I should like not to believe in dragons' suffrage (said Reginald). His Majesty's horse was so very well-roasted that one cannot even affect an air of surprise when the subject is brought up, as one can with other praiseworthy causes, like the reformation of charwomen, or the revival of village church choirs. Of course charwomen and village choristers very rarely possess fire-producing glands; there lies the distinction. It seems almost sensible to wish to ignore the incident at the Derby, and you know I am never sensible when I can help it, I was too well-brought up.
They say the dragon who did it expressed regret that it had omitted to bring apricot sauce, for it would have complemented the horseflesh so nicely. Which shows such nice feeling, don't you think?
It was that attention to detail Mrs. Finchley was seeking when she invited the dragon to stay at her house in Warwickshire. It came as something of a surprise to those of us who were already there. I believe Colonel Braithwaite spoke four times of leaving, and he even went so far as to pick up his umbrella once, with a great deal of decision, but at the time Mrs. Finchley had that cook she'd charmed away from an old school friend of hers. The school friend had once deprived her of a notebook or dog or man which was rightfully hers, and of course Mrs. Finchley thirsted for revenge.
I do think it's impossible to overstate how much our schools have done for our nation. It's the deathless camaraderie the public school fosters in our youth; they learn to cultivate at a young age a flexibility of the wrist and an ease with the dagger that comes in very useful in later life, particularly in the political sphere.
Anyway Mrs. Finchley had pinched the cook from behind her friend's back, and she told me she was taking advantage of his soups to invite the dragon without losing her other guests. I believe she was hoping the invitation would dislodge some of them, in fact, but the soups won out. Don't believe anyone who tells you we English have lost our staunchness.
I shouldn't admit to knowing dragon breeds if I were you. It's that sort of thing that leads to the pale type of boy who always wears the wrong shade of waistcoat, and tells you all about the mating habits of the Thomson's Gazelle at dinner. All I could tell you is that the dragon was a discreet pearl grey colour and it seemed to disapprove of finery, so its stay was not as much of an ordeal as we had been hoping.
We had a great many picnic luncheons; the dragon sat some way off, but the days were quite calm and it had a good clear voice, so that was no obstacle to conversation. I believe Mrs. Finchley tried to feed it cucumber sandwiches before it came to her notice that the local farmers were getting restless about their herds; it seems they were thinning rather. Mrs. Finchley had heard that culling was quite good for herds and she suggested that the farmers think of it as an unexpected benefit, but finally she had to include lamb on the menu. The dragon was the only one who got a whole animal; I expect that was why Colonel Braithwaite kept trying to skin it at cards.
When it wasn't making night-time raids on the local fauna the dragon seemed to lead a very quiet approximation of a life. If it had been human it would have had a maiden aunt to keep house for it and a harmless if not actually improving hobby -- fly-fishing, for example, or playing the guitar. It was being a dragon that saved it. It was quite charming to watch it read Spinoza and do the Times crossword; a dancing bear has much the same appeal.
I didn't talk to it much; I had my own problems to worry about. I've been told I have just the right eyebrows for worrying. For one thing Mrs. Finchley's was one of those house-parties where charades are considered acceptable entertainment in the evening, and for another nearly all the time I was there I received any number of indecipherable communications from somebody who signed himself Albert or Albrecht or perhaps Alfred; it was impossible to say. They mostly consisted of jeremiads written in rather an intoxicated vein, upbraiding me for having abandoned the writer and begging me to repay, or return, or redress something.
I hadn't quarrelled with any of my friends and my dearest enemies were all in Cannes -- such a useful place, Cannes -- so there was nothing for it but to conclude that one of my tailors must have discovered my address. I do think tailors are the most unreasonable race of men; one cannot be expected to remember the bills for all the clothes one has discarded. I ignored the letters, of course, but it was an unpleasant thing to have hanging over one of my delicate constitution nevertheless.
Apart from that and the charades it was all going swimmingly, helped along by the cook's soups -- he did rather splendid roasts as well, and sometimes, when I have been very good, it is given to me to dream of his ragouts -- but then disaster came upon us. The Duchess later said it was a judgement upon Mrs. Finchley for having used her old school friend in that disgraceful manner; the Duchess has a fastidious stomach, you know, and she has never been able to eat a truffle in peace since Mrs. Finchley lost that cook.
It was that friend of Mrs. Finchley's Cecil who set off the fatal chain of events. It was really very careless of Mrs. Finchley. Of course one can't demand references of every person who comes to stay with one, and the boy had been at Oxford with Cecil, but all the same you'd think she ought to have known that he was connected to the old school friend. He was a nephew or a second cousin or something of the sort, and it turned out he was only there for purposes of sabotage. That should have been obvious from the beginning; Mrs. Finchley has all the ordinary devotion of a mother, but even she allowed that nobody would spend their summer with Cecil if they could possibly help it. He would be decent company if he were content to agree with the popular opinion that he hasn't got a brain to speak of, but he will insist on talking about taxes to the unsuspecting.
I believe if his friend had not had such dreadful taste we would have cottoned on to him much sooner, but anyone who could bring himself to wear such spats as he did -- I remember he was particularly attached to a sort of polka-dotted tangerine affair that made me have to go lie down quite regularly. I don't think anyone could blame us for thinking it perfectly natural that he and Cecil should have got on.
It all came out when we found the snake in the grass clutching one of the chambermaids to his breast behind the summerhouse. It was all rather sordid. It appears she was something rather extraordinary in the chambermaid line -- a veritable nonpareil. (How all this sort of talk depresses me. I try to avoid knowing anything at all about housekeepers or footmen, but knowing about servants is inescapable in the country, like knowing about pigs.)
The boy -- his name was Bertie -- Bertie's aunt had told him to entice the maid away to the aunt's household, with the idea of suing for an exchange when the theft came to light. I'd imagine she hadn't expected Bertie's methods, but then to be fair neither had he. He seemed rather confused by the whole affair. So was the chambermaid. In fact the only person who seemed quite clear about what she thought of things was Mrs. Finchley, and she was getting clearer and clearer when the dragon poked its head in and wondered if it could be of assistance.
Of course it would have wrecked Mrs. Finchley's plans entirely if the dragon had been given any cause for affront, so its interruption quite stumped her; she did not seem to know how to go on. I must say it had beautiful manners. You could have told what class of creature it was from that; I have never known an Earl who could tell you which fork to use for a fish course -- but there, that's hindsight speaking.
When I sailed in I had no intention of discomfiting the dragon; I simply thought it would make things interesting if I mentioned the matter of my letters at that juncture. I'm afraid I made rather a production of it. I suppose it isn't a butler's job to vet one's correspondence, but I argued that any properly trained menial should have known that no gentleman would wish to entertain such ill-spelt, illegibly scripted letters; anyone could have smelt the gin on them, and anyway the writer had got my surname wrong.
Bertie went quite green at that. Of course the interesting thing was the dragon. I don't know if you've ever seen a dragon go pale. On a beast of its colouring it looked rather well; I recall wishing the scene could be painted, because the dragon went so charmingly with my trousers. We discovered later why it was so distressed, but I had barely had the time to admire the misty shade it had gone when Bertie announced that he was very sorry, but the letters were for him. It appeared he had been receiving them as well. Every day that one of those ghastly letters wasn't being borne into my bedchamber by a maid, it was being presented on a salver to Bertie instead. I suppose the name could as well have been 'Bertie' as 'Reginald'. It is shocking what the falling standards of our schools have done to our penmanship.
I believe Bertie explained the letters as being missives from a girl, who, having loved, had lost, and didn't find the second part much to her liking. He cringed rather as he explained it; I suppose it is never pleasant to be revealed as a sort of marauding Don Juan, even if it is only before your aunt's deadliest enemy. Fortunately he hadn't any lower to go in Mrs. Finchley's opinion. She let him know, quite civilly under the circumstances, that there would be a train departing for Market Snodsbury in Worcestershire in half an hour, and that she would be much obliged if he would remove himself, particularly the part of him covered by his spats, from her sight.
All the fuss must have discommoded the dragon, because it left only a few hours later, despite everything Mrs. Finchley said to persuade it to stay.
She was rather put out at that, but that was nothing compared to how put out she was when she heard Bertie had not gone to Worcestershire when he left us, but to New York, and that the dragon had gone with him. Apparently the letters had been for it -- the dragon. It had been with the Aerial Corps formerly, but its captain had died years ago and it had not liked the new one they gave it, so it had resigned, pocketed its pension and been on its way.
Well, they don't like that sort of thing in the Aerial Corps, and they fancied it might cause a scandal if it came out that any dragon could be so ungrateful as to refuse a captain given it -- everyone knows they have the right to do so, but it's rather shocking to think they might ever exercise it, after all the nation has done for them. It was hushed up, which was why the dragon had been able to impose on Mrs. Finchley in the way it had, passing itself off as the sort of dragon one might know, rather than a mere common aviator. (I refuse to call it 'Reginald' -- ridiculous sort of name for a dragon.) The letters were from the man it had rejected; he had gone to seed rather after his dragon did a bunk.
I don't believe Mrs. Finchley has ever been the same. It was not just that she had been entertaining one of the Aerial Corps as if it were a gentleman -- well, gentledragon, though that would have been bad enough. You see, her idea all along had been to lure the dragon onto her staff; they're very conscientious creatures, apparently, and it would have caused a wonderful stir, because of course nobody else has ever had a dragon for a butler before, and she would have been the first.
Mrs. Finchley does relish setting new trends; I suppose it is living in the countryside that works on one, so that one can't be satisfied with wearing the type of Yorkshire terrier that matches one's gloves and leaving it at that, but must find more esoteric enjoyments. I pointed out that she would still be the first ever to have a dragon butler, if she could bring herself to invite another one into her home, but she said it wouldn't have the same effect, with Bertie Wooster parading his dragon valet about over in the States.
Whatever one may say of its morals, one must do the beast the justice of saying that it is excellent at its job. I met Bertie at the Algonquin the other day and he looked marvellously human. Not a hue in his costume to offend the eye. In fact once those spats had been taken away, you could see that he had rather nice eyes. I would even have allowed him to invite me to dinner, but he was otherwise engaged.
I like to think that I am as open-minded as the next man, but I do think some sort of rule against allowing dragons into hotels would be fitting. I believe the people at the Algonquin would have agreed. I expect they've repaired the windows by now, but it must have been a bother replacing all those potted plants.