My friend, Percy Podgrass, of whose amazing brain I wrote some time ago, had not crossed my orbit for several weeks. Knowing his astonishing adaptability, I imagined that, perhaps, he had gone to settle affairs in Austria or in one or other of those historic countries.
Percy is always like that - always trying to work for the good of humanity and utterly careless of what may happen to him personally.
Yet, as Percy says himself, what is the use of this brief span if we cannot spare a little time to battle for our fellow beings?
Percy was always like that.
Although, admittedly, with a fairly fat income from the estate left him by his maiden aunt, supplemented by a little on the side from a remote paternal uncle, Percy is able to keep body and soul together, Percy feels that it is not enough.
He has often told me that it is not enough. He has often complained that, after he has met the bare cost of living and cocktails at ten and a massage at eleven, and a marcel at half-past, and more quite absurd cocktails, and lunch and interviews with his tailor and so on right up to the time he has toyed with dinner and scoffed at a theatrical show - he has complained, as I say, that in that brief five minutes between solitude and sleep he has devoted his whole mind to the service of humanity.
In fact, in one of those periods of five minutes, Percy conceived the undying phrase: "Altruism artistically achieved announces the end of all acquisitiveness."
Dismissing the alliteration, I am compelled to believe that there is something in that.
Percy was always a little vague, but he excuses that by claiming that, in these modern times, a certain vague vagueness helps the unthinking crowd to think.
Anyhow, I have got right off my subject, which is the subject of Percy's latest inspiration.
To my great surprise, I spied him at the other end of a popular restaurant last night in the midst of a bevy of modern youths and maidens who were, as it were, "hitting it up," to use a modern phrase. They seemed (still to preserve the nearly modern diction) to be "making whoopee."
But Percy Podgrass, once the life and soul of such a gathering, sat aloof. He wore a dreamy air. His masterly mind seemed to be engaged with things quite apart from the airy persiflage that passed about his table.
Presently he caught my astonished eye, and, rising languidly, came across and sat at my table.
"You are getting thin, Percy," I said, for lack of something better to say.
He gazed at me sorrowfully, and then at the simple meal upon my plate.
"Man does not live by bread alone," he remarked. "Nor, for that matter, by crayfish and beetroot and the rest of the unlovely mixture I see you striving to enjoy."
"Where seems to be the trouble, Percy?" I asked, in a vapid effort to make conversation.
"You poor 'mutt'," he said. "You sit there grossly absorbing sea food, utterly oblivious to the subtle change that has come to this country. You sit there, gazing owlishly at me as though it were incomprehensible that I should have found my soul."
"Meaning?" I ventured.
"I have become a poet," announced Percy. "I have divorced myself from the muddled affairs of this mundane environment. Today (or was it yesterday? What is time?) I sent in my entry for the lyrics of our great Centenary ode."
"But," I ventured, "don't you think that, perhaps, the commercial life -"
"You utter earthworm!" answered Percy. "Always thinking of money. Can't you envision that fact that I have cast aside the grosser things of this agricultural country? Tomorrow - or is it the day after? or some time soon - I shall at last emerge from my obscurity as one of the half-score princely and purse-proud poets who have each achieved undying fame and ten quid by the simple effort of evolving an ode. Thenceforth, I shall be safely launched upon my literary career, never to look back - never to -"
"But, Percy," I ventured. "Don't you think that you are just a little confident? How do you know -"
"You fatuous fathead!" answered Percy, absentmindedly throwing a roll at a passing waiter. "Have you no head for facts and figures? I have given this matter intensive thought, and I have made a certainty of it. Do you imagine that in this little community of some two million souls there can possibly be more than ten major poets?
"I admit it took me several days to think that out; but, once I realised the fact, I just concentrated for a bit and dashed off my ode - nearly all in rhyme too. I can't possibly miss running tenth. I may even get into eighth or ninth place. Ten quid! Think what that will mean to me, since I became a poet. It makes all the difference, you know.
"Ah, well," said Percy, rising wearily, "in spite of brain-fag, I must stagger along and see a show tonight. Finish your crayfish, man. It is getting cold."
|Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002|