Bagshot, the butler, filled his employers glass and stepped back into the shadows: and Sir Rackstraw, grunting not unamiably, fixed Archibald with a bulging eye. Had he been a man to take notice of such phenomena, he would have seen that the young man was white and tense and wore a strung-up look. But if there was one thing in this world that did not interest Sir Rackstraw Cammarleigh it was the play of expression on the face of Archibald Mulliner. He was regarding him now purely in the light of a recipient of his story of old George Bates and the rhinoceros.
‘What you say about there being a full moon tonight,’ he began, for it was on this subject that Archibald had just hazarded a remark, ‘reminds me of a curious thing that happened to an old friend of mine out in Bongo-Bongo. Old George Bates.’
He paused to sip at his glass, and Archibald saw that Aurelia’s face had grown tired and hard. Her mother, too, a pale, worn woman, uttered a stifled little sigh. Somewhere in the background he could hear Bagshot stirring uneasily.
At the time of the full moon,’ resumed Sir Rackstraw, ‘it is the custom in Bongo-Bongo to hunt the rhinoceros, and this friend of mine … George Bates his name was … by the way, stop me if I’ve told you this before …’
‘Stop!’ said Archibald.
There was a tense silence. Sir Rackstraw was quivering as if the word had been a bullet and he the rhinoceros which in his less cordial moods he somewhat resembled.
‘What did you say?’ he rasped.
‘I said “Stop!”,’ replied Archibald. Though quaking inwardly, he preserved an outward firmness, even a sort of truculence. ‘You told me to stop you if I had heard it before, and I stopped you. I have heard that story six times before. Even if it were good, I wouldn’t like it. But it is not good. It is rotten. And I shall be extremely obliged, Cammarleigh, if you will refrain from inflicting it upon me either now or at any other time when you may feel the urge. I never wish to hear of Bates and his rhinoceros again. And I couple with the name of this rhinoceros the names of any other rhinoceri you or your friends may have encountered in your exceptionally tedious past. You understand me, Cammarleigh? Enough is enough.’
He stopped and helped himself to port. At the same moment, he pushed his chair back a little, prepared, should events so shape themselves as to render such a course advisable, to slide under the table and there defend himself with tooth and claw. A stoutish ex-Colonial Governor, he reasoned, would find it pretty hard to get at a fellow who had dug himself well in under a table.
It was as he reached this decision that Lady Cammarleigh spoke.
‘Thank you, Archibald,’ she said, and there were tears in her faded voice. ‘It was about time some tough bimbo came along and spoke those brave words. You have said just what I have been wanting to say for years. This would have made the hundred and twenty-seventh time I have heard the story of George Bates and the rhinoceros.’
Aurelia’s eyes were shining.
‘I’ve heard it forty-three times,’ she said.
There was a decorous cough in the shadows.
‘And I,’ said Bagshot, the butler, ‘eighty-six, May I take the liberty of adding my humble tribute of gratitude to Mr Mulliner for the firm stand he has taken. I sometimes think that gentlemen do not realize how distressing it is for a butler to have to listen to their after-dinner stories. His official position, involving, as it does, the necessity of standing with his back against the sideboard, renders escape impossible. It makes a butler’s life very wearing, very wearing. Thank you, Mr Mulliner.’
‘Not at all,’ said Archibald.
‘Thank you, Archibald,’ said Lady Cammarleigh.
‘Don’t mention it,’ said Archibald.
‘Thank you, dear,’ said Aurelia.
‘Only too pleased,’ said Archibald.
‘You see now, Father,’ said Aurelia, turning to Sir Rackstraw, ‘why you are shunned at the club.’
The proconsul started.
‘I am not shunned at the club!’
‘You are shunned at the club. It’s all over London.’
‘Well, upon my word, do you know, I believe you’re right,’ said Sir Rackstraw thoughtfully. ‘Now you mention it, fellows have shunned me at the club. I see it all now. I was degenerating into a club bore. And, thanks to the fearless candour of this fine young fellow here, my eyes have been opened. I see the fight. Bagshot, charge the glasses. My dear, have you port? Aurelia, you? Then I give you my future son-in-law, Archibald Mulliner, who has rendered me a service this night which I can never sufficiently repay. And now, Aurelia, my dear, as we have finished our simple evening meal, perhaps you and our young friend here would care to take a stroll round the square. As he so justly observed a moment ago,’ chuckled Sir Rackstraw, ‘there is a full moon.’
- Майя М.
- Батильда Бэгшот
- Товарищ Овод
- Ch. E.
- Little Myu