E. Arnold Bennett
Part 2 out of 8
She threw away the core of the second apple.
"Is that port? I'll have some."
"So that you're short of fifty pounds?" said Mr. Prohack, obediently
pouring out the port--but only half a glass. "Well, I might be able to
let you have fifty pounds myself, if you would deign to accept it."
Sissie cried compassionately: "But you haven't got a cent, dad!"
"Oh! Haven't I? Did your mother tell you that?"
"Well, she didn't exactly say so."
"I should hope not! And allow me to inform you, my girl, that in
accusing me of not having a cent you're being guilty of the worst
possible taste. Children should always assume that their fathers have
mysterious stores of money, and that nothing is beyond their resources,
and if they don't rise to every demand it's only because in their
inscrutable wisdom they deem it better not to. Or it may be from mere
"Yes," said Sissie. "That's what I used to think when I was young. But
I've looked up your salary in _Whitaker's Almanac_."
"It was very improper of you. However, nothing is secret in these days,
and so I don't mind telling you that I've backed a winner to-day--not
to-day, but some little time since--and I can if necessary and agreeable
let you have fifty pounds."
Mr. Prohack as it were shook his crest in plenary contentment. He had
the same sensation of creativeness as he had had a while earlier with
his son,--a godlike sensation. And he was delighted with his girl. She
was so young and so old. And her efforts to play the woman of the world
with him were so comic and so touching. Only two or three years since
she had been driving a motor-van in order to defeat the Germans. She had
received twenty-eight shillings a week for six days of from twelve to
fourteen hours. She would leave the house at eight and come back at
eight, nine, or ten. And on her return, pale enough, she would laugh and
say she had had her dinner and would go to bed. But she had not had her
dinner. She was simply too tired and nervously exasperated to eat. And
she would lie in bed and tremble and cry quietly from fatigue. She did
not know that her parents knew these details. The cook, her confidante,
had told them, much later. And Mr. Prohack had decreed that Sissie must
never know that they knew. She had stuck to the task during a whole
winter, skidding on glassy asphalt, slimy wood, and slithery stone-setts
in the East End, and had met with but one accident, a minor affair. The
experience seemed to have had no permanent effect on her, but it had had
a permanent effect on her father's attitude towards her,--her mother had
always strongly objected to what she called the "episode," had shown
only relief when it concluded, and had awarded no merit for it.
"Can you definitely promise me fifty pounds, dad?" Sissie asked quietly.
Mr. Prohack made no articulate answer. His reply was to take out his
cheque-book and his fountain-pen and fill in a cheque to _Miss Sissie
Prohack or order_. He saw no just reason for differentiating between
the sexes in his offspring. He had given a cheque to Charlie; he gave
one to Sissie.
"Then you aren't absolutely stone-broke," said Sissie, smiling.
"I should not so describe myself."
"It's just like mother," she murmured, the smile fading.
Mr. Prohack raised a sternly deprecating hand. "Enough."
"But don't you want to know what I want the money for?" Sissie demanded.
"Then I shall tell you. The fact is I must tell you."
* * * * *
"I've decided to teach dancing," said Sissie, beginning again nervously,
as her father kept a notable silence.
"I thought you weren't so very keen on dancing."
"I'm not; but perhaps that's because I don't care much for the new
fashion of dancing a whole evening with the same man. Still the point is
that I'm a very fine dancer. Even Charlie will tell you that."
"But I thought that all the principal streets in London were full of
dancing academies at the present time, chiefly for the instruction of
"I don't know anything about that," Sissie replied seriously. "What I do
know is that now I can find a hundred pounds, I have a ripping chance of
taking over a studio--at least part of one; and it's got quite a big
connection already,--in fact pupils are being turned away."
"And this is all you can think of!" protested Mr. Prohack with
melancholy. "We are living on the edge of a volcano--the country is, I
mean--and your share in the country's work is to teach the citizens to
"Well," said Sissie. "They'll dance anyhow, and so they may as well
learn to dance properly. And what else can I do? Have you had me taught
to do anything else? You and mother have brought me up to be perfectly
useless except as the wife of a rich man. That's what you've done, and
you can't deny it."
"Once," said Mr. Prohack. "You very nobly drove a van."
"Yes, I did. But no thanks to you and mother. Why, I had even to learn
to drive in secret, lest you should stop me! And I can tell you one
thing--if I was to start driving a van now I should probably get mobbed
in the streets. All the men have a horrid grudge against us girls who
did their work in the war. If we want to get a job in these days we
jolly well have to conceal the fact that we were in the W.A.A.C. or in
anything at all during the war. They won't look at us if they find out
that. Our reward! However, I don't want to drive a van. I want to teach
dancing. It's not so dirty and it pays better. And if people feel like
dancing, why shouldn't they dance? Come now, dad, be reasonable."
"That's asking a lot from any human being, and especially from a
"Well, have you got any argument against what I say?"
"I prefer not to argue."
"That's because you can't."
"It is. It is. But what is this wonderful chance you've got?"
"It's that studio where Charlie and I went last night, at Putney."
"Well, why not Putney? They have a gala night every other week, you
know. It belongs to Viola Ridle. Viola's going to get married and live
in Edinburgh, and she's selling it. And Eliza asked me if I'd join her
in taking it over. Eliza telephoned me about it to-night, and so I
rushed across the Park to see her. But Viola's asking a hundred pounds
premium and a hundred for the fittings, and very cheap it is too. In
fact Viola's a fool, _I_ think, but then she's fond of Eliza."
"Now, Eliza? Is that Eliza Brating, or am I getting mixed up?"
"Yes, it's Eliza Brating."
"You needn't be so stuffy, dad, because her father's only a
second-division clerk at the Treasury."
"Oh, I'm not. It was only this morning that I was saying to Mr. Hunter
that we must always remember that second-division clerks are also God's
"Father, you're disgusting."
"Don't say that, my child. At my age one needs encouragement, not abuse.
And I'm glad to be able to tell you that there is no longer any
necessity either for you to earn money or to pinch and scrape.
Satisfactory arrangements have been made...."
"Really? Well, that's splendid. But of course it won't make any
difference to me. There may be no necessity so far as you're concerned.
But there's my inward necessity. I've got to be independent. It wouldn't
make any difference if you had an income of ten thousand a year."
Mr. Prohack blenched guiltily.
"Er--er--what was I going to say? Oh, yes,--where's this Eliza of yours
got her hundred pounds from?"
"I don't know. It's no business of mine."
"But do you insist--shall you--insist on introductions from your
"Father, how you do chop about! No, naturally we shan't insist on
"Then any man can come for lessons?"
"Certainly. Provided he wears evening-dress on gala nights, and pays the
fees and behaves properly. Viola says some of them prefer afternoon
lessons because they haven't got any evening-dress."
"If I were you I shouldn't rush at it," said Mr. Prohack.
"But we must rush at it--or lose it. And I've no intention of losing it.
Viola has to make her arrangements at once."
"I wonder what your mother will say when you ask her."
"I shan't ask her. I shall tell her. Nobody can decide this thing for
me. I have to decide it for myself, and I've decided it. As for what
mother says--" Sissie frowned and then smiled, "that's your affair."
"My affair!" Mr. Prohack exclaimed in real alarm. "What on earth do you
"Well, you and she are so thick together. You're got to live with her. I
haven't got to live with her."
"I ask you, what on earth _do_ you mean?"
"But surely you've understood, father, that I shall have to live at the
studio. Somebody has to be on the spot, and there are two bedrooms. But
of course you'll be able to put all that right with mother, dad. You'll
do it for your own sake; but a bit for mine, too." She giggled
nervously, ran round the table and kissed her parent. "I'm frightfully
obliged for the fifty pounds," she said. "You and the mater will be
fearfully happy together soon if Charlie doesn't come back. Ta-ta! I
must be off now."
"To Eliza's of course. We shall probably go straight down to Putney
together and see Viola and fix everything up. I know Viola's had at
least one other good offer. I may sleep at the studio. If not, at
Eliza's. Anyhow it will be too late for me to come back here."
"I absolutely forbid you to go off like this."
"Yes, do, father. You forbid for all you're worth if it gives you any
pleasure. But it won't be much use unless you can carry me upstairs and
lock me in my room. Oh! Father, you are a great pretender. You know
perfectly well you're delighted with me."
"Indeed I'm not! I suppose you'll have the decency to see your mother
before you go?"
"What! And wake her! You said she wasn't to be disturbed 'on any
"I deny that I said 'on any account.'"
"I shouldn't dream of disturbing her. And you'll tell her so much better
than I could. You can do what you like with her."
"Where's my dessert?" demanded Mrs. Prohack, anxiously and resentfully,
when her husband at length reached the bedroom. "I'm dying of hunger,
and I've got a real headache now. Oh! Arthur how absurd all this is! At
least it would be if I wasn't so hungry."
"Sissie ate all the dessert," Mr. Prohack answered timidly. He no longer
felt triumphant, careless and free. Indeed for some minutes he had
practically forgotten that he had inherited ten thousand a year. "The
child ate it every bit, so I couldn't bring any. Shall I ring for
"And why," Mrs. Prohack continued, "why have you been so long? And
what's all this business of taxis rushing up to the door all the
"Marian," said Mr. Prohack, ignoring her gross exaggeration of the truth
as to the taxis. "I'd better tell you at once. Charlie's gone to Glasgow
on his own business and Sissie's just run down to Viola Ridle's studio
about a new scheme of some kind that she's thinking of. For the moment
we're alone in the world."
"It's always the same," she remarked with indignation, when with forced
facetiousness he had given her an extremely imperfect and bowdlerized
account of his evening. "It's always the same. As soon as I'm laid up in
bed, everything goes wrong. My poor boy, I cannot imagine what you've
been doing. I suppose I'm very silly, but I _can't_ understand it."
Nor could Mr. Prohack himself, now that he was in the sane conjugal
atmosphere of the bedroom.
THE SYMPATHETIC QUACK
The next morning Mr. Prohack had a unique shock, for he was awakened by
his wife coming into the bedroom. She held a big piece of cake in her
hand. Never before had Mrs. Prohack been known to rise earlier than her
husband. Also, the hour was eight-twenty, whereas never before had Mr.
Prohack been known, on a working-day, to rise later than eight o'clock.
He realised with horror that it would be necessary for him to hurry.
Still, he did not jump up. He was not a brilliant sleeper, and he had
had a bad night, which had only begun to be good at the time when as a
rule he woke finally for the day. He did not feel very well, despite the
fine sensation of riches which rushed reassuringly into his arms the
moment consciousness returned.
"Arthur," said Mrs. Prohack, who was in her Chinese robe, "do you know
that girl hasn't been home all night. Her bed hasn't been slept in!"
"Neither has mine," answered Mr. Prohack. "What girl?"
"Sissie, of course."
"Ah! Sissie!" murmured Mr. Prohack as if he had temporarily forgotten
that such a girl existed. "Didn't I tell you last night she mightn't be
"No, you didn't! And you know very well you didn't!"
"Honestly," said Mr. Prohack (meaning "dishonestly" as most people do in
similar circumstances), "I thought I did."
"Do you suppose I should have slept one wink if I'd thought Sissie
wasn't coming _home_?"
"Yes, I do. The death of Nelson wouldn't keep you awake. And now either
I shall be late at the office, or else I shall go without my breakfast.
I think you might have wakened me."
Mrs. Prohack, munching the cake despite all her anxieties, replied in a
"What does it matter if you are late for the office?"
Mr. Prohack reflected that all women were alike in a lack of conscience
where the public welfare was concerned. He was rich: therefore he was
entitled to neglect his duty to the nation! A pleasing argument! Mr.
Prohack sat up, and Mrs. Prohack had a full view of his face for the
first time that morning.
"Arthur," she exclaimed, absolutely and in an instant forgetting both
cake and daughter. "You're ill!"
He thought how agreeable it was to have a wife who was so marvellously
absorbed in his being. There was something uncanny, something terrible,
"Oh, no I'm not," he said. "I swear I'm not. I'm very tired, but I'm not
ill. Get out of my way."
"But your face is as yellow as a cheese," protested Eve, frightened.
"It may be," said Mr. Prohack.
"You won't get up."
"I shall get up."
Eve snatched her hand-mirror from the dressing-table, and gave it to him
with a menacing gesture. He admitted to himself that the appearance of
his face was perhaps rather alarming at first sight; but really he did
not feel ill; he only felt tired.
"It's nothing. Liver." He made a move to emerge from the bed. "Exercise
is all I want."
He saw Eve's lips tremble; he saw tears hanging in her eyes; these
phenomena induced in him the sensation of having somehow committed a
solecism or a murder. He withdrew the move to emerge. She was hurt and
desperate. He at once knew himself defeated. He thought how annoying it
was to have a woman in the house who was so marvellously absorbed in his
being. She was wrong; but her unreasoning desperation triumphed over his
"Telephone for Dr. Veiga," said Mrs. Prohack to Machin, for whom she had
rung. "V-e-i-g-a. Bruton Street. He's in the book. And ask him to come
along as soon as he can to see Mr. Prohack."
Now Mr. Prohack had heard of, but never seen, Dr. Veiga. He had more
than once listened to the Portuguese name on Eve's lips, and the man had
been mentioned more than once at the club. Mr. Prohack knew that he was,
if not a foreigner, of foreign descent, and hence he did not like him.
Mr. Prohack took kindly to foreign singers and cooks, but not to foreign
doctors. Moreover he had doubts about the fellow's professional
qualifications. Therefore he strongly resented his wife's most singular
and startling order to Machin, and as soon as Machin had gone he
"Anyway," he said curtly, after several exchanges, "I shall see my own
doctor, if I see any doctor at all--which is doubtful."
Eve's response was to kiss her husband--a sisterly rather than a wifely
kiss. And she said, in a sweet, noble voice:
"It's I that want Dr. Veiga's opinion about you, and I must insist on
having it. And what's more, you know I've never cared for your friend
Dr. Plott. He never seems to be interested. He scarcely listens to what
you have to say. He scarcely examines you. He just makes you think your
health is of no importance at all, and it doesn't really matter whether
you're ill or well, and that you may get better or you mayn't, and that
he'll humour you by sending you a bottle of something."
"Stuff!" said Mr. Prohack. "He's a first-rate fellow. No infernal
nonsense about _him!_ And what do _you_ know about Veiga? I should like
to be informed."
"I met him at Mrs. Cunliff's. He cured her of cancer."
"You told me Mrs. Cunliff hadn't got cancer at all."
"Well, it was Dr. Veiga who found out she hadn't, and stopped the
operation just in time. She says he saved her life, and she's quite
right. He's wonderful."
Mrs. Prohack was now sitting on the bed. She gazed at her husband's
features with acute apprehension and yet with persuasive grace.
"Oh! Arthur!" she murmured, "you are a worry to me!"
Mr. Prohack, not being an ordinary Englishman, knew himself beaten--for
the second time that morning. He dared not trifle with his wife in her
earnest, lofty mood.
"I bet you Veiga won't come," said Mr. Prohack.
"He will come," said Mrs. Prohack blandly.
"How do you know?"
"Because he told me he'd come at once if ever I asked him. He's a
"Oh! I know the sort!" Mr. Prohack said sarcastically. "And you'll see
the fee he'll charge!"
"When it's a question of health money doesn't matter."
"It doesn't matter when you've got the money. You'd never have dreamed
of having Veiga this time yesterday. You wouldn't even have sent for old
Mrs. Prohack merely kissed her husband again, with a kind of ineffable
resignation. Then Machin came in with her breakfast, and said that Dr.
Veiga would be round shortly, and was told to telephone to the Treasury
that her master was ill in bed.
"And what about my breakfast?" the victim enquired with irony. "Give me
some of your egg."
"No, dearest, egg is the very last thing you should have with that
"Well, if you'd like to know, I don't want any breakfast. Couldn't eat
"There you are!" Mrs. Prohack exclaimed triumphantly. "And yet you swear
you aren't ill! That just shows.... It will be quite the best thing for
you not to take anything until Dr. Veiga's been."
Mr. Prohack, helpless, examined the ceiling, and decided to go to the
office in the afternoon. He tried to be unhappy but couldn't. Eye was
too funny, too delicious, too exquisitely and ingenuously "firm," too
blissful in having him at her mercy, for him to be unhappy.... To say
nothing of the hundred thousand pounds! And he knew that Eve also was
secretly revelling in the hundred thousand pounds. Dr. Veiga was her
first bite at it.
* * * * *
Considering that he was well on the way to being a fashionable
physician, Dr. Veiga arrived with surprising promptitude. Mr. Prohack
wondered what hold Eve had upon him and how she had acquired it. He was
prejudiced against the fellow before he came into the bedroom, simply
because Eve, on hearing the noise of a car and a doorbell, had hurried
downstairs, and a considerable interval had elapsed between the doctor's
entrance into the house and his appearance at the bedside. Mr. Prohack
guessed easily that those two had been plotting against him. Strange how
Eve could be passionately loyal and basely deceitful simultaneously! The
two-faced creature led the doctor forward with a candid smile that
partook equally of the smile of a guardian angel and the smile of a
cherub. She was an unparalleled comedian.
Dr. Veiga was fattish and rather shabby; about sixty years of age. He
spoke perfectly correct English with a marked foreign accent. His
demeanour was bland, slightly familiar, philosophical and sympathetic.
Dr. Plott's eyes would have said: "This is my thirteenth visit this
morning, and I've eighteen more to do, and it's all very tedious. Why
_do_ you people let yourselves get ill--if it's a fact that you really
are ill? I don't think you are, but I'll see." Dr. Veiga's eyes said:
"How interesting your case is! You've had no luck this time. We must
make the best of things; but also we must face the truth. God knows I
don't want to boast, but I expect I can put you right, with the help of
your own strong commonsense."
Mr. Prohack, a connoisseur in human nature, noted the significances of
the Veiga glance, but he suspected that there might also be something
histrionic in it. Dr. Veiga examined heart, pulse, tongue. He tapped the
torso. He asked many questions. Then he took an instrument out of a
leather case which he carried, and fastened a strap round Mr. Prohack's
forearm and attached it to the instrument, and presently Mr. Prohack
could feel the strong pulsations of the blood current in his arm.
"Dear, dear!" said Dr. Veiga. "175. Blood pressure too high. Much too
high! Must get that down."
Eve looked as though the end of the world had been announced, and even
Mr. Prohack had qualms. Ten minutes earlier Mr. Prohack had been a
strong, healthy man a trifle unwell in a bedroom. He was suddenly
transformed into a patient in a nursing-home.
"A little catarrh," said Dr. Veiga.
"I've got no catarrh," said Mr. Prohack, with conviction.
"Yes, yes. Catarrh of the stomach. Probably had it for years. The
duodenum is obstructed. A little accident that easily happens."
He addressed himself as it were privately to Mrs. Prohack. "The duodenum
is no thicker than that." He indicated the pencil with which he was
already writing in a pocket-book. "We'll get it right."
"What is the duodenum?" Mr. Prohack wanted to cry out. But he was too
ashamed to ask. It was hardly conceivable that he, so wise, so prudent,
had allowed over forty years to pass in total ignorance of this
important item of his own body. He felt himself to be a bag full of
disconcerting and dangerous mysteries. Or he might have expressed it
that he had been smoking in criminal nonchalance for nearly half a
century on the top of a powder magazine. He was deeply impressed by the
rapidity and assurance of the doctor's diagnosis. It was wonderful that
the queer fellow could in a few minutes single out an obscure organ no
bigger than a pencil and say: "There is the ill." The fellow might be a
quack, but sometimes quacks were men of genius. His shame and his alarm
quickly vanished under the doctor's reassuring and bland manner. So much
so that when Dr. Veiga had written out a prescription, Mr. Prohack said
"I suppose I can get up, though."
To which Dr. Veiga amiably replied:
"I shall leave that to you. Perhaps if I tell you you'll be lucky if
you don't have jaundice...! But I think you _will_ be lucky. I'll try to
look in again this afternoon."
These last words staggered both Mr. and Mrs. Prohack.
"I've been expecting this for years. I knew it would come." Mrs. Prohack
And even Mr. Prohack reflected aghast:
"My God! Doctor calling twice a day!"
True, "duodenum" was a terrible word.
Mrs. Prohack gazed at Dr. Veiga as at a high priest, and waited to be
vouchsafed a further message.
"Anyhow, if I find it impossible to call, I'll telephone in any case,"
said Dr. Veiga.
Some slight solace in this!
Mrs. Prohack, like an acolyte, personally attended the high priest as
far as the street, listening with acute attention to his
recommendations. When she returned she had put on a carefully bright
face. Evidently she had decided, or had been told, that cheerfulness was
essential to ward off jaundice.
"Now that's what I _call_ a doctor," said she. "To think of your friend
Plott...! I've telephoned for a messenger boy to go to the chemist's."
"You're at liberty to call the man a doctor," answered Mr. Prohack. "And
I'm at liberty to call him a fine character actor."
"I knew the moment you sat up it was jaundice," said Mrs. Prohack.
"Well," said Mr. Prohack. "I lay you five to one I don't have jaundice.
Not that you'd ever pay me if you lost."
Mrs. Prohack said:
"When I saw you were asleep at after eight o'clock this morning I knew
there must be something serious. I felt it. However, as the doctor says,
if we _take_ it seriously it will soon cease to be serious."
"He's not a bad phrase-maker," said Mr. Prohack.
In the late afternoon Dr. Veiga returned like an old and familiar
acquaintance, with his confident air of saying: "We can manage this
affair between us--I am almost sure." Mr. Prohack felt worse; and the
room, lighted by one shaded lamp, had begun to look rather like a real
sick-room. Mr. Prohack, though he mistrusted the foreign accent, the
unprofessional appearance, and the adventurous manner, was positively
glad to see his new doctor, and indeed felt that he had need of succour.
"Yes," said Dr. Veiga, after investigation. "My opinion is that you'll
escape jaundice. In four or five days you ought to be as well as you
were before the attack. I don't say _how_ well you were before."
Mr. Prohack instantly felt better.
"It will be very awkward if I can't get back to the office early next
week," said he.
"I'm sure it will," Dr. Veiga agreed. "And it might be still more
awkward if you went back to the office early next week, and then never
went any more."
"What do you mean?"
Dr. Veiga smiled understandingly at Mrs. Prohack, as though he and she
were the only grown-up persons in the room.
"Look here," he addressed the patient. "I see I shall have to charge you
a fee for telling you what you know as well as I do. The fact is I get
my living by doing that. How old are you?"
"Every year of the war counts double. So you're over fifty. A difficult
age. You can run an engine ten hours a day for fifty years. But it's
worn; it's second-hand. And if you keep on running it ten hours a day
you'll soon discover how worn it is. But you can run it five hours a day
for another twenty years with reasonable safety and efficiency. That's
what I wanted to tell you. You aren't the man you were, Mr. Prohack.
You've lost the trick of getting rid of your waste products. You say you
feel tired. Why do you feel tired? Being tired simply means being
clogged. The moment you feel tired your waste products are beginning to
pile up. Look at those finger joints! Waste products! Friction! Why
don't you sleep well? You say the more tired you are the worse you
sleep: and you seem surprised. But you're only surprised because you
haven't thought it out. Morpheus himself wouldn't sleep if his body was
a mass of friction-producing waste products from top to toe. You aren't
a body and soul, Mr. Prohack. You're an engine--I wish you'd remember
that and treat yourself like one. The moment you feel tired, stop the
engine. If you don't, it'll stop itself. It pretty nearly stopped
to-day. You need lubrication too. The best lubricant is a tumbler of hot
water four times a day. And don't take coffee, or any salt except what
your cook puts into the dishes. Don't try to be cleverer than nature.
Don't think the clock is standing still. It isn't. If you treat yourself
as well as you treat your watch, you'll bury me. If you don't, I shall
bury you. All that I've told you I know by heart, because I'm saying it
to men of your age every day of my life."
Mr. Prohack felt like a reprimanded schoolboy. He feared the wrath to
"Don't you think my husband ought to take a long holiday?" Eve put in.
"Well, _of course_ he ought," said Dr. Veiga, opening both mouth and
eyes in protest against such a silly question.
"Where ought he to go?"
"Doesn't matter. Portugal, the Riviera, Switzerland. But it's not the
season yet for any of these places. If he wants to keep on pleasant
terms with nature he'll get out his car and motor about his own country
for a month or two. After that he might go to the Continent. But of
course he won't. I know these official gentlemen. If you ask them to
disturb their routine they'll die first. They really would sooner die.
Very natural of course. Routine is their drug."
"My husband will take six months holiday," said Eve quietly. "I suppose
you could give the proper certificate? You see in these Government
"I'll give you the certificate to-morrow."
Mr. Prohack was pretending to be asleep, or at least to be too fatigued
and indifferent to take notice of this remarkable conversation. But as
soon as Dr. Veiga had blandly departed under the escort of Eve, he
slipped out of bed and cautiously padded to the landing where there was
"Duodenum. Duodenum. Must be something to do with twelve." Then he found
a dictionary and brought it back into the bedroom and consulted it. "So
it's twelve inches long, is it?" he murmured. He had just time to plunge
into bed and pitch the dictionary under the bed before his wife
* * * * *
She was bending over him.
He opened his deceiving eyes. Her face was within a foot of his.
"How do you feel now?"
"I feel," said he, "that this is the darnedest swindle that ever was.
If I hadn't come into a fortune I should have been back at the office
the day after to-morrow. In about eight hours, with the help of that
Portuguese mountebank, you've changed me from a sane normal man into a
blooming valetudinarian who must run all over the earth in search of
health. I've got to 'winter' somewhere, have I? You'll see. It's
absolutely incredible. It's more like Maskelyne and Cook's than anything
I ever came across." He yawned. He knew that it was the disturbed
duodenum that caused him to yawn, and that also gave him a dry mouth and
a peculiar taste therein.
"Yes, darling," Eve smiled above him the smile of her impenetrable
angelicism. "Yes, darling. You're better."
The worst was that she had beaten him on the primary point. He had
asserted that he was not ill. She had asserted that he was. She had been
right; he wrong. He could not deny, even to himself, that he was ill.
Not gravely, only somewhat. But supposing that he was gravely ill!
Supposing that old Plott would agree with all that Veiga had said! It
was conceivable. Misgivings shot through him.
And Eve had him at her sweet mercy. He was helpless. She was easily the
stronger. He perceived then, what many a husband dies without having
perceived, that his wife had a genuine individual existence and volition
of her own, that she was more than his complement, his companion, the
mother of his children.
She lowered her head further and gave him a long, fresh, damp kiss. They
were very intimate, with an intimacy that her enigmatic quality could
not impair. He was annoyed, aggrieved, rebellious, but extremely happy
in a weak sort of way. He hated and loved her, he despised and adored
her, he reprehended and admired her--all at once. What specially
satisfied him was that he had her to himself. The always-impinging
children were not there. He liked this novel solitude of two.
"Darling, where is Charlie staying in Glasgow?"
"I want to write to him."
"Post's gone, my poor child."
"Then I shall telegraph."
"I shan't tell you the address unless you promise to show me the
telegram. I intend to be master in my own house even if I am dying."
Thus he saw the telegram, which ran: "Father ill in bed what is the
best motor car to buy. Love. Mother." The telegram astounded Mr.
"Have you taken leave of your senses?" he cried. Then he laughed. What
else was there to do? What else but the philosopher's laugh was adequate
to the occasion?
While Eve with her own unrivalled hand was preparing the bedroom for the
night, Machin came in with a telegram. Without being asked to do so Eve
showed it to the sufferer: "Tell him to buck up. Eagle six cylinder.
Everything fine here. Charles."
"I think he might have sent his love," said Eve.
Mr. Prohack no longer attempted to fight against the situation, which
was like a net winding itself round him.
One evening, ten days later, Mr. Prohack slipped out of his own house as
stealthily as a thief might have slipped into it. He was cured
provisionally. The unseen, unfelt, sinister duodenum no longer
mysteriously deranged his whole engine. Only a continual sensation of
slight fatigue indicated all the time that he was not cleverer than
nature and that he was not victoriously disposing of his waste products.
But he could walk mildly about; his zest for smoking had in part
returned; and to any uninstructed observer he bore a close resemblance
to a healthy man.
Four matters worried him, of which three may be mentioned immediately.
He could not go to the Treasury. His colleague Hunter had amiably called
the day after his seizure, and Mrs. Prohack had got hold of Hunter. Her
influence over sane and well-balanced males was really extraordinary.
Mr. Prohack had remained in perfect ignorance of the machinations of
these two for eight days, at the end of which period he received by post
an official document informing him that My Lords of the Treasury had
granted him six months' leave of absence for reasons of ill-health. Dr.
Veiga had furnished the certificate unknown to the patient. The quick
despatch of the affair showed with what celerity a government department
can function when it is actuated from the inside. The leave of absence
for reasons of ill-health of course prevented Mr. Prohack from appearing
at his office. How could he with decency appear at his office seemingly
vigorous when it had been officially decided that he was too ill to
work? And Mr. Prohack desired greatly to visit the Treasury. The habit
of a life-time had been broken in a moment, and since Mr. Prohack was
the creature of that habit he suffered accordingly. He had been
suffering for two days. This was the first matter that worried Mr.
The second matter had to do with his clubs. He was cut off from his
clubs. Partly for the same reason as that which cut him off from the
Treasury--for both his clubs were full of Civil Servants--and partly
because he was still somehow sensitive concerning the fact of his
inheritance. He would have had a similar objection to entering his clubs
in Highland kilt. The explanation was obvious. He hated to be
conspicuous. His inheritance was already (through Mr. Softly Bishop) the
talk of certain official and club circles, and Mr. Prohack apprehended
that every eye would be curiously upon him if he should set foot in a
club. He could not bear that, and he could not bear the questions and
the pleasantries. One day he would have to bear them--but not yet.
The third matter that worried him was that he could not, even in secret,
consult his own doctor. How could he go to old Plott and say: "Plott,
old man, I've been ill and my wife insisted upon having another doctor,
but I've come to ask you to tell me whether or not the other doctor's
right?" The thing was impossible. Yet he badly wanted to verify Veiga by
Plott. He still mistrusted Veiga, though his mistrust lessened daily,
despite his wish to see it increase.
Mrs. Prohack had benevolently suggested that he should run down to his
club, but on no account for a meal--merely "for a change." He had
declined, without giving the reason, and she had admitted that perhaps
he was right.
He attributed all the worries to his wife.
"I pay a fine price for that woman," he thought as he left the house, "a
rare fine price!" But as for her price, he never haggled over it. She,
just as she existed in her awful imperfection, was his first necessary
of life. She had gone out after dinner to see an acquaintance about a
house-maid (for already she was reorganising the household on a more
specious scale); she was a mile off at least; but she would have
disapproved of him breaking loose into his clubs at night, and so the
Terror of the departments stole forth, instead of walking forth,
intimidated by that moral influence which she left behind her.
Undoubtedly since the revolt of the duodenum her grip of him had
Not that Mr. Prohack was really going to a club. He had deceitfully told
himself that he _might_ stroll down to his principal club, for the sake
of exercise (his close friends among the members were lunchers not
diners), but the central self within himself was aware that no club
would see him that evening.
A taxi approached in the darkness; he knew by its pace that it was
empty. He told the driver to drive to Putney. In the old days of eleven
days ago he would not have dared to tell a taxi-driver to drive to
Putney, for the fare would have unbalanced his dizzy private weekly
budget; and even now he felt he was going the deuce of a pace. Even now
he would prudently not have taken a taxi had not part of the American
hundred thousand pounds already materialised. Mr. Softly Bishop had been
to see him on the previous day, and in addition to being mysteriously
sympathetic about his co-heir's ill-health had produced seven thousand
pounds of the hundred thousand. A New York representative had cabled
fourteen thousand, not because Mr. Prohack was in a hurry for seven, but
because Mr. Softly Bishop was in a hurry for seven. And Mr. Softly
Bishop had pointed out something which Mr. Prohack, Treasury official,
had not thought of. He had pointed out that Mr. Prohack might begin
immediately to spend just as freely as if the hundred thousand were
actually in hand.
"You see," said he, "the interest has been accumulating over there ever
since Angmering's death, and it will continue to accumulate until we get
all the capital; and the interest runs up to about a couple of hundred a
week for each of us."
Now Mr. Prohack had directed the taxi to his daughter's dance studio,
and perhaps it was the intention to do so that had made him steal
ignobly out of the house. For Eve would assuredly have rebelled. A state
of war existed between Eve and her daughter, and Mr. Prohack's
intelligence, as well as his heart, had ranged him on Eve's side. Since
Sissie's departure, the girl had given no sign whatever to her parents.
Mrs. Prohack had expected to see her on the next day after her
defection. But there was no Sissie, and there was no message from
Sissie. Mrs. Prohack bulged with astounding news for Sissie, of her
father's illness and inheritance. But Mrs. Prohack's resentful pride
would not make the first move, and would not allow Mr. Prohack to make
it. They knew, at second-hand through a friend of Viola Ridle's, that
Sissie was regularly active at the studio; also Sissie had had the
effrontery to send a messenger for some of her clothes--without even a
note! The situation was incredible, and waxed daily in incredibility.
Sissie's behaviour could not possibly be excused.
This was the fourth and the chief matter that worried Mr. Prohack. He
regarded it sardonically as rather a lark; but he was worried to think
of the girl making a fool of herself with her mother. Her mother was
demonstrably in the right. To yield to the chit's appalling
heartlessness would be bad tactics and it would be humiliating.
Nevertheless Mr. Prohack had directed the taxi-driver to the
dance-studio at Putney. On the way it suddenly occurred to him, almost
with a shock, that he was a rich man, secure from material anxieties,
and that therefore he ought to feel light-hearted. He had been losing
sight of this very important fact for quite some time.
* * * * *
The woman in the cubicle near the door was putting a fresh disc on to a
gramophone and winding up the instrument. She was a fat, youngish woman,
in a parlourmaid's cap and apron, and Mr. Prohack had a few days earlier
had a glimpse of her seated in his own hall waiting for a package of
"Very sorry, sir," said she, turning her head negligently from the
gramophone and eyeing him seriously. "I'm afraid you can't go in if
you're not in evening dress." Evidently from her firm, polite voice, she
knew just what she was about, did that young woman. She added: "The
rule's very strict on Fridays."
At the same moment a bell rang once. The woman immediately released the
catch of the gramophone and lowered the needle on to the disc, and Mr.
Prohack heard music, but not from the cubicle. There was a round hole in
the match-board partition, and the trumpet attachment of the gramophone
disappeared beyond the hole.
"This affair is organised," thought Mr. Prohack, decidedly impressed by
the ingenuity of the musical arrangement and by the promptness of the
orchestral director in obeying the signal of the bell.
"My name is Prohack," said he. "I'm Miss Prohack's father."
This important announcement ought to have startled the sangfroid of the
guardian, but it did not. She merely said, with a slight mechanical
"As soon as this dance is over, sir, I'll let Miss Prohack know she's
wanted." She did not say: "Sir, a person of your eminence is above
rules. Go right in."
Two girls in all-enveloping dark cloaks entered behind him.
"Good-evening, Lizzie," one of them greeted the guardian. And Lizzie's
face relaxed into a bright genuine smile.
"Good-evening, miss. Good-evening, miss."
The two girls vanished rustlingly through a door over which was hung a
piece of cardboard with the written words: "Ladies' cloakroom." In a few
moments they emerged, white and fluffy apparitions, eager,
self-conscious, and they vanished through another door. Mr. Prohack
judged from their bridling and from their whispers to each other that
they belonged to the class which ministers to the shopping-class. He
admitted that they looked very nice and attractive; but he had the
sensation of having blundered into a queer, hitherto unknown world, and
of astonishment and qualms that his daughter should be a ruler in that
Lizzie stood up and peeped through a little square window in the
match-boarding. As soon as she had finished peeping Mr. Prohack took
liberty to peep also, and the dance-studio was revealed to him. Somehow
he could scarcely believe that it was not a hallucination, and that he
was really in Putney, and that his own sober house in which Sissie had
been reared still existed not many miles off.
For Mr. Prohack, not continuously but at intervals, possessed a
disturbing faculty that compelled him to see the phenomena of human life
as they actually were, and to disregard entirely the mere names of
things,--which mere names by the magic power of mere names usually
suffice to satisfy the curiosity of most people and to allay their
misgivings if any. Mr. Prohack now saw (when he looked downwards) a
revolving disc which was grating against a stationary needle and thereby
producing unpleasant rasping sounds. But it was also producing a quite
different order of sounds. He did not in the least understand, and he
did not suppose that anybody in the dance-studio understood, the
delicate secret mechanism by which these other sounds were produced. All
he knew was that by means of the trumpet attachment they were
transmitted through the wooden partition and let loose into the larger
air of the studio, where the waves of them had a singular effect on the
brains of certain bright young women and sombre young and middle-aged
men who were arranged in clasped couples: with the result that the
brains of the women and men sent orders to their legs, arms, eyes, and
they shifted to and fro in rhythmical movements. Each woman placed
herself very close--breast against breast--to each man, yielding her
volition absolutely to his, and (if the man was the taller) often gazing
up into his face with an ecstatic expression of pleasure and
acquiescence. The physical relations between the units of each couple
would have caused censorious comment had the couple been alone or
standing still; but the movement and the association of couples seemed
mysteriously to lift the whole operation above criticism and to endow it
with a perfect propriety. The motion of the couples, and their manner of
moving, over the earth's surface were extremely monotonous; some couples
indeed only walked stiffly to and fro; on the other hand a few exhibited
variety, lightness and grace, in manoeuvres which involved a high degree
of mutual trust and comprehension. While only some of the faces were
ecstatic, all were rapt. The ordinary world was shut out of this room,
whose inhabitants had apparently abandoned themselves with all their
souls to the performance of a complicated and solemn rite.
Odd as the spectacle was, Mr. Prohack enjoyed it. He enjoyed the youth
and the prettiness and the litheness of the brightly-dressed girls and
the stern masculinity of the men, and he enjoyed the thought that both
girls and men had had the wit to escape from the ordinary world into
this fantastic environment created out of four walls, a few Chinese
lanterns, some rouge, some stuffs, some spangles, friction between two
pieces of metal, and the profoundest instinct of nature. Beyond
everything he enjoyed the sight of the lithest and most elegant of the
girls, whom he knew to be Eliza Brating and who was dancing with a
partner whose skill obviously needed no lessons. He would have liked to
see his daughter Sissie in Eliza's place, but Sissie was playing the
man's role to a stout and nearly middle-aged lady, whose chief talent
for the rite appeared to be an iron determination.
Mr. Prohack was in danger of being hypnotised by the spectacle, but
suddenly the conflict between the disc and the needle grew more acute,
and Lizzie, the guardian, dragged the needle sharply from the bosom of
its antagonist. The sounds ceased, and the brains of the couples in the
studio, no longer inspired by the sounds, ceased to inspire the muscles
of the couples, and the rite suddenly finished. Mr. Prohack drew breath.
"To think," he reflected, "that this sort of thing is seriously going on
all over London at this very instant, and that many earnest persons are
making a livelihood from it, and that nobody but me perceives how
marvellous, charming, incomprehensible and disconcerting it is!"
He said to the guardian:
"There doesn't seem to be much 'lesson' about this business. Everybody
here seems to be able to dance all right."
To which Lizzie replied with a sagacious, even ironic, smile:
"You see, sir, on these gala nights they all do their very best."
Sissie had arrived upon him. Clearly she was preoccupied, if not
worried, and the unexpected sight of her parent forced her, as it were,
unwillingly from one absorbing train of ideas into another. She was
startled, self-conscious, nervous. Still, she jumped at him and kissed
him,--as if in a dream.
"Nothing the matter, is there?"
"I'm frightfully busy to-night. Just come in here, will you?"
And she took him into the ladies' cloakroom--an apartment the like of
which he had never before seen. It had only one chair, in front of a
sort of dressing-table covered with mysterious apparatus and
Mr. Prohack inspected his daughter as though she had been somebody
"Well," said he. "You look just like a real business woman, except the
She was very attractive, very elegant, comically young (to him), and
very business-like in her smart, short frock, stockings, and shoes.
"Can't you understand," she objected firmly, "that this is my business
dress, just as much as a black frock and high collar would be in an
He gave a short, gentle laugh.
"I don't know what you're laughing at, dad," she reproached him, not
unkindly. "Anyhow, I'm glad some one's come at last. I was beginning to
think that my home had forgotten all about me. Even when I sent up for
some clothes no message came back."
The life-long experience of Mr. Prohack had been that important and
unusual interviews rarely corresponded with the anticipation of them,
and the present instance most sharply confirmed his experience. He had
expected to be forgiving an apologetic daughter, but the reality was
that he found himself in the dock. He hesitated for words, and Sissie
"Here have I been working myself to death reorganising this place after
Viola went--and I can tell you it needed reorganising! Haven't had a
minute in the mornings, and of course there are the lessons afternoon
and evening. And no one's been down to see how I was getting on, or even
written. I do think it's a bit steep. Mother might have known that if I
_had_ had any spare time I should have run up."
"I've been rather queer," he excused himself and the family. "And your
mother's been looking after me, and of course you know Charlie's still
"I don't know anything," she corrected him. "But you needn't tell me
that if you've been unwell mother's been looking after you. Does she
ever do anything else? Are you better? What was it? You _look_ all
"Oh! General derangement. I haven't been to the office since you
decamped." He did not feel equal to telling her that he would not be
returning to the office for months. She had said that he looked all
right, and her quite honest if hasty verdict on his appearance gave him
a sense of guilt, and also renewed suspicions of Dr. Veiga.
"Not been to the office!" The statement justly amazed the girl, almost
shocked her. But she went on in a fresh, satirical accent recalling Mr.
Prohack's own: "You _must_ have been upset! But of course you're highly
nervous, dad, and I expect the excitement of the news of your fortune
was too much for you. I know exactly how you get when anything unusual
She had heard of the inheritance!
"I was going to tell you about that little affair," he said awkwardly.
"So you knew! Who told you?"
"Nobody in my family at any rate," she answered. "I heard of it from an
outsider, and of course from sheer pride I had to pretend that I knew
all about it. And what's more, father, you knew when you gave me that
fifty pounds, only you wouldn't let on. Don't deny it.... Naturally I'm
glad about it, very glad. And yet I'm not. I really rather regret it for
you and mother. You'll never be as happy again. Riches will spoil my
poor darling mother."
"That remains to be seen, Miss Worldly Wisemiss," he retorted with
unconvincing lightness. He was disturbed, and he was impressed, by her
indifference to the fortune. It appeared not to concern or to interest
her. She spoke not merely as one who objected to unearned wealth but as
one to whom the annals of the Prohack family were henceforth a matter of
minor importance. It was very strange, and Mr. Prohack had to fight
against a feeling of intimidation. The girl whom he had cherished for
over twenty years and whom he thought he knew to the core, was
absolutely astounding him by the revelation of her individuality. He
didn't know her. He was not her father. He was helpless before her.
"How are things here?" he demanded, amiably inquisitive, as an
"Excellent," said she. "Jolly hard work, though."
"Yes, I should imagine so. Teaching men dancing! By Jove!"
"There's not so much difficulty about teaching men. The difficulty's
with the women. Father, they're awful. You can't imagine their
Lizzie glanced into the room. She simply glanced, and Sissie returned
"You'll have to excuse me a bit, father," said Sissie. "I'll come back
as quick as I can. Don't go." She departed hurriedly.
"I'd better get out of this anyhow," thought Mr. Prohack, surveying the
ladies' cloakroom. "If one of 'em came in I should have to explain my
unexplainable presence in this sacred grot."
* * * * *
Having received no suggestion from his daughter as to how he should
dispose of himself while awaiting her leisure, Mr. Prohack made his way
back to the guardian's cubicle. And there he discovered a chubby and
intentionally-young man in the act of gazing through the small window
into the studio exactly as he himself had been gazing a few minutes
"Hel_lo_, Prohack!" exclaimed the chubby and intentionally-young man,
with the utmost geniality and calmness.
"How d'ye do?" responded Mr. Prohack with just as much calmness and
perhaps ten per cent less geniality. Mr. Prohack was a peculiar fellow,
and that on this occasion he gave rather less geniality than he received
was due to the fact that he had never before spoken to the cupid in his
life and that he was wondering whether membership of the same club
entirely justified so informal a mode of address--without an
introduction and outside the club premises. For, like all modest men,
Mr. Prohack had some sort of a notion of his own dignity, a sort of a
notion that occasionally took him quite by surprise. Mr. Prohack did not
even know the surname of his aggressor. He only knew that he never
overheard other men call him anything but "Ozzie." Had not Mr. Prohack
been buried away all his life in the catacombs of the Treasury and thus
cut off from the great world-movement, he would have been fully aware
that Oswald Morfey was a person of importance in the West End of London,
that he was an outstanding phenomenon of the age, that he followed very
closely all the varying curves of the great world-movement, that he was
constantly to be seen on the pavements of Piccadilly, Bond Street, St.
James's Street, Pall Mall and Hammersmith, that he was never absent from
a good first night or a private view of very new or very old pictures or
a distinguished concert or a poetry-reading or a fashionable auction at
Christie's, that he received invitations to dinner for every night in
the week and accepted all those that did not clash with the others, that
in return for these abundant meals he gave about once a month a
tea-party in his trifling Japanese flat in Bruton Street, where the
sandwiches were as thin as the sound of the harpsichord which eighteenth
century ladies played at his request; and that he was in truth what Mr.
Asprey Chown called "social secretary" to Mr. Asprey Chown.
Mr. Prohack might be excused for his ignorance of this last fact, for
the relation between Asprey Chown and Ozzie was never very clearly
defined--at any rate by Ozzie. He had no doubt learned, from an enforced
acquaintance with the sides of motor-omnibuses, that Mr. Asprey Chown
was a theatre-manager of some activity, but he certainly had not truly
comprehended that Mr. Asprey Chown was head of one of the two great
rival theatrical combines and reputed to be the most accomplished
showman in the Western hemisphere, with a jewelled finger in notable
side-enterprises such as prize-fights, restaurants, and industrial
companies. The knowing ones from whom naught is hidden held that Asprey
Chown had never given a clearer proof of genius than in engaging this
harmless and indefatigable parasite of the West End to be his social
secretary. The knowing ones said further that whereas Ozzie was saving
money, nobody could be sure that Asprey Chown was saving money. The
engagement had a double effect--it at once put Asprey Chown into touch
with everything that could be useful to him for the purposes of special
booming, and it put Ozzie into touch with half the theatrical stars of
London--in an age when a first-rate heroine of revue was worth at least
two duchesses and a Dame in the scale of social values.
Mr. Oswald Morfey, doubtless in order to balance the modernity of his
taste in the arts, wore a tight black stock and a wide eyeglass ribbon
in the daytime, and in the evening permitted himself to associate a soft
silk shirt with a swallow-tail coat. It was to Mr. Prohack's secondary
(and more exclusive) club that he belonged. Inoffensive though he was,
he had managed innocently to offend Mr. Prohack. "Who is the fellow?"
Mr. Prohack had once asked a friend in the club, and having received no
answer but "Ozzie," Mr. Prohack had added: "He's a perfect ass," and had
given as a reason for this harsh judgment: "Well, I can't stick the way
he walks across the hall."
In the precincts of the dance-studio Mr. Oswald Morfey said in that
simple, half-lisping tone and with that wide-open child-like glance that
characterised most of his remarks:
"A very prosperous little affair here!" Having said this, he let his
eyeglass fall into the full silkiness of his shirt-front, and turned and
smiled very amicably and agreeably on Mr. Prohack, who could not help
thinking: "Perhaps after all you aren't such a bad sort of an idiot."
"Yes," said Mr. Prohack. "Do you often get as far as Putney?" For Mr.
Oswald Morfey, enveloped as he unquestionably was in the invisible aura
of the West End, seemed conspicuously out of place in a dance-studio in
a side-street in Putney, having rather the air of an angelic visitant.
"Well, now I come to think of it, I don't!" Mr. Morfey answered nearly
all questions as though they were curious, disconcerting questions that
took him by surprise. This mannerism was universally attractive--until
you got tired of it.
Mr. Prohack was now faintly attracted by it,--so that he said, in a
genuine attempt at good-fellowship:
"You know I can't for the life of me remember your name. You must excuse
me. My memory for names is not what it was. And I hate to dissemble,
The announcement was a grave shock to Mr. Oswald Morfey, who imagined
that half the taxi-drivers in London knew him by sight. Nevertheless he
withstood the shock like a little man of the world, and replied with
miraculous and sincere politeness: "I'm sure there's no reason why you
should remember my name." And he vouchsafed his name.
"Of course! Of course!" exclaimed Mr. Prohack, with a politeness equally
miraculous, for the word "Morfey" had no significance for the benighted
official. "How stupid of me!"
"By the way," said Mr. Morfey in a lower, confidential tone. "Your Eagle
will be ready to-morrow instead of next week."
"Your new car."
It was Mr. Prohack's turn to be staggered, and to keep his nerve. Not
one word had he heard about the purchase of a car since Charlie's
telegram from Glasgow. He had begun to think that his wife had either
forgotten the necessity of a car or was waiting till his more complete
recovery before troubling him to buy it. And he had taken care to say
nothing about it himself, for he had discovered, upon searching his own
mind, that his interest in motor-cars was not an authentic interest and
that he had no desire at all to go motoring in pursuit of health. And
lo! Eve had been secretly engaged in the purchase of a car for him! Oh!
A remarkable woman, Eve: she would stop at nothing when his health was
in question. Not even at a two thousand pound car.
"Ah, yes!" said Mr. Prohack, with as much tranquillity as though his
habit was to buy a car once a week or so. "To-morrow, you say? Good!"
Was the fellow then a motor-car tout working on commission?
"You see," said Ozzie, "my old man owns a controlling interest in the
Eagle Company. That's how I happen to know."
"I see," murmured Mr. Prohack, speculating wildly in private as to the
identity of Ozzie's old man.
When Ozzie with a nod and a smile and a re-fixing of his monocle left
the cubicle to enter the studio, he left Mr. Prohack freshly amazed at
the singularities of the world and of women, even the finest women. How
disturbing to come down to Putney in a taxi-cab in order to learn from a
stranger that you have bought a two thousand pound car which is to come
into your possession on the morrow! The dangerousness, the excitingness,
of being rich struck Mr. Prohack very forcibly.
A few minutes later he beheld a sight which affected him more deeply,
and less pleasantly, than anything else in an evening of thunderclaps.
Through the little window he saw Sissie dancing with Ozzie Morfey. And
although Sissie was not gazing upward ecstatically into Ozzie's
face--she could not because they were of a size--and although her
features had a rather stern, fixed expression, Mr. Prohack knew, from
his knowledge of her, that Sissie was in a secret ecstasy of enjoyment
while dancing with this man. He did not like her ecstasy. Was it
possible that she, so sensible and acute, had failed to perceive that
the fellow was a perfect ass? For in spite of his amiability, a perfect
ass the fellow was. The sight of his Sissie held in the arms of Ozzie
Morfey revolted Mr. Prohack. But he was once again helpless. And the
most sinister suspicions crawled into his mind. Why was the resplendent,
the utterly correct Ozzie dancing in a dancing studio in Putney?
Certainly he was not there to learn dancing. He danced to perfection.
The feet of the partners seemed to be married into a mystic unity of
direction. The performance was entrancing to watch. Could it be possible
that Ozzie was there because Sissie was there? Darker still, could it be
possible that Sissie had taken a share in the studio for any reason
other than a purely commercial reason?
"He thinks you're a darling," said Sissie to her father afterwards when
he and she and Eliza Brating, alone together in the studio, were
informally consuming buns and milk in the corner where the stove was.
The talk ran upon dancers, and whether Ozzie Morfey was not one of the
finest dancers in London. Was Sissie's tone quite natural? Mr. Prohack
could not be sure. Eliza Brating said she must go at once in order not
to miss the last tram home. Mr. Prohack, without thinking, said that he
would see her home in his taxi, which had been ruthlessly ticking his
fortune away for much more than an hour.
"Kiss mother for me," said Sissie, "and tell her that she's a horrid
old thing and I shall come along and give her a piece of my mind one of
these days." And she gave him the kiss for her mother.
And as she kissed him, Mr. Prohack was very proud of his daughter--so
efficient, so sound, so straight, so graceful.
"She's all right, anyway," he reflected. And yet she could be ecstatic
in the arms of that perfect ass! And in the taxi: "Fancy me seeing home
this dancing-mistress!" Eliza lived at Brook Green. She was very
elegant, and quite unexceptionable until she opened her mouth. She
related to him how her mother, who had once been a _premier sujet_ in
the Covent Garden ballet, was helpless from sciatica. But she related
this picturesque and pride-causing detail in a manner very insipid,
naive, and even vulgar, (After all there was a difference between First
Division and Second Division in the Civil Service!) She was boring him
terribly before they reached Brook Green. She took leave with a
deportment correct but acquired at an age too late. Still, he had liked
to see her home in the taxi. She was young, and she was an object
pleasing to the eye. He realised that he was not accustomed to the
propinquity of young women. What would his cronies at the Club say to
the escapade?... Odd, excessively odd, that the girl should be Sissie's
partner, in a business enterprise of so odd a character!... The next
thing was to meet Eve after the escapade. Should he keep to the
defensive, or should he lead off with an attack apropos of the Eagle
After an eventful night Mr. Prohack woke up late to breakfast in bed.
Theoretically he hated breakfast in bed, but in practice he had recently
found that the inconveniences to himself were negligible compared to the
intense and triumphant pleasure which his wife took in seeing him
breakfast in bed, in being fully dressed while he was in pyjamas and
dressing-gown, and in presiding over the meal and over him. Recently
Marian had formed the habit of rising earlier and appearing to be very
busy upon various minute jobs at an hour when, a few weeks previously,
she would scarcely have decided that day had given place to night. Mr.
Prohack, without being able precisely to define it, thought that he
understood the psychology of the change in this unique woman. Under
ordinary circumstances he would have been worried by his sense of
fatigue, but now, as he had nothing whatever to do, he did not much care
whether he was tired or not. Neither the office nor the State would
suffer through his lack of tone.
The events of the night had happened exclusively inside Mr. Prohack's
head. Nor were they traceable to the demeanour of his wife when he
returned home from the studio. She had mysteriously behaved to him as
though nocturnal excursions to disgraceful daughters in remote quarters
of London were part of his daily routine. She had been very sweet and
very incurious. Whereon Mr. Prohack had said to himself: "She has some
diplomatic reason for being an angel." And even if she had not been an
angel, even if she had been the very reverse of an angel, Mr. Prohack
would not have minded, and his night would not have been thereby upset;
for he regarded her as a beautiful natural phenomenon is regarded by a
scientist, lovingly and wonderingly, and he was incapable of being
irritated for more than a few seconds by anything that might be done or
said by this forest creature of the prime who had strayed charmingly
into the twentieth century. He was a very fortunate husband.
No! The eventfulness of the night originated in reflection upon the
relations between Sissie and Ozzie Morfey. If thoughts could take
physical shape and solidity, the events of the night would have amounted
to terrible collisions and catastrophes in the devil-haunted abysses of
Mr. Prohack's brain. The forces of evil were massacring all opponents
between three and four a.m. It was at this period Mr. Prohack was
convinced that Sissie, in addition to being an indescribably heartless
daughter, was a perfect fool hoodwinked by a perfect ass, and that
Ozzie's motive in the affair was not solely or chiefly admiration for
Sissie, but admiration of the great fortune which, he had learnt, had
fallen into the lap of Sissie's father. After five o'clock, according to
the usual sequence, the forces of evil lost ground, and at six-thirty,
when the oblong of the looking-glass glimmered faintly in the dawn, Mr.
Prohack said roundly: "I am an idiot," and went to sleep.
"Now, darling," said Eve when he emerged from the bathroom. "Don't waste
any more time. I want you to give me your opinion about something
"Child," said Mr. Prohack. "What on earth do you mean--'wasting time'?
Haven't you insisted, and hasn't your precious doctor insisted, that I
must read the papers for an hour in bed after I've had my breakfast in
bed? Talk about 'wasting time' indeed!"
"Yes, of course darling," Eve concurred, amazingly angelic. "I don't
mean you've been wasting time; only I don't want you to waste any _more_
"My mistake," said Mr. Prohack.
From mere malice and wickedness he spun out the business of dressing to
nearly its customary length, and twice Eve came uneasily into the
bedroom to see if she could be of assistance to him. No nurse could have
been so beautifully attentive. During one of her absences he slipped
furtively downstairs into the drawing-room, where he began to strum on
the piano, though the room was yet by no means properly warm. She came
after him, admirably pretending not to notice that he was behaving
unusually. She was attired for the street, and she carried his hat and
his thickest overcoat.
"You're coming out," said she, holding up the overcoat cajolingly.
"That's just where you're mistaken," said he.
"But I want to show you something."
"What do you want to show me?"
"You shall see when you come out."
"Is it by chance the bird of the mountains that I am to see?"
"The bird of the mountains? My dear Arthur! What are you driving at
"Is it the Eagle car?" And as she staggered speechless under the blow he
proceeded: "Ah! Did you think you could deceive _me_ with your infantile
conspiracies and your tacit deceits and your false smiles?"
"Some one's told you. And I do think it's a shame!"
"And who should have told me? Who have I seen? I suppose you think I
picked up the information at Putney last night. And haven't you opened
all my letters since I was ill, on the pretext of saving me worry? Shall
I tell you how I know? I knew from your face. Your face, my innocent,
can't be read like a book. It can be read like a newspaper placard, and
for days past I've seen on it, 'Extra special. Exciting purchase of a
motor-car by a cunning wife.'" Then he laughed. "No, chit. That fellow
Oswald Morfey, let it out last night."
When she had indignantly enquired how Oswald Morfey came to be mixed up
in her private matters, she said:
"Well, darling, I hope I needn't tell you that my _sole_ object was to
save you trouble. The car simply had to be bought, and as quickly as
possible, so I did it. Need I tell you--"
"You needn't, certainly," Mr. Prohack agreed, and going to the window he
lifted the curtain. Yes. There stood a real car, a landaulette, with the
illustrous eagle on the front of its radiator, and a real chauffeur by
its side. The thing seemed entirely miraculous to Mr. Prohack; and he
was rather impressed by his wife's daring and enterprise. After all, it
was somewhat of an undertaking for an unworldly woman to go out alone
into the world and buy a motor-car and engage a chauffeur, not to
mention clothing the chauffeur. But Mr. Prohack kept all his
"Isn't it lovely?"
"Is it paid for?"
"Didn't you have to pay any deposit?"
"Of course I didn't. I gave your name, and that was sufficient. We
needn't keep it if we don't like it after the trial run."
"And is it insured?"
"Of course, darling."
"And what about the licence?"
"Oh! The Eagle Company saw to all those stupid things for me."
"And how many times have you forged my signature while I've been lying
on a bed of pain?"
"The fact is, darling, I made the purchase in my own name. Now come
_along_. We're going round the park."
The way she patted his overcoat when she had got it on to him...! The
way she took him by the hand and pulled him towards the drawing-room
door...! She had done an exceedingly audacious deed, and her spirits
rose as she became convinced from his demeanour that she had not pushed
audacity too far. (For she was never absolutely sure of him.)
"Wait one moment," said Mr. Prohack releasing himself and slipping back
to the window.
"What's the matter?"
"I merely desired to look at the chauffeur's face. Is it a real
chauffeur? Not an automaton?"
"You're sure he's quite human?" Mrs. Prohack closed the piano, and then
stamped her foot.
"Listen," said Mr. Prohack. "I'm about to trust my life to the
mysterious being inside that uniform. Did you imagine that I would trust
my life to a perfect stranger? In another half hour he and I may be
lying in hospital side by side. And I don't even know his name! Fetch
him in, my dove, and allow me to establish relations with him. But
confide to me his name first." The expression on Mrs. Prohack's features
was one of sublime forbearance under ineffable provocation.
"This is Carthew," she announced, bringing the chauffeur into the
Carthew was a fairly tall, fairly full-bodied, grizzled man of about
forty; he carried his cap and one gauntleted glove in one gloved hand,
and his long, stiff green overcoat slanted down from his neck to his
knees in an unbroken line. He had the impassivity of a policeman.
"Good morning, Carthew," Mr. Prohack began, rising. "I thought that you
and I would like to make one another's acquaintance."
Mr. Prohack held out his hand, which Carthew calmly took.
"Will you sit down?"
"Thank you, sir."
"Have a cigarette?" Carthew hesitated.
"Do you mind if I have one of my own, sir?"
"These are Virginian."
"Oh! Thank you, sir." And Carthew took a cigarette from Mr. Prohack's
"After you, sir."
"Thank you, sir."
Carthew coughed, puffed, and leaned back a little in his chair. At this
point Mrs. Prohack left the room. (She said afterwards that she left the
room because she couldn't have borne to be present when Carthew's back
broke the back of the chair.)
Carthew sat silent.
"Well," said Mr. Prohack. "What do you think of the car? I ought to tell
you I know nothing of motors myself, and this is the first one I've ever
"The Eagle is a very good car, sir. If you ask me I should say it was
light on tyres and a bit thirsty with petrol. It's one of them cars as
anybody can _drive_--if you understand what I mean. I mean anybody can
make it _go_. But of course that's only the beginning of what I call
"Just so," agreed Mr. Prohack, drawing by his smile a very faint smile
from Carthew. "My son seems to think it's about the best car on the
"Well, sir, I've been mixed up with cars pretty well all my life--I mean
since I was twenty--"
"Have you indeed!"
"I have, sir--" Carthew neatly flicked some ash on the carpet, and Mr.
Prohack thoughtfully did the same--"I have, sir, and I haven't yet come
across the best car on the market, if you understand what I mean."
"Perfectly," said Mr. Prohack.
Carthew sat silent.
"But it's a very good car. Nobody could wish for a better. I'll say
that," he added at length.
"Had many accidents in your time?"
"I've been touched, sir, but I've never touched anything myself. You can
have an accident while you're drawn up alongside the kerb. It rather
depends on how many fools have been let loose in the traffic, doesn't
it, sir, if you understand what I mean."
"Exactly," said Mr. Prohack.
Carthew sat silent.
"I gather you've been through the war," Mr. Prohack began again.
"I was in the first Territorial regiment that landed in France, and I
got my discharge July 1919."
"Well, sir, I've been blown up twice and buried once and pitched into
the sea once, but nothing ever happened to me."
"I see you don't wear any ribbons."
"It's like this, sir. I've seen enough ribbons on chests since the
armistice. It isn't as if I was one of them conscripts."
"No," murmured Mr. Prohack thoughtfully; then brightening: "And as soon
as you were discharged you went back to your old job?"
"I did and I didn't, sir. The fact is, I've been driving an ambulance
for the City of London, but as soon as I heard of something private I
chucked that. I can't say as I like these Corporations. There's a bit
too much stone wall about them Corporations, for my taste."
"Family man?" asked Mr. Prohack lightly. "I've two children myself and
both of them can drive."
"Really, sir, I am a family man, as ye might say, but my wife and me,
we're best apart."
"Sorry to hear that. I didn't want to--"
"Oh, not at all, sir! That's all right. But you see--the war--me being
away and all that--I've got the little boy. He's nine."
"Well," said Mr. Prohack, jumping up nervously, "suppose we go and have
a look at the car, shall we?"
"Certainly, sir," said Carthew, throwing the end of his cigarette into
the fender, and hastening.
"My dove," said Mr. Prohack to his wife in the hall. "I congratulate you
on your taste in chauffeurs. Carthew and I have laid the foundations of
a lasting friendship."
"I really wonder you asked him to smoke in the drawing-room," Mrs.
Prohack critically observed.
"Why? He saved England for me; and now I'm trusting my life to him."
"I do believe you'd _like_ there to be a revolution in this country."
"Not at all, angel! And I don't think there'll be one. But I'm taking my
precautions in case there should be one."
"He's only a chauffeur."
"That's very true. He was doing some useful work, driving an ambulance
to hospitals. But we've stopped that. He's now only a chauffeur to the
"Oh, Arthur! I wish you wouldn't try to be funny on such subjects. You
know you don't mean it."
Mrs. Prohack was now genuinely reproachful, and the first conjugal
joy-ride might have suffered from a certain constraint had it taken
place. It did not, however, take place. Just as Carthew was holding out
the rug (which Eve's prodigious thoroughness had remembered to buy)
preparatory to placing it on the knees of his employers, a truly
gigantic automobile drove up to the door, its long bonnet stopping
within six inches of the Eagle's tail-lantern. The Eagle looked like
nothing at all beside it. Mr. Prohack knew that leviathan. He had many
times seen it in front of the portals of his principal club. It was the
car of his great club crony, Sir Paul Spinner, the "city magnate."
Sir Paul, embossed with carbuncles, got out, and was presently being
presented to Eve,--for the friendship between Mr. Prohack and Sir Paul
had been a purely club friendship. Like many such friendships it had had
no existence beyond the club, and neither of the cronies knew anything
of real interest about the domestic circumstances of the other. Sir Paul
was very apologetic to Eve, but he imperiously desired an interview with
Mr. Prohack at once. Eve most agreeably and charmingly said that she
would take a little preliminary airing in the car by herself, and return
for her husband. Mr. Prohack would have preferred her to wait for him;
but, though Eve was sagacious enough at all normal times, when she got
an idea into her head that idea ruthlessly took precedence of everything
else in the external world. Moreover the car was her private creation,
and she was incapable of resisting its attractions one minute longer.
"I hear you've come into half a million, Arthur," said Paul Spinner,
after he had shown himself very friendly and optimistic about Mr.
Prohack's health and given the usual bulletin about his own carbuncles
and the shortcomings of the club.
"But you don't believe it, Paul."
"I don't," agreed Paul. "Things get about pretty fast in the City and we
can size them up fairly well; and I should say, putting two and two
together, that a hundred and fifty thousand would be nearer the mark."
"It certainly is," said Mr. Prohack.
If Paul Spinner had suggested fifty thousand, Mr. Prohack would have
corrected him, but being full of base instincts he had no impulse to
correct the larger estimate, which was just as inaccurate.
"Well, well! It's a most romantic story and I congratulate you on it.
No such luck ever happened to me." Sir Paul made this remark in a tone
to indicate that he had had practically no luck himself. And he really
believed that he had had no luck, though the fact was that he touched no
enterprise that failed. Every year he signed a huger cheque for
super-tax, and every year he signed it with a gesture signifying that he
was signing his own ruin.
This distressing illusion of Sir Paul's was probably due to his
carbuncles, which of all pathological phenomena are among the most
productive of a pessimistic philosophy. The carbuncles were well known
up and down Harley Street. They were always to be cured and they never
were cured. They must have cost their owner about as much as his
motor-car for upkeep--what with medical fees, travelling and foreign
hotels--and nobody knew whether they remained uncured because they were
incurable or because the medical profession thought it would be cruel at
one stroke to deprive itself of a regular income and Sir Paul of his
greatest hobby. The strange thing was that Sir Paul with all his
powerful general sagacity and shrewdness, continued firmly, despite
endless disappointments, in the mystical faith that one day the
carbuncles would be abolished.
"I won't beat about the bush," said he. "We know one another. I came
here to talk frankly and I'll talk frankly."
"You go right ahead," Mr. Prohack benevolently encouraged him.
"First of all I should like to give you just the least hint of warning
against that fellow Softly Bishop. I daresay you know something' about
"I know nothing about him, except the way he looks down his nose. But no
man who looks down his nose the way he looks down his nose is going to
influence me in the management of my financial affairs. I'm only an
official; I should be a lamb in the City; but I have my safeguards, old
chap. Thanks for the tip all the same."
Sir Paul Spinner laughed hoarsely, as Mr. Prohack had made him laugh
hundreds of times in the course of their friendship. And Mr. Prohack was
aware of a feeling of superiority to Sir Paul. The feeling grew steadily
in his breast, and he was not quite sure how it originated. Perhaps it
was due to a note of dawning obsequiousness in Sir Paul's laugh,
reminding Mr. Prohack of the ancient proverb that the jokes of the
exalted are always side-splitting.
"As I say," Sir Paul proceeded, "you and I know each other."
Mr. Prohack nodded, with a trace of impatience against unnecessary
repetition. Yet he was suddenly struck with the odd thought that Sir
Paul certainly did not know him, but only odd bits of him; and he was
doubtful whether he knew Sir Paul. He saw an obese man of sixty sitting
in the very chair that a few moments ago had been occupied by Carthew
the chauffeur, a man with big purplish features and a liverish eye, a
man smoking a plutocratic and heavenly cigar and eating it at the same
time, a man richly dressed and braided and jewelled, a man whose boots
showed no sign of a crease, an obvious millionaire of the old type, in
short a man who was practically all prejudices and waste-products. And
he wondered why and how that man had become his friend and won his
affection. Sir Paul looked positively coarse in Mr. Prohack's frail
Chippendale drawing-room, seeming to need for suitable environment the
pillared marble and gilt of the vast Club. Well, after having eaten many
hundreds of meals and drunk many hundreds of cups of coffee in the
grunting society of Sir Paul, all that Mr. Prohack could be sure of
knowing about Sir Paul was, first, that he had an absolutely unspotted
reputation; second, that he was a very decent, simple-minded, kindly,
ignorant fellow (ignorant, that is, in the matters that interested Mr.
Prohack); third, that he instinctively mistrusted intellect and
brilliance; fourth, that for nearly four years he had been convinced
that Germany would win the war, and fifth, that he was capable of
astounding freaks of generosity. Stay, there was another item,--Sir
Paul's invariable courtesy to the club servants, which courtesy he
somehow contrived to combine with continual grumbling. The club servants
held him in affection. It was probably this sixth item that outweighed
any of the others in Mr. Prohack's favourable estimate of the financier.
And then Mr. Prohack, as in a dream, heard from the lips of Paul Spinner
the words, "oil concessions in Roumania." In a flash, in an earthquake,
in a blinding vision, Mr. Prohack instantaneously understood the origin
of his queer nascent feeling of superiority to old Paul. What he had
previously known subconsciously he now knew consciously. Old Paul who
had no doubt been paying in annual taxes about ten times the amount of
Mr. Prohack's official annual salary; old Paul whose name was the
synonym for millions and the rumours of whose views on the stock-markets
caused the readers of financial papers to tremble; old Paul was after
Mr. Prohack's money! Marvellous, marvellous, thrice marvellous money!...
It was the most astounding, the most glorious thing that ever happened.
Mr. Prohack immediately began to have his misgivings about Sir Paul
Spinner. Simultaneously he felt sorry for old Paul. And such was his
constraint that he made the motion of swallowing, and had all he could
do not to blush.
Mr. Prohack might be a lamb in the City, but he had a highly trained
mind, and a very firm grasp of the mere technique of finance. Therefore
Sir Paul could explain himself succinctly and precisely in technical
terms, and he did so--with much skill and a sort of unconsidered
persuasiveness, realising in his rough commonsense that there was no
need to drive ideas into Mr. Prohack's head with a steam-hammer, or to
intoxicate him with a heady vapour of superlatives.
In a quarter of an hour Mr. Prohack learnt that Sir Paul was promoting a
strictly private syndicate as a preliminary to the formation of a big
company for the exploitation of certain options on Roumanian
oil-territory which Sir Paul held. He learnt about the reports of the
trial borings. He learnt about the character and the experience of the
expert whom Sir Paul had sent forth to Roumania. He learnt about the
world-supply of oil and the world-demand for oil. He learnt about the
great rival oil-groups that were then dividing the universe of oil. He
had the entire situation clearly mapped on his brain. Next he obtained
some startling inside knowledge about the shortage of liquid capital in
the circles of "big money," and then followed Sir Paul's famous club
disquisition upon the origin of the present unsaleableness of securities
and the appalling uneasiness, not to say collapse, of markets.
"What we want is stability, old boy. We want to be left alone. We're
being governed to death. Social reform is all right. I believe in it,
but everything depends on the pace. Change there ought to be, but it
mustn't be like a transformation scene in a pantomime."
And so on.
Mr. Prohack was familiar with it all. He expected the culminating part
of the exposition. But Sir Paul curved off towards the navy and the need
of conserving in British hands a more than adequate gush of oil for the
navy. Mr. Prohack wished that Sir Paul could have left out the navy. And
then the Empire was reached. Mr. Prohack wished that Sir Paul could have
left out the Empire. Finally Sir Paul arrived at the point.
"I've realised all I can in reason and I'm eighty thousand short. Of
course I can get it, get it easily, but not without giving away a good
part of my show in quarters that I should prefer to keep quite in the
dark. I thought of you--you're clean outside all that sort of thing, and
also I know you'd lie low. You might make a hundred per cent; you might
make two hundred per cent. But I'll guarantee you this--you won't lose,
whatever happens. Of course your capital may not be liquid. You mayn't
be able to get at it. I don't know. But I thought it was just worth
mentioning to you, and so I said to myself I'd look in here on my way to
Sir Paul Spinner touting for a miserable eighty thousand pounds!
"Hanged if I know _how_ my capital is!" said Mr. Prohack.
"I suppose your lawyer knows. Smathe, isn't it?... I heard so."
"How soon do you want an answer, yes or no?" Mr. Prohack asked, with a
feeling that he had his back to the wall and old Paul had a gun.
"I don't want an answer now, anyhow, old boy. You must think it over.
You see, once we've got the thing, I shall set the two big groups
bidding against each other for it, and we shall see some fun. And I
wouldn't ask them for cash payments. Only for payment in their own
shares--which are worth more than money."
"Want an answer to-morrow?"
"Could you make it to-night?" Sir Paul surprisingly answered. "And
assuming you say yes--I only say assuming--couldn't you run down with me
to Smathe's now and find out about your capital? That wouldn't bind you
in any way. I'm particularly anxious you should think it over very
carefully. And, by the way, better keep these papers to refer to. But if
you can't get at your capital, no use troubling further. That's the
first thing to find out."
"I can't go to Smathe's now," Mr. Prohack stammered.
"Because I'm going out with my wife in the car."
"But, my dear old boy, it's a big thing, and it's urgent."
"Yes, I quite see that. But I've got to go with Marian. I'll tell you
what I can do. I'll telephone Smathe that you're coming down to see him
yourself, and he must tell you everything. That'll be best. Then I'll
let you know my decision later."
As they parted, Sir Paul said:
"We know each other, and you may take it from me it's all right. I'll
say no more. However, you think it over."
"Oh! I will!"
Old Paul touting for eighty thousand pounds! A wondrous world! A
Mr. Prohack, who didn't know what to do with a hundred thousand pounds,
saw himself the possessor of a quarter of a million, and was illogically
thrilled by the prospect. But the risk! Supposing that honest Paul was
wrong for once, or suppose he was carried off in the night by a
carbuncle,--Mr. Prohack might find himself a pauper with a mere trifle
of twenty thousand pounds to his name.
As soon as he had telephoned he resumed his hat and coat and went out on
to the pavement to look for his car, chauffeur and wife. There was not a
sign of them.
* * * * *
Mr. Prohack was undeniably a very popular man. He had few doubts
concerning the financial soundness of old Paul's proposition; but he
hesitated, for reasons unconnected with finance or with domesticity,
about accepting it. And he conceived the idea (which none but a very
peculiar man would have conceived) of discussing the matter with some
enemy of old Paul's. Now old Paul had few enemies. Mr. Prohack, however,
could put his hand on one,--Mr. Francis Fieldfare--the editor of an
old-established and lucrative financial weekly, and familiar to readers
of that and other organs as "F.F." Mr. Fieldfare's offices were quite
close to Mr. Prohack's principal club, of which Mr. Fieldfare also was a
member, and Mr. Fieldfare had the habit of passing into the club about
noon and reading the papers for an hour, lunching early, and leaving the
club again just as the majority of the members were ordering their
after-lunch coffee. Mr. Fieldfare pursued this course because he had a
deep instinct for being in the minority. Mr. Prohack looked at his
watch. The resolution of every man is limited in quantity. Only in mad
people is resolution inexhaustible. Mr. Prohack had no more resolution
than becomes an average sane fellow, and his resolution to wait for his
wife had been seriously tried by the energetic refusal to go with
Spinner to see Smathe. It now suddenly gave out.
"Pooh!" said Mr. Prohack. "I've waited long enough for her. She'll now
have to wait a bit for me."
And off he went by taxi to his club. The visit, he reflected, would
serve the secondary purpose of an inconspicuous re-entry into club-life
after absence from it.
"They may have had an accident with that car. One day she's certain to
have an accident anyhow,--she's so impulsive."
Of course Mr. Fieldfare was not in the morning-room of the club as he
ought to have been. That was bound to happen. Mr. Prohack gazed around
at the monumental somnolence of the great room, was ignored, and backed
out into the hall, meaning to return home. But in the hall he met F.F.
just arriving. It surprised and perhaps a little pained Mr. Prohack to
observe that F.F. had evidently heard neither of his illness nor of his
Mr. Fieldfare was a spare, middle-aged man, of apparently austere habit;
short, shabby; a beautiful, resigned face, burning eyes, and a soft
voice. He was weighed down, and had been weighed down for thirty years,
by a sense of the threatened immediate collapse of society--of all
societies, and by the solemn illusion that he more clearly than anybody
else understood the fearful trend of events.
Mr. Prohack had once, during the war, remarked on seeing F.F. glance at
the tape in the Club: "Look at F.F. afraid lest there may be some good
news." Nevertheless he liked F.F.
As editor of a financial weekly, F.F. naturally had to keep well under
control his world-sadness. High finance cannot prosper in an atmosphere
of world-sadness, and hates it. F.F. ought never to have become the
editor of a financial weekly; but he happened to be an expert
statistician, an honest man and a courageous man, and an expert in the
pathology of stock-markets, and on this score his proprietors excused
the slight traces of world-sadness occasionally to be found in the
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