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Title: The Ways of Chance
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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THE WAYS OF CHANCE



By Arthur Gask



Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 1954), Thursday 2 July 1942.




It was breakfast time at Cosey-corner Guest Home in Prospect, and the grim-faced Mrs. Fowlery was feeding her brood of boarders. The seven of them was made up of two elegant young lady typistes, whose perfume smelt very nice, three gents engaged in commercial pursuits, a clerk in a solicitor's office, and a middle-aged civil servant who left for work of a morning nearly an hour later than anybody else.

The boarders had just sat down and Bertie Bostock, one of the commercial gents, looked gloomily at the rashers of bacon on his plate, being strongly of opinion that they were of smaller dimensions than those the others had received. He sighed, however, with resignation, being quite aware that that was one of Mrs. Fowlery's little ways of making her boarders remember when they were behind with their payments. It was always easy to tell by the way she helped people whether they were financial or not.

"Going to be a fine day," remarked Miss James, one of the elegant young ladies with the nice smell. "I see the papers say some nice weather is setting in."

"Don't you believe it," grunted Mr. Oldflowers, the civil servant. "Prospects for fine weather couldn't be worse if that weather man says they're coming. The idiot ought to be paid by results, and then there'd be another family receiving rations."

"But perhaps he hasn't got any family, Mr. Oldflowers," suggested Miss James sweetly.

"Oh, but he's sure to have," was the quick retort. "Muddlers like him are always most prolific in propagating their species. I've always noticed it."

Mrs. Fowlery thought the conversation was beginning to border on the indelicate, and broke in quickly. "Oh, Miss James, now I think of it, would you mind noticing for me what the price of tomatoes on the stalls is today? I'm sure my greengrocer is cheating me. He looked secretive and turned away his eyes when I told him yesterday he was quite tuppence too high. I believe——"

But Mrs. Fowlery's belief on that particular matter was never to be disclosed, for at that moment the maid came in with the letters, and all interest was immediately focused upon a registered one which she handed to young Bostock.

The latter's pleasant face clouded. He knew he was behind with the weekly payments on his motor bicycle. "Hullo, what's this?" he frowned.

"It may be a summons!" remarked the lawyer's clerk, winking round the table. "It looks deuced like one to me."

But Bertie's face had cleared. He had recognised the handwriting. It was from his married sister in Port Augusta. "Joy, it's a present!" he exclaimed."It's my birthday today and I am twenty-four."

Miss Perkins, the other pleasant smeller, broke in sweetly, "But Mr. Bostock, didn't you say that Saturday evening last month when you brought in all those bottles of beer it was your birthday then?"

For the moment Bertie looked doubtful, and then he seemed to remember. "Ah, so I did!" he exclaimed. He shook his head. "But it wasn't true, Miss Perkins." He smiled. "I'm afraid I'm not a truthful man. I'm like my father." He looked round at the lawyer's clerk who had suggested the probability of his registered letter being a summons and added, "You see he was brought up for the law and that accounted for it."

With a request to be forgiven, he opened the envelope. It contained a very short letter wrapped round a little wad of notes. "My dear Bert," he read, "many happy returns. Tom had a big spot of luck at the races yesterday and sends you £10 for a birthday present. We don't forget what a sport you were when we were so hard up when I was ill. With heaps of love, Susan."

Bert assumed a grand air. "From my solicitor," he announced carelessly, "just telling me my uncle has died and that I have succeeded to the estates and the baronetcy." He thrust the notes back, uncounted, and held up the envelope for inspection. "A hundred pounds to go on with," he grinned, "to make sure I don't go short of drinks and cigarettes."

Mock congratulations were showered on him and then, the telephone ringing sharply in an adjoining room, Mrs. Fowlery went to see who it was. "Mr. Bostock," she called out, "a Mr. Percy Packer wants you," and with a somewhat puzzled frown from Bert, went to the phone. He did not, however, attempt to close the intervening door and the breakfasters stayed their conversation to hear what was going on.

They heard a big "Oh," and then Bert exclaimed, "Really, really." Quite a long silence followed and then Bert said, "Of course, of course, that's the right thing." Then Bert's voice came very loudly. "Well, old man, I'll never be 24 again, but many thanks for your congratulations. See you later."

He returned into the breakfast room to finish his interrupted meal, and it was remembered afterwards he looked a little pale.

"Just an invitation to lunch today at Government House," he announced airily. "It was His Excellency's secretary speaking, and he said how anxious Sir Roger was that I should come."

"But I didn't know," commented Miss James doubtfully, "that Mr. Percy Packer was the Governor's secretary. I thought he was that friend of yours who works with you in the Manchester Department at Dogberry's and Jones."

"Not at all," retorted Bert emphatically. "My friend, the Mr. Packer who works with me is quite a different person. This Pakker the Governor's secretary spells his name with two K's."

The meal over, they all rose up to go their several ways. Arriving at Dogberry and Jones's Departmental Store, Bert found his crony, the Packer with one K, waiting outside, and at once to an interested observer their conduct might have seemed most peculiar. Their faces wore the broadest of grins, but they didn't speak, being content to wring each other's hands as if they would never let them go. At last, however, they betook themselves down to the basement of the store, where, for quite five minutes, an intense whispered colloquy ensued, until, indeed, it was time for them to go upstairs and resume the selling of sheets, pillow-cases, dish-cloths, &c. to the opulent and elite of the city.

During the course of the morning, however, whenever they chanced to meet, their conduct, at any rate to their fellow employees was, to say the least of it, strange. They made fearful grimaces at each other, horrid gurgling sounds came from their throats, and they dug each other fiercely in the ribs whenever opportunity offered. Miss Tomkins in "the dresses" put it down to beer, and would have taken an affidavit that she smelt peppermints, but Miss Winchester in the "millinery" was more romantic, and a profound student of detective and dope stories, was seriously of opinion they had been taking drugs. She said they "rolled the balls of the eyes," just as one of the characters did in "Poisoned Pills," an absorbing novel she had recently been reading.

But all unmindful of the comment they had evoked, Bert and Percy were joyously happy of heart and in the lunch-hour, disdaining the provender provided by the firm, went out and had a "good feed" as they called it, at a fish café.

"Now, Perce, old man," said Bert, as he drained the last drop of coffee from his cup and spooned out the sugar, "we ought to celebrate tonight. What about feeding at the good old Semiris and taking a couple of birds with us." He tapped the registered envelope which had been following him about all the morning in his hip pocket. "I'll advance the ready and it can go down to the expenses of the firm."

"All right, my boy," agreed Perce at once. "I'll bring my girl"—he frowned—"but what about you? You're not engaged like me."

"Not yet," frowned back Bert darkly, "although it mayn't be long now." He nodded. "Still I'll bring along my bit of stuff. I won't be without a skirt. We'll all meet at Beehive corner at 6.45 and after the feed do a decent picture afterwards."

Early that afternoon, Bert made a quick dash from the Manchester Department, and approached the very superior Miss Millington on "the perfumery." For long he had worshipped her from afar, but had never dared to try and become friendly. Now he went up boldly.

"I say, Miss Millington," he said gaily, "what about you coming with me tonight to a nice little dinner somewhere"—he didn't mention the Semiris for he wanted that to be a surprise to her—"and afterwards to see 'Purple Passion' at the Princess. I think you'd enjoy the evening. Will you come?"

Miss Millington regarded him haughtily. The "perfumery" was always a cut above the "manchester," and apart from that, she didn't consider Bert to be too strongly financial. When she came across him at the beaches, as she occasionally did, she noticed he was always wearing the same old shabby blazer.

"Thank you," she said coldly, "but I have another engagement."

Bert flushed hotly. The snub was so obvious and she had spoken so loudly that assistants at other counters had heard. He grinned uncomfortably and was going away as quickly as he could, when an eager voice hailed him from the counter adjoining the perfumery one. "Now, why don't you ask me, Mr. Bostock?" it called out laughingly. "I'll come with the greatest of pleasure."

He turned to see who had spoken and saw it was little Kitty Clover, in the gloves. She was small, but undeniably pretty, with soft brown eyes. He knew her very slightly, and, hitherto, had always thought her very shy.

"Oh, it's you, is it, Miss Clover?" he laughed back. He pretended to feel in his pocket for an imaginary piece of paper. "Well, you are down on my list anyhow, but I forget the exact order." He nodded smilingly. "Still, as you've put in your claim first, you shall come if you'd like to."

"Thank you, Mr. Bostock," replied Kitty, now casting down her eyes. "I'm sure I shall enjoy it immensely. I've been longing to see 'Purple Passion,' but hadn't found the right person yet to take me."

Bert was quite thrilled at her saying "the right person." At any rate she realised coming with him was not like going with anyone who asked her. "Then it's 6.50 tonight at the Beehive corner," he said, "and, please, don't be late. Mr. Packer's bringing his young lady and it'll be a party of four." He nodded smilingly. "And you look extra nice, Miss Clover, as I'm booking a table for dinner at the Semiris. It's my birthday today, and I've had a good wad of notes sent me."

Kitty Clover looked all excitement, but Miss Millington, very disdainful. All the same, however, deep down, the latter young lady was rather wishing she hadn't been so hasty in her refusal. She ought to have enquired where Bert was intending to go for the meal first.

When Bert had gone she called across to Kitty. "Don't you be so sure about the Semiris, my dear. Very likely it'll only be coffee and sandwiches at some café."

Kitty did not seem downcast, which attitude of mind turned out to be a sensible one, as towards five o'clock it was definitely known to the assistants all through the big store that Bert Bostock had got Miss Pimpkins at the stamp counter to ring up the Semiris and book four seats for dinner that evening. It was rumored, too, a wealthy aunt who kept a fish and chips shop in Port Pirie had sent him £50 for his birthday.

Looking back in after years, young Bert always regarded that evening as one of the happiest of his life. To begin with, the dinner at the Semiris had been an epicurean feast, and as the good wine had coursed through his veins—they had had a bottle of champagne at fifteen and six the bottle—he had felt the equal and, indeed, almost the superior of any one in the big dining-room.

It was the first time any of them had been to an expensive hotel (the dinner had cost 7/6 each), and it was quite true there had been one very awkward moment when the bowing waiter had presented the menu all in French. However, at Kitty's whispered injunction, after ordering clear soup for them all, Bert had waved him away, saying they would consider what they would have next.

Then Kitty had turned out to be a veritable tower of strength, for, five and twenty years back, her mother had been a maid in a nobleman's service in England, and from her she had picked up the meanings of quite a lot of things in French. So she knew that "merlans a la francais" was only fried whiting, that "tournedos aux champignons" must mean beef fillet and mushrooms, that "veau" was veal; "poulet" chicken and "canape" duck.

So, like an experienced navigator she steered them through the menu, until at last they came safe into harbor with a mouthful of homely Welsh rarebit. Bert was delighted with her for, apart from her triumph over the menu, she looked so refreshingly pretty and sweet. Once, during the meal he felt gently for her foot with his, and only desisted from pressing much harder when she whispered, "Be careful, dear boy, these stockings are the only ones I've got to match this dress."

He was thrilled with the confidence, and thrilled, even more, when later, in the darkness of "Purple Passion," she snuggled very close to him and let him hold her little shaking hand at an exciting moment in the picture when the villain's revolver was going bang, bang, bang, all over the place. It came to him then, as in a flash of intuition, that perhaps Fate had destined him to be her protector for ever and a day. To blazes with Miss Millington and all her type, he thought!

Percy's girl had turned out to be very charming, too, and she and Kitty had got on like a house on fire. It was discovered they lived close to each other. So the two young fellows saw them home together across the parklands, and as Percy, of course, kissed his girl good-night, Bert wanted to follow suit with Kitty. The latter was sweetly shy at first, but, after a moment, put up her lips and allowed the kiss to be a very nice one.

The next day nothing of much event took place to the two friends. They appeared much quieter and exchanged no more broad grins and sly digs in the ribs. Indeed, it was as if some great responsibility had flung its heavy mantle over them and sobered them down. Kitty and Bert, however, managed to give each other a few tender glances and the latter received a hurriedly whispered invitation to come home to tea the following evening and meet Kitty's mother. He had already learnt she was a widow and Kitty her only child.

But, if of that day there be nothing to record, it is quite different of the next. It began with more whispered conversation directly Bert and Percy met at the store, accompanied by many smiles and nods; the grins and rib-diggings, however, were not resumed. Things had proceeded long beyond that stage and apparently some great crisis was near. The two friends had schemed to go out to dinner at the same time and, accordingly, five minutes past twelve found them in King William street upon the steps of the stately portals of the South Australian Bank.

"We're right every time in coming here," said Bert confidently. "My knowing old Bellingham will make everything easy. He'll trust me, for all his eight years as our churchwarden he's been having an eyeful of me singing in the choir. Come on, old man, we won't see anyone lower than him."

So, after considerable frowning on the part of minor officers of the bank, they were ushered into the manager's presence.

"Good morning, sir," said Bert, gulping down a lump in his throat; "you remember me? Well, this is Mr. Percy Packer, who works with me at Dogberry & Jones's. We want to open two separate accounts."

"Certainly!" said the manager. His eyebrows went up a little. "What with?"

"This!" said Bert, repressing a grin of triumph, and he handed him a small, thin piece of paper.

"Ah, a lottery ticket!" exclaimed the manager. He frowned. "You've been gambling!"

"Oh, no, sir," exclaimed Bert quickly, "at least, not exactly!" He coughed. "Most of this money you see goes to support the hospitals."

"Ah, that's better," nodded the manager. He looked interested. "And you've drawn a prize! How much?"

Bert could just manage to get out his words. "£20,000, sir. Here's the result slip. It only came this morning. See our number, 776655, has got the first prize."

Mr. Bellingham frowned again, stared hard, compared the numbers, and tut-tutted several times.

"All right, young gentlemen," he said at last, rising to his feet. "We'll collect this money for you, and if we use the air mail and the 'phone you'll be credited with the money in about two days' time. Good-bye, and if you take my advice, you'll clear out for a little holiday. It is sure to become known and then"—he smiled a grim smile—"you'll be astounded at the number of friends you've got."

The secret was kept from everyone for three days and neither Kitty nor Percy's young lady were told. Losing no time, Bert had asked Kitty to be his wife that evening when he had gone to her home to be introduced to her mother. Of all places, the proposal had been made in the tram, and Kitty had blushed so prettily that an elderly gentleman opposite had been carried quite half a mile beyond his destination, and been made by the conductor to pay an other tuppence in consequence.

Kitty had mouthed a 'yes', above the rattle of the tram, but the first affianced kiss had not passed between them until they were in the front garden of Kitty's home. Bert and the mother had been very pleased with each other.

When, at last, the money had arrived at the bank and the two young fellows had been provided with cheque books, they resolved to give notice to their employers. Bert went in first to see Mr. Dogberry and the old man received him with a scowl.

"What is it you want, Bostock?" he asked irritably. "I'm very busy." Bert said he had come to give notice and, upon being asked testily to which other firm he was going, replied he was intending in future to lead an outdoor life and was going on the land.

"Then are you going to buy some extensive property?" asked Mr. Dogberry with heavy sarcasm.

"Not to start off with, sir," replied Bert smilingly. "I shall go out as a farmhand, first, to learn everything before I invest any of my money."

"Oh, and have you much money to invest, may I ask?" enquired Mr. Dogberry with a grin and chilling smile.

Bert, certain that the story of their good fortune was bound to become known sooner or later, saw no reason for keeping anything back, and so told his employer how he and Percy Packer had come to win £20,000.

The old man nearly jumped out of his chair. "£10,000 each!" he gasped. "Why, it's a fortune!" He could hardly get his breath. "Does everybody know?"

"No, sir, not yet," smiled Bert, pretending a great respect, "you're the first one to hear about it. We thought it best to tell you before anyone else."

"Quite right, quite right," nodded his employer, "the proper thing to do!" A thought struck him and his eyes, opened very wide. "But I say, what a splendid advertisement it should be for the firm! A paragraph in the newspaper, 'Two young gentlemen in the Manchester department of Dogberry and Jones win £20,000'!" He raised his voice excitedly. "Why, everyone will be talking about us!"

"I suppose so," smiled Bert. "A little bit out of the ordinary, isn't it?"

"Most decidedly it is!" nodded Mr. Dogberry. He became quite excited. "But Mr. Bostock"—he called him Mr. now:—"I must ask you as a favor not to leave us straightaway. At any rate stay on for a few weeks, and everyone will be coming to have a look at you." He rubbed his hands together. "Yes, I'll get that paragraph in at once." His eyes sparkled. "'Smart young salesmen—so keen upon their work—most reluctant to give it up notwithstanding the turn of Fortune's wheel—the lure of selling superfine sheets and blankets still holds them—their lives so happy that——'" but an idea came to him and he demanded sharply, "You're not married, are you?"

"Not yet," replied Bert smilingly, "but I soon shall be. I'm engaged to your Miss Clover in the gloves."

Mr. Dogberry raised his hand excitedly. "Better and better still! We'll make the paragraph more interesting than ever. 'Young salesman in the Manchester engaged to lovely girl in the gloves! Fortune showering her favors upon him!'" His hands shook. "Oh, Mr. Bostock, I implore that neither you nor Miss Clover leave us for a while. And the same with that splendid young Mr. Packer. The Manchester and the glove departments will have record sales."

So Percy Packer and Kitty Clover being called in, it ended in them all agreeing to remain on with the firm for three weeks. The two friends rather enjoyed the interest they excited in their customers, but were most annoyed by one newspaper referring to them as "two dashing young haberdashers." Everyone in drapery circles knows that the Manchester department is miles above the lowly haberdashery one.

A week after they had left the business, Bert and Kitty were married. The night before Kitty had a short but very serious conversation with her mother. "You know, mum," she said, "I've grown really very fond of Bert. He's a dear boy, and I'll do my very best to make him a good wife." She looked troubled. "But I don't like marrying him with this dreadful secret on my mind. How awful if he found it out!"

"But he won't find it out," nodded her mother confidently. "Your aunty knows when to hold her tongue, and she'll never say a word. Don't you worry there."

"But it doesn't seem fair, mum," protested Kitty. "I feel I ought to tell him."

"Nonsense," exclaimed her mother. "A girl's secrets are her own until she's married, and if she blabs them out she always regrets it. No. You say nothing and you'll never be sorry for it."

Kitty was over-ruled and did as her mother bade her. So Bert never learnt she had known from the very beginning that he had won that £10,000, and, accordingly, had deliberately set her cap to get him.

It had come about in this way. Her aunty was an agent for Pusher's patent carpet sweepers, and upon the morning when Percy was phoning Bert about their having drawn the winning lottery ticket, it happened she had been making an early call upon the former's landlady to collect an installment on the sweeper she had sold her. Standing waiting in the hall, she had overheard everything Percy had said, and, chancing to meet Kitty in the street a few minutes later, had passed on the news to her.

So Kitty had been an artful little puss, but who will hold that against her? Are not all girls by nature artful, and as she went on to make Bert a splendid little wife, surely no one will blame her, for acting as she did. No one, perhaps, except the one-time perfumery young lady, Miss Millington. Still, as she married a well-to-do butcher, and in almost record time presented him with three little butchers to carry on the line, certainly she had no cause to be envious.

She was happy, too, in her oft repeated boast that she had once given the cold shoulder to an ardent admirer who had just come in for £10,000. She did not mention, however, that at the time she had known nothing about his possessing so much money.



THE END.