“The Chiff-chaff,” he said to our hostess with an insufferable air of knowledge.
I wasn’t going to stand that.
“So I thought when I heard it first,” I said, giving him a gentle smile. It was now the Authority’s turn to get the reproachful looks.
“Are they very much alike?” my hostess asked me, much impressed.
“Very much. Blackmail’s Warbler is often mistaken for the Chiff-chaff, even by so-called experts”—and I turned to the Authority and added, “Have another sandwich, won’t you?”—“particularly so, of course, during the breeding season. It is true that the eggs are more speckled, but—”
“Bless my soul,” said the Authority, but it was easy to see that he was shaken, “I should think I know a Chiff-chaff when I hear one.”
“Ah, but do you know a Blackman’s Warbler? One doesn’t often hear them in this country. Now in Algiers—”
The bird said “Chiff-chaff” again with an almost indecent plainness of speech.
“There you are!” I said triumphantly. “Listen,” and I held up a finger. “You notice the difference? Obviously a Blackman’s Warbler.”
Everybody looked at the Authority. He was wondering how long it would take to get a book about birds down from London, and deciding that it couldn’t be done that afternoon. Meanwhile he did not dare to repudiate me. For all he had caught of our mumbled introduction I might have been Blackman myself.
“Possibly you’re right,” he said reluctantly.
Another bird said “Chiff-chaff” from another tree and I thought it wise to be generous. “There,” I said, “now that was a Chiff-chaff.”
The earnest-looking girl remarked (silly creature) that it sounded just like the other one, but nobody took any notice of her. They were all busy admiring me.
Of course I mustn’t meet the Authority again, because you may be pretty sure that when he got back to his books he looked up Blackman’s Warbler and found that there was no such animal. But if you mix in the right society, and only see the wrong people once, it is really quite easy to be an authority on birds—or, I imagine, on anything else.
THE LAST STRAW
It was one of those summer evenings with the chill on, so after dinner we lit the smoking-room fire and wondered what to do. There were eight of us; just the right number for two bridge tables, or four picquet pairs, or eight patience singles.
“Oh, no, not cards,” said Celia quickly. “They’re so dull.”
“Not when you get a grand slam,” said our host, thinking of an accident which had happened to him the night before.
“Even then I don’t suppose anybody laughed.”
Peter and I, who were partners on that occasion, admitted that we hadn’t laughed.
“Well, there you are,” said Celia triumphantly. “Let’s play proverbs.”