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- A Fool and His Money - 2/63 -
refuse to share a fortune of something like three hundred thousand dollars--(not counting me, of course)--to let me tell you briefly who and what she was. She was my typist. That is to say, she did piece-work for me as I happened to provide substance for her active fingers to work upon when she wasn't typing law briefs in the regular sort of grind. Not only was she an able typist, but she was an exceedingly wholesome, handsome and worthy young woman. I think I came to like her with genuine resolution when I discovered that she could spell correctly and had the additional knack of uniting my stray infinitives with stubborn purposefulness, as well as the ability to administer my grammar with tact and discretion.
Unfortunately she loved the jeweller's clerk. She tried to convince me, with a sweetness I shall never forget, that she was infinitely better suited to be a jeweller's wife than to be a weight upon the neck of a genius. Moreover, when I foolishly mentioned my snug fortune as an extra inducement, she put me smartly in my place by remarking that fortunes like wine are made in a day while really excellent jeweller's clerks are something like thirty years in the making. Which, I take it, was as much as to say that there is always room for improvement in a man. I confess I was somewhat disturbed by one of her gentlest remarks. She seemed to be repeating my Uncle Rilas, although I am quite sure she had never heard of him. She argued that the fortune might take wings and fly away, and then what would be to pay! Of course, it was perfectly clear to me, stupid as I must have been, that she preferred the jeweller's clerk to a fortune.
I was loth to lose her as a typist. The exact point where I appear to have made a fool of myself was when I first took it into my head that I could make something else of her. I not only lost a competent typist, but I lost a great deal of sleep, and had to go abroad for awhile, as men do when they find out unpleasant things about themselves in just that way.
I gave her as a wedding present a very costly and magnificent dining-room set, fondly hoping that the jeweller's clerk would experience a great deal of trouble in living up to it. At first I had thought of a Marie Antoinette bedroom set, but gave it up when I contemplated the cost.
If you will pardon me, I shall not go any further into this lamentable love affair. I submit, in extenuation, that people do not care to be regaled with the heartaches of past affairs; they are only interested in those which appear to be in the process of active development or retrogression. Suffice to say, I was terribly cut up over the way my first serious affair of the heart turned out, and tried my best to hate myself for letting it worry me. Somehow I was able to attribute the fiasco to an inborn sense of shyness that has always made me faint-hearted, dilatory and unaggressive. No doubt if I had gone about it roughshod and fiery I could have played hob with the excellent jeweller's peace of mind, to say the least, but alas! I succeeded only in approaching at a time when there was nothing left for me to do but to start him off in life with a mild handicap in the shape of a dining-room set that would not go with anything else he had in the apartment.
Still, some men, no matter how shy and procrastinating they may be--or reluctant, for that matter--are doomed to have love affairs thrust upon them, as you will perceive if you follow the course of this narrative to the bitter end.
In order that you may know me when you see me struggling through these pages, as one might struggle through a morass on a dark night, I shall take the liberty of describing myself in the best light possible under the circumstances.
I am a tallish sort of person, moderately homely, and not quite thirty-five. I am strong but not athletic. Whatever physical development I possess was acquired through the ancient and honourable game of golf and in swimming. In both of these sports I am quite proficient. My nose is rather long and inquisitive, and my chin is considered to be singularly firm for one who has no ambition to become a hero. My thatch is abundant and quite black. I understand that my eyes are green when I affect a green tie, light blue when I put on one of that delicate hue, and curiously yellow when I wear brown about my neck. Not that I really need them, but I wear nose glasses when reading: to save my eyes, of course. I sometimes wear them in public, with a very fetching and imposing black band draping across my expanse of shirt front. I find this to be most effective when sitting in a box at the theatre. My tailor is a good one. I shave myself clean with an old-fashioned razor and find it to be quite safe and tractable. My habits are considered rather good, and I sang bass in the glee club. So there you are. Not quite what yon would call a lady killer, or even a lady's man, I fancy you'll say.
You will be surprised to learn, however, that secretly I am of a rather romantic, imaginative turn of mind. Since earliest childhood I have consorted with princesses and ladies of high degree,--mentally, of course,--and my bosom companions have been knights of valour and longevity. Nothing could have suited me better than to have been born in a feudal castle a few centuries ago, from which I should have sallied forth in full armour on the slightest provocation and returned in glory when there was no one left in the neighbourhood to provoke me.
Even now, as I make this astounding statement, I can't help thinking of that confounded jeweller's clerk. At thirty-five I am still unattached and, so far as I can tell, unloved. What more could a sensible, experienced bachelor expect than that? Unless, of course, he aspired to be a monk or a hermit, in which case he reasonably could be sure of himself if not of others.
Last winter in London my mother went to a good bit of trouble to set my cap for a lady who seemed in every way qualified to look after an only son as he should be looked after from a mother's point of view, and I declare to you I had a wretchedly close call of it. My poor mother, thinking it was quite settled, sailed for America, leaving me entirely unprotected, whereupon I succeeded in making my escape. Heaven knows I had no desperate longing to visit Palestine at that particular time, but I journeyed thither without a qualm of regret, and thereby avoided the surrender without love or honour.
For the past year I have done little or no work. My books are few and far between, so few in fact that more than once I have felt the sting of dilettantism inflicting my labours with more or less increasing sharpness. It is not for me to say that I despise a fortune, but I am constrained to remark that I believe poverty would have been a fairer friend to me. At any rate I now pamper myself to an unreasonable extent. For one thing, I feel that I cannot work,--much less think,--when opposed by distracting conditions such as women, tea, disputes over luggage, and things of that sort. They subdue all the romantic tendencies I am so parsimonious about wasting. My best work is done when the madding crowd is far from me. Hence I seek out remote, obscure places when I feel the plot boiling, and grind away for dear life with nothing to distract me save an unconquerable habit acquired very early in life which urges me to eat three meals a day and to sleep nine hours out of twenty-four.
A month ago, in Vienna, I felt the plot breaking out on me, very much as the measles do, at a most inopportune time for everybody concerned, and my secretary, more wide-awake than you'd imagine by looking at him, urged me to coddle the muse while she was willing and not to put her off till an evil day, as frequently I am in the habit of doing.
It was especially annoying, coming as it did, just as I was about to set off for a fortnight's motor-boat trip up the Danube with Elsie Hazzard and her stupid husband, the doctor. I compromised with myself by deciding to give them a week of my dreamy company, and then dash off to England where I could work off the story in a sequestered village I had had in mind for some time past.
The fourth day of our delectable excursion brought us to an ancient town whose name you would recall in an instant if I were fool enough to mention it, and where we were to put up for the night. On the crest of a stupendous crag overhanging the river, almost opposite the town, which isn't far from Krems, stood the venerable but unvenerated castle of that highhanded old robber baron, the first of the Rothhoefens. He has been in his sarcophagus these six centuries, I am advised, but you wouldn't think so to look at the stronghold. At a glance you can almost convince yourself that he is still there, with battle-axe and broad-sword, and an inflamed eye at every window in the grim facade.
We picked up a little of its history while in the town, and the next morning crossed over to visit the place. Its antiquity was considerably enhanced by the presence of a caretaker who would never see eighty again, and whose wife was even older. Their two sons lived with them in the capacity of loafers and, as things go in these rapid times of ours, appeared to be even older and more sere than their parents.
It is a winding and tortuous road that leads up to the portals of this huge old pile, and I couldn't help thinking how stupid I have always been in execrating the spirit of progress that conceives the funicular and rack-and-pinion railroads which serve to commercialise grandeur instead of protecting it. Half way up the hill, we paused to rest, and I quite clearly remember growling that if the confounded thing belonged to me I'd build a funicular or install an elevator without delay. Poor Elsie was too fatigued to say what she ought to have said to me for suggesting and even insisting on the visit.
The next day, instead of continuing our delightful trip down the river, we three were scurrying to Saalsburg, urged by a sudden and stupendous whim on my part, and filled with a new interest in life.
I had made up my mind to buy the castle!
The Hazzards sat up with me nearly the whole of the night, trying to talk me out of the mad design, but all to no purpose. I was determined to be the sort of fool that Uncle Rilas referred to when he so frequently quoted the old adage. My only argument in reply to their entreaties was that I had to have a quiet, inspirational place in which to work and besides I was quite sure we could beat the impoverished owner down considerably in the price, whatever it might turn out to be. While the ancient caretaker admitted that it was for sale, he couldn't give me the faintest notion what it was expected to bring, except that it ought to bring more from an American than from any one else, and that he would be proud and happy to remain in my service, he and his wife and his prodigiously capable sons, either of whom if put to the test could break all the bones in a bullock without half trying, Moreover, for such strong men, they ate very little and seldom slept, they were so eager to slave in the interests of the master. We all agreed that they looked strong enough, but as they were sleeping with some intensity all the time we were there, and making dreadful noises in the courtyard, we could only infer that they were making up for at least a week of insomnia.
I had no difficulty whatever in striking a bargain with the abandoned wretch who owned the Schloss. He seemed very eager to submit to my demand that he knock off a thousand pounds sterling, and we hunted up a notary and all the other officials necessary to the transfer of property. At the end of three days, I was the sole owner and proprietor of a feudal stronghold on the Danube, and the joyous Austrian was a
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