Vanity Fair, October 1915
By P. Brooke-Haven
I HAD not seen Henry Bootle since his marriage. I had heard that he had taken a place in the country and settled down.
It was a pleasure, then, coming into the club one afternoon, to find him there. He wore a somewhat depressed air.
“Married life suiting you, old man?” I asked tentatively, after the first greetings.
“Splendid,” he replied. “Splendid. Never been happier. But—er, tell me, do I strike you as having grown at all ferocious since our last meeting?”
“Ferocious? How do you mean?”
“You feel safe in my presence? You have no lurking fear that I may spring at you suddenly and bite you in the leg?”
“None,” I said. He sighed with relief.
“You comfort me.”
“I don’t understand you, Henry.”
“Of course not,” he said. “Listen: I hate scenes. I loathe rows. I have always prided myself on my even temper. Yet at Bodville Corners, where I now live, I am regarded as the local Bad Man. The natives avoid me nervously. When I walk down Main Street, little children run screaming to their mothers. And it is all due to Mabel.”
“To Mabel? To Mrs. Bootle?”
He nodded mournfully.
“Let me tell you all. The house in which we live is surrounded by beautiful grounds,—so beautiful that the villagers like to wander through them, picking our flowers, trampling our grass, and shedding old newspapers and bottles as they wander. I disliked all this, but I should never have dreamed of complaining. But I did say to Mabel that I thought it rather a pity, and one morning I was surprised to find the grounds deserted.
“For a time I wallowed in the luxury of walking about the estate without bumping into strangers, and then I began to wonder what had caused this joyful deliverance. I made inquiries of Mabel.
“ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I sent them away. I said they must not come wandering about the place. I said that you were perfectly furious about it.’
“Life went on. Except for the fact that the plumber would drop in and borrow my bicycle, invariably returning it next day with a puncture in one or both tires, all Nature may be said to have smiled.
“ ‘What a pity it is,’ I said to my wife, ‘that Wilkins has such bad luck in puncturing my bicycle tires. It’s too bad, isn’t it?’
“That night at dinner Mabel said: ‘Oh, it’s all right about Wilkins. I spoke to him to-day. I said that he was never to borrow the bicycle again. I told him that you were perfectly furious about it.’
“Next day I was walking along the road, and I saw Wilkins in the distance. About thirty yards away, he stopped dead, turned pale and fled in the opposite direction. I have never seen him since.
“And so it went on. It was a little hard on a sociable man like myself that, after some months at Bodville Corners, the only person who remained on speaking terms with me was a chap named Smith. He is a capital fellow, a good golfer and deeply interested in several of my particular hobbies.”
He paused, and again that look of pain came over his face.
“Cheer up, Henry,” I said. “Life may still be pleasant, while Smith remains a friend.”
“He isn’t,” said Henry dejectedly. “I was just going to tell you. You must know that he keeps his car in our barn. We were only too glad to have his car there till the other day, when we bought a car of our own. While getting our car in, for the very first time, I scraped my mud-guard against the mud-guard of Smith’s machine.
“PERHAPS I expressed myself a little strongly! I said to Mabel, ‘Dear me! There is hardly room for two cars in here.’
“In the excitement of arranging my car in the barn I wholly forgot Mabel, and it was only when I had completed the operation that I turned, to find her gone. I guessed what was up and cowered in the barn with fear and trembling. An hour later she came back, looking rather flushed.
“ ‘I have been speaking to Mr. Smith,’ she said, ‘about the barn.’
“ ‘I told him that he must take his car out of here at once. I said that you were perfectly furious.’ ”
At this point in his narrative Henry Bootle paused.
“What brought you to the city to-day?” I asked, for lack of anything else to say.
“Oh! I merely came to try to get a cook. We had a perfect jewel till this morning, but yesterday I happened to say at breakfast that I should prefer to have my eggs boiled a trifle softer, and it seems that Mrs. Bootle told the cook I was perfectly furious about it.”