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- The Coming of Bill - 1/58 -


The Coming of Bill

by P. G. Wodehouse

1920

CONTENTS

BOOK I

Chapter

I. A PAWN OF FATE

II. RUTH STATES HER INTENTION

III. THE MATES MEET

IV. TROUBLED WATERS

V. WHEREIN OPPOSITES AGREE

VI. BREAKING THE NEWS

VII. SUFFICIENT UNTO THEMSELVES

VIII. SUSPENSE

IX. THE WHITE HOPE IS TURNED DOWN

X. AN INTERLUDE OF PEACE

XI. STUNG TO ACTION

XII. A CLIMAX

BOOK II

Chapter

I. EMPTY-HANDED

II. AN UNKNOWN PATH

III. THE MISADVENTURE OF STEVE

IV. THE WIDENING GAP

V. THE REAL THING

VI. THE OUTCASTS

VII. CUTTING THE TANGLED KNOT

VIII. STEVE TO THE RESCUE

IX. AT ONE IN THE MORNING

X. ACCEPTING THE GIFTS OF THE GODS

XI. MR. PENWAY ON THE GRILL

XII. DOLLS WITH SOULS

XIII. PASTURES NEW

XIV. THE SIXTY-FIRST STREET CYCLONE

XV. MRS. PORTER'S WATERLOO

XVI. THE WHITE-HOPE LINK

BOOK ONE

Chapter I

A Pawn of Fate

Mrs. Lora Delane Porter dismissed the hireling who had brought her automobile around from the garage and seated herself at the wheel. It was her habit to refresh her mind and improve her health by a daily drive between the hours of two and four in the afternoon.

The world knows little of its greatest women, and it is possible that Mrs. Porter's name is not familiar to you. If this is the case, I am pained, but not surprised. It happens only too often that the uplifter of the public mind is baulked by a disinclination on the part of the public mind to meet him or her half-way. The uplifter does his share. He produces the uplifting book. But the public, instead of standing still to be uplifted, wanders off to browse on coloured supplements and magazine stories.

If you are ignorant of Lora Delane Porter's books that is your affair. Perhaps you are more to be pitied than censured. Nature probably gave you the wrong shape of forehead. Mrs. Porter herself would have put it down to some atavistic tendency or pre-natal influence. She put most things down to that. She blamed nearly all the defects of the modern world, from weak intellects to in-growing toe-nails, on long-dead ladies and gentlemen who, safe in the family vault, imagined that they had established their alibi. She subpoenaed grandfathers and even great-grandfathers to give evidence to show that the reason Twentieth-Century Willie squinted or had to spend his winters in Arizona was their own shocking health 'way back in the days beyond recall.

Mrs. Porter's mind worked backward and forward. She had one eye on the past, the other on the future. If she was strong on heredity, she was stronger on the future of the race. Most of her published works dealt with this subject. A careful perusal of them would have enabled the rising generation to select its ideal wife or husband with perfect ease, and, in the event of Heaven blessing the union, her little volume, entitled "The Hygienic Care of the Baby," which was all about germs and how to avoid them, would have insured the continuance of the direct succession.

Unfortunately, the rising generation did not seem disposed to a careful perusal of anything except the baseball scores and the beauty hints in the Sunday papers, and Mrs. Porter's public was small. In fact, her only real disciple, as she sometimes told herself in her rare moods of discouragement, was her niece, Ruth Bannister, daughter of John Bannister, the millionaire. It was not so long ago, she reflected with pride, that she had induced Ruth to refuse to marry Basil Milbank--a considerable feat, he being a young man of remarkable personal attractions and a great match in every way. Mrs. Porter's objection to him was that his father had died believing to the last that he was a teapot.

There is nothing evil or degrading in believing oneself a teapot, but it argues a certain inaccuracy of the thought processes; and Mrs. Porter had used all her influence with Ruth to make her reject Basil. It was her success that first showed her how great that influence was. She had come now to look on Ruth's destiny as something for which she was personally responsible--a fact which was noted and resented by others, in particular Ruth's brother Bailey, who regarded his aunt with a dislike and suspicion akin to that which a stray dog feels towards the boy who saunters towards him with a tin can in his hand.

To Bailey, his strong-minded relative was a perpetual menace, a sort of perambulating yellow peril, and the fact that she often alluded to him as a worm consolidated his distaste for her.

* * * * *

Mrs. Porter released the clutch and set out on her drive. She rarely had a settled route for these outings of hers, preferring to zigzag about New York, livening up the great city at random. She always drove herself and, having, like a good suffragist, a contempt for male prohibitions, took an honest pleasure in exceeding a man-made speed limit.

One hesitates to apply the term "joy-rider" to so eminent a leader of contemporary thought as the authoress of "The Dawn of Better Things," "Principles of Selection," and "What of To-morrow?" but candour compels the admission that she was a somewhat reckless driver. Perhaps it was due to some atavistic tendency. One of her ancestors may have been a Roman charioteer or a coach-racing maniac of the Regency days. At any rate, after a hard morning's work on her new book she felt that her mind needed cooling, and found that the rush of air against her face effected this satisfactorily. The greater the rush, the quicker the cooling. However, as the alert inhabitants of Manhattan Island, a hardy race trained from infancy to dodge taxicabs and ambulance wagons, had always removed themselves from her path with their usual agility, she had never yet had an accident.

But then she had never yet met George Pennicut. And George, pawn of fate, was even now waiting round the corner to upset her record.

George, man of all work to Kirk Winfield, one of the youngest and least efficient of New York's artist colony, was English. He had been in America some little time, but not long enough to accustom his rather unreceptive mind to the fact that, whereas in his native land vehicles kept to the left, in the country of his adoption they kept to the right; and it was still his bone-headed practice, when stepping off the sidewalk, to keep a wary look-out in precisely the wrong direction.


The Coming of Bill - 1/58

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