Saturday, March 15, 2014

Ashley Sterne Sufficient Unto the Day - complete

Here is a complete version of Ashley Sterne's "Sufficient Unto the Day" from Punch, Volume 183, 1932.  A previous posting of this story was constructed from Google snippets and was marred by ellipses.

Sufficient Unto the Day
By Ashley Sterne

"A penny for your thoughts," cried Julia, entering the study, where I was standing in an attitude of profound meditation looking at the wall over the mantelpiece.

"This one's a tuppenny one," I said; "I couldn't possibly let it go for a penny."

"It must be something stupendous," Julia commented.  "You look exactly like Mr. Gordon Selfridge on the eve of Bargain Day.  I'll buy it."

"I was thinking it was time I had my photograph taken again."

"That's only a ha'penny think," was Julia's mordant retort.  "And what's made you think it, anyway?"

"In these restless days," I explained, "when public opinion is constantly shifting, any moment may find me a best-seller."

"Oh, really?" said Julia with her eyebrows.

"Look at this," I went on, turning to my writing-table and picking up an exiguous printed slip.  "See what no less an authority than The Times Literary Supplement has to say about me."

It was a cutting sent me gratis by an enterprising press-cutting agency anxious to secure my patronage.  It ran:—

"The Unforgiving Minute. By Ronald J. H. Smith 8.5 x 5. 403 pp. Jackett and Boost. 7s. 6d."

"That doesn't seem exactly to praise you to the skies," Julia remarked.

"No," I agreed; "but, on the other hand, it doesn't damn me to the depths.  What it suggests is that the work is a sort of peak in Darien — a wild surmise, so to say.  Tomorrow, or by Saturday at latest, I may be famous.  My photograph will then be eagerly clamoured for by the Press and — what have I to offer them?"

"I always like best that one of you lying naked on a bear-skin trying to swallow your foot," said Julia.  "Next to that, the one in which you look like an overfed Raphael cherub in a surplice."

"Excellent as those are," I observed, "they are not quite up-to-date.  If I'm destined to be featured as the Man of the Moment it would be grossly unfair to the public to depict myself as a stripling of the generation before last.  Yes, I'll telephone the Stokes Studio and make an appointment for a man to come along at once."

"You mean for you to go along to a man?" said Julia.

"Oh, no, not at all.  That would be very demode.  Nowadays authors are invariably photographed in their own studies, sitting at a desk grasping a fountain-pen — name of brand on application — and surrounded by the paraphernalia of their craft.  I recall a notable one of Bernard Shaw at work upon a pile of postcards.

"If I were you, I should wait until I actually was a best-seller."

"See here," I cried, pointing to the wall over the mantelpiece.  "That elegant little panel motto was what was contemplating when you breezed in.  'DO IT NOW' is what it declaims.  It was that which inspired me to have a long-overdue new photograph taken at once.  If I dally till the moment I'm acclaimed a Priestley or a Golding it may be inconvenient to be photographed specially.  I may have a gum boil or the mumps.  It's no good my hanging up all these uplift mottoes round the study if I'm not going to live up to them.  Eric would disown me as an uncle on the spot."

"Your excuse seems insufficient, "said Julia with a shrug as she moved to the door.  "I'm going to make a pudding."

My nephew Eric, aetat 11, I may explain, cultivates a taste for pokerwork.  Otherwise he's quite a nice child.  At Christmas and on my birthdays he usually gives me a little rough-wood panel pyrographed with some slogan cribbed from a similar device which you may see displayed in any "art" stationer's window.  I conscientiously hang them upon my study walls, though I cannot altogether admit that they satisfy my asthetic cravings.  Quite apart from that, Eric's handiwork would be far better suited to my needs if I were a stockbroker, say, and ran an office.  "Do it now" seems to be just the kind of motto for a stockbroker hesitating whether the moment is ripe to go out and play dominoes.  However...

The Stokes Studio man arrived the following morning while Julia was out.  I was relieved at this.  She would have wanted to pose me; so would Stokes's man; I too should have had a word to say.  As it was, self and photographer easily compromised upon a posture — me at my desk, pen in hand poised over page, left forefinger against left cheek, introspective expression upon face, as of Flaubert seeking the mot juste — just the very thing for a best seller.  The whole performance was over and done with in ten minutes.  Proofs were promised me in two days' time.

This morning they came to hand.  I slipped them unopened into my pocket at the breakfast-table and took them afterwards into the study for private scrutiny.  I concealed them hastily beneath a newspaper when Julia entered with a list of telephonic shopping to negotiate.  This finished —

"That photograph business — what are you going to do about it?" she suddenly demanded.

I coughed to account for the guilty blush I felt sure was about to suffuse my face.

"On second thought," I said slowly, "I have decided to follow your advice.  I am going to wait.  Somehow I feel it would be — er — unlucky to be wilfully photographed for best-seller purposes before I attain that distinction.  Now I come to think of it, Defoe was never photographed before the public clamour for Robinson Crusoe."

"I'm delighted to hear it," said Julia emphatically.  "But why you always require to indulge in second thoughts before taking my advice I can't imagine.  Next time remember, 'Do it now.'"

Julia went to make another pudding while I took a farewell glance at the proofs before writing to the Stokes folk to instruct them to proceed no further with the photographs.  The pose, the likeness, the expression was all that the most exacting sitter could demand.  It was one of Eric's pyrographic panels that wrecked the whole mise-en-scene.

Considering the purpose for which the photograph was designed, there was something uncomfortably ominous about the motto which figured in the picture above my head —


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