SQUIRRELS HAVE BRIGHT EYES
I had what appeared to be the misfortune to fall in love with a superb creature, an Amazon, a positive Diana. Her penthouse pied-`a-terre was a single enormous room, liberally decorated with the heads and skins of the victims of her Lee-Enfield, her Ballard, her light Winchester repeater. Bang — a hearth-rug! Crack — a fur coat! Pop, pop — a pair of cosy mittens!
But, as a matter of fact, clothes suffocated her. Supremely Nordic, she ranged her vast apartment clad only in a sort of kirtle. This displayed four magnificent limbs, sunburned several tones darker than her blonde and huntress hair. So I fell in love. What limbs! What hair! What love!
She only laughed. «Squirrel,» she said — she called me Squirrel —«it's no good. You're a real pet, though; you remind me a little of Bopotiti. He lived in a tree on the Congo. Bogey,» she said to her hateful little female adorer, who was always curled up on some skin or other, «Bogey,» she said, «show him that snap of Bopotiti.»
«Really,» I said, «this is not like me at all. I am more graceful, more bird-like.»
«Yes, but he used to bring me mjna-mjnas. Every morning.»
«I will bring you love, at all hours. Marry me.»
«Live with me.»
«No, no. I live with my guns. The world cannot utter its gross libidinous sneers at a girl who lives chastely with her Lee-Enfield, her Ballard, her light Winchester.»
«Love is better.»
«Ha! Ha! Forgive me. I must laugh now.» And she flung herself upon a polar-bear skin in a paroxysm of giant mirth.
Utterly crushed, I went out to do myself in. Racking my brain for the most expressive method, I suddenly remembered a man called Harringay, a taxidermist who was often at her cocktail parties, where he had eyed me with a friendly interest.
I went to his shop. He was there alone. «Harringay! Stuff me!»
«Sure. What shall it be? Steak? Chop suey? Something fancy?»
«No, Harringay, bitumen. Harringay, I want you to employ your art upon me. Send me to Miss Bjornstjorm with my compliments. For her collection. I love her.» Here I broke down.
Harringay, that owl-like man, acted magnificently. He gave me his philosophy, put new heart into me. «Go just as you are,» said he. «Perhaps love will come. Fortunately your eyes are somewhat glassy by nature. You have only to hold the pose.»
«You think love will come?»
«She must at any rate recognize you as an admirably motionless companion for a — it's on the tip of my tongue — one of those things up in a tree to shoot from.»
«It's on the tip of mine, too. I'll gamble on it. Harringay, you are a friend.»
«No, no. It will be an advertisement for me.»
«No, no. You are a friend. In one moment I shall be ready.»
I was. He carried me to her apartment. «Brynhild, here is something more for your natural history museum.»
«Why, it's Squirrel! Is he stuffed?»
«For love of you, Brynhild.»
«How life-like! Harringay, you are the king of taxidermists.»
«Yes, and I service him every day. It's a new method. It's all arranged for. Shall I put him in that alcove?»
«Yes, and we'll have a cocktail party. Right away. Everybody must come. Bogey, call everybody.»
«Even Captain Fenshawe-Fanshawe?»
«Yes, by all means the Captain.»
She collapsed, roaring with laughter, upon a flamboyant tiger-skin. She was still laughing when the guests poured in. The gigantic Captain Fenshawe-Fanshawe, my rival with the monocle and the Habsburg chin, taller than Brynhild herself, towered among them.
Everybody laughed, chattered, and admired. «Marvellous work, Mr. Harringay! When our dear Pongo dies, I shall send him to you.»
«I hope you will do our Fifi, Mr. Harringay.»
Harringay bowed and smiled.
«He did it for love, they say.»
«Love!» boomed the Captain, filliping me under the nose. I trembled with rage and mortification.
«Be careful! He's very delicately wired,» said Harringay.
«Love!» boomed the Captain. «A squirrel! Ha! Ha! It takes a full-sized man to hold a worth-while amount of love. What sort of heart did you find in him, Harringay?»
«Quite a good sort,» said Harringay. «Broken of course.»
Brynhild's laughter, which had been continuous, stopped.
«A squirrel!» sneered the Captain. «Didn't know you went in for small deer, Brynhild. Send you a stuffed mouse for Christmas.»
He had not observed Brynhild's expression. I had. It looked like one of those bird's-eye views of the world you see before a news-reel, with everything going round and round: clouds, continents, seas, one thing after another. Suddenly, in a single convulsive movement, she was off her flamboyant tiger-skin, and stretched superbly prone on the funeral pelt of a black panther. «Leave me!» she cried chokingly. «Go away, everybody. Go away! Go away!»
The guests felt something was wrong. They edged out.
«Does that mean me?» said the Captain.
«Go away!» she cried.
«Me, too?» said Bogey.
«Everybody,» sobbed Brynhild. Nevertheless a woman must have a friend: she clutched her by the hand.
«Brynhild! What is it? You are crying. I have never seen you cry. Tell me. We are alone.»
«Bogey, he did it for love.»
«I've just realized what that means, Bogey. I didn't know. I've been all my life hunting things — killing them — having them stuffed. Bogey, that's all done now. He's everything to me. I'll marry him.»
«I don't think you can, if he's stuffed, Brynhild darling.»
«Live with him, then.»
«The world — ?»
«The world's gross libidinous sneers can't touch a girl who lives with a man who's stuffed, Bogey. But I shall seat him at table, and talk to him, just as if he were alive.»
«Brynhild, you're wonderful!»
I agreed. At the same time my position was a difficult one. It is no joke to have to seem stuffed when your beloved adores you, passionately, remorsefully, seats you up at table, talks to you in the firelight, tells you all, weeps even. And yet, if I unbent, if I owned up, I felt her newborn love might wither in the bud.
Sometimes she would stroke my brow, press a burning kiss upon it, dash off, fling herself down on a leopard-skin, and do her exercises, frantically, hopelessly. I needed all my control.
Harringay called every morning, «to service me» as he said. He insisted that Brynhild should go out for an hour, pretending that a professional secret was involved. He gave me my sandwich, my glass of milk, dusted me thoroughly, massaged my joints where they were stiff.
«You can't massage the stiffness out of this absurd situation,» said I.
«Trust me,» he said.
«All right,» I said. «I will.»
Brynhild returned, as usual, five minutes or so too early. She couldn't stay away the full hour. «I miss him so,» she said, «when I'm out. And yet, when I come back, he's stuffed. It's too terrible.»
«Perhaps I can help you,» said Harringay.
«I dare not believe it,» she said, clutching her heart.
«What?» cried he. «And you the little girl who shoots tigers? Pluck up your courage. Would you be too scared to believe in an artificial leg?»
«No,» said she. «I could face that.»
«One of those modern ones,» said he, «that walk, kick, dance even, all by machinery?»
«Yes,» she said. «I believe in it.»
«Now,» said he, «for his sake, believe in two of them.»
«I will. I do.»
«Be brave. Two arms as well.»
«And so forth. I can make his jaw work. He'll eat. He'll open and shut his eyes. Everything.»
«Will he speak to me?»
«Well, maybe he'll say 'Mamma.'»
«Science! It's wonderful! But — what will the world say?»
«I don't know. 'Bravo!' Something of that sort.»
«No. Gross libidinous sneers. If I live with him, and he says 'Mamma.' And I can't marry him because he's stuffed. Oh, I knew it would be no good.»
«Don't worry,» said Harringay. «These are just technicalities. I'll straighten it all out. More tomorrow.»
She saw him out, and came back shaking her head. She was in despair. So was I. I knew the Diana element in her. So did she. She spent the afternoon on the skin of an immense grizzly. I longed to be with her. I felt myself as if I were on the skin of a porcupine.
Suddenly, just as the shadows were falling thick in the vast apartment, there was a knock at the door. She opened. It was the abominable Fenshawe-Fanshawe.
«What do you want?» said she.
«Guess,» said he.
«I wouldn't dream of it,» said she.
«No need to,» said he, removing his jacket.
«What are you doing?» said she.
«I have waited long enough,» said he. «Listen, I don't like that kirtle. It doesn't suit you.»
She made a bound, however, and reached the wall. Her guns were there. She pointed the Lee-Enfield. «Stand back!» she cried.
The Captain, sneering, continued to advance.
She pulled the trigger. A hollow click sounded. The Captain smiled and came nearer.
She caught up to the Ballard. Click. The Winchester light repeater. Click! Click! Click!
«I removed the cartridges,» said the Captain, «when you where laughing so heartily at the cocktail party.»
«Oh, Squirrel. If you could help me!»
«He can't. He's stuffed»
«Oh, Squirrel! Help me! Squirrel! Squirre —» At that moment, he seized her. She broke free. «Help me!»
«You're durn tootin' I will,» said I, rising stiffly from my seat. The effect, in the shadowy alcove, was probably uncanny. The Captain gave a throbbing cry. He turned and fled for the door. My blood was up, however, and regardless of the pins and needles I pursued him, snatching a prize elephant's tusk as I ran. While yet he scrabbled at the latch I let him have it. He fell.
I felt Brynhild beside me, a true comrade. «Forgive me,» I said. «I have deceived you.»
«You have saved me. My hero!»
«But I'm not stuffed,» I murmured.
«At least,» said she, «you have more stuffing in you than that great beast.»
«He will need it now, Brynhild. Or the mountainous carcass will become offensive.»
«Yes, We'll call in Harringay.»
«Good old Harringay!»
«A clean kill, Squirrel mine! Great hunting!»
I put one foot on the mighty torso, then the other. Our lips were on a level.
«Brynhild! May I?»
It was a divine moment. We sank upon the skin of a giant panda. Bogey knocked in vain.
Next day, of course, we were married.