The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

The Hedgehog
A "Mixed Double" of young people were contesting a game of lawn tennis at the Rectory
garden party; for the past five-and-twenty years at least mixed doubles of young people
had done exactly the same thing on exactly the same spot at about the same time of year.
The young people changed and made way for others in the course of time, but very little
else seemed to alter. The present players were sufficiently conscious of the social nature
of the occasion to be concerned about their clothes and appearance, and sufficiently
sport-loving to be keen on the game. Both their efforts and their appearance came under
the fourfold scrutiny of a quartet of ladies sitting as official spectators on a bench
immediately commanding the court. It was one of the accepted conditions of the Rectory
garden party that four ladies, who usually knew very little about tennis and a great deal
about the players, should sit at that particular spot and watch the game. It had also come
to be almost a tradition that two ladies should be amiable, and that the other two should
be Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Hatch-Mallard.
"What a singularly unbecoming way Eva Jonelet has taken to doing her hair in," said
Mrs. Hatch-Mallard; "it's ugly hair at the best of times, but she needn't make it look
ridiculous as well. Some one ought to tell her."
Eva Jonelet's hair might have escaped Mrs. Hatch-Mallard's condemnation if she could
have forgotten the more glaring fact that Eva was Mrs. Dole's favourite niece. It would,
perhaps, have been a more comfortable arrangement if Mrs. Hatch-Mallard and Mrs.
Dole could have been asked to the Rectory on separate occasions, but there was only one
garden party in the course of the year, and neither lady could have been omitted from the
list of invitations without hopelessly wrecking the social peace of the parish.
"How pretty the yew trees look at this time of year," interposed a lady with a soft, silvery
voice that suggested a chinchilla muff painted by Whistler.
"What do you mean by this time of year?" demanded Mrs. Hatch- Mallard. "Yew trees
look beautiful at all times of the year. That is their great charm."
"Yew trees never look anything but hideous under any circumstances or at any time of
year," said Mrs. Dole, with the slow, emphatic relish of one who contradicts for the
pleasure of the thing. "They are only fit for graveyards and cemeteries."
Mrs. Hatch-Mallard gave a sardonic snort, which, being translated, meant that there were
some people who were better fitted for cemeteries than for garden parties.
"What is the score, please?" asked the lady with the chinchilla voice.
The desired information was given her by a young gentleman in spotless white flannels,
whose general toilet effect suggested solicitude rather than anxiety.