Few fashionable engagements (said Mr Mulliner) have ever started with fairer prospects of success than that of my nephew Archibald and Aurelia Cammarleigh. Even cynical Mayfair had to admit that for once a really happy and enduring marriage appeared to be indicated. For such a union there is no surer basis than a community of taste, and this the young couple possessed in full measure. Archibald liked imitating hens, and Aurelia liked listening to him. She used to say she could listen to him all day, and she sometimes did.
It was after one of these sessions – when, hoarse but happy, he was walking back to his rooms to dress for dinner, that he found his progress impeded by a man of seedy aspect who, without any preamble but a short hiccough, said that he had not been able to taste bread for three days.
It puzzled Archibald a little that a complete stranger should be making him the recipient of confidences which might more reasonably have been bestowed upon his medical adviser: but it so happened that only recently he himself had not been able to taste even Stilton cheese. So he replied as one having knowledge.
‘Don’t you worry, old thing,’ he said. ‘That often happens when you get a cold in the head. It passes off.’
‘I have not got a cold in the head, sir,’ said the man. 1 have got pains in the back, weak lungs, a sick wife, stiff joints, five children, internal swellings, and no pension after seven years in His Majesty’s army owing to jealousy in high quarters, but not a cold in the head. Why I can’t taste bread is because I have no money to buy it. I wish, sir, you could hear my children crying for bread.’
‘I’d love to,’ said Archibald civilly. ‘I must come up and see you some time. But tell me about bread. Does it cost much?’
‘Well, sir, it’s this way. If you buy it by the bottle, that’s expensive. What I always say is, best to get in a cask. But then, again, that needs capital.’
‘If I slipped you a fiver, could you manage?’
‘I’d try, sir.’
‘Right ho,’ said Archibald.
This episode had a singular effect on Archibald Mulliner. I will not say that it made him think deeply, for he was incapable of thinking deeply. But it engendered a curious gravity, an odd sense that life was stern and life was earnest, and he was still in the grip of this new mood when he reached his rooms and Meadowes, his man, brought him a tray with a decanter and syphon upon it.
‘Meadowes,’ said Archibald, ‘are you busy for the moment?’
‘Then let us speak for a while on the subject of bread. Do you realize, Meadowes, that there are blokes who can’t get bread? They want it, their wives want it, their children are all for it, but in spite of this unanimity what is the upshot? No bread. I’ll bet you didn’t know that, Meadowes.’
‘Yes, sir. There is a great deal of poverty in London.’
‘Oh, yes, indeed, sir. You should go down to a place like Bottleton East. That is where you hear the Voice of the People.’
‘The masses, sir. The martyred proletariat. If you are interested in the martyred proletariat, I could supply you with some well-written pamphlets. I have been a member of the League for the Dawn of Freedom for many years, sir. Our object, as the name implies, is to hasten the coming revolution.’
‘Like in Russia, do you mean?’
‘Massacres and all that?’
‘Now, listen, Meadowes,’ said Archibald firmly ‘Fun’s fun, but no rot about stabbing me with a dripping knife. I won’t have it, do you understand?’
‘Very good, sir.’
‘That being clear, you may bring me those pamphlets. I’d like to have a look at them.’
- Татьяна Л.
- Денис Романченко
- Т. И. В.
- Светлана В.
- La Chatte
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