“It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year,” said Strudwarden,
“and look up some of my old friends there. It’s about the jolliest place _now of to be at for Easter—”
“I thought we had made up our minds to spend Easter at Brighton,” interrupte_ena Strudwarden, with an air of aggrieved surprise.
“You mean that you had made up your mind that we should spend Easter there,”
said her husband; “we spent last Easter there, and Whitsuntide as well, an_he year before that we were at Worthing, and Brighton again before that. _hink it would be just as well to have a real change of scene while we ar_bout it.”
“The journey to Vienna would be very expensive,” said Lena.
“You are not often concerned about economy,” said Strudwarden, “and in an_ase the trip of Vienna won’t cost a bit more than the rather meaningles_uncheon parties we usually give to quite meaningless acquaintances a_righton. To escape from all that set would be a holiday in itself.”
Strudwarden spoke feelingly; Lena Strudwarden maintained an equally feelin_ilence on that particular subject. The set that she gathered round her a_righton and other South Coast resorts was composed of individuals who migh_e dull and meaningless in themselves, but who understood the art o_lattering Mrs. Strudwarden. She had no intention of foregoing their societ_nd their homage and flinging herself among unappreciative strangers in _oreign capital.
“You must go to Vienna alone if you are bent on going,” she said; “I couldn’_eave Louis behind, and a dog is always a fearful nuisance in a foreign hotel,
besides all the fuss and separation of the quarantine restrictions when on_omes back. Louis would die if he was parted from me for even a week. Yo_on’t know what that would mean to me.”
Lena stooped down and kissed the nose of the diminutive brown Pomeranian tha_ay, snug and irresponsive, beneath a shawl on her lap.
“Look here,” said Strudwarden, “this eternal Louis business is getting to be _idiculous nuisance. Nothing can be done, no plans can be made, without som_eto connected with that animal’s whims or convenience being imposed. If yo_ere a priest in attendance on some African fetish you couldn’t set up a mor_laborate code of restrictions. I believe you’d ask the Government to put of_ General Election if you thought it would interfere with Louis’s comfort i_ny way.”
By way of answer to this tirade Mrs. Strudwarden stooped down again and kisse_he irresponsive brown nose. It was the action of a woman with a beautifull_eek nature, who would, however, send the whole world to the stake sooner tha_ield an inch where she knew herself to be in the right.
“It isn’t as if you were in the least bit fond of animals,” went o_trudwarden, with growing irritation; “when we are down at Kerryfield yo_on’t stir a step to take the house dogs out, even if they’re dying for a run,
and I don’t think you’ve been in the stables twice in your life. You laugh a_hat you call the fuss that’s being made over the extermination of plumag_irds, and you are quite indignant with me if I interfere on behalf of an ill-
treated, over-driven animal on the road. And yet you insist on every one’_lans being made subservient to the convenience of that stupid little morse_f fur and selfishness.”
“You are prejudiced against my little Louis,” said Lena, with a world o_ender regret in her voice.
“I’ve never had the chance of being anything else but prejudiced against him,”
said Strudwarden; “I know what a jolly responsive companion a doggie can be,
but I’ve never been allowed to put a finger near Louis. You say he snaps a_ny one except you and your maid, and you snatched him away from old Lad_eterby the other day, when she wanted to pet him, for fear he would bury hi_eeth in her. All that I ever see of him is the top of his unhealthy-lookin_ittle nose, peeping out from his basket or from your muff, and I occasionall_ear his wheezy little bark when you take him for a walk up and down th_orridor. You can’t expect one to get extravagantly fond of a dog of tha_ort. One might as well work up an affection for the cuckoo in a cuckoo-
“He loves me,” said Lena, rising from the table, and bearing the shawl-swathe_ouis in her arms. “He loves only me, and perhaps that is why I love him s_uch in return. I don’t care what you say against him, I am not going to b_eparated from him. If you insist on going to Vienna you must go alone, a_ar as I am concerned. I think it would be much more sensible if you were t_ome to Brighton with Louis and me, but of course you must please yourself.”
“You must get rid of that dog,” said Strudwarden’s sister when Lena had lef_he room; “it must be helped to some sudden and merciful end. Lena is merel_aking use of it as an instrument for getting her own way on dozens o_ccasions when she would otherwise be obliged to yield gracefully to you_ishes or to the general convenience. I am convinced that she doesn’t care _rass button about the animal itself. When her friends are buzzing round he_t Brighton or anywhere else and the dog would be in the way, it has to spen_hole days alone with the maid, but if you want Lena to go with you anywher_here she doesn’t want to go instantly she trots out the excuse that sh_ouldn’t be separated from her dog. Have you ever come into a room unobserve_nd heard Lena talking to her beloved pet? I never have. I believe she onl_usses over it when there’s some one present to notice her.”
“I don’t mind admitting,” said Strudwarden, “that I’ve dwelt more than onc_ately on the possibility of some fatal accident putting an end to Louis’_xistence. It’s not very easy, though, to arrange a fatality for a creatur_hat spends most of its time in a muff or asleep in a toy kennel. I don’_hink poison would be any good; it’s obviously horribly over-fed, for I’v_een Lena offer it dainties at table sometimes, but it never seems to ea_hem.”
“Lena will be away at church on Wednesday morning,” said Elsie Strudwarde_eflectively; “she can’t take Louis with her there, and she is going on to th_ellings for lunch. That will give you several hours in which to carry ou_our purpose. The maid will be flirting with the chauffeur most of the time,
and, anyhow, I can manage to keep her out of the way on some pretext o_ther.”
“That leaves the field clear,” said Strudwarden, “but unfortunately my brai_s equally a blank as far as any lethal project is concerned. The littl_east is so monstrously inactive; I can’t pretend that it leapt into the bat_nd drowned itself, or that it took on the butcher’s mastiff in unequal comba_nd got chewed up. In what possible guise could death come to a confirme_asket-dweller? It would be too suspicious if we invented a Suffragette rai_nd pretended that they invaded Lena’s boudoir and threw a brick at him. W_hould have to do a lot of other damage as well, which would be rather _uisance, and the servants would think it odd that they had seen nothing o_he invaders.”
“I have an idea,” said Elsie; “get a box with an air-tight lid, and bore _mall hole in it, just big enough to let in an indiarubber tube. Pop Louis,
kennel and all, into the box, shut it down, and put the other end of the tub_ver the gas-bracket. There you have a perfect lethal chamber. You can stan_he kennel at the open window afterwards, to get rid of the smell of gas, an_ll that Lena will find when she comes home late in the afternoon will be _lacidly defunct Louis.”
“Novels have been written about women like you,” said Strudwarden; “you have _erfectly criminal mind. Let’s come and look for a box.”
Two mornings later the conspirators stood gazing guiltily at a stout squar_ox, connected with the gas-bracket by a length of indiarubber tubing.
“Not a sound,” said Elsie; “he never stirred; it must have been quit_ainless. All the same I feel rather horrid now it’s done.”
“The ghastly part has to come,” said Strudwarden, turning off the gas. “We’l_ift the lid slowly, and let the gas out by degrees. Swing the door to an_ro to send a draught through the room.”
Some minutes later, when the fumes had rushed off, he stooped down and lifte_ut the little kennel with its grim burden. Elsie gave an exclamation o_error. Louis sat at the door of his dwelling, head erect and ears pricked,
as coldly and defiantly inert as when they had put him into his executio_hamber. Strudwarden dropped the kennel with a jerk, and stared for a lon_oment at the miracle-dog; then he went into a peal of chattering laughter.
It was certainly a wonderful imitation of a truculent-looking toy Pomeranian,
and the apparatus that gave forth a wheezy bark when you pressed it ha_aterially helped the imposition that Lena, and Lena’s maid, had foisted o_he household. For a woman who disliked animals, but liked getting her ow_ay under a halo of unselfishness, Mrs. Strudwarden had managed rather well.
“Louis is dead,” was the curt information that greeted Lena on her return fro_er luncheon party.
“Louis _dead_!” she exclaimed.
“Yes, he flew at the butcher-boy and bit him, and he bit me, too, when I trie_o get him off, so I had to have him destroyed. You warned me that h_napped, but you didn’t tell me that he was downright dangerous. I shall hav_o pay the boy something heavy by way of compensation, so you will have to g_ithout those buckles that you wanted to have for Easter; also I shall have t_o to Vienna to consult Dr. Schroeder, who is a specialist on dog-bites, an_ou will have to come too. I have sent what remains of Louis to Rowland War_o be stuffed; that will be my Easter gift to you instead of the buckles. Fo_eaven’s sake, Lena, weep, if you really feel it so much; anything would b_etter than standing there staring as if you thought I had lost my reason.”
Lena Strudwarden did not weep, but her attempt at laughing was an unmistakabl_ailure.