Authors: P G Wodehouse
'The ultimate in comfort reading because nothing bad ever happens in P.G. Wodehouse land. Or even if it does, it's always sorted out by the end of the book. For as long as I'm immersed in a P.G. Wodehouse book, it's possible to keep the real world at bay and live in a far, far nicer, funnier one where happy endings are the order of the day'
'You should read Wodehouse when you're well and when you're poorly; when you're travelling, and when you're not; when you're feeling clever, and when you're feeling utterly dim. Wodehouse always lifts your spirits, no matter how high they happen to be already'
'P.G. Wodehouse remains the greatest chronicler of a certain kind of Englishness, that no one else has ever captured quite so sharply, or with quite as much wit and affection'
'Not only the funniest English novelist who ever wrote but one of our finest stylists. His world is perfect, his stories are perfect, his writing is perfect. What more is there to be said?'
'One of my (few) proud boasts is that I once spent a day interviewing P.G. Wodehouse at his home in America. He was exactly as I'd expected: a lovely, modest man. He could have walked out of one of his own novels. It's dangerous to use the word genius to describe a writer, but I'll risk it with him'
'The incomparable and timeless genius – perfect for readers of all ages, shapes and sizes!'
'A genius . . . Elusive, delicate but lasting. He created such a credible world that, sadly, I suppose, never really existed but what a delight it always is to enter it and the temptation to linger there is sometimes almost overwhelming'
'Wodehouse was quite simply the Bee's Knees. And then some'
'Compulsory reading for anyone who has a pig, an aunt – or a sense of humour!'
'I constantly find myself drooling with admiration at the sublime way Wodehouse plays with the English language'
'I've recorded all the Jeeves books, and I can tell you this: it's like singing Mozart. The perfection of the phrasing is a physical pleasure. I doubt if any writer in the English language has more perfect music'
'Quite simply, the master of comic writing at work'
'To pick up a Wodehouse novel is to find oneself in the presence of genius – no writer has ever given me so much pure enjoyment'
John Julius Norwich
'P.G. Wodehouse is the gold standard of English wit'
'Wodehouse is so utterly, properly, simply funny'
'To dive into a Wodehouse novel is to swim in some of the most elegantly turned phrases in the English language'
'P.G. Wodehouse should be prescribed to treat depression. Cheaper, more effective than valium and far, far more addictive'
'My only problem with Wodehouse is deciding which of his enchanting books to take to my desert island'
Ruth Dudley Edwards
The author of almost a hundred books and the creator of Jeeves, Blandings Castle, Psmith, Ukridge, Uncle Fred and Mr Mulliner, P.G. Wodehouse was born in 1881 and educated at Dulwich College. After two years with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank he became a full-time writer, contributing to a variety of periodicals including
. He married in 1914. As well as his novels and short stories, he wrote lyrics for musical comedies with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern, and at one time had five musicals running simultaneously on Broadway. His time in Hollywood also provided much source material for fiction.
At the age of 93, in the New Year's Honours List of 1975,
he received a long-overdue knighthood, only to die
on St Valentine's Day some 45 days later.
Some of the P.G. Wodehouse titles to be published by Arrow in 2008
The Inimitable Jeeves
Carry On, Jeeves
Very Good, Jeeves
Thank You, Jeeves
Right Ho, Jeeves
The Code of the Woosters
Joy in the Morning
The Mating Season
Ring for Jeeves
Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
Jeeves in the Offing
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves
Much Obliged, Jeeves
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen
Leave it to Psmith
Uncle Fred in the Springtime
Pigs Have Wings
Service with a Smile
A Pelican at Blandings
Meet Mr Mulliner
Mr Mulliner Speaking
The Clicking of Cuthbert
The Heart of a Goof
The Luck of the Bodkins
A Damsel in Distress
The Small Bachelor
The Adventures of Sally
Money for Nothing
The Girl in Blue
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Published by Arrow Books 2008
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Copyright by The Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate
All rights reserved
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First published in the United Kingdom in 1928 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd
The Random House Group Limited
20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London, SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
IAN HAY BEITH
The picturesque village of Rudge-in-the-Vale dozed in the summer sunshine. Along its narrow High Street the only signs of life visible were a cat stropping its backbone against the Jubilee Watering Trough, some flies doing deep-breathing exercises on the hot window-sills, and a little group of serious thinkers who, propped up against the wall of the Carmody Arms, were waiting for that establishment to open. At no time is there ever much doing in Rudge's main thoroughfare, but the hour at which a stranger, entering it, is least likely to suffer the illusion that he has strayed into Broadway, Piccadilly, or the Rue de Rivoli is at two o'clock on a warm afternoon in July.
You will find Rudge-in-the-Vale, if you search carefully, in that pleasant section of rural England where the grey stone of Gloucestershire gives place to Worcestershire's old red brick. Quiet – in fact, almost unconscious – it nestles beside the tiny river Skirme and lets the world go by, somnolently content with its Norman church, its eleven public-houses, its pop. – to quote the Automobile Guide – of 3,541, and its only effort in the direction of modern progress, the emporium of Chas Bywater, Chemist.
Chas Bywater is a live wire. He takes no afternoon siesta, but works while others sleep. Rudge as a whole is inclined after luncheon to go into the back room, put a handkerchief over its face and take things easy for a bit. But not Chas Bywater. At the moment at which this story begins he was all bustle and activity, and had just finished selling to Colonel Meredith Wyvern a bottle of Brophy's Paramount Elixir (said to be good for gnat-bites).
Having concluded his purchase, Colonel Wyvern would have preferred to leave, but Mr Bywater was a man who liked to sweeten trade with pleasant conversation. Moreover, this was the first time the Colonel had been inside his shop since that sensational affair up at the Hall two weeks ago, and Chas Bywater, who held the unofficial position of chief gossip-monger to the village, was aching to get to the bottom of that.
With the bare outline of the story he was, of course, familiar. Rudge Hall, seat of the Carmody family for so many generations, contained in its fine old park a number of trees which had been planted somewhere about the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This meant that every now and then one of them would be found to have become a wobbly menace to the passer-by, so that experts had to be sent for to reduce it with a charge of dynamite to a harmless stump. Well, two weeks ago, it seems, they had blown up one of the Hall's Elizabethan oaks and as near as a toucher, Rudge learned, had blown up Colonel Wyvern and Mr Carmody with it. The two friends had come walking by just as the expert set fire to the train and had had a very narrow escape.
Thus far the story was common property in the village, and had been discussed nightly in the eleven tap-rooms of its eleven public-houses. But Chas Bywater, with his trained nose for news and that sixth sense which had so often enabled him to ferret out the story behind the story when things happen in the upper world of the nobility and gentry, could not help feeling that there was more in it than this. He decided to give his customer the opportunity of confiding in him.
'Warm day, Colonel,' he observed.
'Ur,' grunted Colonel Wyvern.
'Glass going up, I see.'
'May be in for a spell of fine weather at last.'
'Glad to see you looking so well, Colonel, after your little accident,' said Chas Bywater, coming out into the open.
It had been Colonel Wyvern's intention, for he was a man of testy habit, to inquire of Mr Bywater why the devil he couldn't wrap a bottle of Brophy's Elixir in brown paper and put a bit of string round it without taking the whole afternoon over the task: but at these words he abandoned this project. Turning a bright mauve and allowing his luxuriant eyebrows to meet across the top of his nose, he subjected the other to a fearful glare.
'Little accident?' he said. 'Little accident?'
'I was alluding—'
'If by little accident,' said Colonel Wyvern in a thick, throaty voice, 'you mean my miraculous escape from death when that fat thug up at the Hall did his very best to murder me, I should be obliged if you would choose your expressions more carefully. Little accident! Good God!'
Few things in this world are more painful than the realization that an estrangement has occurred between two old friends who for years have jogged amiably along together through life, sharing each other's joys and sorrows and holding the same views on religion, politics, cigars, wine, and the Decadence of the Younger Generation: and Mr Bywater's reaction, on hearing Colonel Wyvern describe Mr Lester Carmody, of Rudge Hall, until two short weeks ago his closest crony, as a fat thug, should have been one of sober sadness. Such, however, was not the case. Rather was he filled with an unholy exultation. All along he had maintained that there was more in that Hall business than had become officially known, and he stood there with his ears flapping, waiting for details.
These followed immediately and in great profusion: and Mr Bywater, as he drank them in, began to realize that his companion had certain solid grounds for feeling a little annoyed. For when, as Colonel Wyvern very sensibly argued, you have been a man's friend for twenty years and are walking with him in his park and hear warning shouts and look up and realize that a charge of dynamite is shortly about to go off in your immediate neighbourhood, you expect a man who is a man to be a man. You do not expect him to grab you round the waist and thrust you swiftly in between himself and the point of danger, so that, when the explosion takes place, you get the full force of it and he escapes without so much as a singed eyebrow.
'Quite,' said Mr Bywater, hitching up his ears another inch.
Colonel Wyvern continued. Whether, if in a condition to give the matter careful thought, he would have selected Chas Bywater as a confidant, one cannot say. But he was not in such a condition. The stoppered bottle does not care whose is the hand that removes its cork – all it wants is the chance to fizz: and Colonel Wyvern resembled such a bottle. Owing to the absence from home of his daughter, Patricia, he had had no one handy to act as audience for his grievances, and for two weeks he had been suffering torments. He told Chas Bywater all.
It was a very vivid picture that he conjured up. Mr Bywater could see the whole thing as clearly as if he had been present in person – from the blasting gang's first horrified realization that human beings had wandered into the danger zone to the almost tenser moment when, running up to sort out the tangled heap on the ground, they had observed Colonel Wyvern rise from his seat on Mr Carmody's face and had heard him start to tell that gentleman precisely what he thought of him. Privately, Mr Bywater considered that Mr Carmody had acted with extraordinary presence of mind and had given the lie to the theory, held by certain critics, that the landed gentry of England are deficient in intelligence. But his sympathies were, of course, with the injured man. He felt that Colonel Wyvern had been hardly treated and was quite right to be indignant about it. As to whether the other was justified in alluding to his former friend as a jelly-bellied hell-hound, that was a matter for his own conscience to decide.
'I'm suing him,' concluded Colonel Wyvern, regarding an advertisement of Pringle's Pink Pills with a smouldering eye.
'The only thing in the world that super-fatted old Blackhander cares for is money, and I'll have his last penny out of him, if I have to take the case to the House of Lords.'
'Quite,' said Mr Bywater.
'I might have been killed. It was a miracle I wasn't. Five thousand pounds is the lowest figure any conscientious jury could put the damages at. And, if there were any justice in England, they'd ship the scoundrel off to pick oakum in a prison cell.'
Mr Bywater made non-committal noises. Both parties to this unfortunate affair were steady customers of his, and he did not wish to alienate either by taking sides. He hoped the Colonel was not going to ask him for his opinion of the rights of the case.
Colonel Wyvern did not. Having relieved himself with some six minutes of continuous speech, he seemed to have become aware that he had bestowed his confidences a little injudiciously. He coughed and changed the subject.
'Where's that Stuff?' he said. 'Good God! Isn't it ready yet? Why does it take you fellows three hours to tie a knot in a piece of string?'
'Quite ready, Colonel,' said Chas Bywater hastily. 'Here it is. I have put a little loop for the finger, to facilitate carrying.'
'Is this Stuff really any good?'
'Said to be excellent, Colonel. Thank you, Colonel. Much obliged, Colonel. Good day, Colonel.'
Still fermenting at the recollection of his wrongs, Colonel Wyvern strode to the door: and, pushing it open with extreme violence, left the shop.
The next moment the peace of the drowsy summer afternoon was shattered by a hideous uproar. Much of this consisted of a high, passionate barking, the remainder being contributed by the voice of a retired military man, raised in anger. Chas Bywater blenched, and, reaching out a hand towards an upper shelf, brought down, in the order named, a bundle of lint, a bottle of arnica, and one of the half-crown (or large) size pots of Sooth-o, the recognized specific for cuts, burns, scratches, nettle-stings and dog-bites. He believed in Preparedness.
While Colonel Wyvern had been pouring his troubles into the twitching ear of Chas Bywater, there had entered the High Street a young man in golf-clothes and an Old Rugbeian tie. This was John Carroll, nephew of Mr Carmody, of the Hall. He had walked down to the village, accompanied by his dog Emily, to buy tobacco, and his objective, therefore, was the same manysided establishment which was supplying the Colonel with Brophy's Elixir.
For do not be deceived by that 'Chemist' after Mr Bywater's name. It is mere modesty. Some whim leads this great man to describe himself as a chemist, but in reality he goes much deeper than that. Chas is the Marshall Field of Rudge, and deals in everything, from crystal sets to mousetraps. There are several places in the village where you can get stuff they call tobacco, but it cannot be considered in the light of pipe-joy for the discriminating smoker. To obtain something that will leave a little skin on the roof of the mouth you must go to Mr Bywater.
John came up the High Street with slow, meditative strides, a large and muscular young man whose pleasant features betrayed at the moment an inward gloom. What with being hopelessly in love and one thing and another, his soul was in rather a bruised condition these days, and he found himself deriving from the afternoon placidity of Rudge-in-the-Vale a certain balm and consolation. He had sunk into a dreamy trance when he was abruptly aroused by the horrible noise which had so shaken Chas Bywater.
The causes which had brought about this disturbance were simple and are easily explained. It was the custom of the dog Emily, on the occasions when John brought her to Rudge to help him buy tobacco, to yield to an uncontrollable eagerness and gallop on ahead to Mr Bywater's shop – where, with her nose edged against the door, she would stand, sniffing emotionally, till somebody came and opened it. She had a morbid passion for cough-drops, and experience had taught her that by sitting and ogling Mr Bywater with her liquid amber eyes she could generally secure two or three. Today, hurrying on as usual, she had just reached the door and begun to sniff when it suddenly opened and hit her sharply on the nose. And, as she shot back with a yelp of agony, out came Colonel Wyvern carrying his bottle of Brophy.
There is an etiquette in these matters on which all right-minded dogs insist. When people trod on Emily, she expected them immediately to fuss over her, and the same procedure seemed to her to be in order when they hit her on the nose with doors. Waiting expectantly, therefore, for Colonel Wyvern to do the square thing, she was stunned to find that he apparently had no intention of even apologizing. He was brushing past without a word, and all the woman in Emily rose in revolt against such boorishness.
'Just a minute!' she said dangerously. 'Just one minute, if you please. Not so fast, my good man. A word with you, if I may trespass upon your valuable time.'
The Colonel, chafing beneath the weight of his wrongs, perceived that they had been added to by a beast of a hairy dog that stood and yapped at him.
'Get out!' he bellowed.
Emily became hysterical.
'Indeed?' she said shrilly. 'And who do you think you are, you poor clumsy Robot? You come hitting ladies on the nose as if you were the King of England, and as if that wasn't enough . . .'
'Go away, sir.'
'Who the devil are you calling Sir?' Emily had the twentieth-century girl's freedom of speech and breadth of vocabulary. 'It's people like you that cause all this modern unrest and industrial strife. I know your sort well. Robbers and oppressors. And let me tell you another thing . . .'
At this point the Colonel very injudiciously aimed a kick at Emily.
It was not much of a kick, and it came nowhere near her, but it sufficed. Realizing the futility of words, Emily decided on action. And it was just as she had got a preliminary grip on the Colonel's left trouser-leg that John arrived at the Front.
'Emily! ! !' roared John, shocked to the core of his being.
He had excellent lungs, and he used them to the last ounce of their power. A young man who sees the father of the girl he loves being swallowed alive by a Welsh terrier does not spare his voice. The word came out of him like the note of the Last Trump, and Colonel Wyvern, leaping spasmodically, dropped his bottle of Brophy. It fell on the pavement and exploded, and Emily, who could do her bit in a rough-and-tumble but barred bombs, tucked her tail between her legs and vanished. A faint, sleepy cheering from outside the Carmody Arms announced that she had passed that home from home and was going well.
John continued to be agitated. You would not have supposed, to look at Colonel Wyvern, that he could have had an attractive daughter, but such was the case, and John's manner was as concerned and ingratiating as that of most young men in the presence of the fathers of attractive daughters.