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Shock Tactics
by [?]

On a late spring afternoon Ella McCarthy sat on a green-painted chair in Kensington Gardens, staring listlessly at an uninteresting stretch of park landscape, that blossomed suddenly into tropical radiance as an expected figure appeared in the middle distance.

“Hullo, Bertie!” she exclaimed sedately, when the figure arrived at the painted chair that was the nearest neighbour to her own, and dropped into it eagerly, yet with a certain due regard for the set of its trousers; “hasn’t it been a perfect spring afternoon?”

The statement was a distinct untruth as far as Ella’s own feelings were concerned; until the arrival of Bertie the afternoon had been anything but perfect.

Bertie made a suitable reply, in which a questioning note seemed to hover.

“Thank you ever so much for those lovely handkerchiefs,” said Ella, answering the unspoken question; “they were just what I’ve been wanting. There’s only one thing spoilt my pleasure in your gift,” she added, with a pout.

“What was that?” asked Bertie anxiously, fearful that perhaps he had chosen a size of handkerchief that was not within the correct feminine limit.

“I should have liked to have written and thanked you for them as soon as I got them,” said Ella, and Bertie’s sky clouded at once.

“You know what mother is,” he protested; “she opens all my letters, and if she found I’d been giving presents to any one there’d have been something to talk about for the next fortnight.”

“Surely, at the age of twenty–” began Ella.

“I’m not twenty till September,” interrupted Bertie.

“At the age of nineteen years and eight months,” persisted Ella, “you might be allowed to keep your correspondence private to yourself.”

“I ought to be, but things aren’t always what they ought to be. Mother opens every letter that comes into the house, whoever it’s for. My sisters and I have made rows about it time and again, but she goes on doing it.”

“I’d find some way to stop her if I were in your place,” said Ella valiantly, and Bertie felt that the glamour of his anxiously deliberated present had faded away in the disagreeable restriction that hedged round its acknowledgment.

“Is anything the matter?” asked Bertie’s friend Clovis when they met that evening at the swimming-bath.

“Why do you ask?” said Bertie.

“When you wear a look of tragic gloom in a swimming-bath,” said Clovis, “it’s especially noticeable from the fact that you’re wearing very little else. Didn’t she like the handkerchiefs?”

Bertie explained the situation.

“It is rather galling, you know,” he added, “when a girl has a lot of things she wants to write to you and can’t send a letter except by some roundabout, underhand way.”

“One never realises one’s blessings while one enjoys them,” said Clovis; “now I have to spend a considerable amount of ingenuity inventing excuses for not having written to people.”

“It’s not a joking matter,” said Bertie resentfully: “you wouldn’t find it funny if your mother opened all your letters.”

“The funny thing to me is that you should let her do it.”

“I can’t stop it. I’ve argued about it–“

“You haven’t used the right kind of argument, I expect. Now, if every time one of your letters was opened you lay on your back on the dining-table during dinner and had a fit, or roused the entire family in the middle of the night to hear you recite one of Blake’s ‘Poems of Innocence,’ you would get a far more respectful hearing for future protests. People yield more consideration to a mutilated mealtime or a broken night’s rest, than ever they would to a broken heart.”

“Oh, dry up,” said Bertie crossly, inconsistently splashing Clovis from head to foot as he plunged into the water.

It was a day or two after the conversation in the swimming-bath that a letter addressed to Bertie Heasant slid into the letter-box at his home, and thence into the hands of his mother. Mrs. Heasant was one of those empty-minded individuals to whom other people’s affairs are perpetually interesting. The more private they are intended to be the more acute is the interest they arouse. She would have opened this particular letter in any case; the fact that it was marked “private,” and diffused a delicate but penetrating aroma merely caused her to open it with headlong haste rather than matter-of- course deliberation. The harvest of sensation that rewarded her was beyond all expectations.