thurston and beresford were the only members of the club still in the room.
“you know,” said thurston, “i was reading something in the gazette this morning.” he paused. “i can’t now remember what it was, but somehow it put me in mind of something. something that happened a long time ago. to a fellow named stafford- wiggins. i don’t suppose you would have known him?”
beresford made a sort of grunt which thurston took as indicating that beresford had indeed not known stafford-wiggins.
“no, i didn’t suppose you would,” thurston continued. “he was a young chap starting out in the service in the corps - the diplomatic corps - at the same time as myself. which, of course, was not exactly yesterday. anyway, all of us - all of us young fellows starting out - thought stafford-wiggins was quite a comer. so, one bright spring afternoon old sir edward chandry - who was in charge of sort of shepherding us through our apprenticeship - invited all of us - all of us young chaps - to the races. at ascot, if i remember correctly.
one of the things that impressed us about stafford-wiggins was the amazing talent he had for arriving at any event or appointment at exactly the right time - never so much as a minute early or late.
so, all the rest of us had gathered in front of the track with sir edward and lady chandry, and we were waiting for stafford-wiggins. the more forthright among us had been laughingly assuring sir edward and his consort that he would most assuredly arrive just in time.
and sure enough, he did just that.
a few of the fellows began chaffing him good-naturedly as he stepped down from his coach, straightening his jacket and getting ready to pay his respects to sir edward and lady chandry, whom i happened to be standing just behind.
“that young man,” lady chandry observed in a low voice to sir edward, indicating stafford-wiggins, “does not know how to wear a top hat.”
this was bad enough, but worse was to come.
“nor,” lady chandry added , “will he ever.”
“i am afraid you are right, my dear,” sir edward agreed as he put on a smile and stepped forward to greet stafford-wiggins.
sentence had been passed, as quickly as a leaf might fall, and of course there was no appeal or any notion of one from the condemned.
i remember that i made a few successful wagers that afternoon, which needless to say made more of an impression on me than any thoughts - deep or otherwise - i might have had about poor staford-wiggins.
in due course, stafford-wiggins was posted to the balkans or spanish guyana or some such. for all practical purposes, he was never heard of or from again. “
thurston paused again, “funny, isn’t it, how a single - what would you call it? not even a misstep, really, can determine a fellow’s fate.”
but beresford did not reply, as he had fallen asleep.