|Previous Chapter||Contents||Next Chapter|
The Stray Lamb
SAPHO TRIES TO MURDER A FISH
MR. LAMB had spoken conservatively. The reporters got it. The papers printed it. Yards of it.
In spite of the vast multiplicity of detail, in spite of the unscrupulous embellishments, the callous innuendoes, the gentlemen of the press were still heavily befogged as to the actual facts of the affair. Mr. Lamb appeared in print, but not in his true role of a converted kangaroo.
One story in particular disturbed the overtaxed equanimity of its central character. The author of the story in question had seen fit to treat his subject facetiously, which when one comes to consider its nature, seems about the best way to treat it. One can hardly work up a spirit of profound indignation or grow morbidly melancholic over a humming kangaroo. A few morons exist who perhaps could, but these single-minded gentlemen were, as usual, too busy suppressing books, collecting unpleasantly reminiscent picture postcards or putting disturbing factors behind the bars to worry about Mr. Lamb and his companions.
Nevertheless, Mr. Lamb would have wrung this individual reporter's neck quite cheerfully and thoroughly had the neck conveniently offered itself. However, the necks of reporters are not always the easiest things in the world to establish contact with, save through the medium of a bottle containing any fluid remotely alcoholic, including varnish and rub-down preparations.
Sitting this evening in the quietude of his study with his old friend Kai Lung safely balanced on one long, thin knee, Mr. Lamb delayed for a moment the pleasure of having this engaging Oriental unroll his mat in order to peruse for the fifth time the far less engaging inventions of some obviously depraved occidental newspaper reporter.
These inventions were in part as follows:
THE STRANGE BEHAVIOUR OF
MR. T. LAWRENCE LAMB
APPEARS IN COURT WITH A NOOSE
ROUND HIS NECK
JUDGE GIBSON REFUSES TO HANG HIM
"Apparently anticipating the worst, Mr. T. Lawrence Lamb, of Woodbine, N.Y., a well-known and, just previous to this writing, conservative investment banker, presented himself before judge Gibson, in general session to-day, with a noose neatly arranged round his neck—this in addition to a tie of unusually lurid colour.
"In full justice to Mr. Lamb, it must be stated that his appearance in court was due to no moral lapse of his own. One can only ascribe Mr. Lamb's unconventional neck adornment to a desire to offer himself in vicarious atonement for the sins of his daughter, Miss Hebe Lamb, and her two accomplices, Miss Sandra Rush and Mr. Melville Long, all active members of Woodbine's younger set.
"That these young people were a little more than active on the evening of their arrest and subsequent incarceration is evidenced by the fact that no less than fourteen serious charges were lodged against them and that their trail of destruction extended from the dead centre of New York's night-club district to a spot some forty miles distant from the city.
"Additional interest is added to the mad progress of these young people through the presence of a singing kangaroo, or, as Officer Patrick Donovan prefers to call it, kingaroo. Whether this convivial animal was a kangaroo or a kingaroo is difficult to establish at this moment, due to the unfortunate fact that whatever the creature was it successfully thwarted retention and is still at large. According to Judge Gibson it is probably in some bush. The judge never offers an opinion without some good reason.
"An element of mystery is introduced here, arising from the inexplicable coincidence that the noose so unsuccessfully used to restrain this night-club-loving animal was the identical one that so nattily adorned Mr. Lamb's neck.
"Mr. Lamb has stated that finding the noose on the floor he picked it up and slipped it on merely through lack of knowing anything better to do with it. To his way of thinking, a noose obviously required a neck, and not wishing to intrude upon the neck of some perfect stranger, he quite logically put it on his own.
"In view of the gentleman's social position and well-established conservative leanings, this is an explanation difficult to believe. It can only be assumed that Mr. Lamb's mind suddenly broke down under the shock of his daughter's conduct and that, temporarily, the man was not anyway near himself.
"Evidently this was the charitable view that Judge Gibson took of the situation, having been somewhat shocked himself by the sudden appearance of an otherwise normal gentleman wearing a noose round his neck, and to all intents and purposes willing to pay the supreme penalty for his erring daughter and her no less erring friends.
"Apparently the sight of Mr. Lamb, together with the sincerity of his bearing, touched some hitherto successfully concealed spring of tenderness in the judge, who released the youthful offenders on a suspended sentence, after what is believed to have been a pleasant conversation in his chambers with the sacrificial Mr. Lamb.
"Miss Sandra Rush, an underwear model of no mean proportions, is often seen in one of the many Lamb automobiles. This is, of course, due solely to her close friendship with Mr. Lamb's daughter. The singing kangaroo, it is believed, is still carolling his ribald songs in some secluded bush."
It was on this high note that the story came to an end. It was also as this note sounded that Mrs. Lamb entered her husband's study. Once entered, she stood still and tragically awaited his acknowledgment of her presence. Fearing that the acknowledgment might be indefinitely delayed, she altered her pose at last and slanted an accusing finger at the newspaper now drooping from Mr. Lamb's hands.
"What are you going to do about it?" dropped gloomily from her lips. "I suggest you resign from everything and live somewhere else under an assumed name."
Mr. Lamb elevated his knees, skilfully retaining control of Kai Lung, and looked at his wife as if he were trying to place her in an extremely feeble memory. Presently he unlimbered, rose, and vaguely offered her a chair, which she in turn spurned, overacting the part in doing so.
Ah yes!" murmured Mr. Lamb. "It's Sapho—my Tilly. You were saying . . . ?"
"I was saying," Sapho put in, "that you should drop out of sight and live under another name."
"Couldn't I grow a beard?" Mr. Lamb asked mildly. "I might even dye my hair and continue to lurk here as one of your inspired friends or a conveniently acquired uncle from Australia. They say here in the paper that the kangaroo or kingaroo—I prefer the latter version—came from the bush. And to think that we both shared the same noose. This paper also says that he sang. I missed that part. Can't have everything, I suppose. Do you believe he actually sang, that kangaroo?"
"You should go to your underwear model or to your own daughter for such information," was Mrs Lamb's crushing retort. " The light attitude you are now assuming seems in the worst of taste to me. Once more I ask you, what are you going to do about it? I cannot afford to be associated with a laughing-stock. My life—what modest talent I possess—was never intended to be shackled to a personality so—so coarse and unsympathetic as yours . . . so utterly self-centred and lacking in the finer shades and vibrations of emotion. My life should be led with a larger, a higher vision. Everyone recognises that fact."
"The word that I have in mind," said Mr. Lamb slowly, "the only one I consider a fitting reply to your pathetic remarks, is frequently applied to wives by less delicate husbands than I. It's too honest a word for your ears, so I'll let you exercise your limited imagination. Consider the word as said."
He looked thoughtfully at some cigarette ashes that had fallen on his left knee, started to brush them off, then deciding the effort was too exhausting, gave it up.
"Still, there is something in what you say," he remarked at last. "That Vacation Fund affair, from what I heard of it, provided enough laughter to last this community for years. If both of us become laughing stocks the general merriment might provoke an epidemic of hysteria."
"I absolutely deny I was a laughing-stock," said Mrs. Lamb. "A horse was responsible for all that . . . a low, vicious, yet strangely human horse in some of its more objectionable actions. In many ways that brute of a horse reminded me of you. Even now I shudder when I think of him."
"Another point I share in common with this horse of yours." Mr. Lamb grinned good-naturedly.
"I did not come here to discuss my emotional reactions to you," Mrs. Lamb answered coldly. "I hoped that we might be able to arrive at some understanding—some civilised arrangement. Since the appearance of all this scandal in the papers my nerves have been uprooted. It will take years to get them anyway near back to their former condition. They'll never get back entirely. You don't know what a thing like that does to me."
Mr. Lamb, still grinning, seemed to be considering things. His wife did not care for the grin. She recognised it. Also the light in his eyes. Something particularly disagreeable always followed these facial manifestations. She was not disappointed. Something unpleasant did—something surpassingly disagreeable, a real accomplishment for Mr. Lamb.
"Here's an idea," he said quite seriously. "Suppose I should give you the use of my room over week-ends? What would you think of a clubby little scheme like that? Sort of ménage à trois, one member being absent . . . I have a little pride."
Mrs. Lamb did not express an opinion of her husband's little scheme. She did not even deign to meet Mr. Lamb's eyes. The mental process of this crude man was altogether too antiquated to deal with the complex sex impulses of a modern woman of genius. In bringing up that phase of the situation he was once again displaying execrable taste. She had come to his study to discuss his affairs, not hers. She was her own woman, but now since the news-papers had published such full reports of his actions in court, his affairs were public property.
"A long week-end," she heard Mr. Lamb urging. "From Friday to Monday night. How about it, Tilly?"
She turned to the door, fully intending to go through it, when Mr. Lamb's voice recalled her.
"I have one more suggestion to make," he said. "Suppose I should retire from business and write a book entitled 'Wild Animals I Have Been?'"
This suggestion was sufficiently arresting to move Mrs. Lamb to change her mind and to accept the once rejected chair. Arranging herself becomingly, she regarded her husband with what she fondly believed to be a disarming smile.
"Then you have been animals," she remarked conversationally. "How interesting! Tell me all about it. I knew you were that horse of course, and I suspected you of being the bird, although I never saw it, or rather you. Were you also the kangaroo?"
"Why this sudden interest in animals?" asked Mr. Lamb. "I never noticed it before, save perhaps in that worn-out dish-mop you occasionally defile our presence with—that snug harbour for jaded fleas. And suppose I should admit I turned into animals and things, I dare say you'd keep my guilty secret from the entire world with the possible exception of the law courts and a select multitude of your strolling players. You'd love to see me arrested as an escaped kangaroo. Your present mood of sweet confidence—wifely interest—amuses me."
With a burst of determination Mr. Lamb brushed the ashes off his knees, spilled some more on his vest and continued.
"Well, strange as it may seem," he said, "I'm going to tell you right here and now to your exceedingly false face, that recently I have acquired the habit of turning into animals, both wild and domestic. At this very moment I might become some extremely deadly reptile and do you in with fangs filled with horrid poison. I wouldn't squeeze you to death, because even snakes have some self-respect. Frankly I'd like to fang you. I feel like doing it, but unfortunately the choice does not lie with me. I might become a panther, instead, or an ant-eater, or a rat, or a butterfly—God knows what I might become."
Lamb paused and regarded his wife darkly. She was not a thing of beauty. Terror failed to improve the arrangement of her features. Standing in the doorway she returned his gaze with eyes of glass, so fixed and polished was the expression in them.
"I'm taking the trouble to tell you all this," Mr. Lamb went on evenly, as he followed her into the dining-room, "because I don't give one shrill hoot in hell how you spread the news. No one would believe you anyway. You'd only be making a bigger fool of yourself than you have already, if such an enormous achievement is possible—which I very much doubt."
Mr. Lamb was thoroughly aroused now. For so many excellent reasons he found himself weary of this woman and all her false standards of life. He was standing by the goldfish aquarium, looking down absently at its four occupants, three fish and one diminutive but aged turtle.
"Doesn't that damned old turtle ever budge himself?" his subconscious mind was asking, while quite consciously he continued deliberately on with his wife.
"And here's another thing to worry about," he heard himself saying. "It's highly possible for me to return home some morning in the early hours in the guise of a famished tiger, an undernourished wolf, a man-eating shark, a wild boar, a—a—" He paused to give himself time to think of some particularly disagreeable animal—"a crocodile," he resumed triumphantly. "And if that frail lily of yours shouldc hance to be in my bed I'd gnash him up like that and gladly pay for the subsequent nausea his presence in my belly would cause me. How'd you like to come vamping into my room in that decrepit way of yours to find all that remained of Mr. Gray was only a couple of corns dangling between my jaws? A pretty picture! But a possible one, and you'd be responsible for the death of the Woodbine Players' worst actor, just as sure as I'm standing here."
The picture of Leonard Gray's corns dangling between the dripping jaws of a crocodile proved too much for Mrs. Lamb. She turned her back upon her terrifying husband and covered her face with her hands. A sudden liquid plop startled her into reversing her position. Mr. Lamb was no longer there. Amazingly the potential crocodile had vanished. His last words, she remembered, had been, "just as sure as I'm standing here," but the man was not standing there, and Mrs. Lamb seriously doubted if he ever had stood there.
The confused woman was about to hurry from the room when her eyes were drawn to the aquarium, where a fourth and larger goldfish was chasing the other three round the tank in frantic circles.
Recalling the liquid plop she had heard, Mrs. Lamb slowly and thoughtfully left the room. A sweet, womanly little plan was buzzing in her mind. As she prepared herself for bed she wondered idly how Lady Macbeth undressed while engaged in perfecting one of her many dirty tricks.
While this dramatic disrobing was in progress, Mr. Lamb, with an exasperated nose, was busily budging the turtle over the floor of the acquarium. When the little russet man had taken a sudden fancy to change him into a goldfish there still had been a number of things on Mr. Lamb's mind he had wanted to say to his wife. Now he was taking his irritation out on the turtle.
"Never thought of a goldfish," Lamb said to himself. "From a crocodile to one of these made-up sardines. . . . What a let-down!"
He gave the turtle an especially vicious budge.
"Get a move on," he muttered. "Shake a leg, you old scow. Show us what you look like inside. Out with your head."
After many disturbing budges, the ancient turtle protruded his neck and, looking resentfully at Mr. Lamb, gave utterance to the equivalent of:
"What in hell, may I ask, do you think you're trying to do with me? This is a private home. Flip on."
"I won't flip on," replied Lamb. " And I'm going to budge you to my heart's content. Are you so confoundedly thick-shelled you don't know when you're being budged?"
"I know when I'm being budged, all right," retorted the turtle, "and I know when I'm not being budged, but what I don't know is what purpose all this budging is going to serve. I never have dealings with goldfish. We're not on the same level."
"No," replied Lamb, "you're on the lower level."
"Not low enough for you," said the turtle.
"You should be delighted I even budge you," answered Mr. Lamb.
"I'm not delighted," said the turtle. "And I hate ostentation."
"I'm only a goldfish pro tem," offered Mr. Lamb. " To-morrow I may be a zebra."
"There's no such thing as a zebra," the turtle retorted. "It's all a lie—the whole sordid story."
This fruitless conversation did not serve to restore Mr. Lamb's good-humour. The turtle, he decided, was just about as opinionated and ignorant as the seagull who had so revoltingly invited him to eat fertilizer.
"Don't make a display of your vast ignorance," said Mr. Lamb. "I myself have seen any number of zebras."
"Show me only one," challenged the turtle.
"There aren't any zebras here," replied Mr. Lamb.
"That proves it," said the turtle, with a nasty laugh. "That makes a liar of you. The first thing I know you'll be trying to tell me there's such a thing as a lion."
"Got you!" cried Lamb exultantly. "If there aren't any lions, how did you know their name?"
"I didn't say I did," replied the turtle. "Good-night. I loathe a liar."
With this he withdrew not only his head, but also his four feet.
"Budge and be damned," came through the slit in his shell. "I'm going to sleep."
"You've never been awake," Mr. Lamb threw back, as he flipped himself to the surface of the tank.
"All goldfish are living lies," the turtle shouted after him, popping his head from his shell. "There's not a gram of gold in the whole silly mess of 'em. Just try to spend one, and see how much change you get back ... not even a slim sardine."
Lamb dived swiftly back and made a vicious snap at the turtle's head, which was neatly withdrawn.
"I hope your stomach turns up before dawn," he bubbled through his shell.
"I'd like to meet you in a plate of soup," was the best Mr. Lamb could offer on the spur of the moment.
Still in an evil mood Mr. Lamb swaggered up to the goldfish now huddled in a corner and, singling out one of them, addressed himself to it.
"What sort of a fish are you?" he demanded truculently. "Male or female?"
"Female," snapped the goldfish, "for all the good it will do you."
"Hold on, baby," said Mr. Lamb. "I'm a fast and ruthless worker. No morals at all. I take my fun where I find it, and I find lots."
"Well, don't feel funny round here," the other retorted. "Go somewhere else and grab off your fun."
Mr Lamb regarded her broodingly for a minute.
"The lot of you get out of this corner," he said at last. "I sleep here."
He chased the goldfish to the other end of the tank and swayed moodily off to sleep, thinking disagreeably about his wife. He strongly suspected that the good lady was planning something, that if she could only muster sufficient evidence to prove that he turned into things she would try to obtain a divorce. It would make a pretty case, one of the most unusual in the history of that splendid institution. Mr. Lamb did not object to being divorced. To him it was an end highly to be desired. But he did object to being divorced on the grounds of being a kangaroo or a horse or a seagull.
That would be just a trifle too sensational for him.
His life as a goldfish was not a constant round of revelry, and he was forced to resort to various little devices to keep himself from being too oppressively bored.
His first effort in this direction was extremely elaborate, and gave him no little satisfaction. He had discovered that by rubbing his nose against the side of the tank he was able to trace a clear impression which would, under favourable conditions, remain visible for a few minutes. This opened up rare possibilities. Mr Lamb wondered why other goldfish had not hit upon the idea before. He began by tracing letters much in the manner of a sky-writer, and at last succeeded in mastering the art of writing backwards. After much practice he became highly proficient, so much so, in fact, that he felt himself qualified to give a public demonstration.
One evening when Leonard Gray was dining at the house for the further development of his art, Hebe called the attention of that gentleman and her mother to the strange behaviour of the new goldfish, which Mrs. Lamb, for purposes of her own, claimed to have purchased.
"Why, that new goldfish is actually tracing letters on the side of the tank," announced the acute Hebe. "Look, everybody! It seems to be trying to write something."
Everybody looked, including Thomas and one of the maids. All eyes grew wide with surprise, some even with consternation, when they spelled out the boldly written word:
It is perhaps not edifying to record that the youngest person present was the one least shocked. With amused eyes Hebe looked from one blank face to another.
"Now I wonder," she said musingly, "just who that fish is panning. Are you by chance an adulterer, Thomas?"
Thomas looked really pleased.
"While my wife was alive, Miss Hebe," he explained, "she was a just but exacting woman. I had neither the time nor the energy, miss."
"I understand and sympathise, Thomas," the girl continued. "Well, how about you, Nora?"
"Why, Miss Hebe," Nora faltered, quite red but undismayed, "you know very well I'm not married."
"You win on a technicality," said Hebe. "Neither am I married, so a little possible adulteration lies for us in the future. Leonard, you don't need to be married, so that leaves only—"
"Hebe!" cried Mrs. Lamb, her voice well out of control. "Please bring this farce to an end. Immediately!"
Mr. Lamb, seeing that his efforts had not gone unrewarded, cut jubilant capers across the surface of the tank, and before the dinner was over achieved the following cryptic warning:
"KEEP OUT OF MY BED"
Again Hebe made sure that this feat, though clearly unappreciated by her mother and Mr. Gray, did not pass unread by them.
From this point on, conversation became a matter of eloquent silence pierced by furtive glances. It is to be doubted if either Mrs. Lamb or her leading man was aware of what they were eating. Mechanically they masticated, sedulously averting their eyes from the tank containing the loquacious goldfish.
Later that night, when Sandra Rush and Melville Long dropped in, Hebe introduced them to the remarkable goldfish, who, with great speed and celerity, traced on the side of the tank:
He also attempted to flip some water in Sandra's face with his tail, but only succeeded in spotting her dress.
"It's the attenuated one all right," replied Sandra, "but very much compressed. I recognise his feeble sense of humour. Let's take him out and make him gasp a bit."
She made a snatch at the goldfish, but some clever fin-work sent him to the floor of the tank, where he remained craftily alert. Hebe stood considering the goldfish with an unusually serious expression. Long, taking note of this novel manifestation, asked the reason for it.
"Sapho says she bought him herself," replied Hebe. "Wonder why she claims that?"
Sandra looked at her quickly with large, comprehending eyes.
"Perhaps she intends to do in earnest what I suggested in fun," she said. "You'll have to stand guard over that goldfish, Hebe. Perhaps your little russet friend didn't foresee such a possibility as this. The attenuated one is quite defenceless now."
Sandra, too, was a little more serious than was her wont. For a long time she stood looking down at the goldfish lurking at the bottom of the tank.
"How long do you suppose this animal stuff is going to continue?" she asked of no one in particular. "It would be nice if he remained himself for a while, so that a person could get to know him."
The following evening Mr. Lamb arranged still another little diversion for the edification of his wife. When she put in an appearance for dinner she found him floating gruesomely, with his belly prominently displayed for all the world to see. The other goldfish, huddled in a corner, seemed to be regarding the corpse with frightened eyes.
An expression of gratitude to God escaped the lips of the fish's wife. He had spared her the annoyance of being a murderess. The happy woman raised up her voice and called for aid.
"Hebe!" she cried. "Nora! My poor goldfish is dead."
When these witnesses had been summoned to her side, Mrs. Lamb proceeded to do a thing that revolted her every instinct.
"See," she said in a voice of anguish as she dipped her hand in the water, "the beautiful thing must have died. What a pity, and what a darling he was!"
"You'll look swell in mourning," observed Hebe, closely scrutinising the goldfish. "Are you going to give it a church funeral?"
"Don't be silly, Hebe," she replied, casting herdaughter an uneasy look. "This is no time for humour."
To hold a fish either dead or in the full flower of youth is not one of life's most reposeful moments—not for the vast majority of normally constituted persons. Mrs. Lamb, though not normally constituted, felt far from well when she fished the slithery body of her husband from the water.
"Nora!" she cried. " Get something to put him in . . . the garbage can."
"Him?" inquired Hebe mildly. "Do you know that fish's sex?"
It was at this moment that Mr. Lamb decided it was about time to stop playing dead. He had sacrificed for his art practically all the breath he could well afford to lose. If he ever got into the garbage can he felt sure he would sacrifice his entire quota. Therefore, with an artful wriggle, he flipped himself from the delicate grasp of his wife and plopped gratefully back into the water.
When Nora returned with a coffee-strainer held diffidently in her hand, she had the joy of seeing the goldfish sporting briskly about in his temporarily natural element.
Mrs. Lamb was not able to dine. She was revolted as well as disappointed. When she attempted to express her profound pleasure at the restoration of the goldfish to its former good health and spirits, her voice choked with the insincerity of her emotion.
Naturally this altogether uncalled-for conduct on the part of a goldfish did not pass unnoticed by his colleagues in the tank. Their first attitude of fear passed to one of pity, for they felt that the poor fish was indeed a child of God, more than a little cracked about the gills. This attitude, however, soon gave place to one of admiration when they realised that there was a method behind the apparent madness of this resourceful companion of theirs. The lady goldfish, taking Mr. Lamb at his word, gave evidence of the sincerity of her admiration by suggesting the production of goldfish on a modest scale. Mr. Lamb toyed with the idea, but realising he might be a bull or a zebra by the time his progeny were goldfish, the incongruity of the situation robbed it of its attractiveness.
He succeeded in teaching them to swim in formation like aeroplanes, putting them through loops, nose-dives and tail-spins. The servants could hardly be driven away from the tank, so great was their interest in these aquatic displays. The climax was reached one morning when the four goldfish were discovered solemnly swimming backwards round their tank. There was no ostentation about this performance, no suggestion of a desire to please or to attract attention. It was as if overnight the fish had come to the decision that it was about time to reverse the order of things. They merely swam backwards with a naturalness that would have led one to believe that fish had always swum backwards from the infancy of Noah.
It was difficult to serve breakfast that morning, through Nora's inability to keep her attention fixed on her ordered duties. Even the impeccable Thomas seemed a trifle vague and preoccupied. Mrs. Lamb endeavoured to ignore the goldfish, but Hebe's cheers of enthusiasm made it hard to pretend that all was not as usual.
The turtle was disgusted. When Mr. Lamb, with pardonable pride, asked him what he thought about it, he replied that it was " Silly damn rot," and that no good came from going against the laws of nature.
With the turtle Mr. Lamb could find no point of agreement. They began to argue and bicker whenever they tried to converse. The turtle insisted on criticising the furniture and appointments of the dining-room. He was particularly sarcastic about the design of the rug. Mr. Lamb naturally took this to heart, the dining-room being more or less his, and although he was not responsible for its arrangements he found himself defending them with the fervour of a zealot. To hear him argue with the turtle one would have thought that Mr. Lamb had personally selected each article of furniture in the room. Relations between the two were finally broken off when the turtle referred in the most disparaging language to a "long drink of water," who used to be seen hanging about the place, and whose absence he noted with gratification. Mr. Lamb, fully appreciating the fact that he himself was the long drink of water in question, cursed the turtle roundly, and was in turn as roundly cursed.
The fat was in the fire when Mr. Lamb wrote one evening for the benefit of his wife the following disquieting announcement :
"TO-DAY A FISH : TO-MORROW A SNAKE "
Upon reading this warning Mrs. Lamb realised that it was high time to act. Her husband as a snake would be a far different matter from her husband as a goldfish. She nerved herself for action, endeavouring to absorb into her spirit the murky mood of Lady Macbeth on one of her bad days.
When the household was quiet that night, she corded her dressing-gown round her waist and crept down-stairs. For a wonder Mr. Lamb was actually asleep and balanced on an even keel in his own private corner. This time Mrs. Lamb's hand was swift and sure. With a sharp intake of breath, she seized her unsuspecting husband and carried him to the kitchen. Here she looked desperately about for something in which to put him—not the garbage can, for his remains might be discovered there and the crime traced to her. Mrs. Lamb wanted a modest but secure sarcophagus for the body of her husband. An empty sardine tin would have done splendidly. A soda box would have been a great help at the moment. She was even considering the possibilities of squeezing him into a small bottle, when Mr. Lamb made an energetic flip for liberty and life. The flip was only partially successful. It transferred him from Mrs. Lamb's hand to Mrs. Lamb's stomach, where he continued his flipping, the cord round his wife's waist successfully preventing further descent.
Mrs. Lamb was no fit woman. She is not to be blamed. No woman is quite at her best with a wet and deter-mined goldfish flipping clammily against her stomach. It is to be doubted if many men would have retained the stoicism and dignity of the more insensitive male under the same circumstances.
The picture Mrs. Lamb presented was that of an utterly abandoned muscle dancer, one thoroughly interested in her profession. It was an animated picture. Nor was it unaccompanied by sound. Little ecstatic cries, sharp exclamations, gasps of vital anguish fell from the convulsive lady's lips. They made the picture complete. At least so thought Hebe as she stood in the doorway and witnessed her mother's contortions.
Then before the girl's startled eyes an amazing thing took place. She saw Mrs. Lamb suddenly bulge to almost twice her size. She heard the rip of her nightdress, and before she had time to realise exactly what she was witnessing, she saw her mother flat on her back on the kitchen floor and her father, dripping wet, standing beside her. The little russet man had not deserted him, Mr. Lamb had been saved in very much less than the nick of time.
Mr. Lamb was breathing hard and apparently his wife was not breathing at all. When she did breathe it was to give utterance to a wild cry.
"Murder!" she announced. "Murder! Your father's trying to strangle me."
"You damn near did strangle me," said Mr. Lamb. He extended a hand and helped his wife from the floor. "Sorry, Sapho," he remarked apologetically, " but I could never fit in that bottle now."
Sapho was beyond speech.
Having failed lamentably to emulate the example of Lady Macbeth, the wife of the ex-fish felt that at least she could follow her advice. She stayed not on the order of her going, but went at once. Mr. Lamb picked up the bottle and considered it with a peculiar feeling.
"This," he said, extending the bottle to Hebe, "was intended to be your father's last resting-place. I might have been a bottle baby, but be damned if I'll be a bottled corpse."
"Maybe the next time she'll have to use a cage," suggested Hebe.
|Previous Chapter||Contents||Next Chapter|