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by Max Beerbohm
Category: Classic Literature
Description: I WAS shocked this morning when I saw in my newspaper a paragraph announcing his sudden death. I do not say that the shock was very disagreeable. One reads a newspaper for the sake of news. Had I never met James Pethel, belike I should never have heard of him: and my knowledge of his death, coincident with my knowledge that he had existed, would have meant nothing at all to me.
eBook Publisher: Fictionwise.com/Fictionwise Classic, 1919
eBookwise Release Date: January 2005
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [36 KB]
Reading time: 21-30 min.
All Other formats: Printing DISABLED, Read-aloud DISABLED
"Going to play?" I asked.
"Not while Jimmy Pethel's taking the bank," he answered, with a laugh.
"Is that the man's name?"
"Yes. Don't you know him? I thought every one knew old Jimmy Pethel."
I asked what there was so wonderful about "old Jimmy Pethel" that every one should be supposed to know him.
"Oh, he's a great character. Has extraordinary luck--always."
I do not think my friend was versed in the pretty theory that good luck is the subconscious wisdom of them who in previous incarnations have been consciously wise. He was a member of the stock exchange, and I smiled as at a certain quaintness in his remark. I asked in what ways besides luck the "great character" was manifested. Oh, well, Pethel had made a huge "scoop" on the stock exchange when he was only twenty-three, and very soon had doubled that and doubled it again; then retired. He wasn't more than thirty-five now, And then? Oh, well, he was a regular all-round sportsman; had gone after big game all over the world and had a good many narrow shaves. Great steeple-chaser, too. Rather settled down now. Lived in Leicestershire mostly. Had a big place there. Hunted five times a week. Still did an occasional flutter, though. Cleared eighty-thousand in Mexicans last February. Wife had been a barmaid at Cambridge; married her when he was nineteen. Thing seemed to have turned out quite well. Altogether, a great character.
Possibly, thought I. But my cursory friend, accustomed to quick transactions and to things accepted "on the nod," had not proved his case to my slower, more literary intelligence. It was to him, though, that I owed, some minutes later, a chance of testing his opinion. At the cry of "Messieurs, la banque est aux encheres," we looked round and saw that the subject of our talk was preparing to rise from his place. "Now one can punt," said Grierson (this was my friend's name), and turned to the bureau at which counters are for sale. "If old Jimmy Pethel punts," he added, "I shall just follow his luck." But this lode-star was not to be. While my friend was buying his counters, and I was wondering whether I, too, could buy some, Pethel himself came up to the bureau. With his lips no longer pursed, he had lost his air of gravity, and looked younger. Behind him was an attendant bearing a big wooden bowl--that plain, but romantic, bowl supplied by the establishment to a banker whose gains are too great to be pocketed. He and Grierson greeted each other. He said he had arrived in Dieppe this afternoon, was here for a day or two. We were introduced. He spoke to me with empressement, saying he was a "very great admirer" of my work. I no longer disliked him. Grierson, armed with counters, had now darted away to secure a place that had just been vacated. Pethel, with a wave of his hand toward the tables, said:
"I suppose you never condescend to this sort of thing."