The Saving Clause by Sapper

The Saving Clause


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subjects: Short Stories

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Sapper leads us into a very pleasant world in which the mighty, such as the Oliver Samuelsons, the vulgar nouveaux riches, are turned out of their newly acquired country seat through their terror of a faked ghost, and in which the humble–like Molly Delmont, the pretty little governess—-are exalted by the timely appearance of a Prince Charming with both money and a marvellous physique. The title story, describing a voyage on which five desperadoes and one unfortunate missionary are cooped up together in a cargo boat is, for all absurdity, an illuminating commentary on two different kinds of courage; while keen insight into feminine psychology underlies the study of Billie Cartwright, impossible as her actual adventures are.

282 pages, with a reading time of ~4.5 hours (70,705 words), and first published in 1927. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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I guess I don’t hold with missionaries. I’ve been in most corners of this globe, and I reckon that the harm they do easily outweighs the good. Stands to reason, don’t it, that we can’t all have the same religion, same as we can’t all have the same shaped nose? So what in thunder is the good of trying to put my nose on to your face, where it won’t fit? And it sort of riles me to see these good earnest people labouring and sweating to do to others what they would only describe as damned impertinence if those others tried to do it to them. Yet, as I see it, there’s no reason why the others shouldn’t. ‘Tisn’t as if any particular bunch had a complete corner in truth, is it?

But there are exceptions, same as to most things. And for the past twenty years whenever I’ve said I don’t hold with missionaries, I’ve always added a saving clause in my mind. Care to hear what that saving clause is? Right: mine’s the same as before.

It was just after the Boer War that it happened. I’d come home: got a job of sorts in London. Thought a few years of the quiet life would do me good, and an old uncle of mine wangled me into the office of a pal of his. Funny old thing my boss was, with a stomach like a balloon. And I give you my word that he was the last man in London whom you’d have expected to meet at the Empire on a Saturday night. It was sheer bad luck, though I don’t suppose I could have stood that job, anyway, for long.

I’d met a pal there, you see, and I suppose we’d started to hit it a bit. Anyway a darned great chucker-out came and intimated that he thought the moment had come when we’d better sample the cool night air of Leicester Square.

Well, I don’t say I was right: strictly speaking, I suppose I should have accepted his remark in the spirit in which it was intended. But the fact remains that I didn’t like his face or his frock coat–and we had words. And finally the chucker-out sampled the cool night air–not me. The only trouble was that just as he went down the stairs, my boss was coming up with wife and family complete. And that chucker-out was a big man: I guess it was rather like being hit by a steam roller. Anyway the whole blessed family turned head over heels, and landed on the pavement simultaneously with the chucker-out on top.

Again strictly speaking, I suppose I should have gone and picked them up with suitable words of regret. But I just couldn’t do it: I was laughing too much. In fact I didn’t stop laughing till I began to run–the police were heaving in sight. Still you boys know what the Empire was like in those days: so I’ll pass on to Monday morning.

Not that there’s much to say about Monday morning, except that it closed my connection with the firm. The old man had a black eye where the chucker-out had trodden on his face, and the hell of a liver. And he utterly failed to see the humorous side of the episode. As far as I could make out his wife had smashed her false teeth in the mêlée, and was as wild as a civet cat; and only the fact that his own firm would be involved had prevented him giving my name to the police. My own private opinion was that it wasn’t so much the firm he was worrying about as himself. Still, that’s neither here nor there: all that matters is that my job in London terminated that morning.

Maybe you’re wondering what the dickens all this has to do with missionaries and my saving clause, but I’m coming to that part soon. And I want you to realize the frame of mind I was in when I found myself propping up the Criterion bar just before lunch on that Monday. It may seem strange to you that a bloke like me could ever have stomached quill driving in a City office, but the fact remains that at the time I was almighty sick with myself at having got the sack. And as luck would have it, I hadn’t been in that bar more than five minutes when a bunch of four of the boys blew in, whom I’d last seen in South Africa. They were the lads all right, I give you my word: four of the toughest propositions you’re ever likely to meet in your life. There was Bill Merton who had graduated in the Kimberley diamond rush: Andy Fraser who had left Australia hurriedly, and it didn’t do to ask why: Tom Jerrold with a five-inch scar on his face that he’d picked up in Chicago: and last but not least Pete O’Farrell.

Gad! he was a character, was Pete. A great big hulking fellow of about six feet three, with muscles like an ox, and a pair of blue eyes that went clean through you and came out the other side. I once saw him tackle four policemen in Sydney, and get away with it. So did one policeman who ran for his life: the other three went to hospital.

As soon as they saw me Pete let out a bellow like a bull, and led the charge.

“If it isn’t old Mac,” he shouted. “Gee–boy, but it’s great to see you, even if your face is like a wet street. What’s stung you?”