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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 40 of 46


"Give me a drink, Bertie."

"What sort?"

"Any sort, so long as it's strong."

Approach Bertram Wooster along these lines, and you catch him at his
best. St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could
not have bustled about more assiduously. I filled the order, and for some
moments nothing was to be heard but the sloshing sound of an aunt
restoring her tissues.

"Shove it down, Aunt Dahlia," I said sympathetically. "These things take
it out of one, don't they? You've had a toughish time, no doubt, soothing
Anatole," I proceeded, helping myself to anchovy paste on toast.
"Everything pretty smooth now, I trust?"

She gazed at me in a long, lingering sort of way, her brow wrinkled as if
in thought.

"Attila," she said at length. "That's the name. Attila, the Hun."

"Eh?"

"I was trying to think who you reminded me of . Somebody who went about
strewing ruin and desolation and breaking up homes which, until he came
along, had been happy and peaceful. Attila is the man. It's amazing." she
said, drinking me in once more. "To look at you, one would think you were
just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot--certifiable, perhaps, but quite
harmless. Yet, in reality, you are worse a scourge than the Black Death.
I tell you, Bertie, when I contemplate you I seem to come up against all
the underlying sorrow and horror of life with such a thud that I feel as
if I had walked into a lamp post."

Pained and surprised, I would have spoken, but the stuff I had thought
was anchovy paste had turned out to be something far more gooey and
adhesive. It seemed to wrap itself round the tongue and impede utterance
like a gag. And while I was still endeavouring to clear the vocal cords
for action, she went on:

"Do you realize what you started when you sent that Spink-Bottle man down
here? As regards his getting blotto and turning the prize-giving
ceremonies at Market Snodsbury Grammar School into a sort of two-reel
comic film, I will say nothing, for frankly I enjoyed it. But when he
comes leering at Anatole through skylights, just after I had with
infinite pains and tact induced him to withdraw his notice, and makes him
so temperamental that he won't hear of staying on after tomorrow----"

The paste stuff gave way. I was able to speak:

"What?"

"Yes, Anatole goes tomorrow, and I suppose poor old Tom will have
indigestion for the rest of his life. And that is not all. I have just
seen Angela, and she tells me she is engaged to this Bottle."

"Temporarily, yes," I had to admit.

"Temporarily be blowed. She's definitely engaged to him and talks with a
sort of hideous coolness of getting married in October. So there it is.
If the prophet Job were to walk into the room at this moment, I could sit
swapping hard-luck stories with him till bedtime. Not that Job was in my
class."

"He had boils."

"Well, what are boils?"

"Dashed painful, I understand."

"Nonsense. I'd take all the boils on the market in exchange for my
troubles. Can't you realize the position? I've lost the best cook to
England. My husband, poor soul, will probably die of dyspepsia. And my
only daughter, for whom I had dreamed such a wonderful future, is engaged
to be married to an inebriated newt fancier. And you talk about boils!"

I corrected her on a small point:

"I don't absolutely talk about boils. I merely mentioned that Job had
them. Yes, I agree with you, Aunt Dahlia, that things are not looking too
oojah-cum-spiff at the moment, but be of good cheer. A Wooster is seldom
baffled for more than the nonce."

"You rather expect to be coming along shortly with another of your
schemes?"

"At any minute."

She sighed resignedly.

"I thought as much. Well, it needed but this. I don't see how things
could possibly be worse than they are, but no doubt you will succeed in
making them so. Your genius and insight will find the way. Carry on,
Bertie. Yes, carry on. I am past caring now. I shall even find a faint
interest in seeing into what darker and prof ounder abysses of hell you
can plunge this home. Go to it, lad.... What's that stuff you're eating?"

"I find it a little difficult to classify. Some sort of paste on toast.
Rather like glue flavoured with beef extract."

"Gimme," said Aunt Dahlia listlessly.

"Be careful how you chew," I advised. "It sticketh closer than a
brother.... Yes, Jeeves?"

The man had materialized on the carpet. Absolutely noiseless, as usual.

"A note for you, sir."

"A note for me, Jeeves?"

"A note for you, sir."

"From whom, Jeeves?"

"From Miss Bassett, sir."

"From whom, Jeeves?"

"From Miss Bassett, sir."

"From Miss Bassett, Jeeves?"

"From Miss Bassett, sir."

At this point, Aunt Dahlia, who had taken one nibble at her
whatever-it-was-on-toast and laid it down, begged us--a little fretfully,
I thought--for heaven's sake to cut out the cross-talk vaudeville stuff,
as she had enough to bear already without having to listen to us doing
our imitation of the Two Macs. Always willing to oblige, I dismissed
Jeeves with a nod, and he flickered for a moment and was gone. Many a
spectre would have been less slippy.

"But what," I mused, toying with the envelope, "can this female be
writing to me about?"

"Why not open the damn thing and see?"

"A very excellent idea," I said, and did so.

"And if you are interested in my movements," proceeded Aunt Dahlia,
heading for the door, "I propose to go to my room, do some Yogi deep
breathing, and try to forget."

"Quite," I said absently, skimming p. l. And then, as I turned over, a
sharp howl broke from my lips, causing Aunt Dahlia to shy like a startled
mustang.

"Don't do it!" she exclaimed, quivering in every limb.

"Yes, but dash it----"

"What a pest you are, you miserable object," she sighed. "I remember
years ago, when you were in your cradle, being left alone with you one
day and you nearly swallowed your rubber comforter and started turning
purple. And I, ass that I was, took it out and saved your life. Let me
tell you, young Bertie, it will go very hard with you if you ever swallow
a rubber comforter again when only I am by to aid."

"But, dash it!" I cried. "Do you know what's happened? Madeline Bassett
says she's going to marry me!"

"I hope it keeps fine for you," said the relative, and passed from the
room looking like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.

 

-21-

I don't suppose I was looking so dashed unlike something out of an Edgar
Allan Poe story myself, for, as you can readily imagine, the news item
which I have just recorded had got in amongst me properly. If the
Bassett, in the belief that the Wooster heart had long been hers and was
waiting ready to be scooped in on demand, had decided to take up her
option, I should, as a man of honour and sensibility, have no choice but
to come across and kick in. The matter was obviously not one that could
be straightened out with a curt _nolle prosequi_. All the evidence,
therefore, seemed to point to the fact that the doom had come upon me
and, what was more, had come to stay.

And yet, though it would be idle to pretend that my grip on the situation
was quite the grip I would have liked it to be, I did not despair of
arriving at a solution. A lesser man, caught in this awful snare, would
no doubt have thrown in the towel at once and ceased to struggle; but the
whole point about the Woosters is that they are not lesser men.

By way of a start, I read the note again. Not that I had any hope that a
second perusal would enable me to place a different construction on its
contents, but it helped to fill in while the brain was limbering up. I
then, to assist thought, had another go at the fruit salad, and in
addition ate a slice of sponge cake. And it was as I passed on to the
cheese that the machinery started working. I saw what had to be done.

To the question which had been exercising the mind--viz., can Bertram
cope?--I was now able to reply with a confident "Absolutely."

The great wheeze on these occasions of dirty work at the crossroads is
not to lose your head but to keep cool and try to find the ringleaders.
Once find the ringleaders, and you know where you are.

The ringleader here was plainly the Bassett. It was she who had started
the whole imbroglio by chucking Gussie, and it was clear that before
anything could be done to solve and clarify, she must be induced to
revise her views and take him on again. This would put Angela back into
circulation, and that would cause Tuppy to simmer down a bit, and then we
could begin to get somewhere.

I decided that as soon as I had had another morsel of cheese I would seek
this Bassett out and be pretty eloquent.

And at this moment in she came. I might have foreseen that she would be
turning up shortly. I mean to say, hearts may ache, but if they know that
there is a cold collation set out in the dining-room, they are pretty
sure to come popping in sooner or later.

Her eyes, as she entered the room, were fixed on the salmon mayonnaise,
and she would no doubt have made a bee-line for it and started getting
hers, had I not, in the emotion of seeing her, dropped a glass of the
best with which I was endeavouring to bring about a calmer frame of mind.
The noise caused her to turn, and for an instant embarrassment
supervened. A slight flush mantled the cheek, and the eyes popped a bit.

"Oh!" she said.

I have always found that there is nothing that helps to ease you over one
of these awkward moments like a spot of stage business. Find something to
do with your hands, and it's half the battle. I grabbed a plate and
hastened forward.

"A touch of salmon?"

"Thank you."

"With a suspicion of salad?"

"If you please."

"And to drink? Name the poison."

"I think I would like a little orange juice."

She gave a gulp. Not at the orange juice, I don't mean, because she
hadn't got it yet, but at all the tender associations those two words
provoked. It was as if someone had mentioned spaghetti to the relict of
an Italian organ-grinder. Her face flushed a deeper shade, she registered
anguish, and I saw that it was no longer within the sphere of practical
politics to try to confine the conversation to neutral topics like cold
boiled salmon.

So did she, I imagine, for when I, as a preliminary to getting down to
brass tacks, said "Er," she said "Er," too, simultaneously, the brace of
"Ers" clashing in mid-air.

"I'm sorry."

"I beg your pardon."

"You were saying----"

"You were saying----"

"No, please go on."

"Oh, right-ho."

I straightened the tie, my habit when in this girl's society, and had at
it:

"With reference to yours of even date----"

She flushed again, and took a rather strained forkful of salmon.

"You got my note?"

"Yes, I got your note."

"I gave it to Jeeves to give it to you."

"Yes, he gave it to me. That's how I got it."

There was another silence. And as she was plainly shrinking from talking
turkey, I was reluctantly compelled to do so. I mean, somebody had got
to. Too dashed silly, a male and female in our position simply standing
eating salmon and cheese at one another without a word.

"Yes, I got it all right."

"I see. You got it."

"Yes, I got it. I've just been reading it. And what I was rather wanting
to ask you, if we happened to run into each other, was--well, what about
it?"

"What about it?"

"That's what I say: What about it?"

"But it was quite clear."

"Oh, quite. Perfectly clear. Very well expressed and all that. But--I
mean--Well, I mean, deeply sensible of the honour, and so forth--but----
Well, dash it!"

She had polished off her salmon, and now put the plate down.

"Fruit salad?"

"No, thank you."

"Spot of pie?"

"No, thanks."

"One of those glue things on toast?"

"No, thank you."

She took a cheese straw. I found a cold egg which I had overlooked. Then
I said "I mean to say" just as she said "I think I know", and there was
another collision.

"I beg your pardon."

"I'm sorry."

"Do go on."

"No, you go on."

I waved my cold egg courteously, to indicate that she had the floor, and
she started again:

"I think I know what you are trying to say. You are surprised."

"Yes."

"You are thinking of ----"

"Exactly."

"--Mr. Fink-Nottle."

"The very man."

"You find what I have done hard to understand."

"Absolutely."

"I don't wonder."

"I do."

"And yet it is quite simple."

She took another cheese straw. She seemed to like cheese straws.

"Quite simple, really. I want to make you happy."

"Dashed decent of you."

"I am going to devote the rest of my life to making you happy."

"A very matey scheme."

"I can at least do that. But--may I be quite frank with you, Bertie?"

"Oh, rather."

"Then I must tell you this. I am fond of you. I will marry you. I will do
my best to make you a good wife. But my affection for you can never be
the flamelike passion I felt for Augustus."

"Just the very point I was working round to. There, as you say, is the
snag. Why not chuck the whole idea of hitching up with me? Wash it out
altogether. I mean, if you love old Gussie----"

"No longer."

"Oh, come."

"No. What happened this afternoon has killed my love. A smear of ugliness
has been drawn across a thing of beauty, and I can never feel towards him
as I did."

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