Tommy & Co. (Windsor Magazine, 1903-04)/The Beginnings of William Clodd
No. II—THE BEGINNINGS OF WILLIAM CLODD
MRS. POSTWHISTLE sat on a Windsor chair in the centre of Rolls Court. Mrs. Postwhistle, who, in the days of her Hebehood, had been likened by admiring frequenters of the old “Mitre” in Chancery Lane to the ladies, somewhat emaciated, that an English artist, since become famous, was then commencing to popularise, had developed with the passing years, yet still retained a face of placid youthfulness. The two facts, taken in conjunction, had resulted in an asset to her income not to be despised. The wanderer through Rolls Court this summer's afternoon, presuming him to be familiar with current journalism, would have retired haunted by the sense that the restful-looking lady on the Windsor-chair was someone that he ought to know. Glancing through almost any illustrated paper of the period, the problem would have been solved for him. A photograph of Mrs. Postwhistle, taken quite recently, he would have encountered with this legend: “Before use of Professor Hardtop's certain cure for corpulency.” Beside it a photograph of Mrs. Postwhistle, then Arabella Higgins, taken twenty years ago, the legend slightly varied: “After use,” etc. The face was the same, the figure—there was no denying it—had undergone decided alteration.
Mrs. Postwhistle had reached with her chair the centre of Rolls Court in course of following the sun. The little shop, over the lintel of which ran: “Timothy Postwhistle, Grocer and Provision Merchant,” she had left behind her in the shadow. Old inhabitants of St. Dunstan-in-the-West retained recollection of a gentlemanly figure, always in a very gorgeous waistcoat, with Dundreary whiskers, to be seen occasionally there behind the counter. All customers it would refer, with the air of a Lord High Chamberlain introducing débutantes, to Mrs. Postwhistle, evidently regarding itself purely as ornamental. For the last ten years, however, no one had noticed it there, and Mrs. Postwhistle had a facility amounting almost to genius for ignoring or misunderstanding questions it was not to her taste to answer. Most things were suspected, nothing known. St. Dunstan-in-the-West had turned to other problems.
“If I wasn't wanting to see 'im,” remarked to herself Mrs. Postwhistle, who was knitting with one eye upon the shop, “'e'd a been 'ere 'fore I'd 'ad time to clear the dinner things away; certain to 'ave been. It's a strange world.”
Mrs. Postwhistle was desirous for the arrival of a gentleman not usually awaited with impatience by the ladies of Rolls Court—to wit, one William Clodd, rent-collector, whose day for St. Dunstan-in-the-West was Tuesday.
“At last,” said Mrs. Postwhistle, though without hope that Mr. Clodd, who had just appeared at the other end of the court, could possibly hear her. “Was beginning to be afraid as you'd tumbled over yerself in your 'urry and 'urt yerself.”
Mr. Clodd, perceiving Mrs. Postwhistle, decided to abandon method and take No. 7 first.
Mr. Clodd was a short, thick-set, bullet-headed young man, with ways that were bustling, and eyes that, though kind, suggested trickiness.
“Ah!” said Mr. Clodd admiringly, as he pocketed the six half-crowns that the lady handed up to him. “If only they were all like you, Mrs. Postwhistle!”
“Wouldn't be no need of chaps like you to worry 'em,” pointed out Mrs. Postwhistle.
“It's an irony of fate, my being a rent-collector, when you come to think of it,” remarked Mr. Clodd, writing out the receipt. “If I had my way, I'd put an end to landlordism, root and branch. Curse of the country.”
“Just the very thing I wanted to talk to you about,” returned the lady—“that lodger o' mine.”
“Ah! don't pay, don't he? You just hand him over to me. I'll soon have it out of him.”
“It's not that,” explained Mrs. Postwhistle. “If a Saturday morning 'appened to come round as 'e didn't pay up without me asking, I should know I'd made a mistake—that it must be Friday. If I don't 'appen to be in at 'alf-past ten, 'e puts it in an envelope and leaves it on the table.”
“Wonder if his mother has got any more like him?” mused Mr. Clodd. “Could do with a few about this neighbourhood. What is it you want to say about him, then? Merely to brag about him?”
“I wanted to ask you,” continued Mrs. Postwhistle, “'ow I could get rid of 'im. It was rather a curious agreement.”
“Why do you want to get rid of him? Too noisy?”
“Noisy! Why, the cat makes more noise about the 'ouse than 'e does. 'E'd make 'is fortune as a burglar.”
“Come home late?”
“Never known 'im out after the shutters are up.”
“Gives you too much trouble then?”
“I can't say that of 'im. Never know whether 'e's in the 'ouse or isn't, without going upstairs and knocking at the door.”
“Here, you tell it your own way,” suggested the bewildered Clodd. “If it was anyone else but you, I should say you didn't know your own business.”
“'E gets on my nerves,” said Mrs. Postwhistle. “You ain't in a 'urry for five minutes?”
Mr. Clodd was always in a hurry. “But I can forget it talking to you,” added the gallant Mr. Clodd.
Mrs. Postwhistle led the way into the little parlour.
“Just the name of it,” consented Mr. Clodd. “Cheerfulness combined with temperance; that's the ideal.”
“I'll tell you what 'appened only last night,” commenced Mrs. Postwhistle, seating herself the opposite side of the loo-table. “A letter came for 'im by the seven o'clock post. I'd seen 'im go out two hours before, and though I'd been sitting in the shop the whole blessed time, I never saw or 'eard 'im pass through. E's like that. It's like 'aving a ghost for a lodger. I opened 'is door without knocking and went in. If you'll believe me, 'e was clinging with 'is arms and legs to the top of the bedstead—it's one of those old-fashioned, four-post things—'is 'ead touching the ceiling. 'E 'adn't got too much clothes on, and was cracking nuts with 'is teeth and eating 'em. 'E threw a 'andful of shells at me, and making the most awful faces at me, started off gibbering softly to himself.”
“All play, I suppose? No real vice?” commented the interested Mr. Clodd.
“It will go on for a week, that will,” continued Mrs. Postwhistle—“'e fancying 'imself a monkey. Last week he was a tortoise, and was crawling about on his stomach with a tea-tray tied on to 'is back. 'E's as sensible as most men, if that's saying much, the moment 'e's outside the front door; but in the 'ouse—well, I suppose the fact is that 'e's a lunatic.”
“Don't seem no hiding anything from you,” Mrs. Postwhistle remarked Mr. Clodd in tones of admiration. “Does he ever get violent?”
“Don't know what 'e would be like if 'e 'appened to fancy 'imself something really dangerous,” answered Mrs. Postwhistle. “I am a bit nervous of this new monkey game, I don't mind confessing to you—the things that they do according to the picture-books. Up to now, except for imagining 'imself a mole, and taking all his meals underneath the carpet, it's been mostly birds and cats and 'armless sort o' things I 'aven't seemed to mind so much.”
“How did you get hold of him?” demanded Mr. Clodd. “Have much trouble in finding him, or did somebody come and tell you about him?”
“Old Gladman, of Chancery Lane, the law stationer, brought 'im 'ere one evening about two months ago—said 'e was a sort of distant relative of 'is, a bit soft in the 'ead, but perfectly 'armless—wanted to put 'im with someone who wouldn't impose on 'im. Well, what between 'aving been empty for over five weeks, the poor old gaby 'imself looking as gentle as a lamb, and the figure being reasonable, I rather jumped at the idea; and old Gladman, explaining as 'ow 'e wanted the thing settled and done with, got me to sign a letter.”
“Kept a copy of it?” asked the business-like Clodd.
“No. But I can remember what it was. Gladman 'ad it all ready. So long as the money was paid punctual and 'e didn't make no disturbance and didn't fall sick, I was to go on boarding and lodging 'im for seventeen-and-sixpence a week. It didn't strike me as anything to be objected to at the time; but 'e payin' regular, as I've explained to you, and be'aving, so far as disturbance is concerned, more like a Christian martyr than a man, well, it looks to me as if I'd got to live and die with 'im.”
“Give him rope, and possibly he'll have a week at being a howling hyæna, or a laughing jackass, or something of that sort that will lead to a disturbance,” thought Mr. Clodd, “in which case, of course, you would have your remedy.”
“Yes,” thought Mrs. Postwhistle, “and possibly also 'e may take it into what 'e calls is 'ead to be a tiger or a bull, and then perhaps before 'e's through with it I'll be beyond the reach of remedies.”
“Leave it to me,” said Mr. Clodd, rising and searching for his hat. “I know old Gladman; I'll have a talk with him.”
“You might get a look at that letter if you can,” suggested Mrs. Postwhistle, “and tell me what you think about it. I don't want to spend the rest of my days in a lunatic asylum of my own if I can 'elp it.”
“You leave it to me,” was Mr. Clodd's parting assurance.
The July moon had thrown a silver veil over the grimness of Rolls Court when, five hours later, Mr. Clodd's nailed boots echoed again upon its uneven pavement; but Mr. Clodd had no eye for moon or stars or such-like; always he had things more important to think of.
“Seen the old 'umbug?” asked Mrs. Postwhistle, who was partial to the air, leading the way into the parlour.
“First and foremost commenced,” Mr. Clodd, as he laid aside his hat, “it is quite understood that you really do want to get rid of him? What's that?” demanded Mr. Clodd, a heavy thud upon the floor above having caused him to start out of his chair.
“'E came in an hour after you'd gone,” explained Mrs. Postwhistle, “bringing with him a curtain pole as 'e'd picked up for a shilling in Clare Market. 'E's rested one end upon the mantelpiece and tied the other to the back of the easy-chair—'is idea is to twine 'imself round it and go to sleep upon it. Yes, you've got it quite right without a single blunder. I do want to get rid of 'im.”
“Then,” said Mr. Clodd, reseating himself, “it can be done.”
“Thank God for that!” was Mrs. Postwhistle's pious ejaculation.
“It is just as I thought,” continued Mr. Clodd. “The old innocent—he's Gladman's brother-in-law, by the way—has got a small annuity. I couldn't get the actual figure, but I guess it's about sufficient to pay for his keep and leave old Gladman, who is running him, a very decent profit. They don't want to send him to an asylum. They can't say he's a pauper, and to put him into a private establishment would swallow up, most likely, the whole of his income. On the other hand, they don't want the bother of looking after him themselves. I talked pretty straight to the old man—let him see I understood the business; and—well, to cut a long story short, I'm willing to take on the job, provided you really want to have done with it, and Gladman is willing in that case to let you off your contract.”
Mrs. Postwhistle went to the cupboard to get Mr. Clodd a drink. Another thud upon the floor above—one suggestive of exceptional velocity—arrived at the precise moment when Mrs. Postwhistle, the tumbler level with her eye, was in the act of measuring.
“I call this making a disturbance,” said Mrs. Postwhistle, regarding the broken fragments.
“It's only for another night,” comforted her Mr. Clodd. “I'll take him away some time to-morrow. Meanwhile, if I were you, I should spread a mattress underneath that perch of his before I went to bed. I should like him handed over to me in reasonable repair.”
“It will deaden the sound a bit, any'ow,” agreed Mrs. Postwhistle.
“Success to temperance!” drank Mr. Clodd, and rose to go.
“I take it you've fixed things up all right for yourself,” said Mrs. Postwhistle; “and nobody can blame you if you 'ave. 'Eaven bless you, is what I say.”
“We shall get on together,” prophesied Mr. Clodd. “I'm fond of animals.”
Early the next morning a four-wheeled cab drew up at the entrance to Rolls Court, and in it and upon it went away Clodd and Clodd's Lunatic (as afterwards he came to be known), together with all the belongings of Clodd's Lunatic, the curtain-pole included; and there appeared again behind the fanlight of the little grocer's shop the intimation: “Lodgings for a Single Man,” which caught the eye a few days later of a weird-looking, lanky, raw-boned laddie, whose language Mrs. Postwhistle found difficulty for a time in comprehending; and that is why one sometimes meets to-day worshippers of Kail Yard literature wandering disconsolately about St. Dunstan-in-the-West, seeking Rolls Court, discomforted because it is no more. But that is the history of the “Wee Laddie,” and this of the beginnings of William Clodd.
No one can say of Clodd that he did not deserve whatever profit his unlicensed lunatic asylum may have brought him. A kindly man was William Clodd when indulgence in sentiment did not interfere with business.
“There's no harm in him,” asserted Mr. Clodd, talking the matter over with one Mr. Peter Hope, journalist, of 16, Gough Square. “He's just a bit dotty, same as you or I might get with nothing to do and all day long to do it in. Kid's play, that's all it is. The best plan, I find, is to treat it as a game and take a hand in it. Last week he wanted to be a lion. I could see that was going to be awkward, he roaring for raw meat and thinking to prowl about the house at night. Well, I didn't nag him—that's no good. I just got a gun and shot him. He's a duck now, and I'm trying to keep him one: sits for an hour beside his bath on three china eggs I've bought him. Wish some of the sane ones were as little trouble.”
The summer came again. Clodd and his Lunatic, a mild-looking little old gentleman of somewhat clerical cut, one often met with arm-in-arm, bustling about the streets and courts that were the scene of Clodd's rent-collecting labours. Their evident attachment to one another was curiously displayed; Clodd, the young and red-haired, treating his white-haired, withered companion with fatherly indulgence; the other glancing up from time to time into Clodd's face with a winning expression of infantile affection.
“We are getting much better,” explained Clodd, the pair meeting Peter Hope one day at the corner of Newcastle Street. “The more we are out in the open air, and the more we have to do and think about, the better for us—eh?”
The mild-looking little old gentleman hanging on Clodd's arm smiled and nodded.
“Between ourselves,” added Mr. Clodd, sinking his voice, “we are not half as foolish as folks think we are.”
Peter Hope went his way down the Strand.
“Clodd's a good sort—a good sort,” said Peter Hope, who, having in his time lived much alone, had fallen into the habit of speaking his thoughts aloud; “but he's not the man to waste his time. I wonder.”
With the winter Clodd's Lunatic fell ill.
Clodd bustled round to Chancery Lane.
“To tell you the truth,” confessed Mr. Gladman, “we never thought he would live so long as he has.”
“There's the annuity you've got to think of,” said Clodd, whom his admirers of to-day (and they are many, for he must be a millionaire by this time) are fond of alluding to as “that frank, outspoken Englishman.” “Wouldn't it be worth your while to try what taking him away from the fogs might do for him?”
Old Gladman seemed inclined to consider the question, but Mrs. Gladman, a brisk, cheerful little woman, had made up her mind.
“We've had what there is to have,” said Mrs. Gladman. “He's seventy-three. What's the sense of risking good money? Be content.”
No one could say—no one ever did say—that Clodd, under the circumstances, did not do his best. Perhaps, after all, nothing could have helped. The little old gentleman, at Clodd's suggestion, played at being a dormouse and lay very still. If he grew restless, thereby bringing on his cough, Clodd, as a terrible black cat, was watching to pounce upon him. Only by keeping very quiet and artfully pretending to be asleep could he hope to escape the ruthless Clodd.
Doctor William Smith (né Wilhelm Schmidt) shrugged his fat shoulders. “We can do noding. Dese fogs of ours: it is de one ting dat enables the foreigner to crow over us. Keep him quiet. De dormouse—it is a goot idea.”
That evening William Clodd mounted to the second floor of 16, Gough Square, where dwelt his friend, Peter Hope, and knocked briskly at the door.
“Come in,” said a decided voice, which was not Peter Hope's.
Mr. William Clodd's ambition was, and always had been, to be the owner or part-owner of a paper. To-day, as I have said, he owns a quarter of a hundred, and is in negotiation, so rumour goes, for seven more. But twenty years ago “Clodd and Co., Limited,” was but in embryo. And Peter Hope, journalist, had likewise and for many a long year cherished the ambition to be, before he died, the owner or part-owner of a paper. Peter Hope to-day owns nothing, except perhaps the knowledge, if such things be permitted, that whenever and wherever his name is mentioned, kind thoughts arise unbidden—that someone of the party will surely say: “Dear old Peter! What a good fellow he was!” Which also may be in its way a valuable possession: who knows? But twenty years ago Peter's horizon was limited by Fleet Street.
Peter Hope was forty-seven, so he said, a dreamer and a scholar. William Clodd was three-and-twenty, a born hustler, very wide awake. Meeting one day by accident upon an omnibus, when Clodd lent Peter, who had come out without his purse, threepence to pay his fare with; drifting into acquaintanceship, each had come to acquire a liking and respect for the other. The dreamer thought with wonder of Clodd's shrewd practicability; the cute young man of business was lost in admiration of what seemed to him his old friend's marvellous learning. Both had arrived at the conclusion that a weekly journal with Peter Hope as editor, and William Clodd as manager, would be bound to be successful.
“If only we could scrape together a thousand pounds!” had sighed Peter.
“The moment we lay our hands upon the coin, we'll start that paper. Remember, it's a bargain,” had answered William Clodd.
Mr. William Clodd turned the handle and walked in. With the door still in his hand he paused to look round the room. It was the first time he had seen it. His meetings hitherto with Peter Hope had been chance rencontres in street or restaurant. Always had he been curious to view the sanctuary of so much erudition.
A large, oak-panelled room, its three high windows, each with a low, cushioned seat beneath it, giving on to Gough Square. Thirty-five years before, Peter Hope, then a young dandy with side whiskers close-cropped and terminating just below the ear; with wavy, brown hair, giving to his fresh-complexioned face an appearance almost girlish; in cut-away blue coat, flowered waistcoat, black silk cravat secured by two gold pins chained together, and tightly strapped grey trouserings, had, aided and abetted by a fragile little lady in crinoline and much-flounced skirt, and bodice somewhat low, with corkscrew curls each movement of her head set ringing, planned and furnished it in accordance with the sober canons then in vogue, spending thereupon more than they should, as is to be expected from the young to whom the future promises all things. The fine Brussels carpet! A little too bright, had thought the shaking curls. “The colours will tone down, miss—ma'am.” The shopman knew. Only by the help of the round island underneath the massive Empire table, by excursions into untrodden corners, could Peter recollect the rainbow floor his feet had pressed when he was twenty-one. The noble bookcase, surmounted by Minerva's bust. Really it was too expensive. But the nodding curls had been so obstinate. Peter's silly books and papers must be put away in order; the curls did not intend to permit any excuse for untidiness. So, too, the handsome, brass-bound desk; it must be worthy of the beautiful thoughts Peter would pen upon it. The great sideboard, supported by two such angry-looking mahogany lions; it must be strong to support the weight of silver clever Peter would one day purchase to place upon it. The few oil paintings in their heavy frames. A solidly furnished, sober apartment; about it that subtle atmosphere of dignity one finds but in old rooms long undisturbed, where one seems to read upon the walls: “I, Joy and Sorrow, twain in one, have dwelt here.” One item only there was that seemed out of place among its grave surroundings—a guitar, hanging from the wall, ornamented with a ridiculous blue bow, somewhat faded.
“Mr. William Clodd?” demanded the decided voice.
Clodd started and closed the door.
“Guessed it in once,” admitted Mr. Clodd.
“I thought so,” said the decided voice. “We got your note this afternoon. Mr. Hope will be back at eight. Will you kindly hang up your hat and coat in the hall? You will find a box of cigars on the mantelpiece. Excuse my being busy. I must finish this, then I'll talk to you.”
The owner of the decided voice went on writing. Clodd, having done as he was bid, sat himself in the easy-chair before the fire and smoked. Of the person behind the desk Mr. Clodd could see but the head and shoulders. It had black, curly hair, cut short. It's only garment visible below the white collar and red tie might have been a boy's jacket designed more like a girl's, or a girl's designed more like a boy's; partaking of the genius of English statesmanship, it appeared to be a compromise. Mr. Clodd remarked the long, drooping lashes over the bright, black eyes.
“It's a girl,” said Mr. Clodd to himself—“rather a pretty girl.”
Mr. Clodd, continuing downward, arrived at the nose.
“No,” said Mr. Clodd to himself, “it's a boy—a cheeky young beggar, I should say.”
The person at the desk, giving a grunt of satisfaction, gathered together sheets of manuscript and arranged them; then, resting its elbows on the desk and taking its head between its hands, regarded Mr. Clodd.
“Don't you hurry yourself,” said Mr. Clodd; “but when you really have finished, tell me what you think of me.”
“I beg your pardon,” apologised the person at the desk. “I have got into a habit of staring at people. I know it's rude. I'm trying to break myself of it.”
“Tell me your name,” suggested Mr. Clodd, “and I'll forgive you.”
“Tommy,” was the answer—“I mean Jane.”
“Make up your mind,” advised Mr. Clodd; “don't let me influence you. I only want the truth.”
“You see,” explained the person at the desk, “everybody calls me Tommy, because that used to be my name. But now it's Jane.”
“I see,” said Mr. Clodd. “And which am I to call you?”
The person at the desk pondered. “Well, if this scheme you and Mr. Hope have been talking about really comes to anything, we shall be a good deal thrown together, you see, and then I expect you'll call me Tommy—most people do.”
“You've heard about the scheme? Mr. Hope has told you?”
“Why, of course,” replied Tommy. “I'm Mr. Hope's devil.”
For the moment Clodd doubted whether his old friend had not started a rival establishment to his own.
“I help him in his work,” Tommy relieved his mind by explaining. “In journalistic circles we call it devilling.”
“I understand,” said Mr. Clodd. “And what do you think, Tommy, of the scheme? I may as well start calling you Tommy, because, between you and me, I think the idea will come to something.”
Tommy fixed her black eyes upon him. She seemed to be looking him right through.
“You are staring again, Tommy,” Clodd reminded her. “You'll have trouble breaking yourself of that habit, I can see.”
“I was trying to make up my mind about you. Everything depends upon the business man.”
“Glad to hear you say so,” replied the self-satisfied Clodd.
“If you are very clever—— Do you mind coming nearer to the lamp? I can't quite see you over there.”
Clodd never could understand why he did it—never could understand why, from first to last, he always did what Tommy wished him to do; his only consolation being that other folks seemed just as helpless. He rose and, crossing the long room, stood at attention before the large desk, nervousness, to which he was somewhat of a stranger, taking possession of him.
“You don't look very clever.”
Clodd experienced another new sensation—that of falling in his own estimation.
“And yet one can see that you are clever.”
The mercury of Clodd's conceit shot upward to a point that in the case of anyone less physically robust might have been dangerous to health.
Clodd held out his hand. “We'll pull it through, Tommy. The Guv'nor shall find the literature; you and I will make it go. I like you.”
And Peter Hope, entering at the moment, caught a spark from the light that shone in the eyes of William Clodd and Tommy, whose other name was Jane, as, gripping hands, they stood with the desk between them, laughing they knew not why. And the years fell from old Peter, and, again a boy, he also laughed he knew not why. He had sipped from the wine-cup of youth.
“It's all settled, Guv'nor!” cried Clodd. “Tommy and I have fixed things up. We'll start with the New Year.”
“You've got the money?”
“I'm reckoning on it. I don't see very well how I can miss it.”
“Just about. You get to work.”
“I've saved a little,” began Peter. “It ought to have been more, but somehow it isn't.”
“Perhaps we shall want it,” Clodd replied; “perhaps we shan't. You are supplying the brains.”
The three for a few moments remained silent.
“I think, Tommy,” said Peter, “I think a bottle of the old Madeira——”
“Not to-night,” said Clodd; “next time.”
“To drink success,” urged Peter.
“One man's success generally means some other poor devil's misfortune,” answered Clodd. “Can't be helped, of course, but don't want to think about it to-night. Must be getting back to my dormouse. Good night.”
Clodd shook hands and bustled out.
“I thought as much,” mused Peter aloud. “What an odd mixture the man is! Kind—no one could have been kinder to the poor old fellow. Yet all the while—— We are an odd mixture, Tommy,” said Peter Hope, “an odd mixture, we men and women.” Peter was a philosopher.
The white-whiskered old dormouse soon coughed himself to sleep for ever.
“I shall want you and the missis to come to the funeral, Gladman,” said Mr. Clodd, as he swung into the stationer's shop; “and bring Pincer with you. I'm writing to him.”
“Don't see what good we can do,” demurred Gladman.
“Well, you three are his only relatives; it's only decent you should be present,” urged Clodd. “Besides, there's the will to be read. You may care to hear it.”
The dry old law stationer opened wide his watery eyes.
“His will! Why, what had he got to leave? There was nothing but the annuity.”
“You turn up at the funeral,” Clodd told him, “and you'll learn all about it. Bonner's clerk will be there and will bring it with him. Everything is going to be done comme il faut, as the French say.”
“I ought to have known of this,” began Mr. Gladman.
“Glad to find you taking so much interest in the old chap,” said Clodd. “Pity he's dead and can't thank you.”
“I warn you,” shouted old Gladman, whose voice was rising to a scream, “he was a helpless imbecile, incapable of acting for himself! If any undue influence——”
“See you on Friday,” broke in Clodd, who was busy.
Friday's ceremony was not a sociable affair. Mrs. Gladman spoke occasionally in a shrill whisper to Mr. Gladman, who replied with grunts. Both employed the remainder of their time in scowling at Clodd. Mr. Pincer, a stout, heavy gentleman connected with the House of Commons, maintained a ministerial reserve. The undertaker's foreman expressed himself as thankful when it was over. He criticised it as the humpiest funeral he had ever known; for a time he had serious thoughts of changing his profession.
The solicitor's clerk was waiting for the party on its return from Kensal Green. Clodd again offered hospitality. Mr. Pincer this time allowed himself a glass of weak whisky-and-water, and sipped it with an air of doing so without prejudice. The clerk had one a little stronger, Mrs. Gladman, dispensing with consultation, declined shrilly for self and partner. Clodd, explaining that he always followed legal precedent, mixed himself one also and drank “To our next happy meeting.” Then the clerk read.
It was a short and simple will, dated the previous August. It appeared that the old gentleman, unknown to his relatives, had died possessed of shares in a silver mine, once despaired of, now prospering. Taking them at present value, they would produce a sum well over two thousand pounds. The old gentleman had bequeathed five hundred pounds to his brother-in-law, Mr. Gladman; five hundred pounds to his only other living relative, his first cousin, Mr. Pincer; the residue to his friend, William Clodd, as a return for the many kindnesses that gentleman had shown him.
Mr. Gladman rose, more amused than angry.
“And you think you are going to pocket that one thousand to twelve hundred pounds. You really do?” he asked Mr. Clodd, who, with legs stretched out before him, sat with his hands deep in his trousers pockets.
“That's the idea,” admitted Mr. Clodd.
Mr. Gladman laughed, but without much lightening the atmosphere. “Upon my word, Clodd, you amuse me—you quite amuse me,” repeated Mr. Gladman.
“You always had a sense of humour,” commented Mr. Clodd.
“You villain! You double-dyed villain!” screamed Mr. Gladman, suddenly changing his tone. “You think the law is going to allow you to swindle honest men! You think we are going to sit still for you to rob us! That will——” Mr. Gladman pointed a lank forefinger dramatically towards the table.
“You mean to dispute it?” inquired Mr. Clodd.
For a moment Mr. Gladman stood aghast at the other's coolness, but soon found his voice again.
“Dispute it!” he shrieked. “Do you dispute that you influenced him?—dictated it to him word for word, made the poor old helpless idiot sign it, he utterly incapable of even understanding——”
“Don't chatter so much,” interrupted Mr. Clodd. “It's not a pretty voice, yours. What I asked you was, do you intend to dispute it?”
“If you will kindly excuse us,” struck in Mrs. Gladman, addressing Mr. Clodd with an air of much politeness, “we shall just have time, if we go now, to catch our solicitor before he leaves his office.”
Mr. Gladman took up his hat from underneath his chair.
“One moment,” suggested Mr. Clodd. “I did influence him to make that will. If you don't like it, there's an end of it.”
“Of course,” commenced Mr. Gladman in a mollified tone.
“Sit down,” suggested Mr. Clodd. “Let's try another one.” Mr. Clodd turned to the clerk. “The previous one, Mr. Wright, if you please; the one dated June the 10th.”
An equally short and simple document, it bequeathed three hundred pounds to Mr. William Clodd in acknowledgment of kindnesses received, the residue to the Royal Zoological Society of London, the deceased having been always interested in and fond of animals. The relatives, “who have never shown me the slightest affection or given themselves the slightest trouble concerning me, and who have already received considerable sums out of my income,” being by name excluded.
“I may mention,” observed Mr. Clodd, no one else appearing inclined to break the silence, “that in suggesting the Royal Zoological Society to my poor old friend as a fitting object for his benevolence, I had in mind a very similar case that occurred five years ago. A bequest to them was disputed on the grounds that the testator was of unsound mind. They had to take their case to the House of Lords before they finally won it.”
“Anyhow,” remarked Mr. Gladman, licking his lips, which were dry, “you won't get anything, Mr. Clodd—no, not even your three-hundred pounds, clever as you think yourself. My brother-in-law's money will go to the lawyers.”
Then Mr. Pincer rose and spoke slowly and clearly. “If there must be a lunatic connected with our family, which I don't see why there should be, it seems to me to be you, Nathaniel Gladman.”
Mr. Gladman stared back with open mouth. Mr. Pincer went on impressively.
“As for my poor old cousin Joe, he had his eccentricities, but that was all. I for one am prepared to swear that he was of sound mind in August last and quite capable of making his own will. It seems to me that the other thing, dated in June, is just waste paper.”
Mr. Pincer having delivered himself, sat down again. Mr. Gladman showed signs of returning language.
“Oh! what's the use of quarrelling?” chirped in cheery Mrs. Gladman. “It's five hundred pounds we never expected. Live and let live is what I always say.”
“It's the damned artfulness of the thing,” said Mr. Gladman, still very white about the gills.
“Oh! you have a little something to thaw your face,” suggested his wife.
Mr. and Mrs. Gladman, on the strength of the five hundred pounds, went home in a cab. Mr. Pincer stayed behind and made a night of it with Mr. Clodd and Bonner's clerk, at Clodd's expense.
The residue worked out at eleven hundred and sixty-nine pounds and a few shillings. The capital of the new company, “established for the purpose of carrying on the business of newspaper publishers and distributors, printers, advertising agents, and any other trade and enterprise affiliated to the same,” was one thousand pounds in one pound shares, fully paid up; of which William Clodd, Esquire, was registered proprietor of eight hundred and twenty-six; Peter Hope, M.A., of 16, Gough Square, of one hundred; Miss Jane Hope, adopted daughter of said Peter Hope (her real name nobody, herself included, ever having known), and generally called Tommy, of three, paid for by herself after a battle royal with William Clodd; Mrs. Postwhistle, of Rolls Court, of ten, presented by the promoter; Mr. Pincer, of the House of Commons, also of ten (still owing for); Dr. Smith (né Schmidt) of fifty; James Douglas Alexander Calder McTear (otherwise the “Wee Laddie”), residing then in Mrs. Postwhistle's first floor front, of one, paid for by poem published in the first number: “The Song of the Pen.”
Choosing a title for the paper cost much thought. Driven to despair, they called it Good Humour.