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.

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.

‘The East Wing’

“I’m so glad you have come,” she said; “servants are so little help in an emergency of this kind. My husband has gone off in the car to summon the fire-brigade.”

“Haven’t you telephoned to them?” asked the Major.

“The telephone unfortunately is in the east wing,” said the hostess; “so is the telephone-book. Both are being devoured by the flames at this moment. It makes one feel dreadfully isolated. Now if the fire had only broken out in the west wing instead, we could have used the telephone and had the fire-engines here by now.”

“On the other hand,” objected Lucien, “Canon Clore and Major Boventry and myself would probably have met with the fate that has overtaken the telephone-book. I think I prefer the present arrangement.”

“The butler and most of the other servants are in the dining-room, trying to save the Raeburns and the alleged Van Dyke,”1 continued Mrs Gramplain, “and in that little room on the first landing, cut off from us by the cruel flames, is my poor darling Eva. Eva of the golden hair. Will none of you save her?”

“Who is Eva of the golden hair?” asked Lucien.

“My daughter,” said Mrs Gramplain.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” said Lucien, “and really I don’t think I can risk my life to save some one I’ve never met or even heard about. You see, my life is not only wonderful and beautiful to myself, but if my life goes, nothing else really matters to me. I don’t suppose you can realise that, to me, the whole world as it exists to-day, the Ulster problem, the Albanian tangle, the Kikuyu controversy,2 the wide field of social reform and Antarctic exploration, the realms of finance, and research and international armaments, all this varied and crowded and complex world, all comes to a complete and absolute end the moment my life is finished. Eva might be snatched from the flames and live to be the grandmother of brilliant and charming men and women; but, as far as I should be concerned, she and they would no more exist than a vanished puff of cigarette smoke or a dissolved soda-water bubble. And if, in losing my life, I am to lose her life and theirs, as far as I personally am concerned with them, why on earth should I, personally, risk my life to save hers and theirs?” Continue reading

‘The Woman Who Never Should’

The Prime Minister[1] sat in a deep, leather-lined chair in his new room, dreaming in the dusk of evening over the coming years and achievements of his Premiership as a brooding hen mothers in prospect the chickens she is yet to hatch. It was a long vista down which his fancy wandered, of peace and adroitness and delicate handlings, of careful managing and gentle rosewater revolutions, above all, of placid, unwavering majorities. A pleasant waking dream, through which the refrain “Toujours Balfour”[2] trickled with the soothing murmur of a meadow stream. A sigh at his elbow broke in upon his musings like a dead rook falling with insistent thud from the silence of a sleeping rookery, and he turned to find a woman standing beside him — a woman with pale, almost frightened face, but with an underlying air of resolution that bordered on defiance.

“Efficiency!” he said; “you here. Here, of all places!”

“You are displeased to see me here?”

“Not displeased, exactly, but I can scarcely believe it. You must see that you cannot possibly stay here.”

“Yet at one time you used to be proud to be seen with me. I suppose I was useful to you at election times, when things did not go so easily for you as they do now. You used to take me to your arms, then, and I think you really cared for me[,] just a little.”[3]

“Of course I admire you very much still, and I often talk about you[,] really I do, though we’ve seen so little of each other lately[.] But you can’t reasonably expect me to dislocate my whole career and habits.”[4]

“I might be so helpful to you. In times of crisis, for instance, the consciousness that you had me by your side—“

“In times of crisis and perplexity I simply get in a man from the street to act as caretaker, and I become again as a little child,[5] innocent of all things[.][6] I have always found that answer admirably hitherto[.] And it would never do, for many reasons, to take you into my establishment; you would inevitably make your presence felt in so many departments. There is my brother and other members of the family group[7] to be considered[—]they would never be able to fit into your ways.”

“You are keeping back the real reason from me, possibly because you wish to spare my feelings. You love another. Do I know her name?”

The Prime Minister hesitated for a moment, then answered softly, as one who caresses a tradition, “Laissez Faire.”[8]

“That old thing! I should have thought you were tired to death of her years ago.”

“Hush, don’t say spiteful things. She may not be brilliant or particularly modern, but you cannot think what a solace it is to a man, tired with his golf or jaded with his philosophical studies,[9] to turn to someone who asks little, exacts nothing.”

“And does nothing, knows nothing, and is dowdy without being cheap. So it is for her that I am put on one side!”

“And you, are you so very constant in your affections? Why do people couple your name so freely with that of my rival and sometime predecessor in the Premiership?”[10]

“Perhaps because he has shown me attention where you have only offered neglect. Remember, if I have no longer attractions for you, there are others.”

The Minister flushed with a sudden unreasoning jealousy. “He cannot give you what I can, a permanent home and a share in all that is going—“[5]

Then, checking himself, he added more gently, “What am I saying? Dear lady, I can never be more to you than a friend. You may come and drink tea with me sometimes on the Terrace,[11] and I shall always be glad to see you — at Manchester.[12] But you must never come here again. It is no place for you.”

Then he held the door open for his unbidden guest. Her foot-steps sounded down the staircase like the hollow menace of a receding drum, and he tried to fancy that its time-beat remotely harmonised with the lingering refrain “Toujours Balfour.”

With a sigh of relief he sank back into the depths of his armchair.

“It was dreadful” he murmured, “but how brave I was! That shall be the keynote of my Administration; we will be gently courageous. Every notable Administration gets a nickname: they will call us—yes, they will call us the League of the Poor Brave Things.”[13]

(First published in The Westminster Gazette, Tuesday, July 22, 1902. I have added a few pieces of punctuation that are either invisible or missing from the copy I worked from.)


  1. Arthur James Balfour (1848–1930), British Conservative politician, Prime Minister 1902–1905.  ↩
  2. ”Balfour for ever“ (French).  ↩
  3. The need for “national efficiency” had become a political watchword from the end of the nineteenth century, prompted by Britain’s military failures in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and by increased competition from Germany. Demands for efficiency, i.e. modernisation, were made by politicians from all parties. Balfour’s 1902 Education Act was to be one product of this drive. 
  4. Balfour was often characterised as indolent and lacking passion or drive. Winston Churchill once commented “If you wanted nothing done, Arthur Balfour was the best man for the task. There was no equal to him”.  ↩
  5. Reference to Matthew 18:3.  ↩
  6. Was Munro perhaps remembering John Dryden’s Prologue to Joseph Harris’ The Mistakes (1690)? “’Tis innocent of all things–even of wit.”  ↩
  7. Balfour came from a political family: his father and grandfather had been MPs and his brother Gerald (1853–1945) also entered parliament. His maternal grandfather was the second Marquess of Salisbury, who was an MP before inheriting his title and later served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. His son (and consequently Arthur’s uncle), the 3rd Marquess, was Prime Minister three times in the later nineteenth century.  ↩
  8. Political ideology that governments should interfere as little as possible, especially in economic matters.  ↩
  9. Balfour made a name for himself with philosophical writings, including his The Foundations of Belief (1895) and Defence of Philosophic Doubt (1879); his love of golf was well known and often exploited by caricaturists and political sketch writers.  ↩
  10. Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, (1847–1929), Liberal Prime Minister 1894–1895.  ↩
  11. Of the Houses of Parliament, overlooking the Thames.  ↩
  12. Balfour represented the constituency of Manchester East from 1885–1906.  ↩
  13. “The League of the Poor Brave Things” was the name of one of the many voluntary charitable organisations looking after deprived children.  ↩

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.]

‘The Pond’

Mona had always regarded herself as cast for the tragic rôle; her name, her large dark eyes, and the style of hairdressing that best suited her, all contributed to support that outlook on life. She habitually wore the air of one who has seen trouble, or, at any rate, expects to do so very shortly; and she was accustomed to speak of the Angel of Death almost as other people would speak of their chauffeur waiting around the corner to fetch them at the appointed moment. Fortune-tellers, noting this tendency in her disposition, invariably hinted at something in her fate which they would not care to speak about too explicitly. “You will marry the man of your choice, but afterwards you will pass through strange fires,” a Bond Street two-guinea palm-oilist had told her. “Thank you,” said Mona, “for your plain speaking. But I have known it always.” Continue reading

‘The Garden of Eden’

[This fragment was found among Munro’s papers after his death and first published as part of his sister’s memoir of him. Ethel Munro’s (rather idiosyncratic) commentary on it runs thus: “Eve is depicted as a very stubborn, even mule-like character. The serpent simply cannot get her to eat the forbidden fruit. She does not see that any good will come of it, and she is placidly happy in her limited knowledge. […] How she eventually succumbed I don’t know. Hector had a special detestation for this type of character, stubborn, placid, unimaginative, like the awful, good child in ‘The Story Teller’ […]”]

The Serpent elaborated all the arguments and inducements that he had already brought forward, and improvised some new ones, but Eve’s reply was unfailingly the same. Her mind was made up. The Serpent gave a final petulant wriggle of its coils and slid out of the landscape with an unmistakeable air of displeasure.

“You haven’t tasted the Forbidden Fruit, I suppose?” said a pleasant but rather anxious voice at Eve’s shoulder a few minutes later. It was one of the Archangels who was speaking.

“No,” said Eve placidly, “Adam and I went into the matter very thoroughly last night and we came to the conclusion that we should be rather ill-advised in eating the fruit of that tree; after all, there are heaps of other trees and vegetables for us to feed on.”

“Of course it does great credit to your sense of obedience,” said the Archangel, with an entire lack of enthusiasm in his voice, “but it will cause considerable disappointment in some quarters. There was an idea going about that you might be persuaded by specious arguments into tasting the Forbidden Fruit.” Continue reading