At that moment, the glass doors of the crockery department were flung open, and out poured a procession of Wenuses smiling, said my mother, with the utmost friendliness, dressed as A.B.C. girls, and bearing trays studded with cups and saucers.
With the most seductive and ingratiating charm, a cup was handed to my wife. What to do she did not for the moment know. “Could such a gift be guileless?” she asked herself. “No.” And yet the Wenuses looked friendly. Finally her martial spirit prevailed and my wife repulsed the cup, adjuring the rank and file to do the same. But in vain. Every member of my wife’s wing of that fainting army greedily grasped a cup. Alas! what could they know of the deadly Tea-Tray of the Wenuses? Nothing, absolutely nothing, such is the disgraceful neglect of science in our schools and colleges. And so they drank and were consumed.
Meanwhile my mother, at the head of the south wing of the army, which had been entirely overlooked by the Wenuses, stood watching the destruction of my wife’s host—a figure petrified with alarm and astonishment. One by one she watched her sisters in arms succumb to the awful Tea-Tray.
Then it was that this intrepid woman rose to her greatest height.
“Come!” she cried to her Amazons. “Come! They have no more tea left. Now is the moment ripe.”
With these spirited words, my mother and her troops proceeded to charge down Queen’s Road upon the unsuspecting Wenuses.
But they had reckoned without the enemy.
The tumult of the advancing host caught the ear of the Wonderful Wisitors, and in an instant they had extracted glittering cases of their crimson cigarettes from their pockets, and lighting them in the strange fashion I have described elsewhere, they proceeded to puff the smoke luxuriously into the faces of my mother and her comrades.
Alas! little did these gallant females know of the horrible properties of the Red Weed. How could they, with our science-teaching in such a wretched state?
The smoke grew in volume and density, spread and spread, and in a few minutes the south wing of my wife’s army was as supine as the north.
How my wife and mother escaped I shall not say. I make a point of never explaining the escape of my wife, whether from Martians or Wenuses; but that night, as Commander-in-Chief, she issued this cataleptic despatch:
“The Wenuses are able to paralyse all but strong-minded women with their deadly Tea-Tray. Also they burn a Red Weed, the smoke of which has smothered our troops in Westbourne Grove. No sooner have they despoiled Whiteley’s than they will advance upon Jay’s and Marshall and Snelgrove’s. It is impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the Tea-Tray and the Red Weed but in instant flight.”
That night the world was again lit by a pale pink flash of light. It was the Fifth Crinoline.