As I was sitting up in bed of a morning, gulping down a cup of tea to counteract the lingering effects of a late night at the Drones’ the evening before, it occurred to me that I had had rather a narrow escape. Why, if it hadn’t been for Jeeves, I could have had a persnickety Pekingese in my lap, instead of being blessedly free to stretch my legs out like a starfish. Or else, and what would have been worse, it could have been that young Bletherington bringing me the old cup and saucer on a tray. I shivered at the thought, causing my teacup to rattle in sympathy.
But I see I am getting ahead of myself. The exploits of the Drones Club Olympics have perhaps not displaced the football matches and speeches at the House of Lords from your local paper. The every move of the scions of the Peke-breeding world do not form your light evening reading. Very well. I suppose I shall have to start at the beginning.
When you get right down to it, the whole thing was never meant to go as cock-eyed as it eventually went. At bottom, there was one idea that kicked off the whole business, and it was a devilish simple plan—so simple a child of ten should have been able to execute it. But as Jeeves is fond of saying, the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley. And while I don’t know if any mouse ever had a plan to get his own back against a fellow in his club while also winning a tidy sum of money, I feel confident that neither mouse nor man ever had a plan gang as aft agley as mine ganged.
It all started on an ordinary Friday, as these things do. I’d had a wash and breakfasted and spent a quiet morning in the flat, smoking and paging through the newspaper and practicing some songs I’d heard at the club the other day.
I was just warbling my way through “I Wanna Be Loved By You,” and sounding not at all bad, if you ask me, when Jeeves entered stage left, holding a tie as if it had come alive and bitten him on the hand.
“Hello, Jeeves,” I sang, to the tune of the boop-boop-da-doops.
“Hello, sir,” he said flatly.
I stopped playing and swiveled in his direction. “What is it, old thing?”
“This object seems to have found its way into my wardrobe, sir. I assumed it was one of your ill-advised fads, and that the washerwoman was enacting a practical pleasantry upon me by placing it with my clothing.”
“You assume wrong, Jeeves,” I said firmly. “That object, as you call it, is none other than a surprise for you, which I picked up in the Burlington Arcades the other day. Pretty snazzy, wouldn’t you say?”
“That is not precisely the adjective I would use,” Jeeves said. “A surprise for me, you say?”
“Yes, for you,” I persisted. “You’re not the only one who can keep the home happy, old thing.”
A faint color came into his face. “While I don’t dispute that, I must ask you to explain why you thought I would enjoy such a garish specimen of clothing.”
“Pshaw,” I said, and meant it, too. That tie represented an effort on my part. I’d seen it while I was buzzing along on my own errands. The bright maroon and yellow checks had caught my eye from afar, like a beacon. Just the colors for Jeeves, I’d thought. And it had been no end of trouble sneaking it into Jeeves’ own wardrobe while he was still in the flat. Really, I felt I deserved more credit. It isn’t easy, trying to keep the romance alive with a chap when the party of the second part can show his love any day of the week by ironing your trousers.
Perhaps I should back up a bit here, too. For a while now, Jeeves and I have had what Jeeves prefers to call “an understanding between us.” I’m the tea and he’s the milk. I’m Rogers and he’s Hammerstein. What I mean to say is, I love him, and he loves me, and that’s all she wrote, whoever she is. But because we’ve always been so jolly comfortable together, and neither one of us are the type for a lot of soppy stuff, many’s the time where things have gone unsaid between us.
But lately, Bingo Little has been bending my ear about his trouble with a lady friend of his, and the long and the short of it is that he hasn’t been so good about letting her know that she’s the light of his life and so on. And I don’t mind telling you, it sent a chill up my spine. What if one day Jeeves was to get the idea in his head that I didn’t care a fig about him anymore? Why, it would be simply unbearable, that’s what. Hence, the tie. The tie that the man himself was currently dangling in front of him like something the cat dragged in. It would be enough to wound any man’s soul.
“Pshaw,” I said again.
“Pshaw! That is to say, flapdoodle. Why, when I saw that tie, do you know what I said to myself?”
“I said to myself, I can’t wait to see the look on old Jeeves’ face when he finds out I’ve gone and gotten him a surprise like this.”
“Well, sir, if you’ll pardon me for saying so, you have now seen the look you so anticipated. May I now dispose of this object?”
“You bally well may not,” I said firmly, like a desperate hero holding his last remaining battlefield against the foe. “Have you listened to anything I said just now? It was a, a, whatsit. A gesture, is what it was. A gesture of affection!”
“Be that as it may, sir—”
I raised a dismissive hand. “No, Jeeves. I will hear no more of this today. That tie is a gift of love, and you will blasted well cherish it as such.”
“Very well, sir,” Jeeves said. He turned away, lips pursed in disapproval.
“By the way, Jeeves, I’ll be lunching at the club today,” I said. “I’ve got some very important Drones business to transact.” I didn’t really, but I didn’t particularly want to lunch in the flat after the spat with Jeeves. I wanted to give him some time to think it over and see what an ass he’d been. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and all that. And I’d need a good deal of a. to ensure Jeeve’s h. grew f. of that tie.
The Drones Club was in fine form on this particular Friday. As I flipped my hat onto the hatstand and strolled into the common room, I spotted the Finance Committee gathered around the billiard-table with the glow of competition alight in their eyes. One young fellow, legs draped over one arm of an armchair, appeared to be going for the world record in fastest tune whistled. Oofy Prosser was at the bar, perched on a stool and nursing a fine-looking Drones Special. Feeling the tiff with Jeeves slip from me like water off a duck’s back—or is it oil? Whatever substance is supposed to fall off the duck like it was never touched—I sauntered towards the bar and seated myself on the stool nearest Oofy.
“Hello, Oofy,” I said. “How goes it?”
Oofy nodded back with the barest of movements. “I’m scouting.”
“Scouting what?” I asked, motioning to the bartender to make me a Drones Special of my very own.
“Participants for the Drones Olympics, you fathead,” Oofy said. “Surely you haven’t forgotten it’s three weeks away?”
I slapped myself on the forehead. What with one thing and another, I had forgotten. The Drones Olympics are a little thing that the club gets up to every year, meant to show off our many talents and demonstrate our sporting spirit. Half of us are the athletes, working our way through whatever obstacles our fellow Drones design, and the other half the lucky stiffs who cheer on the other blighters and bet on our favorites. New members are always athletes—shows they’re willing to give their all to the club and all that—but the rest of us take it in turns.
I took a biggish gulp of my drink. To tell you the truth, the reason I’d forgotten is that after what happened last year, I’d wanted to blot the rotten Drones Olympics from my memory forever. It’d been my turn to compete, and I had been rather looking forward to it. That is, until Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright got blind drunk and redesigned all the events on a whim. The one that haunts my waking hours is the Three-Legged Champagne Glass-Balancing Dash. No sooner had the starting gun popped than I promptly tripped over my legs, sent my champagne glass soaring into the air, and dragged Bingo Little halfway across the room in my headlong fall. The champagne glass shattered into bits in the fireplace and they had to cancel the rest of the event because the other competitors were rolling on the floor with laughter. It was a dark day in the annuals of Wooster history—if annuals is the word I mean. Perhaps it's "annals"—and I don't like to dwell on it.
However, I reflected, taking another gulp of the Drones Special, this year did present some distinct advantages. For one thing, I didn’t have to compete in the blasted thing. For another, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright did. And for a third, if I played my cards right and backed the right fellow, I saw a clear chance of winning some money and seeing Catsmeat humiliated on the same day.
“I’m watching everyone as they come in,” Oofy explained. “If you sort of squint and lean forward, like this, it helps you study the form.” He assumed a position that reminded me of a giraffe that had misplaced its glasses. I followed suit, as best I could. It began to make my neck ache, after a while, but it did give me a new perspective on the club.
“I say,” Oofy said after a few moments of silent scouting, “do you suppose Jeeves could help us with this? You’re always going on about the way he backed six straight winners at Goodwood.”
I winced. “Perhaps not today, old lad. Jeeves and I are in a bit of a tiff at the moment.”
“Oh, really? Bad luck. Well, I’m sure love will win the day.”
I didn’t see how love could win when it came to the matter of a dispute over neck-wear, but I didn’t want to argue the point. Back in the days when I realized I loved Jeeves but had distinct doubts that he returned the sentiments, any number of my old pals had offered their sympathetic ears to my woes. Oofy was one of them. His thoughts on love, no matter how implausible they seem, have henceforth been gospel to yours truly. I simply nodded and resumed my scouting form.
I was having a pleasant enough time watching two Drones attempt to flip playing cards into a soup tureen when all of a sudden the heavens, as it were, opened, and an angel descended. A chap I’d never seen before came flitting into the dining room, stepping lightly on elegantly-shod feet. With one swift maneuver, nimble as a ballet dancer, he hopped over a fellow sprawled on the hearthrug, shimmied between two members of the Finance Committee who were nose-to-nose in a dispute about a pool cue, picked up one of the fallen playing cards and sent it arcing into the tureen with a flick of the wrist, and did a sort of pirouette into the embrace of an overstuffed armchair.
When I was a lad at school, I won the prize for Scripture Knowledge two years running, and all kinds of rummy stories are still stuck in my head from the days I spent cramming the contents of the King James into the old brainbox. One of the rummiest I remember is a story where a whole lot of chappies were at some kind of fancy dinner, for a king, or some fairly important person like that. At any rate, there they all were, eating their dinner, when all of a sudden an enormous hand appeared and started writing their future on the wall in huge letters.
I hadn’t thought about that tale in ages, but I suddenly knew just how those fellows at that dinner felt. It was as if an enormous hand were writing above the fireplace, “BERTIE, YOU CAN WIN A LOT OF MONEY BY BETTING ON THIS FELLOW AT THE DRONES OLYMPICS.” If there was a fellow more suited to the Drones Olympics than this new chap, I should have liked to see him. Watching him move through the room was like seeing a racing thoroughbred win a hand of poker and swim the English Channel at the same time.
“Who’s that chap who just came in?” I said to Oofy nonchalantly.
“Who?” Oofy shoved his head so far forward he almost fell off his stool. “Oh, him! That’s Reggie Bletherington. Just started coming to the club this week. He apparently belongs to a couple of other clubs, but he’s thinking of ditching them, so he’s trying the Drones on for size. Very sporting chap, I must say. Agreed to compete in the Drones Olympics if he sticks around that long.”
Oofy’s words hit me like a swift sock in the chest. Once again, the fate of yours truly was written in two-hundred-point type on the game room wall. Young Bletherington must be made so welcome that he would be induced to stay until the Drones Olympics. And who better to make him welcome than Bertram W. Wooster? We Woosters are rather known for our hospitable, welcoming spirits. Besides, I wasn’t going to let a chance like this slip through my fingers, not when I could bet on a total outsider and humiliate Catsmeat in one fell swoop.
“He’s just the chap,” I said, a trifle dreamily as I envisioned Catsmeat tripping and falling while Bletherington danced to victory. "The absolute ideal. Haven't seen a better one. We must get acquainted. The more acquainted, the better."
Oofy looked at me strangely. “Really? What will Jeeves think?”
“If Jeeves had seen that man’s form, he’d tell me just the same.”
Oofy seemed a little bit taken aback by this, but after a minute he rallied round. “Well, if you’re sure.”
“Never been surer in all my life, old pal,” I said. “Thanks awfully.” I swung myself off the barstool and made tracks for Bletherington.
Bletherington—who soon enough insisted on being called Reggie—was a bit shy at first, but after an ample dose of the famous Wooster charm and a couple Drones Specials showed himself to be a pretty lively conversationalist and a dashed good hand at pool. After a few hours we were talking like old friends. One thing led to another, and soon I was pestering Reggie to join me and some other lads for a dinner at Quag’s. It didn’t take much persuading—besides the visions of culinary delight that dance in one’s head when the name Quag’s is mentioned, I have it on good authority that my face of gentle pleading is an absolute dead cert for getting a fellow to do what I want him to. It certainly worked here.
The dinner was pretty fruity, as most of those dinners go, and we lingered over it for as long as we possibly could. I was feeling as lively as a lark, buoyed up under the influence of the best of Quag’s and the knowledge that I was in for easy money. Round about the time that Reggie rested a foot in my lap as our whole table burst into a rendition of “Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors,” I began to grow completely confident that Reggie Bletherington would sign on as a permanent member of the Drones before the week was out. So braced was I feeling that I gave a toast to Reggie, waxing poetic about the many advantages of our new companion. The toast itself was poorly received—perhaps the rest of our dining party were feeling a little left out—but the leap onto the table that I attempted and failed to execute brought chaos enough to take the sting out of any toast that had fallen flat. All in all, a most satisfactory binge.
I felt a pang of remorse when I unlocked my door and realized how late it was. Jeeves had gone to bed, of course—early to bed, early to rise is Jeeves’ watchword—and the flat was dark and still. It’s not unheard of for me to come in late after a dinner like this, but I do try to give Jeeves a bit of warning when I can. I tiptoed into his bedroom and gave him a kiss on the forehead. He stirred a bit, groaning in his sleep like a lion who’s just heard his alarm clock ring, and my heart positively swelled with fondness. Perhaps I’d let him throw out that tie in the morning.
Of course, by the time morning came, I had forgotten all about it. I awoke with a whanger of a headache and Jeeves already by my bed, setting a glass of his special remedy on my nightstand. The solid eight hours had apparently done him good, as he didn’t bat an eye when I flung my arms around him and shoved my face into his neck. He rubbed my hair and kissed my temple gently, as if trying not to disturb my aching head.
“Good morning, sir,” he said.
“Good morning, Jeeves,” I said, feeling the world right itself just a little. “Sorry I didn’t tell you I would be late last night. I didn’t know myself, until it was happening, of course.”
“I understand, sir. I trust you had a satisfactory evening?”
“Ripping, Jeeves. Positively ripping.” I yawned and stretched, then reached for the glass and downed the contents in one go. If you’ve never had one of Jeeves’ remedies, you’re missing out. It’s a little like a cross between a cold shower and the fountain of youth, and it makes you feel as if you’d been sound asleep since nine o’clock and never touched anything stronger than soda-water. Absent all of Jeeves’ other fine qualities, this alone would have stolen my heart away. “I say, this is the stuff. I don’t know how you do it every time, Jeeves. You’re absolutely marvelous.”
“It’s very good of you to say so, sir. Have you any plans for today?”
“Well, I’d probably better toddle back to the Drones at some point. You see, there’s a new fellow there. He’s the reason I was out so late last night.”
“Absolutely marvelous chap. Form like a—what are those chappies in Ancient Greece who tossed those plates about called?”
“A discus thrower, sir?”
“That’s it! Form like a discus thrower. Just the sort of chap we need at the Drones, in my opinion. Will do us all a bit of good. Why, when he walked in the clubroom, it was like the heavens were singing his praises.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said, a little blankly.
I decided to get to the point. Perhaps Jeeves had other pressing business this morning. “Well, at any rate, he’s not so sure if he’s keen to stay on as a Drone, although after last night I can’t imagine why he wouldn’t want to join up. I consider it my sacred duty to show him the ways of the Drones. We Woosters are known for—“
“So you are, sir,” Jeeves said hastily, although I hadn’t told him what the Woosters were known for. “Will that be all?”
I looked at him, puzzled. He’d slept like a baby last night, and he’d had enough brainpower this morning to mix me up that fascinating concoction, so I couldn't dream of why he would seem so goggle-eyed and distracted. He looked like someone had just told him he’d forgotten to sit for an exam and he wouldn’t be allowed to buttle again until he went and took it.
“Yes,” I said thoughtlessly, and then remembered. “No, actually, Jeeves, there was one other thing.”
“You don’t have to keep that tie if you don’t want to,” I said, dredging up all the generosity in my heart. “Feel free to burn it at the stake, or whatever you do with my clothes you hate.”
Now, I hadn’t exactly expected Jeeves to fall on his knees and weep with gratitude, but I thought he’d be pretty touched by my conceding the point. Instead, his face went greyish, and he started, like he’d seen a ghost.
“Have you seen a ghost, Jeeves?”
He returned to himself, looking sheepish. “No, sir. Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes,” I said, thinking to myself that as much as I loved him, Jeeves was one of the oddest ducks that had ever quacked in my direction. “That’ll be all.”
Perhaps you, reader, are more astute than I was, and have already identified the enormous bloomer I was in the process of making. After all, if a chap in a book I was reading told the chap who loved him that a third chap had a form like a Greek athlete, I would have put money on chap two leaving chap one in the lurch and going off with chap three. Well, all I can tell you is that it simply never occurred to me at all. Jeeves isn’t known for being a jealous type, and what’s more, I’d completely forgotten that I hadn't mentioned a word about the Drones Olympics. It was occupying so much of my mind that it seemed too obvious to say, but Jeeves, of course, has his mind filled with edifying thoughts and prices of beef and all that. So, as they say in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", someone had blundered, and that someone was me.
I’m ashamed to say that things carried on in more or less this fashion for the next few days, me praising Reggie Bletherington to the high heavens and Jeeves saying as little as possible in return. How long they would have continued in this fashion, I don’t want to speculate—we Woosters are not known for changing our course of action midstream—but after about four days of this, the landscape shifted.
The first hint I got that something was amiss was the distinct coolness with which Oofy and Bingo were treating me. Now, there are rough times in every friendship, and I can’t say we’ve never wanted to bash each other over the heads with a garden spade, but generally I get along swimmingly with the both of them. Which made it no end strange that Oofy seemed to be embarrassed to speak to me, while I caught Bingo drawing himself up to his full height and giving me a disdainful look when he thought I wasn’t looking. Of course, Bingo’s not what you would call an expert in disdainful looks—the impression he gave was more of a man whose bifocals were on the fritz—but I knew what he meant, and it chilled me to the core.
Still, I persisted in confusion, and in ankling round to the club whenever I got a free moment to make absolutely sure old Reggie remained a Drone. And if I caught one of those chilling looks of Bingo’s, I assumed they were related to some other matter—some lunch I’d forgotten to stand him, or detective novel I’d borrowed and never returned.
The second hint I got towards the way things really stood was the odd behavior of Reggie himself. Of course, we were getting quite close, what with all the time I was spending convincing him that the Drones was the cat’s nightwear, but “close” seemed to have a different meaning to Reggie than to the rest of my bosom friends. For one thing, he seemed to think that two pals ought to stand so close that their noses were practically touching, and their shoulders brushed whenever they so much as shifted their legs. For another thing, he kept on telling me long rambling stories about other fellows, and where they’d met and what they’d done, and how they weren’t any good after all. He seemed to be losing the plot as he told me these, and leaving out about half of the events, so I mostly nodded and smiled and let him ramble, thinking to myself that if I heard a pal of mine run me down the way Reggie was running his old pals down, high words would ensue.
My first real dawning of understanding came, believe it or not, because of a chance word of Bicky Bickersteth’s. Out of the mouths of babes, what? I was lounging in an armchair, warming myself by the fire—it was a beastly wet day out, and I had gotten soaked by a passing motorcar who had hit a puddle with speed—when Bicky wandered in. He settled himself in a nearby armchair and launched into a long description of a restaurant downtown where some kind of jazz sensation was playing this very night, the moral of the story being that we should all go to dinner there.
“Sounds absolutely top-hole, Bicky,” I said, and meant it. The way those jazz coves can get a piano and a saxophone to go that fast—they ought to have races. “Do you mind my bringing Reggie?”
“Reggie Bletherington. New Drone. Very keen recruit.”
“Oh, Bletherington!” Bicky said, the light of understanding dawning on him. “Your new fellow. Yes, I’ve heard about him. Bring him along, only too happy.”
I don’t know what I said in return, because my mind had stuck fast on your new fellow. What the dickens was that supposed to mean? He couldn’t possibly have meant it in the way I would have said to Bingo “your new girl.” Those Drones who don’t know about my arrangement with Jeeves assume I am happily single, wandering the earth with only myself for company. No, he must have meant something else. But what?
It bounced around in my mind for the rest of the afternoon, but by the time we rolled away to dinner, I still hadn’t the foggiest. We had a humdinger of a meal, during which several of us got rather sauced and attempted to dance in between the tables to the music of Charles Ellis and the Jazzy Juniors. When I woke the next morning, it was with only the faintest memory of how I got there. I rang for Jeeves.
“Sir?” he said, appearing on catlike feet.
“How the dickens did I get home last night?”
Jeeves’ mouth formed a small, tight line. “Mr. Bickersteth and Mr. Prosser were good enough to escort you home, sir.”
“Did they tell you we had been at dinner?”
The pursed lips again. “They gave me a very full account of your activities that evening, sir.”
I began to see daylight. Bicky and Oofy had given Jeeves rather too vivid of a description of our binge, and consequently the old boy’s opinion of me was temporarily lowered. Well, no matter. It had happened before—most notably when I came home from the Drones Club Christmas party and mistook the standard lamp for a burglar—and with a bit of time and a few intellectual hints in the conversation, Jeeves soon remembered my many other lovable qualities.
Just then the doorbell rang.
“Who could that be, Jeeves?”
“I could not say, sir.”
The doorbell rang again, more impatiently. “Well, go and tell them I’m not at home.”
“Very good, sir.”
I settled back under the covers. Jeeves was back a moment later.
“Miss Agatha Gregson is here to see you, sir.”
I sat bolt upright, feeling a chill run down my spine. “Aunt Agatha!”
“Didn’t you tell her I’m not at home?”
“She refused to believe me, sir.”
From the sitting room, I could hear Aunt Agatha bellow, “Is that you, lazybones?”
Sighing deeply, I reached for my dressing gown and prepared to face the firing squad. It had been several months since I last heard from Aunt Agatha, between her tour of the Lake Counties and her new preoccupation with keeping my cousins Claude and Eustace away from the drinking clubs of Oxford. I had even gone so far as to hope that the hellhound had bayed her last, and yours truly would be in for smooth sailing vis-à-vis aunts not meddling in one’s personal business. But I should have known better. Like a bad penny, Aunt Agatha always turns up again, brandishing some new fault of mine that needs correcting.
“Couldn’t it have waited?” I asked, cinching my dressing gown and shuffling into the sitting room.
“Nonsense, Bertie,” Aunt Agatha said, in the dulcet tones of a foghorn. “This is a matter of the greatest urgency. I have found the woman you are going to marry.”
I dropped into the easy chair, feeling my knees quaver. “But I don’t want to get married.”
“Posh,” Aunt Agatha said. “A young man like you needs a firm, strong wife. Someone who will mold you into a useful creature, instead of a empty-headed wastrel guzzling cocktails.”
“But I—“ I stopped myself, as long experience with Aunt Agatha has beaten into me the fact that it never does any good to insist you like being a cocktail-guzzling wastrel.
Aunt Agatha appeared not to notice my interruption. “Adele Willoughby is a fine woman of firm character and good morals. Just the sort of wife I had always dreamed of for you.”
I cast a desperate glance at Jeeves, but Jeeves appeared to be preoccupied by the hearthrug.
“Her family are the Kent Willoughbys. A very respectable family with genteel hobbies. You will dine with her tomorrow, Bertie.”
“But, I say,” I exclaimed. “I’ve—er—got a fearfully important meeting tomorrow.”
“Kindly do not contradict me, Bertie. As I said, you will dine with her tomorrow. I have made a reservation for twelve-thirty at Sturridge’s restaurant. It is all arranged. You will be punctual?”
She cast a gaze at me that would have withered grapes on the vine.
“Yes,” I said meekly. When Aunt Agatha really gets going not even God Himself can stop her.
“Very good. Good day, Bertie.” She swept out of the flat like a typhoon, leaving me plastered against the cushions in despair.
“Jeeves!” I cried.
Jeeves turned in my direction. “Sir?” he said coolly.
“What do you mean, sir? My soul has been harrowed. What are we to do?”
“Dash it, Jeeves!” I bleated desperately. “The future wife. How are we to get rid of her?
“I am sure your lordship will think of something,” Jeeves said mildly. Then he exited stage left, leaving me sitting there, gasping like a dying duck and feeling as if all my hope had vanished in the blink of an eye.
The morning of the lunch with Adele Willoughby dawned. I awoke feeling as though someone had poured cold water on my soul. Why Jeeves had refused to help, I simply couldn’t understand. Any prospective wife was a peril not only to my happy life, but to our happy home and mutual understanding. Perhaps he was still peeved at me for whatever had been said while I was plastered and being dragged into the flat by my chums, but given the danger of the situation, why hadn’t he forgotten it all and rallied round? I would have to ask Oofy and Bicky later. In the meantime, the lunch awaited. I dressed for it with the feeling of a man about to face the firing squad.
But on the way to Sturridge’s, buoyed up by the bright sunshine and the feeling of striding along through London, I began to think more hopeful thoughts. I wouldn’t say I went so far as to whistle, but it was a very near thing. And as I rounded the corner to Sturridge’s, an idea came bursting out of my brain with a wallop.
A fellow like myself, possessed of a good flat, a decent amount of cash, and a roster of meddling aunts, is always having to get out of engagements he doesn’t want to be in. And if there’s one thing that always works a treat when you have to disentangle yourself from some girl, it’s pretending to be mad. It went off like gangbusters in the affair of Honoria Glossop. It played no small role in the end of my engagement to socialite-about-town Felicia Harbottle. And, with no other options forthcoming, I was willing to give it a go. I rummaged about in my jacket pockets, straightened my tie, and marched into Sturridge’s determinedly.
It was easy enough to locate Miss Willoughby. She was seated at a table by herself, gazing off into the middle distance. She was pretty enough, if you like that sort of thing—I don’t—but a certain firmness in her upper lip suggested she was exactly Aunt Agatha’s sort of character-molding young woman. I shivered. But I had to carry out my plan.
“What ho!” I bellowed loudly, striding over to her in as comic a fashion as I could muster. “I say, Adele Willoughby? What ho!”
My what-hoing made surprisingly little impact on her. She smiled pleasantly and beckoned for me to sit down. There was a bit of how-do-you-do and nice-weather-then and nice-place-this that seemed to trap us in a sort of conversational racetrack, both of us going around in circles. The waiter came round just as we were in the middle of it all, providing a much-needed interruption. While Miss Willoughby was outlining her preference for boiled sole to the waiter, I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small object. This, I considered, was going to be the last word. Once Miss Willoughby got a taste of this, she would be eating her boiled sole sans Wooster.
It was another one of Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps' wheezes. Where he gets them, I don’t know, but this one had produced a stir in the ranks of the Drones that hadn’t been seen since the night a new member put a firework underneath the dinner table. The way this one worked was, you wound it up and then put it in your hand, and when you shook hands with someone, it would buzz and give them a little shock. As quietly as I could, I wound the thing up.
“I say, Miss Willoughby,” I said. “I’m awfully sorry, I forgot to shake hands with you when I entered.”
“That’s all right,” Miss Willoughby said. “No need to apologize.”
“No, no, I insist,” I said desperately. If I hadn’t been trying to look like I had fewer marbles than advertised, I would have been afraid I was coming off like a fool. “Let’s shake hands. Shaking hands tests the character, that’s what I say, what?”
“All right,” Miss Willoughby said. “If you insist.” She reached one hand across the table and clasped mine in a firm grip. I waited. The buzzer buzzed. There was a silence, while I watched Miss Willoughby’s face for signs of alarm at my madness. Then she began to laugh, throwing her shoulders back and shaking like a blancmange.
“Pardon?” I said, feeling a trifle offended.
She composed herself. “I had been waiting for something like that. Your aunt said you might try to pull a practical joke, and I do love a little joke.” She went off into another fit of giggles.
I felt my heart sink into my shoes. I had prepared for many things, but auntly sabotage was not one of them. Not even the brainiest scheme for making me look off my rocker would be of any use here. I sat meekly in my chair, politely nodding and smiling as Miss Willoughby talked. Sturridge’s excellent food was as ashes in my mouth.
It is at times like these, when all the world seems to be against a chap, that a surprising thing often happens. There you are, down in the dumps, everything pitch-black, no hope in sight, and bam! Hope comes whizzing out of nowhere and suddenly things seem light.
That’s just how it was here. I left Sturridge’s feeling as though nothing would ever be right again, and not three hours later I left my own flat with joy beginning to dawn and the world starting to turn a corner. It just goes to show you that you never know what is in store.
I didn’t particularly want to go back to my flat after the failure at Sturridge’s, particularly since Jeeves still seemed to be in a funk. But there was nowhere else for me to go. I couldn’t face the club with a failure like this on my mind, and I didn’t fancy strolling into a pub or another restaurant. I walked as slowly as I could, losing a footrace to a snail, but eventually there was nothing for it but to go inside.
To my surprise, instead of empty rooms with a morose Jeeves lurking about somewhere, I found Oofy Prosser himself, legs draped over the arm of my sofa in an altogether too familiar manner, being handed a cocktail by Jeeves.
“I say, old man,” I said, placing my hat on the hatstand. “To what do I owe the honor? Only too happy, of course, but if you’d telephoned, I would have been here to greet you.”
“Oh, that’s all right,” said Oofy, taking a gulp of his whiskey and soda. “It was mostly to see Jeeves. We made an awful ruckus last night, and I wanted to apologize to him.”
“Were we really awful?” I asked, plopping myself in the armchair opposite him. “I can’t remember a darned thing about last night.”
Jeeves looked modestly to the side. “You were certainly quite intoxicated, sir.” He faded into the background, as he does, arranging something or other on the side table before disappearing into the kitchen.
“Tight as an owl,” Oofy elaborated. “Not that Bicky and I were any better. Just a little more steady on our feet. But we couldn’t stop talking. Told Jeeves all about our evening! Although maybe we shouldn’t have said anything about you dancing cheek to cheek with Reggie Bletherington.”
“I what?” I blurted. I couldn’t remember any such thing.
“For two and a half songs,” Oofy said. “Until you tripped over your shoelace and sat down on the floor and declared you liked the view better from down there.”
I shivered. Reggie is a good egg, and all that, but when I dance cheek to cheek with a fellow, I’d prefer to remember it. And if it comes right down to it, just between you and me, I’d prefer it to be Jeeves.
“I didn’t think Jeeves would mind,” Oofy said. “After all, you told me yourself he would understand if he saw Reggie’s form. But—“ there was a silence, wherein Oofy downed another portion of cocktail like a man dying of thirst.
“What is it?” I could see Oofy had the air of someone stirring up their courage and girding their loins, but for what, I couldn't think.
“I say, Bertie, are you sure it’s all right, this business of having two fellows? It’s not what I would have done, but I thought it was all right since you seemed so jolly. Maybe it’s different with gentleman than it is with ladies. But Jeeves seemed so awfully put out by it…”
“What the devil are you talking about?” I sat upright in my chair.
“You’ve been wooing Reggie since the day he arrived in the club. Everyone knows that. And you hadn’t broken it off with Jeeves—have you broken it off with Jeeves?”
“Tut! Posh! Jeeves and I are eternal. I bought him a necktie just the other day, just because I was thinking of him. Would a fellow do that to a fellow he had broken it off with?”
“I suppose not,” Oofy admitted.
“Anyway, I haven’t been wooing Reggie either,” I said hotly. “I simply want to bet on him at the Drones Olympics and make Catsmeat look like a fool.”
“Bertie,” Oofy said with feeling. “You absolute ninny. You swear you haven’t been wooing him?”
“Why would I woo him? I only want him to stay long enough at the club to compete.”
“What was with all that stuff about his form? It sounded pretty soppy to me.”
“I—“ I was about to defend myself in no uncertain terms when the full meaning of Oofy’s words dawned on me. Had it really seemed like I was sweet on Reggie? We had been pretty attached at the hip, and I hadn’t thought anything of it, but it seemed I was the only one who hadn’t.
The mysteries of the last week began to clear right before my eyes. The coldness of Oofy and Bingo. Bicky’s words about “your new fellow.” The way Reggie always stood a hair too close. I felt as though I’d been looking through my opera glasses the wrong way round, and someone had turned them in the right direction.
“I have been an ass,” I said, dropping my head against the back of the armchair.
“So there was really nothing in it,” Oofy said wonderingly. “Well, cheer up, Bertie. You’ll soon put it all to rights. After all, you have Jeeves on your side.”
“Yes,” I said absently, as yet more realizations buffeted me about like a strong wind. Jeeves’ coolness, his refusal to help with the problem of Adele Willoughby, the ghastly look in his eye when I had told him to throw away the tie—it all pointed to a man convinced he was being jilted. I had been an ass, indeed. I glanced in the direction of the kitchen. Had Jeeves been listening in on our conversation? The fact that I didn't hear any pans clattering about suggested he had.
“Oofy,” I said, “thanks awfully for the visit, but some very urgent business has just arisen that I must take care of.” I inclined my head towards the kitchen door. “I’ll see you at the club.”
Oofy looked as if he didn’t quite take my meaning, but gamely allowed me to push him out the door and wave him goodbye. Once he left, I rushed into the kitchen, flinging the door open so hard it banged against the wall. Jeeves, seated at the table, looked up from his reverie with a start.
“Jeeves,” I said frantically, "how much did you hear of my conversation with Oofy?"
"I must admit I heard almost all of it, sir."
“And did you think I was going to give you over and go off with that Bletherington fellow, too?” I demanded.
Jeeves looked down at the table again. “It did seem that way, sir,” he said in a faint voice.
My heart fairly bled. I couldn’t fathom what a fool I’d been. I shoved myself onto Jeeves’ lap, flinging my arms around him.
“I’m sorry, Jeeves,” I said, into his shoulder. “I’ve been an absolute ass. But you’re the only one in the world for me.”
A faint squeak told me I had hit my mark. Jeeves’ strong arms came up around my back.
“I forgive you, sir,” he said in low, fond tones. It was music to my ears.
Several kisses and romantic caresses later, Jeeves said, “I have been thinking, sir.”
Jeeves sounded so much like his old self that my heart sang. “About what?”
“This problem of Miss Willoughby, sir. I believe I have heard something about her parents which may serve useful in helping you navigate this affair. I shall endeavor to remember it, sir.”
I leaned against Jeeves’ cheek with a dreamy sigh. “I trust you completely, Jeeves.”
As I said earlier, when I left my flat again that evening for a meeting of the Drones Club Dining Committee, my heart was lighter than a feather. The snail was on the wing, the lark was on the thorn, and all that. I felt certain that no trial of this world, no matter how taxing, could bring me down to earth again. I practically floated into the clubroom.
Most of the committee was there, plus Reggie and Catsmeat, occupied with a game of cards in the corner. At the sight of Reggie I shivered a little at my near miss, but recollected that all's well that ends well and snagged a glass of champagne from the bar.
My spirits rose to an even higher pitch with the company of my fellow committee members. The topic tonight was old port, and Barmy had just finished a slightly rambling story about his uncle’s parrot that he taught to beg for a drop of port—or was it his dog? One of his uncle’s animals, anyhow. It reminded me of something that had happened with Jeeves and Aunt Agatha’s dog Mackintosh, so, naturally, I told them all about it. It was a good story, one where Jeeves came off looking like a genius, and I told it with gusto. There’s nothing like almost losing the fellow you love to make you appreciate him.
“Who is this Jeeves fellow?” Reggie said, abandoning the cards and coming over to our little group.
“Bertie’s man,” Barmy said. “Brainiest fellow I ever met. Do tell Reggie about how Jeeves backed six straight winners at Goodwood.”
I need only the barest encouragement to tell this tale, since it’s one of the finest stories about Jeeves’ intellect and sporting spirit, and as thrilling as anything you could read in a magazine. I was just launching into it when I felt Reggie’s breath on my ear. I scooted to the side to give him room. He scooted right along until he was close to me again. We continued in this fashion until I was all out of sofa and two inches from falling onto the floor.
“I say, Reggie, must you?” I said in a tone of perhaps undue irritation. “Let a fellow breathe.”
In response, Reggie stood up in a huff and stalked back over to the card-table. I went back to my story, feeling not a little cheesed. Couldn’t Reggie be friendly in an ordinary way without breathing down my neck?
Just as I was about to reach the most exciting point, Rogers, the club manager, came bustling in. Rogers is generally a pretty unflappable egg—you have to be, with the likes of the Drones around you all day long—but he seemed harried.
“Mr. Wooster? A Mrs. Gregson is here to see you, sir. She has an urgent message for you.”
My heart sank. “Tell her I’ve gone to France.”
“I have already told her that, sir. She insists on seeing you.”
I sighed. When I was in school, they had us memorize a poem that started, “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,” and ever since then I’ve thought of it whenever Aunt Agatha is after something she wants. I’ve never seen an Assyrian coming down, or the wolf on the fold for that matter, but I have no doubt it would be exactly like Aunt Agatha with an urgent message.
I went out into the lobby, where Aunt Agatha was pacing. “Bertie! There you are. I must say it is disgraceful how much time you young men spend at these clubs. You ought to take up a more wholesome pursuit.”
“Rogers said you had a message for me?”
“Oh, yes. I have heard from Adele Willoughby that she enjoyed your lunch together very much.”
Aunt Agatha ignored me. “I have arranged another meeting. You will join Miss Willoughby and her parents for dinner tomorrow evening. Do be punctual, Bertie, and try not to make asinine conversation. I shall be given a full report, and I should like to hear that you were well received.”
“And keep your mouth closed, Bertie.” With that, she sailed out of the Drones, letting the door slam behind her.
I stood there for a moment longer, feeling my head spin, and then turned and walked back into the clubroom. Some of the spice had gone out of the evening.
When I returned home, Jeeves was sitting on the sofa, reading one of his volumes of Spinoza.
“Don’t get up, Jeeves,” I said, shimmying in next to him and laying my feet in his lap.
“Have you had a nice evening, sir?” Jeeves gave one of my feet an absent-minded caress.
“Not exactly,” I said. “Aunt Agatha came by the club to tell me I’ve got to go to dinner with Miss Willoughby and her whole dratted family tomorrow. And she'll be checking up on me, so I've got to make a good impression.”
“I may be able to help you with that, sir.”
“By Jove, Jeeves, have you had another one of your ideas?”
“Based on what I have heard, sir, if you took care to mention frequently in conversation tomorrow that you found pug dogs to be superior animals, and among the best dogs in the country, if not the world, you might find that it would greatly help your cause.”
I pondered this. It seemed dashed mysterious to me, but it never pays to doubt Jeeves. “Pugs, eh? I’ll give it a try.”
Jeeves smiled, leaning over for a kiss. “Very good, sir.”
There’s really nothing like having one of Jeeves’ ideas up your sleeve to make you feel braced about life. After many years of having Jeeves rush to my aid with brainy schemes like a knight-at-arms rushing to save his lady-love, I never fail to trust in them no matter how harebrained they seem at first glance. But I must admit that as the hour of the luncheon with the Willoughbys drew near, I was feeling not unlike a man about to walk the plank. Adele Willoughby had already thwarted one wheeze—who’s to say she wouldn’t thwart another?
“Remember, sir, to dwell on the superiority of pugs,” Jeeves had said as he kissed me goodbye and handed me my hat. And I clung to the superiority of those little beasts as a drowning man clings to a raft.
The Willoughbys’ home was a rather imposing place, the sort of thing that reminds one of a mausoleum. I tiptoed gingerly up the marble stairs, feeling as though I would slip at any moment and break my neck. I was announced by a sneering sort of butler fellow and ushered into a drawing room. A very upright, starched woman, presumably Mrs. Willoughby, was seated in a chair beside the fire, with a hairy-looking cushion at her feet. Her husband sat opposite her, stroking a similar pillow. Adele was poking the fire.
“What ho!” I said, waving a hand. “What ho, Willoughbys all!”
Mrs. Willoughby gave a sort of pinched smile.
“How nice to see you again, Mr. Wooster,” Adele said. “Do sit down.”
I sat. Conversation, which had seemed so promising a moment before, flagged. Desperate, I unearthed Jeeves’ wisdom.
“D’y’know what I like?” I said, digging my elbow into one of those hairy cushions. “Pugs.”
“Pugs?” Mr. Willoughby sounded taken aback.
“Can’t get enough of ’em,” I elaborated. No response was forthcoming, so I persisted. “Ah, yes, many’s the time I’ve said to myself, ‘The pug is the dog for the gentleman.’ Really, I think they’re the most superior dogs in the world. Give me a pug any old day, that’s what I say.” I leaned my head on my hand, causing the cushion to quiver.
Adele’s mouth twitched. “Really?”
“Really.” I nodded vigorously, trying to look as serious as I could.
“What do you think of the Pekingese?” Mrs. Willoughby asked, fixing her fierce eyes on me.
It occurred to me that this was a species of test, and it was for this moment that Jeeves meant to prepare me. “Ugh! Rotten dogs. Awful sort of beasts, not fit for anything. No, the pug’s the only real dog, if you ask me.” I shivered theatrically, to add a touch of realism. “Can’t stand a Peke, or a poodle, or a—any other dog beginning with P. Besides the pug. The pug is truly—“ I dug a Jeevesian phrase from my memory—“the noblest of the animals.”
“Mr. Wooster!” Mrs. Willoughby gasped. “How could you?”
“How could I what?” I was utterly at sea.
“You come into our home, you insult us in such a manner—“
“I? Insult how?” I leaned harder into the cushion.
“—and what is more, you are suffocating poor little Delilah! Oh, it is true, you do hate the Pekingese!”
I looked around for poor little Delilah, but couldn’t find her. “I’m not suffocating anybody,” I retorted, lifting my arm off the cushion to point a firm finger in Mrs. Willoughby’s face. But just as I did so, the cushion gave a great shake, barked once, and flopped off the sofa and onto the floor, wiggling away in the direction of Adele.
“Oh, poor little Delilah,” Adele cooed, as the thing shuffled towards her at the rate of two inches a minute. “Did the nasty man hurt you much?”
“Beg your pardon,” I said, “I just thought she was one of those beastly cushions. They do have them in drawing rooms sometimes.”
Mr. Willoughby’s face was red and pop-eyed. “How dare you, Mr. Wooster. Delilah is our latest champion.”
“Champion of what, dusting the floors?” I thought some humor might lighten the situation. “I mean, you can’t blame me for not knowing that was an animal. Looks like something the cat coughed up, what?”
The Willoughbys did not seem to appreciate my light, cunning wit. They rose as one, with menace in their faces.
“Mr. Wooster!” thundered Mr. Willoughby. “You will leave this house at once and never return! And your aunt will hear about this, mark my words.”
Adele looked stricken. “I did so hope he was different. Mrs. Gregson said he was such a nice young man…”
Mrs. Willoughby took Adele into her arms. “Never mind, darling.” She glared daggers at me. “What are you still doing here, Mr. Wooster?”
I hotfooted it, wondering what on earth could have gone so wrong. I spent the whole way home thinking about it, but I got no closer to understanding what on earth had possessed that family to send me packing over a simple misunderstanding.
“You’ll be surprised to see me back so soon, no doubt,” I was preparing to say as I entered the flat, only to find Jeeves in conversation with someone else—with Reggie Bletherington, in fact.
“Reggie!” I said instead. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Trying to talk some sense into your manservant,” Reggie said. “I’m trying to tell him that you and I have an understanding, and that I’m here to beg for your heart again after you behaved in that callous fashion at the club the other day—“
“What, scooting away when you were breathing down my neck? A fellow can’t live with another fellow’s hot air in his ear all day.”
“—and he’s insisting that you and he have an understanding, and there was nothing between you and I. Now, can’t you make the man see sense?”
“I’m sorry, old thing, but it’s all perfectly true. Jeeves and I are in love. Besides, there never was anything between you and I in the first place. I just wanted you to compete in the Drones Olympics.”
Reggie spluttered. “Why, you little—“ He drew himself up to his full height, advancing towards me with malice in his eyes.
Jeeves was in between he and I in an instant. “That will be quite enough from you, Mr. Bletherington. Please leave the flat before it is necessary for me to call the police.”
There was a long, ominous silence. “All right,” Reggie muttered darkly. “I’m going. But if you think I’m ever coming back to the dratted Drones again, you’ve got another think coming.” He stalked out, slamming the door behind him.
I collapsed onto the sofa. “Jeeves,” I said. “I feel quite faint. If you could just mix me up a little something…”
Jeeves was at my elbow with the glass mere moments later. I quaffed it gratefully.
“Well,” I said, “it certainly has been a rummy afternoon. Sorry you had to deal with broken-hearted Reggie, Jeeves.”
“It’s no trouble, sir. In fact, I anticipated this eventuality once you informed Mr. Prosser that you had meant nothing by your attentions to Mr. Bletherington. Mr. Prosser is a very social gentleman, given to gossiping, and I knew the news would soon spread throughout your club. I deduced that once it reached Mr. Bletherington's ears, he might attempt to make matters go his own way, and was prepared to take the necessary actions.”
“By gum, Jeeves,” I said admiringly. “You were ready for his jilted-lover act?”
“It does not take much imagination to anticipate it, sir. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, your lordship is a very delightful gentleman, and losing you is a prospect most gentlemen would take great steps to avoid.”
I blushed scarlet and had to sip my cocktail to cover my feelings. “Thanks awfully, Jeeves. By the way, speaking of jilted—I think that Adele Willoughby has finished with yours truly.”
“It’s no good saying indeed, sir. That conversational gambit you provided me about the pugs didn’t do a bit of good. Made the whole family toss me out on my ear…” I trailed off, realization dawning. “That was the idea, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed, sir. I am well acquainted with the footman at Willoughby Manors, and he informed me that the Willoughbys have an overweening attachment to their Pekingese dogs, which they breed for shows and treat as members of the family. By informing you to praise another dog, I intended to make continuing the engagement an unfavorable prospect to Miss Willoughby. You will forgive me, sir, for not informing you of their predilection for the Pekingese. I trusted the effect would be greater were you to sincerely believe that praising the pug was the best course of action.”
“Jeeves!” I was off the sofa and in his arms in an instant. “You are marvelous.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I shivered suddenly. “Aunt Agatha won’t be pleased, Jeeves.”
“I fear not, sir. I have already taken the liberty of packing our bags and booking a train to Bournemouth. A few days of sea air will benefit your health, sir.”
“A few days only, sir. I fancy Mrs. Gregson’s anger will have cooled by then, and your lordship will return in plenty of time for the Drones Olympics.”
“Oh, drat the Drones Olympics, Jeeves,” I said. “Reggie was my only hope for money, and now he’s gone off. Can’t say I’m sorry to see him go, if he was going to be such a beast, but I must admit the zest has gone right out of it for me.”
“Are you acquainted with a Mr. Edward Fetherington, sir?”
“Teds Fetherington? I’ve seen him at the club now and again, but I don’t know him too well. Why?”
“Mr. Fetherington’s butler is a member of the Junior Ganymedes club, sir, and has regaled us with many stories about his master’s dexterity and ingenuity. He is particularly adept, I hear, at playing Beethoven on the piano and eating a piece of toast at the same time. If you were to put your money on Mr. Fetherington for the Drones Olympics, I fancy you would not come to grief.”
I positively swooned. “Jeeves! I don’t know how you do it. Let me look at your beautiful face.” I pulled away from his embrace, leaning back in his arms to gaze at him, and noticed something. A bright maroon and yellow tie, encircling Jeeves’ neck.
“Jeeves!” I exclaimed. “You’re wearing it.”
“Indeed, sir. It was a very thoughtful gift.”
I gazed at him a moment longer. “You were right the first time, Jeeves. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. Next time I’ll get you something in sensible navy, what?”
Jeeves planted a fond kiss on my lips. “Very good, sir.”