Chronicles of Clovis HTML version

It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that indefinite season when
partridges are still in security or cold storage, and there is nothing to hunt--unless one is
bounded on the north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop after
fat red stags. Lady Blemley's house-party was not bounded on the north by the Bristol
Channel, hence there was a full gathering of her guests round the tea-table on this
particular afternoon. And, in spite of the blankness of the season and the triteness of the
occasion, there was no trace in the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a
dread of the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge. The undisguised
openmouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on the homely negative personality
of Mr. Cornelius Appin. Of all her guests, he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley
with the vaguest reputation. Some one had said he was "clever," and he had got his
invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess, that some portion at
least of his cleverness would be contributed to the general entertainment. Until tea-time
that day she had been unable to discover in what direction, if any, his cleverness lay. He
was neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a hypnotic force nor a begetter of amateur
theatricals. Neither did his exterior suggest the sort of man in whom women are willing to
pardon a generous measure of mental deficiency. He had subsided into mere Mr. Appin,
and the Cornelius seemed a piece of transparent baptismal bluff. And now he was
claiming to have launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of
gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were inconsiderable trifles.
Science had made bewildering strides in many directions during recent decades, but this
thing seemed to belong to the domain of miracle rather than to scientific achievement.
"And do you really ask us to believe," Sir Wilfrid was saying, "that you have discovered
a means for instructing animals in the art of human speech, and that dear old Tobermory
has proved your first successful pupil?"
"It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen years," said Mr. Appin, "
but only during the last eight or nine months have I been rewarded with glimmerings of
success. Of course I have experimented with thousands of animals, but latterly only with
cats, those wonderful creatures which have assimilated themselves so marvellously with
our civilization while retaining all their highly developed feral instincts. Here and there
among cats one comes across an outstanding superior intellect, just as one does among
the ruck of human beings, and when I made the acquaintance of Tobermory a week ago I
saw at once that I was in contact with a 'Beyond-cat' of extraordinary intelligence. I had
gone far along the road to success in recent experiments; with Tobermory, as you call
him, I have reached the goal."
Mr. Appin concluded his remarkable statement in a voice which he strove to divest of a
triumphant inflection. No one said "Rats," though Clovis's lips moved in a monosyllabic
contortion which probably invoked those rodents of disbelief.