Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 4

The Dalmeny Cat1 That Walked by Itself

The Dalmeny Cat

[In the picture, Beloved of Mine, you will see the Cat walking by its lone. In one corner there are some things which may be an Old-Age Pension Scheme or they may be Six New Army Corps; but I think they are Mushrooms or ’phemeral things like them which are born in the wild woods but don’t live long.]

There was once a Cat that walked by its lone. It knew where it wanted to go and it kept straight there, and after a while it wasn’t so very much by itself either.2

But the delicately didactic Woman3 who kept House from Monday to Friday and had her week-ends to herself couldn’t abide the Cat walking in and out of her premises.

“For better or for worse, probably for much, much better,” she declared, “I am the only possible occupant of this tenement. There can be no alternative.”4

But the Cat that walked not so very much by its lone went in and out and through and through just as it quite well wished, and made remarks as it went.

And the delicately didactic and faintly fractious Woman bubbled over with a pleasant peevishness that was sedative and enervating to behold, and called everything to witness that she was no worse than she need be: “And behold,” she said, “everything we do is for the second-best in this second-best of all possible Governments.5 Our troops are employed at enormous distances from home, and if they occasionally get into tight places the very fact that we were able to get them there at all reflects immense credit on us. And if we have done nothing particular at home in the past seven years, at least we have done it quietly and unobtrusively.”

Four out of every five proper Cecils6 will speak like that; the fifth proper Cecil would probably say it with equal shrillness at the wrong moment.

But the Cat that walked through the land not by any means by its lone came in and out and gave the Woman queer starts when she was working overtime to finish off her bills; and the Woman became hard and resolute as gelatine that has almost had time to cool, and flung a jar of Devonshire cream at the Cat that wouldn’t be silenced. It was the only thing she had had to hand for months and months, and she was glad to be able to throw it.23

But the Cat that mobilised as it walked wouldn’t stay away even when it saw “No Alternative” written on the door. And whenever the Woman was making a mess of things, which was sometimes, or whenever she was doing nothing, which was frequently, she would find the Cat looking on in a luminous manner which she considered unfeeling.

Four out of five proper Cecils would be vexed at such conduct, and the fifth proper Cecil would be righteously indignant.

The Cecils are indispensable for the government of the Empire. If there were no Cecils it would be necessary to invent them.8

That, Best Beloved, is an epigram. At least, I think so.


  1. 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847–1929), Liberal politician and Prime Minister 1894–5, whose courtesy title before inheriting the earldom was Lord Dalmeny.
  2. Despite his repeated avowals of his wish to leave poltics and go his own way, Rosebery attracted supporters such as Herbert Henry Asquith (1852–1928, Liberal Party politician, Prime Minister 1908–1916), Sir Edward Grey (1862–1933, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1892–1895 and later Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1905–1916), Henry Fowler (1830–1911, Secretary of State for India in Rosebery’s cabinet), and Richard Haldane (1856–1928, philosopher, lawyer and Liberal M.P.), all of whom at various times hoped — or convinced themselves — that he would return to front–line politics.
  3. Arthur Balfour (1848–1930), British Conservative politician, Prime Minister 1902–1905.
  4. A reference to claims that people had voted for the Conservatives in the last general election (1900) because they saw no alternative.
  5. Parodying the optimist Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (1759): “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.
  6. The Cecils were a political dynasty. James Gascoyne-Cecil (1791-1868), the second Marquess of Salisbury, was an M.P. before inheriting his title and later served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. The Marquess’s son, the 3rd Marquess (1830-1903), was Prime Minister three times, the third being 1895–1902, after which he was succeeded by his nephew Arthur Balfour. Balfours father and grandfather had been M.P.s and his brother Gerald (1853–1945) also entered parliament. The 3rd Marquess’s son, Lord Hugh Cecil (1869–1956) was also an M.P.
  7. Spencer Cavendish (1833–1908), 8th Duke of Devonshire, who had made speeches mocking Rosebery’s “clean slate” proposals. He was a member of Liberal Unionist Party and therefore a coalition partner of Balfour rather than a party colleague.
  8. Cf. Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” (‘Epître à l’auteur du livre des Trois imposteurs’, 1798.

‘The Dalmeny Cat That Walked by Itself’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 31 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-22 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 3

How the Pallmallatherium Lost Its Weak Spots

The Pallmallatherium

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.


  1. 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.
  2. Sic.
  3. This last part is a direct quotation.
  4. 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.
  5. The poor quality of animals procured by the department was one point of criticism.
  6. 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.

Two Political Paintings

Painting of Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament

Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament, by Andrew Carrick Gow (1907)

[…]the poll is on Wednesday, and the poor man will have worked himself to a shadow by that time. Imagine what electioneering must be like in this awful soaking rain, going along slushy country roads and speaking to damp audiences in draughty schoolrooms, day after day for a fortnight. He’ll have to put in an appearance at some place of worship on Sunday morning, and he can come to us immediately afterwards and have a thorough respite from everything connected with politics. I won’t let him even think of them. I’ve had the picture of Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament taken down from the staircase, and even the portrait of Lord Rosebery’s ‘Ladas’ removed from the smoking-room.

from ‘The Lull’
Beasts and Super-Beasts

Potrait of racehorse Ladas

‘Ladas’, Winner of the 1894 Derby 2, by Emil Adam, 1894.

Sources

Andrew Carrick Gow, “Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CromwellDissolvingLongParliament.jpg

Emil Adam, “‘Ladas’, Winner of the 1894 Derby 2”, Public domain, via www.wikigallery.org, https://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_344028/Emil-Adam/’Ladas’%2C-Winner-of-the-1894-Derby-2#licensing

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 2

How the Armydillo Lost Its Wool

The Armydillo and the Beech-Marten

You would like to know, Best Beloved, how the Doubtless Well-meaning Armydillo lost its wool.

The Doubtless Well-meaning but somewhat stereotyped Armydillo1 lived in a perfect and past-definite system of pigeon-holes and shrank from observation,2 especially such observations as the Beech-Marten3
was addicted to making.

“The Old Guard retires, but it never stops talking,” said the Armydillo angrily.4

There was a Whip once that became a perfect Scourge, but that has nothing to do with the story.5

No self-respecting Armydillo is ever to blame for the time being; but there have been Armydillos in the past that have been simply scandalous.

So when the superfluous Beech-Marten came round talking about waste and extravagance and extraneous influences and other things that aren’t funny but only rude, the Doubtless Well-meaning Armydillo became virtuously indignant and tore its hair, and remembered a State of Things a quarter of a Century6 ago that would have sent it pallid and chattering into the Chiltern Hundreds.7 That is how all Armydilloes talk, and no doubt they mean it at the time; it is not so hard to be resigned at a distance of twenty-five years.8

The Beech-Marten didn’t care how angry the Armydillo got, because he had squeezed him so when they lived in the same burrow. No Beech-Marten likes being squeezed, it upsets their balance.

And that, Best Beloved, is how the Armydillo lost its wool.


  1. William St John Fremantle Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, (1856–1942), Secretary of State for War 1900–1903.
  2. Brodrick was both touchy and tactless.
  3. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, (1837-1916), Chancellor of the Exchequer 1885-1886 and 1895-1902). He clashed with Brodrick over the costs of the latter’s planned army reforms. After his resignation from the front bench, Hicks Beach made a speech in his constituency on 29 September 1902 in which he criticised the way the War Office had conducted the Boer War and the influence “outside influences” wielded on it (although he specifically said he did not blame Brodrick)
  4. Parodying “The Old Guard dies; it never surrenders” (attributed to General Pierre Cambronne, 1770-1842, at the Battle of Waterloo).
  5. Probably referring to Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St Oswald (1820–1893), Conservative Party Chief Whip from 1880 to 1885. He was caricatured as “the lash” by ‘Ape’ in Vanity Fair in 1874; the reason remains unclear.
  6. Capitalised in the original.
  7. Being appointed “Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds” (an “office of profit under The Crown”, referring to management of this ancient administrative area) disqualifies an M.P. from sitting in the House of Commons, and thus allows him to resign his seat (which is otherwise legally impossible).
  8. Possibly referring to the time between the previous two sets of major army reforms (Cardwell Reforms, 1868–1872, and Childers Reforms, early 1880s).

‘How the Armydillo Lost Its Wool’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 9 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-21 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 1

[This is the first of Munro’s five parodies of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ (1902). Once again, the stories were complemented by illustrations by Francis Carruthers Gould. I plan on publishing them all here.]

How the Pelletan of the Mediterranean Lost His Voice

The Pelletan of the MediterraneanOnce, Best Beloved, there was a Pelletan of the Mediterranean, who in his spare moments was also a responsible Minister.1 He was incorrigibly and uncontrovertibly innocuous, but he had one great fault which tormented his otherwise epidermical subconsciousness day and night, but especially after meals. He was too quiet.

“The pity of it,” he said to himself; “I might be so different.”

So the incorrigibly innocuous Pelletan fell into the Mediterranean with a loud splash and said, to all whom it might concern:

“In spite of unpreventable circumstances over which I have no control, this is not a lake.”2

But it didn’t seem to concern anybody, so he flew off to a conveniently adjacent island and remarked, “From here I could peck straight at my neighbour’s heart.”3

All responsible Ministers do not talk in this fashion, but this one did.4

There are others.

But only a few eyebrows went up, and Foreign Stocks remained normal. So the burlesquely belligerent but quite innocuous Pelletan flew off in another direction and peeped across the frontier and said, “Just you wait!” and “So there!” and other remarks that people make when they are in the right and don’t care who knows it.5

Then his friends got round him and asked him, “What are you after?”

“I’m after luncheon,” he explained, “and I simply must.”

So they collected perfectly unambiguous [p]ress notices in several languages, and thrust them into his beak, and into his mouth, and half-way down his throat, so that he became too full for articulate utterance, and could only say “Squawk!”

“Go and digest those,” they said.

And that, Best Beloved, is how the Pelletan of the Mediterranean lost his voice.


  1. Charles Camille Pelletan (1846–1915), French left-wing politician and journalist, Minister of Marine 1902–1905.
  2. The French colonies in north Africa led to the Mediterranean being described by nationalistic Frenchmen in the nineteenth century as a “French lake”. The description was reportedly coined by Napoleon. Pelletan alluded to it in a speeches he made in 1902 at Bizerta (Tunisia) and Ajaccio (Corsica).
  3. Pelletan also recommended fortifying Corsica, whose eastern coast, he said, “aims straight at the heart of Italy”.
  4. Pelletan was much criticised for making radical and undiplomatic speeches that were considered incompatible with his position as a cabinet member.
  5. Germany: the target of much French rancour after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 led to the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the newly formed German Empire.

‘How the Pelletan of the Mediterranean Lost His Voice’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 9 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-21 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

‘Louis’

“It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year,” said Strudwarden, “and look up some of my old friends there. It’s about the jolliest place I know of to be at for Easter—”

“I thought we had made up our minds to spend Easter at Brighton,” interrupted Lena Strudwarden, with an air of aggrieved surprise.

“You mean that you had made up your mind that we should spend Easter there,” said her husband; “we spent last Easter there, and Whitsuntide as well, and the year before that we were at Worthing, and Brighton again before that. I think it would be just as well to have a real change of scene while we are about it.”

“The journey to Vienna would be very expensive,” said Lena.

“You are not often concerned about economy,” said Strudwarden, “and in any case the trip to Vienna won’t cost a bit more than the rather meaningless luncheon parties we usually give to quite meaningless acquaintances at Brighton. To escape from all that set would be a holiday in itself.” Continue reading

‘The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat’

Jocantha Bessbury was in the mood to be serenely and graciously happy. Her world was a pleasant place, and it was wearing one of its pleasantest aspects. Gregory had managed to get home for a hurried lunch and a smoke afterwards in the little snuggery; the lunch had been a good one, and there was just time to do justice to the coffee and cigarettes. Both were excellent in their way, and Gregory was, in his way, an excellent husband. Jocantha rather suspected herself of making him a very charming wife, and more than suspected herself of having a first-rate dressmaker.

“I don’t suppose a more thoroughly contented personality is to be found in all Chelsea,”1 observed Jocantha in allusion to herself; “except perhaps Attab,”2 she continued, glancing towards the large tabby-marked cat that lay in considerable ease in a corner of the divan. “He lies there, purring and dreaming, shifting his limbs now and then in an ecstasy of cushioned comfort. He seems the incarnation of everything soft and silky and velvety, without a sharp edge in his composition, a dreamer whose philosophy is sleep and let sleep; and then, as evening draws on, he goes out into the garden with a red glint in his eyes and slays a drowsy sparrow.”

“As every pair of sparrows hatches out ten or more young ones in the year, while their food supply remains stationary, it is just as well that the Attabs of the community should have that idea of how to pass an amusing afternoon,” said Gregory. Having delivered himself of this sage comment he lit another cigarette, bade Jocantha a playfully affectionate good-bye, and departed into the outer world.

“Remember, dinner’s a wee bit earlier to-night, as we’re going to the Haymarket,”3 she called after him. Continue reading

Of Menageries and Mappin Terraces

The Guardian newspaper has a review of Zoo Buildings: Construction and Design Manual, by Natascha Meuser, which is a history of all forms of animal enclosures – cages, menageries, bear pits, zoological gardens, fake ‘natural’ landscapes. Although the review doesn’t mention them specifically, I assume Meuser also deals with London Zoo’s Mappin Terraces, which provide the main reference point for Saki’s story ‘The Mappined Life’.

Link: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/sep/27/have-zoos-had-their-day-architecture-barbaric-sci-fi

‘Birds on the Western Front’

[In the run-up to Remembrance Day, here’s a piece Saki wrote while serving in the trenches in northern France in 1916 (with some extra pictures).]

Considering the enormous economic dislocation which the war operations have caused in the regions where the campaign is raging, there seems to be very little corresponding disturbance in the bird life of the same districts. Rats and mice have mobilized and swarmed into the fighting line, and there has been a partial mobilization of owls, particularly barn owls, following in the wake of the mice, and making laudable efforts to thin out their numbers. What success attends their hunting one cannot estimate; there are always sufficient mice left over to populate one’s dug-out and make a parade-ground and race-course of one’s face at night. In the matter of nesting accommodation the barn owls are well provided for; most of the still intact barns in the war zone are requisitioned for billeting purposes, but there is a wealth of ruined houses, whole streets and clusters of them, such as can hardly have been available at any previous moment of the world’s history since Nineveh and Babylon became humanly desolate.[1] Without human occupation and cultivation there can have been no corn, no refuse, and consequently very few mice, and the owls of Nineveh cannot have enjoyed very good hunting; here in Northern France the owls have desolation and mice at their disposal in unlimited quantities, and as these birds breed in winter as well as in summer, there should be a goodly output of war owlets to cope with the swarming generations of war mice. Continue reading