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Right Ho, Jeeves

By P. G. WODEHOUSE 1922

Page 44 of 46


And so it was arranged. Presently I was moving sombrely off through the
darkness, Jeeves at my side, Aunt Dahlia calling after me something about
trying to imagine myself the man who brought the good news from Ghent to
Aix. The first I had heard of the chap.

"So, Jeeves," I said, as we reached the shed, and my voice was cold and
bitter, "this is what your great scheme has accomplished! Tuppy, Angela,
Gussie and the Bassett not on speaking terms, and self faced with an
eight-mile ride----"

"Nine, I believe, sir."

"--a nine-mile ride, and another nine-mile ride back."

"I am sorry, sir."

"No good being sorry now. Where is this foul bone-shaker?"

"I will bring it out, sir."

He did so. I eyed it sourly.

"Where's the lamp?"

"I fear there is no lamp, sir."

"No lamp?"

"No, sir."

"But I may come a fearful stinker without a lamp. Suppose I barge into
something."

I broke off and eyed him frigidly.

"You smile, Jeeves. The thought amuses you?"

"I beg your pardon, sir. I was thinking of a tale my Uncle Cyril used to
tell me as a child. An absurd little story, sir, though I confess that I
have always found it droll. According to my Uncle Cyril, two men named
Nicholls and Jackson set out to ride to Brighton on a tandem bicycle, and
were so unfortunate as to come into collision with a brewer's van. And
when the rescue party arrived on the scene of the accident, it was
discovered that they had been hurled together with such force that it was
impossible to sort them out at all adequately. The keenest eye could not
discern which portion of the fragments was Nicholls and which Jackson. So
they collected as much as they could, and called it Nixon. I remember
laughing very much at that story when I was a child, sir."

I had to pause a moment to master my feelings.

"You did, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

"You thought it funny?"

"Yes, sir."

"And your Uncle Cyril thought it funny?"

"Yes, sir."

"Golly, what a family! Next time you meet your Uncle Cyril, Jeeves, you
can tell him from me that his sense of humour is morbid and unpleasant."

"He is dead, sir."

"Thank heaven for that.... Well, give me the blasted machine."

"Very good, sir."

"Are the tyres inflated?"

"Yes, sir."

"The nuts firm, the brakes in order, the sprockets running true with the
differential gear?"

"Yes, sir."

"Right ho, Jeeves."

In Tuppy's statement that, when at the University of Oxford, I had been
known to ride a bicycle in the nude about the quadrangle of our mutual
college, there had been, I cannot deny, a certain amount of substance.
Correct, however, though his facts were, so far as they went, he had not
told all. What he had omitted to mention was that I had invariably been
well oiled at the time, and when in that condition a chap is capable of
feats at which in cooler moments his reason would rebel.

Stimulated by the juice, I believe, men have even been known to ride
alligators.

As I started now to pedal out into the great world, I was icily sober,
and the old skill, in consequence, had deserted me entirely. I found
myself wobbling badly, and all the stories I had ever heard of nasty
bicycle accidents came back to me with a rush, headed by Jeeves's Uncle
Cyril's cheery little anecdote about Nicholls and Jackson.

Pounding wearily through the darkness, I found myself at a loss to fathom
the mentality of men like Jeeves's Uncle Cyril. What on earth he could
see funny in a disaster which had apparently involved the complete
extinction of a human creature--or, at any rate, of half a human creature
and half another human creature--was more than I could understand. To me,
the thing was one of the most poignant tragedies that had ever been
brought to my attention, and I have no doubt that I should have continued
to brood over it for quite a time, had my thoughts not been diverted by
the sudden necessity of zigzagging sharply in order to avoid a pig in the
fairway.

For a moment it looked like being real Nicholls-and-Jackson stuff, but,
fortunately, a quick zig on my part, coinciding with an adroit zag on the
part of the pig, enabled me to win through, and I continued my ride safe,
but with the heart fluttering like a captive bird.

The effect of this narrow squeak upon me was to shake the nerve to the
utmost. The fact that pigs were abroad in the night seemed to bring home
to me the perilous nature of my enterprise. It set me thinking of all the
other things that could happen to a man out and about on a velocipede
without a lamp after lighting-up time. In particular, I recalled the
statement of a pal of mine that in certain sections of the rural
districts goats were accustomed to stray across the road to the extent of
their chains, thereby forming about as sound a booby trap as one could
well wish.

He mentioned, I remember, the case of a friend of his whose machine got
entangled with a goat chain and who was dragged seven miles--like
skijoring in Switzerland--so that he was never the same man again. And
there was one chap who ran into an elephant, left over from a travelling
circus.

Indeed, taking it for all in all, it seemed to me that, with the possible
exception of being bitten by sharks, there was virtually no front-page
disaster that could not happen to a fellow, once he had allowed his dear
ones to override his better judgment and shove him out into the great
unknown on a push-bike, and I am not ashamed to confess that, taking it
by and large, the amount of quailing I did from this point on was pretty
considerable.

However, in respect to goats and elephants, I must say things panned out
unexpectedly well.

Oddly enough, I encountered neither. But when you have said that you have
said everything, for in every other way the conditions could scarcely
have been fouler.

Apart from the ceaseless anxiety of having to keep an eye skinned for
elephants, I found myself much depressed by barking dogs, and once I
received a most unpleasant shock when, alighting to consult a signpost, I
saw sitting on top of it an owl that looked exactly like my Aunt Agatha.
So agitated, indeed, had my frame of mind become by this time that I
thought at first it was Aunt Agatha, and only when reason and reflection
told me how alien to her habits it would be to climb signposts and sit on
them, could I pull myself together and overcome the weakness.

In short, what with all this mental disturbance added to the more purely
physical anguish in the billowy portions and the calves and ankles, the
Bertram Wooster who eventually toppled off at the door of Kingham Manor
was a very different Bertram from the gay and insouciant _boulevardier_
of Bond Street and Piccadilly.

Even to one unaware of the inside facts, it would have been evident that
Kingham Manor was throwing its weight about a bit tonight. Lights shone
in the windows, music was in the air, and as I drew nearer my ear
detected the sibilant shuffling of the feet of butlers, footmen,
chauffeurs, parlourmaids, housemaids, tweenies and, I have no doubt,
cooks, who were busily treading the measure. I suppose you couldn't sum
it up much better than by saying that there was a sound of revelry by
night.

The orgy was taking place in one of the ground-floor rooms which had
French windows opening on to the drive, and it was to these French
windows that I now made my way. An orchestra was playing something with a
good deal of zip to it, and under happier conditions I dare say my feet
would have started twitching in time to the melody. But I had sterner
work before me than to stand hoof ing it by myself on gravel drives.

I wanted that back-door key, and I wanted it instanter.

Scanning the throng within, I found it difficult for a while to spot
Seppings. Presently, however, he hove in view, doing fearfully lissom
things in mid-floor. I "Hi-Seppings!"-ed a couple of times, but his mind
was too much on his job to be diverted, and it was only when the swirl of
the dance had brought him within prodding distance of my forefinger that
a quick one to the lower ribs enabled me to claim his attention.

The unexpected buffet caused him to trip over his partner's feet, and it
was with marked austerity that he turned. As he recognized Bertram,
however, coldness melted, to be replaced by astonishment.

"Mr. Wooster!"

I was in no mood for bandying words.

"Less of the 'Mr. Wooster' and more back-door keys," I said curtly. "Give
me the key of the back door, Seppings."

He did not seem to grasp the gist.

"The key of the back door, sir?"

"Precisely. The Brinkley Court back-door key."

"But it is at the Court, sir."

I clicked the tongue, annoyed.

"Don't be frivolous, my dear old butler," I said. "I haven't ridden nine
miles on a push-bike to listen to you trying to be funny. You've got it
in your trousers pocket."

"No, sir. I left it with Mr. Jeeves."

"You did--what?"

"Yes, sir. Before I came away. Mr. Jeeves said that he wished to walk in
the garden before retiring for the night. He was to place the key on the
kitchen window-sill."

I stared at the man dumbly. His eye was clear, his hand steady. He had
none of the appearance of a butler who has had a couple.

"You mean that all this while the key has been in Jeeves's possession?"

"Yes, sir."

I could speak no more. Emotion had overmastered my voice. I was at a loss
and not abreast; but of one thing, it seemed to me, there could be no
doubt. For some reason, not to be fathomed now, but most certainly to be
gone well into as soon as I had pushed this infernal sewing-machine of
mine over those nine miles of lonely, country road and got within
striking distance of him, Jeeves had been doing the dirty. Knowing that
at any given moment he could have solved the whole situation, he had kept
Aunt Dahlia and others roosting out on the front lawn _en déshabille_
and, worse still, had stood calmly by and watched his young employer set
out on a wholly unnecessary eighteen-mile bicycle ride.

I could scarcely believe such a thing of him. of his Uncle Cyril, yes.
With that distorted sense of humour of his, Uncle Cyril might quite
conceivably have been capable of such conduct. But that it should be
Jeeves--

I leaped into the saddle and, stifling the cry of agony which rose to the
lips as the bruised person touched the hard leather, set out on the
homeward journey.

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