Monday, April 09, 2012

Traveling companions

Last Thursday, in anticipation of some weekend travel, I stopped at my local bookstore, 57th Street Books, to pick up two of my favorite traveling companions: Rex Stout and P. G. Wodehouse. What better comforts to ease the irritations of contemporary travel and wash away the frustrations of a draining workweek than these two authors who offer seemingly infinite minor variations of infinitely lovable formulas?

The travel, alas, has left me too behindhand for proper blogging tonight, so instead I'll just share a couple of favorite passages from the pair. First, from Rex Stout's And Be a Villain (1948), an act of resistance from Nero Wolfe--who is irritated by the name of one of the corporations that is to be paying his fees for a case--generates an equal and opposite reaction from Archie:
"No. I will not." He was emphatic. "I will not draft or sign an agreement one of the parties to which is that Sweeties."

I knew perfectly well that was reasonable and even noble. But what pinched me was that I had sacrificed principle without hesitation, and here he was refusing to. I glared at him:

"Very well." I stood up. "I resign as of now. You are simply too conceited, too eccentric, and too fat to work for."

"Archie. Sit down."


"Yes. I am no fatter than I was five years ago. I am considerably more conceited, but so are you, and why the devil shouldn't we be? Some day there will be a crisis. Either you'll get insufferable and I'll fire you, or I'll get insufferable and you'll quit. But this isn't the day and you know it."
Archie can do nothing but agree.

From Wodehouse's Nothing Serious (1950), two passages. First, from "Rodney Has a Relapse," this ordinary, yet no less admirable moment from the career of the Oldest Member:
The Oldest Member, who had been in a reverie, came out of it abruptly and began to speak with the practised ease of a raconteur who does not require a cue to start him off on a story.
And, because I can't ever resist Lord Emsworth, the opening of "Birth of a Salesman":
The day was so fair, the breeze so gentle, the sky so blue and the sun so sunny, that Lord Emsworth, that vague and woollen-headed peer who liked fine weather, should have been gay and carefree, especially as he was looking at flowers, a thing which always gave him pleasure. But on his face, as he poked it over the hedge beyond which the flowers lay, a close observer would have noted a peevish frown. He was thinking of his younger son Freddie.

Coming to America to attend the wedding of one of his nieces to a local millionaire of the name of Tipton Plimsoll, Lord Emsworth had found himself, in the matter of board and logdging, confronted with a diffcult choice. The British Government, notoriously slow men with a dollar, having refused to allow him to take out of England a sum sufficient to enable him to live in a New York hotel, he could become the guest of the bridgeroom's aunt, who was acting as M.C. of the nuptials, or he could dig in with Freddie in the Long Island suburb where the latter had made his home. Warned by his spies that Miss Plimsoll maintained in her establishment no fewer than six Pekinese dogs, a breed of animal which always made straight for his ankles, he had decided on Freddie and was conscious now of having done the wrong thing. Pekes chew the body, but Freddie seared the soul.
You see why mine was a carefree trip?

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