F is for Foreigner. Specifically, Herman T. Ermyntrude, an American. He’s here in Cadblister Parva “on a kind of pilgrimage,” as he is a Connection of the Crabtree family. They have Not Received him thus far, but he is a very hard man to snub.
Herman T. Ermyntrude strode confidently up the venerable Yew Alley towards the ancient seat of the Crabtrees. The snow was deep under his feet, but the day was sunny, and the old place sure looked swell in the snow. There was a camera hanging like an albatross round his neck. On his face was a bonhomous smile, and he chuckled to himself as he ran his eye over the vast bulk of the building as it grew ever closer.
“This old country,” he said to himself, “nothing ever changes here. No pep. Still, it is kinda- reassuring. The whole world moves, but not little England. Oh no.” And he stepped smartly up the stairs and knocked at the gigantic front door. It was opened presently by the butler. Herman T. Ermyntrude grinned.
“Hi!” He cried matily. “It’s my old friend Sneakfork! What fettle, as you people say over here?”
Sneakfork frowned. He resented so much in this little speech that he was having a hard time selecting which to focus on first. He resented Mr. Ermyntrude’s manner. It was what he could only call Familiar. It was also Democratic. To Mr. Ermyntrude, Sneakfork was a man and a brother. Sneakfork disapproved of this view. He was no man’s brother. He was a butler; he was Apart, separate; he stood alone, in regal isolation. This was As It Should Be.
Also, Sneakfork had never in his blameless life said ‘what fettle.’ He rather thought it was a Yorkshirism. Sneakfork was not from Yorkshire, and he resented the implication that he might be.
But all of this, Sneakfork decided, paled into insignificance when set next to the enormity of being called “you people.” That was Not To Be Borne, not from an Upstart like this Ermyntrude. Mr. Ermyntrude must be definitively crushed. Sneakfork raised his eyebrows slightly and prepared to freeze Mr. Ermyntrude with a glance.
“Do I understand that you are asking after my health, sir?” Said Sneakfork.
“I sure am! How are you? How’s the wife? How about the infant Sneakfork?” Mr. Ermyntrude was still smiling. Sneakfork took in a mass of oxygen through his nose and tried again.
“I am not married, sir.”
“Now, ain’t that a shame!”
“And the baby- it was a boy, sir- buried on the same day as my dear wife. It was a difficult birth, sir, and things went rather badly wrong.” Sneakfork increased the frostiness of his eye. He made it clear, by the power of Expression, that Mr. Ermyntrude had made the Gaffe of The Century. He Disapproved, harder than he’d ever Disapproved before.
“Ah,” said Mr. Ermyntrude, soberly. “Well, I’m real sorry ’bout that, Sneakfork.” There was a moment of silence. Sneakfork felt a grim satisfaction. Mr. Ermyntrude had been Put In His Place, at last. Sneakfork was Victorious. He prepared to shut the door.
And then, incredibly, the horrible little man smiled and snapped his fingers. “Hey! Know what I’ll do? When I get home to Wickahighlow, Ohio, I’ll tell the Reverend all about your wife and the little one, and we’ll have a good long prayer for ’em both. How’s that? Whattaya think?”
Since Sneakfork had never been married, and had never lost an infant son, he thought singularly little of this proposal. He decided that a change of subject was in order. “Was there anything you wanted, sir?” He inquired coldly.
“Well, yeah. I want in. As I mentioned in our last little chat but three, I am a connection of the Crabtrees- second cousin to His Lordship, more or less- and I’d like to meet the whole gang of ’em. And have a little look-round at the old place. Call me sentimental, but family rates with me, Mr. Sneakfork.”
“Are you aware, sir, that His Lordship met with a fatal accident last night?”
This seemed at last to have dented the man’s cheerfulness a bit. He went, Sneakfork noted with satisfaction, all wobbly. “No I was not,” he said after a stunned moment. He whistled. “Well, there’s a thing! What happened? You say- an accident?”
“Someone put a knife in him. Sir.”
“Gosh!” Mr. Ermyntrude whistled. “Gosh. Well, I guess I’d like to give my condolences to the widow.” And Mr. Ermyntrude actually made as if to enter the Hall.
“I fear that will not be possible, sir. Good day.” And Sneakfork closed the door in his face.
As Sneakfork walked slowly away from the front door, he found that he was almost coming to respect Mr. Ermyntrude. He was vulgar, and he was Familiar, and he was Presuming most Dreadfully upon a tenuous and, Sneakfork darkly suspected, fictitious tie of blood with the Crabtree family. But he seemed to be Un-snub-able. Sneakfork had been Snubbing for many years now, and he was very good at it. He could, in fact, Snub for England. And now, in his old age, it was starting to seem as if he’d met his match. Sneakfork shook his head.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ermyntrude moseyed back up the Yew Alley. He seemed not to be attending very closely to the terrain, for many times he seemed almost to trip. He reached Main Street, and soon came to the turning for the lane that was a shortcut to the Hall. Men swarmed like beetles all over the lane. “Must be the cops,” Mr. Ermyntrude said thoughtfully. “Bobbies, they call ’em. Hrm.” And he stopped, intending to have a good, long look at The Police In Action.
“Hey! You with the camera!” One of the men cried indignantly.
“A journalist, like as not!” Another remarked.
“Get out of this, you!” Ordered a third. “Move along!” Mr. Ermyntrude waved, tipped his hat to the officers, and continued on his way.
Back in his hotel room, Mr. Ermyntrude sat rather heavily down on the bed. Slowly, he eased out of his topcoat, and then out of his jacket.
One of the shoulders of this jacket, the reader may be interested to note, was rather more heavily padded than the other.