I am beginning to suspect that my rather erratic but rather quaintly clever acquaintance, Percy Podgrass, is not quite what he would call "one of us." There have been certain lapses and betrayals, small in themselves, but of sinister significance, that begin to shake my too ready assumption that he is quite without social or even ethical blemish. Indeed I question now whether is entirely a respectable associate. I am more than convinced that he is not a desirable one.
I know well enough that he is meticulously careful in avoiding quite a number of those little things that "are not done," and in the rigorous performance of many others that are done; in fact, good form is rather a fetish with Percy, suspiciously so, as I now begin to see.
The first doubts came to me on Monday last when, it will be remembered, this State welcomed a very eminent and distinguished official to its shores. Flags fluttered, crowds collected, guns boomed, and here and there about the city men were to be seen clad in the gold-braided garments of office, while others wore formal civilian garb reserved for great occasions.
I was hastening along Collins Street to visit my tailor that morning when, to my amazement, I almost stumbled into Percy clad, even as the lilies of the field - figuratively, of course, for I know of no variety of the order lilium that runs to top-hats, frock coats and spats or even to pale lavender cravats, although Percy, in the matter of toiling or spinning anything but yarns is, I admit, quaintly lily-like.
Indeed, so particular is he about the avoidance of toil or any semblance of it, that I know he does not hold even a Government or public position of any kind.
Being aware of this, I questioned the good taste of appearing in public on such a day, of all days, in clothing that might mislead people into thinking that one held a position of social eminence that one's self knew to be wholly illusory.
Indeed, I pointed out that since top-hats and frock-coats were so unusual in these decadent days, the whole thing amounted to a vague form of public deception to inferential false pretences. But Percy received my protests with a tolerant smile.
"My dear old shellfish," he said. "Is the famous perspicacity a wee bit passive this morning, the old brain a bit on the blink? What? Can't you see old eggplant, that this is the very day, the very hour to drag the glad rags from the Gladstone-bag and create the good impresh?
"Surely you are wide awake enough to imagine that there may be certain people in this town on whom for social and even monetary reasons, I may wish to make a good impression. One can't be a blatherskiting bounder. It isn't done. But one can, on such an auspicious occasion as this, walk abroad in the old stove-pipe and flogger. Innocent enough. If people imagine I am going to a reception or something that's their fault, isn't it? And the impression they receive that I am something of a pot - well, one never knows - might be useful some day.
"Where are you bound for?" he continued. "Tailor, eh? I say! This is positively providential. I know that tailor, but hardly well enough. Now listen."
Well, I suppose that some people might say that, after his recent revelation, I should not have listened to Percy, but I did, and his scheme, briefly, was this:
Since I was on my way to pay my tailor a bill (in cash as Percy was careful to discover) and as Percy had long desired to get a few months' or a few years' credit from this particular tradesman, Percy now proposed to give me a much needed lesson on the art of making good impressions. I was, it seemed, to let Percy have brief custody of three of my carefully hoarded pound notes.
We were to enter the tailor's shop together and there, finding myself short of enough cash to pay my bill I was to request a loan from Percy. His ready compliance, plus his gorgeous raiment, would so impress the tailor that, should Percy desire credit from him - But you see the idea, of course.
We reached the tailor's, and for a time all went well. In fact, I rather flatter myself on my histrionic effort: the confident demand for the bill, the sudden bewilderment on finding myself short, the frantic searching through various pockets, and, finally, the air of relief upon recollecting the affluent looking friend who accompanied me.
By this time Percy was idly inspecting some of the season's latest suitings that were displayed near the doorway.
"Ah, Podgrass, old chaip," said I with careless confidence. "Lend me three pounds, will you?"
Percy's ready hand went to his pocket. Then he paused, suddenly regretful.
"Sorry, old boy," he replied. "Bit short myself. Just enough change for lunch and a decent dinner. Must keep that appointment, too. See you later."
And, with astonishing celerity, the top-hat, the spats, the lavender cravat and the frock-coat that contained the perfidious Podgrass, vanished through the doorway, and were lost in the crowded street. I ahve not seen him since.
To those who would say that it serves me right for having entered into such a nefarious scheme, I can only answer that it does; but I fear such people are far, far from imagining the hypnotic persuasiveness of a Podgrass.
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2003|