“I’m just going down to the town,” announced Mr. James Gurtleberry, with an air of some importance: “I want to hear what people are saying about Albania. Affairs there are beginning to take on a very serious look. It’s my opinion that we haven’t seen the worst of things yet.”
In this he was probably right, but there was nothing in the immediate or prospective condition of Albania to warrant Mrs. Gurtleberry in bursting into tears.
Rex Dillot was nearly twenty-four, almost good-looking and quite penniless. His mother was supposed to make him some sort of an allowance out of what her creditors allowed her, and Rex occasionally strayed into the ranks of those who earn fitful salaries as secretaries or companions to people who are unable to cope unaided with their correspondence or their leisure. For a few months he had been assistant editor and business manager of a paper devoted to fancy mice, but the devotion had been all on one side, and the paper disappeared with a certain abruptness from club reading-rooms and other haunts where it had made a gratuitous appearance. Still, Rex lived with some air of comfort and well-being, as one can live if one is born with a genius for that sort of thing, and a kindly Providence usually arranged that his week-end invitations coincided with the dates on which his one white dinner-waistcoat was in a laundry-returned condition of dazzling cleanness. He played most games badly, and was shrewd enough to recognise the fact, but he had developed a marvellously accurate judgement in estimating the play and chances of other people, whether in a golf match, billiard handicap, or croquet tournament. By dint of parading his opinion of such and such a player’s superiority with a sufficient degree of youthful assertiveness he usually succeeded in provoking a wager at liberal odds, and he looked to his week-end winnings to carry him through the financial embarrassments of his mid-week existence. The trouble was, as he confided to Clovis Sangrail, that he never had enough available or even prospective cash at his command to enable him to fix the wager at a figure really worth winning.
“Some day,” he said, “I shall come across a really safe thing, a bet that simply can’t go astray, and then I shall put it up for all I’m worth, or rather for a good deal more than I’m worth if you sold me up to the last button.”
“It would be awkward if it didn’t happen to come off,” said Clovis.
“It would be more than awkward,” said Rex; “it would be a tragedy. All the same, it would be extremely amusing to bring it off. Fancy awaking in the morning with about three hundred pounds standing to one’s credit. I should go and clear out my hostess’s pigeon-loft before breakfast out of sheer good-temper.”
“Your hostess of the moment mightn’t have a pigeon-loft,” said Clovis.
“I always choose hostesses that have,” said Rex; “a pigeon-loft is indicative of a careless, extravagant, genial disposition, such as I like to see around me. People who strew corn broadcast for a lot of feathered inanities that just sit about cooing and giving each other the glad eye in a Louis Quatorze manner are pretty certain to do you well.”