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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 33 of 46


We had arrived at the main entrance of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. I
parked the car, and went in, well content. True, the Tuppy-Angela problem
still remained unsolved and Aunt Dahlia's five hundred quid seemed as far
off as ever, but it was gratifying to feel that good old Gussie's
troubles were over, at any rate.

The Grammar School at Market Snodsbury had, I understood, been built
somewhere in the year 1416, and, as with so many of these ancient
foundations, there still seemed to brood over its Great Hall, where the
afternoon's festivities were to take place, not a little of the fug of
the centuries. It was the hottest day of the summer, and though somebody
had opened a tentative window or two, the atmosphere remained distinctive
and individual.

In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily
lunch for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavour lingered. The
air was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the
scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.

Aunt Dahlia, who was sitting with a bevy of the local nibs in the second
row, sighted me as I entered and waved to me to join her, but I was too
smart for that. I wedged myself in among the standees at the back,
leaning up against a chap who, from the aroma, might have been a corn
chandler or something on that order. The essence of strategy on these
occasions is to be as near the door as possible.

The hall was gaily decorated with flags and coloured paper, and the eye
was further refreshed by the spectacle of a mixed drove of boys, parents,
and what not, the former running a good deal to shiny faces and Eton
collars, the latter stressing the black-satin note rather when female,
and looking as if their coats were too tight, if male. And presently
there was some applause--sporadic, Jeeves has since told me it was--and I
saw Gussie being steered by a bearded bloke in a gown to a seat in the
middle of the platform.

And I confess that as I beheld him and felt that there but for the grace
of God went Bertram Wooster, a shudder ran through the frame. It all
reminded me so vividly of the time I had addressed that girls' school.

of course, looking at it dispassionately, you may say that for horror and
peril there is no comparison between an almost human audience like the
one before me and a mob of small girls with pigtails down their backs,
and this, I concede, is true. Nevertheless, the spectacle was enough to
make me feel like a fellow watching a pal going over Niagara Falls in a
barrel, and the thought of what I had escaped caused everything for a
moment to go black and swim before my eyes.

When I was able to see clearly once more, I perceived that Gussie was now
seated. He had his hands on his knees, with his elbows out at right
angles, like a nigger minstrel of the old school about to ask Mr. Bones
why a chicken crosses the road, and he was staring before him with a
smile so fixed and pebble-beached that I should have thought that anybody
could have guessed that there sat one in whom the old familiar juice was
plashing up against the back of the front teeth.

In fact, I saw Aunt Dahlia, who, having assisted at so many hunting
dinners in her time, is second to none as a judge of the symptoms, give a
start and gaze long and earnestly. And she was just saying something to
Uncle Tom on her left when the bearded bloke stepped to the footlights
and started making a speech. From the fact that he spoke as if he had a
hot potato in his mouth without getting the raspberry from the lads in
the ringside seats, I deduced that he must be the head master.

With his arrival in the spotlight, a sort of perspiring resignation
seemed to settle on the audience. Personally, I snuggled up against the
chandler and let my attention wander. The speech was on the subject of
the doings of the school during the past term, and this part of a
prize-giving is always apt rather to fail to grip the visiting stranger.
I mean, you know how it is. You're told that J.B. Brewster has won an
Exhibition for Classics at Cat's, Cambridge, and you feel that it's one
of those stories where you can't see how funny it is unless you really
know the fellow. And the same applies to G. Bullett being awarded the
Lady Jane Wix Scholarship at the Birmingham College of Veterinary
Science.

In fact, I and the corn chandler, who was looking a bit fagged I thought,
as if he had had a hard morning chandling the corn, were beginning to
doze lightly when things suddenly brisked up, bringing Gussie into the
picture for the first time.

"Today," said the bearded bloke, "we are all happy to welcome as the
guest of the afternoon Mr. Fitz-Wattle----"

At the beginning of the address, Gussie had subsided into a sort of
daydream, with his mouth hanging open. About half-way through, faint
signs of life had begun to show. And for the last few minutes he had been
trying to cross one leg over the other and failing and having another
shot and failing again. But only now did he exhibit any real animation.
He sat up with a jerk.

"Fink-Nottle," he said, opening his eyes.

"Fitz-Nottle."

"Fink-Nottle."

"I should say Fink-Nottle."

"of course you should, you silly ass," said Gussie genially. "All right,
get on with it."

And closing his eyes, he began trying to cross his legs again.

I could see that this little spot of friction had rattled the bearded
bloke a bit. He stood for a moment fumbling at the fungus with a
hesitating hand. But they make these head masters of tough stuff. The
weakness passed. He came back nicely and carried on.

"We are all happy, I say, to welcome as the guest of the afternoon Mr.
Fink-Nottle, who has kindly consented to award the prizes. This task, as
you know, is one that should have devolved upon that well-beloved and
vigorous member of our board of governors, the Rev. William Plomer, and
we are all, I am sure, very sorry that illness at the last moment should
have prevented him from being here today. But, if I may borrow a familiar
metaphor from the--if I may employ a homely metaphor familiar to you
all--what we lose on the swings we gain on the roundabouts."

He paused, and beamed rather freely, to show that this was comedy. I
could have told the man it was no use. Not a ripple. The corn chandler
leaned against me and muttered "Whoddidesay?" but that was all.

It's always a nasty jar to wait for the laugh and find that the gag
hasn't got across. The bearded bloke was visibly discomposed. At that,
however, I think he would have got by, had he not, at this juncture,
unfortunately stirred Gussie up again.

"In other words, though deprived of Mr. Plomer, we have with us this
afternoon Mr. Fink-Nottle. I am sure that Mr. Fink-Nottle's name is one
that needs no introduction to you. It is, I venture to assert, a name
that is familiar to us all."

"Not to you," said Gussie.

And the next moment I saw what Jeeves had meant when he had described him
as laughing heartily. "Heartily" was absolutely the _mot juste_. It
sounded like a gas explosion.

"You didn't seem to know it so dashed well, what, what?" said Gussie.
And, reminded apparently by the word "what" of the word "Wattle," he
repeated the latter some sixteen times with a rising inflection.

"Wattle, Wattle, Wattle," he concluded. "Right-ho. Push on."

But the bearded bloke had shot his bolt. He stood there, licked at last;
and, watching him closely, I could see that he was now at the crossroads.
I could spot what he was thinking as clearly as if he had confided it to
my personal ear. He wanted to sit down and call it a day, I mean, but the
thought that gave him pause was that, if he did, he must then either
uncork Gussie or take the Fink-Nottle speech as read and get straight on
to the actual prize-giving.

It was a dashed tricky thing, of course, to have to decide on the spur of
the moment. I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds
who are trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven't the
foggiest as to what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the
other hand, it may not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel,
no doubt, if, having split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up
in smoke and himself torn limb from limb.

So with the bearded bloke. Whether he was abreast of the inside facts in
Gussie's case, I don't know, but it was obvious to him by this time that
he had run into something pretty hot. Trial gallops had shown that Gussie
had his own way of doing things. Those interruptions had been enough to
prove to the perspicacious that here, seated on the platform at the big
binge of the season, was one who, if pushed forward to make a speech,
might let himself go in a rather epoch-making manner.

On the other hand, chain him up and put a green-baize cloth over him, and
where were you? The proceeding would be over about half an hour too soon.

It was, as I say, a difficult problem to have to solve, and, left to
himself, I don't know what conclusion he would have come to. Personally,
I think he would have played it safe. As it happened, however, the thing
was taken out of his hands, for at this moment, Gussie, having stretched
his arms and yawned a bit, switched on that pebble-beached smile again
and tacked down to the edge of the platform.

"Speech," he said affably.

He then stood with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, waiting
for the applause to die down.

It was some time before this happened, for he had got a very fine hand
indeed. I suppose it wasn't of ten that the boys of Market Snodsbury
Grammar School came across a man public-spirited enough to call their
head master a silly ass, and they showed their appreciation in no
uncertain manner. Gussie may have been one over the eight, but as far as
the majority of those present were concerned he was sitting on top of the
world.

"Boys," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and boys, I do not
detain you long, but I suppose on this occasion to feel compelled to say
a few auspicious words; Ladies--and boys and gentlemen--we have all
listened with interest to the remarks of our friend here who forgot to
shave this morning--I don't know his name, but then he didn't know
mine--Fitz-Wattle, I mean, absolutely absurd--which squares things up a
bit--and we are all sorry that the Reverend What-ever-he-was-called should
be dying of adenoids, but after all, here today, gone tomorrow, and all
flesh is as grass, and what not, but that wasn't what I wanted to say.
What I wanted to say was this--and I say it confidently--without fear of
contradiction--I say, in short, I am happy to be here on this auspicious
occasion and I take much pleasure in kindly awarding the prizes,
consisting of the handsome books you see laid out on that table. As
Shakespeare says, there are sermons in books, stones in the running
brooks, or, rather, the other way about, and there you have it in a
nutshell."

It went well, and I wasn't surprised. I couldn't quite follow some of it,
but anybody could see that it was real ripe stuff, and I was amazed that
even the course of treatment he had been taking could have rendered so
normally tongue-tied a dumb brick as Gussie capable of it.

It just shows, what any member of Parliament will tell you, that if you
want real oratory, the preliminary noggin is essential. Unless pie-eyed,
you cannot hope to grip.

"Gentlemen," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and, of course,
boys, what a beautiful world this is. A beautiful world, full of
happiness on every side. Let me tell you a little story. Two Irishmen,
Pat and Mike, were walking along Broadway, and one said to the other,
'Begorrah, the race is not always to the swift,' and the other replied,
'Faith and begob, education is a drawing out, not a putting in.'"

I must say it seemed to me the rottenest story I had ever heard, and I
was surprised that Jeeves should have considered it worth while shoving
into a speech. However, when I taxed him with this later, he said that
Gussie had altered the plot a good deal, and I dare say that accounts for
it.

At any rate, that was the _conte_ as Gussie told it, and when I say that
it got a very fair laugh, you will understand what a popular favourite he
had become with the multitude. There might be a bearded bloke or so on
the platform and a small section in the second row who were wishing the
speaker would conclude his remarks and resume his seat, but the audience
as a whole was for him solidly.

There was applause, and a voice cried: "Hear, hear!"

"Yes," said Gussie, "it is a beautiful world. The sky is blue, the birds
are singing, there is optimism everywhere. And why not, boys and ladies
and gentlemen? I'm happy, you're happy, we're all happy, even the meanest
Irishman that walks along Broadway. Though, as I say, there were two of
them--Pat and Mike, one drawing out, the other putting in. I should like
you boys, taking the time from me, to give three cheers for this
beautiful world. All together now."

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