“What ho, what ho, what ho,” said I, to the Chappie with Thistledown Hair.
“What... ho?” he replied.
“Bertie Wooster,” I said, sticking out my hand, as Stephen Black the butler looked on in horror. The Chappie gingerly poked my palm with one long finger. “I say, what a corking party! Think I saw a dress or two my man might heartily object to. Don’t think he’d really like a dress made entirely of weeping eyes, but then again, he always does cut up stiff about the latest fashions.”
“You intrigue me strangely, Bertie,” the Chappie with Thistledown Hair said.
“Why don’t you stay awhile?”
Now, if I’d been in the soup before, I’d lost hold of my crouton and was descending to the bottom of the bowl, with all the mushy veg. I rather hoped Jeeves would be along soon with a ladle.
And now, having said so, I think res’d too much in media, as it were.
It began, as most things do, when Bobbie Wickham got bored.
“Come on, Bertie,” she said, wagging a spellbook at me. “It’ll be fun!"
"Now look here," I said, to Bobbie, Stiffy Byng, and Daphne Braithwaite. “I am willing to do your bidding up to a certain point. Giving you dinner is one thing. Letting myself be used as magical target practice is quite another.”
"Oh please Mr. Wooster," begged Daphne.
Stiffy chimed in, "We need the practice. We haven't been casting spells together since we left St. Monica’s."
"That's not a strong argument in your favor, young Stiffy!" I exclaimed.
Stiffy waved this off. "We won the Theoretical Knowledge Prize our last year. You'd be in the hands of experts."
"It'd be a simple spell," wheedled Daphne.
"You’ll hardly feel a thing!" Bobbie exclaimed. "And if I cast this spell right, mummy will be so delighted she’ll entirely forgive me for wrecking the car. Come on, Bertie.”
"Do let us!" begged Daphne.
"Why can you not do this one, little thing for us?" Stiffy asked. "Do it out of your great friendship for my fiancé Harold."
"Stinker," I said sternly, "is a curate. They don't go in for magic."
"Which is why he wouldn't let us try the spell on him," said Daphne, helpfully. "But you have no profession, Mr. Wooster. Honoria told me that you were a wastrel. You can have no objections."
“Dash it,” I said, but as Jeeves had left for some kind of birthday bash at the Junior Ganymede Club after the pudding had been served, there was noone to protect poor Bertram from the coven. Before I could protest, Bobbie exclaimed that she knew I would never leave a lady in distress, and the three of them cracked open the spell book.
"Remember to multiply and not add this time," Stiffy ordered Daphne. "Got the candles Bobbie?"
"Here," said Bobbie, taking the dinner candles out of the silver holders in a way that would have sorely grieved Jeeves had he been here and not been drinking healths to some octogenarian at his club. "Oh this is fun. Daphne begins as usual?"
"It's better to do it the usual way," opined Daphne. "Since we haven't cast together in ever so long."
"It's just like riding a bicycle or driving a car," said Bobbie, swiping the book out of Stiffy's hands. "You don't forget how to do it."
"Didn't you crash your car?" Stiffy asked, rather nastily.
Before I could get a word in edgewise, Daphne started in on the thing, and Bobbie and Stiffie shoved me into my dressing mirror.
Oddly enough, it didn’t break. Instead, I found myself at the rummiest sort of party. Everyone was in costume, but they were costumes that I still can’t describe without sounding like the loony half of London thinks I am. I moved passed a woman in a dress the color of despair, and another in what looked like a toga of storm clouds. A dark-skinned fellow dressed like a Jane Austen chappie, turned and said, “Sir?”
“What ho,” said I, straightening what had been a perfect butterfly effect a la Jeeves before Bobbie and Stiffie decided that it was oojah-cum-spiff to shove any Wooster they liked through mirrors, instead of letting said Wooster enjoy his post-prandial what’s-it. “The name’s Bertie Wooster.”
He looked at my outstretched hand in mild confusion.
Evidently the party had gotten pretty bosky before I arrived.
The fellow stared at me and said, “I am Stephen Black, Sir Walter Pole's man.”
“Pleasure to meet you. I say, this is an unusual sort of party, isn’t it?”
“You should leave, sir, and leave at once.”
“Er... I would, only I don’t know how I got here--”
“Stephen,” came a Voice. It was one that deserved the capitalization. “Who is your new friend?”
And that’s about where I dropped you at the beginning of this tale. The owner of the Voice springs to my pen as the Chappie with the Thistledown Hair. I’ve tried to explain him or describe him in other ways, but as soon as I start, I find myself staring at a line reading, ‘the Chappie with the Thistledown Hair.’
He gave me to understand that this was his party and I was welcome to stay as long as I liked. It was mostly waltzing, really, but I still couldn’t make heads or tail of it. Nothing seemed to stay put, and everyone was dressed so bally strangely. When I asked for a Charleston, no one seemed to know what they were about. The lady in the storm cloud ensemble obliged me in one, though I had to teach her, and then I was obliged to dance it with even the chaps. They were dressed just as dashed oddly. I mean, if Jeeves cut up stiff about a pair of spats in Old Etonian colors, I’m not sure what he would have made of the waistcoat of butter, or the boa constrictor acting as a boa, or the cravat made of spiders I saw.
“How original you are, Bertie!” exclaimed the Chappie, as we danced a dashed odd Charleston together. “How came you to learn so intriguing a dance?”
I perked up a bit. I had a good story about learning the Charleston, and Bingo’s infatuation with the gal who taught it to me, her infatuation with me, and the inevitable series of bizarre misunderstandings that then ensued. I had everyone around me in such whoops, they were literally rolling on the floor laughing.
I felt dashed odd about it. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is an Old Boy through and through. My favorite aunt Dahlia often begs me to go drown myself in the lake. It’s the right way of showing affection. I’m not quite sure I liked all this open praise. Made a fellow dashed suspicious. What must people really be thinking if they’re gushing about you instead of calling you Attila or sending you on eighteen mile bicycle rides in the dark?
The Chappie sat up and wiped tears from his eyes. “Bertie! You must come again tomorrow night!”
Stephen Black seized my elbow and whispered in the old shell-like, “Sir, do not agree!”
“Oh, er, one doesn’t like to overstay one’s welcome,” I stammered.
“You have a standing invitation to Lost-Hope!” exclaimed the Chappie. “I shall call on you tomorrow night.”
Stephen Black released my elbow and then, as all the others were setting up and starting a sort of group Charleston, said, “Sir-- perhaps you will not be bound as I have. Over there--” gesturing to another Jane Austen costume “--is Lady Pole. I am her butler. Her husband is Sir Walter Pole, MP. We are trapped here. I beg you, sir, not to go to Mr. Norrell, but to Jonathan Strange.”
But he didn’t get another chance to explain. The Chappie whisked him off. Then the Chappie took me back to Berkeley Square, and somehow crammed a rose into my mouth. I would have protested, but I didn’t feel it or see it again. Dashed odd sort of horticulture.
“No passing on the invitation, Bertie,” said the Chappie. “It is an exclusive set.”
“Right-oh,” I said, and stumbled into my living room. I was so dashed confused I didn’t know quite what to do. For one thing, it was the ack emma already, and rather more acky than I was usually awake to see. For another, the three weird non-sisters were gone. For yet another, how was Lost-Hope through my mirror?
I shivered. Young Bobbie, Young Stiffy, and Young Daphne had meddled in they knew not what. Young Betram, it must be admitted, also meddles in he knows not what, but as my aunts have pointed out, by getting up and leaving the house I have meddled in I knew not what.
I bunged myself into my pyjamas and awoke from the dreamless to Jeeves’s gentle cough. “Sir?”
“Mmmnhhh,” said I, articulately. I was feeling rather pipped, for you see, I’d remembered what they taught us in History of Magic at Oxford. Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange were the two magicians who’d bunked up together in a pillar of darkness somewhere in Faerie over a hundred years ago. Why? That was lost in the mists of time, the mists here being the drunken haze in which I passed most of my undergraduate years.
Lady Pole, I now recalled, had been the unlucky stiff Mr. Norrell had raised from the dead back when Napoleon was still deciding whether or not he'd like to add Spain to his collection of European nations. She’d died ages ago- which was just the frozen limit. I mean, really! It's one thing to shove your host smack-dab into Faerie, but to also shove him approximately a century in the past? If the Royal Society ever called me up to ask about the magical abilities of the Triumvirate of Terror, I would have a pretty scathing report to make.
“Sir?” said Jeeves, looking almost disturbed. “I regret that I was absent at my club last evening. As you had put yourself to bed before my arrival home, I did not think you would be needing one of my specials this morning.”
“Nor did I Jeeves,” I replied, as I reverted into a sort of prehistoric goo from which Woosters had emerged several millennia back. “I’ve never felt so bally exhausted in my entire life.”
“No. I’ll tell you Jeeves, if a girl tells you, ‘Oh let me just try a little spell on you Bertie--’ or I suppose a girl wouldn’t be calling you ‘Bertie.’ I think I heard Uncle George’s wife call you ‘Reg’ once.”
“She might have done, sir, as my given name is ‘Reginald.’” He looked slightly embarrassed to have a first name.
I goggled a bit. “Reginald?”
“Er... quite. Well, then. If a girl ever says to you, ‘Reg, old thing, won’t you please let me try just one little spell on you, you won’t even feel it,’ tick her off in the strongest possible terms.”
“The Code of the Woosters,” I continued on, warming to my theme, “said nothing about a preux chevalier letting himself be--” And here I meant to say ‘abducted to the Faerie Kingdom of Lost-Hope about a century previous’ but instead I found myself blithering on about a pair of boots that had been left in a castle somewhere in Faerie.
Jeeves was clearly alarmed. I saw the hairs of his left eyebrow stir. “Sir?”
I furrowed the b. as if I’d been an medieval peasant and wanted to use my plow on my face before testing it on the fields. “Dash it, I’ve gone off track. I meant to say that once upon a time, the nameless slave--” I stopped. There was an odd ringing in my ears, the kind one usually associates with rather squiffy Boat Race nights. “There once was a cathedral in the North of England-- dash it!”
“Allow me to ascertain, sir, if you are feverish?” I felt the Jeevesian hand about the Woosterian f.b. It was rather soothing.
“Hm what, Jeeves? Is the young master feverish?"
“No, sir, but allow me to say that I see a lily on thy brow, with anguish moist and fever dew.”
“Yes!” I said, seizing Jeeves's hand, and nearly upsetting the breakfast tray. “Yes, yes, Jeeves, that’s exactly bally it! La Belle Dame hast me in her bally whastits, only I’m in Mayfair and not in a sedge. What is a sedge?”
“They are a family of monocotyledonous graminoid flowering plants which superficially resemble grasses or rushes. But as the poet Keats inform us, the sedge has withered--”
“Yes, that’s enough about sedges.”
“Let them wither from your mind, too, Jeeves.”
“They have already done so, sir.” He gave a delicate cough, like a lamb amongst non-withered sedge three counties distant. “Might I beg you to release my hand, sir?”
“Eh? Oh! Apologies about that, old thing.” I ran a hand over the metaphorical l. on my b. “But it’s not La Belle Dame it’s--” but again, my mouth ran faster than my mind (not an usual occurrence) and instead I said, “--a funny story, really! When Julius Caesar arrived in England-- dash it! Hang Julius Caesar.”
Jeeves was eyeing me strangely. Then he said, “Sir, was it Miss Wickham to whom you alluded earlier?”
I wilted in relief. “Yes! Well, her, Stiffy Byng, and Daphne Braithwaite.”
“I see, sir. You are no doubt discombobulated from Miss Wickham’s spell casting. I shall say you are not at home to visitors, sir.”
“Yes, but--” and then I told Jeeves a long and involved story about Christian geese.
Jeeves listened pityingly and said, “There, there, sir. It shall soon pass. I very much doubt that Miss Wickham is a powerful enough witch to do any lasting damage. As I have often remarked, sir, Miss Wickham is a charming young lady, but--”
"Yes, yes, no need to rub it in.” I massaged the b. and said, “There’s more to it, but I can’t bally well speak of it. I don’t know why, Jeeves. I’ve never had trouble speaking before. It’s the one thing I can do.”
Jeeves looked at me as a competent sheepdog might look at a favorite but particularly loony sheep, and was more than usually attentive the rest of the day. I thought Jeeves would, as usual, be right, and I’d be better directly, but I still locked the door. The Chappie was all right, but I hadn’t much liked his party, and didn’t fancy another invitation.
I needn’t have bothered taking precautions, though. I awoke from the dreamless to see that I wasn’t alone in my bedroom.