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Chapter 6 LOUIS

  • “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-
  • clock.”
  • “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.