"Mon Abri" v. "Mon Repos"
"MON ABRI" v. " MON REPOS"
By BARRY PAIN
IN a street in the Fulham neighbourhood were two semi-detached houses, making one perfect block. On the fanlight over the front door of one was painted "Mon Abri," and on the fanlight of the other, "Mon Repos." It was the one touch of sentiment that their builder and owner had permitted himself. All the rest was pure business. The partition wall between the two houses was, from a builder's point of view, particularly business-like, and suggested Euclid's definition of a line—length without breadth.
For a time perfect harmony prevailed between the families resident in the two houses. Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseman, at "Mon Abri," were an admirable couple and highly respectable. Mr. and Mrs. Fox, at "Mon Repos," were just as admirable and not less respectable. Getting their milk from the same milkman, suffering the same inconvenience from the road being up, having the same invitations to buy cheap coal thrust into their respective letter-boxes, they lived in natural harmony, inviting one another to tea at regular intervals, and exchanging a stately civility.
Then the blow fell. Mrs. Fox's mother was in failing health, and she lived in Brixton. Therefore Mr. and Mrs. Fox proposed in future to live in Brixton. They broke the news to the Cheesemans one Sunday afternoon, and Mrs. Cheeseman said that it was a blow.
"In a house like this," said Mr. Cheeseman, "everything depends on what you've got next-door. There has never been a hitch of any kind between us, Mr. Fox. It has been give-and-take the whole time, and we shall be very sorry to lose you. And if the new-comers are not satisfactory—well, we shall have to go, too."
For two or three months "Mon Repos" remained untenanted. Then one evening, on his return from the City, Mr. Cheeseman learned from his wife that the house was definitely let and the board was down. She had found out from the milkman, who knew nearly everything, that a Mr. and Mrs. Simpson had taken the house. He said he had seen them, and they seemed to be nice people.
"All that means," said Mr. Cheeseman darkly, "is that they are getting their milk from him."
"What I hope and pray," said Mrs. Cheeseman, "is that they haven't got a dog that will fight with my Loulou. If they have, it will make eternal trouble."
"Well," said Mr. Cheeseman, using a phrase that he had heard somewhere, "we can only wait and see. I've been a tenant here for over twelve years now, and I think I might say without conceit that a line from me to the landlord might have its effect."
On the day that the Simpsons moved in, Mrs. Cheeseman had much further information for her husband in the evening. "I must say," she said, "that, so far as I could tell from the window, she seemed a nice little woman. I thought the husband seemed rather worried, and I hope it is not financial trouble."
"It makes no difference to us, if it is," said her husband. "My principles about lending and borrowing are quite fixed. Still, he might just have been worried about the move. Men do get worried at such times. I was myself."
"Oh, you were!" said Mrs. Cheeseman. "More like a bear with a sore head than anything human. They've got quite nice furniture, too. As good as ours, and perhaps better. There was one picture I noticed I shouldn't have been sorry to have in our drawing-room. And they don't keep a dog. I suppose it will be my duty to call."
"As a matter of course," said Mr. Cheeseman. "But don't hurry it. People like to get settled down first. In a week or ten days will be quite soon enough."
But before that period had elapsed, a distressing incident happened.
Of course, Mrs. Cheeseman's watchful eye had detected that "Mon Repos" had a cottage piano, but it had aroused no suspicions in her. She had a piano herself, and it was never used. They did possess a Mechanical Musicianette—an antiquated and imperfect form of piano-player—but they themselves had been unable to stand it, and it had been relegated to an attic. Besides, all respectable people had pianos, and all neighbourly people refrained as much as possible from using them.
Four nights after the Simpsons' arrival, as Mr. and Mrs. Cheeseman were finishing dinner, Mr. Cheeseman observed that they seemed to be having a little music next-door.
"Plays nicely, too," said Mrs. Cheeseman. "Wonder if it's her or him?"
At nine o'clock Mr. Cheeseman, looking up from his newspaper, said: "They do keep on and on at it."
A little later Mrs. Cheeseman said: "What they're playing now is 'I Want to be Down Home in Dixie.'"
"I wish to goodness they were!" said Mr. Cheeseman. "But, however, just for once in a way, so long as it's not made a practice of——"
The music that one seeks has charms. The music that is thrust upon one, when one wishes to give attention to something else, has no emollient power upon the savage breast—or even on the civilised one. At ten o'clock—Mr. Cheeseman's usual bed-time—he was beginning to be irritated.
As he switched off the light in the drawing-room, he said: "I suppose they will have the common decency to stop in five minutes now."
At half-past ten the piano at "Mon Repos" was still working vigorously. It knocked off for refreshments a few minutes before eleven, and then resumed again, coming to a final fortissimo close at eleven twenty-five. It was one o'clock before Mr. Cheeseman's lacerated feelings would allow him to sleep. During that period the irritation had become temper, and temper had become violent, till he was within appreciable distance of becoming a homicidal lunatic.
But in the morning, though he looked a little weary, he had resumed his natural dignity.
"Surely," said Mrs. Cheeseman at breakfast, "it would not be out of the way if you sent a civil line to them, just pointing out——"
"Oh, no," said Mr. Cheeseman. "Then they would write back, and we should write again, and it would be just like one of these comic stories."
"Suppose you mentioned it to the landlord?"
"Well, of course, if I did, out they'd go neck and crop. But I don't want to do anything unduly harsh at present. I may be driven to it, but I have another method to try first. They played till half-past eleven, as near as no matter. To-night I'm going to play till half-past twelve. Have our Mechanical Musicianette brought down into the drawing-room."
"Well, you know what it is. It's not in perfect order. It doesn't always strike the right notes. You said you never wanted to hear the thing again."
"I shan't be playing it for pleasure. I shall be playing it for self-defence. By the time they've heard that for four hours and a half, they will have learned a lesson—the lesson of give-and-take. I don't think we shall get any more trouble."
"Yes, but what about me?"
"After dinner you can just pop round to your mother's. She'll like it. You'll get back a little after ten, and upstairs, with cotton-wool in your ears, you might be able to sleep."
"Yes, but——" began Mrs. Cheeseman.
"You kindly do what I say. I've thought this thing out."
Mrs. Cheeseman always kindly did what he said, and after dinner the Mechanical Musicianette was ready for him.
"We've only got three rolls of music," said his wife apologetically.
"Quite enough," said Mr. Cheeseman, taking off his coat. "There was a good deal of repetition at 'Mon Repos' last night, as far as I remember. Now, then, you pop round to your mother's, and I'll get started. Reminds me of my old bicycling days."
"Mother will be sure to ask why you haven't come, too."
"Tell her I've got work to do."
The Musicianette started its fatal work, and Mrs. Cheeseman fled. She returned at ten minutes past ten, at a lucky moment, when he was just taking out one roll and putting in another. He had now removed his waistcoat.
"How's it getting on?" she asked.
"Oh, pretty well." He wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "It's in the ankles and front of the shin that I feel it most. However, if the bellows hold out, I shall. They'll get it in the neck right up till half-past twelve. And just get me a whisky-and-soda, dear. I know I don't generally, but this sort of thing takes it out of you."
She brought the whisky-and-soda just in time to hear the opening bars of the Musicianette's rendering of Mendelssohn's "Wedding March."
"They've had this four times already to-night," said her husband, without ceasing to pedal the infernal machine. "I shall be stiff to-morrow, but it's worth it. Good night."
Mrs. Cheeseman slept easily, and, with cotton-wool in her ears, was not at all disturbed. Downstairs in the drawing-room Mr. Cheeseman manfully plugged on. The Musicianette now took to skipping a phrase and he wondered if the bearings had become heated.
At twelve he was in a state of extreme exhaustion, but he never gave way—never relaxed except to change the roll of music. But from twelve till half-past his eye was glued on the clock on the mantelpiece, and, as the clock struck half-past, he stopped abruptly in the middle of a phrase. He rose from his seat and, owing to cramp in the muscles, fell over. Slowly and laboriously he attained the perpendicular position. He was far too tired to put on his coat and waistcoat again, and flung them over one arm. He took his glass in one hand and hobbled into the dining-room to refill it, and then he switched off the lights and hobbled slowly up to bed.
He could not sleep. His legs hurt him, and four unintermittent hours of the Mechanical Musicianette are lacerating to the nerves. He had been in bed about ten minutes when he heard the hoot of a taxi. The cab apparently drove up to his own door, and remained there with the engine whirring. Mr. Cheeseman got out of bed and peered through the curtains.
The taxi-cab, however, had stopped, not in front of "Mon Abri," but in front of "Mon Repos." Out of it stepped Mr. Simpson in full evening-dress. He handed out Mrs. Simpson, in full evening-dress, gave her the latch-key, and proceeded to pay the cabman. They had probably been out the whole evening, and had absolutely missed the line lesson of give-and-take which Mr. Cheeseman, at great personal inconvenience and suffering to himself, had delivered. Mr. Cheeseman's first thought was that on no account must anything be said about this to Mrs. Cheeseman.
At breakfast he appeared in the best of spirits, but refused to have the Mechanical Musicianette moved back again to the decent retirement of the attic. "You see," he said explanatorily, "you never know. It's, not likely, but it is just possible that a second intimation will have to be given. If it is, I am prepared to do it. I'm getting into splendid training. I don't know that I shan't take up the bicycle again."
But Mrs. Cheeseman was dispirited that morning. Loulou, a dog of uncertain age, breed, temper, and appetite, was missing, and she was very anxious about him. She told her husband that she had already written out a notice destined for exhibition in the greengrocer's window, offering a reward for the dog's recovery.
"How much have you offered?" said Mr. Cheeseman at once.
"I have not named a sum. I have simply said: 'Will be handsomely rewarded.'"
"That's right," said Mr. Cheeseman. "And, of course, a shilling will be the limit."
When Mr. Cheeseman reached home that night, he found that his wife's spirits had quite recovered. She was volubly explanatory.
"Oh, my dear, such a lot of things have happened while you've been away. Do sit down. Loulou's back. Mrs. Simpson brought him. She found him three miles away from here. Just think of that! He was obviously lost, and she bent down to see the name on the collar. She saw our address on it, and had the presence of mind to put the handle of her umbrella through it, so that she could keep him off her legs, and brought him back here. No words can paint how pleased that poor dog was to see me again. He must have been half-starved, for he ate cold mutton, and you know how he generally is about that—just as if he were a human being. And, of course, I simply had to ask her in. You must see that for yourself. And I was rather embarrassed as to the reward, so I suggested she might like to have it for some charity in which she was interested. She wouldn't hear of it, and said she was only too glad to have been able to do a neighbourly act, and that she would soon make friends with the little dog. Oh, yes, and that's not all. It started, of course, with the talk about neighbourliness. She said they were afraid they had been a frightful nuisance the other night, with their piano, but it was not really their own fault. They had had a young man in to dinner, with whom Mr. Simpson had business relations, and that young man got to the piano, and no kind of hints would make him get away from it again. She said definitely that it would be the last time he would darken her doors. Then, of course, I was all on thorns about your going on so with the Mechanical Musicianette last night; but you need not be worried, dear, for that's all right, too."
Mr. Cheeseman did his best to look relieved.
"I think they must be fairly well connected. A rich relative had them to dinner last night and to a theatre afterwards, and then to supper at an hotel; so, by a merciful Providence, there is no harm done. Such a nice, friendly little woman she is!"
"Well, yes," said Mr. Cheeseman, "that is a bit of luck. Then, of course, I knew it would be all right. If they were out, no harm was done. If they were in, there was a lesson for them."
"Yes, but if they had been in, and hadn't needed the lesson?"
"Now, kindly do what I say and don't keep arguing. As the acquaintance has been begun in this informal way, I think it may go on informally, though I can't say I care much about Bohemianism generally. Is it Jane's night in on Sunday?"
"Then just drop Mrs. Simpson a friendly line, saying it would give us great pleasure if she and her husband would come in to Sunday supper. And what's that Musicianette doing down here? I do wish you'd have it taken up in the attic again!"
A fortnight later the following advertisement appeared in a popular newspaper: "Mechanical Musicianette, in fair working order, with three rolls of good music. Will accept gentleman's second-hand bicycle or part cash. Address E. C. Esq., 'Mon Abri,' etc."
Copyright, 1913, by Barry Pain, in the United States of America.