DUDLEY JONES, BORE-HUNTER.
Punch, April 29, 1903
As is now well known, my friend Mr. Dudley Jones perished under painful circumstances on the top of Mount Vesuvius. His passion for research induced him to lean over the edge of the crater in such a way as to upset his equipoise. When we retrieved him he was a good deal charred, and, to be brief, of very little use to anybody. One of our noblest poets speaks of a cat which was useless except to roast. In the case of Dudley Jones, even that poor exception would not have held good. He was done to a turn.
Dudley Jones was a man who devoted his best energy to the extinction of bores. With a clear-sightedness which few modern philanthropists possess, he recognised that, though Society had many enemies, none was so deadly as the bore. Burglars, indeed, Jones regarded with disapproval, and I have known him to be positively rude to a man who confessed in the course of conversation to being a forger. But his real foes were the bores, and all that one man could do to eliminate that noxious tribe, that did Dudley Jones do with all his might.
Of all his cases none seems to me so fraught with importance as the adventure of the Unwelcome Guest. It was, as Jones remarked at intervals of ten minutes, a black business. This guest—but I will begin at the beginning.
We were standing at the window of our sitting-room in Grocer Square on the morning of June 8, 189—, when a new brougham swept clean up to our door. We heard the bell ring, and footsteps ascending the stairs.
There was a knock.
“Come in,” said Jones; and our visitor entered.
“My name is Miss Pettigrew,” she observed, by way of breaking the ice.
“Please take a seat,” said Jones in his smooth professional accents. “This is my friend Wuddus. I generally allow him to remain during my consultations. You see, he makes himself useful in a lot of little ways, taking notes and so on. And then, if we turned him out, he would only listen at the keyhole. You follow me, I trust? Wuddus, go and lie down on the mat. Now, Miss Pettigrew, if you please.”
“Mine,” began Miss Pettigrew, “is a very painful case.”
“They all are,” said Jones.
“I was recommended to come to you by a Mrs. Edward Noodle. She said that you had helped her husband in a great crisis.
“Wuddus,” said Jones, who to all appearances was half asleep, “fetch my scrapbook.”
The press-cutting relating to Mr. Edward Noodle was sandwiched between a statement that Mr. Balfour never eats doughnuts, and a short essay on the treatment of thrush in infants.
“Ah,” said Jones, “I remember the case now. It was out of my usual line, being simply a case of theft. Mr. Noodle was wrongfully accused of purloining a needle.”
“I remember,” I said eagerly. “The case for the prosecution was that Neddy Noodle nipped his neighbour’s needle.”
“Wuddus,” said Jones coldly, “be quiet. Yes, Miss Pettigrew?”
“I will state my case as briefly as possible, Mr. Jones. Until two months ago my father and I lived alone, and were as happy as could possibly be. Then my uncle, Mr. Stanley Pettigrew, came to stay. Since that day we have not known what happiness is. He is driving us to distraction. He will talk so.”
“Yes. Chiefly tales of travel. Oh, Mr. Jones, it is terrible.”
Jones’s face grew cold and set.
“Then the man is a bore?” he said.
“A dreadful bore.”
“I will look into this matter, Miss Pettigrew. One last question. In the case of your father’s demise—this is purely hypothetical—a considerable quantity of his property would, I suppose, go to Mr. Stanley Pettigrew?”
“More than half.”
“Thank you. That, I think, is all this morning. Good-day, Miss Pettigrew.”
And our visitor, with a bright smile—at me, I always maintain, though Jones declares it was at him—left the room.
“Well, Jones,” I said encouragingly, “what do you make of it?”
“I never form theories, as you are perfectly well aware,” he replied curtly. “Pass me my bagpipes.”
I passed him his bagpipes and vanished.
It was late when I returned.
I found Jones lying on the floor with his head in a coal-scuttle.
“Well, Wuddus,” he said, “so you’ve come back?”
“My dear Jones, how——?”
“Tush, I saw you come in.”
“Of course,” I said. “How simple it seems when you explain it! But what about this business of Miss Pettigrew’s?”
“Just so. A black business, Wuddus. One of the blackest I have ever handled. The man Stanley Pettigrew is making a very deliberate and systematic attempt to bore his unfortunate relative to death!”
I stared at him in silent horror.
• • • •
Two days afterwards Jones told me that he had made all the arrangements. We were to go down to Pettigrew Court by the midnight mail. I asked, Why the midnight mail? Why not wait and go comfortably next day? Jones, with some scorn, replied that if he could not begin a case by springing into the midnight mail, he preferred not to undertake that case. I was silenced.
“I am to go down as a friend of the family,” said he, “and you are going as a footman.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Don’t mention it,” said Jones. “You see, you have got to come in some capacity, for I must have a reporter on the spot, and as a bore is always at his worst at meal-times you will be more useful in the way of taking notes if you come as a footman. You follow me, Wuddus?”
“But even now I don’t quite see. How do you propose to treat the case?”
“I shall simply outbore this Pettigrew. I shall cap all his stories with duller ones. Bring your note-book.”
“Stay, Jones,” I said. “It seems to me—correct me if I am wrong—that in the exhilaration of the moment you have allowed a small point to escape you.”
“I beg your pardon, Wuddus?” His face was pale with fury.
“A very small point,” I said hurriedly. “Simply this, in fact. If you begin outboring Stanley, surely an incidental effect of your action will be to accelerate the destruction of your suffering host.”
“True,” said Jones thoughtfully. “True. I had not thought of that. It is at such moments, Wuddus, that a suspicion steals across my mind that you are not such a fool as you undoubtedly look.” I bowed.
“I must make arrangements with Mr. Pettigrew. Until I have finished with brother Stanley he must keep to his room. Let him make some excuse. Perhaps you can suggest one?”
I suggested Asiatic cholera. Jones made a note of it.
On the following night, precisely at twelve o’clock, we sprang into the midnight mail.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.
Useless except to roast: “Ode to Tobacco” by Charles Stuart Calverley (1831–1884).
a new brougham: A light, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage; pronounced “broom” thus justifying the “swept clean” pun.
Wuddus: Since Wodehouse’s contributions to Punch thus far had all been unsigned on the pages where they appeared, it’s amusing to see how he names his Watson character a slurred version of his own surname (pronounced wood-house if said carefully). I wonder how many readers caught this in 1903? I imagine they were laughing too much at the Sherlockian takeoffs like Grocer Square for Baker Street to remember to check the half-yearly index for the author’s name.
John Dawson reminds me that this story is a Sherlockian expansion of an idea Wodehouse first used in “A New Profession.”