Uneasy Money, page 1
Produced by Suzanne L. Shell, Tom Allen, Charles Franksand the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
By P. G. Wodehouse
In a day in June, at the hour when London moves abroad in questof lunch, a young man stood at the entrance of the BandoleroRestaurant looking earnestly up Shaftesbury Avenue--a large youngman in excellent condition, with a pleasant, good-humoured, brown,clean-cut face. He paid no attention to the stream of humanitythat flowed past him. His mouth was set and his eyes wore aserious, almost a wistful expression. He was frowning slightly.One would have said that here was a man with a secret sorrow.
William FitzWilliam Delamere Chalmers, Lord Dawlish, had no secretsorrow. All that he was thinking of at that moment was the bestmethod of laying a golf ball dead in front of the Palace Theatre.It was his habit to pass the time in mental golf when ClaireFenwick was late in keeping her appointments with him. On oneoccasion she had kept him waiting so long that he had been able todo nine holes, starting at the Savoy Grill and finishing up nearHammersmith. His was a simple mind, able to amuse itself withsimple things.
As he stood there, gazing into the middle distance, an individualof dishevelled aspect sidled up, a vagrant of almost the maximumseediness, from whose midriff there protruded a trayful of astrange welter of collar-studs, shoe-laces, rubber rings,buttonhooks, and dying roosters. For some minutes he had beeneyeing his lordship appraisingly from the edge of the kerb, andnow, secure in the fact that there seemed to be no policeman inthe immediate vicinity, he anchored himself in front of him andobserved that he had a wife and four children at home, allstarving.
This sort of thing was always happening to Lord Dawlish. There wassomething about him, some atmosphere of unaffected kindliness,that invited it.
In these days when everything, from the shape of a man's hat tohis method of dealing with asparagus, is supposed to be an indexto character, it is possible to form some estimate of Lord Dawlishfrom the fact that his vigil in front of the Bandolero had beenexpensive even before the advent of the Benedict with the studsand laces. In London, as in New York, there are spots where it isunsafe for a man of yielding disposition to stand still, and thecorner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly Circus is one of them.Scrubby, impecunious men drift to and fro there, waiting for thegods to provide something easy; and the prudent man, conscious ofthe possession of loose change, whizzes through the danger zone athis best speed, 'like one that on a lonesome road doth walk infear and dread, and having once turned round walks on, and turnsno more his head, because he knows a frightful fiend doth closebehind him tread.' In the seven minutes he had been waiting twofrightful fiends closed in on Lord Dawlish, requesting loans offive shillings till Wednesday week and Saturday week respectively,and he had parted with the money without a murmur.
A further clue to his character is supplied by the fact that boththese needy persons seemed to know him intimately, and that eachcalled him Bill. All Lord Dawlish's friends called him Bill, andhe had a catholic list of them, ranging from men whose names werein 'Debrett' to men whose names were on the notice boards ofobscure clubs in connexion with the non-payment of dues. He wasthe sort of man one instinctively calls Bill.
The anti-race-suicide enthusiast with the rubber rings did not callLord Dawlish Bill, but otherwise his manner was intimate. Hislordship's gaze being a little slow in returning from the middledistance--for it was not a matter to be decided carelessly andwithout thought, this problem of carrying the length of ShaftesburyAvenue with a single brassy shot--he repeated the gossip from thehome. Lord Dawlish regarded him thoughtfully.
'It could be done,' he said, 'but you'd want a bit of pull on it.I'm sorry; I didn't catch what you said.'
The other obliged with his remark for the third time, withincreased pathos, for constant repetition was making him almostbelieve it himself.
'Four starving children?'
'Four, guv'nor, so help me!'
'I suppose you don't get much time for golf then, what?' said LordDawlish, sympathetically.
It was precisely three days, said the man, mournfully inflating adying rooster, since his offspring had tasted bread.
This did not touch Lord Dawlish deeply. He was not very fond ofbread. But it seemed to be troubling the poor fellow with thestuds a great deal, so, realizing that tastes differ and thatthere is no accounting for them, he looked at him commiseratingly.
'Of course, if they like bread, that makes it rather rotten,doesn't it? What are you going to do about it?'
'Buy a dying rooster, guv'nor,' he advised. 'Causes great fun andlaughter.'
Lord Dawlish eyed the strange fowl without enthusiasm.
'No,' he said, with a slight shudder.
There was a pause. The situation had the appearance of being at adeadlock.
'I'll tell you what,' said Lord Dawlish, with the air of one who,having pondered, has been rewarded with a great idea: 'the factis, I really don't want to buy anything. You seem by bad luck tobe stocked up with just the sort of things I wouldn't be seen deadin a ditch with. I can't stand rubber rings, never could. I'm notreally keen on buttonhooks. And I don't want to hurt yourfeelings, but I think that squeaking bird of yours is about thebeastliest thing I ever met. So suppose I give you a shilling andcall it square, what?'
'Gawd bless yer, guv'nor.'
'Not at all. You'll be able to get those children of yours somebread--I expect you can get a lot of bread for a shilling. Do theyreally like it? Rum kids!'
And having concluded this delicate financial deal Lord Dawlishturned, the movement bringing him face to face with a tall girl inwhite.
During the business talk which had just come to an end this girlhad been making her way up the side street which forms a short cutbetween Coventry Street and the Bandolero, and several admirers offeminine beauty who happened to be using the same route had almostdislocated their necks looking after her. She was a strikinglyhandsome girl. She was tall and willowy. Her eyes, shaded by herhat, were large and grey. Her nose was small and straight, hermouth, though somewhat hard, admirably shaped, and she carriedherself magnificently. One cannot blame the policeman on duty inLeicester Square for remarking to a cabman as she passed that heenvied the bloke that that was going to meet.
Bill Dawlish was this fortunate bloke, but, from the look of himas he caught sight of her, one would have said that he did notappreciate his luck. The fact of the matter was that he had onlyjust finished giving the father of the family his shilling, and hewas afraid that Claire had seen him doing it. For Claire, deargirl, was apt to be unreasonable about these little generositiesof his. He cast a furtive glance behind him in the hope that thedisseminator of expiring roosters had vanished, but the man wasstill at his elbow. Worse, he faced them, and in a hoarse butcarrying voice he was instructing Heaven to bless his benefactor.
'Halloa, Claire darling!' said Lord Dawlish, with a sort ofsheepish breeziness. 'Here you are.'
Claire was looking after the stud merchant, as, grasping hiswealth, he scuttled up the avenue.
'Only a bob,' his lordship hastened to say. 'Rather a sad case,don't you know. Squads of children at home demanding bread. Didn'twant much else, apparently, but were frightfully keen on bread.'
'He has just gone into a public-house.'
'He may have gone to telephone or something, what?'
'I wish,' said Claire, fretfully, leading the way down thegrillroom stairs, 'that you wouldn't let all London sponge on youlike this. I keep telling you not to. I should have thought thatif any one needed to keep what little money he has got it wasyou.'
Certainly Lord Dawlish would have been more prudent not to haveparted with even eleven shillings, for he was not a rich man.Indeed, with the single exception of the Earl of Wetherby, wh
It was in the days of the Regency that the Dawlish coffers firstbegan to show signs of cracking under the strain, in the era ofthe then celebrated Beau Dawlish. Nor were his successors backwardin the spending art. A breezy disregard for the preservation ofthe pence was a family trait. Bill was at Cambridge when hispredecessor in the title, his Uncle Philip, was performing theconcluding exercises of the dissipation of the Dawlish doubloons,a feat which he achieved so neatly that when he died there wasjust enough cash to pay the doctors, and no more. Bill foundhimself the possessor of that most ironical thing, a moneylesstitle. He was then twenty-three.
Until six months before, when he had become engaged to ClaireFenwick, he had found nothing to quarrel with in his lot. He wasnot the type to waste time in vain regrets. His tastes weresimple. As long as he could afford to belong to one or two golfclubs and have something over for those small loans which, incertain of the numerous circles in which he moved, were theinevitable concomitant of popularity, he was satisfied. And thismodest ambition had been realized for him by a group of what hewas accustomed to refer to as decent old bucks, who had installedhim as secretary of that aristocratic and exclusive club, Brown'sin St James Street, at an annual salary of four hundred pounds.With that wealth, added to free lodging at one of the best clubsin London, perfect health, a steadily-diminishing golf handicap,and a host of friends in every walk of life, Bill had felt that itwould be absurd not to be happy and contented.
But Claire had made a difference. There was no question of that.In the first place, she resolutely declined to marry him on fourhundred pounds a year. She scoffed at four hundred pounds a year.To hear her talk, you would have supposed that she had beenbrought up from the cradle to look on four hundred pounds a yearas small change to be disposed of in tips and cab fares. That initself would have been enough to sow doubts in Bill's mind as towhether he had really got all the money that a reasonable manneeded; and Claire saw to it that these doubts sprouted, byconfining her conversation on the occasions of their meetingalmost entirely to the great theme of money, with its minorsub-divisions of How to Get It, Why Don't You Get It? and I'm Sickand Tired of Not Having It.
She developed this theme to-day, not only on the stairs leading tothe grillroom, but even after they had seated themselves at theirtable. It was a relief to Bill when the arrival of the waiter withfood caused a break in the conversation and enabled him adroitlyto change the subject.
'What have you been doing this morning?' he asked.
'I went to see Maginnis at the theatre.'
'I had a wire from him asking me to call. They want me to take upClaudia Winslow's part in the number one company.'
'Well--er--what I mean--well, isn't it? What I mean is, leadingpart, and so forth.'
'In a touring company?'
'Yes, I see what you mean,' said Lord Dawlish, who didn't at all.He thought rather highly of the number one companies that hailedfrom the theatre of which Mr Maginnis was proprietor.
'And anyhow, I ought to have had the part in the first placeinstead of when the tour's half over. They are at Southampton thisweek. He wants me to join them there and go on to Portsmouth withthem.'
'You'll like Portsmouth.'
'Well--er--good links quite near.'
'You know I don't play golf.'
'Nor do you. I was forgetting. Still, it's quite a jolly place.'
'It's a horrible place. I loathe it. I've half a mind not to go.'
'Oh, I don't know.'
'What do you mean?'
Lord Dawlish was feeling a little sorry for himself. Whatever hesaid seemed to be the wrong thing. This evidently was one of thedays on which Claire was not so sweet-tempered as on some otherdays. It crossed his mind that of late these irritable moods ofhers had grown more frequent. It was not her fault, poor girl! hetold himself. She had rather a rotten time.
It was always Lord Dawlish's habit on these occasions to make thisexcuse for Claire. It was such a satisfactory excuse. It coveredeverything. But, as a matter of fact, the rather rotten time whichshe was having was not such a very rotten one. Reducing it to itssimplest terms, and forgetting for the moment that she was anextraordinarily beautiful girl--which his lordship found itimpossible to do--all that it amounted to was that, her motherhaving but a small income, and existence in the West Kensingtonflat being consequently a trifle dull for one with a taste for theluxuries of life, Claire had gone on the stage. By birth shebelonged to a class of which the female members are seldom calledupon to earn money at all, and that was one count of her grievanceagainst Fate. Another was that she had not done as well on thestage as she had expected to do. When she became engaged to Billshe had reached a point where she could obtain without difficultygood parts in the touring companies of London successes, butbeyond that it seemed it was impossible for her to soar. It wasnot, perhaps, a very exhilarating life, but, except to the eyes oflove, there was nothing tragic about it. It was the cumulativeeffect of having a mother in reduced circumstances and grumblingabout it, of being compelled to work and grumbling about that, andof achieving in her work only a semi-success and grumbling aboutthat also, that--backed by her looks--enabled Claire to give quitea number of people, and Bill Dawlish in particular, the impressionthat she was a modern martyr, only sustained by her indomitablecourage.
So Bill, being requested in a peevish voice to explain what hemeant by saying, 'Oh, I don't know,' condoned the peevishness. Hethen bent his mind to the task of trying to ascertain what he hadmeant.
'Well,' he said, 'what I mean is, if you don't show up won't it berather a jar for old friend Maginnis? Won't he be apt to foam atthe mouth a bit and stop giving you parts in his companies?'
'I'm sick of trying to please Maginnis. What's the good? He nevergives me a chance in London. I'm sick of being always on tour. I'msick of everything.'
'It's the heat,' said Lord Dawlish, most injudiciously.
'It isn't the heat. It's you!'
'Me? What have I done?'
'It's what you've not done. Why can't you exert yourself and makesome money?'
Lord Dawlish groaned a silent groan. By a devious route, but withunfailing precision, they had come homing back to the same oldsubject.
'We have been engaged for six months, and there seems about asmuch chance of our ever getting married as of--I can't think ofanything unlikely enough. We shall go on like this till we'redead.'
'But, my dear girl!'
'I wish you wouldn't talk to me as if you were my grandfather.What were you going to say?'
'Only that we can get married this afternoon if you'll say theword.'
'Oh, don't let us go into all that again! I'm not going to marryon four hundred a year and spend the rest of my life in a pokeylittle flat on the edge of London. Why can't you make more money?'
'I did have a dash at it, you know. I waylaid old Bodger--ColonelBodger, on the committee of the club, you know--and suggested overa whisky-and-soda that the management of Brown's would be behavinglike sportsmen if they bumped my salary up a bit, and the old boynearly strangled himself trying to suck down Scotch and laugh atthe same time. I give you my word, he nearly expired on thesmoking-room floor. When he came to he said that he wished Iwouldn't spring my good things on him so suddenly, as he had aweak heart. He said they were only paying me my present salarybecause they liked me so much. You know, it was decent of the oldboy to say that.'
'What is the good of being liked by the men in your club if youwon't make any use of it?'
'How do you mean?'
'There are endless things you could do. You could have got MrBreitstein elected at Brown's if you had liked. They wouldn't havedreamed of blackballing any one proposed by a popular man like you,and Mr Breitstein asked you personally to use your influence--youtold me so.'
'But, my dear girl--I mean my darling--Breitstein! He's the limit!He's the worst bounder in London.'
'He's also one of the richest men in London. He would have doneanything for you. And you let him go! You insulted him!'
'Didn't you send him an admission ticket to the Zoo?'
'Oh, well, yes, I did do that. He thanked me and went thefollowing Sunday. Amazing how these rich Johnnies love gettingsomething for nothing. There was that old American I met down atMarvis Bay last year--'
'You threw away a wonderful chance of making all sorts of money.Why, a single tip from Mr Breitstein would have made yourfortune.'
'But, Claire, you know, there are some things--what I mean is, ifthey like me at Brown's, it's awfully decent of them and all that,but I couldn't take advantage of it to plant a fellow likeBreitstein on them. It wouldn't be playing the game.'
Lord Dawlish looked unhappy, but said nothing. This matter of MrBreitstein had been touched upon by Claire in previous conversations,and it was a subject for which he had little liking. Experience hadtaught him that none of the arguments which seemed so conclusiveto him--to wit, that the financier had on two occasions only justescaped imprisonment for fraud, and, what was worse, made anoise when he drank soup, like water running out of a bathtub--hadthe least effect upon her. The only thing to do when Mr Breitsteincame up in the course of chitchat over the festive board was tostay quiet until he blew over.
'That old American you met at Marvis Bay,' said Claire, her memoryflitting back to the remark which she had interrupted; 'well,there's another case. You could easily have got him to dosomething for you.'
'Claire, really!' said his goaded lordship, protestingly. 'How onearth? I only met the man on the links.'
'But you were very nice to him. You told me yourself that youspent hours helping him to get rid of his slice, whatever thatis.'
'We happened to be the only two down there at the time, so I wasas civil as I could manage. If you're marooned at a Cornishseaside resort out of the season with a man, you can't spend yourtime dodging him. And this man had a slice that fascinated me. Ifelt at the time that it was my mission in life to cure him, so Ihad a dash at it. But I don't see how on the strength of that Icould expect the old boy to adopt me. He probably forgot myexistence after I had left.'
'You said you met him in London a month or two afterwards, and hehadn't forgotten you.'
'Well, yes, that's true. He was walking up the Haymarket and I waswalking down. I caught his eye, and he nodded and passed on. Idon't see how I could construe that into an invitation to go andsit on his lap and help myself out of his pockets.'
'You couldn't expect him to go out of his way to help you; butprobably if you had gone to him he would have done something.'
'You haven't the pleasure of Mr Ira Nutcombe's acquaintance,Claire, or you wouldn't talk like that. He wasn't the sort of manyou could get things out of. He didn't even tip the caddie.Besides, can't you see what I mean? I couldn't trade on a chanceacquaintance of the golf links to--'
'That is just what I complain of in you. You're too diffident.'
'It isn't diffidence exactly. Talking of old Nutcombe, I wasspeaking to Gates again the other night. He was telling me aboutAmerica. There's a lot of money to be made over there, you know,and the committee owes me a holiday. They would give me a fewweeks off any time I liked.
'What do you say? Shall I pop over and have a look round? I mighthappen to drop into something. Gates was telling me about fellowshe knew who had dropped into things in New York.'
'What's the good of putting yourself to all the trouble andexpense of going to America? You can easily make all you want inLondon if you will only try. It isn't as if you had no chances.You have more chances than almost any man in town. With your titleyou could get all the directorships in the City that you wanted.'
'Well, the fact is, this business of taking directorships hasnever quite appealed to me. I don't know anything about the game,and I should probably run up against some wildcat company. I can'tsay I like the directorship wheeze much. It's the idea of knowingthat one's name would be being used as a bait. Every time I saw iton a prospectus I should feel like a trout fly.'
Claire bit her lip.
'It's so exasperating!' she broke out. 'When I first told myfriends that I was engaged to Lord Dawlish they were tremendouslyimpressed. They took it for granted that you must have lots ofmoney. Now I have to keep explaining to them that the reason wedon't get married is that we can't afford to. I'm almost as badlyoff as poor Polly Davis who was in the Heavenly Waltz Company withme when she married that man, Lord Wetherby. A man with a titlehas no right not to have money. It makes the whole thing farcical.
'If I were in your place I should have tried a hundred things bynow, but you always have some silly objection. Why couldn't you,for instance, have taken on the agency of that what-d'you-call-itcar?'
'What I called it would have been nothing to what the poor devilswho bought it would have called it.'
'You could have sold hundreds of them, and the company would havegiven you any commission you asked. You know just the sort ofpeople they wanted to get in touch with.'
'But, darling, how could I? Planting Breitstein on the club wouldhave been nothing compared with sowing these horrors about London.I couldn't go about the place sticking my pals with a car which, Igive you my honest word, was stuck together with chewing-gum andtied up with string.'
'Why not? It would be their fault if they bought a car that wasn'tany good. Why should you have to worry once you had it sold?'
It was not Lord Dawlish's lucky afternoon. All through lunch hehad been saying the wrong thing, and now he put the coping-stoneon his misdeeds. Of all the ways in which he could have answeredClaire's question he chose the worst.
'Er--well,' he said, '_noblesse oblige_, don't you know, what?'
For a moment Claire did not speak. Then she looked at her watchand got up.
'I must be going,' she said, coldly.
'But you haven't had your coffee yet.'
'I don't want any coffee.'
'What's the matter, dear?'
'Nothing is the matter. I have to go home and pack. I'm going toSouthampton this afternoon.'
She began to move towards the door. Lord Dawlish, anxious tofollow, was detained by the fact that he had not yet paid thebill. The production and settling of this took time, and whenfinally he turned in search of Claire she was nowhere visible.
Bounding upstairs on the swift feet of love, he reached thestreet. She had gone.
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