The Story of Hermione
by Cyril Hare
When Richard Armstrong, explorer and mountaineer, disappeared in a blizzard in the Karakoram, his only daughter Hermione was just turned twenty. He bequeathed her a good deal of unusual experience gathered in remote parts of the world, but very little else. For more tangible aids to living she had to look to her uncle Paul, who was in a position to supply them on a very lavish scale. Paul Armstrong had confined his explorations to the square mile of the earth's surface lying east of Temple Bar and found them extremely fruitful.
Hermione was a slender, fragile creature, with observant blue eyes, a determined chin and a small mouth that remained closed unless speech was absolutely necessary. She gave her uncle and aunt no sort of trouble, submitted quietly to the horse-play which passed for humour with her tall, athletic cousins Johnny and Susan, and kept her own counsel. In that cheerful, noisy household she passed almost unobserved.
In the following winter Susan Armstrong was killed by a fall in the hunting field. Six months later, Johnny, playing a ridiculous game of leap-frog with Hermione on the spring-board of his parents' swimming-bath, slipped, crashed into the side of the bath and broke his neck. Paul and his wife had worshipped their children with uncritical adoration. The double blow deprived them of all motive for living, and when shortly afterwards they fell victims to an influenza epidemic they made not the slightest resistance.
Even with death duties at their present level, Hermione was a considerable heiress. With the calm deliberation that had always characterised her she set out to look for a husband suitable to her station in life. After carefully considering the many applicants for the post, she finally selected Freddy Fitzhugh. It was an altogether admirable choice. Freddy was well-to-do, well connected, good-looking and no fool. Their courtship was unexciting but satisfactory, the engagement was announced and on a fine spring morning they went together to Bond Street to choose a ring.
Freddy took her to Garland's, those aristocrats among jewellers, and the great Mr. Garland himself received them in his private room behind the shop. Hermione examined the gems which he showed her with dispassionate care and discussed them with an expertise that astonished Freddy as much as it delighted Mr. Garland. She ended by choosing a diamond as superior to the rest as Freddy had been to his rival suitors, and they took their leave.
Meanwhile, the shop outside had not been idle. Shortly after the door of Mr. Garland's room closed on Freddy and his beloved two thick-set men entered and asked the assistant at the counter to show them some diamond bracelets. They proved to be almost as difficult to please as Hermione, without displaying her knowledge of precious stones, and before long there were some thousands of pounds worth of brilliants on the counter for their inspection.
To the bored assistant it began to seem as though they would never come to a decision. Then, just as Mr. Garland was bowing Freddy and Hermione out of the shop, everything began to happen at once. A large saloon car slowed down in the street outside, and paused with its engine running. At the same moment one of the men with lightning speed scooped up half a dozen bracelets and made for the door, while his companion sent the door-keeper flying with a vicious blow to the stomach.
Freddy, who had stopped to exchange a few words with Mr. Garland, looked round and saw to his horror that Hermione was standing alone in front of the doorway, directly in the path of the man. She made no attempt to avoid him as he bore down upon her. It flashed across Freddy's mind that she was too paralysed by fear to move. Hopelessly, he started to run forward as the man crashed an enormous fist into Hermione's face.
The blow never reached its mark. With a faintly superior smile, Hermione shifted her position slightly at the last moment. An instant later the raider was flying through the air to land with a splintering of glass head first against the show case. The whole affair had only occupied a few seconds of time.
"You never told me you could do Ju-Jutsu, Hermione," said Freddy, when they eventually left the shop.
"Judo," Hermione corrected him. "My father had me taught by an expert. It comes in handy sometimes. Of course, I'm rather out of practice."
"I see," said Freddy. "You know, Hermione, there are quite a few things about you I didn't know."
They parted. Hermione had an appointment with her hairdresser. Freddy went for a quiet stroll in the park. Then he took a taxi to Fleet Street, where he spent most of the afternoon browsing in the files of various newspapers.
They met again at dinner that evening. Freddy came straight to the point.
"I've been looking at the reports of the inquest on your cousin Johnny," he said.
"Yes?" said Hermione with polite interest.
"It was very odd the way that he shot off the spring-board on to the edge of the bath. How exactly did it happen?"
"I explained it all to the coroner. I just happened to move at the critical moment and he cannoned off me."
"Hard luck on Johnny."
"Hard luck on that chap this morning that you just happened to move at the critical moment. I don't think you told the coroner that you could do this Judo stuff?"
"Of course not."
"Hard luck on Susan, too, taking that fall out hunting."
"That," said Hermione flatly, "was pure accident. I told her she couldn't hold the horse."
"I'll have to give you the benefit of the doubt over that one," he said. "But I'm afraid the engagement's off."
Hermione looked at the diamond on her finger and screwed her hand into a tight little fist.
"I can't stop you breaking it off, Freddy," she said. "But you'll find it very expensive."
He did. Very expensive indeed. But he thought it well worth the money. As has been said, Freddy was no fool.
End of The Story of Hermione by Cyril Hare