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The Rummy Affair of the Brinkley Ball

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BERTIE STOP

THE MOST DREADFUL THING STOP THERE IS TO BE A BALL AT BRINKLEY COURT STOP H AND I SURE TO BE DISCOVERED AND OUR LOVE WILL LANGUISH EVERMORE I SHALL DWINDLE TO A WISP UPON SOME SAD MISTY MOOR AND WRITE POETRY FOR THE REST OF MY DAYS STOP CALL UPON YOUR HELP STOP SOME SUBTERFUGE WILL BE CALLED FOR STOP H SAYS NO USE ASKING YOU BUT PERHAPS JEEVES STOP

WITH AFFECTION MADELINE FULL STOP

Well, I’d have known who it was even if she hadn’t signed off; it was a sure hallmark of a telegram from La Bassett to try to write drippy poetry in the middle of the thing. A sliver of black in the edge of the old peripheries signalled my man Jeeves shimmering into the room.

'A telegram, sir?'

'Your powers of observation are as deft and exacting as ever, Jeeves, but I'm dashed if I know what the dear young fathead means by it. You read the thing, I take it?'

'I did, sir.'

'And what did you make of it? What does Aunt Dahlia's to-do have to do with their love languishing for eternity on misty moors like some bally Brontë book?'

Ah, but I’ve got trotting rather before the starter pistol there, haven’t I? In media res and all that; dashed useful as a literary technique, but I do try not to leave my readers completely in the dark, what?

Those of you who’ve been following my stories will recognise the names of Honoria Glossop-- the H of above mention-- and Madeline Bassett, both of whom this Wooster has found himself shackled to on several occasions in the past. Both have also been entangled with various chums over the years, slipping in and out of engagements like a pair of beskirted eels; young Madeline in particular had the great misfortune to fancy herself h. over h. with that particularly limp noodle Gussie Fink-Nottle for longer than was good for either of them. But affairs had come to a head some months ago, and the head they had come to was this: they had given men as a species entire the old heave ho, and instead found the tender embrace of l. in each others' arms. Following the example of Sappho, Jeeves called it.

If you know anything about the nature of either female, you will undoubtedly here be wondering how the deuce two such disparate creatures would manage to rub along together in a matey way, much less anything deeper and warmer, but they seem to manage it rather well. I've had a few chin-wags with them on the subject, and gathered at least a few insights into the matter. Madeline has a tendency to go on about gallant knights and fair maidens and how very brave Honoria was. From Honoria I'd learned of the existence of a List: Things Honoria is Allowed to Shoot Without Madeline Having Hysterics. I tell no lies.

'Now why the devil, Wooster', I can hear you query, 'would they confide such a thing to you?' Well-- and this is a bit of a rum do, as I've otherwise been entirely honest in these little recollections of mine. We Woosters are plain-spoken, honourable, direct people, and I've spared no detail, however humiliating to self or friends of self, but in re. this particular point I've kept mum, under Jeeves' advisement.

'Your honesty, sir, is commendable', he has been known to say. 'But it is perhaps wise that the public should not know all your doings. Bene vixit, bene qui latuit, as the poet said.'

And as Jeeves is more thoroughly acquainted with his stuff than any other blighter I've ever encountered of whom one might use the phrase he knows his stuff, I've taken his advice. This particular to-do, however, rather lacks ping without context, so I've decided to take the deuced thing by the reigns and just come out with it, so to speak. This specific point, the reason we're privy to the beano re. Madeline and Honoria, is that Jeeves and I are by way of having a gentleman's arrangement of our own. That's another one of Jeeves's phrases; I don't imagine there are too many gentlemen who agree in quite the way Jeeves and I do. But it harmonises with his sense of decorum, and I can't deny it's got more gravitas than the way I'd be likely to put it, which is to say I'm absolutely potty about the bird. In La Bassett's enduring words, he is positively and undoubtedly the specific dream rabbit.

All that is to say, Jeeves had spotted the signs in good old Madeline and Honoria nearly before they had, and let it be known to them in an under-the-table sort of way that they weren't the only ones in the neighbourhood of a Greek inclination.

Now, Madeline was still bit of a soppy gawd-help-us, more apt to bring fairies and gnomes and fluffy bunny rabbits into conversation than any civilised person could possibly consider necessary, and Honoria still bore the look of a particularly strapping Amazon who might just mistake a cove for a cricket ball should he happen to make the wrong move around her. But the thing of it was, with the threat of matrimony no longer looming from either Bassett or Glossop, those seemed to have become merely the amusing and harmless peccadilloes of a pair of chums. After all, I count amongst the ranks of my friends such staggering perishers as Oofy Prosser and Boko Fittleworth, how could I do otherwise? In short, the Wooster bosom had decidedly warmed towards both.

We had even made it a bit of a habit to venture out for the occasional night on the town in a sort of platoon. Comradeship, you know, and fellow-feeling and all that rot, the sort of thing those poet johnnies are apt to go on about. Two oxen to the thingummybob and all that; Jeeves puts great stock in that sort of thing, but in my consideration, a heaping portion of it is tommyrot. In this case, though, they were right in the mustard. A fellow can't just go about flapping at the lip about the thing to all and sundry when he's the sort of understanding Jeeves and I have, and it's a bit topping, I have to say, to have those with whom one can. Like we've the four of us a sneakish snuggery all of our own that no-one else can weasel into. All unknowing outside peepers would espy, looking upon us, would be two young couples out on the tiles-- and right they'd be, at that! Just... not quite the two young couples they'd assume.

So! Now you're acquainted with the posish. viz Jeeves, self, and the Bassett telegram. Re-entering the scene now, picture Bertram clutching the missive, and Jeeves looming, as he does, like a sort of perfectly ironed and starched menhir. He regarded the telegram, and the young master, levelly.

‘I believe, sir, Misses Bassett and Glossop are concerned that Mrs. Travers’ party will draw attention to their lack of male partners, and that action may be taken to that end by certain of their more… meddlesome relations, an eventuality I’m sure you can understand they wish to avoid.’

‘Well, why didn’t she bally well say so?’

'I can only suppose that she assumed you would infer, sir, your own situation being not dissimilar.'

As usual, Jeeves had a point. Just as I had my Aunt Agatha to worry about, the most terrifyingly clawed and bescaled mastodon of a relation ever to bellow across primeval swamps the ancient cry of 'We must find you a wife, Bertram!', Madeline and Honoria were both possessed of a pair of particularly fearsome paters-- Sirs Watkyn and Roderick, respectively. Neither of them had ever seemed quite so unscrupulously eager to herd their offspring into the old leg-shackles as Aunt A, who has been known to shove me into engagements at a distance and entirely sans my consent, but they were pretty rotten specimens nonetheless. A frown bent the lips out of shape as I applied the bean to the problem.

'Well, I'm going to the fête at Brinkley, I can accompany one of them, that's easy enough, but what about the other? I mean to say, it can hardly be you.'

The thought occurred that Jeeves's tall Viking physique would make a fine match proportionally for Honoria on the dancefloor, but everyone at Brinkley knew him perfectly well. Aunt Dahlia was a good egg, and always game to go along with a wheeze, and might've pretended to any other guests that he wasn't my valet, but, well, there are schemes that one may bring aunts into, and schemes that one oughtn't, and this was decidedly of the latter breed.

Jeeves, however, seemed to have merrily ankled several city blocks ahead of my whizzing thoughts, and gave me an inscrutable sort of quirk of the lips. 'I shall wire them back directly, sir, and assure them all is in hand.'

I have to say, I wasn't at all sure it was. I said as much. 'Is it, Jeeves? Have you another eligible bachelor up your sleeve? Do produce him, pray.' I gestured with, I thought, a certain measure of eloquence, indicating the empty space distinctly sans any other young bachelors.

One of the Jeevesian eyebrows lifted. In his time as my valet, and more than that, as the o. of the Wooster affections, I had become something of an expert in re. the interpretation of the Jeevesian eyebrows. The man has a face as implacable as a marble statue, and communicates in large part with the subtlest of muscle tremors about the eyes and mouth; a chap has to learn how to translate, or else be left entirely in the dark. This particular eyebrow said something along the lines of, 'Bertram, you are a good egg and I have nothing but good feeling for you, but on occasion you can be a bit of a chump, and in this instance your sauce is not necessary.'

'I believe,' he said, with a sort of gentle firmness, 'that you should be able to perform both roles adequately yourself, sir.'

'Tchah!' I cried. 'We are not bigamists, Jeeves.' I imagined myself biffing about the ballroom with both Honoria and Madeline on my arms, breezily explaining to all and sundry that there was no need to fear, I should be making an honest woman out of both of them. The thought of Doc Glossop's whole head purpling with apoplexy like a bald aubergine gave me a distinct shudder.

'No, sir,' he agreed, and there was another one of those muscle tremors, this time just around the corner of his mouth, which contained rather more in the way of fondness, and brought forth a sort of glowing sens. in the ribcage. 'But if you were to take it in turn to accompany first one young lady, then the other, I believe it would be within my abilities to direct people in such a way so that they would only observe you with either Miss Bassett or Miss Glossop. If you will pardon me, I believe your... tumultuous amatory history would serve as a sufficient explanation for any confusion amongst the guests.'

'What, you mean if someone says, "I say, that Bertie Wooster does cut a fine figure with old Honoria on his arm", and his pal says, "Honoria? I thought he was with Madeline Bassett", then the first fellow might well say, "Indeed no, old chum! You must be thinking of a few parties back when he was engaged to Madeline Bassett."'

'Precisely, sir. Particularly with the bonhomous mood such a gathering often induces, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that one of them had simply been mistaken.'  

Well, when he put it like that, it seemed to make perfect sense.

On the night of the shindig, once I'd changed out of the old spongebags and outfitted the corpus in the traditional black tie and whatsit, I toddled out to the sitting room to partake of a lazy gasper and perhaps a b. and s. to buck up the nerves whilst I waited for Madeline and Honoria to hie their way to the Wooster res. I was just in the process of lighting up when Jeeves shimmered in.

'I say, Jeeves, you're looking a bit done up.'

Jeeves is eternally as crisp as a freshly minted bank note, of course, but there was a certain thingness to him this evening. He'd exchanged his usual demure tab collar for a wing-tip and bow tie, and the size 12's upon his well-formed feet were so enthusiastically polished I could've shaved in them if I'd had a mind. I am not a man beyond appreciating a fine thing when it is set before me, and I goggled in an admiring sort of way for a few moments. Jeeves inclined his head with, I rather thought, a certain amount of smugness.

'I have extended my services to Mrs. Travers for the evening, sir.'

'Ah!' I caught the line he was throwing. 'Buttling, you mean to say? Oiling about the hall incognito to ensure all's oojah-cum-spiff for the young master and so forth?'

'Quite so, sir.'

The scheme, as Jeeves had explained it, was simple; I should make an entrance by myself, greet the old blood, be vague on the subject of whom precisely I'd towed along with me, and then get stuck into things. Out of sight of Aunt Dahlia, I would attach myself to one of the girls, do a few circuits, mix and mingle, etc, and on Jeeves's signal, switch off. We'd repeat that exercise several times, and all the while, Jeeves would be playing puppeteer in the background, making sure we weren't spotted by any of the wrong people. He had been vague on the subject of how precisely he planned on accomplishing that, but if I have learned anything over the long years of our association it is that Jeeves moves in mysterious ways indeed, and sometimes it's best just to let the cove get about them without trying to wrap the bean around the little details.

But now we'd come to the thing, I have to confess, I wasn't entirely confident in my ability to play off the wheeze with the ease Jeeves seemed to predict. There's a bit of the grand Thespian tradition in the Wooster blood, to be sure, but it was the sort of thing a chap wouldn't like to put money on; too many variables, what? Jeeves, as ever, seemed to sense precisely the thoughts that were looming ominously above the coconut, and materialised in front of me. His capable hands whisked over my chest and shoulders, brushing away lint and straightening lapels, and then he looked me straight in the eye and pressed to my lips a soft, firm kiss. 'Everything will be fine, sir.'

Jeeves has the most remarkable voice, you know; sort of low and smooth, and when he says things like 'Everything will be fine, sir,' so close to a chap's mouth that the lips brush on every word, well, it would take a stronger man than Bertram to disbelieve him.

It was at that juncture that a knock came at the door, and, after the judicious application of one more kiss, Jeeves oiled over to answer it. Madeline came streaming in first, looking as ever rather like a fawn who'd accidentally become entangled in a quantity of organza, and clasped my hands in hers with great sincerity. 'Oh, thank you, Bertie; Honoria and I were ever so worried, you know.'

'You were worried,' came the strident tones of Honoria Glossop, soon followed by the girl herself, all six feet of robust country living and intelligent brow (much the way Jeeves's head protrudes in the back, you can see in the set of Honoria's brow that she's the sort of beazel who likes to get tucked into critical theory of an evening), wrapping her arms around Madeline and depositing a kiss on the top of her head. 'You fuss over everything.'

They did make rather a good-looking couple, one had to admit; Madeline rather gave the impression that she'd wandered out of one of those Degas paintings, all pastels and sloppy brushstrokes, and Honoria like a sort of middle-weight boxing Brunhilde next to her. Contrasts and all that, you know.

I explained the scheme; Madeline looked concerned, and Honoria dubious. I turned beseeching eyes on Jeeves, who, with an indulgent look towards the young master, reiterated matters himself. That seemed to oil the wheels, and both the Glossop and Bassett maps visibly relaxed.

'Jeeves has assured me that we shall be on velvet,' I said, 'so on velvet we shall be! Chin chin, what?'

And so saying, we sallied forth.

Brinkley Court is rather a nice old pile. There are some country estates, you know, that tend so much towards the hulking and gothic that one can't but imagine loony females locked up in the attic and mad scientist coves down in the cellars stitching together spare body parts. Brinkley is not such a place. Adjacent to the small and almost unbearably picturesque hamlet of Market Snodsbury, it boasts sort of friendly, warmish sandstone, and a good deal of pleasantly green, rolling, and forested grounds, sprinkled with the occasional garden or pond. It's the sort of place one can imagine poets wandering about spontaneously being inspired to pen odes to the verdant beauty of the English countryside. The house itself, being inhabited by my Aunt Dahlia, who is as I say a thoroughly good egg, but rather gung-ho as a general rule, is rarely quite so peaceful. Poets would be apt to flee. At the moment, of course, the whole thing was swathed in the cloak of night, and any poets would likely end up wandering into trees or tripping into ponds, but who am I to speculate on the good sense of poets? I've known a few, and they rarely have much to speak of.

I joined the unsteady line of revellers trickling in through the front doors, and was greeted nearly as soon as I'd slid into the ballroom with a shout like a trump at dawn.

'Bertie, you young wretch!' With a carrying battle-cry, Aunt Dahlia hove into view like a small, glittering ship, her face even purpler and the rest of her even more like Mae West than they are accustomed to be. She looked to be having a corker of an evening.

I delivered an avuncular-- if avuncular is the word I want. Is there a word like avuncular but for nephews? Well, regardless- little wave. 'What ho, old fish. Everything cracking along?'

'Oh, dreadfully,' she burbled. 'Everything's whizzing along.'

'Spiffing! Nosebag courtesy of Anatole, I hope?'

'Naturally. You're not here on your own?'

'Haha!' I cried, injecting the laugh with all the v. and v. I could muster. 'Not in the slightest, aged relation; the little woman's just, uh, outside, don't you know. Ran into a pal or something, I think. And Jeeves accompanied, of course; he's lending his good offices out to you for the evening.'

'Mmm,' she mmm'ed, fixing me with the gimlet eye. 'No nonsense tonight, Bertie.' I opened the mouth to defend the honour of my character, but she bulldozed right over me. 'I know what you're like, you benighted blot. No trouble, mm?'

I gave her one of the glittering and toothy ones. 'No trouble shall be my watchword for the evening.'

'It had better.' She gave me a threatening sort of waggle of the finger, and then switched on a smile herself. 'Excellent; do get stuck in; I have to go make sure Tom's not embarrassing himself.' And so saying, she sailed off.

Madeline joined me shortly, drifting up like a dippily smiling dandelion clock, and, rather feeling into the spirit of the role, I made an elegant leg to her like one of those bewigged chappies in an Etherege drama. 'May I have this dance?'

The girl giggled. 'Oh, Bertie, no-one's dancing.'

'Yes, well, you know. Spirit of the thing, what?' I proffered the elbow to her, which she took with another tinkling sort of laugh, and we started doing the rounds.

Any to-do at Brinkley is guaranteed to be peopled with a fairish number of acquaintances, and there were a few questions about when I'd resumed relations with the Bassett. I made vague noises and Madeline sighed and said things like, 'Bertie had so been pining after me, I couldn't bring myself to allow him to continue in such torment,' which wasn't really an answer, but generally shut people up.

'I say,' I said, looking down at her, 'Well done, old prune. You've a bit of an actress hiding inside you; when did that happen?'

'Oh,' she blushed. 'I like to read poetry to Honoria sometimes, I suppose. But I don't really have the constitution for it, I think.'

A fellow had to wonder, the more he got to know Madeline Bassett, how much-- dash it, what would Jeeves call it? Self-awareness, that's the chappie-- she actually had. Either way, she was doing a dashed good impression of the way she'd carried on prior to her epiphany viz. Honoria and Sappho and all that, so I couldn't complain.

The switch with Honoria went smoothly; Jeeves glided up and said that Miss Bassett was wanted by someone or other, and in two ticks, she'd been replaced on my arm by Honoria. Although, in truth, it was less that she was on my arm than that I was on hers as she charged about the room. Occasionally, I caught glimpses of Jeeves in my peripheries, slyly putting himself in between us and someone I'd chatted to earlier with Madeline, or turning someone away with the offer of canapés or the pretence of a telephone call out in the foyer. I was pleased to let Honoria do the steering. She seemed to be having a ripping time, roaring with laughter and coming up with all sorts of rot about how we'd got back in the blessed state. I considered that trailing after the girl and letting her take charge was an accurate reflection of what I'd likely be doing were we truly affianced, so I felt rather good about affairs. The sort of thing that Russian cove would have endorsed; Stanislavski. Emotional truth behind acting and all of that.

We even had a bit of a dance; Honoria's not half bad on her feet and, all modesty aside, this Wooster can out-Fred the nimblest Astaire when it comes to the dancefloor, and I found the spirits considerably lifted. Even Honoria's jovial threat in my ear as we danced that I had better not upset Madeline or else she might be forced to box my ears, strictly as a matter of honour, couldn't dampen me.

As the evening went on, though, it all began to feel rather like being an understudy in a play who hadn't bothered to quite learn his steps. Queer looks were beginning to be thrown at the Wooster corpus, and questions to be asked.

'I saw you last week at the Drones, Bertie, and you distinctly said that you were living the gay, fancy-free life of the bachelor, and what's more that you didn't envy me my entanglement with a dratted female!'

'I say, didn't you step out with Madeline Bassett just now?'

'Really? And your father approves, does he, Miss Glossop?'

And so on and so forth. I was clutching hard at my accustomed sang-froid, and not quite catching it. On one occasion, I had to actually run from the room like I was in a bally race at the village fête to make the switch. Jeeves was doing his thing, I didn't doubt, but even a marvel like Jeeves can hardly steer a whole ballroom full of people to his whim. In toto, it was all turning into a bit of a ranygazoo; the air in the room had made a definite trend towards the chicken noodle. This Wooster was feeling distinctly un-bucked, and the sentiment appeared to be mutual; young Madeline, attached at the elbow, was warbling and wittering sotto voice, and for all she might seem a fragile fawn of a creature, the pincers were digging into my arm with decided force. I wondered if she'd been getting lessons from Honoria; there was a beazel whose handshakes had been known to turn one's hands to jelly for days afterwards.

'Don't you think perhaps we oughtn't just leave, Bertie? I mean, supposing we should be discovered? Dear Honoria will surely come flying to my rescue-- she does love to take care of me, you know, she couldn't abide it if anything were to happen.'

'Pish, old bean,' said I. 'Flapdoodle and rot. Jeeves has the matter well in hand.' Though truthfully, I was thoroughly of a mind with Madeline. The Woosters might be preux chevaliers, but even the preux-ist has to know when d. is the better part of v. Still, I could scarcely just leg it; it seemed there was nothing for it but to stick the thing out and hope Jeeves was working his marvels behind the curtain.

I bucked myself up with another tonsilful of the old fruit of the grape, and we did a few more circuits when dashed if Bingo Little, of all people, didn't come whizzing out of the throng like he'd been bitten to fling himself in front of us with great aplomb.

'Wooster!'

Well, I'm afraid to say I goggled a bit. Not that it was an uncommon exercise, hearing the old surname bellowed in that particular fashion, like a lion catching sight of the gazelle that's escaped it one too many times before, but I wasn't sure what I might have done to put the wind up Bingo, of all people.

'Er, hallo.'

'You shame the name of gentlemen, Wooster!' he cried, and drew his finger out and pointed it at me with great enthusiasm, like a schoolboy actor with a prop sword. 'You shame the name of love.'

'I'm... not sure I do, Bingo old sport. Love, you know, we've always whoozled along well enough, Bertram and the old l.'

I didn't for a moment imagine Bingo had landed in the pink of the matter; true friend of the bosom he may be, but one might well accuse him of having room to spare in the old coconut. He looked quite ready to produce a whole litter of kittens about something or other, though, red as not a mere beet, but a whole borscht, and eyes rolling about in a sort of mad-prophet fashion. He might have been about to speak in tongues.

'Two timing these good women! Far, far from white of you, Bertie. Taking advantage of their good whatsit, their gentle, feminine-- yooouuu--!' And then he seemed to lose all his momentum halfway through, and shrugged. 'Oh, to hell with it.'

And, so saying, he sprang forward with great vigour and struck me full across the phizog with the flat of his hand. The mouth fell open, the eyes watered, the limbs did a bit of a marionette jig while the room sort of flashed black and yellow for a few moments, and when I regained the sense of myself, there was a definite buzzing in my ears. The buzzing, it transpired, was half the rattling of the brains from the force of Bingo's blow, and half the circle of people who had immediately gathered around to gawp and gossip.

'Ghastly!' Honoria had come bounding in and was exclaiming for all and sundry to hear, clutching Madeline to her. 'Bertie, you worm, how could you?'

'Er,' I said. The old bean was still thoroughly muddled.

'I'm one thing,' said she, 'I'm a strong-willed woman, I can handle myself, but poor Miss Bassett here! To treat a delicate, romantic creature like her in such a cavalier fashion? I knew you were a toad, Bertie, but I never thought you'd stoop so low as that.'

'Er,' I said again. 'I didn't--?'

'Bertie!' Aunt Dahlia used to run with foxhunts in her youth, and when she's a mind to really employ the lungs, she can howl just like one of those hounds. I winced. For all she doesn't inspire the sort of limb-calcifying dread my Aunt A. does, an aunt is an aunt, and fearsome claws are simply part and parcel with the breed. 'What did I say about no trouble?'

I applied the mental accelerators, trying to whack my brain into providing me with something like a reasonable explanation. What came out was a nervous sort of laugh. 'Ah, Aunt Dahlia! You see, um, the thing is--'

'Oh, don't give me that rot; I know perfectly well it's probably something absurd, and frankly I haven't time for it. You can explain later if you really feel the need. Honoria, my dear, are you alright?'

Having said her bit, her attitude seemed to suggest that she had finished with me, and would be obliged if somebody would come and sweep me up. Jeeves obliged her, materialising at my elbow and taking hold of my arm with one of his large, capable hands.

'Perhaps it would be best to leave, sir. You seem to have caused something of a stir.'

I had more than half a mind to point out that Bingo had been the one to cause the stir, not me, but as Aunt Dahlia seemed to have moved on to ticking him off thoroughly, it seemed not quite necessary.

'Yes please, Jeeves,' I agreed, with rather less dignity than I am ordinarily wont to display, and Jeeves steered the two of us out in a twinkling.

Once outside, I lit up a grateful gasper and filled the lungs. 'What the deuce--' I started, when any inquiries were curtailed by the sight and sound of Bingo Little being forcibly ejected from the building, propelled through the old portus by the butler Seppings with some punch.

He pinwheeled for a moment before getting the pins steady under him and catching sight of me. Well, I was quite ready to take shelter behind Jeeves, if he seemed likely to want to enact further violence upon my person, but instead he gave a cheery little wave and gambolled over quite good-humouredly. 'Sorry about that, Bertie old gargoyle. No hard feelings, eh?'

'Eh?'

'Bunged me out on my ear, would you believe it? Handed me the mitten in no uncertain terms. Well, I suppose I can't blame her, really. Still, corking party, what? Oh, and cheers for the fiver, Jeeves.'

'Thank you, sir.'

'Well, I expect I'll see you about at the Drones, Bertie. Cheerio!' And so saying, he ankled off into the night, hands in pockets and whistling merrily.

I was beginning to feel rather like a fish whom, having never encountered the phenomenon of anglers before, suddenly finds itself whacked on a dock somewhere. Drawing a breath, I sallied forth in another attempt at expressing this view. 'I mean to say, what the--?'

'Bertie!' Honoria bellowed genially, striding over. Honoria has a way of striding wherever she goes, as if the mere touch of her shoes makes the ground decide that it really would rather be craggy moorland suited for striding about on after whippets and suchlike. She struck me on the back with some force; I felt rather like a tent peg on the receiving end of a poorly-aimed mallet. Madeline, trailing after her, tittered, pressing her fingers to her mouth as if she found nothing more charming in the world than the violent tendencies of her beloved.

'That was a jolly wheeze! No-one'll bat an eye now if we look like we've given up on men for a bit. Why,' her face acquired the look of a woman suddenly happening upon the light of religion, 'poor old Madge might be so scarred by your wicked treatment of her that she might need to retire to the country for a while to recover. I might even have to go with her to commiserate on how poorly done-by we've been.' She delivered another staggering, congratulatory wallop. 'Not like you, I have to say, thinking ahead like that.'

And then she paused and directed a sharpish sort of look over at Jeeves, like a scenting hound. He smiled-- not just a muscle tremor, either, but an actual smile-- and inclined his head. 'Indeed, miss.'

'Hah!' Honoria barked, a laugh like the shout of amassed barbarian hordes. 'I don't know what the devil you've done to deserve a man like Jeeves, Bertie.'

While all this was going on, Madeline floated over with an aspect of concern. 'You are alright, aren't you?' She prodded at my cheek, which was still feeling rather warmish from the impact of Bingo's digits, with a sort of tender, feminine whatsit.

I essayed a laugh; it came out sounding a bit like a concertina that's been trodden on. 'Oh, you know me, old thing. Springy, that's Bertram.'

The look on Madeline's face was one I imagine she must have practised on poor bunny rabbits with broken legs and the like. She stroked my hair. 'Poor Bertie. Still, you are sweet, doing that for us. Isn't Bertie sweet, Honoria?'

'He's a darling, I'm sure.'

Jeeves interjected with another gentle cough. 'Will you be able to secure transportation back to the metropolis, Miss Bassett, Miss Glossop? I imagine it would raise questions were you to return with myself and Mr. Wooster.'

'Oh, yes, Dahlia's agreed to lend out Waterbury so we can get home without having to rely on her excrescence of a nephew.'

'Tchah!' I tutted with force, and Honoria snorted.

'Her words, not mine.'

'Then,' said Jeeves, 'if all is arranged, I believe we shall leave you for the evening. It has been a... lively night for us all.'

Madeline bestowed another kiss on the cheek (the un-biffed one, which I appreciated), and Honoria told me I was a jolly good sport, and then it was just Jeeves and I. I still wasn't entirely certain what had happened. I frowned as we shifted the weight over towards the Brinkley garage.

'Now-- I mean to say, Jeeves, what a boggler of an evening! What on earth was old Bingo about, first making that great row and then being perfectly chummy afterwards? I have to say, you know, I do on occasion wonder if the mens is entirely sano with that one, I really do. And what was all that about you lending him a fiver?'

Jeeves coughed gently, like a mountain goat primly clearing its throat of an errant blade of grass. 'That was my doing, sir.'

'I-- what? I mean to say, what?' I repeated the word, just to make it clear.

I was pretty pipped, I don't mind telling you; there I was, having spent the whole evening swimming about in the soup trying to juggle a pair of beazels like greased herrings and then been biffed like billy-o for my troubles, and now to find out that Jeeves, of all people, was responsible. I directed a look of strong disapprobation at him; he merely cleared his throat again.

'When it seemed to me that the charade was becoming too tenuous to continue, sir, I offered Mr. Little remuneration if he were to accuse you, in the sight of all, of deceiving both Misses Bassett and Glossop. I thought it a plausible explanation which would dismiss the possibility of blame or complicity from the young ladies, and furthermore, prove a lasting misdirection away from the truth of the matter.'

'Far be it from me to fault your quick thinking, Jeeves; you know I have only the highest regard for your fish-fed grey matter, but was it really necessary that Bertram should be slapped and made out to be some kind of caddish lothario in front of all my friends and relations?'

'My apologies, sir; it seemed the most expeditious solution.'

'That's as may be; my face still hurts! I'll be noodling about the metrop with a whacking great bruise for days, I shouldn't wonder.'

'As soon as we return to the flat, I shall fix you a cold compress directly. It was not my intent that Mr. Little should go so far as to lay hands upon you, but you cannot deny, sir, that it did produce the desired effect; neither your nor the young ladies' marital prospects are likely to be under scrutiny for some time.'

It was some time later, having since fired up the car and begun beetling back to home and hearth, that Jeeves returned to the subj. We'd halted for something or other, waiting at a crossroads with the auto grumbling to itself about the distance and the petrol like a financier, when Jeeves leant over to gently cup my face. 'I am sorry you were injured, sir; you know I greatly value your well-being, both physical and mental.'

Jeeves has a way of saying these sorts of things that make them sound like the grandest, most flowery declaration of adoration one could ever expect to find at the denouement of a Rosie M. Banks novel, and I'm afraid the old innards took that opportunity to sort of melt and tie themselves up into a Gordian thingummy both at the same time. Jeeves has been known to have that effect on me. My upper slopes warmed, despite the chill of the night. He was wearing his driving gloves, and the leather was quite cool against the jaw and neck, but I fancied I could feel the warmth of his skin through them. The Woosters are of French extraction, and as such, I have never much taken to the cold; Jeeves, with his sturdy physiognomy and Viking blood, is like a bally furnace. Just the ticket for cuddling up to of a winter's eve, let me tell you, and just at the moment, I rather fancied I could feel the flush of it right down behind my ribcage.

There have been occasions where I've managed to maintain the pip with Jeeves, sometimes for up to a week, but they are few and far between, and I rarely enjoy it. The man is usually right, after all, and besides which, it simply isn't in Bertram's nature to hold a grudge. Some of my chums do it easy as breathing, and I've tried, but it just doesn't seem to be worth the bally effort.

'Oh, dash it, Jeeves, let's just call the matter settled, what? We've all come out for the better, haven't we, a bit of bruising aside.'

'An accurate assessment, sir.'

'Well then.'

'Indeed, sir.'

'I suppose I'll probably get a right ticking off from sundry parties for so cruelly mistreating young Madeline and Honoria.'

'The eventuality is not unlikely, sir.'

And yet, I can say in full truthfulness that even the prospect of future dread encounters with aunts or angry fathers was not enough to dampen the sudden fizz that filled the Wooster chest. Even the decidedly tabasco ache of my slapped dial had not the power to diminish my mood. A devil of a pickle the evening might have been, but all was well 'twixt the two young couples, the love light had prevailed in the face of all, and we were on our way back to the homestead, where awaited me a nightcap, a soft bed, and the Jeevesian embrace. Some men may be foul prunes, apt to sneer in the face of such comforts, however humble they may be, but not Bertram Wooster. I felt, in that moment, that the lark was on the thorn, the snail on the wing, and all the rest of it, and from the way Jeeves's eyes were glittering, I could see he agreed.