The War in the Air – Day 17 of 115

“What can we do?” said Grubb.

“Clear out. Sell what we can for what it will fetch, and quit. See? It’s no good ’anging on to a losing concern. No sort of good. Jest foolishness.”

“That’s all right,” said Grubb–“that’s all right; but it ain’t your capital been sunk in it.”

“No need for us to sink after our capital,” said Bert, ignoring the point.

“I’m not going to be held responsible for that trailer, anyhow. That ain’t my affair.”

“Nobody arst you to make it your affair. If you like to stick on here, well and good. I’m quitting. I’ll see Bank Holiday through, and then I’m O-R-P-H. See?”

“Leavin’ me?”

“Leavin’ you. If you must be left.”

Grubb looked round the shop. It certainly had become distasteful. Once upon a time it had been bright with hope and new beginnings and stock and the prospect of credit. Now–now it was failure and dust. Very likely the landlord would be round presently to go on with the row about the window…. “Where d’you think of going, Bert?” Grubb asked.

Bert turned round and regarded him. “I thought it out as I was walking ’ome, and in bed. I couldn’t sleep a wink.”

“What did you think out?”


“What plans?”

“Oh! You’re for stickin, here.”

“Not if anything better was to offer.”

“It’s only an ideer,” said Bert.

“You made the girls laugh yestiday, that song you sang.”

“Seems a long time ago now,” said Grubb.

“And old Edna nearly cried–over that bit of mine.”

“She got a fly in her eye,” said Grubb; “I saw it. But what’s this got to do with your plan?”

“No end,” said Bert.


“Don’t you see?”

“Not singing in the streets?”

“Streets! No fear! But ’ow about the Tour of the Waterin’ Places of England, Grubb? Singing! Young men of family doing it for a lark? You ain’t got a bad voice, you know, and mine’s all right. I never see a chap singing on the beach yet that I couldn’t ’ave sung into a cocked hat. And we both know how to put on the toff a bit. Eh? Well, that’s my ideer. Me and you, Grubb, with a refined song and a breakdown. Like we was doing for foolery yestiday. That was what put it into my ’ead. Easy make up a programme–easy. Six choice items, and one or two for encores and patter. I’m all right for the patter anyhow.”

Grubb remained regarding his darkened and disheartening shop; he thought of his former landlord and his present landlord, and of the general disgustingness of business in an age which re-echoes to The Bitter Cry of the Middle Class; and then it seemed to him that afar off he heard the twankle, twankle of a banjo, and the voice of a stranded siren singing. He had a sense of hot sunshine upon sand, of the children of at least transiently opulent holiday makers in a circle round about him, of the whisper, “They are really gentlemen,” and then dollop, dollop came the coppers in the hat. Sometimes even silver. It was all income; no outgoings, no bills. “I’m on, Bert,” he said.

“Right O!” said Bert, and, “Now we shan’t be long.”

“We needn’t start without capital neither,” said Grubb. “If we take the best of these machines up to the Bicycle Mart in Finsbury we’d raise six or seven pounds on ’em. We could easy do that tomorrow before anybody much was about….”

“Nice to think of old Suet-and-Bones coming round to make his usual row with us, and finding a card up ‘Closed for Repairs.'”

“We’ll do that,” said Grubb with zest–“we’ll do that. And we’ll put up another notice, and jest arst all inquirers to go round to ’im and inquire. See? Then they’ll know all about us.”

Before the day was out the whole enterprise was planned. They decided at first that they would call themselves the Naval Mr. O’s, a plagiarism, and not perhaps a very good one, from the title of the well-known troupe of “Scarlet Mr. E’s,” and Bert rather clung to the idea of a uniform of bright blue serge, with a lot of gold lace and cord and ornamentation, rather like a naval officer’s, but more so. But that had to be abandoned as impracticable, it would have taken too much time and money to prepare. They perceived they must wear some cheaper and more readily prepared costume, and Grubb fell back on white dominoes. They entertained the notion for a time of selecting the two worst machines from the hiring-stock, painting them over with crimson enamel paint, replacing the bells by the loudest sort of motor-horn, and doing a ride about to begin and end the entertainment. They doubted the advisability of this step.

“There’s people in the world,” said Bert, “who wouldn’t recognise us, who’d know them bicycles again like a shot, and we don’t want to go on with no old stories. We want a fresh start.”

“I do,” said Grubb, “badly.”

“We want to forget things–and cut all these rotten old worries. They ain’t doin’ us good.”

Nevertheless, they decided to take the risk of these bicycles, and they decided their costumes should be brown stockings and sandals, and cheap unbleached sheets with a hole cut in the middle, and wigs and beards of tow. The rest their normal selves! “The Desert Dervishes,” they would call themselves, and their chief songs would be those popular ditties, “In my Trailer,” and “What Price Hair-pins Now?”

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