Wednesday, April 1, 2009

P.G.Wodehouse – 7

From ‘The Swoop or How Clarence Saved England. A Tale of the Great Invasion’

Anyone who has anything to do with the higher diplomacy is aware that diplomatic language stands in a class by itself. It is a language specifically designed to deceive the chance listener.
Thus when Prince Otto, turning to Grand Duke Vodkakoff, said quietly. “I hear the crops are coming on nicely down Kent way,” the habitual frequenter of diplomatic circles would have understood, as did the Grand Duke, that what he really meant was, “Now about this business. What do you propose to do?”
………and the King of Bollygolla bent forward, deeply interested, to catch the Russian’s reply. Much would depend on this.
Vodkakoff carelessly flicked the ash off his cigarette.
“So I hear,” he said slowly, “But in Shropshire, they tell me, they are having trouble with the mangel-wurzels.”
The Prince frowned at this typical piece of shifty Russian diplomacy.
“How is your Highness getting on with your Highness’s rollerskating?” he enquired guardedly.
The Russian smiled a subtle smile.
“Poorly,” he said, “poorly. The last time I tried the outside edge I thought somebody had thrown the building at me.”
Prince Otto flushed. He was a plain, blunt man, and he hated this beating about the bush.
“Why does a chicken cross the road?” he demanded, almost angrily.
The Russian raised his eyebrows, and smiled, but made no reply. The prince, resolved to give him no chance of wriggling away from the point, pressed him hotly.
“Think of a number,” he cried. “Double it. Add ten. Take away the number you first thought of. Divide it by three, and what is the result?”
There was an awed silence. Surely the Russian, expert at evasion as he was, could not parry so direct a challenge as this.
He threw away his cigarette and lit a cigar.
“I understand,” he said, with a note of defiance in his voice, “that the Suffragettes, as a last resource, propose to capture Mr. Asquith and sing the Suffragette Anthem to him.”
A startled gasp ran round the table.
“Because the higher he flies, the fewer?” asked Prince Otto with sinister calm.
“Because the higher he flies, the fewer,” said the Russian smoothly, but with the smoothness of a treacherous sea.
There was another gasp. The situation was becoming alarmingly tense.
“You are plain-spoken, your Highness,” said Prince Otto slowly.

Prince Otto clenched his fists; but he had had a rigorously diplomatic up-bringing, and knew how to keep a hold on himself. When he spoke it was in the familiar language of diplomacy.
“The rain has stopped,” he said, “but the pavements are still wet underfoot. Has your grace taken the precaution to come out in a good stout pair of boots?”
The shaft plainly went home, but the Grand Duke’s manner, as he replied, was unruffled.
“Rain,” he said, “is always wet; but sometimes it is cold as well.”
“But it never falls upwards,” said the Prince, pointedly.
“Rarely, I understand. Your powers of observation are keen, my dear Prince.”
There was a silence; then the Prince, momentarily baffled, returned to the attack.
“The quickest way to get from Charing Cross to Hammersmith Broadway,” he said, “is to go by Underground.”
“Men have died in Hammersmith Broadway,” replied the Grand Duke suavely.
The Prince gritted his teeth. He was no match for his slippery adversary in a diplomatic dialogue, and he knew it.
“The sun rises in the East,” he cried, half-choking, “but it sets – it sets!”
“So does a hen,” was the cynical reply.
The last remnants of the Prince’s self-control were slipping away. This elusive, diplomatic conversation is a terrible strain if one is not in the mood for it. Its proper setting is the gay, glittering ballroom at some frivolous court.

From ‘Mr Mulliner Speaking’

‘….Mr Mulliner, you love that girl.’
‘I do.’
‘So do I’
‘You do?’
‘I do.’
Osbert felt a little embarrassed. All he could think of to say was that it made them seem like one great big family.
‘I have loved her since she was so high.’
‘How high?’ said Osbert, for the light was uncertain.
‘About so high. And I have always sworn that if every any man came between us; if ever any slinking, sneaking, pop-eyed, lop-eared son of a sea-cook attempted to rob me of that girl, I would…’
‘Er – what?’ asked Osbert
Bashford Braddock laughed a short, metallic laugh.
‘Did you ever hear what I did to the King of Mgumbo-Mgumbo?’
‘I didn’t even know there was a King of Mgumbo-Mgumbo.’
‘There isn’t – now,’ said Bashford Braddock
Osbert was conscious of a clammy, creeping sensation in the region of his spine.

Osbert stood petrified. He had never seen a burglar before, and he wished, now that he was seeing these, that it could have been arranged for him to do so through a telescope. At that close range, they gave him much the same feeling the prophet Daniel must have had on entering the lions’ den, before his relations with the animals had been established on their subsequent basis of easy camaraderie. He was thankful that when the breath which he had been holding for some eighty seconds at length forced itself out in a loud gasp, the noise was drowned by the popping of a cork.

From ‘The Man with Two Left Feet and Other Stories’

If you can imagine a fond father whose only son has hit him with a brick, jumped on his stomach, and then gone off with all his money, you have a pretty good notion of how poor old Izzy looked.

‘You come to me an hour a day, and, if you haven’t two left feet, we’ll make you the pet of society in a month.’
‘Is that so?’
‘It sure is. I never had a failure yet with a pupe, except one. And that wasn’t my fault.’
‘Had he two left feet?’
‘Hadnt any feet at all. Fell off the roof after the second lesson, and had to have ‘em cut off him. At that, I could have learned him to tango with wooden legs, only he got kind of discouraged. Well, see you Monday, Bill. Be good.’
And the kindly old soul, retrieving her chewing gum from the panel of the door where she had placed it to facilitate conversation, dismissed him.

From ‘The Prince and Betty’

((I knew that P.G.Wodehouse has said some not so complimentary things about black people in some of his books. And a lot has been said online about this tendency of his. And on those same lines the below sentence about Hindoos too surprised me. But I guess that’s how it was in those days.))

……I’m sure people don’t like those nasty Hindoos. I am quite nervous myself when I go into the Indian room. They look at me so oddly

Tears are the Turkish bath of the soul. Nature never intended women to pass dry-eyed through crises of emotion

…..his remarks sound like the output of a gramophone with a hot potato in its mouth

The behavior of the New York policeman in affairs of this kind is based on principles of the soundest practical wisdom. The unthinking man would run in and attempt to crush the combat in its earliest and fiercest stages. The New York policeman, knowing the importance of his safety, and the insignificance of the gangsman’s, permits the opposing forces to hammer each other into a certain distaste for battle, and then, when both sides have begun to have enough of it, rushes in himself and clubs everything in sight. It is an admirable process in its results, but it is sure rather than swift.

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