It has occasionally struck me as odd that Old Ned should have great difficulty in adding up his bar checks, because Old Ned actually has a fine head for business combinations. Our fellow member, H. J. Culbertson, would be the first to agree with this statement. You may remember that some years ago H. J. absorbed Pasqual Power in a rather spectacular manner. The transaction, as H. J. himself confessed to me later, had placed him under a very considerable nervous strain and, in seeking relaxation, he adjourned to the bar at Happy Knoll.
Without H. J.'s ever knowing how it happened, he found himself telling of the whole transaction to Old Ned, including certain details which H. J. frankly confesses he had never even told his lawyers. He still says that he is amazed and that Old Ned might have a "half nelson" on him if Old Ned should ever wish to use it. The truth was that Old Ned understood every one of the details that H. J. told him. It is a touching tribute to Old Ned that H. J. has never been worried for a single moment. The bar at Happy Knoll still is a privileged sanctuary.
It should be a source of pride to the club that an enormous amount of important business has been transacted in the bar. The stock of the P. W. Brakeweight Company moved to a new majority ownership right under Old Ned's nose, aided by a few Manhattans but mostly by Old Ned's benign exterior. Several of our best tax lawyers have advised their clients regarding some very interesting methods of business deduction in the bar. There is no doubt that the membership of Happy Knoll comprises one of the finest groups in the world, but even at Happy Knoll there are mysteries. There is a family whose name I won't mention living on Foxglove Lane that broke up almost overnight. Old Ned knows the reason. A certain home on Willowrun Path burned very suddenly two years ago. Old Ned can tell you whether or not this fire was entirely accidental. You have undoubtedly heard repercussions of a fist fight in the card room last winter. Old Ned could tell you the reasons and the details blow by blow—if he could be induced to talk. But as someone said there only the other day, after choking down a third of Old Ned's whiskey sours that were mixed for some reason with ginger ale, nothing ever gets by Old Ned but nothing ever gets through him either.
I must assure you, quite frankly, Albert, that I am not retailing hearsay gossip. I know these things about Old Ned because he told them to me yesterday and a good deal more besides. It seems that poor Old Ned is just as worried as you and I are by this new element that wants to do over the Men's Bar. Poor Old Ned, who does hear everything, has of course heard that a small clique wants a newer, defter barkeeper. Naturally this makes Old Ned deeply disturbed, I might even say upset, and never in the years I have known him have I heard him talk as freely as he has in the last few days. In fact, he put his own case very eloquently to me only the other evening.
"I am close friends with many lovely and very important members at Happy Knoll," he said. "I think if you was to speak to them about me, they would hate to see me leave."
Frankly, I echo those sentiments, and I am willing to bet a lot of the old crowd and even some of the new crowd will, too. Happy Knoll would not be the same place without Old Ned. His disappearance would give a lot of members, including myself, a very real attack of mental anguish. I do not mean that Old Ned would not be a true-blue Happy Knoller no matter where he might end up, but I know you will agree with me he had better stay right here. It is true that he is not improving. It might be well to have a younger man to mix the drinks, but let's keep Old Ned behind the bar.
Several of us are already circulating a petition to this effect, and you may be interested to know that Mr. H. J. Culbertson, Mr. Byles, five of our best corporation lawyers and one of our bank presidents have not only signed but are calling up their friends. In fact, the sentiment for keeping Old Ned is becoming a landslide. The subject will be discussed at the next meeting of the Board of Governors. I don't think there will be any difficulty, but it might be as well if you would write a confirming letter, since you have been around the bar a good deal yourself. All you need to say is: "Should old acquaintance be forgot? Keep Old Ned."