P. G. Wodehouse: The Man Upstairs and Other Stories


It was Harold who first made us acquainted, when I was dining one night at the Cafe Britannique, in Soho. It is a peculiarity of the Cafe Britannique that you will always find flies there, even in winter. Snow was falling that night as I turned in at the door, but, glancing about me, I noticed several of the old faces. My old acquaintance, Percy the bluebottle, looking wonderfully fit despite his years, was doing deep breathing exercises on a mutton cutlet, and was too busy to do more than pause for a moment to nod at me; but his cousin, Harold, always active, sighted me and bustled up to do the honours.

He had finished his game of touch-last with my right ear, and was circling slowly in the air while he thought out other ways of entertaining me, when there was a rush of air, a swish of napkin, and no more Harold.

I turned to thank my preserver, whose table adjoined mine. He was a Frenchman, a melancholy-looking man. He had the appearance of one who has searched for the leak in life's gas-pipe with a lighted candle; of one whom the clenched fist of Fate has smitten beneath the temperamental third waistcoat-button.

He waved my thanks aside. 'It was a bagatelle,' he said. We became friendly. He moved to my table, and we fraternized over our coffee.

Suddenly he became agitated. He kicked at something on the floor. His eyes gleamed angrily.

'Ps-s-st!' he hissed. 'Va-t'en!'

I looked round the corner of the table, and perceived the restaurant cat in dignified retreat.

'You do not like cats?' I said.

'I 'ate all animals, monsieur. Cats especially.' He frowned. He seemed to hesitate.

'I will tell you my story,' he said. 'You will sympathize. You have a sympathetic face. It is the story of a man's tragedy. It is the story of a blighted life. It is the story of a woman who would not forgive. It is the story--'

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