RIGHT HO, JEEVES
P. G. WODEHOUSE
RAYMOND NEEDHAM, K.C.
WITH AFFECTION AND ADMIRATION
“Jeeves,” I said, “may I speak frankly?”
“What I have to say may wound you.”
“Not at all, sir.”
No–wait. Hold the line a minute. I’ve gone off the rails.
I don’t know if you have had the same experience, but the snag I always come up against when I’m telling a story is this dashed difficult problem of where to begin it. It’s a thing you don’t want to go wrong over, because one false step and you’re sunk. I mean, if you fool about too long at the start, trying to establish atmosphere, as they call it, and all that sort of rot, you fail to grip and the customers walk out on you.
Get off the mark, on the other hand, like a scalded cat, and your public is at a loss. It simply raises its eyebrows, and can’t make out what you’re talking about.
And in opening my report of the complex case of Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, my Cousin Angela, my Aunt Dahlia, my Uncle Thomas, young Tuppy Glossop and the cook, Anatole, with the above spot of dialogue, I see that I have made the second of these two floaters.
I shall have to hark back a bit. And taking it for all in all and weighing this against that, I suppose the affair may be said to have had its inception, if inception is the word I want, with that visit of mine to Cannes. If I hadn’t gone to Cannes, I shouldn’t have met the Bassett or bought that white mess jacket, and Angela wouldn’t have met her shark, and Aunt Dahlia wouldn’t have played baccarat.
Yes, most decidedly, Cannes was the _point d’appui._
Right ho, then. Let me marshal my facts.
I went to Cannes–leaving Jeeves behind, he having intimated that he did not wish to miss Ascot–round about the beginning of June. With me travelled my Aunt Dahlia and her daughter Angela. Tuppy Glossop, Angela’s betrothed, was to have been of the party, but at the last moment couldn’t get away. Uncle Tom, Aunt Dahlia’s husband, remained at home, because he can’t stick the South of France at any price.
So there you have the layout–Aunt Dahlia, Cousin Angela and self off to Cannes round about the beginning of June.
All pretty clear so far, what?
We stayed at Cannes about two months, and except for the fact that Aunt Dahlia lost her shirt at baccarat and Angela nearly got inhaled by a shark while aquaplaning, a pleasant time was had by all.
On July the twenty-fifth, looking bronzed and fit, I accompanied aunt and child back to London. At seven p.m. on July the twenty-sixth we alighted at Victoria. And at seven-twenty or thereabouts we parted with mutual expressions of esteem–they to shove off in Aunt Dahlia’s car to Brinkley Court, her place in Worcestershire, where they were expecting to entertain Tuppy in a day or two; I to go to the flat, drop my luggage, clean up a bit, and put on the soup and fish preparatory to pushing round to the Drones for a bite of dinner.
And it was while I was at the flat, towelling the torso after a much-needed rinse, that Jeeves, as we chatted of this and that–picking up the threads, as it were–suddenly brought the name of Gussie Fink-Nottle into the conversation.
As I recall it, the dialogue ran something as follows:
SELF: Well, Jeeves, here we are, what?
JEEVES: Yes, sir.
SELF: I mean to say, home again.
JEEVES: Precisely, sir.
SELF: Seems ages since I went away.
JEEVES: Yes, sir.
SELF: Have a good time at Ascot?
JEEVES: Most agreeable, sir.
SELF: Win anything?
JEEVES: Quite a satisfactory sum, thank you, sir.
SELF: Good. Well, Jeeves, what news on the Rialto? Anybody been phoning or calling or anything during my abs.?
JEEVES: Mr. Fink-Nottle, sir, has been a frequent caller.
I stared. Indeed, it would not be too much to say that I gaped.
“You don’t mean Mr. Fink-Nottle?”
“But Mr. Fink-Nottle’s not in London?”
“Well, I’m blowed.”
And I’ll tell you why I was blowed. I found it scarcely possible to give credence to his statement. This Fink-Nottle, you see, was one of those freaks you come across from time to time during life’s journey who can’t stand London. He lived year in and year out, covered with moss, in a remote village down in Lincolnshire, never coming up even for the Eton and Harrow match. And when I asked him once if he didn’t find the time hang a bit heavy on his hands, he said, no, because he had a pond in his garden and studied the habits of newts.
I couldn’t imagine what could have brought the chap up to the great city. I would have been prepared to bet that as long as the supply of newts didn’t give out, nothing could have shifted him from that village of his.
“Are you sure?”
“You got the name correctly? Fink-Nottle?”
“Well, it’s the most extraordinary thing. It must be five years since he was in London. He makes no secret of the fact that the place gives him the pip. Until now, he has always stayed glued to the country, completely surrounded by newts.”
“Newts, Jeeves. Mr. Fink-Nottle has a strong newt complex. You must have heard of newts. Those little sort of lizard things that charge about in ponds.”
“Oh, yes, sir. The aquatic members of the family Salamandridae which constitute the genus Molge.”
“That’s right. Well, Gussie has always been a slave to them. He used to keep them at school.”
“I believe young gentlemen frequently do, sir.”
“He kept them in his study in a kind of glass-tank arrangement, and pretty niffy the whole thing was, I recall. I suppose one ought to have been able to see what the end would be even then, but you know what boys are. Careless, heedless, busy about our own affairs, we scarcely gave this kink in Gussie’s character a thought. We may have exchanged an occasional remark about it taking all sorts to make a world, but nothing more. You can guess the sequel. The trouble spread,”
“Absolutely, Jeeves. The craving grew upon him. The newts got him. Arrived at man’s estate, he retired to the depths of the country and gave his life up to these dumb chums. I suppose he used to tell himself that he could take them or leave them alone, and then found–too late–that he couldn’t.”
“It is often the way, sir.”
“Too true, Jeeves. At any rate, for the last five years he has been living at this place of his down in Lincolnshire, as confirmed a species-shunning hermit as ever put fresh water in the tank every second day and refused to see a soul. That’s why I was so amazed when you told me he had suddenly risen to the surface like this. I still can’t believe it. I am inclined to think that there must be some mistake, and that this bird who has been calling here is some different variety of Fink-Nottle. The chap I know wears horn-rimmed spectacles and has a face like a fish. How does that check up with your data?”
“The gentleman who came to the flat wore horn-rimmed spectacles, sir.”
“And looked like something on a slab?”
“Possibly there was a certain suggestion of the piscine, sir.”
“Then it must be Gussie, I suppose. But what on earth can have brought him up to London?”
“I am in a position to explain that, sir. Mr. Fink-Nottle confided to me his motive in visiting the metropolis. He came because the young lady is here.”
“You don’t mean he’s in love?”
“Well, I’m dashed. I’m really dashed. I positively am dashed, Jeeves.”
And I was too. I mean to say, a joke’s a joke, but there are limits.
Then I found my mind turning to another aspect of this rummy affair. Conceding the fact that Gussie Fink-Nottle, against all the ruling of the form book, might have fallen in love, why should he have been haunting my flat like this? No doubt the occasion was one of those when a fellow needs a friend, but I couldn’t see what had made him pick on me.
It wasn’t as if he and I were in any way bosom. We had seen a lot of each other at one time, of course, but in the last two years I hadn’t had so much as a post card from him.
I put all this to Jeeves:
“Odd, his coming to me. Still, if he did, he did. No argument about that. It must have been a nasty jar for the poor perisher when he found I wasn’t here.”
“No, sir. Mr. Fink-Nottle did not call to see you, sir.”
“Pull yourself together, Jeeves. You’ve just told me that this is what he has been doing, and assiduously, at that.”
“It was I with whom he was desirous of establishing communication, sir.”
“You? But I didn’t know you had ever met him.”
“I had not had that pleasure until he called here, sir. But it appears that Mr. Sipperley, a fellow student of whom Mr. Fink-Nottle had been at the university, recommended him to place his affairs in my hands.”
The mystery had conked. I saw all. As I dare say you know, Jeeves’s reputation as a counsellor has long been established among the cognoscenti, and the first move of any of my little circle on discovering themselves in any form of soup is always to roll round and put the thing up to him. And when he’s got A out of a bad spot, A puts B on to him. And then, when he has fixed up B, B sends C along. And so on, if you get my drift, and so forth.
That’s how these big consulting practices like Jeeves’s grow. Old Sippy, I knew, had been deeply impressed by the man’s efforts on his behalf at the time when he was trying to get engaged to Elizabeth Moon, so it was not to be wondered at that he should have advised Gussie to apply. Pure routine, you might say.
“Oh, you’re acting for him, are you?”
“Now I follow. Now I understand. And what is Gussie’s trouble?”
“Oddly enough, sir, precisely the same as that of Mr. Sipperley when I was enabled to be of assistance to him. No doubt you recall Mr. Sipperley’s predicament, sir. Deeply attached to Miss Moon, he suffered from a rooted diffidence which made it impossible for him to speak.”
“I remember. Yes, I recall the Sipperley case. He couldn’t bring himself to the scratch. A marked coldness of the feet, was there not? I recollect you saying he was letting–what was it?–letting something do something. Cats entered into it, if I am not mistaken.”
“Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would’, sir.”
“That’s right. But how about the cats?”
“Like the poor cat i’ the adage, sir.”
“Exactly. It beats me how you think up these things. And Gussie, you say, is in the same posish?”
“Yes, sir. Each time he endeavours to formulate a proposal of marriage, his courage fails him.”
“And yet, if he wants this female to be his wife, he’s got to say so, what? I mean, only civil to mention it.”
“Well, I suppose this was inevitable, Jeeves. I wouldn’t have thought that this Fink-Nottle would ever have fallen a victim to the divine _p_, but, if he has, no wonder he finds the going sticky.”
“Look at the life he’s led.”
“I don’t suppose he has spoken to a girl for years. What a lesson this is to us, Jeeves, not to shut ourselves up in country houses and stare into glass tanks. You can’t be the dominant male if you do that sort of thing. In this life, you can choose between two courses. You can either shut yourself up in a country house and stare into tanks, or you can be a dasher with the sex. You can’t do both.”
I mused once more. Gussie and I, as I say, had rather lost touch, but all the same I was exercised about the poor fish, as I am about all my pals, close or distant, who find themselves treading upon Life’s banana skins. It seemed to me that he was up against it.
I threw my mind back to the last time I had seen him. About two years ago, it had been. I had looked in at his place while on a motor trip, and he had put me right off my feed by bringing a couple of green things with legs to the luncheon table, crooning over them like a young mother and eventually losing one of them in the salad. That picture, rising before my eyes, didn’t give me much confidence in the unfortunate goof’s ability to woo and win, I must say. Especially if the girl he had earmarked was one of these tough modern thugs, all lipstick and cool, hard, sardonic eyes, as she probably was.
“Tell me, Jeeves,” I said, wishing to know the worst, “what sort of a girl is this girl of Gussie’s?”
“I have not met the young lady, sir. Mr. Fink-Nottle speaks highly of her attractions.”
“Seemed to like her, did he?”
“Did he mention her name? Perhaps I know her.”
“She is a Miss Bassett, sir. Miss Madeline Bassett.”
I was deeply intrigued.
“Egad, Jeeves! Fancy that. It’s a small world, isn’t it, what?”
“The young lady is an acquaintance of yours, sir?”
“I know her well. Your news has relieved my mind, Jeeves. It makes the whole thing begin to seem far more like a practical working proposition.”
“Absolutely. I confess that until you supplied this information I was feeling profoundly dubious about poor old Gussie’s chances of inducing any spinster of any parish to join him in the saunter down the aisle. You will agree with me that he is not everybody’s money.”
“There may be something in what you say, sir.”
“Cleopatra wouldn’t have liked him.”
“Possibly not, sir.”
“And I doubt if he would go any too well with Tallulah Bankhead.”
“But when you tell me that the object of his affections is Miss Bassett, why, then, Jeeves, hope begins to dawn a bit. He’s just the sort of chap a girl like Madeline Bassett might scoop in with relish.”
This Bassett, I must explain, had been a fellow visitor of ours at Cannes; and as she and Angela had struck up one of those effervescent friendships which girls do strike up, I had seen quite a bit of her. Indeed, in my moodier moments it sometimes seemed to me that I could not move a step without stubbing my toe on the woman.
And what made it all so painful and distressing was that the more we met, the less did I seem able to find to say to her.
You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower. It was like that with this Bassett and me; so much so that I have known occasions when for minutes at a stretch Bertram Wooster might have been observed fumbling with the tie, shuffling the feet, and behaving in all other respects in her presence like the complete dumb brick. When, therefore, she took her departure some two weeks before we did, you may readily imagine that, in Bertram’s opinion, it was not a day too soon.
It was not her beauty, mark you, that thus numbed me. She was a pretty enough girl in a droopy, blonde, saucer-eyed way, but not the sort of breath-taker that takes the breath.
No, what caused this disintegration in a usually fairly fluent prattler with the sex was her whole mental attitude. I don’t want to wrong anybody, so I won’t go so far as to say that she actually wrote poetry, but her conversation, to my mind, was of a nature calculated to excite the liveliest suspicions. Well, I mean to say, when a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don’t sometimes feel that the stars are God’s daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit.
As regards the fusing of her soul and mine, therefore, there was nothing doing. But with Gussie, the posish was entirely different. The thing that had stymied me–viz. that this girl was obviously all loaded down with ideals and sentiment and what not–was quite in order as far as he was concerned.
Gussie had always been one of those dreamy, soulful birds–you can’t shut yourself up in the country and live only for newts, if you’re not–and I could see no reason why, if he could somehow be induced to get the low, burning words off his chest, he and the Bassett shouldn’t hit it off like ham and eggs.
“She’s just the type for him,” I said.
“I am most gratified to hear it, sir.”
“And he’s just the type for her. In fine, a good thing and one to be pushed along with the utmost energy. Strain every nerve, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir,” replied the honest fellow. “I will attend to the matter at once.”
Now up to this point, as you will doubtless agree, what you might call a perfect harmony had prevailed. Friendly gossip between employer and employed, and everything as sweet as a nut. But at this juncture, I regret to say, there was an unpleasant switch. The atmosphere suddenly changed, the storm clouds began to gather, and before we knew where we were, the jarring note had come bounding on the scene. I have known this to happen before in the Wooster home.
The first intimation I had that things were about to hot up was a pained and disapproving cough from the neighbourhood of the carpet. For, during the above exchanges, I should explain, while I, having dried the frame, had been dressing in a leisurely manner, donning here a sock, there a shoe, and gradually climbing into the vest, the shirt, the tie, and the knee-length, Jeeves had been down on the lower level, unpacking my effects.
He now rose, holding a white object. And at the sight of it, I realized that another of our domestic crises had arrived, another of those unfortunate clashes of will between two strong men, and that Bertram, unless he remembered his fighting ancestors and stood up for his rights, was about to be put upon.
I don’t know if you were at Cannes this summer. If you were, you will recall that anybody with any pretensions to being the life and soul of the party was accustomed to attend binges at the Casino in the ordinary evening-wear trouserings topped to the north by a white mess-jacket with brass buttons. And ever since I had stepped aboard the Blue Train at Cannes station, I had been wondering on and off how mine would go with Jeeves.
In the matter of evening costume, you see, Jeeves is hidebound and reactionary. I had had trouble with him before about soft-bosomed shirts. And while these mess-jackets had, as I say, been all the rage–_tout ce qu’il y a de chic_–on the Cote d’Azur, I had never concealed it from myself, even when treading the measure at the Palm Beach Casino in the one I had hastened to buy, that there might be something of an upheaval about it on my return.
I prepared to be firm.
“Yes, Jeeves?” I said. And though my voice was suave, a close observer in a position to watch my eyes would have noticed a steely glint. Nobody has a greater respect for Jeeves’s intellect than I have, but this disposition of his to dictate to the hand that fed him had got, I felt, to be checked. This mess-jacket was very near to my heart, and I jolly well intended to fight for it with all the vim of grand old Sieur de Wooster at the Battle of Agincourt.
“Yes, Jeeves?” I said. “Something on your mind, Jeeves?”
“I fear that you inadvertently left Cannes in the possession of a coat belonging to some other gentleman, sir.”
I switched on the steely a bit more.
“No, Jeeves,” I said, in a level tone, “the object under advisement is mine. I bought it out there.”
“You wore it, sir?”
“But surely you are not proposing to wear it in England, sir?”
I saw that we had arrived at the nub.
“You were saying, Jeeves?”
“It is quite unsuitable, sir.”
“I do not agree with you, Jeeves. I anticipate a great popular success for this jacket. It is my intention to spring it on the public tomorrow at Pongo Twistleton’s birthday party, where I confidently expect it to be one long scream from start to finish. No argument, Jeeves. No discussion. Whatever fantastic objection you may have taken to it, I wear this jacket.”
“Very good, sir.”
He went on with his unpacking. I said no more on the subject. I had won the victory, and we Woosters do not triumph over a beaten foe. Presently, having completed my toilet, I bade the man a cheery farewell and in generous mood suggested that, as I was dining out, why didn’t he take the evening off and go to some improving picture or something. Sort of olive branch, if you see what I mean.
He didn’t seem to think much of it.
“Thank you, sir, I will remain in.”
I surveyed him narrowly.
“Is this dudgeon, Jeeves?”
“No, sir, I am obliged to remain on the premises. Mr. Fink-Nottle informed me he would be calling to see me this evening.”
“Oh, Gussie’s coming, is he? Well, give him my love.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And a whisky and soda, and so forth.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Right ho, Jeeves.”
I then set off for the Drones.
At the Drones I ran into Pongo Twistleton, and he talked so much about his forthcoming merry-making of his, of which good reports had already reached me through my correspondents, that it was nearing eleven when I got home again.
And scarcely had I opened the door when I heard voices in the sitting-room, and scarcely had I entered the sitting-room when I found that these proceeded from Jeeves and what appeared at first sight to be the Devil.
A closer scrutiny informed me that it was Gussie Fink-Nottle, dressed as Mephistopheles.
“What-ho, Gussie,” I said.
You couldn’t have told it from my manner, but I was feeling more than a bit nonplussed. The spectacle before me was enough to nonplus anyone. I mean to say, this Fink-Nottle, as I remembered him, was the sort of shy, shrinking goop who might have been expected to shake like an aspen if invited to so much as a social Saturday afternoon at the vicarage. And yet here he was, if one could credit one’s senses, about to take part in a fancy-dress ball, a form of entertainment notoriously a testing experience for the toughest.
And he was attending that fancy-dress ball, mark you–not, like every other well-bred Englishman, as a Pierrot, but as Mephistopheles–this involving, as I need scarcely stress, not only scarlet tights but a pretty frightful false beard.
Rummy, you’ll admit. However, one masks one’s feelings. I betrayed no vulgar astonishment, but, as I say, what-hoed with civil nonchalance.
He grinned through the fungus–rather sheepishly, I thought.
“Oh, hullo, Bertie.”
“Long time since I saw you. Have a spot?”
“No, thanks. I must be off in a minute. I just came round to ask Jeeves how he thought I looked. How do you think I look, Bertie?”
Well, the answer to that, of course, was “perfectly foul”. But we Woosters are men of tact and have a nice sense of the obligations of a host. We do not tell old friends beneath our roof-tree that they are an offence to the eyesight. I evaded the question.
“I hear you’re in London,” I said carelessly.
“Must be years since you came up.”
“And now you’re off for an evening’s pleasure.”
He shuddered a bit. He had, I noticed, a hunted air.
“Aren’t you looking forward to this rout or revel?”
“Oh, I suppose it’ll be all right,” he said, in a toneless voice. “Anyway, I ought to be off, I suppose. The thing starts round about eleven. I told my cab to wait…. Will you see if it’s there, Jeeves?”
“Very good, sir.”
There was something of a pause after the door had closed. A certain constraint. I mixed myself a beaker, while Gussie, a glutton for punishment, stared at himself in the mirror. Finally I decided that it would be best to let him know that I was abreast of his affairs. It might be that it would ease his mind to confide in a sympathetic man of experience. I have generally found, with those under the influence, that what they want more than anything is the listening ear.
“Well, Gussie, old leper,” I said, “I’ve been hearing all about you.”
“This little trouble of yours. Jeeves has told me everything.”
He didn’t seem any too braced. It’s always difficult to be sure, of course, when a chap has dug himself in behind a Mephistopheles beard, but I fancy he flushed a trifle.
“I wish Jeeves wouldn’t go gassing all over the place. It was supposed to be confidential.”
I could not permit this tone.
“Dishing up the dirt to the young master can scarcely be described as gassing all over the place,” I said, with a touch of rebuke. “Anyway, there it is. I know all. And I should like to begin,” I said, sinking my personal opinion that the female in question was a sloppy pest in my desire to buck and encourage, “by saying that Madeline Bassett is a charming girl. A winner, and just the sort for you.”
“You don’t know her?”
“Certainly I know her. What beats me is how you ever got in touch. Where did you meet?”
“She was staying at a place near mine in Lincolnshire the week before last.”
“Yes, but even so. I didn’t know you called on the neighbours.”
“I don’t. I met her out for a walk with her dog. The dog had got a thorn in its foot, and when she tried to take it out, it snapped at her. So, of course, I had to rally round.”
“You extracted the thorn?”
“And fell in love at first sight?”
“Well, dash it, with a thing like that to give you a send-off, why didn’t you cash in immediately?”
“I hadn’t the nerve.”
“We talked for a bit.”
“Birds? What birds?”
“The birds that happened to be hanging round. And the scenery, and all that sort of thing. And she said she was going to London, and asked me to look her up if I was ever there.”
“And even after that you didn’t so much as press her hand?”
“Of course not.”
Well, I mean, it looked as though there was no more to be said. If a chap is such a rabbit that he can’t get action when he’s handed the thing on a plate, his case would appear to be pretty hopeless. Nevertheless, I reminded myself that this non-starter and I had been at school together. One must make an effort for an old school friend.
“Ah, well,” I said, “we must see what can be done. Things may brighten. At any rate, you will be glad to learn that I am behind you in this enterprise. You have Bertram Wooster in your corner, Gussie.”
“Thanks, old man. And Jeeves, of course, which is the thing that really matters.”
I don’t mind admitting that I winced. He meant no harm, I suppose, but I’m bound to say that this tactless speech nettled me not a little. People are always nettling me like that. Giving me to understand, I mean to say, that in their opinion Bertram Wooster is a mere cipher and that the only member of the household with brains and resources is Jeeves.
It jars on me.
And tonight it jarred on me more than usual, because I was feeling pretty dashed fed with Jeeves. Over that matter of the mess jacket, I mean. True, I had forced him to climb down, quelling him, as described, with the quiet strength of my personality, but I was still a trifle shirty at his having brought the thing up at all. It seemed to me that what Jeeves wanted was the iron hand.
“And what is he doing about it?” I inquired stiffly.
“He’s been giving the position of affairs a lot of thought.”
“He has, has he?”
“It’s on his advice that I’m going to this dance.”
“She is going to be there. In fact, it was she who sent me the ticket of invitation. And Jeeves considered—-“
“And why not as a Pierrot?” I said, taking up the point which had struck me before. “Why this break with a grand old tradition?”
“He particularly wanted me to go as Mephistopheles.”
“He did, did he? He specifically recommended that definite costume?”
“Nothing. Just ‘Ha!'”
And I’ll tell you why I said “Ha!” Here was Jeeves making heavy weather about me wearing a perfectly ordinary white mess jacket, a garment not only _tout ce qu’il y a de chic_, but absolutely _de rigueur_, and in the same breath, as you might say, inciting Gussie Fink-Nottle to be a blot on the London scene in scarlet tights. Ironical, what? One looks askance at this sort of in-and-out running.
“What has he got against Pierrots?”
“I don’t think he objects to Pierrots as Pierrots. But in my case he thought a Pierrot wouldn’t be adequate.”
“I don’t follow that.”
“He said that the costume of Pierrot, while pleasing to the eye, lacked the authority of the Mephistopheles costume.”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Well, it’s a matter of psychology, he said.”
There was a time when a remark like that would have had me snookered. But long association with Jeeves has developed the Wooster vocabulary considerably. Jeeves has always been a whale for the psychology of the individual, and I now follow him like a bloodhound when he snaps it out of the bag.
“Yes. Jeeves is a great believer in the moral effect of clothes. He thinks I might be emboldened in a striking costume like this. He said a Pirate Chief would be just as good. In fact, a Pirate Chief was his first suggestion, but I objected to the boots.”
I saw his point. There is enough sadness in life without having fellows like Gussie Fink-Nottle going about in sea boots.
“And are you emboldened?”
“Well, to be absolutely accurate, Bertie, old man, no.”
A gust of compassion shook me. After all, though we had lost touch a bit of recent years, this man and I had once thrown inked darts at each other.
“Gussie,” I said, “take an old friend’s advice, and don’t go within a mile of this binge.”
“But it’s my last chance of seeing her. She’s off tomorrow to stay with some people in the country. Besides, you don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“That this idea of Jeeves’s won’t work. I feel a most frightful chump now, yes, but who can say whether that will not pass off when I get into a mob of other people in fancy dress. I had the same experience as a child, one year during the Christmas festivities. They dressed me up as a rabbit, and the shame was indescribable. Yet when I got to the party and found myself surrounded by scores of other children, many in costumes even ghastlier than my own, I perked up amazingly, joined freely in the revels, and was able to eat so hearty a supper that I was sick twice in the cab coming home. What I mean is, you can’t tell in cold blood.”
I weighed this. It was specious, of course.
“And you can’t get away from it that, fundamentally, Jeeves’s idea is sound. In a striking costume like Mephistopheles, I might quite easily pull off something pretty impressive. Colour does make a difference. Look at newts. During the courting season the male newt is brilliantly coloured. It helps him a lot.”
“But you aren’t a male newt.”
“I wish I were. Do you know how a male newt proposes, Bertie? He just stands in front of the female newt vibrating his tail and bending his body in a semi-circle. I could do that on my head. No, you wouldn’t find me grousing if I were a male newt.”
“But if you were a male newt, Madeline Bassett wouldn’t look at you. Not with the eye of love, I mean.”
“She would, if she were a female newt.”
“But she isn’t a female newt.”
“No, but suppose she was.”
“Well, if she was, you wouldn’t be in love with her.”
“Yes, I would, if I were a male newt.”
A slight throbbing about the temples told me that this discussion had reached saturation point.
“Well, anyway,” I said, “coming down to hard facts and cutting out all this visionary stuff about vibrating tails and what not, the salient point that emerges is that you are booked to appear at a fancy-dress ball. And I tell you out of my riper knowledge of fancy-dress balls, Gussie, that you won’t enjoy yourself.”
“It isn’t a question of enjoying yourself.”
“I wouldn’t go.”
“I must go. I keep telling you she’s off to the country tomorrow.”
I gave it up.
“So be it,” I said. “Have it your own way…. Yes, Jeeves?”
“Mr. Fink-Nottle’s cab, sir.”
“Ah? The cab, eh?… Your cab, Gussie.”
“Oh, the cab? Oh, right. Of course, yes, rather…. Thanks, Jeeves … Well, so long, Bertie.”
And giving me the sort of weak smile Roman gladiators used to give the Emperor before entering the arena, Gussie trickled off. And I turned to Jeeves. The moment had arrived for putting him in his place, and I was all for it.
It was a little difficult to know how to begin, of course. I mean to say, while firmly resolved to tick him off, I didn’t want to gash his feelings too deeply. Even when displaying the iron hand, we Woosters like to keep the thing fairly matey.
However, on consideration, I saw that there was nothing to be gained by trying to lead up to it gently. It is never any use beating about the b.
“Jeeves,” I said, “may I speak frankly?”
“What I have to say may wound you.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“Well, then, I have been having a chat with Mr. Fink-Nottle, and he has been telling me about this Mephistopheles scheme of yours.”
“Now let me get it straight. If I follow your reasoning correctly, you think that, stimulated by being upholstered throughout in scarlet tights, Mr. Fink-Nottle, on encountering the adored object, will vibrate his tail and generally let himself go with a whoop.”
“I am of opinion that he will lose much of his normal diffidence, sir.”
“I don’t agree with you, Jeeves.”
“No. In fact, not to put too fine a point upon it, I consider that of all the dashed silly, drivelling ideas I ever heard in my puff this is the most blithering and futile. It won’t work. Not a chance. All you have done is to subject Mr. Fink-Nottle to the nameless horrors of a fancy-dress ball for nothing. And this is not the first time this sort of thing has happened. To be quite candid, Jeeves, I have frequently noticed before now a tendency or disposition on your part to become–what’s the word?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“Eloquent? No, it’s not eloquent. Elusive? No, it’s not elusive. It’s on the tip of my tongue. Begins with an ‘e’ and means being a jolly sight too clever.”
“That is the exact word I was after. Too elaborate, Jeeves–that is what you are frequently prone to become. Your methods are not simple, not straightforward. You cloud the issue with a lot of fancy stuff that is not of the essence. All that Gussie needs is the elder-brotherly advice of a seasoned man of the world. So what I suggest is that from now onward you leave this case to me.”
“Very good, sir.”
“You lay off and devote yourself to your duties about the home.”
“Very good, sir.”
“I shall no doubt think of something quite simple and straightforward yet perfectly effective ere long. I will make a point of seeing Gussie tomorrow.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Right ho, Jeeves.”
But on the morrow all those telegrams started coming in, and I confess that for twenty-four hours I didn’t give the poor chap a thought, having problems of my own to contend with.
The first of the telegram arrived shortly after noon, and Jeeves brought it in with the before-luncheon snifter. It was from my Aunt Dahlia, operating from Market Snodsbury, a small town of sorts a mile or two along the main road as you leave her country seat.
It ran as follows:
_Come at once. Travers._
And when I say it puzzled me like the dickens, I am understating it; if anything. As mysterious a communication, I considered, as was ever flashed over the wires. I studied it in a profound reverie for the best part of two dry Martinis and a dividend. I read it backwards. I read it forwards. As a matter of fact, I have a sort of recollection of even smelling it. But it still baffled me.
Consider the facts, I mean. It was only a few hours since this aunt and I had parted, after being in constant association for nearly two months. And yet here she was–with my farewell kiss still lingering on her cheek, so to speak–pleading for another reunion. Bertram Wooster is not accustomed to this gluttonous appetite for his society. Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that after two months of my company, what the normal person feels is that that will about do for the present. Indeed, I have known people who couldn’t stick it out for more than a few days.
Before sitting down to the well-cooked, therefore, I sent this reply:
_Perplexed. Explain. Bertie._
To this I received an answer during the after-luncheon sleep:
_What on earth is there to be perplexed about, ass? Come at once. Travers._
Three cigarettes and a couple of turns about the room, and I had my response ready:
_How do you mean come at once? Regards. Bertie._
I append the comeback:
_I mean come at once, you maddening half-wit. What did you think I meant? Come at once or expect an aunt’s curse first post tomorrow. Love. Travers._
I then dispatched the following message, wishing to get everything quite clear:
_When you say “Come” do you mean “Come to Brinkley Court”? And when you say “At once” do you mean “At once”? Fogged. At a loss. All the best. Bertie._
I sent this one off on my way to the Drones, where I spent a restful afternoon throwing cards into a top-hat with some of the better element. Returning in the evening hush, I found the answer waiting for me:
_Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. It doesn’t matter whether you understand or not. You just come at once, as I tell you, and for heaven’s sake stop this back-chat. Do you think I am made of money that I can afford to send you telegrams every ten minutes. Stop being a fathead and come immediately. Love. Travers._
It was at this point that I felt the need of getting a second opinion. I pressed the bell.
“Jeeves,” I said, “a V-shaped rumminess has manifested itself from the direction of Worcestershire. Read these,” I said, handing him the papers in the case.
He scanned them.
“What do you make of it, Jeeves?”
“I think Mrs. Travers wishes you to come at once, sir.”
“You gather that too, do you?”
“I put the same construction on the thing. But why, Jeeves? Dash it all, she’s just had nearly two months of me.”
“And many people consider the medium dose for an adult two days.”
“Yes, sir. I appreciate the point you raise. Nevertheless, Mrs. Travers appears very insistent. I think it would be well to acquiesce in her wishes.”
“Pop down, you mean?”
“Well, I certainly can’t go at once. I’ve an important conference on at the Drones tonight. Pongo Twistleton’s birthday party, you remember.”
There was a slight pause. We were both recalling the little unpleasantness that had arisen. I felt obliged to allude to it.
“You’re all wrong about that mess jacket, Jeeves.”
“These things are matters of opinion, sir.”
“When I wore it at the Casino at Cannes, beautiful women nudged one another and whispered: ‘Who is he?'”
“The code at Continental casinos is notoriously lax, sir.”
“And when I described it to Pongo last night, he was fascinated.”
“So were all the rest of those present. One and all admitted that I had got hold of a good thing. Not a dissentient voice.”
“I am convinced that you will eventually learn to love this mess-jacket, Jeeves.”
“I fear not, sir.”
I gave it up. It is never any use trying to reason with Jeeves on these occasions. “Pig-headed” is the word that springs to the lips. One sighs and passes on.
“Well, anyway, returning to the agenda, I can’t go down to Brinkley Court or anywhere else yet awhile. That’s final. I’ll tell you what, Jeeves. Give me form and pencil, and I’ll wire her that I’ll be with her some time next week or the week after. Dash it all, she ought to be able to hold out without me for a few days. It only requires will power.”
“Right ho, then. I’ll wire ‘Expect me tomorrow fortnight’ or words to some such effect. That ought to meet the case. Then if you will toddle round the corner and send it off, that will be that.”
“Very good, sir.”
And so the long day wore on till it was time for me to dress for Pongo’s party.
Pongo had assured me, while chatting of the affair on the previous night, that this birthday binge of his was to be on a scale calculated to stagger humanity, and I must say I have participated in less fruity functions. It was well after four when I got home, and by that time I was about ready to turn in. I can just remember groping for the bed and crawling into it, and it seemed to me that the lemon had scarcely touched the pillow before I was aroused by the sound of the door opening.
I was barely ticking over, but I contrived to raise an eyelid.
“Is that my tea, Jeeves?”
“No, sir. It is Mrs. Travers.”
And a moment later there was a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and the relative had crossed the threshold at fifty m.p.h. under her own steam.
It has been well said of Bertram Wooster that, while no one views his flesh and blood with a keener and more remorselessly critical eye, he is nevertheless a man who delights in giving credit where credit is due. And if you have followed these memoirs of mine with the proper care, you will be aware that I have frequently had occasion to emphasise the fact that Aunt Dahlia is all right.
She is the one, if you remember, who married old Tom Travers _en secondes noces_, as I believe the expression is, the year Bluebottle won the Cambridgeshire, and once induced me to write an article on What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing for that paper she runs–_Milady’s Boudoir_. She is a large, genial soul, with whom it is a pleasure to hob-nob. In her spiritual make-up there is none of that subtle gosh-awfulness which renders such an exhibit as, say, my Aunt Agatha the curse of the Home Counties and a menace to one and all. I have the highest esteem for Aunt Dahlia, and have never wavered in my cordial appreciation of her humanity, sporting qualities and general good-eggishness.
This being so, you may conceive of my astonishment at finding her at my bedside at such an hour. I mean to say, I’ve stayed at her place many a time and oft, and she knows my habits. She is well aware that until I have had my cup of tea in the morning, I do not receive. This crashing in at a moment when she knew that solitude and repose were of the essence was scarcely, I could not but feel, the good old form.
Besides, what business had she being in London at all? That was what I asked myself. When a conscientious housewife has returned to her home after an absence of seven weeks, one does not expect her to start racing off again the day after her arrival. One feels that she ought to be sticking round, ministering to her husband, conferring with the cook, feeding the cat, combing and brushing the Pomeranian–in a word, staying put. I was more than a little bleary-eyed, but I endeavoured, as far as the fact that my eyelids were more or less glued together would permit, to give her an austere and censorious look.
She didn’t seem to get it.
“Wake up, Bertie, you old ass!” she cried, in a voice that hit me between the eyebrows and went out at the back of my head.
If Aunt Dahlia has a fault, it is that she is apt to address a _vis-a-vis_ as if he were somebody half a mile away whom she had observed riding over hounds. A throwback, no doubt, to the time when she counted the day lost that was not spent in chivvying some unfortunate fox over the countryside.
I gave her another of the austere and censorious, and this time it registered. All the effect it had, however, was to cause her to descend to personalities.
“Don’t blink at me in that obscene way,” she said. “I wonder, Bertie,” she proceeded, gazing at me as I should imagine Gussie would have gazed at some newt that was not up to sample, “if you have the faintest conception how perfectly loathsome you look? A cross between an orgy scene in the movies and some low form of pond life. I suppose you were out on the tiles last night?”
“I attended a social function, yes,” I said coldly. “Pongo Twistleton’s birthday party. I couldn’t let Pongo down. _Noblesse oblige_.”
“Well, get up and dress.”
I felt I could not have heard her aright.
“Get up and dress?”
I turned on the pillow with a little moan, and at this juncture Jeeves entered with the vital oolong. I clutched at it like a drowning man at a straw hat. A deep sip or two, and I felt–I won’t say restored, because a birthday party like Pongo Twistleton’s isn’t a thing you get restored after with a mere mouthful of tea, but sufficiently the old Bertram to be able to bend the mind on this awful thing which had come upon me.
And the more I bent same, the less could I grasp the trend of the scenario.
“What is this, Aunt Dahlia?” I inquired.
“It looks to me like tea,” was her response. “But you know best. You’re drinking it.”
If I hadn’t been afraid of spilling the healing brew, I have little doubt that I should have given an impatient gesture. I know I felt like it.
“Not the contents of this cup. All this. Your barging in and telling me to get up and dress, and all that rot.”
“I’ve barged in, as you call it, because my telegrams seemed to produce no effect. And I told you to get up and dress because I want you to get up and dress. I’ve come to take you back with me. I like your crust, wiring that you would come next year or whenever it was. You’re coming now. I’ve got a job for you.”
“But I don’t want a job.”
“What you want, my lad, and what you’re going to get are two very different things. There is man’s work for you to do at Brinkley Court. Be ready to the last button in twenty minutes.”
“But I can’t possibly be ready to any buttons in twenty minutes. I’m feeling awful.”
She seemed to consider.
“Yes,” she said. “I suppose it’s only humane to give you a day or two to recover. All right, then, I shall expect you on the thirtieth at the latest.”
“But, dash it, what is all this? How do you mean, a job? Why a job? What sort of a job?”
“I’ll tell you if you’ll only stop talking for a minute. It’s quite an easy, pleasant job. You will enjoy it. Have you ever hard of Market Snodsbury Grammar School?”
“It’s a grammar school at Market Snodsbury.”
I told her a little frigidly that I had divined as much.
“Well, how was I to know that a man with a mind like yours would grasp it so quickly?” she protested. “All right, then. Market Snodsbury Grammar School is, as you have guessed, the grammar school at Market Snodsbury. I’m one of the governors.”
“You mean one of the governesses.”
“I don’t mean one of the governesses. Listen, ass. There was a board of governors at Eton, wasn’t there? Very well. So there is at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, and I’m a member of it. And they left the arrangements for the summer prize-giving to me. This prize-giving takes place on the last–or thirty-first–day of this month. Have you got that clear?”
I took another oz. of the life-saving and inclined my head. Even after a Pongo Twistleton birthday party, I was capable of grasping simple facts like these.
“I follow you, yes. I see the point you are trying to make, certainly. Market … Snodsbury … Grammar School … Board of governors … Prize-giving…. Quite. But what’s it got to do with me?”
“You’re going to give away the prizes.”
I goggled. Her words did not appear to make sense. They seemed the mere aimless vapouring of an aunt who has been sitting out in the sun without a hat.
I goggled again.
“You don’t mean me?”
“I mean you in person.”
I goggled a third time.
“You’re pulling my leg.”
“I am not pulling your leg. Nothing would induce me to touch your beastly leg. The vicar was to have officiated, but when I got home I found a letter from him saying that he had strained a fetlock and must scratch his nomination. You can imagine the state I was in. I telephoned all over the place. Nobody would take it on. And then suddenly I thought of you.”
I decided to check all this rot at the outset. Nobody is more eager to oblige deserving aunts than Bertram Wooster, but there are limits, and sharply denned limits, at that.
“So you think I’m going to strew prizes at this bally Dotheboys Hall of yours?”
“And make a speech?”
I laughed derisively.
“For goodness’ sake, don’t start gargling now. This is serious.”
“I was laughing.”
“Oh, were you? Well, I’m glad to see you taking it in this merry spirit.”
“Derisively,” I explained. “I won’t do it. That’s final. I simply will not do it.”
“You will do it, young Bertie, or never darken my doors again. And you know what that means. No more of Anatole’s dinners for you.”
A strong shudder shook me. She was alluding to her _chef_, that superb artist. A monarch of his profession, unsurpassed–nay, unequalled–at dishing up the raw material so that it melted in the mouth of the ultimate consumer, Anatole had always been a magnet that drew me to Brinkley Court with my tongue hanging out. Many of my happiest moments had been those which I had spent champing this great man’s roasts and ragouts, and the prospect of being barred from digging into them in the future was a numbing one.
“No, I say, dash it!”
“I thought that would rattle you. Greedy young pig.”
“Greedy young pigs have nothing to do with it,” I said with a touch of hauteur. “One is not a greedy young pig because one appreciates the cooking of a genius.”
“Well, I will say I like it myself,” conceded the relative. “But not another bite of it do you get, if you refuse to do this simple, easy, pleasant job. No, not so much as another sniff. So put that in your twelve-inch cigarette-holder and smoke it.”
I began to feel like some wild thing caught in a snare.
“But why do you want me? I mean, what am I? Ask yourself that.”
“I often have.”
“I mean to say, I’m not the type. You have to have some terrific nib to give away prizes. I seem to remember, when I was at school, it was generally a prime minister or somebody.”
“Ah, but that was at Eton. At Market Snodsbury we aren’t nearly so choosy. Anybody in spats impresses us.”
“Why don’t you get Uncle Tom?”
“Well, why not? He’s got spats.”
“Bertie,” she said, “I will tell you why not Uncle Tom. You remember me losing all that money at baccarat at Cannes? Well, very shortly I shall have to sidle up to Tom and break the news to him. If, right after that, I ask him to put on lavender gloves and a topper and distribute the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, there will be a divorce in the family. He would pin a note to the pincushion and be off like a rabbit. No, my lad, you’re for it, so you may as well make the best of it.”
“But, Aunt Dahlia, listen to reason. I assure you, you’ve got hold of the wrong man. I’m hopeless at a game like that. Ask Jeeves about the time I got lugged in to address a girls’ school. I made the most colossal ass of myself.”
“And I confidently anticipate that you will make an equally colossal ass of yourself on the thirty-first of this month. That’s why I want you. The way I look at it is that, as the thing is bound to be a frost, anyway, one may as well get a hearty laugh out of it. I shall enjoy seeing you distribute those prizes, Bertie. Well, I won’t keep you, as, no doubt, you want to do your Swedish exercises. I shall expect you in a day or two.”
And with these heartless words she beetled off, leaving me a prey to the gloomiest emotions. What with the natural reaction after Pongo’s party and this stunning blow, it is not too much to say that the soul was seared.
And I was still writhing in the depths, when the door opened and Jeeves appeared.
“Mr. Fink-Nottle to see you, sir,” he announced.
I gave him one of my looks.
“Jeeves,” I said, “I had scarcely expected this of you. You are aware that I was up to an advanced hour last night. You know that I have barely had my tea. You cannot be ignorant of the effect of that hearty voice of Aunt Dahlia’s on a man with a headache. And yet you come bringing me Fink-Nottles. Is this a time for Fink or any other kind of Nottle?”
“But did you not give me to understand, sir, that you wished to see Mr. Fink-Nottle to advise him on his affairs?”
This, I admit, opened up a new line of thought. In the stress of my emotions, I had clean forgotten about having taken Gussie’s interests in hand. It altered things. One can’t give the raspberry to a client. I mean, you didn’t find Sherlock Holmes refusing to see clients just because he had been out late the night before at Doctor Watson’s birthday party. I could have wished that the man had selected some more suitable hour for approaching me, but as he appeared to be a sort of human lark, leaving his watery nest at daybreak, I supposed I had better give him an audience.
“True,” I said. “All right. Bung him in.”
“Very good, sir.”
“But before doing so, bring me one of those pick-me-ups of yours.”
“Very good, sir.”
And presently he returned with the vital essence.
I have had occasion, I fancy, to speak before now of these pick-me-ups of Jeeves’s and their effect on a fellow who is hanging to life by a thread on the morning after. What they consist of, I couldn’t tell you. He says some kind of sauce, the yolk of a raw egg and a dash of red pepper, but nothing will convince me that the thing doesn’t go much deeper than that. Be that as it may, however, the results of swallowing one are amazing.
For perhaps the split part of a second nothing happens. It is as though all Nature waited breathless. Then, suddenly, it is as if the Last Trump had sounded and Judgment Day set in with unusual severity.
Bonfires burst out all in parts of the frame. The abdomen becomes heavily charged with molten lava. A great wind seems to blow through the world, and the subject is aware of something resembling a steam hammer striking the back of the head. During this phase, the ears ring loudly, the eyeballs rotate and there is a tingling about the brow.
And then, just as you are feeling that you ought to ring up your lawyer and see that your affairs are in order before it is too late, the whole situation seems to clarify. The wind drops. The ears cease to ring. Birds twitter. Brass bands start playing. The sun comes up over the horizon with a jerk.
And a moment later all you are conscious of is a great peace.
As I drained the glass now, new life seemed to burgeon within me. I remember Jeeves, who, however much he may go off the rails at times in the matter of dress clothes and in his advice to those in love, has always had a neat turn of phrase, once speaking of someone rising on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things. It was that way with me now. I felt that the Bertram Wooster who lay propped up against the pillows had become a better, stronger, finer Bertram.
“Thank you, Jeeves,” I said.
“Not at all, sir.”
“That touched the exact spot. I am now able to cope with life’s problems.”
“I am gratified to hear it, sir.”
“What madness not to have had one of those before tackling Aunt Dahlia! However, too late to worry about that now. Tell me of Gussie. How did he make out at the fancy-dress ball?”
“He did not arrive at the fancy-dress ball, sir.”
I looked at him a bit austerely.
“Jeeves,” I said, “I admit that after that pick-me-up of yours I feel better, but don’t try me too high. Don’t stand by my sick bed talking absolute rot. We shot Gussie into a cab and he started forth, headed for wherever this fancy-dress ball was. He must have arrived.”
“No, sir. As I gather from Mr. Fink-Nottle, he entered the cab convinced in his mind that the entertainment to which he had been invited was to be held at No. 17, Suffolk Square, whereas the actual rendezvous was No. 71, Norfolk Terrace. These aberrations of memory are not uncommon with those who, like Mr. Fink-Nottle, belong essentially to what one might call the dreamer-type.”
“One might also call it the fatheaded type.”
“On reaching No. 17, Suffolk Square, Mr. Fink-Nottle endeavoured to produce money to pay the fare.”
“What stopped him?”
“The fact that he had no money, sir. He discovered that he had left it, together with his ticket of invitation, on the mantelpiece of his bedchamber in the house of his uncle, where he was residing. Bidding the cabman to wait, accordingly, he rang the door-bell, and when the butler appeared, requested him to pay the cab, adding that it was all right, as he was one of the guests invited to the dance. The butler then disclaimed all knowledge of a dance on the premises.”
“And declined to unbelt?”
“Mr. Fink-Nottle directed the cabman to drive him back to his uncle’s residence.”
“Well, why wasn’t that the happy ending? All he had to do was go in, collect cash and ticket, and there he would have been, on velvet.”
“I should have mentioned, sir, that Mr. Fink-Nottle had also left his latchkey on the mantelpiece of his bedchamber.”
“He could have rung the bell.”
“He did ring the bell, sir, for some fifteen minutes. At the expiration of that period he recalled that he had given permission to the caretaker–the house was officially closed and all the staff on holiday–to visitchis sailor son at Portsmouth.”
“These dreamer types do live, don’t they?”
“What happened then?”
“Mr. Fink-Nottle appears to have realized at this point that his position as regards the cabman had become equivocal. The figures on the clock had already reached a substantial sum, and he was not in a position to meet his obligations.”
“He could have explained.”
“You cannot explain to cabmen, sir. On endeavouring to do so, he found the fellow sceptical of his bona fides.”
“I should have legged it.”
“That is the policy which appears to have commended itself to Mr. Fink-Nottle. He darted rapidly away, and the cabman, endeavouring to detain him, snatched at his overcoat. Mr. Fink-Nottle contrived to extricate himself from the coat, and it would seem that his appearance in the masquerade costume beneath it came as something of a shock to the cabman. Mr. Fink-Nottle informs me that he heard a species of whistling gasp, and, looking round, observed the man crouching against the railings with his hands over his face. Mr. Fink-Nottle thinks he was praying. No doubt an uneducated, superstitious fellow, sir. Possibly a drinker.”
“Well, if he hadn’t been one before, I’ll bet he started being one shortly afterwards. I expect he could scarcely wait for the pubs to open.”
“Very possibly, in the circumstances he might have found a restorative agreeable, sir.”
“And so, in the circumstances, might Gussie too, I should think. What on earth did he do after that? London late at night–or even in the daytime, for that matter–is no place for a man in scarlet tights.”
“He invites comment.”
“I can see the poor old bird ducking down side-streets, skulking in alley-ways, diving into dust-bins.”
“I gathered from Mr. Fink-Nottle’s remarks, sir, that something very much on those lines was what occurred. Eventually, after a trying night, he found his way to Mr. Sipperley’s residence, where he was able to secure lodging and a change of costume in the morning.”
I nestled against the pillows, the brow a bit drawn. It is all very well to try to do old school friends a spot of good, but I could not but feel that in enspousig the cause of a lunkhead capable of mucking things up as Gussie had done, I had taken on a contract almost too big for human consumption. It seemed to me that what Gussie needed was not so much the advice of a seasoned man of the world as a padded cell in Colney Hatch and a couple of good keepers to see that he did not set the place on fire.
Indeed, for an instant I had half a mind to withdraw from the case and hand it back to Jeeves. But the pride of the Woosters restrained me. When we Woosters put our hands to the plough, we do not readily sheathe the sword. Besides, after that business of the mess-jacket, anything resembling weakness would have been fatal.
“I suppose you realize, Jeeves,” I said, for though one dislikes to rub it in, these things have to be pointed out, “that all this was your fault?”
“It’s no good saying ‘Sir?’ You know it was. If you had not insisted on his going to that dance–a mad project, as I spotted from the first–this would not have happened.”
“Yes, sir, but I confess I did not anticipate—-“
“Always anticipate everything, Jeeves,” I said, a little sternly. “It is the only way. Even if you had allowed him to wear a Pierrot costume, things would not have panned out as they did. A Pierrot costume has pockets. However,” I went on more kindly, “we need not go into that now. If all this has shown you what comes of going about the place in scarlet tights, that is something gained. Gussie waits without, you say?”
“Then shoot him in, and I will see what I can do for him.”
Gussie, on arrival, proved to be still showing traces of his grim experience. The face was pale, the eyes gooseberry-like, the ears drooping, and the whole aspect that of a man who has passed through the furnace and been caught in the machinery. I hitched myself up a bit higher on the pillows and gazed at him narrowly. It was a moment, I could see, when first aid was required, and I prepared to get down to cases.
These civilities concluded, I felt that the moment had come to touch delicately on the past.
“I hear you’ve been through it a bit.”
“Thanks to Jeeves.”
“It wasn’t Jeeves’s fault.”
“Entirely Jeeves’s fault.”
“I don’t see that. I forgot my money and latchkey—-“
“And now you’d better forget Jeeves. For you will be interested to hear, Gussie,” I said, deeming it best to put him in touch with the position of affairs right away, “that he is no longer handling your little problem.”
This seemed to slip it across him properly. The jaws fell, the ears drooped more limply. He had been looking like a dead fish. He now looked like a deader fish, one of last year’s, cast up on some lonely beach and left there at the mercy of the wind and tides.
“You don’t mean that Jeeves isn’t going to—-“
“But, dash it—-“
I was kind, but firm.
“You will be much better off without him. Surely your terrible experiences of that awful night have told you that Jeeves needs a rest. The keenest of thinkers strikes a bad patch occasionally. That is what has happened to Jeeves. I have seen it coming on for some time. He has lost his form. He wants his plugs decarbonized. No doubt this is a shock to you. I suppose you came here this morning to seek his advice?”
“Of course I did.”
“On what point?”
“Madeline Bassett has gone to stay with these people in the country, and I want to know what he thinks I ought to do.”
“Well, as I say, Jeeves is off the case.”
“But, Bertie, dash it—-“
“Jeeves,” I said with a certain asperity, “is no longer on the case. I am now in sole charge.”
“But what on earth can you do?”
I curbed my resentment. We Woosters are fair-minded. We can make allowances for men who have been parading London all night in scarlet tights.
“That,” I said quietly, “we shall see. Sit down and let us confer. I am bound to say the thing seems quite simple to me. You say this girl has gone to visit friends in the country. It would appear obvious that you must go there too, and flock round her like a poultice. Elementary.”
“But I can’t plant myself on a lot of perfect strangers.”
“Don’t you know these people?”
“Of course I don’t. I don’t know anybody.”
I pursed the lips. This did seem to complicate matters somewhat.
“All that I know is that their name is Travers, and it’s a place called Brinkley Court down in Worcestershire.”
I unpursed my lips.
“Gussie,” I said, smiling paternally, “it was a lucky day for you when Bertram Wooster interested himself in your affairs. As I foresaw from the start, I can fix everything. This afternoon you shall go to Brinkley Court, an honoured guest.”
He quivered like a _mousse_. I suppose it must always be rather a thrilling experience for the novice to watch me taking hold.
“But, Bertie, you don’t mean you know these Traverses?”
“They are my Aunt Dahlia.”
“You see now,” I pointed out, “how lucky you were to get me behind you. You go to Jeeves, and what does he do? He dresses you up in scarlet tights and one of the foulest false beards of my experience, and sends you off to fancy-dress balls. Result, agony of spirit and no progress. I then take over and put you on the right lines. Could Jeeves have got you into Brinkley Court? Not a chance. Aunt Dahlia isn’t his aunt. I merely mention these things.”
“By Jove, Bertie, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“My dear chap!”
“But, I say.”
“What do I do when I get there?”
“If you knew Brinkley Court, you would not ask that question. In those romantic surroundings you can’t miss. Great lovers through the ages have fixed up the preliminary formalities at Brinkley. The place is simply ill with atmosphere. You will stroll with the girl in the shady walks. You will sit with her on the shady lawns. You will row on the lake with her. And gradually you will find yourself working up to a point where—-“
“By Jove, I believe you’re right.”
“Of course, I’m right. I’ve got engaged three times at Brinkley. No business resulted, but the fact remains. And I went there without the foggiest idea of indulging in the tender pash. I hadn’t the slightest intention of proposing to anybody. Yet no sooner had I entered those romantic grounds than I found myself reaching out for the nearest girl in sight and slapping my soul down in front of her. It’s something in the air.”
“I see exactly what you mean. That’s just what I want to be able to do–work up to it. And in London–curse the place–everything’s in such a rush that you don’t get a chance.”
“Quite. You see a girl alone for about five minutes a day, and if you want to ask her to be your wife, you’ve got to charge into it as if you were trying to grab the gold ring on a merry-go-round.”
“That’s right. London rattles one. I shall be a different man altogether in the country. What a bit of luck this Travers woman turning out to be your aunt.”
“I don’t know what you mean, turning out to be my aunt. She has been my aunt all along.”
“I mean, how extraordinary that it should be your aunt that Madeline’s going to stay with.”
“Not at all. She and my Cousin Angela are close friends. At Cannes she was with us all the time.”
“Oh, you met Madeline at Cannes, did you? By Jove, Bertie,” said the poor lizard devoutly, “I wish I could have seen her at Cannes. How wonderful she must have looked in beach pyjamas! Oh, Bertie—-“
“Quite,” I said, a little distantly. Even when restored by one of Jeeves’s depth bombs, one doesn’t want this sort of thing after a hard night. I touched the bell and, when Jeeves appeared, requested him to bring me telegraph form and pencil. I then wrote a well-worded communication to Aunt Dahlia, informing her that I was sending my friend, Augustus Fink-Nottle, down to Brinkley today to enjoy her hospitality, and handed it to Gussie.
“Push that in at the first post office you pass,” I said. “She will find it waiting for her on her return.”
Gussie popped along, flapping the telegram and looking like a close-up of Joan Crawford, and I turned to Jeeves and gave him a precis of my operations.
“Simple, you observe, Jeeves. Nothing elaborate.”
“Nothing far-fetched. Nothing strained or bizarre. Just Nature’s remedy.”
“This is the attack as it should have been delivered. What do you call it when two people of opposite sexes are bunged together in close association in a secluded spot, meeting each other every day and seeing a lot of each other?”
“Is ‘propinquity’ the word you wish, sir?”
“It is. I stake everything on propinquity, Jeeves. Propinquity, in my opinion, is what will do the trick. At the moment, as you are aware, Gussie is a mere jelly when in the presence. But ask yourself how he will feel in a week or so, after he and she have been helping themselves to sausages out of the same dish day after day at the breakfast sideboard. Cutting the same ham, ladling out communal kidneys and bacon–why—-“
I broke off abruptly. I had had one of my ideas.
“Here’s an instance of how you have to think of everything. You heard me mention sausages, kidneys and bacon and ham.”
“Well, there must be nothing of that. Fatal. The wrong note entirely. Give me that telegraph form and pencil. I must warn Gussie without delay. What he’s got to do is to create in this girl’s mind the impression that he is pining away for love of her. This cannot be done by wolfing sausages.”
“Very well, then.”
And, taking form and _p._, I drafted the following:
Lay off the sausages. Avoid the ham. Bertie._
“Send that off, Jeeves, instanter.”
“Very good, sir.”
I sank back on the pillows.
“Well, Jeeves,” I said, “you see how I am taking hold. You notice the grip I am getting on this case. No doubt you realize now that it would pay you to study my methods.”
“No doubt, sir.”
“And even now you aren’t on to the full depths of the extraordinary sagacity I’ve shown. Do you know what brought Aunt Dahlia up here this morning? She came to tell me I’d got to distribute the prizes at some beastly seminary she’s a governor of down at Market Snodsbury.”
“Indeed, sir? I fear you will scarcely find that a congenial task.”
“Ah, but I’m not going to do it. I’m going to shove it off on to Gussie.”
“I propose, Jeeves, to wire to Aunt Dahlia saying that I can’t get down, and suggesting that she unleashes him on these young Borstal inmates of hers in my stead.”
“But if Mr. Fink-Nottle should decline, sir?”
“Decline? Can you see him declining? Just conjure up the picture in your mind, Jeeves. Scene, the drawing-room at Brinkley; Gussie wedged into a corner, with Aunt Dahlia standing over him making hunting noises. I put it to you, Jeeves, can you see him declining?”
“Not readily, sir. I agree. Mrs. Travers is a forceful personality.”
“He won’t have a hope of declining. His only way out would be to slide off. And he can’t slide off, because he wants to be with Miss Bassett. No, Gussie will have to toe the line, and I shall be saved from a job at which I confess the soul shuddered. Getting up on a platform and delivering a short, manly speech to a lot of foul school-kids! Golly, Jeeves. I’ve been through that sort of thing once, what? You remember that time at the girls’ school?”
“Very vividly, sir.”
“What an ass I made of myself!”
“Certainly I have seen you to better advantage, sir.”
“I think you might bring me just one more of those dynamite specials of yours, Jeeves. This narrow squeak has made me come over all faint.”
I suppose it must have taken Aunt Dahlia three hours or so to get back to Brinkley, because it wasn’t till well after lunch that her telegram arrived. It read like a telegram that had been dispatched in a white-hot surge of emotion some two minutes after she had read mine.
_Am taking legal advice to ascertain whether strangling an idiot nephew counts as murder. If it doesn’t look out for yourself. Consider your conduct frozen limit. What do you mean by planting your loathsome friends on me like this? Do you think Brinkley Court is a leper colony or what is it? Who is this Spink-Bottle? Love. Travers._
I had expected some such initial reaction. I replied in temperate vein:
_Not Bottle. Nottle. Regards. Bertie._
Almost immediately after she had dispatched the above heart cry, Gussie must have arrived, for it wasn’t twenty minutes later when I received the following:
_Cipher telegram signed by you has reached me here. Runs “Lay off the sausages. Avoid the ham.” Wire key immediately. Fink-Nottle._
_Also kidneys. Cheerio. Bertie._
I had staked all on Gussie making a favourable impression on his hostess, basing my confidence on the fact that he was one of those timid, obsequious, teacup-passing, thin-bread-and-butter-offering yes-men whom women of my Aunt Dahlia’s type nearly always like at first sight. That I had not overrated my acumen was proved by her next in order, which, I was pleased to note, assayed a markedly larger percentage of the milk of human kindness.
_Well, this friend of yours has got here, and I must say that for a friend of yours he seems less sub-human than I had expected. A bit of a pop-eyed bleater, but on the whole clean and civil, and certainly most informative about newts. Am considering arranging series of lectures for him in neighbourhood. All the same I like your nerve using my house as a summer-hotel resort and shall have much to say to you on subject when you come down. Expect you thirtieth. Bring spats. Love. Travers._
To this I riposted:
_On consulting engagement book find impossible come Brinkley Court. Deeply regret. Toodle-oo. Bertie._
Hers in reply stuck a sinister note:
_Oh, so it’s like that, is it? You and your engagement book, indeed. Deeply regret my foot. Let me tell you, my lad, that you will regret it a jolly sight more deeply if you don’t come down. If you imagine for one