The Strand, May 1922
THE thing really started in the Park—at the Marble Arch end, where blighters of every description collect on Sunday afternoons and stand on soap-boxes and make speeches. It isn’t often you’ll find me there, but it so happened that on this particular Sabbath, having a call to pay in Manchester Square, I had taken a short cut through and found myself right in the middle of it. On the prompt side a gang of top-hatted birds were starting an open-air missionary service; on the O.P. side an atheist was hauling up his slacks with a good deal of vim, though handicapped a bit by having no roof to his mouth; a chappie who wanted a hundred million quid to finance him in a scheme for solving the problem of perpetual motion was playing to a thin house up left centre; while in front of me there stood a little group of serious thinkers with a banner labelled “Heralds Of The Red Dawn”; and as I came up one of the Heralds, a bearded egg in a slouch hat and a tweed suit, was slipping it into the Idle Rich with such breadth and vigour that I paused for a moment to get an earful. While I was standing there somebody spoke to me.
“Mr. Wooster, surely?”
Stout chappie. Couldn’t place him for a second. Then I got him. Bingo Little’s uncle, the one I had lunch with at the time when young Bingo was in love with that waitress at the Piccadilly bun-shop. No wonder I hadn’t recognized him at first. When I had seen him last he had been a rather sloppy old gentleman—coming down to lunch, I remember, in carpet slippers and a velvet smoking-jacket; whereas now dapper simply wasn’t the word. He absolutely gleamed in the sunlight in a silk hat, morning coat, lavender spats, and sponge-bag trousers, as now worn. Dressy to a degree.
“Oh, hallo!” I said. “Going strong?”
“I am in excellent health, I thank you. And you?”
“In the pink. Just been over in France for a change of air. Got back the day before yesterday. Seen anything of Bingo lately?”
“Oh, Richard? No, not very recently. Since my marriage a little coolness seems to have sprung up.”
“Sorry to hear that. So you’ve married since I saw you, what? Mrs. Little all right?”
“My wife is happily robust. But—er—not Mrs. Little. Since we last met a gracious Sovereign has been pleased to bestow on me a signal mark of his favour in the shape of—ah—a peerage. On the publication of the last Honours List I became Lord Bittlesham.”
“By Jove! Really? I say, heartiest congratulations. That’s the stuff to give the troops, what? Lord Bittlesham?” I said. “Why, you’re the owner of Ocean Breeze.”
“Yes. Marriage has enlarged my horizon in many directions. My wife is interested in horse-racing, and I now maintain a small stable. I understand that Ocean Breeze is fancied, as I am told the expression is, for a race which will take place at the end of the month at Goodwood, the Duke of Richmond’s seat in Sussex.”
“The Goodwood Cup. Rather! I’ve got my chemise on it for one.”
“Indeed? Well, I trust the animal will justify your confidence. I know little of these matters myself, but my wife tells me that it is regarded in knowledgeable circles as what I believe is termed a snip.”
At this moment I suddenly noticed that the audience was gazing in our direction with a good deal of interest, and I saw that the bearded chappie was pointing at us.
“Yes, look at them! Drink them in!” he was yelling, his voice rising above the perpetual-motion fellow’s and beating the missionary service all to nothing. “There you see two typical members of the class which has down-trodden the poor for centuries. Idlers! Non-producers! Look at the tall, thin one with the face like a motor-mascot. Has he ever done an honest day’s work in his life? No! A prowler, a trifler, and a blood-sucker! And I bet he still owes his tailor for those trousers!”
He seemed to me to be verging on the personal, and I didn’t think a lot of it. Old Bittlesham, on the other hand, was pleased and amused.
“A great gift of expression these fellows have,” he chuckled. “Very trenchant.”
“And the fat one!” proceeded the chappie. “Don’t miss him. Do you know who that is? That’s Lord Bittlesham! One of the worst. What has he ever done except eat four square meals a day? His god is his belly, and he sacrifices burnt-offerings to it till his eyes bubble. If you opened that man now you would find enough lunch to support ten working-class families for a week.”
“You know, that’s rather well put,” I said, but the old boy didn’t seem to see it. He had turned a brightish magenta and was bubbling like a kettle on the boil.
“Come away, Mr. Wooster,” he said. “I am the last man to oppose the right of free speech, but I refuse to listen to this vulgar abuse any longer.”
We legged it with quiet dignity, the chappie pursuing us with his foul innuendoes to the last. Dashed embarrassing.
NEXT day I looked in at the club, and found young Bingo in the smoking-room.
“Hallo, Bingo,” I said, toddling over to his corner full of bonhomie, for I was glad to see the chump. “How’s the boy?”
“I saw your uncle yesterday.”
Young Bingo unleashed a grin that split his face in half.
“I know you did, you trifler. Well, sit down, old thing, and suck a bit of blood. How’s the prowling these days?”
“Good Lord! You weren’t there!”
“Yes, I was.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“Yes, you did. But perhaps you didn’t recognize me in the shrubbery.”
“The beard, my boy. Worth every penny I paid for it. Defies detection.”
I goggled at him.
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s a long story. Have a martini or a small gore-and-soda, and I’ll tell you all about it. Before we start, give me your honest opinion. Isn’t she the most wonderful girl you ever saw in your puff?”
He had produced a photograph from somewhere, like a conjurer taking a rabbit out of a hat, and was waving it in front of me. It appeared to be a female of sorts, all eyes and teeth.
“Oh, great Scott!” I said. “Don’t tell me you’re in love again.”
He seemed aggrieved.
“What do you mean—again?”
“Well, to my certain knowledge you’ve been in love with at least half-a-dozen girls since the spring, and it’s only July now. There was that waitress and Honoria Glossop and——”
“Oh, tush! Not to say pish! Those girls? Mere passing fancies. This is the real thing.”
“Where did you meet her?”
“On top of a bus. Her name is Charlotte Corday Rowbotham.”
“It’s not her fault, poor child. Her father had her christened that because he’s all for the Revolution, and it seems that the original Charlotte Corday used to go about stabbing oppressors in their baths, which entitles her to consideration and respect. You must meet old Rowbotham, Bertie. A delightful chap. Wants to massacre the bourgeoisie, sack Park Lane, and disembowel the hereditary aristocracy. Well, nothing could be fairer than that, what? But about Charlotte. We were on top of the bus, and it started to rain. I offered her my umbrella, and we chatted of this and that. I fell in love and got her address, and a couple of days later I bought the beard and toddled round and met the family.”
“But why the beard?”
“Well, she had told me all about her father on the bus, and I saw that to get any footing at all in the home I should have to join these Red Dawn blighters; and naturally, if I was to make speeches in the Park, where at any moment I might run into a dozen people I knew, something in the nature of a disguise was indicated. So I bought the beard, and, by love, old boy, I’ve become dashed attached to the thing. When I take it off to come in here, for instance, I feel absolutely nude. It’s done me a lot of good with old Rowbotham. He thinks I’m a Bolshevist of sorts who has to go about disguised because of the police. You really must meet old Rowbotham, Bertie. I tell you what, are you doing anything to-morrow afternoon?”
“Nothing special. Why?”
“Good! Then you can have us all to tea at your flat. I had promised to take the crowd to Lyons’ Popular Café after a meeting we’re holding down in Lambeth, but I can save money this way; and, believe me, laddie, nowadays, as far as I’m concerned, a penny saved is a penny earned. My uncle told you he’d got married?”
“Yes. And he said there was a coolness between you.”
“Coolness? I’m down to zero. Ever since he married he’s been launching out in every direction and economizing on me. I suppose that peerage cost the old devil the deuce of a sum. Even baronetcies have gone up frightfully nowadays, I’m told. And he’s started a racing-stable. By the way, put your last collar-stud on Ocean Breeze for the Goodwood Cup. It’s a cert.”
“I’m going to.”
“It can’t lose. I mean to win enough on it to marry Charlotte with. You’re going to Goodwood, of course?”
“So are we. We’re holding a meeting on Cup day just outside the paddock.”
“But, I say, aren’t you taking frightful risks? Your uncle’s sure to be at Goodwood. Suppose he spots you? He’ll be fed to the gills if he finds out that you’re the fellow who ragged him in the Park.”
“How the deuce is he to find out? Use your intelligence, you prowling inhaler of red corpuscles. If he didn’t spot me yesterday, why should he spot me at Goodwood? Well, thanks for your cordial invitation for tomorrow, old thing. We shall be delighted to accept. Do us well, laddie, and blessings shall reward you. By the way, I may have misled you by using the word ‘tea.’ None of your wafer slices of bread-and-butter. We’re good trenchermen, we of the Revolution. What we shall require will be something on the order of scrambled eggs, muffins, jam, ham, cake, and sardines. Expect us at five sharp.”
“But, I say, I ‘m not quite sure——”
“Yes, you are. Silly ass, don’t you see that this is going to do you a bit of good when the Revolution breaks loose? When you see old Rowbotham sprinting up Piccadilly with a dripping knife in each hand, you’ll be jolly thankful to be able to remind him that he once ate your tea and shrimps. There will be four of us—Charlotte, self, the old man, and Comrade Butt. I suppose he will insist on coming along.”
“Who the devil’s Comrade Butt?”
“Did you notice a fellow standing on my left in our little troupe yesterday? Small, shrivelled chap. Looks like a haddock with lung-trouble. That’s Butt. My rival, dash him. He’s sort of semi-engaged to Charlotte at the moment. Till I came along he was the blue-eyed boy. He’s got a voice like a foghorn, and old Rowbotham thinks a lot of him. But, hang it, if I can’t thoroughly encompass this Butt and cut him out and put him where he belongs among the discards—well, I’m not the man I was, that’s all. He may have a big voice, but he hasn’t my gift of expression. Thank heaven I was once cox of my college boat. Well, I must be pushing now. I say, you don’t know how I could raise fifty quid somehow, do you?”
“Why don’t you work?”
“Work?” said young Bingo, surprised. “What, me? No, I shall have to think of some way. I must put at least fifty on Ocean Breeze. Well, see you to-morrow. God bless you, old sort, and don’t forget the muffins.”
I DON’T know why, ever since I first knew him at school, I should have felt a rummy feeling of responsibility for young Bingo. I mean to say, he’s not my son (thank goodness) or my brother or anything like that. He’s got absolutely no claim on me at all, and yet a large-sized chunk of my existence seems to be spent in fussing over him like a bally old hen and hauling him out of the soup. I suppose it must be some rare beauty in my nature or something. At any rate, this latest affair of his worried me. He seemed to be doing his best to marry into a family of pronounced loonies, and how the deuce he thought he was going to support even a mentally afflicted wife on nothing a year beat me. Old Bittlesham was bound to knock off his allowance if he did anything of the sort; and, with a fellow like young Bingo, if you knocked off his allowance, you might just as well hit him on the head with an axe and make a clean job of it.
“Jeeves,” I said, when I got home, “I’m worried.”
“About Mr. Little. I won’t tell you about it now, because he’s bringing some friends of his to tea to-morrow, and then you will be able to judge for yourself. I want you to observe closely, Jeeves, and form your decision.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And about the tea. Get in some muffins.”
“And some jam, ham, cake, scrambled eggs, and five or six wagonloads of sardines.”
“Sardines, sir?” said Jeeves, with a shudder.
There was an awkward pause.
“Don’t blame me, Jeeves,” I said. “It isn’t my fault.”
“Well, that’s that.”
I could see the man was brooding tensely.
I’VE found, as a general rule in life, that the things you think are going to be the scaliest nearly always turn out not so bad after all; but it wasn’t that way with Bingo’s tea-party. From the moment he invited himself I felt that the thing was going to be blue round the edges, and it was. And I think the most gruesome part of the whole affair was the fact that, for the first time since I’d known him, I saw Jeeves come very near to being rattled. I suppose there’s a chink in everyone’s armour, and young Bingo found Jeeves’s right at the drop of the flag when he breezed in with six inches or so of brown beard hanging on to his chin. I had forgotten to warn Jeeves about the beard, and it came on him absolutely out of a blue sky. I saw the man’s jaw drop, and he clutched at the table for support. I don’t blame him, mind you. Few people have ever looked fouler than young Bingo in the fungus. Jeeves paled a little; then the weakness passed and he was himself again. But I could see that he had been shaken.
Young Bingo was too busy introducing the mob to take much notice. They were a very C3 collection. Comrade Butt looked like one of the things that come out of dead trees after the rain; moth-eaten was the word I should have used to describe old Rowbotham; and as for Charlotte, she seemed to take me straight into another and a dreadful world. It wasn’t that she was exactly bad-looking. In fact, if she had knocked off starchy foods and done Swedish exercises for a bit, she might have been quite tolerable. But there was too much of her. Billowy curves. Well-nourished perhaps expresses it best. And, while she may have had a heart of gold, the thing you noticed about her first was that she had a tooth of gold. I knew that young Bingo, when in form, could fall in love with practically anything of the other sex; but this time I couldn’t see any excuse for him at all.
“My friend Mr. Wooster,” said Bingo, completing the ceremonial.
Old Rowbotham looked at me and then he looked round the room, and I could see he wasn’t particularly braced. There’s nothing of absolutely Oriental luxury about the old flat, but I have managed to make myself fairly comfortable, and I suppose the surroundings jarred him a bit.
“Mr. Wooster?” said old Rowbotham. “May I say Comrade Wooster?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Are you of the movement?”
“Do you yearn for the Revolution?”
“Well, I don’t know that I exactly yearn. I mean to say, as far as I can make out, the whole nub of the scheme seems to be to massacre coves like me; and I don’t mind owning I’m not frightfully keen on the idea.”
“But I’m talking him round,” said Bingo. “I’m wrestling with him. A few more treatments ought to do the trick.”
Old Rowbotham looked at me a bit doubtfully.
“Comrade Little has great eloquence,” he admitted.
“I think he talks something wonderful,” said the girl, and young Bingo shot a glance of such succulent devotion at her that I reeled in my tracks. It seemed to depress Comrade Butt a good deal too. He scowled at the carpet and said something about dancing on volcanoes.
“Tea is served, sir,” said Jeeves.
“Tea, pa!” said Charlotte, starting at the word like the old war-horse who hears the bugle; and we got down to it.
Funny how one changes as the years roll on. At school, I remember, I would cheerfully have sold my soul for scrambled eggs and sardines at five in the afternoon; but somehow, since reaching man’s estate, I had rather dropped out of the habit; and I’m bound to admit I was appalled to a goodish extent at the way the sons and daughter of the Revolution shoved their heads down and went for the foodstuffs. Even Comrade Butt cast off his gloom for a space and immersed his whole being in scrambled eggs, only coming to the surface at intervals to grab another cup of tea. Presently the hot water gave out, and I turned to Jeeves.
“More hot water.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Hey! what’s this? What’s this?” Old Rowbotham had lowered his cup and was eyeing us sternly. He tapped Jeeves on the shoulder. “No servility, my lad; no servility!”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
“Don’t call me ‘sir.’ Call me Comrade. Do you know what you are, my lad? You’re an obsolete relic of an exploded feudal system.”
“Very good, sir.”
“If there’s one thing that makes the blood boil in my veins——”
“Have another sardine,” chipped in young Bingo—the first sensible thing he’d done since I had known him. Old Rowbotham took three and dropped the subject, and Jeeves drifted away. I could see by the look of his back what he felt.
At last, just as I was beginning to feel that it was going on for ever, the thing finished. I woke up to find the party getting ready to leave.
Sardines and about three quarts of tea had mellowed old Rowbotham. There was quite a genial look in his eye as he shook my hand.
“I must thank you for your hospitality, Comrade Wooster,” he said.
“Oh, not at all! Only too glad——”
“Hospitality!” snorted the man Butt, going off in my ear like a depth-charge. He was scowling in a morose sort of manner at young Bingo and the girl, who were giggling together by the window. “I wonder the food didn’t turn to ashes in our mouths! Eggs! Muffins! Sardines! All wrung from the bleeding lips of the starving poor!”
“Oh, I say! What a beastly idea!”
“I will send you some literature on the subject of the Cause,” said old Rowbotham. “And soon, I hope, we shall see you at one of our little meetings.”
Jeeves came in to clear away, and found me sitting among the ruins. It was all very well for Comrade Butt to knock the food, but he had pretty well finished the ham; and if you had shoved the remainder of the jam into the bleeding lips of the starving poor it would hardly have made them sticky.
“Well, Jeeves,” I said, “how about it?”
“I would prefer to express no opinion, sir.”
“Jeeves, Mr. Little is in love with that female.”
“So I gathered, sir. She was slapping him in the passage.”
I clutched my brow.
“Yes, sir. Roguishly.”
“Great Scott! I didn’t know it had got as far as that. How did Comrade Butt seem to be taking it? Or perhaps he didn’t see?”
“Yes, sir, he observed the entire proceedings. He struck me as extremely jealous.”
“I don’t blame him. Jeeves, what are we to do?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“It’s a bit thick.”
“Very much so, sir.”
And that was all the consolation I got from Jeeves.
I HAD promised to meet young Bingo next day, to tell him what I thought of his infernal Charlotte, and I was mooching slowly up St. James’s Street, trying to think how the dickens I could explain to him, without hurting his feelings, that I considered her one of the world’s foulest, when who should come toddling out of the Devonshire Club but old Bittlesham and Bingo himself. I hurried on and overtook them.
“What-ho!” I said.
The result of this simple greeting was a bit of a shock. Old Bittlesham quivered from head to foot like a poleaxed blancmange. His eyes were popping and his face had gone sort of greenish.
“Mr. Wooster!” He seemed to recover somewhat, as if I wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened to him, “You gave me a severe start.”
“My uncle,” said young Bingo in a hushed, bedside sort of voice, “isn’t feeling quite himself this morning. He’s had a threatening letter.”
“I go in fear of my life,” said old Bittlesham.
“Written,” said old Bittlesham, “in an uneducated hand and couched in terms of uncompromising menace. Mr. Wooster, do you recall a sinister, bearded man who assailed me in no measured terms in Hyde Park last Sunday?”
I jumped, and shot a look at young Bingo. The only expression on his face was one of grave, kindly concern.
“Why—ah—yes,” I said. “Bearded man. Chap with a beard.”
“Could you identify him, if necessary?”
“Well, I—er—how do you mean?”
“The fact is, Bertie,” said Bingo, “we think this man with the beard is at the bottom of all this business. I happened to be walking late last night through Pounceby Gardens, where Uncle Mortimer lives, and as I was passing the house a fellow came hurrying down the steps in a furtive sort of way. Probably he had just been shoving the letter in at the front door. I noticed that he had a beard. I didn’t think any more of it, however, until this morning, when Uncle Mortimer showed me the letter he had received and told me about the chap in the Park. I’m going to make inquiries.”
“The police should be informed,” said Lord Bittlesham.
“No,” said young Bingo, firmly, “not at this stage of the proceedings. It would hamper me. Don’t you worry, uncle; I think I can track this fellow down. You leave it all to me. I’ll pop you into a taxi now, and go and talk it over with Bertie.”
“You’re a good boy, Richard,” said old Bittlesham, and we put hijm in a passing cab and pushed off. I turned and looked young Bingo squarely in the eyeball.
“Did you send that letter?” I said.
“Rather! You ought to have seen it, Bertie! One of the best gent’s ordinary threatening letters I ever wrote.”
“But where’s the sense of it?”
“Bertie, my lad,” said Bingo, taking me earnestly by the coat-sleeve, “I had an excellent reason. Posterity may say of me what it will, but one thing it can never say—that I have not a good solid business head. Look here!” He waved a bit of paper in front of my eyes.
“Great Scott!” It was a cheque—an absolute, dashed cheque for fifty of the best, signed Bittlesham and made out to the order of R. Little. “What’s that for?”
“Expenses,” said Bingo, pouching it. “You don’t suppose an investigation like this can be carried on for nothing, do you? I now proceed to the bank and startle them into a fit with it. Later I edge round to my bookie and put the entire sum on Ocean Breeze. What you want in situations of this kind, Bertie, is tact. If I had gone to my uncle and asked him for fifty quid, would I have got it? No! But by exercising tact—— Oh! by the way, what do you think of Charlotte?”
Young Bingo massaged my sleeve affectionately.
“I know, old man, I know. Don’t try to find words. She bowled you over, eh? Left you speechless, what? I know! That’s the effect she has on everybody. Well, I leave you here, laddie. Oh, before we part—Butt! What of Butt? Nature’s worst blunder, don’t you think?”
“I must say I’ve seen cheerier souls.”
“I think I’ve got him licked, Bertie. Charlotte is coming to the Zoo with me this afternoon. Alone. And later on to the pictures. That looks like the beginning of the end, what? Well, toodle-oo, friend of my youth. If you’ve nothing better to do this morning, you might take a stroll along Bond Street and be picking out a wedding present.”
I LOST sight of Bingo after that. I left messages a couple of times at the club, asking him to ring me up, but they didn’t have any effect. I took it that he was too busy to respond. The Sons of the Red Dawn also passed out of my life, though Jeeves told me he had met Comrade Butt one evening and had a brief chat with him. He reported Butt as gloomier than ever. In the competition for the bulging Charlotte, Butt had apparently gone right back in the betting.
“Mr. Little would appear to have eclipsed him entirely, sir,” said Jeeves.
“Bad news, Jeeves; bad news!”
“I suppose what it amounts to, Jeeves, is that, when young Bingo really takes his coat off and starts in, there is no power of God or man that can prevent him making a chump of himself.”
“It would seem so, sir,” said Jeeves. Then Goodwood came along, and I dug out the best suit and popped down.
I never know, when I’m telling a story, whether to cut the thing down to plain facts or whether to drool on and shove in a lot of atmosphere and all that. I mean, many a cove would no doubt edge into the final spasm of this narrative with a long description of Goodwood, featuring the blue sky, the rolling prospect, the joyous crowds of pickpockets, and the parties of the second part who were having their pockets picked, and—in a word, what not. But better give it a miss, I think. Even if I wanted to go into details about the bally meeting I don’t think I’d have the heart to. The thing’s too recent. The anguish hasn’t had time to pass. You see, what happened was that Ocean Breeze (curse him!) finished absolutely nowhere for the Cup. Believe me, nowhere.
These are the times that try men’s souls. It’s never pleasant to be caught in the machinery when a favourite comes unstitched, and in the case of this particular dashed animal, one had come to look on the running of the race as a pure formality, a sort of quaint, old-world ceremony to be gone through before one sauntered up to the bookie and collected. I had wandered out of the paddock to try and forget, when I bumped into old Bittlesham: and he looked so rattled and purple, and his eyes were standing out of his head at such an angle, that I simply pushed my hand out and shook his in silence.
“Me, too,” I said. “Me, too. How much did you drop?”
“On Ocean Breeze.”
“I did not bet on Ocean Breeze.”
“What! You owned the favourite for the Cup, and didn’t back it!”
“I never bet on horse-racing. It is against my principles. I am told that the animal failed to win the contest.”
“Failed to win! Why, he was so far behind that he nearly came in first in the next race.”
“Tut!” said old Bittlesham.
“Tut is right,” I agreed. Then the rumminess of the thing struck me. “But if you haven’t dropped a parcel over the race,” I said, “why are you looking so rattled?”
“That fellow is here!”
“That bearded man.”
It will show you to what an extent the iron had entered into my soul when I say that this was the first time I had given a thought to young Bingo. I suddenly remembered now that he had told me he would be at Goodwood.
“He is making an inflammatory speech at this very moment, specifically directed at me. Come! Where that crowd is.” He lugged me along and, by using his weight scientifically, got us into the front rank. “Look! Listen!”
YOUNG Bingo was certainly tearing off some ripe stuff. Inspired by the agony of having put his little all on a stumer that hadn’t finished in the first six, he was fairly letting himself go on the subject of the blackness of the hearts of plutocratic owners who allowed a trusting public to imagine a horse was the real goods when it couldn’t trot the length of its stable without getting its legs crossed and sitting down to rest. He then went on to draw what I’m bound to say was a most moving picture of the ruin of a working-man’s home, due to this dishonesty. He showed us the working-man, all optimism and simple trust, believing every word he read in the papers about Ocean Breeze’s form; depriving his wife and children of food in order to back the brute; going without beer so as to be able to cram an extra bob on; robbing the baby’s money-box with a hatpin on the eve of the race; and finally getting let down with a thud. Dashed impressive it was. I could see old Rowbotham nodding his head gently, while poor old Butt glowered at the speaker with ill-concealed jealousy. The audience ate it.
“But what does Lord Bittlesham care,” shouted Bingo, “if the poor working-man loses his hard-earned savings? I tell you, friends and comrades, you may talk, and you may argue, and you may cheer, and you may pass resolutions, but what you need is Action! Action! The world won’t be a fit place for honest men to live in till the blood of Lord Bittlesham and his kind flows in rivers down the gutters of Park Lane!”
Roars of approval from the populace, most of whom, I suppose, had had their little bit on blighted Ocean Breeze, and were feeling it deeply. Old Bittlesham bounded over to a large, sad policeman who was watching the proceedings, and appeared to be urging him to rally round. The policeman pulled at his moustache, and smiled gently, but that was as far as he seemed inclined to go; and old Bittlesham came back to me, puffing not a little.
“It’s monstrous! The man definitely threatens my personal safety, and that policeman declines to interfere. Said it was just talk. Talk! It’s monstrous!”
“Absolutely,” I said, but I can’t say it seemed to cheer him up much.
Comrade Butt had taken the centre of the stage now. He had a voice like the Last Trump, and you could hear every word he said, but somehow he didn’t seem to be clicking. I suppose the fact was he was too impersonal, if that’s the word I want. After Bingo’s speech the audience was in the mood for something a good deal snappier than just general remarks about the Cause. They had started to heckle the poor blighter pretty freely when he stopped in the middle of a sentence, and I saw that he was staring at old Bittlesham.
The crowd thought he had dried up.
“Suck a lozenge,” shouted someone.
Comrade Butt pulled himself together with a jerk, and even from where I stood I could see the nasty gleam in his eye.
“Ah,” he yelled, “you may mock, comrades; you may jeer and sneer; and you may scoff; but let me tell you that the movement is spreading every day and every hour. Yes, even amongst the so-called upper classes it’s spreading. Perhaps you’ll believe me when I tell you that here to-day on this very spot we have in our little band one of our most earnest workers, the nephew of that very Lord Bittlesham whose name you were hooting but a moment ago.”
And before poor old Bingo had a notion of what was up, he had reached out a hand and grabbed the beard. It came off all in one piece, and, well as Bingo’s speech had gone, it was simply nothing compared with the hit made by this bit of business. I heard old Bittlesham give one short, sharp snort of amazement at my side, and then any remarks he may have made were drowned in thunders of applause.
I’m bound to say that in this crisis young Bingo acted with a good deal of decision and character. To grab Comrade Butt by the neck and try to twist his head off was with him the work of a moment. But before he could get any results the sad policeman, brightening up like magic, had charged in, and the next minute he was shoving his way back through the crowd, with Bingo in his right hand and Comrade Butt in his left.
“Let me pass, sir, please,” he said, civilly, as he came up against old Bittlesham, who was blocking the gangway.
“Eh?” said old Bittlesham, still dazed.
At the sound of his voice young Bingo looked up quickly from under the shadow of the policeman’s right hand, and as he did so all the stuffing seemed to go out of him with a rush. For an instant he drooped like a bally lily, and then shuffled brokenly on. His air was the air of a man who has got it in the neck properly.
SOMETIMES when Jeeves has brought in my morning tea and shoved it on the table beside my bed, he drifts silently from the room and leaves me to go to it: at other times he sort of shimmies respectfully in the middle of the carpet, and then I know that he wants a word or two. On the day after I had got back from Goodwood I was lying on my back, staring at the ceiling, when I noticed that he was still in my midst.
“Oh, hallo,” I said. “Yes?”
“Mr. Little called earlier in the morning, sir.”
“Oh, by Jove, what? Did he tell you about what happened?”
“Yes, sir. It was in connection with that that he wished to see you. He proposes to retire to the country and remain there for some little while.”
“That was my opinion also, sir. There was, however, a slight financial difficulty to be overcome. I took the liberty of advancing him ten pounds on your behalf to meet current expenses. I trust that meets with your approval, sir?”
“Oh, of course. Take a tenner off the dressing-table.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Jeeves,” I said.
“What beats me is how the dickens the thing happened. I mean, how did the chappie Butt ever get to know who he was?”
“There, sir, I fear I may have been somewhat to blame.”
“I fear I may carelessly have disclosed Mr. Little’s identity to Mr. Butt on the occasion when I had that conversation with him.”
I sat up.
“Indeed, now that I recall the incident, sir, I distinctly remember saying that Mr. Little’s work for the Cause really seemed to me to deserve something in the nature of public recognition. I greatly regret having been the means of bringing about a temporary estrangement between Mr. Little and his lordship. And I am afraid there is another aspect to the matter. I am also responsible for the breaking off of relations between Mr. Little and the young lady who came to tea here.”
I sat up again. It’s a rummy thing, but the silver lining had absolutely escaped my notice till then.
“Do you mean to say it’s off?”
“Completely, sir. I gathered from Mr. Little’s remarks that his hopes in the direction may now be looked on as definitely quenched. If there were no other obstacle, the young lady’s father, I am informed by Mr. Little, now regards him as a spy and a deceiver.”
“Well, I’m dashed!”
“I appear inadvertently to have caused much trouble, sir.”
“Jeeves!” I said.
“How much money is there on the dressing-table?”
“In addition to the ten-pound note which you instructed me to take, sir, there are two five-pound notes, three one-pounds, a ten-shillings, two half-crowns, a florin, four shillings, a sixpence, and a halfpenny, sir.”
“Collar it all,” I said. “You’ve earned it.”
(Next month: “The Great Sermon Handicap.”)