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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 22 of 46


With which words he biffed of f; and I, having given him a minute or two
to get out of the way, rose and made for the drawing-room. The tendency
of females to roost in drawing-rooms after dinner being well marked, I
expected to find Angela there. It was my intention to have a word with
Angela.

To Tuppy's theory that some insinuating bird had stolen the girl's heart
from him at Cannes I had given, as I have indicated, little credence,
considering it the mere unbalanced apple sauce of a bereaved man. It was,
of course, the shark, and nothing but the shark, that had caused love's
young dream to go temporarily off the boil, and I was convinced that a
word or two with the cousin at this juncture would set everything right.

For, frankly, I thought it incredible that a girl of her natural
sweetness and tender-heartedness should not have been moved to her
foundations by what she had seen at dinner that night. Even Seppings,
Aunt Dahlia's butler, a cold, unemotional man, had gasped and practically
reeled when Tuppy waved aside those _nonnettes de poulet Agnès Sorel_,
while the footman, standing by with the potatoes, had stared like one
seeing a vision. I simply refused to consider the possibility of the
significance of the thing having been lost on a nice girl like Angela. I
fully expected to find her in the drawing-room with her heart bleeding
freely, all ripe for an immediate reconciliation.

In the drawing-room, however, when I entered, only Aunt Dahlia met the
eye. It seemed to me that she gave me rather a jaundiced look as I hove
in sight, but this, having so recently beheld Tuppy in his agony, I
attributed to the fact that she, like him, had been going light on the
menu. You can't expect an empty aunt to beam like a full aunt.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" she said.

Well, it was, of course.

"Where's Angela?" I asked.

"Gone to bed."

"Already?"

"She said she had a headache."

"H'm."

I wasn't so sure that I liked the sound of that so much. A girl who has
observed the sundered lover sensationally off his feed does not go to bed
with headaches if love has been reborn in her heart. She sticks around
and gives him the swift, remorseful glance from beneath the drooping
eyelashes and generally endeavours to convey to him that, if he wants to
get together across a round table and try to find a formula, she is all
for it too. Yes, I am bound to say I found that going-to-bed stuff a bit
disquieting.

"Gone to bed, eh?" I murmured musingly.

"What did you want her for?"

"I thought she might like a stroll and a chat."

"Are you going for a stroll?" said Aunt Dahlia, with a sudden show of
interest. "Where?"

"Oh, hither and thither."

"Then I wonder if you would mind doing something for me."

"Give it a name."

"It won't take you long. You know that path that runs past the
greenhouses into the kitchen garden. If you go along it, you come to a
pond."

"That's right."

"Well, will you get a good, stout piece of rope or cord and go down that
path till you come to the pond----"

"To the pond. Right."

"--and look about you till you find a nice, heavy stone. Or a fairly
large brick would do."

"I see," I said, though I didn't, being still fogged. "Stone or brick.
Yes. And then?"

"Then," said the relative, "I want you, like a good boy, to fasten the
rope to the brick and tie it around your damned neck and jump into the
pond and drown yourself. In a few days I will send and have you fished up
and buried because I shall need to dance on your grave."

I was more fogged than ever. And not only fogged--wounded and resentful.
I remember reading a book where a girl "suddenly fled from the room,
afraid to stay for fear dreadful things would come tumbling from her
lips; determined that she would not remain another day in this house to
be insulted and misunderstood." I felt much about the same.

Then I reminded myself that one has got to make allowances for a woman
with only about half a spoonful of soup inside her, and I checked the
red-hot crack that rose to the lips.

"What," I said gently, "is this all about? You seem pipped with Bertram."

"Pipped!"

"Noticeably pipped. Why this ill-concealed animus?"

A sudden flame shot from her eyes, singeing my hair.

"Who was the ass, who was the chump, who was the dithering idiot who
talked me, against my better judgment, into going without my dinner? I
might have guessed----"

I saw that I had divined correctly the cause of her strange mood.

"It's all right. Aunt Dahlia. I know just how you're feeling. A bit on
the hollow side, what? But the agony will pass. If I were you, I'd sneak
down and raid the larder after the household have gone to bed. I am told
there's a pretty good steak-and-kidney pie there which will repay
inspection. Have faith, Aunt Dahlia," I urged. "Pretty soon Uncle Tom
will be along, full of sympathy and anxious inquiries."

"Will he? Do you know where he is now?"

"I haven't seen him."

"He is in the study with his face buried in his hands, muttering about
civilization and melting pots."

"Eh? Why?"

"Because it has just been my painful duty to inform him that Anatole has
given notice."

I own that I reeled.

"What?"

"Given notice. As the result of that drivelling scheme of yours. What did
you expect a sensitive, temperamental French cook to do, if you went
about urging everybody to refuse all food? I hear that when the first two
courses came back to the kitchen practically untouched, his feelings were
so hurt that he cried like a child. And when the rest of the dinner
followed, he came to the conclusion that the whole thing was a studied
and calculated insult, and decided to hand in his portfolio."

"Golly!"

"You may well say 'Golly!' Anatole, God's gift to the gastric juices,
gone like the dew off the petal of a rose, all through your idiocy.
Perhaps you understand now why I want you to go and jump in that pond. I
might have known that some hideous disaster would strike this house like
a thunderbolt if once you wriggled your way into it and started trying to
be clever."

Harsh words, of course, as from aunt to nephew, but I bore her no
resentment. No doubt, if you looked at it from a certain angle, Bertram
might be considered to have made something of a floater.

"I am sorry."

"What's the good of being sorry?"

"I acted for what I deemed the best."

"Another time try acting for the worst. Then we may possibly escape with
a mere flesh wound."

"Uncle Tom's not feeling too bucked about it all, you say?"

"He's groaning like a lost soul. And any chance I ever had of getting
that money out of him has gone."

I stroked the chin thoughtfully. There was, I had to admit, reason in
what she said. None knew better than I how terrible a blow the passing of
Anatole would be to Uncle Tom.

I have stated earlier in this chronicle that this curious object of the
seashore with whom Aunt Dahlia has linked her lot is a bloke who
habitually looks like a pterodactyl that has suffered, and the reason he
does so is that all those years he spent in making millions in the Far
East put his digestion on the blink, and the only cook that has ever been
discovered capable of pushing food into him without starting something
like Old Home Week in Moscow under the third waistcoat button is this
uniquely gifted Anatole. Deprived of Anatole's services, all he was
likely to give the wife of his b. was a dirty look. Yes, unquestionably,
things seemed to have struck a somewhat rocky patch, and I must admit
that I found myself, at moment of going to press, a little destitute of
constructive ideas.

Confident, however, that these would come ere long, I kept the stiff
upper lip.

"Bad," I conceded. "Quite bad, beyond a doubt. Certainly a nasty jar for
one and all. But have no fear, Aunt Dahlia, I will fix everything."

I have alluded earlier to the difficulty of staggering when you're
sitting down, showing that it is a feat of which I, personally, am not
capable. Aunt Dahlia, to my amazement, now did it apparently without an
effort. She was well wedged into a deep arm-chair, but, nevertheless, she
staggered like billy-o. A sort of spasm of horror and apprehension
contorted her face.

"If you dare to try any more of your lunatic schemes----"

I saw that it would be fruitless to try to reason with her. Quite
plainly, she was not in the vein. Contenting myself, accordingly, with a
gesture of loving sympathy, I left the room. Whether she did or did not
throw a handsomely bound volume of the Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, at
me, I am not in a position to say. I had seen it lying on the table
beside her, and as I closed the door I remember receiving the impression
that some blunt instrument had crashed against the woodwork, but I was
feeling too pre-occupied to note and observe.

I blame myself for not having taken into consideration the possible
effects of a sudden abstinence on the part of virtually the whole
strength of the company on one of Anatole's impulsive Provençal
temperament. These Gauls, I should have remembered, can't take it. Their
tendency to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation is well
known. No doubt the man had put his whole soul into those _nonnettes de
poulet_, and to see them come homing back to him must have gashed him
like a knife.

However, spilt milk blows nobody any good, and it is useless to dwell
upon it. The task now confronting Bertram was to put matters right, and I
was pacing the lawn, pondering to this end, when I suddenly heard a groan
so lost-soulish that I thought it must have proceeded from Uncle Tom,
escaped from captivity and come to groan in the garden.

Looking about me, however, I could discern no uncles. Puzzled, I was
about to resume my meditations, when the sound came again. And peering
into the shadows I observed a dim form seated on one of the rustic
benches which so liberally dotted this pleasance and another dim form
standing beside same. A second and more penetrating glance and I had
assembled the facts.

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