The Elk

Teresa, Mrs Thropplestance, was the richest and most intractable old woman in the county of Woldshire. In her dealings with the world in general her manner suggested a blend between a Mistress of the Robes and a Master of Fox-hounds, with the vocabulary of both. In her domestic circle she comported herself in the arbitrary style that one attributes, probably without the least justification, to an American political Boss in the bosom of his caucus. The late Theodore Thropplestance had left her, some thirty-five years ago, in absolute possession of a considerable fortune, a large landed property, and a gallery full of valuable pictures. In those intervening years she had outlived her son and quarrelled with her elder grandson, who had married without her consent or approval. Bertie Thropplestance, her younger grandson, was the heir-designate to her property, and as such he was a centre of interest and concern to some half- hundred ambitions mothers with daughters of marriageable age. Bertie was an amiable, easy-going young man, who was quite ready to marry any one who was favourably recommended to his notice, but he was not going to waste his time in falling in love with any one who would come under his grandmother’s veto. The favourable recommendation would have to come from Mrs Thropplestance.

Teresa’s house-parties were always rounded off with a plentiful garnishing of presentable young women and alert, attendant mothers, but the old lady was emphatically discouraging whenever any one of her girl guests became at all likely to outbid the others as a possible granddaughter-in-law. It was the inheritance of her fortune and estate that was in question, and she was evidently disposed to exercise and enjoy her powers of selection and rejection to the utmost. Bertie’s preferences did not greatly matter; he was of the sort who can be stolidly happy with any kind of wife; he had cheerfully put up with his grandmother all his life, so he was not likely to fret and fume over anything that might befall him in the way of a helpmate.

The party that gathered under Teresa’s roof in Christmas week of the year nineteen-hundred-and-something was of smaller proportions than usual, and Mrs Yonelet, who formed one of the party, was inclined to deduce hopeful augury from this circumstance. Dora Yonelet and Bertie were so obviously made for one another, she confided to the vicar’s wife, and if the old lady were accustomed to seeing them about a lot together she might adopt the view that they would make a suitable married couple.

‘People soon get used to an idea if it is dangled constantly before their eyes,’ said Mrs Yonelet hopefully, ‘and the more often Teresa sees those young people together, happy in each other’s company, the more she will get to take a kindly interest in Dora as a possible and desirable wife for Bertie.’

‘My dear,’ said the vicar’s wife resignedly, ‘my own Sybil was thrown together with Bertie under the most romantic circumstances—I’ll tell you about it some day—but it made no impression whatever on Teresa; she put her foot down in the most uncompromising fashion, and Sybil married an Indian civilian.’

‘Quite right of her,’ said Mrs Yonelet with vague approval; ‘it’s what any girl of spirit would have done. Still, that was a year or two ago, I believe; Bertie is older now, and so is Teresa. Naturally she must be anxious to see him settled.’

The vicar’s wife reflected that Teresa seemed to be the one person who showed no immediate anxiety to supply Bertie with a wife, but she kept the thought to herself.

Mrs Yonelet was a woman of resourceful energy and generalship; she involved the other members of the house-party, the deadweight, so to speak, in all manner of exercises and occupations that segregated them from Bertie and Dora, who were left to their own devisings—that is to say, to Dora’s devisings and Bertie’s accommodating acquiescence. Dora helped in the Christmas decorations of the parish church, and Bertie helped her to help. Together they fed the swans, till the birds went on a dyspepsia-strike, together they played billiards, together they photographed the village almshouses, and, at a respectful distance, the tame elk that browsed in solitary aloofness in the park. It was ‘tame’ in the sense that it had long ago discarded the least vestige of fear of the human race; nothing in its record encouraged its human neighbours to feel a reciprocal confidence.

Whatever sport or exercise or occupation Bertie and Dora indulged in together was unfailingly chronicled and advertised by Mrs Yonelet for the due enlightenment of Bertie’s grandmother.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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