Pearson’s Magazine (US), March 1907
IS first impression was that he had been knocked out and was slowly recovering from the effect of the blow—all the symptoms were there—the dull, dazed feeling at the back of the head, the sickness, and the curious sense of being separated by a great gulf from the things of this world. He opened his eyes, half expecting to see the dismayed face of Mike Mulroon bending over him. He found himself looking at what appeared to be a wooden ceiling less than a foot above his head. And as he looked the whole of his world seemed to give a violent lurch, righting itself a moment later only to repeat the performance with a greater emphasis, and the feeling of nausea which had lain hitherto vaguely at the back of his consciousness grew suddenly till all other emotions faded before it, and he realized at last that he was in a ship and out at sea.
Then memory came back to him. He had gone to San Francisco to box at the Mechanics’ Pavilion. A heavy-weight of fame had fallen on lean days, and a monster benefit had been organized by his admirers. The Kid had sparred three rounds with an English middle-weight who had crossed the Atlantic in search of international laurels. After going through this exhibition to the great gratification of the audience, he had changed his clothes and started out to see a little of the town. A polite stranger, who had scraped acquaintance with him in a cigar store, had offered his services as a guide. The Kid had accepted them. The stranger seemed a pleasant sort of man, cheerful and anxious to make himself agreeable; and they had got on very well together until a sudden and powerful blow on the head had made the Kid unable to appreciate the society of any man, however cheerful. Between this incident and his awakening on board the ship there was a hiatus. What had happened to him during that period and how long that period might have been he did not know.
As a matter of fact, things had fallen out after this fashion: The blow which had put the light-weight champion of America out of business had been administered—by means of a sand-bag—by a bosom friend of the cheerful stranger. Thereafter the Kid, chloroformed by way of preventing all accidents, had been put on board a boat and rowed out to the ship on which he now was.
As he stood clutching at the side of his bunk, and wishing faintly that he could die more quickly than he seemed to be doing, there appeared, framed in the hatchway above him, a head and shoulders.
“Hello, sonny,” said the visitor.
The Kid made no reply. He was in no fit condition for small talk.
“Got over it, then?” said the other, who was apparently determined to make conversation. “Crimes! You were mighty snug, you bet you were. Wish I’d had half of what put you to sleep, sonny. Some boys gets all the luck that’s coming to them.”
The Kid clutched his support in silence. At that moment the head and shoulders were removed from the hatchway, leaving a square of gray, cloudy sky, and from above another voice made itself heard. “Where the devil’s that young mongler that came aboard last night?”
A murmur from the owner of the head and shoulders.
“Down below, is he? Fancies he’s a passenger perhaps? Wants his cup of tea took him, I shouldn’t wonder. Here, let me come.” Another head and shoulders appeared in the hatchway. The new-comer, to judge from the half of him which was visible, seemed to be muscular—his shoulders were broad and heavy, and bad-tempered—his eyes spoke eloquently as he glared down at the Kid.
After a brief inspection he proceeded to supplement the language of the eyes with the spoken word.
His opening remarks consisted mainly of oaths. The Kid, his eyes glued firmly on the opposite wall, made no reply. He was but dimly aware that he was being addressed. He was acutely conscious of feeling very ill. Everything else, including the angry man, who was now climbing down the ladder, was unreal and unsubstantial.
“Now, then,” said the man, stepping off the last rung; “get a move on you, you young mongler. Get busy. On deck with you! You aren’t on Telegraph Hill now, and don’t you forget it.”
The Kid spoke for the first time.
“In—a—minute,” he groaned.
And simultaneously things began to happen. Dazed and helpless, he found himself in an incredibly short space of time roughly but skilfully kicked up the ladder and on the deck, where a knot of men had collected in an unostentatious manner to observe his arrival. On the appearance of the Kid’s aggressor, the group broke up with the unanimity of a chorus in an opera, and began to work energetically at anything that came to hand. The Kid lay where he had fallen, to receive a second measure of kicks. The pain dissipated the clouds that were over his mind and even achieved a momentary triumph over the seasickness. He staggered to his feet and put his hands up.
“Talking back, are you?” said his persecutor. “If it’s fight you want——”
The Kid was too weak to ward off his bull rush. A smashing blow on the chest sent him across the deck.
“And now,” said the other, two minutes later; “you get busy and help the cook. That’s what you’re fit for. Cooky!”
“Sir?” said a polite voice.
“None of your damned airs, cooky! Take this man and give him something to do. You get in there sharp, or I’ll have a word or two with you. I’ll show you who’s mate on this ship.”
With all the fight knocked out of him, the Kid went meekly across to the galley. “Take a seat,” said the cook. “You’ll feel better soon. Rough man, the mate. Here, take these potatoes and begin peeling ’em. You’d better seem to be doing something useful, in case he looks in.”
The rough handling he had received had not dulled the Kid’s senses so much that he could not recognize the voice as that of a gentleman. Through all the complicated and unpleasant sensations from which he was suffering at the moment he was conscious of a certain surprise at finding such a man in such a place. There was something in the voice which reminded him of Tom Garth and Lord Worfield.
“If you will allow me to give you a word of advice,” continued the cook, as the Kid sat down and began upon the potatoes, “I should recommend you to lie low while you’re on this ship. It is what they call a hell ship, in these parts, which means that the officers give the men hell whenever they see a chance. I noticed just now that you showed fight. I shouldn’t do that again. There is nothing our genial Snow dislikes so much. I have seen him handle men far worse than he handled you because they would show fight. Much better take what he gives you philosophically. And if you work hard, you’ll miss a lot of it. He’s a brute; but he mostly confines his attentions to the shirkers. By Jove, I really beg your pardon. I’ve been preaching a regular sermon. Sorry if I’ve bored you. How do those potatoes progress?”
The Kid was staring into vacancy.
“I’ll lay for him,” he said between his teeth.
“My dear man, don’t be an idiot. Can’t you see that all the cards are against you? You can’t call a policeman here. There aren’t any police on the May Moon. I wish there were. We could do with a few. You take my tip, and lie low.”
“He kicked me,” muttered the Kid, half to himself. “I’ve got it in against him, and he’s going to get it good.”
“Look here,” said the cook, “do be sensible. I know you must feel rather raw about it, but do be reasonable. I’m sorry for you, and I shouldn’t care to see you get into any more trouble. You obviously can’t fight the man.”
“Why not?” asked the Kid, looking up quickly. “Would he use a gun?”
“No,” said the cook, “I don’t suppose he’d use a gun, but he’d use his hands. You’d have a fair enough fight, if I know him; but where would you be? You’d be giving away at least three stone. It won’t do. Be sensible. And, for goodness sake, hurry up with those potatoes, or there won’t be any dinner for anybody.”
The Kid relapsed into silence again.
His seasickness wore off. The following day was calmer, as far as the ocean was concerned. As regarded the mate, heavy weather was still the order of the day. With his companions in the forecastle he got on amicably. In a rough way they seemed sorry for him, though it was plain that they regarded him as a fool for having allowed himself to be shanghaied. It was only Snow, the mate, who rendered life unhappy. The other officers of the ship, including the captain, seemed from what he saw of them to be mild in comparison. The captain, in particular, was reputed to be a “white” man. But he was apt to concentrate his attention on the handling of the vessel. The driving of the crew he left almost entirely to Snow.
During the days in which he was occupied in getting his sea-legs the Kid made the further acquaintance of the refined Cooky, and learned many things from him. He learned the technicalities of the new little world in which he found himself, why people did what they did with various ropes, what was meant by “forrard,” which side of the vessel was port and which starboard. Few ships can have included in their crew so complete a land-lubber as the Kid. He was a lost sheep in the wilderness. He was a stranger among a people speaking strange tongues. It was hopeless to think of making a sailor of him by blows or explanations; and there fell to him, in consequence, the menial tasks which somebody has got to do, even on board ship. At the end of a couple of days, he found himself, fit and well once more, with a sort of roving commission to make himself generally useful. His duties were varied and extensive, and nobody seemed able to fix any definite limit to them. He waited on the captain and the mates in the cabin, scrubbed the decks, kept an occasional watch, and on one occasion did able-bodied seaman “Lefty” Rawson an excellent turn by keeping him below when he wished to go on deck.
Mr. Rawson contrived, on coming aboard, to bring with him a square bottle of the strongest whisky he could purchase in the whole length of the San Francisco waterside; on the second day out he drank this, neat, in a series of long and exhaustive gulps, immediately after which he expressed a desire to go on deck and ascertain—by means of personal research—the exact color of the mate’s interior. It was as he reached the foot of the companion ladder that the Kid intervened.
The subsequent proceedings took place on the forecastle floor, to the great gratification of able-bodied seaman Jake Burt, who surveyed the scene from his bunk, and offered between the puffs of his pipe shrewd advice to the combatants. The fight was not lengthy. Mr. Rawson, directing his entire attention to strangling the Kid, left that expert free to hook him with both hands on the point of the jaw, and presently Lefty’s head fell back on the boards with a crack, and the Kid went up-stairs to attend to his other duties.
The incident did him a great deal of good in forecastle circles. Restored to sense and sobriety once more, Mr. Rawson was gratitude itself. He offered, moreover, first-hand evidence of the Kid’s powers in a rough and tumble.
“Sure it’s little I remember,” he said handsomely that night, “me bein’, as you may say, not meself, what with the whisky and the pleasurable excitement of it all; but I will say this, that I’ve not been handled so neatly since I miscalled Long Jack Harvey a liar in Sweet’s rathskeller in New Orleans. . . . And him a boy!” he added, gazing fondly at the Kid.
Mr. Burt also gave his testimony.
“As good as a play, it was,” said he happily. “There was me in me bunk, and me friend Lefty on the floor yellin’ to beat the band and me brave boy on top of him feelin’ for his jaw left and right, as if it was all a stage play and me having paid for a front seat in the orchestra chairs. It’s me that ’ud wish to see him go through the performance with the mate doing me friend Lefty’s part.”
“And me, too,” said one of the other men. The Kid sprang to his feet and banged the table with his fist. This sudden gust of popularity had swept away the wall of sullen resignation which he had built up as a protection against the company into which he had been forced. His eyes shone. For the moment he was in much the same condition as Lefty Rawson had been earlier in the day.
“And so you shall,” he cried; “I’m laying for him. He kicked me, the——”
There was a cheer, half encouraging, half ironical, from the other occupants of the forecastle. He was proceeding, when a quiet voice at his elbow stopped him.
“Chuck it, my dear man, chuck it,” said the interrupter.
It was Cooky, calm and well-bred as ever, and as he looked at him the Kid’s bombast died away. It occurred to him that he was making a fool of himself. “Anyway, I will,” he concluded weakly. The cook went on smoking in silence.
The Kid found an opportunity next day of speaking to the friendly Burt, whom he had recognized as the man who had been the first on board to speak to him.
“Who’s Cooky?” replied Burt to his question. “Sure there’s many of us would like to know that. He’s the great mystery, is Cooky. You can see he’s not one of the boys, not one of us. He’s a Britisher is Cooky, and an educated man, too. That’s what Cooky is. And what he’s doing roasting meat for sailor-men is more than I can tell you, me son. Gone wild, likely, and had to skip from home. Like many another young bhoy who didn’t know what was good for him. Dad, I was a farmer’s boy in the old country meself once. Whist, here’s the mate!”
Snow had come up as they were talking. He glared at the Kid. Much had to be done, in his opinion, before the latter’s education as a unit of the company of the May Moon could be considered complete; and he was always on the look-out for a chance to further this education.
“You lazy young hound,” he said, twisting him around by his shoulder and kicking him toward the galley, “go and help the cook. Get busy now, before I set about you.”
The Kid made no resistance. He added mentally another mark to the mate’s account. Things were working up for the storm; but the moment was not yet.
The cook was in the galley, whistling plaintively to himself.
“See here,” said the Kid, when he had got to work; “I want to ask you something.”
“When you came on this ship, what did that mate do to you?”
“Much the same as he has been doing to you.”
“What! kicked you?”
“And what did you do?”
“I did nothing.”
“And why doesn’t he do it now?”
“He gets tired of it, I suppose. I believe the man feels it a sort of holy duty to make every new hand’s life a hell to him for the first few days, just as a sort of formal welcome aboard, making him free of the ship, as it were. After that the new man gets to be one of the many, and only comes in for the amount of handling that every one gets.”
“But you don’t,” said the Kid. “What did you do to get quit of him?”
The cook chuckled.
“Mine was rather an exceptional case. On the third day out on my first voyage he got annoyed with me—I forget why—and kicked me so energetically that I was laid up for four days, unable to move. As there was nobody else on board who knew the first word about cooking, the ship’s company lived for those four days on half-raw meat and biscuits. They all got very bad inside, and I believe there was nearly a mutiny. Since then he has left me alone. He would like to jump on me, but he’s scared; ‘letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would.” ’ But I’m afraid you can’t expect such an exemption. Your best plan is to lie low. You’ll be all right soon. Lie low.”
“And be kicked?”
“And, if you must, be kicked.”
“You’ll see,” said the Kid. “Next time he touches me——”
The cook looked bored. Like most Englishmen of good birth and a public-school education, he had a strong objection to the type of person who utters wild threats which he cannot possibly carry into effect.
“You’re not Mr. James J. Jeffries, by any chance?” he inquired.
The Kid, missing the irony, was merely surprised at this ignorance on the part of one who in other respects was intelligent beyond the ordinary.
“Jim’s a heavy-weight,” he said.
“You talk big enough to be one,” retorted the other. “Perhaps you’re Jimmy Garvis, then?”
“Jimmy!” said the Kid with scorn; “I can whip Jimmy all right, every time.”
He was not usually prone to flap his wings over a defeated rival, but the cook’s words had touched a tender spot.
“You—what?” said the cook, dropping a plate. “You whipped Jimmy Garvis? Then who the deuce are you?”
“Brady’s my fighting name, Kid Brady. But my real name’s Darrell.”
The cook swayed with laughter.
“We mustn’t keep this to ourselves,” he said; “I’ll tell the boys to-night.”
In the forecastle that night the Kid listened, blushing, to Mr. Burt’s stately speech of welcome. The crew of the May Moon, according to Mr. Burt, were proud to be in the same room with such a mighty man of his hands.
“Didn’t I tell ye,” said Mr. Lefty Lawson, when he had finished, “that this was no orrdinary boy. He handled me beautiful. Beautiful!”
“Mr. Brady,” said the cook, in his quiet voice, “if you purpose to interview the mate at any time, as you suggested, you will carry with you the good wishes of this meeting. We have all suffered.”
It seemed to the Kid that the moment had come, that there was nothing to be gained by delay. He had grown used to the motion of the ship by this time, and the sea air made him feel particularly ready for work. He had been in good condition before leaving San Francisco, and now he felt fit to fight for his title of Champion of America. He kept a watchful eye on the mate as he went about his duties. It was for Snow to give the signal for combat. He must not be the aggressor. The rules of discipline on board the May Moon were curious, but rigid. If a man attacked his superior officer, it was mutiny, and he suffered for it. But if the officer attacked him, he was at liberty to defend himself, always provided that he considered the game worth the candle. In this case rank was waived for the moment, the pair met as man to man, fought the thing out, and, when satisfied, resumed their respective positions. The captain was supposed to be officially ignorant of the episode.
It was a curious custom and might not have suited another ship, but on the May Moon it had existed since the vessel’s launching. As a rule, especially since Snow had come into power, the crew were content to take matters quietly instead of giving battle. The mates of the May Moon had always been men of thews, and a fight would seldom have been satisfactory to the aggrieved seamen. Legend spoke of a certain Billy Priest, who in the dim past had fought a mate and knocked him clean over the side of the ship, subsequently diving after him and saving his life. But Billy Priest had passed beyond the ken of man and left no successor. There had not been a genuine fight on the May Moon for half a dozen voyages.
The Kid watched the mate, and the crew watched the Kid. There was a quiet over the ship which might have struck an observer as ominous. Men found themselves talking in whispers. There was trouble in the air.
It broke on the second day after the meeting in the forecastle, quite suddenly. The Kid was carrying a bowl of potatoes to the galley. The ship was moving at three-quarter speed over a calm sea. Just as he reached the galley the vessel heeled, slightly, but enough to make him stumble. As he recovered himself a stream of potatoes jumped across the deck. He stooped to pick them up, and was struck while in that position by a massive boot. He looked up.
The mate was standing over him.
The Kid rose with a grin. He was conscious of that curiously tense, happy feeling which always came to him when the gong gave him the signal to leave his corner. And on this occasion it was supplemented by a definite thrill of anger. In the ring he missed this exhilarating thrill.
“Clumsy young devil,” said the mate; “pick ’em up. Get busy. Pick ’em up.”
The world seemed to pause for a moment. All movement appeared suddenly suspended. Forward a knot of men were standing silent spectators. Cooky had come out of his galley with a dish in his hand, and was watching the Kid with a suspicion of a smile. The Kid’s eyes were fixed on the mate’s face.
Then in a flash the latter’s expression changed. Comprehension came into his eyes, and his mouth curled in a sneer.
“It’s that, is it?” he said softly. “You—young——”
And then the spell was broken, everything was activity once more, and the battle had begun.
To the spectators the mate’s rush seemed as swift as it was savage; but a man who has fought and beaten the best light-weights in the ring has his own ideas of speed. To the Kid there was something ludicrously clumsy in the onslaught of this bull of a man. He had sidestepped and hooked thrice to the body before his adversary’s blow had well exhausted itself. The mate did not turn easily on the slippery deck, and the Kid’s right was home on his ear before he had faced around. He shook his head furiously, and charged forward again. The straightest left in America stopped him as completely as if he had met a bullet. Never in his life had the Kid hit so quick and hard. The thought of all that he had suffered from this man lashed him to a cold viciousness. Even now he was aching from that kick he had received among the potatoes. Four times his left went out like a stone from a sling, and a hum of applause rose from the knot of men by the forecastle as the mate, staggering under the third blow, reeled and went down beneath the fourth. The Kid drew back and waited. He was cooler than he had ever been before in a fight. He felt that he could go on all day. He was giving away fifty pounds and three inches of height. It seemed nothing to him.
The mate was no quitter. He was up again in a couple of seconds, and boring in as before. Blow after blow went home; but he came up for more, and forced the Kid toward the side. Here space was less, and weight would begin to tell. The Kid saw this, and knew that he must end the business soon or be cornered. Twice he swung his right to the other man’s jaw, but Snow’s iron muscle saved him from going out. The Kid shot in his right once more. The mate’s head went back with a jerk, and the Kid sidestepped. As he did so he trod on one of the potatoes he had spilt. His ankle half turned under him, and he fell. He was up again and in position in a moment, but there was no danger. Snow was lying on his face, one arm outstretched, the other doubled beneath him. The last blow had completed the work of the other two. His man was down and out.
A shout went up from the group by the forecastle. The Kid found his right hand being shaken.
“Exit Goliath,” said the quiet voice of Cooky. “Come and have a wash and brush-up, David, my son!”
The Kid was lookout man that night. A fine day had been succeeded by stars and a clear sky. The water looked oily, almost solid. The Kid was not sentimental by nature, but a feeling of deep content possessed him as he watched. It was worth being shanghaied to get such a night as this on the open seas.
Into the ray of a lantern, there loomed a huge shadow.
“Is that the boy from San Francisco?”
The Kid recognized the voice of the mate, and kept a wary eye on him.
“Yes, sir,” he said.
The mate lit his pipe, and puffed in silence for some minutes.
“Not so darned poor,” said the mate at length, jerking the stem of his pipe toward the star-powdered sea.
“Fine,” agreed the Kid.
There was another long silence.
“See here,” growled the mate, sucking furiously at his pipe at intervals, as if what he was saying was difficult to say; “see here, it’s up to me to say just this. . . . I don’t—in a manner of speaking . . . . do any darned climbing down as a general thing. But I’m a man that knows when he’s met a tougher proposition than himself.”
He removed his pipe and tapped it against the side of the ship.
“And it’s up to me to say you’re it. I never thought a boy could put me out of business. But you’ve done it, and that’s all there is about it.”
He paused again.
“Don’t know what you are when you’re ashore, but what I say’s this. You ought to be a fighter. Take it up. You’d make money at it. That’s what I say.”
“Well, I have,” said the Kid with a grin.
“What, you a fighter?”
“I fight at the light-weight limit,” said the Kid simply, “and I’m the Champion of the States.”
The huge form of the mate lurched into the light. His voice when he spoke had an animation which it had lacked before. “Say, this is the best thing I’ve heard this trip! See here, it’s no pie to be put to sleep by a boy not big enough to look over the side of a ship; but a light-weight champeen’s a thing that might happen to any one. See, here, Mister Brady, you and me’s got to be friends, sure. I’m rough in my ways, but I’m a man what recognizes talent. I’m proud to meet you, Mister Brady. Shake.”
He extended a hand.
“Why, sure,” said the Kid, taking it.
The sea interest of this work suggests perhaps the influence of Wodehouse’s close friend William Townend. Wodehouse and Townend’s friendship dates from their Dulwich College days, 1896–1900. Townend wrote extensively about the sea and sea stories during his publishing career, and he and Wodehouse, under the alias Basil Windham, would soon be at work on an illustrated school story for Chums Magazine called The Luck Stone, running serially from September 16, 1908 to January 20, 1909.
By P. S. Wodehouse: typographical error for P. G. Wodehouse
Author of “How Kid Brady, Light-Weight, Made His Début”: also inaccurate; the original story title was “Kid Brady—Light-Weight: How he Made His Début.”
Mike Mulroon: Kid Brady’s trainer in the first several episodes of this series; see previous link.
what appeared to be a wooden ceiling less than a foot above: that is, the underside of the berth above the one in which he had been placed when unconscious
San Francisco . . . Mechanics’ Pavilion: From 1882 till its destruction in the 1906 earthquake and fire, a large assembly hall, seating nearly 11,000 spectators, near the San Francisco City Hall, on the site of the present Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. In addition to political and religious gatherings, prominent boxing matches including the Bob Fitzsimmons–Tom Sharkey heavyweight championship fight of 1896 and the Jim Corbett–James Jeffries heavyweight championship fight of 1903 were held at the Mechanics’ Pavilion.
A heavy-weight of fame had fallen on lean days, and a monster benefit had been organized by his admirers: very likely James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett, the late nineteenth-century heavyweight champion who contended in his last title fight on 14 August 1903, aged 37. Given the likely association of Wodehouse’s fictional Kid Brady to the historical Kid McCoy, Corbett seems the likeliest candidate here, having fought an infamous match with McCoy in August 1900, only three months after his storied loss to Jim Jeffries in the 23rd round of a scheduled 25-round heavyweight fight. Corbett defeated McCoy in five rounds, in what was largely believed to be a staged or fixed fight.
Such staged matches were often part of the unwritten code of the fight game, establishing a retirement purse for a tired fighter. In this last installment of Kid Brady, Wodehouse explores the next generation of that code, as fixed matches gave way to exhibition cards in honor of, and as part of a collection for, a retiring prize-fighter.
sparred three rounds: not a true contest but part of a show (here, as noted above, to raise money for a fellow prize-fighter). The Kid is obviously a draw, and his appearance in this capacity suggests a number of things: he is now a fixture in the fight establishment, no longer needs to prove himself or get himself over, and is mindful of the precariousness of the profession and pays honor to its code by participating selflessly for another fighter.
Again, given the likely connection between Brady and McCoy, Wodehouse seems here to recall the code in its earlier expression, recollecting in fiction McCoy’s agreed-upon thrown match against Corbett in 1900, as part of the dues rising fighters pay the game.
this exhibition: again, not a prize fight but a show fight. With less betting placed and smaller purses traded on the outcome, this match was all about satisfying paying customers and justifying gate receipts. Wodehouse describes the new sporting environment with unfaltering clarity in Psmith, Journalist: His Adventures in New York (The Captain, December 1909):
But a wave of anti-pugilistic feeling swept over the New York authorities. Promoters of boxing contests found themselves, to their acute disgust, raided by the police. The industry began to languish. People avoided places where at any moment the festivities might be marred by an inrush of large men in blue uniforms, armed with locust-sticks.
And then some big-brained person suggested the club idea, which stands alone as an example of American dry humour. There are now no boxing contests in New York. Swifty Bob and his fellows would be shocked at the idea of such a thing. All that happens now is exhibition sparring bouts between members of the club. It is true that next day the papers very tactlessly report the friendly exhibition spar as if it had been quite a serious affair, but that is not the fault of Swifty Bob.
Such exhibitions of sporting ability are the American precursor of the professional wrestling game and might be imagined as such; indeed, prize fighter Bob Fitzsimmons was already experimenting with the exhibition wrestling game during the period. See this article from the New York Times, July 10, 1901.
scraped acquaintance: got to know Brady though an apparently casual encounter. Readers discover another such encounter, with a savvier Billy Windsor refusing to play goat, in Psmith, Journalist: His Adventures in New York (The Captain, December 1909):
Psmith and Billy, having left the Astor, started to walk down Broadway to Billy’s lodgings in Fourteenth Street. The usual crowd was drifting slowly up and down in the glare of the white lights.
They had reached Herald Square, when a voice behind them exclaimed, “Why, it’s Mr. Windsor!”
They wheeled round. A flashily-dressed man was standing with outstetched hand.
“I saw you come out of the Astor,” he said cheerily. “I said to myself, ‘I know that man.’ Darned if I could put a name to you, though. So I just followed you along, and right here it came to me.”
“It did, did it?” said Billy politely.
“It did, sir. I’ve never set eyes on you before, but I’ve seen so many photographs of you that I reckon we’re old friends. I know your father very well, Mr. Windsor. He showed me the photographs. You may have heard him speak of me—Jack Lake? How is the old man? Seen him lately?”
“Not for some time. He was well when he last wrote.”
“Good for him. He would be. Tough as a plank, old Joe Windsor. We always called him Joe.”
“You’d have known him down in Missouri, of course?” said Billy.
“That’s right. In Missouri. We were side-partners for years. Now, see here, Mr. Windsor, it’s early yet. Won’t you and your friend come along with me and have a smoke and a chat? I live right here in Thirty-Third Street. I’d be right glad for you to come.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said Billy, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse us.”
“In a hurry, are you?”
“Not in the least.”
“Then come right along.”
“Say, why not? It’s only a step.”
“Because we don’t want to. Good-night.”
He turned, and started to walk away. The other stood for a moment, staring; then crossed the road.
Psmith broke the silence.
“Correct me if I am wrong, Comrade Windsor,” he said tentatively, “but were you not a trifle—shall we say abrupt?—with the old family friend?”
Billy Windsor laughed.
“If my father’s name was Joseph,” he said, “instead of being William, the same as mine, and if he’d ever been in Missouri in his life, which he hasn’t, and if I’d been photographed since I was a kid, which I haven’t been, I might have gone along. As it was, I thought it better not to.”
“These are deep waters, Comrade Windsor. Do you mean to intimate——?”
“If they can’t do any better than that, we sha’n’t have much to worry us. What do they take us for, I wonder? Farmers? Playing off a comic-supplement bluff like that on us!”
There was honest indignation in Billy’s voice.
“You think, then, that if we had accepted Comrade Lake’s invitation, and gone along for a smoke and a chat, the chat would not have been of the pleasantest nature?”
“We should have been put out of business.”
a sudden and powerful blow on the head: obviously a planned abduction, but on whose authority readers never learn. Wodehouse here introduces an element of mystery that he never resolves.
Crimes: profane exclamation of astonishment; corruption of “O, Christ”; a variation of criminy, cripes, crikey. Cf. Hotten’s Slang Dictionary
snug: lying comfortably and quietly, as if dead drunk
mongler: slang and dialectal derivative of mongrel; a person of mixed racial descent
oaths: swear words or declarations invoking God, typically to witness the truth of a statement, assertion or belief
Telegraph Hill: a San Francisco neighborhood and landmark easily visible from vessels leaving port; since 1933 it has been even more visible as the site of Coit Tower.
with the unanimity of a chorus in an opera: the comic mode is never far removed from Wodehouse. Here the effect of the abduction and Brady’s waking from unconsciousness is likened to the waking dream of comic fiction, an aestheticized moment where reality seems scripted along the lines of an operetta or musical comedy.
If it’s fight you want: denoting the gameness of Kid Brady but also reinforcing his less than keen intellectual powers
recognize the voice as that of a gentleman: the Kid’s ear recalls both the Oxfordian English of Garth and Worfield but also fortuitously looks forward to ties with Psmith in Psmith, Journalist (serial 1909–10, book 1915). In terms of Wodehouse at work, Plum was perhaps already considering a larger plot for Brady or perhaps was thinking of ways to flesh out existing plots or schema with the addition of a Kid Brady subplot.
Tom Garth: English newspaper reporter for the Manhattan Daily who interviewed the Kid before his championship victory. Garth also wrote the spurious article on fruitarianism, and later misled authorities about Brady’s unintentional obstruction of Detective Dunn’s jewelry investigation. Given Garth’s marginal but recurring role in the Kid Brady serial, Wodehouse may plausibly have been looking for a larger plot for Brady, a plot involving English characters, not merely American. Garth’s role, of course, will be supplanted by Psmith’s in Psmith, Journalist.
Lord Worfield: a character from the May 1906 installment of this series, introduced through Garth
a hell ship: “a ship on which living conditions are extremely unpleasant or one with a reputation for cruelty and tyranny among the crew; a floating ‘hell’ ” (OED). Jack London’s The Sea Wolf (1904) used the term five times, for instance: “As it is forward and in the galley, so it is in the steerage and aft, on this veritable hell-ship. Men fight and struggle ferociously for one another’s lives.”
May Moon: rather euphemistic, given that the vessel is a “hell ship”
at least three stone: more than 42 pounds in fighting weight, by Cooky’s estimate. The Kid, a light-weight, is probably trained to the limit of his class at 135 lb, so Snow’s 177 pounds or more would definitely put him in the heavyweight class of his day, a light-heavyweight by today’s finer division of weight classes. Later in the story, Wodehouse’s narration describes Snow’s advantage more accurately as fifty pounds and three inches in height.
heavy weather: euphemism for complaining or excessive fussing. Wodehouse would use it as the title of one of his Blandings Castle novels (1933), in which discord among the inhabitants is mirrored by summer thunderstorms above—a neat bit of title wordplay.
forecastle: pronounced fowk-sul, the sailors’ living quarters located below the deck at the head of a ship
shanghaied: this is the only explanation given for Brady’s abduction. Savvy period readers would certainly have linked the abduction to the shady underbelly of the fight game, and Wodehouse’s refusal to settle the matter is strongly indicative of professional corruption in sport. In fact, Wodehouse here, in his own narrative, almost anticipates Psmith’s role as social-crusader in Psmith, Journalist.
There is, in fact, a marked paralipsis in this text—something that is not said, on purpose, but that draws attention to itself by its very absence. What was the motive of this “shanghai”? That motive wouldn’t have been lost on period readers. Brady’s abduction as a member of the fight game suggests that he had somehow run afoul of promoters and could not be trusted. The suggestion, perhaps, is that, given the odds and stakes of the Garvis fight, Brady should have lost the match but was too afraid of his vision to take the knockout punch. Such a suggestion would invite us to read “How Kid Brady Fought For His Eyes” (Pearson’s US, July 1906) a second time, and to read there a second text that lies just below the surface of the first. Indeed, Brady’s response to Garvis’s fourth-round blow, see last installment, a blow that might easily have set up the knockout punch, was predicated entirely on fear and primal instinct.
And now there came over him a complete revulsion of feeling. The worst had happened. The suspense was over. He was conscious of no sensation other than of icy rage. He forgot that he was boxing for a prize. His opponent seemed to him inhuman, some relentless devil maliciously intent on destroying him. There was a moment’s pause, while the two sparred for an opening; and then the Kid went in with a vicious fury which made this fight a topic of conversation for years afterward in the smoking-rooms of Philadelphia and New York. There was no staying such an onslaught. Twice the ex-champion fell, to rise gallant, but weak, to renew the contest. He reeled across the ring like a rudderless derelict. Every one was standing up now. It was plain that the end must come soon.
The suggestion may be that the Kid won by accident, but that promoters misread in the victory a fighter they could not rely on in high-stakes bouts.
reputed to be a “white” man: the idea of “whiteness” in Wodehouse is an historical governing idea of Western civilization, namely that the most important contributions to Western culture are so-called white rather than non-white, from writing and rhetoric, poetry and the arts, architecture and city planning, cartography and navigation, to economic and political philosophy, ethics, morality, law, etc. Such contributions, from Mesopotamia and Indo-European Aryan cultures through Greece and Rome and indeed to the British empire of Wodehouse’s youth, were considered the cultural heritage of “white” civilization. The idea is most famously articulated in Rudyard Kipling’s enigmatic “White Man’s Burden,” a poem both mindful of the cultural sensitivities of the issue as well as the empirical evidence in favor of its claim and the responsibilities for its adoption.
For Wodehouse, to be “a ‘white’ man” was to agree upon and play by the unspoken code upon which the West was established, at least in theory. To be reputed “white” was to be reputed to play by the rules or to play the game. Selflessness or service to others within the code has something to do with the idea. Golden rule stuff, doing unto others as you would have others do unto you!
various ropes: the rigging
forrard: nautical dialect pronunciation of “forward”: the direction one is travelling
port: nautical term for the left side of a vessel
starboard: nautical term for the right side of a vessel
land-lubber: pejorative term for a non-seaman; a landsman
a lost sheep in the wilderness: parable of the lost sheep, from Matthew 18:12–14 and Luke 15:3–7, where the shepherd leaves his flock of ninety-nine to recover one. Interestingly, Wodehouse published The Lost Lambs serially from April to September 1908, the title referring to two alienated youth in unfamiliar surroundings, a new school. Wodehouse says of the pair, Mike and Psmith, “They feel like ‘lost lambs’ in this strange new place.” Alienation seems more than a leitmotif during this period of Wodehouse’s career.
a people speaking strange tongues: 1 Corinthians 14:21
neat: straight whisky, without water, mixer, or ice
Sure it’s little I remember: this and other stereotypical dialect phrasing and pronunciation indicates that Rawson and Burt are of Irish extraction.
play . . . front seat in the orchestra chairs . . . performance . . . part: Many of Wodehouse’s characters are avid users of theatrical jargon; this is among the earliest examples.
rathskeller: a basement or underground tavern
Dad: a mild oath or asseveration; denoting an emphatic assertion or declaration; compare the Irish “bedad”: a substitute oath for “by God”
Whist: an interjection, demanding silence
biscuits: ship’s dry hard-tack, not the light raised buttermilk baked goods of American cooking
letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would”: Macbeth (I.vii.48), Lady Macbeth’s words to her husband, goading Macbeth to kill King Duncan.
Mr. James J. Jeffries: Cf. Pearson’s Magazine, November 1905, “How Kid Brady Broke Training.” James Jackson “Jim, the Boilermaker” Jeffries: b. 15 April 1875 in Carrol, Ohio; d. 3 March 1953 in Burbank, California. Jim Jeffries defeated Bob Fitzsimmons for the world heavyweight crown on 9 June 1899, at Coney Island, New York. He held the title until 1905 and retired undefeated. Among his six successful title defenses, he scored two knockouts over Gentleman Jim Corbett and a second victory over Fitzsimmons.
He had grown used to the motion of the ship by this time: getting one’s sea-legs typically takes between one and three days, which is how long it takes for the brain to adjust to the movement of the ocean
always provided that he considered the game worth the candle: an idiomatic phrase from Michel de Montaigne, who in a 1580 essay suggests that gambling by candlelight is only worthwhile if the winnings cover the price of candle wax. Proverbially, the winnings must warrant the expense.
In this case rank was waived for the moment, the pair met as man to man, fought the thing out, and, when satisfied, resumed their respective positions: the Victorian sporting tradition is chock-full of anecdotes where rank is suspended, overlooked, or discarded for sporting ability. A leitmotif of sporting literature, the idea would grow to the central theme of a number of R. S. Surtees’s works, particularly Handley Cross (1843) and Mr. Facey Romford’s Hounds (1865).
men of thews: “men of thews and sinews, the laboring multitude,” a euphemism for brute force in Wodehouse. The phrase was originally adopted from The London and Westminster Review, Volume 27, 1837, referring to post-First Reform politics and the increased political power of England’s newly enfranchised class: “it will not, we imagine, be disputed that they are Radicals. Among the young men of practical talent (the old will soon be off the stage) the Radicals are the growing power.” Wodehouse perhaps adopts the phrase from Alexander MacLaren’s Expositions of Holy Scripture (1900). In his commentary on 1 Samuel 16, MacLaren notes: “In these old days, the world’s monarchs had to be men of thews and sinews, for power rested on mere brute force: but God’s chosen had to rule, not by the strength of his own arm, but by leaning on God’s.”
Something of the phrase’s meaning for Wodehouse comes through in Psmith’s offer of employment to Kid Brady, in Psmith, Journalist: His Adventures in New York (The Captain, December 1909):
“And why did I feel like that, Comrade Brady? I will tell you. Because my faith in you was justified. Because there before me stood the ideal fighting-editor of Cosy Moments. It is not a post that any weakling can fill. Mere charm of manner cannot qualify a man for the position. No one can hold down the job simply by having a kind heart or being good at farmyard imitations. No. We want a man of thews and sinews, a man who would rather be hit on the head with a half-brick than not. And you, Comrade Brady, are such a man.”
passed beyond the ken of man: proverbial, beyond the sight or vision of man
the Kid’s right was home on his ear before he had faced around: in fight parlance, such a blow today, a variation of the rabbit punch, would denote unfair play. At the time of writing, such a blow was not suspect and was a perfectly legitimate offensive move.
straightest left in America: jab or fib. Brady, remember, is a right-handed fighter. He is setting the mate up, almost toying with him.
lashed him to a cold viciousness: inspired revenge
like a stone from a sling: recalling David versus Goliath, 1 Samuel 17
and forced the Kid toward the side: a strategic ploy to cut off the Kid’s range, particularly his footwork
Here space was less, and weight would begin to tell: the speed, stamina, and agility of a lighter fighter often winds heavier opponents, after which the guard comes down and the fighter becomes sloppy. Stronger and larger fighters, as much to enable their power game as disable the free range of a quickly moving target, typically corner their opponents and force them to fight a game for which they are less adapted.
The suggestion here is that the mate knows a fair bit about the fight game.
“Exit Goliath,” said the quiet voice of Cooky. “Come and have a wash and brush-up, David, my son!”: biblical allusion to 1 Samuel 17
Not so darned poor: idiomatic phrase for quite an eyeful; the sea is obviously a stunning sight; also here, a species of small talk
star-powdered sea: Kipling uses the phrase “star-powdered black water” in Captains Courageous (1897); the phrase is very rarely used, so this is likely an echo of Kipling.
Do any darned climbing down: colloquial and figurative: to retreat from a former position or stance, to give up a specific claim, to apologize
I fight at the light-weight limit: 135 lbs.
The huge form of the mate: Wodehouse tells us that Brady “was giving away fifty pounds and three inches of height,” which puts the “huge form of the mate” at 185–190 lbs, assuming Brady kept himself near weight limit.
it’s no pie: like “piece of cake,” an idiomatic saying denoting degree of ease; here, it’s not easy
put to sleep: knocked out
—Notes by Troy Gregory, with additions by Neil Midkiff
Printer’s errors corrected above:
Magazine had a period instead of a comma: “Wants his cup of tea took him. I shouldn’t wonder.”
Magazine had an extraneous comma after “bad-tempered” in the same paragraph.
Magazine had the cook say “Yes.” and “Much the same as he has been doing to you?”; I have reversed the end punctuation to match the sense.