The Strand Magazine, December 1927
THE letter arrived on the morning of the sixteenth. I was pushing a bit of breakfast into the Wooster face at the moment; and, feeling fairly well fortified with coffee and kippers, I decided to break the news to Jeeves without delay. As Shakespeare says, if you’re going to do a thing you might just as well pop right at it and get it over. The man would be disappointed, of course, and possibly even chagrined; but, dash it all, a splash of disappointment here and there does a fellow good. Makes him realize that life is stern and life is earnest.
“Oh, Jeeves,” I said.
“We have here a communication from Lady Wickham. She has written inviting me to Skeldings for the festive s. So you will see about bunging the necessaries together? We repair thither on the twenty-third. Plenty of white ties, Jeeves, also a few hearty country suits for use in the daytime. We shall be there some little time, I expect.”
There was a pause. I could feel he was directing a frosty gaze at me, but I dug into the marmalade and refused to meet it.
“I thought I understood you to say, sir, that you proposed to visit Monte Carlo immediately after Christmas.”
“I know. But that’s all off. Plans changed.”
“Very good, sir.”
At this point the telephone bell rang, tiding over very nicely what had threatened to be an awkward moment. Jeeves unhooked the receiver.
“Yes? Yes, madam. Very good, madam. Here is Mr. Wooster.” He handed me the instrument. “Mrs. Spenser Gregson, sir.”
You know, every now and then I can’t help feeling that Jeeves is losing his grip. In his prime it would have been with him the work of a moment to have told my Aunt Agatha that I was not at home. I gave him one of those reproachful glances, and took the machine.
“Hullo?” I said. “Yes? Yes? Yes? Bertie speaking. Hullo? Hullo? Hullo?”
“Don’t keep on saying ‘Hullo?’ ” yipped the old relative in her customary curt manner. “You’re not a parrot. Sometimes I wish you were, because then you might have a little sense.”
Quite the wrong sort of tone to adopt towards a fellow in the early morning, of course, but what can one do?
“Bertie, Lady Wickham tells me she has invited you to Skeldings for Christmas. Are you going?”
“Well, mind you behave yourself. Lady Wickham is an old friend of mine.”
I was in no mood for this sort of thing over the telephone. Face to face, I’m not saying, but at the end of a wire, no.
“I shall naturally endeavour, Aunt Agatha,” I replied stiffly, “to conduct myself in a manner befitting an English gentleman paying a visit——”
“What did you say? Speak up. I can’t hear.”
“I said right-ho.”
“Oh? Well, mind you do. And there’s another reason why I particularly wish you to be as little of an imbecile as you can manage while at Skeldings. Sir Roderick Glossop will be there.”
“Don’t bellow like that. You nearly deafened me.”
“Did you say Sir Roderick Glossop?”
“You don’t mean Tuppy Glossop?”
“I mean Sir Roderick Glossop. Now, Bertie, I want you to listen to me attentively. Are you there?”
“Yes. Still here.”
“Well, then, listen. I have at last succeeded, after incredible difficulty and in face of all the evidence, in almost persuading Sir Roderick that you are not actually insane. He is prepared to suspend judgment until he has seen you once more. On your behaviour at Skeldings, therefore——”
But I had hung up the receiver. Shaken. That’s what I was. S. to the core.
Stop me if I’ve told you this before, but, in case you don’t know, let me just mention the facts in the matter of this Glossop. He was a formidable old bird with a bald head and outsize eyebrows, by profession a loony-doctor. How it happened, I couldn’t tell you to this day, but I once got engaged to his daughter Honoria, a ghastly dynamic exhibit who read Nietzsche and had a laugh like waves breaking on a stern and rock-bound coast. The fixture was scratched owing to events occurring which convinced the old boy that I was off my napper; and since then he has always had my name at the top of his list of Loonies I Have Lunched With.
It seemed to me that even at Christmas-time, with all the peace on earth and goodwill towards men that there is knocking about at that season, a reunion with this bloke was likely to be tough going. If I hadn’t had more than one particularly good reason for wanting to go to Skeldings, I’d have called the thing off.
“Jeeves,” I said, all of a twitter, “do you know what? Sir Roderick Glossop is going to be at Lady Wickham’s.”
“Very good, sir. If you have finished breakfast, I will clear away.”
Cold and haughty. No sympathy. None of the rallying-round spirit which one likes to see. As I had anticipated, the information that we were not going to Monte Carlo had got in amongst him. There is a keen sporting streak in Jeeves, and I knew he had been looking forward to a little flutter at the tables.
We Woosters can wear the mask. I ignored his lack of decent feeling.
“Do so, Jeeves,” I said, proudly, “and with all convenient speed.”
RELATIONS continued pretty fairly strained all through the rest of the week. There was a frigid detachment in the way the man brought me my dollop of tea in the mornings. Going down to Skeldings in the car on the afternoon of the twenty-third, he was aloof and reserved. And before dinner on the first night of my visit he put the studs in my dress-shirt in what I can only call a marked manner. The whole thing was extremely painful, and it seemed to me, as I lay in bed on the morning of the twenty-fourth, that the only step to take was to put the whole facts of the case before him and trust to his native good sense to effect an understanding.
I was feeling considerably in the pink that morning. Everything had gone like a breeze. My hostess, Lady Wickham, was a beaky female built far too closely on the lines of my Aunt Agatha for comfort, but she had seemed matey enough on my arrival. Her daughter Roberta had welcomed me with a warmth which, I’m bound to say, had set the old heart-strings fluttering a bit. And Sir Roderick, in the brief moment we had had together, appeared to have let the Yule-tide spirit soak into him to the most amazing extent. When he saw me, his mouth sort of flickered at one corner, which I took to be his idea of smiling, and he said “Ha, young man!” Not particularly chummily, but he said it; and my view was that it practically amounted to the lion lying down with the lamb.
So, all in all, life at this juncture seemed pretty well all to the mustard, and I decided to tell Jeeves exactly how matters stood.
“Jeeves,” I said, as he appeared with the steaming.
“Touching on this business of our being here, I would like to say a few words of explanation. I consider that you have a right to the facts.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“I’m afraid scratching that Monte Carlo trip has been a bit of a jar for you, Jeeves.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“Oh, yes, it has. The heart was set on wintering in the world’s good old Plague Spot. I saw your eye light up when I said we were due for a visit there. You snorted a bit and your fingers twitched. I know, I know. And now that there has been a change of programme, the iron has entered into your soul.”
“Not at all, sir.”
“Oh, yes, it has. I’ve seen it. Very well, then. What I wish to impress upon you, Jeeves, is that I have not been actuated in this matter by any mere idle whim. It was through no light and airy caprice that I accepted this invitation to Lady Wickham’s. I have been angling for it for weeks, prompted by many considerations. In the first place, does one get the Yule-tide spirit at a spot like Monte Carlo?”
“Does one desire the Yule-tide spirit, sir?”
“Certainly one does. I am all for it. Well, that’s one thing. Now here’s another. It was imperative that I should come to Skeldings for Christmas, Jeeves, because I knew that young Tuppy Glossop was going to be here.”
“Sir Roderick Glossop, sir?”
“His nephew. You may have observed hanging about the place a fellow with light hair and a Cheshire cat grin. That is Tuppy, and I have been anxious for some time to get to grips with him. I have it in for that man of wrath. The Wooster honour is involved. Listen to the facts, Jeeves, and tell me if I am not justified in planning a hideous vengeance.” I took a sip of tea, for the mere memory of my wrongs had shaken me. “In spite of the fact that young Tuppy is the nephew of Sir Roderick Glossop, at whose hands, Jeeves, as you are aware, I have suffered much, I fraternized with him freely, both at the Drones Club and elsewhere. I said to myself that a man is not to be blamed for his relations, and that I would hate to have my pals hold my Aunt Agatha, for instance, against me. Broad-minded, Jeeves, I think?”
“Well, then, as I say, I sought this Tuppy out, Jeeves, and hobnobbed, and what do you think he did?”
“I could not say, sir.”
“I will tell you. One night after dinner at the Drones he bet me I wouldn’t swing myself across the swimming-bath by the ropes and rings. I took him on, and was buzzing along in great style until I came to the last ring. And then I found that this fiend in human shape had looped it back against the rail, thus leaving me hanging in the void with no means of getting ashore to my home and loved ones. There was nothing for it but to drop into the water. He told me that he had often caught fellows that way; and what I maintain, Jeeves, is that, if I can’t get back at him somehow at Skeldings—with all the vast resources which a country house affords at my disposal—I am not the man I was.”
“I see, sir.”
There was still something in his manner which told me that even now he lacked complete sympathy and understanding, so, delicate though the subject was, I decided to put all my cards on the table.
“And now, Jeeves, we come to the most important reason why I had to spend Christmas at Skeldings. Jeeves,” I said, diving into the old cup once more for a moment and bringing myself out wreathed in blushes, “the fact of the matter is, I’m in love.”
“You’ve seen Miss Roberta Wickham?”
“Very well, then.”
There was a pause, while I let it sink in.
“During your stay here, Jeeves,” I said, “you will, no doubt, be thrown a good deal together with Miss Wickham’s maid. On such occasions, pitch it strong.”
“You know what I mean. Tell her I’m rather a good chap. Mention my hidden depths. These things get round. Dwell on the fact that I have a kind heart and was runner-up in the Squash Handicap at the Drones this year. A boost is never wasted, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir. But——”
“I wish you wouldn’t say ‘Well, sir,’ in that soupy tone of voice. I have had to speak of this before. The habit is one that is growing upon you. Check it. What’s on your mind?”
“I hardly like to take the liberty——”
“Carry on, Jeeves. We are always glad to hear from you, always.”
“What I was about to remark, if you will excuse me, sir, was that I would scarcely have thought Miss Wickham a suitable——”
“Jeeves,” I said coldly, “if you have anything to say against that lady, it had better not be said in my presence.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Or anywhere else, for that matter. What is your kick against Miss Wickham?”
“Oh, really, sir!”
“Jeeves, I insist. This is a time for plain speaking. You have beefed about Miss Wickham. I wish to know why.”
“It merely crossed my mind, sir, that for a gentleman of your description Miss Wickham is not a suitable mate.”
“What do you mean by a gentleman of my description?”
“I beg your pardon, sir. The expression escaped me inadvertently. I was about to observe that I can only asseverate——”
“I can only say that, as you have invited my opinion——”
“But I didn’t.”
“I was under the impression that you desired to canvass my views on the matter, sir.”
“Oh? Well, let’s have them, anyway.”
“Very good, sir. Then, briefly, if I may say so, sir, though Miss Wickham is a charming young lady——”
“There, Jeeves, you spoke an imperial quart. What eyes!”
“Very true, sir.”
“And what espièglerie, if that’s the word I want.”
“The exact word, sir.”
“All right, then. Carry on.”
“I grant Miss Wickham the possession of all these desirable qualities, sir. Nevertheless, considered as a matrimonial prospect for a gentleman of your description, I cannot look upon her as suitable. In my opinion, Miss Wickham lacks seriousness, sir. She is too volatile and frivolous. To qualify as Miss Wickham’s husband, a gentleman would need to possess a commanding personality and considerable strength of character.”
“I would always hesitate to recommend as a life’s companion a young lady with quite such a vivid shade of red hair. Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.”
I eyed the blighter squarely.
“Jeeves,” I said, “you’re talking rot.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Pure mashed potatoes.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Very good, sir—I mean very good, Jeeves, that will be all,” I said.
And I drank a modicum of tea with a good deal of hauteur.
IT isn’t often that I find myself able to prove Jeeves in the wrong, but by dinner-time that night I was in a position to do so, and I did it without delay.
“Touching on that matter we were touching on, Jeeves,” I said, coming in from the bath and tackling him as he studded the shirt, “I should be glad if you would give me your careful attention for a moment. I warn you that what I am about to say is going to make you look pretty silly.”
“Yes, Jeeves. Pretty dashed silly it’s going to make you look. It may lead you to be rather more careful in future about broadcasting these estimates of yours of people’s characters. This morning, if I remember rightly, you stated that Miss Wickham was volatile, frivolous, and lacking in seriousness. Am I correct?”
“Quite correct, sir.”
“Then what I have to tell you may cause you to alter that opinion. I went for a walk with Miss Wickham this afternoon; and, as we walked, I told her about what young Tuppy Glossop did to me in the swimming-bath at the Drones. She hung upon my words, Jeeves, and was full of sympathy.”
“Dripping with it. And that’s not all. Almost before I had finished, she was suggesting the ripest, fruitiest, brainiest scheme for bringing young Tuppy’s grey hairs in sorrow to the grave that anyone could possibly imagine.”
“That is very gratifying, sir.”
“Gratifying is the word. It appears that at the girls’ school where Miss Wickham was educated, Jeeves, it used to become necessary from time to time for the right-thinking element of the community to slip it across certain of the baser sort. Do you know what they did, Jeeves?”
“They took a long stick, Jeeves, and—follow me closely here—they tied a darning-needle to the end of it. Then at dead of night, it appears, they sneaked privily into the party of the second part’s cubicle and shoved the needle through the bedclothes and punctured her hot-water bottle. Girls are much subtler in these matters than boys, Jeeves. At my old school one would occasionally heave a jug of water over another bloke during the night watches, but we never thought of effecting the same result in this particularly neat and scientific manner. Well, Jeeves, that was the scheme which Miss Wickham suggested I should work on young Tuppy, and that is the girl you call frivolous and lacking in seriousness! Any girl who can think up a wheeze like that is my idea of a helpmeet. I shall be glad, Jeeves, if by the time I come to bed to-night you have for me in this room a stout stick with a good sharp darning-needle attached.”
I raised my hand.
“Jeeves,” I said. “Not another word. Stick, one, and needle, darning, good, sharp, one, without fail in this room at eleven-thirty to-night.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Have you any idea where young Tuppy sleeps?”
“I could ascertain, sir.”
“Do so, Jeeves.”
In a few minutes he was back with the necessary informash.
“Mr. Glossop is established in the Moat Room, sir.”
“The second door on the floor below this, sir.”
“Right-ho, Jeeves. Are the studs in my shirt?”
“And the links also?”
“Then push me into it.”
The more I thought about this enterprise which a sense of duty and good citizenship had thrust upon me, the better it seemed to me. I am not a vindictive man, but I felt, as anybody would have felt in my place, that if fellows like young Tuppy are allowed to get away with it the whole fabric of society and civilization must inevitably crumble. The task to which I had set myself was one that involved hardship and discomfort, for it meant sitting up till well into the small hours and then padding down a cold corridor, but I did not shrink from it. After all, there is a lot to be said for family tradition. We Woosters did our bit in the Crusades.
It being Christmas Eve, there was, as I had foreseen, a good deal of revelry and what not. First, the village choir surged round and sang carols outside the front door, and then somebody suggested a dance, and after that we hung around chatting of this and that, so that it wasn’t till past one that I got to my room. Allowing for everything, it didn’t seem that it was going to be safe to start my little expedition till half-past two at the earliest; and I’m bound to say that it was only the utmost resolution that kept me from snuggling into the sheets and calling it a day. I’m not much of a lad now for late hours.
However, by half-past two everything appeared to be quiet. I shook off the mists of sleep, grabbed the good old stick-and-needle, and off along the corridor. And presently, pausing outside the Moat Room, I turned the handle, found the door wasn’t locked, and went in.
I SUPPOSE a burglar—I mean a real professional who works at the job six nights a week all the year round—gets so that finding himself standing in the dark in somebody else’s bedroom means absolutely nothing to him. But for a bird like me, who has had no previous experience, there’s a lot to be said in favour of washing the whole thing out and closing the door gently and popping back to bed again. It was only by summoning up all the old bulldog courage of the Woosters and reminding myself that, if I let this opportunity slip, another might never occur, that I managed to stick out what you might call the initial minute of the binge. Then the weakness passed, and Bertram was himself again.
At first, when I had beetled in, the room had seemed as black as a coal-cellar; but after a bit things began to lighten. The curtains weren’t quite drawn over the window, and I could see a trifle of the scenery here and there. The bed was opposite the window, with the head against the wall and the end where the feet were jutting out towards where I stood, thus rendering it possible after one had sown the seed, so to speak, to make a quick getaway. There only remained now the rather tricky problem of locating the hot-water bottle. I mean to say, the one thing you can’t do if you want to carry a job like this through with secrecy and dispatch is to stand at the end of a fellow’s bed, jabbing the blankets at random with a darning needle. Before proceeding to anything in the nature of definite steps, it is imperative that you locate the bot.
I was a good deal cheered at this juncture to hear a fruity snore from the direction of the pillows. Reason told me that a bloke who could snore like that wasn’t going to be awakened by a trifle. I edged forward and ran a hand in a gingerly sort of way over the coverlet. A moment later I had found the bulge. I steered the good old darning-needle on to it, gripped the stick, and shoved. Then, pulling out the weapon, I sidled towards the door, and in another moment would have been outside, buzzing for home and the good night’s rest, when suddenly there was a crash that sent my spine shooting up through the top of my head, and the contents of the bed sat up like a jack-in-the-box and said:—
It just shows how your most careful strategic moves can be the very ones that dish your campaign. In order to facilitate the orderly retreat according to plan I had left the door open, and the beastly thing had slammed like a bomb.
But I wasn’t giving much thought to the causes of the explosion, having other things to occupy my mind. What was disturbing me was the discovery that, whoever else the bloke in the bed might be, he was not young Tuppy. Tuppy has one of those high, squeaky voices that sound like the tenor of the village choir failing to hit a high note. This one was something in between the last trump and a tiger calling for breakfast after being on a diet for a day or two. It was the sort of nasty, rasping voice you hear shouting “Fore!” when you’re one of a slow foursome on the links and are holding up a couple of retired colonels. Among the qualities it lacked were kindliness, suavity, and that sort of dove-like cooing note which makes a fellow feel he has found a friend.
I did not linger. Getting swiftly off the mark, I dived for the door handle and was off and away, banging the door behind me. I may be a chump in many ways, as my Aunt Agatha will freely attest, but I know when and when not to be among those present.
And I was just about to do the stretch of corridor leading to the stairs in a split second under the record time for the course, when something brought me up with a sudden jerk. One moment, I was all dash and fire and speed; the next, an irresistible force had checked me in my stride and was holding me straining at the leash, as it were.
You know, sometimes it seems to me as if Fate were going out of its way to such an extent to snooter you that you wonder if it’s worth while continuing to struggle. The night being a trifle chillier than the dickens, I had donned for this expedition a dressing-gown. It was the tail of this infernal garment that had caught in the door and pipped me at the eleventh hour.
The next moment the door had opened, light was streaming through it, and the bloke with the voice had grabbed me by the arm.
It was Sir Roderick Glossop!
THE next thing that happened was a bit of a lull in the proceedings. For about three and a quarter seconds, or possibly more, we just stood there, drinking each other in, so to speak, the old boy still attached with a limpet-like grip to my elbow. If I hadn’t been in a dressing-gown and he in pink-striped pyjamas, and if he hadn’t been glaring quite so much as if he were shortly going to commit a murder, the tableau would have looked rather like one of those advertisements you see in the magazines, where the experienced elder is patting the young man’s arm and saying to him, “My boy, if you subscribe to the Mutt-Jeff Correspondence School of Oswego, Kan., as I did, you may some day, like me, become Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow-Tweezer Corporation.”
“You!” said Sir Roderick, finally. And in this connection I want to state that it’s all rot to say you can’t hiss a word that hasn’t an “s” in it. The way he pushed out that “You!” sounded like an angry cobra, and I am betraying no secrets when I mention that it did me no good whatsoever.
By rights, I suppose, at this point I ought to have said something. The best I could manage, however, was a faint, soft bleating sound. Even on ordinary social occasions, when meeting this bloke as man to man and with a clear conscience, I could never be completely at my ease; and now those eyebrows seemed to pierce me like a knife.
“Come in here,” he said, lugging me into the room. “We don’t want to wake the whole house. Now,” he said, depositing me on the carpet and closing the door and doing a bit of eyebrow-work, “kindly inform me what is this latest manifestation of insanity?”
It seemed to me that a light and cheery laugh might help the thing along. So I had a pop at one.
“Don’t gibber!” said my genial host. And I’m bound to admit that the light and cheery hadn’t come out quite as I’d intended.
I pulled myself together with a strong effort.
“Awfully sorry about all this,” I said in a hearty sort of voice. “The fact is, I thought you were Tuppy.”
“Kindly refrain from inflicting your idiotic slang on me. What do you mean by the adjective ‘tuppy’?”
“It isn’t so much an adjective, don’t you know. More of a noun, I should think, if you examine it squarely. What I mean to say is, I thought you were your nephew.”
“You thought I was my nephew? Why should I be my nephew?”
“What I’m driving at is, I thought this was his room.”
“My nephew and I changed rooms. I have a great dislike for sleeping on an upper floor. I am nervous about fire.”
For the first time since this interview had started, I braced up a trifle. The injustice of the whole thing stirred me to such an extent that for a moment I lost that sense of being a toad under the harrow which had been cramping my style up till now. I even went so far as to eye this pyjamaed poltroon with a good deal of contempt and loathing. Just because he had this craven fear of fire and this selfish preference for letting Tuppy be cooked instead of himself should the emergency occur, my nicely-reasoned plans had gone up the spout. I gave him a look, and I think I may even have snorted a bit.
“I should have thought that your man-servant would have informed you,” said Sir Roderick, “that we contemplated making this change. I met him shortly before luncheon and told him to tell you.”
I reeled. Yes, it is not too much to say that I reeled. This extraordinary statement had taken me amidships without any preparation, and it staggered me. That Jeeves had been aware all along that this old crumb would be the occupant of the bed which I was proposing to prod with darning-needles and had let me rush upon my doom without a word of warning was almost beyond belief. You might say I was aghast. Yes, practically aghast.
“You told Jeeves that you were going to sleep in this room?” I gasped.
“I did. I was aware that you and my nephew were on terms of intimacy, and I wished to spare myself the possibility of a visit from you. I confess that it never occurred to me that such a visit was to be anticipated at three o’clock in the morning. What the devil do you mean,” he barked, suddenly hotting up, “by prowling about the house at this hour? And what is that thing in your hand?”
I looked down, and found that I was still grasping the stick. I give you my honest word that, what with the maelstrom of emotions into which his revelation about Jeeves had cast me, the discovery came as an absolute surprise.
“This?” I said. “Oh, yes.”
“What do you mean, ‘Oh, yes’? What is it?”
“Well, it’s a long story——”
“We have the night before us.”
“It’s this way. I will ask you to picture me some weeks ago, perfectly peaceful and inoffensive, after dinner at the Drones, smoking a thoughtful cigarette and——”
I broke off. The man wasn’t listening. He was goggling in a rapt sort of way at the end of the bed, from which there had now begun to drip on to the carpet a series of drops.
“——thoughtful cigarette and chatting pleasantly of this and that——”
I broke off again. He had lifted the sheets and was gazing at the corpse of the hot-water bottle.
“Did you do this?” he said in a low, strangled sort of voice.
“Er—yes. As a matter of fact, yes. I was just going to tell you——”
“And your aunt tried to persuade me that you were not insane!”
“I’m not. Absolutely not. If you’ll just let me explain.”
“I will do nothing of the kind.”
“It all began——”
He did some deep-breathing exercises through the nose.
“My bed is drenched!”
“The way it all began——”
“Be quiet!” He heaved somewhat for awhile. “You wretched, miserable idiot,” he said, “kindly inform me which bedroom you are supposed to be occupying.”
“It’s on the floor above. The Clock Room.”
“Thank you. I will find it.”
He gave me the eyebrow.
“I propose,” he said, “to pass the remainder of the night in your room, where, I presume, there is a bed in a condition to be slept in. You may bestow yourself as comfortably as you can here. I will wish you good night.”
He buzzed off, leaving me flat.
WELL, we Woosters are old campaigners. We can take the rough with the smooth. But to say that I liked the prospect now before me would be paltering with the truth. One glance at the bed told me that any idea of sleeping there was out. A goldfish could have done it, but not Bertram. After a bit of a look round, I decided that the best chance of getting a sort of night’s rest was to doss as well as I could in the arm-chair. I pinched a couple of pillows off the bed, shoved the hearth-rug over my knees, and sat down and started counting sheep.
But it wasn’t any good. The old bulb was sizzling much too much to admit of anything in the nature of slumber. This hideous revelation of the blackness of Jeeves’s treachery kept coming back to me every time I nearly succeeded in dropping off; and, what’s more, it seemed to get colder and colder as the long night wore on. I was just wondering if I would ever get to sleep again in this world when a voice at my elbow said, “Good morning, sir,” and I sat up with a jerk.
I could have sworn I hadn’t so much as dozed off for even a minute, but apparently I had. For the curtains were drawn back and daylight was coming in through the window, and there was Jeeves standing beside me with a cup of tea on a tray.
“Merry Christmas, sir!”
I reached out a feeble hand for the restoring brew. I swallowed a mouthful or two, and felt a little better. I was aching in every limb and the dome felt like lead, but I was now able to think with a certain amount of clearness, and I fixed the man with a stony eye and prepared to let him have it.
“You think so, do you?” I said. “Much, let me tell you, depends on what you mean by the adjective ‘merry.’ If, moreover, you suppose that it is going to be merry for you, correct that impression. Jeeves,” I said, taking another half-oz. of tea and speaking in a cold, measured voice, “I wish to ask you one question. Did you or did you not know that Sir Roderick Glossop was sleeping in this room last night?”
“You admit it!”
“And you didn’t tell me!”
“No, sir. I thought it would be more judicious not to do so.”
“If you will allow me to explain, sir.”
“I was aware that my silence might lead to something in the nature of an embarrassing contretemps, sir——”
“You thought that, did you?”
“You were a good guesser,” I said, sucking down further Bohea.
“But it seemed to me, sir, that whatever might occur was all for the best.”
I would have put in a crisp word or two here, but he carried on without giving me the opp.
“I thought that possibly, on reflection, sir, your views being what they are, you would prefer your relations with Sir Roderick Glossop and his family to be distant rather than cordial.”
“My views? What do you mean, my views?”
“As regards a matrimonial alliance with Miss Honoria Glossop, sir.”
SOMETHING like an electric shock seemed to zip through me. The man had opened up a new line of thought. I suddenly saw what he was driving at, and realized all in a flash that I had been wronging this faithful fellow. All the while I supposed he had been landing me in the soup, he had really been steering me away from it. It was like those stories one used to read as a kid about the traveller going along on a dark night and his dog grabs him by the leg of his trousers and he says “Down, sir! What are you doing, Rover?” and the dog hangs on and he gets rather hot under the collar and curses a bit, but the dog won’t let him go, and then suddenly the moon shines through the clouds and he finds he’s been standing on the edge of a precipice and one more step would have—well, anyway, you get the idea; and what I’m driving at is that much the same sort of thing seemed to have been happening now.
It’s perfectly amazing how a fellow will let himself get off his guard and ignore the perils which surround him. I give you my honest word, it had never struck me till this moment that my Aunt Agatha had been scheming to get me in right with Sir Roderick so that I should eventually be received back into the fold, if you see what I mean, and subsequently pushed off on Honoria.
“My God, Jeeves!” I said, paling.
“You think there was a risk?”
“I do, sir. A very grave risk.”
A disturbing thought struck me.
“But, Jeeves, on calm reflection, won’t Sir Roderick have gathered by now that my objective was young Tuppy, and that puncturing his hot-water bottle was just one of those things that occur when the Yule-tide spirit is abroad—one of those things that have to be overlooked and taken with the indulgent smile and the fatherly shake of the head? I mean to say, Young Blood, and all that sort of thing? What I mean is, he’ll realize that I wasn’t trying to snooter him, and then all the good work will have been wasted.”
“No, sir. I fancy not. That might possibly have been Sir Roderick’s mental reaction, had it not been for the second incident.”
“The second incident?”
“During the night, sir, while Sir Roderick was occupying your bed, somebody entered the room, pierced his hot-water bottle with some sharp instrument, and vanished in the darkness.”
I could make nothing of this.
“What! Do you think I walked in my sleep?”
“No, sir. It was young Mr. Glossop who did it. I encountered him this morning, sir, shortly before I came here. He was in cheerful spirits and inquired of me how you were feeling about the incident. Not being aware that his victim had been Sir Roderick.”
“But, Jeeves, what an amazing coincidence!”
“Why, young Tuppy getting exactly the same idea as I did. Or, rather, as Miss Wickham did. You can’t say that’s not rummy. A miracle, I call it.”
“Not altogether, sir. It appears that he received the suggestion from the young lady.”
“From Miss Wickham?”
“You mean to say that, after she had put me up to the scheme of puncturing Tuppy’s hot-water bottle, she went away and tipped Tuppy off to puncturing mine?”
“Precisely, sir. She is a young lady with a keen sense of humour, sir.”
I sat there, you might say stunned. When I thought how near I had come to offering the Wooster heart and hand to a girl capable of double-crossing a strong man’s honest love like that, I shivered.
“Are you cold, sir?”
“No, Jeeves. Just shuddering.”
“The occurrence, if I may take the liberty of saying so, sir, will perhaps lend colour to the view which I put forward yesterday that Miss Wickham, though in many respects a charming young lady——”
I raised the hand.
“Say no more, Jeeves,” I replied. “Love is dead.”
“Very good, sir.”
I brooded for a while.
“You’ve seen Sir Roderick this morning, then?”
“How did he seem?”
“A trifle feverish, sir. A little emotional. He expressed a strong desire to meet you, sir.”
“What would you advise?”
“If you were to slip out by the back entrance as soon as you are dressed, sir, it would be possible for you to make your way across the field without being observed and reach the village, where you could hire an automobile to take you to London. I could bring on your effects later in your own car.”
“But London, Jeeves? Is any man safe? My Aunt Agatha is in London.”
He regarded me for a moment with a fathomless eye.
“I think the best plan, sir, would be for you to leave England, which is not pleasant at this time of the year, for some little while. I would not take the liberty of dictating your movements, sir, but as you already have accommodation engaged on the Blue Train for Monte Carlo for the day after to-morrow——”
“But you cancelled the booking?”
“I thought you had.”
“I told you to.”
“Yes, sir. It was remiss of me, but the matter slipped my mind.”
“All right, Jeeves. Monte Carlo ho, then.”
“Very good, sir.”
“It’s lucky, as things have turned out, that you forgot to cancel that booking.”
“Very fortunate indeed, sir. If you will wait here, sir, I will return to your room and procure a suit of clothes.”
Annotations to this story as collected in volume form are on this site in the notes to Very Good, Jeeves.