We have all heard of that pleasing reward in affection said to await the cheerful giver. I have often thought that some little gift of grace might reasonably be promised also to the cheerful liar, provided always he be entertaining. Were this the case, my friend, Percy Podgrass would be sure of a prize.
I don’t know why, but I had promised to meet Percy the other day, and accompany him to an exhibition of pictures. To my surprise he kept the appointment punctually, and, as he approached, I noticed he was dressed immaculately as ever, save that he wore, on the left side (which is distinctly not the mode) a lovely black eye, at that moment in the full pride of its purplish prime.
“I know what you are going to ask me,” he said. “I got it at a seance -– you know -– a spook convention. A ghost gave it to me. You see, I was sitting –-“
“Never mind details, Percy,” said I. “I’ll take them as spoken.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to listen to a few,” he said, as we started down the street. He was right.
We had not gone far when there approached a vague young man who, in many outer respects, was a replica of Percy. The young man’s greeting was plainly derisive.
“What Ho, Paddy,” he babbled. “What a perfect peeper! How did you collect it?”
“Picking – violets,” said Percy coldly and very distinctly; and we passed on.
A rather pompous old gentleman was now approaching, and Percy obviously sought to attract his attention.
“By gad, young Podgrass,” said the old gentleman. “What is this? In the wars?”
“Nothing to be ashamed of, I think, sir,” said Percy, very deferentially. And then he amazed even me with a detailed and circumstantial story of modest heroism.
It was the story of a red revolutionary meeting somewhere in the suburbs, of a lonely loyalist seated amongst them, of impassioned and of sneering speeches sinker deeper and deeper into the slough of rank disloyalty. (“Grossly insulting, sir, to King and Empire,” as Percy put it.)
Then the reckless challenge of flaming youth, the lone young Empire-builder, the dispute, the uproar, the melee and the wholly satisfying finish. A black eye, certainly; but the traitorous foreman did no go wholly unscathed. Far from it.
The old gentleman swallowed it whole – avidly, every meticulous and mendacious detail.
“By gad, young Podgrass! Didn’t think you had it in you. Forgive me. By the way, why don’t you come around some afternoon and see us? What about Sunday? Fine, fine.” And again we passed on.
“Score number one,” said Percy. “Do you begin to see? I’ve been wanting to break in there,” he added shamelessly. “Years ago, a wise old man assured me that the secret of success was the secret of making your misfortunes work for you. I am giving it a fly; but not for the first time. Watch my step.”
I watched. And to tell in detail all the many and incredibly varied tales that Percy told that afternoon might not be wearisome.
There was the tale, for example, told with rather spiteful intent to an oldish, youngish lady with a gushing manner and a cold, hard eye.
It concerned a young botanist (Percy, of course) alone in the bush collecting specimens, and of a sundew plant, that carnivorous vegetable of orchid variety that lures small insects into its toile and devours them.
But the sundew of Percy’s story was a monstrous affair, a voracious vegetable that sprang at him intent on assimilation. But a lucky dodge aside resulted only in a swift blow in the eye.
“But we must live and learn, madam. We must ask if we would know,” said Percy, sweetly, when the lady expressed doubt. And the lady’s cold, hard eye grew colder and harder.
These were plain tales, of course, of wood-chopping accidents, of motor mishaps, the psychic tale of a dream, dissipated at the awakening, yet leaving behind this mysterious black eye, carried unaccountably from dreamland into the workaday world. And there were 20 others; but never two even remotely similar.
To this day I don’t know how Percy got his black eye.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2004-06|