P.G.Wodehouse. Jeeves in the offing, 1960

I quivered. I remembered the incident all right.

‘She thinks the same treatment would work with Upjohn, and I’m sure she’s right. You know how you feel when you suddenly discover you’ve a real friend, a fellow who thinks you’re terrific and won’t hear a word said against you. It touches you. If you had anything in the nature of a prejudice against the chap, you change your opinion of him. You feel you can’t do anything to injure such a sterling bloke. And that’s how Upjohn is going to feel about me, Bertie, when I come in and lend him my sympathy and support as you stand there calling him all the names you can think of. You must have picked up dozens from your aunt. She used to hunt, and if you hunt, you have to know all the names there are because people are always riding over hounds and all that. Ask her to jot down a few of the best on a half-sheet of notepaper.’

‘He won’t need that,’ said Bobbie. ‘He’s probably got them all tucked away in his mind.’

‘Of course. Learned them at her knee as a child. Well, that’s the set-up, Bertie. You wait your opportunity and corner Upjohn somewhere and tower over him-‘

‘As he crouches in his chair.’

‘ – and shake your finger in his face and abuse him roundly. And when he’s quailing beneath your scorn and wishing some friend in need would intervene and save him from this terrible ordeal, I come in, having heard all. Bobbie suggests that I knock you down, but I don’t think I could do that. The recollection of our ancient friendship would make me pull my punch. I shall simply rebuke you. “Wooster,” I shall say, “I am shocked. Shocked and astounded. I cannot understand how you can talk like that to a man I have always respected and looked up to, a man in whose preparatory school I spent the happiest years of my life. You strangely forget yourself, Wooster.” Upon which, you slink out, bathed in shame and confusion, and Upjohn thanks me brokenly and says if there is anything he can do for me, I have only to name it.’

‘I still think you ought to knock him down.’

‘Having endeared myself to him thus -‘

‘Much more box-office.’

‘Having endeared myself to him thus, I lead the conversation round to the libel suit.’

‘One good punch in the eye would do it.’

‘I say that I have seen the current issue of the Thursday Review, and I can quite understand him wanting to mulct the journal in substantial damages, but “Don’t forget, Mr Upjohn,” I say, “that when a weekly paper loses a chunk of money, it has to retrench, and the way it retrenches is by getting rid of the more junior members of its staff. You wouldn’t want me to lose my job, would you, Mr Upjohn?” He starts. “Are you on the staff of the Thursday Review?” he says. “For the time being, yes,” I say. “But if you bring that suit, I shall be selling pencils in the street.” This is the crucial moment. Looking into his eyes, I can see that he is thinking of that five thousand quid, and for an instant quite naturally he hesitates. Then his better self prevails. His eyes soften. They fill with tears. He clasps my hand. He tells me he could use five thousand quid as well as the next man, but no money in the world would make him dream of doing an injury to the fellow who championed him so stoutly against the louse Wooster, and the scene ends with our going off together to Swordfish’s pantry for a drop of port, probably with our arms round each other’s waists, and that night he writes a letter to his lawyer telling him to call the suit off. Any questions?’

‘Not from me. It isn’t as if he could find out that it was you who wrote that review. It wasn’t signed.’

‘No, thank heaven for the editorial austerity that prevented that.’

‘I can’t see a flaw in the scenario. He’ll have to withdraw the suit.’

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Categories: Wodehouse, P G