The Strand Magazine, April 1922

 

JEEVES,” I said, “we’ve backed a winner.”

“Sir?”

“Coming to this place, I mean. Here we are in a topping hotel, with fine weather, good cooking, golf, bathing, gambling of every variety, and my Aunt Agatha miles away on the other side of the English Channel. I ask you, what could be sweeter?”

I had had to leg it, if you remember, with considerable speed from London because my Aunt Agatha was on my track with a hatchet as the result of the breaking-off of my engagement to Honoria Glossop. The thing hadn’t been my fault, but I couldn’t have convinced Aunt Agatha of that if I’d argued for a week: so it had seemed to me that the judicious course to pursue was to buzz briskly off while the buzzing was good. I was standing now at the window of the extremely decent suite which I’d taken at the Hotel Splendide at Roville on the French coast, and, as I looked down at the people popping to and fro in the sunshine, and reflected that in about a quarter of an hour I was due to lunch with a girl who was the exact opposite of Honoria Glossop in every way, I felt dashed uplifted. Gay, genial, happy-go-lucky, and devil-may-care, if you know what I mean.

I had met this girl—Aline Hemmingway her name was—for the first time on the train coming from Paris. She was going to Roville to wait there for a brother who was due to arrive from England. I had helped her with her baggage, got into conversation, had a bite of dinner with her in the restaurant-car, and the result was we had become remarkably chummy. I’m a bit apt, as a rule, to give the modern girl a miss, but there was something different about Aline Hemmingway.

I turned round, humming a blithe melody, and Jeeves shied like a startled mustang.

I had rather been expecting some such display of emotion on the man’s part, for I was trying out a fairly fruity cummerbund that morning—one of those silk contrivances, you know, which you tie round your waist, something on the order of a sash, only more substantial. I had seen it in a shop the day before and hadn’t been able to resist it, but I’d known all along that there might be trouble with Jeeves. It was a pretty brightish scarlet.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, in a sort of hushed voice. “You are surely not proposing to appear in public in that thing?”

“What, Cuthbert the Cummerbund?” I said, in a careless, debonair way, passing it off. “Rather!”

“I should not advise it, sir, really I shouldn’t.”

“Why not?”

“The effect, sir, is loud in the extreme.”

I tackled the blighter squarely. I mean to say, nobody knows better than I do that Jeeves is a master-mind and all that, but, dash it, a fellow must call his soul his own. You can’t be a serf to your valet.

“You know, the trouble with you, Jeeves,” I said, “is that you’re too—what’s the word I want?—too bally insular. You can’t realize that you aren’t in Piccadilly all the time. In a place like this, simply dripping with the gaiety and joie-de-vivre of France, a bit of colour and a touch of the poetic is expected of you. Why, last night at the Casino I saw a chappie in a full evening suit of yellow velvet.”

“Nevertheless, sir——”

“Jeeves,” I said, firmly, “my mind is made up. I’m in a foreign country; it’s a corking day; God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world, and this cummerbund seems to me to be called for.”

“Very good, sir,” said Jeeves, coldly.

Dashed upsetting, this sort of thing. If there’s one thing that gives me the pip, it’s unpleasantness in the home; and I could see that relations were going to be pretty fairly strained for a while. I suppose the old brow must have been a bit furrowed or something, for Aline Hemmingway spotted that things were wrong directly we sat down to lunch.

“You seem depressed, Mr. Wooster,” she said. “Have you been losing money at the Casino?”

“No,” I said. “As a matter of fact, I won quite a goodish sum last night.”

“But something is the matter. What is it?”

“Well, to tell you the truth,” I said, “I’ve just had rather a painful scene with my man, and it’s shaken me a bit. He doesn’t like this cummerbund.”

“Why, I’ve just been admiring it. I think it’s very becoming.”

“No, really?”

“It has rather a Spanish effect.”

“Exactly what I thought myself. Extraordinary you should have said that. A touch of the hidalgo, what? Sort of Vincente y Blasco What’s-his-name stuff. The jolly old hidalgo off to the bull-fight, what?”

“Yes. Or a corsair of the Spanish Main.”

“Absolutely! I say, you know, you have bucked me up. It’s a rummy thing about you—how sympathetic you are, I mean. The ordinary girl you meet to-day is all bobbed hair and gaspers, but you——”

I was about to continue in this strain, when somebody halted at our table, and the girl jumped up.

“Sidney!” she cried.

The chappie who had anchored in our midst was a small, round cove with a face rather like a sheep. He wore pince-nez, his expression was benevolent, and he had on one of those collars which button at the back. A parson, in fact.

“Well, my dear,” he said, beaming pretty freely, “here I am at last.”

“Are you very tired?”

“Not at all. A most enjoyable journey, in which tedium was rendered impossible by the beauty of the scenery through which we passed and the entertaining conversation of my fellow-travellers. But may I be presented to this gentleman?” he said, peering at me through the pince-nez.

“This is Mr. Wooster,” said the girl, “who was very kind to me coming from Paris. Mr. Wooster, this is my brother.”

We shook hands, and the brother went off to get a wash.

“Sidney’s such a dear,” said the girl. “I know you’ll like him.”

“Seems a topper.”

“I do hope he will enjoy his stay here. It’s so seldom he gets a holiday. His vicar overworks him dreadfully.”

“Vicars are the devil, what?”

“I wonder if you will be able to spare any time to show him round the place? I can see he’s taken such a fancy to you. But, of course, it would be a bother, I suppose, so——”

“Rather not. Only too delighted.” For half a second I thought of patting her hand, then I felt I’d better wait a bit. “I’ll do anything, absolutely anything.”

“It’s awfully kind of you.”

“For you,” I said, “I would——”

At this point the brother returned, and the conversation became what you might call general.

 

AFTER lunch I fairly curvetted back to my suite, with a most extraordinary braced sensation going all over me like a rash.

“Jeeves,” I said, “you were all wrong about that cummerbund. It went like a breeze from the start.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Made an absolutely outstanding hit. The lady I was lunching with admired it. Her brother admired it. The waiter looked as if he admired it. Well, anything happened since I left?”

“Yes, sir. Mrs. Gregson has arrived at the hotel.”

A chappie I know who went shooting, and was potted by one of his brother-sportsmen in mistake for a rabbit, once told me that it was several seconds before he realized that he had contributed to the day’s bag. For about a tenth of a minute everything seemed quite O.K., and then suddenly he got it. It was just the same with me. It took about five seconds for this fearful bit of news to sink in.

“What!” I yelled. “Aunt Agatha here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“She can’t be.”

“I have seen her, sir.”

“But how did she get here?”

“The express from Paris has just arrived, sir.”

“But, I mean, how the dickens did she know I was here?”

“You left a forwarding-address at the flat for your correspondence, sir. No doubt Mrs. Gregson obtained it from the hall-porter.”

“But I told the chump not to give it away to a soul.”

“That would hardly baffle a lady of Mrs. Gregson’s forceful personality, sir.”

“Jeeves, I’m in the soup.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Right up to the hocks!”

“Yes, sir.”

“What shall I do?”

“I fear I have nothing to suggest, sir.”

I eyed the man narrowly. Dashed aloof his manner was. I saw what was the matter, of course. He was still brooding over that cummerbund.

“I shall go for a walk, Jeeves,” I said.

“Yes, sir?”

“A good long walk.”

“Very good, sir.”

“And if—er—if anybody asks for me, tell ’em you don’t know when I’ll be back.”

 

TO people who don’t know my Aunt Agatha I find it extraordinarily difficult to explain why it is that she has always put the wind up me to such a frightful extent. I mean, I’m not dependent on her financially, or anything like that. It’s simply personality, I’ve come to the conclusion. You see, all through my childhood and when I was a kid at school, she was always able to turn me inside out with a single glance, and I haven’t come out from under the ’fluence yet. We run to height a bit in our family, and there’s about five-foot-nine of Aunt Agatha, topped off with a beaky nose, an eagle eye, and a lot of grey hair, and the general effect is pretty formidable.

Her arrival in Roville at this juncture had made things more than a bit complicated for me. What to do? Leg it quick before she could get hold of me, would no doubt have been the advice most fellows would have given me. But the situation wasn’t as simple as that. I was in much the same position as the cat on the garden-wall who, when on the point of becoming matey with the cat next door, observes the boot-jack sailing through the air. If he stays where he is, he gets it in the neck; if he biffs, he has to start all over again where he left off. I didn’t like the prospect of being collared by Aunt Agatha, but on the other hand I simply barred the notion of leaving Roville by the night-train and parting from Aline Hemmingway. Absolutely a man’s cross-roads, if you know what I mean.

I prowled about the neighbourhood all the afternoon and evening, then I had a bit of dinner at a quiet restaurant in the town and trickled cautiously back to the hotel. Jeeves was popping about in the suite.

“There is a note for you, sir,” he said, “on the mantelpiece.”

The blighter’s manner was still so cold and unchummy that I bit the bullet and had a dash at being airy.

“A note, eh?”

“Yes, sir. Mrs. Gregson’s maid brought it shortly after you had left.”

“Tra-la-la!” I said.

“Precisely, sir.”

I opened the note.

“She wants me to look in on her after dinner some time.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Jeeves,” I said, “mix me a stiffish brandy-and-soda.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Stiffish, Jeeves. Not too much soda, but splash the brandy about a bit.”

“Very good, sir.”

He shimmied off into the background to collect the materials, and just at that moment there was a knock at the door.

I’m bound to say it was a shock. My heart stood still, and I bit my tongue.

“Come in,” I bleated.

But it wasn’t Aunt Agatha after all. It was Aline Hemmingway, looking rather rattled, and her brother, looking like a sheep with a secret sorrow.

“Oh, Mr. Wooster!” said the girl, in a sort of gasping way.

“Oh, what-ho!” I said. “Won’t you come in? Take a seat or two.”

“I don’t know how to begin.”

“Eh?” I said. “Is anything up?”

“Poor Sidney—it was my fault—I ought never to have let him go there alone.”

At this point the brother, who had been standing by wrapped in the silence, gave a little cough, like a sheep caught in the mist on a mountain-top.

“The fact is, Mr. Wooster,” he said, “I have been gambling at the Casino.”

“Oh!” I said. “Did you click?”

He sighed heavily.

“If you mean, was I successful, I must answer in the negative. I rashly persisted in the view that the colour red, having appeared no fewer than seven times in succession, must inevitably at no distant date give place to black. I was in error. I lost my little all, Mr. Wooster.”

“Tough luck,” I said.

“I left the Casino, and returned to the hotel. There I encountered one of my parishioners, a Colonel Musgrave, who chanced to be holiday-making over here. I—er—induced him to cash me a cheque for one hundred pounds on my bank in London.”

“Well, that was all to the good, what?” I said, hoping to induce the poor egg to look on the bright side. “I mean bit of luck finding someone to slip it into, first crack out of the box.”

“On the contrary, Mr. Wooster, it did but make matters worse. I burn with shame as I make the confession, but I went back to the Casino and lost the entire sum.”

“I say!” I said. “You are having a night out!”

“And,” concluded the chappie, “the most lamentable feature of the whole affair is that I have no funds in the bank to meet the cheque, when presented.”

 

I’M free to confess that I gazed at him with no little interest and admiration. Never in my life before had I encountered a curate so genuinely all to the mustard. Little as he might look like one of the lads of the village, he certainly appeared to be the real tabasco.

“Colonel Musgrave,” he went on, gulping somewhat, “is not a man who would be likely to overlook the matter. He is a hard man. He will expose me to my vic-ah. My vic-ah is a hard man. I shall be ruined if Colonel Musgrave presents that cheque, and he leaves for England to-night.”

“Mr. Wooster,” the girl burst out, “won’t you, won’t you help us? Oh, do say you will. We must have the money to get back that cheque from Colonel Musgrave before nine o’clock—he leaves on the nine-twenty. I was at my wits’ end what to do, when I remembered how kind you had always been and how you had told me at lunch that you had won some money at the Casino last night. Mr. Wooster, will you lend it to us, and take these as security?” And, before I knew what she was doing, she had dived into her bag, produced a case, and opened it. “My pearls,” she said. “I don’t know what they are worth—they were a present from my poor father—but I know they must be worth ever so much more than the amount we want.”

Dashed embarrassing. Made me feel like a pawnbroker. More than a touch of popping the watch about the whole business.

“No, I say, really,” I protested, the haughty old spirit of the Woosters kicking like a mule at the idea. “There’s no need of any security, you know, or any rot of that kind. I mean to say, among pals, you know, what? Only too glad the money’ll come in useful.”

And I fished it out and pushed it across. The brother shook his head.

“Mr. Wooster,” he said, “we appreciate your generosity, your beautiful, heartening confidence in us, but we cannot permit this.”

“What Sidney means,” said the girl, “is that you really don’t know anything about us, when you come to think of it. You mustn’t risk lending all this money without any security at all to two people who, after all, are almost strangers.”

“Oh, don’t say that!”

“I do say it. If I hadn’t thought that you would be quite businesslike about this, I would never have dared to come to you. If you will just give me a receipt, as a matter of form——”

“Oh, well.”

I wrote out the receipt and handed it over, feeling more or less of an ass.

“Here you are,” I said.

The girl took the piece of paper, shoved it in her bag, grabbed the money and slipped it to brother Sidney, and then, before I knew what was happening, she had darted at me, kissed me, and legged it from the room.

I don’t know when I’ve been so rattled. The whole thing was so dashed sudden and unexpected. Through a sort of mist I could see that Jeeves had appeared from the background and was helping the brother on with his coat; and then the brother came up to me and grasped my hand.

“I cannot thank you sufficiently, Mr. Wooster!”

“Oh, right-ho!”

“You have saved my good name. Good name in man or woman, dear my lord,” he said, massaging the fin with some fervour, “is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash. ’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him and makes me poor indeed. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Good night, Mr. Wooster.”

“Good night, old thing,” I said.

“Your brandy-and-soda, sir,” said Jeeves, as the door shut.

I blinked at him.

“Oh, there you are!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Rather a sad affair, Jeeves.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Lucky I happened to have all that money handy.”

“Well—er—yes, sir.”

“You speak as though you didn’t think much of it.”

“It is not my place to criticize your actions, sir, but I will venture to say that I think you behaved a little rashly.”

“What, lending that money?”

“Yes, sir. These fashionable French watering-places are notoriously infested by dishonest characters.”

This was a bit too thick.

“Now, look here, Jeeves,” I said, “I can stand a lot, but when it comes to your casting asp-whatever-the-word-is on the sweetest girl in the world and a bird in Holy Orders——”

“Perhaps I am over-suspicious, sir. But I have seen a great deal of these resorts. When I was in the employment of Lord Frederick Ranelagh, shortly before I entered your service, his lordship was very neatly swindled by a criminal known, I believe, by the sobriquet of Soapy Sid, who scraped acquaintance with us in Monte Carlo with the assistance of a female accomplice. I have never forgotten the circumstance.”

“I don’t want to butt in on your reminiscences, Jeeves,” I said, coldly, “but you’re talking through your hat. How can there have been anything fishy about this business? They’ve left me the pearls, haven’t they? Very well, then, think before you speak. You had better be tooling down to the desk now and having these things shoved in the hotel safe.” I picked up the case and opened it. “Oh, Great Scot!”

The bally thing was empty!

“Oh, my Lord!” I said, staring, “don’t tell me there’s been dirty work at the crossroads after all!”

“Precisely, sir. It was in exactly the same manner that Lord Frederick was swindled on the occasion to which I have alluded. While his female accomplice was gratefully embracing his lordship, Soapy Sid substituted a duplicate case for the one containing the pearls, and went off with the jewels, the money, and the receipt. On the strength of the receipt he subsequently demanded from his lordship the return of the pearls, and his lordship, not being able to produce them, was obliged to pay a heavy sum in compensation. It is a simple but effective ruse.”

I felt as if the bottom had dropped out of things with a jerk. I mean to say, Aline Hemmingway, you know. What I mean is, if Love hadn’t actually awakened in my heart, there’s no doubt it was having a jolly good stab at it, and the thing was only a question of days. And all the time—well, I mean, dash it, you know.

“Soapy Sid? Sid! Sidney! Brother Sidney! Why, by Jove, Jeeves, do you think that parson was Soapy Sid?”

“Yes, sir.”

“But it seems so extraordinary. Why, his collar buttoned at the back—I mean, he would have deceived a bishop. Do you really think he was Soapy Sid?”

“Yes, sir. I recognized him directly he came into the room.”

I stared at the blighter.

“You recognized him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then, dash it all,” I said, deeply moved, “I think you might have told me.”

“I thought it would save disturbance and unpleasantness if I merely abstracted the case from the man’s pocket as I assisted him with his coat, sir. Here it is.”

He laid another case on the table beside the dud one, and, by Jove, you couldn’t tell them apart. I opened it, and there were the good old pearls, as merry and bright as dammit, smiling up at me. I gazed feebly at the man. I was feeling a bit overwrought.

“Jeeves,” I said, “you’re an absolute genius!”

“Yes, sir.”

Relief was surging over me in great chunks by now. I’d almost forgotten that a woman had toyed with my heart and thrown it away like a worn-out tube of tooth-paste and all that sort of thing. What seemed to me the important item was the fact that, thanks to Jeeves, I was not going to be called on to cough up several thousand quid.

“It looks to me as though you had saved the old home. I mean, even a chappie endowed with the immortal rind of dear old Sid is hardly likely to have the nerve to come back and retrieve these little chaps.”

“I should imagine not, sir.”

“Well, then—— Oh, I say, you don’t think they are just paste or anything like that?”

“No, sir. These are genuine pearls, and extremely valuable.”

“Well, then, dash it, I’m on velvet. Absolutely reclining on the good old plush! I may be down a hundred quid, but I’m up a jolly good string of pearls. Am I right or wrong?”

“Hardly that, sir. I think that you will have to restore the pearls.”

“What! To Sid? Not while I have my physique!”

“No, sir. To their rightful owner.”

“But who is their rightful owner?”

“Mrs. Gregson, sir.”

“What! How do you know?”

“It was all over the hotel an hour ago that Mrs. Gregson’s pearls had been abstracted. The man Sid travelled from Paris in the same train as Mrs. Gregson, and no doubt marked them down. I was speaking to Mrs. Gregson’s maid shortly before you came in, and she informed me that the manager of the hotel is now in Mrs. Gregson’s suite.”

“And having a devil of a time, what?”

“So I should be disposed to imagine, sir.”

The situation was beginning to unfold before me.

“I’ll go and give them back to her, eh? It’ll put me one up, what?”

“If I might make the suggestion, sir, I think it would strengthen your position if you were to affect to discover the pearls in Mrs. Gregson’s suite—say, in a bureau drawer.”

“I don’t see why.”

“I think I am right, sir.”

“Well, I stand on you. If you say so— I’ll be popping, what?”

“The sooner the better, sir.”

 

LONG before I reached Aunt Agatha’s lair I could tell that the hunt was up.

Divers chappies in hotel uniform and not a few chambermaids of sorts were hanging about in the corridor, and through the panels I could hear a mixed assortment of voices, with Aunt Agatha’s topping the lot. I knocked, but no one took any notice, so I trickled in. Among those present I noticed a chambermaid in hysterics, Aunt Agatha with her hair bristling, and a whiskered cove who looked like a bandit, as no doubt he was, being the proprietor of the hotel.

“Oh, hallo,” I said. “I got your note. Aunt Agatha.”

She waved me away. No welcoming smile for Bertram.

“Oh, don’t bother me now,” she snapped, looking at me as if I were more or less the last straw.

“Something up?”

“Yes, yes, yes! I’ve lost my pearls.”

“Pearls? Pearls? Pearls?” I said. “No, really? Dashed annoying. Where did you see them last?”

“What does it matter where I saw them last? They have been stolen.”

Here Wilfred the Whisker-King, who seemed to have been taking a rest between rounds, stepped into the ring again and began to talk rapidly in French. Cut to the quick he seemed. The chambermaid whooped in the corner.

“Sure you’ve looked everywhere?” I asked.

“Of course I’ve looked everywhere.”

“Well, you know, I’ve often lost a collar-stud and——”

“Do try not to be so maddening, Bertie! I have enough to bear without your imbecilities. Oh, be quiet! Be quiet!” she shouted in the sort of voice used by sergeant-majors and those who call the cattle home across the Sands of Dee. And such was the magnetism of what Jeeves called her forceful personality that Wilfred subsided as though he had run into a wall. The chambermaid continued to go strong.

“I say,” I said, “I think there’s something the matter with this girl. Isn’t she crying or something?”

“She stole my pearls! I am convinced of it.”

This started the whisker-specialist off again, and I left them at it and wandered off on a tour round the room. I slipped the pearls out of the case and decanted them into a drawer. By the time I’d done this and had leisure to observe the free-for-all once more, Aunt Agatha had reached the frozen grande-dame stage and was putting the last of the bandits through it in the voice she usually reserves for snubbing waiters in restaurants.

“I tell you, my good man, for the hundredth time, that I have searched thoroughly—everywhere. Why you should imagine that I have overlooked so elementary——“

“I say,” I said, “don’t want to interrupt you and all that sort of thing, but aren’t these the little chaps?”

I pulled them out of the drawer and held them up.

“These look like pearls, what?”

I don’t know when I’ve had a more juicy moment. It was one of those occasions about which I shall prattle to my grandchildren—if I ever have any, which at the moment of going to press seems more or less of a hundred-to-one shot. Aunt Agatha simply deflated before my eyes. It reminded me of when I once saw some chappies letting the gas out of a balloon.

“Where—where—where——?” she gurgled.

“In this drawer. They’d slid under some paper.”

“Oh!” said Aunt Agatha, and there was a bit of a silence.

I dug out my entire stock of manly courage, breathed a short prayer, and let her have it right in the thorax.

“I must say, Aunt Agatha, dash it,” I said, crisply, “I think you have been a little hasty, what? I mean to say, giving this poor man here so much anxiety and worry and generally biting him in the gizzard. You’ve been very, very unjust to this poor man!”

“Yes, yes, “chipped in the poor man.

“And this unfortunate girl, what about her? Where does she get off? You’ve accused her of pinching the things on absolutely no evidence. I think she would be jolly well advised to bring an action for—for whatever it is, and soak you for substantial damages.”

Mais oui, mais oui, c’est trop fort!” shouted the Bandit Chief, backing me up like a good ’un. And the chambermaid looked up inquiringly, as if the sun was breaking through the clouds.

“I shall recompense her,” said Aunt Agatha, feebly.

“If you take my tip, you jolly well will, and that eftsoones or right speedily. She’s got a cast-iron case, and if I were her I wouldn’t take a cent under twenty quid. But what gives me the pip most is the way you’ve abused this poor man here and tried to give his hotel a bad name——”

“Yes, by dam’! It’s too bad!” cried the whiskered marvel. “You careless old woman! You give my hotel bad names, would you or wasn’t it? To-morrow you leave my hotel.”

And more to the same effect, all good, ripe stuff. And presently, having said his say, he withdrew, taking the chambermaid with him, the latter with a crisp tenner clutched in a vice-like grip. I suppose she and the bandit split it outside. A French hotel-manager wouldn’t be likely to let real money wander away from him without counting himself in on the division.

I turned to Aunt Agatha, whose demeanour was now rather like that of one who, picking daisies on the railway, has just caught the down-express in the small of the back.

“There was something you wished to speak to me about?” I said.

“No, no. Go away, go away.”

“You said in your note——”

“Yes, yes, never mind. Please go away, Bertie. I wish to be alone.”

“Oh, right-ho!” I said. “Right-ho! right-ho!” And back to the good old suite.

“Ten o’clock, a clear night, and all’s well, Jeeves,” I said, breezing in.

“I am gratified to hear it, sir.”

“If twenty quid would be any use to you, Jeeves——?”

“I am much obliged, sir.”

There was a pause. And then—well, it was a wrench, but I did it. I unstripped the cummerbund and handed it over.

“Do you wish me to press this, sir?”

I gave the thing one last longing look. It had been very dear to me.

“No,” I said, “take it away; give it to the deserving poor. I shall never wear it again.”

“Thank you very much, sir,” said Jeeves.

 

(Next month: “Comrade Bingo.”)

 

Editor’s note:
This initial appearance of the story is the version collected in The World of Jeeves, but for the Cosmopolitan magazine version, which came out half a year later, the story was substantially rewritten, and that version was then adapted for The Inimitable Jeeves. See the notes at the end of the revised version.