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- A Fool and His Money - 3/63 -
little farther on his way to the dogs, a journey he had been negotiating with great ardour ever since coming into possession of an estate once valued at several millions. I am quite sure I have never seen a spendthrift with more energy than this fellow seems to have displayed in going through with his patrimony. He was on his uppers, so to speak, when I came to his rescue, solely because he couldn't find a purchaser or a tenant for the castle, try as he would. Afterwards I heard that he had offered the place to a syndicate of Jews for one-third the price I paid, but luckily for me the Hebraic instinct was not so keen as mine. They let a very good bargain get away from them. I have not told my most intimate friends what I paid for the castle, but they are all generous enough to admit that I could afford it, no matter what it cost me. Their generosity stops there, however. I have never had so many unkind things said to me in all my life as have been said about this purely personal matter.
Well, to make the story short, the Hazzards and I returned to Schloss Rothhoefen in some haste, primarily for the purpose of inspecting it from dungeon to battlement. I forgot to mention that, being very tired after the climb up the steep, we got no further on our first visit than the great baronial hall, the dining-room and certain other impressive apartments customarily kept open for the inspection of visitors. An interesting concession on the part of the late owner (the gentleman hurrying to catch up with the dogs that had got a bit of a start on him),--may here be mentioned. He included all of the contents of the castle for the price paid, and the deed, or whatever you call it, specifically set forth that I, John Bellamy Smart, was the sole and undisputed owner of everything the castle held. This made the bargain all the more desirable, for I have never seen a more beautiful assortment of antique furniture and tapestry in Fourth Avenue than was to be found in Schloss Rothhoefen.
Our second and more critical survey of the lower floors of the castle revealed rather urgent necessity for extensive repairs and refurbishing, but I was not dismayed. With a blithesome disregard for expenses, I despatched Rudolph, the elder of the two sons to Linz with instructions to procure artisans who could be depended upon to undo the ravages of time to a certain extent and who might even suggest a remedy for leaks.
My friends, abhorring rheumatism and like complaints, refused to sleep over night in the drafty, almost paneless structure. They came over to see me on the ensuing day and begged me to return to Vienna with them. But, full of the project in hand, I would not be moved. With the house full of carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, locksmiths, tinsmiths, plumbers, plasterers, glaziers, joiners, scrub-women and chimneysweeps, I felt that I couldn't go away and leave it without a controlling influence.
They promised to come and make me a nice short visit, however, after I'd got the castle primped up a bit: the mould off the walls of the bedrooms and the great fireplaces thoroughly cleared of obstructive swallows' nests, the beds aired and the larder stocked. Just as they were leaving, my secretary and my valet put in an appearance, having been summoned from Vienna the day before. I confess I was glad to see them. The thought of spending a second night in that limitless bed-chamber, with all manner of night-birds trying to get in at the windows, was rather disturbing, and I welcomed my retainers with open arms.
My first night had been spent in a huge old bed, carefully prepared for occupancy by Herr Schmick's frau; and the hours, which never were so dark, in trying to fathom the infinite space that reached above me to the vaulted ceiling. I knew there was a ceiling, for I had seen its beams during the daylight hours, but to save my soul I couldn't imagine anything so far away as it seemed to be after the candles had been taken away by the caretaker's wife, who had tucked me away in the bed with ample propriety and thoroughness combined.
Twice during that interminable night I thought I heard a baby crying. So it is not unreasonable to suppose that I was _more_ than glad to see Poopendyke clambering up the path with his typewriter in one hand and his green baise bag in the other, followed close behind by Britton and the Gargantuan brothers bearing trunks, bags, boxes and my golf clubs.
"Whew!" said Poopendyke, dropping wearily upon my doorstep--which, by the way, happens to be a rough hewn slab some ten feet square surmounted by a portcullis that has every intention of falling down unexpectedly one of these days and creating an earthquake. "Whew!" he repeated.
My secretary is a youngish man with thin, stooping shoulders and a habit of perpetually rubbing his knees together when he walks. I shudder to think of what would happen to them if he undertook to run. I could not resist a glance at them now.
"It is something of a climb, isn't it?" said I beamingly.
"In the name of heaven, Mr. Smart, what could have induced you to--" He got no farther than this, and to my certain knowledge this unfinished reproof was the nearest he ever came to openly convicting me of asininity.
"Make yourself at home, old fellow," said I in some haste. I felt sorry for him. "We are going to be very cosy here."
"Cosy?" murmured he, blinking as he looked up, not at me but at the frowning walls that seemed to penetrate the sky.
"I haven't explored those upper regions," I explained nervously, divining his thoughts. "We shall do it together, in a day or two."
"It looks as though it might fall down if we jostled it carelessly," he remarked, having recovered his breath.
"I am expecting masons at any minute," said I, contemplating the unstable stone crest of the northeast turret with some uneasiness. My face brightened suddenly. "That particular section of the castle is uninhabitable, I am told. It really doesn't matter if it collapses. Ah, Britton! Here you are, I see. Good morning."
Britton, a very exacting servant, looked me over critically.
"Your coat and trousers need pressing, sir," said he. "And where am I to get the hot water for shaving, sir?"
"Frau Schmick will supply anything you need, Britton," said I, happy on being able to give the information.
"It is not I as needs it, sir," said he, feeling of his smoothly shaven chin.
"Come in and have a look about the place," said I, with a magnificent sweep of my arm to counteract the feeling of utter insignificance I was experiencing at the moment. I could see that my faithful retinue held me in secret but polite disdain.
A day or two later the castle was swarming with workmen; the banging of hammers, the rasp of saws, the spattering of mortar, the crashing of stone and the fumes of charcoal crucibles extended to the remotest recesses; the tower of Babel was being reconstructed in the language of six or eight nations, and everybody was happy. I had no idea there were so many tinsmiths in the world. Every artisan in the town across the river seems to have felt it his duty to come over and help the men from Linz in the enterprise. There were so many of them that they were constantly getting in each other's way and quarrelling over matters of jurisdiction with even more spirit than we might expect to encounter among the labour unions at home.
Poopendyke, in great distress of mind, notified me on the fourth day of rehabilitation that the cost of labour as well as living had gone up appreciably since our installation. In fact it had doubled. He paid all of my bills, so I suppose he knew what he was talking about.
"You will be surprised to know, Mr. Smart," he said, consulting his sheets, "that scrub-women are getting more here than they do in New York City, and I am convinced that there are more scrub-women. Today we had thirty new ones scrubbing the loggia on the gun-room floor, and they all seem to have apprentices working under them. The carpenters and plasterers were not so numerous to-day. I paid them off last night, you see. It may interest you to hear that their wages for three days amounted to nearly seven hundred dollars in our money, to say nothing of materials--and breakage."
"Breakage?" I exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, sir, breakage. They break nearly as much as they mend. We'll--we'll go bankrupt, sir, if we're not careful."
I liked his pronoun. "Never mind," I said, "we'll soon be rid of them."
"They've got it in their heads, sir, that it will take at least a year to finish the--"
"You tell the foremen that if this job isn't finished to our satisfaction by the end of the month, I'll fire all of them," said I, wrathfully.
"That's less than three weeks off, Mr. Smart. They don't seem to be making much headway."
"Well, you _tell_ 'em, just the same." And that is how I dismissed it. "Tell 'em _we've_ got to go to work ourselves."
"By the way, old man Schmick and his family haven't been paid for nearly two years. They have put in a claim. The late owner assured them they'd get their money from the next--"
"Discharge them at once," said I.
"We can't get on without them," protested he. "They know the ropes, so to speak, and, what's more to the point, they know all the keys. Yesterday I was nearly two hours in getting to the kitchen for a conference with Mrs. Schmick about the market-men. In the first place, I couldn't find the way, and in the second place all the doors are locked."
"Please send Herr Schmick to me in the--in the--" I couldn't recall the name of the administration chamber at the head of the grand staircase, so I was compelled to say: "I'll see him here."
"If we lose them we also are lost," was his sententious declaration. I believed him.
On the fifth day of our occupancy, Britton reported to me that he had devised a plan by which we could utilise the tremendous horse-power represented by the muscles of those lazy giants, Rudolph and Max. He suggested that we rig up a huge windlass at the top of the incline, with stout steel cables attached to a small car which could be hauled up the cliff by a hitherto wasted human energy, and as readily lowered. It sounded feasible and I instructed him to have the extraordinary
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