Right Ho, Jeeves
P. G. Wodehouse
Part 5 out of 6
"Well, how about it? Do you grasp the psychology? Does it make sense?
Only a few hours ago he was engaged to Miss Bassett."
"Gentlemen who have been discarded by one young lady are often apt to
attach themselves without delay to another, sir. It is what is known as a
I began to grasp.
"I see what you mean. Defiant stuff."
"A sort of 'Oh, right-ho, please yourself, but if you don't want me,
there are plenty who do.'"
"Precisely, sir. My Cousin George----"
"Never mind about your Cousin George, Jeeves."
"Very good, sir."
"Keep him for the long winter evenings, what?"
"Just as you wish, sir."
"And, anyway, I bet your Cousin George wasn't a shrinking,
non-goose-bo-ing jellyfish like Gussie. That is what astounds me,
Jeeves--that it should be Gussie who has been putting in all this heavy
"You must remember, sir, that Mr. Fink-Nottle is in a somewhat inflamed
"That's true. A bit above par at the moment, as it were?"
"Well, I'll tell you one thing--he'll be in a jolly sight more inflamed
cerebral condition if Tuppy gets hold of him.... What's the time?"
"Just on eight o'clock, sir."
"Then Tuppy has been chasing him for two hours and a half. We must save
the unfortunate blighter, Jeeves."
"A human life is a human life, what?"
"Exceedingly true, sir."
"The first thing, then, is to find him. After that we can discuss plans
and schemes. Go forth, Jeeves, and scour the neighbourhood."
"It will not be necessary, sir. If you will glance behind you, you will
see Mr. Fink-Nottle coming out from beneath your bed."
And, by Jove, he was absolutely right.
There was Gussie, emerging as stated. He was covered with fluff and
looked like a tortoise popping forth for a bit of a breather.
"Gussie!" I said.
"Jeeves," said Gussie.
"Sir?" said Jeeves.
"Is that door locked, Jeeves?"
"No, sir, but I will attend to the matter immediately."
Gussie sat down on the bed, and I thought for a moment that he was going
to be in the mode by burying his face in his hands. However, he merely
brushed a dead spider from his brow.
"Have you locked the door, Jeeves?"
"Because you can never tell that that ghastly Glossop may not take it
into his head to come----"
The word "back" froze on his lips. He hadn't got any further than
a _b_-ish sound, when the handle of the door began to twist and rattle.
He sprang from the bed, and for an instant stood looking exactly like a
picture my Aunt Agatha has in her dining-room--The Stag at Bay--Landseer.
Then he made a dive for the cupboard and was inside it before one really
got on to it that he had started leaping. I have seen fellows late for
the 9.15 move less nippily.
I shot a glance at Jeeves. He allowed his right eyebrow to flicker
slightly, which is as near as he ever gets to a display of the emotions.
"Hullo?" I yipped.
"Let me in, blast you!" responded Tuppy's voice from without. "Who locked
I consulted Jeeves once more in the language of the eyebrow. He raised
one of his. I raised one of mine. He raised his other. I raised my other.
Then we both raised both. Finally, there seeming no other policy to
pursue, I flung wide the gates and Tuppy came shooting in.
"Now what?" I said, as nonchalantly as I could manage.
"Why was the door locked?" demanded Tuppy.
I was in pretty good eyebrow-raising form by now, so I gave him a touch
"Is one to have no privacy, Glossop?" I said coldly. "I instructed Jeeves
to lock the door because I was about to disrobe."
"A likely story!" said Tuppy, and I'm not sure he didn't add "Forsooth!"
"You needn't try to make me believe that you're afraid people are going
to run excursion trains to see you in your underwear. You locked that
door because you've got the snake Fink-Nottle concealed in here. I
suspected it the moment I'd left, and I decided to come back and
investigate. I'm going to search this room from end to end. I believe
he's in that cupboard.... What's in this cupboard?"
"Just clothes," I said, having another stab at the nonchalant, though
extremely dubious as to whether it would come off. "The usual wardrobe of
the English gentleman paying a country-house visit."
Well, I wouldn't have been if he had only waited a minute before
speaking, because the words were hardly out of his mouth before Gussie
was out of the cupboard. I have commented on the speed with which he had
gone in. It was as nothing to the speed with which he emerged. There was
a sort of whir and blur, and he was no longer with us.
I think Tuppy was surprised. In fact, I'm sure he was. Despite the
confidence with which he had stated his view that the cupboard contained
Fink-Nottles, it plainly disconcerted him to have the chap fizzing out at
him like this. He gargled sharply, and jumped back about five feet. The
next moment, however, he had recovered his poise and was galloping down
the corridor in pursuit. It only needed Aunt Dahlia after them, shouting
"Yoicks!" or whatever is customary on these occasions, to complete the
resemblance to a brisk run with the Quorn.
I sank into a handy chair. I am not a man whom it is easy to discourage,
but it seemed to me that things had at last begun to get too complex for
"Jeeves," I said, "all this is a bit thick."
"The head rather swims."
"I think you had better leave me, Jeeves. I shall need to devote the very
closest thought to the situation which has arisen."
"Very good, sir."
The door closed. I lit a cigarette and began to ponder.
Most chaps in my position, I imagine, would have pondered all the rest of
the evening without getting a bite, but we Woosters have an uncanny knack
of going straight to the heart of things, and I don't suppose it was much
more than ten minutes after I had started pondering before I saw what had
to be done.
What was needed to straighten matters out, I perceived, was a heart-to-
heart talk with Angela. She had caused all the trouble by her mutton-
headed behaviour in saying "Yes" instead of "No" when Gussie, in the
grip of mixed drinks and cerebral excitement, had suggested teaming up.
She must obviously be properly ticked off and made to return him to store.
A quarter of an hour later, I had tracked her down to the summer-house in
which she was taking a cooler and was seating myself by her side.
"Angela," I said, and if my voice was stern, well, whose wouldn't have
been, "this is all perfect drivel."
She seemed to come out of a reverie. She looked at me inquiringly.
"I'm sorry, Bertie, I didn't hear. What were you talking drivel about?"
"I was not talking drivel."
"Oh, sorry, I thought you said you were."
"Is it likely that I would come out here in order to talk drivel?"
I thought it best to haul off and approach the matter from another angle.
"I've just been seeing Tuppy."
"And Gussie Fink-Nottle."
"It appears that you have gone and got engaged to the latter."
"Well, that's what I meant when I said it was all perfect drivel. You
can't possibly love a chap like Gussie."
"You simply can't."
Well, I mean to say, of course she couldn't. Nobody could love a freak
like Gussie except a similar freak like the Bassett. The shot wasn't on
the board. A splendid chap, of course, in many ways--courteous, amiable,
and just the fellow to tell you what to do till the doctor came, if you
had a sick newt on your hands--but quite obviously not of Mendelssohn's
March timber. I have no doubt that you could have flung bricks by the
hour in England's most densely populated districts without endangering
the safety of a single girl capable of becoming Mrs. Augustus Fink-Nottle
without an anaesthetic.
I put this to her, and she was forced to admit the justice of it.
"All right, then. Perhaps I don't."
"Then what," I said keenly, "did you want to go and get engaged to him
for, you unreasonable young fathead?"
"I thought it would be fun."
"And so it has been. I've had a lot of fun out of it. You should have
seen Tuppy's face when I told him."
A sudden bright light shone upon me.
"Ha! A gesture!"
"You got engaged to Gussie just to score off Tuppy?"
"Well, then, that was what I was saying. It was a gesture."
"Yes, I suppose you could call it that."
"And I'll tell you something else I'll call it--viz. a dashed low trick.
I'm surprised at you, young Angela."
"I don't see why."
I curled the lip about half an inch. "Being a female, you wouldn't. You
gentler sexes are like that. You pull off the rawest stuff without a
pang. You pride yourselves on it. Look at Jael, the wife of Heber."
"Where did you ever hear of Jael, the wife of Heber?"
"Possibly you are not aware that I once won a Scripture-knowledge prize
"Oh, yes. I remember Augustus mentioning it in his speech."
"Quite," I said, a little hurriedly. I had no wish to be reminded of
Augustus's speech. "Well, as I say, look at Jael, the wife of Heber. Dug
spikes into the guest's coconut while he was asleep, and then went
swanking about the place like a Girl Guide. No wonder they say, 'Oh,
"The chaps who do. Coo, what a sex! But you aren't proposing to keep this
up, of course?"
"Keep what up?"
"This rot of being engaged to Gussie."
"I certainly am."
"Just to make Tuppy look silly."
"Do you think he looks silly?"
"So he ought to."
I began to get the idea that I wasn't making real headway. I remember
when I won that Scripture-knowledge prize, having to go into the facts
about Balaam's ass. I can't quite recall what they were, but I still
retain a sort of general impression of something digging its feet in and
putting its ears back and refusing to co-operate; and it seemed to me
that this was what Angela was doing now. She and Balaam's ass were, so to
speak, sisters under the skin. There's a word beginning with r----"re"
something----"recal" something--No, it's gone. But what I am driving at is
that is what this Angela was showing herself.
"Silly young geezer," I said.
"I'm not a silly young geezer."
"You are a silly young geezer. And, what's more, you know it."
"I don't know anything of the kind."
"Here you are, wrecking Tuppy's life, wrecking Gussie's life, all for the
sake of a cheap score."
"Well, it's no business of yours."
I sat on this promptly:
"No business of mine when I see two lives I used to go to school with
wrecked? Ha! Besides, you know you're potty about Tuppy."
"Is that so? If I had a quid for every time I've seen you gaze at him
with the lovelight in your eyes----"
She gazed at me, but without the lovelight.
"Oh, for goodness sake, go away and boil your head, Bertie!"
I drew myself up.
"That," I replied, with dignity, "is just what I am going to go away and
boil. At least, I mean, I shall now leave you. I have said my say."
"But permit me to add----"
"Very good," I said coldly. "In that case, tinkerty tonk."
And I meant it to sting.
"Moody" and "discouraged" were about the two adjectives you would have
selected to describe me as I left the summer-house. It would be idle to
deny that I had expected better results from this little chat.
I was surprised at Angela. Odd how you never realize that every girl is
at heart a vicious specimen until something goes wrong with her love
affair. This cousin and I had been meeting freely since the days when I
wore sailor suits and she hadn't any front teeth, yet only now was I
beginning to get on to her hidden depths. A simple, jolly, kindly young
pimple she had always struck me as--the sort you could more or less rely
on not to hurt a fly. But here she was now laughing heartlessly--at
least, I seemed to remember hearing her laugh heartlessly--like something
cold and callous out of a sophisticated talkie, and fairly spitting on
her hands in her determination to bring Tuppy's grey hairs in sorrow to
I've said it before, and I'll say it again--girls are rummy. Old Pop
Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f.
of the s. being more d. than the m.
It seemed to me in the circs. that there was but one thing to do--that is
head for the dining-room and take a slash at the cold collation of which
Jeeves had spoken. I felt in urgent need of sustenance, for the recent
interview had pulled me down a bit. There is no gainsaying the fact that
this naked-emotion stuff reduces a chap's vitality and puts him in the
vein for a good whack at the beef and ham.
To the dining-room, accordingly, I repaired, and had barely crossed the
threshold when I perceived Aunt Dahlia at the sideboard, tucking into
The spectacle drew from me a quick "Oh, ah," for I was somewhat
embarrassed. The last time this relative and I had enjoyed a
_tete-a-tete,_ it will be remembered, she had sketched out plans for
drowning me in the kitchen-garden pond, and I was not quite sure what
my present standing with her was.
I was relieved to find her in genial mood. Nothing could have exceeded
the cordiality with which she waved her fork.
"Hallo, Bertie, you old ass," was her very matey greeting. "I thought I
shouldn't find you far away from the food. Try some of this salmon.
"Anatole's?" I queried.
"No. He's still in bed. But the kitchen maid has struck an inspired
streak. It suddenly seems to have come home to her that she isn't
catering for a covey of buzzards in the Sahara Desert, and she has put
out something quite fit for human consumption. There is good in the girl,
after all, and I hope she enjoys herself at the dance."
I ladled out a portion of salmon, and we fell into pleasant conversation,
chatting of this servants' ball at the Stretchley-Budds and speculating
idly, I recall, as to what Seppings, the butler, would look like, doing
It was not till I had cleaned up the first platter and was embarking on a
second that the subject of Gussie came up. Considering what had passed at
Market Snodsbury that afternoon, it was one which I had been expecting
her to touch on earlier. When she did touch on it, I could see that she
had not yet been informed of Angela's engagement.
"I say, Bertie," she said, meditatively chewing fruit salad. "This
"Bottle," insisted the aunt firmly. "After that exhibition of his this
afternoon, Bottle, and nothing but Bottle, is how I shall always think of
him. However, what I was going to say was that, if you see him, I wish
you would tell him that he has made an old woman very, very happy. Except
for the time when the curate tripped over a loose shoelace and fell down
the pulpit steps, I don't think I have ever had a more wonderful moment
than when good old Bottle suddenly started ticking Tom off from the
platform. In fact, I thought his whole performance in the most perfect
I could not but demur.
"Those references to myself----"
"Those were what I liked next best. I thought they were fine. Is it true
that you cheated when you won that Scripture-knowledge prize?"
"Certainly not. My victory was the outcome of the most strenuous and
"And how about this pessimism we hear of? Are you a pessimist, Bertie?"
I could have told her that what was occurring in this house was rapidly
making me one, but I said no, I wasn't.
"That's right. Never be a pessimist. Everything is for the best in this
best of all possible worlds. It's a long lane that has no turning. It s
always darkest before the dawn. Have patience and all will come right.
The sun will shine, although the day's a grey one.... Try some of this
I followed her advice, but even as I plied the spoon my thoughts were
elsewhere. I was perplexed. It may have been the fact that I had recently
been hobnobbing with so many bowed-down hearts that made this cheeriness
of hers seem so bizarre, but bizarre was certainly what I found it.
"I thought you might have been a trifle peeved," I said.
"By Gussie's manoeuvres on the platform this afternoon. I confess that I
had rather expected the tapping foot and the drawn brow."
"Nonsense. What was there to be peeved about? I took the whole thing as a
great compliment, proud to feel that any drink from my cellars could have
produced such a majestic jag. It restores one's faith in post-war whisky.
Besides, I couldn't be peeved at anything tonight. I am like a little
child clapping its hands and dancing in the sunshine. For though it has
been some time getting a move on, Bertie, the sun has at last broken
through the clouds. Ring out those joy bells. Anatole has withdrawn his
"What? Oh, very hearty congratulations."
"Thanks. Yes, I worked on him like a beaver after I got back this
afternoon, and finally, vowing he would ne'er consent, he consented. He
stays on, praises be, and the way I look at it now is that God's in His
heaven and all's right with----"
She broke off. The door had opened, and we were plus a butler.
"Hullo, Seppings," said Aunt Dahlia. "I thought you had gone."
"Not yet, madam."
"Well, I hope you will all have a good time."
"Thank you, madam."
"Was there something you wanted to see me about?"
"Yes, madam. It is with reference to Monsieur Anatole. Is it by your
wish, madam, that Mr. Fink-Nottle is making faces at Monsieur Anatole
through the skylight of his bedroom?"
There was one of those long silences. Pregnant, I believe, is what
they're generally called. Aunt looked at butler. Butler looked at aunt. I
looked at both of them. An eerie stillness seemed to envelop the room
like a linseed poultice. I happened to be biting on a slice of apple in my
fruit salad at the moment, and it sounded as if Carnera had jumped off
the top of the Eiffel Tower on to a cucumber frame.
Aunt Dahlia steadied herself against the sideboard, and spoke in a low,
"Through the skylight?"
"You mean he's sitting on the roof?"
"Yes, madam. It has upset Monsieur Anatole very much."
I suppose it was that word "upset" that touched Aunt Dahlia off.
Experience had taught her what happened when Anatole got upset. I had
always known her as a woman who was quite active on her pins, but I had
never suspected her of being capable of the magnificent burst of speed
which she now showed. Pausing merely to get a rich hunting-field
expletive off her chest, she was out of the room and making for the
stairs before I could swallow a sliver of--I think--banana. And feeling,
as I had felt when I got that telegram of hers about Angela and Tuppy,
that my place was by her side, I put down my plate and hastened after
her, Seppings following at a loping gallop.
I say that my place was by her side, but it was not so dashed easy to get
there, for she was setting a cracking pace. At the top of the first
flight she must have led by a matter of half a dozen lengths, and was
still shaking off my challenge when she rounded into the second. At the
next landing, however, the gruelling going appeared to tell on her, for
she slackened off a trifle and showed symptoms of roaring, and by the
time we were in the straight we were running practically neck and neck.
Our entry into Anatole's room was as close a finish as you could have
wished to see.
1. _Aunt Dahlia._
_Won by a short head. Half a staircase separated second and third._
The first thing that met the eye on entering was Anatole. This wizard of
the cooking-stove is a tubby little man with a moustache of the outsize
or soup-strainer type, and you can generally take a line through it as to
the state of his emotions. When all is well, it turns up at the ends like
a sergeant-major's. When the soul is bruised, it droops.
It was drooping now, striking a sinister note. And if any shadow of doubt
had remained as to how he was feeling, the way he was carrying on would
have dispelled it. He was standing by the bed in pink pyjamas, waving his
fists at the skylight. Through the glass, Gussie was staring down. His
eyes were bulging and his mouth was open, giving him so striking a
resemblance to some rare fish in an aquarium that one's primary impulse
was to offer him an ant's egg.
Watching this fist-waving cook and this goggling guest, I must say that
my sympathies were completely with the former. I considered him
thoroughly justified in waving all the fists he wanted to.
Review the facts, I mean to say. There he had been, lying in bed,
thinking idly of whatever French cooks do think about when in bed, and he
had suddenly become aware of that frightful face at the window. A thing
to jar the most phlegmatic. I know I should hate to be lying in bed and
have Gussie popping up like that. A chap's bedroom--you can't get away
from it--is his castle, and he has every right to look askance if
gargoyles come glaring in at him.
While I stood musing thus, Aunt Dahlia, in her practical way, was coming
straight to the point:
"What's all this?"
Anatole did a sort of Swedish exercise, starting at the base of the
spine, carrying on through the shoulder-blades and finishing up among the
Then he told her.
In the chats I have had with this wonder man, I have always found his
English fluent, but a bit on the mixed side. If you remember, he was with
Mrs. Bingo Little for a time before coming to Brinkley, and no doubt he
picked up a good deal from Bingo. Before that, he had been a couple of
years with an American family at Nice and had studied under their
chauffeur, one of the Maloneys of Brooklyn. So, what with Bingo and what
with Maloney, he is, as I say, fluent but a bit mixed.
He spoke, in part, as follows:
"Hot dog! You ask me what is it? Listen. Make some attention a little.
Me, I have hit the hay, but I do not sleep so good, and presently I wake
and up I look, and there is one who make faces against me through the
dashed window. Is that a pretty affair? Is that convenient? If you think
I like it, you jolly well mistake yourself. I am so mad as a wet hen. And
why not? I am somebody, isn't it? This is a bedroom, what-what, not a
house for some apes? Then for what do blighters sit on my window so cool
as a few cucumbers, making some faces?"
"Quite," I said. Dashed reasonable, was my verdict.
He threw another look up at Gussie, and did Exercise 2--the one where you
clutch the moustache, give it a tug and then start catching flies.
"Wait yet a little. I am not finish. I say I see this type on my window,
making a few faces. But what then? Does he buzz off when I shout a cry,
and leave me peaceable? Not on your life. He remain planted there, not
giving any damns, and sit regarding me like a cat watching a duck. He
make faces against me and again he make faces against me, and the more I
command that he should get to hell out of here, the more he do not get to
hell out of here. He cry something towards me, and I demand what is his
desire, but he do not explain. Oh, no, that arrives never. He does but
shrug his head. What damn silliness! Is this amusing for me? You think I
like it? I am not content with such folly. I think the poor mutt's loony.
_Je me fiche de ce type infect. C'est idiot de faire comme ca
l'oiseau.... Allez-vous-en, louffier_.... Tell the boob to go away. He is
mad as some March hatters."
I must say I thought he was making out a jolly good case, and evidently
Aunt Dahlia felt the same. She laid a quivering hand on his shoulder.
"I will, Monsieur Anatole, I will," she said, and I couldn't have
believed that robust voice capable of sinking to such an absolute coo.
More like a turtle dove calling to its mate than anything else. "It's
quite all right."
She had said the wrong thing. He did Exercise 3.
"All right? _Nom d'un nom d'un nom_! The hell you say it's all right! Of
what use to pull stuff like that? Wait one half-moment. Not yet quite so
quick, my old sport. It is by no means all right. See yet again a little.
It is some very different dishes of fish. I can take a few smooths with a
rough, it is true, but I do not find it agreeable when one play larks
against me on my windows. That cannot do. A nice thing, no. I am a
serious man. I do not wish a few larks on my windows. I enjoy larks on my
windows worse as any. It is very little all right. If such rannygazoo is
to arrive, I do not remain any longer in this house no more. I buzz off
and do not stay planted."
Sinister words, I had to admit, and I was not surprised that Aunt Dahlia,
hearing them, should have uttered a cry like the wail of a master of
hounds seeing a fox shot. Anatole had begun to wave his fists again at
Gussie, and she now joined him. Seppings, who was puffing respectfully in
the background, didn't actually wave his fists, but he gave Gussie a
pretty austere look. It was plain to the thoughtful observer that this
Fink-Nottle, in getting on to that skylight, had done a mistaken thing.
He couldn't have been more unpopular in the home of G.G. Simmons.
"Go away, you crazy loon!" cried Aunt Dahlia, in that ringing voice of
hers which had once caused nervous members of the Quorn to lose stirrups
and take tosses from the saddle.
Gussie's reply was to waggle his eyebrows. I could read the message he
was trying to convey.
"I think he means," I said--reasonable old Bertram, always trying to
throw oil on the troubled w's----"that if he does he will fall down the
side of the house and break his neck."
"Well, why not?" said Aunt Dahlia.
I could see her point, of course, but it seemed to me that there might be
a nearer solution. This skylight happened to be the only window in the
house which Uncle Tom had not festooned with his bally bars. I suppose he
felt that if a burglar had the nerve to climb up as far as this, he
deserved what was coming to him.
"If you opened the skylight, he could jump in."
The idea got across.
"Seppings, how does this skylight open?"
"With a pole, madam."
"Then get a pole. Get two poles. Ten."
And presently Gussie was mixing with the company, Like one of those chaps
you read about in the papers, the wretched man seemed deeply conscious of
I must say Aunt Dahlia's bearing and demeanour did nothing to assist
toward a restored composure. Of the amiability which she had exhibited
when discussing this unhappy chump's activities with me over the fruit
salad, no trace remained, and I was not surprised that speech more or
less froze on the Fink-Nottle lips. It isn't often that Aunt Dahlia,
normally as genial a bird as ever encouraged a gaggle of hounds to get
their noses down to it, lets her angry passions rise, but when she does,
strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.
"Well?" she said.
In answer to this, all that Gussie could produce was a sort of strangled
Aunt Dahlia's face grew darker. Hunting, if indulged in regularly over a
period of years, is a pastime that seldom fails to lend a fairly deepish
tinge to the patient's complexion, and her best friends could not have
denied that even at normal times the relative's map tended a little
toward the crushed strawberry. But never had I seen it take on so
pronounced a richness as now. She looked like a tomato struggling for
Gussie tried hard. And for a moment it seemed as if something was going
to come through. But in the end it turned out nothing more than a sort of
"Oh, take him away, Bertie, and put ice on his head," said Aunt Dahlia,
giving the thing up. And she turned to tackle what looked like the rather
man's size job of soothing Anatole, who was now carrying on a muttered
conversation with himself in a rapid sort of way.
Seeming to feel that the situation was one to which he could not do
justice in Bingo-cum-Maloney Anglo-American, he had fallen back on his
native tongue. Words like "_marmiton de Domange," "pignouf,"
"hurluberlu_" and "_roustisseur_" were fluttering from him like bats out
of a barn. Lost on me, of course, because, though I sweated a bit at the
Gallic language during that Cannes visit, I'm still more or less in the
Esker-vous-avez stage. I regretted this, for they sounded good.
I assisted Gussie down the stairs. A cooler thinker than Aunt Dahlia, I
had already guessed the hidden springs and motives which had led him to
the roof. Where she had seen only a cockeyed reveller indulging himself
in a drunken prank or whimsy, I had spotted the hunted fawn.
"Was Tuppy after you?" I asked sympathetically.
What I believe is called a _frisson_ shook him.
"He nearly got me on the top landing. I shinned out through a passage
window and scrambled along a sort of ledge."
"That baffled him, what?"
"Yes. But then I found I had stuck. The roof sloped down in all
directions. I couldn't go back. I had to go on, crawling along this
ledge. And then I found myself looking down the skylight. Who was that
"That was Anatole, Aunt Dahlia's chef."
"To the core."
"That explains why I couldn't make him understand. What asses these
Frenchmen are. They don't seem able to grasp the simplest thing. You'd
have thought if a chap saw a chap on a skylight, the chap would realize
the chap wanted to be let in. But no, he just stood there."
"Waving a few fists."
"Yes. Silly idiot. Still, here I am."
"Here you are, yes--for the moment."
"I was thinking that Tuppy is probably lurking somewhere."
He leaped like a lamb in springtime.
"What shall I do?"
I considered this.
"Sneak back to your room and barricade the door. That is the manly
"Suppose that's where he's lurking?"
"In that case, move elsewhere."
But on arrival at the room, it transpired that Tuppy, if anywhere, was
infesting some other portion of the house. Gussie shot in, and I heard
the key turn. And feeling that there was no more that I could do in that
quarter, I returned to the dining-room for further fruit salad and a
quiet think. And I had barely filled my plate when the door opened and
Aunt Dahlia came in. She sank into a chair, looking a bit shopworn.
"Give me a drink, Bertie."
"Any sort, so long as it's strong."
Approach Bertram Wooster along these lines, and you catch him at his
best. St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could
not have bustled about more assiduously. I filled the order, and for some
moments nothing was to be heard but the sloshing sound of an aunt
restoring her tissues.
"Shove it down, Aunt Dahlia," I said sympathetically. "These things take
it out of one, don't they? You've had a toughish time, no doubt, soothing
Anatole," I proceeded, helping myself to anchovy paste on toast.
"Everything pretty smooth now, I trust?"
She gazed at me in a long, lingering sort of way, her brow wrinkled as if
"Attila," she said at length. "That's the name. Attila, the Hun."
"I was trying to think who you reminded me of. Somebody who went about
strewing ruin and desolation and breaking up homes which, until he came
along, had been happy and peaceful. Attila is the man. It's amazing." she
said, drinking me in once more. "To look at you, one would think you were
just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot--certifiable, perhaps, but quite
harmless. Yet, in reality, you are worse a scourge than the Black Death.
I tell you, Bertie, when I contemplate you I seem to come up against all
the underlying sorrow and horror of life with such a thud that I feel as
if I had walked into a lamp post."
Pained and surprised, I would have spoken, but the stuff I had thought
was anchovy paste had turned out to be something far more gooey and
adhesive. It seemed to wrap itself round the tongue and impede utterance
like a gag. And while I was still endeavouring to clear the vocal cords
for action, she went on:
"Do you realize what you started when you sent that Spink-Bottle man down
here? As regards his getting blotto and turning the prize-giving
ceremonies at Market Snodsbury Grammar School into a sort of two-reel
comic film, I will say nothing, for frankly I enjoyed it. But when he
comes leering at Anatole through skylights, just after I had with
infinite pains and tact induced him to withdraw his notice, and makes him
so temperamental that he won't hear of staying on after tomorrow----"
The paste stuff gave way. I was able to speak:
"Yes, Anatole goes tomorrow, and I suppose poor old Tom will have
indigestion for the rest of his life. And that is not all. I have just
seen Angela, and she tells me she is engaged to this Bottle."
"Temporarily, yes," I had to admit.
"Temporarily be blowed. She's definitely engaged to him and talks with a
sort of hideous coolness of getting married in October. So there it is.
If the prophet Job were to walk into the room at this moment, I could sit
swapping hard-luck stories with him till bedtime. Not that Job was in my
"He had boils."
"Well, what are boils?"
"Dashed painful, I understand."
"Nonsense. I'd take all the boils on the market in exchange for my
troubles. Can't you realize the position? I've lost the best cook to
England. My husband, poor soul, will probably die of dyspepsia. And my
only daughter, for whom I had dreamed such a wonderful future, is engaged
to be married to an inebriated newt fancier. And you talk about boils!"
I corrected her on a small point:
"I don't absolutely talk about boils. I merely mentioned that Job had
them. Yes, I agree with you, Aunt Dahlia, that things are not looking too
oojah-cum-spiff at the moment, but be of good cheer. A Wooster is seldom
baffled for more than the nonce."
"You rather expect to be coming along shortly with another of your
"At any minute."
She sighed resignedly.
"I thought as much. Well, it needed but this. I don't see how things
could possibly be worse than they are, but no doubt you will succeed in
making them so. Your genius and insight will find the way. Carry on,
Bertie. Yes, carry on. I am past caring now. I shall even find a faint
interest in seeing into what darker and profounder abysses of hell you
can plunge this home. Go to it, lad.... What's that stuff you're eating?"
"I find it a little difficult to classify. Some sort of paste on toast.
Rather like glue flavoured with beef extract."
"Gimme," said Aunt Dahlia listlessly.
"Be careful how you chew," I advised. "It sticketh closer than a
brother.... Yes, Jeeves?"
The man had materialized on the carpet. Absolutely noiseless, as usual.
"A note for you, sir."
"A note for me, Jeeves?"
"A note for you, sir."
"From whom, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
"From whom, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
"From Miss Bassett, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
At this point, Aunt Dahlia, who had taken one nibble at her
whatever-it-was-on-toast and laid it down, begged us--a little fretfully,
I thought--for heaven's sake to cut out the cross-talk vaudeville stuff,
as she had enough to bear already without having to listen to us doing
our imitation of the Two Macs. Always willing to oblige, I dismissed
Jeeves with a nod, and he flickered for a moment and was gone. Many a
spectre would have been less slippy.
"But what," I mused, toying with the envelope, "can this female be
writing to me about?"
"Why not open the damn thing and see?"
"A very excellent idea," I said, and did so.
"And if you are interested in my movements," proceeded Aunt Dahlia,
heading for the door, "I propose to go to my room, do some Yogi deep
breathing, and try to forget."
"Quite," I said absently, skimming p. l. And then, as I turned over, a
sharp howl broke from my lips, causing Aunt Dahlia to shy like a startled
"Don't do it!" she exclaimed, quivering in every limb.
"Yes, but dash it----"
"What a pest you are, you miserable object," she sighed. "I remember
years ago, when you were in your cradle, being left alone with you one
day and you nearly swallowed your rubber comforter and started turning
purple. And I, ass that I was, took it out and saved your life. Let me
tell you, young Bertie, it will go very hard with you if you ever swallow
a rubber comforter again when only I am by to aid."
"But, dash it!" I cried. "Do you know what's happened? Madeline Bassett
says she's going to marry me!"
"I hope it keeps fine for you," said the relative, and passed from the
room looking like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.
I don't suppose I was looking so dashed unlike something out of an Edgar
Allan Poe story myself, for, as you can readily imagine, the news item
which I have just recorded had got in amongst me properly. If the
Bassett, in the belief that the Wooster heart had long been hers and was
waiting ready to be scooped in on demand, had decided to take up her
option, I should, as a man of honour and sensibility, have no choice but
to come across and kick in. The matter was obviously not one that could
be straightened out with a curt _nolle prosequi_. All the evidence,
therefore, seemed to point to the fact that the doom had come upon me
and, what was more, had come to stay.
And yet, though it would be idle to pretend that my grip on the situation
was quite the grip I would have liked it to be, I did not despair of
arriving at a solution. A lesser man, caught in this awful snare, would
no doubt have thrown in the towel at once and ceased to struggle; but the
whole point about the Woosters is that they are not lesser men.
By way of a start, I read the note again. Not that I had any hope that a
second perusal would enable me to place a different construction on its
contents, but it helped to fill in while the brain was limbering up. I
then, to assist thought, had another go at the fruit salad, and in
addition ate a slice of sponge cake. And it was as I passed on to the
cheese that the machinery started working. I saw what had to be done.
To the question which had been exercising the mind--viz., can Bertram
cope?--I was now able to reply with a confident "Absolutely."
The great wheeze on these occasions of dirty work at the crossroads is
not to lose your head but to keep cool and try to find the ringleaders.
Once find the ringleaders, and you know where you are.
The ringleader here was plainly the Bassett. It was she who had started
the whole imbroglio by chucking Gussie, and it was clear that before
anything could be done to solve and clarify, she must be induced to
revise her views and take him on again. This would put Angela back into
circulation, and that would cause Tuppy to simmer down a bit, and then we
could begin to get somewhere.
I decided that as soon as I had had another morsel of cheese I would seek
this Bassett out and be pretty eloquent.
And at this moment in she came. I might have foreseen that she would be
turning up shortly. I mean to say, hearts may ache, but if they know that
there is a cold collation set out in the dining-room, they are pretty
sure to come popping in sooner or later.
Her eyes, as she entered the room, were fixed on the salmon mayonnaise,
and she would no doubt have made a bee-line for it and started getting
hers, had I not, in the emotion of seeing her, dropped a glass of the
best with which I was endeavouring to bring about a calmer frame of mind.
The noise caused her to turn, and for an instant embarrassment
supervened. A slight flush mantled the cheek, and the eyes popped a bit.
"Oh!" she said.
I have always found that there is nothing that helps to ease you over one
of these awkward moments like a spot of stage business. Find something to
do with your hands, and it's half the battle. I grabbed a plate and
"A touch of salmon?"
"With a suspicion of salad?"
"If you please."
"And to drink? Name the poison."
"I think I would like a little orange juice."
She gave a gulp. Not at the orange juice, I don't mean, because she
hadn't got it yet, but at all the tender associations those two words
provoked. It was as if someone had mentioned spaghetti to the relict of
an Italian organ-grinder. Her face flushed a deeper shade, she registered
anguish, and I saw that it was no longer within the sphere of practical
politics to try to confine the conversation to neutral topics like cold
So did she, I imagine, for when I, as a preliminary to getting down to
brass tacks, said "Er," she said "Er," too, simultaneously, the brace of
"Ers" clashing in mid-air.
"I beg your pardon."
"You were saying----"
"You were saying----"
"No, please go on."
I straightened the tie, my habit when in this girl's society, and had at
"With reference to yours of even date----"
She flushed again, and took a rather strained forkful of salmon.
"You got my note?"
"Yes, I got your note."
"I gave it to Jeeves to give it to you."
"Yes, he gave it to me. That's how I got it."
There was another silence. And as she was plainly shrinking from talking
turkey, I was reluctantly compelled to do so. I mean, somebody had got
to. Too dashed silly, a male and female in our position simply standing
eating salmon and cheese at one another without a word.
"Yes, I got it all right."
"I see. You got it."
"Yes, I got it. I've just been reading it. And what I was rather wanting
to ask you, if we happened to run into each other, was--well, what about
"What about it?"
"That's what I say: What about it?"
"But it was quite clear."
"Oh, quite. Perfectly clear. Very well expressed and all that. But--I
mean--Well, I mean, deeply sensible of the honour, and so forth--but----
Well, dash it!"
She had polished off her salmon, and now put the plate down.
"No, thank you."
"Spot of pie?"
"One of those glue things on toast?"
"No, thank you."
She took a cheese straw. I found a cold egg which I had overlooked. Then
I said "I mean to say" just as she said "I think I know", and there was
"I beg your pardon."
"Do go on."
"No, you go on."
I waved my cold egg courteously, to indicate that she had the floor, and
she started again:
"I think I know what you are trying to say. You are surprised."
"You are thinking of----"
"The very man."
"You find what I have done hard to understand."
"I don't wonder."
"And yet it is quite simple."
She took another cheese straw. She seemed to like cheese straws.
"Quite simple, really. I want to make you happy."
"Dashed decent of you."
"I am going to devote the rest of my life to making you happy."
"A very matey scheme."
"I can at least do that. But--may I be quite frank with you, Bertie?"
"Then I must tell you this. I am fond of you. I will marry you. I will do
my best to make you a good wife. But my affection for you can never be
the flamelike passion I felt for Augustus."
"Just the very point I was working round to. There, as you say, is the
snag. Why not chuck the whole idea of hitching up with me? Wash it out
altogether. I mean, if you love old Gussie----"
"No. What happened this afternoon has killed my love. A smear of ugliness
has been drawn across a thing of beauty, and I can never feel towards him
as I did."
I saw what she meant, of course. Gussie had bunged his heart at her feet;
she had picked it up, and, almost immediately after doing so, had
discovered that he had been stewed to the eyebrows all the time. The
shock must have been severe. No girl likes to feel that a chap has got to
be thoroughly plastered before he can ask her to marry him. It wounds the
Nevertheless, I persevered.
"But have you considered," I said, "that you may have got a wrong line on
Gussie's performance this afternoon? Admitted that all the evidence
points to a more sinister theory, what price him simply having got a
touch of the sun? Chaps do get touches of the sun, you know, especially
when the weather's hot."
She looked at me, and I saw that she was putting in a bit of the old
"It was like you to say that, Bertie. I respect you for it."
"Yes. You have a splendid, chivalrous soul."
"Not a bit."
"Yes, you have. You remind me of Cyrano."
"Cyrano de Bergerac."
"The chap with the nose?"
I can't say I was any too pleased. I felt the old beak furtively. It was
a bit on the prominent side, perhaps, but, dash it, not in the Cyrano
class. It began to look as if the next thing this girl would do would be
to compare me to Schnozzle Durante.
"He loved, but pleaded another's cause."
"Oh, I see what you mean now."
"I like you for that, Bertie. It was fine of you--fine and big. But it is
no use. There are things which kill love. I can never forget Augustus,
but my love for him is dead. I will be your wife."
Well, one has to be civil.
"Right ho," I said. "Thanks awfully."
Then the dialogue sort of poofed out once more, and we stood eating
cheese straws and cold eggs respectively in silence. There seemed to
exist some little uncertainty as to what the next move was.
Fortunately, before embarrassment could do much more supervening, Angela
came in, and this broke up the meeting. Then Bassett announced our
engagement, and Angela kissed her and said she hoped she would be very,
very happy, and the Bassett kissed her and said she hoped she would be
very, very happy with Gussie, and Angela said she was sure she would,
because Augustus was such a dear, and the Bassett kissed her again, and
Angela kissed her again and, in a word, the whole thing got so bally
feminine that I was glad to edge away.
I would have been glad to do so, of course, in any case, for if even
there was a moment when it was up to Bertram to think, and think hard,
this moment was that moment.
It was, it seemed to me, the end. Not even on the occasion, some years
earlier, when I had inadvertently become betrothed to Tuppy's frightful
Cousin Honoria, had I experienced a deeper sense of being waist high in
the gumbo and about to sink without trace. I wandered out into the
garden, smoking a tortured gasper, with the iron well embedded in the
soul. And I had fallen into a sort of trance, trying to picture what it
would be like having the Bassett on the premises for the rest of my life
and at the same time, if you follow me, trying not to picture what it
would be like, when I charged into something which might have been a
tree, but was not--being, in point of fact, Jeeves.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "I should have moved to one side."
I did not reply. I stood looking at him in silence. For the sight of him
had opened up a new line of thought.
This Jeeves, now, I reflected. I had formed the opinion that he had lost
his grip and was no longer the force he had been, but was it not
possible, I asked myself, that I might be mistaken? Start him off
exploring avenues and might he not discover one through which I would be
enabled to sneak off to safety, leaving no hard feelings behind? I found
myself answering that it was quite on the cards that he might.
After all, his head still bulged out at the back as of old. One noted in
the eyes the same intelligent glitter.
Mind you, after what had passed between us in the matter of that white
mess-jacket with the brass buttons, I was not prepared absolutely to hand
over to the man. I would, of course, merely take him into consultation.
But, recalling some of his earlier triumphs--the Sipperley Case, the
Episode of My Aunt Agatha and the Dog McIntosh, and the smoothly handled
Affair of Uncle George and The Barmaid's Niece were a few that sprang to
my mind--I felt justified at least in offering him the opportunity of
coming to the aid of the young master in his hour of peril.
But before proceeding further, there was one thing that had got to be
understood between us, and understood clearly.
"Jeeves," I said, "a word with you."
"I am up against it a bit, Jeeves."
"I am sorry to hear that, sir. Can I be of any assistance?"
"Quite possibly you can, if you have not lost your grip. Tell me frankly,
Jeeves, are you in pretty good shape mentally?"
"Still eating plenty of fish?"
"Then it may be all right. But there is just one point before I begin. In
the past, when you have contrived to extricate self or some pal from some
little difficulty, you have frequently shown a disposition to take
advantage of my gratitude to gain some private end. Those purple socks,
for instance. Also the plus fours and the Old Etonian spats. Choosing
your moment with subtle cunning, you came to me when I was weakened by
relief and got me to get rid of them. And what I am saying now is that if
you are successful on the present occasion there must be no rot of that
description about that mess-jacket of mine."
"Very good, sir."
"You will not come to me when all is over and ask me to jettison the
"Certainly not, sir."
"On that understanding then, I will carry on. Jeeves, I'm engaged."
"I hope you will be very happy, sir."
"Don't be an ass. I'm engaged to Miss Bassett."
"Indeed, sir? I was not aware----"
"Nor was I. It came as a complete surprise. However, there it is. The
official intimation was in that note you brought me."
"Odd, sir, that the contents of that note should have been as you
describe. It seemed to me that Miss Bassett, when she handed me the
communication, was far from being in a happy frame of mind."
"She is far from being in a happy frame of mind. You don't suppose she
really wants to marry me, do you? Pshaw, Jeeves! Can't you see that this
is simply another of those bally gestures which are rapidly rendering
Brinkley Court a hell for man and beast? Dash all gestures, is my view."
"Well, what's to be done?"
"You feel that Miss Bassett, despite what has occurred, still retains a
fondness for Mr. Fink-Nottle, sir?"
"She's pining for him."
"In that case, sir, surely the best plan would be to bring about a
reconciliation between them."
"How? You see. You stand silent and twiddle the fingers. You are
"No, sir. If I twiddled my fingers, it was merely to assist thought."
"Then continue twiddling."
"It will not be necessary, sir."
"You don't mean you've got a bite already?"
"You astound me, Jeeves. Let's have it."
"The device which I have in mind is one that I have already mentioned to
"When did you ever mention any device to me?"
"If you will throw your mind back to the evening of our arrival, sir. You
were good enough to inquire of me if I had any plan to put forward with a
view to bringing Miss Angela and Mr. Glossop together, and I ventured to
"Good Lord! Not the old fire-alarm thing?"
"You're still sticking to that?"
It shows how much the ghastly blow I had received had shaken me when I
say that, instead of dismissing the proposal with a curt "Tchah!" or
anything like that, I found myself speculating as to whether there might
not be something in it, after all.
When he had first mooted this fire-alarm scheme of his, I had sat upon
it, if you remember, with the maximum of promptitude and vigour. "Rotten"
was the adjective I had employed to describe it, and you may recall that
I mused a bit sadly, considering the idea conclusive proof of the general
breakdown of a once fine mind. But now it somehow began to look as if it
might have possibilities. The fact of the matter was that I had about
reached the stage where I was prepared to try anything once, however
"Just run through that wheeze again, Jeeves," I said thoughtfully. "I
remember thinking it cuckoo, but it may be that I missed some of the
"Your criticism of it at the time, sir, was that it was too elaborate,
but I do not think it is so in reality. As I see it, sir, the occupants
of the house, hearing the fire bell ring, will suppose that a
conflagration has broken out."
I nodded. One could follow the train of thought.
"Yes, that seems reasonable."
"Whereupon Mr. Glossop will hasten to save Miss Angela, while Mr.
Fink-Nottle performs the same office for Miss Bassett."
"Is that based on psychology?"
"Yes, sir. Possibly you may recollect that it was an axiom of the late
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, that the
instinct of everyone, upon an alarm of fire, is to save the object
dearest to them."
"It seems to me that there is a grave danger of seeing Tuppy come out
carrying a steak-and-kidney pie, but resume, Jeeves, resume. You think
that this would clean everything up?"
"The relations of the two young couples could scarcely continue distant
after such an occurrence, sir."
"Perhaps you're right. But, dash it, if we go ringing fire bells in the
night watches, shan't we scare half the domestic staff into fits? There
is one of the housemaids--Jane, I believe--who already skips like the
high hills if I so much as come on her unexpectedly round a corner."
"A neurotic girl, sir, I agree. I have noticed her. But by acting
promptly we should avoid such a contingency. The entire staff, with the
exception of Monsieur Anatole, will be at the ball at Kingham Manor
"Of course. That just shows the condition this thing has reduced me to.
Forget my own name next. Well, then, let's just try to envisage. Bong
goes the bell. Gussie rushes and grabs the Bassett.... Wait. Why
shouldn't she simply walk downstairs?"
"You are overlooking the effect of sudden alarm on the feminine
"Miss Bassett's impulse, I would imagine, sir, would be to leap from her
"Well, that's worse. We don't want her spread out in a sort of _puree_ on
the lawn. It seems to me that the flaw in this scheme of yours, Jeeves,
is that it's going to litter the garden with mangled corpses."
"No, sir. You will recall that Mr. Travers's fear of burglars has caused
him to have stout bars fixed to all the windows."
"Of course, yes. Well, it sounds all right," I said, though still a bit
doubtfully. "Quite possibly it may come off. But I have a feeling that it
will slip up somewhere. However, I am in no position to cavil at even a
100 to 1 shot. I will adopt this policy of yours, Jeeves, though, as I
say, with misgivings. At what hour would you suggest bonging the bell?"
"Not before midnight, sir."
"That is to say, some time after midnight."
"Right-ho, then. At 12.30 on the dot, I will bong."
"Very good, sir."
I Don't know why it is, but there's something about the rural districts
after dark that always has a rummy effect on me. In London I can stay out
till all hours and come home with the milk without a tremor, but put me
in the garden of a country house after the strength of the company has
gone to roost and the place is shut up, and a sort of goose-fleshy
feeling steals over me. The night wind stirs the tree-tops, twigs crack,
bushes rustle, and before I know where I am, the morale has gone phut and
I'm expecting the family ghost to come sneaking up behind me, making
groaning noises. Dashed unpleasant, the whole thing, and if you think it
improves matters to know that you are shortly about to ring the loudest
fire bell in England and start an all-hands-to-the-pumps panic in that
quiet, darkened house, you err.
I knew all about the Brinkley Court fire bell. The dickens of a row it
makes. Uncle Tom, in addition to not liking burglars, is a bloke who has
always objected to the idea of being cooked in his sleep, so when he
bought the place he saw to it that the fire bell should be something that
might give you heart failure, but which you couldn't possibly mistake for
the drowsy chirping of a sparrow in the ivy.
When I was a kid and spent my holidays at Brinkley, we used to have fire
drills after closing time, and many is the night I've had it jerk me out
of the dreamless like the Last Trump.
I confess that the recollection of what this bell could do when it
buckled down to it gave me pause as I stood that night at 12.30 p.m.
prompt beside the outhouse where it was located. The sight of the rope
against the whitewashed wall and the thought of the bloodsome uproar
which was about to smash the peace of the night into hash served to
deepen that rummy feeling to which I have alluded.
Moreover, now that I had had time to meditate upon it, I was more than
ever defeatist about this scheme of Jeeves's.
Jeeves seemed to take it for granted that Gussie and Tuppy, faced with a
hideous fate, would have no thought beyond saving the Bassett and Angela.
I could not bring myself to share his sunny confidence.
I mean to say, I know how moments when they're faced with a hideous fate
affect chaps. I remember Freddie Widgeon, one of the most chivalrous
birds in the Drones, telling me how there was an alarm of fire once at a
seaside hotel where he was staying and, so far from rushing about saving
women, he was down the escape within ten seconds of the kick-off, his
mind concerned with but one thing--viz., the personal well-being of
As far as any idea of doing the delicately nurtured a bit of good went,
he tells me, he was prepared to stand underneath and catch them in
blankets, but no more.
Why, then, should this not be so with Augustus Fink-Nottle and Hildebrand
Such were my thoughts as I stood toying with the rope, and I believe I
should have turned the whole thing up, had it not been that at this
juncture there floated into my mind a picture of the Bassett hearing that
bell for the first time. Coming as a wholly new experience, it would
probably startle her into a decline.
And so agreeable was this reflection that I waited no longer, but seized
the rope, braced the feet and snapped into it.
Well, as I say, I hadn't been expecting that bell to hush things up to
any great extent. Nor did it. The last time I had heard it, I had been in
my room on the other side of the house, and even so it had hoiked me out
of bed as if something had exploded under me. Standing close to it like
this, I got the full force and meaning of the thing, and I've never heard
anything like it in my puff.
I rather enjoy a bit of noise, as a general rule. I remember Cats-meat
Potter-Pirbright bringing a police rattle into the Drones one night and
loosing it off behind my chair, and I just lay back and closed my eyes
with a pleasant smile, like someone in a box at the opera. And the same
applies to the time when my Aunt Agatha's son, young Thos., put a match
to the parcel of Guy Fawkes Day fireworks to see what would happen.
But the Brinkley Court fire bell was too much for me. I gave about half a
dozen tugs, and then, feeling that enough was enough, sauntered round to
the front lawn to ascertain what solid results had been achieved.
Brinkley Court had given of its best. A glance told me that we were
playing to capacity. The eye, roving to and fro, noted here Uncle Tom in
a purple dressing gown, there Aunt Dahlia in the old blue and yellow. It
also fell upon Anatole, Tuppy, Gussie, Angela, the Bassett and Jeeves, in
the order named. There they all were, present and correct.
But--and this was what caused me immediate concern--I could detect no
sign whatever that there had been any rescue work going on.
What I had been hoping, of course, was to see Tuppy bending solicitously
over Angela in one corner, while Gussie fanned the Bassett with a towel
in the other. Instead of which, the Bassett was one of the group which
included Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom and seemed to be busy trying to make
Anatole see the bright side, while Angela and Gussie were, respectively,
leaning against the sundial with a peeved look and sitting on the grass
rubbing a barked shin. Tuppy was walking up and down the path, all by
A disturbing picture, you will admit. It was with a rather imperious
gesture that I summoned Jeeves to my side.
I eyed him sternly. "Sir?" forsooth!
"It's no good saying 'Sir?' Jeeves. Look round you. See for yourself.
Your scheme has proved a bust."
"Certainly it would appear that matters have not arranged themselves
quite as we anticipated, sir."
"As I had anticipated, sir."
"That's more like it. Didn't I tell you it would be a flop?"
"I remember that you did seem dubious, sir."
"Dubious is no word for it, Jeeves. I hadn't a scrap of faith in the idea
from the start. When you first mooted it, I said it was rotten, and I was
right. I'm not blaming you, Jeeves. It is not your fault that you have
sprained your brain. But after this--forgive me if I hurt your feelings,
Jeeves----I shall know better than to allow you to handle any but the
simplest and most elementary problems. It is best to be candid about
this, don't you think? Kindest to be frank and straightforward?"
"I mean, the surgeon's knife, what?"
"If you will pardon me for interrupting you, sir, I fancy Mrs. Travers is
endeavouring to attract your attention."
And at this moment a ringing "Hoy!" which could have proceeded only from
the relative in question, assured me that his view was correct.
"Just step this way a moment, Attila, if you don't mind," boomed that
well-known--and under certain conditions, well-loved--voice, and I moved
I was not feeling unmixedly at my ease. For the first time it was
beginning to steal upon me that I had not prepared a really good story in
support of my questionable behaviour in ringing fire bells at such an
hour, and I have known Aunt Dahlia to express herself with a hearty
freedom upon far smaller provocation.
She exhibited, however, no signs of violence. More a sort of frozen calm,
if you know what I mean. You could see that she was a woman who had
"Well, Bertie, dear," she said, "here we all are."
"Quite," I replied guardedly.
"Nobody missing, is there?"
"I don't think so."
"Splendid. So much healthier for us out in the open like this than
frowsting in bed. I had just dropped off when you did your bell-ringing
act. For it was you, my sweet child, who rang that bell, was knot?"
"I did ring the bell, yes."
"Any particular reason, or just a whim?"
"I thought there was a fire."
"What gave you that impression, dear?"
"I thought I saw flames."
"Where, darling? Tell Aunt Dahlia."
"In one of the windows."
"I see. So we have all been dragged out of bed and scared rigid because
you have been seeing things."
Here Uncle Tom made a noise like a cork coming out of a bottle, and
Anatole, whose moustache had hit a new low, said something about "some
apes" and, if I am not mistaken, a "_rogommier_"--whatever that is.
"I admit I was mistaken. I am sorry."
"Don't apologize, ducky. Can't you see how pleased we all are? What were
you doing out here, anyway?"
"Just taking a stroll."
"I see. And are you proposing to continue your stroll?"
"No, I think I'll go in now."
"That's fine. Because I was thinking of going in, too, and I don't
believe I could sleep knowing you were out here giving rein to that
powerful imagination of yours. The next thing that would happen would be
that you would think you saw a pink elephant sitting on the drawing-room
window-sill and start throwing bricks at it.... Well, come on, Tom, the
entertainment seems to be over.... But wait. The newt king wishes a word
with us.... Yes, Mr. Fink-Nottle?"
Gussie, as he joined our little group, seemed upset about something.
"Say on, Augustus."
"I say, what are we going to do?"
"Speaking for myself, I intend to return to bed."
"But the door's shut."
"The front door. Somebody must have shut it."
"Then I shall open it."
"But it won't open."
"Then I shall try another door."
"But all the other doors are shut."
"What? Who shut them?"
"I don't know."
I advanced a theory!
Aunt Dahlia's eyes met mine.
"Don't try me too high," she begged. "Not now, precious." And, indeed,
even as I spoke, it did strike me that the night was pretty still.
Uncle Tom said we must get in through a window. Aunt Dahlia sighed a bit.
"How? Could Lloyd George do it, could Winston do it, could Baldwin do it?
No. Not since you had those bars of yours put on."
"Well, well, well. God bless my soul, ring the bell, then."
"The fire bell?"
"The door bell."
"To what end, Thomas? There's nobody in the house. The servants are all
"But, confound it all, we can't stop out here all night."
"Can't we? You just watch us. There is nothing--literally nothing--which
a country house party can't do with Attila here operating on the
premises. Seppings presumably took the back-door key with him. We must
just amuse ourselves till he comes back."
Tuppy made a suggestion:
"Why not take out one of the cars and drive over to Kingham and get the
key from Seppings?"
It went well. No question about that. For the first time, a smile lit up
Aunt Dahlia's drawn face. Uncle Tom grunted approvingly. Anatole said
something in Provencal that sounded complimentary. And I thought I
detected even on Angela's map a slight softening.
"A very excellent idea," said Aunt Dahlia. "One of the best. Nip round to
the garage at once."
After Tuppy had gone, some extremely flattering things were said about
his intelligence and resource, and there was a disposition to draw rather
invidious comparisons between him and Bertram. Painful for me, of course,
but the ordeal didn't last long, for it couldn't have been more than five
minutes before he was with us again.
Tuppy seemed perturbed.
"I say, it's all off."
"The garage is locked."
"I haven't the key."
"Shout, then, and wake Waterbury."
"The chauffeur, ass. He sleeps over the garage."
"But he's gone to the dance at Kingham."
It was the final wallop. Until this moment, Aunt Dahlia had been able to
preserve her frozen calm. The dam now burst. The years rolled away from
her, and she was once more the Dahlia Wooster of the old yoicks-and-tantivy
days--the emotional, free-speaking girl who had so often risen in
her stirrups to yell derogatory personalities at people who were heading
"Curse all dancing chauffeurs! What on earth does a chauffeur want to
dance for? I mistrusted that man from the start. Something told me he was
a dancer. Well, this finishes it. We're out here till breakfast-time. If
those blasted servants come back before eight o'clock, I shall be vastly
surprised. You won't get Seppings away from a dance till you throw him
out. I know him. The jazz'll go to his head, and he'll stand clapping and
demanding encores till his hands blister. Damn all dancing butlers! What
is Brinkley Court? A respectable English country house or a crimson
dancing school? One might as well be living in the middle of the Russian
Ballet. Well, all right. If we must stay out here, we must. We shall all
be frozen stiff, except"--here she directed at me not one of her
friendliest glances----"except dear old Attila, who is, I observe, well and
warmly clad. We will resign ourselves to the prospect of freezing to
death like the Babes in the Wood, merely expressing a dying wish that our
old pal Attila will see that we are covered with leaves. No doubt he will
also toll that fire bell of his as a mark of respect--And what might you
want, my good man?"
She broke off, and stood glaring at Jeeves. During the latter portion of
her address, he had been standing by in a respectful manner, endeavouring
to catch the speaker's eye.
"If I might make a suggestion, madam."
I am not saying that in the course of our long association I have always
found myself able to view Jeeves with approval. There are aspects of his
character which have frequently caused coldnesses to arise between us. He
is one of those fellows who, if you give them a thingummy, take a
what-d'you-call-it. His work is often raw, and he has been known to allude
to me as "mentally negligible". More than once, as I have shown, it has
been my painful task to squelch in him a tendency to get uppish and treat
the young master as a serf or peon.
These are grave defects.
But one thing I have never failed to hand the man. He is magnetic. There
is about him something that seems to soothe and hypnotize. To the best of
my knowledge, he has never encountered a charging rhinoceros, but should
this contingency occur, I have no doubt that the animal, meeting his eye,
would check itself in mid-stride, roll over and lie purring with its legs
in the air.
At any rate he calmed down Aunt Dahlia, the nearest thing to a charging
rhinoceros, in under five seconds. He just stood there looking
respectful, and though I didn't time the thing--not having a stop-watch
on me--I should say it wasn't more than three seconds and a quarter
before her whole manner underwent an astounding change for the better.
She melted before one's eyes.
"Jeeves! You haven't got an idea?"
"That great brain of yours has really clicked as ever in the hour of
"Jeeves," said Aunt Dahlia in a shaking voice, "I am sorry I spoke so
abruptly. I was not myself. I might have known that you would not come
simply trying to make conversation. Tell us this idea of yours, Jeeves.
Join our little group of thinkers and let us hear what you have to say.
Make yourself at home, Jeeves, and give us the good word. Can you really
get us out of this mess?"
"Yes, madam, if one of the gentlemen would be willing to ride a bicycle."
"There is a bicycle in the gardener's shed in the kitchen garden, madam.
Possibly one of the gentlemen might feel disposed to ride over to Kingham
Manor and procure the back-door key from Mr. Seppings."
"Thank you, madam."
"Thank you, madam."
"Attila!" said Aunt Dahlia, turning and speaking in a quiet,
I had been expecting it. From the very moment those ill-judged words had
passed the fellow's lips, I had had a presentiment that a determined
effort would be made to elect me as the goat, and I braced myself to
resist and obstruct.
And as I was about to do so, while I was in the very act of summoning up
all my eloquence to protest that I didn't know how to ride a bike and
couldn't possibly learn in the brief time at my disposal, I'm dashed if
the man didn't go and nip me in the bud.
"Yes, madam, Mr. Wooster would perform the task admirably. He is an
expert cyclist. He has often boasted to me of his triumphs on the wheel."
I hadn't. I hadn't done anything of the sort. It's simply monstrous how
one's words get twisted. All I had ever done was to mention to
him--casually, just as an interesting item of information, one day in New
York when we were watching the six-day bicycle race--that at the age of
fourteen, while spending my holidays with a vicar of sorts who had been
told off to teach me Latin, I had won the Choir Boys' Handicap at the
local school treat.
A different thing from boasting of one's triumphs on the wheel.
I mean, he was a man of the world and must have known that the form of
school treats is never of the hottest. And, if I'm not mistaken, I had
specifically told him that on the occasion referred to I had received
half a lap start and that Willie Punting, the odds-on favourite to whom
the race was expected to be a gift, had been forced to retire, owing to
having pinched his elder brother's machine without asking the elder
brother, and the elder brother coming along just as the pistol went and
giving him one on the side of the head and taking it away from him, thus
rendering him a scratched-at-the-post non-starter. Yet, from the way he
talked, you would have thought I was one of those chaps in sweaters with
medals all over them, whose photographs bob up from time to time in the
illustrated press on the occasion of their having ridden from Hyde Park
Corner to Glasgow in three seconds under the hour, or whatever it is.
And as if this were not bad enough, Tuppy had to shove his oar in.
"That's right," said Tuppy. "Bertie has always been a great cyclist. I
remember at Oxford he used to take all his clothes off on bump-supper
nights and ride around the quad, singing comic songs. Jolly fast he used
to go too."
"Then he can go jolly fast now," said Aunt Dahlia with animation. "He
can't go too fast for me. He may also sing comic songs, if he likes....
And if you wish to take your clothes off, Bertie, my lamb, by all means
do so. But whether clothed or in the nude, whether singing comic songs or
not singing comic songs, get a move on."
I found speech:
"But I haven't ridden for years."
"Then it's high time you began again."
"I've probably forgotten how to ride."
"You'll soon get the knack after you've taken a toss or two. Trial and
error. The only way."
"But it's miles to Kingham."
"So the sooner you're off, the better."
"But, dash it----"
"Yes, but dash it----"
"Bertie, my sweet."
And so it was arranged. Presently I was moving sombrely off through the
darkness, Jeeves at my side, Aunt Dahlia calling after me something about
trying to imagine myself the man who brought the good news from Ghent to
Aix. The first I had heard of the chap.
"So, Jeeves," I said, as we reached the shed, and my voice was cold and
bitter, "this is what your great scheme has accomplished! Tuppy, Angela,
Gussie and the Bassett not on speaking terms, and self faced with an
"Nine, I believe, sir."
"--a nine-mile ride, and another nine-mile ride back."
"I am sorry, sir."
"No good being sorry now. Where is this foul bone-shaker?"
"I will bring it out, sir."
He did so. I eyed it sourly.
"Where's the lamp?"
"I fear there is no lamp, sir."
"But I may come a fearful stinker without a lamp. Suppose I barge into
I broke off and eyed him frigidly.
"You smile, Jeeves. The thought amuses you?"
"I beg your pardon, sir. I was thinking of a tale my Uncle Cyril used to
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