A Defensive Diamond

Treddleford sat in an easeful arm-chair in front of a slumberous fire, with a volume of verse in his hand and the comfortable consciousness that outside the club windows the rain was dripping and pattering with persistent purpose. A chill, wet October afternoon was emerging into a black, wet October evening, and the club smoking-room seemed warmer and cozier by contrast. It was an afternoon on which to be wafted away from one’s climatic surroundings, and The Golden Journey to Samarkand promised to bear Treddleford well and bravely into other lands and under other skies. He had already migrated from London the rainswept to Bagdad the Beautiful, and stood by the Sun Gate ‘in the olden time’ when an icy breath of imminent annoyance seemed to creep between the book and himself. Amblecope, the man with the restless, prominent eyes and the mouth ready mobilised for conversational openings, had planted himself in a neighbouring arm-chair. For a twelve-month and some odd weeks Treddleford had skilfully avoided making the acquaintance of his voluble fellow-clubman; he had marvellously escaped from the infliction of his relentless record of tedious personal achievements, or alleged achivements, on golf links, turf, and gaming table, by flood and field and covert-side. Now his season of immunity was coming to an end. There was no escape; in another moment he would be numbered among those who knew Amblecope to speak to—or rather, to suffer being spoken to.

The intruder was armed with a copy of Country Life, not for purposes of reading, but as an aid to conversational ice-breaking.

‘Rather a good portrait of Throstlewing,’ he remarked explosively, turning his large challenging eyes on Treddleford; ‘somehow it reminds me very much of Yellowstep, who was supposed to be such a good thing for the Grand Prix in 1903. Curious race that was; I suppose I’ve seen every race for the Grand Prix for the last—’

‘Be kind enough never to mention the Grand Prix in my hearing,’ said Treddleford desperately; ‘it awakens acutely distressing memories. I can’t explain why without going into a long and complicated story.’

‘Oh, certainly, certainly,’ said Amblecope hastily; long and complicated stories that were not told by himself were abominable in his eyes. He turned the pages of Country Life and became spuriously interested in the picture of a Mongolian pheasant.

‘Not a bad representation of the Mongolian variety,’ he exclaimed, holding it up for his neighbour’s inspection. ‘They do very well in some covers. Take some stopping too once they’re fairly on the wing. I suppose the biggest bag I ever made in two successive days—’

‘My aunt, who owns the greater part of Lincolnshire,’ broke in Treddleford, with dramatic abruptness, ‘possesses perhaps the most remarkable record in the way of a pheasant bag that has ever been achieved. She is seventy-five and can’t hit a thing, but she always goes out with the guns. When I say she can’t hit a thing, I don’t mean to say that she doesn’t occasionally endanger the lives of her fellow-guns, because that wouldn’t be true. In fact, the chief Government Whip won’t allow Ministerial M.P.’s to go out with her; “We don’t want to incur by-elections needlessly,” he quite reasonably observed. Well, the other day she winged a pheasant, and brought it to earth with a feather or two knocked out of it; it was a runner, and my aunt saw herself in danger of being done out of about the only bird she’d hit during the present reign. Of course she wasn’t going to stand that; she followed it through bracken and brushwood, and when it took to the open country and started across a ploughed field she jumped on to the shooting pony and went after it. The chase was a long one, and when my aunt at last ran the bird to a standstill she was nearer home than she was to the shooting party; she had left that some five miles behind her.’

‘Rather a long run for a wounded pheasant,’ snapped Amblecope.

‘The story rests on my aunt’s authority,’ said Treddleford coldly, ‘and she is local vice-president of the Young Women’s Christian Association. She trotted three miles or so to her home, and it was not till the middle of the afternoon that it was discovered that the lunch for the entire shooting party was in a pannier attached to the pony’s saddle. Anyway, she got her bird.’

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