The Toys of Peace and Other Stories
Excepting Mrs. Pentherby
It was Reggie Bruttle's own idea for converting what had threatened to be an albino
elephant into a beast of burden that should help him along the stony road of his finances.
"The Limes," which had come to him by inheritance without any accompanying
provision for its upkeep, was one of those pretentious, unaccommodating mansions
which none but a man of wealth could afford to live in, and which not one wealthy man
in a hundred would choose on its merits. It might easily languish in the estate market for
years, set round with noticeboards proclaiming it, in the eyes of a sceptical world, to be
an eminently desirable residence.
Reggie's scheme was to turn it into the headquarters of a prolonged country-house party,
in session during the months from October till the end of March--a party consisting of
young or youngish people of both sexes, too poor to be able to do much hunting or
shooting on a serious scale, but keen on getting their fill of golf, bridge, dancing, and
occasional theatre-going. No one was to be on the footing of a paying guest, but every
one was to rank as a paying host; a committee would look after the catering and
expenditure, and an informal sub-committee would make itself useful in helping forward
the amusement side of the scheme.
As it was only an experiment, there was to be a general agreement on the part of those
involved in it to be as lenient and mutually helpful to one another as possible. Already a
promising nucleus, including one or two young married couples, had been got together,
and the thing seemed to be fairly launched.
"With good management and a little unobtrusive hard work, I think the thing ought to be
a success," said Reggie, and Reggie was one of those people who are painstaking first
and optimistic afterwards.
"There is one rock on which you will unfailingly come to grief, manage you never so
wisely," said Major Dagberry, cheerfully; "the women will quarrel. Mind you," continued
this prophet of disaster, "I don't say that some of the men won't quarrel too, probably they
will; but the women are bound to. You can't prevent it; it's in the nature of the sex. The
hand that rocks the cradle rocks the world, in a volcanic sense. A woman will endure
discomforts, and make sacrifices, and go without things to an heroic extent, but the one
luxury she will not go without is her quarrels. No matter where she may be, or how
transient her appearance on a scene, she will instal her feminine feuds as assuredly as a
Frenchman would concoct soup in the waste of the Arctic regions. At the commencement
of a sea voyage, before the male traveller knows half a dozen of his fellow passengers by
sight, the average woman will have started a couple of enmities, and laid in material for
one or two more--provided, of course, that there are sufficient women aboard to permit
quarrelling in the plural. If there's no one else she will quarrel with the stewardess. This
experiment of yours is to run for six months; in less than five weeks there will be war to
the knife declaring itself in half a dozen different directions."