Plumage. A homage to Plum.
He’s been called the greatest writer of English since Shakespeare. Of course it’s a different sort of English from Shakespeare’s Elizabethan genius. They also say that a sign of a great writer is that, if you come across a sentence they’ve written, and it doesn’t feel exactly right, maybe it feels imbalanced, clunky, a better word could have been chosen at a particular point, then try and re-write it. Try and write the sense of the sentence, but better. With Wodehouse it’s impossible. It’s like Mozart, there’s not a note or word out of place. Apparently, Wodehouse used to pin every page of a book or chapter up round his study walls, at about knee height, or lower. Any pages he was completely happy with he’d pin at desk level. And until he’d pruned and polished every single other page till they were up to the same height, he wouldn’t let the pages go out. What was it Thomas Edison said? Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Stephen Fry called Wodehouse’s writing ‘sunlit perfection’. Here, in no particular order are my favourite little sunbeams, taken from my 40-odd Wodehouse novels and collections of short stories. Most of them are Jeeves books, but I branched out later in life, and the gems were still in there, of course. Not all of the examples here are humorous jewels or perfect comic picture-conjuring, some are just captured shafts of a wonderful use of the English language.
(As his name was Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, and even that rolls round the tongue, he was known by his first name, shortened by his friends to Plum).
From ‘The Inimitable Jeeves’.
I flung open the door. I got a momentary flash of about a hundred and fifteen cats of all sizes and colours scrapping in the middle of the room, and then they all shot past me with a rush and out of the front door; and all that was left of the mob scene was the head of a whacking big fish, lying on the carpet and staring up at me in a rather austere sort of way, as if it wanted a written explanation and apology.
…she might have been quite tolerable. But there was too much of her. Billowy curves. Well-nourished, perhaps, expresses it best. And while she may have had a heart of gold the thing you noticed about her first was that she had a tooth of gold.
…the blackness of the hearts of plutocratic owners who allowed a trusting public to imagine a horse was the real goods when it couldn’t trot the length of its stable without getting its legs crossed and having to sit down to rest.
I’m bound to say that, as a general rule, my idea of a large afternoon would be to keep as far away from a village school-treat as possible. A sticky business. But with such grave issues toward, if you know what I mean, I sank my prejudices on this occasion and rolled up
When I was a kid, I used to read stories about knights and Vikings and that species of chappie who would get up without a blush in the middle of a crowded banquet and loose off a song about how perfectly priceless they thought their best girl. I’ve often felt that those days would have suited young Bingo down to the ground.
From ‘Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit’.
I was at a loss to imagine what he was doing invading my privacy like this, and another thing that had fogged me was why, having invaded it, he was standing staring at me in a stern, censorious sort of way, as if the sight of me had got right in amongst him, revolting his finest feelings. I might have been some dreg of society whom he had caught in the act of slipping a couple of ounces of cocaine to some other dreg.
Love is a delicate plant that needs constant tending and nurturing, and this cannot be done by snorting at the adored object like a gas explosion and calling her friends lice.
Despite adverse criticism from many quarters – the name of my Aunt Agatha is one that springs to the lips – I like B. Wooster the way he is. Lay off him, I say. Don’t try to change him, or you may lose the flavour.
I know one or two song writers and have found them amongst the most cheery of my acquaintances, ready of smile and full of merry quips and so forth. But directly they put pen to paper they never fail to take the dark view. … The thing this bird was putting across per megaphone at the moment was about a chap crying into his pillow because the girl he loved was getting married next day, but – and this was the point or nub – not to him. He didn’t like it. He viewed the situation with concern.
And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.
‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘throw your mind back to that time we stayed at Deverill Hall. ‘Are you throwing?’
From ‘The Mating Season’.
She was rendering that old number ‘Give yourself a pat on the back’, and the general effect was of an exhilarated foghorn.
‘You must be brave, Bertie,’ she said in a low, roopy voice.
I know Corky. Her psychology is an open book to me. Even in the distant days when she wore rompers and had a tooth missing in front, hers was always a fiery and impulsive nature, quick to resent anything in the shape of oompus-boompus. And it is inevitably as oompus-boompus that she will have classed the zealous officer’s recent arrest of her dog. … The unfortunate hound is languishing in a dungeon with gives upon his wrists, and a girl of her spirit is not likely to accept such a state of things supinely.
He blinked like a chidden codfish.
‘Wasn’t I good?’
‘No, you were not good. You were cheesy. Your work lacked fire and snap.’
At these frightful words, the spirit of the Woosters felt as if it had been sat on by an elephant. And not one of your streamlined, schoolgirl-figured elephants, either. A big, fat one.
His theme was the Church Organ, in aid of which these grim doings had been set afoot, and it was in a vein of pessimism that he spoke of its prospects. He Church Organ, he told us frankly, was in a hell of a bad way. For years it had been going round with holes in its socks, doing the Brother-can-you-spare-a-dime stuff, and now it was about due to hand in its dinner pail. There had been a time when he had hoped that that the pull-together spirit might have given it a shot in the arm, but the way it looked to him at the moment, things had gone too far and he was prepared to bet his shirt on the bally contrivance going down the drain and staying there.
He was coming along like a jack-rabbit of the western prairie, his head back and his green beard floating in the breeze. I liked his ankle work. … But, as I was stressing a moment ago, Augustus Fink-Nottle, in addition to being a flat racer of marked ability, was also a fathead, and now, when he had victory within his grasp, the fatheaded streak in him came uppermost. There was a tree standing at the roadside and, suddenly swerving off the course, he made for it and hoisted himself into its branches. And what he supposed that was going to get him, only his diseased mind knew. Ernest Dobbs may not have been one of Hampshire’s brightest thinkers, but he was smart enough to stand under a tree.
In dishing up this narrative for family consumption, it has been my constant aim throughout to get the right word in the right place and to avoid fobbing the customers off with something weak and inexpressive when they have a right to expect the telling phrase. It means a bit of extra work, but one has one’s code.
From ‘Meet Mr. Mulliner’.
Something obviously had to be done, and George went to London to see a specialist.
‘Yes?’ said the specialist.
‘I-I-I-I-I-I-I-‘ said George.
‘You were saying-?’
‘Sing it’ said the specialist.
‘S-s-s-s-s-s-s-s-?’ said George, puzzled.
When the heart is sick, cutlets merely alleviate, they do not cure.
‘I’ve been studying this matter closely’, he said, ‘and it’s one of the seven wonders of the world. Have you ever seen a fat valet? Of course not. Nor has anybody else. There is no such thing as a fat valet. And yet there is scarcely a moment during the day when a valet is not eating. He rises at six-thirty, and at seven is having coffee and buttered toast. At eight, he breakfasts off porridge, cream, eggs, bacon, jam, bread, butter, more eggs, more bacon, more jam, more tea and more butter, finishing up with a slice of cold ham and a sardine. At eleven o’clock he has his ‘elevenses’, consisting of coffee, cream, more bread and more butter. At one, luncheon – a hearty meal, replete with every sort of starchy food and lots of beer. If he can get at the port, he has port. At three, a snack. At four, another snack. At five, tea and buttered toast. At seven – dinner, probably with floury potatoes, and certainly with lots more beer. At nine, another snack. And at ten-thirty he retires to bed, taking with him a glass of milk and a plate of biscuits to keep himself from getting hungry in the night. And yet he remains as slender as a string bean, while I, who have been dieting for years, tip the beam at two hundred and seventeen pounds and am growing a third and supplementary chin.’
As you are doubtless aware, the favourite pastime of the Indian Maharajahs is the hunting of the tiger of the jungle from the backs of elephants; and it has happened frequently in the past that hunts have been spoiled by the failure of the elephant to see eye-to-eye with its owner in the matter of what constitutes sport.
Too often elephants, on sighting the tiger, and turned and galloped home: and it was to correct this tendency on their part that I invented Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo ‘B’.
‘Do you believe in ghosts?’ asked Mr. Mulliner abruptly.
I weighed the question thoughtfully. I was a little surprised, for nothing in our previous conversation had suggested the topic.
‘Well,’ I replied, ‘I don’t like them, if that’s what you mean. I was once butted by one as a child.’
‘Ghosts. Not goats.’
From ‘Eggs, Beans and Crumpets’.
But it seems to be the rule in this world that though you may have goose, it is never pure goose. In the most apparently Grade A ointment there is always a fly.
Purkiss had apparently been entertaining himself with a spot of music on the radio, for when he emerged it was playing a gay rumba. And now, as radios do, it suddenly broke off in the middle, gave a sort of squawk and began to talk German.
Freddie’s heart seemed to buckle within him. He had tried to be optimistic, but all along he had known that Mortimer rackstraw would hatch some fearful plot. He could have put his shirt on it. A born hatcher.
…the nervous strain had become almost intolerable. As he rang the bell he was quivering like some jelly set before a diet patient…
He wondered dully as he sat there how the opera ‘Raymond’ had ever managed to get itself performed, if the overture was as long as this. They must have rushed it through in the last five minutes of the evening as the audience groped for its hats and wraps.
‘And now, Corky, as you will no doubt have divined, I was, so to speak, at the crossroads. The finger-post of Prudence pointed one way, that of Love another. Prudence whispered to me to conciliate this bloke, to speak him fair, to comport myself towards him as towards one who held my destinies in his hand and who could, if well disposed, give me a job which would keep the wolf from the door while I was looking round for something bigger and more attuned to my vision and abilities.
Love, on the other hand, was shouting to me to pinch his coat and leg it for the open spaces.’
Tuppy, sterling fellow though he is, has his bad mornings. He comes down to the office and finds a sharp note from the President of Uruguay or someone on his desk, and it curdles the milk of human kindness within him. On these occasions he becomes so tight that he could carry an armful of eels up five flights of stairs and not drop one.
From ‘Jeeves in the Offing’.
What I’m driving at is that if I persist in this porous plastering, a time must inevitably come when, feeling that actions speak louder than words, he will haul off and bop me one. In which event, I shall have no alternative to haul off and bop him one. The Woosters have their pride. And when I bop them, they stay bopped till nightfall.
It was the sort of observation which might well have quenched the spark of love in his bosom, for nothing tends to cool the human heart more swiftly than babytalk.
There’s a flaw in your story that sticks up like a sore thumb.
From ‘The Man with Two Left Feet’.
At five minutes to eleven on the morning named he was at the station, a false beard and spectacles shielding his identity from the public eye. If you had asked him, he would have said that he was a Scotch business man. As a matter of fact, he looked far more like a motor car coming through a haystack.
It is practically impossible for a novice, suddenly introduced behind the scenes of a musical comedy, not to fall in love with somebody…
‘As a sleuth you are poor. You couldn’t detect a bass drum in a telephone-booth.’
It was one of those Western films, where the cowboy jumps on his horse and rides across country at a hundred and fifty miles an hour to escape the sheriff, not knowing, poor chump! that he might just as well stay where he is, the sheriff having a horse of his own which can do three hundred miles an hour without coughing.
At first, indeed, he found the new atmosphere soothing. His last beat had been in the heart of tempestuous Whitechapel, where his arms had ached from the incessant hauling of wiry inebriates to the station, and his shins had revolted at the kicks showered upon them by haughty spirits impatient of restraint.
From ‘Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves’.
How long I remained motionless, like a ventriloquist’s dummy whose ventriloquist has has gone off to the local and left it sitting, I cannot say.
The trouble was that he was a curate, and the brass hats of the Church look askance at curates who swat the parishioners. Sock your flock, and you’re sunk.
‘I hate you, I hate you!’ cried Madeline, a thing I didn’t know anyone ever said except in the second act of a musical comedy.
‘You do?’ said Gussie.
‘Yes, I do. I loathe you.’
‘Then in that case,’ said Gussie, ‘I shall now eat a ham sandwich.’
I had come to this house as a raisonneur to bring the young folks together, but however much of a raisonneur you are, you can’t bring young folks together if one of them elopes with someone else. You are not merely hampered, but shackled.
‘Of course, of course, of course, of course,’ he said, carolling like one of Jeeves’ larks on the wing. ‘I am sure that Pinker will make an excellent vicar.’
‘The best,’ said Stiffy. ‘He’s wasted as a curate. No scope. Running under wraps. Unleash him as a vicar, and he’ll be the talk of the established church. He’s as hot as a pistol.’
‘I have always had the highest opinion of Harold Pinker.’
‘I’m not surprised. All the nibs feel the same. They know he’s got what it takes. Very sound on doctrine, and can preach like a streak.’
‘Well here is the news, and this is Bertram Wooster reading it. I’m going to be married.’
From ‘The Code of the Woosters’.
I remember Jeeves saying to me once, apropos of how you can never tell what the weather’s going to do, that full many a glorious morning had he seen flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye and then turn into a rather nasty afternoon.
But mere thews and sinews do not qualify a man to pinch policemen’s helmets. You need finesse.
‘Stop saying “Oh, yes?” you miserable worm, and listen to me.’
Many chaps might have resented his tone. I did myself, as a matter of fact. But you know how it is. There are some fellows you are right on your toes to tick off when they call you a miserable worm, others not quite so much.
A strange frozen sensation had come over me, rendering the physical and mental processes below par. It was as though both limbs and bean had been placed in a refrigerator and overlooked for several days.
It was from this balcony that the tapping sound proceeded, leading one to infer that someone stood without.
That the dog Bartholomew had reached this conclusion was shown immediately by the lissom agility with which he leapt at the window and started trying to bite his way through. Up till this moment, he had shown himself a dog of strong reserves, content merely to sit and stare, but now he was full of strange oaths. And I confess that as I watched his champing and listened to his observations I congratulated myself on the promptitude with which I had breezed onto that chest of drawers. A bone-crusher, if ever one drew breath, this Bartholomew Byng. Reluctant as one always is to criticise the acts of an all-wise Providence, I was dashed if I could see why a dog of his size should have been fitted out with the jaws and teeth of a crocodile. Still, too late of course to do anything about it now.
His lips parted, and I thought an ‘Eh, what?’ was coming through, but it didn’t. Just silence and a couple of bubbles.
I spoke sharply. He had started a train of thought. An idea had begun to burgeon. For some little time I had been calling on all the resources of the Wooster intellect to help me solve this problem, and I don’t often do that without something breaking loose. At this mention of the cow-creamer, the brain seemed suddenly to give itself a shake and set off across country with its nose to the ground.
Unfortunately, however, if there was one thing circumstances weren’t, it was different from what they were, and there was no suspicion of a song on the lips. The more I thought of what lay before me at these bally Towers, the bowed-downer did the heart become.
From ‘A few quick ones’.
Purkiss started. The fishy glitter in his eye became intensified. He looked like a halibut which has just been asked by another halibut to lend it a couple of quid till next Wednesday.
It was the photograph of an elderly man in a bathing suit; an elderly man who, a glance was enough to tell, had been overdoing it on the starchy foods since early childhood; an elderly man so rotund, so obese, so bulging in every direction that Shakespeare, had he beheld him, would have muttered to himself “Upon what meat doth this our Horace feed that he is grown so great?” One wondered how any bathing suit built by human hands could contain so stupendous an amount of uncle without parting at the seams. In the letter he had written to Oofy announcing his arrival in England Horace Prosser had spoken of coming home to lay his bones in the old country. There was nothing in the snapshot to suggest that he had any bones.
Whenever there was cash around, he wanted to get it. It was well said of him at the Drones that despite his revolting wealth he would always willingly walk ten miles in tight boots to pick up twopence. Many put the figure even lower.
“The whimsical way she put it was that a woman who married a man my size ran a serious risk of being arrested for bigamy. She confessed that she had often yearned for someone like me, but was opposed to the idea of getting twice as much as she had yearned for.”
I was alluding to the present Lord Yaxley, a prominent London clubman who gets more prominent yearly, especially seen sideways.
He was down fifty thousand pounds, he had lost the girl he loved, his heart was broken, and he had a small pimple coming on the back of his neck – a combination which in his opinion gave him a full hand.
To say that Oofy was all in a dither is really to give too feeble a picture of his emotions. They were such that only a top-notcher like Shakespeare could have slapped them down on paper, and he would have had to go all out.
“I know just how they felt,” I said, moodily stepping on the accelerator. The brow was furrowed and the spirits low.
Arrival at Marsham Manor did little to smooth the former and raise the latter.
“You want to protect your investment, don’t you? You don’t want all that lovely splosh to slip through your hands, do you? Well, then.”
He had struck the right note. The last thing in the world Oofy wanted was to lose any lovely splosh.
Dinner was a silent meal. It always checks the flow of small talk if fifty per cent of the company have broken hearts, and it was plain that those of Porky Jupp and Plug Bosher were smashed into hash. When they wiped their gravy up with bread, they did it dully, and there was a listlessness in the way the chivvied bits of roly-poly pudding about the plate with their fingers which told its own story.
From ‘Nothing Serious’.
He had explored every avenue… He had tried to touch P.P.Purkiss for an advance of salary… It really began to look as if he would be forced to the last awful extreme of biting Mrs. Bingo’s ear, which would mean that he might hear the last of it somewhere round about the afternoon of their golden wedding day, but scarcely before then.
Little wonder that Lord Emsworth, as he toddled along the road, was gritting his teeth. A weaker man would have gnashed them.
In the old days when knighthood was in flower and somebody was needed to rescue a suffering female from a dragon or a two-headed giant, the cry was always “Let Emsworth do it!”, and the Emsworth of the period had donned his suit of mail, stropped his sword, parked his chewing gum under the round table and snapped into it.
Many a man may look respectable, and yet be able to hide at will behind a spiral staircase.
An idea struck him. He called up Agnus Flack.
“Sorry to disturb you at this hour, but will you marry me?”
“Certainly. Who is that?”
From ‘Right ho, Jeeves’.
I goggled. Her words did not appear to make sense. They seemed the mere aimless vapouring of an aunt who has been sitting out in the sun without a hat.
In the drawing room, however, when I entered, only Aunt Dahlia met the eye. It seemed to me that she gave me rather a jaundiced look as I hove in sight, but this, having so recently beheld Tuppy in his agony, I attributed to the fact that she, like him, had been going light on the menu. You can’t expect an empty aunt to beam like a full aunt.
From ‘Young Men in Spats’.
‘I don’t know what’s come over you,’ she said petulantly. ‘You seem absolutely to have changed this last couple of weeks. You used to be one of the cheeriest old bounders that ever donned a spat, and now you’re a sort of emperor of the Glooms. You don’t even do your hen-imitation any more.’
‘Well, the thing is, you can’t imitate a hen laying an egg properly if your heart’s bleeding for the martyred proletariat.’
‘The martyred proletariat.’
‘Well…er…it’s – how shall I put it?… it’s the martyred proletariat.’
‘You wouldn’t know a martyred proletariat if they brought it to you on a skewer with béarnaise sauce.’
As he and Sir Mortimer were the only men at the table, most of the seats having been filled by a covey of mildewed females whom he had classified under the general heading of Aunts…
Percy continued to stare before him like a man who has drained the wine-cup of life to its lees, only to discover a dead mouse at the bottom.
The next day, accordingly, found Freddie seated in a rowboat at the landing-stage by the Town bridge. It was a lovely summer morning with all the fixings, such as blue skies, silver wavelets, birds, bees, gentle breezes and what not.
Not one of the little company of amateur fire-fighters but was ruffled.
People can say what they please about the modern young man believing in nothing nowadays, but there is one thing every right-minded young man believes in, and that is the infallibility of Bodmin’s hats. It is one of the eternal verities. Once admit that is possible for a Bodmin hat not to fit, and you leave the door open for Doubt, Schism, and Chaos generally.
Here, he reflected, as they walked round the square, was a girl whose ear was more or less on the level with a fellow’s mouth, so that such observations as he might make were enabled to get from point to point with the least possible delay. Talking to Elizabeth Bottsworth had always been like bellowing down a well in the hope of attracting the attention of one of the smaller infusoria at the bottom.
‘Your hat, now, Percy, is exactly right. I have seen a good many hats in my time, but I really do not think that I have ever come across a more perfect specimen of all that a hat should be. Not too large, not too small, fitting snugly to the head like the skin on a sausage. And you have just the head that a silk hat shows off. It gives you a sort of look…how shall I describe it?…it conveys the idea of a master of men. Leonine is the word I want. There is something about the way it rests on the brow and the almost imperceptible tilt towards the south-east…’
Percy Wimbolt was quivering like an Oriental muscle-dancer. Soft music seemed to be playing from the direction of Hay Hill, and Berkeley Square had begun to skip around him on one foot.
In round numbers the Earl of Ickenham, of Ickenham Hall, Ickenham, Hants, he lives in the country most of the year, but from time to time he has a nasty way of slipping his collar and getting loose and descending upon Pongo at his flat in the Albany. And every time he does so, the unhappy young blighter is subjected to some soul-testing experience. Because the trouble with this uncle is that, though sixty if a day, he becomes on arriving in the metropolis as young as he feels – which is, apparently, a youngish twenty-two. I don’t know if you happen to know what the word ‘excesses’ means, but those are what Pongo’s Uncle Fred from the country, when in London, invariably commits.
The whole of the ‘Archibald and the Masses’ story.
His brow was wet with honest sweat. He is reading for the Bar, and while he would be the first to admit that he hasn’t yet got a complete toe-hold on the Law of Great Britain he had a sort of notion that oiling into a perfect stranger’s semi-detached villa on the pretext of pruning the parrot was a tort or misdemeanour, if not actual barratry or soccage in fief or something like that.
‘But surely,’ said Lord Ickenham, ‘that speaks well for him. The capacity to jelly an eel seems to me to argue intelligence of a high order. It isn’t everybody who can do it, by any means. I know if someone came to me and said ‘Jelly this eel!’ I should be nonplussed. And so, or I am very much mistaken, would Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill.’
‘Speaking for myself, I consider that we are very lucky to have the chance of marrying even into eel-jellying circles.’
And then, as he watched, suddenly stopped panting and began to a remark which, even by Archibald’s not too exacting standards, seemed noticeably goofy. It consisted of the ‘QX’ repeated over and over again. And, as Archibald has often told me, it was the word she said them that got right in amongst a fellow.
The ‘Q’ he tells me, was an almost inaudible murmur, produced through pouting lips. That, he says, he could have endured. But what made everything seem so sad and hopeless was the ‘X’. As she emitted this, she drew her mouth back in a ghastly grin till the muscle of her neck stood out like ropes. And she went on and on and on. She refrained from Q-ing the ‘Q’ only to X the ‘X’, and when she wasn’t X-ing to beat the band she was q-ing away like a two-year-old. That was how my nephew Archibald described the scene to me, and I must admit that it conjures up a vivid picture.
You know what pamphlets are. They ramble. They go into sections and sub-sections. If they can think of a phrase like ‘ the basic fundamentals of the principles governing distribution’, they shove it in.
From ‘Very Good, Jeeves’.
Thos., for some reason plainly stirred to the depths of his being, moved adroitly to one side and, poising the bucket for an instant, discharged its contents. And Mr. Anstruther, who had just moved to the same side, received, as far as I could gather from a distance, the entire consignment. In one second, without any previous training or upbringing, he had become the wettest man in Worcestershire.
And yet, if I had only known, what I had been listening to that a.m. was the first faint rumble of the coming storm. Unseen, in the background, Fate was quietly slipping the lead into the boxing-glove.
From ‘Blandings Castle’.
Years before, when a boy, and romantic as most bots are, his lordship had sometimes regretted that the Emsworths, though an ancient clan, did not possess a Family Curse. How little had he suspected that he was shortly to become the father of it.
They looked at him, awed. Slowly, fading off across hill and dale, the vast bellow died away. And sudden;ly, as it died, another, softer sound succeeded it. A sort of gulpy, gurgly, plobby, squichy, wofflesome sound, like a thousand eager men drinking soup in a foreign restaurant. And as he heard it, Lord Emsworth uttered a cry of rapture.
The Empress was feeding.
It was the voice of Lord Emsworth, raised in song.
It was a gruesome sound, calculated to startle the stoutest; and two bees, buzzing among the lavender, stopped as one bee and looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
The brains of of members of the Press departments of motion-picture studios resemble soup at a cheap restaurant. It is wiser not to stir them.
When finally he had summed up the energy to rise and remove the zareba in front of the window and open the shutters, he became aware that a glorious morning was upon the world. The samples of sunlight that had crept into the room had indicated only feebly the golden wealth without.
‘There is a man who is really a man. When he meets a gorilla, he laughs in its face.’
In the scene which I have just related, no one is better aware than myself that he has not shown up well. Reviewing his shallow arguments, we see through them, as Rosalie did; and like Rosalie, we realised that he had feet of clay – and cold ones, to boot.
From ‘Uncle Dynamite’.
Budge Street, Chelsea, in the heart of London’s artistic quarter, is, like so many streets in the hearts of artistic quarters, dark, dirty, dingy and depressing. Its residents would appear to be great readers and very fond of fruit, for tattered newspapers can always be found fluttering about its sidewalks and old banana skins, cores of apples, plum stones and squashed strawberries lying in large quantities in its gutters. Its cats are stringy, hard-boiled cats, who look as if they were contemplating, or had just finished perpetrating, a series of murders of the more brutal type.
From ‘A Pelican at Blandings’.
‘I shan’t do that. I shall quiver all right, but I’ll stay put.’
‘I hope so, for nothing so surely introduces a sour note into the wedding ceremony as the abrupt disappearance of the groom in a cloud of dust.’
From ‘Joy in the Morning’.
He did not reply for a space. A wooden expression had crept into his features, and his eyes had taken on the look of cautious reserve which you see in those of parrots, when offered half a banana by a stranger of whose bona fides they are not convinced.
‘You will enjoy that, sir.’
‘I shall, indeed,’ I assented, for as a dancer I out-Fred the nimblest Astaire, and fancy dress binges have always been my dish. When does it come to a head?’
‘Odd, this neurotic tendency in the American business man. Can you account for it? No? I can. Too much coffee’.
‘That and the New Deal. Over in America, it appears, life for the business man is one long series of large cups of coffee, punctuated with shocks from the New Deal. He drinks a quart of coffee, and gets a nasty surprise from the New Deal. To pull himself together, he drinks another quart of coffee, and along comes another nastySurprise from the New Deal. He staggers off, calling feebly for more coffee, and…Well, you see what I mean. Vicious circle. No nervous system could stand it.’
And as I don’t know the first thing about fixing a car, my talents being limited to twisting the wheel and tooting the tooter, I had to wait there till the United States Marines arrived.
These took the shape – at about a quarter to twelve – of a kindly bird in a lorry who, on being hailed, put everything right with a careless twiddle of the fingers so rapidly that he had occasion to spit only twice from start to finish.
From ‘Something Fresh’.
The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously upon London town. Out in Piccadilly it’s heartening warmth seemed to infuse into traffic and pedestrians alike a novel jauntiness, so that ‘bus-drivers jested and even the lips of chauffers uncurled into not unkindly smiles. Policemen whistled at their posts, clerks on their way to work, beggars approached the task of trying to persuade perfect strangers to bear the burden of their maintenance with that optimistic vim which makes all the difference. It was one of those happy mornings.
He was as completely happy as only a fluffy-minded old man with excellent health and and a large income can be.
‘These are my scarabs,’ he said.
Lord Emsworth adjusted his glasses and the mild smile disappeared from his face, to be succeeded by a set look. A stage-director of a moving-picture firm would have recognised the look; Lord Emsworth was ‘registering’ interest – interest which, he perceived from the first instant would have to be completely simulated; for instinct told him, as Mr. Peters began to talk, that he was about to be bored as he had seldom been bored in his life.
We may say what we will against the aristocaracy of England; we may wear red ties and attend Socialist meetings; but we cannot deny that in certain crises blood will tell. An English peer of the right sort can be bored nearer to the point where mortification sets in, without showing it, than any one else in the world.
He was infinitely the fattest man in the west-central postal district of London. He was a round ball of a man, who wheezed when he walked upstairs, which was seldom, and shook like a jelly if some tactless friend, wishing to attract his attention, tapped him unexpectedly on the shoulder.
Nobody appeared to notice him… To attract attention in the dining-room of the Senior Conservative Club between the hours of one and two-thirty, you have to be a mutton chop, not an earl.
‘It won’t do, Mr. Marson. You remind me of an old cat I once had. Whenever he killed a mouse, he would bring it into the drawing-room and lay it affectionately at my feet. I would reject the corpse with horror and turn him out, but back he would come with his loathsome gift. I simply couldn’t make him understand that he was not doing me a kindness. He thought highly of his mouse, and it was beyond him to realize that I did not want it.
Simpson’s in the Strand is unique. Here, if he wishes, the Briton may, for the small sum of half a dollar, stupefy himself with food. The God of Fatted Plenty has the place under his protection. Its keynote is solid comfort. Country clergymen, visiting London for the annual Clerical Congress, come here to get the one square meal which will last them till next year’s Clerical Congress. Fathers and uncles with sons or nephews on their hands rally to Simpson’s with silent blessings on the head of the genius who founded the place, for here only can the young boa-constrictor really fill himself at moderate expense. Militant suffragettes come to it to make up leeway after their latest hunger-strike.
A pleasant, soothing, hearty place. A restful Temple of Food. No strident orchestra forces the diner to bolt beef in rag-time. No long central aisle distracts his attention with its stream of new arrivals. There he sits, alone with his food, while white-robed priests, wheeling their smoking trucks, move to and fro, ever ready with fresh supplies.
Among the compensations of advancing age is a wholesome pessimism, which, while it takes the fine edge off whatever triumphs may come to us, has the admirable effect of preventing Fate from working off on us any of those gold bricks, coins with strings attached and hatched chickens at which Ardent Youth snatches with such enthusiasm, to its subsequent disappointment.
The third, fourth and fifth shots embedded themselves in the wall. The sixth and final shot hit a life-size picture of his lordship’s maternal grandmother in the face and improved it out of all knowledge.
It is the compensation which Life gives to those whom it has handled roughly that they shall be able to regard with a certain contempt the small troubles of the sheltered.
It was not the busy bar, full to overflowing with hones British yeomen, many of them in the same condition, that Baxter sought. His goal was the genteel dining-room on the first floor, where a bald and shuffling waiter, own cousin to a tortoise, served luncheon to those desiring it.
From ‘Summer Lightning’.
‘Doesn’t he look marvellous?’ she said. ‘It really is an extraordinary thing that anyone who has had as good a time as he has can be so amazingly healthy. Everywhere you look, you see men leading model lives and pegging out in their prime, while good old Uncle Gally, who apparently never went to bed till he was fifty, is still breezing along as fit and rosy as ever.’
From ‘Much Obliged, Jeeves’.
Mrs. McCorkadale was what I would call a grim woman… She had a beaky nose, tight thin lips, and her eye cold have been used for splitting logs in the teak forests of Borneo.
If he had supposed that his crude humour would get so much a simper out of me, he was disappointed. I preserved the cold aloofness of a Wednesday matinee audience, and he proceeded.
‘Yes, that might be it. She looks a sport. Making a long stay?’
‘I don’t know,’ I said, for the length of my visits to the old ancestor is always uncertain. So much depends on whether she throws me out or not.’
It went well. In fact, it went like a breeze. Myself, I was unable to see anything humorous in it, but there was no doubt about it entertaining the blood relation. She guffawed more liberally than I had ever heard a woman guffaw. If there had been an aisle, she would have rolled in it. … While she was still giving her impersonation of a hyena which has just heard a good one from another hyena, …
‘You mean the meeting broke up in disorder, as the expression is?’
‘I don’t suppose any meeting in the history of English politics has ever broken up in more disorder. Eggs flew hither and thither. The air was dark with vegetables of every description. Sidcup got a black eye. Somebody plugged him with a potato.’
From ‘Heavy Weather’.
Sunshine pierced the haze that enveloped London. It came down Fleet Street, turned to the right,, stopped at the premises of the Mammoth Publishing Company, and, entering through an upper window, beamed pleasantly upon Lord Tilbury, founder and proprietor of that vast factory of popular literature, as he sat reading the batch of weekly papers which his secretary had placed on the desk for his inspection.
Cooled by the shade of the cedar, refreshed by the contents of the amber glass in which ice tinkled so musically when he lifted it to his lips, The Hon. Galahad…had achieved a Nirvana-like repose. Storms might be raging elsewhere in the grounds of Blandings Castle, but there on the lawn there was peace – the perfect unruffled peace which in this world seems to come only to those who have done nothing whatever to deserve it.
The Ho. Galahad Threepwood, in his fifty-seventh year, was a dapper little gentleman on whose grey but still thickly-covered head the weight of a consistently misspent life rested lightly. His flannel suit sat jauntily upon his wiry frame, a black-rimmed monocle gleamed jauntily in his eye. Everything about this Musketeer of the nineties was jaunty. It was a standing mystery to all who knew him that one who had had such an extraordinarily good time all his life should, in the evening of that life, be so superbly robust. Wan contemporaries who had once painted a gas-lit London red in his company and were now doomed to an existence of dry toast, Vichy water, and German cure resorts felt very strongly on this point. A man of his antecedents, they considered, out by rights to be rounding off his career in a bath-chair instead of flitting about the place, still chaffing head waiters as of old and calling for the wine list without a tremor.
‘Still, I can’t see why he wanted to eat hedgehogs.’
‘He did not want to eat hedgehogs. Nothing was farther from his intentions. But on the second day of old Freddie’s visit he gave his chef twenty francs to go to market and buy a chicken for dinner, and the chef, wandering along, happened to see a dead hedgehog lying in the road. It had been there some days, as a matter of fact, but this was the first time he had noticed it. So, feeling that here was where he pouched twenty fancs…’
‘I wish you wouldn’t tell stories like this just before lunch.’
‘If it puts you off your food, so much the better. Bring the roses to your cheeks. Well, as I was saying, the chef, who was a thrifty sort of chap and knew that he could make a dainty dinner dish out of his old grandmother, if allowed to mess about with a few sauces, added the twenty francs to his savings and gave Freddie and Eustace the hedgehog next day en casserole. Mark the sequel. At two-thirty prompt, Eustace, the teetotaller, turned nile-green, started groaning like a lost soul, and continued to do so for the rest of the week, when he was pronounced out of danger. Freddie, on the other hand, his system having been healthfully pickled in alcohol, throve on the dish and finished it up cold next day.’
The advice one would give to every young man starting lfe is, on arriving in Market Blandings on a warm afternoon, to go to the Emsworth Arms. Good stuff may be bought there, and of all the admirable hostelries in the town it possesses the largest and shadiest garden. Green and inviting, dotted about with rustic tables and snug summerhouses, it stretches all the way down to the banks of the river; so that the happy drinker, already pleasantly in need of beer, may acquire a new and deeper thirst from watching family parties toil past in row-boats. On a really sultry day a single father, labouring at the oars of a craft loaded down below the Plimsoll mark by a wife, a wife’s sister, a cousin by marriage, four children, a dog, and a picnic basket, has led to such a rush of business at the Emsworth Arms that seasoned barmaids have staggered beneath the strain.
Lord Tilbury was feeling dismally that he might have expected this. He saw now how foolish he had been to place so delicate a commission in the hands of a popinjay. Of all the classes of the community, popinjays, when it comes to carrying out delicate commissions, are the most inept. Search History’s pages from end to end, reflected Lord Tilbury, and you will not find one instance of a popinjay doing anything successfully except eat, sleep, and master the new dance steps.
Too often, when a man of Monty Bodkin’s mental powers is plunged in thought, nothing happens at all. The machinery just whirs for a while, and that is the end of it.
‘Thunderstorms often upset people. Are you afraid of thunder?’
‘Lots of girls are. I knew one once who, whenever there was a thunderstorm, used to fling her arms around the neck of the nearest man, hugging and kissing him till it was all over. Purely nervous reaction, of course, but you should have seen the young fellows flocking round as soon as the sky began to get a little overcast. Gladys, her name was. Gladys Twistleton. Beautiful girl with large, melting eyes. Married a fellow in the Blues called Harringay. I’m told that the way he used to clear the drawing-room during the early years of their married life at the first suspicion of a rumble was a sight to be seen and remembered.’
‘There is no need,’ said Ronnie with dignity, ‘to rub it in.’
‘Well, I won’t then. Merely contenting myself with remarking that of all the young poops I ever met…’
‘He is not a poop!’ said Sue.
‘My dear,’ insisted the Hon. Galahad, ‘I was brought up among poops. I spent my formative years among poops. You will allow me to recognise a poop when I see one.’
The fact that it was now three days since the task of securing the manuscript had been placed in Percy Pilbeam’s hands and that he had to all appearances accomplished absolutely nothing seemed to argue dilly-dallying of the worst kind, if not actual shilly-shallying.
It was an unpleasant thought for a man to have to face,, and one well calculated to turn to ashes the finest portion of turbot ever boiled, let alone the rather obscene-looking mixture of bones and eyeballs and black mackintosh which the chef of the Emsworth Arms had allotted to him.
Roast mutton succeeded the turbot and became ashes in its turn, as did the potatoes and Brussels sprouts which accompanied it. The tapioca pudding, owing to an accident in the kitchen, was mostly ashes already. Monty gave it one look, then flung down his napkin with a Byronic gesture and, declining the waiter’s half-hearted suggestion of a glass of port and a bit of stilton, dragged himself downstairs and into the garden.
‘He wasn’t trying to kill your blasted pig. You came after that manuscript of mine, eh, Stinker?’
‘I did,’ said Lord Tilbury stiffly. ‘I consider that I have a legal right to it.’
‘Yes, we went into all that before, I remember. But abandon all hope, Stinker. There isn’t any manuscript. The pig’s eaten it.’
‘Yes. So unless you care to publish the pig…’
From ‘Carry On, Jeeves’.
Jeeves cleared his throat respectfully.
‘The crux of the matter would appear to be, sir, that Mr. Todd is obliged by the conditions under which the money is delivered into his possession to write Miss Rockmetteller long and detailed letters relating to his movements, and the only method by which this can be accomplished, if Mr. Todd adheres to his expressed intention of remaining in the country, is for Mr. Todd to induce some second party to gather the actual experiences which Miss Rockmetteller wishes reported to her, and to convey these to him in the shape of a careful report, on which it would be possible for him, with the aid of his imagination, to base the suggested correspondence.’
Having got which off the old diaphragm, Jeeves was silent. Rocky looked at me in a helpless sort of way. He hasn’t been brought up on Jeeves as I have, and he isn’t on to his curves.
‘Could he put it a little clearer, Bertie?’ he said. ‘I thought at the start it was going to make sense, but it kind of flickered. What’s the idea?’
‘Biffy!’ I cried. ‘Well, well, well!’
He peered at me in a blinking kind of way, rather like one of his Herefordshire cows prodded unexpectedly while lunching.
‘Bertie!’ he gurgled, in a devout sort of tone. ‘Thank God!’ He clutched my arm. ‘Don’t leave me, Bertie. I’m lost.’
‘What do you mean, lost?’
‘I came out for a walk and suddenly discovered after a mile or so that I didn’t know where on earth I was. I’ve been wandering round in circles for hours.’
‘Why didn’t you ask the way?’
‘I can’t speak a word of French.’
‘Well, why didn’t you call a taxi?’
‘I suddenly discovered I’d left all my money at the hotel.’
‘You could have taken a cab and paid it when you got to the hotel.’
‘Yes, but I suddenly discovered, dash it, that I’d forgotten its name.’
And there in a nutshell you have Charles Edward Biffen. As vague and woollen-headed a blighter as ever bit a sandwich.
‘What on earth are you doing in Paris?’ I asked.
‘Bertie, old man’ said Biffy solemnly, ‘I came here to try and forget.’
‘Well, you’ve certainly succeeded.’
By the time we had tottered out of the Gold Coast village and were working towards the Palace of Machinery, everything pointed to my shortly executing a quiet sneak in the direction of that rather jolly Planters’ Bar in the West Indian section. …..
There are certain moments in life when words are not needed. I looked at Biffy, Biffy looked at me. A perfect understanding linked our two souls.
Three minutes later we had joined the Planters. …..
A planter, apparently, does not consider he has had a drink unless it contains at least seven ingredients, and I’m not saying, mind you, that he isn’t right. The man behind the bar told us the things were called Green Swizzles; and, if ever I marry and have a son, Green Swizzle Wooster is the name that will go down on the register, in memory of the day his father’s life was saved at Wembley.
The kid loosed off a yell that made the windows rattle, and I saw that this was a time for strategy. I raced to the kitchen and fetched a pot of honey. It was the right idea. The kid stopped bellowing and began to smear his face with the stuff.
The kid didn’t seem to know either. A thoroughly vapid and uninformed infant. I got out of him the fact that he had a father, but that was as far as he went. It didn’t seem ever to have occurred to him, chatting of an evening with the old man, to ask him his name and address.
She came to the surface as I entered, and flung a cheery book at my head.
‘Hullo, Bertie! I say, have you really finished that article?’
‘To the last comma.’
‘Every night, dash it all,’ proceeded Mr. Wooster morosely, ‘you come in at exactly the same old time with the same old tray and put it on the same old table. I’m fed up, I tell you. It’s the bally monotony of it that makes it all seem so frightfully bally.’
From ‘Thank You, Jeeves’.
‘Well, Jeeves? What is it?
‘Mr Stoker, sir. He is inquiring about Miss Stoker’s where-abouts.’
Well, of course, there’s always that old one about them being at the wash, but this seemed to me neither the time or the place.
Have you any idea how long it takes to clear the decks for a wedding?
‘I’m not sure. I believe, if you get a special licence, you can do it like a flash.’
‘I’ll get a special licence. Two. Three. Well, this has certainly put the butter on the spinach. I feel a new man’.
And so it was. A substantial form appeared against the summer sky. It entered. It took a seat. And, having taken a seat, it hauled out a handkerchief and started to mop the brow. A bit preoccupied, I divined, and my trained sense enabled me to recognise the symptoms. They were those of a man who has just been hobnobbing with Brinkley.
That this diagnosis was correct was proved a moment later when, lowering the handerkerchief for a space, he disclosed what had all the makings of a very sweetish black eye.
Pauline, sighting this, uttered a daughterly yip.
‘What on earth has been happening, Father?’
Old Stoker breathed heavily.
‘I couldn’t get at the fellow,’ he said, with a sort of wild regret in his voice.
‘I don’t know who he was. Some lunatic in that Dower House. He stood there at the window, throwing potatoes at me. I had hardly knocked at the door, when he was there at the window, throwing potatoes. Wouldn’t come out like a man and let me get at him. Just stood at the window, throwing potatoes.’
Stoker was staring with his left eye. The other had now closed like some tired flower at nightfall.
‘Excuse me, sir’ he said, shimmering towards old Stoker and presenting an envelope on a salver. ‘A seaman from your yacht has just brought this cablegram, which arrived shortly after your departure this morning. The captain of the vessel, fancying that it might be of an urgent nature, instructed him to convey it to this house. I took it from him at the back door and hastened hither with it in order to deliver it to you personally.’
The way he put it made it seems like one of those great epics you read about. You followed the procedure step by step, and the interest and drama worked up to the big moment. Old Stoker, however, instead of being thrilled, seemed somewhat on the impatient side.
‘What you mean is, there’s a cable for me.’
‘Then why not say so, damn it, instead of making a song about it. Do you think you’re singing in opera, or something?’
From ‘Aunts aren’t Gentlemen’.
‘Jeeves,’ I said at the breakfast table, ‘I’ve got spots on my chest.’
‘I don’t like them.’
‘A very understandable prejudice, sir. Might I enquire if they itch?’
‘I would not advocate scratching them.’
‘I disagree with you. You have to take a firm line with spots. Remember what the poet said.’
‘The poet Ogden Nash. The poem he wrote defending the practice of scratching. Who was Barbara Frietchie, Jeeves?’
‘A lady of some prominence in the American war between the states, sir.’
‘A woman of strong character? One you could rely on?’
‘So I have always understood, sir.’
‘Well, here’s what the poet Nash wrote. “I’m great attached to Barbara Frietchie. I’ll bet she scratched when she was itchy.”
He had sad, brooding eyes and long whiskers, and his resemblance to a frog which had been looking on the dark side since it was a slip of a tadpole sent my spirits right down into the basement.
‘What’s the matter with you, you poor reptile? I told Jimmy and Elsa that my nephew might look like a half-witted halibut, but wait till he starts talking, I said, he’ll have you in stitches. And what occurs? Quips? Sallies? Diverting anecdotes? No, sir. You sit there stupefying yourself with food, and scarcely a sound out of you except the steady champing of your jaws.
‘We shall have a quiet wedding.’ She said. ‘Just a few people I know in London. And it may have to be even quieter than that. It all depends on father. Your standing with him is roughly what that of a Public Enemy Number One would be at the annual Policeman’s Ball.’
You see, it’s not a job that’s up everybody’s street. Mine, for instance. You have to be like one of the Red Indians I used to read about in Fenimore Cooper’s books when I was a child, the fellows who never let a twig snap beneath their feet, and I’m not built for that.
There was justice in this. I believe the old relative was sylphlike in her youth, but the years have brought with them a certain solidity, and any twig trodden on by her in the evening of her life would go off like the explosion of a gas main.
‘He’s the king of the local poachers, and you don’t find any twigs snapping beneath his feet. All the gamekeepers for miles around have been trying for years to catch him with the goods, but they haven’t a hope. It is estimated that seventy-six point eight per cent of the beer sold in the Goose and Grasshopper is bought by haggard gamekeepers trying to drown their sorrows after being baffled by Billy.’
‘How much do I want, sir?’
‘Yes. Give it a name. We won’t haggle.’
He pursed his lips.
‘I’m afraid,’ he said, having unpursed them, ‘I couldn’t do it as cheap as I’d like, sir. … I’d have to make it twenty pounds.’
I was relieved. I had been expecting something higher. He, too, seemed to feel that he had erred on the side of moderation, for he immediately added:
‘Or, rather, thirty.’
‘Let’s haggle,’ I said.
But when I suggested twenty-five, a nicer-looking sort of number than thirty, he shook his grey head regretfully, so we went on haggling, and he haggled better than me, so that eventually we settled on thirty-five.
It wasn’t one of my best haggling days.
‘Then how did you draw his fangs?’
‘By reminding him that you have taken out an accident policy with him and drawing his attention to the inevitable displeasure of his employers if through him they were mulcted in a substantial sum of money. I had little difficulty in persuading the gentleman that anything in the nature of aggressive action on his part would be a mistake.’
I repeated the stare. His resource and ingenuity had stunned me.
‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘your resource and ingenuity have stunned me. Porter is baffled.’
‘Unless you would prefer “thwarted”.’
‘Baffled I think is stronger.’
‘Talk of drawing his fangs. His dentist will have to fit him with a completely new set.’
‘You wouldn’t be ashamed to admit practically anything. Where’s your pride? Have you forgotten your illustrious ancestors? There was a Wooster at the time of the Crusades who would have won the Battle of Joppa singlehanded, if he hadn’t fallen off his horse.’
I never know when I’m telling a tale of peril and suspense whether to charge straight ahead or whether to pause from time to time and bung in what is called atmosphere. Some prefer the first way, others the second. For the benefit of the latter I will state that it was a nice evening with gentle breezes blowing and stars peeping out and the scent of growing things and all that, and then I can get down to the res.