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The Jesting Of Arlington Stringham
by [?]

Arlington Stringham made a joke in the House of Commons. It was a thin House, and a very thin joke; something about the Anglo-Saxon race having a great many angles. It is possible that it was unintentional, but a fellow-member, who did not wish it to be supposed that he was asleep because his eyes were shut, laughed. One or two of the papers noted “a laugh” in brackets, and another, which was notorious for the carelessness of its political news, mentioned “laughter.” Things often begin in that way.

“Arlington made a joke in the House last night,” said Eleanor Stringham to her mother; “in all the years we’ve been married neither of us has made jokes, and I don’t like it now. I’m afraid it’s the beginning of the rift in the lute.”

“What lute?” said her mother.

“It’s a quotation,” said Eleanor.

To say that anything was a quotation was an excellent method, in Eleanor’s eyes, for withdrawing it from discussion, just as you could always defend indifferent lamb late in the season by saying “It’s mutton.”

And, of course, Arlington Stringham continued to tread the thorny path of conscious humour into which Fate had beckoned him.

“The country’s looking very green, but, after all, that’s what it’s there for,” he remarked to his wife two days later.

“That’s very modern, and I dare say very clever, but I’m afraid it’s wasted on me,” she observed coldly. If she had known how much effort it had cost him to make the remark she might have greeted it in a kinder spirit. It is the tragedy of human endeavour that it works so often unseen and unguessed.

Arlington said nothing, not from injured pride, but because he was thinking hard for something to say. Eleanor mistook his silence for an assumption of tolerant superiority, and her anger prompted her to a further gibe.

“You had better tell it to Lady Isobel. I’ve no doubt she would appreciate it.”

Lady Isobel was seen everywhere with a fawn coloured collie at a time when every one else kept nothing but Pekinese, and she had once eaten four green apples at an afternoon tea in the Botanical Gardens, so she was widely credited with a rather unpleasant wit. The censorious said she slept in a hammock and understood Yeats’s poems, but her family denied both stories.

“The rift is widening to an abyss,” said Eleanor to her mother that afternoon.

“I should not tell that to anyone,” remarked her mother, after long reflection.

“Naturally, I should not talk about it very much?” said Eleanor, “but why shouldn’t I mention it to anyone?”

“Because you can’t have an abyss in a lute. There isn’t room.”

Eleanor’s outlook on life did not improve as the afternoon wore on. The page-boy had brought from the library BY MERE AND WOLD instead of BY MERE CHANCE, the book which every one denied having read. The unwelcome substitute appeared to be a collection of nature notes contributed by the author to the pages of some Northern weekly, and when one had been prepared to plunge with disapproving mind into a regrettable chronicle of ill-spent lives it was intensely irritating to read “the dainty yellow-hammers are now with us and flaunt their jaundiced livery from every bush and hillock.” Besides, the thing was so obviously untrue; either there must be hardly any bushes or hillocks in those parts or the country must be fearfully overstocked with yellow-hammers. The thing scarcely seemed worth telling such a lie about. And the page-boy stood there, with his sleekly brushed and parted hair, and his air of chaste and callous indifference to the desires and passions of the world. Eleanor hated boys, and she would have liked to have whipped this one long and often. It was perhaps the yearning of a woman who had no children of her own.