We have already discussed the antics of some of the kids we encounter in Plumsville. Barring Edwin the Boy Scout and Ogden Ford, we have failed to meet anyone who can aspire to rise to the same heights of roguishness that Master Thomas achieves.
Master Thomas is the King of the Underworld. He is also known as The Shadow. He has carroty hair and a cynical expression. His manner is curt and supercilious. Annoy him, and he could arrange for a drawing pin to greet your fleshy parts when you sit on your favourite chair.
A tip from Captain Flint
In Jeeves and the Impending Doom (Very Good, Jeeves), Thos is being tutored by Bingo Little at Woollam Chersey, Aunt Agatha’s place, where Bertie has been invited over. Unbeknown to him, the aunt aspires for a secretarial career for Bertie, assisting Mr Filmer, the Cabinet Minister.
When Thos is caught smoking and reported to his formidable mother by Mr Filmer, he starts looking for an opportunity to inflict some hideous revenge on the Cabinet Minister. He confides in Jeeves that he wants to model his own conduct on that of a certain Captain Flint.
‘But, good heavens, Jeeves! If I remember Treasure Island, Flint was the bird who went about hitting people with a cutlass. You don’t think young Thomas would bean Mr Filmer with a cutlass?’
‘Possibly he does not possess a cutlass, sir.’
‘Well, with anything.’
‘We can but wait and see, sir. The tie, if I might suggest it, sir, a shade more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me -’
‘What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realize that Mr Little’s domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?’
‘There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.’
Rest, as they say, is history. Mr Filmer, while visiting an island in the middle of a lake, gets marooned there in heavy rains. Thos, following the example of Flint, sets his boat adrift. An angry swan, which does not approve of this attack on its privacy, makes Mr Filmer seek refuge on the roof of a building known as the Octagon.
Mr Filmer gets rescued. In order to save Bingo’s tutoring assignment, Jeeves convinces the Cabinet Minister that it was Bertie who had set his boat adrift. Before Aunt Agatha can have an audience with her nephew, the latter resorts to a down-the-stout-water-pipe act and seeks refuge in the metropolis.
In love with Greta Garbo
We also get to meet Thos in the short story The Love that Purifies (Very Good, Jeeves). When competing with Sebastian Moon and Bonzo for the Good Conduct Award announced by Mister Anstruther, Thos comes out with flying colours. He walks several miles so as to fetch a newspaper for Bertie. When Sebastian gets a nail in his shoe, Thos carries him on his back all the way back home in hot sunshine. He loves Greta Garbo and proposes to spend the remainder of his life trying to be worthy of her.
Eventually, faced with Jeeves’ cunning, Thos loses his cool and the Good Conduct Award. Sebastian Moon, himself in love with Clara Bow, speaks disparagingly of Greta Garbo. An argument takes place and all hell breaks loose. Aunt Dahlia wins a bet and Anatole continues to serve her household.
The spiritual advancement of clergymen
Thos also puts in an appearance in The Mating Season. In this narrative, he has been left behind under Bertie’s care and is delighted at being accompanied by Miss Cora Pirbright, his Hollywood heart-throb, to see a picture. He manages to get fifty of her autographs, expecting to get sixpence apiece from the boys at his school. Eventually, he manages to fetch a bob for each of the autographs.
In order to avoid Aunt Agatha landing up at Deverill Hall and discovering Bertie masquerading as Gussie, Thomas is persuaded to vanish from his school at Bramley-on-Sea. He is charmed into spending a few days at the Vicarage where Corky is staying. The Vicar is none too happy, but Corky feels that it is good for clergymen to have these trials. Such encounters make them more spiritual, and consequently hotter at their jobs.
Of course, Thos runs the risk of getting some juicy ones on the old spot. Bertie belives that Aunt Agatha would be more hopping mad than anxious at her cub’s disappearance.
‘Thos,’ I said, ‘makes rather a speciality of running away from school. He’s done it twice before this, once to attend a cup final and once to go hunting for buried treasure in the Caribbees, and I don’t remember Aunt Agatha on either occasion as the stricken mother. Thos was the one who got stricken. Six of the best on the old spot, he tells me.’
A bright future for Thos
Imagine his plight when Esmond Haddock ends up defying his aunts, five in all, thereby sealing the prospect of his taking a saunter down the aisle with Corky.
‘Why did you sigh?’
‘I was thinking of Master Thomas, sir. The announcement of Miss Pirbright’s betrothal came as a severe blow to him.’
I refused to allow my spirits to be lowered by any such side issues.
‘Waste no time in commiserating with young Thos, Jeeves. His is a resilient nature, and the agony will pass. He may have lost Corky, but there’s always Betty Grable and Dorothy Lamour and Jennifer Jones.’
‘I understand those women are married, sir.’
‘That won’t affect Thos. He’ll be getting their autographs, just the same. I see a bright future ahead of him.’
This is one case where one is apt to concede that Aunt Agatha is more to be pitied than censured – for having to manage someone like Thos, who ranks so very high on the Richter scale of Roguishness.
Gender disparity in endeavours of a roguish kind
Many a mom would confirm that bringing up boys is a far more daunting task than that of bringing up girls. Kids in Plumsville conform to this rule but Wodehouse paints his sweet little girls with a somewhat delicate but deadlier depth of character.
Allow me to come back to the ranking of Clementina and Peggy Mainwaring, in whose case, the jury awarding the ranks is still out. The reason for the jury being baffled is that the so-called delicately nurtured kids happen to be discreetly naughtier than their male counterparts.
Admittedly, their public behavior is above reproach. While being treated on their birthdays or being given a lift in a car, they are at their best behavior. But leave them alone and they are found to be lacing ink-pots with sherbet or going AWOL. Stealing and relishing cigarettes comes easily to them. To make a guest lecturer nervous by simply giggling and staring is their natural tendency. When it comes to delivering mischief, they appear to deploy subtler methods. When playing a prank, they appear to be more delicate in their approach.
Not so for the kids of the so-called sterner sex. Their roguish tendencies manifest in a straight forward manner, in full public view. If they use paraffin to douse a fire, they simply look you in the eye and own up. If they nip the theater career of an aspiring actor in the bud, they tick him off openly. If they seek protection money from their would-be fathers, they do so unabashedly. Yes, their methods as well as the outcomes are pretty rough.
The mighty soft power of kids
In whichever narrative they appear, the kids exercise great influence on the adults as well as on the proceedings. By winning prizes, they ensure that their fathers get the courage necessary for them to squeeze their bosses for a raise. Making or breaking matrimonial alliances is the work of a moment for them. Wreaking vengeance is an art they appear to have perfected. Supporting their fathers and controlling the career prospects of artists of all hues comes naturally to them. When seniors devise a Good Conduct award, they leave no stone unturned to prove their mettle. When infatuated with celebrities, they devote their lives to being worthy of their affections. When in the company of clergymen, they end up making them more spiritual, thereby making them hotter on their jobs.
Some lessons from the kids in Plumsville
The poet who said ‘The Child is father of the Man’ was not too much off the mark. Whatever their rank on the Richter scale of Roguishness, there is much we can learn from the kids in Plumsville.
- Notice a colleague sulking because of not being able to squeeze the boss for a raise? We can get her to deliver a speech which is heartily applauded and appreciated. Or, wait for her kid to get a gold medal at school. See how her confidence level shoots up.
- Competing for a coveted promotion? Like Prudence Baxter, we need to ensure getting noticed by a Jeeves-like senior who is good at spotting potential and is willing to place his bets on someone with our limited abilities.
- Just like Oswald, let us learn swimming and surviving skills at an early age. When pushed into a lake of troubles, let us develop a capacity to be able to reach the shore on our own. If we keep waiting for a Bingo Little to dive in and save us, we might just sink without a trace.
- Want to teach a lesson or two to a nasty colleague? Let us develop a supercilious gaze. When he gets up to make a presentation, tell him his tie knot needs to be adjusted. If possible, giggle. Stare. Keep staring till the time he fumbles.
- When discussing our favourite silver screen divas, let us be open-minded.
- Despise a politician or a boss? Let us find out the nearest lake with an island in its middle. Leave him marooned there. Let nature do the rest.
- Let us try to be like a Boy Scout, dishing out acts of kindness to those who matter. When we goof up like Edwin, like by using paraffin to douse a fire, let us own up. We could earn respect and admiration.
- Do we happen to know someone who could do with a higher Spirituality Quotient? Let us unleash a kid on the person for a few days. We shall be rewarded with excellent results. Kids provide this unique but much under-appreciated service at home to many amongst us.