The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version
The Disappearance Of Crispina Umberleigh
In a first-class carriage of a train speeding Balkanward across the flat, green Hungarian
plain two Britons sat in friendly, fitful converse. They had first foregathered in the cold
grey dawn at the frontier line, where the presiding eagle takes on an extra head and
Teuton lands pass from Hohenzollern to Habsburg keeping--and where a probing official
beak requires to delve in polite and perhaps perfunctory, but always tiresome, manner
into the baggage of sleep- hungry passengers. After a day's break of their journey at
Vienna the travellers had again foregathered at the trainside and paid one another the
compliment of settling instinctively into the same carriage. The elder of the two had the
appearance and manner of a diplomat; in point of fact he was the well-connected foster-
brother of a wine business. The other was certainly a journalist. Neither man was
talkative and each was grateful to the other for not being talkative. That is why from time
to time they talked.
One topic of conversation naturally thrust itself forward in front of all others. In Vienna
the previous day they had learned of the mysterious vanishing of a world-famous picture
from the walls of the Louvre.
"A dramatic disappearance of that sort is sure to produce a crop of imitations," said the
"It has had a lot of anticipations, for the matter of that," said the Wine-brother.
"Oh, of course there have been thefts from the Louvre before."
"I was thinking of the spiriting away of human beings rather than pictures. In particular I
was thinking of the case of my aunt, Crispina Umberleigh."
"I remember hearing something of the affair," said the Journalist, "but I was away from
England at the time. I never quite knew what was supposed to have happened."
"You may hear what really happened if you will respect it as a confidence," said the Wine
Merchant. "In the first place I may say that the disappearance of Mrs. Umberleigh was
not regarded by the family entirely as a bereavement. My uncle, Edward Umberleigh,
was not by any means a weak-kneed individual, in fact in the world of politics he had to
be reckoned with more or less as a strong man, but he was unmistakably dominated by
Crispina; indeed I never met any human being who was not frozen into subjection when
brought into prolonged contact with her. Some people are born to command; Crispina
Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify, administrate, censor, license, ban,
execute, and sit in judgement generally. If she was not born with that destiny she adopted
it at an early age. From the kitchen regions upwards every one in the household came
under her despotic sway and stayed there with the submissiveness of molluscs involved
in a glacial epoch. As a nephew on a footing of only occasional visits she affected me
merely as an epidemic, disagreeable while it lasted, but without any permanent effect; but