London Calling, March 3, 1928
YOU will find Rudge-in-the-Vale, if you search carefully, in that pleasant section of rural England where the grey stone of Gloucestershire gives place to Worcestershire’s old red brick. Quiet—in fact, almost unconscious, it nestles beside the tiny River Skirme and lets the world go by, somnolently content with its Norman church, its eleven public-houses, its pop—to quote the “Automobile Guide”—of 3,541, and its only effort in the direction of modern progress, the emporium of Chas. Bywater, chemist.
Chas. Bywater is a “live wire.” He takes no afternoon siesta, but works while others sleep. Rudge, as a whole, is inclined after luncheon to go into the back room, put a handkerchief over its face, and take things easy for a bit. But not Chas. Bywater. At the moment at which this story begins he was all bustle and activity and had just finished selling to Colonel Meredith Wyvern a bottle of Brophy’s Paramount Elixir (said to be good for gnat bites).
Having concluded his purchase, Colonel Wyvern would have preferred to leave; but Mr. Bywater was a man who liked to sweeten trade with pleasant conversation. Moreover, this was the first time the colonel had been inside his shop since that sensational affair up at the Hall two weeks ago, and Chas. Bywater, who held the unofficial position of chief gossip-monger to the village, was aching to get to the bottom of that.
With the bare outline of the story he was, of course, familiar. Rudge Hall, seat of the Carmody family for so many generations, contained in its fine old park a number of trees which had been planted somewhere about the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This meant that every now and then one of them would be found to have become a wobbly menace to the passer-by, so that experts had to be sent for to reduce it with a charge of dynamite to a harmless stump. Well, two weeks ago, it seems, they had blown up one of the Hall’s Elizabethan oaks, and as near as a toucher, Rudge learned, had blown up Colonel Wyvern and Mr. Carmody with it. The two friends had come walking by just as the experts set fire to the fuse and had had a very narrow escape.
Thus far the story was common property in the village, and had been discussed nightly in the eleven tap-rooms of its eleven public-houses. But Chas. Bywater, with his trained nose for news and that sixth sense, which had so often enabled him to ferret out the story behind the story when things happened in the upper world of the nobility and gentry, could not help feeling that there was more in it than this. He decided to give his customer the chance of confiding in him.
“Warm day, colonel,” he observed.
“Ur,” grunted Colonel Wyvern.
“May be in for a spell of fine weather at last.”
“Glad to see you looking so well, colonel, after your little accident,” said Chas. Bywater.
It had been Colonel Wyvern’s intention, for he was a man of testy habit, to inquire of Mr. Bywater why the devil he couldn’t wrap a bottle of Brophy’s Elixir in brown paper and put a bit of string round it at once, but at these words he abandoned his project.
Turning a bright mauve and allowing his luxuriant eyebrows to meet across the top of his nose, he subjected the other to a fearful glare.
“Little accident?” he said. “Little accident?”
“I was alluding——”
“If by little accident,” said Colonel Wyvern in a thick, throaty voice, “you mean my miraculous escape from death when that fat thug up at the Hall did his very best to murder me, I should be obliged if you would choose your expressions more carefully. Little accident! Good heavens!”
Few things in this world are more painful than the realisation that an estrangement has occurred between two old friends who for years have jogged amiably along together through life, sharing each other’s joys and sorrows, and holding the same views on religion, politics, cigars, wine, and the decadence of the younger generation, and Mr. Bywater’s reaction, on hearing Colonel Wyvern describe Mr. Lester Carmody of Rudge Hall, until two short weeks ago his closest crony, as a fat thug, should have been one of sober sadness. Such, however, was not the case. All along he had been anxiously hoping to hear first-hand details about that Hall business.
These followed immediately and in great profusion, and Mr. Bywater, as he drank them in, began to realise that his companion had certain solid grounds for feeling a little annoyed. For when, as Colonel Wyvern very sensibly argued, you have been a man’s friend for twenty years and are walking with him in his park and hear warning shouts, and look up and realise that a charge of dynamite is shortly about to go off in your immediate neighbourhood, you expect a man who is a man to be a man. You do not expect him to grab you round the waist and thrust you swiftly in between himself and the point of danger, so that, when the explosion takes place, you get the full force of it, and he escapes without so much as a singed eyebrow.
“Quite,” said Mr. Bywater, hitching up his ears another inch.
“I’m sueing him,” concluded Colonel Wyvern, regarding an advertisement of Pringle’s Pink Pills with a smouldering eye.
“The only thing in the world that superfatted old Black Hander cares for is money, and I’ll have his last penny out of him, if I have to take the case to the House of Lords.”
“Quite,” said Mr. Bywater.
Having relieved himself with some six minutes of continuous speech, Colonel Wyvern seemed to have become aware that he had bestowed his confidences a little injudiciously. He coughed, snatched up the now-ready parcel, strode to the door and left the shop.
The next moment the peace of the drowsy summer afternoon was shattered by a hideous uproar. Much of this consisted of a high, passionate barking, the remainder being contributed by the voice of a retired military man, raised in anger. Mr. Chas. Bywater blenched and, reaching out a hand towards an upper shelf, brought down, in the order named, a bundle of lint, a bottle of arnica and one of the half-crown (or large size) pots of Sooth-o, the recognised specific for cuts, burns, scratches, nettle-stings, and dog-bites.
WHILE Colonel Wyvern had been pouring his troubles into the twitching ears of Chas. Bywater, there had entered the High Street a young man in golf clothes and an Old Rugbeian tie. This was John Carroll, nephew of Mr. Carmody, of the Hall. He had walked down to the village, accompanied by his dog Emily, to buy tobacco, and his objective, therefore, was the same many-sided establishment which was supplying the colonel with Brophy’s Elixir.
For do not be deceived by that “chemist” after Mr. Bywater’s name. It is mere modesty. Some whim leads this great man to describe himself as a chemist, but in reality he goes much deeper than that. Chas. Bywater is the Selfridge’s of Rudge, and deals in everything, from crystal sets to mousetraps. There are several places in the village where you can get stuff they call tobacco, but it cannot be considered in the light of pipe-joy for the discriminating smoker. To obtain something that will leave a little skin on the roof of the mouth you must go to Mr. Bywater.
John came up the High Street with slow, meditative strides, a large and muscular young man whose pleasant features betrayed at the moment an inward gloom. What with being hopelessly in love and one thing and another, his soul was in rather a bruised condition these days, and he found himself deriving from the afternoon placidity of Rudge-in-the-Vale a certain balm and consolation. He had sunk into a dreamy trance when he was abruptly aroused by the horrible noise which had so shaken Chas. Bywater.
The causes which had brought about this disturbance were simple.
The dog Emily had just reached the door of Mr. Bywater’s shop when it suddenly opened and hit her sharply on the nose. And as she shot back, with a yelp of agony, out came Colonel Wyvern.
There is an etiquette in these matters on which all right-minded dogs insist. When people trod on Emily she expected them immediately to fuss over her, and the same procedure seemed to her to be in order when they hit her on the nose with doors. Waiting expectantly, therefore, for Colonel Wyvern to do the square thing, she was stunned to find that he apparently had no intention of even apologising. He was brushing past without a word, and all the woman in Emily rose in revolt against such boorishness.
“Just a minute!” she said dangerously. “Just one minute, if you please. Not so fast, my good man. A word with you, if I may trespass upon your valuable time.”
The colonel, chafing beneath the weight of his wrongs, perceived that they had been added to by a beast of a hairy dog that stood and yapped at him.
“Get out!” he bellowed.
Emily became hysterical.
“Indeed?” she said shrilly. “And who do you think you are, you poor clumsy robot? You come hitting ladies on the nose as if you were the King of England, and as if that wasn’t enough——”
“Go away, sir!”
“Who the devil are you calling sir?” Emily had the twentieth century girl’s freedom of speech and breadth of vocabulary. “It’s people like you that cause all this modern unrest and industrial strife. I know your sort well. Robbers and oppressors. And let me tell you another thing——”
At this point the colonel very injudiciously aimed a kick at Emily.
It was not much of a kick, and it came nowhere near her, but it sufficed. Realising the futility of words, Emily decided on action. And it was just as she had got a preliminary grip on the colonel’s left trouser-leg that John arrived at the front.
“Emily!” roared John, shocked to the core of his being.
He had excellent lungs, and he used them to the last ounce of their power. A young man who sees the father of the girl he loves being swallowed alive by a Welsh terrier does not spare his voice. The word came out of him like the note of the Last Trump, and Colonel Wyvern, leaping spasmodically, dropped the bottle of Brophy. It fell on the pavement and exploded, and Emily, who could do her bit in a rough-and-tumble, but barred bombs, tucked her tail between her legs and vanished. A faint, sleepy cheering from outside the Carmody Arms announced that she had passed that home from home and was going well.
John continued to be agitated. You would not have supposed, to look at Colonel Wyvern that he could have had an attractive daughter; but such was the case, and John’s manner was as concerned and ingratiating as that of most young men in the presence of the fathers of attractive daughters.
“I’m so sorry, colonel. I do hope you’re not hurt, colonel?”
The injured man, maintaining an icy silence, raked him with an eye before which sergeant-majors had once drooped like withered roses and walked into the shop. The anxious face of Chas. Bywater loomed up over the counter. John hovered in the background.
“I want another bottle of that stuff,” said the colonel shortly.
“I’m awfully sorry," said John.
“I dropped the other outside. I was attacked by a savage dog.”
“I’m frightfully sorry."
“People ought not to have these pests running loose and not under proper control."
“I’m fearfully sorry."
“A menace to the community and a nuisance to everybody,” said Colonel Wyvern.
“Quite," said Mr. Bywater.
Conversation languished. Chas. Bywater, realising that this was no moment for lingering lovingly over brown paper and toying dreamily with string, lowered the record for wrapping a bottle of Brophy’s Paramount Elixir by such a margin that he set up a mark for other chemists to shoot at for all time. Colonel Wyvern snatched it and stalked out, and John, who had opened the door for him and had not been thanked, tottered back to the counter, and in a low voice expressed a wish for two ounces of the Special Mixture.
“Quite,” said Mr. Bywater. “In one moment, Mr. John.”
With the passing of Colonel Wyvern a cloud seemed to have rolled away from the chemist’s world. He was his old, charmingly chatty self again. He gave John his tobacco and, detaining him by the simple means of not handing over his change, surrendered himself to the joys of conversation.
“The colonel appears a little upset, sir."
“Have you got my change?” said John.
“It seems to me he hasn’t been the same man since that unfortunate episode up at the Hall. Not at all the same sunny gentleman.”
“Have you got my change?”
“A very unfortunate episode, that,” sighed Mr. Bywater.
“I could see the moment he walked in here that he was not himself. Shaken—something in the way he looked at me. I said to myself ‘The colonel’s shaken!’ ”
John, who had had such recent experience of the way Colonel Wyvern looked at one, agreed. He then asked if he might have his change.
“No doubt he misses Miss Wyvern,” said Chas. Bywater, ignoring the request, with an indulgent smile. “When a man’s had a shock like the colonel’s had—when he’s shaken, if you understand what I mean—he likes to have his loved ones around him. Stands to reason," said Mr. Bywater.
John had been anxious to leave, but he was so constituted that he could not tear himself away from anyone who had touched on the subject of Patricia Wyvern. He edged a little nearer the counter.
“Well, she’ll be home again soon,” said Chas. Bywater. “To-morrow, I understand."
A powerful current of electricity seemed to pass itself through John’s body. Pat Wyvern had been away so long that he had fallen into a sort of dull apathy in which he wondered sometimes if he would ever see her again.
“Yes, sir. She returned from France yesterday. She had a good crossing. She is at the Lincoln Hotel, Curzon Street, London. She thinks of taking the three o’clock train to-morrow. She is in excellent health.”
It did not occur to John to question the accuracy of the other’s information, nor to be surprised at its minuteness of detail. Mr. Bywater, he was aware, had a daughter in the post office.
“To-morrow!” he gasped.
“Yes, sir. To-morrow.”
“Give me my change,” said John.
He yearned to be off. He wanted air and space in which he could ponder over this wonderful news.
“No doubt,” said Mr. Bywater, “she——”
“Give me my change,” said John.
Chas. Bywater, happening to catch his eye, did so.
TO reach Rudge Hall from the door of Chas. Bywater’s shop, you go up the High Street, turn sharp to the left down River Lane, cross the stone bridge that spans the slow-flowing Skirme as it potters past on its way to join the Severn, carry on along the road till you come to the gates of Colonel Wyvern’s nice little house. You then climb a stile and take to the fields. And presently you are in the park and can see through the trees the tall chimneys and red walls of the ancient home of the Carmodys.
The scene, when they are not touching off dynamite there under the noses of retired military officers, is one of quiet peace. For John it had always held a peculiar magic. In the fourteen years which had passed since the Wyverns had first come to settle in Rudge Pat had contrived, so far as he was concerned, to impress her personality ineffaceably on the landscape. Almost every inch of it was in some way associated with her. Stumps on which she had sat and swung her brown-stockinged legs; trees beneath which she had taken shelter with him from summer storms; gates on which she had climbed, fields across which she had raced, and thorny bushes into which she had urged him to penetrate in search of birds’ eggs—they met his eye on every side. The very air seemed to be alive with her laughter. And not even the recollection that that laughter had generally been directed at himself was able to diminish for John the glamour of this mile of Fairyland.
Half way across the park Emily rejoined him with a defensive where-on-earth-did-you-disappear-to manner, and they moved on in company till they rounded the corner of the house and came to the stable yard. John had a couple of rooms over the stables, and thither he made his way, leaving Emily to fuss round Bolt, the chauffeur, who was washing the Dex-Mayo.
Arrived in his sitting-room, he sank into a deck-chair and filled his pipe with Mr. Bywater’s Special Mixture. Then, putting his feet up on the table, he stared hard and earnestly at the photograph of Pat which stood on the mantelpiece. It was a pretty face that he was looking at. In the eyes, a little slanting, there was a Puck-like look, and the curving lips hinted demurely at amusing secrets. The nose had that appealing, yet provocative, air which slight tip-tiltedness gives. It seemed to challenge and at the same time to withdraw.
This was the latest of the Pat photographs, and she had given it to him three months ago, just before she left to go and stay with friends at Le Touquet. And now she was coming home.
John sat up suddenly. He was a slow thinker and only now did it occur to him just what the position of affairs would be when she did come home. With this infernal feud going on between his Uncle Lester and the old colonel, she would probably look on him as in the enemy’s camp and refuse to see or speak to him.
The thought chilled him to the marrow. Something, he felt, must be done, and swiftly. And, with a flash of inspiration of a kind that rarely came to him, he saw what that something was. He must go up to London this afternoon, tell her the facts and throw himself on her clemency. If he could convince her that he was whole-heartedly pro-colonel and regarded his Uncle Lester as the logical successor to Dr. Crippen and the Brides-in-the-Bath murderer, things might straighten themselves.
Once the brain gets working, there is no knowing where it will stop. The very next instant there had come to John Carroll a thought so new and breath-taking that he uttered an audible gasp.
Why shouldn’t he ask Pat to marry him?
John sat tingling from head to foot. The scales seemed to have fallen from his eyes, and he saw clearly where he might quite conceivably have been making a grave blunder all these years. Deeply as he had always loved Pat, he had never—now he came to think of it—told her so. And in this sort of situation the spoken word is quite apt to make all the difference.
Perhaps that was why she laughed at him so frequently—because she was entertained by the spectacle of a man, obviously in love with her, refraining year after year from making any verbal comment on the state of his emotions.
Resolution poured over John in a strengthening flood. He looked at his watch. It was nearly three. If he got the two-seater and started at once, he could be in London by seven, in nice time to take her to dinner somewhere. He hurried down the stairs and out into the stable yard.
“Shove that car out of the way, Bolt,” said John, eluding Emily, who, wet to the last hair, was endeavouring to climb up him. “I want to get the two-seater.”
“Yes. I’m going to London.”
“It’s not there, Mr. John,” said the chauffeur, with the gloomy satisfaction which he usually reserved for telling his employer that the battery had run down.
“Not there? What do you mean?”
“Mr. Hugo took it, sir, an hour ago. He told me he was going over to see Mr. Carmody at Healthward Ho. Said he had important business and knew you wouldn’t object.”
The stable yard reeled before John. Not for the first time in his life he cursed his lighthearted cousin. “Knew you wouldn’t object!” It was just the fat-headed sort of thing Hugo would have said.
THERE was something about those repellent words, Healthward Ho, that had a familiar ring. Among that class of the public, which consistently does itself too well when the gong goes and yet is never wholly free from wistful aspirations towards a better liver, there had recently grown up a scattered but quite satisfactory interest in Healthward Ho. Clients had enrolled themselves on the books of the proprietor, Dr. Alexander Twist, “the well-known American physician and physical culture expert” (vide Press). And now, on this summer afternoon, he was enabled to look down from his study window at a group of no fewer than eleven of them, skipping with skipping-ropes under the eye of his able and conscientious assistant, ex-Sergeant-Major Flannery.
The fact that Mr. Carmody was by several degrees the most unhappy-looking member of this little band of martyrs was due to his distress, unlike that of his fellow-sufferers, being mental as well as physical. He was allowing his mind, for the hundredth time, to dwell on the paralysing cost of these hygienic proceedings.
Thirty guineas a week, thought Mr. Carmody as he bounded up and down. Four pounds ten shillings a day. Three shillings and ninepence an hour. Three solid farthings a minute. To meditate on these figures was like turning a sword in his heart. For Lester Carmody loved money as he loved nothing else in this world except a good dinner.
Doctor Twist turned from the window. A maid had appeared bearing a card on a salver.
“Show him in,” said Doctor Twist, having examined this. And presently there entered a lissom young man in a grey flannel suit.
The newcomer seemed a little surprised. It was as if he had been expecting something rather more impressive, and was wondering why, if the proprietor of Healthward Ho had the ability which he claimed, to make new men for old, he had not taken the opportunity of effecting some alterations in himself. For Doctor Twist was a small man and weedy. He had a snub nose and an expression of furtive slyness. And he wore a waxed moustache.
However, all this was not the visitor’s business. If a man wishes to wax his moustache, it is a matter between himself and his God.
“My name’s Carmody,” he said. “Hugo Carmody.”
“Yes. I got your card.”
“Could I have a word with my uncle?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind waiting a minute. Right now,” explained Doctor Twist, with a gesture towards the window, “he’s occupied.”
Hugo moved to the window, looked out, and started violently.
“Great Scott!” he exclaimed.
He gaped down at the group below. Mr. Carmody and colleagues had now discarded the skipping-ropes and were performing some unpleasant-looking bending and stretching exercises, holding their hands above their heads and swinging painfully from what one may loosely term their waists. It was a spectacle well calculated to astonish any nephew.
“How long has he got to go on like that?” asked Hugo, awed.
Doctor Twist looked at his watch.
“They’ll be quitting soon now. Then a cold shower and rub-down, and they’ll be through till lunch.”
“You mean to say you make my Uncle Lester take cold shower-baths?”
A look of respect came into Hugo’s face as he gazed upon this master of men. Anybody who, in addition to making him tie himself in knots under a blazing sun, could lure Uncle Lester within ten yards of a cold shower-bath was entitled to credit.
“I suppose after all this,” he said, “they do themselves pretty well at lunch?”
“They have a lean mutton chop apiece, with green vegetables and dry toast.”
“Is that all?”
“And to drink?”
“Followed, of course, by a spot of port?”
“You mean—literally—no port?”
“Not a drop. If your old man had gone easier on the port he’d not have needed to come to Healthward Ho.”
“I say,” said Hugo, “did you invent that name?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I just thought I’d ask.”
“Say, while I think of it,” said Dr. Twist, “have you any cigarettes?”
“Oh, rather!” Hugo produced a bulging case. “Turkish this side, Virginian that.”
“Not for me. I was only going to say that, when you meet your uncle, just bear in mind he isn’t allowed tobacco.”
“Not allowed? You mean to say you tie Uncle Lester into a lover’s knot, shoot him under a cold shower, push a lean chop into him accompanied by water, and then don’t even let the poor old devil get his lips round a single gasper?”
“Well, all I can say is,” said Hugo, “it’s no life for a refined Caucasian.”
Dazed by the information he had received, he began to potter aimlessly about the room. He was not particularly fond of his uncle. Mr. Carmody senior’s practice of giving him no allowance and keeping him imprisoned all the year round at Rudge would alone have been enough to check anything in the nature of tenderness. But he did not think Uncle Lester deserved quite all that seemed to be coming to him at Healthward Ho.
“I see they’ve quit,” said Dr. Twist, with a glance out of window. “If you want to have a word with your uncle you could have it now. No bad news, I hope?”
“If there is, I’m the one that’s going to get it. Between you and me,” said Hugo, who had no secrets from his fellow-men, “I’ve come to try to touch him for a bit of money.”
“Is that so?” said Dr. Twist, interested.
Anything to do with money always drew the attention of the well-known American physician and physical culture expert.
“Yes,” said Hugo. “Five hundred quid, to be exact.”
He spoke a little despondently, for, having arrived at the window again, he was in a position now to take a good look at his uncle. And so forbidding had bodily toil and mental disturbance rendered the latter’s expression that he found the fresh young hopes with which he had started out on this expedition rapidly ebbing away. If Mr. Carmody were to burst—and he looked as if he might do so at any moment—he, Hugo, being his nearest of kin, would inherit; but, failing that, there seemed to be no cash in sight whatever.
“Though when I say ‘touch,’ ” he went on, “I don’t mean quite that. The stuff is really mine. My father left me a few thousand, you see, but most injudiciously made Uncle Lester my trustee; and I’m not allowed to get at the capital without the old blighter’s consent. And now a pal of mine in London has written offering me a half-share in a new night club which he’s starting if I will put up five hundred pounds.”
“And what I ask myself,” said Hugo, “is, will Uncle Lester part? That’s what I ask myself. I can’t say I’m betting on it.”
“From what I have seen of Mr. Carmody, I shouldn’t say that parting was the thing he does best.”
“He’s got absolutely no gift for it whatever,” said Hugo gloomily.
“Well, I wish you luck,” said Dr. Twist. “But don’t you try to bribe him with cigarettes.”
“Bribe him with cigarettes. After they have been taking the treatment for a while, most of these birds would give their soul for a coffin-nail.”
Hugo started—he had not thought of this; but, now that it had been called to his attention, he saw that it was most certainly an idea.
“And don’t keep him standing around longer than you can help. He ought to get under that shower as soon as possible.”
Hugo had another idea.
“I suppose I couldn’t tell him that owing to my pleading and persuasion you’ve consented to let him off a cold shower to-day?”
“It would help,” urged Hugo. “It might just sway the issue, as it were.”
“Sorry. He must have his shower. When a man’s been exercising and has got himself into a perfect lather of sweat——”
“Keep it clean," said Hugo coldly. “There is no need to stress the physical side. Oh, very well, then, I suppose I shall have to trust to tact and charm of manner. But I wish to goodness I hadn’t got to spring business matters on him on top of what seems to have been a slightly hectic morning.”
He shot his cuffs, pulled down his waistcoat, and walked with a resolute step out of the room. He was about to try to get into the ribs of a man who for a lifetime had been saving up to be a miser, and who, even apart from this trait in his character, held the subversive view that the less money young men had, the better for them. Hugo was a gay optimist, cheerful of soul and a mighty singer in the bath-tub, but he could not feel very sanguine. However, the Carmodys were a bulldog breed. He decided to have a pop at it.
THEORETICALLY no doubt, the process of exercising flaccid muscles, opening hermetically sealed pores, and stirring up a liver which had long supposed itself off the active list ought to engender in a man a jolly sprightliness. In practice, however, this is not always so. That Lester Carmody was in no radiant mood was shown at once by the expression on his face as he turned in response to Hugo’s yodel from the rear. In spite of all that Healthward Ho had been doing to Mr. Carmody this last ten days, it was plain that he had not yet got that Kruschen feeling.
Nor, at the discovery that a nephew whom he had supposed to be twenty miles away was standing at his elbow, did anything in the nature of sudden joy help to fill him with sweetness and light.
“How the devil did you get here?” were his opening words of welcome.
There was a pause, employed by Mr. Carmody in puffing; by Hugo in trying to think of something to say that would be soothing.
“You look very fit, uncle,” said Hugo.
Mr. Carmody’s reply to this was to make a noise like a buffalo pulling its foot out of a swamp.
“I expect it’s been pretty tough going, though,” Hugo proceeded. “I mean to say, all these exercises and cold showers and lean chops, and so forth. Terribly trying. Very upsetting. A great ordeal. I think it’s wonderful the way you’ve stuck it out. Simply wonderful. It’s character that does it. That’s what it is—character. Many men would have chucked the whole thing up in the first two days.”
“So would I,” said Mr. Carmody, “only that damned doctor made me give him a cheque in advance for the whole course.”
Hugo felt damped. He had had some good things to say about character, and it seemed little use producing them now.
“Well, anyway, you look very fit; very fit indeed. Frightfully fit; remarkably fit; extraordinarily fit.”
He paused. This was getting him nowhere. He decided to leap straight to the point at issue. To put his fortune to the test, to win or lose it all.
“I say, Uncle Lester, what I really came about this afternoon was a matter of business.”
“Indeed? I supposed you had come merely to babble. What business?”
“You know a friend of mine named Fish?”
“I do not know a friend of yours named Fish."
“Well, he’s a friend of mine. His name’s Fish—Ronnie Fish."
“What about him?”
“He’s starting a new night club.”
“I don’t care,” said Mr. Carmody, who did not.
“It’s just off Bond Street, in the heart of London’s pleasure-seeking area. He’s calling it The Hot Spot.”
The only comment Mr. Carmody vouchsafed on this piece of information was a noise like another buffalo. His face was beginning to lose its vermilion tinge, and it seemed possible that in a few moments he might come off the boil.
“I had a letter from him this morning. He says he will give me a half share if I put up five hundred quid.”
“Then you won’t get a half share,” predicted Mr. Carmody.
“But I’ve got five hundred. I mean to say, you’re holding a lot more than that in trust for me.”
“Holding,” said Mr. Carmody, “is the right word.”
“But surely you’ll let me have this quite trivial sum for a really excellent business venture that simply can’t fail? Ronnie knows all about night clubs. He’s practically lived in them since he came down from Cambridge.”
“I shall not give you a penny. Have you no conception of the duties of a trustee? Trust money has to be invested in gilt-edged securities.”
“You’ll never find a gilter-edged security than a night club run by Ronnie Fish.”
“If you have finished this nonsense I will go and take my shower-bath.”
“Right-ho,” said Hugo, a game loser. He was disappointed, but not surprised. All along he had felt that that Hot Spot business was merely a Utopian dream. There are some men who are temperamentally incapable of parting with five hundred pounds, and his Uncle Lester was one of them. But in the matter of a smaller sum it might be that he would prove more pliable, and of this smaller sum Hugo had urgent need. “Well, then, putting that aside,” he said, “there’s another thing I’d like to chat about for a moment, if you don’t mind.”
“I do,” said Mr. Carmody.
“There’s a big fight on to-night at the Albert Hall. Eustace Rodd and Cyril Warburton are going twenty rounds for the welter-weight championship,” said Hugo.
“What of it?” inquired Mr. Carmody.
He eyed his young relative balefully. In an association that had lasted many years, he had found Hugo consistently irritating to his nervous system; and he was finding him now rather more trying than usual.
“I only meant to point out that Ronnie Fish has sent me a ticket, and I thought that, if you were to spring a tenner for the necessary incidental expenses—bed, breakfast, and so on—well, there I would be, don’t you know.”
“You mean you wish to go to London to see a boxing contest?”
“Well, you’re not going. You know I have expressly forbidden you to visit London. The last time I was weak enough to allow you to go there, what happened? You spent the night in the police station.”
“Yes, but that was Boat-Race night."
“And I had to pay five pounds for your fine.”
Hugo dismissed the past with a gesture.
“But, uncle, do you realise what it would mean if you did allow me to go?”
“The interpretation I would put upon it is that I was suffering from senile decay.”
“What it would mean is that I should feel you trusted me, Uncle Lester, that you had faith in me. There’s nothing so dangerous as a want of trust. Ask anybody. It saps a young man’s character.”
“Let it,” said Mr. Carmody callously.
“If I went to London I could see Ronnie Fish and explain all the circumstances about my not being able to go into that Hot Spot thing with him.”
“You can do that by letter.”
“It’s so hard to put things properly in a letter.”
"Then put them improperly,” said Mr. Carmody. “Once and for all, you are not going to London.”
He had started to turn away as the only means possible of concluding this interview, when he stopped, spell-bound. For Hugo, as was his habit when matters had become difficult and required careful thought, was pulling out of his pocket a cigarette case.
“Goosh!” said Mr. Carmody, or something that sounded like that.
He made an involuntary motion with his hand, as a starving man will make towards bread: and Hugo, with a strong rush of emotion, realised that the happy ending had been achieved and that at the eleventh hour matters could at last be put on a satisfactory business basis.
“Turkish this side, Virginian that,” he said. “You can have the lot for ten quid.”
“Say, I think you’d best be getting along and taking your shower, Mr. Carmody,” said the voice of Dr. Twist, who had come up unobserved and was standing at his elbow.
The proprietor of Healthward Ho had a rather unpleasant voice, but never had it seemed so unpleasant to Mr. Carmody as it did at that moment. Parsimonious though he was, he would have given much for the privilege of heaving a brick at Dr. Twist. For at the very instant of this interruption he had conceived the Machiavellian idea of knocking the cigarette case out of Hugo’s hand and grabbing what he could from the débris; and now this scheme must be abandoned.
With a snort which came from the very depths of an over-wrought soul, Lester Carmody turned and shuffled off towards the house.
“Say, you shouldn’t have done that,” said Dr. Twist, waggling a reproachful head at Hugo. “No, sir, you shouldn’t have done that. Not right to tantalise the poor fellow."
Hugo’s mind seldom ran on parallel lines with that of his uncle, but it was animated now by the identical thought which only a short while back Mr. Carmody had so wistfully entertained. He, too, was feeling that what Dr. Twist needed was a brick thrown at him. When he was able to speak, however, he did not mention this, but managed to keep the conversation on a specific and businesslike note as he got into his car and took leave of the doctor.
He stepped on the self-starter and urged the two-seater pensively down the drive. He was glad when the shrubberies hid him from the view of Dr. Twist, for one wanted to forget a fellow like that as soon as possible. A moment later he was still gladder, for as he turned the first corner there popped out suddenly from a rhododendron bush a stout man with a red and streaming face. Lester Carmody had had to hurry, and he was not used to running.
“Woof!” he ejaculated, barring the fairway.
Relief flooded over Hugo. The marts of trade had not been closed after all.
“Give me those cigarettes!” panted Mr. Carmody.
For an instant Hugo toyed with the idea of creating a rising market. But he was no profiteer.
“Ten quid,” he said, “and they’re yours.”
Agony twisted Mr. Carmody’s glowing features.
“Five,” he urged.
“Ten,” said Hugo.
Mr. Carmody made the great decision.
“Very well. Give me them. Quick!”
“Turkish this side, Virginian that,” said Hugo.
The rhododendron bush quivered once more from the passage of a heavy body; birds in the neighbouring trees began to sing again their anthems of joy, and Hugo, in his trousers pocket two crackling five-pound notes, was bowling off along the highway.
(To be continued next week).
The British serial in London Calling is abridged from the fuller text in the American serial in Liberty magazine and in the hardcover publications; we present this transcription of the opening episode only, showing that it is shortened by more than 21 percent.
This site also has annotations to Money for Nothing as it appeared in book form.