Republished: Feb 18, 2020
I want to tell you all about dear old Bobbie Cardew. It’s a most interesting story. I can’t put in any literary style and all that; but I don’t have to, don’t you know, because it goes on its Moral Lesson. If you’re a man you mustn’t miss it, because it’ll be a warning to you; and if you’re a woman you won’t want to, because it’s all about how a girl made a man feel pretty well fed up with things.
If you’re a recent acquaintance of Bobbie’s, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that there was a time when he was more remarkable for the weakness of his memory than anything else. Dozens of fellows, who have only met Bobbie since the change took place, have been surprised when I told them that. Yet it’s true. Believe me.
In the days when I first knew him Bobbie Cardew was about the most pronounced young rotter inside the four-mile radius. People have called me a silly ass, but I was never in the same class with Bobbie. When it came to being a silly ass, he was a plus-four man, while my handicap was about six. Why, if I wanted him to dine with me, I used to post him a letter at the beginning of the week, and then the day before send him a telegram and a phone-call on the day itself, and—half an hour before the time we’d fixed—a messenger in a taxi, whose business it was to see that he got in and that the chauffeur had the address all correct. By doing this I generally managed to get him, unless he had left town before my messenger arrived.
The funny thing was that he wasn’t altogether a fool in other ways. Deep down in him there was a kind of stratum of sense. I had known him, once or twice, show an almost human intelligence. But to reach that stratum, mind you, you needed dynamite.
At least, that’s what I thought. But there was another way which hadn’t occurred to me. Marriage, I mean. Marriage, the dynamite of the soul; that was what hit Bobbie. He married. Have you ever seen a bull-pup chasing a bee? The pup sees the bee. It looks good to him. But he still doesn’t know what’s at the end of it till he gets there. It was like that with Bobbie. He fell in love, got married—with a sort of whoop, as if it were the greatest fun in the world—and then began to find out things.
She wasn’t the sort of girl you would have expected Bobbie to rave about. And yet, I don’t know. What I mean is, she worked for her living; and to a fellow who has never done a hand’s turn in his life there’s undoubtedly a sort of fascination, a kind of romance, about a girl who works for her living.
Her name was Anthony. Mary Anthony. She was about five feet six; she had a ton and a half of red-gold hair, grey eyes, and one of those determined chins. She was a hospital nurse. When Bobbie smashed himself up at polo, she was told off by the authorities to smooth his brow and rally round with cooling unguents and all that; and the old boy hadn’t been up and about again for more than a week before they popped off to the registrar’s and fixed it up. Quite the romance.
Bobbie broke the news to me at the club one evening, and next day he introduced me to her. I admired her. I’ve never worked myself—my name’s Pepper, by the way. Almost forgot to mention it. Reggie Pepper. My uncle Edward was Pepper, Wells, and Co., the Colliery people. He left me a sizable chunk of bullion—I say I’ve never worked myself, but I admire any one who earns a living under difficulties, especially a girl. And this girl had had a rather unusually tough time of it, being an orphan and all that, and having had to do everything off her own bat for years.
Mary and I got along together splendidly. We don’t now, but we’ll come to that later. I’m speaking of the past. She seemed to think Bobbie the greatest thing on earth, judging by the way she looked at him when she thought I wasn’t noticing. And Bobbie seemed to think the same about her. So that I came to the conclusion that, if only dear old Bobbie didn’t forget to go to the wedding, they had a sporting chance of being quite happy.
Well, let’s brisk up a bit here, and jump a year. The story doesn’t really start till then.
They took a flat and settled down. I was in and out of the place quite a good deal. I kept my eyes open, and everything seemed to me to be running along as smoothly as you could want. If this was marriage, I thought, I couldn’t see why fellows were so frightened of it. There were a lot of worse things that could happen to a man.
But we now come to the incident of the quiet Dinner, and it’s just here that love’s young dream hits a snag, and things begin to occur.
I happened to meet Bobbie in Piccadilly, and he asked me to come back to dinner at the flat. And, like a fool, instead of bolting and putting myself under police protection, I went.
When we got to the flat, there was Mrs. Bobbie looking—well, I tell you, it staggered me. Her gold hair was all piled up in waves and crinkles and things, with a what-d’-you-call-it of diamonds in it. And she was wearing the most perfectly ripping dress. I couldn’t begin to describe it. I can only say it was the limit. It struck me that if this was how she was in the habit of looking every night when they were dining quietly at home together, it was no wonder that Bobbie liked domesticity.
“Here’s old Reggie, dear,” said Bobbie. “I’ve brought him home to have a bit of dinner. I’ll phone down to the kitchen and ask them to send it up now—what?”
She stared at him as if she had never seen him before. Then she turned scarlet. Then she turned as white as a sheet. Then she gave a little laugh. It was most interesting to watch. Made me wish I was up a tree about eight hundred miles away. Then she recovered herself.
“I am so glad you were able to come, Mr. Pepper,” she said, smiling at me.
And after that she was all right. At least, you would have said so. She talked a lot at dinner, and chaffed Bobbie, and played us ragtime on the piano afterwards, as if she hadn’t a care in the world. Quite a jolly little party it was—not. I’m no lynx-eyed sleuth, and all that sort of thing, but I had seen her face at the beginning, and I knew that she was working the whole time and working hard, to keep herself in hand, and that she would have given that diamond what’s-its-name in her hair and everything else she possessed to have one good scream—just one. I’ve sat through some pretty thick evenings in my time, but that one had the rest beaten in a canter. At the very earliest moment I grabbed my hat and got away.
Having seen what I did, I wasn’t particularly surprised to meet Bobbie at the club next day looking about as merry and bright as a lonely gum-drop at an Eskimo tea-party.
He started in straightway. He seemed glad to have someone to talk to about it.
“Do you know how long I’ve been married?” he said.
I didn’t exactly.
“About a year, isn’t it?”
“Not about a year,” he said sadly. “Exactly a year—yesterday!”
Then I understood. I saw light—a regular flash of light.
“The anniversary of the wedding. I’d arranged to take Mary to the Savoy, and on to Covent Garden. She particularly wanted to hear Caruso. I had the ticket for the box in my pocket. Do you know, all through dinner I had a kind of rummy idea that there was something I’d forgotten, but I couldn’t think what?”
“Till your wife mentioned it?”
“She—mentioned it,” he said thoughtfully.
I didn’t ask for details. Women with hair and chins like Mary’s may be angels most of the time, but, when they take off their wings for a bit, they aren’t half-hearted about it.
“To be absolutely frank, old top,” said poor old Bobbie, in a broken sort of way, “my stock’s pretty low at home.”
There didn’t seem much to be done. I just lit a cigarette and sat there. He didn’t want to talk. Presently he went out. I stood at the window of our upper smoking-room, which looks out on to Piccadilly, and watched him. He walked slowly along for a few yards, stopped, then walked on again, and finally turned into a jeweller’s. Which was an instance of what I meant when I said that deep down in him there was a certain stratum of sense.
It was from now on that I began to be really interested in this problem of Bobbie’s married life. Of course, one’s always mildly interested in one’s friends’ marriages, hoping they’ll turn out well and all that; but this was different. The average man isn’t like Bobbie, and the average girl isn’t like Mary. It was that old business of the immovable mass and the irresistible force. There was Bobbie, ambling gently through life, a dear old chap in a hundred ways, but undoubtedly a chump of the first water.
And there was Mary, determined that he shouldn’t be a chump. And Nature, mind you, on Bobbie’s side. When Nature makes a chump like dear old Bobbie, she’s proud of him, and doesn’t want her handiwork disturbed. She gives him a sort of natural armour to protect him against outside interference. And that armour is shortness of memory. Shortness of memory keeps a man a chump, when, but for it, he might cease to be one. Take my case, for instance. I’m a chump. Well, if I had remembered half the things people have tried to teach me during my life, my size in hats would be about number nine. But I didn’t. I forgot them. And it was just the same with Bobbie.
For about a week, perhaps a bit more, the recollection of that quiet little domestic evening bucked him up like a tonic. Elephants, I read somewhere, are champions at the memory business, but they were fools to Bobbie during that week. But, bless you, the shock wasn’t nearly big enough. It had dinted the armour, but it hadn’t made a hole in it. Pretty soon he was back at the old game.
It was pathetic, don’t you know. The poor girl loved him, and she was frightened. It was the thin edge of the wedge, you see, and she knew it. A man who forgets what day he was married, when he’s been married one year, will forget, at about the end of the fourth, that he’s married at all. If she meant to get him in hand at all, she had got to do it now, before he began to drift away.
I saw that clearly enough, and I tried to make Bobbie see it, when he was by way of pouring out his troubles to me one afternoon. I can’t remember what it was that he had forgotten the day before, but it was something she had asked him to bring home for her—it may have been a book.
“It’s such a little thing to make a fuss about,” said Bobbie. “And she knows that it’s simply because I’ve got such an infernal memory about everything. I can’t remember anything. Never could.”
He talked on for a while, and, just as he was going, he pulled out a couple of sovereigns.
“Oh, by the way,” he said.
“What’s this for?” I asked, though I knew.
“I owe it you.”
“How’s that?” I said.
“Why, that bet on Tuesday. In the billiard-room. Murray and Brown were playing a hundred up, and I gave you two to one that Brown would win, and Murray beat him by twenty odd.”
“So you do remember some things?” I said.
He got quite excited. Said that if I thought he was the sort of rotter who forgot to pay when he lost a bet, it was pretty rotten of me after knowing him all these years, and a lot more like that.
“Subside, laddie,” I said.
Then I spoke to him like a father.
“What you’ve got to do, my old college chum,” I said, “is to pull yourself together, and jolly quick, too. As things are shaping, you’re due for a nasty knock before you know what’s hit you. You’ve got to make an effort. Don’t say you can’t. This two quid business shows that, even if your memory is rocky, you can remember some things. What you’ve got to do is to see that wedding anniversaries and so on are included in the list. It may be a brainstrain, but you can’t get out of it.”
“I suppose you’re right,” said Bobbie. “But it beats me why she thinks such a lot of these rotten little dates. What’s it matter if I forgot what day we were married on or what day she was born on or what day the cat had the measles? She knows I love her just as much as if I were a memorizing freak at the halls.”
“That’s not enough for a woman,” I said. “They want to be shown. Bear that in mind, and you’re all right. Forget it, and there’ll be trouble.”
He chewed the knob of his stick.
“Women are frightfully rummy,” he said gloomily.
“You should have thought of that before you married one,” I said.
I don’t see that I could have done any more. I had put the whole thing in a nutshell for him. You would have thought he’d have seen the point, and that it would have made him brace up and get a hold on himself. But no. Off he went again in the same old way. I gave up arguing with him. I had a good deal of time on my hands, but not enough to amount to anything when it was a question of reforming dear old Bobbie by argument. If you see a man asking for trouble, and insisting on getting it, the only thing to do is to stand by and wait till it comes to him. After that you may get a chance. But till then there’s nothing to be done. But I thought a lot about him.
Bobbie didn’t get into the soup all at once. Weeks went by, and months, and still nothing happened. Now and then he’d come into the club with a kind of cloud on his shining morning face, and I’d know that there had been doings in the home; but it wasn’t till well on in the spring that he got the thunderbolt just where he had been asking for it—in the thorax.
I was smoking a quiet cigarette one morning in the window looking out over Piccadilly, and watching the buses and motors going up one way and down the other—most interesting it is; I often do it—when in rushed Bobbie, with his eyes bulging and his face the colour of an oyster, waving a piece of paper in his hand.
“Reggie,” he said. “Reggie, old top, she’s gone!”
“Gone!” I said. “Who?”
“Mary, of course! Gone! Left me! Gone!”
“Where?” I said.
Silly question? Perhaps you’re right. Anyhow, dear old Bobbie nearly foamed at the mouth.
“Where? How should I know where? Here, read this.”
He pushed the paper into my hand. It was a letter.
“Go on,” said Bobbie. “Read it.”
So I did. It certainly was quite a letter. There was not much of it, but it was all to the point. This is what it said:
“MY DEAR BOBBIE,—I am going away. When you care enough about me to remember to wish me many happy returns on my birthday, I will come back. My address will be Box 341, London Morning News.”