How the Pallmallatherium Lost Its Weak Spots
The Pallmallatherium,1 Best Beloved, has no extraordinary qualities, but it was there at the time, and that is Why. For years it had been employed to stalk horses and watch their breeding-grounds and catch them a few at a time, just as they were wanted, and though it had no special grasp of things it managed to hold on. And then there arrived a Perfectly Unpremeditated Emergency and upset everything that was going on so nicely.
Emergencies always are upsetting, even if you have seen them emerging for years.
Everyone had talked about a morally inevitable war that was to be fought to a finish, but no one could have reasonably calculated that a war that was fought to a finish would require a beginning. So nobody was ready to begin at the same time as the morally inevitable but quite unprepared-for war, and there were no horses. Then they thought of the Pallmallatherium, and went to look for it, and there it was, Best Beloved, working away without a particular ability and no special grasp of things, just as if nothing was going to happen. And then the Pallmallatherium had to get to work ever so much quicker and more muchly2 than before, and under conditions which had never been thought of and could hardly have been foreseen.3 Aren’t those beautiful words, and they come straight from a Report? You see, when you go to war with countries ever so many thousand miles away you naturally never contemplate having to send your horses so far from Victoria-street.4 That is why emergencies are so disturbing.
So the pardonably flabbergasted and quite undeservingly censured Pallmallatherium got hold of as many horses and mules as the Army could use—and a great many that it couldn’t—5and dealt with all imaginable sorts of people much more grasping than itself, and overworked itself generally, so that it came out in weak spots all over and contracted proboscial irritation from having paid so much through the nose.
Then they said, We can’t have this maculose and fearfully conspicuous object wandering about out of harmony with all its surroundings; let us make it into an albino. So they took the Pallmallatherium and whitewashed it from end to end as well as they knew how.6
And that is how the Pallmallatherium lost its spots.
- Pall Mall, in central London, was the location of the War Office. This story refers to (and even sometimes takes up phrases from) the report of an inquiry into the Army Remount Department, which supplied horses to the army but had proved wholly unprepared for the vastly increased demand when the Boer War began.↩
- This last part is a direct quotation.↩
- The Inspector-General of the Remount Department is described in the report as sitting “in a flat on the fourth floor” in Victoria-street [sic] in London.↩
- The poor quality of animals procured by the department was one point of criticism.↩
- The report was considered by many to be a whitewash. See for example, the Daily Mail, 10 October 1902, p. 4.↩
‘How the Pallmallatherium Lost Its Weak Spots’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 15 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-21 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.