I lector Hugh Munro, the British novelist and short-story writer known as Saki, was born in Burma in 1870 and brought up in England. He travelled widely and became a successful journalist; for six years he acted as correspondent lorThe Morning Post in Poland, Russia, and Paris. He is best known for his short stories, which are humorous, sometimes with a touch of black humour, and full of biting wit and bizarre situations. Some of his short-story collections areReginald in Russia and Other Sketches, The Chronicles of Clovis, andBeasts and Superbeasts. He also published two novels,The Unbearable Bassington and When William Came. Saki was killed in France during the First World War, in 1916.
'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.' Thus wrote Jane Austen as the ironical first words of her famous novelPride and Prejudice, and in the Edwardian England of Saki's day it was still thought that a man of good family had a duty to marry. To please himself, of course, but also to please his family and to satisfy the social conventions of the times.
James Cushat-Prinkly is a single man in possession of a good fortune, and his female relations and friends decide that he needs a wife. Cushat-Prinkly is a dutiful son, brother, nephew, and the idea of marriage is not disagreeable to him . ..
.lines Cushat-Prinkly was a young man who had always had a settled conviction that one of these days he would marry; up to the age of thirty-four he had done nothing to justify that i onviction. He liked and admired a great many women collectively .uid dispassionately without singling out one for especial matrimonial consideration, just as one might admire the Alps without feeling that one wanted any particular peak as one's private property. His lack of initiative in this matter aroused a certain amount of impatience among the sentimentally minded women-folk of his home circle; his mother, his sisters, an aunt-in-residence, and two or three intimate matronly friends regarded his dilatory approach to the married state with a disapproval that was far from being inarticulate. His most innocent flirtations were watched with the straining eagerness which a group of unexercised terriers concentrates on the slightest movements of a human being who may be reasonably considered likely to take them for a walk. No decent-souled mortal can long resist the pleading of several pairs of walk-beseeching dog-eyes; James Cushat-Prinkly was not sufficiently obstinate or indifferent to home influences to disregard the obviously expressed wish of his family that he should become enamoured of some nice marriageable girl, and when his Uncle Jules departed this life and bequeathed him a comfortable little legacy it really seemed the correct thing to do to set about discovering someone to share it with him. The process of discovery was carried on more by the force of suggestion and the weight of public opinion than by any initiative of his own; a clear working majority of his female relatives and the aforesaid matronly friends had pitched on Joan Sebastable as the most suitable young woman in his range of acquaintance to whom he might propose marriage, and James became gradually accustomed to the idea that he and Joan would go together through the prescribed stages of congratulations, present-receiving, Norwegian or Mediterranean hotels, and eventual domesticity. It was necessary, however, to ask the lady what she thought about the matter; the family had so far conducted and directed the flirtation with ability and discretion, but the actual proposal would have to be an individual effort.
Cushat-Prinkly walked across the Park towards the Sebastable residence in a frame of mind that was moderately complacent. As the thing was going to be done he was glad to feel that he was going to get it settled and off his mind that afternoon. Proposing marriage, even to a nice girl like Joan, was a rather irksome business, but one could not have a honeymoon in Minorca and a subsequent life of married happiness without such preliminary. He wondered what Minorca was really like as a place to stop in; in his mind's eye it was an island in perpetual half-mourning, with black or white Minorca hens running all over it. Probably it would not be a bit like that when one came to examine it. People who had been in Russia had told him that they did not remember having seen any Muscovy ducks* there, so it was possible that there would be no Minorca fowls on the island.
His Mediterranean musings were interrupted by the sound of a clock striking the half-hour. Half-past four. A frown of dissatisfaction settled on his face. He would arrive at the Sebastable mansion just at the hour of afternoon tea. Joan would be seated at a low table, spread with an array of silver kettles and cream-jugs and delicate porcelain teacups, behind which her voice would tinkle pleasantly in a series of little friendly questions about weak or strong tea, how much, if any, sugar, milk, cream, and so forth. 'Is it one lump? I forgot. You do take milk, don't you? Would you like some more hot water, if it's too strong?'
(!ushat-Prinkly had read of such things in scores of novels, and hundreds of actual experiences had told him that they were true m life. Thousands of women, at this solemn afternoon hour, were lifting behind dainty porcelain and silver fittings, with their voices tinkling pleasantly in a cascade of solicitous little questions. ( ushat-Prinkly detested the whole system of afternoon tea. According to his theory of life a woman should lie on a divan or couch, talking with incomparable charm or looking unutterable thoughts, or merely silent as a thing to be looked on, and from behind a silken curtain a small Nubian page* should silently bring in a tray with cups and dainties*, to be accepted silently, as a matter of course, without drawn-out chatter about cream and sugar and hot water. If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's* feet, how could one talk coherently about weakened tea! Cushat-Prinkly had never expounded his views on the subject to his mother; all her life she had been accustomed to tinkle pleasantly at tea-time behind dainty porcelain and silver, and if he had spoken to her about divans and Nubian pages she would have urged him to take a week's holiday at the seaside. Now, as he passed through a tangle of small streets that led indirectly to the elegant Mayfair* terrace for which he was bound, a horror at the idea of confronting Joan Sebastable at her tea-table seized on him. A momentary deliverance presented itself; on one floor of a narrow little house at the noisier end of Esquimault Street lived Rhoda Ellam, a sort of remote cousin, who made a living by creating hats out of costly materials. The hats really looked as if they had come from Paris; the cheques she got for them unfortunately never looked as if they were going to Paris. However, Rhoda appeared to find life amusing and to have a fairly good time in spite of her straitened circumstances. Cushat-Prinkly decided to climb up to her floor and defer by half-an-hour or so the important business which lay before him; by spinning out his visit he could contrive to reach the Sebastable mansion after the last vestiges of dainty porcelain had been cleared away.
Rhoda welcomed him into a room that seemed to do duty as workshop, sitting-room, and kitchen combined, and to be wonderfully clean and comfortable at the same time.
'I'm having a picnic meal,' she announced. 'There's caviar in that jar at your elbow. Begin on that brown bread-and-butter while I cut some more. Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.'
She made no other allusion to food, but talked amusingly and made her visitor talk amusingly too. At the same time she cut the bread-and-butter with a masterly skill and produced red pepper and sliced lemon, where so many women would merely have produced reasons and regrets for not having any. Cushat-Prinkly found that he was enjoying an excellent tea without having to answer as many questions about it as a Minister for Agriculture might be called on to reply to during an outbreak of cattle plague.
'And now tell me why you have come to see me,' said Rhoda suddenly. 'You arouse not merely my curiosity but my business instincts. I hope you've come about hats. I heard that you had come into a legacy the other day, and, of course, it struck me that it would be a beautiful and desirable thing for you to celebrate the event by buying brilliantly expensive hats for all your sisters. They may not have said anything about it, but I feel sure the same idea has occurred to them. Of course, with Goodwood* on us, I am rather rushed just now, but in my business we're accustomed to that; we live in a series of rushes - like the infant Moses*.'
'I didn't come about hats,' said her visitor. 'In fact, I don't think I really came about anything. I was passing and I just thought I'd look in and see you. Since I've been sitting talking to you, however, a rather important idea has occurred to me. If you'll forget Goodwood for a moment and listen to me, I'll tell you what it is.'
Somr forty minutes later James Cushat-Prinkly returned to the l»HiH>m of his family, bearing an important piece of news.
Till engaged to be married,' he announced.
A rapturous outbreak of congratulation and self-applause broke out i
'All, we knew! We saw it coming! We foretold it weeks ago!'
ill bet you didn't,' said Cushat-Prinkly. if anyone had told me iti lunch-time today that I was going to ask Rhoda Ellam to marry inr and that she was going to accept me, I would have laughed at (he idea.'
The romantic suddenness of the affair in some measure i ompensated James's women-folk for the ruthless negation of all iheir patient effort and skilled diplomacy. It was rather trying to have to deflect their enthusiasm at a moment's notice from Joan Sebastable to Rhoda Ellam; but, after all, it was James's wife who was in question, and his tastes had some claim to be considered.
On a September afternoon of the same year, after the honeymoon in Minorca had ended, Cushat-Prinkly came into the drawing-room of his new house in Granchester Square. Rhoda was seated at a low table, behind a service of dainty porcelain and gleaming silver. There was a pleasant tinkling note in her voice as she handed him a cup.
'You like it weaker than that, don't you? Shall I put some more hot water to it? No?'
Muscovy duck (pi2) a type of duck which comes from South America (not Moscow) Nubian page (pl3)
a Sudanese or Egyptian boy servant, usually black dainties (pl3)
small, delicate cakes mistress (pl3)
a woman loved and courted by a man, but in modern use a woman who has a sexual relationship outside marriage Mayfair (pl3) a fashionable and expensive district of London Goodwood (pl4)
a race-course in the south of England, popular with fashionable society of the time; any woman of that society going to Goodwood would have wanted to wear a new hat the infant Moses (pl4) a Biblical character who as a baby was put in a basket and hidden among the bulrushes on the banks of the Nile
1 What impression does the author give of James Cushat-Prinkly's character in the first paragraph? How important is his character in the development of the story?
2 Did you find the ending predictable? If so, did that lessen your appreciation of the story?
3 Of the three main characters, James Cushat-Prinkly, Joan Sebastable, and Rhoda Ellam, who do you think got the best bargain? Why?
4 What do you think of the title of the story -Tea? Is the story really about tea, or is tea being used as a symbol for something else? If so, what?
1 Saki's humorous style often produces complicated, formal, even pompous expressions. Can you put the following into ordinary, direct English?
always had a settled conviction(pll)his home circle(pll)
his dilatory approach to the married state(pll)far from being inarticulate(pll)become enamoured of(pll)departed this life(pll)
bequeathed him a comfortable little legacy(pll)
a clear working majority of his female relatives(pl2)
the actual proposal would have to be an individual effort(pl2)
the bosom of his family(pi5)
! Do you find the following quotations amusing? Why (or why not)? Explain the 'surface' meaning, that is, what the character (James or his relations) is thinking. What other interpretations do you think the author is inviting us to take? Do any words or phrases suggest to you the idea of mockery?
• Proposing marriage, even to a nice girl like Joan, was a rather irksome business.(pl2)
• If one's soul was really enslaved at one's mistress's feet, how could one talk coherently about weakened tea!(pl3)
• ...if he had spoken to her about divans and Nubian pages she would have urged him to take a week's holiday at the seaside. (P13)
• ... but, after all, it was James's wife who was in question, and his tastes had some claim to be considered,(pi5)
I Imagine you are one of the 'aforesaid matronly friends' and have just heard the unexpected news of James's engagement to Rhoda Ellam. Write a letter to your best friend to pass on the information.
I The story is told mostly from James's point of view. Describe his visit to Rhoda, but this time from her point of view. You might begin like tlus:
That afternoon Rhoda received an unexpected visitor. James (lushat-Prinkly appeared at her front door at about tea-time. Though pleased to see him, she wondered what the reason was for his visit.. .
Mr Loved ay's Little Outing
Evelyn Waugh was born in London in 1903, and in the 1930s was acknowledged as England's leading satirical novelist. Readers loved the witty and sophisticated style of his early novels, for example,Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies,andA Handful of Dust, which satirized the social excesses of upper-class life in the 1920s and 1930s. His humour became blacker in his later novels, and after becoming a Roman Catholic he also dealt with religious themes, as in Brideshead Revisited. He died in 1966.
How do you define madness? The definition changes according to the century or the society. Some people think that there is more insanity in the 'normal' world than inside a mental hospital. We joke about madness; we call somebody 'mad' when often what we really mean is that we don't agree with them. But madness can also be a serious and frightening subject.
Lady Moping and her daughter Angela are not mad. Lord Moping, Angela's father, has shown signs of madness, and he is locked up in the local mental hospital. On a visit to him, Angela meets another inmate, Mr Loveday, a kind gentle old man who is helping to look after her father. Angela thinks she has discovered a great injustice, and she embarks on a well-meaning campaign ...
Mr Loved ay's Little Outing
4X7"ou will not find your father greatly changed,' remarked X Lady Moping, as the car turned into the gates of the County Asylum*.
'Will he be wearing a uniform?' asked Angela.
'No, dear, of course not. He is receiving the very best attention.'
It was Angela's first visit and it was being made at her own suggestion.
Ten years had passed since the showery day in late summer when Lord Moping had been taken away; a day of confused but bitter memories for her; the day of Lady Moping's annual garden party, always bitter, confused that day by the caprice of the weather which, remaining clear and brilliant with promise until the arrival of the first guests, had suddenly blackened into a squall. There had been a scuttle for cover; the marquee had capsized; a frantic carrying of cushions and chairs, a table-cloth lofted to the boughs of the monkey-puzzler, fluttering in the rain; a bright period and the cautious emergence of guests on to the soggy lawns; another squall; another twenty minutes of sunshine. It had been an abominable afternoon, culminating at about six o'clock in her father's attempted suicide.
Lord Moping habitually threatened suicide on the occasion of the garden party; that year he had been found black in the face, hanging by his braces in the orangery; some neighbours, who were sheltering there from the rain, set him on his feet again, and before dinner a van had called for him. Since then Lady Moping had paid seasonal calls at the asylum and
H'hirned in time for tea, rather reticent of her experience.
Many of her neighbours were inclined to be critical of Lord Moping's accommodation. He was not, of course, an ordinary inmate. He lived in a separate wing of the asylum, specially ilrvotcd to the segregation of wealthier lunatics. They were given every consideration which their foibles permitted. They might • house their own clothes (many indulged in the liveliest fancies), smoke the most expensive brands of cigars, and, on the anniversaries of their certification*, entertain any other inmates loi whom they had an attachment to private dinner parties.
The fact remained, however, that it was far from being the most expensive kind of institution; the uncompromising address, 'County Home for Mental Defectives', stamped across the notepaper, worked on the uniforms of their attendants, painted, even, upon a prominent hoarding at the main entrance, suggested I he lowest associations. From time to time, with less or more tact, her friends attempted to bring to Lady Moping's notice particulars n! seaside nursing homes, of 'qualified practitioners with large private grounds suitable for the charge of nervous or difficult (ases', but she accepted them lightly; when her son came of age he might make any changes that he thought fit; meanwhile she felt 110 inclination to relax her economical regime; her husband had betrayed her basely on the one day in the year when she looked for loyal support, and was far better off than he deserved.
A lew lonely figures in great-coats were shuffling and loping about the park.
'Those are the lower-class lunatics,' observed Lady Moping. 4 I here is a very nice little flower garden for people like your father. I sent them some cuttings last year.'
They drove past the blank, yellow brick facade to the doctor's private entrance and were received by him in the 'visitors' room', set aside for interviews of this kind. The window was protected on the inside by bars and wire netting; there was no fireplace; when Angela nervously attempted to move her chair further from the radiator, she found that it was screwed to the floor.
'Lord Moping is quite ready to see you,' said the doctor.
'How is he?'
'Oh, very well, very well indeed, I'm glad to say. He had rather a nasty cold some time ago, but apart from that his condition is excellent. He spends a lot of his time in writing.'
They heard a shuffling, skipping sound approaching along the flagged passage. Outside the door a high peevish voice, which Angela recognized as her father's, said: 'I haven't the time, I tell you. Let them come back later.'
A gentler tone, with a slight rural burr*, replied, 'Now come along. It is a purely formal audience. You need stay no longer than you like.'
Then the door was pushed open (it had no lock or fastening) and Lord Moping came into the room. He was attended by an elderly little man with full white hair and an expression of great kindness.
'That is Mr Loveday who acts as Lord Moping's attendant.'
'Secretary,' said Lord Moping. He moved with a jogging gait and shook hands with his wife.
'This is Angela. You remember Angela, don't you?'
'No, I can't say that I do. What does she want?'
'We just came to see you.'
'Well, you have come at an exceedingly inconvenient time. I am very busy. Have you typed out that letter to the Pope* yet, Loveday?'
'No, my lord. If you remember, you asked me to look up the figures about the Newfoundland fisheries first?'
'So I did. Well, it is fortunate, as I think the whole letter will have to be redrafted. A great deal of new information has come to light since luncheon. A great deal ... You see, my dear, I am fully occupied.' He turned his restless, quizzical eyes upon Angela, i suppose you have come about the Danube. Well, you must come again later. Tell them it will be all right, quite all right, but I have not had time to give my full attention to it. Tell them that.'
'Very well, Papa.'
'Anyway,' said Lord Moping rather petulantly, 'it is a matter of secondary importance. There is the Elbe and the Amazon and the Tigris to be dealt with first, eh, Loveday? ... Danube indeed. Nasty little river. I'd only call it a stream myself. Well, can't stop, nice of you to come. I would do more for you if I could, but you see how I'm fixed. Write to me about it. That's it. Put it in black and white.9
And with that he left the room.
'You see,' said the doctor, 'he is in excellent condition. He is putting on weight, eating and sleeping excellently. In fact, the whole tone of his system is above reproach.'
The door opened again and Loveday returned.
'Forgive my coming back, sir, but I was afraid that the young lady might be upset at his Lordship's not knowing her. You mustn't mind him, miss. Next time he'll be very pleased to see you. It's only today he's put out on account of being behindhand with his work. You see, sir, all this week I've been helping in the library and I haven't been able to get all his Lordship's reports typed out. And he's got muddled with his card index. That's all it is. He doesn't mean any harm.'
'What a nice man,' said Angela, when Loveday had gone back to his charge.
'Yes, I don't know what we should do without old Loveday. Everybody loves him, staff and patients alike.'
T remember him well. It's a great comfort to know that you are able to get such good warders,' said Lady Moping; 'people who don't know, say such foolish things about asylums.'
'Oh, but Loveday isn't a warder,' said the doctor.
'You don't mean he's cuckoo, too?' said Angela.
The doctor corrected her.
'He is an inmate. It is rather an interesting case. He has been here for thirty-five years.'
'But I've never seen anyone saner,' said Angela.
'He certainly has that air,' said the doctor, 'and in the last twenty years we have treated him as such. He is the life and soul of the place. Of course he is not one of the private patients, but we allow him to mix freely with them. He plays billiards excellently, does conjuring tricks at the concert, mends their gramophones, valets them, helps them in their crossword puzzles and various - er - hobbies. We allow them to give him small tips for services rendered, and he must by now have amassed quite a little fortune. He has a way with even the most troublesome of them. An invaluable man about the place.'
'Yes, but why is he here?'
'Well, it is rather sad. When he was a very young man he killed somebody - a young woman quite unknown to him, whom he knocked off her bicycle and then throttled. He gave himself up immediately afterwards and has been here ever since.'
'But surely he is perfectly safe now. Why is he not let out?'
'Well, I suppose if it was to anyone's interest, he would be. He has no relatives except a step-sister who lives in Plymouth. She used to visit him at one time, but she hasn't been for years now. He's perfectly happy here and I can assure you we aren't going to take the first steps in turning him out. He's far too useful to us.'
'But it doesn't seem fair,' said Angela.
'Look at your father,' said the doctor. 'He'd be quite lost without Loveday to act as his secretary.' 'It doesn't seem fair.'
Angela left the asylum, oppressed by a sense of injustice. Her mother was unsympathetic.
'Think of being locked up in a looney bin all one's life.' 'He attempted to hang himself in the orangery,' replied Lady Moping, Hn front of the Chester-Martins.'' 'I don't mean Papa. I mean Mr Loveday.' 'I don't think I know him.'
'Yes, the looney they have put to look after Papa.' 'Your father's secretary. A very decent sort of man, I thought, and eminently suited to his work.'
Angela left the question for the time, but returned to it again at luncheon on the following day. 'Mums, what does one have to do to get people out of the bin?' 'The bin? Good gracious, child, I hope that you do not anticipate your father's return here 1 'No, no. Mr Loveday.'
'Angela, you seem to me to be totally bemused. I see it was a mistake to take you with me on our little visit yesterday.'
After luncheon Angela disappeared to the library and was soon immersed in the lunacy laws as represented in the encyclopedia.
She did not re-open the subject with her mother, but a fortnight later, when there was a question of taking some pheasants over to her father for his eleventh Certification Party she showed an unusual willingness to run over with them. Her mother was occupied with other interests and noticed nothing suspicious.
Angela drove her small car to the asylum, and, after delivering the game, asked for Mr Loveday. He was busy at the time making a crown for one of his companions who expected hourly to be anointed Emperor of Brazil, but he left his work and enjoyed several minutes' conversation with her. They spoke about her father's health and spirits. After a time Angela remarked, 'Don't you ever want to get away?'
Mr Loveday looked at her with his gentle, blue-grey eyes. 'I've got very well used to the life, miss. I'm fond of the poor people here, and I think that several of them are quite fond of me. At least, I think they would miss me if I were to go.'
'But don't you ever think of being free again?'
'Oh yes, miss, I think of it - almost all the time I think of it.'
'What would you do if you got out? There must be something you would sooner do than stay here.'
The old man fidgeted uneasily. 'Well, miss, it sounds ungrateful, but I can't deny I should welcome a little outing once, before I get too old to enjoy it. I expect we all have our secret ambitions, and there is one thing I often wish I could do. You mustn't ask me what ... It wouldn't take long. But I do feel that if I had done it just for a day, an afternoon even, then I would die quiet. I could settle down again easier, and devote myself to the poor crazed people here with a better heart. Yes, I do feel that.'
There were tears in Angela's eyes that afternoon as she drove away. 'He shall have his little outing, bless him,' she said.
From that day onwards for many weeks Angela had a new purpose in life. She moved about the ordinary routine of her home with an abstracted air and an unfamiliar, reserved courtesy which greatly disconcerted Lady Moping.
i believe the child's in love. I only pray that it isn't that uncouth Egbertson boy.'
She read a great deal in the library, she cross-examined any guests who had pretensions to legal or medical knowledge, she showed extreme goodwill to old Sir Roderick Lane-Foscote, their Member*. The names 'alienist'*, 'barrister' or 'government official' now had for her the glamour that formerly surrounded film actors and professional wrestlers. She was a woman with a cause, and before the end of the hunting season she had triumphed. Mr Loveday achieved his liberty.
The doctor at the asylum showed reluctance but no real opposition. Sir Roderick wrote to the Home Office*. The necessary papers were signed, and at last the day came when Mr Loveday took leave of the home where he had spent such long and useful years.
His departure was marked by some ceremony. Angela and Sir Roderick Lane-Foscote sat with the doctors on the stage of the gymnasium. Below them was assembled everyone in the institution who was thought to be stable enough to endure the excitement.