The Clicking of Cuthbertby P. G. Wodehouse
Cuthbert Banks is young, handsome, and plus four on the Wood Hills links, but he can make no impression on the soulful girl of his heart. When an eminent Russian novelist kisses him on both cheeks, however, Adeline’s attitude changes from scorn to adoration. This book marks an epoch in my literary career. It is written in blood. It is the outpouring of a soul as… See more details below
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Cuthbert Banks is young, handsome, and plus four on the Wood Hills links, but he can make no impression on the soulful girl of his heart. When an eminent Russian novelist kisses him on both cheeks, however, Adeline’s attitude changes from scorn to adoration. This book marks an epoch in my literary career. It is written in blood. It is the outpouring of a soul as deeply seared by Fate’s unkindness as the pretty on the dog-leg hole of the second nine was ever seared by my iron. It is the work of a very nearly desperate man, an eighteen-handicap man who has got to look extremely slippy if he doesn’t want to find himself in the twenties again.P.G. Wodehouse, from his Fore!ward A comic genius recognised in his own life time as a classic and an old master of farce.The Times He has made a world for us to live and delight in.Evelyn Waugh
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The Clicking of Cuthbert
By P. G. Wodehouse
1st World LibraryCopyright © 2004 P. G. Wodehouse
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE CLICKING OF CUTHBERT
The young man came into the smoking-room of the clubhouse, and flung his bag with a clatter on the floor. He sank moodily into an arm-chair and pressed the bell.
The young man pointed at the bag with every evidence of distaste.
'You may have these clubs,' he said. 'Take them away. If you don't want them yourself, give them to one of the caddies.'
Across the room the Oldest Member gazed at him with a grave sadness through the smoke of his pipe. His eye was deep and dreamy, - the eye of a man who, as the poet says, has seen Golf steadily and seen it whole.
'You are giving up golf?' he said.
He was not altogether unprepared for such an attitude on the young man's part: for from his eyrie on the terrace above the ninth green he had observed him start out on the afternoon's round and had seen him lose a couple of balls in the lake at the second hole after taking seven strokes at the first.
'Yes!' cried the young man fiercely. 'For ever, dammit! Footling game! Blanked infernal fat-headed silly ass of a game! Nothing but a waste of time.'
The Sage winced.
'Don't say that, my boy.'
'But I do say it. What earthly good is golf? Life is stern and life is earnest. We live in a practical age. All round us we see foreign competition making itself unpleasant. And we spend our time playing golf! What do we get out of it? Is golf any use? That's what I'm asking you. Can you name me a single case where devotion to this pestilential pastime has done a man any practical good?'
The Sage smiled gently.
'I could name a thousand.'
'One will do.'
'I will select,' said the Sage, 'from the innumerable memories that rush to my mind, the story of Cuthbert Banks.'
'Never heard of him.'
'Be of good cheer,' said the Oldest Member. 'You are going to hear of him now.'
* * *
It was in the picturesque little settlement of Wood Hills (said the Oldest Member) that the incidents occurred which I am about to relate. Even if you have never been in Wood Hills, that suburban paradise is probably familiar to you by name. Situated at a convenient distance from the city, it combines in a notable manner the advantages of town life with the pleasant surroundings and healthful air of the country. Its inhabitants live in commodious houses, standing in their own grounds, and enjoy so many luxuries - such as gravel soil, main drainage, electric light, telephone, baths (h. and c.), and company's own water, that you might be pardoned for imagining life to be so ideal for them that no possible improvement could be added to their lot. Mrs Willoughby Smethurst was under no such delusion. What Wood Hills needed to make it perfect, she realized, was Culture. Material comforts are all very well, but, if the summum bonum is to be achieved, the Soul also demands a look in, and it was Mrs Smethurst's unfaltering resolve that never while she had her strength should the Soul be handed the loser's end. It was her intention to make Wood Hills a centre of all that was most cultivated and refined, and, golly! how she had succeeded. Under her presidency the Wood Hills Literary and Debating Society had tripled its membership.
But there is always a fly in the ointment, a caterpillar in the salad. The local golf club, an institution to which Mrs Smethurst strongly objected, had also tripled its membership; and the division of the community into two rival camps, the Golfers and the Cultured, had become more marked than ever. This division, always acute, had attained now to the dimensions of a Schism. The rival sects treated one another with a cold hostility.
Unfortunate episodes came to widen the breach. Mrs Smethurst's house adjoined the links, standing to the right of the fourth tee: and, as the Literary Society was in the habit of entertaining visiting lecturers, many a golfer had foozled his drive owing to sudden loud outbursts of applause coinciding with his down-swing. And not long before this story opens a sliced ball, whizzing in at the open window, had come within an ace of incapacitating Raymond Parsloe Devine, the rising young novelist (who rose at that moment a clear foot and a half) from any further exercise of his art. Two inches, indeed, to the right and Raymond must inevitably have handed in his dinner-pail.
To make matters worse, a ring at the front-door bell followed almost immediately, and the maid ushered in a young man of pleasing appearance in a sweater and baggy knickerbockers who apologetically but firmly insisted on playing his ball where it lay, and what with the shock of the lecturer's narrow escape and the spectacle of the intruder standing on the table and working away with a niblick, the afternoon's session had to be classed as a complete frost. Mr Devine's determination, from which no argument could swerve him, to deliver the rest of his lecture in the coal-cellar gave the meeting a jolt from which it never recovered.
I have dwelt upon this incident, because it was the means of introducing Cuthbert Banks to Mrs Smethurst's niece, Adeline. As Cuthbert, for it was he who had so nearly reduced the muster-roll of rising novelists by one, hopped down from the table after his stroke, he was suddenly aware that a beautiful girl was looking at him intently. As a matter of fact, everyone in the room was looking at him intently, none more so than Raymond Parsloe Devine, but none of the others were beautiful girls. Long as the members of Wood Hills Literary Society were on brain, they were short on looks, and, to Cuthbert's excited eye, Adeline Smethurst stood out like a jewel in a pile of coke.
He had never seen her before, for she had only arrived at her aunt's house on the previous day, but he was perfectly certain that life, even when lived in the midst of gravel soil, main drainage, and company's own water, was going to be a pretty poor affair if he did not see her again. Yes, Cuthbert was in love: and it is interesting to record, as showing the effect of the tender emotion on a man's game, that twenty minutes after he had met Adeline he did the short eleventh in one, and as near as a toucher got a three on the four-hundred-yard twelfth.
I will skip lightly over the intermediate stages of Cuthbert's courtship and come to the moment when - at the annual ball in aid of the local Cottage Hospital, the only occasion during the year on which the lion, so to speak, lay down with the lamb, and the Golfers and the Cultured met on terms of easy comradeship, their differences temporarily laid aside - he proposed to Adeline and was badly stymied.
That fair, soulful girl could not see him with a spy-glass.
'Mr Banks,' she said, 'I will speak frankly.'
'Charge right ahead,' assented Cuthbert.
'Deeply sensible as I am of-'
'I know. Of the honour and the compliment and all that. But, passing lightly over all that guff, what seems to be the trouble? I love you to distraction-'
'Love is not everything.'
'You're wrong,' said Cuthbert, earnestly. 'You're right off it. Love-' And he was about to dilate on the theme when she interrupted him.
'I am a girl of ambition.'
'And very nice, too,' said Cuthbert.
'I am a girl of ambition,' repeated Adeline, 'and I realize that the fulfilment of my ambitions must come through my husband. I am very ordinary myself-'
'What!' cried Cuthbert. 'You ordinary? Why, you are a pearl among women, the queen of your sex. You can't have been looking in a glass lately. You stand alone. Simply alone. You make the rest look like battered repaints.'
'Well,' said Adeline, softening a trifle, 'I believe I am fairly good-looking-'
'Anybody who was content to call you fairly good-looking would describe the Taj Mahal as a pretty nifty tomb.'
'But that is not the point. What I mean is, if I marry a nonentity I shall be a nonentity myself for ever. And I would sooner die than be a nonentity.'
'And, if I follow your reasoning, you think that that lets me out?' 'Well, really, Mr Banks, have you done anything, or are you likely ever to do anything worth while?'
'It's true,' he said, 'I didn't finish in the first ten in the Open, and I was knocked out in the semi-final of the Amateur, but I won the French Open last year.'
'The - what?'
'The French Open Championship. Golf, you know.'
'Golf! You waste all your time playing golf. I admire a man who is more spiritual, more intellectual.'
A pang of jealousy rent Cuthbert's bosom.
'Like What's-his-name Devine?' he said, sullenly.
'Mr Devine,' replied Adeline, blushing faintly, 'is going to be a great man. Already he has achieved much. The critics say that he is more Russian than any other young English writer.'
'And is that good?'
'Of course it's good.'
'I should have thought the wheeze would be to be more English than any other young English writer.'
'Nonsense! Who wants an English writer to be English? You've got to be Russian or Spanish or something to be a real success. The mantle of the great Russians has descended on Mr Devine.'
'From what I've heard of Russians, I should hate to have that happen to me.'
'There is no danger of that,' said Adeline, scornfully.
'Oh! Well, let me tell you that there is a lot more in me than you think.'
'That might easily be so.'
'You think I'm not spiritual and intellectual,' said Cuthbert, deeply moved. 'Very well. Tomorrow I join the Literary Society.'
Even as he spoke the words his leg was itching to kick himself for being such a chump, but the sudden expression of pleasure on Adeline's face soothed him; and he went home that night with the feeling that he had taken on something rather attractive. It was only in the cold, grey light of the morning that he realized what he had let himself in for.
I do not know if you have had any experience of suburban literary societies, but the one that flourished under the eye of Mrs Willoughby Smethurst at Wood Hills was rather more so than the average. With my feeble powers of narrative, I cannot hope to make clear to you all that Cuthbert Banks endured in the next few weeks. And, even if I could, I doubt if I should do so. It is all very well to excite pity and terror, as Aristotle recommends, but there are limits. In the ancient Greek tragedies it was an ironclad rule that all the real rough stuff should take place off-stage, and I shall follow this admirable principle. It will suffice if I say merely that J. Cuthbert Banks had a thin time. After attending eleven debates and fourteen lectures on vers libre Poetry, the Seventeenth-Century Essayists, the Neo-Scandinavian Movement in Portuguese Literature, and other subjects of a similar nature, he grew so enfeebled that, on the rare occasions when he had time for a visit to the links, he had to take a full iron for his mashie shots.
It was not simply the oppressive nature of the debates and lectures that sapped his vitality. What really got right in amongst him was the torture of seeing Adeline's adoration of Raymond Parsloe Devine. The man seemed to have made the deepest possible impression upon her plastic emotions. When he spoke, she leaned forward with parted lips and looked at him. When he was not speaking - which was seldom - she leaned back and looked at him. And when he happened to take the next seat to her, she leaned sideways and looked at him. One glance at Mr Devine would have been more than enough for Cuthbert; but Adeline found him a spectacle that never palled. She could not have gazed at him with a more rapturous intensity if she had been a small child and he a saucer of ice-cream. All this Cuthbert had to witness while still endeavouring to retain the possession of his faculties sufficiently to enable him to duck and back away if somebody suddenly asked him what he thought of the sombre realism of Vladimir Brusiloff. It is little wonder that he tossed in bed, picking at the coverlet, through sleepless nights, and had to have all his waistcoats taken in three inches to keep them from sagging.
This Vladimir Brusiloff to whom I have referred was the famous Russian novelist, and, owing to the fact of his being in the country on a lecturing tour at the moment, there had been something of a boom in his works. The Wood Hills Literary Society had been studying them for weeks, and never since his first entrance into intellectual circles had Cuthbert Banks come nearer to throwing in the towel. Vladimir specialized in grey studies of hopeless misery, where nothing happened till page three hundred and eighty, when the moujik decided to commit suicide. It was tough going for a man whose deepest reading hitherto had been Vardon on the Push-Shot, and there can be no greater proof of the magic of love than the fact that Cuthbert stuck it without a cry. But the strain was terrible, and I am inclined to think that he must have cracked, had it not been for the daily reports in the papers of the internecine strife which was proceeding so briskly in Russia. Cuthbert was an optimist at heart, and it seemed to him that, at the rate at which the inhabitants of that interesting country were murdering one another, the supply of Russian novelists must eventually give out.
One morning, as he tottered down the road for the short walk which was now almost the only exercise to which he was equal, Cuthbert met Adeline. A spasm of anguish flitted through all his nerve-centres as he saw that she was accompanied by Raymond Parsloe Devine.
'Good morning, Mr Banks,' said Adeline.
'Good morning,' said Cuthbert, hollowly.
'Such good news about Vladimir Brusiloff.'
'Dead?' said Cuthbert, with a touch of hope.
'Dead? Of course not. Why should he be? No, Aunt Emily met his manager after his lecture at Queen's Hall yesterday, and he has promised that Mr Brusiloff shall come to her next Wednesday reception.'
'Oh, ah!' said Cuthbert, dully.
'I don't know how she managed it. I think she must have told him that Mr Devine would be there to meet him.'
'But you said he was coming,' argued Cuthbert.
'I shall be very glad,' said Raymond Devine, 'of the opportunity of meeting Brusiloff.'
'I'm sure,' said Adeline, 'he will be very glad of the opportunity of meeting you.'
'Possibly,' said Mr Devine. 'Possibly. Competent critics have said that my work closely resembles that of the great Russian Masters.'
'Your psychology is so deep.'
'And your atmosphere.'
Cuthbert in a perfect agony of spirit prepared to withdraw from this love-feast. The sun was shining brightly, but the world was black to him. Birds sang in the tree-tops, but he did not hear them. He might have been a moujik for all the pleasure he found in life.
Excerpted from The Clicking of Cuthbert by P. G. Wodehouse Copyright © 2004 by P. G. Wodehouse.
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