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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 30 of 46


He snorted once more, causing me to feel rather like royalty receiving a
twenty-one gun salute from the fleet. I can't remember ever having met a
better right-and-left-hand snorter.

"What do you mean, 'home truths'? I'm not fat."

"No, no."

"And what's wrong with the colour of my hair?"

"Quite in order, Tuppy, old man. The hair, I mean."

"And I'm not a bit thin on the top.... What the dickens are you grinning
about?"

"Not grinning. Just smiling slightly. I was conjuring up a sort of
vision, if you know what I mean, of you as seen through Angela's eyes.
Fat in the middle and thin on the top. Rather funny."

"You think it funny, do you?"

"Not a bit."

"You'd better not."

"Quite."

It seemed to me that the conversation was becoming difficult again. I
wished it could be terminated. And so it was. For at this moment
something came shimmering through the laurels in the quiet evenfall, and
I perceived that it was Angela.

She was looking sweet and saintlike, and she had a plate of sandwiches in
her hand. Ham, I was to discover later.

"If you see Mr. Glossop anywhere, Bertie," she said, her eyes resting
dreamily on Tuppy's facade, "I wish you would give him these. I'm so
afraid he may be hungry, poor fellow. It's nearly ten o'clock, and he
hasn't eaten a morsel since dinner. I'll just leave them on this bench."

She pushed of f, and it seemed to me that I might as well go with her.
Nothing to keep me here, I mean. We moved towards the house, and
presently from behind us there sounded in the night the splintering crash
of a well-kicked plate of ham sandwiches, accompanied by the muffled
oaths of a strong man in his wrath.

"How still and peaceful everything is," said Angela.

 

-16-

Sunshine was gilding the grounds of Brinkley Court and the ear detected a
marked twittering of birds in the ivy outside the window when I woke next
morning to a new day. But there was no corresponding sunshine in Bertram
Wooster's soul and no answering twitter in his heart as he sat up in bed,
sipping his cup of strengthening tea. It could not be denied that to
Bertram, reviewing the happenings of the previous night, the Tuppy-Angela
situation seemed more or less to have slipped a cog. With every desire to
look for the silver lining, I could not but feel that the rift between
these two haughty spirits had now reached such impressive proportions
that the task of bridging same would be beyond even my powers.

I am a shrewd observer, and there had been something in Tuppy's manner as
he booted that plate of ham sandwiches that seemed to tell me that he
would not lightly forgive.

In these circs., I deemed it best to shelve their problem for the nonce
and turn the mind to the matter of Gussie, which presented a brighter
picture.

With regard to Gussie, everything was in train. Jeeves's morbid scruples
about lacing the chap's orange juice had put me to a good deal of
trouble, but I had surmounted every obstacle in the old Wooster way. I
had secured an abundance of the necessary spirit, and it was now lying in
its flask in the drawer of the dressing-table. I had also ascertained
that the jug, duly filled, would be standing on a shelf in the butler's
pantry round about the hour of one. To remove it from that shelf, sneak
it up to my room, and return it, laced, in good time for the midday meal
would be a task calling, no doubt, for address, but in no sense an
exacting one.

It was with something of the emotions of one preparing a treat for a
deserving child that I finished my tea and rolled over for that extra
spot of sleep which just makes all the difference when there is man's
work to be done and the brain must be kept clear for it.

And when I came downstairs an hour or so later, I knew how right I had
been to formulate this scheme for Gussie's bucking up. I ran into him on
the lawn, and I could see at a glance that if ever there was a man who
needed a snappy stimulant, it was he. All nature, as I have indicated,
was smiling, but not Augustus Fink-Nottle. He was walking round in
circles, muttering something about not proposing to detain us long, but
on this auspicious occasion feeling compelled to say a few words.

"Ah, Gussie," I said, arresting him as he was about to start another lap.
"A lovely morning, is it not?"

Even if I had not been aware of it already, I could have divined from the
abruptness with which he damned the lovely morning that he was not in
merry mood. I addressed myself to the task of bringing the roses back to
his cheeks.

"I've got good news for you, Gussie."

He looked at me with a sudden sharp interest.

"Has Market Snodsbury Grammar School burned down?"

"Not that I know of ."

"Have mumps broken out? Is the place closed on account of measles?"

"No, no."

"Then what do you mean you've got good news?"

I endeavoured to soothe.

"You mustn't take it so hard, Gussie. Why worry about a laughably simple
job like distributing prizes at a school?"

"Laughably simple, eh? Do you realize I've been sweating for days and
haven't been able to think of a thing to say yet, except that I won't
detain them long. You bet I won't detain them long. I've been timing my
speech, and it lasts five seconds. What the devil am I to say, Bertie?
What do you say when you're distributing prizes?"

I considered. Once, at my private school, I had won a prize for Scripture
knowledge, so I suppose I ought to have been full of inside stuff. But
memory eluded me.

Then something emerged from the mists.

"You say the race is not always to the swift."

"Why?"

"Well, it's a good gag. It generally gets a hand."

"I mean, why isn't it? Why isn't the race to the swift?"

"Ah, there you have me. But the nibs say it isn't."

"But what does it mean?"

"I take it it's supposed to console the chaps who haven't won prizes."

"What's the good of that to me? I'm not worrying about them. It's the
ones that have won prizes that I'm worrying about, the little blighters
who will come up on the platform. Suppose they make faces at me."

"They won't."

"How do you know they won't? It's probably the first thing they'll think
of . And even if they don't--Bertie, shall I tell you something?"

"What?"

"I've a good mind to take that tip of yours and have a drink."

I smiled. He little knew, about summed up what I was thinking.

"Oh, you'll be all right," I said.

He became fevered again.

"How do you know I'll be all right? I'm sure to blow up in my lines."

"Tush!"

"Or drop a prize."

"Tut!"

"Or something. I can feel it in my bones. As sure as I'm standing here,
something is going to happen this afternoon which will make everybody
laugh themselves sick at me. I can hear them now. Like hyenas....
Bertie!"

"Hullo?"

"Do you remember that kids' school we went to before Eton?"

"Quite. It was there I won my Scripture prize."

"Never mind about your Scripture prize. I'm not talking about your
Scripture prize. Do you recollect the Bosher incident?"

I did, indeed. It was one of the high spots of my youth.

"Major-General Sir Wilfred Bosher came to distribute the prizes at that
school," proceeded Gussie in a dull, toneless voice. "He dropped a book.
He stooped to pick it up. And, as he stooped, his trousers split up the
back."

"How we roared!"

Gussie's face twisted.

"We did, little swine that we were. Instead of remaining silent and
exhibiting a decent sympathy for a gallant of ficer at a peculiarly
embarrassing moment, we howled and yelled with mirth. I loudest of any.
That is what will happen to me this afternoon, Bertie. It will be a
judgment on me for laughing like that at Major-General Sir Wilfred
Bosher."

"No, no, Gussie, old man. Your trousers won't split."

"How do you know they won't? Better men than I have split their trousers.
General Bosher was a D.S.O., with a fine record of service on the
north-western frontier of India, and his trousers split. I shall be a
mockery and a scorn. I know it. And you, fully cognizant of what I am in
for, come babbling about good news. What news could possibly be good to me
at this moment except the information that bubonic plague had broken out
among the scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School, and that they were
all confined to their beds with spots?"

The moment had come for me to speak. I laid a hand gently on his
shoulder. He brushed it of f. I laid it on again. He brushed it off once
more. I was endeavouring to lay it on for the third time, when he moved
aside and desired, with a certain petulance, to be informed if I thought
I was a ruddy osteopath.

I found his manner trying, but one has to make allowances. I was telling
myself that I should be seeing a very different Gussie after lunch.

"When I said I had good news, old man, I meant about Madeline Bassett."

The febrile gleam died out of his eyes, to be replaced by a look of
infinite sadness.

"You can't have good news about her. I've dished myself there completely."

"Not at all. I am convinced that if you take another whack at her, all
will be well."

And, keeping it snappy, I related what had passed between the Bassett and
myself on the previous night.

"So all you have to do is play a return date, and you cannot fail to
swing the voting. You are her dream man."

He shook his head.

"No."

"What?"

"No use."

"What do you mean?"

"Not a bit of good trying."

"But I tell you she said in so many words----"

"It doesn't make any difference. She may have loved me once. Last night
will have killed all that."

"of course it won't."

"It will. She despises me now."

"Not a bit of it. She knows you simply got cold feet."

"And I should get cold feet if I tried again. It's no good, Bertie. I'm
hopeless, and there's an end of it. Fate made me the sort of chap who
can't say 'bo' to a goose."

"It isn't a question of saying 'bo' to a goose. The point doesn't arise
at all. It is simply a matter of ----"

"I know, I know. But it's no good. I can't do it. The whole thing is of f.
I am not going to risk a repetition of last night's fiasco. You talk in a
light way of taking another whack at her, but you don't know what it
means. You have not been through the experience of starting to ask the
girl you love to marry you and then suddenly finding yourself talking
about the plumlike external gills of the newly-born newt. It's not a
thing you can do twice. No, I accept my destiny. It's all over. And now,
Bertie, like a good chap, shove of f. I want to compose my speech. I can't
compose my speech with you mucking around. If you are going to continue
to muck around, at least give me a couple of stories. The little hell
hounds are sure to expect a story or two."

"Do you know the one about----"

"No good. I don't want any of your of f-colour stuff from the Drones'
smoking-room. I need something clean. Something that will be a help to
them in their after lives. Not that I care a damn about their after
lives, except that I hope they'll all choke."

"I heard a story the other day. I can't quite remember it, but it was
about a chap who snored and disturbed the neighbours, and it ended, 'It
was his adenoids that adenoid them.'"

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