Chronicles of Clovis
The Jesting Of Arlington Stringham
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.