19 January, 2016 by katelaity
‘How much?’ Tansy asked with a careless air. It made me wonder again at his background. Chelsea seemed a rather bohemian location for a gentleman, yet his suits were all from Saville Row, his every appointment was impeccable in all regards so he must have very top notch servants. But that was so little to go on. And anyone might lose a gentleman’s gentleman without the slightest provocation, as I recently found out to my dismay. But we did tend to esteem a man according to his style—or lack thereof. I knew for a fact that the inestimable baronet, widely thought to be by far the wealthiest of our club’s members, had an appallingly slapdash look and though rich as Croesus never offered to pay anything out of pocket for incidentals, always patting his pockets with regret as if he had forgotten to carry such a meaningless thing as notes.
Brien consulted with a few of his pals in quick whispered calculations. Clearly there was to be a sort of syndicate for the wager, which hardly seemed fair. ‘Let us say ten thousand guineas.’
Tansy did not so much as blink. ‘Why not?’
‘I say,’ I could not help saying, ‘It hardly seems fair that all of you should club together for the wager and Tansy have to put up the whole of his side alone.’
Brien scowled at me but Tansy looked at me with a smile. Though in many ways not a remarkable face, his was a singular one. When lit with a smile his face took on a gentle nobility which ought to have captured the heart of any number of young ladies. Added to that the style with which he dressed and the elegance of his speech, it seemed absurd that his name had not been linked with some lord’s daughter or pretty heiress, but I suppose that was due to his fluid particularity.
‘Are you suggesting we each put up the amount?’ Brien positively glowered at the thought as he was not one to spend a penny unnecessarily. I had a suspicion, too, that some of his recent speculations had not paid off as much as he thought they ought to do.
‘It seems only fair.’
‘Then let us put our hands to it. George, you be witness.’ It was our tradition to have the bartender be witness to all such solemn transactions. George had been behind the long oak bar polishing glasses before any of us had joined the club—indeed before many of us had been born. The old codger was a touch lugubrious in carrying out his duties and newer members accused him of a funereal air, but he had a sly sense of humour that only came out in soft asides one had to stoop to hear for George did not even reach the height of five feet. Yet he remained capable of ejecting the most obstreperous of drunken visitors without any help at all and thus enjoyed a fierce loyalty and boundless respect from us all.
‘How long shall you take?’ I asked when we had bound ourselves to the deed and drunk a celebratory glass together. I noticed George had added that round to Brien’s ledger. Nothing got past the man.
Tansy glanced at the Nautical Almanac, which George kept always close to hand on the bar. We could never tell if he had once been a naval man or if his interest was purely academic. ‘It is the first of November. I shall return by the same date next year or consider the wager forfeit.’ Drawing out a rather lovely pocket watch, he consulted its hands. ‘Shall we say two pm? It’s near enough to settle upon. We don’t have to be too pedantic.’
It was agreed upon and Tansy made ready to depart, but then Brien made a suggestion. ‘We should have an independent observer. Someone who will agree that you have reached the true height of absurdity.’
It was not quite in keeping with the spirit of the thing, but he found some agreement among his cohorts that it was only fair that we should have some sort of independent corroboration, as Nolan put it.
The surge in interest for scientific precision has much to answer for in these modern times.
‘Very well,’ Tansy agreed with a mild bemusement and a shrug of indifference. ‘Whom shall it be?’
An excited consultation erupted. I did not feel moved to involve myself, so instead asked Tansy to show me the pocket watch he had taken out. ‘Is it by the same hand who made the measuring tape?’
He smiled. ‘Well spotted there. Indeed it is and a fine hand it was, too.’
‘Oh shame, he has died?’ I’ll admit my avaricious thoughts had been leaning toward getting myself a similar piece. The extraordinary elegance of detail immediately struck with charm. The decorations were not figural but floral so the watch provided as it were a still life of a typical country garden with its wild profusion of familiar flowers.
‘Alas, yes. He apparently made the tape measurer some years ago but could not bring himself to part with it until the last.’
I sensed a sorrow in his words. ‘Was he a friend?’
‘Someone very special to me.’
I had no idea how to respond appropriately to such a mysterious description so I returned my attention to the watch. Opening it to examine the face with more care, I could not help seeing that an inscription had been etched inside the cover. ‘Is that…um, what do you call it…Indian writing?’
‘Sanskrit. If I recall correctly, it’s a saying from the Vedas, very ancient books of knowledge. It says “bhinneṣvaikyasya darśanam” which means “even in differences, see the unity” or something like that.’
‘Ah ha. I had endless trouble with my Greek and Latin in school so I can’t even begin to think how one makes heads or tails of this language as beautiful as it is. Completely different alphabet. It’s like learning a code.’
Tansy chuckled but then our attention was drawn to the knot of conspirators who had decided on their candidate. I didn’t like the gleeful look Brien was sporting. ‘Have you chosen your observer?’
‘Indeed we have.’ His whiskers almost quivered with suppressed excitement. The others gathered around him with big grins, too.
I had a very strong suspicion growing in my thoughts but I waited for confirmation. ‘Well?’
‘Well, it’s you dear boy.’ Brien shook my hand as if in some kind of congratulations. ‘You’re our chosen candidate for observer, as you called it.’