CHAPTER I A LETTER WITH A POSTSCRIPT
"A gentleman called to see you when you were out last night, sir," said Mrs. Medley, my landlady, removing the last of the breakfast things.
"Yes?" I said, in my affable way.
"A gentleman," said Mrs. Medley meditatively, "with a very powerful voice."
"I said, did he leave a name?"
"Yes, sir. Mr. Ukridge."
"Oh, my sainted aunt!"
"Thank you, sir," said Mrs. Medley, withdrawing from the presence.
Ukridge! Oh, hang it! I had not met him for years, and, glad as I am, as a general thing, to see the friends of my youth when they drop in for a chat, I doubted whether I was quite equal to Ukridge at the moment. A stout fellow in both the physical and moral sense of the words, he was a trifle too jumpy for a man of my cloistered and intellectual life, especially as just now I was trying to plan out a new novel, a tricky job demanding complete quiet and seclusion. It had always been my experience that, when Ukridge was around, things began to happen swiftly and violently, rendering meditation impossible. Ukridge was the sort of man who asks you out to dinner, borrows the money from you to pay the bill, and winds up the evening by embroiling you in a fight with a cabman. I have gone to Covent Garden balls with Ukridge, and found myself legging it down Henrietta Street in the grey dawn, pursued by infuriated costermongers.
I wondered how he had got my address, and on that problem light was immediately cast by Mrs. Medley, who returned, bearing an envelope.
"It came by the morning post, sir, but it was left at Number Twenty by mistake."
"Oh, thank you."
"Thank you, sir," said Mrs. Medley.
I recognised the handwriting. The letter, which bore a Devonshire postmark, was from an artist friend of mine, one Lickford, who was at present on a sketching tour in the west. I had seen him off at Waterloo a week before, and I remember that I had walked away from the station wishing that I could summon up the energy to pack and get off to the country somewhere. I hate London in July.
The letter was a long one, but it was the postscript which interested me most.
"... By the way, at Yeovil I ran into an old friend of ours, Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge, of all people. As large as life—quite six foot two, and tremendously filled out. I thought he was abroad. The last I heard of him was that he had started for Buenos Ayres in a cattle ship, with a borrowed pipe by way of luggage. It seems he has been in England for some time. I met him in the refreshment-room at Yeovil Station. I was waiting for a down train; he had changed on his way to town. As I opened the door, I heard a huge voice entreating the lady behind the bar to 'put it in a pewter'; and there was S. F. U. in a villainous old suit of grey flannels (I'll swear it was the one he had on last time I saw him) with pince-nez tacked on to his ears with ginger-beer wire as usual, and a couple of inches of bare neck showing between the bottom of his collar and the top of his coat—you remember how he could never get a stud to do its work....