Friday, 3 April 2009

Excerpt from Wodehouse's "The Small Bachelor"

It'll soon become obvious why I'm posting this excerpt from P.G. Wodehouse's novel.

"Ouch!" cried Mrs Waddington.

She had not intended to express any verbal comment on the incident, for those who creep at night through other people's kitchens must be silent and wary: but the sudden agony was so keen that she could not refrain from comment. And to her horror she found that her cry had been heard. There came through the darkness a curious noise like the drawing of a cork, and then somebody spoke.

'Who are you?' said an unpleasant, guttural voice.

Mrs Waddington stopped, paralysed. She would not, in the circumstances, have heard with any real pleasure the most musical of speech: but a soft, sympathetic utterance would undoubtedly have afflicted her with a shade less of anguish and alarm. This voice was the voice of one without human pity: a grating, malevolent voice; a voice that set Mrs Waddington thinking quiveringly in headlines:


'Who are you?'


'Who are you?'


'Who are you?'

Mrs Waddington gulped.

'I am Mrs Sigsbee H. Waddington,' she faltered. And it would have amazed Sigsbee H., had he heard her, to discover that it was possible for her to speak with such a winning meekness.

'Who are you?'

'Mrs Sigsbee H. Waddington, of East Seventy-Ninth Street and Hempstead, Long Island. I must apologize for the apparent strangeness of my conduct in...'

'Who are you?'

Annoyance began to compete with Mrs Waddington's terror. Deaf persons had always irritated her, for like so many women of an impatient and masterful turn of mind, she was of the opinion that they could hear perfectly well if they took the trouble. She raised her voice and answered with a certain stiffness.

'I have already informed you that I am Mrs Sigsbee H. Waddington...'

'Have a nut,' said the voice, changing the subject.

Mrs Waddington's teeth came together in a sharp click. All the other emotions which had been afflicting her passed abruptly away, to be succeeded by a cold fury. Few things are more mortifying to a proud woman than the discovery that she had been wasting her time being respectful to a parrot: and only her inability to locate the bird in the surrounding blackness prevented a rather unpleasant brawl. Had she been able to come to grips with it, Mrs Waddington at that moment would undoubtedly have done the parrot no good whatsoever.

It's interesting that I came upon this passage just days after the news item about the parrot that saved a little girl's life. Knowing what we now know about the intelligence of parrots, perhaps Wodehouse's avian character was having a good laugh all the time.

Truth is stranger than fiction.

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