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


There were reasons why he wanted the money. Looking at him as he cantered over the linoleum at Bredin's, you would have said that his mind was on his work. But it was not so. He took and executed orders as automatically as the penny-in-the-slot musical-box in the corner took pennies and produced tunes. His thoughts were of Jeanne Le Brocq, his co-worker at Bredin's, and a little cigar shop down Brixton way which he knew was in the market at a reasonable rate. To marry the former and own the latter was Paul's idea of the earthly paradise, and it was the wealthy connoisseur, and he alone, who could open the gates.

Jeanne was a large, slow-moving Norman girl, stolidly handsome. One could picture her in a de Maupassant farmyard. In the clatter and bustle of Bredin's Parisian Cafe she appeared out of place, like a cow in a boiler-factory. To Paul, who worshipped her with all the fervour of a little man for a large woman, her deliberate methods seemed all that was beautiful and dignified. To his mind she lent a tone to the vulgar whirlpool of gorging humanity, as if she had been some goddess mixing in a Homeric battle. The whirlpool had other views--and expressed them. One coarse-fibred brute, indeed, once went so far as to address to her the frightful words, ''Urry up, there, Tottie! Look slippy.' It was wrong, of course, for Paul to slip and spill an order of scrambled eggs down the brute's coatsleeve, but who can blame him?

Among those who did not see eye to eye with Paul in his views on deportment in waitresses was M. Bredin himself, the owner of the Parisian Cafe; and it was this circumstance which first gave Paul the opportunity of declaring the passion which was gnawing him with the fierce fury of a Bredin customer gnawing a tough steak against time during the rush hour. He had long worshipped her from afar, but nothing more intimate than a 'Good morning, Miss Jeanne', had escaped him, till one day during a slack spell he came upon her in the little passage leading to the kitchen, her face hidden in her apron, her back jerking with sobs.

Business is business. Paul had a message to deliver to the cook respecting 'two fried, coffee, and one stale'. He delivered it and returned. Jeanne was still sobbing.

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