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


It was a civil, neighbourly thing to do, but it annihilated the only excuse he could think of for looking in at night. He could not help himself. It was like some frightful scourge--the morphine habit, or something of that sort. Every morning he swore to himself that nothing would induce him to mention the subject of rheumatism, but no sooner had the stricken old gentleman's head appeared above the fence than out it came.

'Morning, Mr Williams.'

'Morning, Tom.'

Pause, indicative of a strong man struggling with himself; then:

'How's the rheumatism, Mr Williams?'

'Better, thank'ee, Tom.'

And there he was, with his guns spiked.

However, he did not give up. He brought to his wooing the same determination which had made him second gardener at the Hall at twenty-five. He was a novice at the game, but instinct told him that a good line of action was to shower gifts. He did so. All he had to shower was vegetables, and he showered them in a way that would have caused the goddess Ceres to be talked about. His garden became a perfect crater, erupting vegetables. Why vegetables? I think I hear some heckler cry. Why not flowers--fresh, fair, fragrant flowers? You can do a lot with flowers. Girls love them. There is poetry in them. And, what is more, there is a recognized language of flowers. Shoot in a rose, or a calceolaria, or an herbaceous border, or something, I gather, and you have made a formal proposal of marriage without any of the trouble of rehearsing a long speech and practising appropriate gestures in front of your bedroom looking-glass. Why, then, did not Thomas Kitchener give Sally Preston flowers? Well, you see, unfortunately, it was now late autumn, and there were no flowers. Nature had temporarily exhausted her floral blessings, and was jogging along with potatoes and artichokes and things. Love is like that. It invariably comes just at the wrong time. A few months before there had been enough roses in Tom Kitchener's garden to win the hearts of a dozen girls. Now there were only vegetables, 'Twas ever thus.

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