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Notes on The Westminster Alice by Ruth Golding

Ruth Golding, who recorded a (free!) audio version of The Westminster Alice for the excellent website librivox.org, also recorded some accompanying explanatory notes for the general reader. They’re available in both audio and text form on her website and also on archive.org. You can also listen to them below.

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John Bull’s Christmas Tree

(After the manner of Hans Andersen.)

The Frozen LambkinMr. R. J. Seddon.
Church-House SparrowLord Hugh Cecil.
Grand VizierMr. A. J. Balfour.
Clockwork CawmilSir H. Campbell-Bannerman.
Josephus MaximusMr. Joseph Chamberlain.
Dalmeny Auto-CarThe Earl of Rosebery.
Cavendish Sleeping-CarThe Duke of Devonshire.
Money-PigMr. C. T. Ritchie.
King-DollThe King.

JOHN BULL was sleeping placidly. He has been known to do so, occasionally. Santa Claus, which is Nickolas, entered very softly from G.K.W., which is the official abbreviation for Goodness Knows Where. How or whence he had come nobody could have told, which was just as well, as there was at least a possibility that his reindeer team might have come under the head of foreign cattle, and been stopped at one of the ports. And even saints have tempers, particularly in these competitive days, when so many of their special lines are being exploited by the Penitent Rich. Never, if you are praying to a saint, ask for a Free Library or a University education; you won’t get it.

Nickolas had brought a large fir-tree with him, as well as a bag stuffed full of presents to be hung upon it; it was advisable to bring the tree along, as John Bull was not likely to have provided one himself, though the Intelligence Department had warned him that Christmas would in all probability fall on the 25th of December. And it was an extremely lively bag that the saint proceeded to unpack; some of the toys would keep pushing them­selves to the top, and others couldn’t be made to move in any direction. A frozen, woolly lamb came out with a flop as soon as there was an opening, which looked as if the bag must have been made up at the Antipodes, and after that there was a general scramble and an awful amount of quarrelling as to who should go where. The fact that they were all carefully labelled and ticketed only made matters worse, because some of them weren’t at all pleased with their descriptions, and tried to exchange them quickly with others, so that there was really a great deal of confusion.

The Frozen Lambkin

The Frozen Lambkin sulked furiously because it was stuck on an inconspicuous branch, and it objected strongly to its distinguishing label of “Maori had a little lamb,” but the Church-House sparrow was obviously pleased with his ticket, setting forth that:

“A Sweet Cecilia on a Tree
Delighted every passer by.”

Still, that was no reason why he should have started whistling “Marching thro’ Lloyd-Georgia.”

“A political career would be endurable if it wasn’t for its politics,” said the Grand-Vizier doll, as it was being fitted on to a front branch.

The Grand Vizier

“And one could lead so comfortably if people wouldn’t push one about so,” remarked the clock-work Cawmil, as it went on to the branch opposite.

The Grand-Vizier and the Cawmil were the two most amiable toys in the bag, but each had its private troubles. The Cawmil felt it would get along much better if the other members of its caravan weren’t always examining its works and putting spokes in its wheels. And the Grand-Vizier felt that he had sacrificed one of life’s most cherished birthrights; he could not quarrel with his family relations without disorganising the whole Council of the Caliphate. Not that the Grand-Vizier wanted to quarrel with anybody, but no one likes to have virtue turned into a political necessity.

The Party Machine Gun

Right in the centre of the tree, because it would really go nowhere else, the saint had slung the great Party-machine gun, the Josephus Maximus, with self-repeating non-recoiling action, cast at the make-them-feel-small arms factory at Birmingham. When in action this weapon of precision could volley chilled steel with astonishing aim and velocity from a disappearing platform, but at present it had been converted into a smooth-Boer instrument of delicate calibre.

 

The Money Pig

There were other mechanical toys in great variety. There was the Dalmeny auto-car, that went by itself, stopping now and then at wayside inns to throw out suggestions. And there was the Cavendish sleeping-car, which never went at all, but generally managed to be well placed, nevertheless. And a tremendous buzzing and jarring accompanied the unpacking of the Irish jaunting-car, which sometimes went beyond prescribed limits, but never seemed to get any further for all that.

A large new box of soldiers looked very imposing, but no one could tell what was inside, because the lid was fastened down with a quantity of red-tape. “It may be all cotton-wool and imagination,” said the new Money-pig, gloomily, “but I shall have to find the money for it all the same.”

The Money-pig, who came out of the bottom of the bag, looked very squeezed, but there was an air of saturnine satisfaction about him, as if he had been pinching back where he could, and his crumpled ticket, which read, “Infinite Ritchies in a little room,” suggested that he was in for an exchequered career. But the Money-pig’s reflections were cut short by a loud burst of cheering from all the toys, and a lighting up of all the little candles, for Santa Claus had just put the King-Doll on the top branch of all, and the King-Doll was extremely popular. And Santa Claus, desiring to remain anonymous, even in these days of extensive advertising, withdrew quietly and unobserved just as John Bull was awakened by the noise of all the toys and dolls wishing each other a Happy Christmas.

[This early piece of light-hearted political satire was published in The House Annual, 1902  – a fund-raising publication in aid of “The Referee” Children’s Dinner Fund, one of a number of charities that fed children from poor families. (The speech marks are like that in the original.) The story is billed as “by Saki”. The (uncredited) illustrations are by Francis Carruthers Gould, who had already collaborated with Saki on The Westminster Alice. I am grateful to Brian Gibson (author of Reading Saki: The Fiction of H. H. Munro) for providing me with a copy of this story.]