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Pelham Wodehouse - Petticoat Influence

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Petticoat Influence
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Pelham Wodehouse - Petticoat Influence

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Petticoat Influence

P G Wodehouse



My brother Bob sometimes says that if he dies young or gets white hair at the age of thirty it will be all my fault. He says that I was bad at fifteen, worse at sixteen, while "present day," as they put it in the biographies of celebrities, I am simply awful. This is very ungrateful of him, because I have always done my best to make him a credit to the family. He is just beginning his second year at Oxford, so, naturally, he wants repressing. Ever since I put my hair up - and that is nearly a year ago now - I have seen that I was the only person to do this. Father doesn't notice things. Besides, Bob is always on his best behaviour with father.

Just at present, however, there was a sort of truce. I was very grateful to Bob because, you see, if it had not been for him I should not have thought of getting Saunders to make Mr. Simpson let father hit his bowling about in the match with the Cave men, and then father wouldn't have taken me to London for the winter, and if I had had to stay at Much Middlefold all the winter I should have pined away. So that I had a great deal to thank Bob for, and I was very kind to him till he went back to Oxford for the winter term; and I was still on the lookout for a chance of paying back one good turn with another.

We had taken a jolly house in Sloane Street from October, and I was having the most perfect time. I'm afraid father was hating it, though. He said to me at dinner one night, "One thousand five hundred and twenty-three vehicles passed the window of the club this morning, Joan."

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I counted them."

"Father, what a waste of time!"

"Why, what else is there to do in London?" he said.

I could have told him millions of things, but I suppose if you don't like London it isn't any fun looking at the sort of sights I like to see.

The morning after this, when father had gone off to his club - to count cabs again, I suppose - I got a letter from Bob.

"DEAR KID" (he wrote), - "Just a line. Hope you're having a good time in London. I can't come down for Aunt Edith's ball on your birthday, as they won't let me. I tried it on, but the Dean was all against it. Look here, I want you to do something for me. The fact is, I've had a lot of expenses lately, with my twenty-firster and so on, and I've had rather to run up a few fairly warm bills here and there, so I shall probably have to touch the governor for a trifle over and above my allowance. What I want you to do is this keep an eye on him, and if you notice that he's particularly bucked about anything one day, wire to me first thing. Then I'll run down and strike while the iron's hot. See? Don't forget. - Yours ever, BOB.

"P.S. There's just a chance that it may not be necessary after all. If everything goes well I may scrape into the 'Varsity team, and if I can manage to get my Blue he will be so pleased that a rabbit could feed out of his hand."

I wrote back that afternoon, promising to do all I could. But I said that at present father was not feeling very happy, as London never agreed with him very well, and he might not like to be worried for money for a week or two. He does not mind what he gives us as a rule, but sometimes he seems to take a gloomy view of things, and talks about extravagance, and what a bad habit it is to develop in one's youth, when one ought to be learning the value of money.

Bob replied that he understood, and added that a friend of his, who had it from another man who had lunched with a cousin of the secretary of football, had told him that they were thinking of giving him a trial soon in the team.

It was on the evening this letter came that Aunt Edith gave her ball. She is the nicest of my aunts, and was taking me about to places. I had been looking forward to this dance for weeks.

I wore my white satin with a pink sash, and a special person came in from Truefitt's to do my hair. He was a restless little man, and talked to himself in French all the time. When he had finished he stepped back, and threw up his hands and said, 'Ah, mademoiselle, c'est magnifique!"

I said, "Yes, isn't it?"

It was, too.

I suppose different people have their different happiest moments. I expect father's is when he makes a good stroke at cricket or shoots particularly well. And Bob has his, probably, when he kicks a football farther than anybody else. At least, I suppose so. I love cricket, but I don't understand football. At any rate, I know when I feel happiest. It is when I know I look nice and when the floor is just right and I have a partner whose step suits mine.

On this particular night everything was absolutely perfect. I looked very nice. I know one isn't supposed to be aware of this, but father and Aunt Edith both told me, as well as at least half my partners, so there was a mass of corroborative evidence, as father says. Then the floor was lovely, and everybody seemed to dance well except one young man who had come from Cambridge for the ball. He danced very badly, but he did not seem to let it weigh upon his spirit at all. He was extremely cheerful.

"Would you prefer me," he asked, "to apologize every time I tread on your foot, or shall I let it mount up and apologize collectively at the end?"

I suggested that we might sit out. He had no objection.

"As a matter of fact," he said, "dancing's good enough in its way, but footer's my game."

I said, "Oh!"

"Yes. Best game on earth, I think. I should like to play it all the year round. Cricket? Oh, yes, cricket's good enough in its way, too. But it's not a patch on footer. I was playing last week -"

My attention wandered.

"So you see," he went on, "by half time neither side had scored. We had the wind with us in the second half, so -"

I could never understand football, so I am afraid I let my attention wander again. After some minutes I heard him say, "And so we won after all. Now, you can't get that sort of thing at cricket."

I said, "I suppose not"

"Best game on earth, footer. I say, see that man who just passed us with the girl in red?"

I looked round. The man he referred to was my partner for the next dance. He was tall and wiry, and waltzed beautifully. He seemed a shy man. I noticed that he appeared to find a difficulty in talking to the lady in red. He looked troubled.

"See him?" said my companion.

I said I did.

"That's Hook."

"Yes; I remember that was his name."

My companion seemed to miss something in my manner - surprise or admiration.

" The Hook, you know," he added. "Captain of footer at Oxford. You must have heard of T. B. Hook!"

I didn't like to say I had not; so I murmured, "Oh, T. B. Hook!"

This satisfied him. He went on to describe Mr. Hook.

"Best forward Oxford's had for seasons. See him dribble - my word! Halloa! there's the band starting again. May I take you -"

At this moment Mr. T. B. Hook detached himself - with relief I thought - from the lady in red, and, after looking about him, caught sight of me and made his way in my direction. I admired the way he walked. He seemed to be on springs.

He danced splendidly, but in silence. After making one remark to him - about the floor - which caused him to look scared and crimson, I gave up the idea of conversation, and began to think, in a dreamy sort of way, in time to the music. It was not till quite the end of the dance that my great idea came to me. It came in a very roundabout way. First I thought about father, then about Bob, then about Bob's letter, then about his saying he might play for Oxford. And then, quite in a flash, I realized that it was Mr. T. B. Hook, and no other, who had the power of letting him play or keeping him out, and I saw that here was my chance of doing Bob the good turn I owed him. I have since been told - by Bob - that an idea so awful (so absolutely fiendish, was his expression) could only have occurred to a girl. Ingratitude, as I have said before, is Bob's besetting sin.

One of my aunts is always talking about the tremendous influence of a good woman. My idea was to try it, for Bob's benefit, on Mr. T. B. Hook.

The music stopped, and we went into the conservatory. My partner's silence was more noticeable now that we had stopped dancing. His waltzing had disguised it.

We sat down. I could feel him trying to find something to say. The only easy remark, about the floor, I had already made.

So I began.

I said, "You are very fond of football, aren't you?"

He brightened up.

"Oh, yes," he said. "Yes. Yes."

He paused for a moment, then added, as if he had had an inspiration, "Yes."

"Yes?" I said.

"Oh, yes," he replied, brightly. "Yes."

Our conversation was getting quite brisk and sparkling.

You're captain of Oxford, aren't you?" I said.

"Oh, yes," he replied. "Yes."

"I'm very fond of cricket," I said, "but I don't understand football. I suppose it's a very good game?"

"Oh, yes. Yes."

"I have a brother who's a very good player," I went on.

"Yes?"

"Yes. He's at Oxford, too. At Magdalen."

"Yes?"

"Are you at Magdalen?"

"Trinity."

"Do you know my brother?"

I saw he hadn't heard my name when we had been introduced, so I added, "Romney."

"I don't think I know any Romney. But I don't know many Magdalen men."

"I thought you might, because he told me you were probably going to put him into the Oxford team. I do hope you will."

Mr. Hook, who had been getting almost at home and at his ease, I believe, suddenly looked pink and scared again. I heard him whisper, "Good Lord!"

"Please put him in," I went on, feeling like Bob's guardian angel. "I'm sure he's much better than anybody else, and we should be so pleased."

"You would be so pleased," he repeated, mechanically.

" Awfullypleased," I said. "I couldn't tell you how grateful. And it would make such a lot of difference to Bob. I can't tell you why, but it would."

"Oh, it would ?" said he.

"A tremendous lot. You won't forget the name, will you? Romney. I'll write it down for you on your programme. R. Romney, Magdalen College. You will put him in, won't you? I shall be too grateful for anything. And father -"

"I think this is ours?" said a voice.

My partner for the next dance was standing before me. In the ball-room they were just beginning the Eton boating song. I heard Mr. Hook give a great sigh. It may have been sorrow, or it may have been relief.

About a week after this father said "Halloa!" as he was reading the paper at breakfast. "They're playing Bob at half for Oxford, Joan," he said, "against Wolverhampton Wanderers."

"Oh, father!" I said; "are they really?"

The influence of the good woman had begun to work already.

"Instead of Welby-Smith, apparently. I suppose they had to make some changes after their poor show against the Casuals. Well, I hope Bob will stay in now he's got there."

"You'd be pleased if he got his Blue, wouldn't you, father?"

"Yes, my dear, I should."

I thought of writing to Mr. Hook to thank him, but decided not to. It was best to let well alone.

I got a letter from Bob a fortnight later saying that he was still in the team, though he had not been playing very well. He himself, he said, had rather fancied he would have been left out after the Old Malvernians match, and he wouldn't have complained, because he had played badly; but for some reason they stuck to him, and if he didn't do anything particularly awful in the next few matches, he said, he was practically a certainty for Queen's Club.

"What's Queen's Club?" I asked father.

"It's where the 'Varsity match is played. We must go and see it if Bob gets his Blue. Or in any case."

Bob did get his Blue. I felt quite a thrill when I thought of what Mr. Hook had suffered for my sake. Because, you see, there were lots of people who thought Bob wasn't good enough to be in the team. Father read me a bit out of a sporting paper in which the man who wrote it compared the two teams and said that "the weak spot in the Oxford side is undoubtedly Romney," and a lot of horrid things about his not feeding his forwards properly. I said, "I'm sure that isn't true. Bob's always giving dinners to people. In fact, that's the very reason why -"

I stopped.

"Why what?" said father.

"Why he's so hard up, father, dear. He is, you know. It's because of his twenty-first birthday, he said."

"I shouldn't wonder, my dear. I Remember my own twenty-first birthday celebrations, and I don't suppose things have altered much since my time. You must tell Bob to come to me if he is in difficulties. We mustn't be hard on a man who's playing in the 'Varsity match, eh, my dear?"

I said, "No; I'll tell him."

Bob stopped with us the night before the match. He hardly ate anything for dinner, and he wanted toast instead of bread. When I met him afterwards, though, he was looking very pleased with things and very friendly.

"It's all right about those bills," he said. "The governor has given me a cheque. He's awfully bucked about my Blue."

"And it was all me, Bob," I cried. "It was every bit me. If it hadn't been for me you wouldn't be playing to-morrow. Aren't you grateful, Bob? You ought to be."

"If you can spare a moment and aren't too busy talking rot," said Bob, "you might tell me what it's all about."

"Why, it was through me you've got your Blue."

"So I understand you to say. Mind explaining? Don't, if it would give you a headache."

"Why, I met the Oxford captain at Aunt Edith's dance, and I said how anxious you were to get your Blue, and I begged him to put you in the team. And the very next Saturday you were tried for the first time."

Bob positively reeled, and would have fallen had he not clutched a chair. I didn't know people ever did it out of novels. He looked horrible. His mouth was wide open and his face a sort of pale green. He bleated like a sheep.

"Bob, don't !" I said. "Whatever's the matter?

He recovered himself and laughed feebly. "All right, Kid," he said, "that's one to you. You certainly drew me then. By gad! I really thought you meant it at first."

My eyes opened wide. "But, Bob," I said, "I did."

His jaw fell again.

You mean to tell me," he said slowly, "that you actually asked - Oh, my aunt!"

He leaned his forehead on the mantelpiece. "I can't stay up after this. Good Lord! the story may be all over the 'Varsity! Suppose somebody did get hold of it! I couldn't live it down."

He raised his head. "Look here, Joan," he said; "if a single soul gets to hear of this I'll never speak to you again." And he stalked out of the room.

I sat down and cried.

He would hardly speak a word to me next morning. Father insisted on his having breakfast in bed, so as not to let him get tired; so I did not see him till lunch. After lunch we all drove off to Queen's Club in Aunt Edith's motor. While Bob was upstairs packing his bag, father said to me, "Here's an honour for us, Joan. Bob is bringing the Oxford captain back to dinner to-night."

I gasped. I felt it would take all my womanly tact to see me through the interview. He wouldn't know how offended Bob was at being put in the team, and he might refer to our conversation at the dance.

Bob was evidently still wrapped in gloomy despair when he joined us. He was so silent in the motor that father thought he must be dreadfully nervous about the match, and tried to cheer him up, which made him worse. We arrived at the ground at last, and Bob went to the pavilion to change.

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