The Strand Magazine, May 1926
“ANOTHER beaker of port, laddie?” urged Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, hospitably.
“One more stoup of port for Mr. Corcoran, Baxter. You may bring the coffee, cigars, and liqueurs to us in the library in about a quarter of an hour.”
The butler filled my glass and melted away. I looked about me dizzily. We were seated in the spacious dining-room of Ukridge’s Aunt Julia’s house on Wimbledon Common. A magnificent banquet had wound its way to a fitting finish, and the whole thing seemed to me inexplicable.
“I don’t understand this,” I said. “How do I come to be sitting here, bursting with rich food paid for by your aunt?”
“Perfectly simple, laddie. I expressed a desire for your company to-night, and she at once consented.”
“But why? She has never let you invite me here before. She can’t stand me.”
Ukridge sipped his port.
“Well, the fact of the matter is, Corky,” he said, in a burst of confidence, “things have been occurring recently in the home which have resulted in what you might call the dawning of a new life as far as Aunt Julia and I are concerned. It is not too much to say that she now eats out of my hand and is less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels. I will tell you the story, for it will be of help to you in your journey through the world. It is a story which shows that, be the skies never so black, nothing can harm a man provided that he has a level business head. Tempests may lour——”
“Get on with it. How did all this happen?”
Ukridge mused for awhile.
“I suppose the thing really started,” he said, “when I pawned her brooch——”
“You pawned your aunt’s brooch?”
“And that endeared you to her?”
“I will explain all that later. Meanwhile, let me begin at the beginning. Have you ever run across a man named Joe the Lawyer?”
“Stout fellow with a face like a haggis.”
“I’ve never met him.”
“Endeavour not to do so, Corky. I hate to speak ill of my fellow-man, but Joe the Lawyer is not honest.”
“What does he do? Pawn people’s brooches?”
Ukridge adjusted the ginger-beer wire that held his pince-nez to his flapping ears, and looked wounded.
“This is scarcely the tone I like to hear in an old friend, Corky. When I reach that point in my story, you will see that my pawning of Aunt Julia’s brooch was a perfectly normal, straightforward matter of business. How else could I have bought half the dog?”
“Half what dog?”
“Didn’t I tell you about the dog?”
“I must have done. It’s the nub of the whole affair.”
“Well, you didn’t.”
“I’m getting this story all wrong,” said Ukridge. “I’m confusing you. Let me begin right at the beginning.”
THIS bloke, Joe the Lawyer (said Ukridge), is a bookmaker with whom I have had transactions from time to time, but until the afternoon when this story starts we had never become in any way intimate. Occasionally I would win a couple of quid off him and he would send me a cheque, or he would win a couple of quid off me and I would go round to his office to ask him to wait till Wednesday week; but we had never mingled socially, as you might say, until this afternoon I’m speaking of, when I happened to look in at the Bedford Street Bodega and found him there, and he asked me to have a glass of the old tawny.
Well, laddie, you know as well as I do that there are moments when a glass of the old tawny makes all the difference; so I assented with a good deal of heartiness.
“Fine day,” I said.
“Yes,” said this bloke. “Do you want to make a large fortune?”
“Then listen,” said this bloke. “You know the Waterloo Cup. Listen. I’ve taken over as a bad debt from a client the dog that’s going to win the Waterloo Cup. This dog has been kept dark, but you can take it from me it’s going to win the Waterloo Cup. And then what? Well, then it’s going to fetch something. It’s going to be valuable. It’s going to have a price. It’s going to be worth money. Listen. How would you like to buy a half-share in that dog?”
“Then it’s yours.”
“But I haven’t any money.”
“You mean to say you can’t raise fifty quid?”
“I can’t raise five.”
“Gawblimey!” said the bloke.
And, looking at me in a despairing sort of way, like a father whose favourite son has hurt his finest feelings, he finished his old tawny and pushed out into Bedford Street. And I went home.
Well, as you may imagine, I brooded not a little on my way back to Wimbledon. The one thing nobody can say of me, Corky, is that I lack the spacious outlook that wins to wealth. I know a good thing when I see one. This was a good thing, and I recognized it as such. But how to acquire the necessary capital was the point. Always my stumbling-block, that has been. I wish I had a shilling for every time I’ve failed to become a millionaire through lack of the necessary capital.
What sources of revenue had I, I asked myself. George Tupper, if tactfully approached, is generally good for a fiver; and you, no doubt, had it been a matter of a few shillings or half a sovereign, would gladly have leaped into the breach. But fifty quid! A large sum, laddie. It wanted thinking over, and I devoted the whole force of my intelligence to the problem.
Oddly enough, the one source of supply that had never presented itself to me was my Aunt Julia. As you know, she has warped and peculiar ideas about money. For some reason or other she will never give me a cent. And yet it was my Aunt Julia who solved my problem. There is a destiny in these matters, Corky, a sort of fate.
When I got back to Wimbledon, I found her looking after her packing; for she was off next morning on one of those lecture tours she goes in for.
“Stanley,” she said to me, “I nearly forgot. I want you to look in at Murgatroyd’s, in Bond Street, to-morrow and get my diamond brooch. They are re-setting it. Bring it back and put it in my bureau drawer. Here is the key. Lock the drawer and send the key to me by registered post.”
And so, you see, everything was most satisfactorily settled. Long before my aunt came back the Waterloo Cup would be run for, and I should have acquired vast affluence. All I had to do was to have a duplicate key made, so that I could put the brooch in the drawer when I had redeemed it. I could see no flaw in the scheme of things. I saw her off at Euston, sauntered round to Murgatroyd’s, collected the brooch, sauntered off to the pawnbroker’s, put the brooch up the spout, and walked out, for the first time in many weeks in a sound financial position. I rang up Joe the Lawyer on the ’phone, closed the deal about the dog, and there I was, with my foot on the ladder of Fortune.
BUT in this world, Corky, you never know. That is the thing I always try to impress on every young fellow starting out in life—that you never know. It was about two days later that the butler came to me in the garden and said a gentleman wished to speak to me on the ’phone.
I shall always remember that moment. It was a lovely, still evening, and I was sitting in the garden under a leafy tree, thinking beautiful thoughts. The sun was setting in a blaze of gold and crimson; the little birds were chirping their heads off; and I was half-way through the whisky-and-soda of a lifetime. I recollect that, an instant before Baxter came out to fetch me, I had just been thinking how peaceful and wonderful and perfect the world was.
I went to the ’phone.
“Hullo!” said a voice.
It was Joe the Lawyer. And Baxter had said it was a gentleman.
“Are you there?” said this bloke Joe.
“Listen. You know that dog I said was going to win the Waterloo Cup?”
“Well, he isn’t.”
“Because he’s dead.”
I don’t mind telling you, Corky, that I reeled. Yes, your old friend reeled.
“You don’t mean dead?”
“Then what about my fifty pounds?”
“I keep that.”
“Of course I keep it. Once a sale’s gone through, it’s gone through. I know my law. That’s why the boys call me Joe the Lawyer. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You send me a letter, releasing all rights in that dog, and I’ll give you a fiver. I’ll be robbing myself, but I’m like that. Big-hearted old Joe, I am, and that’s all there is about it.”
“What did the dog die of?”
“I don’t believe he’s dead at all.”
“You don’t believe my word?”
“Well, you come round to my stable and see for yourself.”
So I went round and viewed the remains. There was no doubt about it, the dog had handed in his dinner-pail. So I wrote the letter, got my fiver, and came back to Wimbledon to try and rebuild my shattered life. Because you can readily see, Corky, that I was up against it in no uncertain manner. Aunt Julia would be back before long, and would want to see her brooch; and though I’m her own flesh and blood, and I shouldn’t be surprised if she had dandled me on her knee when I was a child, I couldn’t picture her bearing with anything like Christian fortitude the news that I had pawned it in order to buy a half-share in a dead dog.
And the very next morning in blew Miss Angelica Vining, the poetess.
She was a gaunt sort of toothy female who had come to lunch once or twice while I had been staying in my aunt’s house. A great pal of my aunt’s.
“Good morning,” said this disease, beaming. “What a heavenly day! One could almost fancy oneself out in the country, couldn’t one? Even at so short a distance from the heart of the City one seems to sense in the air a freshness which one cannot get in London, can one? I’ve come for your aunt’s brooch.”
I braced myself up with a hand on the piano.
“You’ve what?” I said.
“To-night is the dance of the Pen and Ink Club, and I wired to your aunt to ask if I might borrow her brooch, and she has written to say that I may. It’s in her bureau.”
“Which is, most unfortunately, locked.”
“Your aunt sent me the key. I have it in my bag.”
She opened her bag, Corky, and at this moment my guardian angel, who had been lying down on his job pretty considerably for the last week or so, showed a sudden flash of speed. The door was open, and through it at this juncture there trickled one of my aunt’s Pekes. You will recollect my aunt’s Pekes. I pinched them once, to start a Dog College.
This animal gazed at the female, and the female went off like a soda-water bottle.
“Oh, the sweet thing!” she bubbled.
She put the bag down and swooped on the dog. He tried to side-step, but she had him.
“Oh, the tweetums!” she cried.
And, her back being turned, Corky, I nipped to the bag, found the key, trousered it, and back to position one.
Presently she came to the surface again.
“Now I really must hurry away,” she said. “I will just get the brooch and scurry.” She fumbled in her bag. “Oh, dear! I’ve lost the key.”
“Too bad,” I said. “Still,” I went on, thinking it might be all for the best, “what does a girl need jewellery for? The greatest jewel a girl can possess is her youth, her beauty.”
It went well, but not quite well enough.
“No,” she said, “I must have the brooch. I’ve set my heart on it. We must break the lock.”
“I couldn’t dream of such a thing,” I said firmly. “I am in a position of trust. I cannot break up my aunt’s furniture.”
Well, laddie, there ensued a pretty painful scene. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and not many like a woman who wants a brooch and isn’t allowed to get it. The atmosphere, when we parted, was full of strain.
“I shall write to Miss Ukridge and tell her exactly what has happened,” said the poetess, pausing at the front door.
She then shoved off, leaving me limp and agitated. These things take it out of a fellow.
Something, I perceived, had got to be done, and done swiftly. From some source I had to raise fifty quid. But where could I turn? My credit, Corky—and I tell you this frankly, as an old friend—is not good. No, it is not good. In all the world there seemed to be but one man who might be induced to let me have fifty quid at a pinch, and that was Joe the Lawyer. I don’t say I was relying on him, mind you. But the broad, fundamental thing, when you’re trying to borrow fifty quid, is to begin by fixing on someone who has got fifty quid. I knew that Joe had it, because I had given it to him. And it seemed to me that, if there was a spark of human feeling in his bosom, he might, after a good deal of eloquence, be persuaded to help an old business colleague out of a very tight place.
At any rate, he was the only relief in sight, so I rang up his office; and, finding that he would be at the Lewes Races next day, I took an early train there.
WELL, Corky, I might have known. It stands to reason that, if a man has a spark of human feeling in his bosom, he does not become a bookie. I stood beside this bloke, Joe the Lawyer, from the start of the two o’clock race to the finish of the four-thirty, watching him rake in huge sums from mugs of every description until his satchel was simply bursting with cash; but when I asked him for the loan of a measly fifty pounds he didn’t even begin to look like parting.
You cannot fathom the psychology of these blighters, Corky. If you will believe me, the chief reason why he would not lend me this paltry sum appeared to be a fear of what people would say if they heard about it.
“Lend you fifty quid?” he said, in a sort of stunned way. “Who, me? Silly I’d look, wouldn’t I, lending you fifty quid!”
“But you don’t mind looking silly.”
“Having all the boys saying I was a soft-hearted fool.”
“A man of your stamp doesn’t care what fellows like that say,” I urged. “You’re too big. You can afford to despise them.”
“Well, I can’t afford to lend any fifty quids. I’d never hear the last of it.”
I simply can’t understand this terror of public opinion. Morbid, I call it. I told him I would keep the thing a dead secret—and, if he thought it safer, not even give him a line in writing to acknowledge the debt; but no, there was no tempting him.
“I’ll tell you what I will do,” he said.
“No, not twenty quid. Nor ten quid, either. Nor five quid. Nor one quid. But I’ll give you a lift back as far as Sandown in my car to-morrow, that’s what I’ll do.”
From the way he spoke, you would have thought he was doing me the best turn one man had ever done another. I was strongly inclined to reject his offer with contempt. The only thing that decided me to accept was the thought that, if he had as good a day at Sandown as he had had at Lewes, his better nature might after all assert itself even at the eleventh hour. I mean to say, even a bookie must have a melting mood occasionally; and if one came to Joe the Lawyer I wanted to be on the spot.
“Start from here at eleven sharp. If you aren’t ready, I’ll go without you.”
This conversation, Corky, had taken place in the saloon bar of the Coach and Horses at Lewes; and, having said these few words, the bloke Joe popped off. I stayed on to have one more, feeling the need of it after the breakdown of the business negotiations; and the fellow behind the bar got chatty.
“That was Joe the Lawyer just went out, wasn’t it?” he said. He chuckled. “He’s wide, that man is.”
I wasn’t much in the mood to pass the time discussing a fellow who wouldn’t let an old business friend have an insignificant sum like fifty quid, so I just nodded.
“Heard the latest about him?”
“He’s wide, Joe is. He had a dog that was entered for the Waterloo Cup, and it died.”
“Well, I bet you don’t know what he did. Some of the lads were in here just now, talking about it. He raffled that dog.”
“How do you mean, raffled it?”
“Put it up for a raffle at twenty pounds a ticket.”
“But it was dead.”
“Certainly it was dead. But he didn’t tell them that. That’s where he was wide.”
“But how could he raffle a dead dog?”
“Why couldn’t he raffle a dead dog? Nobody knew it was dead.”
“How about the man who drew the winning ticket?”
“Ah! Well, he had to tell him, of course. He just handed him his money back. And there he was, a couple of hundred quid in hand. He’s wide, Joe is.”
Have you ever experienced, Corky, that horrible sensation of having all your ideals totter and melt away, leaving you in a world of hideous blackness where it seems impossible to trust your fellow-man an inch? What do you mean, my aunt must often have felt that way? I resent these slurs, Corky. Whenever I have had occasion to pinch anything from my aunt, it has always been with the most scrupulous motives, with the object of collecting a little ready cash in order to lay the foundations of a vast fortune.
This was an entirely different matter. This fiend in human shape had had no thought but of self. Not content with getting fifty quid out of me and sticking to it like glue, he had deliberately tricked me into accepting five pounds for all rights in a dead dog which he knew was shortly about to bring him in a couple of hundred. Was it fair? Was it just?
And the terrible part of the whole thing was that there seemed nothing that I could do about it. I couldn’t even reproach him. At least, I could—but a fat lot of help that would have been. All I could do was to save my train-fare home by accepting a lift in his car.
I am bound to say, Corky—and this will show you how a man’s moral outlook may deteriorate through contact with fellows of this stamp—I am bound to say that there were moments during the night when I toyed with the thought of taking a dip into that satchel of his, should the opportunity occur during the journey. But I dismissed the plan as unworthy of me. Whatever the injuries I had sustained, my hands at least, please Heaven, should be clean. Besides, it seemed very improbable that an opportunity would occur.
And, sure enough, I noticed next morning, when we started out, that he kept the satchel wedged in between him and the side of the car, entirely out of my reach. He was that sort of man.
HOW strange it is, Corky, that in this world we seem fated never to be able to enjoy life to the full! No doubt it is all for a purpose, and is intended to make us more spiritual and fit us for the life to come; but it is a nuisance. Take my case. I am particularly fond of motoring; and circumstances have so ordered themselves that it is only occasionally that I am able to get a ride. And here I was, bowling along the high road on an ideal motoring day, totally unable to enjoy the experience.
For there are certain conditions, laddie, under which the heart cannot rejoice. How could I revel in the present when the past was an agony to contemplate and the future as black as ink? Every time I tried not to let my mind dwell on the way this man beside me had done me down, it skidded off into the future and dwelt on the interview which must so soon take place between me and my aunt. So the fact that it was a lovely day and that I was getting a ride for nothing practically escaped me.
We buzzed on through the pleasant countryside. The sun shone in the sky: birds tootled in the hedgerows: the engine of the two-seater hummed smoothly.
And then, fairly suddenly, I became aware that the engine was not humming so smoothly. It had begun to knock. And then there was a sizzling noise, and steam began to creep out of the top of the radiator-cap.
Joe made one or two remarks concerning the man at the hotel who had forgotten to put water in the radiator.
“You can get some at that cottage,” I said.
There was a cottage down the road, standing by itself in a lot of trees. Joe pulled up the car and got down.
“I’ll stay here and look after your satchel,” I said. There was no sense in not being civil and obliging.
“No, you won’t. I’ll take it with me.”
“It will hamper you if you’re going to carry a pail of water.”
“I’d look silly leaving my satchel with you, wouldn’t I?”
I don’t know which distressed me the more, his sickening want of ordinary trust or his absurd respect for appearances. The man seemed to go through the world in a restless fear lest some action of his might make him look silly.
And he couldn’t possibly have looked sillier than he did about two minutes later.
This cottage, Corky, was separated from the road by iron railings with a gate in them. The bloke Joe shoved this gate open and went into the front garden. And he was just starting to move round in the direction of the back door when round the corner of the house there suddenly came trotting a dog.
Joe stopped, and the dog stopped. They stood there for a moment, drinking each other in.
“Ger-r-r!” said Joe.
Now, mind you, there was absolutely nothing about this dog to inspire alarm. Certainly it was on the large side and had rather a rolling eye; but I could see at a glance that it was just one of those friendly mongrels which your man of the world greets with a cheerful chirrup and prods in the ribs without a second thought. But Joe seemed ill at ease.
The dog came a step closer. I think he wanted to smell Joe, though I could have told him, as a friend, that there was neither profit nor pleasure to be derived from such a course.
“Gerroutofit!” said Joe.
The dog edged forward. Then, in a tentative sort of way, he barked. And Joe seemed to lose his head completely. Instead of trying to conciliate the animal, he picked up a stone and threw it.
Well, you simply can’t do that sort of thing to a dog you don’t know in his own garden.
It was the satchel that saved Joe. It shows the lengths to which fear will drive a man, Corky; and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. But it’s the truth that, as that dog came leaping up in a businesslike way that it did me good to watch, Joe the Lawyer, having given one look over his shoulder at the gate and decided that he couldn’t make it, uttered a piercing cry and flung considerably over two hundred quid in bank-notes at the animal. The satchel took him low down on the chest, got entangled in his legs, and held him up. And while he was trying to unscramble himself, Joe nipped to the gate and slammed it behind him.
It was only then that he seemed to realize what a perfect chump he had made of himself.
“Gawblimey!” said Joe.
The dog left the satchel and came to the gate. He shoved his nose as far through the bars as he could manage, and made a noise like a saxophone.
“Now you’ve done it,” I said.
AND so he had, and I was glad, Corky. It pleased me sincerely to find a man who prided himself on his acumen capable of such perfectly cloth-headed behaviour. Here was this blighter, admired by all—provided they didn’t have business dealings with him—for his wideness, breaking down lamentably in the first crisis where he was called upon to show a little ordinary intelligence. He had allowed himself to be out-generalled by a humble unit of the animal kingdom, and I had no sympathy for him.
However, I didn’t say so. One must be diplomatic. I had not altogether given up hope of floating that loan, and anything in the nature of frivolous comment would, I felt, have the worst effect on the negotiations.
“What’ll I do?” said Joe, after a few general remarks.
“Better shout,” I suggested.
So he shouted. But nothing happened. The fact is, these bookies are never in very good voice after a day at the races, and he was handicapped by a certain roopiness. Besides, the owner of the cottage was evidently one of those blokes who plough the fields and scatter the good seed o’er the land, and he seemed to be out somewhere ploughing and scattering now.
Joe began to get emotional.
“Gawblimey!” he said, with tears in his voice. “This is a nice thing! Here I am, late already, and if I don’t get to Sandown in time for the first race it’s going to mean hundreds of pounds out of my pocket.”
You will scarcely credit it, Corky, but this was the first moment that that aspect of the affair had presented itself to me. His words opened up an entirely new train of thought. Naturally, I now perceived, mugs being what they are, every race a bookie misses means so much dead loss to him. Sandown was crowded with potential losers, all waiting to hand their money over to Joe; and, if he was not there, what would happen? They had to give their money to someone, so they would hand it over to one of his trade rivals. I felt as if a sudden bright light had flashed upon me.
“Look, here,” I said, “if you will lend me fifty quid, I’ll go in and get that satchel for you. I’m not afraid of a dog.”
He did not answer. He cocked an eye at me; then he cocked an eye at the satchel. I could see he was weighing the proposition. But at this moment the luck went against me. The dog, getting a bit bored, gave a sniff and trotted back round the corner of the house. And no sooner had he disappeared than Joe, feeling that now was the time, popped through the gate and galloped for the satchel.
Well, Corky, you know me. Alert. Resourceful. There was a stick lying in the road, and to leap for it and grab it was with me the work of a moment. I rattled it energetically along the railings. And back came old Colonel Dog as if I had pulled him at the end of a rope. It was an occasion when Joe had to move quick, and he did so. He had perhaps a foot to spare, or it may have been eight inches.
He was a good deal annoyed, and for awhile spoke freely of this and that.
“Fifty quid,” I said, when there was a lull.
He looked at me. Then he nodded. I don’t say he nodded genially, but he nodded. And I opened the gate and went in.
The dog bounded at me, barking; but I knew that was all swank, and I told him so. I bent down and slapped my tummy, and the dog shoved his paws on my shoulders and licked my face. Then I took his head and waggled it sideways once or twice, and he took my hand in his mouth and gnawed it slightly. Then I rolled him over and began punching his chest; and then, when these civilities were finished, I got up and looked round for the satchel.
It was gone. And there was that blot on the human race, Joe the Lawyer, standing outside, fondling it as if it were a baby. Not that a man like that would fondle a baby, of course. Much more likely to kick it in the face and break open its money-box. But what I mean is, he’d dashed in when my back was turned and collared the satchel.
I had a grim foreboding that our little deal was off, but I displayed a cheerful exterior.
“In large notes,” I said.
“Eh?” said the bloke Joe.
“I’d rather have my fifty quid in large notes. They take up less room in the pocket.”
“What fifty quid?”
“The fifty quid you were going to give me for getting the satchel.”
“Well, I’ll be blowed!” he said. “I like that! Who got the satchel, you or me?”
“I soothed the dog.”
“If you like to waste your time playing with dogs, that’s your business. I’d look silly, wouldn’t I, giving you fifty quid for playing with dogs? But, if you like doing it, you go on playing with him while I step down the road and get some water from one of those other cottages.”
Black-hearted. That, Corky, is the only adjective. It seemed to me at that moment as though this bloke Joe had allowed me to peer into his soul; and it was like looking into a dark cellar on a moonless night.
“Here, I say——” I began, but he had gone.
HOW long I stood there I don’t know. But, though it seemed a lifetime, it couldn’t really have been long, for Joe didn’t come back with the water; and a faint hope began to steal over me that he had found another dog at one of the other cottages and was now being bitten to the bone. And then I heard footsteps.
I looked round. A cove was approaching.
“Is this your cottage?” I asked.
He was a rural-looking sort of cove, with a full beard and corduroy trousers with string tied round the knees. He came up and stood gazing at the car. Then he looked at me, and then at the car again.
“Ah?” he said. A bit deaf he seemed to be.
“Is this your cottage?”
“We stopped here to get some water.”
He said he hadn’t got a daughter. I said I never said he had.
“But there was nobody in. So the man with me went down the road.”
“Ah,” said the cove.
“He was frightened by your dog.”
“By your dog.”
“Buy my dog?”
“You can have him for five shillings.”
Now, as I said before, Corky, you know me. You know that the reason why one of these days I shall make an enormous fortune and retire to spend the evening of my life in affluence is that I have that strange knack, which is given to so few men, of seizing opportunity when it calls. An ordinary mutton-headed fellow like you—I use the expression without any intention of offence—would undoubtedly at this juncture have raised his voice a trifle and explained to this bearded cove that the intricacies of the English language had led him into a pardonable error.
But did I? No, I did not. For, even as he spoke, an idea exploded in my brain like a bomb.
“Done!” I cried.
“Here’s your five bob. Whistle to the dog.”
He whistled, and the dog came running up. And, having massaged his ribs awhile, I picked him up and shoved him inside the car and banged the door. And then I saw Joe the Lawyer plodding up the road, slopping water from a big pail.
“I got it,” he said.
He went round and unscrewed the cap of the radiator and was starting to pour the water in, when the dog barked. Joe looked up, saw him, and dropped the pail—happily over his trousers.
“Who put that dog in the car?” he said.
“I did. I’ve bought him.”
“Then you can damn well take him out.”
“But I’m bringing him home with me.”
“Not in my car.”
“Well, then,” I said, “I’ll sell him to you, and you can do what you like about him.”
He exhibited a good deal of impatience.
“I don’t want to buy any dogs.”
“Nor did I, till you talked me into it. And I don’t see what you have to complain of. This dog’s alive. The one you sold me was dead.”
“What do you want for him?”
“A hundred pounds.”
He staggered somewhat.
“A hundred pounds?”
“That’s all. Don’t let the boys hear of it, or they’ll think me silly.”
He spoke for awhile.
“A hundred and fifty,” I said. “The market’s rising.”
“Now, listen, listen, listen!” said the bloke Joe.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I said. “And this is a firm offer. One hundred pounds, if paid within the minute. After that the price will go up.”
Corky, old horse, I have in my time extracted various sums of money from various people, and some of them have given cheerfully of their abundance and others have unbelted in a manner that you might call wry. But never in the whole of my career have I beheld a fellow-human being cough up in quite the spirit that this bloke Joe the Lawyer did. He was a short-necked man, and there was one moment when I thought his blood-pressure was going to be too much for him. He turned a rather vivid shade of maroon, and his lips trembled as if he were praying. But in the end he dipped into the satchel and counted out the money.
“Thanks,” I said. “Well, good-bye.”
He seemed to be waiting for something.
“Good-bye,” I said again. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, laddie, but I must decline to continue in your society. We are nearing civilization now, and at any moment some friend of mine might see me in your car, which would jeopardize my social prestige. I will walk to the nearest railway station.”
“Aren’t you going to take that dog out of the car?” he said, specifying what sort of a dog it was in his opinion. He also added a few remarks in a derogatory spirit about myself.
“Me?” I said. “Why? I simply sold him to you. My part in the transaction is ended.”
“But how’m I going to get to Sandown if I can’t get into my car?”
“Why do you want to get to Sandown?”
“If I’m late, it means hundreds of pounds out of my pocket.”
“Ah?” I said. “Then, of course, you’ll be willing to pay large sums to anyone who helps you to get there. I don’t mind lending you a hand, if it’s made worth my while. Removing dogs from cars is highly specialized work, and I’ll have to insist on specialist’s prices. Shall we say fifty quid for the job?”
He yammered a good deal, but I cut him short.
“Take it or leave it,” I said. “It’s all the same to me.”
Whereupon he produced the stipulated sum, and I opened the door and hauled the dog out. And Joe got in without a word and drove off. And that, Corky, is the last I have seen of the man. Nor do I wish to see him again. He is slippery, Corky. Not honest. A man to avoid.
I took the dog back to the cottage, and bellowed for the bearded cove.
“I sha’n’t want this, after all,” I said. “You can have him.”
“I don’t want this dog.”
“Ah! Well, you won’t get your five shillings back.”
“God bless you, my merry peasant,” I said, slapping the cove genially abaft the collar-stud. “Keep it with my blessing. I toss such sums to the birds.”
And he said “Ah” and pushed off; and I toddled along to see if I could find a station. And I sang, Corky, old boy. Yes, laddie, your old friend, as he strode through those country lanes, trilled like a bally linnet.
NEXT day I looked in at the pawnbroker’s, shelled out the requisite cash, recovered the brooch, and bunged it back into the bureau drawer.
And on the following morning my aunt turned up in a taxi and, having paid it its legal fare, backed me into the library and fixed me with a burning eye.
“Stanley,” she said.
“Say on, Aunt Julia,” I said.
“Stanley, Miss Vining tells me you refused to allow her to obtain my diamond brooch.”
“Quite right, Aunt Julia. She wanted to break open your bureau drawer, but I would have none of it.”
“Shall I tell you why?”
“It was because she had lost the key.”
“I am not referring to that, as you know very well. Shall I tell you why you would not let her break open the drawer?”
“Because I respected your property too much.”
“Indeed? I incline to think that it was because you knew the brooch was not there.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I, on the contrary, did—the moment I received Miss Vining’s letter. I saw it all. You pawned that brooch, Stanley! I know you so well.”
I drew myself up.
“You cannot know me very well, Aunt Julia,” I said, coldly, “if you think that of me. And allow me to say, while on this subject, that your suspicions are unworthy of an aunt.”
“Never mind what they’re unworthy of. Open that drawer.”
“Break it open?”
“Break it open.”
“With a poker?”
“With anything you please. But opened it shall be, now, and in my presence.”
I gazed at her haughtily.
“Aunt Julia,” I said, “let us get this thing straight. You wish me to take a poker or some other blunt instrument and smash that bureau?”
“I have done all the thinking necessary.”
“So be it!” I said.
So I took the poker, and I set about that bureau as probably no bureau has ever been set about since carpentry first began. And there, gleaming in the ruins, was the brooch.
“Aunt Julia,” I said, “a little trust, a little confidence, a little faith, and this might have been avoided.”
She gulped pretty freely.
“Stanley,” she said at last, “I wronged you.”
“I—I—well, I’m sorry.”
“You may well be, Aunt Julia,” I said.
And, pursuing my advantage, I ground the woman into apologetic pulp beneath what practically amounted to an iron heel. And in that condition, Corky, she still remains. How long it will last one cannot say, but for the time being I am the blue-eyed boy and I have only to give utterance to my lightest whim to have her jump six feet to fulfil it. So, when I said I wanted to ask you to dinner here to-night, she practically smiled. Let us go into the library, old horse, and trifle with the cigars. They are some special ones I had sent up from that place in Piccadilly.
Annotations to this story may be found in the notes for the 1937 story collection Lord Emsworth and Others.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had an extraneous closing double quotation mark after ‘I drew myself up.’ in the final scene with Aunt Julia.