R: 9-11 #2 (2002), art by Alex Ross
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Bill should not have danced. He was an estimable young man, honest, amiable, with high ideals. He had played an excellent game of football at the university; his golf handicap was plus two; and he was no mean performer with the gloves. But we all of us have our limitations, and Bill had his. He was not a good dancer. He was energetic, but he required more elbow room than the ordinary dancing floor provides. As a dancer, in fact, he closely resembled a Newfoundland puppy trying to run across a field.Hold your quibbling over that wild coincidence. As he always does, Wodehouse is a master of pacing and genial misdirection and makes the acts of characters from three thousand miles away running into each other in the same nightclub a perfectly normal and reasonable thing. All the better, of course, for Bill and Claire to wind up staying at separate houses just down the road from each other in Long Island: Claire with an old friend, Bill with Nutty and his sister, the lovely Elizabeth, who don't realize he's the hated Lord Dawlish who supposedly has stolen all their inheritance money away.
Elizabeth was feeling annoyed with her bees. They resolutely declined to sting this young man. Bees flew past him, bees flew into him, bees settled upon his coat, bees paused questioningly in front of him, as who should say, 'What have we here?' but not a single bee molested him. Yet when Nutty, poor darling, went within a dozen yards of the hives he never failed to suffer for it. In her heart Elizabeth knew perfectly well that this was because Nutty, when in the presence of the bees, lost his head completely and behaved like an exaggerated version of Lady Wetherby's Dream of Psyche, whereas Bill maintained an easy calm; but at the moment she put the phenomenon down to that inexplicable cussedness which does so much to exasperate the human race, and it fed her annoyance with her unbidden guest.Her clever trick is neatly undone at the end of the scene when Bill reveals in good humor that he raised bees himself when younger and knows how to handle them without being stung. This is, as they say, the proverbial ice-breaker:
And then her mood changed in a flash. Nature has decreed that there are certain things in life which shall act as hoops of steel, grappling the souls of the elect together. Golf is one of these; a mutual love of horseflesh another; but the greatest of all is bees. Between two beekeepers there can be no strife. Not even a tepid hostility can mar their perfect communion.I love that scene; it's romantic and cinematic (There's another even lovelier one at the end; I'll get to that in a bit, after the dead monkey). Uneasy Money would make a wonderful motion picture. Well, what do you know: there was a movie version of the booka silent film in 1918 (apparently featuring ZaSu Pitts as Claire's friend, as far as I can find out). Hey look, it was screened in Manhattan sometime in the not-too-distant past. And I missed it! I must read my Time Out New York more carefully.
The petty enmities which life raises to be barriers between man and man and between man and woman vanish once it is revealed to them that they are linked by this great bond. Envy, malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness disappear, and they look into each other's eyes and say 'My brother!'
The effect of Bill's words on Elizabeth was revolutionary. They crashed through her dislike, scattering it like an explosive shell. She had resented this golden young man's presence at the farm. She had thought him in the way. She had objected to his becoming aware that she did such prosaic tasks as cooking and washing-up. But now her whole attitude toward him was changed. She reflected that he was there. He could stay there as long as he liked, the longer the better.
Lady Wetherby led the way to the kitchen. She was wroth with Eustace. This was just the sort of thing out of which Algie would be able to make unlimited capital. It weakened her position with Algie. There was only one thing to doshe must hush it up.To explain in detail what happens after would require many more paragraphs that wouldn't do the tragic and yet comic events justice. Suffice it to say that Eustace escapes, at the same time Claire's new fianceé millionaire he-man Dudley Pickering, sets off with his gun in search of a mysterious prowler about the estate (Bill mooning over Claire). Mishaps happen, events occur, triggers are accidentally pulled, and...
Her first glance, however, at the actual theatre of war gave her the impression that matters had advanced beyond the hushing-up stage. A yellow desolation brooded over the kitchen. It was not so much a kitchen as an omelette. There were eggs everywhere, from floor to ceiling. She crunched her way in on a carpet of oozing shells.
'Good Lord!'Please remove your hat and let's have a moment of silence for Eustace the monkey, shot dead on page 127the only monkey murder in the P. G. Wodehouse canon.
The match went out.
'What is it? What has happened?'
Bill was fumbling for another match.
'There's something on the floor. It looks likeI thought for a minute' The small flame shot out of the gloom, flickered, then burned with a steady glow. Bill stooped, bending over something on the ground. The match burned down.
Bill's voice came out of the darkness:
'I say, you were right about that noise. It was a shot. The poor little chap's down there on the floor with a hole in him the size of my fist.'
'Bill, are you really fond of me?'Try doing that in the movies, Hugh Grant.
'Fond of you!'
She gave a sigh. 'You're so splendid!'
Bill was staggered. These were strange words. He had never thought much of himself. He had always looked on himself as rather a chump--well-meaning, perhaps, but an awful ass. It seemed incredible that any one--and Elizabeth of all people--could look on him as splendid.
And yet the very fact that she had said it gave it a plausible sort of sound. It shook his convictions. Splendid! Was he? By Jove, perhaps he was, what? Rum idea, but it grew on a chap. Filled with a novel feeling of exaltation, he kissed Elizabeth eleven times in rapid succession....
...A sense of something incongruous jarred upon Bill. Something seemed to be interfering with the supreme romance of that golden moment. It baffled him at first. Then he realized that he was still holding Eustace by the tail.
'...Bill, listen. Come closer and tell me all sorts of nice things about myself till we get to Jamaica, and then I'll tell you what I think of you. We've just passed Islip, so you've plenty of time.'Awwwwwwww. As a frequent rider of the LIRR myself, that's the nicest thing that has ever happened on those trains. And that includes the time I found a dime under the seats.