Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ashley Sterne The Lost Shilling

A comic trifle from Table Talk (Melbourne, Vic.), June 17 1920.

The Lost Shilling

By Ashley Sterne.

An editor had just paid me a shilling for a lovely serial story of 200,000 words, entitled, "The Murder of Mouldy Martha, or Life in a Strait Waist coat," and, feeling rich beyond the dreams of avarice, I slipped it into my pocket and jumped on a bus, where I found a seat between a lady who was nursing a vegetable marrow and a choleric gentleman who was nursing a grievance.

"All fares, please!" cried the conductor.

"Excuse me," I said, while I felt in my pocket for my shilling.

"Where do you.want to go?"

"King's Cross," I replied.

"Is he?  What about?" retorted the conductor. "But never mind him.  Have a ticket for Charing Cross— we're selling quite a lot of 'em to day.  Last Tuesday's Dover express is coming in, so they say."

"Charing Cross, Victoria Cross, Banbury Cross, any old cross you've got will do for me," I said.

But I couldn't find my shilling.  The position was serious.  It was all the money I possessed.  Unless I could find it I should be cast out into the Strand, penniless, shillingless, friendless, bankrupt, unhonored and unstrung. . . ' '

"I'll take your fare when I come back from lunch," called the conductor, as he went upstairs to the first floor.

At that moment something cold began to slide down my chest.  At first I thought I was shedding my skin.  Then I wondered if a jellyfish had blown in through an open button. Next I speculated whether my front collar-stud had gone off its head and tried to escape. Lastly I thought of my shilling.  Of course, it must be the shilling!  There must be a hole in the pocket I had put it in — my top left-hand waistcoat pocket, along with the ticket for my watch and a cigarette picture of Julius Caesar swimming the Rubicon.  Likewise there must be a hole in my shirt and another in my vest.  The shilling had drawn heavily on the arm of coincidence and fallen through all three.

"Conductor " I cried, as he came downstairs again, "I've found my money, but it's inside my clothes.  What shall I do?"

"You might get under the seat and remove your clothes," he remarked.

His suggestion didn't appeal to me.  The weather was very cold.  Besides, I had a nasty, hacking cough. Also a panic had broken out in the bus at the bare suggestion.  Already the choleric gentleman was climbing up the bell cord, and the lady with the vegetable marrow was trying to hang herself with one of the handstraps.

"Look here," I said, struck with a bright. idea, "will you take a postage stamp? A three-ha'penny stamp, all nicely frilled round the edges, instead of a penny?  Come be a sport, be a brick, be a paving stone, be good, sweet maid, dare to be a Daniel."

"Hand it over, then," growled the conductor. "But I don't collect 'em myself.  My hobby's champagne corks and bits of radium.  I'll chance it being a forgery.  Charing Cross!  Any body for the 'orspital or the lions in Trafalgar Square?"

I got out, and tying my trousers with string at the ankles to prevent my shilling from falling out and getting lost in London, I sought a toilet saloon where they have dressing rooms on hire.

I soon got out of my clothes, and there, standing up on the rim of my left sock, was — not my shilling, but a shirt button made out of solid oyster shell.  In my disappointment I tried to drown myself in the washing basin.  Then I thought better of it.  My shilling must be in my clothes.  I systematically went through my pockets.

There was the shilling, just where I had put it.  Julius Caesar must have picked it up when I felt there before, or else it must have fallen into the Rubicon.  Hurriedly I dressed again, putting both feet into one boot to save time.  Then I passed into the shop.

"Buon giorno, moosoo," said Signor Tonsilitis, the boss.  "Pay at the desk, please.  Miss False-fringe, take one shilling.for the dressing-room!"

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