The Strand Magazine, June 1922
YOU can always rely on Jeeves. Just as I was wiping the brow and gasping like a stranded goldfish, in he drifted, merry and bright, with the good old tissue-restorers on a tray.
“Jeeves,” I said, “it’s beastly hot.”
“The weather is oppressive, sir.”
“Not all the soda, Jeeves.”
“London in August,” I said, quaffing deeply of the flowing b., “rather tends to give me the pip. All my pals are away, most of the theatres are shut, and they’re taking up Piccadilly in large spadefuls. The world is empty and smells of burning asphalt. Shift-ho, I think, Jeeves, what?”
“Just as you say, sir. There is a letter on the tray, sir.”
“By Jove, Jeeves, that was practically poetry. Rhymed, did you notice?” I opened the letter. “I say, this is rather extraordinary.”
“You know Twing Hall?”
“Well, Mr. Little is there.”
“Absolutely in the flesh. He’s had to take another of those tutoring jobs.”
I don’t know if you remember, but immediately after that fearful mix-up at Goodwood, young Bingo Little, a broken man, had touched me for a tenner and whizzed silently off into the unknown. I had been all over the place ever since, asking mutual friends if they had heard anything of him, but nobody had. And all the time he had been at Twing Hall. Rummy. And I’ll tell you why it was rummy. Twing Hall belongs to old Lord Wickhammersley, a great pal of my guv’nor’s when he was alive, and I have a standing invitation to pop down there when I like. I generally put in a week or two some time in the summer, and I was thinking of going there before I read the letter.
“And, what’s more, Jeeves, my cousin Claude, and my cousin Eustace—you remember them?”
“Very vividly, sir.”
“Well, they’re down there, too, reading for some exam. or other with the vicar. I used to read with him myself at one time. He’s known far and wide as a pretty hot coach for those of fairly feeble intellect. Well, when I tell you he got me through Smalls, you’ll gather that he’s a bit of a hummer. I call this most extraordinary.”
I read the letter again. It was from Eustace. Claude and Eustace are twins, and more or less generally admitted to be the curse of the human race.
“Dear Bertie,—Do you want to make a bit of money? I hear you had a bad Goodwood, so you probably do. Well, come down here quick and get in on the biggest sporting event of the season. I’ll explain when I see you, but you can take it from me it’s all right.
“Claude and I are with a reading-party at old Heppenstall’s. There are nine of us, not counting your pal Bingo Little, who is tutoring the kid up at the Hall.
“Don’t miss this golden opportunity, which may never occur again. Come and join us.
I handed this to Jeeves. He studied it thoughtfully.
“What do you make of it? A rummy communication, what?”
“Very high-spirited young gentlemen, sir, Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace. Up to some game, I should be disposed to imagine.”
“Yes. But what game, do you think?”
“It is impossible to say, sir. Did you observe that the letter continues over the page?”
“Eh, what?” I grabbed the thing. This was what was on the other side of the last page:—
RUNNERS AND BETTING
Rev. Joseph Tucker (Badgwick), scratch.
Rev. Leonard Starkie (Stapleton), scratch.
Rev. Alexander Jones (Upper Bingley), receives three minutes.
Rev. W. Dix (Little Clickton-in-the-Wold), receives five minutes.
Rev. Francis Heppenstall (Twing), receives eight minutes.
Rev. Cuthbert Dibble (Boustead Parva), receives nine minutes.
Rev. Orlo Hough (Boustead Magna), receives nine minutes.
Rev. J. J. Roberts (Fale-by-the-Water), receives ten minutes.
Rev. G. Hayward (Lower Bingley), receives twelve minutes.
Rev. James Bates (Gandle-by-the-Hill), receives fifteen minutes.
(The above have arrived.)
Prices.—5–2, Tucker, Starkie; 3–1, Jones; 9–2 Dix; 6–1, Heppenstall, Dibble, Hough; 100–8 any other.
It baffled me.
“Do you understand it, Jeeves?”
“Well, I think we ought to have a look into it, anyway, what?”
“Right-o, then. Pack our spare dickey and a toothbrush in a neat brown-paper parcel, send a wire to Lord Wickhammersley to say we’re coming, and buy two tickets on the five-ten at Paddington to-morrow.”
THE five-ten was late as usual, and everybody was dressing for dinner when I arrived at the Hall. It was only by getting into my evening things in record time and taking the stairs to the dining-room in a couple of bounds that I managed to dead-heat with the soup. I slid into the vacant chair, and found that I was sitting next to old Wickhammersley’s youngest daughter, Cynthia.
“Oh, hallo, old thing,” I said.
Great pals we’ve always been. In fact, there was a time when I had an idea I was in love with Cynthia. However, it blew over. A dashed pretty and lively and attractive girl, mind you, but full of ideals and all that. I may be wronging her, but I have an idea that she’s the sort of girl who would want a fellow to carve out a career and what not. I know I’ve heard her speak favourably of Napoleon. So what with one thing and another the jolly old frenzy sort of petered out, and now we’re just pals. I think she’s a topper, and she thinks me next door to a looney, so everything’s nice and matey.
“Well, Bertie, so you’ve arrived?”
“Oh, yes, I’ve arrived. Yes, here I am. I say, I seem to have plunged into the middle of quite a young dinner-party. Who are all these coves?”
“Oh, just people from round about. You know most of them. You remember Colonel Willis, and the Spencers——”
“Of course, yes. And there’s old Heppenstall. Who’s the other clergyman next to Mrs. Spencer?”
“Mr. Hayward, from Lower Bingley.”
“What an amazing lot of clergymen there are round here. Why, there’s another, next to Mrs. Willis.”
“That’s Mr. Bates, Mr. Heppenstall’s nephew. He’s an assistant-master at Eton. He’s down here during the summer holidays, acting as locum tenens for Mr. Spettigue, the rector of Gandle-by-the-Hill.”
“I thought I knew his face. He was in his fourth year at Oxford when I was a fresher. Rather a blood. Got his rowing-blue and all that.” I took another look round the table, and spotted young Bingo. “Ah, there he is,” I said. “There’s the old egg.”
“Young Bingo Little. Great pal of mine. He’s tutoring your brother, you know.”
“Good gracious! Is he a friend of yours?”
“Rather! Known him all my life.”
“Then tell me, Bertie, is he at all weak in the head?”
“Weak in the head?”
“I don’t mean simply because he’s a friend of yours. But he’s so strange in his manner.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, he keeps looking at me so oddly.”
“Oddly? How? Give an imitation.”
“I can’t in front of all these people.”
“Yes, you can. I’ll hold my napkin up.”
“All right, then. Quick. There!”
Considering that she had only about a second and a half to do it in, I must say it was a jolly fine exhibition. She opened her mouth and eyes pretty wide and let her jaw drop sideways, and managed to look so like a dyspeptic calf that I recognized the symptoms immediately.
“Oh, that’s all right,” I said. “No need to be alarmed. He’s simply in love with you.”
“In love with me? Don’t be absurd.”
“My dear old thing, you don’t know young Bingo. He can fall in love with anybody.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way, you know. I don’t wonder at his taking to you. Why, I was in love with you myself once.”
“Once? Ah! And all that remains now are the cold ashes? This isn’t one of your tactful evenings, Bertie.”
“Well, my dear sweet thing, dash it all, considering that you gave me the bird and nearly laughed yourself into a permanent state of hiccoughs when I asked you——”
“Oh, I’m not reproaching you. No doubt there were faults on both sides. He’s very good-looking, isn’t he?”
“Good-looking? Bingo? Bingo good-looking? No, I say, come now, really!”
“I mean, compared with some people,” said Cynthia.
Some time after this, Lady Wickhammersley gave the signal for the females of the species to leg it, and they duly stampeded. I didn’t get a chance of talking to young Bingo when they’d gone, and later, in the drawing-room, he didn’t show up. I found him eventually in his room, lying on the bed with his feet on the rail, smoking a toofah. There was a notebook on the counterpane beside him.
“Hallo, old scream,” I said.
“Hallo, Bertie,” he replied, in what seemed to me rather a moody, distrait sort of manner.
“Rummy finding you down here. I take it your uncle cut off your allowance after that Goodwood binge and you had to take this tutoring job to keep the wolf from the door?”
“Correct,” said young Bingo, tersely.
“Well, you might have let your pals know where you were.”
He frowned darkly.
“I didn’t want them to know where I was. I wanted to creep away and hide myself. I’ve been through a bad time, Bertie, these last weeks. The sun ceased to shine——”
“That’s curious. We’ve had gorgeous weather in London.”
“The birds ceased to sing——”
“What the devil does it matter what birds?” said young Bingo, with some asperity. “Any birds. The birds round about here. You don’t expect me to specify them by their pet names, do you? I tell you, Bertie, it hit me hard at first, very hard.”
“What hit you?” I simply couldn’t follow the blighter.
“Charlotte’s calculated callousness.”
“Oh, ah!” I’ve seen poor old Bingo through so many unsuccessful love-affairs that I’d almost forgotten there was a girl mixed up with that Goodwood business. Of course! Charlotte Corday Rowbotham. And she had given him the raspberry, I remembered now, and gone off with Comrade Butt.
“I went through torments. Recently, however, I’ve—er—bucked up a bit. Tell me, Bertie, what are you doing down here? I didn’t know you knew these people.”
“Me? Why, I’ve known them since I was a kid.”
Young Bingo put his feet down with a thud.
“Do you mean to say you’ve known Lady Cynthia all that time?”
“Rather! She can’t have been seven when I met her first.”
“Good Lord!” said young Bingo. He looked at me for the first time as though I amounted to something, and swallowed a mouthful of smoke the wrong way. “I love that girl, Bertie,” he went on, when he’d finished coughing.
“Yes? Nice girl, of course.”
He eyed me with pretty deep loathing.
“Don’t speak of her in that horrible casual way. She’s an angel. An angel! Was she talking about me at all at dinner, Bertie?”
“What did she say?”
“I remember one thing. She said she thought you good-looking.”
Young Bingo closed his eyes in a sort of ecstasy. Then he picked up the notebook.
“Pop off now, old man, there’s a good chap,” he said, in a hushed, far-away voice. “I’ve got a bit of writing to do.”
“Poetry, if you must know. I wish the dickens,” said young Bingo, not without some bitterness, “she had been christened something except Cynthia. There isn’t a dam’ word in the language it rhymes with. Ye gods, how I could have spread myself if she had only been called Jane!”
BRIGHT and early next morning, as I lay in bed blinking at the sunlight on the dressing-table and wondering when Jeeves was going to show up with the cup of tea, a heavy weight descended on my toes, and the voice of young Bingo polluted the air. The blighter had apparently risen with the lark.
“Leave me,” I said, “I would be alone. I can’t see anybody till I’ve had my tea.”
“When Cynthia smiles,” said young Bingo, “the skies are blue; the world takes on a roseate hue: birds in the garden trill and sing, and Joy is king of everything, when Cynthia smiles.” He coughed, changing gears. “When Cynthia frowns——”
“What the devil are you talking about?”
“I’m reading you my poem. The one I wrote to Cynthia last night. I’ll go on, shall I?”
“No. I haven’t had my tea.” At this moment Jeeves came in with the good old beverage, and I sprang on it with a glad cry. After a couple of sips things looked a bit brighter. Even young Bingo didn’t offend the eye to quite such an extent. By the time I’d finished the first cup I was a new man, so much so that I not only permitted but encouraged the poor fish to read the rest of the bally thing, and even went so far as to criticize the scansion of the fourth line of the fifth verse. We were still arguing the point when the door burst open and in blew Claude and Eustace. One of the things which discourage me about rural life is the frightful earliness with which events begin to break loose. I’ve stayed at places in the country where they’ve jerked me out of the dreamless at about six-thirty to go for a jolly swim in the lake. At Twing, thank heaven, they know me, and let me breakfast in bed.
The twins seemed pleased to see me.
“Good old Bertie!” said Claude.
“Stout fellow!” said Eustace. “The Rev. told us you had arrived. I thought that letter of mine would fetch you.”
“You can always bank on Bertie,” said Claude. “A sportsman to the finger-tips. Well, has Bingo told you about it?”
“Not a word. He’s been——”
“We’ve been talking,” said Bingo, hastily, “of other matters.”
Claude pinched the last slice of thin bread-and-butter, and Eustace poured himself out a cup of tea.
“It’s like this, Bertie,” said Eustace, settling down cosily. “As I told you in my letter, there are nine of us marooned in this desert spot, reading with old Heppenstall. Well, of course, nothing is jollier than sweating up the Classics when it’s a hundred in the shade, but there does come a time when you begin to feel the need of a little relaxation; and, by Jove, there are absolutely no facilities for relaxation in this place whatever. And then Steggles got this idea. Steggles is one of our reading-party, and, between ourselves, rather a worm as a general thing. Still, you have to give him credit for getting this idea.”
“Well, you know how many parsons there are round about here. There are about a dozen hamlets within a radius of six miles, and each hamlet has a church and each church has a parson and each parson preaches a sermon every Sunday. To-morrow week—Sunday the twenty-third—we’re running off the great Sermon Handicap. Steggles is making the book. Each parson is to be clocked by a reliable steward of the course, and the one that preaches the longest sermon wins. Did you study the race-card I sent you?”
“I couldn’t understand what it was all about.”
“Why, you chump, it gives the handicaps and the current odds on each starter. I’ve got another one here, in case you’ve lost yours. Take a careful look at it. It gives you the thing in a nutshell. Jeeves, old son, do you want a sporting flutter?”
“Sir?” said Jeeves, who had just meandered in with my breakfast.
Claude explained the scheme. Amazing the way Jeeves grasped it right off. But he merely smiled in a paternal sort of way.
“Thank you, sir, I think not.”
“Well, you’re with us, Bertie, aren’t you?” said Claude, sneaking a roll and a slice of bacon. “Have you studied that card? Well, tell me, does anything strike you about it?”
Of course it did. It had struck me the moment I looked at it.
“Why, it’s a sitter for old Heppenstall,” I said. “He’s got the event sewed up in a parcel. There isn’t a parson in the land who could give him eight minutes. Your pal Steggles must be an ass, giving him a handicap like that. Why, in the days when I was with him, old Heppenstall never used to preach under half an hour, and there was one sermon of his on Brotherly Love which lasted forty-five minutes if it lasted a second. Has he lost his vim lately, or what is it?”
“Not a bit of it,” said Eustace. “Tell him what happened, Claude.”
“Why,” said Claude, “the first Sunday we were here, we all went to Twing church, and old Heppenstall preached a sermon that was well under twenty minutes. This is what happened. Steggles didn’t notice it, and the Rev. didn’t notice it himself, but Eustace and I both spotted that he had dropped a chunk of at least half-a-dozen pages out of his sermon-case as he was walking up to the pulpit. He sort of flickered when he got to the gap in the manuscript, but carried on all right, and Steggles went away with the impression that twenty minutes or a bit under was his usual form. The next Sunday we heard Tucker and Starkie, and they both went well over the thirty-five minutes, so Steggles arranged the handicapping as you see on the card. You must come into this, Bertie. You see, the trouble is that I haven’t a bean, and Eustace hasn’t a bean, and Bingo Little hasn’t a bean, so you’ll have to finance the syndicate. Don’t weaken! It’s just putting money in all our pockets. Well, we’ll have to be getting back now. Think the thing over, and ’phone me later in the day. And, if you let us down, Bertie, may a cousin’s curse—— Come on, Claude, old thing.”
The more I studied the scheme, the better it looked.
“How about it, Jeeves?” I said.
Jeeves smiled gently, and drifted out.
“Jeeves has no sporting blood,” said Bingo.
“Well, I have. I’m coming into this. Claude’s quite right. It’s like finding money by the wayside.”
“Good man!” said Bingo. “Now I can see daylight. Say I have a tenner on Heppenstall, and cop; that’ll give me a bit in hand to back Pink Pill with in the two o’clock at Gatwick the week after next: cop on that, put the pile on Musk-Rat for the one-thirty at Lewes, and there I am with a nice little sum to take to Alexandra Park on September the tenth, when I’ve got a tip straight from the stable.”
It sounded like a bit out of “Smiles’s Self-Help.”
“And then,” said young Bingo, “I’ll be in a position to go to my uncle and beard him in his lair somewhat. He’s quite a bit of a snob, you know, and when he hears that I’m going to marry the daughter of an earl——”
“I say, old man,” I couldn’t help saying, “aren’t you looking ahead rather far?”
“Oh, that’s all right. It’s true nothing’s actually settled yet, but she practically told me the other day she was fond of me.”
“Well, she said that the sort of man she liked was the self-reliant, manly man with strength, good looks, character, ambition, and initiative.”
“Leave me, laddie,” I said. “Leave me to my fried egg.”
DIRECTLY I’d got up I went to the ’phone, snatched Eustace away from his morning’s work, and instructed him to put a tenner on the Twing flier at current odds for each of the syndicate; and after lunch Eustace rang me up to say that he had done business at a snappy seven-to-one, the odds having lengthened owing to a rumour in knowledgeable circles that the Rev. was subject to hay-fever, and was taking big chances strolling in the paddock behind the Vicarage in the early mornings. And it was dashed lucky, I thought next day, that we had managed to get the money on in time, for on the Sunday morning old Heppenstall fairly took the bit between his teeth, and gave us thirty-six solid minutes on Certain Popular Superstitions. I was sitting next to Steggles in the pew, and I saw him blench visibly. He was a little, rat-faced fellow, with shifty eyes and a suspicious nature. The first thing he did when we emerged into the open air was to announce, formally, that anyone who fancied the Rev. could now be accommodated at fifteen-to-eight on, and he added, in a rather nasty manner, that if he had his way, this sort of in-and-out running would be brought to the attention of the Jockey Club, but that he supposed that there was nothing to be done about it. This ruinous price checked the punters at once, and there was little money in sight. And so matters stood till just after lunch on Tuesday afternoon, when, as I was strolling up and down in front of the house with a cigarette, Claude and Eustace came bursting up the drive on bicycles, dripping with momentous news.
“Bertie,” said Claude, deeply agitated, “unless we take immediate action and do a bit of quick thinking, we’re in the cart.”
“What’s the matter?”
“G. Hayward’s the matter,” said Eustace, morosely. “The Lower Bingley starter.”
“We never even considered him,” said Claude. “Somehow or other, he got overlooked. It’s always the way. Steggles overlooked him. We all overlooked him. But Eustace and I happened by the merest fluke to be riding through Lower Bingley this morning, and there was a wedding on at the church, and it suddenly struck us that it wouldn’t be a bad move to get a line on G. Hayward’s form, in case he might be a dark horse.”
“And it was jolly lucky we did,” said Eustace. “He delivered an address of twenty-six minutes by Claude’s stop-watch. At a village wedding, mark you! What’ll he do when he really extends himself!”
“There’s only one thing to be done, Bertie,” said Claude. “You must spring some more funds, so that we can hedge on Hayward and save ourselves.”
“Well, it’s the only way out.”
“But I say, you know, I hate the idea of all that money we put on Heppenstall being chucked away.”
“What else can you suggest? You don’t suppose the Rev. can give this absolute marvel a handicap and win, do you?”
“I’ve got it!” I said.
“I see a way by which we can make it safe for our nominee. I’ll pop over this afternoon, and ask him as a personal favour, to preach that sermon of his on Brotherly Love on Sunday.”
Claude and Eustace looked at each other, like those chappies in the poem, with a wild surmise.
“It’s a scheme,” said Claude.
“A jolly brainy scheme,” said Eustace. “I didn’t think you had it in you, Bertie.”
“But even so,” said Claude, “fizzer as that sermon no doubt is, will it be good enough in the face of a four-minute handicap?”
“Rather!” I said. “When I told you it lasted forty-five minutes, I was probably understating it. I should call it—from my recollection of the thing—nearer fifty.”
“Then carry on,” said Claude.
I toddled over in the evening and fixed the thing up. Old Heppenstall was most decent about the whole affair. He seemed pleased and touched that I should have remembered the sermon all these years, and said he had once or twice had an idea of preaching it again, only it had seemed to him, on reflection, that it was perhaps a trifle long for a rustic congregation.
“And in these restless times, my dear Wooster,” he said, “I fear that brevity in the pulpit is becoming more and more desiderated by even the bucolic churchgoer, who one might have supposed would be less afflicted with the spirit of hurry and impatience than his metropolitan brother. I have had many arguments on the subject with my nephew, young Bates, who is taking my old friend Spettigue’s cure over at Gandle-by-the-Hill. His view is that a sermon nowadays should be a bright, brisk, straight-from-the-shoulder address, never lasting more than ten or twelve minutes.”
“Long?” I said. “Why, my goodness! You don’t call that Brotherly Love sermon of yours long, do you?”
“It takes fully fifty minutes to deliver.”
“Your incredulity, my dear Wooster, is extremely flattering—far more flattering, of course, than I deserve. Nevertheless, the facts are as I have stated. You are sure that I would not be well advised to make certain excisions and eliminations? You do not think it would be a good thing to cut, to prune? I might, for example, delete the rather exhaustive excursus into the family life of the early Assyrians?”
“Don’t touch a word of it, or you’ll spoil the whole thing,” I said, earnestly.
“I am delighted to hear you say so, and I shall preach the sermon without fail next Sunday morning.”
WHAT I have always said, and what I always shall say, is, that this ante-post betting is a mistake, an error, and a mug’s game. You never can tell what’s going to happen. If fellows would only stick to the good old S.P. there would be fewer young men go wrong. I’d hardly finished my breakfast on the Saturday morning, when Jeeves came to my bedside to say that Eustace wanted me on the telephone.
“Good Lord, Jeeves, what’s the matter, do you think?”
I’m bound to say I was beginning to get a bit jumpy by this time.
“Mr. Eustace did not confide in me, sir.”
“Has he got the wind up?”
“Somewhat vertically, sir, to judge by his voice.”
“Do you know what I think, Jeeves? Something’s gone wrong with the favourite.”
“Which is the favourite, sir?”
“Mr. Heppenstall. He’s gone to odds on. He was intending to preach a sermon on Brotherly Love which would have brought him home by lengths. I wonder if anything’s happened to him.”
“You could ascertain, sir, by speaking to Mr. Eustace on the telephone. He is holding the wire.”
“By Jove, yes!”
I shoved on a dressing-gown, and flew downstairs like a mighty, rushing wind. The moment I heard Eustace’s voice I knew we were for it. It had a croak of agony in it.
“Here I am.”
“Deuce of a time you’ve been. Bertie, we’re sunk. The favourite’s blown up.”
“Yes. Coughing in his stable all last night.”
“Oh, my sainted aunt!”
“The doctor is with him now, and it’s only a question of minutes before he’s officially scratched. That means the curate will show up at the post instead, and he’s no good at all. He is being offered at a hundred-to-six, but no takers. What shall we do?”
I had to grapple with the thing for a moment in silence.
“What can you get on G. Hayward?”
“Only four-to-one now. I think there’s been a leak, and Steggles has heard something. The odds shortened late last night in a significant manner.”
“Well, four-to-one will clear us. Put another fiver all round on G. Hayward for the syndicate. That’ll bring us out on the right side of the ledger.”
“If he wins.”
“What do you mean? I thought you considered him a cert, bar Heppenstall.”
“I’m beginning to wonder,” said Eustace, gloomily, “if there’s such a thing as a cert. in this world. I’m told the Rev. Joseph Tucker did an extraordinarily fine trial gallop at a mothers’ meeting over at Badgwick yesterday. However, it seems our only chance. So-long.”
Not being one of the official stewards, I had my choice of churches next morning, and naturally I didn’t hesitate. The only drawback to going to Lower Bingley was that it was ten miles away, which meant an early start, but I borrowed a bicycle from one of the grooms and tooled off. I had only Eustace’s word for it that G. Hayward was such a stayer, and it might have been that he had showed too flattering form at that wedding where the twins had heard him preach; but any misgivings I may have had disappeared the moment he got into the pulpit. Eustace had been right. The man was a trier. He was a tall, rangy-looking greybeard, and he went off from the start with a nice, easy action, pausing and clearing his throat at the end of each sentence, and it wasn’t five minutes before I realized that here was the winner. His habit of stopping dead and looking round the church at intervals was worth minutes to us, and in the home stretch we gained no little advantage owing to his dropping his pince-nez and having to grope for them. At the twenty-minute mark he had merely settled down. Twenty-five minutes saw him going strong. And when he finally finished with a good burst, the clock showed thirty-five minutes fourteen seconds. With the handicap which he had been given, this seemed to me to make the event easy for him, and it was with much bonhomie and goodwill to all men that I hopped on to the old bike and started back to the Hall for lunch.
Bingo was talking on the ’phone when I arrived.
“Fine! Splendid! Topping!” he was saying. “Eh? Oh, we needn’t worry about him. Right-o, I’ll tell Bertie.” He hung up the receiver and caught sight of me. “Oh, hallo, Bertie; I was just talking to Eustace. It’s all right, old man. The report from Lower Bingley has just got in. G. Hayward romps home.”
“I knew he would. I’ve just come from there.”
“Oh, were you there? I went to Badgwick. Tucker ran a splendid race, but the handicap was too much for him. Starkie had a sore throat and was nowhere. Roberts, of Fale-by-the-Water, ran third. Good old G. Hayward!” said Bingo, affectionately, and we strolled out on to the terrace.
“Are all the returns in, then?” I asked.
“All except Gandle-by-the-Hill. But we needn’t worry about Bates. He never had a chance. By the way, poor old Jeeves loses his tenner. Silly ass!”
“Jeeves? How do you mean?”
“He came to me this morning, just after you had left, and asked me to put a tenner on Bates for him. I told him he was a chump and begged him not to throw his money away, but he would do it.”
“I beg your pardon, sir. This note arrived for you just after you had left the house this morning.”
Jeeves had materialized from nowhere, and was standing at my elbow.
“Eh? What? Note?”
“The Reverend Mr. Heppenstall’s butler brought it over from the Vicarage, sir. It came too late to be delivered to you at the moment.”
Young Bingo was talking to Jeeves like a father on the subject of betting against the form-book. The yell I gave made him bite his tongue in the middle of a sentence.
“What the dickens is the matter?” he asked, not a little peeved.
“We’re dished! Listen to this!”
I read him the note:—
“My Dear Wooster,—As you may have heard, circumstances over which I have no control will prevent my preaching the sermon on Brotherly Love for which you made such a flattering request. I am unwilling, however, that you shall be disappointed, so, if you will attend divine service at Gandle-by-the-Hill this morning, you will hear my sermon preached by young Bates, my nephew. I have lent him the manuscript at his urgent desire, for, between ourselves, there are wheels within wheels. My nephew is one of the candidates for the headmastership of a well-known public school, and the choice has narrowed down between him and one rival.
“Late yesterday evening James received private information that the head of the Board of Governors of the school proposed to sit under him this Sunday in order to judge of the merits of his preaching, a most important item in swaying the Board’s choice. I acceded to his plea that I lend him my sermon on Brotherly Love, of which, like you, he apparently retains a vivid recollection. It would have been too late for him to compose a sermon of suitable length in place of the brief address which—mistakenly, in my opinion—he had designed to deliver to his rustic flock, and I wished to help the boy.
“Trusting that his preaching of the sermon will supply you with as pleasant memories as you say you have of mine, I remain,
“P.S.—The hay-fever has rendered my eyes unpleasantly weak for the time being, so I am dictating this letter to my butler, Brookfield, who will convey it to you.”
I DON’T know when I’ve experienced a more massive silence than the one that followed my reading of this cheery epistle. Young Bingo gulped once or twice, and practically every known emotion came and went on his face. Jeeves coughed one soft, low, gentle cough like a sheep with a blade of grass stuck in its throat, and then stood gazing serenely at the landscape. Finally young Bingo spoke.
“Great Scot!” he whispered, hoarsely. “An S.P. job!”
“I believe that is the technical term, sir,” said Jeeves.
“So you had inside information, dash it!” said young Bingo.
“Why, yes, sir,” said Jeeves. “Brookfield happened to mention the contents of the note to me when he brought it. We are old friends.”
Bingo registered grief, anguish, rage, despair, and resentment.
“Well, all I can say,” he cried, “is that it’s a bit thick! Preaching another man’s sermon! Do you call that honest? Do you call that playing the game?”
“Well, my dear old thing,” I said, “be fair. It’s quite within the rules. Clergymen do it all the time. They aren’t expected always to make up the sermons they preach.”
Jeeves coughed again, and fixed me with an expressionless eye.
“And in the present case, sir, if I may be permitted to take the liberty of making the observation, I think we should make allowances. We should remember that the securing of this headmastership meant everything to the young couple.”
“Young couple! What young couple?”
“The Reverend James Bates, sir, and Lady Cynthia. I am informed by her ladyship’s maid that they have been engaged to be married for some weeks—provisionally, so to speak; and his lordship made his consent conditional on Mr. Bates securing a really important and remunerative position.”
Young Bingo turned a light green.
“Engaged to be married!”
There was a silence.
“I think I’ll go for a walk,” said Bingo.
“But, my dear old thing.” I said, “it’s just lunch-time. The gong will be going any minute now.”
“I don’t want any lunch!” said Bingo.
Next month: “The Purity of the Turf.”