Cutting Down

Punch, September 23, 1914

“Everybody’s doing it,” I said, “so as to have more for the Funds. Also for other reasons. The only question is what?”

“Well,” said Ursula, “let’s make a beginning.” She produced a silver pencil and some celluloid tablets that are supposed to look like ivory. “What first?” she asked, frowning.

I reflected. “Clearly the superfluities ought to go first. What about my sacrificing sugar-cakes for afternoon tea? And burnt almonds?”

“M’yes,” said Ursula. “I was thinking myself about giving up cigars.”

“Heroine! But let us be temperate even in denial.”

“As a matter of fact,” she said, “I’m getting to detest almonds.”

“And I simply loathe — I mean, I’m sure pipes are ever so much better for one than cigars.”

“Good!” observed Ursula. “Cigars and almonds go out. Only if you have your pipe there ought to be some cheap and filling substitute for my almonds.”

“Turkish delight,”I suggested, “supposing it turns out all right about the Goeben.”

“And, if not, I could get along with Russian toffee. That settles tea. How about other meals?”

“We’re at the end of that Hock.”

“I’m glad of it,”said Ursula. “Nasty German rubbish. I wonder it didn’t contaminate the cellar. Now we must drink something patriotic instead.”

“What about good old English water?”

“My dear! With all those spies simply picnicing round the reservoirs! Goodness knows what they’ve put in. My idea was a nice, not too-expensive, champagne, like what they get for the subscription dances.”

“Dearest! Ask me to go out into the road and sing the Marseillaise. Ask almost anything of me to display my pride and affection for our brave allies, but do not, do not ask me to drink sweet champagne at lunch!”

“You shall choose it yourself,” said Ursula, “and it isn’t for lunch, but dinner. At lunch you will continue to drink beer. Only it will be English, not German.”

“Glorious beer! C’est magnifique!”

“Mais ce n’est pas lager!” said Ursula quickly.

This was rightly held to constitute one trick to her, and we resumed.

“About clothes,” I said.

“There was an article I read in some paper,” observed Ursula, “pointing out that if everybody did without them no one would mind.”

“Still, even in war time — — ”

“Of course I meant new clothes and fashionable things.”

“An alluring prospect!” I agreed wistfully. “Fancy reading in the frock-papers that ‘Ursula, Mrs. Brown, looked charming in a creation of sacking made Princess fashion, the chic effect being heightened by a bold use of the original trade-mark, which now formed a striking décor for the corsage.’”

Ursula did not smile. “No man can be amusing about clothes except by accident,” she said coldly. “The article went on to advise that if new things were bought they should be specially good. It called this the truest economy in the long run.”

When Ursula had sketched out a comprehensive wardrobe on truest economy lines, and I had mentally reviewed my pet shades in autumn suitings, there was a pause.

“What about the green-house?” I asked suddenly. “Do we need a fire there all winter just that John may swagger about his chrysanths?”

John, I should explain, is the gardener who jobs for us at seven-and-six weekly, and “chrysanths” is a perfectly beastly word that we have contracted from him. In summer John mows the lawn (fortissimo at 6.30 A.M.) and neglects to weed the strawberries. In winter he attends to what auctioneers would call the “commodious glass.”

“M’yes,” said Ursula reflectively. “But what about John himself?”

“My dear girl, surely it is obvious by the simplest political science — — ”

“Sweetheart!” interposed Ursula anxiously, “John isn’t going to have anything to do with the Moratorium or hoarding gold, is he? Because, do remember how cross you got trying to explain that!”

“I remember nothing of the sort!”

“And, anyhow,” she continued, “now we’re saving in so many other things, I intend to pay John an extra half-crown, in case food goes up.”

There was obviously only one thing to do, and I did it. I retired in fair order, abandoning to Ursula the task of preparing the schedule of our domestic retrenchment. At lunch she produced it.

“The bother is,” she observed, “that what with truest economy clothes and champagne, and John, and some other things, it seems to work out at about two pounds a week more than we spend now.”

“That,” I said cuttingly, “is at least a beginning!”

However, since then I have discovered an article in another paper denouncing panic economies as unpatriotic. So we shall probably return to the old régime, plus John’s half-crown. Even with this, it will mean a distinct saving of thirty-seven-and-six on Ursula’s proposals. It is not often that one gets a chance of serving one’s country on such easy terms.