Authors: Sir 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' Jane Moore
'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
P. G. WODEHOUSE
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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 1932 by Herbert Jenkins Ltd
The Random House Group Limited
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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
town of St Rocque stood near the coast of France. The Château Blissac stood near the town of St Rocque. J. Wellington Gedge stood near the Château Blissac. He was reading his letters on the terrace outside the drawing-room.
A passer-by, given the choice between looking at Mr Gedge and at the view beneath him, would have done well to select the latter, for this tubby little man constituted the only blot on an impressive landscape. The Château was on a hill, and from its terrace the ground descended sharply through many-coloured gardens and shrubberies till it reached the lake. Beyond the lake lay sand-dunes, and beyond these glittered the harbour, dotted with boats at anchor.
The town itself was to the left, a straggling huddle of red roofs and white walls in the centre of which, raising a golden dome proudly skywards, stood the building which had made the place the popular resort it was – the Casino Municipale. For St Rocque, once a tiny fishing village, has become in recent years a Mecca for those who enjoy watching their money gathered in with rakes by sad-eyed croupiers.
Mr Gedge, reading his correspondence, did not see the spreading prospect. Nor did he wish to. He was not fond of St Rocque, and this morning it would have seemed less attractive to him than ever, for three of his letters bore Californian postmarks and their contents had aggravated the fever of his homesickness. Ever since his marriage two years ago and the subsequent exodus to Europe he had been pining wistfully for California. The poet speaks of a man whose heart was in the Highlands, a-chasing of the deer. Mr Gedge's was in Glen-dale, Cal., wandering round among the hot dogs and filling-stations.
To him, grieving, there entered a trim and personable young woman whom, after a moment of blinking, he identified as Medway, his wife's maid.
'Moddom would like to see you, sir.'
'Eh?' said Mr Gedge. He had already paid his morning visit to the Big Chief. 'Why?'
'I fancy moddom has decided to take the afternoon boat to England to-day.'
Mr Gedge started.
'How long is she going to be gone?'
'I could not say, sir.'
It was a point on which Mr Gedge was anxious to obtain early and authoritative information, for much depended on it. St Rocque, normally, he found a boring spot, but there is one day in the year when it pulls itself together and gives of its best. This is on the occasion of its founder's birthday, which is piously celebrated by a Costume Carnival of impressive proportions. The Festival of the Saint was due next week, and until this moment Mr Gedge had had not even a faint hope of contributing his mite to the revels. Now, for the first time, it seemed as if something might be done about it. He stuffed his letters in his pocket and hurried into the Château.
A lover of the old and quaint would have admired the Château, dating as it did from the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century. The only feeling it gave Mr Gedge was that its architect must have been cock-eyed. Mouldering stone with spiky turrets stuck on all over it was not his idea of a house. And while its interior had been modernized, or what these French called modernized – electric light and two bathrooms – it was not at all what he had been accustomed to in Glendale, California.
He found Mrs Gedge in the Venetian Suite, a large apartment with a heavily carved ceiling which always looked as if it were going to come down and bean you. She was sitting up in bed, dictating letters to Miss Putnam, her social secretary, a thin, colourless feather-weight with horn-rimmed spectacles and an air of quiet respectability.
Mrs Gedge herself would have fought in the light-heavy division. She was a solidly built, handsome woman a few years younger than her husband, and you could see from a glance at her why he always did what she told him to. Even in repose, her manner was forceful. Of her past life before their marriage, except that she was the widow of a multi-millionaire oil man named Brewster who had left her all his multi-millions, Mr Gedge knew nothing. He sometimes thought she might have been a lion-tamer.
With a slight gesture of her hand she caused Miss Putnam to melt into thin air, and raised herself on the pillows.
'What,' asked Mr Gedge, taking the chair vacated by the secretary, 'is all this about your going to England? Medway tells me you're sailing on the afternoon boat.'
'I have had a letter from my lawyer in London. There has been some trouble about English Income Tax, and he says he must see me.'
'How about your ticket?'
'Miss Putnam is attending to that. I want you to run down to the drug store and buy me some seasick remedy. You had better get Philipson's Mal-de-Mer-o.'
There was a pause. Mr Gedge coughed nonchalantly.
'Going to be gone long?'
'About a week.'
'Ah!' said Mr Gedge.
A purposeful gleam lit up his prominent eyes. There and then he had resolved that he would attend the Festival of the Saint, and not only attend it but attend it right. For if anybody thought that he couldn't lay his hands on a pair of pyjama trousers and one of his wife's blouses and wrap a scarf round his head and present a life-like picture of an Oriental potentate, whoever was of that opinion, felt Mr Gedge, was mistaken in the last degree.
'Well, sir,' he said, 'I guess it's going to be lonesome without you. Yessir, it'll be lonesome all right. But I'll make out somehow,' he added bravely, for the Glendale Gedges have the right stuff in them.
'You won't be lonesome. Didn't I tell you?'
'Tell me what?'
'I have invited some people to stay at the Château. They will be arriving the day after to-morrow.'
Something of Mr Gedge's quiet happiness left him. He was not one of those men who enjoy playing the host. A lot of nosy visitors about the place, moreover, might hamper his movements.
'Quite a small party. Senator Opal and his daughter....'
'...and the Vicomte de Blissac.'
'I have never met him, but I believe he is a very charming young man.'
Mr Gedge corrected this view.
'A very charming young wild Indian. Never sober, they tell me.'
'I know all about that, and I have given orders that no alcohol is to be served in the Château during his visit. His mother's main reason for sending him to us is that she wants him to have a few weeks of complete abstinence.'
'Say, what is this joint? A Keeley Cure Institute?'
'I am very glad the Vicomte is able to come. There are several things about this house that I wish to discuss with a representative of the family. The Vicomtesse gave me to understand that the plumbing was in good repair. It isn't. It's terrible. And there's that leaky cistern upstairs.'
'So when he arrives,' said Mr Gedge morosely, 'I suppose I meet him on the doorstep and say, "Come right on in, Vicomte. We can't offer you a drink, but step up and take a look at our leaky cistern." That'll make a big hit with him.'
He rumbled wordlessly for a while. Then a sudden and unpleasant idea seemed to strike him.
'What is all this?' he asked suspiciously. 'What's the big idea back of it all? Filling up the place with Vicomtes and Senators – there's something behind it that I don't get. Why the Vicomte? How come the Senator?'
Mrs Gedge was silent for a moment. Into her manner there had crept a sort of strained alertness, like that of a leopard crouching for the spring.
'It is all quite simple,' she said. 'The Vicomte's mother has great influence with the French Government.'
'What of it?'
'Any friend of hers would be welcomed by them.'
Mr Gedge, who had no intention of spending a week-end with the French Government, said so.
'And Senator Opal is so powerful in Washington that he can practically dictate appointments.'
'Well, for instance, the appointment of American Ambassador to France.'
'Who's going to be Ambassador to France?' said Mr Gedge, mystified.
He could not have asked a more convenient question. It enabled Mrs Gedge to place the salient facts before him crisply and without further preamble.
'You are,' she said.
The spectacle of a human being in agony is never an agreeable one. It were well, therefore, to linger as briefly as possible over the description of J. Wellington Gedge, as this terse remark crashed into his consciousness, first gaping, then gurgling, then gasping, and then shooting from his chair as if Miss Putnam had left a pin in it. It would be best, also, for the historian to touch but lightly on his utterances, from the first strangled 'Gosh darn it!' to the final, anguished 'Be human!'
Of his frenzied circling of the room and the culmination of that circling in noisy collision with a small table laden with glass and china we will say, following out this policy of reserve, absolutely nothing.
It will be enough to hint that he was deeply moved. There are some who crave for the honours their country can bestow. Mr Gedge had never belonged to their ranks. He was not an ambitious man. The thought of being Ambassador to France filled him with a sick horror.
If this awful thing went through, it meant that years must pass before he saw California again. And those years would be spent in a city which he had disliked at sight and in the society of just the sort of people who gave him the heeby-jeebies. And a sudden grisly thought came to Mr Gedge. Didn't Ambassadors have to wear uniforms and satin knickerbockers?
'But I don't want to be an Ambassador!'
Mrs Gedge seemed to regard this as a mere animal cry, the wail of some creature of the wilds licking its wounds.
'There's nothing to being an Ambassador,' she said soothingly. 'It's just a matter of money. If you have money and there are important people like the Vicomtesse de Blissac and Senator Opal behind you...'
A very faint ray of hope illuminated Mr Gedge's darkness.
'I suppose you know,' he said, 'that old Opal hates my insides? We had a fuss over a golf game once and he's never forgotten it.'
'I heard about that. But I think you'll find that he will use all his influence in your support.'
'I had a letter from him this morning which gave me that impression.'
'What did he say?'
'It was not so much what he said. It was the general tone of the letter.'
Mr Gedge looked at his wife sharply. Her face was wearing that disquieting half-smile which always indicated that she had something up her sleeve.
'What do you mean?'
'Oh, nothing,' said Mrs Gedge. She was, as her husband had frequently had occasion to notice, a secretive woman. 'I am going to see him when I get to London to-morrow, and I think you will find that everything will be all right.'
'But why in the name of everything infernal do you want me to be an Ambassador?'
'I will tell you. When I married you, my late husband's sister Mabel made herself extremely unpleasant. She seemed to consider that a woman who had been Mrs Wilmot Brewster ought to be satisfied for life. I'm not sure that when Wilmot died she would not have liked me to commit
'I was only joking. Commit suicide. When an Indian dies, his widow burns herself on the grave. They call it
A rather wistful look came into Mr Gedge's face. It was just his luck, he seemed to be thinking, that an unkind fate had made the late Wilmot Brewster a Californian and not an Indian.
'So I made up my mind that you should be the next American Ambassador to France. I should like to see Mabel's face when she reads the announcement in the papers. A nobody, she called you. Well, the Ambassador to France isn't a nobody.'
Despite the fact that his chin receded and his eyes bulged, J. Wellington Gedge had a certain rude sagacity. There might be things of which he was ignorant, but this he did know, that if a man is a pawn in a row between women it is futile for him to struggle. For a few tense moments he sat picking at the coverlet and staring silently into a grey future. Then he heaved himself out of his chair.
'I'll go get that Mal-de-Mer-o,' he said.
At about the time when Mr Gedge was starting to toddle down to the drug store, a tough-looking man in one of those tight suits which somehow seem to suggest dubious morals had entered the cocktail bar of the Hotel des Etrangers.
The Hotel des Etrangers is not far from the Casino Municipale. In fact, it is so close that a good sprinter can lose his money at the tables, rush over and get some more at the desk, and dash back and lose that all in a few minutes. St Rocque is proud of the Hotel des Etrangers, and justly. It has all the latest improvements, including a garden for the convenience of guests wishing to commit suicide, a first-class orchestra and cuisine, telephones in the bedrooms, and on the ground floor an up-to-date cocktail bar presided over by Gustave, late of Chez Jimmy, Paris.
The bar at the moment of the tough man's arrival was empty except for a dark, slender, beautifully dressed person of refined and distinguished appearance who was reading the Continental edition of the
New York Herald.
It was as he lowered the paper for an instant to knock the ash off his cigarette that the tough man uttered the pleased whoop of one who has sighted a familiar face.
'Oily!' he cried.
'Soup!' exclaimed the other.
They shook hands warmly. In their native America they had perhaps been more acquaintances than friends, but there is always enthusiasm when exiles meet in a foreign land.
'Well, you darned old horse-thief!' said the tough man.
In describing his companion thus, he had spoken figuratively. Gordon Carlisle did not steal horses. A specialist in the Confidence Trick, he would have considered such behaviour low.
'You old dog-stealer!' he replied.
This, too, was mere playful imagery. Soup Slattery had never stolen dogs. He was an expert safe-blower.
'Well, well!' said Mr Slattery. 'Fancy running into you!'
He sat down at the table. His face, which in repose resembled a slab of granite with suspicious eyes, was softened now by a genial smile. He had not actually parked his gun in the cloak-room, but he had the air of a man who has done so.