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

‘In common decency, one would think. The only thing that remains is to choose a time and place for Bertie to operate.’

‘No time like the present.’

‘But how do we locate Upjohn?’

‘He’s in Mr Travers’s study. I saw him through the french window.’

‘Excellent. Then, Bertie, if you’re ready…’

It will probably have been noticed that during these exchanges I had taken no part in the conversation. This was because I was fully occupied with envisaging the horror that lay before me. I knew that it did lie before me, of course, for where the ordinary man would have met the suggestion they had made with a firm nolle prosequi, I was barred from doing this by the code of the Woosters, which, as is pretty generally known, renders it impossible for me to let a pal down. If the only way of saving a boyhood friend from having to sell pencils in the street – though I should have thought that blood oranges would have been a far more lucrative line – was by wagging my finger in the face of Aubrey Upjohn and calling him names, that finger would have to be wagged and those names called. The ordeal would whiten my hair from the roots up and leave me a mere shell of my former self, but it was one that I must go through. Mine not to reason why, as the fellow said.

So I uttered a rather husky ‘Right-ho’ and tried not to think of how the Upjohn face looked without its moustache. For what chilled the feet most was the mental picture of that bare upper lip which he had so often twitched at me in what are called days of yore. Dimly, as we started off for the arena, I could hear Bobbie saying ‘My hero!’ and Kipper asking anxiously if I was in good voice, but it would have taken a fat lot more than my-hero-ing and solicitude about my vocal cords to restore tone to Bertram’s nervous system. I was, in short, feeling like an inexperienced novice going up against the heavyweight champion when in due course I drew up at the study door, opened it and tottered in. I could not forget that an Aubrey Upjohn who for years had been looking strong parents in the eye and making them wilt, and whose toughness was a byword in Bramley-on-Sea, was not a man lightly to wag a finger in the face of.

Uncle Tom’s study was a place I seldom entered during my visits to Brinkley Court, because when I did go there he always grabbed me and started to talk about old silver, whereas if he caught me in the open he often touched on other topics, and the way I looked at it was that there was no sense in sticking one’s neck out. It was more than a year since I had been inside this sanctum, and I had forgotten how extraordinarily like its interior was to that of Aubrey Upjohn’s lair at Malvern House. Discovering this now and seeing Aubrey Upjohn seated at the desk as I had so often seen him sit on the occasions when he had sent for me to discuss some recent departure of mine from the straight and narrow path, I found what little was left of my sang froid expiring with a pop. And at the same time I spotted the flaw in this scheme I had undertaken to sit in on – viz. that you can’t just charge into a room and start calling someone names – out of a blue sky, as it were – you have to lead up to the thing. Pourparlers, in short, are of the essence.

So I said ‘Oh, hullo,’ which seemed to me about as good a pourparler as you could have by way of an opener. I should imagine that those statesmen of whom I was speaking always edge into their conferences conducted in an atmosphere of the utmost cordiality in some such manner.

‘Reading?’ I said.

He lowered his book – one of Ma Cream’s, I noticed -and flashed an upper lip at me.

‘Your powers of observation have not led you astray, Wooster. I am reading.’

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Categories: Wodehouse, P G