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

Stop me if I’ve told you this before, I rather fancy I have, but once when I was up at Oxford and chatting on the river bank with a girl called something that’s slipped my mind there was a sound of barking and a great hefty dog of the Hound of the Baskervilles type came galloping at me, obviously intent on mayhem, its whole aspect that of a dog that has no use for Woosters. And I was just commending my soul to God and thinking that this was where my new flannel trousers got about thirty bobs’ worth of value bitten out of them, when the girl, waiting till she saw the whites of its eyes, with extraordinary presence of mind opened a coloured Japanese umbrella in the animal’s face. Upon which, with a startled exclamation it did three back somersaults and retired into private life.

And the reason I bring this up now is that, barring the somersaults, Aunt Dahlia’s reaction to this communique was precisely that of the above hound to the Japanese umbrella. The same visible taken-abackness. She has since told me that her emotions were identical with those she had experienced when she was out with the Pytchley and riding over a ploughed field in rainy weather, and the horse of a sports-lover in front of her suddenly kicked three pounds of wet mud into her face.

She gulped like a bulldog trying to swallow a sirloin steak many sizes too large for its thoracic cavity.

‘You mean there are two of them?’


‘And Wilbert isn’t the one I thought he was?’

‘You have grasped the position of affairs to a nicety. You will appreciate now, my dear Dahlia,’ said Upjohn, speaking with the same unction, if that’s the word, with which he had spoken when unmasking his batteries and presenting unshakable proof that yours was the hand, Wooster, which propelled this cricket ball, ‘that your concern, though doing you the greatest credit, has been needless. I could wish Phyllis no better husband. Wilbert has looks, brains, character … and excellent prospects,’ he added, rolling the words round his tongue like vintage port. ‘His father, I should imagine, would be worth at least twenty million dollars, and Wilbert is the elder son. Yes, most satisfactory, most…’

As he spoke, the telephone rang, and with a quick ‘Ha!’ he shot back into the study like a homing rabbit.


For perhaps a quarter of a minute after he had passed from the scene the aged relative stood struggling for utterance. At the end of this period she found speech.

‘Of all the damn silly fatheaded things!’ she vociferated, if that’s the word. ‘With a million ruddy names to choose from, these ruddy Creams call one ruddy son Wilbert and the other ruddy son Wilfred, and both these ruddy sons are known as Willie. Just going out of their way to mislead the innocent bystander. You’d think people would have more consideration.’

Again I begged her to keep an eye on her blood pressure and not get so worked up, and once more she brushed me off, this time with a curt request that I would go and boil my head.

‘You’d be worked up if you had just been scored off by Aubrey Upjohn, with that loathsome self-satisfied look on his face as if he’d been rebuking a pimply pupil at his beastly school for shuffling his feet in church.’

‘Odd, that,’ I said, struck by the coincidence. ‘He once rebuked me for that very reason. And I had pimples.’

‘Pompous ass!’

‘Shows what a small world it is.’

‘What’s he doing here anyway? I didn’t invite him.’

‘Bung him out. I took this point up with you before, if you remember. Cast him into the outer darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.’

‘I will, if he gives me any more of his lip.’

‘I can see you’re in a dangerous mood.’

‘You bet I’m in a dangerous … My God! He’s with us again!’

And A. Upjohn was indeed filtering through the french window. But he had lost the look of which the ancestor had complained, the one he was wearing now seeming to suggest that since last heard from something had occurred to wake the fiend that slept in him.

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