, to find a lawn full of people and animals; and one glance was sufficient to tell Jeremy that in some of the classes at least his pet would have many dangerous rivals.

“If there’s a prize for the biggest,” he said to his wife, “my blight has practically lost it already. Adams has brought a cart-horse. Hullo, Adams,” he went on, “how are you? Don’t come too close or Hereward may do your animal a mischief.”

“Who’s Hereward?”

Jeremy opened his cigarette-case.

“Hereward,” he said. “Not the woodbine; that’s quite wild. The blight. He’s much more domesticated, but there are moments when he gets out of hand and becomes unmanageable. He gave me the slip coming here, and I had to chase him through the churchyard; that’s why we’re late.”

“Does he take meals with the family?” asked Adams with a grin.

“No, no; he has them alone in the garden. You ought to see him having his bath. George, our gardener, looks after him. George gives him a special bath of soapy water every day. Hereward simply loves it. George squirts on him, and Hereward lies on his back and kicks his legs in the air. It’s really quite pretty to watch them.”

He nodded to Adams, and wandered through the crowd with Mrs. Jeremy. The collection of animals was remarkable; they varied in size from Adams’s cart-horse to Jeremy’s blight; in playfulness from the Vicar’s kitten to Miss Trehearne’s chrysalis; and in ability for performing tricks from the Major’s poodle to Dr. Bunton’s egg of the Cabbage White.

“There ought to be a race for them all,” said Mrs. Jeremy. “A handicap, of course.”

“Hereward is very fast over a short distance,” said Jeremy, “but he wants encouragement. If he were given ninety-nine yards, two feet, and eleven inches in a hundred, and you were to stand in front of him with a William Allan Richardson, I think we might pull it off. But, of course, he’s a bad starter. Hullo, there’s Miss Bendish.”

Miss Bendish, hurrying along, gave them a word as she went past.

“They’re going to have the inspection directly,” she said, “and give the prizes. Is your animal quite ready?”

“I should like to brush him up a bit,” said Jeremy. “Is there a tent or anywhere where I could prepare him? His eyebrows get so matted if he’s left to himself for long.” He took out a cigarette and lit it.