“Bad luck to them! they should have sent a wake ago. You should do what Jimmy Towler did. You didn’t know Towler, of the Sappers? When he and I were souldiering in Canada he was vexed at the allowance which he had from ould Sir Oliver, his uncle, not turning up at the right time. ‘Ged, Toby,’ he says to me, ‘I’ll warm the old rascal up.’ So he sits down and writes a letter to his uncle, in which he told him his unbusiness-like ways would be the ruin of them, and more to the same effect. When Sir Oliver got the letter he was in such a divil’s own rage, that while he was dictating a codicil to his will he tumbled off the chair in a fit, and Jimmy came in for a clean siven thousand a year.”
“Dat was more dan he deserved,” the German remarked. “But you—how do you stand for money?”
Major Clutterbuck took ten sovereigns out of his trouser pocket and placed them upon the table. “You know me law,” he said; “I never, on any consideration, break into these. You can’t sit down to play cards for high stakes with less in your purse, and if I was to change one, be George! they’d all go like a whiff o’ smoke. The Lord knows when I’d get a start again then. Bar this money I’ve hardly a pinny.”
“Nor me,” said Von Baumser despondently, slapping his pockets.
“Niver mind, me boy! What’s in the common purse, I wonder?”
He looked up at a little leather bag which hung from a brass nail on the wall. In flush times they were wont to deposit small sums in this, on which they might fall back in their hours of need.
“Not much, I fear,” the other said, shaking his head.
“Well, now, we want something to pull us together on a dull day like this. Suppose we send out for a bottle of sparkling, eh?”
“Not enough money,” the other objected.
“Well, well, let’s have something cheaper. Beaune, now; Beaune’s a good comforting sort of drink. What d’ye say to splitting a bottle of Beaune, and paying for it from the common purse?”
“Not enough money,” the other persisted doggedly.
“Well, claret be it,” sighed the major. “Maybe it’s better in this sort of weather. Let us send Susan out for a bottle of claret?”
The German took down the little leather bag and turned it upside down.
A threepenny-piece and a penny rolled out. “Dat’s all,” he said.
“Not enough for claret.”
“But there is for beer,” cried the major radiantly. “Bedad, it’s just the time for a quart of fourpinny. I remimber ould Gilder, when he was our chief in India, used to say that a man who got beyond enjoying beer and a clay pipe at a pinch was either an ass or a coxcomb. He smoked a clay at the mess table himself. Draper, who commanded the division, told him it was unsoldier-like. ‘Unsoldier-like be demned,’ he said. Ged, they nearly court-martialled the ould man for it. He got the V.C. at the Quarries, and was killed at the Redan.”
A slatternly, slipshod girl answered the bell, and having received her orders and the united available funds of the two comrades, speedily returned with a brace of frothing pint pots. The major ruminated silently over his cigarette for some time, on some unpleasant subject, apparently, for his face was stem and his brows knitted. At last he broke out with an oath.
“Be George! Baumser, I can’t stand that young fellow Girdlestone. I’ll have to chuck him up. He’s such a cold-blooded, flinty-hearted, calculating sort of a chap, that—” The remainder of the major’s sentence was lost in the beer flagon.
“What for did you make him your friend, then?”
“Well,” the old soldier confessed, “it seemed to me that if he wanted to fool his money away at cards or any other divilment, Tobias Clutterbuck might as well have the handling of it as any one else. Bedad, he’s as cunning as a basketful of monkeys. He plays a safe game for low stakes, and never throws away a chance. Demned if I don’t think I’ve been a loser in pocket by knowing him, while as to me character, I’m very sure I’m the worse there.”
“Vat’s de matter mit him?”