P. G. Wodehouse - The Artistic Career of Corky lyrics
You may notice, as you read these reminiscences of mine, that from time to time things happen in and around the city of New York. It is just possible that this may cause you to look
surprised, and ask yourselves, ‘What is Bertram doing so far from England, the land he loves so well?'
Well, to cut a long story short, what happened was that my Aunt Agatha once sent me over to America. My orders were to try to stop young Gussie, my cousin, marrying a girl who was an actress. I managed the whole thing so badly that I decided I had better stay in New York instead of going back and having long cosy conversations with Aunt Agatha about it.
So I sent Jeeves out to find a reasonable flat, and made myself as comfortable as I could, for a long stay. I must say, New York is a most cheerful place to live in, if things are too hot for you
at home. Fellows introduced me to other fellows and so on, and it wasn't long before I knew large numbers of the right sort. Some of them -the wealthy types- lived in big houses up by Central Park, and others -the not-so-wealthy artists and writers and so on- lived mostly around Washington Square.
Corky, whose real name was Bruce Corcoran, was one of the artists. A portrait-painter, he called himself, but in fact his score up to now had been zero. You see, the difficulty about portrait-painting -I've looked into the thing a bit- is that you can't start painting portraits until people come along and ask you to, and they won't come and ask you until you've painted a lot first. This makes it kind of difficult, not to say tough, for the ambitious young man.
Corky managed to make a little money by drawing an occasional funny picture for the newspapers -he could produce something quite amusing when he got a good idea. But his main income came from his rich uncle, Alexander Worple, who was in the jute business. I'm not quite sure what jute is, exactly, but it seems that people are very keen on it, because Mr Worple had made a huge fortune out of selling it.
Now, a lot of fellows think that having a rich uncle makes life easy, but Corky tells me this is not true. Worple was only fifty-one, a strong, healthy sort of chap, who looked capable of living for ever. It was not this, however, that worried poor Corky, who did not mind his uncle going on living. What really annoyed Corky was the way old Worple used to bother him constantly. Corky's uncle, you see, didn't want him to be an artist. He didn't thing Corky was good enough. He was always trying to persuade him to give up Art and go into the jute business, starting at the bottom and working up. But Corky said that, although he didn't know what people did at the bottom of the jute business, he felt sure it was something too horrible for words. He believed in his future as an artist, and wanted to make a career of Art. Meanwhile, his uncle, rather unwillingly, paid him a small allowance four times a year.
Corky wouldn't even have received this if his uncle hadn't had a hobby. In his spare time Mr Worple studied birds. He had written a book called American Birds, and was writing another, which would be called More American Birds. When he had finished that one, he was expected to begin a third, and go on until there were no more American birds left. Corky used to visit him once every three months, and just sat there, while his uncle talked about birds. As long as Corky
listened politely for an hour or so, he felt more or less sure he would receive his allowance. But it was rather unpleasant for the poor chap. He never really knew for certain if he would get the money, you see, and anyway, he was only interested in birds served on a dish, with a good bottle of cold dry white wine.
Mr Worple was a man of extremely uncertain temper. He also seemed to think that Corky was a poor fool who could not manage anything successfully. I expect Jeeves feels very much the same about me. So when Corky staggered into my apartment one afternoon, pushing a girl gently in front of him, and said, ‘Bertie, I want you to meet my fiancée, Miss Singer,' I immediately realized what his problem was.
‘Corky, what about your uncle?' I asked. The poor chap gave a shaky laugh.
‘We're so worried,' said the girl. ‘We were hoping you could suggest a way of breaking the news gently to Mr Worple.'
Muriel Singer was one of those quiet, good-looking girls, who have a way of looking at you with their big eyes. ‘You are the greatest thing on earth,' they seem to say. ‘You big strong man, you!' She gave a fellow a wonderful feeling, made him want to take her hand and say, ‘Don't worry, little one!' or something like that. What I mean is, she made me feel brave and clever and capable, all at the same time.
‘I should think your uncle would be delighted to hear you're engaged,' I said to Corky. He'll consider Miss Singer the perfect wife for you.'
Corky didn't look any happier, ‘You don't know him. He's got a very strange character. If he liked Muriel, he'd still pretend he didn't. If I tell him I'm engaged, he'll just think I've decided
something important without asking him, and he'll automatically lose his temper. He's always done that.'
My brain was working overtime to meet this emergency. ‘You want to arrange for him to meet Miss Singer without knowing that you know her. Then you come along-‘
‘But how can I arrange that?'
I saw his point. That was the difficulty. ‘There's only one thing to do,' I said.
‘Leave it to Jeeves.' And I rang the bell.
‘Sir?' said Jeeves, appearing from nowhere. One of the rummy things about Jeeves is that, unless you watch him closely, you rarely see him come into a room. He's like one of those strange
chaps in India who can disappear into thin air and then reappear in another place.
The moment I saw him standing there, listening politely, I felt hugely relieved, like a lost child who sees his father in the distance. ‘Jeeves,' I said, ‘we want your advice.'
‘Very good, sir.'
I told him Corky's painful story in a few well-chosen words. ‘So you see the problem, Jeeves. How can Mr Worple get to know Miss Singer, without realizing that Mr Corcoran already knows
her? Can you try to think of something?'
‘I have thought of something already, sir.'
‘You have, by Jove!'
‘My plan is certain to succeed, sir, but I am afraid the costs will be considerable.'
This made poor Corky look depressed. But I was still under the influence of the girl's melting look, and I saw that I could help. ‘Don't worry about that, Corky,' I said. ‘I'll be only too glad to be
of a**istance. Carry on, Jeeves.'
‘I suggest, sir, that Mr Corcoran should take advantage of the fact that Mr Worple is so fond of birds. The young lady could write a small book, called, for example, The Children's Book of American Birds. All the way through the work there would be frequent and enthusiastic remarks about Mr Worple's own book on birds, You, sir, would pay to have a limited number of copies of this book published. Then we would send a copy to Mr Worple, with a letter from the young lady,
in which she asks to meet the author to whom she owes so much. This, I imagine, would produce the result you wish for.'
I felt extremely proud of Jeeves. What a brain that man has!
‘Jeeves,' I said, ‘that is absolutely wonderful. One of your very best ideas.'
‘Thank you, sir.'
The girl said, ‘But I couldn't write a book about anything. I can't even write good letters.'
‘You see, Bertie,' said Corky, ‘Muriel is more of a dancer and a singer, than a writer. In fact, she's appearing in Choose your Exit at the Manhattan Theatre. I didn't mention it before, but that's why we feel a little worried about how Uncle Alexander will receive the news. He's so unreasonable!'
But Jeeves had the answer, of course. ‘I imagine it would be a simple matter, sir, to find some author in need of money who would be glad to do the actual writing.'
‘That's true,' said Corky. ‘Sam Patterson would do it for a hundred dollars. I'll get in touch with him at once.'
‘Fine!' I said.
‘Will that be all, sir?' said Jeeves. ‘Very good, sir.'
I always used to think that publishers were extremely brainy fellows, but I know better now. All a publisher has to do is write occasional cheques, while a lot of hard-working chappies do the real work. I know, because I've been a publisher myself. I simply sat in the old flat with a pen and a chequebook, and one day a lovely shiny new book appeared.
The girl's name was written in gold letters on the red cover. I opened it and read:
Often on a spring morning, as you walk through the fields, you will hear the sweet, carelessly-flowing song of the Eastern Bluebird. When you are older, you must read all about him in Mr Alexander Worple's wonderful book, ‘American Birds'.
You see. And only a few pages later there was another mention of the uncle, connected to the Yellow-headed Blackbird. It was great writing. I didn't see how the uncle could fail to feel
warmly towards Miss Singer.
And a day or so later Corky staggered up to my flat to tell me that all was well. Mr Worple had written Muriel a letter so full of the milk of human kindness that Corky almost refused to
believe his uncle had written it. Any time it suited Miss Singer to call, said the uncle, he would be delighted to meet her.
Soon after this I had to leave New York, to visit several of my new friends at their country places. So it wasn't until some months later that I came back to the city again. I hadn't heard from Corky, and had been wondering how things had gone in my absence. On my first evening back in New York, I happened to go into a quiet sort of little restaurant, and there, sitting alone at a table, was Muriel Singer. I greeted her.
‘Why, Mr Wooster! How are you?' she replied.
'I beg your pardon?'
‘You're waiting for Corky, aren't you?'
‘Oh, I didn't understand. No, I'm not waiting for him.'
It seemed to me that there was a sort of something in her voice. ‘I say, you and Corky haven't been arguing, have you?'
‘Why, whatever makes you think that?'
‘Oh, well, what I mean is - I thought you usually had dinner with him before you went to the theatre.'
‘I don't work in the theatre any more.'
Suddenly the whole thing was clear to me. I had forgotten what a long time I had been away.
‘Why, of course, I see now! You're married!'
‘How perfectly wonderful! I wish you every happiness.'
‘Thank you so much. Oh, Alexander,' she said, looking past me, ‘this is a friend of mine - Mr Wooster.' I turned past quickly. A fellow with a lot of stiff grey hair and a red sort of healthy face
was standing there. ‘I want you to meet my husband, Mr Wooster. This is a friend of Bruce's, Alexander.'
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The old boy shook my hand warmly. and that was all that prevented me from falling to the floor.
‘So you know my nephew, Mr Wooster?' I heard him say. ‘I wish you would try to make him give up this playing at painting. But I think perhaps he's less wild these days. I noticed it that night
he came to dinner with us, my dear, when he was first introduced to you. He seemed quieter and more serious than before. Now, Mr Wooster, will you have dinner with us tonight? It would be a pleasure for us.'
I said I had already had dinner, and left. What I needed than was air, not food. When I reached my flat, I called Jeeves.
‘Jeeves,' I said, ‘this is urgent. A stiff brandy for me, first of all, and you'd better have one yourself. I've got some news that will shock you.'
‘I won't have one just now, thank you, sir. Perhaps later.'
‘All right. But prepare yourself. You remember Mr Corcoran? And the girl who was supposed to slide smoothly into his uncle's circle of friends, by writing the book on birds?'
‘I remember perfectly, sir.'
‘Well, she's slid. She's married the uncle.'
He took it without showing any surprise. You can't shock Jeeves. ‘That was always a possible development, sir.'
‘Really, by Jove! I think you could have warned us.'
‘I didn't like to take the liberty, sir.'
Of course, after I had had a bite to eat and was in a calmer mood, I realized that what had happened wasn't my fault. But all the same, I must say I didn't look forward to meeting Corky
again until time had lessened his pain a bit. I avoided Washington Square absolutely for the next few months. And then, just when I was beginning to think I could safely stagger in that direction, the most awful thing happened. Opening the paper one morning, I read that Mr and Mrs Alexander
Worple had just had a son. I was so dashed sorry for poor old Corky that I hadn't the heart to touch my breakfast. It was the end. Absolutely. He had lost the girl he loved, and now he had lost the Worple jute millions as well!
I wanted, of course, to hurry down to Washington Square and show the poor fellow how sympathetic I felt, but when I thought about it, absence seemed the best medicine. I gave him litres of it.
But after a month or so, I began to realize that the poor chap probably needed his friends even more at a moment like this. I imagined him sitting in his lonely room with nothing but his bitter thoughts, and this made me so sad that I jumped into a taxi and told the driver to drive there at once.
When I arrived, I found Corky at work. He was painting, while on a chair in the middle of the room sat a cross-looking woman holding a baby.
‘Hallo, Bertie,' said Corky. ‘We're just finishing for the day. That will be all this afternoon - the same time tomorrow, please,' he told the nurse, who got up with the baby and left.
Corky turned to me and began to pour out his feelings. ‘It's my uncle's idea. The portrait will be a surprise for Muriel on her birthday. Just think, Bertie! It's the first time anyone's ever asked me to paint a portrait, and the sitter is that human boiled egg, who's stolen my uncle's fortune from me! Can you believe it! Now I have to spend my afternoons staring into that little kid's ugly face! I can't refuse to paint the portrait, because if I did, my uncle would stop my allowance. But I tell you, Bertie, sometimes when that kid turns and looks unpleasantly at me, I come close to murdering him. There are moments when I can almost see the front page of the evening newspaper:
“Promising Young Artist k**s Baby With Hammer”.'
I touched his shoulder silently. My sympathy for the poor old fellow was too deep for words.
For some time after that, I kept away from his flat, because it didn't seem right to disturb the poor chappie in his misery. Anyway, that dashed nurse reminded me of Aunt Agatha. She had the same cold stare.
But one afternoon Corky phoned me. ‘Bertie, could you come down here this afternoon? I've finished the portrait.'
‘Good boy! Great work!'
‘Yes.' He sounded doubtful. ‘The fact is, Bertie, it doesn't look quite right to me. My uncle's coming in half an hour to inspect it, and - I don't know why, but I feel I'd like your support!'
‘You think he'll get nasty?'
I remembered the red-faced chappie I had met in the restaurant. It was only too easy to imagine him getting nasty.
‘I'll come,' I told Corky, ‘but only if I can bring Jeeves.'
‘Why Jeeves? Jeeves was the fool who suggested…'
‘Listen, Corky, old thing! If you think I'm going to meet that uncle of yours without Jeeves' support, you're wrong! I'd rather go up to a tiger and bite it on the back of the neck.'
‘Oh, all right,' said Corky, unwillingly.
So Jeeves and I went round to Corky's flat. We found him looking worriedly at the picture.
The light from the big window fell right on the portrait. I took a good look at it, then went closer to examine it. Then I went back to where I had been at first, because it hadn't seemed quite so bad from there.
‘Well?' said Corky, anxiously.
I hesitated a bit. ‘Of course, old man, I only saw the kid once, but - but it was an ugly sort of kid, wasn't it?'
‘As ugly as that?'
I looked again, and honestly forced me to be truthful. ‘I don't see how it could have been, old chap.'
Poor Corky looked miserable. ‘You're quite right, Bertie. Something's gone wrong with the dashed thing. I think I must have got through the kid's outward appearance, and painted his soul.'
‘But he's so young! Could a child of that age have a soul as bad as that? What do you think, Jeeves?'
‘I doubt it, sir. The child's expression is most unpleasant, and he has a decidedly inebriated manner, sir.'
Just then the door opened and the uncle came in. For about three seconds all was sweetness and light. ‘Nice to see you, Mr Wooster. How are you, Bruce, my boy? So, the portrait is really finished, is it? Well, bring it out. Let's have a look. This will be a wonderful surprise for your aunt -‘
Then he saw it, suddenly, before he was ready. He stepped quickly backwards. For perhaps a minute there was one of the worst silences I've ever experienced.
‘Is this a joke?' he asked, turning violently on Corky, like a wild animal that smells red meat. ‘You call yourself a painter! I wouldn't let you paint a house of mine! I asked you to paint a portrait, and this - this - this is the result! Well, let me tell you something. Unless you come to my office on Monday, prepared to give up all these stupid ideas and ready to start at the bottom of the business, I won't give you another cent - not another cent!' The door opened and closed behind him.
‘Corky, old man!' I whispered sympathetically.
‘Well, that finishes it,' said Corky in a broken voice. ‘What can I do? I can't keep on painting if he cuts my allowance. You heard what he said. I'll have to go to the office on Monday.'
I couldn't think of a thing to say. I knew exactly how he felt about the office - it would be like going to prison.
And then a calm voice broke the silence. ‘If I could suggest something, sir?'
It was Jeeves. He had slid from the shadows and was looking seriously at the portrait. ‘It seems to me, sir, that if Mr Corcoran looks into the matter, he will find a way of solving the problem. The picture may not please Mr Worple as a portrait of his only child, but it is fresh and lively, and catches the attention. I have no doubt that newspaper and magazine publishers would
pay well for a number of amusing drawings, with this baby as the central character. I feel sure it would be highly popular.'
Corky was staring angrily at the picture. Suddenly he began to laugh wildly and stagger all over the floor. I feared the poor chap had gone mad.
‘He's right! Absolutely right! Jeeves, you're a lifesaver! Go to the office on Monday! Start at the bottom of the business! I'll buy the business if I feel like it! I know a publisher who'll pay me anything I like for this! Where's my hat? Lend me five dollars, Bertie. I'll take a taxi to Park Row!'
Jeeves smiled in a fatherly way Or rather, he moved his mouth a bit, which is the nearest he ever gets to smiling.
‘May I suggest a name, Mr Corcoran, for these drawings you are planning? “The Adventures of Baby Blobby”.'
Corky and I looked at the picture, then at each other. Jeeves was absolutely right. There could be no other name.
A few weeks later, I was having breakfast in bed and smiling at Corky's drawings in The Sunday Star.
‘You know, Jeeves,' I said, ‘you really are wonderful. Look how well Corky's doing, and it's because of you.'
‘I am pleased to say that Mr Corcoran has been most generous to me, sir. I am putting out the brown suit for you, sir.'
‘No, I think I'll wear the blue with the thin red stripe.'
‘Not the blue with the thin red stripe, sir.'
‘But I think it suits me rather well.'
‘Not the blue with the thin red stripe, sir.'
‘Oh, all right, have it your own way.'
‘Very good, sir. Thank you, sir.'