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The Strategist
by [?]

Mrs. Jallatt’s young people’s parties were severely exclusive; it came cheaper that way, because you could ask fewer to them. Mrs. Jallatt didn’t study cheapness, but somehow she generally attained it.

“There’ll be about ten girls,” speculated Rollo, as he drove to the function, “and I suppose four fellows, unless the Wrotsleys bring their cousin, which Heaven forbid. That would mean Jack and me against three of them.”

Rollo and the Wrotsley brethren had maintained an undying feud almost from nursery days. They only met now and then in the holidays, and the meeting was usually tragic for whichever happened to have the fewest backers on hand. Rollo was counting to-night on the presence of a devoted and muscular partisan to hold an even balance. As he arrived he heard his prospective champion’s sister apologising to the hostess for the unavoidable absence of her brother; a moment later he noted that the Wrotsleys HAD brought their cousin.

Two against three would have been exciting and possibly unpleasant; one against three promised to be about as amusing as a visit to the dentist. Rollo ordered his carriage for as early as was decently possible, and faced the company with a smile that he imagined the better sort of aristocrat would have worn when mounting to the guillotine.

“So glad you were able to come,” said the elder Wrotsley heartily.

“Now, you children will like to play games, I suppose,” said Mrs. Jallatt, by way of giving things a start, and as they were too well- bred to contradict her there only remained the question of what they were to play at.

“I know of a good game,” said the elder Wrotsley innocently. “The fellows leave the room and think of a word; then they come back again, and the girls have to find out what the word is.”

Rollo knew the game. He would have suggested it himself if his faction had been in the majority.

“It doesn’t promise to be very exciting,” sniffed the superior Dolores Sneep as the boys filed out of the room. Rollo thought differently. He trusted to Providence that Wrotsley had nothing worse than knotted handkerchiefs at his disposal.

The word-choosers locked themselves in the library to ensure that their deliberations should not be interrupted. Providence turned out to be not even decently neutral; on a rack on the library wall were a dog-whip and a whalebone riding-switch. Rollo thought it criminal negligence to leave such weapons of precision lying about. He was given a choice of evils, and chose the dog-whip; the next minute or so he spent in wondering how he could have made such a stupid selection. Then they went back to the languidly expectant females.

“The word’s ‘camel,'” announced the Wrotsley cousin blunderingly.

“You stupid!” screamed the girls, “we’ve got to GUESS the word. Now you’ll have to go back and think of another.”

“Not for worlds,” said Rollo; “I mean, the word isn’t really camel; we were rotting. Pretend it’s dromedary!” he whispered to the others.

“I heard them say ‘dromedary’! I heard them. I don’t care what you say; I heard them,” squealed the odious Dolores. “With ears as long as hers one would hear anything,” thought Rollo savagely.

“We shall have to go back, I suppose,” said the elder Wrotsley resignedly.

The conclave locked itself once more into the library. “Look here, I’m not going through that dog-whip business again,” protested Rollo.

“Certainly not, dear,” said the elder Wrotsley; “we’ll try the whalebone switch this time, and you’ll know which hurts most. It’s only by personal experience that one finds out these things.”

It was swiftly borne in upon Rollo that his earlier selection of the dog-whip had been a really sound one. The conclave gave his under- lip time to steady itself while it debated the choice of the necessary word. “Mustang” was no good, as half the girls wouldn’t know what it meant; finally “quagga” was pitched on.