When I was a small boy I was made to learn by heart some fables of La Fontaine and the moral of each was carefully explained to me. Among them was "The Ant and the Grasshopper". In spite of the moral of this fable my sympathies were with the grasshopper and for some time I never saw an ant without putting my foot on it.
I couldn't help thinking of this fable when the other day I saw George Ramsay lunching in a restaurant. I never saw an expression of such deep gloom. He was staring into space. I was sorry for him: I suspected at once that his unfortunate brother had been causing trouble again.
I went up to him. "How are you?" I asked. "Is it Tom again?" He sighed. "Yes, it's Tom again."
I suppose every family has a black sheep. In this family it had been Tom. He had begun life decently enough: he went into business, married and had two children. The Ramsays were respectable people and everybody supposed that Tom would have a good career. But one day he announced that he didn't like work and that he wasn't suited for marriage. He wanted to enjoy himself.
He left his wife and his office. He spent two happy years in the various capitals of Europe. His relations were shocked and wondered what would happen when his money was spent. They soon found out: he borrowed some. He was so charming that nobody could refuse him. Very often he turned to George. Once or twice he gave Tom considerable sums so that he could make a fresh start. On these Tom bought a motor-car and some jewellery. But when George washed his hands of him, Tom began to blackmail him. It was not nice for a respectable lawyer to find his brother shaking cocktails behind the bar of his favourite restaurant or driving a taxi. So George paid again.
For twenty years Tom gambled, danced, ate in the most expensive restaurants and dressed beautifully. Though he was forty-six he looked not more than thirty-five. He had high spirits and incredible charm. Tom Ramsay knew everyone and everyone knew him. You couldn't help liking him.
Poor George, only a year older than his brother, looked sixty. He had never taken more than a fortnight's holiday in the year. He was in his office every morning at nine-thirty and never left it till six. He was honest and industrious. He had a good wife and four daughters to whom he was the best of fathers. His plan was to retire at fifty-five to a little house in the country. His life was blameless. He was glad that he was growing old because Tom was growing old, too. He used to say: "It was all well when Tom was young and good-looking. In four years he'll be fifty. He won't find life so easy then. I shall have thirty thousand pounds by the time I'm fifty. We shall see what is really best to work or to be idle."
Poor George! I sympathized with him. I wondered now what else Tom had done. George was very much upset. I was prepared for the worst. George could hardly speak. "A few weeks ago," he said, "Tom became engaged to a woman old enough to be his mother. And now she has died and left him everything she had: half a million pounds, a yacht, a house in London and a house in the country. It is not fair, I tell you, it isn't fair!"
I couldn't help it. I burst into laughter as I looked at George's face, I nearly fell on the floor. George never forgave me. But Tom often asks me to dinners in his charming house and if he sometimes borrows money from me, it is simply from force of habit.