The Strand Magazine, June 1923
“HALF a minute, laddie,” said Ukridge. And, gripping my arm, he brought me to a halt on the outskirts of the little crowd which had collected about the church door.
It was a crowd such as may be seen any morning during the London mating-season outside any of the churches which nestle in the quiet squares between Hyde Park and the King’s Road, Chelsea.
It consisted of five women of cook-like aspect, four nursemaids, half-a-dozen men of the non-producing class who had torn themselves away for the moment from their normal task of propping up the wall of the Bunch of Grapes public-house on the corner, a costermonger with a barrow of vegetables, divers small boys, eleven dogs, and two or three purposeful-looking young fellows with cameras slung over their shoulders. It was plain that a wedding was in progress—and, arguing from the presence of the camera-men and the line of smart motor-cars along the kerb, a fairly fashionable wedding. What was not plain—to me—was why Ukridge, sternest of bachelors, had desired to add himself to the spectators.
“What,” I inquired, “is the thought behind this? Why are we interrupting our walk to attend the obsequies of some perfect stranger?”
Ukridge did not reply for a moment. He seemed plunged in thought. Then he uttered a hollow, mirthless laugh—a dreadful sound like the last gargle of a dying moose.
“Perfect stranger my number eleven foot!” he responded, in his coarse way. “Do you know who it is who’s getting hitched up in there?”
“Teddy Weeks? Teddy Weeks? Good Lord!” I exclaimed. “Not really?”
And five years rolled away.
IT was at Barolini’s Italian restaurant in Beak Street that Ukridge evolved his great scheme. Barolini’s was a favourite resort of our little group of earnest strugglers in the days when the philanthropic restaurateurs of Soho used to supply four courses and coffee for a shilling and sixpence; and there were present that night, besides Ukridge and myself, the following men-about-town: Teddy Weeks, the actor, fresh from a six-weeks’ tour with the Number Three “Only a Shop-Girl” Company; Victor Beamish, the artist, the man who drew that picture of the O-So-Eesi Piano-Player in the advertisement pages of the Piccadilly Magazine; Bertram Fox, author of “Ashes of Remorse,” and other unproduced motion-picture scenarios; and Robert Dunhill, who, being employed at a salary of eighty pounds per annum by the New Asiatic Bank, represented the sober, hard-headed commercial element. As usual, Teddy Weeks had collared the conversation, and was telling us once again how good he was and how hardly treated by a malignant fate.
There is no need to describe Teddy Weeks. Under another and a more euphonious name he has long since made his personal appearance dreadfully familiar to all who read the illustrated weekly papers. He was then, as now, a sickeningly handsome young man, possessing precisely the same melting eyes, mobile mouth, and corrugated hair so esteemed by the theatre-going public to-day. And yet, at this period of his career he was wasting himself on minor touring companies of the kind which open at Barrow-in-Furness and jump to Bootle for the second half of the week. He attributed this, as Ukridge was so apt to attribute his own difficulties, to lack of capital.
“I have everything,” he said, querulously, emphasizing his remarks with a coffee-spoon. “Looks, talent, personality, a beautiful speaking-voice—everything. All I need is a chance. And I can’t get that because I have no clothes fit to wear. These managers are all the same, they never look below the surface, they never bother to find out if a man has genius. All they go by are his clothes. If I could afford to buy a couple of suits from a Cork Street tailor, if I could have my boots made to order by Moykoff instead of getting them ready-made and second-hand at Moses Brothers’, if I could once contrive to own a decent hat, a really good pair of spats, and a gold cigarette-case, all at the same time, I could walk into any manager’s office in London and sign up for a West-end production to-morrow.”
It was at this point that Freddie Lunt came in. Freddie, like Robert Dunhill, was a financial magnate in the making and an assiduous frequenter of Barolini’s; and it suddenly occurred to us that a considerable time had passed since we had last seen him in the place. We inquired the reason for this aloofness.
“I’ve been in bed,” said Freddie, “for over a fortnight.”
The statement incurred Ukridge’s stern disapproval. That great man made a practice of never rising before noon, and on one occasion, when a carelessly-thrown match had burned a hole in his only pair of trousers, had gone so far as to remain between the sheets for forty-eight hours; but sloth on so majestic a scale as this shocked him.
“Lazy young devil,” he commented, severely. “Letting the golden hours of youth slip by like that when you ought to have been bustling about and making a name for yourself.”
Freddie protested himself wronged by the imputation.
“I had an accident,” he explained. “Fell off my bicycle and sprained an ankle.”
“Tough luck,” was our verdict.
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Freddie. “It wasn’t bad fun getting a rest. And of course there was the fiver.”
“I got a fiver from the Weekly Cyclist for getting my ankle sprained.”
“You—what?” cried Ukridge, profoundly stirred—as ever—by a tale of easy money. “Do you mean to sit there and tell me that some dashed paper paid you five quid simply because you sprained your ankle? Pull yourself together, old horse. Things like that don’t happen.”
“It’s quite true.”
“Can you show me the fiver?”
“No; because if I did you would try to borrow it.”
Ukridge ignored this slur in dignified silence.
“Would they pay a fiver to anyone who sprained his ankle?” he asked, sticking to the main point.
“Yes. If he was a subscriber.”
“I knew there was a catch in it,” said Ukridge, moodily.
“Lots of weekly papers are starting this wheeze,” proceeded Freddie. “You pay a year’s subscription and that entitles you to accident insurance.”
We were interested. This was in the days before every daily paper in London was competing madly against its rivals in the matter of insurance and offering princely bribes to the citizens to make a fortune by breaking their necks. Nowadays papers are paying as high as two thousand pounds for a genuine corpse and five pounds a week for a mere dislocated spine; but at that time the idea was new and it had an attractive appeal.
“How many of these rags are doing this?” asked Ukridge. You could tell from the gleam in his eyes that that great brain was whirring like a dynamo. “As many as ten?”
“Yes, I should think so. Quite ten.”
“Then a fellow who subscribed to them all and then sprained his ankle would get fifty quid?” said Ukridge, reasoning acutely.
“More if the injury was more serious,” said Freddie, the expert. “They have a regular tariff. So much for a broken arm, so much for a broken leg, and so forth.”
Ukridge’s collar leaped off its stud and his pince-nez wobbled drunkenly as he turned to us.
“How much money can you blokes raise?” he demanded.
“What do you want it for?” asked Robert Dunhill, with a banker’s caution.
“My dear old horse, can’t you see? Why, my gosh, I’ve got the idea of the century. Upon my Sam, this is the giltest-edged scheme that was ever hatched. We’ll get together enough money and take out a year’s subscription for every one of these dashed papers.”
“What’s the good of that?” said Dunhill, coldly unenthusiastic.
They train bank clerks to stifle emotion, so that they will be able to refuse overdrafts when they become managers. “The odds are we should none of us have an accident of any kind, and then the money would be chucked away.”
“Good heavens, ass,” snorted Ukridge, “you don’t suppose I’m suggesting that we should leave it to chance, do you? Listen! Here’s the scheme. We take out subscriptions for all these papers, then we draw lots, and the fellow who gets the fatal card or whatever it is goes out and breaks his leg and draws the loot, and we split it up between us and live on it in luxury. It ought to run into hundreds of pounds.”
A long silence followed. Then Dunhill spoke again. His was a solid rather than a nimble mind.
“Suppose he couldn’t break his leg?”
“My gosh!” cried Ukridge, exasperated. “Here we are in the twentieth century, with every resource of modern civilization at our disposal, with opportunities for getting our legs broken opening about us on every side—and you ask a silly question like that! Of course he could break his leg. Any ass can break a leg. It’s a little hard! We’re all infernally broke—personally, unless Freddie can lend me a bit of that fiver till Saturday, I’m going to have a difficult job pulling through. We all need money like the dickens, and yet, when I point out this marvellous scheme for collecting a bit, instead of fawning on me for my ready intelligence you sit and make objections. It isn’t the right spirit. It isn’t the spirit that wins.”
“If you’re as hard up as that,” objected Dunhill, “how are you going to put in your share of the pool?”
A pained, almost a stunned, look came into Ukridge’s eyes. He gazed at Dunhill through his lop-sided pince-nez as one who speculates as to whether his hearing has deceived him.
“Me?” he cried. “Me? I like that! Upon my Sam, that’s rich! Why, damme, if there’s any justice in the world, if there’s a spark of decency and good feeling in your bally bosoms, I should think you would let me in free for suggesting the idea. It’s a little hard! I supply the brains and you want me to cough up cash as well. My gosh, I didn’t expect this. This hurts me, by George! If anybody had told me that an old pal would——”
“Oh, all right,” said Robert Dunhill. “All right, all right, all right. But I’ll tell you one thing. If you draw the lot it’ll be the happiest day of my life.”
“I sha’n’t,” said Ukridge. “Something tells me that I sha’n’t.”
Nor did he. When, in a solemn silence broken only by the sound of a distant waiter quarrelling with the cook down a speaking-tube, we had completed the drawing, the man of destiny was Teddy Weeks.
I SUPPOSE that even in the springtime of Youth, when broken limbs seem a lighter matter than they become later in life, it can never be an unmixedly agreeable thing to have to go out into the public highways and try to make an accident happen to one. In such circumstances the reflection that you are thereby benefiting your friends brings but slight balm. To Teddy Weeks it appeared to bring no balm at all. That he was experiencing a certain disinclination to sacrifice himself for the public good became more and more evident as the days went by and found him still intact. Ukridge, when he called upon me to discuss the matter, was visibly perturbed. He sank into a chair beside the table at which I was beginning my modest morning meal, and, having drunk half my coffee, sighed deeply.
“Upon my Sam,” he moaned, “it’s a little disheartening. I strain my brain to think up schemes for getting us all a bit of money just at the moment when we are all needing it most, and when I hit on what is probably the simplest and yet ripest notion of our time, this blighter Weeks goes and lets me down by shirking his plain duty. It’s just my luck that a fellow like that should have drawn the lot. And the worst of it is, laddie, that, now we’ve started with him, we’ve got to keep on. We can’t possibly raise enough money to pay yearly subscriptions for anybody else. It’s Weeks or nobody.”
“I suppose we must give him time.”
“That’s what he says,” grunted Ukridge, morosely, helping himself to toast. “He says he doesn’t know how to start about it. To listen to him, you’d think that going and having a trifling accident was the sort of delicate and intricate job that required years of study and special preparation. Why, a child of six could do it on his head at five minutes’ notice. The man’s so infernally particular. You make helpful suggestions, and instead of accepting them in a broad, reasonable spirit of co-operation he comes back at you every time with some frivolous objection. He’s so dashed fastidious. When we were out last night, we came on a couple of navvies scrapping. Good hefty fellows, either of them capable of putting him in hospital for a month. I told him to jump in and start separating them, and he said no; it was a private dispute which was none of his business, and he didn’t feel justified in interfering. Finicky, I call it. I tell you, laddie, this blighter is a broken reed. He has got cold feet. We did wrong to let him into the drawing at all. We might have known that a fellow like that would never give results. No conscience. No sense of esprit de corps. No notion of putting himself out to the most trifling extent for the benefit of the community. Haven’t you any more marmalade, laddie?”
“I have not.”
“Then I’ll be going,” said Ukridge, moodily. “I suppose,” he added, pausing at the door, “you couldn’t lend me five bob?”
“How did you guess?”
“Then I’ll tell you what,” said Ukridge, ever fair and reasonable; “you can stand me dinner to-night.” He seemed cheered up for the moment by this happy compromise, but gloom descended on him again. His face clouded. “When I think,” he said, “of all the money that’s locked up in that poor faint-hearted fish, just waiting to be released, I could sob. Sob, laddie, like a little child. I never liked that man—he has a bad eye and waves his hair. Never trust a man who waves his hair, old horse.”
UKRIDGE’S pessimism was not confined to himself. By the end of a fortnight, nothing having happened to Teddy Weeks worse than a slight cold which he shook off in a couple of days, the general consensus of opinion among his apprehensive colleagues in the Syndicate was that the situation had become desperate. There were no signs whatever of any return on the vast capital which we had laid out, and meanwhile meals had to be bought, landladies paid, and a reasonable supply of tobacco acquired. It was a melancholy task in these circumstances to read one’s paper of a morning.
All over the inhabited globe, so the well-informed sheet gave one to understand, every kind of accident was happening every day to practically everybody in existence except Teddy Weeks. Farmers in Minnesota were getting mixed up with reaping-machines, peasants in India were being bisected by crocodiles; iron girders from skyscrapers were falling hourly on the heads of citizens in every town from Philadelphia to San Francisco; and the only people who were not down with ptomaine poisoning were those who had walked over cliffs, driven motors into walls, tripped over manholes, or assumed on too slight evidence that the gun was not loaded. In a crippled world, it seemed, Teddy Weeks walked alone, whole and glowing with health. It was one of those grim, ironical, hopeless, grey, despairful situations which the Russian novelists love to write about, and I could not find it in me to blame Ukridge for taking direct action in this crisis. My only regret was that bad luck caused so excellent a plan to miscarry.
My first intimation that he had been trying to hurry matters on came when he and I were walking along the King’s Road one evening, and he drew me into Markham Square, a dismal backwater where he had once had rooms.
“What’s the idea?” I asked, for I disliked the place.
“Teddy Weeks lives here,” said Ukridge. “In my old rooms.” I could not see that this lent any fascination to the place. Every day and in every way I was feeling sorrier and sorrier that I had been foolish enough to put money which I could ill spare into a venture which had all the earmarks of a wash-out, and my sentiments towards Teddy Weeks were cold and hostile.
“I want to inquire after him.”
“Inquire after him? Why?”
“Well, the fact is, laddie, I have an idea that he has been bitten by a dog.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Ukridge, dreamily. “I’ve just got the idea. You know how one gets ideas.”
The mere contemplation of this beautiful event was so inspiring that for a while it held me silent. In each of the ten journals in which we had invested dog-bites were specifically recommended as things which every subscriber ought to have. They came about half-way up the list of lucrative accidents, inferior to a broken rib or a fractured fibula, but better value than an ingrowing toe-nail. I was gloating happily over the picture conjured up by Ukridge’s words, when an exclamation brought me back with a start to the realities of life. A revolting sight met my eyes. Down the street came ambling the familiar figure of Teddy Weeks, and one glance at his elegant person was enough to tell us that our hopes had been built on sand. Not even a toy Pomeranian had chewed this man.
“Hullo, you fellows!” said Teddy Weeks.
“Hullo!” we responded, dully.
“Can’t stop,” said Teddy Weeks. “I’ve got to fetch a doctor.”
“Yes. Poor Victor Beamish. He’s been bitten by a dog.”
Ukridge and I exchanged weary glances. It seemed as if Fate was going out of its way to have sport with us. What was the good of a dog biting Victor Beamish? What was the good of a hundred dogs biting Victor Beamish? A dog-bitten Victor Beamish had no market value whatever.
“You know that fierce brute that belongs to my landlady,” said Teddy Weeks. “The one that always dashes out into the area and barks at people who come to the front door.” I remembered. A large mongrel with wild eyes and flashing fangs, badly in need of a haircut. I had encountered it once in the street, when visiting Ukridge, and only the presence of the latter, who knew it well and to whom all dogs were as brothers, had saved me from the doom of Victor Beamish. “Somehow or other he got into my bedroom this evening. He was waiting there when I came home. I had brought Beamish back with me, and the animal pinned him by the leg the moment I opened the door.”
“Why didn’t he pin you?” asked Ukridge, aggrieved.
“What I can’t make out,” said Teddy Weeks, “is how on earth the brute came to be in my room. Somebody must have put him there. The whole thing is very mysterious.”
“Why didn’t he pin you?” demanded Ukridge again.
“Oh, I managed to climb on to the top of the wardrobe while he was biting Beamish,” said Teddy Weeks. “And then the landlady came and took him away. But I can’t stop here talking. I must go and get that doctor.”
WE gazed after him in silence as he tripped down the street. We noted the careful manner in which he paused at the corner to eye the traffic before crossing the road, the wary way in which he drew back to allow a truck to rattle past.
“You heard that?” said Ukridge, tensely. “He climbed on to the top of the wardrobe!”
“And you saw the way he dodged that excellent truck?”
“Something’s got to be done,” said Ukridge, firmly. “The man has got to be awakened to a sense of his responsibilities.”
Next day a deputation waited on Teddy Weeks.
Ukridge was our spokesman, and he came to the point with admirable directness.
“How about it?” asked Ukridge.
“How about what?” replied Teddy Weeks, nervously, avoiding his accusing eye.
“When do we get action?”
“Oh, you mean that accident business?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Teddy Weeks.
Ukridge drew the mackintosh which he wore indoors and out of doors and in all weathers more closely around him. There was in the action something suggestive of a member of the Roman Senate about to denounce an enemy of the State. In just such a manner must Cicero have swished his toga as he took a deep breath preparatory to assailing Clodius. He toyed for a moment with the ginger-beer wire which held his pince-nez in place, and endeavoured without success to button his collar at the back. In moments of emotion Ukridge’s collar always took on a sort of temperamental jumpiness which no stud could restrain.
“And about time you were thinking about it,” he boomed, sternly.
We shifted appreciatively in our seats, all except Victor Beamish, who had declined a chair and was standing by the mantelpiece. “Upon my Sam, it’s about time you were thinking about it. Do you realize that we’ve invested an enormous sum of money in you on the distinct understanding that we could rely on you to do your duty and get immediate results? Are we to be forced to the conclusion that you are so yellow and few in the pod as to want to evade your honourable obligations? We thought better of you, Weeks. Upon my Sam, we thought better of you. We took you for a two-fisted, enterprising, big-souled, one-hundred-per-cent. he-man who would stand by his friends to the finish.”
“Any bloke with a sense of loyalty and an appreciation of what it meant to the rest of us would have rushed out and found some means of fulfilling his duty long ago. You don’t even grasp at the opportunities that come your way. Only yesterday I saw you draw back when a single step into the road would have had a truck bumping into you.”
“Well, it’s not so easy to let a truck bump into you.”
“Nonsense. It only requires a little ordinary resolution. Use your imagination, man. Try to think that a child has fallen down in the street—a little golden-haired child,” said Ukridge, deeply affected. “And a dashed great cab or something comes rolling up. The kid’s mother is standing on the pavement, helpless, her hands clasped in agony. ‘Dammit,’ she cries, ‘will no one save my darling?’ ‘Yes, by George,’ you shout, ‘I will.’ And out you jump and the thing’s over in half a second. I don’t know what you’re making such a fuss about.”
“Yes, but——” said Teddy Weeks.
“I’m told, what’s more, it isn’t a bit painful. A sort of dull shock, that’s all.”
“Who told you that?”
“I forget. Someone.”
“Well, you can tell him from me that he’s an ass,” said Teddy Weeks, with asperity.
“All right. If you object to being run over by a truck there are lots of other ways. But, upon my Sam, it’s pretty hopeless suggesting them. You seem to have no enterprise at all. Yesterday, after I went to all the trouble to put a dog in your room, a dog which would have done all the work for you—all that you had to do was stand still and let him use his own judgment—what happened? You climbed on to——”
Victor Beamish interrupted, speaking in a voice husky with emotion.
“Was it you who put that damned dog in the room?”
“Eh?” said Ukridge. “Why, yes. But we can have a good talk about all that later on,” he proceeded, hastily. “The point at the moment is how the dickens we’re going to persuade this poor worm to collect our insurance money for us. Why, damme, I should have thought you would have——”
“All I can say——” began Victor Beamish, heatedly.
“Yes, yes,” said Ukridge; “some other time. Must stick to business now, laddie. I was saying,” he resumed, “that I should have thought you would have been as keen as mustard to put the job through for your own sake. You’re always beefing that you haven’t any clothes to impress managers with. Think of all you can buy with your share of the swag once you have summoned up a little ordinary determination and seen the thing through. Think of the suits, the boots, the hats, the spats. You’re always talking about your dashed career, and how all you need to land you in a West-end production is good clothes. Well, here’s your chance to get them.”
His eloquence was not wasted. A wistful look came into Teddy Weeks’s eye, such a look as must have come into the eye of Moses on the summit of Pisgah. He breathed heavily. You could see that the man was mentally walking along Cork Street, weighing the merits of one famous tailor against another.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said, suddenly. “It’s no use asking me to put this thing through in cold blood. I simply can’t do it. I haven’t the nerve. But if you fellows will give me a dinner to-night with lots of champagne I think it will key me up to it.”
A heavy silence fell upon the room. Champagne! The word was like a knell.
“How on earth are we going to afford champagne?” said Victor Beamish.
“Well, there it is,” said Teddy Weeks. “Take it or leave it.”
“Gentlemen,” said Ukridge, “it would seem that the company requires more capital. How about it, old horses? Let’s get together in a frank, business-like, cards-on-the-table spirit and see what can be done. I can raise ten bob.”
“What!” cried the entire assembled company, amazed. “How?”
“I’ll pawn a banjo.”
“You haven’t got a banjo.”
“No, but George Tupper has, and I know where he keeps it.”
Started in this spirited way, the subscriptions came pouring in. I contributed a cigarette-case, Bertram Fox thought his landlady would let him owe for another week, Robert Dunhill had an uncle in Kensington who, he fancied, if tactfully approached would be good for a quid, and Victor Beamish said that if the advertisement manager of the O-So-Eesi Piano-Player was churlish enough to refuse an advance of five shillings against future work he misjudged him sadly. Within a few minutes, in short, the Lightning Drive had produced the impressive total of two pounds six shillings, and we asked Teddy Weeks if he thought that he could get adequately keyed up within the limits of that sum.
“I’ll try,” said Teddy Weeks.
So, not unmindful of the fact that that excellent hostelry supplied champagne at eight shillings the quart bottle, we fixed the meeting for seven o’clock at Barolini’s.
CONSIDERED as a social affair, Teddy Weeks’s keying-up dinner was not a success. Almost from the start I think we all found it trying. It was not so much the fact that he was drinking deeply of Barolini’s eight-shilling champagne while we, from lack of funds, were compelled to confine ourselves to meaner beverages; what really marred the pleasantness of the function was the extraordinary effect the stuff had on Teddy. What was actually in the champagne supplied to Barolini and purveyed by him to the public, such as were reckless enough to drink it, at eight shillings the bottle remains a secret between its maker and his Maker; but three glasses of it were enough to convert Teddy Weeks from a mild and rather oily young man into a truculent swashbuckler.
He quarrelled with us all. With the soup he was tilting at Victor Beamish’s theories of Art; the fish found him ridiculing Bertram Fox’s views on the future of the motion-picture; and by the time the leg of chicken with dandelion salad arrived—or, as some held, string salad—opinions varied on this point—the hell-brew had so wrought on him that he had begun to lecture Ukridge on his mis-spent life and was urging him in accents audible across the street to go out and get a job and thus acquire sufficient self-respect to enable him to look himself in the face in a mirror without wincing. Not, added Teddy Weeks with what we all thought uncalled-for offensiveness, that any amount of self-respect was likely to do that. Having said which, he called imperiously for another eight bob’s-worth.
We gazed at one another wanly. However excellent the end towards which all this was tending, there was no denying that it was hard to bear. But policy kept us silent. We recognized that this was Teddy Weeks’s evening and that he must be humoured. Victor Beamish said meekly that Teddy had cleared up a lot of points which had been troubling him for a long time. Bertram Fox agreed that there was much in what Teddy had said about the future of the close-up. And even Ukridge, though his haughty soul was seared to its foundations by the latter’s personal remarks, promised to take his homily to heart and act upon it at the earliest possible moment.
“You’d better!” said Teddy Weeks, belligerently, biting off the end of one of Barolini’s best cigars. “And there’s another thing—don’t let me hear of your coming and sneaking people’s socks again.”
“Very well, laddie,” said Ukridge, humbly.
“If there is one person in the world that I despise,” said Teddy, bending a red-eyed gaze on the offender, “it’s a snock-seeker—a seek-snocker—a—well, you know what I mean.”
We hastened to assure him that we knew what he meant, and he relapsed into a lengthy stupor, from which he emerged three-quarters of an hour later to announce that he didn’t know what we intended to do, but that he was going. We said that we were going too, and we paid the bill and did so.
Teddy Weeks’s indignation on discovering us gathered about him upon the pavement outside the restaurant was intense, and he expressed it freely. Among other things, he said—which was not true—that he had a reputation to keep up in Soho.
“It’s all right, Teddy, old horse,” said Ukridge, soothingly. “We just thought you would like to have all your old pals round you when you did it.”
“Did it? Did what?”
“Why, had the accident.”
Teddy Weeks glared at him truculently. Then his mood seemed to change abruptly, and he burst into a loud and hearty laugh.
“Well, of all the silly ideas!” he cried, amusedly. “I’m not going to have an accident. You don’t suppose I ever seriously intended to have an accident, do you? It was just my fun.” Then, with another sudden change of mood, he seemed to become a victim to an acute unhappiness. He stroked Ukridge’s arm affectionately, and a tear rolled down his cheek. “Just my fun,” he repeated. “You don’t mind my fun, do you?” he asked, pleadingly. “You like my fun, don’t you? All my fun. Never meant to have an accident at all. Just wanted dinner.” The gay humour of it all overcame his sorrow once more. “Funniest thing ever heard,” he said, cordially. “Didn’t want accident, wanted dinner. Dinner daxident, danner dixident,” he added, driving home his point. “Well, good night all,” he said, cheerily. And, stepping off the kerb on to a banana-skin, was instantly knocked ten feet by a passing lorry.
“ TWO ribs and an arm,” said the doctor five minutes later, superintending the removal proceedings. “Gently with that stretcher.”
IT was two weeks before we were informed by the authorities of Charing Cross Hospital that the patient was in a condition to receive visitors. A whip-round secured the price of a basket of fruit, and Ukridge and I were deputed by the share-holders to deliver it with their compliments and kind inquiries.
“Hullo!” we said in a hushed, bedside manner when finally admitted to his presence.
“Sit down, gentlemen,” replied the invalid.
I must confess even in that first moment to having experienced a slight feeling of surprise. It was not like Teddy Weeks to call us gentlemen. Ukridge, however, seemed to notice nothing amiss.
“Well, well, well,” he said, buoyantly. “And how are you, laddie? We’ve brought you a few fragments of fruit.”
“I am getting along capitally,” replied Teddy Weeks, still in that odd precise way which had made his opening words strike me as curious. “And I should like to say that in my opinion England has reason to be proud of the alertness and enterprise of her great journals. The excellence of their reading-matter, the ingenuity of their various competitions, and, above all, the go-ahead spirit which has resulted in this accident insurance scheme are beyond praise. Have you got that down?” he inquired.
Ukridge and I looked at each other. We had been told that Teddy was practically normal again, but this sounded like delirium.
“Have we got that down, old horse?” asked Ukridge, gently.
Teddy Weeks seemed surprised.
“Aren’t you reporters?”
“How do you mean, reporters?”
“I thought you had come from one of these weekly papers that have been paying me insurance money, to interview me,” said Teddy Weeks.
Ukridge and I exchanged another glance. An uneasy glance this time. I think that already a grim foreboding had begun to cast its shadow over us.
“Surely you remember me, Teddy, old horse?” said Ukridge, anxiously.
Teddy Weeks knit his brow, concentrating painfully.
“Why, of course,” he said at last. “You’re Ukridge, aren’t you?”
“That’s right. Ukridge.”
“Of course. Ukridge.”
“Yes. Ukridge. Funny your forgetting me!”
“Yes,” said Teddy Weeks. “It’s the effect of the shock I got when that thing bowled me over. I must have been struck on the head, I suppose. It has had the effect of rendering my memory rather uncertain. The doctors here are very interested. They say it is a most unusual case. I can remember some things perfectly, but in some ways my memory is a complete blank.”
“Oh, but I say, old horse,” quavered Ukridge. “I suppose you haven’t forgotten about that insurance, have you?”
“Oh, no, I remember that.”
Ukridge breathed a relieved sigh.
“I was a subscriber to a number of weekly papers,” went on Teddy Weeks. “They are paying me insurance money now.”
“Yes, yes, old horse,” cried Ukridge. “But what I mean is you remember the Syndicate, don’t you?”
Teddy Weeks raised his eyebrows.
“Syndicate? What Syndicate?”
“Why, when we all got together and put up the money to pay for the subscriptions to these papers, and drew lots to choose which of us should go out and have an accident and collect the money. And you drew it, don’t you remember?”
Utter astonishment, and a shocked astonishment at that, spread itself over Teddy Weeks’s countenance. The man seemed outraged.
“I certainly remember nothing of the kind,” he said, severely. “I cannot imagine myself for a moment consenting to become a party to what from your own account would appear to have been a criminal conspiracy to obtain money under false pretences from a number of weekly papers.”
“However,” said Teddy Weeks, “if there is any truth in this story, no doubt you have documentary evidence to support it.”
Ukridge looked at me. I looked at Ukridge. There was a long silence.
“Shift-ho, old horse?” said Ukridge, sadly. “No use staying on here.”
“No,” I replied, with equal gloom. “May as well go.”
“Glad to have seen you,” said Teddy Weeks, “and thanks for the fruit.”
The next time I saw the man he was coming out of a manager’s office in the Haymarket. He had on a new Homburg hat of a delicate pearl grey, spats to match, and a new blue flannel suit, beautifully cut, with an invisible red twill. He was looking jubilant, and, as I passed him, he drew from his pocket a gold cigarette-case.
It was shortly after that, if you remember, that he made a big hit as the juvenile lead in that piece at the Apollo and started on his sensational career as a matinée idol.
INSIDE the church the organ had swelled into the familiar music of the Wedding March. A verger came out and opened the doors. The five cooks ceased their reminiscences of other and smarter weddings at which they had participated. The camera-men unshipped their cameras. The costermonger moved his barrow of vegetables a pace forward. A dishevelled and unshaven man at my side uttered a disapproving growl.
“Idle rich!” said the dishevelled man.
Out of the church came a beauteous being, leading attached to his arm another being, somewhat less beauteous.
There was no denying the spectacular effect of Teddy Weeks. He was handsomer than ever. His sleek hair, gorgeously waved, shone in the sun, his eyes were large and bright; his lissome frame, garbed in faultless morning-coat and trousers, was that of an Apollo. But his bride gave the impression that Teddy had married money. They paused in the doorway, and the camera-men became active and fussy.
“Have you got a shilling, laddie?” said Ukridge in a low, level voice.
“Why do you want a shilling?”
“Old horse,” said Ukridge, tensely, “it is of the utmost vital importance that I have a shilling here and now.”
I passed it over. Ukridge turned to the dishevelled man, and I perceived that he held in his hand a large rich tomato of juicy and over-ripe appearance.
“Would you like to earn a bob?” Ukridge said.
“Would I!” replied the dishevelled man.
Ukridge sank his voice to a hoarse whisper.
The camera-men had finished their preparations. Teddy Weeks, his head thrown back in that gallant way which has endeared him to so many female hearts, was exhibiting his celebrated teeth. The cooks, in undertones, were making adverse comments on the appearance of the bride.
“Now, please,” said one of the camera-men.
Over the heads of the crowd, well and truly aimed, whizzed a large juicy tomato. It burst like a shell full between Teddy Weeks’s expressive eyes, obliterating them in scarlet ruin. It spattered Teddy Weeks’s collar, it dripped on Teddy Weeks’s morning-coat. And the dishevelled man turned abruptly and raced off down the street.
Ukridge grasped my arm. There was a look of deep content in his eyes.
“Shift-ho?” said Ukridge.
Arm-in-arm, we strolled off in the pleasant June sunshine.
(Another story by P. G. Wodehouse will appear next month.)
This is the second magazine appearance of this story, following its debut as “Ukridge’s Accident Syndicate” in the US Cosmopolitan magazine in May 1923, although that version closes at “thanks for the fruit” and omits the account of Teddy’s success and the closing tomato scene outside the church. When collected in Ukridge (1924, UK) and He Rather Enjoyed It (1926, US), the US magazine title was paired with the UK magazine text.
Further notes on the textual differences are in endnotes to the Cosmopolitan version; general notes on the story are in the Ukridge annotations.
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had a colon following “a shilling and sixpence”; changed to a semicolon to match the book, Cosmopolitan, the usual rules of grammar, and Wodehouse’s usual style. Magazine had a single dash after Teddy’s first “Yes, but—” in the intervention interview, but that was constrained by the narrow column layout next to a picture in the magazine. Changed to a long dash to match the style every other time someone is interrupted, including another “Yes, but——” a little later in the same scene, and to match other versions.