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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 23 of 46


These dim forms were, in the order named, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Jeeves.
And what Gussie was doing, groaning all over the place like this, was
more than I could understand.

Because, I mean to say, there was no possibility of error. He wasn't
singing. As I approached, he gave an encore, and it was beyond question a
groan. Moreover, I could now see him clearly, and his whole aspect was
definitely sand-bagged.

"Good evening, sir," said Jeeves. "Mr. Fink-Nottle is not feeling well."

Nor was I. Gussie had begun to make a low, bubbling noise, and I could no
longer disguise it from myself that something must have gone seriously
wrong with the works. I mean, I know marriage is a pretty solemn business
and the realization that he is in for it frequently churns a chap up a
bit, but I had never come across a case of a newly-engaged man taking it
on the chin so completely as this.

Gussie looked up. His eye was dull. He clutched the thatch.

"Goodbye, Bertie," he said, rising.

I seemed to spot an error.

"You mean 'Hullo,' don't you?"

"No, I don't. I mean goodbye. I'm of f."

"off where?"

"To the kitchen garden. To drown myself."

"Don't be an ass."

"I'm not an ass.... Am I an ass, Jeeves?"

"Possibly a little injudicious, sir."

"Drowning myself, you mean?"

"Yes, sir."

"You think, on the whole, not drown myself?"

"I should not advocate it, sir."

"Very well, Jeeves. I accept your ruling. After all, it would be
unpleasant for Mrs. Travers to find a swollen body floating in her pond."

"Yes, sir."

"And she has been very kind to me."

"Yes, sir."

"And you have been very kind to me, Jeeves."

"Thank you, sir."

"So have you, Bertie. Very kind. Everybody has been very kind to me.
Very, very kind. Very kind indeed. I have no complaints to make. All
right, I'll go for a walk instead."

I followed him with bulging eyes as he tottered off into the dark.

"Jeeves," I said, and I am free to admit that in my emotion I bleated
like a lamb drawing itself to the attention of the parent sheep, "what
the dickens is all this?"

"Mr. Fink-Nottle is not quite himself, sir. He has passed through a
trying experience."

I endeavoured to put together a brief synopsis of previous events.

"I left him out here with Miss Bassett."

"Yes, sir."

"I had sof tened her up."

"Yes, sir."

"He knew exactly what he had to do. I had coached him thoroughly in lines
and business."

"Yes, sir. So Mr. Fink-Nottle informed me."

"Well, then----"

"I regret to say, sir, that there was a slight hitch."

"You mean, something went wrong?"

"Yes, sir."

I could not fathom. The brain seemed to be tottering on its throne.

"But how could anything go wrong? She loves him, Jeeves."

"Indeed, sir?"

"She definitely told me so. All he had to do was propose."

"Yes sir."

"Well, didn't he?"

"No, sir."

"Then what the dickens did he talk about?"

"Newts, sir."

"Newts?"

"Yes, sir."

"Newts?"

"Yes, sir."

"But why did he want to talk about newts?"

"He did not want to talk about newts, sir. As I gather from Mr.
Fink-Nottle, nothing could have been more alien to his plans."

I simply couldn't grasp the trend.

"But you can't force a man to talk about newts."

"Mr. Fink-Nottle was the victim of a sudden unfortunate spasm of
nervousness, sir. Upon finding himself alone with the young lady, he
admits to having lost his morale. In such circumstances, gentlemen
frequently talk at random, saying the first thing that chances to enter
their heads. This, in Mr. Fink-Nottle's case, would seem to have been the
newt, its treatment in sickness and in health."

The scales fell from my eyes. I understood. I had had the same sort of
thing happen to me in moments of crisis. I remember once detaining a
dentist with the drill at one of my lower bicuspids and holding him up
for nearly ten minutes with a story about a Scotchman, an Irishman, and a
Jew. Purely automatic. The more he tried to jab, the more I said "Hoots,
mon," "Begorrah," and "Oy, oy". When one loses one's nerve, one simply
babbles.

I could put myself in Gussie's place. I could envisage the scene. There
he and the Bassett were, alone together in the evening stillness. No
doubt, as I had advised, he had shot the works about sunsets and fairy
princesses, and so forth, and then had arrived at the point where he had
to say that bit about having something to say to her. At this, I take it,
she lowered her eyes and said, "Oh, yes?"

He then, I should imagine, said it was something very important; to which
her response would, one assumes, have been something on the lines of
"Really?" or "Indeed?" or possibly just the sharp intake of the breath.
And then their eyes met, just as mine met the dentist's, and something
suddenly seemed to catch him in the pit of the stomach and everything
went black and he heard his voice starting to drool about newts. Yes, I
could follow the psychology.

Nevertheless, I found myself blaming Gussie. On discovering that he was
stressing the newt note in this manner, he ought, of course, to have
tuned out, even if it had meant sitting there saying nothing. No matter
how much of a twitter he was in, he should have had sense enough to see
that he was throwing a spanner into the works. No girl, when she has been
led to expect that a man is about to pour forth his soul in a fervour of
passion, likes to find him suddenly shelving the whole topic in favour of
an address on aquatic Salamandridae.

"Bad, Jeeves."

"Yes, sir."

"And how long did this nuisance continue?"

"For some not inconsiderable time, I gather, sir. According to Mr.
Fink-Nottle, he supplied Miss Bassett with very full and complete
information not only with respect to the common newt, but also the
crested and palmated varieties. He described to her how newts, during
the breeding season, live in the water, subsisting upon tadpoles, insect
larvae, and crustaceans; how, later, they make their way to the land and
eat slugs and worms; and how the newly born newt has three pairs of long,
plumlike, external gills. And he was just observing that newts differ
from salamanders in the shape of the tail, which is compressed, and that
a marked sexual dimorphism prevails in most species, when the young lady
rose and said that she thought she would go back to the house."

"And then----"

"She went, sir."

I stood musing. More and more, it was beginning to be borne in upon me
what a particularly difficult chap Gussie was to help. He seemed to so
marked an extent to lack snap and finish. With infinite toil, you
manoeuvred him into a position where all he had to do was charge ahead,
and he didn't charge ahead, but went off sideways, missing the objective
completely.

"Difficult, Jeeves."

"Yes, sir."

In happier circs., of course, I would have canvassed his views on the
matter. But after what had occurred in connection with that mess-jacket,
my lips were sealed.

"Well, I must think it over."

"Yes, sir."

"Burnish the brain a bit and endeavour to find the way out."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, good night, Jeeves."

"Good night, sir."

He shimmered of f, leaving a pensive Bertram Wooster standing motionless
in the shadows. It seemed to me that it was hard to know what to do for
the best.

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