The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

The Penance
Octavian Ruttle was one of those lively cheerful individuals on whom amiability had set
its unmistakable stamp, and, like most of his kind, his soul's peace depended in large
measure on the unstinted approval of his fellows. In hunting to death a small tabby cat he
had done a thing of which he scarcely approved himself, and he was glad when the
gardener had hidden the body in its hastily dug grave under a lone oak-tree in the
meadow, the same tree that the hunted quarry had climbed as a last effort towards safety.
It had been a distasteful and seemingly ruthless deed, but circumstances had demanded
the doing of it. Octavian kept chickens; at least he kept some of them; others vanished
from his keeping, leaving only a few bloodstained feathers to mark the manner of their
going. The tabby cat from the large grey house that stood with its back to the meadow
had been detected in many furtive visits to the hen-coups, and after due negotiation with
those in authority at the grey house a sentence of death had been agreed on. "The children
will mind, but they need not know," had been the last word on the matter.
The children in question were a standing puzzle to Octavian; in the course of a few
months he considered that he should have known their names, ages, the dates of their
birthdays, and have been introduced to their favourite toys. They remained however, as
non-committal as the long blank wall that shut them off from the meadow, a wall over
which their three heads sometimes appeared at odd moments. They had parents in India--
that much Octavian had learned in the neighbourhood; the children, beyond grouping
themselves garment-wise into sexes, a girl and two boys, carried their lifestory no further
on his behoof. And now it seemed he was engaged in something which touched them
closely, but must be hidden from their knowledge.
The poor helpless chickens had gone one by one to their doom, so it was meet that their
destroyer should come to a violent end; yet Octavian felt some qualms when his share of
the violence was ended. The little cat, headed off from its wonted tracks of safety, had
raced unfriended from shelter to shelter, and its end had been rather piteous. Octavian
walked through the long grass of the meadow with a step less jaunty than usual. And as
he passed beneath the shadow of the high blank wall he glanced up and became aware
that his hunting had had undesired witnesses. Three white set faces were looking down at
him, and if ever an artist wanted a threefold study of cold human hate, impotent yet
unyielding, raging yet masked in stillness, he would have found it in the triple gaze that
met Octavian's eye.
"I'm sorry, but it had to be done," said Octavian, with genuine apology in his voice.
The answer came from three throats with startling intensity.