The Autobiography of a Slander

Language: English
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At last the tea came up, and so
With that our tongues began to go.
Now in that house you’re sure of knowing
The smallest scrap of news that’s going.
We find it there the wisest way
To take some care of what we say.

Recreation.  Jane Taylor.

I was born on the 2nd September, 1886, in a small, dull, country town.  When I say the town was dull, I mean, of course, that the inhabitants were unenterprising, for in itself Muddleton was a picturesque place, and though it laboured under the usual disadvantage of a dearth of bachelors and a superfluity of spinsters, it might have been pleasant enough had it not been a favourite resort for my kith and kin.

My father has long enjoyed a world-wide notoriety; he is not, however, as a rule named in good society, though he habitually frequents it; and as I am led to believe that my autobiography will possibly be circulated by Mr. Mudie, and will lie about on drawing-room tables, I will merely mention that a most representation of my progenitor, under his nom de théatre, Mephistopheles, may be seen now in London, and I should recommend all who wish to understand his character to go to the Lyceum, though, between ourselves, he strongly disapproves of the whole performance.

I was introduced into the world by an old lady named Mrs. O’Reilly.  She was a very pleasant old lady, the wife of a General, and one of those sociable, friendly, talkative people who do much to cheer their neighbours, particularly in a deadly-lively provincial place like Muddleton, where the standard of social intercourse is not very high.  Mrs. O’Reilly had been in her day a celebrated beauty; she was now grey-haired and stout, but still there was something impressive about her, and few could resist the charm of her manner and the pleasant easy flow of her small talk.  Her love of gossip amounted almost to a passion, and nothing came amiss to her; she liked to know everything about everybody, and in the main I think her interest was a kindly one, though she found that a little bit of scandal, every now and then, added a piquant flavour to the homely fare provided by the commonplace life of the Muddletonians.

I will now, without further preamble, begin the history of my life.

* * * * *

“I assure you, my dear Lena, Mr. Zaluski is nothing less than a Nihilist!”

The sound waves set in motion by Mrs. O’Reilly’s words were tumultuously heaving in the atmosphere when I sprang into being, a young but perfectly formed and most promising slander.  A delicious odour of tea pervaded the drawing-room, it was orange-flower pekoe, and Mrs. O’Reilly was just handing one of the delicate Crown Derby cups to her visitor, Miss Lena Houghton.

“What a shocking thing!  Do you really mean it?” exclaimed Miss Houghton.  “Thank you, cream but no sugar; don’t you know, Mrs. O’Reilly, that it is only Low-Church people who take sugar nowadays?  But, really, now, about Mr. Zaluski?  How did you find it out?”

“My dear, I am an old woman, and I have learnt in the course of a wandering life to put two and two together,” said Mrs....