J. Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was the author of “Topper / The Jovial Ghosts,” “Topper Takes a Trip,” “The Night Life of the Gods,” “The Stray Lamb,” “Turnabout,” “The Glorious Pool,” etc.
“The Bishop’s Jaegers” was published 1932.
Public Domain in countries where copyright is Life+70.
Depressed and indifferent heir of a vast coffee import fortune, Peter Van Dyke finds his life and high society engagement turn upside down when his secretary, Josephine Duval, determines that she will rescue him from his horrible fate by ruining him morally. After an amusing scandal involving a nude Peter Van Dyke, Miss Duval and an ill starred burglar in a coat closet, he finds himself cast adrift in a fog with a motley crew that includes a Bishop Waller of the Episcopal Church and a former nude model named Aspirin Liz. The enterprising party lands unceremoniously on the shores of one of New York's sauciest nudist colonies, and thus is the liberation of the coffee importer set in motion. One of Smith's few comic novels in which no element of the supernatural is featured. Smith assumes the reader will know that "Jaegers" refers to a union suit [one-piece neck-to-knees underwear].
The Prologue begins:
Before hoisting them over his sturdy, ecclesiastical shanks the Bishop contemplated his drawers with nonsectarian satisfaction. It was not the Bishop’s wont thus to dally with his drawers. Far from it. As a rule the Bishop paid scant heed either to his own drawers or to those of his parishioners. He took it for granted they wore them.
And although, during the course of a long and active career devoted to good works, the Bishop had been responsible for despoiling the dusky limbs of innumerable South Sea aristocrats with drawers of surpassing unloveliness, he did not look back on his success in terms of drawers alone. Not at all.
To Bishop Waller drawers were merely the first move in a long, grim contest with the devil, a contest in which long, grim drawers served as the shock troops of righteousness. They were an important but unattractive gesture in the general direction of God—a grotesque but essential step in a complicated ritual of spiritual costuming.
Perhaps it was partly owing to the fact that none of the Bishop’s so-called savage converts had ever turned to him and remarked in tones of mild complaint, “This Adam chap of yours never wore a pair of drawers in his life. Why should I?” that the good Bishop had so far failed to give due consideration to the rights of the vast anti-drawers-wearing element still shamelessly thriving on this and probably other terrestrial globes. For Bishop Waller was above all things a fair man. It simply never occurred to him that a fellow creature could commune either with himself or his Maker with any degree of equanimity unless a great deal of his person was securely done into drawers.
For women the Bishop’s program was a little more elaborate. Women were quite different. It was difficult to decide which half of their bodies needed to be covered first and most. Both halves were dangerous, both to be greatly deplored. Either one of them made virtually impossible a constructive consideration of a life beyond. Repeatedly he had been pained to discover that in the presence of unconverted island girls, men were quite content to risk the somewhat nebulous joys of the life beyond for the assured ones closer at hand.
Therefore it was the Bishop’s conviction that all women should be covered at all times. It was safer—far, far wiser. Men found out about such things quickly enough as it was without having them dangled before their eyes. For this reason religion for men began with drawers and for women with shirt and drawers—preferably with the addition of a voluminous Mother Hubbard.
This morning there was a special reason for the Bishop’s rapt contemplation of his drawers—new, judiciously selected, upstanding garments. And if they could not be called things of beauty, these brave long jaegers of the Bishop’s, they did without question represent the highest expression of the drawers-maker’s craftsmanship. Not that the Bishop’s jaegers were in any sense crafty. No franker or more uncompromising drawers could have been devised to protect the modesty of man. Once they had been decorously adjusted, they made absolutely no weak concession to the curiously roving eye.
As Bishop Waller, forgetting for the moment his rather shocking condition, held his jaegers extended before him at arm’s length, he presented a picture of innocently happy concentration. He was gratified by the chaste austerity of these drawers. They were the ideal drawers for a bishop. There was no monkey business about them. They pretended to be nothing more than what they were—simply and definitely drawers—long ones. Once a man had sought refuge behind or within their rugged embrace there was little likelihood that any woman, no matter how optimistic, would ask him to emerge from his unattractive concealment. The exterior view was far too depressing—too utterly discouraging to light dalliance and abandon. They had a numbing effect on the mind, those jaegers of the Bishop’s. They reared themselves like a mighty tower of righteousness in a world of makeshift and evasive garments. No one could imagine their wearer leaping sportively in pursuit of a wanton nymph. The very beasts of the fields would have staggered off in horror to their lairs.
As he proceeded to plunge his vast nakedness into the even vaster reaches of his jaegers, the exact structure of the Bishop’s thoughts is, of course, not known. However, it is safe to assume that as he stood appreciatively before his mirror conscientiously adjusting them to the last strategically plotted button—a formality seldom if ever observed by the average run of laymen—Bishop Waller was saying to himself:
“I might have my faults as a bishop, but no one can say a word against my drawers. Not a bishop in all these United States can produce a finer pair than these.”
So much for the Bishop for the time being, now that he has at last got himself into his drawers and girded his loins with righteousness if not with romance.
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