I don't know if I've ever mentioned it to you before, but I have a horror of telegrams. Ask anyone. “What,” you will say, “is guaranteed to turn that man of iron into a gibbering wreck unable to make his way with equanimity through the last of the kippers,” and the answer that will bounce resoundingly off the rafters will be: telegrams. Not single telegrams, you understand. Those likely to include such simple missives as “Bertie you silly ass. Why not at drones.”, or “Darts tournament delayed in favour of bread roll battle. Bring ammunition.” No, the telegrams liable to make me turn away the last of the kippers with a wan smile and a hand passed across the b. are those that come in swarms. It never ends well, you see. A pack of the blighters arrives on the platter and the cry goes out around the halls that Bertram is for it. So when Jeeves shimmered in on Christmas Eve morning with no fewer than five of the things, I am not ashamed to say that I quaked. Nevertheless, we Woosters fought at Agincourt, and it must have been some of the old fighting spirit that got into me as I reached out to take the hoard, as my hand didn't shake at all.
“Rather a lot of telegrams, Jeeves,” I said, keen to lighten the mood.
“Yes, sir,” he said, and I detected, as I expected I would, a note of reserve in his voice. You see, for the past week or so the Wooster household, far from being the harmonious place of repose spoken of in legend and song, had been the site of a sort of quiet war of attrition over the subject of tartan handkerchiefs. I had bought six of the things, rather natty ones I thought, in purple and red. Jeeves, of course, had taken his usual puritanical view of the matter and, since both of us were unyielding, the milk of human kindness, if that's the phrase I want, had rather gone out of our tete a tetes.
Seeing I would get no sympathy from that quarter, I steeled myself to the task and opened the first telegram.
“Bertie,” it began. A strong opening, I felt. “Come at once. Madeline and I terrorised by aunt. Gussie.”
I raised an austere eyebrow, a gesture I had only recently perfected, and was keen to put in the hours with, and then moved on to the next.
“When say terrorised mean in all seriousness. Aunt insisting on brisk morning strolls before breakfast. Gussie.”
The next one continued in the same vein.
“Get out of bed fathead. Madeline and baby exhausted and aunt making all insufferable. Gussie.”
The next took a more practical line.
“In Bassett stronghold by the way. Bassett Glossop and all away on cruise. Just Madeline baby self and tyrant aunt. Gussie.”
It was only in the last missive that Gussie really got down to the nub of the matter.
“Need you come be unpleasant to aunt and drive out. Can't do self as aunt holding purse strings. Come at once. Gussie”
I handed the mountain of paper weakly to Jeeves, who skimmed the whole with alacrity.
“Well, Jeeves?” I said.
“It seems, sir, that Mr Fink-Nottle wishes you to drive down to Totleigh Towers in order to expedite his aunt's departure from the house by means of your own antisocial behaviour.”
“That was my reading too, Jeeves,” I said, having followed him closely. “But it can't be done. Hardly a chivalrous plan, what?”
“Aunts, no matter how tyrannical, must not be trodden over roughly by passing house guests.”
“Quite so, sir.”
“And yet, Gussie can hardly be left to spend Christmas in the thrall of this dragon in aunt's form.”
“It does seem that such an eventuality would lack a certain festive cheer, sir.”
“So what's to be done, Jeeves?”
“Well, sir, it strikes me that a man alone in a large house with an exhausted wife and a tyrannical aunt stands a much lower chance of success than than a man who knows that at his back stands a comrade in arms.”
“My presence might shift the balance, you mean? Solidarity the birth of the stiff upper lip?”
I mused on this for a while. I could see his argument, of course. While I would not go so far as to say that I have ever actually stood up to my Aunt Agatha, I have certainly gone so far, on occasion, as to rise part way out of my chair, and it has happened on those occasions when I have felt that there was someone in my corner. I could certainly believe that Gussie's lot might be rather improved by the presence of Bertram.
Then again, there was, of course, the question of Christmas dinner. I am wont to spend Christmas with my Aunt Dahlia, that being the one day of the year when an invitation to the young nephew to sample the delights of her superb cook is always forthcoming, and it was with a heart that was far from calm that I contemplated voluntarily depriving myself of that master's work.
“I am thinking,” I said to Jeeves, “of Anatole's Christmas dinner.”
It is a testament to the seriousness of the situation that despite our recent spat, the look Jeeves flung in my direction was one of deepest sympathy.
“Indeed, sir,” he said, and I found it stirred my finer qualities.
“Still,” I continued, “Better a dry crust, if that's the phrase I want...”
“Indeed, sir. Better a dry morsel with quiet than a house of feasting with strife.”
“In that case, I said, better get out the two seater.”