“Bertie,” Aunt Agatha proclaimed stentoriously over the ’phone. I’m not quite sure what ‘stentorious’ means, but it sounds like something Aunt A. would be. “I have found the only remaining unmarried woman in England who has not already been engaged to you.”
“I say, aged a.,” I protested, “there are surely dozens, if not hundreds—”
“The Dowager Countess of Grantham informs me that her granddaughter has lately returned to Yorkshire from Switzerland, and this young lady has everything you would want in a girl.”
“Does she? Like what?”
“I haven’t the faintest idea what you want in a girl. But whatever it is, she’s got it.”
And with that rather unconvincing selling point, the last of the Woosters was shipped up to Yorkshire to woo Lady Edith Crawley.
Jeeves and I began plotting as soon as we got on the train.
“I took the liberty of making a few discreet inquiries at the Junior Ganymede Club about the lady and her family, sir. I discovered that it is well known that her father, Lord Grantham, harbours a virulent abhorrence of Socialism—even more so than most members of his class. I believe that if you spoke highly of that philosophy, he would forbid the match entirely.”
“Excellent, Jeeves! But er… why is it exactly that so many people hate Socialism? I socialise all the time and I’ve never seen anything wrong with it.”
“‘Socialism,’ sir, is a political belief that holds that inequality of wealth in society is a great evil, and that it is necessary for the government to redistribute property more evenly.”
“Ah, that chappie. I suppose I know which side you fall on the matter, what with your feudal spirit.”
“But it sounds rather a lot like charity, doesn’t it? I thought charity was meant to be a good thing.”
“That is precisely the sort of sentiment I recommend expressing to Lord Grantham, sir, should the topic arise.”
Jeeves dished out several other brilliant ideas, such that by the time we landed in Yorkshire, the y.m. was ready to present himself in such a manner that was sure to be detestable to Edith and utterly ineligible for a son-in-law to the pater.
Edith turned out to be precisely as moony-eyed over her gentleman caller as I feared she might. However, armed with Jeeves’s counsel, I felt confident that our turn about the grounds would not end with her gushing about stars and bunny rabbits.
“I’ve heard you’ve written for a ladies’ magazine,” Edith said as she led the way down a meandering path.
I chuckled in feigned embarrassment. I was dashed proud of my knowledgable article on ‘What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing,’ but Edith had recently become the owner of a magazine much like my aunt Dahlia’s, and Jeeves had advised that it would be sensible for me to be dismissive of such endeavours. “Oh, that silly thing. I only wrote it because my aunt Dahlia asked me to, and, as you know, when an aunt asks for a favour, one does not say no.”
“That was very kind of you.”
“What? No! It wasn’t kind at all. Just trying to save my own skin, really.”
“Well, I think it’s lovely.”
We came to a bench beneath the gently arching branches of a tree. It was, of course, just the stuff to provoke a beazel into gazing into a cove’s e.’s. I scanned the horizon for a less picturesque locale, but there was none to be seen. The entire place was dripping with romantic scenery.
Edith took a seat on the bench, leaving plenty of space for the Wooster corpus, but I took care to only lean jauntily against the end opposite her. “I say, how is Mary?” I asked. Jeeves had informed me that Edith and her sister Mary had a bitter rivalry stemming back from before the Titanic, and that the mere mention of Mary could send Edith into a frothing rage. I had met Mary once or twice before, so I knew Edith couldn’t be entirely blamed for the ancient feud. I will gladly admit that Mary’s profile is more than acceptably corking, but I had learned to give that particular Crawley a wide berth, lest her jaws bite or claws catch.
Right on cue, Edith rolled her eyes. “She’s fine. She’s obsessed with pigs now apparently.”
“Yes. She’s playacting as Downton’s manager nowadays and talks of nothing but our farmers’ pigs.”
“That’s rather odd. I mean,” I said, quickly backpedaling, “that is to say, she’s got a good head on her shoulders, so I’m sure there must be something to it.”
Edith scoffed. This was going swimmingly. “A good head on her shoulders? Mary? She’s—” She forced a smile onto her face. “Sorry. I mustn’t complain when it’s such a beautiful day.”
“Complain away!” I said. “I don’t mind.”
Edith tittered a laugh. “Oh, Bertie. It’s so good of you to indulge me. My family certainly never does.” She came over to link arms with me and launched into the continuation of our walk. “Let me show you our Grecian ruins.”
She led me, like a lamb to slaughter, to an inexplicable row of Grecian columns that appeared to have never had any purpose except, perhaps, to serve as backdrop to a gentleman’s passionate proposal to a lady. She remained indefatigable in parrying my continued efforts to disparage magazines and gush about Mary, and by the time we returned to the house, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster was as good as engaged.
“I say, Jeeves,” I said as Jeeves shoved me into white tie, “I went on about all the things you recommended and I daresay the filly still ended up anointing me the future Mr. Lady Edith Crawley.”
“That is most unfortunate, sir. However, I believe that you have nevertheless laid groundwork that may ultimately come to its desired fruition over the course of the week.”
“If you say so, Jeeves. I can only trust that you’ve seen five hundred steps ahead with that fish-fed brain of yours.”
“I hope I have, sir.”
As we went in to dinner, I was introduced to the Dowager Countess herself. She looked every inch an aunt. It was no surprise that she and Aunt A. were friends. She fixed a fiery eye upon the Wooster map for several pendulous moments.
“I suppose you’ll do,” she finally declared, and thereupon marched into the dining room.
“So, Bertie,” the Earl of Grantham said over the first course. “Edith tells me you’re a writer?”
“Er, not much of one yet, I’m afraid. But I am in the middle of writing a really topping Socialist tract.”
Everyone looked at me in silent horror. The earl attempted to cover his reaction with a polite smile. “Is that so? I wouldn’t have pegged you as a leftist.”
“Oh, I’m right-handed, as it happens. I only feel it’s high time the poor stopped being poor, what?”
“It’s rather more complicated than that, I’m afraid,” the earl said.
“Well, I’m the first to admit I have difficulty with complicated subjects,” I said. “It’s well known that I’m rather mentally negligible.”
“Oh, good, you’re perfect for Edith,” Mary said.
Edith leveled an icy glare at her, then turned to self. “Bertie, did you drive up here?”
“No, I took the train. I only have a two-seater. It’s a jolly thing to wheeze about to my aunt Dahlia’s pile in Market Snodsbury and whatnot, but it’s not the stuff for longer drives.”
“Oh, is it not very safe?” Edith said with a peculiar, tight smile.
“No, it’s perfectly safe. Well, as safe as any car, I suppose—”
There was a deliberate clink of a fork being set down hard on a plate. “How could you?” Mary said. She smoldered at Edith from across the table.
Edith looked back at Mary with wide, innocent eyes. Everyone else was glancing shiftily at each other, as if someone had just run through the room completely starkers.
The Dowager Countess brought up the weather.