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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesKathleen - Chapter 10
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Kathleen - Chapter 10 Post by :chrisf Category :Long Stories Author :Christopher Morley Date :May 2012 Read :2620

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Kathleen - Chapter 10

CHAPTER X

The Rhodes Scholar was correct in having feared the Goblin as a dangerous competitor in the quest of the Grail. King, as we have intimated before, was a quaint-minded and ingenious person, modest in stature but with a twinkling and roving eye. He was one of the leading spirits of the OUDS, known in full as the Oxford University Dramatic Society, and his ability to portray females of the lower classes had been the delight of more than one Shakespearean rendering. No one who saw him as Juliet's nurse in a certain private theatrical performance in the hall of New College can recall the occasion without chuckles.

When the Goblin left the Blue Boar on Saturday afternoon he also made his way out to Bancroft Road; but instead of patrolling the main street in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of Kathleen (as did Falstaff, Priapus, and the Iron Duke), he hunted out the hinder regions of the district. In accordance with a plan he had concocted before leaving Oxford, he carried a little portfolio of "art subjects," of the kind dear to domestic servants, and with this in hand he approached the door of the basement back kitchen, where Ethel the cook and her assistant, Mary, the housemaid, were having a mid-afternoon cup of tea. The windings of the humbler lanes of service, behind the Bancroft Road houses, were the proper causeway for tradesmen, and it was easy for him to reach the back garden gate unseen by those in front.

He knocked respectfully at the kitchen door, and Mary came to answer.

"Good day, Miss," said the supposed pedlar. "I 'ave some very pretty pictures 'ere which I wish you would let me show you."

Mary was a simple-minded creature, but she knew that her mistress had strict rules about pedlars.

"I'm sorry," she said, "but Missus don't let no pedlars in the house."

"If you please, Miss," said the artful Goblin, "I am no pedlar, but representing a very respectable photographer, and I would like to show you some photographs in the 'ope of getting your order. I 'ave taken a number of orders at the nicest 'ouses along Bancroft Road. I thought maybe you would like to 'ave a photo of yourself taken, to send to your young man." And he opened his case, exhibiting a sheaf of appropriate photos.

It was a slender chance, but the pedlar had a wheedling eye and a genteel demeanour, and Mary hesitated. She called the cook, a stout, middle-aged person, who came to the door to see what was up. The pedlar rapidly showed the best items of his collection, which he had selected with great care in a photographer's studio in Oxford. Fate hung in the scales, but the two servants could not resist temptation. They knew that Mrs. Kent and Miss Kathleen were upstairs sewing; and the master was confined to his study with his rheumatism. They invited the photographer into the kitchen.

It is a psychological fact well known to housekeepers that there is a vacant hour in the middle of the afternoon when Satan sometimes finds a joint in the protective armour of the domestic servant. After the luncheon dishes are washed and put away, and before five-o'clock tea and toast are served, cook and housemaid enjoy a period of philosophic contemplation or siesta. Even in the most docile and kitchen-broken breast thoughts of roses and romance may linger; dreams of moving pictures or the coming cotillion of the Icemen's Social Harmony. Usually this critical time is whiled away by the fiction of Nat Gould or Bertha Clay or Harold Bell Wright. And close observers of kitchen comedy will have noted that it is always at this fallow hour of the afternoon that pedlars and other satanic emissaries sharpen their arrows and ply their most plausible seductions.

The Goblin has never admitted just what honeyed sophistries he employed to win the hearts of the simple pair in Mrs. Kent's kitchen. But the facts may be briefly stated by the chronicler. After getting them interested in his photos he confessed frankly that he was an old friend of the family from Oxford. He said that he and Miss Kathleen were planning an innocent practical joke on the family, and asked if he could take the place of one of the servants for that Sunday. He made plain that his share in the joke must not be revealed to any one. And then he played his trump card by showing them the text of the bogus telegram recommending Miss Eliza Thick, which he had dispatched from a branch postal office on his way through the town.

"And is Miss Josephine in the joke, too?" inquired the cook.

This question startled the Goblin, but he kept his composure and affirmed that he and Miss Josephine had concocted the telegram jointly in Oxford. And by a little adroit pumping he learned "Joe's" status in the family. The cook, Ethel, admitted that she was to go out that evening for her Saturday night off. At last the Goblin, by desperate cunning and the exhibition of two golden sovereigns, completely won the hearts of the maids. While they were talking the door-bell rang, and Mary, returning from the upper regions, announced that it was "another telegram from Miss Joe. Missus and Miss Kathleen laughed fit to kill when they read it," she said.

"You see?" said the Goblin. "That's the same telegram I just showed you. It's all right; it's a joke. You don't need to worry, cook. Mrs. Kent won't be angry with you. You let me take your place for to-morrow, and write a little note saying you're ill and that your friend Eliza Thick will do your work for the day."

It was arranged that the Goblin should meet Ethel at her home that night to borrow some clothes. The cook showed him the menu for Sunday that Mrs. Kent had sent down. This rather daunted the candidate for kitchen honours, but he copied it in his notebook for intensive study. Then, as it was close upon tea-time, he packed up the photos, distributed his largesse, and retired. Mary, the housemaid, promised to stand by him in the coming ordeal. Both the servants felt secretly flattered that they should be included in the hoax. The kitchen classes in England have great reverence for young 'varsity men.

The Goblin was a canny man, and he had brought with him a wig and certain other properties. He hunted out a little tea shop, where he meditated over three cups of pekoe and hot buttered toast. Then he made his way to the Public Library, where he spent several hours over a cook-book. He was complimenting himself on having shaken the other Scorpions off his trail when Blair looked over his shoulder and caught a glimpse of the stuffed-eggs recipe to which the Goblin was addressing himself for the fourth time. The meeting was embarrassing, but it could not be helped. After Blair had left him, the cook-to-be returned to his memoranda.

Mrs. Kent trusted many things to Ethel's judgment, and her instructions as jotted down on a slip of paper included three possibilities. "_Eggs, stuffed, devilled, or farci_," she had written, and the Goblin was endeavouring to decide which of these presented the least distressing responsibility. He was a student of mathematics, and had attempted to reduce the problem to a logical syllabus. He read over his memoranda:


THEOREM: STUFFED EGGS.

Data: six hard, boiled-eggs (20 minutes).

(a) Cut eggs in halves lengthwise.
(b) Remove yolks, and put whites aside in pairs.
(c) Mash yolks, and add
(1) Half the amount of devilled ham.
(2) Enough melted butter to make of consistency to shape.
("Half _what amount of devilled ham?" thought the
Goblin. "And where does the devilled ham come from? How
does one devil a ham? What a pity Henry James never
wrote a cook-book! It would have been lucid compared to
this. _To make of consistency to shape_--what on earth
does that mean?")
(d) Clean and chop two chickens' livers, sprinkle with onion
juice, and saute in butter--("No!" he cried, "that's _eggs
farci_. Wrong theorem!")

(d) Make in balls ("Make _what in balls?") size of original
yolks ("Note: remember to measure original yolks before cutting
them lengthwise").
(e) Refill whites ("Let's see, what did I fill 'em with
before?")
(f) Form remainder of mixture into a nest. ("That's a nice
little homely touch.")
(g) Arrange eggs in the nest and
(1) Pour over one cup White Sauce.
("Memo: See p. 266 for White Sauce.")
(2) Sprinkle with buttered crumbs.
("Allow plenty of time for buttering those crumbs;
that sounds rather ticklish work.")
(3) Bake until crumbs are brown.
(h) Garnish with a border of toast points and a wreath of
parsley.

Q. E. D.

"Integral calculus is a treat compared to this," he said to himself as he reviewed the problem. "I hope they have plenty of parsley in the house. That nest may need a little protecting foliage. I don't see how I can make any kind of proper asylum for those homeless, wandering eggs out of that mess." So saying, he left the library to call upon Ethel at her home and complete his disguise.

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CHAPTER IX"Come, Mr. Blair," said Mrs. Kent; "you sit there, next to Mr. Kent you can talk about archaeology. Mr. Carter tells me he knows nothing about such subjects, so he will have to amuse Kathleen and me." "What errand brings you to Wolverhampton, Mr. Carter?" inquired Blair, thinking to unmask his opponent's weapons as quickly as possible. Carter was a little staggered by this, but his effrontery was up to the test. "The Bishop sent me down," he said, "to look over the surrounding parishes with a view to establishing a chapel in the suburbs." "How very interesting!" exclaimed
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