The Strand Magazine, December 1926
IT was the morning of the day on which I was slated to pop down to my Aunt Agatha’s place at Woollam Chersey in the county of Herts for a visit of three solid weeks; and, as I seated myself at the breakfast table, I don’t mind confessing that the heart was singularly heavy. We Woosters are men of iron, but beneath my intrepid exterior at that moment there lurked a nameless dread.
“Jeeves,” I said, “I am not the old merry self this morning.”
“No, Jeeves. Far from it. Far from the old merry self.”
“I am sorry to hear that, sir.”
He uncovered the fragrant eggs and b., and I pronged a moody forkful.
“Why—this is what I keep asking myself, Jeeves—why has my Aunt Agatha invited me to her country seat?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“Not because she is fond of me.”
“It is a well-established fact that I give her a pain in the neck. How it happens I cannot say, but every time our paths cross, so to speak, it seems to be a mere matter of time before I perpetrate some ghastly floater and have her hopping after me with her hatchet. The result being that she regards me as a worm and an outcast and would gladly drop something on me from a high window. Am I right or wrong, Jeeves?”
“Perfectly correct, sir.”
“And yet now she has absolutely insisted on my scratching all previous engagements and buzzing down to Woollam Chersey. She must have some sinister reason of which we know nothing. Can you blame me, Jeeves, if the heart is heavy?”
“No, sir. Excuse me, sir, I fancy I heard the front-door bell.”
He shimmered out, and I took another listless stab at the e. and bacon.
“A telegram, sir,” said Jeeves, re-entering the presence.
“Open it, Jeeves, and read contents. Who is it from?”
“It is unsigned, sir.”
“You mean there’s no name at the end of it?”
“That is precisely what I was endeavouring to convey, sir.”
“Let’s have a look.”
I scanned the thing. It was a rummy communication. Rummy. No other word.
Remember when you come here absolutely vital meet perfect strangers.
We Woosters are not very strong in the head, particularly at breakfast-time; and I was conscious of a dull ache between the eyebrows.
“What does it mean, Jeeves?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“It says ‘come here.’ Where’s here?”
“You will notice that the message was handed in at Woollam Chersey, sir.”
“You’re absolutely right. At Woollam, as you very cleverly spotted, Chersey. This tells us something, Jeeves.”
“I don’t know. It couldn’t be from my Aunt Agatha, do you think?”
“No; you’re right again. Then all we can say is that some person unknown, resident at Woollam Chersey, considers it absolutely vital for me to meet perfect strangers. But why should I meet perfect strangers, Jeeves?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“And yet, looking at it from another angle, why shouldn’t I?”
“Then what it comes to is that the thing is a mystery which time alone can solve. We must wait and see, Jeeves.”
“The very expression I was about to employ, sir.”
I HIT Woollam Chersey at about four o’clock, and found Aunt Agatha in her lair, writing letters. And, from what I know of her, probably offensive letters, with nasty postscripts. She regarded me with not a fearful lot of joy.
“Oh, there you are, Bertie.”
“Yes, here I am.”
“There’s a smut on your nose.”
I plied the handkerchief.
“I am glad you have arrived so early. I want to have a word with you before you meet Mr. Filmer.”
“Mr. Filmer, the Cabinet Minister. He is staying in the house. Surely even you must have heard of Mr. Filmer?”
“Oh, rather,” I said, though as a matter of fact the bird was completely unknown to me. What with one thing and another, I’m not frightfully well up in the personnel of the political world.
“I particularly wish you to make a good impression on Mr. Filmer.”
“Don’t speak in that casual way, as if you supposed that it was perfectly natural that you would make a good impression upon him. Mr. Filmer is a serious-minded man of high character and purpose, and you are just the type of vapid and frivolous wastrel against which he is most likely to be prejudiced.”
Hard words, of course, from one’s own flesh and blood, but well in keeping with past form.
“You will endeavour, therefore, while you are here not to display yourself in the rôle of a vapid and frivolous wastrel. In the first place, you will give up smoking during your visit.”
“Oh, I say!”
“Mr. Filmer is president of the Anti-Tobacco League. Nor will you drink alcoholic stimulants.”
“Oh, dash it!”
“And you will kindly exclude from your conversation all that is suggestive of the bar, the billiard-room, and the stage-door. Mr. Filmer will judge you largely by your conversation.”
I rose to a point of order.
“Yes, but why have I got to make an impression on this—on Mr. Filmer?”
“Because,” said the old relative, giving me the eye, “I particularly wish it.”
Not, perhaps, a notably snappy come-back as come-backs go; but it was enough to show me that that was more or less that; and I beetled out with an aching heart.
I headed for the garden, and I’m dashed if the first person I saw wasn’t young Bingo Little.
Bingo Little and I have been pals practically from birth. Born in the same village within a couple of days of one another, we went through kindergarten, Eton, and Oxford together; and, grown to riper years, we have enjoyed in the old metrop. full many a first-class binge in each other’s society. If there was one fellow in the world, I felt, who could alleviate the horrors of this blighted visit of mine, that bloke was young Bingo Little.
But how he came to be there was more than I could understand. Some time before, you see, he had married the celebrated authoress, Rosie M. Banks; and the last I had seen of him he had been on the point of accompanying her to America on a lecture-tour. I distinctly remembered him cursing rather freely because the trip would mean his missing Ascot.
Still, rummy as it might seem, here he was. And, aching for the sight of a friendly face, I gave tongue like a bloodhound.
He spun round; and, by Jove, his face wasn’t friendly after all. It was what they call contorted. He waved his arms at me like a semaphore.
“ ’Sh!” he hissed. “Would you ruin me?”
“Didn’t you get my telegram?”
“Was that your telegram?”
“Of course it was my telegram.”
“Then why didn’t you sign it?”
“I did sign it.”
“No, you didn’t. I couldn’t make out what it was all about.”
“Well, you got my letter.”
“I didn’t get any letter.”
“Then I must have forgotten to post it. It was to tell you that I was down here tutoring your Cousin Thomas, and that it was essential that, when we met, you should treat me as a perfect stranger.”
“Because, if your aunt supposed that I was a pal of yours, she would naturally sack me on the spot.”
Bingo raised his eyebrows.
“Why? Be reasonable, Bertie. If you were your aunt, and you knew the sort of chap you were, would you let a fellow you knew to be your best pal tutor your son?”
This made the old lemon swim a bit, but I got his meaning after awhile, and I had to admit that there was much rugged good sense in what he said. Still, he hadn’t explained what you might call the nub or gist of the mystery.
“I thought you were in America,” I said.
“Well, I’m not.”
“Never mind why not. I’m not.”
“But why have you taken a tutoring job?”
“Never mind why. I have my reasons. And I want you to get it into your head, Bertie—get it right through the concrete—that you and I must not be seen hobnobbing. Your blighted cousin was caught smoking in the shrubbery the day before yesterday, and that has made my position pretty tottery, because your aunt said that, if I had exercised an adequate surveillance over him, it couldn’t have happened. If, after that, she finds out I’m a friend of yours, nothing can save me from being shot out on my ear. And it is vital that I am not shot out.”
“Never mind why.”
At this point he seemed to think he heard somebody coming, for he suddenly leaped with incredible agility into a laurel bush. And I toddled along to consult Jeeves about these rummy happenings.
“Jeeves,” I said, repairing to the bedroom, where he was unpacking my things, “you remember that telegram?”
“It was from Mr. Little. He’s here, tutoring my young Cousin Thomas.”
“I can’t understand it. He appears to be a free agent, if you know what I mean; and yet would any man who was a free agent wantonly come to a house which contained my Aunt Agatha?”
“It seems peculiar, sir.”
“Moreover, would anybody of his own free will and as a mere pleasure-seeker tutor my Cousin Thomas, who is notoriously a tough egg and a fiend in human shape?”
“Most improbable, sir.”
“These are deep waters, Jeeves.”
“And the ghastly part of it all is that he seems to consider it necessary, in order to keep his job, to treat me like a long-lost leper. Thus killing my only chance of having anything approaching a decent time in this abode of desolation. For do you realize, Jeeves, that my aunt says I mustn’t smoke while I’m here?”
“Why is this, sir?”
“Because she wants me—for some dark and furtive reason which she will not explain—to impress a fellow named Filmer.”
“Too bad, sir. However, many doctors, I understand, advocate such abstinence as the secret of health. They say it promotes a freer circulation of the blood and insures the arteries against premature hardening.”
“Oh, do they? Well, you can tell them next time you see them that they are silly asses.”
“Very good, sir.”
AND so began what, looking back along a fairly eventful career, I think I can confidently say was the scaliest visit I have ever experienced in the course of my life. What with the agony of missing the life-giving cocktail before dinner; the painful necessity of being obliged, every time I wanted a quiet cigarette, to lie on the floor in my bedroom and puff the smoke up the chimney; the constant discomfort of meeting Aunt Agatha round unexpected corners; and the fearful strain on the morale of having to chum with the Right Hon. A. B. Filmer, it was not long before Bertram was up against it to an extent hitherto undreamed of.
I played golf with the Right Hon. every day, and it was only by biting the Wooster lip and clenching the fists till the knuckles stood out white under the strain that I managed to pull through. The Right Hon. punctuated some of the ghastliest golf I have ever seen with a flow of conversation which, as far as I was concerned, went completely over the top; and, all in all, I was beginning to feel pretty sorry for myself when, one night as I was in my room listlessly donning the soup-and-fish in preparation for the evening meal, in trickled young Bingo and took my mind off my own troubles.
For when it is a question of a pal being in the soup, we Woosters no longer think of self; and that poor old Bingo was knee-deep in the bisque was made plain by his mere appearance—which was that of a cat which has just been struck by a half-brick and is expecting another shortly.
“Bertie,” said Bingo, having sat down on the bed and diffused silent gloom for a moment, “how is Jeeves’s brain these days?”
“Fairly strong on the wing, I fancy. How is the grey matter, Jeeves? Surging about pretty freely?”
“Thank Heaven for that,” said young Bingo, “for I require your soundest counsel. Unless right-thinking people take strong steps through the proper channels, my name will be mud.”
“What’s wrong, old thing?” I asked, sympathetically.
Bingo plucked at the coverlet.
“I will tell you,” he said. “I will also now reveal why I am staying in this pest-house, tutoring a kid who requires not education in the Greek and Latin languages but a swift slosh on the base of the skull with a black-jack. I came here, Bertie, because it was the only thing I could do. At the last moment before she sailed to America, Rosie decided that I had better stay behind and look after the Peke. She left me a couple of hundred quid to see me through till her return. This sum, judiciously expended over the period of her absence, would have been enough to keep the Peke and myself in moderate affluence. But you know how it is.”
“How what is?”
“When someone comes slinking up to you in the club and tells you that some cripple of a horse can’t help winning even if it develops lumbago and the botts ten yards from the starting-post. I tell you, I regarded the thing as a cautious and conservative investment.”
“You mean you planked the entire capital on a horse?”
Bingo laughed bitterly.
“If you could call the thing a horse. If it hadn’t shown a flash of speed in the straight, it would have got mixed up with the next race. It came in last, putting me in a dashed delicate position. Somehow or other I had to find the funds to keep me going, so that I could win through till Rosie’s return without her knowing what had occurred. Rosie is the dearest girl in the world; but if you were a married man, Bertie, you would be aware that the best of wives is apt to cut up rough if she finds that her husband has dropped six weeks’ housekeeping money on a single race. Isn’t that so, Jeeves?”
“Yes, sir. Women are odd in that respect.”
“It was a moment for swift thinking. There was enough left from the wreck to board the Peke out at a comfortable home. I signed him up for six weeks as the Kosy Komfort Kennels at Kingsbridge, Kent, and tottered out, a broken man, to get a tutoring job. I landed the kid Thomas. And here I am.”
It was a sad story, of course, but it seemed to me that, awful as it might be to be in constant association with my Aunt Agatha and young Thos, he had got rather well out of a tight place.
“All you have to do,” I said, “is to carry on here for a few weeks more, and everything will be oojah-cum-spiff.”
Bingo barked bleakly.
“A few weeks more! I shall be lucky if I stay two days. You remember I told you that your aunt’s faith in me as a guardian of her blighted son was shaken a few days ago by the fact that he was caught smoking. I now find that the person who caught him smoking was the man Filmer. And ten minutes ago young Thomas told me that he was proposing to inflict some hideous revenge on Filmer for having reported him to your aunt. I don’t know what he is going to do, but if he does it, out I inevitably go on my left ear. Your aunt thinks the world of Filmer, and would sack me on the spot. And three weeks before Rosie gets back!”
I saw all.
“Jeeves,” I said.
“I see all. Do you see all?”
“Then flock round.”
“I fear, sir——”
Bingo gave a low moan.
“Don’t tell me, Jeeves,” he said, brokenly, “that nothing suggests itself.”
“Nothing at the moment, I regret to say, sir.”
Bingo uttered a stricken woofle like a bull-dog that has been refused cake.
“Well, then, the only thing I can do, I suppose,” he said sombrely, “is not to let the pie-faced little thug out of my sight for a second.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Ceaseless vigilance, eh, Jeeves?”
“But, meanwhile, Jeeves,” said Bingo in a low, earnest voice, “you will be devoting your best thought to the matter, won’t you?”
“Most certainly, sir.”
“Thank you, Jeeves.”
“Not at all, sir.”
I WILL say for young Bingo that, once the need for action arrived, he behaved with an energy and determination which compelled respect. I suppose there was not a minute during the next two days when the kid Thos was able to say to himself, “Alone at last!” But on the evening of the second day Aunt Agatha announced that some people were coming over on the morrow for a spot of tennis, and I feared that the worst must now befall.
Young Bingo, you see, is one of those fellows who, once their fingers close over the handle of a tennis racket, fall into a sort of trance in which nothing outside the radius of the lawn exists for them. If you came up to Bingo in the middle of a set and told him that panthers were devouring his best friend in the kitchen garden, he would look at you and say, “Oh, ah?” or words to that effect. I knew that he would not give a thought to young Thomas and the Right Hon. till the last ball had bounced, and, as I dressed for dinner that night, I was conscious of an impending doom.
“Jeeves,” I said, “have you ever pondered on Life?”
“From time to time, sir, in my leisure moments.”
“Grim, isn’t it, what?”
“I mean to say, the difference between things as they look and things as they are.”
“The trousers perhaps a half-inch higher, sir. A very slight adjustment of the braces will effect the necessary alteration. You were saying, sir?”
“I mean, here at Woollam Chersey we have apparently a happy, care-free country-house party. But beneath the glittering surface, Jeeves, dark currents are running. One gazes at the Right Hon. wrapping himself round the salmon mayonnaise at lunch, and he seems a man without a care in the world. Yet all the while a dreadful fate is hanging over him, creeping nearer and nearer. What exact steps do you think the kid Thomas intends to take?”
“In the course of an informal conversation which I had with the young gentleman this afternoon, sir, he informed me that he had been reading a romance entitled ‘Treasure Island,’ and had been much struck by the character and actions of a certain Captain Flint. I gathered that he was weighing the advisability of modelling his own conduct on that of the Captain.”
“But, good heavens, Jeeves! If I remember ‘Treasure Island,’ Flint was the bird who went about hitting people with a cutlass. You don’t think young Thomas would bean Mr. Filmer with a cutlass?”
“Possibly he does not possess a cutlass, sir.”
“Well, with anything.”
“We can but wait and see, sir. The tie, if I might suggest it, sir, a shade more tightly knotted. One aims at the perfect butterfly effect. If you will permit me——”
“What do ties matter, Jeeves, at a time like this? Do you realize that Mr. Little’s domestic happiness is hanging in the scale?”
“There is no time, sir, at which ties do not matter.”
I could see the man was pained, but I did not try to heal the wound. What’s the word I want? Preoccupied. I was too preoccupied, don’t you know. And distrait. Not to say careworn.
I WAS still careworn when, next day at half-past two, the revels commenced on the tennis lawn. It was one of those close, baking days, with thunder rumbling just round the corner; and it seemed to me that there was a brooding menace in the air.
“Bingo,” I said, as we pushed forth to do our bit in the first doubles, “I wonder what young Thos will be up to this afternoon, with the eye of authority no longer on him?”
“Eh?” said Bingo, absently. Already the tennis look had come into his face, and his eye was glazed. He swung his racket and snorted a little.
“I don’t see him anywhere,” I said.
“You don’t what?”
“What about him?”
I let it go.
The only consolation I had in the black period of the opening of the tourney was the fact that the Right Hon. had taken a seat among the spectators and was wedged in between a couple of females with parasols. Reason told me that even a kid so steeped in sin as young Thomas would hardly perpetrate any outrage on a man in such a strong strategic position. Considerably relieved, I gave myself up to the game; and was in the act of putting it across the local curate with a good deal of vim when there was a roll of thunder and the rain started to come down in buckets.
We all stampeded for the house, and had gathered in the drawing-room for tea, when suddenly Aunt Agatha, looking up from a cucumber-sandwich, said:—
“Has anybody seen Mr. Filmer?”
It was one of the nastiest jars I have ever experienced. What with my fast serve zipping sweetly over the net and the man of God utterly unable to cope with my slow bending return down the centre-line, I had for some little time been living, as it were, in another world. I now came down to earth with a bang: and my slice of cake, slipping from my nerveless fingers, fell to the ground and was wolfed by Aunt Agatha’s spaniel, Robert. Once more I seemed to become conscious of an impending doom.
For this man Filmer, you must understand, was not one of those men who are lightly kept from the tea-table. A hearty trencherman, and particularly fond of his five o’clock couple of cups and bite of muffin, he had until this afternoon always been well up among the leaders in the race for the food-trough. If one thing was certain, it was that only the machinations of some enemy could be keeping him from being in the drawing-room now, complete with nose-bag.
“He must have got caught in the rain and be sheltering somewhere in the grounds,” said Aunt Agatha. “Bertie, go out and find him. Take a raincoat to him.”
“Right-ho!” I said. And I meant it. My only desire in life now was to find the Right Hon. And I hoped it wouldn’t be merely his body.
I put on a raincoat and tucked another under my arm, and was sallying forth, when in the hall I ran into Jeeves.
“Jeeves,” I said, “I fear the worst. Mr. Filmer is missing.”
“I am about to scour the grounds in search of him.”
“I can save you the trouble, sir. Mr. Filmer is on the island in the middle of the lake.”
“In this rain? Why doesn’t the chump row back?”
“He has no boat, sir.”
“Then how can he be on the island?”
“He rowed there, sir. But Master Thomas rowed after him and set his boat adrift. He was informing me of the circumstances a moment ago, sir. It appears that Captain Flint was in the habit of marooning people on islands, and Master Thomas felt that he could pursue no more judicious course than to follow his example.”
“But, good Lord, Jeeves! The man must be getting soaked.”
“Yes, sir. Master Thomas commented upon that aspect of the matter.”
It was a time for action.
“Come with me, Jeeves!”
“Very good, sir.”
I buzzed for the boathouse.
MY Aunt Agatha’s husband, Spenser Gregson, who is on the Stock Exchange, had recently cleaned up to an amazing extent in Sumatra Rubber; and Aunt Agatha, in selecting a country estate, had lashed out on an impressive scale. There were miles of what they call rolling parkland, trees in considerable profusion well provided with doves and what not cooing in no uncertain voice, gardens full of roses, and also stables, outhouses, and messuages, the whole forming a rather fruity tout ensemble. But the feature of the place was the lake.
It stood to the east of the house, beyond the rose garden, and covered several acres. In the middle of it was an island. In the middle of the island was a building known as the Octagon. And in the middle of the Octagon, seated on the roof and spouting water like a public fountain, was the Right Hon. A. B. Filmer. As we drew nearer, striking a fast clip with self at the oars and Jeeves handling the tiller-ropes, we heard cries of gradually increasing volume, if that’s the expression I want; and presently, up aloft, looking from a distance as if he were perched on top of the bushes, I located the Right Hon. It seemed to me that even a Cabinet Minister ought to have had more sense than to stay right out in the open like that, when there were trees to shelter under.
“A little more to the right, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir.”
I made a neat landing.
“Wait here, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir. The head gardener was informing me this morning, sir, that one of the swans had recently nested on this island.”
“This is no time for natural history gossip, Jeeves,” I said, a little severely, for the rain was coming down harder than ever and the Wooster trouser-legs were already considerably moistened.
“Very good, sir.”
I pushed my way through the bushes. The going was sticky and took about eight and elevenpence off the value of my Sure-Grip tennis shoes in the first two yards: but I persevered and presently came out in the open and found myself in a sort of clearing facing the Octagon.
This building was run up somewhere in the last century, I have been told, to enable the grandfather of the late owner to have some quiet place out of earshot of the house where he could practise the fiddle. From what I know of fiddlers, I should imagine that he had produced some fairly frightful sounds there in his time: but they can have been nothing to the ones that were coming from the roof of the place now. The Right Hon., not having spotted the arrival of the rescue-party, was apparently trying to make his voice carry across the waste of waters to the house; and I’m not saying it was not a good sporting effort. He had one of those highish tenors, and his yowls seemed to screech over my head like shells.
I thought it about time to slip him the glad news that assistance had arrived, before he strained a vocal cord.
“Hi!” I shouted, waiting for a lull.
He poked his head over the edge.
“Hi!” he bellowed, looking in every direction but the right one, of course.
“Oh!” he said, spotting me at last.
“What-ho!” I replied, sort of clinching the thing.
I suppose the conversation can’t be said to have touched a frightfully high level up to this moment; but probably we should have got a good deal brainier very shortly—only just then, at the very instant when I was getting ready to say something good, there was a hissing noise like a tyre bursting in a nest of cobras, and out of the bushes to my left there popped something so large and white and active that, thinking quicker than I have ever done in my puff, I rose like a rocketing pheasant, and, before I knew what I was doing, had begun to climb for life. Something slapped against the wall about an inch below my right ankle, and any doubts I may have had about remaining below vanished. The lad who bore ’mid snow and ice the banner with the strange device “Excelsior!” was the model for Bertram.
“Be careful!” yipped the Right Hon.
Whoever built the Octagon might have constructed it especially for this sort of crisis. Its walls had grooves at regular intervals which were just right for the hands and feet, and it wasn’t very long before I was parked up on the roof beside the Right Hon., gazing down at one of the largest and shortest-tempered swans I had ever seen. It was standing below, stretching up a neck like a hosepipe, just where a bit of brick, judiciously bunged, would catch it amidships.
I bunged the brick and scored a bull’s-eye.
The Right Hon. didn’t seem any too well pleased.
“Don’t tease it!” he said.
“It teased me,” I said.
The swan extended another eight feet of neck and gave an imitation of steam escaping from a leaky pipe. The rain continued to lash down with what you might call indescribable fury, and I was sorry that in the agitation inseparable from shinning up a stone wall at practically a second’s notice I had dropped the raincoat which I had been bringing with me for my fellow-rooster. For a moment I thought of offering him mine, but wiser counsels prevailed.
“How near did it come to getting you?” I asked.
“Within an ace,” replied my companion, gazing down with a look of marked dislike. “I had to make a very rapid spring.”
The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say “When!” and the picture he conjured up, if you know what I mean, was rather pleasing.
“It is no laughing matter,” he said, shifting the look of dislike to me.
“I might have been seriously injured.”
“Would you consider bunging another brick at the bird?”
“Do nothing of the sort. It will only annoy him.”
“Well, why not annoy him? He hasn’t shown such a dashed lot of consideration for our feelings.”
The Right Hon. now turned to another aspect of the matter.
“I cannot understand how my boat, which I fastened securely to the stump of a willow-tree, can have drifted away.”
“I begin to suspect that it was deliberately set loose by some mischievous person.”
“Oh, I say, no, hardly likely, that. You’d have seen them doing it.”
“No, Mr. Wooster. For the bushes form an effective screen. Moreover, rendered drowsy by the unusual warmth of the afternoon, I dozed off for some little time almost immediately I reached the island.”
This wasn’t the sort of thing I wanted his mind dwelling on, so I changed the subject.
“Wet, isn’t it, what?” I said.
“I had already observed it,” said the Right Hon. in one of those nasty, bitter voices. “I thank you, however, for drawing the matter to my attention.”
Chit-chat about the weather hadn’t gone with much of a bang, I perceived. I had a shot at Bird Life in the Home Counties.
“Have you ever noticed,” I said, “how a swan’s eyebrows sort of meet in the middle?”
“I have had every opportunity of observing all that there is to observe about swans.”
“Gives them a sort of peevish look, what?”
“The look to which you allude has not escaped me.”
“Rummy,” I said, rather warming to my subject, “how bad an effect family life has on a swan’s disposition.”
“I wish you would select some other topic of conversation than swans.”
“No, but, really, it’s rather interesting. I mean to say, our old pal down there is probably a perfect ray of sunshine in normal circumstances. Quite the domestic pet, don’t you know. But purely and simply because the little woman happens to be nesting——”
I PAUSED. You will scarcely believe me, but until this moment, what with all the recent bustle and activity, I had clean forgotten that, while we were treed up on the roof like this, there lurked all the time in the background one whose giant brain, if notified of the emergency and requested to flock round, would probably be able to think up half-a-dozen schemes for solving our little difficulties in a couple of minutes.
“Jeeves!” I shouted.
“Sir?” came a faint respectful voice from the great open spaces.
“My man,” I explained to the Right Hon. “A fellow of infinite resource and sagacity. He’ll have us out of this in a minute. Jeeves!”
“I’m sitting on the roof.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Don’t say ‘Very good.’ Come and help us. Mr. Filmer and I are treed, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Don’t keep saying ‘Very good.’ It’s nothing of the kind. The place is alive with swans.”
“I will attend to the matter immediately, sir.”
I turned to the Right Hon. I even went so far as to pat him on the back. It was like slapping a wet sponge.
“All is well,” I said. “Jeeves is coming.”
“What can he do?”
I frowned a trifle. The man’s tone had been peevish, and I didn’t like it.
“That,” I replied with a touch of stiffness, “we cannot say until we see him in action. He may pursue one course, or he may pursue another. But on one thing you can rely with the utmost confidence—Jeeves will find a way. See, here he comes stealing through the undergrowth, his face shining with the light of pure intelligence. There are no limits to Jeeves’s brain-power. He virtually lives on fish.”
I bent over the edge and peered into the abyss.
“Look out for the swan, Jeeves.”
“I have the bird under close observation, sir.”
The swan had been uncoiling a further supply of neck in our direction; but now he whipped round. The sound of a voice speaking in his rear seemed to affect him powerfully. He subjected Jeeves to a short, keen scrutiny; and then, taking in some breath for hissing purposes, gave a sort of jump and charged ahead.
“Look out, Jeeves!”
“Very good, sir.”
Well, I could have told that swan it was no use. As swans go, he may have been well up in the ranks of the intelligentsia; but, when it came to pitting his brains against Jeeves, he was simply wasting his time. He might just as well have gone home at once.
Every young man starting life ought to know how to cope with an angry swan, so I will briefly relate the proper procedure. You start by picking up the raincoat which somebody has dropped; and then, judging the distance to a nicety, you simply shove the raincoat over the bird’s head; and, taking the boat-hook which you have prudently brought with you, you insert it underneath the swan and heave. The swan goes into a bush and starts trying to unscramble itself; and you saunter back to your boat, taking with you any friends who may happen at the moment to be sitting on roofs in the vicinity. That was Jeeves’s method, and I cannot see how it could have been improved upon.
The Right Hon. showing a turn of speed of which I would not have believed him capable, we were in the boat in considerably under two ticks.
“You behaved very intelligently, my man,” said the Right Hon. as we pushed away from the shore.
“I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir.”
The Right Hon. appeared to have said his say for the time being. From that moment he seemed to sort of huddle up and meditate. Dashed absorbed he was. Even when I caught a crab and shot about a pint of water down his neck he didn’t seem to notice it.
It was only when we were landing that he came to life again.
“I have been thinking of that matter of which I spoke to you some time back—the problem of how my boat can have got adrift.”
I didn’t like this.
“The dickens of a problem,” I said. “Insoluble, I should call it. Better not bother about it any more.”
“On the contrary, I have arrived at a solution, and one which I think is the only feasible solution. I am convinced that my boat was set adrift by the boy Thomas, my hostess’s son.”
“Oh, I say, no! Why?”
“He had a grudge against me. And it is the sort of thing only a boy, or one who is practically an imbecile, would have thought of doing.”
He legged it for the house; and I turned to Jeeves, aghast. Yes, you might say aghast.
“You heard, Jeeves?”
“What’s to be done?”
“Perhaps Mr. Filmer, on thinking the matter over, will decide that his suspicions are unjust.”
“But they aren’t unjust.”
“Then what’s to be done?”
“I could not say, sir.”
I PUSHED off rather smartly to the house and reported to Aunt Agatha that the Right Hon. had been salved; and then I toddled upstairs to have a hot bath, being considerably soaked from stem to stern as the result of my rambles. While I was enjoying the grateful warmth, a knock came at the door.
It was Purvis, Aunt Agatha’s butler.
“Mrs. Gregson desires me to say, sir, that she would be glad to see you as soon as you are ready.”
“But she has seen me.”
“I gather that she wishes to see you again, sir.”
I lay beneath the surface for another few minutes; then, having dried the frame, went along the corridor to my room. Jeeves was there, fiddling about with underclothing.
“Oh, Jeeves,” I said, “I’ve just been thinking. Oughtn’t somebody to go and give Mr. Filmer a spot of quinine or something? Errand of mercy, what?”
“I have already done so, sir.”
“Good. I wouldn’t say I liked the man frightfully, but I don’t want him to get a cold in the head.” I shoved on a sock. “Jeeves,” I said, “I suppose you know that we’ve got to think of something pretty quick? I mean to say, you realize the position? Mr. Filmer suspects young Thomas of doing exactly what he did do, and if he brings home the charge Aunt Agatha will undoubtedly fire Mr. Little, and then Mrs. Little will find out what Mr. Little has been up to, and what will be the upshot and outcome, Jeeves? I will tell you. It will mean that Mrs. Little will secure the goods on Mr. Little to an extent to which, though only a bachelor myself, I should say that no wife ought to secure the goods on her husband if the proper give and take of married life—what you might call the essential balance, as it were—is to be preserved. Women bring these things up, Jeeves. They do not forget and forgive.”
“Very true, sir.”
“Then how about it?”
“I have already attended to the matter, sir.”
“Yes, sir. I had scarcely left you when the solution of the affair presented itself to me. It was a remark of Mr. Filmer’s that gave me the idea.”
“Jeeves, you’re a marvel!”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
“What was the solution?”
“I conceived the notion of going to Mr. Filmer and saying that it was you who had stolen his boat, sir.”
The man flickered before me. I clutched a sock in a feverish grip.
“At first Mr. Filmer was reluctant to credit my statement. But I pointed out to him that you had certainly known that he was on the island—a fact which he agreed was highly significant. I pointed out, furthermore, that you were a light-hearted young gentleman, sir, who might well do such a thing as a practical joke. I left him quite convinced, and there is now no danger of his attributing the action to Master Thomas.”
I gazed at the blighter spellbound.
“And that’s what you consider a neat solution?” I said.
“Yes, sir. Mr. Little will now retain his position as desired.”
“And what about me?”
“You are also benefited, sir.”
“Oh, I am, am I?”
“Yes, sir. I have ascertained that Mrs. Gregson’s motive in inviting you to this house was that she might present you to Mr. Filmer with a view to your becoming his private secretary.”
“Yes, sir. Purvis, the butler, chanced to overhear Mrs. Gregson in conversation with Mr. Filmer on the matter.”
“Secretary to that superfatted bore! Jeeves, I could never have survived it.”
“No, sir. I fancy you would not have found it agreeable. Mr. Filmer is scarcely a congenial companion for you. Yet, had Mrs. Gregson secured the position for you, you might have found it embarrassing to decline to accept it.”
“Embarrassing is right!”
“But I say, Jeeves, there’s just one point which you seem to have overlooked. Where exactly do I get off?”
“I mean to say, Aunt Agatha sent word by Purvis just now that she wanted to see me. Probably she’s polishing up her hatchet at this very moment.”
“It might be the most judicious plan not to meet her, sir.”
“But how can I help it?”
“There is a good, stout waterpipe running down the wall immediately outside this window, sir. And I could have the two-seater waiting outside the park gates in twenty minutes.”
I eyed him with reverence.
“Jeeves,” I said, “you are always right. You couldn’t make it five, could you?”
“Let us say ten, sir.”
“Ten it is. Lay out some raiment suitable for travel, and leave the rest to me. Where is this waterpipe of which you speak so highly?”
Notes to this story as collected in volume form are in the annotations to Very Good, Jeeves!.
Printer’s error corrected above:
Magazine had “Don’t say ‘very good.’; changed to “Don’t say ‘Very good.’ for consistency with two lines later and with other editions.