Liberty, May 8, 1926

The Level Business Head, by P. G. Wodehouse


“ANOTHER beaker of port, laddie?” urged Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge hospitably.


The butler filled my glass and melted away.

I looked about me dizzily. We were seated in the spacious dining-room of Ukridge’s Aunt Julia’s house on Wimbledon Common. A magnificent banquet had wound its way to a fitting finish, and the whole thing seemed to me inexplicable.

“I don’t understand this,” I said. “How do I come to be sitting here, bursting with rich food paid for by your aunt?”

“Perfectly simple, laddie. I expressed a desire for your company tonight and she at once consented.”

“But why? She has never let you invite me here before. She can’t stand me.”

Ukridge sipped his port.

“Well, the fact of the matter is, Corky,” he said in a burst of confidence, “things have been occurring recently in the home that have resulted in what you might call the dawning of a new life as far as Aunt Julia and I are concerned. It is not too much to say that she now eats out of my hand and is less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels. I will tell you the story, for it will be of help to you in your journey through the world. It is a story which shows that, be the skies never so black, nothing can harm a man provided he has a level business head. Tempests may lower——

“Get on with it. How did all this happen?”

Ukridge mused for a while.

“I suppose the thing really started,” he said, “when I pawned her brooch.”

“You pawned your aunt’s brooch?”


“And that endeared you to her?”

“I will explain all that later. Meanwhile, let me begin at the beginning. Have you ever run across a man named Joe the Lawyer?”


“Endeavor not to do so, Corky. I hate to speak ill of my fellow man, but Joe the Lawyer is not perfectly honest.”

“What does he do? Pawn people’s brooches?”

Ukridge adjusted the ginger-beer wire that held his pince-nez to his flapping ears, and looked wounded.

“This is scarcely the tone I like to hear in an old friend, Corky. When I reach that point in my story, you will see that my pawning of Aunt Julia’s brooch was a perfectly normal, straightforward business matter. How else could I have bought half the dog?”

“Half what dog?”

“Didn’t I tell you about the dog?”


“I must have done. It’s the nub of the whole affair.”

“Well, you didn’t.”

“I’m getting this story all wrong,” said Ukridge. “I’m confusing you. Let me begin right at the beginning.”


THIS bloke, Joe the Lawyer [said Ukridge], is a bookmaker with whom I have had transactions from time to time, but until the afternoon when this story starts we had never become in any way intimate. Occasionally I would win a couple of quid off him and he would send me a check, or he would win a couple of quid off me and I would go around to his office to ask him to wait till Wednesday week. But we had never mingled socially, as you might say, until this afternoon I’m speaking of, when I happened to look in at the Bedford Street bodega and found him there and he asked me to have a glass of the old tawny.

Well, laddie, you know as well as I do that there are moments when a glass of the old tawny makes all the difference, so I assented with a good deal of heartiness.

“Fine day,” I said, as I finished.

“Yes,” said this bloke. “Do you want to make a large fortune?”


“Then listen,” said this bloke. “You know the what’s-its-name?”

“What’s that?”

“You know. Big meeting. Greyhounds.”

“You mean the Waterloo Cup?”

“The Waterloo Cup. Listen. I’ve taken over as a bad debt from a client the dog that’s going to win the Waterloo Cup. This dog has been kept dark, but you can take it from me it’s going to win the Waterloo Cup. And then what? Well, then it’s going to fetch something. It’s going to be valuable. It’s going to have a price. It’s going to be worth money. Listen. How would you like to buy a half share in that dog?”

“But I haven’t any money.”

“You mean to say you can’t raise fifty quid?”

“I can’t raise five.”

“Gawblimey!” said the bloke.

And, looking at me in a despairing sort of way, like a father whose favorite son has hurt his finest feelings, he finished his old tawny and pushed out into Bedford Street.

And I went home.

Well, as you may imagine, I brooded not a little on my way back to Wimbledon. The one thing nobody can say of me, Corky, is that I lack the spacious outlook that wins to wealth. I know a good thing when I see one. This was a good thing, and I recognized it as such. But how to acquire the necessary capital was the point. Always my stumbling-block, that has been. I wish I had a shilling for every time I’ve failed to become a millionaire through lack of the necessary capital.


WHAT sources of revenue had I? I asked myself. George Tupper, if tactfully approached, is generally good for a fiver; and you, no doubt, had it been a matter of a few shillings or half a sovereign, would gladly have leaped into the breach. But fifty quid! A large sum, laddie. It wanted thinking over, and I devoted the whole force of my intelligence to the problem.

Oddly enough, the one source of supply that had never presented itself to me was my Aunt Julia. And yet it was my Aunt Julia who solved my problem.

When I got back to Wimbledon, I found her looking after her packing, for she was off next morning on one of these lecture tours she goes in for.

“Stanley,” she said to me, “I nearly forgot. I want you to look in at Murgatroyd’s in Bond Street tomorrow and get my diamond brooch. They are resetting it. Bring it back and put it in my bureau drawer. Here is the key. Lock the drawer and send the key to me by registered mail.”

And so, you see, everything was most satisfactorily settled. Long before my aunt came back, the Waterloo Cup would be run for and I should have acquired vast affluence. All I had to do was to have a duplicate key made, so that I could put the brooch in the drawer when I had redeemed it. I could see no flaw in the scheme of things.

I saw her off at Euston, sauntered round to Murgatroyd’s, collected the brooch, sauntered off to a pawnbroker, put the brooch up the spout, and walked out, for the first time in many weeks in a sound financial position. I rang up Joe the Lawyer on the phone, closed the deal about the dog, and there I was with my foot on the ladder of Fortune.

But in this world, Corky, you never know. It was about two days later that the butler came to me and said a gentleman wished to speak to me on the phone.

I went to the phone.

“Hullo!” said a voice.

It was Joe the Lawyer.

“Are you there?” said this bloke Joe.


“Listen. You know that dog I said was going to win the Waterloo Cup?”


“Well, he isn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because he’s dead.”



“Then what about my fifty pounds?”

“I keep that.”


“Of course I keep it. Once a sale’s gone through, it’s gone through. I know my law. That’s why the boys call me Joe the Lawyer. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You send me a letter releasing all rights in that dog, and I’ll give you a fiver.”

“What did the dog die of?”


“I don’t believe he’s dead at all.”

“Well, you come round to my stable and see for yourself.”

So I went round and viewed the remains. There was no doubt about it; the dog had handed in his dinner-pail. So I wrote the letter, got my fiver, and came back to Wimbledon to try and rebuild my shattered life. Because you can readily see, Corky, that I was up against it in no uncertain manner. Aunt Julia would be back before long and would want to see her brooch, and though I’m her own flesh and blood and I shouldn’t be surprised if she had dandled me on her knee when I was a child, I couldn’t picture her bearing with anything like Christian fortitude the news that I had pawned her brooch in order to buy a half share in a dead dog.


AND the very next morning in blew Miss Angelica Vining, the poetess.

She was a gaunt sort of toothy female who had come to lunch once or twice while I had been staying in my aunt’s house. A great pal of my aunt’s.

“Good morning,” said this disease, beaming. “What a heavenly day! I’ve come for your aunt’s brooch.”

“You’ve what?” I said.

“Tonight is the dance of the Pen and Ink Club, and I wired to your aunt to ask if I might borrow her brooch, and she has written to say that I may. It’s in her bureau.”

“Which is, most unfortunately, locked.”

“Your aunt sent me the key. I have it in my bag.”

She opened her bag, Corky, and at this moment my guardian angel showed a sudden flash of speed. The door was open, and through it at this juncture there trickled one of my aunt’s Pekes.

This animal gazed at the female, and the female went off like a soda-water bottle.

“Oh, the sweet thing!” she bubbled.

She put the bag down and swooped on the dog. He tried to side-step, but she had him.

“Oh, the tweetums!” she cried.

And, her back being turned, Corky, I nipped to the bag, found the key, trousered it, and back to position one.

Presently she came to the surface again.

“Now, I really must hurry away,” she said. “I will just get the brooch and scurry.” She fumbled in her bag. “Oh, dear! I’ve lost the key!”

“Too bad,” I said. “Still,” I went on, thinking it might be all for the best, “what does a girl need jewelry for? The greatest jewel a girl can possess is her youth, her beauty.”

It went well, but not quite well enough.

“No,” she said; “I must have the brooch. I’ve set my heart on it. We must break the lock.”

“I couldn’t dream of such a thing,” I said firmly. “I am in a position of trust. I cannot break up my aunt’s furniture.”

Well, laddie, there ensued a pretty painful scene. The atmosphere, when we parted, was full of strain.

“I shall write to Miss Ukridge and tell her exactly what has happened,” said the poetess, pausing at the front door.

She then shoved off, leaving me limp and agitated. These things take it out of a fellow.


SOMETHING, I perceived, had got to be done, and swiftly. From some source I had to raise fifty quid. But where could I turn? In all the world there seemed to be but one man who might be induced to let me have fifty quid at a pinch, and that was Joe the Lawyer. I don’t say I was relying on him, mind you. But the broad, fundamental thing, when you’re trying to borrow fifty quid, is to begin by fixing on someone who has got fifty quid.

At any rate, he was the only relief in sight, so I rang up his office and, finding that he would be at the Lewes races next day, I took an early train there.

Well, Corky, I might have known. It stands to reason that, if a man has a spark of human feeling in his bosom, he does not become a bookie. I stood beside this bloke, Joe the Lawyer, from the start of the two o’clock race to the finish of the four-thirty, watching him rake in huge sums from mugs of every description until his satchel was simply bursting with cash; but when I asked him for the loan of a measly fifty pounds he didn’t even begin to look like parting.

“I’ll tell you what I will do,” he said.

“Twenty quid?” said I.

“No, not twenty quid. Nor ten quid either. Nor five quid. Nor one quid. But I’ll give you a lift back as far as Sandown in my car tomorrow.”

I was strongly inclined to reject his offer with contempt. The only thing that decided me to accept was the thought that, if he had as good a day at Sandown as he had had at Lewes, his better nature might, after all, assert itself, even at the eleventh hour.

This conversation, Corky, had taken place in the saloon bar of the Coach and Horses at Lewes, and, having said these few words, the bloke Joe popped off. I stayed on to have one more, feeling the need of it after the breakdown of the business negotiations.

I stayed on to have one more

I am bound to say, Corky—and this will show you how a man’s moral outlook may deteriorate through contact with fellows of this stamp—I am bound to say that there were moments during the night when I toyed with the thought of taking a dip into that satchel of his, should the opportunity occur during the journey. But I dismissed the plan as unworthy of me. Whatever the injuries I had sustained, my hands at least, please Heaven, should be clean. Besides, it seemed very improbable that an opportunity would occur.

And, sure enough, I noticed next morning, when we started out, that he kept the satchel wedged in between him and the side of the car, entirely out of my reach. He was that sort of man.


HOW strange it is, Corky, that in this world we seem fated never to be able to enjoy life to the full. Take my case. I am particularly fond of motoring, and circumstances have so ordered themselves that it is only occasionally that I am able to get a ride. And here I was, bowling along the highroad on an ideal motoring day, totally unable to enjoy the experience.

We buzzed on through the pleasant countryside. The sun shone in the sky, birds tootled in the hedgerows, the engine of the two-seater hummed smoothly.

And then, fairly suddenly, I became aware that the engine was not humming so smoothly. It had begun to knock. And then there was a sizzling noise, and steam began to creep out of the top of the radiator cap.

Joe made one or two remarks concerning the man at the hotel who had forgotten to put water in the radiator.

“You can get some at that cottage,” I said.

There was a cottage down the road, standing by itself in a lot of trees. Joe pulled up the car and got down.

“I’ll stay here and look after your satchel,” I said. There was no sense in not being civil and obliging.

“No, you won’t. I’ll take it with me.”

“It will hamper you if you’re going to carry a pail of water.”

“I’d look silly leaving my satchel with you, wouldn’t I!”

I don’t know which distressed me the more—his sickening want of ordinary trust or his absurd respect for appearances.

And he couldn’t possibly have looked sillier than he did about two minutes later.

This cottage, Corky, was separated from the road by iron railings with a gate in them. The bloke Joe shoved this gate open and went into the front garden. And he was just starting to move in the direction of the back door when round the corner of the house there suddenly came trotting a dog.

Joe stopped and the dog stopped. They stood there for a moment, drinking each other in.

“Ger-r-r!” said Joe.

Now, mind you, there was absolutely nothing about this dog to inspire alarm. Certainly it was on the large side and had rather a rolling eye, but I could see at a glance that it was just one of those friendly mongrels that your man of the world greets with a cheerful chirrup and prods in the ribs without a second thought. But Joe seemed ill at ease.

The dog came a step closer.

“Gerroutofit!” said Joe.

The dog edged forward. Then, in a tentative sort of way, he barked. And Joe seemed to lose his head completely. Instead of trying to conciliate the animal, he picked up a stone and threw it.

Well, you simply can’t do that sort of thing to a dog you don’t know in his own garden.

It was the satchel that saved Joe. It shows the lengths to which fear will drive a man, Corky, and if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. But it’s the truth that, as that dog came leaping up in a businesslike way that it did me good to watch, Joe the Lawyer, having given one look over his shoulder at the gate and decided that he couldn’t make it, uttered a piercing cry and flung considerably more than two hundred quid in bank notes at the animal. The satchel took him low down on the chest, got entangled in his legs, and held him up. And while he was trying to unscramble himself, Joe nipped to the gate and slammed it behind him.

Joe uttered a piercing cry and flung the satchel

It was only then that he seemed to realize what a perfect chump he had made of himself.

“Gawblimey!” said Joe.

The dog left the satchel and came to the gate. He shoved his nose as far through the bars as he could manage, and made a noise like a saxophone.

“Now you’ve done it!” I said.


AND so he had, and I was glad, Corky. It pleased me sincerely to find a man who prided himself on his acumen capable of such perfectly cloth-headed behavior.

However, I didn’t say so. One must be diplomatic. I had not altogether given up hope of floating that loan, and anything in the nature of frivolous comment would, I felt, have the worst effect on the negotiations.

“What’ll I do?” said Joe, after a few general remarks.

“Better shout,” I suggested.

So he shouted. But nothing happened.

Joe began to get emotional.

“Gawblimey!” he said, with tears in his voice. “This is a nice thing! Here I am, late already, and if I don’t get to Sandown in time for the first race it’s going to mean hundreds of pounds out of my pocket.”

You will scarcely credit it, Corky, but this was the first moment that that aspect of the affair had presented itself to me. I felt as if a sudden bright light had flashed upon me.

“Look here,” I said, “if you will lend me fifty quid, I’ll go in and get that satchel for you. I’m not afraid of a dog.”

He did not answer. He cocked an eye at me, then he cocked an eye at the satchel. I could see he was weighing the proposition. But at this moment the luck went against me. The dog, getting a bit bored, gave a sniff and trotted back round the corner of the house. And no sooner had he disappeared than Joe, feeling that now was the time, popped through the gate and galloped for the satchel.

Well, Corky, you know me—alert; resourceful. There was a stick lying in the road and to leap for it and grab it was with me the work of a moment. I rattled it energetically along the railings. And back came old Colonel Dog as if I had pulled him at the end of a rope. It was an occasion when Joe had to move quick and he did so. He had perhaps a foot to spare, or it may have been eight inches.

He was a good deal annoyed, and for a while spoke freely of this and that.

“Fifty quid,” I said, when there was a lull.

He looked at me. Then he nodded. I don’t say he nodded genially, but he nodded. And I opened the gate and went in.


THE dog bounded at me, barking; but I knew that was all swank and I told him so. I bent down and slapped my tummy, and the dog shoved his paws on my shoulders and licked my face. Then I took his head and waggled it sideways once or twice, and he took my hand in his mouth and gnawed it slightly. Then I rolled him over and began punching his chest, and then, when these civilities were finished, I got up and looked round for the satchel.

It was gone. And there was that blot on the human race, Joe the Lawyer, standing outside, fondling it as if it were a baby. Not that a man like that would fondle a baby, of course. Much more likely to kick it in the face and break open its money box. But what I mean is, he’d dashed in when my back was turned and collared the satchel.

I had a grim foreboding that our little deal was off, but I displayed a cheerful exterior.

“In large notes,” I said.

“Eh?” said Joe the bloke.

“I’d rather have my fifty quid in large notes. They take up less room in the pocket.”

“What fifty quid?”

“The fifty quid you were going to give me for getting the satchel.”

He gaped.

“Well, I’ll be blowed!” he said. “I like that! Who got the satchel, you or me?”

“I soothed the dog.”

“If you like to waste your time playing with dogs, that’s your business. I’d look silly, wouldn’t I, giving you fifty quid for playing with dogs? But if you like doing it, you go on playing with him while I step down the road and get some water from one of those other cottages.”

Black-hearted. That, Corky, is the only adjective. It seemed to me at that moment as though this bloke Joe had allowed me to peer into his soul, and it was like looking into a dark cellar on a moonless night.

“Here, I say!” I began—but he had gone.


HOW long I stood there, I don’t know. But, though it seemed a lifetime, it couldn’t really have been long, for Joe didn’t come back with the water, and a faint hope began to steal over me that he had found another dog at one of the other cottages and was now being bitten to the bone. And then I heard footsteps.

I looked round. A cove was approaching.

“Is this your cottage?” I asked.

He was a rural-looking sort of cove, with a full beard and corduroy trousers with string tied round the knees. He came up and stood gazing at the car. Then he looked at me, and then at the car again.

“Ah?” he said. A bit deaf he seemed to be.

“Is this your cottage?”


“We stopped here to get some water.”

He said he hadn’t got a daughter. I said I never said he had.



“But there was nobody in. So the man with me went down the road.”

“Ah,” said the cove.

“He was frightened by your dog.”


“By your dog.”

“Buy my dog?”


“You can have him for five shillings.”

Now, as I said before, Corky, you know me.

An ordinary mutton-headed fellow like you—I use the expression without any intention of offense—would undoubtedly at this juncture have raised his voice a trifle and explained to this bearded cove that the intricacies of the English language had led him into a pardonable error.

But did I? No, I did not. For, even as he spoke, an idea exploded in my brain like a bomb.

“Done!” I cried.


“Here’s your five bob. Whistle to the dog.”

He whistled, and the dog came running up. And, having massaged his ribs a while, I picked him up and shoved him inside the car and banged the door. And then I saw Joe the Lawyer plodding up the road, slopping water from a big pail.

“I got it,” he said.

He went round and unscrewed the cap of the radiator and was starting to pour the water in, when the dog barked. Joe looked up, saw him, and dropped the pail—happily over his trousers.

Joe started to pour the water in

“Who put that dog in the car?” he said.

“I did. I’ve bought him.”

“Then you can damn well take him out.”

“But I’m bringing him home with me.”

“Not in my car.”

“Well, then,” I said, “I’ll sell him to you, and you can do what you like about him.”


JOE the Lawyer exhibited a good deal of impatience.

“I don’t want to buy any dogs.”

“Nor did I, till you talked me into it. And I don’t see what you have to complain of. This dog’s alive. The one you sold me was dead.”

“What do you want for him?”

“A hundred pounds.”

He staggered somewhat.

“A hundred pounds?”

“That’s all.”

He spoke for a while.

“A hundred and fifty,” I said. “The market’s rising.”

“Now, listen, listen, listen!” said the bloke Joe.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” I said. “And this is a firm offer. One hundred pounds if paid within the minute. After that the price will go up.”

Corky, old horse, I have in my time extracted various sums of money from various people, and some of them have given cheerfully of their abundance and others have unbelted in a manner that you might call wry. But never in the whole of my career have I beheld a fellow human being cough up in quite the spirit that this bloke Joe the Lawyer did. But in the end he dipped into the satchel and counted out the money.

“Thanks,” I said. “Well, good-by.”

He seemed to be waiting for something.

“Good-by,” I said again. “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, laddie, but I must decline to continue in your society. We are nearing civilization now, and at any moment some friend of mine might see me in your car, which would jeopardize my social prestige. I will walk to the nearest railway station.”

“But, gawblimey!”

“Now what?”

“Aren’t you going to take that dog out of the car?” he said, specifying what sort of a dog it was in his opinion. He also added a few remarks in a derogatory spirit about myself.

“Me?” I said. “Why? I simply sold him to you. My part in the transaction is ended.”

“But how’m I going to get to Sandown if I can’t get into my car?”

“Why do you want to get to Sandown?”

“If I’m late, it means hundreds of pounds out of my pocket.”

“Ah?” I said. “Then, of course, you’ll be willing to pay large sums to anyone who helps you to get there. I don’t mind lending you a hand, if it’s made worth my while. Removing dogs from cars is highly specialized work, and I’ll have to insist on specialist’s prices. Shall we say fifty quid for the job?”

He yammered a good deal, but I cut him short.

“Take it or leave it,” I said. “It’s all the same to me.”

Whereupon he produced the stipulated sum, and I opened the door and hauled the dog out. And Joe got in without a word and drove off.

And that, Corky, is the last I have seen of the man. Nor do I wish to see him again. He is slippery, Corky. Not honest. A man to avoid.

I took the dog back to the cottage and bellowed for the bearded cove.

“I shan’t want this, after all,” I said. “You can have him.”


“I don’t want this dog.”

“Ah! Well, you won’t get your five shillings back.”

“God bless you, my merry peasant,” I said, slapping the cove genially abaft the collar stud. “Keep it, with my blessing. I toss such sums to the birds.”

And he said, “Ah!” and pushed off, and I toddled along to see if I could find a station. And I sang, Corky, old boy. Yes, laddie, your old friend, as he strode through those country lanes, trilled like a bally linnet.


NEXT day I looked in at the pawnbroker’s, shelled out the requisite cash, recovered the brooch, and bunged it back into the bureau drawer.

And on the following morning my aunt turned up in a taxi, and having paid it its legal fare, backed me into the library and fixed me with a burning eye.

“Stanley,” she said.

“Say on, Aunt Julia,” I said.

“Stanley, Miss Vining tells me you refused to allow her to obtain my diamond brooch.”

“Quite right, Aunt Julia. She wanted to break open your bureau drawer, but I would have none of it.”

“Shall I tell you why?”

“It was because she had lost the key.”

“I am not referring to that, as you know very well. Shall I tell you why you would not let her break open the drawer?”

“Because I respected your property too much.”

“Indeed? I incline to think that it was because you knew the brooch was not there.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I, on the contrary, did—the moment I received Miss Vining’s letter. I saw it all. You pawned that brooch, Stanley! I know you so well.”


I DREW myself up.

“You cannot know me very well, Aunt Julia,” I said coldly, “if you think that of me. And allow me to say, while on this subject, that your suspicions are unworthy of an aunt.”

“Never mind what they’re unworthy of. Open that drawer.”

“Break it open?”

“Break it open.”

“Aunt Julia,” I said, “let us get this thing straight. You wish me to take a poker or some other blunt instrument and smash that bureau?”

“I do.”

“Think well.”

“I have done all the thinking necessary.”

“So be it!” I said.

So I took the poker, and I set about that bureau as probably no bureau has ever been set about since carpentry first began. And there, gleaming in the ruins, was the brooch.

“Aunt Julia,” I said, “a little trust, a little confidence, a little faith, and this might have been avoided.”

She gulped pretty freely.

“Stanley,” she said at last, “I wronged you.”

“You did.”

“I—I—well, I’m sorry.”

“You may well be, Aunt Julia,” I said.

And, pursuing my advantage, I ground the woman into apologetic pulp beneath what practically amounted to an iron heel. And in that condition, Corky, she still remains. How long it will last, one cannot say, but for the time being I am the blue-eyed boy and I have only to give utterance to my lightest whim to have her jump six feet to fulfill it. So, when I said I wanted to ask you to dinner here tonight, she practically smiled. Let us go into the library, old horse, and trifle with the cigars. They are some special ones I had sent up from that place in Piccadilly.


the end



Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had “vast influence”; corrected to “vast affluence” as in all other versions.
Magazine had “Dead!”/“Dead!”; all other versions have Joe’s answer as a flat statement with just a period.
Magazine had “slapped his tummy”; corrected to “slapped my tummy” as in all other versions.
Magazine had “jump her six feet”; corrected to “jump six feet” as in all other versions.


Annotations to this story as collected in volume form are on this site in the notes to Lord Emsworth and Others.

The longer version of the story from the Strand magazine is transcribed on this site as well.