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


It was the unfairness of the thing which hurt Maud. Her conscience was clear. She knew girls--several girls--who gave the young men with whom they walked out ample excuse for being perfect Othellos. If she had ever flirted on the open beach with the baritone of the troupe of pierrots, like Jane Oddy, she could have excused Arthur's attitude. If, like Pauline Dicey, she had roller-skated for a solid hour with a black-moustached stranger while her fiance floundered in Mug's Alley she could have understood his frowning disapprovingly. But she was not like Pauline. She scorned the coquetries of Jane. Arthur was the centre of her world, and he knew it. Ever since the rainy evening when he had sheltered her under his umbrella to her Tube station, he had known perfectly well how things were with her. And yet just because, in a strictly business-like way, she was civil to her customers, he must scowl and bite his lip and behave generally as if it had been brought to his notice that he had been nurturing a serpent in his bosom. It was worse than wicked--it was unprofessional.

She remonstrated with him.

'It isn't fair,' she said, one morning when the rush of customers had ceased and they had the shop to themselves.

Matters had been worse than usual that morning. After days of rain and greyness the weather had turned over a new leaf. The sun glinted among the bottles of Unfailing Lotion in the window, and everything in the world seemed to have relaxed and become cheerful. Unfortunately, everything had included the customers. During the last few days they had taken their seats in moist gloom, and, brooding over the prospect of coming colds in the head, had had little that was pleasant to say to the divinity who was shaping their ends. But today it had been different. Warm and happy, they had bubbled over with gay small-talk.

'It isn't fair,' she repeated.

Arthur, who was stropping a razor and whistling tunelessly, raised his eyebrows. His manner was frosty.

'I fail to understand your meaning,' he said.

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