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


Owen Bentley was feeling embarrassed. He looked at Mr Sheppherd, and with difficulty restrained himself from standing on one leg and twiddling his fingers. At one period of his career, before the influence of his uncle Henry had placed him in the London and Suburban Bank, Owen had been an actor. On the strength of a batting average of thirty-three point nought seven for Middlesex, he had been engaged by the astute musical-comedy impresario to whom the idea first occurred that, if you have got to have young men to chant 'We are merry and gay, tra-la, for this is Bohemia,' in the Artists' Ball scene, you might just as well have young men whose names are known to the public. He had not been an actor long, for loss of form had put him out of first-class cricket, and the impresario had given his place in the next piece to a googly bowler who had done well in the last Varsity match; but he had been one long enough to experience that sinking sensation which is known as stage-fright. And now, as he began to explain to Mr Sheppherd that he wished for his consent to marry his daughter Audrey, he found himself suffering exactly the same symptoms.

From the very start, from the moment when he revealed the fact that his income, salary and private means included, amounted to less than two hundred pounds, he had realized that this was going to be one of his failures. It was the gruesome Early Victorianness of it all that took the heart out of him. Mr Sheppherd had always reminded him of a heavy father out of a three-volume novel, but, compared with his demeanour as he listened now, his attitude hitherto had been light and whimsical. Until this moment Owen had not imagined that this sort of thing ever happened nowadays outside the comic papers. By the end of the second minute he would not have been surprised to find himself sailing through the air, urged by Mr Sheppherd's boot, his transit indicated by a dotted line and a few stars.

Mr Sheppherd's manner was inclined to bleakness.

'This is most unfortunate,' he said. 'Most unfortunate. I have my daughter's happiness to consider. It is my duty as a father.' He paused. 'You say you have no prospects? I should have supposed that your uncle--? Surely, with his influence--?'

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