Freddie felt in his pocket, produced a cigarette case, and from it extracted a newspaper clipping.
“Did you read about poor old Percy in the papers? The case, you know?”
“Lord Stockheath, you know.”
“Oh, the Stockheath breach-of-promise case? I did more than that. I was in court all three days.” R. Jones emitted a cozy chuckle. “Is he a pal of yours? A cousin, eh? I wish you had seen him in the witness box, with Jellicoe-Smith cross-examining him! The funniest thing I ever heard! And his letters to the girl! They read them out in court; and of all—”
“Don’t, old man! Dickie, old top—please! I know all about it. I read the reports. They made poor old Percy look like an absolute ass.”
“Well, Nature had done that already; but I’m bound to say they improved on Nature’s work. I should think your Cousin Percy must have felt like a plucked chicken.”
A spasm of pain passed over the Honorable Freddie’s vacant face. He wriggled in his chair.
“Dickie, old man, I wish you wouldn’t talk like that. It makes me feel ill.”
“Why, is he such a pal of yours as all that?”
“It’s not that. It’s—the fact is, Dickie, old top, I’m in exactly the same bally hole as poor old Percy was, myself!”
“What! You have been sued for breach of promise?”
“Not absolutely that—yet. Look here; I’ll tell you the whole thing. Do you remember a show at the Piccadilly about a year ago called “The Baby Doll”? There was a girl in the chorus.”
“Several—I remember noticing.”
“No; I mean one particular girl—a girl called Joan Valentine. The rotten part is that I never met her.”
“Pull yourself together, Freddie. What exactly is the trouble?”
“Well—don’t you see?—I used to go to the show every other night, and I fell frightfully in love with this girl—”
“Without having met her?”
“Yes. You see, I was rather an ass in those days.”
“No, no!” said R. Jones handsomely.
“I must have been or I shouldn’t have been such an ass, don’t you know! Well, as I was saying, I used to write this girl letters, saying how much I was in love with her; and—and—”
“Specifically proposing marriage?”
“I can’t remember. I expect I did. I was awfully in love.”
“How was that if you never met her?”
“She wouldn’t meet me. She wouldn’t even come out to luncheon. She didn’t even answer my letters—just sent word down by the Johnny at the stage door. And then—”
Freddie’s voice died away. He thrust the knob of his cane into his mouth in a sort of frenzy.
“What then?” inquired R. Jones.
A scarlet blush manifested itself on Freddie’s young face. His eyes wandered sidewise. After a long pause a single word escaped him, almost inaudible:
R. Jones trembled as though an electric current had been passed through his plump frame. His little eyes sparkled with merriment.
“You wrote her poetry!”
“Yards of it, old boy—yards of it!” groaned Freddie. Panic filled him with speech. “You see the frightful hole I’m in? This girl is bound to have kept the letters. I don’t remember whether I actually proposed to her or not; but anyway she’s got enough material to make it worth while to have a dash at an action—especially after poor old Percy has just got soaked for such a pile of money and made breach-of-promise cases the fashion, so to speak.
“And now that the announcement of my engagement is out she’s certain to get busy. Probably she has been waiting for something of the sort. Don’t you see that all the cards are in her hands? We couldn’t afford to let the thing come into court. That poetry would dish my marriage for a certainty. I’d have to emigrate or something! Goodness knows what would happen at home! My old gov’nor would murder me! So you see what a frightful hole I’m in, don’t you, Dickie, old man?”
P. G. Wodehouse, Something New ch. II (1915).