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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 20 of 46


There was a silence. She had turned away and was watching a duck out on
the lake. It was tucking into weeds, a thing I've never been able to
understand anyone wanting to do. Though I suppose, if you face it
squarely, they're no worse than spinach. She stood drinking it in for a
bit, and then it suddenly stood on its head and disappeared, and this
seemed to break the spell.

"Oh, Mr. Wooster!" she said again, and from the tone of her voice, I
could see that I had got her going.

"For you, I mean to say," I proceeded, starting to put in the fancy
touches. I dare say you have noticed on these occasions that the
difficulty is to plant the main idea, to get the general outline of the
thing well fixed. The rest is mere detail work. I don't say I became glib
at this juncture, but I certainly became a dashed glibber than I had
been.

"It's having the dickens of a time. Can't eat, can't sleep--all for love
of you. And what makes it all so particularly rotten is that it--this
aching heart--can't bring itself up to the scratch and tell you the
position of affairs, because your prof ile has gone and given it cold
feet. Just as it is about to speak, it catches sight of you sideways, and
words fail it. Silly, of course, but there it is."

I heard her give a gulp, and I saw that her eyes had become moistish.
Drenched irises, if you care to put it that way.

"Lend you a handkerchief?"

"No, thank you. I'm quite all right."

It was more than I could say for myself. My efforts had left me weak. I
don't know if you suffer in the same way, but with me the act of talking
anything in the nature of real mashed potatoes always induces a sort of
prickly sensation and a hideous feeling of shame, together with a marked
starting of the pores.

I remember at my Aunt Agatha's place in Hertfordshire once being put on
the spot and forced to enact the role of King Edward III saying goodbye
to that girl of his, Fair Rosamund, at some sort of pageant in aid of the
Distressed Daughters of the Clergy. It involved some rather warmish
medieval dialogue, I recall, racy of the days when they called a spade a
spade, and by the time the whistle blew, I'll bet no Daughter of the
Clergy was half as distressed as I was. Not a dry stitch.

My reaction now was very similar. It was a highly liquid Bertram who,
hearing his _vis-à-vis_ give a couple of hiccups and start to speak bent
an attentive ear.

"Please don't say any more, Mr. Wooster."

Well, I wasn't going to, of course.

"I understand."

I was glad to hear this.

"Yes, I understand. I won't be so silly as to pretend not to know what
you mean. I suspected this at Cannes, when you used to stand and stare at
me without speaking a word, but with whole volumes in your eyes."

If Angela's shark had bitten me in the leg, I couldn't have leaped more
convulsively. So tensely had I been concentrating on Gussie's interests
that it hadn't so much as crossed my mind that another and an unfortunate
construction could be placed on those words of mine. The persp., already
bedewing my brow, became a regular Niagara.

My whole fate hung upon a woman's word. I mean to say, I couldn't back
out. If a girl thinks a man is proposing to her, and on that
understanding books him up, he can't explain to her that she has got hold
of entirely the wrong end of the stick and that he hadn't the smallest
intention of suggesting anything of the kind. He must simply let it ride.
And the thought of being engaged to a girl who talked openly about
fairies being born because stars blew their noses, or whatever it was,
frankly appalled me.

She was carrying on with her remarks, and as I listened I clenched my
fists till I shouldn't wonder if the knuckles didn't stand out white
under the strain. It seemed as if she would never get to the nub.

"Yes, all through those days at Cannes I could see what you were trying
to say. A girl always knows. And then you followed me down here, and
there was that same dumb, yearning look in your eyes when we met this
evening. And then you were so insistent that I should come out and walk
with you in the twilight. And now you stammer out those halting words.
No, this does not come as a surprise. But I am sorry----"

The word was like one of Jeeves's pick-me-ups. Just as if a glassful of
meat sauce, red pepper, and the yolk of an egg--though, as I say, I am
convinced that these are not the sole ingredients--had been shot into me,
I expanded like some lovely flower blossoming in the sunshine. It was all
right, after all. My guardian angel had not been asleep at the switch.

"--but I am afraid it is impossible."

She paused.

"Impossible," she repeated.

I had been so busy feeling saved from the scaffold that I didn't get on
to it for a moment that an early reply was desired.

"Oh, right ho," I said hastily.

"I'm sorry."

"Quite all right."

"Sorrier than I can say."

"Don't give it another thought."

"We can still be friends."

"Oh, rather."

"Then shall we just say no more about it; keep what has happened as a
tender little secret between ourselves?"

"Absolutely."

"We will. Like something lovely and fragrant laid away in lavender."

"In lavender--right."

There was a longish pause. She was gazing at me in a divinely pitying
sort of way, much as if I had been a snail she had happened accidentally
to bring her short French vamp down on, and I longed to tell her that it
was all right, and that Bertram, so far from being the victim of despair,
had never felt fizzier in his life. But, of course, one can't do that
sort of thing. I simply said nothing, and stood there looking brave.

"I wish I could," she murmured.

"Could?" I said, for my attensh had been wandering.

"Feel towards you as you would like me to feel."

"Oh, ah."

"But I can't. I'm sorry."

"Absolutely O.K. Faults on both sides, no doubt."

"Because I am fond of you, Mr.--no, I think I must call you Bertie. May
I?"

"Oh, rather."

"Because we are real friends."

"Quite."

"I do like you, Bertie. And if things were different--I wonder----"

"Eh?"

"After all, we are real friends.... We have this common memory.... You
have a right to know.... I don't want you to think----Life is such a
muddle, isn't it?"

To many men, no doubt, these broken utterances would have appeared mere
drooling and would have been dismissed as such. But the Woosters are
quicker-witted than the ordinary and can read between the lines. I
suddenly divined what it was that she was trying to get off the chest.

"You mean there's someone else?"

She nodded.

"You're in love with some other bloke?"

She nodded.

"Engaged, what?"

This time she shook the pumpkin.

"No, not engaged."

Well, that was something, of course. Nevertheless, from the way she
spoke, it certainly looked as if poor old Gussie might as well scratch
his name off the entry list, and I didn't at all like the prospect of
having to break the bad news to him. I had studied the man closely, and
it was my conviction that this would about be his finish.

Gussie, you see, wasn't like some of my pals--the name of Bingo Little is
one that springs to the lips--who, if turned down by a girl, would simply
say, "Well, bung-oh!" and toddle off quite happily to find another. He
was so manifestly a bird who, having failed to score in the first
chukker, would turn the thing up and spend the rest of his life brooding
over his newts and growing long grey whiskers, like one of those chaps
you read about in novels, who live in the great white house you can just
see over there through the trees and shut themselves off from the world
and have pained faces.

"I'm afraid he doesn't care for me in that way. At least, he has said
nothing. You understand that I am only telling you this because----"

"Oh, rather."

"It's odd that you should have asked me if I believed in love at first
sight." She half closed her eyes. "'Who ever loved that loved not at
first sight?'" she said in a rummy voice that brought back to me--I don't
know why--the picture of my Aunt Agatha, as Boadicea, reciting at that
pageant I was speaking of . "It's a silly little story. I was staying with
some friends in the country, and I had gone for a walk with my dog, and
the poor wee mite got a nasty thorn in his little foot and I didn't know
what to do. And then suddenly this man came along----"

Harking back once again to that pageant, in sketching out for you my
emotions on that occasion, I showed you only the darker side of the
picture. There was, I should now mention, a splendid aftermath when,
having climbed out of my suit of chain mail and sneaked off to the local
pub, I entered the saloon bar and requested mine host to start pouring. A
moment later, a tankard of their special home-brewed was in my hand, and
the ecstasy of that first gollup is still green in my memory. The
recollection of the agony through which I had passed was just what was
needed to make it perfect.

It was the same now. When I realized, listening to her words, that she
must be referring to Gussie--I mean to say, there couldn't have been a
whole platoon of men taking thorns out of her dog that day; the animal
wasn't a pin-cushion--and became aware that Gussie, who an instant before
had, to all appearances, gone so far back in the betting as not to be
worth a quotation, was the big winner after all, a positive thrill
permeated the frame and there escaped my lips a "Wow!" so crisp and
hearty that the Bassett leaped a liberal inch and a half from terra
firma.

"I beg your pardon?" she said.

I waved a jaunty hand.

"Nothing," I said. "Nothing. Just remembered there's a letter I have to
write tonight without fail. If you don't mind, I think I'll be going in.
Here," I said, "comes Gussie Fink-Nottle. He will look after you."

And, as I spoke, Gussie came sidling out from behind a tree.

I passed away and left them to it. As regards these two, everything was
beyond a question absolutely in order. All Gussie had to do was keep his
head down and not press. Already, I felt, as I legged it back to the
house, the happy ending must have begun to function. I mean to say, when
you leave a girl and a man, each of whom has admitted in set terms that
she and he loves him and her, in close juxtaposition in the twilight,
there doesn't seem much more to do but start pricing fish slices.

Something attempted, something done, seemed to me to have earned
two-penn'orth of wassail in the smoking-room.

I proceeded thither.

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