P. G. Wodehouse: The Man Upstairs and Other Stories


The clock struck five--briskly, as if time were money. Ruth Warden got up from her desk and, having put on her hat, emerged into the outer office where M. Gandinot received visitors. M. Gandinot, the ugliest man in Roville-sur-Mer, presided over the local mont-de-piete, and Ruth served him, from ten to five, as a sort of secretary-clerk. Her duties, if monotonous, were simple. They consisted of sitting, detached and invisible, behind a ground-glass screen, and entering details of loans in a fat book. She was kept busy as a rule, for Roville possesses two casinos, each offering the attraction of petits chevaux, and just round the corner is Monte Carlo. Very brisk was the business done by M. Gandinot, the pawnbroker, and very frequent were the pitying shakes of the head and clicks of the tongue of M. Gandinot, the man; for in his unofficial capacity Ruth's employer had a gentle soul, and winced at the evidences of tragedy which presented themselves before his official eyes.

He blinked up at Ruth as she appeared, and Ruth, as she looked at him, was conscious, as usual, of a lightening of the depression which, nowadays, seemed to have settled permanently upon her. The peculiar quality of M. Gandinot's extraordinary countenance was that it induced mirth--not mocking laughter, but a kind of smiling happiness. It possessed that indefinable quality which characterizes the Billiken, due, perhaps, to the unquenchable optimism which shone through the irregular features; for M. Gandinot, despite his calling, believed in his fellow-man.

'You are going, mademoiselle?'

As Ruth was wearing her hat and making for the door, and as she always left at this hour, a purist might have considered the question superfluous; but M. Gandinot was a man who seized every opportunity of practising his English.

'You will not wait for the good papa who calls so regularly for you?'

'I think I won't today, M. Gandinot. I want to get out into the air. I have rather a headache. Will you tell my father I have gone to the Promenade?'

M. Gandinot sighed as the door closed behind her. Ruth's depression had not escaped his notice. He was sorry for her. And not without cause, for Fate had not dealt too kindly with Ruth.

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