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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 34 of 46


Presently the dust settled down and the plaster stopped falling from the
ceiling, and he went on.

"People who say it isn't a beautiful world don't know what they are
talking about. Driving here in the car today to award the kind prizes, I
was reluctantly compelled to tick off my host on this very point. Old Tom
Travers. You will see him sitting there in the second row next to the
large lady in beige."

He pointed helpfully, and the hundred or so Market Snodsburyians who
craned their necks in the direction indicated were able to observe Uncle
Tom blushing prettily.

"I ticked him off properly, the poor fish. He expressed the opinion that
the world was in a deplorable state. I said, 'Don't talk rot, old Tom
Travers.' 'I am not accustomed to talk rot,' he said. 'Then, for a
beginner,' I said, 'you do it dashed well.' And I think you will admit,
boys and ladies and gentlemen, that that was telling him."

The audience seemed to agree with him. The point went big. The voice that
had said, "Hear, hear" said "Hear, hear" again, and my corn chandler
hammered the floor vigorously with a large-size walking stick.

"Well, boys," resumed Gussie, having shot his cuffs and smirked horribly,
"this is the end of the summer term, and many of you, no doubt, are
leaving the school. And I don't blame you, because there's a froust in
here you could cut with a knife. You are going out into the great world.
Soon many of you will be walking along Broadway. And what I want to
impress upon you is that, however much you may suffer from adenoids, you
must all use every effort to prevent yourselves becoming pessimists and
talking rot like old Tom Travers. There in the second row. The fellow
with a face rather like a walnut."

He paused to allow those wishing to do so to refresh themselves with
another look at Uncle Tom, and I found myself musing in some little
perplexity. Long association with the members of the Drones has put me
pretty well in touch with the various ways in which an overdose of the
blushful Hippocrene can take the individual, but I had never seen anyone
react quite as Gussie was doing.

There was a snap about his work which I had never witnessed before, even
in Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps on New Year's Eve.

Jeeves, when I discussed the matter with him later, said it was something
to do with inhibitions, if I caught the word correctly, and the
suppression of , I think he said, the ego. What he meant, I gathered, was
that, owing to the fact that Gussie had just completed a five years'
stretch of blameless seclusion among the newts, all the goof iness which
ought to have been spread out thin over those five years and had been
bottled up during that period came to the surface on this occasion in a
lump--or, if you prefer to put it that way, like a tidal wave.

There may be something in this. Jeeves generally knows.

Anyway, be that as it may, I was dashed glad I had had the shrewdness to
keep out of that second row. It might be unworthy of the prestige of a
Wooster to squash in among the proletariat in the standing-room-only
section, but at least, I felt, I was out of the danger zone. So
thoroughly had Gussie got it up his nose by now that it seemed to me that
had he sighted me he might have become personal about even an old school
friend.

"If there's one thing in the world I can't stand," proceeded Gussie,
"it's a pessimist. Be optimists, boys. You all know the difference
between an optimist and a pessimist. An optimist is a man who--well, take
the case of two Irishmen walking along Broadway. One is an optimist and
one is a pessimist, just as one's name is Pat and the other's Mike....
Why, hullo, Bertie; I didn't know you were here."

Too late, I endeavoured to go to earth behind the chandler, only to
discover that there was no chandler there. Some appointment, suddenly
remembered--possibly a promise to his wife that he would be home to
tea--had caused him to ooze away while my attention was elsewhere,
leaving me right out in the open.

Between me and Gussie, who was now pointing in an of fensive manner, there
was nothing but a sea of interested faces looking up at me.

"Now, there," boomed Gussie, continuing to point, "is an instance of what
I mean. Boys and ladies and gentlemen, take a good look at that object
standing up there at the back--morning coat, trousers as worn, quiet grey
tie, and carnation in buttonhole--you can't miss him. Bertie Wooster,
that is, and as foul a pessimist as ever bit a tiger. I tell you I
despise that man. And why do I despise him? Because, boys and ladies and
gentlemen, he is a pessimist. His attitude is defeatist. When I told him
I was going to address you this afternoon, he tried to dissuade me. And
do you know why he tried to dissuade me? Because he said my trousers
would split up the back."

The cheers that greeted this were the loudest yet. Anything about
splitting trousers went straight to the simple hearts of the young
scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Two in the row in front of
me turned purple, and a small lad with freckles seated beside them asked
me for my autograph.

"Let me tell you a story about Bertie Wooster."

A Wooster can stand a good deal, but he cannot stand having his name
bandied in a public place. Picking my feet up sof tly, I was in the very
process of executing a quiet sneak for the door, when I perceived that
the bearded bloke had at last decided to apply the closure.

Why he hadn't done so before is beyond me. Spell-bound, I take it. And,
of course, when a chap is going like a breeze with the public, as Gussie
had been, it's not so dashed easy to chip in. However, the prospect of
hearing another of Gussie's anecdotes seemed to have done the trick.
Rising rather as I had risen from my bench at the beginning of that
painful scene with Tuppy in the twilight, he made a leap for the table,
snatched up a book and came bearing down on the speaker.

He touched Gussie on the arm, and Gussie, turning sharply and seeing a
large bloke with a beard apparently about to bean him with a book, sprang
back in an attitude of self-defence.

"Perhaps, as time is getting on, Mr. Fink-Nottle, we had better----"

"Oh, ah," said Gussie, getting the trend. He relaxed. "The prizes, eh? of
course, yes. Right-ho. Yes, might as well be shoving along with it.
What's this one?"

"Spelling and dictation--P.K. Purvis," announced the bearded bloke.

"Spelling and dictation--P.K. Purvis," echoed Gussie, as if he were
calling coals. "Forward, P.K. Purvis."

Now that the whistle had been blown on his speech, it seemed to me that
there was no longer any need for the strategic retreat which I had been
planning. I had no wish to tear myself away unless I had to. I mean, I
had told Jeeves that this binge would be fraught with interest, and it
was fraught with interest. There was a fascination about Gussie's methods
which gripped and made one reluctant to pass the thing up provided
personal innuendoes were steered clear of . I decided, accordingly, to
remain, and presently there was a musical squeaking and P.K. Purvis
climbed the platform.

The spelling-and-dictation champ was about three foot six in his
squeaking shoes, with a pink face and sandy hair. Gussie patted his hair.
He seemed to have taken an immediate fancy to the lad.

"You P.K. Purvis?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"It's a beautiful world, P.K. Purvis."

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Ah, you've noticed it, have you? Good. You married, by any chance?"

"Sir, no, sir."

"Get married, P.K. Purvis," said Gussie earnestly. "It's the only life
... Well, here's your book. Looks rather bilge to me from a glance at the
title page, but, such as it is, here you are."

P.K. Purvis squeaked off amidst sporadic applause, but one could not fail
to note that the sporadic was followed by a rather strained silence. It
was evident that Gussie was striking something of a new note in Market
Snodsbury scholastic circles. Looks were exchanged between parent and
parent. The bearded bloke had the air of one who has drained the bitter
cup. As for Aunt Dahlia, her demeanour now told only too clearly that her
last doubts had been resolved and her verdict was in. I saw her whisper
to the Bassett, who sat on her right, and the Bassett nodded sadly and
looked like a fairy about to shed a tear and add another star to the
Milky Way.

Gussie, after the departure of P.K. Purvis, had fallen into a sort of
daydream and was standing with his mouth open and his hands in his
pockets. Becoming abruptly aware that a fat kid in knickerbockers was at
his elbow, he started violently.

"Hullo!" he said, visibly shaken. "Who are you?"

"This," said the bearded bloke, "is R.V. Smethurst."

"What's he doing here?" asked Gussie suspiciously.

"You are presenting him with the drawing prize, Mr. Fink-Nottle."

This apparently struck Gussie as a reasonable explanation. His face
cleared.

"That's right, too," he said.... "Well, here it is, cocky. You of f?" he
said, as the kid prepared to withdraw.

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Wait, R.V. Smethurst. Not so fast. Before you go, there is a question I
wish to ask you."

But the beard bloke's aim now seemed to be to rush the ceremonies a bit.
He hustled R.V. Smethurst off stage rather like a chucker-out in a pub
regretfully ejecting an old and respected customer, and starting paging
G.G. Simmons. A moment later the latter was up and coming, and conceive
my emotion when it was announced that the subject on which he had clicked
was Scripture knowledge. One of us, I mean to say.

G.G. Simmons was an unpleasant, perky-looking stripling, mostly front
teeth and spectacles, but I gave him a big hand. We Scripture-knowledge
sharks stick together.

Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. There was in his manner, as
he regarded G.G. Simmons, none of the chumminess which had marked it
during his interview with P.K. Purvis or, in a somewhat lesser degree,
with R.V. Smethurst. He was cold and distant.

"Well, G.G. Simmons."

"Sir, yes, sir."

"What do you mean--sir, yes, sir? Dashed silly thing to say. So you've
won the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Yes," said Gussie, "you look just the sort of little tick who would. And
yet," he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, "how are we to know
that this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G.G.
Simmons. What was What's-His-Name--the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you
answer me that, Simmons?"

"Sir, no, sir."

Gussie turned to the bearded bloke.

"Fishy," he said. "Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in
Scripture knowledge."

The bearded bloke passed a hand across his forehead.

"I can assure you, Mr. Fink-Nottle, that every care was taken to ensure a
correct marking and that Simmons outdistanced his competitors by a wide
margin."

"Well, if you say so," said Gussie doubtfully. "All right, G.G. Simmons,
take your prize."

"Sir, thank you, sir."

"But let me tell you that there's nothing to stick on side about in
winning a prize for Scripture knowledge. Bertie Wooster----"

I don't know when I've had a nastier shock. I had been going on the
assumption that, now that they had stopped him making his speech,
Gussie's fangs had been drawn, as you might say. To duck my head down and
resume my edging toward the door was with me the work of a moment.

"Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids' school we
were at together, and you know what he's like. But, of course, Bertie
frankly cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge
trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and
most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such
things were common. If that man's pockets, as he entered the
examination-room, were not stuffed to bursting-point with lists of the
kings of Judah----"

I heard no more. A moment later I was out in God's air, fumbling with a
fevered foot at the self-starter of the old car.

The engine raced. The clutch slid into position. I tooted and drove of f.

My ganglions were still vibrating as I ran the car into the stables of
Brinkley Court, and it was a much shaken Bertram who tottered up to his
room to change into something loose. Having donned flannels, I lay down
on the bed for a bit, and I suppose I must have dozed of f, for the next
thing I remember is finding Jeeves at my side.

I sat up. "My tea, Jeeves?"

"No, sir. It is nearly dinner-time."

The mists cleared away.

"I must have been asleep."

"Yes, sir."

"Nature taking its toll of the exhausted frame."

"Yes, sir."

"And enough to make it."

"Yes, sir."

"And now it's nearly dinner-time, you say? All right. I am in no mood for
dinner, but I suppose you had better lay out the clothes."

"It will not be necessary, sir. The company will not be dressing tonight.
A cold collation has been set out in the dining-room."

"Why's that?"

"It was Mrs. Travers's wish that this should be done in order to minimize
the work for the staff, who are attending a dance at Sir Percival
Stretchley-Budd's residence tonight."

"of course, yes. I remember. My Cousin Angela told me. Tonight's the
night, what? You going, Jeeves?"

"No, sir. I am not very fond of this form of entertainment in the rural
districts, sir."

"I know what you mean. These country binges are all the same. A piano,
one fiddle, and a floor like sandpaper. Is Anatole going? Angela hinted
not."

"Miss Angela was correct, sir. Monsieur Anatole is in bed."

"Temperamental blighters, these Frenchmen."

"Yes, sir."

There was a pause.

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