"You are not really dying, are you?" asked Amanda.
"I have the doctor's permission to live till Tuesday," said Laura.
"But today is Saturday; this is serious!" gasped Amanda.
"I don't know about it being serious; it is certainly Saturday,"
"Death is always serious," said Amanda.
"I never said I was going to die. I am presumably going to leave
off being Laura, but I shall go on being something. An animal of
some kind, I suppose. You see, when one hasn't been very good
in the life one has just lived, one reincarnates in some lower organism.
And I haven't been very good, when one comes to think of it. I've
been petty and mean and vindictive and all that sort of thing when circumstances
have seemed to warrant it."
"Circumstances never warrant that sort of thing," said Amanda hastily.
"If you don't mind my saying so," observed Laura, "Egbert is a circumstance
that would warrant any amount of that sort of thing. You're married
to him -- that's different; you've sworn to love, honour, and endure him:
"I don't see what's wrong with Egbert," protested Amanda.
"Oh, I daresay the wrongness has been on my part," admitted Laura dispassionately;
"he has merely been the extenuating circumstance. He made a thin,
peevish kind of fuss, for instance, when I took the collie puppies from
the farm out for a run the other day."
"They chased his young broods of speckled Sussex and drove two sitting
hens off their nests, besides running all over the flower beds. You
know how devoted he is to his poultry and garden."
"Anyhow, he needn't have gone on about it for the entire evening and
then have said, `Let's say no more about it' just when I was beginning
to enjoy the discussion. That's where one of my petty vindictive
revenges came in," added Laura with an unrepentant chuckle; "I turned the
entire family of speckled Sussex into his seedling shed the day after the
"How could you?" exclaimed Amanda.
"It came quite easy," said Laura; "two of the hens pretended to be laying
at the time, but I was firm."
"And we thought it was an accident!"
"You see," resumed Laura, "I really have some grounds for supposing
that my next incarnation will be in a lower organism. I shall be
an animal of some kind. On the other hand, I haven't been a bad sort
in my way, so I think may count on being a nice animal, something elegant
and lively, with a love of fun. An otter, perhaps."
"I can't imagine you as an otter," said Amanda.
"Well, I don't suppose you can imagine me as an angel, if it comes to
that," said Laura.
Amanda was silent. She couldn't.
"Personally I think an otter life would be rather enjoyable," continued
Laura; "Salmon to eat all the year round, and the satisfaction of being
able to fetch the trout in their own homes without having to wait for hours
till they condescend to rise to the fly you've been dangling before them;
and an elegant svelte figure . . . "
"Think of the otter hounds," interposed Amanda; "how dreadful to be
hunted and harried and finally worried to death!"
"Rather fun with half the neighbourhood looking on, and anyhow not worse
than this Saturday-to-Tuesday business of dying by inches; and then I should
go on into something else. If I had been a moderately good otter
I suppose I should get back into human shape of some sort; probably something
rather primitive -- a little brown, unclothed Nubian boy, I should think."
"I wish you would be serious," sighed Amanda; "you really ought to be
if you're only going to live till Tuesday."
As a matter of fact Laura died on Monday.
"So dreadfully upsetting," Amanda complained to her uncle-in-law, Sir
Lulworth Quayne. "I've asked quite a lot of people down for golf
and fishing, and the rhododendrons are just looking their best."
"Laura always was inconsiderate," said Sir Lulworth; "she was born during
Goodwood week, with an Ambassador staying in the house who hated babies."
"She had the maddest kind of ideas," said Amanda; "do you know if there
was any insanity in her family?"
"Insanity? No, I never heard of any. Her father lives in
West Kensington, but I believe he's sane on all other subjects."
"She had an idea that she was going to be reincarnated as an otter,"
"One meets with those ideas of reincarnation so frequently, even in
the West," said Sir Lulworth, "that one can hardly set them down as being
mad. And Laura was such an unaccountable person in this life that
I should not like to lay down definite rules as to what she might be doing
in an after state."
"You think she really might have passed into some animal form?" asked
Amanda. She was one of those who shape their opinions rather readily
from the standpoint of those around them.
Just then Egbert entered the breakfast room, wearing an air of bereavement
that Laura's demise would have been insufficient, in itself, to account
"Four of my speckled Sussex have been killed," he exclaimed; "the very
four that were to go to the show on Friday. One of them was dragged
away and eaten right in the middle of that new carnation bed that I've
been to such trouble and expense over. My best flower bed and my
best fowls singled out for destruction; it almost seems as if the brute
that did the deed had special knowledge how to be as devastating as possible
in a short space of time."
"Was it a fox, do you think?" asked Amanda.
"Sounds more like a polecat," said Sir Lulworth.
"No," said Egbert, "there were marks of webbed feet all over the place,
and we followed the tracks down to the stream at the bottom of the garden;
evidently an otter."
Amanda looked quickly and furtively across at Sir Lulworth.
Egbert was too agitated to eat any breakfast, and went out to superintend
the strengthening of the poultry yard defences.
"I think she might at least have waited till the funeral was over,"
said Amanda in a scandalised voice.
"It's her own funeral, you know," said Sir Lulworth; "it's a nice point
in etiquette how far one ought to show respect to one's own mortal remains."
Disregard for mortuary convention was carried to further lengths next
day; during the absence of the family at the funeral ceremony the remaining
survivors of the speckled Sussex were massacred. The marauder's line
of retreat seemed to have embraced most of the flower beds on the lawn,
but the strawberry beds in the lower garden had also suffered.
"I shall get the otter hounds to come here at the earliest possible
moment," said Egbert savagely.
"On no account! You can't dream of such a thing!" exclaimed Amanda.
"I mean, it wouldn't do, so soon after a funeral in the house."
"It's a case of necessity," said Egbert; "once an otter takes to that
sort of thing it won't stop."
"Perhaps it will go elsewhere now there are no more fowls left," suggested
"One would think you wanted to shield the beast," said Egbert.
"There's been so little water in the stream lately," objected Amanda;
"it seems hardly sporting to hunt an animal when it has so little chance
of taking refuge anywhere."
"Good gracious!" fumed Egbert, "I'm not thinking about sport.
I want to have the animal killed as soon as possible."
Even Amanda's opposition weakened when, during church time on the following
Sunday, the otter made its way into the house, raided half a salmon from
the larder and worried it into scaly fragments on the Persian rug in Egbert's
"We shall have it hiding under our beds and biting pieces out of our
feet before long," said Egbert, and from what Amanda knew of this particular
otter she felt that the possibility was not a remote one.
On the evening preceding the day fixed for the hunt Amanda spent a solitary
hour walking by the banks of the stream, making what she imagined to be
hound noises. It was charitably supposed by those who overheard her
performance, that she was practising for farmyard imitations at the forth-coming
It was her friend and neighbour, Aurora Burret, who brought her news
of the day's sport.
"Pity you weren't out; we had quite a good day. We found it at
once, in the pool just below your garden."
"Did you -- kill?" asked Amanda.
"Rather. A fine she-otter. Your husband got rather badly
bitten in trying to 'tail it.' Poor beast, I felt quite sorry for
it, it had such a human look in its eyes when it was killed. You'll
call me silly, but do you know who the look reminded me of? My dear
woman, what is the matter?"
When Amanda had recovered to a certain extent from her attack of nervous
prostration Egbert took her to the Nile Valley to recuperate. Change
of scene speedily brought about the desired recovery of health and mental
balance. The escapades of an adventurous otter in search of a variation
of diet were viewed in their proper light. Amanda's normally placid
temperament reasserted itself. Even a hurricane of shouted curses,
coming from her husband's dressing-room, in her husband's voice, but hardly
in his usual vocabulary, failed to disturb her serenity as she made a leisurely
toilet one evening in a Cairo hotel.
"What is the matter? What has happened?" she asked in amused curiosity.
"The little beast has thrown all my clean shirts into the bath!
Wait till I catch you, you little . . ."
"What little beast?" asked Amanda, suppressing a desire to laugh; Egbert's
language was so hopelessly inadequate to express his outraged feelings.
"A little beast of a naked brown Nubian boy," spluttered Egbert.
And now Amanda is seriously ill.