R: A-Next #4 (May 1993), art by Ron Frenz, Brett Breeding, and Bob Sharen
(Click picture to Assemble-size)
The door of the Drones Club swung open, and a young man in form-fitting tweeds came down the steps and started to walk westwards. An observant passer-by, scanning his face, would have fancied that he discerned on it a keen, tense look, like that of an African hunter stalking a hippopotamus. And he would have been right. Pongo Twistletonfor it was hewas on his way to try to touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport for two hundred pounds.In other words:
To touch Horace Pendlebury-Davenport, if you are coming from the Drones, you go down Hay Hill;, through Berkeley Square, along Mount Street and up Park Lane to the new block of luxury flats which they have built where Bloxham House use to be: and it did not take Pongo long to reach journey's end.
There was a strange look on Lord Emsworth's face as the door closed. It was the look of a man who has just found himself on the receiving end of a miracle. His knees were trembling a little as he rose and walked to the book-case, where the red and gold of Debrett's Peerage gleamed like the ray of a lighthouse guiding a storm-tossed mariner.Uncle Fred, like his old pal Galahad Threepwood (Emsworth's brother), is an elder and spry gentleman, fond of the good life and sneaking out under the nose of his firm-handed wife, so with a tip of his hat he's off to join forces with the crew at Blandings. This isn't the first major Wodehouse Blandings crossover, of course: Psmith visited and served a vital role in sorting out the affairs of all concerned in 1923's Leave It To Psmith, but Uncle Fred is a richer, fuller, funnier novel than the (admittedly wonderful) Psmith. A Blandings novel often gives us one or two imposters at the castle: Uncle Fred in the Springtime gives us three, as Uncle Fred, Pongo, and Polly Potts (Horace's cousin's fianceéyes, see how complicated it is?) pose as Sir Roderick Glossop, his secretary, and niece. Like Jeeves, Uncle Fred is skilled in untangling complicationshe's got a brain as sharp and brilliant as Jeeves but with a much more definite air of confidence trickster about him. He can't be flapped, he can't be confused, and best of all, he thinks on his feet, even when his plans are crumbling around him. Witness:
Beach, the butler, hearing the bell, presented himself at the library.
'Oh, beach, I want you to put in a trunk telephone call for me. I don't know the number, but the address is Ickenham Hall, Ickenham, Hampshire. I want a personal call to Lord Ickenham.'
'Very good, m'lord.'
'It is unfortunate for you that I should have met the real Sir Roderick. When I saw him on the train, he had not forgotten me, of course, but I know him immediately. He has altered very little!'Any other novel...well, to be fair, any other author...and the next page would be our pal Uncle Fred carted away to Wormwood Scrubs in handcuffs, which might be an interesting adventure, but it's not really Wodehouse, now, is it? (He's much more the manor house type than Dartmoor Prison.) No, as he always does, Uncle Fred eludes the long arm of the local constabulary quite neatly through a combination of smooth talking and blackmail.
Lord Ickenham raised his eyebrows.
'Are you insinuating that I am not Sir Roderick Glossop?'
'I see. You accuse me of assuming another man's identity, do you, of abusing Lady Constance's hospitality by entering her house under false pretences? You deliberately assert that I am a fraud and an imposter?'
'And how right you are, my dear fellow!' said Lord Ickenham. 'How right you are.'
Pongo had listened to this exposition with mixed feelings. On the whole, relief prevailed. A purse of gold would undoubtedly have some in uncommonly handy, but better, he felt, to give it a miss than to pass a night of terror in a car with a pig. Like so many sensitive young men, he shrank from making himself conspicuous, and only a person wilfully blind to the realities of life could deny that you made yourself dashed conspicuous, driving pigs across England in cars.Still, what a remake of Rain Man it would have made!
The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came. Her motto, like Horace's, was nil admirari. But, cool and even aloof as she was as a general rule, she had been a little puzzled by the events of the day. In particular, she had found the bathroom odd. It was the only place she had ever been in where there appeared to be a shortage of food. The best it had to offer was a cake of shaving-soap, and she had been eating this with a thoughtful frown when Mr Pott joined her. As she emerged now, she was still foaming at the mouth a little and it was perhaps this that set the seal on Lord Bosham's astonishment and caused him not only to recoil a yard or two with his eyes popping but also to pull the trigger of his gun.In the works of a different writer...say, Ernest Hemingway or Irvine Welsh...the next chapter would have been titled "Pork Is a Nice Sweet Meat." Fear not then, Empress enthusiastsshe escapes the bang with aplomb and nary a curl of her tail scathed. She lives, to scarf down potatoes another day.
'Well, dash it, I want to tell her to go and explain to Ricky that my behaviour towards her throughout was scrupulously correct. At present, he's got the idea that I'm a kind of...Who was the chap who was such a devil with the other sex? Donald something?'...and one other passage, in which the wisdom and prescience of Uncle Fred is shown, as he predicts, forty-four years ahead of his time, the single greatest music video in history:
'Don Juan. That's the fellow I mean.'
Polly frowned. In a world scented with flowers and full of soft music, these sentiments jarred upon her.
'I don't see why it's got to be a sort of fight.'
'Well, it has. Marriage is a battlefield, not a bed of roses. Who said that? It sounds too good to be my own. Not that I don't think of some extraordinarily good things, generally in my bath.'