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Authors: P G Wodehouse

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Laughing Gas

BOOK: Laughing Gas
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Laughing Gas
Book Jacket
Tags:
Novel, Humour

SUMMARY:
A Hollywood child star and an English aristocrat exchange souls while under ether at the dentist and the result is mayhem. Though his golden curls and sweet expression make him the idol of mothers throughout America, Joel Cooley is a tough nut who wants nothing more than to revenge himself on the agents, directors, and producers who make his life a misery, before escaping back to Ohio. When his soul is transplanted in the body of an English earl with a boxing Blue he has the chance to "poke them all in the snoot." Lord Havershot, meanwhile finds himself under the thumb of the fierce Miss Brinkmeyer and terrorized by the boy stars Joey has supplanted. The result is Anglo-American farce with the lightest of touches, and another hilarious Wodehouse romp!

P. G. Wodehouse was born in Guildford in 1881 and educated at Dulwich College. After working for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank for two years, he left to earn his living as a journalist and storywriter, writing the 'By the Way' column in the old
Globe.
He also contributed a series of school stories to a magazine for boys, the
Captain,
in one of which Psmith made his first appearance. Going to America before the First World War, he sold a serial to the
Saturday Evening Post
and for the next twenty-five years almost all his books appeared first in this magazine. He was part author and writer of the lyrics of eighteen musical comedies including
Kissing Time;
he married in 1914 and in 1955 took American citizenship. He wrote over ninety books and his work has won world-wide acclaim, being translated into many languages.
The Times
hailed him as 'a comic genius recognized in his lifetime as a classic and an old master of farce'.

P. G. Wodehouse said, 'I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn
..."
He was created a Knight of the British Empire in the New Year's Honours List in 1975. In a BBC interview he said that he had no ambitions left, now that he had been knighted and there was a waxwork of him in Madame Tussaud's. He died on St Valentine's Day in 1975 at the age of ninety-three.

LAUGHING GAS

P. G. Wodehouse

PENGUIN BOOKS

Penguin Bonks Lid, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England Viking Penguin Inc., 40 Weil 23rd St, New
York, New York t
, U.S.A. Penguin Books Australia Lid, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 2801 John Street, Markham, Ontario, Canada
L3R
IB4
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Lid, 18.1-190 Wairau Road, Auckland to. New Zealand

First published 1936 Published in Penguin Books 1957 Reprinted 1959, 1961. 1966, 197:, 1975, 1980, 1984. 1985

Copyright 1936 b> P. G. Wodehouse All rights reserved

T
ypeset
, printed and bound in Great Britain by Hazell
Wat
son & Vine) Limited, Member of the BPGC Group, Aylesbury, Bucks Set in Linotype Baskerville

All the characters in this book are purel) imaginary and have no relation whatsoever to any living persons

Except in the United Stat
es of America, this book is sold subj
ect to the condition that it
shall not,
by
way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition bring imposed on the subsequent purchaser

Chapter I

I
had
just begun to write this story, when a literary pal of mine who had had a sticky night out with the P. E. N. Club blew in to borrow bicarbonate of soda, and I thought it would be as well to have him vet what I'd done, in case I might have foozled my tee-sh
ot. Because, except for an oc
casional anecdote in the Drones smoking-room about Scotsmen, Irishmen, and Jews, and even then I generally leave out the point, I've never told a story in my life. And the one thing all the cognoscenti stress is that you must get started right.

So I said: 'I say, can I read you something?' and he said: 'If you must,' and I said: 'Right ho.'

'I am trying to get down on paper,' I said, 'a rather rummy experience that happened to me about a year ago. I haven't got very far yet. I start with where I met the kid.'

'What kid?'

'The kid I met,' I said, and kicked off as follows:

The kid was sitting in one arm-chair. I was sitting in another. His left cheek was bulging. My left cheek was bulging. He was taming the pages of the
National Geographic Magazine.
So was I. In short, there we both were.

He seemed a bit restless, I thought, as if the
National Geo
graphic
wasn't holding him absolutely spellbound. He would put it down for a minute and take it up for a minute and then put it down for a minute again, and it was during one of these putting-it-down-for-a-minute phases that he looked over at me.

'Where,' he asked, 'are the rest of the boys?'

At this point, my literary pal opened his eyes, which he had closed in a suffering sort of way. His manner was that of one who has had a dead fish thrust under his nose.

'Is this bilge,' he asked, 'to be printed?'

'Privately. It will be placed in the family archives for the benefit of my grandchildren.'

'Well, if you ask. me,' he said, 'the little perishers won't be able to make head or tail of it. Where's it all supposed to be happening?'

'In Hollywood.'

'Well, you'll have to explain that. And these arm-chairs. What about them? What arm-chairs? Where?'

'Those were in a dentist's waiting-room. That's where the kid and I met.'

'Who is this kid?'

'He turns out to be little Joey Cooley, the child film star, the Idol of American Motherhood.' 'And who are you?'

'Me?' I said, a bit surprised, for we had been at school together. 'Why, you
know me, old man. Reggie Haver
shot.'

'What I mean is, you've got to introduce yourself to the reader. He doesn't know by intuition who you are.'

'You wouldn't let it gradually dawn upon him in the course of the narrative?'

'Certainly not. The first rule in telling a story is to make it thoroughly clear at the outset who's who, when, where, and why. You'd better start again from the beginning.'

He then took his bicarbonate and withdrew.

Well, then, harking back and buckling down to it once more, my name, as foreshadowed in the foregoing, is Reggie Havershot. Reginald John Peter Swithin, third Earl of Havershot, if you want to be formal, but Reggie to my pals. I'm about twenty-eight and a bit, and at the time of which I am writing was about twenty-seven and a bit. Height six feet one, eyes brown, hair a sort of carroty colour.

Mark you, when I say I'm the third Earl of Havershot, I don't mean that I was always that. No, indeed. I started at the bottom and worked my way up. For years and years

I plugged along as plain R. J. P. Swithin, fully expecting that that would be the name carved on my tombstone when the question of tombstones should arise. As far as my chances of ever copping the title went, I don't suppose I was originally more than about a hundred-to-eight shot, if that. The field was full of seasoned performers who could give me a couple of stone.

But you know how it is. Uncles call it a day. Cousins hand in their spades and buckets. And little by little and bit by bit, before you know where you are - why, there you are, don't you know.

Well, that's who I am, and apart from that I don't know that there is much of interest to tell you
re
self. I got my boxing Blue at Cambridge, but that's about all. I mean to say, I'm just one of those chaps. So we'll shift on at once to how I happened to be in Hollywood.

One morning, as I was tucking away the eggs and bacon at my London residence, the telephone rang, and it was old Horace Plimsoll asking if I could look in at his office on a matter of some importance. Certainly, I said, certainly, and off I went. Only too pleased.

I liked old Plimsoll. He was the family lawyer, and recently, what with all the business of taking over and all that, we had been seeing a good deal of one another. I pushed round to his office and found him, as usual, up to the thorax in bills of replevin and what not. He brushed these aside and came to the surface and looked at me over his spectacles.

'Good morning, Reginald,' he said.

'Good morning,' I said.

He took off his spectacles, polished them and put them on again.

'Reginald,' he said, giving me the eye once more, 'you are now the head of the family.'

'I know,' I said. 'Isn't it a scream? Have I got to sign something?'

'Not at the moment. What I wished to see you about today has to do with a more personal matter. I wished to point out to you that, as head of the family, certain responsibilities devolve upon you, which I feel sure you will not neglect. You have obligations now, Reginald, and those obligations must be fulfilled, no matter what the cost.
Noblesse oblige.'

'Oh, all?' I said, not liking the sound of this much. It began to look to me like a touch. 'What's the bad news? Does one of the collateral branches want to dip into the till?'

'Let me begin at the beginning,' said old Plimsoll. He picked a notice of distraint or something off his coat sleeve. 'I have just been in communication with your Aunt Clara. She is worried.'

'Oh, yes?'

'Extremely worried, about your Cousin Egremont.'

Well, of course, I tut-tutted sympathetically, but I can't say I was surprised. Ever since he grew to man's estate, this unfortunate aunt has been chronically worried about the lad under advisement, who is pretty ge
nerally recognized as London W.1
's most prominent souse. For years everybody has been telling Eggy that it's hopeless for him to attempt to drink up all the alcoholic liquor in England, but he keeps on trying. The good old bull-dog spirit, of course, but it worries Aunt Clara.

'You know Egremont's record?'

I had to think a bit.

'Well, one Boat Race night I saw him put away sixteen double whiskies and soda, but whether he has beaten that since or not —'

'For years he has been causing Lady Clara the gravest concern. And now —'

I raised a hand.

'Don't tell me. Let me guess. He's been bonneting policemen?' 'No. He —'

'Throwing soft-boiled eggs at the electric fan in the better class of restaurant?'

'No. He —' 'Not murder, surely?' 'No. He has escaped to Hollywoo
d.' 'Escaped to Hollywood?' 'Escaped to Hollywood’
said old Plimsoll. I didn't get his drift, and said so. He continued snowing.

'Some little while ago, Lady Clara became alarmed at the state of Egremont's health. His hands were shaky, and he complained of spiders on the back of his neck. So, acting on the advice of a Harley Street specialist, she decided to send him on one of these cruises round the world, in the hope that the fresh air and change of scene —'

I spotted the obvious flaw.

'But these boats have bars.'

'The bar-attendants had strict orders not to serve Egremont.' 'He wouldn't like that.'

'He did not like it. His letters home - his almost daily wireless messages also - were full of complaints. Their tone was uniformly querulous. And when, on the homeward journey, the boat touched at Los Angeles, he abandoned it and went to Hollywood, where he now is.'

'Golly! Drinking like the stag at eve, I suppose?'

'Direct evidence on the point is lacking, but I think that one may assume such to be the case. But that is not the worst. That is not what has occasioned Lady Clara this excessive perturbation.'

'No?'

'No. We have reason to believe - from certain passages in his latest communication - that he is contemplating matrimony.'

'Yes?'

'Yes. His words leave no room for doubt. He is either betrothed or on the verge of becoming betrothed to some young woman out there. And you know the sort of young women that abound in Hollywood.'

'Pippins, I have always been given to understand.'

'Physically, no
doubt, they are as you describe
. But they are by no means suitable mates for your cousin Egremont.'

I couldn't see this. I should have thought, personally, that a bird like Eggy was dashed lucky to get any girl to take him on. However, I didn't say so. Old Plimsoll has a sort of gruesome reverence for the family, and the remark would have hurt him. Instead, I asked what the idea was. Where did I come in? What, I asked, did he imagine that I could do about it.

He looked like a high priest sicking the young chief of the tribe on to noble deeds.

'Why, go to Hollywood, Reginald, and reason with this misguided young man. Put a stop to all this nonsense. Exert your authority as head of the family.'

'What, me?'

'Yes.'

‘H'm.’

'Don't say "h'm".' 'Hal'

'And don't say "ha". Your duty is plain. You cannot shirk it.'

'But Hollywood s such miles away.'

'Nevertheless, I insist that it is incumbent upon you, as head of the family; to go there, and without an instant's delay.'

I chewed the lower lip a bit. I must say I couldn't see why I should go butting in, trying to put a stopper on Eggy's - as far as I could make out - quite praiseworthy amours. Live and let live is my motto. If Eggy wanted to get spliced, let him, was the way I looked at it. Marriage might improve him. It was difficult to think of anything that wouldn't.

BOOK: Laughing Gas
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