“It’s my birthday to-morrow,” said Mrs. Jeremy as she turned the pages of her engagement book.
“Bless us, so it is,” said Jeremy. “You’re thirty-nine or twenty-seven or something. I must go and examine the wine-cellar. I believe there’s one bottle left in the Apollinaris bin. It’s the only stuff in the house that fizzes.”
“Jeremy! I’m only twenty-six.”
“You don’t look it, darling; I mean you do look it, dear. What I mean—well, never mind that. Let’s talk about birthday presents. Think of something absolutely tremendous for me to give you.”
“A rope of pearls.”
“I didn’t mean that sort of tremendousness,” said Jeremy quickly. “Anyone could give you a rope of pearls; it’s simply a question of overdrawing enough from the bank. I meant something difficult that would really prove my love for you—like Lloyd George’s ear or the Kaiser’s cigar-holder. Something where I could kill somebody for you first. I am in a very devoted mood this morning.”
“Are you really?” smiled Mrs. Jeremy. “Because——”
“I am. So is Baby, unfortunately. She will probably want to give you something horribly expensive. Between ourselves, dear, I shall be glad when Baby is old enough to buy her own presents for her mamma. Last Christmas her idea of a complete edition of Meredith and a pair of silver-backed brushes nearly ruined me.”
“You won’t be ruined this time, Jeremy. I don’t want you to give me anything; I want you to show that devotion of yours by doing something for me.”
“Anything,” said Jeremy grandly. “Shall I swim the Channel? I was practising my new trudgeon stroke in the bath this morning.” He got up from his chair and prepared to give an exhibition of it.
“No, nothing like that.” Mrs. Jeremy hesitated, looked anxiously at him, and then went boldly at it. “I want you to go in for that physical culture that everyone’s talking about.”
“Who’s everyone? Cook hasn’t said a word to me on the subject; neither has Baby; neither has——”
“Mrs. Hodgkin was talking to me about it yesterday. She was saying how thin you were looking.”
“The scandal that goes on in these villages,” sighed Jeremy. “And the Vicar’s wife too. Dear, all this is weeks and weeks old; I suppose it has only just reached the Vicarage. Do let us be up-to-date. Physical culture has been quite démodé since last Thursday.”
“Well, I never saw anything in the paper”——
“Knowing what wives are, I hid it from you. Let us now, my dear wife, talk of something else.”
“Jeremy! Not for my birthday present?” said his wife in a reproachful voice. “The Vicar does them every morning,” she added casually.
“Poor beggar! But it’s what Vicars are for.” Jeremy chuckled to himself. “I should love to see him,” he said. “I suppose it’s private, though. Perhaps if I said ‘Press’——”
“You are thin, you know.”
“My dear, the proper way to get fat is not to take violent exercise, but to lie in a hammock all day and drink milk. Besides, do you want a fat husband? Does Baby want a fat father? You wouldn’t like, at your next garden party, to have everybody asking you in a whisper, ‘Who is the enormously stout gentleman?’ If Nature made me thin—or, to be more accurate, slender and of a pleasing litheness—let us believe that she knew best.”
“It isn’t only thinness; these exercises keep you young and well and active in mind.”
“Like the Vicar?”
“He’s only just begun,” said his wife hastily.
“Let’s wait a bit and watch him,” suggested Jeremy. “If his sermons really get better, then I’ll think about it seriously. I make you a present of his baldness; I shan’t ask for any improvement there.”
Mrs. Jeremy went over to her husband and patted the top of his head.
“‘In a very devoted mood this morning,'” she quoted.
Jeremy looked unhappy.
“What pains me most about this,” he said, “is the revelation of your shortcomings as a wife. You ought to think me the picture of manly beauty. Baby does. She thinks that, next to the postman, I am one of the——”
“So you are, dear.”
“Well, why not leave it? Really, I can’t waste my time fattening refined gold and stoutening the lily. I am a busy man. I walk up and down the pergola, I keep a dog, I paint little water-colours, I am treasurer of the cricket club; my life is full of activities.”
“This only takes a quarter of an hour before your bath, Jeremy.”
“I am shaving then; I should cut myself and get all the soap in my eyes. It would be most dangerous. When you were a widow, and Baby and the pony were orphans, you and Mrs. Hodgkin would be sorry. But it would be too late. The Vicar, tearing himself away from Position 5 to conduct the funeral service——”
“Ah, woman, now I move you. You are beginning to see what you were in danger of doing. Death I laugh at; but a fat death—the death of a stout man who has swallowed the shaving-brush through taking too deep a breath before beginning Exercise 3, that is more than I can bear.”
“When I said I wanted to kill someone for you, I didn’t think you would suggest myself, least of all that you wanted me fattened up like a Christmas turkey first. To go down to posterity as the large-bodied gentleman who inhaled the badger’s hair; to be billed in the London press in the words, ‘Curious Fatal Accident to Adipose Treasurer’—to do this simply by way of celebrating your twenty-sixth birthday, when we actually have a bottle of Apollinaris left in the Apollinaris bin—darling, you cannot have been thinking——”
His wife patted his head again gently. “Oh, Jeremy, you hopeless person,” she sighed. “Give me a new sunshade. I want one badly.”
“No,” said Jeremy, “Baby shall give you that. For myself I am still feeling that I should like to kill somebody for you. Lloyd George? No. F. E. Smith? N-no….” He rubbed his head thoughtfully. “Who invented those exercises?” he asked suddenly.
“A German, I think.”
“Then,” said Jeremy, buttoning up his coat, “I shall go and kill him.”