THE ROMANCE OF A HORSEWHIPPING

The more I saw of Jocelyn Dare the more I got to like him. Beneath the superficialities of the poseur there was a nature that seemed oddly out of keeping with the twentieth century. He was intended for the days of chivalry and the clashing of spear against breast-plate. To his love of children I have already referred, and with animals he was equally gentle. I once saw him in Piccadilly, immaculately dressed as usual, with his arms round the neck of a bus-horse that had fallen and was in danger of being strangled by the collar.

Dare, Sallie, and Bindle became great friends, and would talk “animals” by the hour together. Bindle would go further than the others, and would discourse with affectionate regret of the “special sort o’ performin’ fleas” he had once kept. At first Sallie would shrink from these references; but when she saw that Bindle had been genuinely attached to the little creatures, she braced herself up to their occasional entry into the conversation.

“Have you noticed,” Angell Herald once whispered to me, “how Bindle’s fleas seem to annoy Miss Carruthers?”

The whisper was loud and came during one of those unaccountable hushes in the general talk. In consequence everybody heard. It was an awkward moment, and Angell Herald became the colour of a beetroot.

It was Bindle who saved the situation by saying with regret in his voice: “I lost ’em more’n a year ago, so that can’t be.”

Dare would often drop in upon me for half an hour’s chat. If I were too busy to talk, he would curl himself up in my arm-chair and become as silent as a bird.

One night he was sitting thus when I aroused him from his reverie by banging a stamp on an envelope with an air of finality that told him work was over for that night.

“Finished?” he queried with a smile.

I nodded and lit a cigarette. I was feeling brain-weary and Dare, with that ready sympathy of his which is almost feminine, seemed instinctively to understand that I required my thoughts diverting from the day’s work.

“Ever horsewhip a man?” he enquired languidly as he reached for another cigarette.

“No,” I replied, scenting a story.

“Well, don’t,” was the reply.

Dare then proceeded to tell me the story of the one and only horsewhipping in which he had participated. The story came as a godsend, for I had nothing for the next meeting of the Night Club.

I

“If you intended to horsewhip a man, Walters, how would you begin?” enquired Jocelyn Dare of his man one morning at breakfast.

Without so much as the fraction of a second’s hesitation Walters placed the omelette before his master, lifted the cover, gave a comprehensive glance at the table to see that nothing was lacking, then in the most natural manner in the world replied, “I should buy a whip, sir.”

That was Walters all over. He is as incapable of surprise as water of compression. He is practical to his finger-tips, that is what makes him the most excellent of servants. I have met Walters and I use him when Peake, my own man, evinces the least tendency to slackness. If Dare were to take home an emu or an octopus as a household pet, Walters would, as a matter of course, ring up the Zoological Gardens and enquire as to the most desirable aliment for sustaining life in their respective bodies. To Dare Walters is something between an inspiration and a habit.

“Stop!” cried Dare, as Walters was about to leave the room. “This is a matter of some importance and cannot be so lightly dismissed.”

Walters returned to the table, readjusted the toast-rack at its proper angle, and replaced the cover on what remained of the omelette. One of Walters’ most remarkable qualities is that, no matter how suddenly he may be approached upon a subject, or how bizarre the subject itself, his reply is always that of a man who has just been occupied in a careful and deliberate analysis of the matter in question from its every conceivable aspect.

“Well, having bought the whip,” Dare queried as he took another piece of toast, “how would you then proceed if you wanted to horsewhip a man?”

“I should never want to horsewhip anyone, sir. No one ever does,” was the unexpected reply.

Dare looked up at Walters’ expressionless face.

“But,” said Dare, “I have just told you that I want to horsewhip someone. Will you have it that I am the only man who has ever wanted to horsewhip another?”

“Begging your pardon, sir,” said Walters. “But you do not really want to horsewhip anyone.”

Dare put down his fork and stared at Walters in interested surprise. After a careful examination of his servant’s features he remarked, “I have never disguised from you, Walters, my admiration for your capacity of transmuting eggs into omelettes, your unerring taste in neckwear, your inspiration in trouserings, your knowledge of Burke and your attainments as a compendium of knowledge upon the subtleties of etiquette; but I think you might permit me to know my own feelings in the matter of horsewhipping.”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Walters’ tone was deferential but firm. “I was with Lord Beaulover when her Ladyship eloped with Mr. Jameson. His Lordship was quite upset about it.”

“But what has this got to do with horsewhipping?” questioned Dare.

“I was coming to that, sir,” replied Walters evenly. “His Lordship was so kind as to ask my opinion as to what he should do. His Lordship was always very kind in consulting me upon his private affairs.”

“And what did you advise?” queried Dare.

“I told him that the correct thing would be to horsewhip Mr. Jameson. His Lordship protested that he was not angry with Mr. Jameson, but as a matter of fact deeply indebted to him. We were speaking in strict confidence, I should mention, sir.”

“Of course,” said Dare. “Go on, Walters.”

“Well, sir, his Lordship eventually agreed that his duty to Society demanded physical violence. He was always most punctilious in——”

“But I thought it was young Jameson who whipped Lord Beaulover,” broke in Dare.

“That is so, sir,” replied Walters, “But his Lordship did not on this occasion see the force of my arguments that he should practise beforehand. He was confined to his bed for a week and suffered considerable pain. I remember him saying to me:

“‘Walters, never again.’

“‘No, my Lord,’ I replied.

“‘I mean,’ continued his Lordship, ‘I’ll never go against your advice again, Walters, never!’

“And he never did, sir.”

“Is that all you have to say upon the ethics of horsewhipping, Walters?” Dare enquired as he proceeded to enjoy the omelette au jambon, in the making of which Walters is an adept.

“It would be advisable to make careful preparation, sir,” was Walters’ matter-of-fact reply. “There was the mishap of his Lordship.”

“Yes,” Dare mused as he poured out another cup of coffee; “there’s always that danger. Life is crammed with anti-climax.”

“Yes, sir!”

“How would you go to work, Walters?” Dare questioned.

Without a moment’s hesitation Walters replied, “I do not know, sir, whether you have noticed that even battles now-a-days have to be rehearsed.”

“Ah!” broke in Dare, “you advise a répétition générale.”

“The chief difficulty, sir,” continued Walters, “is to get a good grip of your man. May I ask, sir, who it is you intend to horsewhip?”

Dare looked quickly up at Walters. There was no curiosity in his face, he evidently required the information for the purpose of reaching his conclusions.

“Mr. Standish,” Dare replied, watching Walters narrowly to see if he showed surprise. Standish and his wife were at that time Dare’s most intimate friends, and they were constantly at his flat and Dare at theirs.

Walters did not move a muscle.

“Mr. Standish has a very thick neck, sir,” he remarked, “that makes it more difficult.”

Dare put down the coffee cup he was just raising to his lips and stared at Walters.

“What on earth has that to do with it?” he exclaimed.

“It is more difficult to get a good grip of a man with a thick neck, sir, than of one with a thin neck. Fortunately I have a thick neck,” he added imperturbably.

Walters has always been a great joy to Dare; but there are times when he is also something of a trial. Dare suggested that he should explain himself, which he proceeded to do.

According to Walters, rehearsal is the great educator. If he were asked his advice as to how to run away with another man’s wife, he would insinuate that there must be a sort of dress-rehearsal. His creed is that to a man of the world nothing must appear as a novelty. Breeding, he would define as the faculty of doing anything and everything as if to the action accustomed.

On the matter of horsewhipping, Dare learned much during the next ten minutes, and by the time he had finished his breakfast he found himself in full possession of all the necessary information as to how to horsewhip a man. The thickness of his own neck, Walters appeared to regard as the special provision of providence that his master might practise upon him. Dare protested that it would hurt, and Walters countered with a reference to the pile of old copies of The Times awaiting a call from the Boy Scouts. With these he would pad himself and instruct Dare in how, when and where to horsewhip a fellow being.

But for Walters, Dare confesses, he would have made a sorry mess of that whipping. The whip seemed to get entangled in everything. It brought down pictures, lifted chairs, demolished an electric light bracket, and uprooted a fern. In short it seemed bewitched. Dare could get it anywhere but upon Walters’ person. When somewhat more practised, Dare brought off a glorious cut upon Walters’ right leg, which set him hopping about the room in silent agony. Greatly concerned Dare apologised profusely.

“It was my own fault, sir,” was Walters’ reply as he proceeded to bind a small mat round each leg. “I omitted all protection below the knee.”

After a week’s incessant practice upon Walters’ long-suffering body and patient spirit, Dare was given to understand that he might regard himself as having successfully passed out of his noviciate.

When Dare confided to Jack Carruthers what he intended to do, Carruthers burst out with—

“Good heavens! Why, Standish is your best pal and his wife——”

“Had better be left out of the picture as far as you’re concerned, old man,” had been the reply. “The modern habit of linking thought to speech irritates me intensely: it shows a deplorable lack of half tones.”

Carruthers apologised.

“But why do you want to whip Millie Standish’s husband?” Carruthers demanded, pulling vigorously at his pipe, a trick of his when excited.

According to Dare, Carruthers is sometimes hopelessly English, not in his ideas; but in his method of expressing them—his ideas themselves are Continental. Dare told him that by saying Millie Standish’s husband, instead of Standish, he implied that he, Dare, was in love with another man’s wife.

Carruthers had blurted out that of course he was, everybody knew it.

Dare pointed out that he had got mixed in his tenses. To be in love with a married woman is apt to compromise her: to have been in love with her, merely adds to her interest and importance in the eyes of her contemporaries.

That is Dare all over. He would stop his own funeral service to point a moral, or launch an epigram.

Standish and Dare had been close friends until Standish fell insanely in love with the young woman who dispensed “tonics” in the saloon-bar of “The Belted Earl.” Standish was a bizarre creature at times, and, to use Dare’s own words, “what must the braying jackass do but endeavour to cultivate Fay’s (that was his inamorata’s classic name) mind, which existed nowhere outside the radius of his own mystical imagination.”

On her nights out he took her to ballad concerts, when her soul yearned for the Pictures; and to University extension lectures, when her whole being craved for the Oxford.

When she complained of the long hours and the “sinking” she felt between meals, he advised her to eat raisins, and descanted sagely upon the sustaining properties of sugar. No one will ever know how he got acquainted with her, for drink made him either sick or silly. However, every evening between six and seven Standish ran into “The Belted Earl” on his way home, consumed a small lemonade, and handed Fay her morrow’s ration of raisins.

He confided the whole story to Dare, he was bursting with it. Dare gave him sage counsel built up upon the foundation of secrecy, but instinctively he knew that it was impossible with a man like Standish.

One night Standish insisted upon Dare accompanying him into the saloon-bar of “The Belted Earl” where he was formally introduced to what Dare described as “a big-busted creature, with a head like a blonde horse and teeth suggestive of a dentist’s show-case.”

Fay’s conversation seemed to consist mainly of three phrases, which are given in the order of the frequency with which they escaped her

1.Oh! go on, do!

2.I’m surprised at you!

3.Aren’t you sarcastic!

Standish strove to be light in his talk, possibly with the object of matching his beloved’s hair; but, like that peroxide-exotic, his thoughts were rooted in darker foundations.

As they left the place Standish enquired eagerly—

“What do you think of her?”

1Dare became deliberately mixed over the pronoun, and replied with a very direct description of what he thought of Standish.

He told him that he was confusing his conception of the soul with Fay’s conviction of the body. He scoffed at the concerts and lectures. He pointed out that the politic Fay suffered them because she had imagination. “You are endeavouring to combine the instincts of a lothario with the soul of a calvinist,” Dare had said in conclusion.

The two men parted with their friendship considerably shaken. Dare saw no particular objection to Standish making an ass of himself over any girl he chose; but he could not digest the missionary spirit in which Standish chose to view the whole adventure.

At last Standish went a step too far and told his wife all about it, requesting her to ask the unspeakable Fay to call. This platonic request was very naturally refused, and Standish made a fool of himself, said that Fay was one of Nature’s ladies, and, given the right clothes and environment, she would be an astonishing success.

Dare learned the story from both of them, and told Standish that such bloods as he were wanted in sparsely populated colonies. The upshot was a breach between the two.

Millie Standish took it all rather badly. She talked about leaving her husband, and there was a quiet determined look in her eyes that Dare did not like: it seemed to suggest the possibility of leaving the world as well. Dare talked about brain-storm and other alien things, and patched things up for the time being.

At last Dare determined that shock tactics were necessary to bring Standish to his senses, and here his chivalry asserted itself. Millie Standish had no brother, therefore Dare felt it incumbent upon him to assume the fraternal responsibility of correcting Standish’s rather Eastern views of life.

II

Having become thoroughly practised, Dare waited outside Standish’s office one morning and administered the necessary punishment. The affair was an astounding success. Never probably in the history of horse-whipping had punishment been so admirably and skilfully administered. Standish’s clerks lined the windows and had the time of their lives. They dared not cheer; but it was obvious on which side were their sympathies.

“Funny sensation whipping a man,” remarked Dare, meditatively when he told the story, “It’s so devilish difficult to hit him and avoid your own legs, even when you’ve had a Walters to practise on.”

The next day Dare received a note from Mrs. Standish, which made it clear that so far from appreciating his chivalry, she was engaged in mourning over her stricken lord, moistening his poultices with her tears.

“Queer things, women,” said Dare; “chivalry is as dead as Queen Anne.”

Later in the day Dare was served with a summons for assault and battery. The affair was assuming an aspect which caused him considerable anxiety. If the matter were aired in the police-court, then the whole story would come out, Millie Standish would be humiliated and Standish himself would be made utterly ridiculous. Dare decided to consult old John Brissett, his solicitor, who immediately got into touch with Standish’s solicitor and told him that if the matter went into court he should supoena Fay. The result was that the lion became as a lamb. Brissett made it quite clear to Standish’s solicitor, who in turn made it clear to Standish, that his respectable intentions would be entirely misunderstood. The upshot of it was that the summons was withdrawn.

“And was that the end?” I queried of Dare.

“The end?” he cried. “Good God, no! Three days later Millie Standish cut me dead at the Latimer’s reception. Women are oblivious to chivalry as I said before.”

“So all was well,” I said.

“All was not well, my dear fellow,” was Dare’s reply, as he gazed up at the ceiling. “All was peculiarly and damnably ill. Horsewhipping is a luxury far beyond my means,” and he started blowing rings.

“But the summons——”

“Was withdrawn, true; but Fay was still alive alas! and with every ‘tonic’ she dispensed in the saloon-bar of ‘The Belted Earl’ she told of the noble way in which I had whipped Standish for her sake. That was Millie’s doing. I could swear to it, she made Standish tell Fay that I did it because I was jealous of him and—oh, it was hell and chaos and forty publishers all rolled into one.”

“But Fay?” I queried. “What of her?”

“She sent me perfumed notes (such vile perfume too) by the potman or chucker-out every other hour. Notes of adoration and of gratitude, in which the terms ‘hero,’ ‘noble,’ ‘chivalrous,’ with two v’s, occurred at sickening intervals. I had to leave London for nearly a month, and it was at a time when I was busily engaged in a dispute with my publisher which necessitated my presence in town.

“Alas!” he concluded. “The tragedy of life is that it is always the wrong woman who appreciates a man’s nobility.”

“I never got no woman to appreciate my nobility wrong or right, sir,” said Bindle, at the conclusion of the story.

“Well, you’re a lucky man, J.B.,” said Dare. “An old fogey who lived some three thousand years ago said one of the disadvantages of matrimony was that your wife insisted on taking her meals with you.”

“Did ‘e really, sir?” said Bindle, greatly interested. ‘”I should a’ like to ‘ave known ‘im.”

“Mr. Bindle,” said Sallie, “I am afraid you are a misogynist.”

“I ‘ope not, miss,” said Bindle anxiously.

“Well you must remember that every time you say things against women you are saying something against me, because I am a woman.”

“Lord, miss, don’t say that,” said Bindle half rising from his chair. “I never thinks o’ you as a woman. You seem to be a sort of——” and he paused.

“A sort of what?” enquired Sallie.

“Well, miss, I don’t ‘ardly like to say.”

“Come on, speak up, J.B.,” said Dick Little, “don’t be a coward. We’ll see that Miss Carruthers doesn’t hurt you.”

“You must finish your sentence, I insist,” said Sallie.

“Well, miss, I was goin’ to say you always seems more like a mate than a woman.”

That is one of the few occasions I have seen Sallie blush. Dick Little’s attentions, my devotion, Angell Herald’s elaborate manners, the General’s gallantry; none of them had succeeded in bringing to Sallie’s face the look of pleasure that Bindle’s simple remark produced.

“Thank you, Mr. Bindle, very much indeed,” she said.

“But why?” asked Windover reverting to the horsewhipping affair, “why should Mrs. Standish——”

“I expected,” said Dare, “that some ass——”

“Psychologist,” suggested Windover.

“The same thing, old man,” was the retort. “I expected that some psychological ass would ask why Millie Standish should behave so oddly. I will tell you. It transpired later that she had evolved a cure of her own.

“She had after all invited Fay to her flat one evening, where she met the smartest women and the cleverest men that Millie could collect. I was not included,” he added.

“Fay had turned up in a pale blue satin blouse, a black skirt and white boots. She had hung herself with every ounce of metal she possessed and jingled like a cavalry charger. All the women were very nice to her, tried to draw her out; but the men just stared, first at her and then at each other. It was Millie’s hour, and when Standish had put Fay into a taxi, he had wept his repentance, been taken back to Millie’s heart, and all was at peace.”

“So your whipping came as an anti-climax,” said Windover.

“Exactly,” was Dare’s response.

“Alas!” remarked Windover, “A man can but do his best and a woman her worst.”