Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Other Loons Page
THE CLAWS OF THE COUGAR
“So,” said Aunt Martha, “you will go down
there and bring Wilmot back.”
Aunt Martha was the tribal autocrat: a severe
old lady with piled-up white hair, a hearing aid, a favourite nephew and more
money than any one person should have. Consequently she didn’t offer suggestions
or make requests, she issued ukases. This was a ukase; but while Rafe Harding,
along with all her other nephews and nieces, had long since seen the folly of
argument, he was so startled by this one that he nearly fell out of his chair
before putting up feeble protest.
“But, good heavens, why me?”
“Who else is there to send? You do no work,
you are not tied to any place of business.”
“I do work,” said Rafe, stung.
“Tchah!” snorted Aunt Martha.
“I write books. In fact, I’ve written several
“I am aware of the fact,” said Aunt Martha
crushingly. “I have read one of them.”
Rafe went down under this body blow, but not
“I’m writing one now and honestly, Aunt
Martha, I can’t spare the time. Besides, I couldn’t afford it. Also—”
It was a trumpet blast, the knockout. Rafe
went down again and this time out.
“Rafe,” said his aunt incisively, “let there
be no argument over this simple matter. You are the only one I can send to
rescue poor Wilmot. As I have said, you are not tied to any place of business.
Your time is your own. You will go. As for your expenses, naturally I shall
attend to that. I shall furnish you with ample funds. All that I require is that
you go immediately and return with Wilmot.”
And by way of indicating that the matter was
settled, the audience over, Aunt Martha switched off the hearing aid.
Well, thought Rafe ruefully, that is that. But
as for this business of “rescuing poor Wilmot”...
Wilmot Foy was the favourite nephew
aforementioned and lived with his aunt in one of those old brownstone houses in
New York. Aunt Martha, like the rest of the tribe, was English born and bred,
but she had been married to a highly successful and wealthy American
businessman. Widowed late in life she had inherited the business, the house and
everything that had been the tycoon’s, except his ulcers, and had decided to go
on living in the land to which she had grown accustomed. She had also decided
that her favourite nephew should come and live with her and keep her company,
and had there and then issued a ukase to that effect. Wilmot, then a struggling
artist, had complied with alacrity and had thereafter ceased to struggle. Not
that he had forsaken art—the reverse. Under the protecting and encouraging wing
of the tribal autocrat he had, surprisingly enough, become quite successful.
But if Wilmot was Aunt Martha’s favourite, he
was no one else’s. To Rafe and the rest of the tribe, and others not greatly
concerned with art, he was, viewed in the kindest light, something of a cross
between a lame dog and a black sheep. Viewed in other lights, not so kind, he
was a blot, a blister, an excrescence. He was also, in Rafe’s considered
opinion, definitely a nut.
Rafe had his reasons for so thinking.
Some eight or ten weeks before Rafe had been
summoned to the presence, Wilmot Foy had walked out of the brownstone house as
casually as if he were going for a stroll in the park. Only he hadn’t gone back.
He hadn’t said good-bye to Aunt Martha, he hadn’t said anything to anybody, he
had just upped and gone. He hadn’t communicated with anybody since, and in all
those weeks no one had heard anything of him. Aunt Martha had fretted, but all
she had said was what an odd thing it was for Wilmot to have done, he had never
done anything like it before and she couldn’t understand why he had done it now.
Rafe and the others had found it easy to make
guesses, right or wrong. The general consensus of opinion among his cousins was
that Wilmot had at last got into some kind of woman trouble that Aunt Martha’s
money couldn’t fix—though offhand they couldn’t think of one—had cleared out to
avoid the explosion and was now lying low long enough to allow the dust to
And then a friend of a friend of Aunt Martha’s
had returned from a trip to South America with news that Wilmot was believed to
be in a little place called San Roque. It was pretty vague, really only a straw
on the water, but Aunt Martha had clutched at the straw and promptly summoned
Rafe Harding, who happened to be handy, and issued her ukase. So Rafe, making
the best of a bad job, went.