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- The Little Nugget - 1/50 -


THE LITTLE NUGGET

By P. G. Wodehouse

Part One

In which the Little Nugget is introduced to the reader, and plans are made for his future by several interested parties. In which, also, the future Mr Peter Burns is touched upon. The whole concluding with a momentous telephone-call.

THE LITTLE NUGGET

I

If the management of the Hotel Guelph, that London landmark, could have been present at three o'clock one afternoon in early January in the sitting-room of the suite which they had assigned to Mrs Elmer Ford, late of New York, they might well have felt a little aggrieved. Philosophers among them would possibly have meditated on the limitations of human effort; for they had done their best for Mrs Ford. They had housed her well. They had fed her well. They had caused inspired servants to anticipate her every need. Yet here she was, in the midst of all these aids to a contented mind, exhibiting a restlessness and impatience of her surroundings that would have been noticeable in a caged tigress or a prisoner of the Bastille. She paced the room. She sat down, picked up a novel, dropped it, and, rising, resumed her patrol. The clock striking, she compared it with her watch, which she had consulted two minutes before. She opened the locket that hung by a gold chain from her neck, looked at its contents, and sighed. Finally, going quickly into the bedroom, she took from a suit-case a framed oil-painting, and returning with it to the sitting-room, placed it on a chair, and stepped back, gazing at it hungrily. Her large brown eyes, normally hard and imperious, were strangely softened. Her mouth quivered.

'Ogden!' she whispered.

The picture which had inspired this exhibition of feeling would probably not have affected the casual spectator to quite the same degree. He would have seen merely a very faulty and amateurish portrait of a singularly repellent little boy of about eleven, who stared out from the canvas with an expression half stolid, half querulous; a bulgy, overfed little boy; a little boy who looked exactly what he was, the spoiled child of parents who had far more money than was good for them.

As Mrs Ford gazed at the picture, and the picture stared back at her, the telephone bell rang. She ran to it eagerly. It was the office of the hotel, announcing a caller.

'Yes? Yes? Who?' Her voice fell, as if the name was not the one she had expected. 'Oh, yes,' she said. 'Yes, ask Lord Mountry to come to me here, please.'

She returned to the portrait. The look of impatience, which had left her face as the bell sounded, was back now. She suppressed it with an effort as her visitor entered.

Lord Mountry was a blond, pink-faced, fair-moustached young man of about twenty-eight--a thick-set, solemn young man. He winced as he caught sight of the picture, which fixed him with a stony eye immediately on his entry, and quickly looked away.

'I say, it's all right, Mrs Ford.' He was of the type which wastes no time on preliminary greetings. 'I've got him.'

'Got him!'

Mrs Ford's voice was startled.

'Stanborough, you know.'

'Oh! I--I was thinking of something else. Won't you sit down?'

Lord Mountry sat down.

'The artist, you know. You remember you said at lunch the other day you wanted your little boy's portrait painted, as you only had one of him, aged eleven--'

'This is Ogden, Lord Mountry. I painted this myself.'

His lordship, who had selected a chair that enabled him to present a shoulder to the painting, and was wearing a slightly dogged look suggestive of one who 'turns no more his head, because he knows a frightful fiend doth close behind him tread', forced himself round, and met his gaze with as much nonchalance as he could summon up.

'Er, yes,' he said.

He paused.

'Fine manly little fellow--what?' he continued.

'Yes, isn't he?'

His lordship stealthily resumed his former position.

'I recommended this fellow, Stanborough, if you remember. He's a great pal of mine, and I'd like to give him a leg up if I could. They tell me he's a topping artist. Don't know much about it myself. You told me to bring him round here this afternoon, you remember, to talk things over. He's waiting downstairs.'

'Oh yes, yes. Of course, I've not forgotten. Thank you so much, Lord Mountry.'

'Rather a good scheme occurred to me, that is, if you haven't thought over the idea of that trip on my yacht and decided it would bore you to death. You still feel like making one of the party--what?'

Mrs Ford shot a swift glance at the clock.

'I'm looking forward to it,' she said.

'Well, then, why shouldn't we kill two birds with one stone? Combine the voyage and the portrait, don't you know. You could bring your little boy along--he'd love the trip--and I'd bring Stanborough--what?'

This offer was not the outcome of a sudden spasm of warm-heartedness on his lordship's part. He had pondered the matter deeply, and had come to the conclusion that, though it had flaws, it was the best plan. He was alive to the fact that a small boy was not an absolute essential to the success of a yachting trip, and, since seeing Ogden's portrait, he had realized still more clearly that the scheme had draw-backs. But he badly wanted Stanborough to make one of the party. Whatever Ogden might be, there was no doubt that Billy Stanborough, that fellow of infinite jest, was the ideal companion for a voyage. It would make just all the difference having him. The trouble was that Stanborough flatly refused to take an indefinite holiday, on the plea that he could not afford the time. Upon which his lordship, seldom blessed with great ideas, had surprised himself by producing the scheme he had just sketched out to Mrs Ford.

He looked at her expectantly, as he finished speaking, and was surprised to see a swift cloud of distress pass over her face. He rapidly reviewed his last speech. No, nothing to upset anyone in that. He was puzzled.

She looked past him at the portrait. There was pain in her eyes.

'I'm afraid you don't quite understand the position of affairs,' she said. Her voice was harsh and strained.

'Eh?'

'You see--I have not--' She stopped. 'My little boy is not--Ogden is not living with me just now.'

'At school, eh?'

'No, not at school. Let me tell you the whole position. Mr Ford and I did not get on very well together, and a year ago we were divorced in Washington, on the ground of incompatibility, and--and--'

She choked. His lordship, a young man with a shrinking horror of the deeper emotions, whether exhibited in woman or man, writhed silently. That was the worst of these Americans! Always getting divorced and causing unpleasantness. How was a fellow to know? Why hadn't whoever it was who first introduced them--he couldn't remember who the dickens it was--told him about this? He had supposed she was just the ordinary American woman doing Europe with an affectionate dollar-dispensing husband in the background somewhere.

'Er--' he said. It was all he could find to say.

'And--and the court,' said Mrs Ford, between her teeth, 'gave him the custody of Ogden.'

Lord Mountry, pink with embarrassment, gurgled sympathetically.


The Little Nugget - 1/50

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