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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 42 of 46


It shows how much the ghastly blow I had received had shaken me when I
say that, instead of dismissing the proposal with a curt "Tchah!" or
anything like that, I found myself speculating as to whether there might
not be something in it, after all.

When he had first mooted this fire-alarm scheme of his, I had sat upon
it, if you remember, with the maximum of promptitude and vigour. "Rotten"
was the adjective I had employed to describe it, and you may recall that
I mused a bit sadly, considering the idea conclusive proof of the general
breakdown of a once fine mind. But now it somehow began to look as if it
might have possibilities. The fact of the matter was that I had about
reached the stage where I was prepared to try anything once, however
goof y.

"Just run through that wheeze again, Jeeves," I said thoughtfully. "I
remember thinking it cuckoo, but it may be that I missed some of the
finer shades."

"Your criticism of it at the time, sir, was that it was too elaborate,
but I do not think it is so in reality. As I see it, sir, the occupants
of the house, hearing the fire bell ring, will suppose that a
conflagration has broken out."

I nodded. One could follow the train of thought.

"Yes, that seems reasonable."

"Whereupon Mr. Glossop will hasten to save Miss Angela, while Mr.
Fink-Nottle performs the same of fice for Miss Bassett."

"Is that based on psychology?"

"Yes, sir. Possibly you may recollect that it was an axiom of the late
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, that the
instinct of everyone, upon an alarm of fire, is to save the object
dearest to them."

"It seems to me that there is a grave danger of seeing Tuppy come out
carrying a steak-and-kidney pie, but resume, Jeeves, resume. You think
that this would clean everything up?"

"The relations of the two young couples could scarcely continue distant
after such an occurrence, sir."

"Perhaps you're right. But, dash it, if we go ringing fire bells in the
night watches, shan't we scare half the domestic staff into fits? There
is one of the housemaids--Jane, I believe--who already skips like the
high hills if I so much as come on her unexpectedly round a corner."

"A neurotic girl, sir, I agree. I have noticed her. But by acting
promptly we should avoid such a contingency. The entire staff, with the
exception of Monsieur Anatole, will be at the ball at Kingham Manor
tonight."

"of course. That just shows the condition this thing has reduced me to.
Forget my own name next. Well, then, let's just try to envisage. Bong
goes the bell. Gussie rushes and grabs the Bassett.... Wait. Why
shouldn't she simply walk downstairs?"

"You are overlooking the effect of sudden alarm on the feminine
temperament, sir."

"That's true."

"Miss Bassett's impulse, I would imagine, sir, would be to leap from her
window."

"Well, that's worse. We don't want her spread out in a sort of _purée_ on
the lawn. It seems to me that the flaw in this scheme of yours, Jeeves,
is that it's going to litter the garden with mangled corpses."

"No, sir. You will recall that Mr. Travers's fear of burglars has caused
him to have stout bars fixed to all the windows."

"of course, yes. Well, it sounds all right," I said, though still a bit
doubtfully. "Quite possibly it may come of f. But I have a feeling that it
will slip up somewhere. However, I am in no position to cavil at even a
100 to 1 shot. I will adopt this policy of yours, Jeeves, though, as I
say, with misgivings. At what hour would you suggest bonging the bell?"

"Not before midnight, sir."

"That is to say, some time after midnight."

"Yes, sir."

"Right-ho, then. At 12.30 on the dot, I will bong."

"Very good, sir."

 

-22-

I don't know why it is, but there's something about the rural districts
after dark that always has a rummy effect on me. In London I can stay out
till all hours and come home with the milk without a tremor, but put me
in the garden of a country house after the strength of the company has
gone to roost and the place is shut up, and a sort of goose-fleshy
feeling steals over me. The night wind stirs the tree-tops, twigs crack,
bushes rustle, and before I know where I am, the morale has gone phut and
I'm expecting the family ghost to come sneaking up behind me, making
groaning noises. Dashed unpleasant, the whole thing, and if you think it
improves matters to know that you are shortly about to ring the loudest
fire bell in England and start an all-hands-to-the-pumps panic in that
quiet, darkened house, you err.

I knew all about the Brinkley Court fire bell. The dickens of a row it
makes. Uncle Tom, in addition to not liking burglars, is a bloke who has
always objected to the idea of being cooked in his sleep, so when he
bought the place he saw to it that the fire bell should be something that
might give you heart failure, but which you couldn't possibly mistake for
the drowsy chirping of a sparrow in the ivy.

When I was a kid and spent my holidays at Brinkley, we used to have fire
drills after closing time, and many is the night I've had it jerk me out
of the dreamless like the Last Trump.

I confess that the recollection of what this bell could do when it
buckled down to it gave me pause as I stood that night at 12.30 p.m.
prompt beside the outhouse where it was located. The sight of the rope
against the whitewashed wall and the thought of the bloodsome uproar
which was about to smash the peace of the night into hash served to
deepen that rummy feeling to which I have alluded.

Moreover, now that I had had time to meditate upon it, I was more than
ever defeatist about this scheme of Jeeves's.

Jeeves seemed to take it for granted that Gussie and Tuppy, faced with a
hideous fate, would have no thought beyond saving the Bassett and Angela.

I could not bring myself to share his sunny confidence.

I mean to say, I know how moments when they're faced with a hideous fate
affect chaps. I remember Freddie Widgeon, one of the most chivalrous
birds in the Drones, telling me how there was an alarm of fire once at a
seaside hotel where he was staying and, so far from rushing about saving
women, he was down the escape within ten seconds of the kick-of f, his
mind concerned with but one thing--viz., the personal well-being of
F. Widgeon.

As far as any idea of doing the delicately nurtured a bit of good went,
he tells me, he was prepared to stand underneath and catch them in
blankets, but no more.

Why, then, should this not be so with Augustus Fink-Nottle and Hildebrand
Glossop?

Such were my thoughts as I stood toying with the rope, and I believe I
should have turned the whole thing up, had it not been that at this
juncture there floated into my mind a picture of the Bassett hearing that
bell for the first time. Coming as a wholly new experience, it would
probably startle her into a decline.

And so agreeable was this reflection that I waited no longer, but seized
the rope, braced the feet and snapped into it.

Well, as I say, I hadn't been expecting that bell to hush things up to
any great extent. Nor did it. The last time I had heard it, I had been in
my room on the other side of the house, and even so it had hoiked me out
of bed as if something had exploded under me. Standing close to it like
this, I got the full force and meaning of the thing, and I've never heard
anything like it in my puff.

I rather enjoy a bit of noise, as a general rule. I remember Cats-meat
Potter-Pirbright bringing a police rattle into the Drones one night and
loosing it off behind my chair, and I just lay back and closed my eyes
with a pleasant smile, like someone in a box at the opera. And the same
applies to the time when my Aunt Agatha's son, young Thos., put a match
to the parcel of Guy Fawkes Day fireworks to see what would happen.

But the Brinkley Court fire bell was too much for me. I gave about half a
dozen tugs, and then, feeling that enough was enough, sauntered round to
the front lawn to ascertain what solid results had been achieved.

Brinkley Court had given of its best. A glance told me that we were
playing to capacity. The eye, roving to and fro, noted here Uncle Tom in
a purple dressing gown, there Aunt Dahlia in the old blue and yellow. It
also fell upon Anatole, Tuppy, Gussie, Angela, the Bassett and Jeeves, in
the order named. There they all were, present and correct.

But--and this was what caused me immediate concern--I could detect no
sign whatever that there had been any rescue work going on.

What I had been hoping, of course, was to see Tuppy bending solicitously
over Angela in one corner, while Gussie fanned the Bassett with a towel
in the other. Instead of which, the Bassett was one of the group which
included Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom and seemed to be busy trying to make
Anatole see the bright side, while Angela and Gussie were, respectively,
leaning against the sundial with a peeved look and sitting on the grass
rubbing a barked shin. Tuppy was walking up and down the path, all by
himself.

A disturbing picture, you will admit. It was with a rather imperious
gesture that I summoned Jeeves to my side.

"Well, Jeeves?"

"Sir?"

I eyed him sternly. "Sir?" forsooth!

"It's no good saying 'Sir?' Jeeves. Look round you. See for yourself.
Your scheme has proved a bust."

"Certainly it would appear that matters have not arranged themselves
quite as we anticipated, sir."

"We?"

"As I had anticipated, sir."

"That's more like it. Didn't I tell you it would be a flop?"

"I remember that you did seem dubious, sir."

"Dubious is no word for it, Jeeves. I hadn't a scrap of faith in the idea
from the start. When you first mooted it, I said it was rotten, and I was
right. I'm not blaming you, Jeeves. It is not your fault that you have
sprained your brain. But after this--forgive me if I hurt your feelings,
Jeeves----I shall know better than to allow you to handle any but the
simplest and most elementary problems. It is best to be candid about
this, don't you think? Kindest to be frank and straightforward?"

"Certainly, sir."

"I mean, the surgeon's knife, what?"

"Precisely, sir."

"I consider----"

"If you will pardon me for interrupting you, sir, I fancy Mrs. Travers is
endeavouring to attract your attention."

And at this moment a ringing "Hoy!" which could have proceeded only from
the relative in question, assured me that his view was correct.

"Just step this way a moment, Attila, if you don't mind," boomed that
well-known--and under certain conditions, well-loved--voice, and I moved
over.

I was not feeling unmixedly at my ease. For the first time it was
beginning to steal upon me that I had not prepared a really good story in
support of my questionable behaviour in ringing fire bells at such an
hour, and I have known Aunt Dahlia to express herself with a hearty
freedom upon far smaller provocation.

She exhibited, however, no signs of violence. More a sort of frozen calm,
if you know what I mean. You could see that she was a woman who had
suffered.

"Well, Bertie, dear," she said, "here we all are."

"Quite," I replied guardedly.

"Nobody missing, is there?"

"I don't think so."

"Splendid. So much healthier for us out in the open like this than
frowsting in bed. I had just dropped off when you did your bell-ringing
act. For it was you, my sweet child, who rang that bell, was it not?"

"I did ring the bell, yes."

"Any particular reason, or just a whim?"

"I thought there was a fire."

"What gave you that impression, dear?"

"I thought I saw flames."

"Where, darling? Tell Aunt Dahlia."

"In one of the windows."

"I see. So we have all been dragged out of bed and scared rigid because
you have been seeing things."

Here Uncle Tom made a noise like a cork coming out of a bottle, and
Anatole, whose moustache had hit a new low, said something about "some
apes" and, if I am not mistaken, a "_rogommier_"--whatever that is.

"I admit I was mistaken. I am sorry."

"Don't apologize, ducky. Can't you see how pleased we all are? What were
you doing out here, anyway?"

"Just taking a stroll."

"I see. And are you proposing to continue your stroll?"

"No, I think I'll go in now."

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