TALKING OF HONESTY
Old Bill Evans plodded slowly up the hill to the boarding house. “I must be really getting old,” he thought. Really old—really old. The thought echoed down the passageway of his mind. It did not frighten him as one would suppose. It had come on him so slowly that he was able to adapt himself to the change.
“Well a man has to grow old sometime,” he had told himself and when the thought had first begun to prod at his mind. “Anyway, I've had a good life. I can't complain. If I had my life to live over again I think I would like to do the same things again. Except perhaps for five of those years. They weren't so nice. No. I wouldn't like to live those years again. But the rest of them: yes. I wouldn't mind those years again. They were good years. Even through all the hardship. But I guess that was part of the fun of it. But God,” he was thinking now as he dragged up the last stretch to the Happards' boarding house, “I wish all these aches and pains didn't have to come with it.”
He was breathing heavily from the climb. He paused to catch his breath and for the first time he noticed just how heavily he was breathing. He drew his breath in deeply and let it out noisily through his mouth. He did this several times. “Hell”, he said half aloud. He turned and looked back down the incline from where he had come. It was a long drag but the incline was very slight. “Hell”, he said again. This time in his mind.
He had just finished work and was on his way back to his lodgings for tea. Old Bill worked for the Post and Telegraph as a linesman. He had
worked for them for many years now. All over the country. Tonight on his way home he had stopped in at the T.A.B. and put two bob on “Bright Star” for the trots at Forbury the next day. He had for a while contemplated going into “The Cliffs” hotel for a spot, but told himself he didn't need it. And anyway he didn't feel like it so what was the use of having one. “It's only a damn habit, this stopping off to have one before tea,” he told himself. He thought of the men who would be half-drunk by now, red-faced and blearyeyed, swaying at the bar, and he smiled to himself. “Bill old boy,” he said, “you're got them all licked. You're not too bad.”
He turned now and continued up the incline. His legs and back were both aching. This caused him to walk with his back arched and leaning slightly forward with one hand to the small of his back. “Rheumatism”, he thought, and this scared him a little.
When he came abreast of the small grocer's shop he paused in his old man's way. Partly through habit, partly because subconsciously he knew there was something he had intended buying. “What is it?” he asked himself. “Oh yes, tobacco.” He walked into the small shop and rang the bell. There was no answer for a while, then a stir in the kitchen out back, and the owner, a middle-aged family man, came in through the curtains that hung over the doorway.
“How do you do?”
“Good evening,” old Bill Evans replied. “And how are you?”
“Not so bad.”
“Could I get a packet of Park Drive?—Better give's a book of papers too, please. Zig Zag. I'll take a packet of matches as well, too, while I'm at it.”
“Think it'll hold for the weekend?” the storekeeper asked.
“Oh, it looks all right,” old Bill said. “But it's hard to say with this weather. I hope it holds, though.”
“Going out to Forbury tomorrow?” the storekeeper asked.
“No, I'll stay back and listen on the radio. I'll be working right up to lunch time tomorrow so I don't think I'll have much time to get out there. I'm not feeling the best, either. I think I'll just stay around the house.”
The shopkeeper gave a quick glance out the window behind old Bill. “Should be a good day, tomorrow. ‘Adonis’ should go well, even ‘Bright Star’ might pull it off. He's got a good chance.”
“I've got five bob in him for a win,” old Bill said. “Hullo …”
“Oh no, it's all right,” old Bill said. He was feeling in his pockets for some money to pay for the tobacco. He had in his hand now a two and sixpenny bit that he could not account for. It came from the left-hand pocket of his coat and he knew that that was where he had put the change that the old gentleman in the T.A.B. had given him. “Something wrong here,” he said half aloud. The shopkeeper was looking at him, a doubtful smile on his thin freckled face. Old Bill looked at him. “Oh, it's nothing,” he said to the man. “I think someone gave me too much change, that's all.” I gave him ten bob, he was thinking. I put the change straight into this pocket. I remember that. I only put five bob on “Bright Star” and now I've got 7/6. He must have given me 2/6 too much. He must have. I wasn't taking much notice. Well, there's no question about it. I'll take it back. I'll probably miss my tea, though. Oh well, it's about time I shouted myself a meal out anyway.
He paid the shopkeeper and took his small parcel and started off back, through the door and down the street where he had just come. There was no doubt in his mind at all. There was no hesitating, no thought as to whether or not he should return the 2/6 to the cashier in the T.A.B. “Mind you,” he was telling himself, “I might not be like this on some occasion. But tonight, there's just no question of it.” He took his watch from
his pocket; it was a quarter past five. “The T.A.B. closes at half-past,” he thought. “But I think I'll get there all right if I step out a bit faster. I will miss my tea though, that's for sure.”
There were still a few minutes left before closing time when he reached the T.A.B. The place was nearly vacant. The old gentleman behind the third cage was still there. He was raking a few silver coins from a desk into his hand ready to put them away into the small tin for locking up.
“Excuse me,” old Bill said. The man looked up from where he was working, dumped the money into the tin and closed it.
“I was in here earlier on,” old Bill went on.
“Yes”, the old gentleman said.
“I put five bob on ‘Bright Star’ at Forbury tomorrow. I gave you ten bob and I think you gave me too much change.”
“Too much!” the old gentleman said.
“Yes. I think you gave me 2/6 too much. I want to return it.” Old Bill put the half crown down on the counter and slid it across to the old man. The cashier looked at him. He looked at old Bill Evans for a long time watching him full in the face. Old Bill had his eyes down looking at the half crown. He was not aware of the man watching him.
“Thank you,” the old gentleman said. “There's not many people would do that.”
“Perhaps not,” old Bill said. “Well, I hope it holds for tomorrow. ‘Bright Star’ was never much good on a heavy track.” He turned to go.
“Hold on a minute,” the old gentleman in the birdcage said. “You want to know who's going to win tomorrow?”
“Who doesn't?” Old Bill replied.
“This is just a tip, mind you,” the old genlteman said. He looked through the bars of the birdcage into the room behind old Bill Evans and in a lowered voice he said,” ‘Honey Boy’. Mind you, there's nothing sure. I'll put it on for you now if you like. You can take him instead of ‘Bright Star’. I don't think ‘Bright Star’ would have done any good anyway.” His voice was still lowered. He looked behind him sharply, then he turned back to old Bill again. “Do you want him?”
“This is from you?” old Bill Evans asked. It was he who was watching the other's face now.
“Yes, it is from me,” the old bookie said. There was a light dancing in his eyes. Old Bill Evans' face broke into a grin.
“Well, in that case I'd be a fool to say no. Yes, on your word, I'll take ‘Honey Boy’ in place of ‘Bright Star’. I'll still only make it five bob, though.”
“Right-oh”, the old gentleman said. “There's not many men who are as honest as you. There's not many men would have done what you did just now.”
The two men looked at one another for a while.
“Thanks”, old Bill said. He now had a ticket for “Honey Boy” instead of “Bright Star”. “If he comes in”, he was thinking as he walked out the door on his way to the Chinese restaurant in Nash Street, “If he comes in tomorrow, it'll just go to show.”
On the afternoon of the following day an old gentleman who worked for the Post and Telegraph as a linesman and who lived in a boarding house up a slight but long drag from the city was richer by £30. “Bright Star” ran a good race but at no stage stage he threaten the winners nor look as though he might win.