Uneasy money (part 2)
P. G. Wodehouse
It was Nutty Boyd’s habit to retire immediately after dinner to his bedroom. What he did there Elizabeth did not know. Sometimes she pictured him reading, sometimes thinking. Neither supposition was correct. Nutty never read. Newspapers bored him and books made his head ache. And as for thinking, he had the wrong shape of forehead. The nearest he ever got to meditation was a sort of trance-like state, a kind of suspended animation in which his mind drifted sluggishly like a log in a backwater. Nutty, it is regrettable to say, went to his room after dinner for the purpose of imbibing two or three surreptitious whiskies-and-sodas.
He behaved in this way, he told himself, purely in order to spare Elizabeth anxiety. There had been in the past a fool of a doctor who had prescribed total abstinence for Nutty, and Elizabeth knew this. Therefore, Nutty held, to take the mildest of drinks with her knowledge would have been to fill her with fears for his safety. So he went to considerable inconvenience to keep the matter from her notice, and thought rather highly of himself for doing so.
It certainly was inconvenient – there was no doubt of that. It made him feel like a cross between a hunted fawn and a burglar. But he had to some extent diminished the possibility of surprise by leaving his door open; and to-night he approached the cupboard where he kept the materials for refreshment with a certain confidence. He had left Elizabeth on the porch in a hammock, apparently anchored for some time. Lord Dawlish was out in the grounds somewhere. Presently he would come in and join Elizabeth on the porch. The risk of interruption was negligible.
Nutty mixed himself a drink and settled down to brood bitterly, as he often did, on the doctor who had made that disastrous statement. Doctors were always saying things like that – sweeping things which nervous people took too literally. It was true
that he had been in pretty bad shape at the moment when the words had been spoken. It was just at the end of his Broadway career, when, as he handsomely admitted, there was a certain amount of truth in the opinion that his interior needed a vacation. But since then he had been living in the country, breathing good air, taking things easy. In these altered conditions and after this lapse of time it was absurd to imagine that a moderate amount of alcohol could do him any harm.
It hadn’t done him any harm, that was the point. He had tested the doctor’s statement and found it incorrect. He had spent three hectic days and nights in New York, and – after a reasonable interval – had felt much the same as usual. And since then he had imbibed each night, and nothing had happened. What it came to was that the doctor was a chump and a blighter. Simply that and nothing more.
Having come to this decision, Nutty mixed another drink. He went to the head of the stairs and listened. He heard nothing. He returned to his room.
Yes, that was it, the doctor was a chump. So far from doing him any harm, these nightly potations brightened Nutty up, gave him heart, and enabled him to endure life in this hole of a place. He felt a certain scornful amusement. Doctors, he supposed, had to get off that sort of talk to earn their money.
He reached out for the bottle, and as he grasped it his eye was caught by something on the floor. A brown monkey with a long, grey tail was sitting there staring at him.
There was one of those painful pauses. Nutty looked at the monkey rather like an elongated Macbeth inspecting the ghost of Banquo.