Mr. Barling's Income
MR. BARLING'S INCOME.
By W. PETT RIDGE.
IT had been an imperfect year for Mr. Barling, but it would be a hard year indeed that frowned continuously, and last night, for the first time, luck had smiled upon him. The smile had come in the singular form of a railway accident. Not a serious accident, but with little to do but to catch flies in his City office, it was better than nothing. Mr. Barling had wired to the company's office, and now, well wrapped up and his face touched with artistic white, sat in his flat in Ashley Gardens and awaited the arrival of the company's representative.
"Can you see a gentleman, Sir?"
"Who is it, James?" asked Mr. Barling.
The excellent James whispered—"I rather fancy he's from the railway. Sir, in answer to that message that I——"
"Show him in, James, but tell him that I am very, very ill."
Mr. Barling closed his eyes. A jovial, breezy man, in a short coat and a silk hat, advanced into the room with an air of repressed exuberance.
"My name," said the jovial man in a forced whisper, "is Drayton. I 've called to make some inquiries——"
"I know—I know," said Mr. Bailing feebly. "This is a terrible thing, this accident."
"Most deplorable, Sir."
"Physically," said Mr. Barling, speaking with a great effort, "I'm—I'm a wreck. Mentally, I'm an extinct volcano."
"Dear, dear, dear!" said the breezy man, clicking his tongue. "Is it so bad as that?"
"It's worse," sighed Mr. Barling.
"And what compensation, Sir, did you think of asking, I wonder?"
"Take a cigar," said Mr. Barling desolately. "I shall never smoke again; you'd better take both of them."
"These smokes," said the visitor cheerfully, as he lighted up, "weren't bought at no five a shilling, I'll bet my boots."
"You were talking about compensation," said Mr. Barling brokenly. "I daresay now"—here he had a fit of imitation coughing—"I daresay the company will want to settle it by a lump sum at once."
"And to enable them—oh, my poor head!—to enable them to arrive at a figure, I suppose——" Mr. Barling stopped, and looked round the room vacantly. "Where am I?" he asked. "Where was I?"
"You were supposing, Sir."
"Ah yes. I suppose it will be necessary to give some idea of my income during the past three or four years."
"That's just what I want to get at," said the visitor, taking out his pocket-book and blinking as the smoke came into his eyes.
"Roughly speaking," said Mr. Barling in a weak voice, "I 've been making three thousand a year—perhaps more."
"No less," said the invalid, with sudden vehemence, "not a penny less."
"Very well," said the man cheerfully, making an entry in his pocket-book; "not a penny less, then."
"Besides that, there have been various odd affairs that have brought in money. Suppose you say four thousand."
"Four thousand,' repeated the visitor, as he made the correction.
"I 've also had money left me at various times," went on Mr. Barling, with fine exaggeration, "running into, say, about five or six hundred a year. Suppose we say five thousand in all."
"By all manner of means, Sir."
"I dareday," remarked Mr. Barling, "that, if anything, I 've rather understated it. But I'd rather do that than appear to be trying to get the best of anybody."
"If the company likes to offer me a big lump sum down—I shall be wrong, perhaps, in accepting it; but still—— Well," continued Mr. Barling, with a burst of generosity, "one ought to be straightforward, even when one is dealing with a railway. What shall we say to five hundred pounds down and say no more about it?"
"I should reckon," agreed the visitor, "that that would be letting them down cheap."
"Five hundred guineas," remarked Mr. Barling thoughtfully, "paid down at once. Not later than the end of this week. Next week I want to be off to—I mean to say next week I may be a good deal worse, and then I might want a bigger sum if the matter remained unsettled."
"If I were you. Sir, I should get all I could out of them. See how they treated me the other day, when I happened to be in a second-class carriage with a third-class ticket! Why, charged me excess!"
"What?" cried Mr. Barling, "you don't mean to say that they made you pay!" He laughed cheerfully, and forgetting his pained whisper, spoke in his usual loud voice. "Well, well," he said, "if they'd do that they'd do anything. Fancy coming down on you."
"I was very much annoyed about it, Sir. It was only a matter of threepence-halfpenny, but it's the principle of the thing that I look at."
"Fancy charging you," repeated Mr. Barling amusedly. "One of their own—— Well, it just shows that one needn't be too delicate in charging them. Have the other cigar."
"I 'll put it in my pocket," said the visitor, rising, "and smoke after lunch. Meanwhile, perhaps, you won't mind filling up this form and sending it on to me."
"With great pleasure," replied Mr. Barling. "You'll tell them how bad I am, won't you? And do you mind letting yourself out? I can't move hand or foot, as you see."
"Good morning. Sir!" said the visitor, backing to the door, "and thank you for the information."
"My good fellow! " said Mr. Barling handsomely, "don't mention it."
The man was but half-way down the steps when he stepped aside to allow two people, who had just arrived, to pass by him. At the same time he heard the voice of Mr. Barling from the landing above. Looking back, he saw that gentleman descending upon him furiously.
"You scoundrel!" screamed Mr. Barling. "Wait where you are!"
"Meaning me, Sir?"
"Yes, you." Mr. Barling had flown down the stairs in his scarlet dressing-gown with remarkable activity. "What the deuce do you mean by leaving this form on my table? As sure as my name's Barling——"
The two new arrivals stopped and looked on at the dispute.
"What's all this fuss about, Sir? I call on you in my capacity as Income Tax collector. You very kindly give me ample information——"
"Do you mean to tell me that you didn't say you were from the railway company?"
"Railway company?" echoed the Income Tax man indignantly. "Why, what on earth are you talking about? It was you that——"
The two new arrivals begged pardon. They were from the railway company, they said, and one of them, a doctor, expressed his great satisfaction at finding that Mr. Barling was none the worse for the regrettable accident of the night before.
"Bah!" said Mr. Barling.