فرهنگی، هنری و ادبی

امروز : 28 تیر 1403

Ruth in Exile


The clock struck five–briskly, as if time were money. Ruth Warden got up from her desk and, having put on her hat, emerged into the outer office where M. Gandinot received visitors. M. Gandinot, the ugliest man in Roville-sur-Mer, presided over the local mont-de-piete, and Ruth served him, from ten to five, as a sort of secretary-clerk. Her duties, if monotonous, were simple. They consisted of sitting, detached and invisible, behind a ground-glass screen, and entering details of loans in a fat book. She was kept busy as a rule, for Roville possesses two casinos, each offering the attraction of

petits chevaux, and just round the corner is Monte Carlo. Very brisk was the business done by M. Gandinot, the pawnbroker, and very frequent were the pitying shakes of the head and clicks of the tongue of M. Gandinot, the man; for in his unofficial capacity Ruth’s employer had a gentle soul, and winced at the evidences of tragedy which presented themselves before his official eyes.

He blinked up at Ruth as she appeared, and Ruth, as she looked at him, was conscious, as usual, of a lightening of the depression which, nowadays, seemed to have settled permanently upon her. The peculiar quality of M. Gandinot’s extraordinary countenance was that it induced mirth–not mocking laughter, but a kind of smiling happiness. It possessed that indefinable quality which characterizes the Billiken, due, perhaps, to the unquenchable optimism which shone through the irregular features; for M. Gandinot, despite his calling, believed in his fellow-man.

‘You are going, mademoiselle?’

As Ruth was wearing her hat and making for the door, and as she always left at this hour, a purist might have considered the question superfluous; but M. Gandinot was a man who seized every opportunity of practising his English.

‘You will not wait for the good papa who calls so regularly for you?’

‘I think I won’t today, M. Gandinot. I want to get out into the air. I have rather a headache. Will you tell my father I have gone to the Promenade?’

M. Gandinot sighed as the door closed behind her. Ruth’s depression had not escaped his notice. He was sorry for her. And not without cause, for Fate had not dealt too kindly with Ruth.

It would have amazed Mr Eugene Warden, that genial old gentleman, if, on one of those occasions of manly emotion when he was in the habit of observing that he had been nobody’s enemy but his own, somebody had hinted that he had spoiled his daughter’s life. Such a thought had never entered his head. He was one of those delightful, irresponsible, erratic persons whose heads thoughts of this kind do not enter, and who are about as deadly to those whose lives are bound up with theirs as a Upas tree.

In the memory of his oldest acquaintance, Ruth’s father had never done anything but drift amiably through life. There had been a time when he had done his drifting in London, feeding cheerfully from the hand of a long-suffering brother-in-law. But though blood, as he was wont to remark while negotiating his periodical loans, is thicker than water, a brother-in-law’s affection has its limits. A day came when Mr Warden observed with pain that his relative responded less nimbly to the touch. And a little while later the other delivered his ultimatum. Mr Warden was to leave England, and to stay away from England, to behave as if England no longer existed on the map, and a small but sufficient allowance would be made to him. If he declined to do this, not another penny of the speaker’s money would he receive. He could choose.

He chose. He left England, Ruth with him. They settled in Roville, that haven of the exile who lives upon remittances.

Ruth’s connexion with the mont-de-piete had come about almost automatically. Very soon after their arrival it became evident that, to a man of Mr Warden’s nature, resident a stone’s-throw distant from two casinos, the small allowance was not likely to go very far. Even if Ruth had not wished to work, circumstances could have compelled her. As it was, she longed for something to occupy her, and, the vacancy at the

mont-de-piete occurring, she had snatched at it. There was a certain fitness in her working there. Business transactions with that useful institution had always been conducted by her, it being Mr Warden’s theory that Woman can extract in these crises just that extra franc or two which is denied to the mere male. Through constantly going round, running across, stepping over, and popping down to the mont-de-piete she had established almost a legal claim on any post that might be vacant there.

And under M. Gandinot’s banner she had served ever since.

* * * * *

Five minutes’ walk took her to the Promenade des Anglais, that apparently endless thoroughfare which is Roville’s pride. The evening was fine and warm. The sun shone gaily on the white-walled houses, the bright Gardens, and the two gleaming casinos. But Ruth walked listlessly, blind to the glitter of it all.

Visitors who go to Roville for a few weeks in the winter are apt to speak of the place, on their return, in a manner that conveys the impression that it is a Paradise on earth, with gambling facilities thrown in. But, then, they are visitors. Their sojourn comes to an end. Ruth’s did not.

A voice spoke her name. She turned, and saw her father, dapper as ever, standing beside her.

‘What an evening, my dear!’ said Mr Warden. ‘What an evening! Smell the sea!’

Mr Warden appeared to be in high spirits. He hummed a tune and twirled his cane. He chirruped frequently to Bill, the companion of his walks abroad, a wiry fox-terrier of a demeanour, like his master’s, both jaunty and slightly disreputable. An air of gaiety pervaded his bearing.

‘I called in at the mont-de-piete but you had gone. Gandinot told me you had come here. What an ugly fellow that Gandinot is! But a good sort. I like him. I had a chat with him.’

The high spirits were explained. Ruth knew her father. She guessed, correctly, that M. Gandinot, kindest of pawnbrokers, had obliged, in his unofficial capacity, with a trifling loan.

‘Gandinot ought to go on the stage,’ went on Mr Warden, pursuing his theme. ‘With that face he would make his fortune. You can’t help laughing when you see it. One of these days–‘

He broke off. Stirring things had begun to occur in the neighbourhood of his ankles, where Bill, the fox-terrier, had encountered an acquaintance, and, to the accompaniment of a loud, gargling noise, was endeavouring to bite his head off. The acquaintance, a gentleman of uncertain breed, equally willing, was chewing Bill’s paw with the gusto of a gourmet. An Irish terrier, with no personal bias towards either side, was dancing round and attacking each in turn as he came uppermost. And two poodles leaped madly in and out of the melee, barking encouragement.

It takes a better man than Mr Warden to break up a gathering of this kind. The old gentleman was bewildered. He added his voice to the babel, and twice smote Bill grievously with his cane with blows intended for the acquaintance, but beyond that he effected nothing. It seemed probable that the engagement would last till the combatants had consumed each other, after the fashion of the Kilkenny cats, when there suddenly appeared from nowhere a young man in grey.

The world is divided into those who can stop dog-fights and those who cannot. The young man in grey belonged to the former class. Within a minute from his entrance on the scene the poodles and the Irish terrier had vanished; the dog of doubtful breed was moving off up the hill, yelping, with the dispatch of one who remembers an important appointment, and Bill, miraculously calmed, was seated in the centre of the Promenade, licking honourable wounds.

Mr Warden was disposed to effervesce with gratitude. The scene had shaken him, and there had been moments when he had given his ankles up for lost.

‘Don’t mention it,’ said the young man. ‘I enjoy arbitrating in these little disputes. Dogs seem to like me and trust my judgement. I consider myself as a sort of honorary dog.’

‘Well, I am bound to say, Mr–?’

‘Vince–George Vince.’

‘My name is Warden. My daughter.’

Ruth inclined her head, and was conscious of a pair of very penetrating brown eyes looking eagerly into hers in a manner which she thoroughly resented. She was not used to the other sex meeting her gaze and holding it as if confident of a friendly welcome. She made up her mind in that instant that this was a young man who required suppression.

‘I’ve seen you several times out here since I arrived, Miss Warden,’ said Mr Vince. ‘Four in all,’ he added, precisely.

‘Really?’ said Ruth.

She looked away. Her attitude seemed to suggest that she had finished with him, and would be obliged if somebody would come and sweep him up.

As they approached the casino restlessness crept into Mr Warden’s manner. At the door he stopped and looked at Ruth.

‘I think, my dear–‘ he said.

‘Going to have a dash at the petits chevaux?‘ inquired Mr Vince. ‘I was there just now. I have an infallible system.’

Mr Warden started like a war-horse at the sound of the trumpet.

‘Only it’s infallible the wrong way,’ went on the young man. ‘Well, I wish you luck. I’ll see Miss Warden home.’

‘Please don’t trouble,’ said Ruth, in the haughty manner which had frequently withered unfortunate fellow-exiles in their tracks.

It had no such effect on Mr Vince.

‘I shall like it,’ he said.

Ruth set her teeth. She would see whether he would like it.

They left Mr Warden, who shot in at the casino door like a homing rabbit, and walked on in silence, which lasted till Ruth, suddenly becoming aware that her companion’s eyes were fixed on her face, turned her head, to meet a gaze of complete, not to say loving, admiration. She flushed. She was accustomed to being looked at admiringly, but about this particular look there was a subtle quality that distinguished it from the ordinary–something proprietorial.

Mr Vince appeared to be a young man who wasted no time on conventional conversation-openings.

‘Do you believe in affinities, Miss Warden?’ he said,

‘No,’ said Ruth.

‘You will before we’ve done,’ said Mr Vince, confidently. ‘Why did you try to snub me just now?’

‘Did I?’

‘You mustn’t again. It hurts me. I’m a sensitive man. Diffident. Shy. Miss Warden, will you marry me?’

Ruth had determined that nothing should shake her from her icy detachment, but this did. She stopped with a gasp, and stared at him.

Mr Vince reassured her.

‘I don’t expect you to say “Yes”. That was just a beginning–the shot fired across the bows by way of warning. In you, Miss Warden, I have found my affinity. Have you ever considered this matter of affinities? Affinities are the–the–Wait a moment.’

He paused, reflecting.

‘I–‘ began Ruth.

”Sh!’ said the young man, holding up his hand.

Ruth’s eyes flashed. She was not used to having ”Sh!’ said to her by young men, and she resented it.

‘I’ve got it,’ he declared, with relief. ‘I knew I should, but these good things take time. Affinities are the zero on the roulette-board of life. Just as we select a number on which to stake our money, so do we select a type of girl whom we think we should like to marry. And just as zero pops up instead of the number, so does our affinity come along and upset all our preconceived notions of the type of girl we should like to marry.’

‘I–‘ began Ruth again.

‘The analogy is in the rough at present. I haven’t had time to condense and polish it. But you see the idea. Take my case, for instance. When I saw you a couple of days ago I knew in an instant that you were my affinity. But for years I had been looking for a woman almost your exact opposite. You are dark. Three days ago I couldn’t have imagined myself marrying anyone who was not fair. Your eyes are grey. Three days ago my preference for blue eyes was a byword. You have a shocking temper. Three days ago–‘

‘Mr Vince!’

‘There!’ said that philosopher, complacently. ‘You stamped. The gentle, blue-eyed blonde whom I was looking for three days ago would have drooped timidly. Three days ago my passion for timid droopers amounted to an obsession.’

Ruth did not reply. It was useless to bandy words with one who gave such clear evidence of being something out of the common run of word-bandiers. No verbal attack could crush this extraordinary young man. She walked on, all silence and stony profile, uncomfortably conscious that her companion was in no way abashed by the former and was regarding the latter with that frank admiration which had made itself so obnoxious to her before, until they reached their destination. Mr Vince, meanwhile, chatted cheerfully, and pointed out objects of interest by the wayside.

At the door Ruth permitted herself a word of farewell.

‘Good-bye,’ she said.

‘Till tomorrow evening,’ said Mr Vince. ‘I shall be coming to dinner.’

Mr Warden ambled home, very happy and contented, two hours later, with half a franc in his pocket, this comparative wealth being due to the fact that the minimum stake permitted by the Roville casino is just double that sum. He was sorry not to have won, but his mind was too full of rosy dreams to permit of remorse. It was the estimable old gentleman’s dearest wish that his daughter should marry some rich, open-handed man who would keep him in affluence for the remainder of his days, and to that end he was in the habit of introducing to her notice any such that came his way. There was no question of coercing Ruth. He was too tender-hearted for that. Besides he couldn’t. Ruth was not the sort of girl who is readily coerced. He contented himself with giving her the opportunity to inspect his exhibits. Roville is a sociable place, and it was not unusual for him to make friends at the casino and to bring them home, when made, for a cigar. Up to the present, he was bound to admit, his efforts had not been particularly successful. Ruth, he reflected sadly, was a curious girl. She did not show her best side to these visitors. There was no encouragement in her manner. She was apt to frighten the unfortunate exhibits. But of this young man Vince he had brighter hopes. He was rich. That was proved by the very handsome way in which he had behaved in the matter of a small loan when, looking in at the casino after parting from Ruth, he had found Mr Warden in sore straits for want of a little capital to back a brand-new system which he had conceived through closely observing the run of the play. He was also obviously attracted by Ruth. And, as he was remarkably presentable–indeed, quite an unusually good-looking young man–there seemed no reason why Ruth should not be equally attracted by him. The world looked good to Mr Warden as he fell asleep that night.

Ruth did not fall asleep so easily. The episode had disturbed her. A new element had entered her life, and one that gave promise of producing strange by-products.

When, on the following evening, Ruth returned from the stroll on the Promenade which she always took after leaving the mont-de-piete, with a feeling of irritation towards things in general, this feeling was not diminished by the sight of Mr Vince, very much at his ease, standing against the mantelpiece of the tiny parlour.

‘How do you do?’ he said. ‘By an extraordinary coincidence I happened to be hanging about outside this house just now, when your father came along and invited me in to dinner. Have you ever thought much about coincidences, Miss Warden? To my mind, they may be described as the zero on the roulette-board of life.’

He regarded her fondly.

‘For a shy man, conscious that the girl he loves is inspecting him closely and making up her mind about him,’ he proceeded, ‘these unexpected meetings are very trying ordeals. You must not form your judgement of me too hastily. You see me now, nervous, embarrassed, tongue-tied. But I am not always like this. Beneath this crust of diffidence there is sterling stuff, Miss Warden. People who know me have spoken of me as a little ray of sun–But here is your father.’

Mr Warden was more than usually disappointed with Ruth during dinner. It was the same old story. So far from making herself pleasant to this attractive stranger, she seemed positively to dislike him. She was barely civil to him. With a sigh Mr Warden told himself that he did not understand Ruth, and the rosy dreams he had formed began to fade.

Ruth’s ideas on the subject of Mr Vince as the days went by were chaotic. Though she told herself that she thoroughly objected to him, he had nevertheless begun to have an undeniable attraction for her. In what this attraction consisted she could not say. When she tried to analyse it, she came to the conclusion that it was due to the fact that he was the only element in her life that made for excitement. Since his advent the days had certainly passed more swiftly for her. The dead level of monotony had been broken. There was a certain fascination in exerting herself to suppress him, which increased daily as each attempt failed.

Mr Vince put this feeling into words for her. He had a maddening habit of discussing the progress of his courtship in the manner of an impartial lecturer.

‘I am making headway,’ he observed. ‘The fact that we cannot meet without your endeavouring to plant a temperamental left jab on my spiritual solar plexus encourages me to think that you are beginning at last to understand that we are affinities. To persons of spirit like ourselves the only happy marriage is that which is based on a firm foundation of almost incessant quarrelling. The most beautiful line in English poetry, to my mind, is, “We fell out, my wife and I.” You would be wretched with a husband who didn’t like you to quarrel with him. The position of affairs now is that I have become necessary to you. If I went out of your life now I should leave an aching void. You would still have that beautiful punch of yours, and there would be nobody to exercise it on. You would pine away. From now on matters should, I think, move rapidly. During the course of the next week I shall endeavour to propitiate you with gifts. Here is the first of them.’

He took a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it her. It was a pencil-sketch, rough and unfinished, but wonderfully clever. Even Ruth could appreciate that–and she was a prejudiced observer, for the sketch was a caricature of herself. It represented her, drawn up to her full height, with enormous, scornful eyes and curling lips, and the artist had managed to combine an excellent likeness while accentuating everything that was marked in what she knew had come to be her normal expression of scorn and discontent.

‘I didn’t know you were an artist, Mr Vince,’ she said, handing it back.

‘A poor amateur. Nothing more. You may keep it.’

‘I have not the slightest wish to keep it.’

‘You haven’t?’

‘It is not in the least clever, and it is very impertinent of you to show it to me. The drawing is not funny. It is simply rude.’

‘A little more,’ said Mr Vince, ‘and I shall begin to think you don’t like it. Are you fond of chocolates?’

Ruth did not answer.

‘I am sending you some tomorrow.’

‘I shall return them.’

‘Then I shall send some more, and some fruit. Gifts!’ soliloquized Mr Vince. ‘Gifts! That is the secret. Keep sending gifts. If men would only stick to gifts and quarrelling, there would be fewer bachelors.’

On the morrow, as promised, the chocolates arrived, many pounds of them in a lordly box. The bludgeoning of fate had not wholly scotched in Ruth a human weakness for sweets, and it was with a distinct effort that she wrapped the box up again and returned it to the sender. She went off to her work at the mont-de-piete with a glow of satisfaction which comes to those who exhibit an iron will in trying circumstances.

And at the mont-de-piete there occurred a surprising incident.

Surprising incidents, as Mr Vince would have said, are the zero on the roulette-board of life. They pop up disturbingly when least expected, confusing the mind and altering pre-conceived opinions. And this was a very surprising incident indeed.

Ruth, as has been stated, sat during her hours of work behind a ground-glass screen, unseen and unseeing. To her the patrons of the establishment were mere disembodied voices–wheedling voices, pathetic voices, voices that protested, voices that hectored, voices that whined, moaned, broke, appealed to the saints, and in various other ways endeavoured to instil into M. Gandinot more spacious and princely views on the subject advancing money on property pledged. She was sitting behind her screen this morning, scribbling idly on the blotting-pad, for there had been a lull in the business, when the door opened, and the polite, ‘Bonjour, monsieur,’ of M. Gandinot announced the arrival of another unfortunate.

And then, shaking her like an electric shock, came a voice that she knew–the pleasant voice of Mr Vince.

The dialogues that took place on the other side of the screen were often protracted and always sordid, but none had seemed to Ruth so interminable, so hideously sordid, as this one.

Round and round its miserable centre–a silver cigarette-case–the dreary argument circled. The young man pleaded; M. Gandinot, adamant in his official role, was immovable.

Ruth could bear it no longer. She pressed her hands over her burning ears, and the voices ceased to trouble her.

And with the silence came thought, and a blaze of understanding that flashed upon her and made all things clear. She understood now why she had closed her ears.

Poverty is an acid which reacts differently on differing natures. It had reduced Mr Eugene Warden’s self-respect to a minimum. Ruth’s it had reared up to an abnormal growth. Her pride had become a weed that ran riot in her soul, darkening it and choking finer emotions. Perhaps it was her father’s naive stratagems for the enmeshing of a wealthy husband that had produced in her at last a morbid antipathy to the idea of playing beggar-maid to any man’s King Cophetua. The state of mind is intelligible. The Cophetua legend never has been told from the beggar-maid’s point of view, and there must have been moments when, if a woman of spirit, she resented that monarch’s somewhat condescending attitude, and felt that, secure in his wealth and magnificence, he had taken her grateful acquiescence very much for granted.

This, she saw now, was what had prejudiced her against George Vince. She had assumed that he was rich. He had conveyed the impression of being rich. And she had been on the defensive against him accordingly. Now, for the first time, she seemed to know him. A barrier had been broken down. The royal robes had proved tinsel, and no longer disguised the man she loved.

A touch on her arm aroused her. M. Gandinot was standing by her side. Terms, apparently had been agreed upon and the interview concluded, for in his hand was a silver cigarette-case.

‘Dreaming, mademoiselle? I could not make you hear. The more I call to you, the more you did not answer. It is necessary to enter this loan.’

He recited the details and Ruth entered them in her ledger. This done, M. Gandinot, doffing his official self, sighed.

‘It is a place of much sorrow, mademoiselle, this office. How he would not take no for an answer, that young man, recently departed. A fellow-countryman of yours, mademoiselle. You would say, “What does this young man, so well-dressed, in a mont-de-piete?” But I know better, I, Gandinot. You have an expression, you English–I heard it in Paris in a cafe, and inquired its meaning–when you say of a man that he swanks. How many young men have I seen here, admirably dressed–rich, you would say. No, no. The mont-de-piete permits no secrets. To swank, mademoiselle, what is it? To deceive the world, yes. But not the

mont-de-piete. Yesterday also, when you had departed, was he here, that young man. Yet here he is once more today. He spends his money quickly, alas! that poor young swanker.’

When Ruth returned home that evening she found her father in the sitting-room, smoking a cigarette. He greeted her with effusion, but with some uneasiness–for the old gentleman had nerved himself to a delicate task. He had made up his mind tonight to speak seriously to Ruth on the subject of her unsatisfactory behaviour to Mr Vince. The more he saw of that young man the more positive was he that this was the human gold-mine for which he had been searching all these weary years. Accordingly, he threw away his cigarette, kissed Ruth on the forehead, and began to speak.

It had long been Mr Warden’s opinion that, if his daughter had a fault, it was a tendency towards a quite unnecessary and highly inconvenient frankness. She had not that tact which he would have liked a daughter of his to possess. She would not evade, ignore, agree not to see. She was at times painfully blunt.

This happened now. He was warming to his subject when she interrupted him with a question.

‘What makes you think Mr Vince is rich, father?’ she asked.

Mr Warden was embarrassed. The subject of Mr Vince’s opulence had not entered into his discourse. He had carefully avoided it. The fact that he was thinking of it and that Ruth knew that he was thinking of it, and that he knew that Ruth knew, had nothing to do with the case. The question was not in order, and it embarrassed him.

‘I–why–I don’t–I never said he was rich, my dear. I have no doubt that he has ample–‘

‘He is quite poor.’

Mr Warden’s jaw fell slightly.

‘Poor? But, my dear, that’s absurd!’ he cried. ‘Why, only this evening–‘

He broke off abruptly, but it was too late.

‘Father, you’ve been borrowing money from him!’

Mr Warden drew in his breath, preparatory to an indignant denial, but he altered his mind and remained silent. As a borrower of money he had every quality but one. He had come to look on her perspicacity in this matter as a sort of second sight. It had frequently gone far to spoiling for him the triumph of success.

‘And he has to pawn things to live!’ Her voice trembled. ‘He was at the mont-de-piete today. And yesterday too. I heard him. He was arguing with M. Gandinot–haggling–‘

Her voice broke. She was sobbing helplessly. The memory of it was too raw and vivid.

Mr Warden stood motionless. Many emotions raced through his mind, but chief among them the thought that this revelation had come at a very fortunate time. An exceedingly lucky escape, he felt. He was aware, also, of a certain measure of indignation against this deceitful young man who had fraudulently imitated a gold-mine with what might have been disastrous results.

The door opened and Jeanne, the maid-of-all-work, announced Mr Vince.

He entered the room briskly.

‘Good evening!’ he said. ‘I have brought you some more chocolates, Miss Warden, and some fruit. Great Scott! What’s the matter?’

He stopped, but only for an instant. The next he had darted across the room, and, before the horrified eyes of Mr Warden, was holding Ruth in his arms. She clung to him.

Bill, the fox-terrier, over whom Mr Vince had happened to stumble, was the first to speak. Almost simultaneously Mr Warden joined in, and there was a striking similarity between the two voices, for Mr Warden, searching for words, emitted as a preliminary to them a sort of passionate yelp.

Mr Vince removed the hand that was patting Ruth’s shoulder and waved it reassuringly at him.

‘It’s all right,’ he said.

‘All right! All right!’

‘Affinities,’ explained Mr Vince over his shoulder. ‘Two hearts that beat as one. We’re going to be married. What’s the matter, dear? Don’t you worry; you’re all right.’

‘I refuse!’ shouted Mr Warden. ‘I absolutely refuse.’

Mr Vince lowered Ruth gently into a chair and, holding her hand, inspected the fermenting old gentleman gravely.

‘You refuse?’ he said. ‘Why, I thought you liked me.’

Mr Warden’s frenzy had cooled. It had been something foreign to his nature. He regretted it. These things had to be managed with restraint.

‘My personal likes and dislikes,’ he said, ‘have nothing to do with the matter, Mr Vince. They are beside the point. I have my daughter to consider. I cannot allow her to marry a man without a penny.’

‘Quite right,’ said Mr Vince, approvingly. ‘Don’t have anything to do with the fellow. If he tries to butt in, send for the police.’

Mr Warden hesitated. He had always been a little ashamed of Ruth’s occupation. But necessity compelled.

‘Mr Vince, my daughter is employed at the mont-de-piete, and was a witness to all that took place this afternoon.’

Mr Vince was genuinely agitated. He looked at Ruth, his face full of concern.

‘You don’t mean to say you have been slaving away in that stuffy–Great Scott! I’ll have you out of that quick. You mustn’t go there again.’

He stooped and kissed her.

‘Perhaps you had better let me explain,’ he said. ‘Explanations, I always think, are the zero on the roulette-board of life. They’re always somewhere about, waiting to pop up. Have you ever heard of Vince’s Stores, Mr Warden? Perhaps they are since your time. Well, my father is the proprietor. One of our specialities is children’s toys, but we haven’t picked a real winner for years, and my father when I last saw him seemed so distressed about it that I said I’d see if I couldn’t whack out an idea for something. Something on the lines of the Billiken, only better, was what he felt he needed. I’m not used to brain work, and after a spell of it I felt I wanted a rest. I came here to recuperate, and the very first morning I got an inspiration. You may have noticed that the manager of the mont-de-piete here isn’t strong on conventional good looks. I saw him at the casino, and the thing flashed on me. He thinks his name’s Gandinot, but it isn’t. It’s Uncle Zip, the Hump-Curer, the Man who Makes You Smile.’

He pressed Ruth’s hand affectionately.

‘I lost track of him, and it was only the day before yesterday that I discovered who he was and where he was to be found. Well, you can’t go up to a man and ask him to pose as a model for Uncle Zip, the Hump-Curer. The only way to get sittings was to approach him in the way of business. So I collected what property I had and waded in. That’s the whole story. Do I pass?’

Mr Warden’s frosty demeanour had gradually thawed during this recital, and now the sun of his smile shone out warmly. He gripped Mr Vince’s hand with every evidence of esteem, and after that he did what was certainly the best thing, by passing gently from the room. On his face, as he went, was a look such as Moses might have worn on the summit of Pisgah.

It was some twenty minutes later that Ruth made a remark.

‘I want you to promise me something,’ she said. ‘Promise that you won’t go on with that Uncle Zip drawing. I know it means ever so much money, but it might hurt poor M. Gandinot’s feelings, and he has been very kind to me.’

‘That settles it,’ said Mr Vince. ‘It’s hard on the children of Great Britain, but say no more. No Uncle Zip for them.’

Ruth looked at him, almost with awe.

‘You really won’t go on with it? In spite of all the money you would make? Are you always going to do just what I ask you, no matter what it costs you?’

He nodded sadly.

‘You have sketched out in a few words the whole policy of my married life. I feel an awful fraud. And I had encouraged you to look forward to years of incessant quarrelling. Do you think you can manage without it? I’m afraid it’s going to be shockingly dull for you,’ said Mr Vince, regretfully.

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