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A Safety Match

By Ian Hay

It was Saturday night at the Rectory, and the Vereker family—”those absurdly handsome Rectory children,” as old Lady Curlew, of Hainings, invariably called them—sat around the dining-room table playing “Happy Families.” The rules that govern this absorbing pastime are simple. The families are indeed happy. They contain no widows and no orphans, and each pair of parents possesses one son and one daughter—perhaps the perfect number, for the sides of the house are equally balanced both for purposes of companionship and in the event of sex warfare. As for the procedure, cards are dealt round, and each player endeavors, by requests based upon observation and deduction, to reunite within his hand the members of an entire family,—an enterprise which, while it fosters in those who undertake it a reverence for the unities of home life, offers a more material and immediate reward in the shape of one point for each family collected. We will look over the shoulders of the players as they sit, and a brief consideration of each hand and the tactics of its owner will possibly give us the key to the respective dispositions of the Vereker family, as well as a useful lesson in the art of acquiring that priceless possession, a Happy Family.

Before starting on our tour of the table we may note that one member of the company is otherwise engaged. This is Master Anthony Cuthbert Vereker, aged ten years—usually known as Tony. He is the youngest member of the family and is one of those fortunate people who are never bored, and who rarely require either company or assistance in their amusements. He lives in a world of his own, peopled by folk of his creation; and with the help of this unseen host, which he can multiply to an indefinite extent and transform into anything he pleases, he organizes and carries out schemes of recreation beside which all the Happy Families in the world become humdrum and suburban in tone.

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Ian Hay

Major General John Hay Beith, CBE MC (17 April 1876 – 22 September 1952), was a British schoolmaster and soldier but is best remembered as a novelist, playwright, essayist, and historian who wrote under the pen name Ian Hay.

After reading Classics at Cambridge University, Beith became a schoolmaster. In 1907 his novel Pip was published; its success and that of several more novels enabled him to give up teaching in 1912 to be a full-time writer. During the First World War, Beith served as an officer in the army in France. His good-humored account of army life, The First Hundred Thousand, published in 1915, was a best-seller. On the strength of this, he was sent to work in the information section of the British War Mission in Washington, D.C.

After the war, Beith’s novels did not achieve the popularity of his earlier work, but he made a considerable career as a dramatist, writing light comedies, often in collaboration with other authors including P. G. Wodehouse and Guy Bolton. During the Second World War Beith served as Director of Public Relations at the War Office, retiring in 1941 shortly before his 65th birthday.

Among Beith’s later works were several war histories, which were not as well received as his comic fiction and plays. His one serious play, Hattie Stowe (1947), was politely reviewed but had a short run. In the same year, he co-wrote a comedy, Off the Record, which ran for more than 700 performances.



  • Pip, 1907
  • The Right Stuff, 1908
  • A Man’s Man, 1909
  • A Safety Match, 1911 (illustrated by Frank G. Cootes)
  • Happy-Go-Lucky, 1913
  • A Knight on Wheels, 1914
  • The Lighter Side of School Life, 1914
  • The First Hundred Thousand “K (1)”, 1915
  • Carrying On, 1917
  • The Last Million, 1918
  • The Willing Horse, 1921
  • The Lucky Number, 1923
  • The Shallow End, 1924
  • Paid in Full, 1925
  • Paid With Thanks, 1925
  • Half-a-Sovereign, 1926
  • The Poor Gentleman, 1928
  • The Middle Watch, 1930
  • Their Name Liveth, 1931
  • The Midshipmaid, 1933
  • The Great Wall of India, 1933
  • David and Destiny, 1934
  • Lucky Dog, 1934
  • Housemaster, 1936
  • The King’s Service, 1938
  • Stand at Ease, 1940
  • Little Ladyship, 1941
  • America Comes Across, 1942
  • The Unconquered Isle (Malta, GC), 1943
  • The Post Office Went to War, 1946
  • Peaceful Invasion, 1946
  • ROF, the Story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1948
  • Arms and the Men, 1939–1945
  • The History of the King’s Bodyguard for Scotland (1676–1950)
  • 100 Years of Army Nursing, 1953 (published posthumously)
  • Cousin Christopher, 1953 (published posthumously)

Ian Hay

Ian Hay