Mr. Humphries was going in for the kill.
“And so you see, sir, you shouldn’t be disappointed we don’t have any left. The pale green wouldn’t have suited you at all. You have very similar colouring to my colleague, Mr. Lucas.”
He turned to the aforementioned colleague.
“Isn’t that right, Mr. Lucas?”
“Yes, indeed, Mr. Humphries,” said Mr. Lucas. Who was paying far more attention to the shapely young woman being served by Mrs. Slocombe across the way.
Mr. Humphries frowned and turned back to his customer.
“No, you need the pale blue.” Mr. Humphries bent and opened one of the counter drawers. “Luckily we’ve got plenty of those…”
He pulled out a lightweight jumper, unfolded it and held it up.
The customer looked at it doubtfully. “It seems a bit large for me. Don’t you have a smaller size?”
“Oh, it’s tailor-made for you!” said Mr. Humphries. “You’ll be able to get an extra layer under there! Very useful as it gets chillier.”
He turned to Mr. Lucas.
“Do you think the chest is too large?”
“I’d say it’s just perfect,” said Mr. Lucas, eyes still on the young woman.
“Yes…” Mr. Humphries turned back to the customer.
The customer considered the jumper. “But even if the chest is all right, isn’t it rather long?”
“What do you think of the length of the garment, Mr. Lucas?” asked Mr. Humphries.
Mr. Lucas was watching as the young woman leant forward in her short skirt. “It’ll ride up with wear.”
Mr. Humphries’ eyebrows rose very high.
“All right, I’ll take it,” said the customer.
“Excellent decision, sir.” With a smile, Mr. Humphries rang up the sale and put the jumper in a bag.
The customer gave it a last doubtful look, and started off for the lifts. Mrs. Slocombe’s customer had also started for the lifts and Mr. Lucas finally turned his attention back to Mr. Humphries.
“You did well there,” he said. “Nice bit of commission.”
“Yes, and no thanks to you.” Mr. Humphries gestured over at the ladies’ counter. “You’re supposed to be concentrating on your work, not eyeing up the female customers.” He gave Mr. Lucas a pointed look. “You looked like you were 30 seconds away from giving her a wolf whistle, winking, and saying, ‘how about it, sweetheart?’”
Mr. Lucas sighed. “I was only looking. No law against it.”
“It’s unprofessional,” said Mr. Humphries. “And don’t forget I’m familiar with you and your ‘I’m only looking’. I saw you slap Young Mr. Grace’s secretary on the bottom yesterday.” He held up a hand. “I wouldn’t put up with someone treating my mother like that.”
Mr. Lucas smiled ruefully. “You’d beat him round the head with your handbag, would you?”
Mr. Humphries gave him a look. “No, but I’d hold onto my mother’s while she slapped him across the face.”
“Look, you’re not as young as you think you are, you know. This unsophisticated, upfront stuff may have worked when you were 17, but you need to learn how to be a gentleman. Learn how to court a woman.” Mr. Humphries gestured vaguely. “Taking her out for dinner and dancing and what have you.”
Mr. Lucas snorted. “I don’t have the money for ‘courting’. Not working here.”
“It doesn’t have to be anything expensive. It’s just a case of paying attention.” Mr. Humphries patted Mr. Lucas’ arm thoughtfully. “Look, why don’t we go out tonight? My treat, and I’ll give you a few pointers.”
“What—you?” said Mr. Lucas, doubtfully.
Mr. Humphries looked at him. “Yes, me. You’ll see—I’ll sort it all out.”
They met at 8 o’clock outside a rather glamorous looking showbar.
“Good evening, Mr. Humphries.”
Mr. Lucas made for the front entrance but Mr. Humphries stopped him. “No, we have to go in through the side.”
Mr. Lucas frowned but followed Mr. Humphries to the stage door, where they were admitted by the doorman. They then made their way down a corridor and eventually ended up on the floor of the bar, where there were several ladies in sparkling gowns getting things ready.
“Mr. Humphries...” said Mr. Lucas looking around. “Correct me if I’m wrong but this place doesn’t look open yet.” He looked at Mr. Humphries. “And I can’t help but notice that the ladies working here are in fact gentlemen.”
Mr. Humphries shook his head firmly. “A lady is a lady. Though I do accept these are not your kind of ladies.” He waved across at someone and began leading the way to their table. “But I thought that might help to stop you getting distracted and keep your mind on your behaviour.”
They had now reached the table, where one of the gorgeously attired ladies was seated waiting for them.
She grinned at Mr. Humphries. “Hello, Wilberforce.”
“Hello, Jasmine.” Mr. Humphries returned the grin with affection.
He turned to Mr. Lucas.
“This is my friend Jasmine. She has kindly offered to give up some of her time before the club opens to help you through learning how to talk to women.”
Jasmine smiled at Mr. Lucas and offered her hand. “Pleased to meet you.”
“Same here,” said Mr. Lucas, returning the smile a little nervously. “That’s a… a beautiful dress you’re wearing, I must say.”
“Oh, excellent start.” Jasmine beamed at him. “You’ve obviously got good taste.”
“Well, I work in the clothing department at Grace Brothers,” said Mr. Lucas. “It teaches you a lot about taste.”
“Oh, yes?” said Jasmine.
Mr. Lucas nodded. “If we don’t sell it, it must be all right.”
Jasmine giggled and gestured to the other chair. Mr. Lucas sat down, and they looked across at each other.
There was an awkward pause.
Mr. Humphries sighed. “Come on, Mr. Lucas,” he said. “You were doing so well. Think—how would you get a conversation going in other circumstances?”
“Er,” said Mr. Lucas.
He leant forwards Jasmine.
“What did you think of that goal United scored on Saturday then?”
“Oh, God,” said Jasmine. “Unbelievable, wasn’t it? That goalkeeper never stood a chance. When the defence—”
Mr. Humphries waved his hands. “No. No.”
Jasmine frowned up at him. “Ladies can be interested in football too.”
“I know but…” Mr. Humphries furrowed his brow. “I just think you should start by asking your companion what she’s interested in.” He looked pointedly at Jasmine. “Which might be football but which possibly might not be.”
Mr. Lucas looked vaguely panicked. “So what do I do if I don’t know anything about what my companion’s interested in?”
“Then you ask questions,” said Mr. Humphries. “It’s just like being at work really.”
Mr. Lucas raised his eyebrows. “You mean, we ignore everything they say and palm any old rubbish off on them?”
“Well, maybe not…” Mr. Humphries sighed and checked his watch. “Look, there are only 15 minutes before the doors open. I’ll get a table and leave you two to talk. And then afterwards Mr. Lucas and I will have some dinner and discuss how it went.”
Once the doors were open and Jasmine had gone to prepare for the first number, Mr. Lucas made his way over to Mr. Humphries’ table.
“Right!” said Mr. Humphries. “ Let’s review how you did.”
Mr. Lucas shrugged a little. “Do we have to be so formal about it? Me and Jasmine talked about where we went on holiday last, about work, about what kind of music we like…” He gestured vaguely. “We got on well. I’d go so far as to say we’re friends now.”
Mr. Humphries beamed. “You see? That’s all there is to it. Treat a woman as a human being and everything follows on naturally.”
He passed over a menu.
“Now, you pick what you’d like, and then over dinner you can practise a bit more with me—I mean, pretend I’m a woman and talk to me like I’m a man.”
Mr. Lucas furrowed his brow. “Right.”
Mr. Humphries smiled cheerfully. “We’ll soon have you out of those old bad habits!”
Mr. Humphries popped back to the bar a few nights later and made his way backstage to the communal dressing room.
He tapped on the door.
“Come in!” called Jasmine.
Mr. Humphries smiled, and opened the door.
“Oh, Wilberforce!” Jasmine beamed at him, and her smile got even wider as she spotted the modest bouquet he was holding.
Mr. Humphries passed the flowers over. “That is just a small thank you for speaking to Mr. Lucas.”
Jasmine waved a careless hand. “It was nothing, honestly. Dick’s a charming bloke really, when he puts his mind to it. In fact, he’s here tonight and—” Jasmine broke off, looking uncomfortable. “Oh, but perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”
Mr. Humphries narrowed his eyes. “Why? Hasn’t he been behaving as a gentleman?”
Jasmine gave an embarrassed smile. “I can honestly say he hasn’t been a gentleman all night.”
“Right!” Mr. Humphries turned and made for the door. “I’ll have a word with him and— Excuse me, madam.”
He moved past an elegant lady in mint green who was attempting to enter the dressing room and was out in the corridor before he heard the voice calling him back.
“Mr. Humphries, it’s me!”
Mr. Humphries turned slowly and stared at the lady in mint.
Mr. Lucas smiled weakly. “Yes.” He gestured at Jasmine. “When we first talked, I told Jasmine about not having enough money to properly take a woman out, and she got me a bit of part-time waitressing here.”
Mr. Humphries continued to stare. “You know,” he said finally. “You’re full of surprises.”
He looked Mr. Lucas up and down.
“I wouldn’t have said pale green would suit you at all, but you really pull it off.”