Ruth in Exile by P. G. Wodehouse
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
'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
'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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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—?'
'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
'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
'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?'
'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—'
'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
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
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
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
'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
'A poor amateur. Nothing more. You may keep it.'
'I have not the slightest wish to keep it.'
'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
And at the mont-de-piete there occurred a surprising
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
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
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
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
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
'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
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
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