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PAGE 3

The Seven Pullet
by [?]

Whatever the story gained in picturesqueness from the dragging-in of diplomatic “atmosphere,” it ceased from that moment to command any acceptance as a record of current events. Gorworth had warned his neophyte that this would be the case, but the traditional enthusiasm of the neophyte had triumphed over discretion.

“She was feeling rather drowsy, the effect probably of the champagne, which she’s not in the habit of taking in the middle of the day.”

A subdued murmur of admiration went round the company. Blenkinthrope’s aunts were not used to taking champagne in the middle of the year, regarding it exclusively as a Christmas and New Year accessory.

“Presently a rather portly gentleman passed by her seat and paused an instant to light a cigar. At that moment a youngish man came up behind him, drew the blade from a swordstick, and stabbed him half a dozen times through and through. ‘Scoundrel,’ he cried to his victim, ‘you do not know me. My name is Henri Leturc.’ The elder man wiped away some of the blood that was spattering his clothes, turned to his assailant, and said: `And since when has an attempted assassination been considered an introduction?’ Then he finished lighting his cigar and walked away. My aunt had intended screaming for the police, but seeing the indifference with which the principal in the affair treated the matter she felt that it would be an impertinence on her part to interfere. Of course I need hardly say she put the whole thing down to the effects of a warm, drowsy afternoon and the Legation champagne. Now comes the astonishing part of my story. A fortnight later a bank manager was stabbed to death with a swordstick in that very part of the Bois. His assassin was the son of a charwoman formerly working at the bank, who had been dismissed from her job by the manager on account of chronic intemperance. His name was Henri Leturc.”

From that moment Blenkinthrope was tacitly accepted as the Munchausen of the party. No effort was spared to draw him out from day to day in the exercise of testing their powers of credulity, and Blenkinthrope, in the false security of an assured and receptive audience, waxed industrious and ingenious in supplying the demand for marvels. Duckby’s satirical story of a tame otter that had a tank in the garden to swim in, and whined restlessly whenever the water-rate was overdue, was scarcely an unfair parody of some of Blenkinthrope’s wilder efforts. And then one day came Nemesis.

Returning to his villa one evening Blenkinthrope found his wife sitting in front of a pack of cards, which she was scrutinising with unusual concentration.

“The same old patience-game?” he asked carelessly.

“No, dear; this is the Death’s Head patience, the most difficult of them all. I’ve never got it to work out, and somehow I should be rather frightened if I did. Mother only got it out once in her life; she was afraid of it, too. Her great-aunt had done it once and fallen dead from excitement the next moment, and mother always had a feeling that she would die if she ever got it out. She died the same night that she did it. She was in bad health at the time, certainly, but it was a strange coincidence.”

“Don’t do it if it frightens you,” was Blenkinthrope’s practical comment as he left the room. A few minutes later his wife called to him.

“John, it gave me such a turn, I nearly got it out. Only the five of diamonds held me up at the end. I really thought I’d done it.”

“Why, you can do it,” said Blenkinthrope, who had come back to the room; “if you shift the eight of clubs on to that open nine the five can be moved on to the six.”

His wife made the suggested move with hasty, trembling fingers, and piled the outstanding cards on to their respective packs. Then she followed the example of her mother and great-grand-aunt.

Blenkinthrope had been genuinely fond of his wife, but in the midst of his bereavement one dominant thought obtruded itself. Something sensational and real had at last come into his life; no longer was it a grey, colourless record. The headlines which might appropriately describe his domestic tragedy kept shaping themselves in his brain. “Inherited presentiment comes true.” “The Death’s Head patience: Card-game that justified its sinister name in three generations.” He wrote out a full story of the fatal occurrence for the ESSEX VEDETTE, the editor of which was a friend of his, and to another friend he gave a condensed account, to be taken up to the office of one of the halfpenny dailies. But in both cases his reputation as a romancer stood fatally in the way of the fulfilment of his ambitions. “Not the right thing to be Munchausening in a time of sorrow” agreed his friends among themselves, and a brief note of regret at the “sudden death of the wife of our respected neighbour, Mr. John Blenkinthrope, from heart failure,” appearing in the news column of the local paper was the forlorn outcome of his visions of widespread publicity.

Blenkinthrope shrank from the society of his erstwhile travelling companions and took to travelling townwards by an earlier train. He sometimes tries to enlist the sympathy and attention of a chance acquaintance in details of the whistling prowess of his best canary or the dimensions of his largest beetroot; he scarcely recognises himself as the man who was once spoken about and pointed out as the owner of the Seventh Pullet.