The Farguses kept but one servant, a diminutive and startled child with one hand permanently up her back in search of an apron shoulder string, and permanently occupied in frantically pursuing loud cracks, like pistol shots, of “Kate!—Kate!—Kate!” Each Miss Fargus “did” something in the house. One “did” the lamps, another “did” the silver, another “did” the fowls. And whatever it was they “did” they were always doing it. Each Miss Fargus, in addition, “did” her own room, and unitedly they all “did” the garden. Every doing was done by the clock; and at any hour of the day any one Miss Fargus could tell a visitor precisely what, and at what point of what, every other Miss Fargus was doing.
In this well-ordered scheme of things what Mr. Fargus principally “did” was to keep out of the way of his wife and daughters, and this duty took him all his time and ingenuity. From the back windows of Sabre’s house the grey little figure was frequently to be seen fleeting up and down the garden paths in wary evasion of daughters “doing” the garden, and there was every reason to suppose that, within the house, the grey figure similarly fleeted up and down the stairs and passages. “Where is Papa?” was a constant cry from mouth to mouth of the female Farguses; and fatigue parties were constantly being detached from their duties to skirmish in pursuit of him.
In his leisure from these flights Mr. Fargus was intensely absorbed in chess, in the game of Patience, and in the solution of acrostics. Sabre was also fond of chess and attracted by acrostics; and regular evenings of every week were spent by the two in unriddling the problems set in the chess and acrostic columns of journals taken in for the purpose. They would sit for hours solemnly staring at one another, puffing at pipes, in quest of a hidden word beginning with one letter and ending with another, or in search of the two master moves that alone would produce Mate. (It was a point of honour not to work out chess problems on a board but to do them in your head.) Likewise for hours the two in games of chess and in competitive Patience, one against the other, to see who would come out first. And to all these mental exercises—chess, acrostics and Patience—an added interest was given by Mr. Fargus’s presentation of them as illustrative of his theory of life.
Mr. Fargus’s theory of life was that everybody was placed in life to fulfil a divine purpose and invested with the power to fulfil it. “No, no, it’s not fatalism,” Mr. Fargus used to say. “Not predestination. It’s just exactly like a chess problem or an acrostic. The Creator sets it. He knows the solution, the answer. You’ve got to work it out. It’s all keyed for you just as the final move in chess or the final discovery in an acrostic is keyed up to right from the start.” And on this argument Mr. Fargus introduced Sabre to the great entertainment in “working back” when a game of Patience failed to come out or after a defeat in chess. You worked back to the immense satisfaction of finding the precise point at which you went wrong. Up to that point you had followed the keyed path; precisely there you missed it.