7 JULY 1939, Page 16



MR. PROTEUS was an old man with a long white beard and a pink check flannel shirt. At the age of seventy-five he fell into an error he had hitherto avoided: he got married. Not that it is always an error to get married; but Mr. Proteus married a witch, who, three weeks after the wedding, brought a charge against him that he had failed to wipe his boots on entering the house, cried " Abracadabra!" at him, and changed him into a black-faced ram.

" What's this? Hi, let me out of this!" protested Mr. Proteus. The result was a disagreeable bleating sound.

" So you don't like it, don't you (or should I have said do you?)? " demanded Mrs. Proteus sardonically. " Very well. Take that, then! Abracadoo!" And she trans- formed him into a piebald donkey.

" I don't like that any better," brayed her husband, kick- ing an occasional table through the window.

" And now, my lad, perhaps you'll be good enough to pay for the damage you've done," said Mrs. Proteus.

" Abracahobsprotch! " And with this she changed him into an old man with a long white beard and a pink check flannel shirt again.

It is obvious that the seeds of discord had taken firm root in this household. As often as Mr. Proteus came home late for meals, forgot to bring a pound of tea from the stores, or dropped his pipe-ash on the floor, he found him- self transformed into a laughing jackass, a ring-tailed lemur, or a kind opossum. On the whole he was an easy-going fellow, and his wife was not entirely bad at heart, especially for a witch ; but the temptation of having a subject for her art continually at hand was too much for her, so that it is to be feared she sought occasions for its exercise in trifling disagreements and trumped-up grievances. It may be true that it takes two to make a quarrel ; but it is wonderful how much one can do.

" I think I'll go round and ask young Jollifant to play a game of chess this evening," remarked Mr. Proteus on one occasion, typical of many. " It was his seventy-first birth- day last week. Must be neighbourly."

" But you promised to take me to the cinema!" cried Mrs. Proteus.

" No, dear," said he, " that was tomorrow."

" I'm positive it was tonight," declared his wife. " They're showing Burnt Alive."

" But, my dear," protested Mr. Proteus mildly. " I remember distinctly—" The rest of the sentence was lost in a curious high whinnying sound, and Mr. Proteus found himself with his head projecting through the top of the chimney, in the act of being a giraffe.

In short, Mr. Proteus, who had married because he thought it was time he settled down, discovered that his life had acquired an element of restlessness and ceaseless change by no means to his taste. He pondered long and deeply on a means to mend the situation. Finally he bought a book on the occult.

Among a number of less practicable prophylactics against evil influences mentioned in this book, was garlic, which apparently might be nailed above the door of a dwelling or carried on the person. It seemed to Mr. Proteus that he had found the remedy he sought, until, on reading further, he discovered that the evil influences specifically referred to were vampires and not witches, and that nothing was said about its efficacy in guarding against verbal spells. A magic circle seemed more promising, being explicitly guar- anteed spell-proof; but in practice he found that there were two arguments against its use, of which the first was the difficulty of drawing a magic circle accurately on a pile carpet, and the second was its lack of portability when drawn. If it kept the evil influences out, it kept the drawer in. What Mr. Proteus wanted was a magic circle he could take about the house with him.

The book, it is true, was not without an answer to this problem: it recommended an amulet made from the finger- joints of a left-handed baby born of red-haired parents in a house on Wimbledon Common when the moon was in the windy quarter. But where could an old man with a long white beard and a pink check flannel shirt expect to find an amulet made from the finger joints of a left-handed baby born of red-haired parents in a house on Wimbledon Com- mon when the moon was in a windy quarter?

In this predicament, Mr. Proteus remembered having heard it said that the best defence was attack. He consulted another book on the occult, which dealt specifically with spells and their production. From this he learned to say " Abracadabra! " with the required intonation, while touch- ing the lobe of his left ear with the little finger of his right hand and crossing his great toes. A week after his acquisi- tion of the volume he succeeded in changing the household cat into a dog and the household dog into a cat, and was so pleased with the result that he left it at that. " For " (as he said), " what odds, so long as there is one of each?"

When next his wife began her tricks he was ready for her. He came home late one afternoon from a game of bowls and found her fuming.

" And where have you been? " she demanded. " Your tea's cold."

" Playing a game of bowls, my dear," said he. " No harm in that, I hope."

" Now, isn't that just like you!" cried his wife. " Playing bowls, indeed, when I'm waiting here to pour your tea out for you. Men all over!"

" Drake was playing a rubber of bowls," her husband reminded her gently, " when the Great Armada came."

" Nonsense and stuff! " cried Mrs. Proteus. " Be a rabbit ! Abracahatchsnatch 1" " Abracasnookums to you!" responded Mr Proteus. The spell came out as a high-pitched scream ; but it did the trick, and Mrs. Proteus was mortified to find herself trans-.

formed into a pygmy shrew, which naturally made her feel rather small. She immediately countered by changing him into a dog-faced ape. Mr. Proteus countered by inviting her to take on the form of a sooty mangabey or woolly monkey. This kind of argument went on for some time, until, the postman having come to the door with a parcel from the Occult Book Club, a truce was called, and the pair regained their human shape.

But a few days later, hostilities broke out again over a matter arising from the colour of the dome of the Capitol at Washington, which neither of them had ever seen, but which Mr. Proteus said was probably green and Mrs. Proteus declared was certainly pink. On this occasion transformation succeeded transformation with bewildering rapidity, till finally Mrs. Proteus changed Mr. Proteus into a dumb ox in the same instant as Mr. Proteus changed Mrs. Proteus into a mute duck. In this condition neither could give utterance to the spell which would result in the other changing further. They therefore had to remain as they were ; and both lived much more happily ever after- wards.