LORD ICKENHAM came into the room, concern in every hair of his raised
eyebrows. Many men in his place, beholding this poor bit of human wreckage,
would have said to themselves "Oh, my gosh, another toad beneath the harrow"
and ducked out quickly to avoid having to listen to the hard luck story
which such toads are always so ready to tell, but to the altruistic peer it
never occurred to adopt such a course. His was a big heart, and when he saw
a toad not only beneath the harrow but apparently suffering from the effects
of one of those gas explosions in London street which slay six, he did not
remember an appointment for which he was already late but stuck around and
prepared to do whatever lay in his power to alleviate the sufferer's
"Beefy!" he cried. "My dear old bird, what on earth's the matter? You look
like a devastated area."
It took Sir Raymond some little time to tell him what the matter was, for he
had much to say on the subject of the black-hearted villainy of his nephew
Cosmo and also a number of pungent remarks to make about Oily Carlisle. As
he concluded the recital of their skulduggery, his audience, which he had
held spellbound, clicked its tongue. It shocked Lord Ickenham to think that
humanity could sink to such depths, and he blamed himself for having allowed
this new development to catch him unprepared.
"We should have foreseen this," he said. "We should have told ourselves that
it was madness to place our confidence in anyone like young Cosmo, a twister
compared with whom corkscrews are straight and spiral staircases the
shortest line between two points. Seeing that little black moustache of his,
we should have refused him the nomination and sought elsewhere for a
co-worker. 'Never put anything on paper, my boy,' my old father used to say
to me, 'and never trust a man with a small black moustache.' And you, my
poor Beefy, have done both."
Sir Raymond's reply was somewhat muffled, for he was having trouble with his
vocal cords, but Lord Ickenham understood him to say that it was all his.
Lord Ickenham's, fault. "You suggested him."
"Surely not? Yes, by Jove, you're right. I was sitting here, you were
sitting there, lapping up martinis like a vacuum cleaner, and I said . . .
Yes, it all comes back to me. I'm sorry."
"What's the use of that?"
"Remorse is always useful. Beefy. It stimulates the brain. It has set mine
working like a buzz-saw, and already a plan of action is beginning to
present itself. You say this fellow went off? Where did he go?"
"How the devil do I know where he went ?"
"I ask because I happen to be aware that he has a sensitive skin and is
undergoing considerable discomfort because his wife made him put on his
winter woollies this morning. I thought he might be in the garden somewhere,
stripped to the buff in order to scratch with more authority, in which case
his coat would be on the ground or hung from some handy bough, and I could
have stolen up, not letting a twig snap beneath my feet, and gone through
his pockets. But I doubt if he is the sort of man to be careless with a coat
containing important documents. I shall have to try the other plan I spoke
of, the one I said was beginning to present itself. Since you last heard
from me, I have shaped it out, complete to the last button, and it will, I
am convinced, bring home the bacon. You're sure he's coming back?"
"Of course he's coming back, curse him!"
"Through those French windows, no doubt. He would hardly ring the front door
bell and have himself announced again. It would confuse Albert Peasemarch
and make him fret. All right. Beefy, receive him courteously, ask after his
sensitive skin and keep him engaged in conversation till I am with you
"Where are you going ?"
"Never mind. When the fields are white with daisies, I'll return," said Lord
Ickenham, and withdrew through the door a minute or so before Oily Carlisle
came in through the French windows.
It could scarcely be said that Sir Raymond received Mr. Carlisle
courteously, unless it is courteous to glare at someone like a basilisk and
call him a slimy blackmailer, nor did he enquire after his skin or engage
him in conversation. What talk ensued was done by Oily, who was in excellent
spirits and plainly feeling that all was for the best in this best of all
possible worlds. Cosmo's letter, nestling in his inside coat pocket, made a
little crackling sound as he patted it, and it was music to his ears. There
was a brisk cheerfulness in his manner as he started talking prices that
gashed his companion like a knife.
He had just outlined the tariff and was suggesting that if Sir Raymond would
bring out his cheque book and take pen in hand, the whole thing could be
cleaned up promptly, neatly and to everybody's satisfaction, when there came
to him a sudden doubt as to the world being, as he had supposed, the best of
all possible. The door opened, and Albert Peasemarch appeared.
"Inspector Jervis," he announced, and with an uneasy feeling in his
interior, as if he had recently swallowed a heaping tablespoonful of
butterflies, Oily recognized, in the tall, slim figure that entered, his
fellow-traveller from the station. And noting that his eyes, so genial in
the cab, were now hard and his lips, once smiling, tight and set, he quailed
visibly. He remembered a palmist at Coney Island once telling him, in return
for fifty cents, that a strange man would cross his path and that of this
strange man he would do well to beware, but not even the thought that it
looked as if he were going to get value for his half dollar was enough to
If Lord Ickenham's eyes were hard and his lips set, it was because that was
how he saw the role he had undertaken. There were gaps in his knowledge of
his godson's literary work, but he had read enough of it to know that when
Inspector Jervis found himself in the presence of the criminal classes, he
did not beam at them. The eyes hard, the lips set, the voice crisp and
official-that was how he envisaged Inspector Jervis.
"Sir Raymond Bastable?" he said. "Good evening. Sir Raymond, I am from the
And looked every inch of it, he was feeling complacently. He was a man who
in his time had played many parts, and he took a pride in playing them
right. It was his modest boast that there was nothing in existence, except
possibly a circus dwarf, owing to his height, or Gina Lollobrigida, owing to
her individual shape, which he could not at any moment and without rehearsal
depict with complete success. In a single afternoon at The Cedars, Mafeking
Road, in the suburb of Mitching Hill, on the occasion when he had befriended
the pink chap to whom he had alluded in his talk with Albert Peasemarch, he
had portrayed not only an official from the bird shop, come to clip the
claws of the resident parrot, but Mr. Roddis, owner of The Cedars, and a Mr.
J. G. Bulstrode, one of the neighbours, and had been disappointed that he
was given no opportunity of impersonating the parrot, which he was convinced
he would have done on broad, artistic lines.
Oily continued to quail. Not so good, he was saying to himself, not so good.
He had never been fond of inspectors, and the time when their society made
the smallest appeal to him was when they popped up just as he was concluding
an important deal. He did not like the way this one was looking at him and,
when he spoke, he liked what he said even less.
"Turn out your pockets," said Lord Ickenham curtly.
"And don't say 'Eh?' I have been watching this man closely," said Lord
Ickenham, turning to Sir Raymond. whose eyes were bulging like a snail's,
"since I saw him on the station platform in London. His furtive behaviour
excited my suspicions. Ticking pockets right and left, that chap,' I said to
myself. 'Helping himself to wallets and what not from all and sundry.'"
Oily started, and a hot flush suffused his forehead. His professional pride
was piqued. In no section of the community are class distinctions more rigid
than among those who make a dishonest living by crime. The burglar looks
down on the stick-up man, the stick-up man on the humbler practitioner who
steals milk cans. Accuse a high-up confidence artist of petty larceny, and
you bring out all the snob in him.
"And when I shared a cab with him to Hammer Hall and discovered on alighting
that I was short a cigarette case, a tie pin, a packet of throat pastilles
and a fountain pen, I knew that my suspicions had been well founded. Come
on, my man, what are we waiting for?"
Oily was still gasping.
"Are you saying I picked pockets ? You're crazy. I wouldn't know how."
"Nonsense. It's perfectly simple. You just dip. It's no use pleading
inability. If Peter Piper," said Lord Ickenham, who on these occasions was
always a little inclined to let his tongue run away with him, "could pick a
peck of pickled peppers, I see no reason why you should not be capable of
picking a peck of pickled pockets. Has the fellow been left alone in here?"
he asked Sir Raymond, who blinked and said he had not.
"Ah? Then he will have had no opportunity of trousering any of your little
knick-knacks, even if he still had room for them. But let us see what he has
got. It should be worth more than a casual glance."
"Yes," said Sir Raymond, at last abreast. He was always rather a slow
thinker when not engaged in his profession. "Turn out your pockets, my man."
Oily wavered, uncertain what to do for the best. If he had been calmer, it
might have struck him that this was a most peculiar inspector, in speech and
manner quite unlike the inspectors with whom his professional activities had
brought him into contact in his native country, and his suspicions, too,
might have been excited. But he was greatly agitated and feeling far from
his usual calm self. And perhaps, he was thinking, all English inspectors
were like this. He had never met one socially. His acquaintance with
Scotland Yard was a purely literary one, the fruit of his reading of the
whodunits to which he was greatly addicted.
It was possibly the fact that Sir Raymond was between him and the window
that decided him. The Beefy Bastable who had recently celebrated his
fifty-second birthday was no longer the lissom athlete of thirty years ago,
but he was still an exceedingly tough-looking customer, not lightly to be
engaged in physical combat by one who specialize in the persuasive word
rather than violence. Drinking in his impressive bulk, Oily reached a
decision. Slowly, with a sad sigh as he thought how different it all would
have been if his Gertie had been there with her vase of gladioli, he emptied
Lord Ickenham appeared surprised at the meagreness of their contents.
"He seems to have cached the swag somewhere, no doubt in a secret spot
marked with a cross," he said. "But, hullo! What's this? A letter addressed
to you. Sir Raymond."
"You don't say?"
"Written, I should deduce from a superficial glance, by man with a small
"Just what I was going to say myself."
"Very. Will you press a charge against this man for swiping it?"
"I think not."
"You don't want to see him in a dungeon with dripping walls, getting gnawed
to the bone by rats ? You string along with the Bard of Avon about the
quality of mercy not being strained? Very well. It's up to you, of course.
All right, Mr. Carlisle, you may go."
It was at this moment, when everything appeared, as Oily would have put it,
to have been cleaned up neatly and to everybody's satisfaction, that the
door opened again and Mrs. Phoebe Wisdom pottered in, looking so like a
white rabbit that the first impulse of any lover of animals would have been
to offer her a lettuce.
"Raymond, dear," she said, "have you seen my Pig?"
For the past half-hour Sir Raymond Bastable had been under a considerable
strain, and though relief at the success of his half-brother-in-law's
intervention had lessened this, he was still feeling its effects. This
sudden introduction of the pig motif seemed to take him into a nightmare
world where nothing made sense, and for a moment everything went blank.
Swaying a little on his base, he said in a low whisper:
"The little gold pig from my charm bracelet. It has dropped off, and I can't
find it anywhere. Well, Frederick, how nice to see you after all this time.
Peasemarch told me you were here. When did you arrive?"
"I came on the 3.26 train. I'm staying with my godson, Johnny Pearce, at the
Hall. You don't look too well, Phoebe. What's the trouble? Not enough
"It's this book of Cossie's, Frederick. I can't imagine how he came to write
such a book. A bishop denouncing it!"
"Bishops will be bishops."
"I went up to London yesterday to see him and tell him how upset I was, but
he wasn't there."
"Somewhere else, perhaps?" Lord Ickenham suggested.
Oily had been listening to these exchanges with growing bewilderment. From
the first he had thought this Inspector an odd Inspector, but only now was
it borne in on him how very odd he was.
"Say, who is this guy ?" he demanded.
"Hasn't my brother introduced you?" said Phoebe. "He is my half-sister's
husband. Lord Ickenham. You haven't seen my pig, have you, Frederick?"
"Phoebe," said Sir Raymond, "get out!"
"But I was going to look for my pig.''
"Never mind your pig. Get OUT!" bellowed Sir Raymond in the voice that had
so often brought plaster down from the ceiling of the Old Bailey and caused
nervous court officials to swallow their chewing gum.
Phoebe withdrew, sobbing softly and looking like a white rabbit that has had
bad news from home, and Oily confronted Lord Ickenham. His face was stern,
but there was a song in his heart, as there always is in the hearts of men
who see defeat turn into victory.
"So!" he said.
"So what?" said Lord Ickenham.
"I'm afraid you're in a lot of trouble."
"I am? Why is that?"
"For impersonating an officer. Impersonating an officer is a very serious
"But, my dear fellow, when did I ever impersonate an officer? Wouldn't dream
of doing such a thing."
"The butler announced you as Inspector Jervis."
"What the butler said is not evidence. Am I to be blamed because a butler
tries to be funny? That was just a little private joke we have together."
"You said you were from the Yard."
"I referred to the yard outside the kitchen door. I was smoking a cigarette
"You made me turn out my pockets."
"Made you? I asked you to, and you very civilly did."
"Give me that letter."
"But it is addressed to Sir Raymond Bastable. It belongs to him."
"Yes," boomed Sir Raymond, intervening in the debate, "it belongs to me, and
when you talk of serious offences, you foul excrescence, let me remind you
that interfering with the mails is one of them. Give me that letter,
Lord Ickenham, who had been edging to the door, paused with his fingers on
"No, Beefy," he said. "Not yet. You must earn this letter."
"I can speak freely before Mr. Carlisle, for I could see from the way he
winced that your manner toward your sister Phoebe just now distressed him
deeply. I, too, have long been wounded by your manner toward your sister
Phoebe, Beefy, considering it to resemble far too closely that of one of the
less attractive fauna in the Book of Revelations. Correct this attitude.
Turn on that brotherly charm. Coo to her like a cushat dove. Take her up to
London for dinner and a theatre from time to time, and when addressing her
bear in mind that the voice with the smile wins and that you are not an
Oriental potentate dissatisfied with the efficiency of an Ethiopian slave.
If I learn from Albert Peasemarch, who will be watching you closely, that
there has been a marked and substantial improvement, you shall have this
letter. Meanwhile, I am going to keep it and hold it over you like the sword
of ... who was the chap ? . . . no, it's gone. Forget my own name next,"
said Lord Ickenham, annoyed, and went out, shutting the door behind him. A
moment later, it opened again, and his head appeared.
"Damocles," he said. "Sword of Damocles." The door dosed.
On a sunny morning precisely two weeks after Lord Ickenham had adjusted the
sword of Damocles over the head of Sir Raymond Bastable, completely spoiling
the latter's day and causing him to entertain toward the sweetness-and-light
specialist thoughts of a kind that no one ought to have entertained toward a
brother-in-law, even a half one, the door of Brixton prison in the suburbs
of London was opened by a uniformed gentleman with a large key, and a young
man in a form-fitting navy blue suit emerged. Cosmo Wisdom, his debt to
Society paid, was in circulation once more. He was thinner and paler than
when last seen, and the first act of the beauty-loving authorities had been
to remove his moustache. This, however, was not so great a boon to
pedestrians and traffic as it might seem, for he was resolved, now that he
was in a position to do so, to grow it again.
The Law of Great Britain is a smoothly functioning automatic machine,
providing prison sentences to suit all tastes. You put your crime in the
slot, and out comes the appropriate penalty-seven years, as it might be, for
embezzling trust funds, six months for carving up a business competitor with
a razor, and for being drunk and disorderly and while in that condition
assaulting the police fourteen days without the option of a fine. Cosmo had
drawn the last of these.
When Oily Carlisle in a moment of unwonted generosity had lent Cosmo twenty
pounds, the latter, it may be remembered, receiving these pennies from
heaven, had expressed his intention of celebrating. He had done so only too
heartily. The thought of the good red gold which would soon be gushing like
a geyser from the coffers of his Uncle Raymond had given wings to his feet
as he started on his way along the primrose path. There was a sound of
revelry by night and, one thing leading to another, in what seemed almost no
time at all he was kicking Police Constable Styles of the C division, whose
manner when he was trying to steal his helmet had offended him, rather
severely in the stomach. Whistles blew, colleagues of the injured officer
rallied to the spot, and presently stern-faced men were leading Cosmo off to
the local hoosegow with gyves upon his wrists.
It was not a case, in the opinion of the magistrate at Bosher Street police
court next morning, which could be met by the mere imposition of a fine.
Only the jug, the whole jug and nothing but the jug would show the piefaced
young son of a what-not where he got off, he said, though he phrased it a
little differently, and he seemed chagrined at not being able to dish out
more than those fourteen days. The impression he gave was that if he had
been a free agent with no book of the rules to hamper him, Cosmo would have
been lucky to escape what is known to the Chinese as the Death Of A Thousand
Cuts. You could see that he was thinking that they manage these things
better in China, and P.C. Styles, whose stomach was still paining him,
thought the same.
The first act of your ex-convict on coming out into the great world after
graduating from the Alma Mater is to buy a packet of cigarettes, his second
to purchase a morning paper, his third to go and get the substantial lunch
of which he has been dreaming ever since he clocked in. During the past two
weeks Cosmo, rubbing along on the wholesome but rather meagre prison fare,
had given a good deal of thought to the square meal he would have on getting
out, and after considering the claims of Barribault's, Mario's, Claridge's,
and the Savoy, had decided to give his custom to Simpson's in the Strand,
being well aware that at no establishment in London are the meals squarer.
As he hastened thither, with the picture rising before him of those
white-coated carvers wheeling around their massive joints, hit mouth watered
and a fanatic gleam came into his eyes, as if he had been a python which has
just heard the dinner bell. It was one of those warm summer days when most
people find their thoughts turning to cold salmon and cucumber salad, but
what he wanted was roast beef, smoking hot, with Yorkshire pudding and
floury potatoes on the side, followed by something along the lines of
roly-poly pudding and Stilton cheese.
The paper he had bought was the Daily Gazette, and he glanced at it in the
intervals of shovelling nourishing food into himself like a stevedore
loading a grain ship. Cocktail Time, he noted with a touch of disapproval,
had been dislodged from the front page by a big feature story about a
twelve-year-old schoolboy who had shaved all his hair off in order to look
like Yul Brynner, but it came into its own on page four with a large black
headline which read:
FRANK, FORTHRIGHT, FEARLESS
and beneath this the announcement that Cocktail Time was about to appear in
the Daily Gazette as a serial. "The sensational novel by Richard Blunt,"
said the announcement, adding that this was the pseudonym of Cosmo Wisdom, a
prominent young man about town who is, of course, the nephew of the
well-known Queen's Counsel, Sir Raymond Bastable.
The roast beef, roly-poly pudding and Stilton cheese had done much to bring
Cosmo into a cheerful frame of mind, and the manner in which this manifesto
was worded completed the good work. For obviously, if in the eyes of the
Daily Gazette he was still the author of Cocktail Time, it could only mean
that his Uncle Raymond, reading that letter, had prudently decided to play
for safety and pay the price of secrecy and silence. No doubt, Cosmo felt,
there was a communication to that effect waiting at his rooms in Budge
Street, Chelsea, and his only regret was that the pangs of hunger had made
it impossible for him to go there and read it before making up leeway at
So far, so good. But after he had been gloating happily for some little time
over the picture of Uncle Raymond at his desk, pen in hand and writing
golden figures in his cheque book, the sunshine was suddenly blotted from
his life. It had just occurred to him to speculate on the possible
activities of his friend Gordon Carlisle during his enforced absence, and
this train of thought was a chilling one. Suppose hit friend Gordon
Carlisle-shown by his every action to be a man who thought on his feet and
did it now-had taken that letter in person to Uncle Raymond, disclosed its
contents, got cash down for it and was already on hit way back to America,
his pockets full of Uncle Raymond's gold. It was fortunate for Cosmo that he
had already consumed his roly-poly pudding, for, had he not, it would have
turned to ashes in his mouth.
But in envisaging Gordon Carlisle leaning on the rail of an ocean liner,
watching porpoises and toning up his ill-gotten gains, he had allowed
imagination to mislead him. Oily was not on his way to America. He was at
this moment in the process of rising from a table on the opposite side of
Chez Simpson, where he had been lunching with his wife Gertie. And though,
like Cosmo, he had lunched well, his heart was heavy. There, said those who
saw him to each other, went a luncher who had failed to find the blue bird.
Cosmo's inexplicable disappearance had tried Gordon Carlisle sorely. It was
holding up everything. Scarcely five minutes after leaving Hammer Lodge his
astute brain had grasped what must be done to stabilize the situation, but
the scheme he had in mind could not be put into operation without the
assistance of Cosmo, and Cosmo had vanished. Every day for the past two
weeks Oily had called at Budge Street, hoping for news, and every day he had
been sent empty away by a landlady who made no secret of the fact that she
was sick of the sight of him. He was in much the same position as a General
who, with his strategic plans all polished and ready to be carried out,
finds that his army has gone off somewhere, leaving no address.
It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that when, as he made for the door,
he heard a voice utter his name and, turning, found himself gazing into the
face of the man he had sought so long, his heart leaped up as if he had
beheld a rainbow in the sky. Rather more so, in fact, for, unlike the poet
Wordsworth, he had never cared much for rainbows.
"Carlisle!" cried Cosmo exuberantly. He was blaming himself for having
wronged this man in thought, and remorse lent to his voice something of the
warmth which a shepherd exhibits when he sees a lost sheep reporting for
duty. "Sit down, my dear old chap, sit down!"
His dear old chap sat down, but he did so in a reserved and distant manner
that showed how deeply he was stirred. Wrath had taken the place of joy in
Oily's bosom. Thinking of the strain to which he had been subjected in the
last fourteen days, he could not readily forgive. The eye which he fixed on
Cosmo was the eye of a man who intends to demand an explanation.
"Mrs. Carlisle," he said curtly, indicating his companion. "This is the
Wisdom guy, sweetie."
"It is, is it ?" said Gertie. Her teeth made a little clicking sound, and as
she looked at Cosmo, she, too, seemed to bring a chill into the summer day.
The austerity of their demeanour passed unnoticed by Cosmo. His cordiality
and effervescence continued undiminished.
"So here you are!" he said. "Well?"
Oily had to remember that he was a gentleman before he could trust himself
to speak. Words which he had learned in early boyhood were jostling each
other in his mind. He turned to his wife.
"He says 'Well?'"
"I heard him," said Gertie grimly.
" 'Well ?' He sits there and says 'Well ?' Can you beat it?"
"He's got his nerve," Gertie agreed. "He's certainly there with the crust,
all right. Listen, you. Where the heck have you been all this time ?"
It was an embarrassing question. One likes to have one's little secrets.
"Oh-er-away," said Cosmo evasively.
The words had the worst effect on his companions. Already cold and austere,
they became colder and austerer, and so marked was their displeasure that he
was at last forced to realize that he was not among friends. There was a
bottle on the table, and a quick shiver ran down his spine as he observed
Mrs. Carlisle's hand stray absently in its direction. Knowing what a
magnetic attraction bottles had for this woman, when cross, he decided that
the moment had come to be frank, forthright and fearless.
"As a matter of fact, I've been in prison."
"Yes. I went on a toot and kicked a policeman, and they gave me fourteen
days without the option. I got out this morning."
A magical change came over the Carlisles, Mr. and Mrs. An instant before
stem and hostile, they looked at him now with the, sympathetic eyes of a Mr.
and Mrs. who understood all. The claims of prison are paramount.
"Oh, so that was it!" said Oily. "I see. I couldn't think what had become of
you, but if you were in the cooler . . ."
"How are they over here ?" asked Gertie.
"Oh, the coolers. Not too good."
"Much the same as back home, I guess. Prison's all right for a visit, I
always say, but I wouldn't live there if you gave me the place. Well, too
bad they pulled you in, but you're here now, so let's not waste any more
time. Give him the over-all picture. Oily."
"Right away, sweetie. Things have gone and got a mite gummed up. Wisdom. You
know a guy called Ickenham?"
"Lord Ickenham? Yes. He married my uncle's half-sister. What about him ?"
Oily did not believe in breaking things gently.
"He's got that letter."
Cosmo, as Police Constable Styles had done two weeks previously, made an
odd, gurgling sound like water going down a waste pipe.
"Old Ickenham has ?"
"But I don't understand."
Gordon Carlisle's narrative of the happenings at Hammer Lodge was a lengthy
one, and long before it had finished Cosmo's jaw had dropped to its fullest
extent. He had got the over-all picture, and his spirits were as low as his
"But what do we do ?" he said hoarsely, seeing no ray of light among the
"Oh, now that I've contacted you, everything's nice and smooth."
"I don't see it," said Cosmo.
Oily gave a gentlemanly little chuckle.
"Pretty clear, I'd have said. Fairly simple, seems to me. You just write
your Uncle another letter, saying you've been thinking it over some more and
still feel the same way about letting everybody know that it was him and not
you that wrote the book, and you're going to spill the beans in the next
couple of days or so. Won't that make him play ball ? Of course it will."
The hearty lunch with which his rather bewildered gastric juices were doing
their best to cope had dulled Cosmo's wits a good deal, but they remained
bright enough to enable him to grasp the beauty of the scheme.
"Why, of course! It doesn't matter that Ickenham has got the letter, does it
"Not a bit."
"This second one of mine will do the trick."
"I'll go home and write it now."
"No hurry. I see you've got the Gazette there. You've read about the
"Yes. I suppose Saxby sold it to them. I had a letter from a literary agent
called Saxby, asking if he could handle the book, and I thought it was a
good idea. I told him he could."
"Well, the first thing you do is go see him and get the money."
"And the second," said Gertie, "is slip Oily his cut. Seventy smackers, if
you remember. You owed him fifty, and he loaned you another twenty. Making
seventy in all."
"That's right. It all comes back to me."
"And now," said Gertie, speaking with a certain metallic note in her voice,
"it's coming back to Oily. He'll call around at your place in an hour or so
and collect it."
OLD Mr. Howard Saxby was seated at his desk in his room at the Edgar Saxby
literary agency when Cosmo arrived there. He was knitting a sock. He knitted
a good deal, he would tell you if you asked him, to keep himself from
smoking, adding that he also smoked a good deal to keep himself from
knitting. He was a long, thin old gentleman in his middle seventies with a
faraway unseeing look in his eye, not unlike that which a dead halibut on a
fishmonger's slab gives the pedestrian as he passes. It was a look which
caused many of those who met him to feel like disembodied spirits, so
manifest was it that they were making absolutely no impression on his
retina. Cosmo, full though he was of roast beef, roly-poly pudding and
Stilton cheese, had the momentary illusion as he encountered that blank,
vague gaze that he was something diaphanous that had been hurriedly put
together with ectoplasm.
"Mr. Wisdom," said the girl who had led him into the presence.
"Ah," said Howard Saxby, and there was a pause of perhaps three minutes,
during which his needles clicked busily. "Wisdom, did she say?"
"Yes. I wrote Cocktail Time."
"You couldn't have done better," said Mr. Saxby cordially. "How's your wife,
Mr. Wisdom ?"
Cosmo said he had no wife.
"I'm a bachelor."
"Then Wordsworth was wrong. He said you were married to immortal verse.
Excuse me a moment," murmured Mr. Saxby, applying himself to the sock again.
"I'm just turning the heel. Do you knit?"
"Sleep does. It knits up the ravelled sleave of care."
In the Demosthenes Club, where he lunched every day, there was considerable
speculation as to whether old Saxby was as pronounced an old lunatic as he
appeared to be or merely for some whimsical purpose of his own playing a
part. The truth probably came midway between these two contending views. As
a boy he had always been inclined to let his mind wander-"needs to
concentrate," his school reports had said-and on entering the family
business he had cultivated this tendency because he found it brought
results. It disconcerts a publisher, talking terms with an agent, when the
agent stares fixedly at him for some moments and then asks him if he plays
the harp. He becomes nervous, says fifteen per cent when he meant to say
ten, and forgets to mention subsidiary rights altogether.
On Cosmo the Saxby manner acted as an irritant. Though meek in the presence
of his Uncle Raymond, he had his pride, and resented being treated as if he
were some negligible form of insect life that had strayed out from the
woodwork. He coughed sharply, and Mr. Saxby's head came up with a startled
jerk. It was evident that he had supposed himself alone.
"Goodness, you made me jump!" he said. "Who are you?"
"My name, as I have already told you, is Wisdom."
"How did you get in?" asked Mr. Saxby with a show of interest.
"I was shown in."
"And stayed in. I see, Tennyson was right. Knowledge comes, but Wisdom
lingers. Take a chair."
"Take another," said Mr. Saxby hospitably. "Is there," he asked, struck by a
sudden thought, "something I can do for you ?"
"I came about that serial."
Mr. Saxby frowned. A subject had been brought up on which he held strong
"When I was a young man," he said severely, "there were no cereals. We ate
good wholesome porridge for breakfast and throve on it. Then along came
these Americans with their Cute Crispies and Crunchy Whoopsies and so forth,
and what's the result? Dyspepsia is rife. England riddled with it."
"The serial in the paper."
"Putting the beastly stuff in paper makes no difference," said Mr. Saxby,
and returned to his sock.
- Алла Ахмерова
- Эдуард Ткач
- Полина Крюкова
- Наталья Ульянова
- Мария Казанская
- Марина Бороноева
- Стас Никонов
Российское Общество Вудхауза благодарит всех, кто принял участие в
переводе майско-июньского отрывка!
Отрывок был действительно трудным и большим, и каждый, переведший его, -
Каждому участнику будет вручена первая часть аудиокниги Golf Omnibus!