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Authors: P.G. Wodehouse

Galahad at Blandings

BOOK: Galahad at Blandings
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P. G. WODEHOUSE

 

Galahad at Blandings

 

 

CHAPTER 1

 

 

 

I

 

Of
the two young men sharing a cell in one of New York’s popular police
stations Tipton Plimsoll, the tall thin one, was the first to recover, if only
gradually, from the effect of the potations which had led to his sojourn in the
coop. The other, Wilfred Allsop, pint-size and fragile and rather like the poet
Shelley in appearance, was still asleep.

For
some time after life had returned to the rigid limbs Tipton sat with his head
between his hands, the better to prevent it floating away from the parent
neck. He was still far from feeling at the peak of his form and would have
given much for a cake of ice against which to rest his forehead, but he was
deriving a certain solace from the thought that his betrothed, Veronica, only
daughter of Colonel and Lady Hermione Wedge of Rutland Gate, London S.W.7, was
three thousand miles away and would never learn of his doings this summer
night. He was also reviewing the past, trying to piece together the events that
had led up to the tragedy, and little by little they began to come back to him.

The
party in the Greenwich Village studio. Quite a good party, with sculptors,
avant
garde
playwrights and other local fauna dotted around, busy with their
bohemian revels. There had occurred that morning on the New York Stock Exchange
one of those slumps or crashes which periodically spoil the day for Stock
Exchanges, but it had not touched the lives of residents in the Washington
Square neighbourhood, where intellect reigns and little interest is taken in
the fluctuations of the money market. Unmoved by the news in the evening papers
that Amalgamated Cheese had closed twenty points off and Consolidated
Hamburgers fifteen, the members of the party, most of whom would not have known
a stock certificate from a greeting card, were all cutting up and having a good
time, and so was Tipton. The large fortune he had recently inherited from a
deceased uncle was invested in the shares of Tipton’s Stores, which never
varied more than a point or two, no matter what financial earthquakes might be
happening elsewhere.

Over in
a corner of this Greenwich Village studio he had perceived a pint-size
character at the piano, tickling the ivories with a skill that commanded
admiration. His compliments to this pint-size bozo on his virtuosity. The ‘Oh,
thanks awfully’ which betrayed the other’s English origin. The subsequent
fraternisation. The exchange of names. The quick start of surprise on the
bozo’s part. Plimsoll, did you say? Not
Tipton
Plimsoll? Sure. Are you
the chap who’s engaged to Veronica Wedge? That’s right. Do you know her? She’s
my cousin. She’s what? My cousin. You mean you’re Vee’s
cousin?
Have
been for years. Well, fry me for an oyster, I think this calls for a drink, don’t
you?

And
that was how it had all begun. Circumstances, it came out in the course of
conversation, had rendered Wilfred Allsop low-spirited, and when he sees a
friend low-spirited, especially a friend linked by ties of blood to the girl he
loves, the man of sensibility spares no effort or expense to alleviate his
depression and bring the roses back to his cheeks. One beaker had led to another,
the lessons learned at mother’s knee had been temporarily forgotten, and here
they were, behind bars.

Tipton
had been nursing his throbbing head for perhaps a quarter of an hour and had
just assured himself by delicate experiment that it was not, as he had at one
time feared, going to explode like a high-powered shell, when a soft moan in
his rear caused him to turn. Wilfred Allsop was sitting up, his face pale, his
eyes glassy, his hair disordered. He looked like the poet Shelley after a big
night out with Lord Byron.

‘What’s
this place?’ he asked in a faint whisper. ‘Is it a jug of some description?’

‘That’s
just about what it is, Willie. We call them hoosegows over here, but the
general effect is the same. How’s the boy?’

‘What
boy?’

‘You.’

‘Oh,
me? I’m dying.’

‘Of
course you’re not.’

‘Yes, I
am,’ said Wilfred with some asperity. A man is entitled to know whether he is
dying or not. ‘And before I pass on there’s something I want you to promise
you’ll do for me. If you’re engaged to Vee, I take it you’ve visited Blandings
Castle?’

‘Sure.
It was there I met her.’

‘Well,
did you happen, while there, to run into a girl called Monica Simmons?’

‘The
name doesn’t ring a bell. Who is she?’

‘She
looks after Empress of Blandings, that pig of my Uncle Clarence’s.’

‘Ah,
then I’ve seen her. Old Emsworth took me to the sty a couple of times and she
was there, ladling out the bran mash. Girl who looks like an all-in wrestler.’

Wilfred’s
asperity became more marked. Their evening together had filled him with a deep
affection for Tipton Plimsoll, but even from a great friend he could not
countenance loose talk of this sort.

‘I am
sorry you think she looks like an all-in wrestler,’ he said stiffly. ‘To me she
seems to resemble one of those Norse goddesses. However, be that as it may, I
love her, Tippy. I fell in love with her at first sight.’

Recalling
the picture of Miss Simmons in smock and trousers with a good deal of mud on
her face, Tipton found this difficult to believe, but he was sympathetic.

‘Good
for you. Peach of a girl, I should imagine. Did you tell her so?’

‘I
couldn’t do it. I hadn’t the nerve. She’s so majestic, and I’m such a little
squirt. You agree that I’m a little squirt, Tippy?’

‘Well,
I don’t know I’d put it just that way, but I guess ones got to face it, there
are taller guys around.’

‘All
I’ve done so far is look at her and talk about the weather.’

‘Not
much percentage in that.’

‘No,
the whole thing’s quite hopeless. But here’s what I was starting to say. I want
you, when I am gone, to see that she gets my cigarette case. It’s all I have to
leave. Can I trust you to do this when I have passed beyond the veil?’

‘You
aren’t going to pass beyond the veil.’

‘I
am
going to pass beyond the veil,’ said Wilfred petulantly. ‘You’ve made a
note of what I was saying. Cigarette case. To be given to Monica Simmons after
my decease.’

‘Does
she smoke?’

‘Of
course she smokes.’

‘She’ll
be able to blow smoke rings at the pig.’

Wilfred
stiffened.

‘There
is no need to be flippant about it, Plimsoll. I am asking you as a friend to
perform this small act of kindness for me. Can I rely on you?’

‘Sure.
I’ll attend to it.’

‘Tell
her my last thoughts were of her and I expired with her name on my lips.’

‘Okay.’

‘Thank
you, thank you, thank you,’ said Wilfred, and went to sleep again.

 

 

II

 

Deprived of human
companionship, Tipton felt sad and lonely. He was a gregarious soul and it always
made him uneasy when he had no one to talk to. Throughout these exchanges with
Wilfred Allsop he had been aware of a policeman pacing up and down the corridor
on the other side of the bars, and policemen, while often not ideal as
conversationalists, being inclined to confine themselves to monosyllables and
those spoken out of the side of their mouths, are better than nothing. He went
to the bars and, peering through them like some rare specimen in a zoo, uttered
a husky ‘Hey, officer.’

The
policeman was a long, stringy policeman, who flowed out of his uniform at odd
spots. His face was gnarled, his wrists knobbly and of a geranium hue, and he
had those three or four extra inches of neck which disqualify a man for high
honours in a beauty competition. But beneath this forbidding exterior there lay
a kindly heart and he could make allowances for the indiscretions of youth.
Muggers, stick-up men and hoodlums in general he disliked, but towards the
Tipton type of malefactor he was able to be indulgent. So where to one of his
ordinary clientele he would have replied with a brusque ‘Pipe down, youse,’ he now
said ‘Hi’ in a not uncordial voice and joined Tipton at the bars, through which
they proceeded to converse like a modern Pyramus and Thisbe.

‘How’s it
coming?’ he asked.

Tipton
replied that he had a headache, and the policeman said that that occasioned him
no surprise.

‘You
certainly earned it, Mac.’

‘I
guess I was kind of high.’

‘You
sure were,’ said the policeman. ‘The boys were saying it took three of them to
get you into the paddy wagon.

His
manner had not been censorious and his voice had contained admiration rather
than reproof, but nevertheless Tipton felt it incumbent on him to justify
himself.

‘You
mustn’t think I do this sort of thing often,’ he said. At one time, yes, but
not since I became engaged. I promised my fiancée I’d go easy on the nights of
wine and roses. But this was a special case. I was trying to cheer up my friend
over there and bring a little sunshine into his life.’

‘Feeling
low, was he?’

‘In the
depths, officer, and with reason. He was telling me the whole story. He’s a
musician. Plays the piano and composes things. He came here from England some
months ago hoping to crash Tin Pan Alley or get taken on by one of the bands,
but couldn’t make the grade. Ran out of money and had to cable home for
supplies.’

‘And
the folks wouldn’t send him none?’

‘Oh
sure, they sent him enough to buy his passage to England. He leaves the day
after tomorrow. But his Aunt Hermione said it was high time he stopped fooling
around and settled down to a regular job, and she’d found one for him. And do
you know what that job is? Teaching music in a girls’ school. And that’s not
all. The woman who runs the school is a rabid Dry and won’t let her staff so
much as look at a snifter. It means that poor old Willie won’t be able to take
aboard the simplest highball except in vacation time.’

‘What
he had tonight ought to last him quite a while.’

‘Don’t
mock, officer, don’t scoff,’ said Tipton, frowning. ‘The thing’s a tragedy. It
has absolutely shattered Willie, and I don’t wonder. There was a guy at the
Drones Club in London, of which I am a member, who once got roped in to make a
speech to a girls’ school, and he never really recovered from the experience.
To this day he trembles like a leaf if he sees anything in a straw hat and a
blazer, with pigtails down its back. Teaching a bunch of girls music will be
ten times worse. They’ll put their heads together and whisper. They’ll nudge
each other and giggle. They’ll probably throw spitballs at him. And nothing to
strengthen him for the ordeal but lemonade and sarsaparilla. But I notice
you’re yawning. I’m not keeping you up, am I?’

The
policeman said he was not. He was, he explained, on all-night duty and was glad
of a chat to while the time away.

‘Fine,’
said Tipton, reassured. ‘Yes, I can imagine you must find it pretty dull
without anyone to shoot the breeze with. It can’t be all jam being a cop.

‘You
can say that again.’

‘Still,
you have compensations.’

‘Name
three.’

‘Well,
you meet such interesting people — bandits, porch climbers, dope pushers, sex
fiends and what not. The whole boiling from deadbeats to millionaires.’

‘We
don’t get a lot of millionaires.’

‘You
don’t?’

‘Never
seen one myself.’

‘Is
that so? Well, you’re seeing one now. Take a gander.’ The policeman stared.

‘You?’

‘Me.’

‘No
kidding?’

‘None
whatever. You know Tipton’s Stores?’

BOOK: Galahad at Blandings
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