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- A Fool and His Money - 60/63 -
it was the least she could do in return for all that I had done for her, notwithstanding my wretched behaviour on the last day of our association. While I had undoubtedly offended in the most flagrant manner, still my act was not unpardonable. There was tribute, not outrage in my behaviour.
Poopendyke fidgeted a good deal with the scanty results of my literary labours, rattling the typed pages in a most insinuating way. He oiled his machine with accusative frequency, but I failed to respond. I was in no mood for writing. He said to me one day:
"I don't see why you keep a secretary, Mr. Smart. I don't begin to earn my salt."
"Salt, Mr. Poopendyke," said I, "is the cheapest thing I know of. Now if you had said pepper I might pause to reflect. But I am absolutely, inexorably opposed to rating anything on a salt basis. If you--"
"You know what I mean," he said stiffly. "I am of no use to you."
"Ah," said I triumphantly, "but you forget! Who is it that draws the salary checks for yourself and Britton, and who keeps the accounts straight? Who, I repeat? Why, you, Mr. Poopendyke. You draw the checks. Isn't that something?"
"If--if I didn't know you so well, I wouldn't hesitate to call you a blooming fool, Mr. Smart," said he, but he grinned as he said it.
"But he who hesitates is lost," said I. "This is your chance, don't let it slip." He looked at me so steadily for a moment that I was in some fear he would not let it slip.
Before I had been in London a week it became perfectly clear to me that I could not stretch my stay out to anything like a period of two months. Indeed, I began to think about booking my passage home inside of two weeks. I was restless, dissatisfied, homesick. On the ninth day I sent Poopendyke to the booking office of the steamship company with instructions to secure passage for the next sailing of the _Mauretania_, and then lived in a state of positive dread for fear the confounded American tourists might have gobbled up all of the cabins. They are always going home it seems to me, and they are always trying to get on a single unfortunate ship. In all my experience abroad, I've never known a time when Americans were not tumbling over each other trying to get back to New York in time to catch a certain train for home, wherever that may be. But Poopendyke managed it somehow. He must have resorted to bribery.
I awoke one morning to find a long and--I was about to say interesting--letter from the Countess! It was a very commonplace communication I found on the third or fourth reading. The sum and substance of its contents was the information that she was going to Virginia Hot Springs with the family for a month or two and that Lord Amberdale was to join them there.
It appeared that her father, being greatly overworked, was in need of a rest, and as the golf links at Hot Springs are especially designed to make it easy for rich men, his doctor had ordered him to that delightful resort. She hoped the rest would put him on his feet again. There was a page or so of drivel about Amberdale and what he expected to do at the New York Horse Show, a few lines concerning Rosemary; and a brief, almost curt intimation that a glimpse or two of me would not be altogether displeasing to her if I happened to be coming that way.
It may be regarded as a strange coincidence that I instructed Britton that very evening to see that my golf clubs were cleaned up and put into good shape for a little practice on a course near London, where I had been put up by an English author, and who was forever ding-donging at me to come out and let him "put it all over me." I went out and bought a new brassie to replace the one destroyed by the experimenting Rocksworth youth, and before I got through with it had a new putter, a niblick and a spoon, neither of which I needed for the excellent reason that I already possessed a half dozen of each.
Keyed up to a high pitch of enthusiasm, I played golf for ten days, and found my friend to be a fine sportsman. Like all Englishmen, he took a beating gracefully, but gave me to understand that he had been having a good deal of trouble with rheumatism or neuritis in his right elbow. On the last day we played he succeeded in bringing me in two down and I've never seen neuritis dispersed so quickly as it was in his case. I remember distinctly that he complained bitterly of the pain in his elbow when we started out, and that he was as fit as a fiddle at the eighteenth hole. He even went so far as to implore me to stay over till the next sailing of the Mauretania.
But I took to the high seas. Mr. Poopendyke cabled to the Homestead at Hot Springs for suitable accommodations. I cannot remember when I had been so forehanded as all that, and I wonder what my secretary thought of me. My habit is to procrastinate.
I almost forgot to mention a trifling bit of news that came to me the day before sailing. Elsie Hazzard wrote in great perturbation and at almost unfeeling length to tell me that Count Tarnowsy had unearthed the supposedly mythical Rothhoefen treasure chests and was reputed to have found gold and precious jewels worth at least a million dollars. The accumulated products of a century's thievery! The hoard of all the robber barons! Tarnowsy's!
Strange to say I did not writhe nor snarl with disappointment and rage. I took the news with a _sang froid_ that almost killed poor Poopendyke. He never quite got over it.
Nor was I especially disturbed or irritated by the telegram of condolence I received on board ship from Tarnowsy himself. He could not resist the temptation to gloat. I shall not repeat the message for the simple reason that I do not wish to dignify it by putting it into permanent form. We were two days out when I succeeded in setting my mind at rest in respect to Aline, Countess Tarnowsy. I had not thought of it before, but I remembered all of a sudden that I held decided scruples against marrying a divorced woman. Of course, that simplified matters. When one has preconceived notions about such matters they afford excellent material to fall back upon, even though he may have disregarded them after a fashion while unselfishly thinking of some one else. As I say, the recollection of this well-defined though somewhat remorseless principle of mine had the effect of putting my mind at rest in regard to the Countess. Feeling as strongly as I did about marriage with divorcees, she became an absolutely undesirable person so far as matrimony was concerned. I experienced a rather doubtful feeling of relief. It was not so hard to say to myself that Lord Amberdale was welcome to her, but it was very, very difficult to refrain from adding the unamiable words: "damn him."
This rigid, puritanical principle of mine, however, did not declare against the unrighteousness of falling in love with a divorcee.
I CHANGE GARDEN SPOTS
IF I have, by any chance, announced earlier in this narrative that the valley of the Donau is the garden spot of the world, I must now ask you to excuse the ebullience of spirit that prompted the declaration. The Warm Springs Valley of Virginia is infinitely more attractive to me, and I make haste to rectify any erroneous impression I may have given, while under the spell of something my natural modesty forbids me to describe.
If you happen not to know the Warm Springs Valley, permit me to say that you are missing a great deal. It is a garden spot and--but why discourse upon a subject that is so aptly handled by the gentlemen who supply railway folders with descriptive material and who will tell you in so many words that God's noblest work was done in the green hills and vales of fair Virginia? Any railway folder will acquaint you with all this and save me a great deal of time and trouble, besides giving you a sensible and adequate idea of how to get there and where to stop when you reach your journey's end, together with the price of Pullman tickets and the nature of the ailments you are supposed to have if you take the waters. It is only necessary for me to say that it is a garden spot and that you don't have to change cars if you take the right train out of New York City, a condition which does not obtain if you happen to approach from the opposite direction.
I arrived there early one bright November morning, three days after landing in New York. You will be rendered unhappy, I fear, by the announcement that I left Mr. Poopendyke behind. He preferred to visit an aunt at New Rochelle and I felt that he deserved a vacation. Britton, of course, accompanied me. He is indispensable, and, so far as I know, hasn't the faintest notion of what a vacation means unless he considers employment with me in some such light. At any rate he has never mentioned a relation in need of a visit from him.
Before leaving New York I had a rather unpleasant encounter with my publishers. It was in the nature of a luncheon at which I was led to believe that they still expected me to supply them with the manuscript of a novel at a very early date. They seemed considerably put out when I blandly informed them that I had got no farther along than the second chapter.
"We have been counting on this book of yours for January publication," said they.
I tried to explain that the muse had abandoned me in a most heartless fashion.
"But the public demands a story from you," said they. "What have you been doing all summer?"
"Romancing," said I.
I don't know just how it came about, but the suggestion was made that I put into narrative form the lively history of my sojourn on the banks of the Danube, trusting implicitly to the imagination yet leaving nothing to it.
"But it's all such blithering rot," said I.
"So much the better," said they triumphantly--even eagerly.
"I do not suppose that you, as publishers, can appreciate the fact that an author may have a soul above skittles," said I indignantly. "I cannot, I will not write a line about myself, gentlemen. Not that I consider the subject sacred but--"
"Wait!" cried the junior member, his face aglow. "We appreciate the delicacy of--er--your feelings, Mr. Smart, but I have an idea,--a splendid idea. It solves the whole question. Your secretary is a most competent, capable young man and a genius after a fashion. I propose that he write the story. We'll pay him a lump sum for the work, put your name on the cover, and there you are. All you will have to do is
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