“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”
As a rule, we Woosters know how to deal with the highs and lows of life — take things in our stride, keep the old head above water — that sort of thing. Anyway, a Wooster understands the importance of scaling the peaks and valleys of day to day existence. I often like to think that life may throw what it likes at a Wooster but, like a jack-in-the-box, we always bounce straight back up. Adversity itself pales when facing a Wooster.
Or, so I thought. Rather than facing down adversity, this Bertram Wooster still pales when facing Aunt Agatha.
The rummy thing is that none of my current predicament, if you can call it that, is really my fault. Now, I am a man who will shoulder responsibility when responsibility needs to be shouldered, but even I can’t really be blamed for simply being me. I didn’t choose to be born a — even the word makes me positively shudder — an omega, now did I? Blame genetics, blame hormones, but don’t blame Bertie Wooster.
However, the dreaded Aunt didn’t seem to get the memo about blame. Aunt Agatha apparently feeds upon the misery of downtrodden nephews, her favourite dish being nephews who didn’t have the common decency to be born an alpha, what? Noblesse oblige and all that rot. Finding herself in possession of such an underwhelming specimen of a relative, Aunt Agatha has spent the majority of my adult life trying to pair up yours truly with any aristocratic beazle that came within reach of her talons. And after years of having a multitude of asinine betas and — the Wooster corpus cringes at the very thought — domineering alpha females shoved in my path as potential mates, this Bertram Wooster had had quite enough.
Thankfully, however, that chapter of my life has been closed; the days of being constantly ambushed by the likes of Honoria Glossop are at an end. To cut a long story short, my relationship with my aunt (and the Glossop clan) is now in merry tatters, the noble family lineage forgotten and noblesse oblige has been thrown out of the proverbial window.
The strange thing is that this particular Wooster can’t quite bring himself to care one jot about it.
But, I get ahead of myself. Like any good meal, stories have a proper order. If one was to serve up the fish course up along with, say, the roly-poly pudding, then dining would not be fit for man nor beast. The same goes with stories. There’s no point waxing lyrical about the ending before the thing has even gotten started, what? So, in the proper order of things, here’s the story of how Bertie Wooster discovered how love conquers all, even failed dinner parties, drunken mishaps and carnivorous aunts.
In my mind, the whole thing began that night in the Drones Club. It was a pleasant summer evening: hot enough to make everyone cheerful, but not sticky enough to make everyone perspire — just on the right side of humidity, if you know what I mean. Combine such an evening with a cool drink and pleasant surroundings, and you have the nearest thing to perfection a man can hope for. Well, until you find yourself in the company of one Bingo Little.
Now, Bingo’s a good chap, heart in the right place and all that, but he does have a startling propensity to fall in love at the drop of, say, a hat made of lead. Very little escapes the discerning eye of a Wooster and, on that particular evening, it only took me one brief glance to spot the marks of love upon the poor fellow. The expression one gets just after being biffed on the head, the vacant stare, the sudden need to sigh at intervals of seconds: the cove was positively wallowing in love!
Knowing the drill (it was not unheard of for Bingo to have a new object of his affection at the rate a traffic light changes), I braced myself for the inevitable onslaught on the old ears. Say one thing for Bingo, when he’s caught a spot of the old amore, he can talk the hind legs off a donkey — innumerable donkeys, even!
He meandered over to my table and flopped into the seat opposite me, still maintaining that bally concussed expression. I did my best to restrain a sudden yet powerful urge to jump out of the nearest window.
“Oh Bertie, something marvellous has happened,” was his opening gambit.
With considerable effort, I managed to dredge up a smile. “Yes, yes? What’s that then?”
“Oh, I have met the most divine beta. She’s positively celestial! Not of this world, Bertie! Not of this world!”
“Ah, jolly good,” I said. “Nice girl, then?”
“Nice doesn’t cover it, Bertie! To use the word ‘nice’ when speaking of her is like saying that the Crown Jewels are a pretty bit of costume jewellery. The word does not do her justice!”
“Oh. A jolly nice girl, then?”
At this, Bingo’s expression became distinctly sour. “Jolly nice!” he gasped, horror struck. “I say, Bertie, haven’t you ever been in love? Really in love? I mean, haven’t you ever felt your heart aflutter, haven’t you ever felt the delicate pull on the heartstrings or the stirrings of passion in your gut?”
“I say, we’re in public!”
Bingo continued regardless. “But really, Bertie, haven’t you ever truly been in love?”
Now, this threw me off a bit. Of course I’d had passing fancies, Bobbie Wickham being one, but my affections never seemed to have the strength to survive more than a few measly days. As an omega, I understood that I was supposed to be assailed by crippling heats, insatiable passion and sudden uncontrollable urges to throw myself at the nearest available alpha. However, this had never posed a problem for one Bertie Wooster. The old carnal desire seemed to have completely passed me over and, if I’d ever gone into heat, I’d never really noticed it. Facing this evidence, one had to assume that this Bertie Wooster was not romantically inclined.
My reply, therefore, was prompt and to the point.
“What, really? You’ve never been in love?”
“No- I mean yes. Never.”
At this, Bingo looked stricken. “But, Bertie, that’s terrible! How ever can you stand it?”
I fixed him with a stern gaze: his incredulity was beginning to grate on the old nerves. “Having patiently endured years of Aunt Agatha attempting to pair me off with a menagerie of females that even the most desperate Casanova would turn his nose up at, I have come to the conclusion that the life of a bachelor is the life for Bertram Wooster.”
“Oh, Bertie.” At this point, Bingo’s expression morphed into something that I assume was supposed to convey deepest sympathy. The sight was enough to put one off one’s food.
“And don’t you look at me like that,” I snapped. “I’m as happy as can be and don’t feel the need to pair up with any alpha or beta or the suchlike. Jeeves keeps the household in order just fine, so what do I need love for when everything’s boomps-a-daisy just as it is?”
It was at this point that Bingo averted his eyes and began to stare mournfully into his drink. I had the distinct and unpleasant realisation that I was being pitied - by the likes of Bingo, no less!
“Righto, Bertie,” he said, tone utterly lacking in its usual vim and vigour. “Righto.”
Thankfully, Bingo was able to scrape together enough common sense to change the topic of conversation after that. Soul searching was abandoned in favour of general carousing, the throwing of bread rolls and an exceedingly good time was had by all.
It was later that evening, the precise time escapes me, that I made my way back to the old apartment. I was what some people may call ‘three sheets to the wind’ and the spirit of merriment (along with an assortment of other spirits) was flowing strongly through the Wooster veins.
Looking back, I can see that getting so sozzled wasn’t a terribly wise decision. You see, I was due to endure a dinner party with the unspeakable Aunt Agatha along with Sir Roderick and Honoria Glossop the following day. The whole arrangement was undoubtedly another of the she-wolf’s schemes to pair me up with the force of nature that was Honoria (a imperious alpha that I had barely managed to escape from unscathed before), and turning up with a stinking hangover would undoubtedly do little to endear the y.m. to any of the company. Moreover, having a fuzzy head may have had a detrimental impact on my skills of matrimonial evasion. There was nothing for it, Jeeves would have to come to the rescue with one of his famous restoratives.
Now, this is when things get a bit hard to put into words, but I’ll give it my best shot.
As I opened the front door of the apartment, set upon summoning Jeeves to my aid, the first thing that struck me upon entering was The Smell (note the capitalisation). There was a scent lingering in the air, faint yet clearly discernible. Now, there are some scents that set the mouth to drooling and activate the ‘something’s tasty’ section of the brain. This was not one of those. It did not set the tum to rumbling, but instead it caused a sort of - a sort of twist deep in my stomach that I hadn’t experienced before. It was a bally odd sensation, but not an unpleasant one. Rather, the more I took in the aroma, a rich, musky sort of scent, the more my foggy brain decided that it rather liked it.
Anyway, I did what appeared logical to the pickled Wooster brain. I decided to ‘follow my nose’, as it were, and find the source of the mystery scent.
The source, as it turned out, was Jeeves.
I found him sat at the kitchen table, a gasper in one hand and a book in the other. Perhaps due to the heat of the evening, he was missing his suit jacket and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. Without the added layers, I could see the strong line of his shoulders and his hair, rather than being immaculately styled, had a few loose strands trailing down over his forehead. He must have unconsciously mussed it as he was reading. He looked younger and I came to the sudden realisation that — despite the yawning gap in intellect between the two of us — he couldn’t have been more than five years older than myself.
Jeeves didn’t notice me at first and simply continued to read, occasionally lifting the cigarette to his lips for a long, slow drag. For some reason, the mere sight of this caused my mouth to go dry as a desert. Moreover, that delicious scent hung thick in the air and seemed to intensify the longer I watched him.
I must have made some small sound as Jeeves became suddenly aware of my presence. As a credit to his steely nerves, the only indication of any surprise was a glance in my direction and the slight quirk of an eyebrow.
“I do apologise, sir,” he said, swiftly closing his book, stubbing out his cigarette and standing. “ It seems that I was so engaged with my reading that I did not hear you come in. Can I provide you with anything, sir?”
“Err...no, Jeeves. I’m just fine.” And I just continued to stand there, gawking at him like a glassy eyed idiot. Had the man’s shoulder’s always been so broad? The line of his jaw so strong? My stomach gave another of those funny little twists.
If my close observation made Jeeves feel uncomfortable, he concealed it well. “Sir?” he said, looking at me enquiringly.
I decided to broach the issue. “I say, Jeeves, what’s that smell?”
There was a slight pause.
“Have you got a new aftershave on, what? Not that it’s an issue, mind you. It’s a bally nice smell, I mean to say.”
The other man looked thoughtful. “Not to my knowledge, sir. I have just been smoking, sir, perhaps that is the particular aroma you are referring to?”
“No! It’s sort of a- a-,” words escaped me and I finished lamely with, “well, it’s a jolly nice scent, is all. Very... very you.”
There was another slight pause and I foggily wondered if I had overstepped some line or whatnot. Jeeves was looking at me quite closely, and I wasn’t sure if I imagined it or not, but I thought I saw a frown briefly flicker across his otherwise serene expression.
“Thank you, sir,” he said finally.
Despite my groggy state, I was suddenly aware of a bit of an atmosphere - words unspoken and whatnot. I made a misjudged attempt to lighten the mood. “You endeavour to provide satisfaction, eh Jeeves? Even in the olfactory department, what?”
Needless to say, the masses won’t be queuing for my comedy routine.
“So it would seem, sir.”
Another pause. I was half tempted to continue staring at the other man like a lost puppy and continue inhaling that delightful aroma, but I got a hold of myself. Staring gormlessly at one’s gentleman’s gentleman whilst inhaling noisily through the nose is simply not done, eh?
“Well then, Jeeves,” I managed to say, “I’ll just pop off to bed then, shall I?”
Jeeves gave a slight nod. “Very good, sir.”
“Good o’. Nighty, night, Jeeves!”
“Good night, sir.”
It was a bally odd thing, but the walk to my bedroom somehow felt a lot longer than usual. As I settled down to sleep, having enrobed myself in the pyjamas so carefully laid out for me by Jeeves, I couldn’t help but feel a little glum. That delightful scent was much fainter in here and, as I drifted off to sleep, I couldn’t stop my thoughts from returning to Jeeves at the kitchen table. Was it lonely, spending one’s evening with only the company of a book and a cigarette? Or was that enough quite enough for him? I wasn’t sure.
In the end, it took me quite a while to get to sleep that night.
After what felt like no time at all, the next day dawned. Sunshine peeked in through the curtains, birds tweeted merrily and all was jolly and good with the world. Well, all was jolly and good with the world apart from Bertram Wooster. Bertram Wooster felt like hell.
After a night like I’d had, a hangover was to be expected. Headache, general grogginess, they were to be anticipated, what? However, the rummy thing was that I seemed to be experiencing some other, more unusual, sensations as well. Bally odd, I tell you.
As always, I remain awed by Jeeves seemingly superhuman ability to sense when the y.m. regains consciousness. The man, bless him, shimmered in with a rejuvenating cup of tea along with one of his famous restoratives approximately five seconds after I opened my eyes. Needless to say, I gulped down both and felt near re-born.
Jeeves, however, rather than gliding out of the room as per usual, remained by my bedside. Once again, I registered that delicious scent from yesterday although this time it was considerably stronger. For some inexplicable reason, I felt my cheeks grow hot and my stomach proceeded to do what felt like a series of loop-the-loops. Curiouser and curiouser.
Jeeves gave that funny little cough of his. “Considering last night’s proclivities, sir, how are you feeling?”
“Oh, after imbibing your concoction, just fine, Jeeves. Terrific!” I said, flashing the pearly whites in what I hoped was a dazzling smile. “Apart from feeling a little light-headed, I’m fit as a fiddle!”
Jeeves frowned slightly. “Light-headed, sir?
“Yes, a dizzy kind of feeling. Dizzy and sort of- sort of tingly, Jeeves. Bally odd sensation! Seems like the old noggin wasn’t quite screwed on right today, eh? Not to worry though! Apart from that I feel right as rain — fighting fit and all that!”
A short silence followed. I noticed that Jeeves was observing me closely and I had the uncomfortable feeling one gets when in the presence of a medical examiner or a bloodthirsty aunt. We Woosters are not accustomed to being inspected whilst still in our pyjamas and I had to resist the urge to shrink back beneath the covers.
Finally, Jeeves broke the silence. “Sir, am I right in thinking that you are due to dine with Lady Gregson along with Sir Roderick Glossop and Ms Honoria Glossop today?”
“Why yes, Jeeves, that is unfortunately but indubitably the case!”
“I see. Considering your current,” there was the slightest pause in his speech, “condition, sir, I would deem it wise for you to cancel the visit.”
I sat for a moment, dumbstruck.
“Cancel the visit?” I managed.
“Stand up Aunt Agatha and the Glossops?”
“I would not put it that way myself, but that is the general idea, sir.”
I could restrain myself no longer. “And why is that the ‘general idea’? If I failed to show up, I’d be eaten alive by the dreaded Aunt before dinner! She’d eviscerate me, Jeeves!”
“In all honesty, sir, I think the consequences would be worse if you did go.”
I fixed him with the beady Wooster stare. “And what do you mean by that, eh? Be straight with me, Jeeves.”
I would have gone further, but that strange scent in the air was clouding the old head somewhat. I was also a little thrown by the fact that, by now, the other man looked positively pained. He was wearing an expression that was usually reserved for only my nattiest clothing choices.
When Jeeves did speak, it was clearly with extreme reluctance.
“I do not wish to be indelicate, sir,” he said, “but I think it would be most unwise for you to attend the dinner party. Since last night, I have noticed that you seem to be experiencing-”
At that very moment, the doorbell rang. And rather than a lone ‘ting-a-ling-ling’, the thing just kept on ringing and ringing. The racket of it, and before breakfast at that, was enough to set the nerves on edge!
“I think you’d better get that, Jeeves,” I said cooly, trying to look as authoritative as I could whilst mostly horizontal and wearing pyjamas. “Show whoever our visitor is into the sitting room while I dress.”
“Of course, sir.” Jeeves gave a stiff nod and retreated from the room.
Well, it turned out that the cove making free and easy with the doorbell was none other than Bingo Little.
It transpired that he had been heartily rejected by that beta he’d been so enamoured with and required more than a little comforting. Apparently, he’d taken it upon himself to go to her lodgings after getting thoroughly sozzled at Drones the previous evening. However, the object of his affections had been less than pleased to have a thoroughly lathered Bingo crooning up at her window at some ungodly hour. She’d even gone as far as to throw a slipper at him, warning of further ballistics if he didn’t remove himself from her immediate presence and never come back.
Needless to say, Bingo was heartbroken. I tried to assure him that, as an unattached beta himself, there were plenty more fish in the sea, but I had trouble managing the appropriate level of sincerity. To be honest, I was still distracted by that strange scent. Moreover, the funny woozy sensation I had experienced earlier seemed to be steadily intensifying. By this time I was half tempted to follow Jeeves’ advice and stay home for the day. However, a Wooster does not go back on his word and I didn’t want to appear easily persuaded. To the dinner party Bertram would go.
By the time Bingo was restored to relative calm and had toddled off home, it was high time for me to head off to meet with the dread Aunt and assorted Glossops.
After getting ready, I checked my reflection in the bedroom mirror and was pleased with what I saw. Despite seeming a little flushed and bright eyed, the overall appearance was rather suave.
Jeeves, having assisted with my dressing, hovered in my peripheral vision.
“Sir,” he said, voice surprisingly earnest, “I really think it would be most judicious if you chose to forgo the dinner party.”
So, despite my previous steadfastness, Jeeves was still entreating me not to go? I decided it was about time to bring down the old Wooster foot.
“Dash it, Jeeves,” I snapped, and rounded on the other man.
Now, at this point I was prepared to deliver some grade A censure to the other man. However, as soon as I got a good look at the Jeevesian visage, the very words died in my mouth.
His eyes, rather than sparkling with intelligence, appeared to be sparkling with -with - well, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He appeared just as flushed as I was and I could see his chest rise and fall with every breath. To top it off, I could even see the faintest sheen of sweat on his brow. The sheer cognitive dissonance of the thing was enough to floor a man! Moreover, as I took in the sight, I was near overwhelmed by that delightful aroma once again. However, we Woosters are masters of self control: I ignored that funny whooping sensation the scent seemed to trigger within me.
“Good God, man!” I gasped. “Are you alright?”
“I am fine, sir.”
“You look like you should be staying home rather than me! You look positively pained! You have burning eyes, Jeeves! Burning eyes!”
“I assure you that I am absolutely fine, sir. As for my current condition, it is simply a natural reaction to-“
“And you’re positively flushed! Are you blushing, Jeeves? I didn’t think you could blush!”
I took a step towards him to observe the phenomenon more closely, but he positively retreated. As I did so, I couldn’t help but notice the intensification of that delicious aroma - it was enough to send one’s head spinning!
“As I was saying, sir,” he went on, “this is simply a natural response to the fact that you are presently-”
It was at this precise moment that the clock on the mantelpiece gave a merry little chime. Well, it was really more of a death knell. What with the dizziness, being ambushed by Bingo and the unusually behaving Jeeves, time had positively gotten away from me. Upon seeing the hour, I gave a startled yelp, jumped nearly a foot in the air from shock and promptly cut Jeeves off mid sentence.
“The time, Jeeves, the time!”
“I’m due to dine with Aunt Agatha in less than fifteen minutes! We must be off, Jeeves!”
“Sir, I really must entreat you to-”
“None of that, Jeeves. Now, let’s get going before Aunt Agatha decides that yours truly should be served up as the second course, what?”
I could see another slight frown play upon the Jeevesian brow and there was a moment’s pause before he responded. When he did speak, there was the barest hint of something like dejection in his voice - the kind of voice a chappie uses when they’ve done all they can, but now find themselves at the mercy of cruel fate and all that.
“Yes, sir,” he said, before we headed out into the metrop to meet our destiny.