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Authors: P G Wodehouse

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BOOK: Plum Pie
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*

 

A rather interesting story comes from Toledo, Ohio, where Cyril Murphy (aged eight) was up before the Juvenile Court, accused of having tried to purloin a tin of fruit juice from a parked delivery truck.

He admitted the charge, but pleaded in extenuation that he had been egged on to the crime by the Devil. The Devil, he said, got into conversation with him and hearing that he was thirsty, for the day was warm, suggested that what he needed to correct this thirst was a good swig of fruit juice, which, he went on to point out, could be obtained from that delivery truck over there. Juvenile Court Referee Wade McBride advised him next time to make contact with an angel.

Cyril described the Devil as covered with hair, bier balls of fire in his eyes, three horns, a long tail and four hooved feet, and the theory in New York theatrical circles is that what he met must have been a dramatic critic.

 

*

 

The news that Wayburn Mace, aged six, has been given a flashlight will probably have escaped the notice of the general public, but it is going to mean a lot to Mr Mace senior and the residents of Long Beach, California, for life for them should from now on become much more tranquil. It seems that Junior, suspecting the presence under his bed of Red Indians, went after them with a lighted candle, and the subsequent activities of the local fire brigade blocked traffic on all roads leading to the Mace home for several hours.

It is generally felt that no blame attaches to the little fellow. Nothing is more annoying than to have Red Indians under your bed, and the verdict is that he did the right and spirited thing in taking a firm line with them.

 

*

 

It is not lightly that one described anyone as belonging to the old bulldog breed but surely George Clemens of Riverhead N.Y. is entitled to the accolade. He is fond of motoring and the other day this led to him appearing in the Riverside court before Justice of the Peace Otis J. Pike.

"H'm," said Mr. Pike. "Driving without a licence, eh? Anything to say?"

George had. He explained that every time he takes a driving test he gets so nervous that everything goes black and they turn him down, leaving him no option but to cut the red tape and carry on without the papers which mean so much to the rest of us. He had been driving without a licence for twenty years, he said.

Mr. Pike consulted the charge sheet.

"Reckless driving? Speeding? Improper turns? Going through seven red lights and refusing to stop when ordered to by a policeman? Looks bad, George."

Mr. Clemens admitted that superficially his actions might seem to call for comment, but not if you got the full story.

"It wasn't really my fault, your honour," he said. "I was drunk at the time."

 

 

2.
Sleepy Time

 

 

 

 

 

In his office on the premises of Popgood and Grooly, publishers of the Book Beautiful, Madison Avenue, New York, Cyril Grooly, the firm's junior partner, was practising putts into a tooth glass and doing rather badly even for one with a twenty-four handicap, when Patricia Binstead, Mr. Popgood's secretary, entered, and dropping his putter he folded her in a close embrace. This was not because all American publishers are warmhearted impulsive men and she a very attractive girl, but because they had recently become betrothed. On his return from his summer vacation at Paradise Valley, due to begin this afternoon, they would step along to some convenient church and become man, if you can call someone with a twenty-four handicap a man, and wife.

“A social visit?” he asked, the embrace concluded. “Or business?”

"Business. Popgood had to go out to see a man about subsidiary rights, and Count Dracula has blown in. Well, when I say Count Dracula, I speak loosely. He just looks like him. His name is Professor Pepperidge Farmer, and he's come to sign his contract."

"He writes books?"

"He's written one. He calls it Hypnotism As A Device To Uncover The Unconscious Drives and Mechanism In An Effort To Analyse The Functions Involved Which Give Rise To Emotional Conflicts In The Waking State, but the title's going to be changed to Sleepy Time. Popgood thinks it's snappier."

"Much snappier."

"Shall I send him in?"

"Do so, queen of my soul."

"And Popgood says: ‘Be sure not to go above two hundred dollars for the advance.’" said Patricia, and a few moments later the visitor made his appearance.

It was an appearance, as Patricia had hinted, of a nature to chill the spine. Sinister was the adjective that automatically sprang to the lips of those who met Professor Pepperidge Farmer for the first time. His face was gaunt and lined and grim, and as his burning eyes bored into Cyril's the young publisher was conscious of a feeling of relief that this encounter was not taking place down a dark alley or in some lonely spot in the country. But a man used to mingling with American authors, few of whom look like anything on earth, is not readily intimidated and he greeted him with his customary easy courtesy.

"Come right in," he said. "You've caught me just in time. I'm off to Paradise Valley this afternoon."

"A golfing holiday?" said the Professor, eyeing the putter.

"Yes, I'm looking forward to getting some golf."

"How is your game?"

"Horrible," Cyril was obliged to confess. "Mine is a sad and peculiar case. I have the theory of golf at my fingertips, but once out in the middle I do nothing but foozle."

"You should keep your head down."

"So Tommy Armour tells me, but up it comes."

"That's Life."

"Or shall we say hell?"

"If you prefer it."

"It seems the mot juste. But now to business. Miss Binstead tells me you have come to sign your contract. I have it here. It all appears to be in order except that the amount of the advance has not been decided on."

"And what are your views on that?"

"I was thinking of a hundred dollars. You see," said Cyril, falling smoothly into his stride, "a book like yours always involves a serious risk for the publisher owing to the absence of the Sex Motif, which renders it impossible for him to put a nude female of impressive vital statistics on the jacket and no hope of getting banned in Boston. Add the growing cost of paper and the ever-increasing demands of printers, compositors, binders and...why are you waving your hands like that?"

"I have French blood in me. On the mother's side."

"Well, I wish you wouldn't. You're making me sleepy."

"Oh, am I? How very interesting. Yes, I can see that your eyes are closing. You are becoming drowsy. You are falling asleep…you are falling asleep...asleep...asleep...asleep..."

It was getting on for lunch time when Cyril awoke. When he did so, he found that the recent gargoyle was no longer with him. Odd, he felt, that the fellow should have gone before they had settled the amount of his advance, but no doubt he had remembered some appointment elsewhere. Dismissing him from his mind, Cyril resumed his putting, and soon after lunch he left for Paradise Valley.

 

On the subject of Paradise Valley the public relations representative of the Paradise Hotel has expressed himself very frankly. It is, he says in his illustrated booklet, a dream world of breath-taking beauty, and its noble scenery, its wide open spaces, its soft mountain breezes and its sun-drenched pleasances impart to the jaded city worker a new vim and vigour and fill him so full of red corpuscles that before a day has elapsed in these delightful surroundings he is conscious of a
je ne sais quoi
and a
bien etre
and goes about with his chin up and both feet on the ground, feeling as if he had just come back from the cleaner's. And, what is more, only a step from the hotel lies the Squashy Hollow golf course, of whose amenities residents can avail themselves on payment of a green fee.

What, however, the booklet omits to mention is that the Squashy Hollow course is one of the most difficult in the country. It was constructed by an exiled Scot who, probably from some deep-seated grudge against the human race, has modelled the eighteen holes on the nastiest and most repellent of his native land, so that after negotiating—say—the Alps at Prestwick the pleasure-seeker finds himself confronted by the Stationmaster's Garden at St. Andrew's, with the Eden and the Redan just around the corner.

The type of golfer it attracts, therefore, is the one with high ideals and an implicit confidence in his ability to overcome the Roughest obstacles; the sort who plays in amateur championships and mutters to himself "Why this strange weakness?" if he shoots worse than a seventy-five, and one look at it gave Cyril hat uncomfortable feeling known to scientists as the heeby-jeebies. He had entered for the medal contest which was to take place tomorrow, for he always entered for medal contests, never being able to forget that he had once shot a ninety-eight and that this, if repeated, would with his handicap give him a sporting chance of success. But the prospect of performing in front of these hardened experts created in him the illusion that caterpillars to the number of about fifty-seven were parading up
and down his spinal cord. He shrank from exposing himself their bleak contemptuous stares. His emotions when he did auld, he knew, be similar in almost every respect to those of a mongrel which has been rash enough to wander into some fashionable Kennel Show.

As, then, he sat on the porch of the Paradise Hotel on the morning before the contest, he was so far from being filled with
bien etre
that he could not even achieve
je ne sais quoi
, and at is moment the seal was set on his despondency by the sight of Agnes Flack.

Agnes Flack was a large young woman who on the first day of arrival had discovered that he was a partner in a publishing firm and had immediately begun to speak of a novel which she had written and would be glad to have his opinion of when he had a little time to spare. And experience had taught him that when large young women wrote novels they were either squashily sentimental or so Chatterleyesque that it would be necessary to print them on asbestos, and he had spent much of his leisure avoiding her. She seemed now to be coming in his direction, so rising hastily he made on winged feet for the bar. Entering it at a rapid gallop, he collided with a solid body, and this proved on inspection to be none other than Professor Pepperidge Farmer, looking more sinister than ever in Bermuda shorts, a shirt like a Turner sunset and a Panama hat with a pink ribbon round it.

He stood amazed. There was, of course, no reason why the other should not have been there, for the hotel was open to all whose purses were equal to the tariff, but somehow he seemed out of place, like a ghoul at a garden party or a vampire bat at a picnic.

"You! " he exclaimed. "What ever became of you that morning?"

"You allude to our previous meeting?" said the Professor. "I saw you had dozed off, so I tiptoed out without disturbing you. I thought it would be better to resume our acquaintance in these more agreeable surroundings. For if you are thinking that my presence here is due to one of those coincidences which are so strained and inartistic, you are wrong. I came in the hope that I might be able to do something to improve your golf game. I feel I owe you a great deal."

"You do? Why?"

 "We can go into that some other time. Tell me, how is the golf going? Any improvement?"

If he had hoped to receive confidences, he could not have put the question at a better moment. Cyril did not habitually bare his soul to comparative strangers, but now he found himself unable to resist the urge. It was as though the Professor's query had drawn a cork and brought all his doubts and fears and inhibitions foaming out like ginger pop from a ginger pop bottle. As far as reticence was concerned, he might have been on a psychoanalyst's couch at twenty-five dollars the half hour. In burning words he spoke of the coming medal contest, stressing his qualms and the growing coldness of his feet, and the Professor listened attentively, clicking a sympathetic tongue from time to time. It was plain that though he looked like something Charles Addams might have thought up when in the throes of a hangover, if Mr. Addams does ever have hangovers, he had a feeling heart.

"I'm paired with a fellow called Sidney McMurdo, who they tell me is the club champion, and I fear his scorn. It's going to take me at least a hundred and fifteen shots for the round, and on each of those hundred and fifteen shots Sidney McMurdo will look at me as if I were something slimy and obscene that had crawled out from under a flat stone. I shall feel like a crippled leper, and so," said Cyril, concluding his remarks, "I have decided to take my name off the list of entrants. Call me weak if you will, but I can't face it."

The Professor patted him on the shoulder in a fatherly manner and was about to speak, but before he could do so Cyril heard his name paged and was told that he was wanted on the telephone. It was some little time before he returned, and when he did the dullest eye could see that something had occurred to ruffle him. He found Professor Farmer sipping a lemon squash, and when the Professor asked him if he would care for one of the same, he thundered out a violent No.

"Blast and damn all lemon squashes!" he cried vehemently. "Do you know who that was on the phone? It was Popgood, my senior partner. And do you know what he said? He wanted to know what had got into me to make me sign a contract giving you
five thousand dollars advance on that book of yours. He laid you must have hypnotised me."

A smile, probably intended to be gentle, but conveying the impression that he was suffering from some internal disorder, played over the Professor's face.

"Of course I did, my dear fellow. It was one of the ordinary business precautions an author has to take. The only way to get a decent advance from a publisher is to hypnotise him. That was what I was referring to when I said I owed you a great deal. But for you I should never have been able to afford a holiday at a place like Paradise Valley where even the simplest lemon squash sets you back a prince's ransom. Was Popgood annoyed?"

BOOK: Plum Pie
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