Authors: A.A. Milne
Short Stories and Poems for Proper Grown-ups
My publisher wants me to apologize forâ“introduce” was the kindly word he usedâthis collection of articles and verses from
. I do so with pleasure.
Among the many interests of a long and varied career
No, I don't think I shall begin like that.
It was early in 1871
Nor like that.
Really it is very difficult, you know. I wrote these things for a number of years, andâwell, here they are. But just to say “Here they are” is to be too informal for my publisher. He wants, not a casual introduction, but a presentation. Let me tell you a little story instead.
When war broke out, I had published three of these books in England, the gleanings of nine years' regular work for
. There are, I understand, a few Americans who read
it was suggested to me that a suitable collection of articles from these three books might have some sort of American sale. So I made such a collection, leaving out the more topical and allusive sketches, and including those with a more general appeal. I called the result “Happy Days”âan attractive title, you will agreeâand in 1915 a New York publisher was found for it.
This is a funny story; at least it appeals to
; so I won't remind myself of the number of copies which we sold. That was tragedy, not comedy. The joke lay in one of the few notices which the book received from the press. For a New York critic ended his review of “Happy Days” with these immortal words:
Mr. Milne is at present in the trenches facing the German bullets, so this will probably be his last book
You see now why an apology is necessary. Here we are, seven years later, and I am still at it.
But at any rate, it is the last of this sort of book. As I said in a foreword to the English edition: “It is the last time because this sort of writing depends largely upon the irresponsibility and high spirits of youth for its success, and I want to stop before (may I say âbefore'?) the high spirits become
mechanical and the irresponsibility a trick. Perhaps the fact that this collection is final will excuse its air of scrappiness. Odd Verses have crept in on the unanswerable plea that, if they didn't do it now, they never would; War Sketches protested that I shouldn't have a book at all if I left them out; an Early Article, omitted from three previous volumes, paraded for the fourth time with such a pathetic âI suppose you don't want
in its eye that it could not decently be rejected. So here they all are.”
One further word of explanation. You may find the first section of this bookâ“Oranges and Lemons”âa little difficult. The characters of it are old friends to that limited public which reads my books in England; their earlier adventures have been told in those previous volumes (and purposely omitted from “Happy Days” as being a little too insular). I feel somehow that strangers will not be on such easy terms with them, and I would recommend that you approach them last. By that time you will have discovered whether you are in a mood to stop and listen to their chatter, or prefer to pass them by with a nod.
“Dear Myra,” wrote Simpson at the beginning of the yearâ“I have an important suggestion to make to you both, and I am coming round to-morrow night after dinner about nine o'clock. As time is so short I have asked Dahlia and Archie to meet me there, and if by any chance you have gone out we shall wait till you come back.
“P.S.âI have asked Thomas too.”
“Well?” said Myra eagerly, as I gave her back the letter.
In deep thought I buttered a piece of toast.
“We could stop Thomas,” I said. “We might
ring up the Admiralty and ask them to give him something to do this evening. I don't know about Archie. Is heâ”
“Oh, what do you think it is? Aren't you excited?” She sighed and added, “Of course I know what Samuel
“Yes. Probably he wants us all to go to the Zoo togetherâ¦or he's discovered a new way of putting, orâI say, I didn't know Archie and Dahlia were in town.”
“They aren't. But I expect Samuel telegraphed to them to meet him under the clock at Charing Cross disguised, when they would hear of something to their advantage. Oh, I wonder what it is. It
be something real this time.”
Since the day when Simpson woke me up at six o'clock in the morning to show me his stance-for-a-full-wooden-club shot, I have distrusted his enthusiasms; but Myra loves him as a mother; and IâI couldn't do without him; and when a man like that invites a whole crowd of people to come to your flat just about the time when you are wondering what has happened to the sardines on toastâwell, it isn't polite to put the chain on the door and explain through the letter-box that you
have gone away for a week.
“We'd better have dinner a bit earlier to be on the safe side,” I said, as Myra gave me a parting brush down in the hall. “If any further developments occur in the course of the day, ring me up at the office. By the way, Simpson doesn't seem to have invited Peter. I wonder why not. He's nearly two, and he ought to be in it. Myra, I'm sure I'm tidy now.”
“Pipe, tobacco, matches, keys, money?”
“Everything,” I said. “Bless you. Goodbye.”
“Good-bye,” said Myra lingeringly. “What do you think he meant by âas time is so short'?”
“I don't know. At least,” I added, looking at my watch, “I do know I shall be horribly late. Goodbye.”
I fled down the stairs into the street, waved to Myra at the windowâ¦and then came cautiously up again for my pipe. Life is very difficult on the mornings when you are in a hurry.
At dinner that night Myra could hardly eat for excitement.
“You'll be sorry afterwards,” I warned her, “when it turns out to be nothing more than that he has had his hair cut.”
“But even if it is, I don't see why I shouldn't be
excited at seeing my only brother againânot to mention sister-in-law.”
“Then let's move,” I said. “They'll be here directly.”
Archie and Dahlia came first. We besieged them with questions as soon as they appeared.
“Haven't an idea,” said Archie, “I wanted to bring a revolver in case it was anything really desperate, but Dahlia wouldn't let me.”
“It would have been useful too,” I said, “if it turned out to be something merely futile.”
“You're not going to hurt my Samuel, however futile it is,” said Myra. “Dahlia, how's Peter, and will you have some coffee?”
“Peter's lovely. You've had coffee, haven't you, Archie?”
“Better have some more,” I suggested, “in case Simpson is merely soporific. We anticipate a slumbering audience, and Samuel explaining a new kind of googlie he's invented.”
Entered Thomas lazily.
“Hallo,” he said in his slow voice. “What's it all about?”
“It's a raid on the Begum's palace,” explained Archie rapidly. “Dahlia decoys the Chief Mucilage;
you, Thomas, drive the submarine; Myra has charge of the clockwork mouse, and we others hang about and sing. To say more at this stage would be to bring about a European conflict.”
“Coffee, Thomas?” said Myra.
“I bet he's having us on,” said Thomas gloomily, as he stirred his coffee.
There was a hurricane in the hall. Chairs were swept over; coats and hats fell to the ground; a high voice offered continuous apologiesâand Simpson came in.
“Hallo, Myra!” he said eagerly. “Hallo, old chap! Hallo, Dahlia! Hallo, Archie! Hallo, Thomas, old boy!” He fixed his spectacles firmly on his nose and beamed round the room.
“We're all hereâthanking you very much for inviting us,” I said. “Have a cigarâif you've brought any with you.”
Fortunately he had brought several with him.
“Now then, I'll give any of you three guesses what it's all about.”
“No, you don't. We're all waiting, and you can begin your apology right away.”
Simpson took a deep breath and began.
“I've been lent a villa,” he said.
There was a moment's silenceâ¦and then Archie got up.
“Good-bye,” he said to Myra, holding out his hand. “Thanks for a very jolly evening. Come along Dahlia.”
“But I say, old chap,” protested Simpson.
“I'm sorry, Simpson, but the fact that you're moving from the Temple to Cricklewood, or wherever it is, and that somebody else is paying the thirty pounds a year, is jolly interesting, but it wasn't good enough to drag us up from the country to tell us about it. You could have written. However, thank you for the cigar.”
“My dear fellow, it isn't Cricklewood. It's the Riviera!”
Archie sat down again.
“Samuel!” cried Myra. “How she must love you!”
“I should never lend Simpson a villa of mine,” I said. “He'd only lose it.”
“They're some very old friends who live there, and they're going away for a month, and the servants are staying on, and they suggested that if I was going abroad again this yearâ”
How did the servants know you'd been abroad
last year?” asked Archie.
“Don't interrupt, dear,” said Dahlia. “I see what he means. How very jolly for you, Samuel.”
“For all of us, Dahlia!”
“You aren't suggesting we shall all crowd in?” growled Thomas.
“Of course, my dear old chap! I told them, and they're delighted. We can share housekeeping expenses, and it will be as cheap as anything.”
“But to go into a stranger's house,” said Dahlia anxiously.
house, Dahlia, for the time. I invite you!” He threw out his hands in a large gesture of welcome and knocked his coffee-cup on to the carpet, begged Myra's pardon several times and then sat down again and wiped his spectacles vigorously.
Archie looked doubtfully at Thomas.
“Duty, Thomas, duty,” he said, thumping his chest. “You can't desert the Navy at this moment of crisis.”
“Might,” said Thomas, puffing at his pipe.
Archie looked at me. I looked hopefully at Myra.
“Oh-h-h!” said Myra, entranced.
Archie looked at Dahlia. Dahlia frowned.
“It isn't till February,” said Simpson eagerly.
“It's very kind of you, Samuel,” said Dahlia, “but I don't think-”
Archie nodded to Simpson.
“You leave this to me,” he said confidentially. “We're going.”
“Toulon,” announced Archie, as the train came to a stop and gave out its plaintive, dying whistle. “Naval port of our dear allies, the French. This would interest Thomas.”
“If he weren't asleep,” I said.
“He'll be here directly,” said Simpson from the little table for two on the other side of the gangway. “I'm afraid he had a bad night. Here,
donnez-moi du caf et
âerâ” But the waiter had slipped past him againâthe fifth time.
“Have some of ours,” said Myra kindly, holding out the pot.
“Thanks very much, Myra, but I may as well wait for Thomas, andâ
gar on, du caf pour
âI don't think he'll beâ
deux caf s, gar on, s'il vous
âit's going to be a lovely day.”
Thomas came in quietly, sat down opposite Simpson, and ordered breakfast.
“Samuel wants some too,” said Myra.
Thomas looked surprised, grunted and ordered another breakfast.
“You see how easy it is,” said Archie. “Thomas, we're at Toulon, where the
come from. You ought to have been up long ago taking
notes for the Admiralty.”
“I had a rotten night,” said Thomas. “Simpson fell out of bed in the middle of it.”
“Oh, poor Samuel!”
“You don't mean to say you gave him the top berth?” I asked in surprise. “You must have known he'd fall out.”
“But, Thomas dear, surely Samuel's just falling-out-of-bed noise wouldn't wake you up,” said Myra. “I always thought you slept so well.”
“He tried to get back into
“I was a little dazed,” explained Simpson hastily, “and I hadn't got my spectacles.”
“Still you ought to have been able to see Thomas there.”
“Of course I did see him as soon as I got in, and then I remembered I was up above. So I climbed up.”
“It must be rather difficult climbing up at night,” thought Dahlia.
“Not if you get a good take-off, Dahlia,” said Simpson earnestly.
“Simpson got a good one off my face,” explained Thomas.
“My dear old chap, I was frightfully sorry. I did
come down at once and tell you how sorry I was, didn't I?”
“You stepped back on to it,” said Thomas shortly, and he turned his attention to the coffee.
Our table had finished breakfast. Dahlia and Myra got up slowly, and Archie and I filled our pipes and followed them out.
“Well, we'll leave you to it,” said Archie to the other table.
“Personally, I think it's Thomas' turn to step on Simpson. But don't be long, because there's a good view coming.”
The good view came, and then another and another, and they merged together and became one long, moving panorama of beauty. We stood in the corridor and drank it inâ¦and at intervals we said “Oh-h!” and “Oh, I say!” and “Oh, I say,
!” And there was one particular spot I wish I could remember where, so that it might be marked by a suitable tabletâat the sight of which Simpson was overheard to say, “
!” for (probably) the first time in his life.
“You know, all these are olive trees, you chaps,” he said every five minutes. “I wonder if there are any olives growing on them?”
“Too early,” said Archie. “It's the sardine season now.”
It was at Cannes that we saw the first oranges.
“That does it,” I said to Myra. “We're really here. And look, there's a lemon tree. Give me the oranges and lemons, and you can have all the palms and the cactuses and the olives.”
“Like polar bears in the arctic regions,” said Myra.
I thought for a moment. Superficially there is very little resemblance between an orange and a polar bear.
“Like polar bears,” I said hopefully.
“I mean,” luckily she went on, “polar bears do it for you in the polar regions. You really know you're there then. Give me the polar bears, I always say, and you can keep the seals and the walruses and the penguins. It's the hallmark.”
“Right. I knew you meant something. In London,” I went on, “it is raining. Looking out of my window I see a lamp-post (not in flower) beneath a low, grey sky. Here we see oranges against a blue sky a million miles deep. What a blend! Myra, let's go to a fancy-dress ball when we get back. You go as an orange and I'll go as a very
blue, blue sky, and you shall lean against me.”
“And we'll dance the tangerine,” said Myra.
But now observe us approaching Monte Carlo. For an hour past Simpson has been collecting his belongings. Two bags, two coats, a camera, a rug, Thomas, golf-clubs, booksâhis compartment is full of things which have to be kept under his eye lest they should evade him at the last moment. As the train leaves Monaco his excitement is intense.
“I think, old chap,” he says to Thomas, “I'll wear the coats after all.”
“And the bags,” says Thomas, “and then you'll have a suit.”
Simpson puts on the two coats and appears very big and hot.
“I'd better have my hands free,” he says, and straps the camera and the golf-clubs on to himself. “Then if you nip out and get a porter I can hand the bags out to him through the window.”
“All right,” says Thomas. He is deep in his book and looks as if he were settled in his corner of the carriage for the day.
The train stops. There is bustle, noise, confusion. Thomas in some magical way has disappeared. A porter appears at the open window and speaks
voluble French to Simpson. Simpson looks round wildly for Thomas. “Thomas!” he cries. “
,” he says to the porter. “Thomas!
Mon ami, it n'est pas
âI say, Thomas, old chap, where are you?
Attendez un moment. Mon ami
â” He is very hot. He is wearing, in addition to what one doesn't mention, an ordinary waistcoat, a woolly waistcoat for steamer use, a tweed coat, an aquascutum, an ulster, a camera and a bag of golfclubs. The porter, with many gesticulations, is still hurling French at him.
It is too much for Simpson. He puts his head out of the window and, observing in the distance a figure of such immense dignity that it can only belong to the station-master, utters to him across the hurly-burly a wild call for help.