Ahead of Schedule by P. G. Wodehouse
IT was to Wilson, his valet, with whom he frequently chatted in airy
fashion before rising of a morning, that Rollo Finch first disclosed
his great idea. Wilson was a man of silent habit, and men of silent
habit rarely escaped Rollo's confidences.
'Wilson,' he said one morning from the recesses of his bed, as the
valet entered with his shaving-water, 'have you ever been in love?'
'Yes, sir,' said the valet, unperturbed.
One would hardly have expected the answer to be in the affirmative.
Like most valets and all chauffeurs, Wilson gave the impression of
being above the softer emotions.
'What happened?' inquired Rollo.
'It came to nothing, sir,' said Wilson, beginning to strop the razor
with no appearance of concern.
'Ah!' said Rollo. 'And I bet I know why. You didn't go the right way to
'Not one fellow in a hundred does. I know. I've thought it out. I've
been thinking the deuce of a lot about it lately. It's dashed tricky,
this making love. Most fellows haven't a notion how to work it. No
system. No system, Wilson, old scout.'
'Now, I have a system. And I'll tell it you. It may do you a bit
of good next time you feel that impulse. You're not dead yet. Now, my
system is simply to go to it gradually, by degrees. Work by schedule.
See what I mean?'
'Not entirely, sir.'
'Well, I'll give you the details. First thing, you want to find the
'Just so, sir.'
'Well, when you've found her, what do you do? You just look at her. See
what I mean?'
'Not entirely, sir.'
'Look at her, my boy. That's just the start—the foundation. You
develop from that. But you keep away. That's the point. I've thought
this thing out. Mind you, I don't claim absolutely all the credit for
the idea myself. It's by way of being based on Christian Science.
Absent treatment, and all that. But most of it's mine. All the fine
'Yes. Absolutely all the fine work. Here's the thing in a nutshell. You
find the girl. Right. Of course, you've got to meet her once, just to
establish the connexion. Then you get busy. First week, looks. Just
look at her. Second week, letters. Write to her every day. Third week,
flowers. Send her some every afternoon. Fourth week, presents with a
bit more class about them. Bit of jewellery now and then. See what I
mean? Fifth week,—lunches and suppers and things. Sixth week, propose,
though you can do it in the fifth week if you see a chance. You've got
to leave that to the fellow's judgement. Well, there you are. See what
Wilson stropped his master's razor thoughtfully.
'A trifle elaborate, sir, is it not?' he said.
Rollo thumped the counterpane.
'I knew you'd say that. That's what nine fellows out of ten
would say. They'd want to rush it. I tell you, Wilson, old
scout, you can't rush it.'
Wilson brooded awhile, his mind back in the passionate past.
'In Market Bumpstead, sir—'
'What the deuce is Market Bumpstead?'
'A village, sir, where I lived until I came to London.'
'In Market Bumpstead, sir, the prevailing custom was to escort the
young lady home from church, buy her some little present—some ribbons,
possibly—next day, take her for a walk, and kiss her, sir.'
Wilson's voice, as he unfolded these devices of the dashing youth of
Market Bumpstead, had taken on an animation quite unsuitable to a
conscientious valet. He gave the impression of a man who does not
depend on idle rumour for his facts. His eye gleamed unprofessionally
for a moment before resuming its habitual expression of quiet
Rollo shook his head.
'That sort of thing might work in a village,' he said, 'but you want
something better for London.'
Rollo Finch—in the present unsatisfactory state of the law parents may
still christen a child Rollo—was a youth to whom Nature had given a
cheerful disposition not marred by any superfluity of brain. Everyone
liked Rollo—the great majority on sight, the rest as soon as they
heard that he would be a millionaire on the death of his Uncle Andrew.
There is a subtle something, a sort of nebulous charm, as it were,
about young men who will be millionaires on the death of their Uncle
Andrew which softens the ruggedest misanthrope.
Rollo's mother had been a Miss Galloway, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
U.S.A.; and Andrew Galloway, the world-famous Braces King, the inventor
and proprietor of the inimitable 'Tried and Proven', was her brother.
His braces had penetrated to every corner of the earth. Wherever
civilization reigned you would find men wearing Galloway's 'Tried and
Between Rollo and this human benefactor there had always existed
friendly relations, and it was an open secret that, unless his uncle
were to marry and supply the world with little Galloways as well as
braces, the young man would come into his money.
So Rollo moved on his way through life, popular and happy. Always merry
and bright. That was Rollo.
Or nearly always. For there were moments—we all have our greyer
moments—when he could have wished that Mr Galloway had been a trifle
older or a trifle less robust. The Braces potentate was at present
passing, in excellent health, through the Indian summer of life. He
was, moreover, as has been stated, by birth and residence a Pittsburgh
man. And the tendency of middle-aged Pittsburgh millionaires to marry
chorus-girls is notoriously like the homing instinct of pigeons.
Something—it may be the smoke—seems to work on them like a charm.
In the case of Andrew Galloway, Nature had been thwarted up till now by
the accident of an unfortunate attachment in early life. The facts were
not fully known, but it was generally understood that his fiancee had
exercised Woman's prerogative and changed her mind. Also, that she had
done this on the actual wedding-day, causing annoyance to all, and had
clinched the matter by eloping to Jersey City with the prospective
bridegroom's own coachman. Whatever the facts, there was no doubt about
their result. Mr Galloway, having abjured woman utterly, had flung
himself with moody energy into the manufacture and propagation of his
'Tried and Proven' Braces, and had found consolation in it ever since.
He would be strong, he told himself, like his braces. Hearts might snap
beneath a sudden strain. Not so the 'Tried and Proven'. Love might tug
and tug again, but never more should the trousers of passion break away
from the tough, masterful braces of self-control.
As Mr Galloway had been in this frame of mind for a matter of eleven
years, it seemed to Rollo not unreasonable to hope that he might
continue in it permanently. He had the very strongest objection to his
uncle marrying a chorus-girl; and, as the years went on and the
disaster did not happen, his hopes of playing the role of heir till the
fall of the curtain grew stronger and stronger. He was one of those
young men who must be heirs or nothing. This is the age of the
specialist, and years ago Rollo had settled on his career. Even as a
boy, hardly capable of connected thought, he had been convinced that
his speciality, the one thing he could do really well, was to inherit
money. All he wanted was a chance. It would be bitter if Fate should
withhold it from him.
He did not object on principle to men marrying chorus-girls. On the
contrary, he wanted to marry one himself.
It was this fact which had given that turn to his thoughts which had
finally resulted in the schedule.
The first intimation that Wilson had that the schedule was actually to
be put into practical operation was when his employer, one Monday
evening, requested him to buy a medium-sized bunch of the best red
roses and deliver them personally, with a note, to Miss Marguerite
Parker at the stage-door of the Duke of Cornwall's Theatre.
Wilson received the order in his customary gravely deferential manner,
and was turning to go; but Rollo had more to add.
'Flowers, Wilson,' he said, significantly.
'So I understood you to say, sir. I will see to it at once.'
'See what I mean? Third week, Wilson.'
Rollo remained for a moment in what he would have called thought.
'Charming girl, Wilson.'
'Seen the show?'
'Not yet, sir.'
'You should,' said Rollo, earnestly. 'Take my advice, old scout, and
see it first chance you get. It's topping. I've had the same seat in
the middle of the front row of the stalls for two weeks.'
'Looks, Wilson! The good old schedule.'
'Have you noticed any satisfactory results, sir?'
'It's working. On Saturday night she looked at me five times. She's a
delightful girl, Wilson. Nice, quiet girl—not the usual sort. I met
her first at a lunch at Oddy's. She's the last girl on the O.P. side.
I'm sure you'd like her, Wilson.'
'I have every confidence in your taste, sir.'
'You'll see her for yourself this evening. Don't let the fellow at the
stage-door put you off. Slip him half a crown or a couple of quid or
something, and say you must see her personally. Are you a close
'I think so, sir.'
'Because I want you to notice particularly how she takes it. See that
she reads the note in your presence. I've taken a good deal of trouble
over that note, Wilson. It's a good note. Well expressed. Watch her
face while she's reading it.'
'Very good, sir. Excuse me, sir.'
'I had almost forgotten to mention it. Mr Galloway rang up on the
telephone shortly before you came in.'
'What! Is he in England?'
Mr Galloway was in the habit of taking occasional trips to Great
Britain to confer with the general manager of his London branch. Rollo
had grown accustomed to receiving no notice of these visits.
'He arrived two days ago on the Baltic, sir. He left a message
that he was in London for a week, and would be glad if you would dine
with him tomorrow at his club.'
Rollo nodded. On these occasions it was his practice to hold himself
unreservedly at Mr Galloway's disposal. The latter's invitations were
royal commands. Rollo was glad that the visit had happened now. In
another two weeks it might have been disastrous to the schedule.
The club to which the Braces King belonged was a richly but gloomily
furnished building in Pall Mall, a place of soft carpets, shaded
lights, and whispers. Grave, elderly men moved noiselessly to and fro,
or sat in meditative silence in deep arm-chairs. Sometimes the visitor
felt that he was in a cathedral, sometimes in a Turkish bath; while now
and then there was a suggestion of the waiting-room of a more than
usually prosperous dentist. It was magnificent, but not exhilarating.
Rollo was shown into the smoking-room, where his uncle received him.
There was a good deal of Mr Andrew Galloway. Grief, gnawing at his
heart, had not sagged his ample waistcoat, which preceded him as he
moved in much the same manner as Birnam Woods preceded the army of
Macduff. A well-nourished hand crept round the corner of the edifice
and enveloped Rollo's in a powerful grip.
'Ah, my boy!' bellowed Mr Galloway cheerfully. His voice was always
loud. 'Glad you've come.'
It would be absurd to say that Rollo looked at his uncle keenly. He was
not capable of looking keenly at anyone. But certainly a puzzled
expression came into his face. Whether it was the heartiness of the
other's hand-shake or the unusual cheeriness of his voice, he could not
say; but something gave him the impression that a curious change had
come over the Braces King. When they had met before during the last few
years Mr Galloway had been practically sixteen stone five of blood and
iron—one of those stern, soured men. His attitude had been that of one
for whom Life's music had ceased. Had he then inserted another record?
His manner conveyed that idea.
Sustained thought always gave Rollo a headache. He ceased to speculate.
'Still got the same chef here, uncle?' he said. 'Deuced brainy
fellow. I always like dining here.'
'Here!' Mr Galloway surveyed the somnolent occupants of the room with
spirited scorn. 'We aren't going to dine in this forsaken old
mausoleum. I've sent in my resignation today. If I find myself wanting
this sort of thing at any time, I'll go to Paris and hunt up the
Morgue. Bunch of old dead-beats! Bah! I've engaged a table at Romano's.
That's more in my line. Get your coat, and let's be going.'
In the cab Rollo risked the headache. At whatever cost this thing must
be pondered over. His uncle prattled gaily throughout the journey. Once
he whooped—some weird, forgotten college yell, dragged from the misty
depths of the past. It was passing strange. And in this unusual manner
the two rolled into the Strand, and drew up at Romano's door.
Mr Galloway was a good trencherman. At a very early date he had
realized that a man who wishes to make satisfactory braces must keep
his strength up. He wanted a good deal here below, and he wanted it
warm and well cooked. It was, therefore, not immediately that his
dinner with Rollo became a feast of reason and a flow of soul. Indeed,
the two revellers had lighted their cigars before the elder gave forth
any remark that was not purely gastronomic.
When he did jerk the conversation up on to a higher plane, he jerked it
hard. He sent it shooting into the realms of the soulful with a whiz.
'Rollo,' he said, blowing a smoke-ring, 'do you believe in affinities?'
Rollo, in the act of sipping a liqueur brandy, lowered his glass in
surprise. His head was singing slightly as the result of some rather
spirited Bollinger (extra sec), and he wondered if he had heard aright.
Mr Galloway continued, his voice rising as he spoke.
'My boy,' he said, 'I feel young tonight for the first time in years.
And, hang it, I'm not so old! Men have married at twice my age.'
Strictly speaking, this was incorrect, unless one counted Methuselah;
but perhaps Mr Galloway spoke figuratively.
'Three times my age,' he proceeded, leaning back and blowing smoke,
thereby missing his nephew's agitated start. 'Four times my age. Five
times my age. Six—'
He pulled himself together in some confusion. A generous wine, that
Bollinger. He must be careful.
'Are you—you aren't—are you—' Rollo paused. 'Are you thinking of
getting married, uncle?'
Mr Galloway's gaze was still on the ceiling.
'A great deal of nonsense,' he yelled severely, 'is talked about men
lowering themselves by marrying actresses. I was a guest at a
supper-party last night at which an actress was present. And a more
charming, sensible girl I never wish to meet. Not one of your silly,
brainless chits who don't know the difference between lobster Newburg
and canvas-back duck, and who prefer sweet champagne to dry. No, sir!
Not one of your mincing, affected kind who pretend they never touch
anything except a spoonful of cold consomme. No, sir! Good, healthy
appetite. Enjoyed her food, and knew why she was enjoying it. I give
you my word, my boy, until I met her I didn't know a woman existed who
could talk so damned sensibly about a bavaroise au rhum.'
He suspended his striking tribute in order to relight his cigar.
'She can use a chafing-dish,' he resumed, his voice vibrating with
emotion. 'She told me so. She said she could fix chicken so that a man
would leave home for it.' He paused, momentarily overcome. 'And
Welsh rarebits,' he added reverently.
He puffed hard at his cigar.
'Yes,' he said. 'Welsh rarebits, too. And because,' he shouted
wrathfully, 'because, forsooth, she earns an honest living by singing
in the chorus of a comic opera, a whole bunch of snivelling idiots will
say I have made a fool of myself. Let them!' he bellowed, sitting up
and glaring at Rollo. 'I say, let them! I'll show them that Andrew
Galloway is not the man to—to—is not the man—' He stopped. 'Well,
anyway, I'll show them,' he concluded rather lamely.
Rollo eyed him with fallen jaw. His liqueur had turned to wormwood. He
had been fearing this for years. You may drive out Nature with a
pitchfork, but she will return. Blood will tell. Once a Pittsburgh
millionaire, always a Pittsburgh millionaire. For eleven years his
uncle had fought against his natural propensities, with apparent
success; but Nature had won in the end. His words could have no other
meaning. Andrew Galloway was going to marry a chorus-girl.
Mr Galloway rapped on the table, and ordered another kummel.
'Marguerite Parker!' he roared dreamily, rolling the words round his
tongue, like port.
'Marguerite Parker!' exclaimed Rollo, bounding in his chair.
His uncle met his eye sternly.
'That was the name I said. You seem to know it. Perhaps you have
something to say against the lady. Eh? Have you? Have you? I warn you
to be careful. What do you know of Miss Parker? Speak!'
'Er—no, no. Oh, no! I just know the name, that's all. I—I rather
think I met her once at lunch. Or it may have been somebody else. I
know it was someone.'
He plunged at his glass. His uncle's gaze relaxed its austerity.
'I hope you will meet her many more times at lunch, my boy. I hope you
will come to look upon her as a second mother.'
This was where Rollo asked if he might have a little more brandy.
When the restorative came he drank it at a gulp; then looked across at
his uncle. The great man still mused.
'Er—when is it to be?' asked Rollo. 'The wedding, and all that?'
'Hardly before the Fall, I think. No, not before the Fall. I shall be
busy till then. I have taken no steps in the matter yet.'
'No steps? You mean—? Haven't you—haven't you proposed?'
'I have had no time. Be reasonable, my boy; be reasonable.'
'Oh!' said Rollo.
He breathed a long breath. A suspicion of silver lining had become
visible through the clouds.
'I doubt,' said Mr Galloway, meditatively, 'if I shall be able to find
time till the end of the week. I am very busy. Let me see. Tomorrow?
No. Meeting of the shareholders. Thursday? Friday? No. No, it will have
to stand over till Saturday. After Saturday's matinee. That will do
There is a dramatic spectacle to be observed every day in this land of
ours, which, though deserving of recognition, no artist has yet
pictured on canvas. We allude to the suburban season-ticket holder's
sudden flash of speed. Everyone must have seen at one time or another a
happy, bright-faced season-ticket holder strolling placidly towards the
station, humming, perhaps, in his light-heartedness, some gay air. He
feels secure. Fate cannot touch him, for he has left himself for once
plenty of time to catch that 8.50, for which he has so often sprinted
like the gazelle of the prairie. As he strolls, suddenly his eye falls
on the church clock. The next moment with a passionate cry he is
endeavouring to lower his record for the fifty-yard dash. All the while
his watch has been fifteen minutes slow.
In just such a case was Rollo Finch. He had fancied that he had plenty
of time. And now, in an instant, the fact was borne in upon him that he
For the greater part of the night of his uncle's dinner he lay
sleepless, vainly endeavouring to find a way out of the difficulty. It
was not till early morning that he faced the inevitable. He hated to
abandon the schedule. To do so meant changing a well-ordered advance
into a forlorn hope. But circumstances compelled it. There are moments
when speed alone can save love's season-ticket holder.
On the following afternoon he acted. It was no occasion for stint. He
had to condense into one day the carefully considered movements of two
weeks, and to the best of his ability he did so. He bought three
bouquets, a bracelet, and a gold Billiken with ruby eyes, and sent them
to the theatre by messenger-boy. With them went an invitation to
Then, with the feeling that he had done all that was possible, he
returned to his flat and waited for the hour.
He dressed with more than usual care that night. Your wise general
never throws away a move. He was particular about his tie. As a rule,
Wilson selected one for him. But there had been times when Wilson had
made mistakes. One could not rely absolutely on Wilson's taste in ties.
He did not blame him. Better men than Wilson had gone wrong over an
evening tie. But tonight there must be no taking of chances.
'Where do we keep our ties, Wilson?' he asked.
'The closet to the right of the door, sir. The first twelve shallow
shelves, counting from the top, sir. They contain a fair selection of
our various cravats. Replicas in bulk are to be found in the third nest
of drawers in your dressing-room, sir.'
'I only want one, my good man. I'm not a regiment. Ah! I stake all on
this one. Not a word, Wilson. No discussion. This is the tie I wear.
What's the time?'
'Eight minutes to eleven, sir.'
'I must be off. I shall be late. I shan't want you any more tonight.
Don't wait for me.'
'Very good, sir.'
Rollo left the room, pale but determined, and hailed a taxi.
It is a pleasant spot, the vestibule of the Carlton Hotel.
Glare—glitter—distant music—fair women—brave men. But one can have
too much of it, and as the moments pass, and she does not arrive, a
chill seems to creep into the atmosphere. We wait on, hoping against
hope, and at last, just as waiters and commissionaires are beginning to
eye us with suspicion, we face the truth. She is not coming. Then out we
crawl into cold, callous Pall Mall, and so home. You have been through
it, dear reader, and so have I.
And so, at eleven forty-five that evening, had Rollo. For a full
three-quarters of an hour he waited, scanning the face of each new
arrival with the anxious scrutiny of a lost dog seeking its master; but
at fourteen minutes to twelve the last faint flicker of hope had died
away. A girl may be a quarter of an hour late for supper. She may be
half an hour late. But there is a limit, and to Rollo's mind forty-five
minutes passed it. At ten minutes to twelve a uniformed official
outside the Carlton signalled to a taxi-cab, and there entered it a
young man whose faith in Woman was dead.
Rollo meditated bitterly as he drove home. It was not so much the fact
that she had not come that stirred him. Many things may keep a girl
from supper. It was the calm way in which she had ignored the
invitation. When you send a girl three bouquets, a bracelet, and a gold
Billiken with ruby eyes, you do not expect an entire absence of
recognition. Even a penny-in-the-slot machine treats you better than
that. It may give you hairpins when you want matches but at least it
takes some notice of you.
He was still deep in gloomy thought when he inserted his latchkey and
opened the door of his flat.
He was roused from his reflections by a laugh from the sitting-room. He
started. It was a pleasant laugh, and musical, but it sent Rollo
diving, outraged, for the handle of the door. What was a woman doing in
his sitting-room at this hour? Was his flat an hotel?
The advent of an unbidden guest rarely fails to produce a certain
gene. The sudden appearance of Rollo caused a dead silence.
It was broken by the fall of a chair on the carpet as Wilson rose
hurriedly to his feet.
Rollo stood in the doorway, an impressive statue of restrained
indignation. He could see the outlying portions of a girl in blue at
the further end of the table, but Wilson obscured his vision.
'Didn't expect you back, sir,' said Wilson.
For the first time in the history of their acquaintance his accustomed
calm seemed somewhat ruffled.
'So I should think,' said Rollo. 'I believe you, by George!'
'You had better explain, Jim,' said a dispassionate voice from the end
of the table.
Wilson stepped aside.
'My wife, sir,' he said, apologetically, but with pride.
'We were married this morning, sir.'
The lady nodded cheerfully at Rollo. She was small and slight, with an
impudent nose and a mass of brown hair.
'Awfully glad to meet you,' she said, cracking a walnut.
She looked at him again.
'We've met, haven't we? Oh yes, I remember. We met at lunch once. And
you sent me some flowers. It was ever so kind of you,' she said,
She cracked another nut. She seemed to consider that the introductions
were complete and that formality could now be dispensed with once more.
She appeared at peace with all men.
The situation was slipping from Rollo's grip. He continued to gape.
Then he remembered his grievance.
'I think you might have let me know you weren't coming to supper.'
'I sent a note to the theatre this afternoon.'
'I haven't been to the theatre today. They let me off because I was
going to be married. I'm so sorry. I hope you didn't wait long.'
Rollo's resentment melted before the friendliness of her smile.
'Hardly any time,' he said, untruthfully.
'If I might explain, sir,' said Wilson.
'By George! If you can, you'll save me from a brainstorm. Cut loose,
and don't be afraid you'll bore me. You won't.'
'Mrs Wilson and I are old friends, sir. We come from the same town. In
Rollo's face cleared.
'By George! Market what's-its-name! Why, of course. Then she—'
'Just so, sir. If you recollect, you asked me once if I had ever been
in love, and I replied in the affirmative.'
'And it was—'
'Mrs Wilson and I were engaged to be married before either of us came
to London. There was a misunderstanding, which was entirely my—'
'Jim! It was mine.'
'No, it was all through my being a fool.'
'It was not. You know it wasn't!'
'And when you sent me with the flowers, sir—well, we talked it over
again, and—that was how it came about, sir.'
The bride looked up from her walnuts.
'You aren't angry?' she smiled up at Rollo.
'Angry?' He reflected. Of course, it was only reasonable that he should
be a little—well, not exactly angry, but—And then for the first time
it came to him that the situation was not entirely without its
compensations. Until that moment he had completely forgotten Mr
'Angry?' he said. 'Great Scott, no! Jolly glad I came back in time to
get a bit of the wedding-breakfast. I want it, I can tell you. I'm
hungry. Here we all are, eh? Let's enjoy ourselves. Wilson, old scout,
bustle about and give us your imitation of a bridegroom mixing a "B.
and S." for the best man. Mrs Wilson, if you'll look in at the theatre
tomorrow you'll find one or two small wedding presents waiting for you.
Three bouquets—they'll be a bit withered, I'm afraid—a bracelet, and
a gold Billiken with ruby eyes. I hope he'll bring you luck. Oh,
'Touching this little business—don't answer if it's a delicate
question, but I should like to know—I suppose you didn't try
the schedule. What? More the Market Thingummy method, eh? The one you
described to me?'
'Market Bumpstead, sir?' said Wilson. 'On those lines.'
Rollo nodded thoughtfully.
'It seems to me,' he said, 'they know a thing or two down in Market
'A very rising little place, sir,' assented Wilson.