"We have been intending to come over for ever so long," Mrs. Kennaston explained. "But we have been in such a rush, getting ready for the summer--"
"We only got the carpets up yesterday," my wife assented. "Riggs just kept promising and promising, but he did finally get a man out--"
"Well, the roads are in pretty bad shape," I suggested, "and those vans are fearfully heavy--"
"Still, if they would just be honest about it," Mrs. Kennaston bewailed--"and not keep putting you off--No, I really don't think I ever saw the Loop road in worse condition--"
"It's the long rainy spell we ought to have had in May," I informed her. "The seasons are changing so, though, nowadays that nobody can keep up with them."
"Yes, Felix was saying only to-day that we seem no longer to have any realy spring. We simply go straight from winter into summer."
"I was endeavoring to persuade her," Kennaston emended, "that it was foolish to go away as long as it stays cool as it is."
"Oh, yes, now!" my wife conceded. "But the paper says we are in for a long heat period about the fifteenth. For my part, I think July is always our worst month."
"It is just that you feel the heat so much more during the first warm days," I suggested.
"Oh, no!" My wife said, earnestly; "the nights are cool in August, and you can stand the days. Of course, there are apt to be a few mosquitoes in September, but not many if you are careful about standing water--"
"The drain-pipe to the gutter around our poch got stopped somehow, last year"--this Kennaston contributed, morosely--"and we had a terrible time."
"--Then there is always so much to do, getting the children started at school," my wife continued--"everything undr the sun needed at the last moment, of course! And the way they change all the school-books every year is simply ridiculous. So, if I had my way, we would always go away early, and be back again in good time to get things in shape--"
"Oh, yes, if we could have our way!"--Mrs. Kennaston could not deny that--"but don't your servants always want August off, to go home? I know ours do: and, my dear, you simply don't dare say a word."
"That is the great trouble in the country," I philosophized--"in fact, we suburbanites are pretty well hag-ridden by our dusky familiars. The old-time darkies are dying out, and the younger generation is simply worthless. And with no more sense of gratitude--Why, Moira hired a new girl last week, to help out upstairs, and the very first evening--"
"No, dear, it was in the morning," my wife corrected me, "and everybody that the upstairs-girl everywhere used to help out with the cooking quite regularly--"
"Of course they did," Mrs. Kennaston remarked, with unconcealed indignation. "But now, even with the politest of them you simply never know where you are. For what with the way they leave you, without one minute's notice, hag-ridden, Mr. Harrowby, is really not any name for it. They just go!
"Oh, yes, hag-ridden! like the unfortunate magicians in old stories!" Kennaston broke in, on a sudden. "We were speaking about such things the other day, you remember? I have been thinking--You see, every one tells me that, apart from being a master s oapboiler, Mr. Harrowby, you are by way of being an authority on witchcraft and similar murky accomplishments?" And he ended with that irritating little noise, that was nearly a snigger, and just missed being a cough.
"It so often comes over me," says Moria--which happens to be my wife's name--"that Dick, all by himself, is really Harrowby & Sons, Inc."--she spoke as if I were some sort of writing-fluid--"and has his preducts on sale all over the world. I look on him in a new light, so to speak, when I relaze that daily he is gladdening Calcutta with his soaps, delighting London with his dentifrice, and comforting Nova Zembla with his talcum powder."
"Well but I inherited all that. It isn't fair to fling ancestral soap-vats in my face," I reminded her. "And yes, I have dabbled a bit in forces that aren't as yet thoroughly understood, Mr. Kennaston. I wouldn't go so far as to admit to witchcraft, th ough. Very certainly I never attended a Sabbat."
I recollected now how his face changed. "And what in heaven's name was a Sabbat?" Then he fidgeted, and crossed his legs the other way.
I replied : "Well! it was scarcely heaven's name that was invoked there, if old tales are to be trusted. Traditionally, the Sabbat was a meeting attended by all witches in satisfactory diabolical standing, lightly attired in smears of various magical o intments; and their vehicle of transportation to this outing was, of course, the traditional broomstick. Good Friday," I continued, seeing they all seemed willing enough to listen, "was the favorite date for these gatherings, which were likewise held aft er dusk on St. John's Eve, on Malburga's Eve, and on Hallowe'en Night. The diversions were numerous: there was feasting, music, and dancing, with the devil performing obligatos on the pipes or a cittern, and not infrequently preaching a burlesque sermon . He usually attended in the form of a monstrous goat; and when--when not amorously inclined, often thrashed the witches with their own broomsticks. The more practical pursuits of the evening included the opening of graves, to despoil dead bodies of fin ger- and toe-joints, and certain portions of the winding-sheet, with which ti prepare a powder that had strange uses.... But the less said of that, the better. Here, also, the devil taught his disciples how to make and christen statues of wax, so that b y roasting these effigies the persons whose names they bore would be wasted away by sickness."
"I see," says Kennaston, intently regarding his fingernails: "they must have been highly enjoyable social outings, all around."
"They must have been worse than family reunions," put in Mrs. Kennaston, and affected to shudder.
"Indeed, there are certain points of resemblance," I conceded, "in the general atmosphere of jealous hostility and the ruthless digging-up of what were better left buried."
Then Kennaston asked carelessly, "But how could such absurd superstitions ever get any hold on people, do you suppose?"
"That would require rather a lenghty explanation--Why, no," I protested, in answer to his shrug; "the Sabbat is not inexplicable. Hahn-Kraftner's book, or Herbert Perlin's either, will give you a very fair notion of what the Sabbat really was--something not in the least grotesque, but infinitely more awe-inspiring than is hinted by any traditions in popular use. And Le Bret, whom bookdealers rightly list as 'curious'--"
"Yes. I have read those books, it happens. My uncle had them, you know. But"--Kennaston was plainly not quite at ease--"but, after all, is it not more wholesome to dismiss such theories as fantastic nonsense, even if they are perfectly true?"
"Why, not of necessity," said I. "As touches what we call the'occult,' delusion after delusion has been dissipated, of course, and much jubilant pother made over the advance in knowledge . But the last od his delusions, which man has yet to relinquish, is that he invented them. this too must be surrendered with time; and already we are beginning to learn that many of these wild errors are the illegitimate vhildren of grave truths. Science now looks with new respest on folklore--"
"Mr. Kennaston," says Moira, laughing, "I warn you, if you start Dick on his hobbies, he will taalk us all to death. So, come into the house, and I will mix upi two men a drink."
And we obeyed her, and --somehow-- got to talking of the recent thunderstorms, and getting in our hay, and kindered topics.
Yes, it was much the usual sort of late-afternoon call customarily exchanged by country neighbors. I remember Moira's yawning as she closed the cellarette, and her wondering how Mrs. Kennaston could keep on rouging and powdering at her age, and why Kennaston never had anything in particular to say for himself?
"Do you suppose it is because he has a swelled head over his little old book, or is he just naturally stupid?" she wanted to know.