PLUM PUNCH: LIFE AT HOME
P. G. Wodehouse
XI.—The Thin End of the Wedge
"I beg you," said the Headless Man with some agitation, "not to dream of doing such a thing. Of course, if you think that I am unequal to the work——" he added rather stiffly.
"My dear Sir," I replied, "not at all. Not at all. What a notion! I am sure there is not a spectre on the list who could do it half so well, and what the Haunted Mill would be without you I don't care to think."
"Then why wish to employ another ghost?"
"I thought you would like a companion. It must be lonely for you here when I am away."
"I miss you, of course, as who would not?" replied the Headless Man in his charming way. "But I prefer solitude to the company of another ghost. Take my advice, Mr. WUDDUS. Dismiss the idea of increasing your establishment."
The trouble was this. My old friend Lord SANGAZURE, finding it necessary,
owing to the expenses connected with the marriage of his eldest daughter, to
retrench, had resolved to dismiss one of his staff of spectres,
a luminous boy of excellent character and obliging disposition. Wishing to
procure him a comfortable home in exchange for the luxury of
I felt a delicacy in adding to my establishment without the approval of the Headless Man, so I had told him of Lord SANGAZURE'S proposal, which, as I have shown, he had unhesitatingly condemned.
"Dismiss the idea," he said again. "I have a great respect—and I may say liking—for you, Mr. WUDDUS" (here he brushed away the not unmanly tear), "and I should not care to see you suffer the same fate as Mr. MOSENSTEIN."
"What was that?" I inquired; "I don't think I ever heard that story."
"Ah, then I will tell it to you. You will find it extremely relevant
to the case in point. This Mr. MOSENSTEIN was a 'pig in clover,' who, by dint
of rigging the market, had risen from comparatively decent obscurity to the
possession of several millions of pounds. His first act was to ensure himself a
sufficiency of congenial society by settling in
"'A friend of mine,' explained the resident ghost, on being questioned next day. 'He has come to stop for a few days. I trust he does not intrude? If so——' He paused, and looked so much as if he were going to give notice again that Mr. MOSENSTEIN hastened to say that he was charmed to put up any friend of his, and hoped he would stop as long as he liked. Which, I may say, he did. He is still there. It was the thin edge of the wedge. During the next fortnight six other spectres arrived, and each time Mr. MOSENSTEIN was forced to give in and assure them that they were welcome. Soon there was quite a spectral house- party at the Manor. And it was not long before the human occupants of the house began to feel the pinch of the boot. Mr. MOSENSTEIN was not allowed to go into his study, because the ghost there hated to be disturbed. He could not use the billiard-room because two gentlemen who had killed one another there in the reign of HENRY THE SIXTH wanted the table for their nightly three rounds with the broadsword. All the best bedrooms had to be given up, and even the terrace was occupied. And, not wishing to lose his original ghost, Mr. MOSENSTEIN had to put up with it all.
"To cut a long story short, when he visits Mosenstein Manor now, he stays at the Lodge; and I see in the Spectral News this week that even that is about to be taken—as a bijou residence for the Countess of BLENKINSOP, who poisoned herself there in the days of the Commonwealth. So now you see the danger of having more than one ghost. One spectre," concluded the Headless Man, sententiously, "is an indispensable adjunct to domestic bliss. Two are a nuisance. Half-a- dozen spell Misery."
And, settling his head comfortably under his arm, he vanished. I went downstairs, and wrote to Lord SANGAZURE informing him—with regret— that I had no vacancy.
[An attempt is here made to avoid classical pedantry, and to express the facts of antiquity in homely language suited to the needs of future generations of undergraduates, when Greek has ceased to be a compulsory subject.]
ION SMITHIOS the ratepayer arose from his early Grecian couch one lovely
morning in April, B.C. 1004, feeling at peace with gods and men. In the first
The criminal law of
"Morning," said the suppliant brightly, as ION SMITHIOS appeared.
The ratepayer frowned.
"To what am I indebted?" he said.
"The fact is," replied his visitor, "in strict confidence—I'm a god. Er—in fact, Zeus. I know I don't look like it, but this a disguise. I am doing my celebrated imitation of the young man of the period. The fact is, I hope it won't annoy you or upset your plans in any way, but I love your youngest daughter with all the warmth of a noble nature. The charms of the lovely—— Stupid of me! Can't recall the name at the moment."
"I'm not surprised. I have no daughter."
"No, no, of course not," said the suppliant. "Stupid
joke of mine. But I see you have a feeling heart. You won't be
hard on a fellow. What's really happened is that last night being
"Well," said the ratepayer, "I wish it to be clearly understood that I in no way approve or sympathise. But—"
"Do you know," interrupted the suppliant, "this cross-country running makes you awfully peckish. You couldn't hurry breakfast along and tell me the rest afterwards, I suppose?"
From that day he became a regular member of the household. He turned out to be an unpleasant young man, and he did not scruple to find fault with the ratepayer's domestic arrangements. Once they offered him cold mutton. He turned pale, and insisted on a devilled kidney.
But at last ION SMITHIOS hit on an idea.
The first the suppliant knew of it was when his breakfast was not brought to him at the usual time.
"Where's my breakfast?" he thundered.
"Where, indeed?" said ION SMITHIOS, appearing from the adjoining room, wiping his mouth with a napkin.
"If," said the suppliant hastily, "that breakfast is not ready in five seconds, there will be trouble."
"And now listen to me," said the ratepayer. "I have been looking up the law about suppliants, and it says the householder may not turn them out. There is nothing about feeding them. You take my meaning? If you like that hearth, by all means stay there. But you will pay from this moment for every meal you take, and also for attendance. Not to mention extras, and—lest we forget—fuel, lights, and washing. So now."
"I'll go this minute. I give you notice. I won't stay a moment longer."
ION SMITHIOS coughed.
"As I was coming through the garden just now," he said, "I met a pleasant young fellow with a very large spear. He seemed to be waiting for someone. I shouldn't be half surprised, do you know, if that was your man. The brother, you know."
The suppliant's jaw fell.
A week later it fell again. That was when SMITHIOS presented the first bill ever made out for a Paying Guest.
The scene is the billiard-room of a country-house belonging to a hostess
whose name appears in the "Society Column" with sickening regularity.
In chairs round the fire are seated our old friends, FREDDIE, BOBBIE, and
CLAUDE. FREDDIE and CLAUDE are smoking. BOBBIE IS READING aloud M.
Bobbie. Knew it was all rot—Father VAUGHAN, you know, and all that. Here's feller crackin' us up all round. Listen to this. "The work of the Smart Set has been that of slowly filing from the wrists of English social life the fetters of the vulgar and pompous social ideas of an earlier period."
Claude. Talking of wrists, by the way, how's yours, FREDDIE?
Freddie. Top-hole, thanks. Took it out of the sling this morning. Be able to use it in a day or two.
Bobbie. Let's see, was it tobagganing downstairs or the soccer in the drawing-room?
Freddie. Soccer. Young IVOR barged me over on to a table-full of china. Tried to save the blessed thing, and came down on my hand. Sprained it badly.
Claude. Tell you what it is, that feller oughtn't to be allowed to play in a drawing-room. He charges like a pro.
Bobbie. His way of "filing the fetters," I suppose.
Freddie. All very well, but when it comes to a thirteen-stone feller putting his shoulder into your ribs and shoving, I'm all for "the vulgar and pompous social ideas of an earlier period."
Claude (meditatively). Rum those days must have been! I don't see how they filled in the evenings then.
Freddie. No booby-traps, what?
Claude. My word, we've taught 'em a lot. We're—what d'you call 'em?— pioneers.
Freddie. Martyrs, sometimes. Don't forget my wrist.
Bobbie (taking up his paper again). Chap goes on. Says we've made a stand against "the stupid conventions of an unreal respectability."
[The door opens silently, and a Mysterious Hand flings a paper bag, which hits CLAUDE and bursts, covering him with flour.]
Claude (with emotion). Here, I say! I mean—— Hang it!
Bobbie (approvingly). Good shot that, for a girl.
Freddie. Now, a few years ago I shouldn't wonder if a feller mightn't have cut up rough at a little thing like that.
Claude. But, I say, look here!——
Bobbie (shocked). Don't tell us you're going to get stuffy! You aren't in favour of "the stupid conventions of an unreal respectability," surely?
Freddie (judicially). Besides it was probably that DE BATTLEAXE girl. And you know you did throw your soup at her at dinner last night.
Claude (slightly mollified). Oh, well——
Bobbie. That's right. Stout fellow. Now, let's see, where was I? "Unreal respectability." Oh, yes——
Freddie. One second. Where are the cigars? Make a long arm, CLAUDE. Thanks.
[The application of matches to the cigars causes three sharp and simultaneous explosions. The reformers look at one another from under singed eyebrows. Faint and silvery laughter filters through the door.]
All. Rather smart, what?
Bobbie (dauntlessly resuming his reading). "The Smart Set have demonstrated that it is the best form to be natural and entirely unaffected."
Freddie (fingering his face in a gingerly manner). All the same, I wish the demonstrations weren't so confoundedly painful.
Claude (swallowing a mouthful of scorched flour). Same here.