The Kangaroo Island Courier, April 19 and 26, 1913
THE PEER WHO WORKED.
(By P. G. Wodehouse).
Alice Shute had waited three and a quarter minutes in the passage outside the door of her father’s private room, and the strain was becoming too much for her. There are stories of women who have held out as long as ten minutes before gratifying their curiosity; but they are not well authenticated. Five minutes is probably the record. Alice missed lowering this by fifty seconds. Exactly four minutes and ten seconds after the door closed behind Lord Freddie Bowen her self-restraint gave way. She turned the handle and went in.
Her father was seated in his favorite armchair facing the window. Opposite him was a tall young man with a pleasant face, its usual cheerfulness marred at the moment by a somewhat strained look.
This was Lord Freddie Bowen. Lord Freddie had been sent to New York to broaden his mind. Whether he had succeeded in doing this or not he had at any rate made one important discovery. The guide books had told him that New York had four million inhabitants. It had taken him only two weeks to find out that they were wrong, that New York had just one inhabitant—to wit, Alice, the daughter of James Anthony Shute, the mine owner. And now, at the end of the fifth week of his visit, he was on the point of communicating his discovery to her father, when the opening of the door interrupted him just as he was becoming coherent and intelligible.
“Well?” said Alice.
Lord Freddie sprang up and looked fondly at her. Mr Shute also looked at her, but less fondly. Time was money with him, and he did not wish to have interviews prolonged by interruptions.
“I am busy just now, my dear,” he said. “Lord Frederick is talking to me about an important matter.”
“Important!” said Alice. “I should just say it was. I’ve been waiting outside for an hour in perfect agonies of mind. Well?”
“As a matter of fact,” said Lord Freddie, “I haven’t, as it were, exactly come right to the point yet, if you know what I mean. What I mean to say is, I was just leading up to it, so to speak, when you came in.”
Alice’s eyes expressed scorn at this fresh example of British slowness. She turned to her father.
“Freddie and I want to get married. May we?”
“That’s it,” said Lord Freddie gratefully. “That’s the idea I was trying to convey.”
Mr Shute looked at them.
“You do, eh?” he said rather blankly.
“I do,” said Lord Freddie positively.
“So do I,” said Alice, with conviction.
Mr Shute sat for a moment in silence.
“Alice,” he said, “run away for a while, there’s a good girl. I want to speak to Lord Frederick alone.”
Alice looked doubtful.
“Very well,” she said. “Only don’t forget I’m waiting.”
Lord Freddie closed the door behind her and returned to his seat. Now that the news had been broken he was himself once more. His normal cheerfulness had resumed its sway.
“So you want to marry my daughter?” said Mr Shute. “How long has it been settled between you?”
“I proposed to Miss Shute last Thursday.”
“And she accepted you? First time?”
“She must be fond of you, then.”
“I think she is,” said Lord Freddie.
Lord Freddie looked somewhat disturbed. In the circumstances “H’m!” was scarcely an encouraging remark.
“You mean——?” he said.
“It’s this way. I’m fond of Alice.”
“Mighty fond. And what I want to know is—are you the right man?”
Lord Freddie was beginning to supply first-hand information on that point, but Mr Shute stopped him and continued.
“I’ve nothing against you,” he said. “Don’t think I mean that. But it’s like this. I want something real good for Alice. I want a man. There’s lots that look like men till you get to know them, and then you’ll find they’re imitations. See what I mean?”
Lord Freddie maintained a discreet silence. He knew what was passing in the other’s mind. Six years ago Alice’s elder sister Margaret had married a French count, and the subsequent manoeuvres of the two had supplied the papers at irregular intervals with several columns of painful but interesting material. He understood Mr Shute’s desire that his other daughter should marry a man. It would be a welcome change.
“Now let’s get down to it,” said Mr Shute. “You say you’re the right man for Alice. What makes you think so? What have you ever done?”
It was an appalling question for a man in Lord Freddie’s rank of life. What had he ever done? He tried to think.
“How old are you?”
“Well, what have you done? Keep it to the last five years if you like. What have you done since you came of age?”
Lord Freddie racked his brain. It was absurd. He must have done something; but for the life of him he could not remember what. He looked back over those five years. He had had a very good time, and on the whole a very harmless time. A series of seasons in London and hunting in Leicestershire and shooting in Scotland . . . but as for having done anything. . . . He shook his head.
“I’m afraid I’ve rather loafed,” he said.
“What’s your income?”
“Three thousand a year. Fifteen thousand dollars.”
“How do you get it?”
“My father gives it to me. It’s my allowance.”
“Ever done any work?”
“Well, no. I don’t think I have.”
“Never earned a penny for yourself?”
This time Lord Freddie could not help agreeing with him. Looking at the matter with a broad unbiased gaze, there was no doubt that ‘H’m!’ about summed it up.
“Ever heard of a man named Jacob?” inquired Mr Shute.
“Jacob? There’s a Jacob on the Stock Exchange in London. I’ve met him once or twice at the National Sporting Club.”
“I wasn’t alluding to him at the moment. The one I meant was before his time. I mean the Jacob in the Bible.”
“Oh, ah, yes.”
“You remember his case? Recollect what he did? He wanted a girl, so he went out and worked for seven years for her. And then he got the wrong one. Did he quit? No, sir. He started right in to do another seven years straight away. Didn’t know what quitting meant. That man’s second name was Grit, sir.”
“Wonderful Johnny,” agreed Lord Frederick, admiringly.
“And that’s the sort of man I want for Alice. I don’t ask him to wait seven years, let alone fourteen. Things are speedier in these days. But I will have him show that there’s something to him. He must prove that he’s got sand. See what I mean.”
“I see the idea.”
“Well, are you that sort of man?”
“I think so.”
“You think so. Yes, and perhaps you’re right. But you’ve got to know before you marry Alice. Now see here; I’ll make a proposition to you. It’s this. You go out and hunt for a job and get it, and hold it down long enough to make five hundred dollars, and you can marry Alice as soon as you like after you have put down your statement in front of me on this table. How does that hit you?”
“Consider it done,” said Lord Freddie joyfully. “Five hundred dollars! Why that’s only one hundred pounds.”
“Only a hundred pounds,” echoed Mr Shute. “Just about the sum it would take you a couple of minutes to get your father to give you, eh? But don’t you make any mistake, young man. It’s going to be a heap harder prising that money out of the world than it would be hooking it out of papa’s pocket-book.”
“But I say. Do you mean save five hundred dollars or just earn it?”
“I like your choice of words, young man. I guess it will do if you just earn only a hundred pounds. But see here; let’s get this fixed up. When I say earn I mean earn. I don’t mean sit up and beg and let it fall into your mouth. You’ve got to see this through as a plain, ordinary man, not as the son of a hundred earls. See what I mean? You know as well as I do that there’s a crowd of men in this city who’d jump at the chance of hiring your name. It would look well on the painted sign: ‘My partner, Lord Frederick Bowen.’ But that’s not what I want. You’ve got to get this job on your own merits.”
“You mean I must take another name for this business?”
“That’s just what I mean. Or keep your own if you wish, but cut out the ‘Lord.’ ”
“And now one or two more trifling conditions. You’ve got to get that five hundred by work. Manual work or brain work, whichever you please. No going out and winning at bridge or putting your month’s allowance on Jumping Jack to win and a place.”
“It seems to me you are barring every avenue of legitimate enterprise,” said Lord Freddie sadly.
“Well, how do you feel about it?”
“Oh, I’ll do it alright. It’s a great thing having generations of ancestors who’ve never done a stroke. I’ll get all the accumulated energy of the family. None of it has been dissipated.”
“I guess,” said Mr Shute, “that’s about right, isn’t it? I suppose the last time any of your family did a bit of work was when the first earl carried William the Conqueror’s grip across the gangway?”
“I believe so. If any of the others ever worked the family records are silent on the point.”
“And you’re going to try your hand? I guess you’ll find it a tough row to hoe.”
“I don’t suppose Jacob liked it, don’t you know,” said Lord Freddie, “but he wanted the girl, you see.”
“I’m coming to think,” said Mr Shute, “that you’ve got sand in you, young man.”
“Heaps,” said Lord Freddie.
A shabbily dressed young man presented himself at the palatial downtown office of Mr James Anthony Shute, and requested to see the great man. The janitor, when he had recovered from the shock, explained in terse language, free from that excess of courtesy which is sometimes so cloying, firstly that Mr Shute could only be seen by appointment, and secondly that the visitor would do well to make himself scarce as quickly as possible.
“You couldn’t take my name in to him, I suppose?” said the young man. “I think he’ll see me.”
“Think again,” said the janitor. “G’wan!” At this moment Mr Shute himself passed through the door on his way to lunch, and the janitor received another shock. For after a momentary stare the millionaire linked his arm in that of the shabby young man and led him off. The young man as he went smiled pleasantly at the janitor.
“Well?” said Mr Shute, when they were seated in a corner of the most expensive restaurant in downtown New York.
He looked at Lord Freddie with interest. A fortnight had elapsed since the striking of their bargain, and since then he had neither heard nor seen anything of him. During that fortnight changes had taken place in the young man which were not wholly confined to his clothes. His face was thinner, and it also wore an expression subtly different from that which it had once worn. There was the same pleasant smile, but now there was something purposeful and determined behind the pleasantness.
“I never thought,” said Lord Freddie, attacking his plate, “to meet a soft-shelled crab again.”
“You’ve been cutting them out?”
“In the bright lexicon of hard-up youth,” said Lord Freddie, rounding up the last morsel with his fork, “there is no such word as soft-shelled crab.”
“Well?” said Mr Shute, “how are you making out? Getting tired?”
“Did you say tired? That’s not the word. Make it nauseated and I am with you. People who talk about the joys of honest toil are mostly poets, who’ve never tried it.”
“And you’re about ready to turn it up, eh?”
“Not by a mile. Not by several miles,” said Lord Freddie, firmly. “There’s a matter of four hundred and eighty-two dollars to be settled first.”
“Four hundred and eighty-two?”
“I made eighteen last week,” explained Lord Freddie, rather deprecatingly, as one who is loth to flaunt his wealth.
“Eighteen?” said Mr Shute, impressed. “I call that pretty good for a British peer. Why, if you’ve got a job that’s bringing you in eighteen a week you’ll be through in no time.”
“But, you see, I haven’t,” said Lord Freddie sadly. “My career has had a check. I soared like a rocket, but I have been fired like a gun.”
“Lost your job?”
Lord Freddie nodded.
“What was it?”
“I looked after the news stand at an hotel. All went well for five days. On the sixth, intoxicated with success I sassed an irritable old gentleman from the Middle West. Humor, the management decided, when the matter was referred to them, was out of place in the keeper of their news stand. They paid me my salary and politely requested me to see if I couldn’t leave the premises in three jumps. I did, and am now looking about for another job.”
“Found one yet?”
“I have one in my eye. A bell boy at the hotel gave me a letter of introduction to a cousin of his who owns a restaurant. Who knows but what the failure of the news stand of yesterday may not blossom out as the star waiter of to-morrow? I have studied waiters and I fancy I have a grip on the job. Their principal duty seems to be the exchanging of badinage with the cook through the speaking tube. I could manage that I think.”
“Going to be a waiter, eh?”
“That remains for the bell boy’s cousin to decide.”
“And how about the pride of the Bowens? The noblesse oblige and blue blood and all that? Doesn’t that register a kick against your becoming a waiter?”
“It kicks like a mule,” admitted Lord Freddie. “But it’s got to lump it. I want those four hundred and eighty-two dollars.”
He bent over his plate as he spoke, concentrating his attention on a cold bird with the earnestness of one into whose life cold birds enter but seldom; or he might have seen an encouraging gleam of approval come into Mr Shute’s eyes. Of all qualities the millionaire admired chiefly those which had brought success to himself, grit to wit, and a cheerful indifference to the jolts of life. The unexpected discovery of such qualities in Lord Freddie softened him. He was still resolved to exact from the latter the full sum agreed upon, but his attitude of mind was now akin to that of the second principal in a glove fight. It was for Lord Freddie to make good by his own unaided efforts but Mr Shute felt that he was with him in the struggle.
“How is Miss Shute?” inquired Lord Freddie looking up.
“Good. I really called to inquire. I was not lunch hunting.”
“Come and lunch any time you please. I’ll be only too glad to have you.”
“It’s very kind of you,” said Lord Freddie, “but if all goes well, I fear my professional duties will not allow me. Instead of lunching myself I shall be helping others to lunch. It will be more altruistic, of course, but that’s the only attractive part of the scheme.”
“Well, let me know when you’ve made that five hundred.”
“You can rely on me,” said Lord Freddie.
Into the story at this point comes one Thomas Franklin Cooke. Tom Cooke was the owner of ranches in the West, a rugged, grizzled person with the heart of a boy and a boy’s appetite for pleasures that were simple and uproarious. It was not often that he struck New York, but a week after Mr Shute’s luncheon with Lord Freddie, business took him there, and he presented himself at the millionaire’s house, a human bomb charged with energy and waiting only for somebody to touch off the fuse. The Mr Shute that Tom Cooke knew was not the man as he appeared to the world. To Tom he was Jimmy Shute who, in the course of eight spirited rounds, had instilled a respect for law and order into Dutch Jake, an unruly heavyweight who had terrorised three camps; Jimmy Shute, who—who, in a word, was Jimmy Shute.
Mr Shute received him warmly, but was at some pains to point out that things had altered since those spacious days. Time in its passage had left Tom untouched. In person and in his outlook on life he was still the Tom Cooke of the mining camp. But with Mr Shute it was otherwise. He was now a reputable citizen, with a stake in the country, a position to maintain, and above all, a name to be kept out of the papers. Tom listened dismayed.
“Gee!” he said, when the bad news had sunk in, “you mean to say, then, there’s nothing doing? No fun to be had any way? It’s a bit tough on a man, Jimmy.”
Mr Shute hastened to correct this view. He would be delighted to show Tom the sights. There were the theatres. He seldom went to them, but he would go with Tom. There were restaurants. Tom would like the restaurants. There was the opera . . .
“Opera!” said Tom, firmly. “Keep it! No opera for me.”
He left for his hotel that night, after a supper at a restaurant where the music was soft and soulful and nobody danced on the tables, with a moody feeling that he had come to the wrong city.
Next day, however, he was down at Mr Shute’s office with the dawn of hope in his eyes.
“Jimmy,” he said, “do you want to see a scrap? A real-thing scrap, not a six-round bout between members of the club?”
One might have detected a certain wistful expression on Mr Shute’s face. It faded however, almost at once.
“There aren’t any in New York,” he said. “The police don’t allow them.”
Tom Cooke tapped him impressively on the chest.
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said. “That’s where you make your mistake. I can take you to one this very night, if you’ll come. Have you ever heard of Hookham’s, near Canal Street?”
Mr Shute had not.
“It puts up a bluff of being just a restaurant, but Saturday nights they have these fights, and if you give the proprietor the grip he passes you in. Will you come?”
Mr Shute hesitated. The hand that had dealt Dutch Jake so many salutary blows had lost its power, but the spirit that had urged it was still strong. It occurred to Mr Shute that, owing to one cause and another, he had not seen a glove fight worthy of the name in fifteen years. His eye gleamed with a light which the other saw and recognised.
“Bully for you, Jimmy,” he said, with deep relief. “I’ll see about fixing it right now.”
“But, one moment, I—er——”
“That’ll be all right,” said Mr Cooke, soothingly. “You leave it to me.”
It is never pleasant to be reminded of the passage of time; and Mr Shute, reviewing in his home the events of the night on the day following the visit to that shrine of earnest pugilism, Hookham’s, came ruefully to the conclusion that he was not so young as he had been. There had been a time when the adventures of the previous night would have lent a spice to life. Now he was merely conscious of feeling physically rather tired and mentally a good deal disturbed lest his share in the proceedings might come out. For all had not gone well at Hookham’s that Saturday night. The entertainment, spirited and exciting at first, had been marred at the end of twenty minutes by a sudden and very tactless incursion of the police. Mr Shute, who in his day had mocked policemen, and even, on occasion, fought them, had bolted like a rabbit, following Tom Cooke, who seemed to be mysteriously inspired with a knowledge of local geography. Some genius had switched off the lights, and Mr Shute’s subsequent departure via back stairs, a window, a roof, and a fire escape had been in the nature of a triumphal progress. Ten minutes later he had been strolling up Broadway with an air of dignified reserve which a crumpled collar could not wholly destroy. And so home.
But he was not easy in his mind, and he had opened his Sunday paper half expecting his name to jump at him from the sheet. It had not done so, and he was now feeling somewhat relieved.
To him, brooding, there entered the butler with a card.
“Show him in,” said Mr Shute; and presently Lord Freddie Bowen appeared.
“My Sunday off,” explained Lord Freddie.
“Come in, my boy, and sit down,” said Mr Shute. He was genuinely glad to see him. Lord Freddie always amused him, and just now he felt in a need of amusement. “So you got your job?”
“They sprang at me open armed.”
“And you’re holding it down?”
“For a week my foot has been on its neck. At ten dollars a week.”
“Good for you! Where are you working?”
Lord Freddie brushed a speck of dust from the sleeves of his coat.
“At a place called Hookham’s,” he said. “Near Canal Street.”
Mr Shute looked at his visitor. The other’s face was pleasant, but otherwise expressionless.
“Ah?” said Mr Shute, at length. “Not a very high-class place, I should say?”
“No, on the whole, perhaps not. We have distinguished company sometimes though.”
“Last night, for instance.”
“The police,” said Lord Freddie. “We were raided.”
Mr Shute was framing a remark, when the door opened and Tom Cooke appeared. He stopped on seeing Lord Freddie.
“Oh! Thought you were alone.”
“This is——” began Mr Shute.
Mr Cooke was looking hard at Lord Freddie.
“Gee! I guess there’s no need for introductions. So this is your game, is it? I reckoned you’d got something up your sleeve when you refused a tip for helping us out of that low-down place. Never knew a waiter to refuse a tip before. How much is he trying to hold you up for, Jimmy? Whatever it is see him in Hades before you unbelt. They haven’t an ounce of evidence.”
Lord Freddie raised his eyebrows and looked appealingly at Mr Shute.
“I think you had better introduce us, really,” he said.
“This is Lord Freddie Bowen,” said Mr Shute.
Tom Cooke’s eyes bulged. He gasped and held out his hand.
“Say!” he stammered. “I’m the original bonehead, I guess. But talk about doubles! Why, say, it might be twins.”
“Who is my double?”
“A waiter at a place called Hookham’s near Canal Street.”
“Not a very high-class place, I should say,” said Lord Freddie, with a touch of disapproval.
“No,” said Mr Cooke. “No, I guess not. Well, Jimmy,” he went on, backing toward the door, “I guess I’ll be moving on. Just looked in as I passed by to see how you were. Glad to have met you, Lord Frederick.”
The door closed behind him.
“How is Miss Shute?” asked Lord Freddie.
“Quite well, quite well. By the way, Lord Frederick, have you ever done any—er—literary work? Do you think of doing any?”
“I did have an idea of trying my hand at it. My experiences in New York, you know, and that sort of thing. For one of the Sunday papers I thought. Of course they might not take them.”
“Just so. Literature is very precarious. I think your best plan would be to accept some good offer in advance. Now I——”
“What would be your terms for all rights in anything you might produce?”
“I was thinking of four hundred and seventy-two dollars,” said Lord Freddie. “It’s a good bit of money of course.”
“I’ll write a cheque for it now.”
“But you know,” protested Lord Freddie, “you’re taking a risk. I’m an awful lazy beggar, don’t you know. I might never write a line.”
“I’ll take the risk,” said Mr Shute, pluckily. “Here’s the cheque. No need of a receipt, eh?”
“I don’t think so. Thanks, awfully.”
He placed the cheque carefully in his pocket.
“Alice,” said Mr Shute casually, “is in the drawing-room, I believe.”
This is a variant version of the story “A Job of Work,” which appeared under that title in the Strand, January 1913, and in Collier’s, September 6, 1913, but which was not collected in hard covers during Wodehouse’s lifetime. The version above was found lurking in an obscure Australian newspaper, remaining unnoticed until 2015. While the basic premise of the story is the same as “A Job of Work,” it is quite different in its development and can almost be read as a new story. One of us (NM) strongly suspects it to be an early draft which was later developed further into “A Job of Work,” but at this distance of time, this must be only a speculation.
Your editors have changed the text slightly from the original, correcting obvious spelling errors, adding some missing punctuation, and making the quotation marks consistent. If you would like the see the text in its original form, visit the Australian Newspaper Archive, where part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.
As we learn in the Kid Brady stories in Pearson’s (US) and in Psmith, Journalist, prizefighting was illegal in New York in the first years of the twentieth century, and any public bouts had to pretend to be limited exhibitions of sparring between members of amateur clubs, with no winner’s purse nor any betting allowed. Of course these restrictions were often evaded in practice even at these open bouts. The rules were relaxed slightly in 1911, but bouts were still restricted to ten rounds without declared winners. So the “real-thing scrap” at Hookham’s in this story indeed had to be clandestine, and being raided at such a match would have been a disgrace to a prominent citizen.