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The Piano-Tuner
by [?]


Miss Caterham was forty-five, and said so, and looked it. She wore black cashmere in the afternoon, and black silk in the evening. She was methodical, and professed a hatred of all nonsense. She liked to take care of everything and to avoid using it. Also, though fundamentally kind-hearted, she was firm even to the point of obstinacy. Her ideas were old-fashioned, and she had only hatred and contempt for any other ideas. She kept fowls and understood them completely. She also kept her orphan niece, Ruth Caterham, and understood her less completely. Indisputably she loved the fowls much less than she loved her niece, but the fowls had comparatively the greater liberty. She maintained a decent, upper-middle-class state in a Georgian house, on the confines of a little town that thoroughly respected her. It was not a suburb. It was too far from London for that. The best trains took forty minutes. Miss Caterham was rather acidulated about suburban people.

There, from time to time, she entertained the brother of Ruth’s deceased mother. She loved him, and abhorred his opinions. So far as might be, she kept him in order. His name was George Maniways, and he was in Parliament, and his politics were of the wrong colour. “You and the other enemies of England,” Miss Caterham would say, in addressing him. She would probably have quarrelled with him, frequently, but for the fact that it takes two to make a quarrel, and Mr Maniways was too lazy to play up properly. His temper was so good as to be almost pusillanimous. He was almost the only male who ever entered her house, except in a menial capacity. She had been compelled to allow Ruth to accept the Sotherings’ dance and Lady Rochisen’s. But when young Bruce Sothering wrote to ask if he might call, she replied that they were just going away, but that she would write on her return. She did not write on her return. And she cannot have forgotten it, for Ruth reminded her twice. Rather a difficult woman, Miss Caterham.

The day being hot, George had arrayed his long and meagre body in white flannel. The conformation of his large grey moustache and his apologetic blue eyes gave him the appearance of rather a meek kind of walrus–one that would feed from the hand and do trust-and-paid-for. He reposed himself after luncheon in a large deck-chair on the veranda. He held between his teeth an amber tube with a cigarette in it. He had a box of matches in one hand, and intended to light the cigarette when he felt more rested. In the meantime he nursed a straw hat, and watched Miss Caterham’s wise and just restraint of a climbing geranium. Miss Caterham, in the intervals of her work, watched George, with a glance which indicated rapidly increasing displeasure. The fire kindled, and at last she spake with her tongue.

“I am extremely sorry, George, but I simply cannot stand it any longer. Will you kindly either light that cigarette or throw it away.”

“I was just about to light it, Jane. This weather, especially after luncheon, invests one’s actions with a certain amount of deliberation.”

“If you showed as much deliberation about your words, George, as you do about your actions, it would be better for everybody.”

George’s astonishment was such that he let out the match which he had just lit. “Oh, really, Jane, I wasn’t conscious of having said anything particular.”

“It’s not what you said now, it’s what you said at luncheon. If you don’t strike another match and light that cigarette, I shall have to go.”

George followed his instructions obediently. “At luncheon?” he said meditatively. “Don’t seem to remember having said anything particular at luncheon either. While I’m here, I’m always careful to avoid politics.”

“So long as you follow blindly the foes of your own country, that is just as well. The treacherous and unpatriotic duffers, with whom you have chosen to ally yourself—-“