‘My dear, the year before it was worse. It was Christian Science.

‘Selina Goobie is a sort of High Priestess of the Cult, and she put down all opposition with a high hand. Then one evening, after dinner, Clovis Sangrail put a wasp down her back, to see if her theory about the non-existence of pain could be depended on in an emergency. The wasp was small, but very efficient, and it had been soured in temper by being kept in a paper cage all the afternoon. Wasps don’t stand confinement well, at least this one didn’t. I don’t think I ever realised till that moment what the word “invective” could be made to mean. I sometimes wake in the night and think I still hear Selina describing Clovis’s conduct and general character. That was the year that Sir Richard was writing his volume on Domestic Life in Tartary. The critics all blamed it for a lack of concentration.’

‘He’s engaged on a very important work this year, isn’t he?’ asked Lena.

Land-tenure in Turkestan,’ said Lady Prowche; ‘he is just at work on the final chapters and they require all the concentration he can give them. That is why I am so very anxious not to have any unfortunate disturbance this year. I have taken every precaution I can think of to bring non-conflicting and harmonious elements together; the only two people I am not quite easy about are the Atkinson man and Marcus Popham. They are the two who will be down here longest together, and if they are going to fall foul of one another about any burning question, well, there will be more unpleasantness.’

‘Can’t you find out anything about them? About their opinions, I mean.’

‘Anything? My dear Lena, there’s scarcely anything that I haven’t found out about them. They’re both of them moderate Liberal, Evangelical, mildly opposed to female suffrage, they approve of the Falconer Report, and the Stewards’ decision about Craganour. Thank goodness in this country we don’t fly into violent passions about Wagner and Brahms and things of that sort. There is only one thorny subject that I haven’t been able to make sure about, the only stone that I have left unturned. Are they unanimously anti-vivisectionist or do they both uphold the necessity for scientific experiment? There has been a lot of correspondence on the subject in our local newspapers of late, and the vicar is certain to preach a sermon about it; vicars are dreadfully provocative at times. Now, if you could only find out for me whether these two men are divergently for or against—’

‘I!’ exclaimed Lena; ‘how am I to find out? I don’t know either of them to speak to.’

‘Still, you might discover, in some roundabout way. Write to them, under an assumed name, of course, for subscriptions to one or other cause—or, better still, send a stamped typewritten reply postcard, with a request for a declaration for or against vivisection; people who would hesitate to commit themselves to a subscription will cheerfully write Yes or No on a prepaid postcard. If you can’t manage it that way, try and meet them at some one’s house and get into argument on the subject. I think Milly occasionally has one or other of them at her athomes; you might have the luck to meet both of them there the same evening. Only it must be done soon. My invitations ought to go out by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest, and today is Friday.’

‘Milly’s at-homes are not very amusing, as a rule,’ said Lena; ‘and one never gets a chance of talking uninterruptedly to any one for a couple of minutes at a time; Milly is one of those restless hostesses who always seem to be trying to see how you look in different parts of the room, in fresh grouping effects. Even if I got to speak to Popham or Atkinson I couldn’t plunge into a topic like vivisection straight away. No, I think the postcard scheme would be more hopeful and decidedly less tiresome. How would it be best to word them?’

‘Oh, something like this: “Are you in favour of experiments on living animals for the purpose of scientific research—Yes or No?” That is quite simple and unmistakable. If they don’t answer it will at least be an indication that they are indifferent about the subject, and that is all I want to know.’

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