Authors: P G Wodehouse
A FEW QUICK ONES
P. G. WODEHOUSE
BARRIE & JENKINS
All the characters in this book are purely imaginary and have no relation whatsoever to any living person
The Fat of the Land
ALTHOUGH he had never mentioned it to anybody, feeling that it was but an idle daydream and not within the sphere of practical politics, the idea of having a Fat Uncles sweepstake at the Drones Club had long been in Freddie Widgeon's mind, such as it was. Himself the possessor of one of the fattest uncles in London - Rodney, Lord Blicester - he had noticed how many of his fellow members had fat uncles, too, and he felt it a sad waste of good material not to make these the basis of a sporting contest similar, though on a smaller scale, to those in operation in Ireland and Calcutta.
Perfectly simple, the mechanics of the thing. Put the names of the uncles in a hat, put the names of the punters in another hat, draw a name from the first hat, draw a name from the second hat, and the holder of the fattest uncle scooped the jackpot. No difficulty there.
But there was a catch, and a very serious one - to wit, the problem of how to do the weighing. He could not, for instance, go to Lord Blicester and say "Would you mind just stepping on this try-your-weight machine for a moment, Uncle Rodney? It is essential to satisfy the judges that you are fatter than the Duke of Dunstable." At least, he could, but there would be questions asked, and explanations would lead to pique, bad. feeling and possibly the stopping of a much-needed allowance. It was, in short, an impasse, and he had come to look on the scheme as just another of those things which, though good, cannot be pushed along, when, coming into the bar one morning, he found an animated group assembled there and as he entered heard McGarry, the man behind the. counter, say "Ten stone three". Upon which, there was a burst of hearty cheering and, enquiring the reason for this enthusiasm, he was informed that McGarry had revealed an unsuspected talent. He was able to tell the weight of anything from a vegetable marrow to a Covent Garden tenor just by looking at it.
"Never misses by more than half an ounce,” said an Egg. "In his circle of friends he is known as the Human Scales. A great gift, don't you think?"
"I'll say it is," said Freddie. "It removes the one obstacle to this project of mine."
And in a few well-chosen words he placed his proposition before the meeting.
It caught on immediately, as he had been confident that it would, and a committee, with a prominent Crumpet at its head, was formed to rough out the details of the venture. It was decided that the deadline should be one o'clock on the opening day of the Eton and Harrow match, when all the uncles would be rolling up and having lunch at the Drones with their nephews. To parade them before McGarry, his decision to be final, would be a simple task, for the first thing they always did was to head for the bar like bisons for a water-hole. The price of tickets was put up at a
somewhat higher figure than suited the purse of many members, but it was pointed out to these that they could club together and form syndicates, and so few had failed to chip in by the time the day of the drawing arrived that the Crumpet was able to announce that the contents of the kitty amounted to well over a hundred pounds. And it was generally recognized that this impressive sum must inevitably go to the lucky stiff who drew the name of Lord Blicester, for while all the starters were portly, having long let their waist-lines go, not one of them could be considered in the class of Freddie's outsize uncle. Others, as a well-read Bean put it, abided their question, he was free.
And, of course, as always seemed to happen on these occasions, it was Oofy Prosser, the club millionaire, the one human soul, if you could call him a human soul, not in need of the money, who drew the Blicester ticket. Freddie himself got Oofy's Uncle Horace. He had not been aware till then that Oofy had an Uncle Horace, and at the conclusion of the drawing he went over to where the plutocrat was sitting reading his morning's mail, to make enquiries.
"Who is this uncle of yours I've drawn, Oofy?" he asked. "I didn't know you had an uncle."
"Nor did I," said Oofy, "till I got a letter from him the other day, signed 'Uncle Horace'. It's rather odd. I could have sworn that my only uncles were Hildebrand, who had an apoplectic stroke in 1947, and Stanley, who died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1949, but apparently this is one I overlooked, no doubt because he has been in the Argentine for the last twenty years. He returned to England last week and is staying at a place called Hollrock Manor in Hertfordshire. I haven't seen him yet, but he will be lunching with me here on the big day."
"I wonder if he's fat."
"I shouldn't think so. Warm climate, the Argentine. Keeps the weight down. And isn't that the place where you spend your whole time riding over pampas? No, I wouldn't build any hopes, Freddie. Not a chance of him nosing out your Uncle Rodney. But excuse me, old man, I must be catching up with my reading."
Freddie drifted away disconsolately, and Oofy returned to his letters. One of these bore the address of Hollrock Manor. He read it without any great interest, but was mildly intrigued by the postscript.
"P.S.," his uncle wrote. "You must be wondering what I look like these days, not having seen me since you were a child. I enclose a snapshot, taken in the garden the other morning."
Oofy examined the envelope, but could find no snapshot. Then, looking down, he saw that it had fallen to the floor. He picked it up, and the next moment had sagged back in his chair with a stifled cry.
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.
Little wonder, then, that as he ran his eye over the man, reading from left to right, Oofy should have been feeling the same sort of stunned breathless feeling he would have felt had this uncle fallen on him from the top of a high building. With pitiless clarity it was borne in on him that the Blicester ticket over which he had been gloating was not worth the paper it was written on. Compared with this mastodon, Lord Blicester was slim to the point of emaciation and hadn't a hope, and the thought that Freddie Widgeon and not he would win all that lovely money was like a dagger in Oofy's bosom. We said earlier that he did not need the cash, but it was we who said it, not Oofy. His views on the matter were sharply divergent. 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.
How long he sat there motionless, he could not have said, but after a while his subtle and scheming brain, temporarily numbed, began to function again, and he perceived that all was not yet lost. There was, he saw, a way of achieving the happy ending. It called for the co-operation of a party of the second part of an innocent and unsuspicious nature, and no one could have filled the bill more adequately than Frederick Widgeon, a man whose trust in his fellow-men was a byword. Frederick Widgeon, he knew for a fact, believed everything he read in
He sought him out and laid a gentle hand on his sleeve.
"Freddie, old man," he said, "Can you spare me a moment of your valuable time?"
Freddie said he could.
"I don't know," said Oofy, "if you were glancing in my direction just now?"
Freddie said he wasn't.
"Well, if you had been, you would have noticed that I was plunged in meditation, and I’ll tell you why. Have you ever been a Boy Scout?"
Freddie said he hadn't.
"I was one at one time, and I have never forgotten the lessons I learned in those knickerbocker and spooring days."
"Tying knots, do you mean, and lighting fires by rubbing sticks together?"
"Not so much that as the doing-one's-daily-good-deed routine. Boy Scouts, as you probably know, are supposed to perform at least one act of kindness every twenty-four hours, and a very good thing, too. Keeps them up on their toes."
"Yes, I can see that. It would, of course."
"Now, one rather tends, as one grows older, to give the daily good deed a miss, and it's all wrong, one shouldn't. There is no reason whatever why, just because one no longer goes about in a khaki shirt with a whistle, attached to it, one should omit those little acts of kindness which sweeten life for all and sundry. One ought to keep plugging away. This came to me very forcibly just now, as I sat thinking about this sweepstake thing we're having. Is it right, is it fair, I asked myself, that I, to whom money means nothing, should have drawn the favourite, while somebody who really needs the stuff, like my old friend Freddie Widgeon, gets stuck with a rank outsider? There could be but one answer. It was not right. It was not fair. It was something that had to be adjusted."
"How do you mean, adjusted?"
"Quite simple. We must swap tickets, I taking my uncle's and you yours. Yes, yes," said Oofy, seeing that his old friend was gaping at him like a bewildered codfish, "you are naturally surprised. It seems to you bizarre that I should be doing myself out of a hundred quid or whatever it is. But what you overlook is that I shall be getting the glow that comes from feeling that one has done an act of kindness and helped a fellow-human being on the road to happiness. What is a hundred quid compared with that?"
"Don’t say ‘But’, Freddie. I insist on this. No, no, don't thank me. My motives are purely selfish. I want to glow."
And Oofy went off to tell the Crumpet to record the change of tickets in the official notebook in which the names of the ticket holders were fisted. He was glowing.
It is a very incurious and phlegmatic nephew who, when he has an uncle whose adiposity is going to net him more than a hundred pounds, does not hasten to go and take a look at that uncle, if only to assure himself that the latter is wading into the mashed potatoes in a satisfactory manner and getting his full supply of bread, butter, beer, roly-poly pudding and pastries. On the following morning, preceded by a telegram saying that he was coming
lunch, Oofy started out in his car for Hollrock Manor. He pictured a fine old house with spacious grounds, and found on arrival that his imagination had not led him astray. Hollrock Manor was plainly a place where the moneyed did themselves well and, always of a greedy nature, he found his mouth watering at the prospect of the lavish luncheon of which he would shortly be partaking. His drive had given him a rare appetite.
He enquired for Mr. Horace Prosser and presently the other came wheezing along, and after a certain amount of Well-well-well-ing and So-here-you-are-at-last-ing, in-' evitable in the circumstances, they went into the dining-room and seated themselves at a table. It gratified Oofy to note that as his relative lowered himself into his chair, the chair visibly quivered beneath him and gave out a protesting squeal. On his journey down he had from time to time an uneasy feeling that that snapshot might have exaggerated the other's proportions, but one glance had been enough to tell him that these were idle fears. Now that he saw the man in the flesh, he felt, like the Queen of Sheba, that the half had not been told unto him.
The only thing that disturbed him was that, no doubt in a moment of absentmindedness, his host had not suggested the pre-luncheon martini, in anticipation of which he had been licking his lips for the last hour. And as the waiter presented the bill of fare, it seemed to occur to Mr. Prosser that he had been remiss. He hastened to explain his eccentric behaviour.
"Sorry I couldn't offer you a cocktail, my boy. We don't have them here. But they serve an excellent glass of parsnip juice, if you would care for it. No ? Then suppose we order. Will you have stewed lettuce, or would you prefer an orange? Ah, but wait, I see we are in luck. This is grated carrot day. How about starting with potassium broth, going on to grated carrots and winding up with a refreshing cup of dandelion coffee?"
At an early point in these remarks Oofy's lower jaw had drooped like a tired lily. He hitched it up in order to ask a question.
"I say, what
"It used to belong to Lord Somebody or Sir Somebody Something, I forget which. Like so many landowners, he had to sell after the war. Impossible to keep the old home up. Sad, very sad."