The Strand, February 1922
IT gave me a nasty jar, I can tell you. You see, what happened was this. Once a year Jeeves takes a couple of weeks’ vacation and biffs off to the sea or somewhere to restore his tissues. Pretty rotten for me, of course, while he’s away. But it has to be stuck, so I stick it; and I must admit that he usually manages to get hold of a fairly decent fellow to look after me in his absence.
Well, the time had come round again, and Jeeves was in the kitchen giving the understudy a few tips about his duties. I happened to want a stamp or something, or a bit of string or something, and I toddled down the passage to ask him for it. The silly ass had left the kitchen door open; and I hadn’t gone two steps when his voice caught me squarely in the eardrum.
“You will find Mr. Wooster,” he was saying to the substitute chappie, “an exceedingly pleasant and amiable young gentleman, but not intelligent. By no means intelligent. Mentally he is negligible—quite negligible.”
Well, I mean to say, what!
I suppose, strictly speaking, I ought to have charged in and ticked the blighter off properly in no uncertain voice. But I doubt whether it’s humanly possible to tick Jeeves off. Personally, I didn’t even have a dash at it. I merely called for my hat and stick in a marked manner and legged it. But the memory rankled, if you know what I mean. We Woosters do not lightly forget. At least, we do—some things—appointments, and people’s birthdays, and letters to post, and all that—but not an absolute bally insult like the above. I brooded like the dickens.
I was still brooding when I dropped in at the oyster-bar at Buck’s for a quick bracer. I needed a bracer rather particularly at the moment, because I was on my way to lunch with my Aunt Agatha. A pretty frightful ordeal, believe me or believe me not. Practically the nearest thing to being disembowelled. I had just had one quick and another rather slower, and was feeling about as cheerio as was possible under the circs, when a muffled voice hailed me from the north-east, and, turning round, I saw young Bingo Little propped up in a corner, wrapping himself round a sizable chunk of bread and cheese.
“Hallo-allo-allo!” I said. “Haven’t seen you for ages. You’ve not been in here lately, have you?”
“No. I’ve been living out in the country.”
“Eh?” I said, for Bingo’s loathing for the country was well known. “Whereabouts?”
“Down in Hampshire, at a place called Ditteredge.”
“No, really? I know some people who’ve got a house there. The Glossops. Have you met them?”
“Why, that’s where I’m staying!” said young Bingo. “I’m tutoring the Glossop kid.”
“What for?” I said. I couldn’t seem to see young Bingo as a tutor. Though, of course, he did get a degree of sorts at Oxford, and I suppose you can always fool some of the people some of the time.
“What for? For money, of course! An absolute sitter came unstitched in the second race at Haydock Park,” said young Bingo, with some bitterness, “and I dropped my entire month’s allowance. I hadn’t the nerve to touch my uncle for any more, so it was a case of buzzing round to the agents and getting a job. I’ve been down there three weeks.”
“I haven’t met the Glossop kid.”
“Don’t!” advised Bingo, briefly.
“The only one of the family I really know is the girl.” I had hardly spoken these words when the most extraordinary change came over young Bingo’s face. His eyes bulged, his cheeks flushed, and his Adam’s apple hopped about like one of those india-rubber balls on the top of the fountain in a shooting-gallery.
“Oh, Bertie!” he said, in a strangled sort of voice.
I looked at the poor fish anxiously. I knew that he was always falling in love with someone, but it didn’t seem possible that even he could have fallen in love with Honoria Glossop. To me the girl was simply nothing more nor less than a pot of poison. One of those dashed large, brainy, strenuous, dynamic girls you see so many of these days. She had been at Girton, where, in addition to enlarging her brain to the most frightful extent, she had gone in for every kind of sport and developed the physique of a middle-weight catch-as-catch-can wrestler. I’m not sure she didn’t box for the ’Varsity while she was up. The effect she had on me whenever she appeared was to make me want to slide into a cellar, and lie low till they blew the All-Clear.
Yet here was young Bingo obviously all for her. There was no mistaking it. The love-light was in the blighter’s eyes.
“I worship her, Bertie! I worship the very ground she treads on!” continued the patient, in a loud, penetrating voice. One or two fellows had come in, and McGarry, the chappie behind the bar, was listening with his ears flapping. But there’s no reticence about Bingo. He always reminds me of the hero of a musical comedy who takes the centre of the stage, gathers the boys round him in a circle, and tells them all about his love at the top of his voice.
“Have you told her?”
“No. I haven’t had the nerve. But we walk together in the garden most evenings, and it sometimes seems to me that there is a look in her eyes.”
“I know that look. Like a sergeant-major.”
“Nothing of the kind! Like a tender goddess.”
“Half a second, old thing,” I said. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same girl? The one I mean is Honoria. Perhaps there’s a younger sister or something I’ve not heard of?”
“Her name is Honoria,” bawled Bingo, reverently.
“And she strikes you as a tender goddess?”
“God bless you!” I said.
“She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes. Another bit of bread and cheese,” he said to the lad behind the bar.
“You’re keeping your strength up,” I said.
“This is my lunch. I’ve got to meet Oswald at Waterloo at one-fifteen, to catch the train back. I brought him up to town to see the dentist.”
“Oswald? Is that the kid?”
“Yes. Pestilential to a degree.”
“Pestilential! That reminds me, I’m lunching with my Aunt Agatha. I’ll have to pop off now, or I’ll be late.”
IN Society circles, I believe, my Aunt Agatha has a fairly fruity reputation as a hostess. But then, I take it she doesn’t ballyrag her other guests the way she does me. I don’t think I can remember a single meal with her since I was a kid of tender years at which she didn’t turn the conversation sooner or later to the subject of my frightfulness. To-day, she started in on me with the fish.
“Bertie,” she said—in part and chattily—“it is young men like you who make the person with the future of the race at heart despair!”
“What-ho!” I said.
“Cursed with too much money, you fritter away in selfish idleness a life which might have been made useful, helpful, and profitable. You do nothing but waste your time on frivolous pleasures. You are simply an anti-social animal, a drone——” She fixed me with a glittering eye. “Bertie, you must marry!”
“No, dash it all!”
“Yes! You should be breeding children to——”
“No, really, I say, please!” I said, blushing richly. Aunt Agatha belongs to two or three of these women’s clubs, and she keeps forgetting she isn’t in the smoking-room.
“You want somebody strong, self-reliant, and sensible, to counterbalance the deficiencies and weaknesses of your own character. And by great good luck I have found the very girl. She is of excellent family—plenty of money, though that does not matter in your case. She has met you; and, while there is naturally much in you of which she disapproves, she does not dislike you. I know this, for I have sounded her—guardedly, of course—and I am sure that you have only to make the first advances——”
“Who is it?” I would have said it long before, but the shock had made me swallow a bit of roll the wrong way, and I had only just finished turning purple and trying to get a bit of air back into the old windpipe. “Who is it?”
“Sir Roderick Glossop’s daughter, Honoria.”
“No, no!” I cried, paling beneath the tan.
“Don’t be silly, Bertie. She is just the wife for you.”
“Yes, but look here——”
“She will mould you.”
“But I don’t want to be moulded.”
Aunt Agatha gave me the kind of look she used to give me when I was a kid and had been found in the jam cupboard.
“Bertie! I hope you are not going to be troublesome.”
“Well, but I mean——”
“Lady Glossop has very kindly invited you to Ditteredge Hall for a few days. I told her you would be delighted to come down to-morrow.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve got a dashed important engagement to-morrow.”
“You have no engagement. And, even if you had, you must put it off. I shall be very seriously annoyed, Bertie, if you do not go to Ditteredge Hall to-morrow.”
“Oh, right-o!” I said.
A MAN may be down, but he is never out. It wasn’t two minutes after I had parted from Aunt Agatha before the old fighting spirit of the Woosters reasserted itself. Ghastly as the peril was which loomed before me, I was conscious of a rummy sort of exhilaration. It was a tight corner, but the tighter the corner, I felt, the more juicily should I score off Jeeves when I got myself out of it without a bit of help from him. Ordinarily, of course, I should have consulted him and trusted to him to solve the difficulty; but after what I had heard him saying in the kitchen, I was dashed if I was going to demean myself. When I got home I addressed the man with light abandon.
“Jeeves,” I said, “I’m in a bit of a difficulty.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”
“Yes, quite a bad hole. In fact, you might say on the brink of a precipice, and faced by an awful doom.”
“If I could be of any assistance, sir——”
“Oh, no. No, no. Thanks very much, but no, no. I won’t trouble you. I’ve no doubt I shall be able to get out of it all right by myself.”
“Very good, sir.”
So that was that. I’m bound to say I’d have welcomed a bit more curiosity from the fellow, but that is Jeeves all over. Cloaks his emotions, if you know what I mean. Wears the mask and what not.
HONORIA was away when I got to Ditteredge on the following afternoon. Her mother told me that she was staying with some people named Braythwayt in the neighbourhood, and would be back next day, bringing the daughter of the house with her for a visit. She said I would find Oswald out in the grounds, and such is a mother’s love that she spoke as if that were a bit of a boost for the grounds and an inducement to go there.
Rather decent, the grounds at Ditteredge. A couple of terraces, a bit of lawn with a cedar on it, a bit of shrubbery, and finally a small but goodish lake with a stone bridge running across it. Directly I’d worked my way round the shrubbery I spotted young Bingo leaning against the bridge smoking a cigarette. Sitting on the stonework, fishing, was a species of kid whom I took to be Oswald the Plague-Spot.
Bingo was both surprised and delighted to see me, and introduced me to the kid. If the latter was surprised and delighted too, he concealed it like a diplomat. He just looked at me, raised his eyebrows slightly, and went on fishing. He was one of those supercilious striplings who give you the impression that you went to the wrong school and that your clothes don’t fit.
“This is Oswald,” said Bingo.
“What,” I replied, cordially, “could be sweeter? How are you?”
“Oh, all right,” said the kid.
“Nice place, this.”
“Oh, all right,” said the kid.
“Having a good time fishing?”
“Oh. all right,” said the kid.
Young Bingo led me off to commune apart.
“Doesn’t jolly old Oswald’s incessant flow of prattle make your head ache sometimes?” I asked.
“It’s a hard job.”
“What’s a hard job?”
“Do you love him?” I asked, surprised. I shouldn’t have thought it could be done.
“I try to,” said young Bingo, “for Her sake. She’s coming back to-morrow, Bertie.”
“So I heard.”
“She is coming, my love, my own——”
“Absolutely,” I said. “But touching on young Oswald once more. Do you have to be with him all day? How do you manage to stick it?”
“Oh, he doesn’t give much trouble. When we aren’t working he sits on that bridge all the time, trying to catch tiddlers.”
“Why don’t you shove him in?”
“Shove him in?”
“It seems to me distinctly the thing to do,” I said, regarding the stripling’s back with a good deal of dislike. “It would wake him up a bit, and make him take an interest in things.”
Bingo shook his head a bit wistfully. “Your proposition attracts me,” he said, “but I’m afraid it can’t be done. You see, She would never forgive me. She is devoted to the little brute.”
“Great Scot!” I cried. “I’ve got it!”
I don’t know if you know that feeling when you get an inspiration, and tingle all down your spine from the soft collar as now worn to the very soles of the old Waukeesis? Jeeves, I suppose, feels that way more or less all the time, but it isn’t often it comes to me. But now all Nature seemed to be shouting at me “You’ve clicked!” and I grabbed young Bingo by the arm in a way that must have made him feel as if a horse had bitten him. His finely-chiselled features were twisted with agony and what not, and he asked me what the dickens I thought I was playing at.
“Bingo,” I said, “what would Jeeves have done?”
“How do you mean, what would Jeeves have done?”
“I mean what would he have advised in a case like yours? I mean you wanting to make a hit with Honoria Glossop and all that. Why, take it from me, laddie, he would have shoved you behind that clump of bushes over there; he would have got me to lure Honoria on to the bridge somehow; then, at the proper time, he would have told me to give the kid a pretty hefty jab in the small of the back, so as to shoot him into the water; and then you would have dived in and hauled him out. How about it?”
“You didn’t think that out by yourself, Bertie?” said young Bingo, in a hushed sort of voice.
“Yes, I did. Jeeves isn’t the only fellow with ideas.”
“But it’s absolutely wonderful.”
“Just a suggestion.”
“The only objection I can see is that it would be so dashed awkward for you. I mean to say, suppose the kid turned round and said you had shoved him in, that would make you frightfully unpopular with Her.”
“I don’t mind risking that.”
The man was deeply moved.
“Bertie, this is noble.”
He clasped my hand silently, then chuckled like the last bit of water going down the waste-pipe in a bath.
“Now what?” I said.
“I was only thinking,” said young Bingo, “how fearfully wet Oswald will get. Oh, happy day!”
I DON’T know if you’ve noticed it, but it’s rummy how nothing in this world ever seems to be absolutely perfect. The drawback to this otherwise singularly fruity binge was, of course, the fact that Jeeves wouldn’t be on the spot to watch me in action. Still, apart from that there wasn’t a flaw. The beauty of the thing was, you see, that nothing could possibly go wrong. You know how it is, as a rule, when you want to get Chappie A on Spot B at exactly the same moment when Chappie C is on Spot D. There’s always a chance of a hitch. Take the case of a general, I mean to say, who’s planning out a big movement. He tells one regiment to capture the hill with the windmill on it at the exact moment when another regiment is taking the bridgehead or something down in the valley; and everything gets all messed up. And then, when they’re chatting the thing over in camp that night, the colonel of the first regiment says, “Oh, sorry! Did you say the hill with the windmill? I thought you said the one with the flock of sheep.” And there you are! But, in this case, nothing like that could happen, because Oswald and Bingo would be on the spot right along, so that all I had to worry about was getting Honoria there in due season. And I managed that all right, first shot, by asking her if she would come for a stroll in the grounds with me, as I had something particular to say to her.
She had arrived shortly after lunch in the car with the Braythwayt girl. I was introduced to the latter, a tallish girl with blue eyes and fair hair. I rather took to her—she was so unlike Honoria—and, if I had been able to spare the time, I shouldn’t have minded talking to her for a bit. But business was business—I had fixed it up with Bingo to be behind the bushes at three sharp, so I got hold of Honoria and steered her out through the grounds in the direction of the lake.
“You’re very quiet, Mr. Wooster,” she said.
Made me jump a bit. I was concentrating pretty tensely at the moment. We had just come in sight of the lake, and I was casting a keen eye over the ground to see that everything was in order. Everything appeared to be as arranged. The kid Oswald was hunched up on the bridge; and, as Bingo wasn’t visible, I took it that he had got into position. My watch made it two minutes after the hour.
“Eh?” I said. “Oh, ah, yes. I was just thinking.”
“You said you had something important to say to me.”
“Absolutely!” I had decided to open the proceedings by sort of paving the way for young Bingo. I mean to say, without actually mentioning his name, I wanted to prepare the girl’s mind for the fact that, surprising as it might seem, there was someone who had long loved her from afar and all that sort of rot. “It’s like this,” I said. “It may sound rummy and all that, but there’s somebody who’s frightfully in love with you and so forth—a friend of mine, you know.”
“Oh, a friend of yours?”
She gave a kind of a laugh.
“Well, why doesn’t he tell me so?”
“Well, you see, that’s the sort of chap he is. Kind of shrinking, diffident kind of fellow. Hasn’t got the nerve. Thinks you so much above him, don’t you know. Looks on you as a sort of goddess. Worships the ground you tread on, but can’t whack up the ginger to tell you so.”
“This is very interesting.”
“Yes. He’s not a bad chap, you know, in his way. Rather an ass, perhaps, but well-meaning. Well, that’s the posish. You might just bear it in mind, what?”
“How funny you are!”
She chucked back her head and laughed with considerable vim. She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel. It didn’t sound over-musical to me, and on the kid Oswald it appeared to jar not a little. He gazed at us with a good deal of dislike.
“I wish the dickens you wouldn’t make that row,” he said. “Scaring all the fish away.”
It broke the spell a bit. Honoria changed the subject.
“I do wish Oswald wouldn’t sit on the bridge like that,” she said. “I’m sure it isn’t safe. He might easily fall in.”
“I’ll go and tell him,” I said.
I SUPPOSE the distance between the kid and me at this juncture was about five yards, but I got the impression that it was nearer a hundred. And, as I started to toddle across the intervening space, I had a rummy feeling that I’d done this very thing before. Then I remembered. Years ago, at a country-house party, I had been roped in to play the part of a butler in some amateur theatricals in aid of some ghastly charity or other; and I had had to open the proceedings by walking across the empty stage from left upper entrance and shoving a tray on a table down right. They had impressed it on me at rehearsals that I mustn’t take the course at a quick heel-and-toe, like a chappie finishing strongly in a walking-race; and the result was that I kept the brakes on to such an extent that it seemed to me as if I was never going to get to the bally table at all. The stage seemed to stretch out in front of me like a trackless desert, and there was a kind of breathless hush as if all Nature had paused to concentrate its attention on me personally. Well, I felt just like that now. I had a kind of dry gulping in my throat, and the more I walked the farther away the kid seemed to get, till suddenly I found myself standing just behind him without quite knowing how I’d got there.
“Hallo!” I said, with a sickly sort of grin—wasted on the kid, because he didn’t bother to turn round and look at me. He merely wiggled his left ear in a rather peevish manner. I don’t know when I’ve met anybody in whose life I appeared to mean so little.
“Hallo!” I said. “Fishing?”
I laid my hand in a sort of elder-brotherly way on his shoulder.
“Here, look out!” said the kid, wobbling on his foundations.
It was one of those things that want doing quickly or not at all. I shut my eyes and pushed. Something seemed to give. There was a scrambling sound, a kind of yelp, a scream in the offing, and a splash. And so the long day wore on, so to speak.
I opened my eyes. The kid was just coming to the surface.
“Help!” I shouted, cocking an eye on the bush from which young Bingo was scheduled to emerge.
Nothing happened. Young Bingo didn’t emerge to the slightest extent whatever.
“I say! Help!” I shouted again.
I don’t want to bore you with reminiscences of my theatrical career, but I must just touch once more on that appearance of mine as the butler. The scheme on that occasion had been that when I put the tray on the table the heroine would come on and say a few words to get me off. Well, on the night the misguided female forgot to stand by, and it was a full minute before the search-party located her and shot her on to the stage. And all that time I had to stand there, waiting. A rotten sensation, believe me, and this was just the same, only worse. I understood what these writer-chappies mean when they talk about time standing still.
Meanwhile, the kid Oswald was presumably being cut off in his prime, and it began to seem to me that some sort of steps ought to be taken about it. What I had seen of the lad hadn’t particularly endeared him to me, but it was undoubtedly a bit thick to let him pass away. I don’t know when I have seen anything more grubby and unpleasant than the lake as viewed from the bridge; but the thing apparently had to be done. I chucked off my coat and vaulted over.
It seems rummy that water should be so much wetter when you go into it with your clothes on than when you’re just bathing, but take it from me that it does. I was only under about three seconds, I suppose, but I came up feeling like the bodies you read of in the paper which “had evidently been in the water several days.” I felt clammy and bloated.
At this point the scenario struck another snag. I had assumed that directly I came to the surface I should get hold of the kid and steer him courageously to shore. But he hadn’t waited to be steered. When I had finished getting the water out of my eyes and had time to take a look round, I saw him about ten yards away, going strongly and using, I think, the Australian crawl. The spectacle took all the heart out of me. I mean to say, the whole essence of a rescue, if you know what I mean, is that the party of the second part shall keep fairly still and in one spot. If he starts swimming off on his own account and can obviously give you at least forty yards in the hundred, where are you? The whole thing falls through. It didn’t seem to me that there was much to be done except get ashore, so I got ashore. By the time I had landed, the kid was half-way to the house. Look at it from whatever angle you like, the thing was a wash-out.
I was interrupted in my meditations by a noise like the Scotch express going under a bridge. It was Honoria Glossop laughing. She was standing at my elbow, looking at me in a rummy manner.
“Oh, Bertie, you are funny!” she said. And even in that moment there seemed to me something sinister in the words. She had never called me anything except “Mr. Wooster” before. “How wet you are!”
“Yes, I am wet.”
“You had better hurry into the house and change.”
I wrung a gallon or two of water out of my clothes.
“You are funny!” she said again. “First proposing in that extraordinary roundabout way, and then pushing poor little Oswald into the lake so as to impress me by saving him.”
I managed to get the water out of my throat sufficiently to try to correct this fearful impression. “No, no!”
“He said you pushed him in, and I saw you do it. Oh, I’m not angry, Bertie. I think it was too sweet of you. But I’m quite sure it’s time that I took you in hand. You certainly want someone to look after you. You’ve been seeing too many moving-pictures. I suppose the next thing you would have done would have been to set the house on fire so as to rescue me.” She looked at me in a proprietary sort of way. “I think,” she said, “I shall be able to make something of you, Bertie. It is true yours has been a wasted life up to the present, but you are still young, and there is a lot of good in you.”
“No, really there isn’t.”
“Oh, yes, there is. It simply wants bringing out. Now you run straight up to the house and change your wet clothes or you will catch cold.”
And, if you know what I mean, there was a sort of motherly note in her voice which seemed to tell me, even more than her actual words, that I was for it.
AS I was coming downstairs after changing, I ran into young Bingo, looking festive to a degree.
“Bertie!” he said. “Just the man I wanted to see. Bertie, a wonderful thing has happened.”
“You blighter!” I cried. “What became of you? Do you know—?”
“Oh, you mean about being in those bushes? I hadn’t time to tell you about that. It’s all off.”
“Bertie, I was actually starting to hide in those bushes when the most extraordinary thing happened. Walking across the lawn I saw the most radiant, the most beautiful girl in the world. There is none like her, none. Bertie, do you believe in love at first sight? You do believe in love at first sight, don’t you, Bertie, old man? Directly I saw her, she seemed to draw me like a magnet. I seemed to forget everything. We two were alone in a world of music and sunshine. I joined her. I got into conversation. She is a Miss Braythwayt, Bertie—Daphne Braythwayt. Directly our eyes met, I realized that what I had imagined to be my love for Honoria Glossop had been a mere passing whim. Bertie, you do believe in love at first sight, don’t you? She is so wonderful, so sympathetic. Like a tender goddess——”
At this point I left the blighter.
TWO days later I got a letter from Jeeves.
“. . . The weather,” it ended, “continues fine. I have had one exceedingly enjoyable bathe.”
I gave one of those hollow, mirthless laughs, and went downstairs to join Honoria. I had an appointment with her in the drawing-room. She was going to read Ruskin to me.