The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
Chapter XXII. A Gathering of Cat Specialists
"It will probably be necessary," said Smith, as they set out for Groome Street, "to allude to you, Comrade John, in the course of this interview, as one of our most eminent living cat-fanciers. You have never met Comrade Jarvis, I believe? Well, he is a gentleman with just about enough forehead to prevent his front hair getting inextricably blended with his eyebrows, and he owns twenty-three cats, each with a leather collar round its neck. It is, I fancy, the cat note which we shall have to strike to-day. If only Comrade Brown were with us, we could appeal to his finer feelings. But he has seen me only once and you never, and I should not care to bet that he will feel the least particle of dismay at the idea of our occiputs getting all mussed up with a black-jack. But when I inform him that you are an English cat-fancier, and that in your island home you have seventy-four fine cats, mostly Angoras, that will be a different matter. I shall be surprised if he does not fall on your neck."
They found Mr. Jarvis in his fancier's shop, engaged in the intellectual occupation of greasing a cat's paws with butter. He looked up as they entered, and then resumed his task.
"Comrade Jarvis," said Smith, "we meet again. You remember me?"
"Nope," said Mr. Jarvis promptly.
Smith was not discouraged.
"Ah!" he said tolerantly, "the fierce rush of New York life! How it wipes from the retina to-day the image impressed on it but yesterday. Is it not so, Comrade Jarvis?"
The cat-expert concentrated himself on his patient's paws without replying.
"A fine animal," said Smith, adjusting his monocle. "To what particular family of the Felis Domestica does that belong? In color it resembles a Neapolitan ice more than anything."
Mr. Jarvis' manner became unfriendly.
"Say, what do youse want? That's straight, ain't it? If youse want to buy a boid or a snake, why don't youse say so?"
"I stand corrected," said Smith; "I should have remembered that time is money. I called in here partly in the hope that, though you only met me once--on the stairs of my office, you might retain pleasant recollections of me, but principally in order that I might make two very eminent cat-fanciers acquainted. This," he said, with a wave of his hand in the direction of John, "is Comrade Maude, possibly the best known of English cat-fanciers. Comrade Maude's stud of Angoras is celebrated wherever the English language is spoken."
Mr. Jarvis's expression changed. He rose, and, having inspected John with silent admiration for a while, extended a well-buttered hand towards him. Smith looked on benevolently.
"What Comrade Maude does not know about cats," he said, "is not knowledge. His information on Angoras alone would fill a volume."
"Say"--Mr. Jarvis was evidently touching on a point which had weighed deeply upon him--"why's catnip called catnip?"
John looked at Smith helplessly. It sounded like a riddle, but it was obvious that Mr. Jarvis's motive in putting the question was not frivolous. He really wished to know.
"The word, as Comrade Maude was just about to observe," said Smith, "is a corruption of catmint. Why it should be so corrupted I do not know. But what of that? The subject is too deep to be gone fully into at the moment. I should recommend you to read Mr. Maude's little brochure on the matter. Passing lightly on from that--"
"Did youse ever have a cat dat ate bettles?" enquired Mr. Jarvis.
"There was a time when many of Comrade Maude's Felidae supported life almost entirely on beetles."
"Did they git thin?"
John felt it was time, if he were to preserve his reputation, to assert himself.
"No," he replied firmly.
Mr. Jarvis looked astonished.
"English beetles," said Smith, "don't make cats thin. Passing lightly--"
"I had a cat oncst," said Mr. Jarvis, ignoring the remark and sticking to his point, "dat ate beetles and got thin and used to tie itself inter knots."
"A versatile animal," agreed Smith.
"Say," Mr. Jarvis went on, now plainly on a subject near to his heart, "dem beetles is fierce. Sure! Can't keep de cats off of eatin' dem, I can't. First t'ing you know dey've swallowed dem, and den dey gits thin and ties theirselves into knots."
"You should put them into strait-waistcoats," said Smith. "Passing, however, lightly--"
"Say, ever have a cross-eyed cat?"
"Comrade Maude's cats," said Smith, "have happily been almost entirely free from strabismus."
"Dey's lucky, cross-eyed cats is. You has a cross-eyed cat, and not'in' don't never go wrong. But, say, was dere ever a cat wit' one blue and one yaller one in your bunch? Gee! it's fierce when it's like dat. It's a skidoo, is a cat wit' one blue eye and one yaller one. Puts you in bad, surest t'ing you know. Oncst a guy give me a cat like dat, and first t'ing you know I'm in bad all round. It wasn't till I give him away to de cop on de corner and gets me one dat's cross-eyed dat I lifts de skidoo off of me."
"And what happened to the cop?" enquired Smith, interested.
"Oh, he got in bad, sure enough," said Mr. Jarvis without emotion. "One of de boys what he'd pinched and had sent up the road once lays for him and puts one over on him wit a black-jack. Sure. Dat's what comes of havin' a cat wit' one blue and one yaller one."
Mr. Jarvis relapsed into silence. He seemed to be meditating on the inscrutable workings of Fate. Smith took advantage of the pause to leave the cat topic and touch on matters of more vital import.
"Tense and exhilarating as is this discussion of the optical peculiarities of cats," he said, "there is another matter on which, if you will permit me, I should like to touch. I would hesitate to bore you with my own private troubles, but this is a matter which concerns Comrade Maude as well as myself, and I can see that your regard for Comrade Maude is almost an obsession."
"I can see," said Smith, "that Comrade Maude is a man to whom you give the glad hand."
Mr. Jarvis regarded John with respectful affection.
"Sure! He's to the good, Mr. Maude is."
"Exactly," said Smith. "To resume, then. The fact is, Comrade Jarvis, we are much persecuted by scoundrels. How sad it is in this world! We look to every side. We look to north, east, south, and west, and what do we see? Mainly scoundrels. I fancy you have heard a little about our troubles before this. In fact, I gather that the same scoundrels actually approached you with a view to engaging your services to do us up, but that you very handsomely refused the contract. We are the staff of Peaceful Moments."
"Peaceful Moments," said Mr. Jarvis. "Sure, dat's right. A guy comes to me and says he wants you put through it, but I gives him de trundown."
"So I was informed," said Smith. "Well, failing you, they went to a gentleman of the name of Reilly--"
"Exactly. Spider Reilly, the lessee and manager of the Three Points gang."
Mr. Jarvis frowned.
"Dose T'ree Points, dey're to de bad. Dey're fresh."
"It is too true, Comrade Jarvis."
"Say," went on Mr. Jarvis, waxing wrathful at the recollection, "what do youse t'ink dem fresh stiffs done de odder night? Started some rough woik in me own dance-joint."
"Shamrock Hall?" said Smith. "I heard about it."
"Dat's right, Shamrock Hall. Got gay, dey did, wit' some of the Table Hillers. Say, I got it in for dem gazebos, sure I have. Surest t'ing you know."
Smith beamed approval.
"That," he said, "is the right spirit. Nothing could be more admirable. We are bound together by our common desire to check the ever-growing spirit of freshness among the members of the Three Points. Add to that the fact that we are united by a sympathetic knowledge of the manners and customs of cats, and especially that Comrade Maude, England's greatest fancier, is our mutual friend, and what more do we want? Nothing."
"Mr. Maude's to de good," assented Mr. Jarvis, eying John once more in friendly fashion.
"We are all to the good," said Smith. "Now, the thing I wished to ask you is this. The office of the paper was, until this morning, securely guarded by Comrade Brady, whose name will be familiar to you."
"On the bull's-eye, as usual. Kid Brady, the coming light-weight champion of the world. Well, he has unfortunately been compelled to leave us, and the way into the office is consequently clear to any sand-bag specialist who cares to wander in. So what I came to ask was, will you take Comrade Brady's place for a few days?"
"Will you come in and sit in the office for the next day or so and help hold the fort? I may mention that there is money attached to the job. We will pay for your services."
Mr. Jarvis reflected but a brief moment.
"Why, sure," he said. "Me fer dat."
"Excellent, Comrade Jarvis. Nothing could be better. We will see you to-morrow, then. I rather fancy that the gay band of Three Pointers who will undoubtedly visit the offices of Peaceful Moments in the next few days is scheduled to run up against the surprise of their lives."
"Sure t'ing. I'll bring me canister."
"Do," said Smith. "In certain circumstances one canister is worth a flood of rhetoric. Till to-morrow, then, Comrade Jarvis. I am very much obliged to you."
* * * * *
"Not at all a bad hour's work," he said complacently, as they turned out of Groome Street. "A vote of thanks to you, John, for your invaluable assistance."
"I didn't do much," said John, with a grin.
"Apparently, no. In reality, yes. Your manner was exactly right. Reserved, yet not haughty. Just what an eminent cat-fancier's manner should be. I could see that you made a pronounced hit with Comrade Jarvis. By the way, as he is going to show up at the office to-morrow, perhaps it would be as well if you were to look up a few facts bearing on the feline world. There is no knowing what thirst for information a night's rest may not give Comrade Jarvis. I do not presume to dictate, but if you were to make yourself a thorough master of the subject of catnip, for instance, it might quite possibly come in useful."