Part 6 out of 6
tell me as a child. An absurd little story, sir, though I confess that I
have always found it droll. According to my Uncle Cyril, two men named
Nicholls and Jackson set out to ride to Brighton on a tandem bicycle, and
were so unfortunate as to come into collision with a brewer's van. And
when the rescue party arrived on the scene of the accident, it was
discovered that they had been hurled together with such force that it was
impossible to sort them out at all adequately. The keenest eye could not
discern which portion of the fragments was Nicholls and which Jackson. So
they collected as much as they could, and called it Nixon. I remember
laughing very much at that story when I was a child, sir."
I had to pause a moment to master my feelings.
"You did, eh?"
"You thought it funny?"
"And your Uncle Cyril thought it funny?"
"Golly, what a family! Next time you meet your Uncle Cyril, Jeeves, you
can tell him from me that his sense of humour is morbid and unpleasant."
"He is dead, sir."
"Thank heaven for that.... Well, give me the blasted machine."
"Very good, sir."
"Are the tyres inflated?"
"The nuts firm, the brakes in order, the sprockets running true with the
"Right ho, Jeeves."
In Tuppy's statement that, when at the University of Oxford, I had been
known to ride a bicycle in the nude about the quadrangle of our mutual
college, there had been, I cannot deny, a certain amount of substance.
Correct, however, though his facts were, so far as they went, he had not
told all. What he had omitted to mention was that I had invariably been
well oiled at the time, and when in that condition a chap is capable of
feats at which in cooler moments his reason would rebel.
Stimulated by the juice, I believe, men have even been known to ride
As I started now to pedal out into the great world, I was icily sober,
and the old skill, in consequence, had deserted me entirely. I found
myself wobbling badly, and all the stories I had ever heard of nasty
bicycle accidents came back to me with a rush, headed by Jeeves's Uncle
Cyril's cheery little anecdote about Nicholls and Jackson.
Pounding wearily through the darkness, I found myself at a loss to fathom
the mentality of men like Jeeves's Uncle Cyril. What on earth he could
see funny in a disaster which had apparently involved the complete
extinction of a human creature--or, at any rate, of half a human creature
and half another human creature--was more than I could understand. To me,
the thing was one of the most poignant tragedies that had ever been
brought to my attention, and I have no doubt that I should have continued
to brood over it for quite a time, had my thoughts not been diverted by
the sudden necessity of zigzagging sharply in order to avoid a pig in the
For a moment it looked like being real Nicholls-and-Jackson stuff, but,
fortunately, a quick zig on my part, coinciding with an adroit zag on the
part of the pig, enabled me to win through, and I continued my ride safe,
but with the heart fluttering like a captive bird.
The effect of this narrow squeak upon me was to shake the nerve to the
utmost. The fact that pigs were abroad in the night seemed to bring home
to me the perilous nature of my enterprise. It set me thinking of all the
other things that could happen to a man out and about on a velocipede
without a lamp after lighting-up time. In particular, I recalled the
statement of a pal of mine that in certain sections of the rural
districts goats were accustomed to stray across the road to the extent of
their chains, thereby forming about as sound a booby trap as one could
He mentioned, I remember, the case of a friend of his whose machine got
entangled with a goat chain and who was dragged seven miles--like
skijoring in Switzerland--so that he was never the same man again. And
there was one chap who ran into an elephant, left over from a travelling
Indeed, taking it for all in all, it seemed to me that, with the possible
exception of being bitten by sharks, there was virtually no front-page
disaster that could not happen to a fellow, once he had allowed his dear
ones to override his better judgment and shove him out into the great
unknown on a push-bike, and I am not ashamed to confess that, taking it
by and large, the amount of quailing I did from this point on was pretty
However, in respect to goats and elephants, I must say things panned out
Oddly enough, I encountered neither. But when you have said that you have
said everything, for in every other way the conditions could scarcely
have been fouler.
Apart from the ceaseless anxiety of having to keep an eye skinned for
elephants, I found myself much depressed by barking dogs, and once I
received a most unpleasant shock when, alighting to consult a signpost, I
saw sitting on top of it an owl that looked exactly like my Aunt Agatha.
So agitated, indeed, had my frame of mind become by this time that I
thought at first it was Aunt Agatha, and only when reason and reflection
told me how alien to her habits it would be to climb signposts and sit on
them, could I pull myself together and overcome the weakness.
In short, what with all this mental disturbance added to the more purely
physical anguish in the billowy portions and the calves and ankles, the
Bertram Wooster who eventually toppled off at the door of Kingham Manor
was a very different Bertram from the gay and insouciant _boulevardier_
of Bond Street and Piccadilly.
Even to one unaware of the inside facts, it would have been evident that
Kingham Manor was throwing its weight about a bit tonight. Lights shone
in the windows, music was in the air, and as I drew nearer my ear
detected the sibilant shuffling of the feet of butlers, footmen,
chauffeurs, parlourmaids, housemaids, tweenies and, I have no doubt,
cooks, who were busily treading the measure. I suppose you couldn't sum
it up much better than by saying that there was a sound of revelry by
The orgy was taking place in one of the ground-floor rooms which had
French windows opening on to the drive, and it was to these French
windows that I now made my way. An orchestra was playing something with a
good deal of zip to it, and under happier conditions I dare say my feet
would have started twitching in time to the melody. But I had sterner
work before me than to stand hoofing it by myself on gravel drives.
I wanted that back-door key, and I wanted it instanter.
Scanning the throng within, I found it difficult for a while to spot
Seppings. Presently, however, he hove in view, doing fearfully lissom
things in mid-floor. I "Hi-Seppings!"-ed a couple of times, but his mind
was too much on his job to be diverted, and it was only when the swirl of
the dance had brought him within prodding distance of my forefinger that
a quick one to the lower ribs enabled me to claim his attention.
The unexpected buffet caused him to trip over his partner's feet, and it
was with marked austerity that he turned. As he recognized Bertram,
however, coldness melted, to be replaced by astonishment.
I was in no mood for bandying words.
"Less of the 'Mr. Wooster' and more back-door keys," I said curtly. "Give
me the key of the back door, Seppings."
He did not seem to grasp the gist.
"The key of the back door, sir?"
"Precisely. The Brinkley Court back-door key."
"But it is at the Court, sir."
I clicked the tongue, annoyed.
"Don't be frivolous, my dear old butler," I said. "I haven't ridden nine
miles on a push-bike to listen to you trying to be funny. You've got it
in your trousers pocket."
"No, sir. I left it with Mr. Jeeves."
"Yes, sir. Before I came away. Mr. Jeeves said that he wished to walk in
the garden before retiring for the night. He was to place the key on the
I stared at the man dumbly. His eye was clear, his hand steady. He had
none of the appearance of a butler who has had a couple.
"You mean that all this while the key has been in Jeeves's possession?"??
I could speak no more. Emotion had overmastered my voice. I was at a loss
and not abreast; but of one thing, it seemed to me, there could be no
doubt. For some reason, not to be fathomed now, but most certainly to be
gone well into as soon as I had pushed this infernal sewing-machine of
mine over those nine miles of lonely, country road and got within
striking distance of him, Jeeves had been doing the dirty. Knowing that
at any given moment he could have solved the whole situation, he had kept
Aunt Dahlia and others roosting out on the front lawn _en deshabille_
and, worse still, had stood calmly by and watched his young employer set
out on a wholly unnecessary eighteen-mile bicycle ride.
I could scarcely believe such a thing of him. Of his Uncle Cyril, yes.
With that distorted sense of humour of his, Uncle Cyril might quite
conceivably have been capable of such conduct. But that it should be
I leaped into the saddle and, stifling the cry of agony which rose to the
lips as the bruised person touched the hard leather, set out on the
I remember Jeeves saying on one occasion--I forgot how the subject had
arisen--he may simply have thrown the observation out, as he does
sometimes, for me to take or leave--that hell hath no fury like a woman
scorned. And until tonight I had always felt that there was a lot in it.
I had never scorned a woman myself, but Pongo Twistleton once scorned an
aunt of his, flatly refusing to meet her son Gerald at Paddington and
give him lunch and see him off to school at Waterloo, and he never heard
the end of it. Letters were written, he tells me, which had to be seen to
be believed. Also two very strong telegrams and a bitter picture post
card with a view of the Little Chilbury War Memorial on it.
Until tonight, therefore, as I say, I had never questioned the accuracy
of the statement. Scorned women first and the rest nowhere, was how it
had always seemed to me.
But tonight I revised my views. If you want to know what hell can really
do in the way of furies, look for the chap who has been hornswoggled into
taking a long and unnecessary bicycle ride in the dark without a lamp.
Mark that word "unnecessary". That was the part of it that really jabbed
the iron into the soul. I mean, if it was a case of riding to the
doctor's to save the child with croup, or going off to the local pub to
fetch supplies in the event of the cellar having run dry, no one would
leap to the handlebars more readily than I. Young Lochinvar, absolutely.
But this business of being put through it merely to gratify one's
personal attendant's diseased sense of the amusing was a bit too thick,
and I chafed from start to finish.
So, what I mean to say, although the providence which watches over good
men saw to it that I was enabled to complete the homeward journey
unscathed except in the billowy portions, removing from my path all
goats, elephants, and even owls that looked like my Aunt Agatha, it was
a frowning and jaundiced Bertram who finally came to anchor at the
Brinkley Court front door. And when I saw a dark figure emerging from
the porch to meet me, I prepared to let myself go and uncork all that was
fizzing in the mind.
"Jeeves!" I said.
"It is I, Bertie."
The voice which spoke sounded like warm treacle, and even if I had not
recognized it immediately as that of the Bassett, I should have known
that it did not proceed from the man I was yearning to confront. For this
figure before me was wearing a simple tweed dress and had employed my
first name in its remarks. And Jeeves, whatever his moral defects, would
never go about in skirts calling me Bertie.
The last person, of course, whom I would have wished to meet after a long
evening in the saddle, but I vouchsafed a courteous "What ho!"
There was a pause, during which I massaged the calves. Mine, of course, I
"You got in, then?" I said, in allusion to the change of costume.
"Oh, yes. About a quarter of an hour after you left Jeeves went searching
about and found the back-door key on the kitchen window-sill."
"I thought you said something."
And I continued to do so. For at this juncture, as had so often happened
when this girl and I were closeted, the conversation once more went blue
on us. The night breeze whispered, but not the Bassett. A bird twittered,
but not so much as a chirp escaped Bertram. It was perfectly amazing, the
way her mere presence seemed to wipe speech from my lips--and mine, for
that matter, from hers. It began to look as if our married life together
would be rather like twenty years among the Trappist monks.
"Seen Jeeves anywhere?" I asked, eventually coming through.
"Yes, in the dining-room."
"Waiting on everybody. They are having eggs and bacon and champagne....
What did you say?"
I had said nothing--merely snorted. There was something about the thought
of these people carelessly revelling at a time when, for all they knew, I
was probably being dragged about the countryside by goats or chewed by
elephants, that struck home at me like a poisoned dart. It was the sort
of thing you read about as having happened just before the French
Revolution--the haughty nobles in their castles callously digging in and
quaffing while the unfortunate blighters outside were suffering frightful
The voice of the Bassett cut in on these mordant reflections:
"Hullo!" I said again.
No response. Whole thing rather like one of those telephone conversations
where you sit at your end of the wire saying: "Hullo! Hullo!" unaware
that the party of the second part has gone off to tea.
Eventually, however, she came to the surface again:
"Bertie, I have something to say to you."
"I have something to say to you."
"I know. I said 'What?'"
"Oh, I thought you didn't hear what I said."
"Yes, I heard what you said, all right, but not what you were going to
"Oh, I see."
So that was straightened out. Nevertheless, instead of proceeding she
took time off once more. She stood twisting the fingers and scratching
the gravel with her foot. When finally she spoke, it was to deliver an
"Bertie, do you read Tennyson?"
"Not if I can help."
"You remind me so much of those Knights of the Round Table in the 'Idylls
of the King'."
Of course I had heard of them--Lancelot, Galahad and all that lot, but I
didn't see where the resemblance came in. It seemed to me that she must
be thinking of a couple of other fellows.
"How do you mean?"
"You have such a great heart, such a fine soul. You are so generous, so
unselfish, so chivalrous. I have always felt that about you--that you are
one of the few really chivalrous men I have ever met."
Well, dashed difficult, of course, to know what to say when someone is
giving you the old oil on a scale like that. I muttered an "Oh, yes?" or
something on those lines, and rubbed the billowy portions in some
embarrassment. And there was another silence, broken only by a sharp howl
as I rubbed a bit too hard.
I heard her give a sort of gulp.
"Bertie, will you be chivalrous now?"
"Rather. Only too pleased. How do you mean?"
"I am going to try you to the utmost. I am going to test you as few men
have ever been tested. I am going----"
I didn't like the sound of this.
"Well," I said doubtfully, "always glad to oblige, you know, but I've
just had the dickens of a bicycle ride, and I'm a bit stiff and sore,
especially in the--as I say, a bit stiff and sore. If it's anything to be
fetched from upstairs----"
"No, no, you don't understand."
"I don't, quite, no."
"Oh, it's so difficult.... How can I say it?... Can't you guess?"
"No. I'm dashed if I can."
"Bertie--let me go!"
"But I haven't got hold of you."
And then I suddenly got it. I suppose it was fatigue that had made me so
slow to apprehend the nub.
I staggered, and the left pedal came up and caught me on the shin. But
such was the ecstasy in the soul that I didn't utter a cry.
I didn't want any confusion on the point.
"You mean you want to call it all off? You're going to hitch up with
Gussie, after all?"
"Only if you are fine and big enough to consent."
"Oh, I am."
"I gave you my promise."
"Then you really----"
She seemed to sway like a sapling. It is saplings that sway, I believe.
"A very parfait knight!" I heard her murmur, and there not being much to
say after that, I excused myself on the ground that I had got about two
pecks of dust down my back and would like to go and get my maid to put me
into something loose.
"You go back to Gussie," I said, "and tell him that all is well."
She gave a sort of hiccup and, darting forward, kissed me on the
forehead. Unpleasant, of course, but, as Anatole would say, I can take a
few smooths with a rough. The next moment she was legging it for the
dining-room, while I, having bunged the bicycle into a bush, made for the
I need not dwell upon my buckedness. It can be readily imagined. Talk
about chaps with the noose round their necks and the hangman about to let
her go and somebody galloping up on a foaming horse, waving the
reprieve--not in it. Absolutely not in it at all. I don't know that I
can give you a better idea of the state of my feelings than by saying
that as I started to cross the hall I was conscious of so profound a
benevolence toward all created things that I found myself thinking kindly
thoughts even of Jeeves.
I was about to mount the stairs when a sudden "What ho!" from my rear
caused me to turn. Tuppy was standing in the hall. He had apparently been
down to the cellar for reinforcements, for there were a couple of bottles
under his arm.
"Hullo, Bertie," he said. "You back?" He laughed amusedly. "You look like
the Wreck of the Hesperus. Get run over by a steam-roller or something?"
At any other time I might have found his coarse badinage hard to bear.
But such was my uplifted mood that I waved it aside and slipped him the
"Tuppy, old man, the Bassett's going to marry Gussie Fink-Nottle."
"Tough luck on both of them, what?"
"But don't you understand? Don't you see what this means? It means that
Angela is once more out of pawn, and you have only to play your cards
He bellowed rollickingly. I saw now that he was in the pink. As a matter
of fact, I had noticed something of the sort directly I met him, but had
attributed it to alcoholic stimulant.
"Good Lord! You're right behind the times, Bertie. Only to be expected,
of course, if you will go riding bicycles half the night. Angela and I
made it up hours ago."
"Certainly. Nothing but a passing tiff. All you need in these matters is
a little give and take, a bit of reasonableness on both sides. We got
together and talked things over. She withdrew my double chin. I conceded
her shark. Perfectly simple. All done in a couple of minutes."
"Sorry, Bertie. Can't stop chatting with you all night. There is a rather
impressive beano in progress in the dining-room, and they are waiting for
Endorsement was given to this statement by a sudden shout from the
apartment named. I recognized--as who would not--Aunt Dahlia's voice:
"Hurry up with that stuff."
"Well, come, then. Yoicks! Hard for-rard!"
"Tallyho, not to mention tantivy. Your aunt," said Tuppy, "is a bit above
herself. I don't know all the facts of the case, but it appears that
Anatole gave notice and has now consented to stay on, and also your uncle
has given her a cheque for that paper of hers. I didn't get the details,
but she is much braced. See you later. I must rush."
To say that Bertram was now definitely nonplussed would be but to state
the simple truth. I could make nothing of this. I had left Brinkley Court
a stricken home, with hearts bleeding wherever you looked, and I had
returned to find it a sort of earthly paradise. It baffled me.
I bathed bewilderedly. The toy duck was still in the soap-dish, but I was
too preoccupied to give it a thought. Still at a loss, I returned to my
room, and there was Jeeves. And it is proof of my fogged condish that my
first words to him were words not of reproach and stern recrimination but
"I say, Jeeves!"
"Good evening, sir. I was informed that you had returned. I trust you had
an enjoyable ride."
At any other moment, a crack like that would have woken the fiend in
Bertram Wooster. I barely noticed it. I was intent on getting to the
bottom of this mystery.
"But I say, Jeeves, what?"
"What does all this mean?"
"You refer, sir----"
"Of course I refer. You know what I'm talking about. What has been
happening here since I left? The place is positively stiff with happy
"Yes, sir. I am glad to say that my efforts have been rewarded."
"What do you mean, your efforts? You aren't going to try to make out that
that rotten fire bell scheme of yours had anything to do with it?"
"Don't be an ass, Jeeves. It flopped."
"Not altogether, sir. I fear, sir, that I was not entirely frank with
regard to my suggestion of ringing the fire bell. I had not really
anticipated that it would in itself produce the desired results. I had
intended it merely as a preliminary to what I might describe as the real
business of the evening."
"You gibber, Jeeves."
"No, sir. It was essential that the ladies and gentlemen should be
brought from the house, in order that, once out of doors, I could ensure
that they remained there for the necessary period of time."
"How do you mean?"
"My plan was based on psychology, sir."
"It is a recognized fact, sir, that there is nothing that so
satisfactorily unites individuals who have been so unfortunate as to
quarrel amongst themselves as a strong mutual dislike for some definite
person. In my own family, if I may give a homely illustration, it was a
generally accepted axiom that in times of domestic disagreement it was
necessary only to invite my Aunt Annie for a visit to heal all breaches
between the other members of the household. In the mutual animosity
excited by Aunt Annie, those who had become estranged were reconciled
almost immediately. Remembering this, it occurred to me that were you,
sir, to be established as the person responsible for the ladies and
gentlemen being forced to spend the night in the garden, everybody would
take so strong a dislike to you that in this common sympathy they would
sooner or later come together."
I would have spoken, but he continued:
"And such proved to be the case. All, as you see, sir, is now well. After
your departure on the bicycle, the various estranged parties agreed so
heartily in their abuse of you that the ice, if I may use the expression,
was broken, and it was not long before Mr. Glossop was walking beneath
the trees with Miss Angela, telling her anecdotes of your career at the
university in exchange for hers regarding your childhood; while Mr.
Fink-Nottle, leaning against the sundial, held Miss Bassett enthralled
with stories of your schooldays. Mrs. Travers, meanwhile, was telling
I found speech.
"Oh?" I said. "I see. And now, I suppose, as the result of this dashed
psychology of yours, Aunt Dahlia is so sore with me that it will be years
before I can dare to show my face here again--years, Jeeves, during
which, night after night, Anatole will be cooking those dinners of
"No, sir. It was to prevent any such contingency that I suggested that
you should bicycle to Kingham Manor. When I informed the ladies and
gentlemen that I had found the key, and it was borne in upon them that
you were having that long ride for nothing, their animosity vanished
immediately, to be replaced by cordial amusement. There was much
"There was, eh?"
"Yes, sir. I fear you may possibly have to submit to a certain amount of
good-natured chaff, but nothing more. All, if I may say so, is forgiven,
I mused awhile.
"You certainly seem to have fixed things."
"Tuppy and Angela are once more betrothed. Also Gussie and the Bassett;
Uncle Tom appears to have coughed up that money for _Milady's Boudoir_.
And Anatole is staying on."
"I suppose you might say that all's well that ends well."
"Very apt, sir."
I mused again.
"All the same, your methods are a bit rough, Jeeves."
"One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, sir."
"Omelette! Do you think you could get me one?"
"Together with half a bot. of something?"
"Do so, Jeeves, and with all speed."
I climbed into bed and sank back against the pillows. I must say that my
generous wrath had ebbed a bit. I was aching the whole length of my body,
particularly toward the middle, but against this you had to set the fact
that I was no longer engaged to Madeline Bassett. In a good cause one is
prepared to suffer. Yes, looking at the thing from every angle, I saw
that Jeeves had done well, and it was with an approving beam that I
welcomed him as he returned with the needful.
He did not check up with this beam. A bit grave, he seemed to me to be
looking, and I probed the matter with a kindly query:
"Something on your mind, Jeeves?"
"Yes, sir. I should have mentioned it earlier, but in the evening's
disturbance it escaped my memory, I fear I have been remiss, sir."
"Yes, Jeeves?" I said, champing contentedly.
"In the matter of your mess-jacket, sir."
A nameless fear shot through me, causing me to swallow a mouthful of
omelette the wrong way.
"I am sorry to say, sir, that while I was ironing it this afternoon I was
careless enough to leave the hot instrument upon it. I very much fear
that it will be impossible for you to wear it again, sir."
One of those old pregnant silences filled the room.
"I am extremely sorry, sir."
For a moment, I confess, that generous wrath of mine came bounding back,
hitching up its muscles and snorting a bit through the nose, but, as we
say on the Riviera, _a quoi sert-il_? There was nothing to be gained by
We Woosters can bite the bullet. I nodded moodily and speared another
slab of omelette.
"Right ho, Jeeves."
"Very good, sir."