R: The Sensational She-Hulk #50 (May 1993), art by John Byrne
(Click picture to Blofeld-size)
This week's "Separated at Birth" suggested (here) by boisterous Bully-booster Brian Smith. Thanks, Brian!
'So you're sailing on the Atlantic, too!' she said, with a glance at the chart on the counter. 'How odd! We have just decided to go back on her too. There's nothing to keep us here and we're all homesick. Well, you see I wasn't run over after I left you.'And that is, as they say, where the fun begins. This Wodehouse novel...early enough to be between the two Wars, late enough to be a sort-of sequel (to 1913's The Little Nugget), deftly balances the genial lyrical romances of the 1910s with the comedies of error of Wodehouse's later years. It's one of my favorite of his early novels: if not as rip-roaring funny as the immediate post-WWII stuff, it's charming and elegant, avoiding an excess of sentiment and still plenty of chuckles per chapter. There's a lot going on here, some of it better balanced (the subplot featuring bratty, oh-so-kidnapable kid Ogden, "The Little Nugget") than others (scientist Partridge developing Partridgite, a high explosive in a test tube), but the main front-and-center belongs to Jimmy and Ann, a relationship threatened when an old friend recognizes Jimmy in a Manhattan restaurant:
A delicious understanding relieved Jimmy's swimming brain, as thunder relieves the tense and straining air. The feeling that he was going mad left him, as the simple solution of his mystery came to him. This girl must have heard of him in New Yorkperhaps she knew people whom he knew and it was on hearsay, not on personal acquaintance, that she based that dislike of him which she had expressed with such freedom and conviction so short a while before at the Regent Grill. She did not know who he was!
Into this soothing stream of thought cut the voice of the clerk.
'What name, please?'
Jimmy's mind rocked again. Why were these things happening to him to-day of all days, when he needed the tenderest treatment, when he had a headache already?
The clerk was eyeing him expectantly. He had laid down his pencil and was holding aloft a pen. Jimmy gulped. Every name in the English language had passed from his mind. And then from out of the dark came inspiration.
'Bayliss,' he croaked.
The girl held out her hand.
'Then we can introduce ourselves at last. My name is Ann Chester. How do you do, Mr. Bayliss?'
'How do you do, Miss Chester?'
'I say, Crocker, old chap, I didn't know you were over here. When did you arrive?'If you know Wodehouse well, you know this isn't merely a funny little anecdote; it comes up later as one of those Very Important Plot Points, So Important That They Are Capitalized. Viz.:
Jimmy was profoundly thankful that he had seen this pest in time to be prepared for him. Suddenly assailed in this fashion, he would undoubtedly have incriminated himself by recognition of his name. But, having anticipated the visitation, he was able to say a whole sentence to Ann before showing himself aware that it was he who was addressed.
'I say! Jimmy Crocker!'
Jimmy achieved one of the blankest stares of modern times. He looked at Ann. Then he looked at Bartling again.
'I think there's some mistake,' he said. 'My name is Bayliss.'
Before his stony eye the immaculate Bartling wilted. It was a perfectly astounding likeness, but it was apparent to him when what he had ever heard and read about doubles came to him. He was confused. He blushed. It was deuced bad form going up to a perfect stranger like this and pretending you knew him. Probably the chappie thought he was some kind of a confidence johnnie or something. It was absolutely rotten! He continued to blush till one could have fancied him scarlet to the ankles. He backed away, apologising in ragged mutters. Jimmy was not insensible to the pathos of his suffering acquaintance's position; he knew Reggie and his devotion to good form sufficiently well to enable him to appreciate the other's horror at having spoken to a fellow to whom he had never been introduced; but necessity forbade any other course. However Reggie's soul might writhe and however sleepless Reggie's nights might become as a result of this encounter, he was prepared to fight it out on those lines if it took all summer. And, anyway, it was darned good for Reggie to get a jolt like that every once in a while. Kept him bright and lively.
So thinking, he turned to Ann again, while the crimson Bartling tottered off to restore his nerve centres to their normal tone at some other hostelry. He found Ann staring amazedly at him, eyes wide and lips parted.
'Odd, that!' he observed with a light carelessness which he admired extremely and of which he would not have believed himself capable. 'I suppose I must be somebody's double. What was the name he said?'
'Jimmy Crocker!' cried Ann.
Jimmy raised his glass, sipped, and put it down.
'Oh yes, I remember. So it was. It's a curious thing, too, that it sounds familiar. I've heard the name before somewhere.'
'I was talking about Jimmy Crocker on the ship. That evening on deck.'
Jimmy looked at her doubtfully.
'Were you? Oh yes, of course. I've got it now. He is the man you dislike so.'
Ann was still looking at him as if he had undergone a change into something new and strange.
'I hope you aren't going to let the resemblance prejudice you against me?' said Jimmy. 'Some are born Jimmy Crockers, others have Jimmy Crockers thrust upon them. I hope you'll bear in mind that I belong to the latter class.'
'Do you remember at lunch that day, after that remarkable person had mistaken me for Jimmy Crocker, you suggested in a light, casual way that if I were to walk into your uncle's office and claim to be Jimmy Crocker I should he welcomed without a question? I'm going to do it. Then, once aboard the luggeronce in the house, I am at your orders. Use me exactly as you would have used Jerry Mitchell.'Ann needs someone to impersonate Jimmy Crocker to infiltrate the Pett household, so Jimmy's in the unique circumstance of impersonating someone else impersonating himself. And so what happens when Lord Wisbeach, someone who knows Jimmy Crocker, meets this "imposter"? Turns out there's yet another imposter: that's not the Lord Wisbeach Jimmy knows after all. The manor house is chock-full of imposters attempting to kidnap Ogden the brat, and it's up to Jimmy to restore the status quo without blowing his cover and alienating the lovely Ann. Does he succeed? It's a Wodehouse novel, so the answer is of course yes, with complications.
'Jerry!' said Jimmy scornfully. 'Can't I do everything that he could have done? And more. A bonehead like Jerry would have been certain to have bungled the thing somehow. I know him well. A good fellow, but in matters requiring intellect and swift thought dead from the neck up. It's a very lucky thing he is out of the running. I love him like a brother, but his dome is of ivory. This job requires a man of tact, sense, shrewdness, initiative, esprit, and verve.' He paused. 'Me!' he concluded.
Poets have dealt feelingly with the emotions of practically every variety except one. They have sung of Ruth, of Israel in bondage, of slaves pining for their native Africa, and of the miner's dream of home. But the sorrows of the baseball bug, compelled by fate to live three thousand miles away from the Polo Grounds, have been neglected in song. Bingley Crocker was such a one, and in Summer his agonies were awful. He pined away in a country where they said 'Well played, sir!' when they meant ''at-a-boy!'...and this scene where Jimmy confronts another fake:
'Do you wish me to understand,' said Jimmy, 'that you are not my old friend, Lord Wisbeach?'With rapid-fire dialogue like that, Piccadilly Jim is perfect for adaptation to the stage, radio, or, just maybe, the motion pictures. Imagine my surprise, then, when researching this book, I found that Piccadilly Jim has been filmed as a movie not once (in 1920), and not twiceagain in 1936, with Robert Montgomery as Jimmy and Billie "Glinda" Burke as Eugenia Willisbut three times, the most recent being a very recent-indeed 2004, with Sam Rockwell as Jimmy and an all-star British and American cast. The movie's not available on DVD in the US (you can buy a Region 2 DVD from Amazon.co.uk), but for a peek at it we need venture no further than YouTube, which has a wonderfully boisterous and Dick Tracy-hued clip set in a nightclub. Pay especial attention to the singer crooning a 1920s version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love":
'No. And you're not my old friend, Jimmy Crocker.'
'What makes you think that?'
'If you had been, would you have pretended to recognise me upstairs just now? I tell you, pal, I was all in for a second, till you gave me the high sign.'
'It would have been awkward for you if I really had been Jimmy Crocker, wouldn't it?'
'And it would have been awkward for you if I had really been Lord Wisbeach.'
'Who are you, by the way?'
'The boys call me Gentleman Jack.'
'Why?' asked Jimmy, surprised.
Lord Wisbeach ignored the question.
'I'm working with Burke's lot just now. Say, let's be sensible about this. I'll be straight with you, straight as a string.'
'Did you say string or spring?'
'And I'll expect you to be straight with me.'
'Are we to breathe confidences into each other's ears?'