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   Chapter 2 No.2

The Little Warrior By P. G. Wodehouse Characters: 6681

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Derek Underhill threw down the stump of his cigar, and grunted irritably. Inside Charing Cross Station business was proceeding as usual. Porters wheeling baggage-trucks moved to and fro like Juggernauts. Belated trains clanked in, glad to get home, while others, less fortunate, crept reluctantly out through the blackness and disappeared into an inferno of detonating fog-signals. For outside the fog still held. The air was cold and raw and tasted coppery. In the street traffic moved at a funeral pace, to the accompaniment of hoarse cries and occasional crashes. Once the sun had worked its way through the murk and had hung in the sky like a great red orange, but now all was darkness and discomfort again, blended with that odd suggestion of mystery and romance which is a London fog's only redeeming quality.

It seemed to Derek that he had been patrolling the platform for a life-time, but he resumed his sentinel duty. The fact that the boat-train, being already forty-five minutes overdue, might arrive at any moment made it imperative that he remain where he was instead of sitting, as he would much have preferred to sit, in one of the waiting-rooms. It would be a disaster if his mother should get out of the train and not find him there to meet her. That was just the sort of thing which would infuriate her; and her mood, after a Channel crossing and a dreary journey by rail, would be sufficiently dangerous as it was.

The fog and the waiting had had their effect upon Derek. The resolute front he had exhibited to Freddie at the breakfast-table had melted since his arrival at the station, and he was feeling nervous at the prospect of the meeting that lay before him. Calm as he had appeared to the eye of Freddie and bravely as he had spoken, Derek, in the recesses of his heart, was afraid of his mother. There are men-and Derek Underhill was one of them-who never wholly emerge from the nursery. They may put away childish things and rise in the world to affluence and success, but the hand that rocked their cradle still rules their lives. As a boy, Derek had always been firmly controlled by his mother, and the sway of her aggressive personality had endured through manhood. Lady Underhill was a born ruler, dominating most of the people with whom life brought her in contact. Distant cousins quaked at her name, while among the male portion of her nearer relatives she was generally alluded to as The Family Curse.

Now that his meeting with her might occur at any moment, Derek shrank from it. It was not likely to be a pleasant one. The mere fact that Lady Underhill was coming to London at all made that improbable. When a man writes to inform his mother, who is wintering on the Riviera, that he has become engaged to be married, the natural course for her to pursue, if she approves of the step, is to wire her congratulations and good wishes. When for these she substitutes a curt announcement that she is returning immediately, a certain lack of complaisance seems to be indicated.

Would his mother approve of Jill? That was the question which he had been asking himself over and over again as he paced the platform in the disheartening fog. Nothing had been said, nothing had even been hinted, but he was perfectly aware that his marriage was a matter regarding which Lady Underhill had always ass

umed that she was to be consulted, even if she did not, as he suspected, claim the right to dictate. And he had become engaged quite suddenly, without a word to her until it was all over and settled.

That, as Freddie had pointed out, was the confoundedly awkward part of it. His engagement had been so sudden. Jill had swept into his life like a comet. His mother knew nothing of her. A month ago he had known nothing of her himself. It would, he perceived, as far as the benevolent approval of Lady Underhill was concerned, have been an altogether different matter had his choice fallen upon one of those damsels whose characters, personality, and ancestry she knew. Daughters of solid and useful men; sisters of rising young politicians like himself; nieces of Burke's peerage; he could have introduced without embarrassment one of these in the role of bride-elect. But Jill … Oh, well, when once his mother had met Jill, everything was sure to be all right. Nobody could resist Jill. It would be like resisting the sunshine.

Somewhat comforted by this reflection, Derek turned to begin one more walk along the platform, and stopped in mid-stride, raging. Beaming over the collar of a plaid greatcoat, all helpfulness and devotion, Freddie Rooke was advancing towards him, the friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Like some loving dog, who, ordered home, sneaks softly on through alleys and by-ways, peeping round corners and crouching behind lamp-posts, the faithful Freddie had followed him after all. And with him, to add the last touch to Derek's discomfiture, were those two inseparable allies of his, Ronny Devereux and Algy Martyn.

"Well, old thing," said Freddie, patting Derek encouragingly on the shoulder, "here we are after all! I know you told me not to roll round and so forth, but I knew you didn't mean it. I thought it over after you had left, and decided it would be a rotten trick not to cluster about you in your hour of need. I hope you don't mind Ronny and Algy breezing along, too. The fact is, I was in the deuce of a funk-your jolly old mater always rather paralyzes my nerve-centers, you know-so I roped them in. Met 'em in Piccadilly, groping about for the club, and conscripted 'em both, they very decently consenting. We all toddled off and had a pick-me-up at that chemist chappie's at the top of the Hay-market, and now we're feeling full of beans and buck, ready for anything. I've explained the whole thing to them, and they're with you to the death! Collect a gang, dear boy, collect a gang! That's the motto. There's nothing like it!"

"Nothing!" said Ronny.

"Absolutely nothing!" said Algy.

"We'll just see you through the opening stages," said Freddie, "and then leg it. We'll keep the conversation general, you know."

"Stop it getting into painful channels," said Ronny.

"Steer it clear," said Algy, "of the touchy topic."

"That's the wheeze," said Freddie. "We'll … Oh, golly! There's the train coming in now!" His voice quavered, for not even the comforting presence of his two allies could altogether sustain him in this ordeal. But he pulled himself together with a manful effort. "Stick it, old beans!" he said doughtily. "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party!"

"We're here!" said Ronny Devereux.

"On the spot!" said Algy Martyn.

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