Cousin Teresa by Saki (H H Monro)
From the short-story collection Beasts and Superbeasts, published 1914
[Lucas Harrowcluff, an unsatisfactory & disappointing son and brother who has made nothing of his life, is explaining to his family his great new idea for a music-hall turn]
Cousin Teresa takes out CaesarA lilting, catchy sort of refrain you see, and big-drum business on the two syllables of bor-zoi. It’s immense. And I’ve thought out all the business of it; the singer will sing the first verse alone, then during the second verse Cousin Teresa will walk through, followed by four wooden dogs on wheels; Caesar will be an Irish terrier, Fido a black poodle, Jock a fox-terrier, and the borzoi, of course will be a borzoi. During the third verse Cousin Teresa will come on alone, and the dogs will be drawn across by themselves from the opposite wing; then Cousin Teresa will catch on to the singer and go off-stage in one direction, while dogs’ procession goes off in the other, crossing en route, which is always very effective. There’ll be a lot of applause there, and for the fourth verse Cousin Teresa will come on in sables and the dogs will all have coats on…. Then Cousin Teresa will come on from the opposite side, crossing en route, always effective, and then she turns round and leads the whole lot of them off on a string, and all the time everyone singing like mad:
Fido, Jock and the big borzoi.
Cousin Teresa takes out CaesarTum-Tum! Drum business on the two last syllables.
Fido Jock and the big borzoi.
I’m so excited I shan’t sleep a wink tonight, I’m off tomorrow by the 10.15. I’ve wired to Hermanova to lunch with me.”
Lucas’s family are distinctly underwhelmed by this new song, and have no faith in it, but frankly the reader can see at once that it is going to be a huge megahit, and indeed it is, with a nice twist at the end. The only mystery is why no-one has ever created this song and act in real life, so convincing is the description – we sing it in my house quite regularly.
Saki’s stories are wonderful, very funny and sharp and unsentimental, often with a sharp twist, and it is also typical of him that the character of Lucas is so clearly outlined in the short monologue above. The author, who was killed in the First World War, wrote a lot, and the funny, sad and memorable novel called The Unbearable Bassington could do with re-discovery. But his reputation rests on the short stories.
Other favourites are The Un-Rest Cure, Sredni Vashtar, The Way to the Dairy, The Open Window and – oh joy – The Story-Teller, a tale that any sensible child will love to bits.
Links up with: The authors were roughly contemporary: we feel that the chaps in Three Men in a Boat – this blog entry and this one – would have been part of the crowds vociferously demanding the song at the music-halls
Cousin Teresa in the picture above is actually visiting a dog show - the image comes from Wikimedia Commons.