SIMON THE JESTER
SIMON THE JESTER
WILLIAM J. LOCKE
I met Renniker the other day at the club. He is a man who knows
everything--from the method of trimming a puppy's tail for a dog-show
without being disqualified to the innermost workings of the mind of
every European potentate. If I want information on any subject under
heaven I ask Renniker.
"Can you tell me" said I "the most God-forsaken spot in England?"
Renniker being in a flippant mood mentioned a fashionable watering-
place on the South Coast. I pleaded the seriousness of my question.
"What I want" said I "is a place compared to which Golgotha
Aceldama the Dead Sea the Valley of Jehoshaphat and the Bowery
would be leafy bowers of uninterrupted delight."
"Then Murglebed-on-Sea is what you're looking for" said Renniker.
"Are you going there at once?"
"At once" said I.
"It's November" said he "and a villainous November at that; so
you'll see Murglebed-on-Sea in the fine flower of its desolation."
I thanked him went home and summoned my excellent man Rogers.
"Rogers" said I "I am going to the seaside. I heard that Murglebed
is a nice quiet little spot. You will go down and inspect it for me
and bring back a report."
He went blithe and light-hearted though he thought me insane; he
returned with the air of a serving-man who expecting to find a well-
equipped pantry had wandered into a charnel house.
"It's an awful place sir. It's sixteen miles from a railway station.
The shore is a mud flat. There's no hotel and the inhabitants are
"I start for Murglebed-on-Sea to-morrow" said I.
Rogers started at me. His loose mouth quivered like that of a child
preparing to cry.
"We can't possibly stay there sir" he remonstrated.
"/We/ are not going to try" I retorted. "I'm going by myself."
His face brightened. Almost cheerfully he assured me that I should
find nothing to eat in Murglebed.
"You can amuse yourself" said I "by sending me down a daily hamper
"There isn't even a church" he continued.
"Then you can send me down a tin one from Humphreys'. I believe they
can supply one with everything from a tin rabbit-hutch to a town
He sighed and departed and the next day I found myself here in
On a murky sullen November day Murglebed exhibits unimagined horrors
of scenic depravity. It snarls at you malignantly. It is like a bit of
waste land in Gehenna. There is a lowering soap-suddy thing a mile
away from the more or less dry land which local ignorance and
superstition call the sea. The interim is mud--oozy brown malevolent
mud. Sometimes it seems to heave as if with the myriad bodies of slimy
crawling eels and worms and snakes. A few foul boats lie buried in it.
Here and there on land a surly inhabitant spits into it. If you
address him he snorts at you unintelligibly. If you turn your back to
the sea you are met by a prospect of unimagined despair. There are no
trees. The country is flat and barren. A dismal creek runs miles
inland--an estuary fed by the River Murgle. A few battered cottages a
general shop a couple of low public-houses and three perky red-brick
villas all in a row form the city or town or village or what you
will of Murglebed-on-Sea. Renniker is a wonderful man.
I have rented a couple of furnished rooms in one of the villas. It has
a decayed bit of front garden in which a gnarled stunted stick is
planted and it is called The Laburnums. My landlord the owner of the
villas is a builder. What profits he can get from building in
Murglebed Heaven alone knows; but as he mounts a bicycle in the
morning and disappears for the rest of the day I presume he careers
over the waste building as he goes. In the evenings he gets drunk at
the Red Cow; so I know little of him save that he is a red-faced man
with a Moustache like a tooth-brush and two great hands like hams.
His wife is taciturn almost to dumbness. She is a thick-set black-
haired woman and looks at me disapprovingly out of the corner of her
eye as if I were a blackbeetle which she would like to squash under
foot. She tolerates me however on account of the tongues and other
sustenance sent by Rogers from Benoist of which she consumes
prodigious quantities. She wonders as far as the power of wonder is
given to her dull brain what on earth I am doing here. I see her
whispering to her friends as I enter the house and I know they are
wondering what I am doing here. The whole village regards me as a
humorous zoological freak and wonders what I am doing here among
normal human beings.
And what am I doing here--I Simon de Gex M.P. the spoilt darling of
fortune as my opponent in the Labour interest called me during the
last electoral campaign? My disciple and secretary young Dale
Kynnersley the only mortal besides Rogers who knows my whereabouts
trembles for my reason. In the eyes of the excellent Rogers I am horn-
mad. What my constituents would think did they see me taking the muddy
air on a soggy afternoon I have no conception. Dale keeps them at
bay. He also baffles the curiosity of my sisters and by his diplomacy
has sent Eleanor Faversham on a huffy trip to Sicily. She cannot
understand why I bury myself in bleak solitude instead of making
cheerful holiday among the oranges and lemons of the South.
Eleanor is a girl with a thousand virtues each of which she expects