THE feeling I had when Aunt Agatha trapped me in my lair that morning and spilled the bad news was that my luck had broken at last. As a rule, you see, I’m not lugged into family rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps and Uncle James’s letter about Cousin Mabel’s peculiar behaviour is being shot round the family circle (“Please read this carefully and send it on to Jane,”) the clan has a tendency to ignore me. It’s one of the advantages I get from being a bachelor—and, according to my nearest and dearest, practically a half-witted bachelor at that. “It’s no good trying to get Bertie to take the slightest interest” is more or less the slogan, and I’m bound to say I’m all for it. A quiet life is what I like. And that’s why I felt that the curse had come upon me, so to speak, when Aunt Agatha sailed into my sitting-room while I was having a placid cigarette and started to tell me about Claude and Eustace.
I rather fancy I’ve touched on Claude and Eustace before in these little reminiscences of mine. My cousins, if you remember. Was at school with them when they were kids, and saved them from being sacked on no fewer than three separate occasions. Since they’ve been up at Oxford I haven’t seen so much of them, but what I have seen has been quite tolerably sufficient. Bright lads, mind you, but a trifle too much for a fellow like me who wants to jog along peacefully through life.
“Thank goodness,” said Aunt Agatha, “arrangements have at last been made about Eustace and Claude.”
“Arrangements?” I said, not having the foggiest.
“They sail on Friday for South Africa. Mr. Van Alstyne, a friend of poor Emily’s, has given them berths in his firm at Johannesburg, and we are hoping that they will settle down there and do well.”
I didn’t get the thing at all.
“Friday? The day after to-morrow, do you mean?”
“For South Africa?”
“Yes. They leave on the Edinburgh Castle.”
“But what’s the idea? I mean, aren’t they in the middle of their term at Oxford?”
Aunt Agatha looked at me coldly.
“Do you positively mean to tell me, Bertie, that you take so little interest in the affairs of your nearest relatives that you are not aware that Claude and Eustace were expelled from Oxford over a fortnight ago?”
“You are hopeless, Bertie. I should have thought that even you——”
“Why were they sent down?”
“They poured lemonade on the Junior Dean of their college. . . . I see nothing amusing in the outrage, Bertie.”
“No, no, rather not,” I said, hurriedly “I wasn’t laughing. Choking. Got something stuck in my throat, you know.”
“Poor Emily,” went on Aunt Agatha, “being one of those doting mothers who are the ruin of their children, wished to keep the boys in London. She suggested that they might cram for the Army. But I was firm. The Colonies are the only place for wild youths like Eustace and Claude. So they sail on Friday. They have been staying for the last two weeks with your uncle Clive in Worcestershire. They will spend to-morrow night in London and catch the boat-train on Friday morning.”
“Bit risky, isn’t it? I mean, aren’t they apt to cut loose a bit to-morrow night if they’re left all alone in London?”
“They will not be alone. They will be in your charge.”
“Yes. I wish you to put them up in your flat for the night, and see that they do not miss the train in the morning.”
“Oh, I say, no!”
“Well, I mean, quite jolly coves both of them, but I don’t know—— They’re rather nuts, you know. Always glad to see them, of course, but when it comes to putting them up for the night——”
“Bertie, if you are so sunk in callous self-indulgence that you cannot even put yourself to this trifling inconvenience for the sake of——”
“Oh, all right,” I said. “All right.”
It was no good arguing, of course. Aunt Agatha always makes me feel as if I had gelatine where my spine ought to be. She’s one of those forceful females. I should think Queen Elizabeth must have been something like her. When she holds me with her glittering eye and says, “Jump to it, my lad,” or words to that effect, I make it so without further discussion.
When she had gone I rang for Jeeves to break the news to him.
“Oh, Jeeves,” I said, “Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace will be staying here to-morrow night.”
“Very good, sir.”
“I’m glad you think so. To me the outlook seems black and scaly. You know what those two lads are!”
“Very high-spirited young gentlemen, sir.”
“Blisters, Jeeves. Undeniable blisters. It’s a bit thick!”
“Would there be anything further, sir?”
At that, I’m bound to say, I drew myself up a trifle haughtily. We Woosters freeze like the dickens when we seek sympathy and meet with cold reserve. I knew what was up, of course. For the last day or so there had been a certain amount of coolness in the home over a pair of jazz spats which I had dug up while exploring in the Burlington Arcade. Some dashed brainy cove, probably the chap who invented those coloured cigarette-cases, had recently had the rather topping idea of putting out a line of spats on the same system. I mean to say, instead of the ordinary grey and white, you can now get them in your regimental or school colours. And, believe me, it would have taken a chappie of stronger fibre than I am to resist the pair of Old Etonian spats which had smiled up at me from inside the window. I was inside the shop, opening negotiations, before it had even occurred to me that Jeeves might not approve. And I must say he had taken the thing a bit hardly. The fact of the matter is, Jeeves, though in many ways the best valet in London, is too conservative. Hide-bound, if you know what I mean, and an enemy to Progress.
“Nothing further, Jeeves,” I said, with quiet dignity.
“Very good, sir.”
He gave one frosty look at the spats and biffed off. Dash him!
ANYTHING merrier and brighter than the twins, when they curveted into the old flat while I was dressing for dinner the next night, I have never struck in my whole puff. I’m only about half-a-dozen years older than Claude and Eustace, but in some rummy manner they always make me feel as if I were well on in the grandfather class and just waiting for the end. Almost before I realized they were in the place they had collared the best chairs, pinched a couple of my special cigarettes, poured themselves out a whisky-and-soda apiece, and started to prattle with the gaiety and abandon of two birds who had achieved their life’s ambition instead of having come a most frightful purler and being under sentence of exile.
“Hallo, Bertie, old thing!” said Claude. “Jolly decent of you to put us up.”
“Oh, no,” I said. (Always the gentleman.) “Only wish you were staying a good long time.”
“Hear that, Eustace? He wishes we were staying a good long time.”
“I expect it will seem a good long time,” said Eustace, philosophically.
“You heard about the binge, Bertie? Our little bit of trouble, I mean?”
“Oh, yes. Aunt Agatha was telling me.”
“We leave our country for our country’s good,” said Eustace.
“And let there be no moaning at the bar,” said Claude, “when I put out to sea. What did Aunt Agatha tell you?”
“She said you poured lemonade on the Junior Dean.”
“I wish the deuce,” said Claude, annoyed, “that people would get these things right. It wasn’t the Junior Dean. It was the Senior Tutor.”
“And it wasn’t lemonade,” said Eustace. “It was soda-water. The dear old thing happened to be standing just under our window while I was leaning out with a siphon in my hand. He looked up, and—well, it would have been chucking away the opportunity of a lifetime if I hadn’t let him have it in the eyeball.”
“Simply chucking it away,” agreed Claude.
“Might never have occurred again,” said Eustace.
“Hundred to one against it,” said Claude.
“Now what,” said Eustace, “do you propose to do, Bertie, in the way of entertaining the handsome guests to-night?”
“My idea was to have a bite of dinner in the flat,” I said. “Jeeves is getting it ready now.”
“Well, I thought we might chat of this and that, and then it struck me that you would probably like to turn in early, as your train goes about ten or something, doesn’t it?”
The twins gazed at each other in a pitying sort of way.
“Bertie,” said Eustace, “you’ve got the programme nearly right, but not quite. I envisage the evening’s events thus. We will toddle along to Ciro’s after dinner. It’s an extension night, isn’t it? Well, that will see us through till about two-thirty or three.”
“After which, no doubt,” said Claude, “the Lord will provide.”
“But I thought you would want to get a good night’s rest.”
“Good night’s rest!” said Eustace. “My dear old chap, you don’t for a moment imagine that we are dreaming of going to bed to-night, do you?”
I SUPPOSE the fact of the matter is, I’m not the man I was. I mean, these all-night vigils don’t seem to fascinate me as they used to a few years ago. I can remember the time, when I was up at Oxford, when a Covent Garden ball till six in the morning, with breakfast at the Hammams and probably a free fight with a few selected costermongers to follow, seemed to me what the doctor ordered. But nowadays two o’clock is about my limit; and by two o’clock the twins were just settling down and beginning to go nicely. As far as I can remember, we went on from Ciro’s to play chemmy with some fellows I don’t recall having met before, and it must have been about nine in the morning when we fetched up again at the flat. By which time, I’m bound to admit, as far as I was concerned, the first careless freshness was beginning to wear off a bit. In fact, I’d got just enough strength to say good-bye to the twins, wish them a pleasant voyage and a happy and successful career in South Africa, and stagger into bed. The last I remember was hearing the blighters chanting like larks under the cold shower, breaking off from time to time to shout to Jeeves to rush along the eggs and bacon.
IT must have been about one in the afternoon when I woke. I was feeling more or less like something the Pure Food Committee had rejected, but there was one bright thought which cheered me up, and that was that about now the twins would be leaning on the rail of the liner, taking their last glimpse of the dear old homeland. Which made it all the more of a shock when the door opened and Claude walked in.
“Hallo, Bertie!” said Claude. “Had a nice refreshing sleep? Now, what about a good old bite of lunch?”
I’d been having so many distorted nightmares since I had dropped off to sleep that for half a minute I thought this was simply one more of them, and the worst of the lot. It was only when Claude sat down on my feet that I got on to the fact that this was stern reality.
“Great Scot! What on earth are you doing here?” I gurgled.
Claude looked at me reproachfully.
“Hardly the tone I like to hear in a host, Bertie,” he said, reprovingly. “Why, it was only last night that you were saying you wished I was stopping a good long time. Your dream has come true. I am!”
“But why aren’t you on your way to South Africa?”
“Now that,” said Claude, “is a point I rather thought you would want to have explained. It’s like this, old man. You remember that girl you introduced me to at Ciro’s last night?”
“There was only one,” said Claude, coldly. “Only one that counted, that is to say. Her name was Marion Wardour. I danced with her a good deal, if you remember.”
I BEGAN to recollect in a hazy sort of way. Marion Wardour has been a pal of mine for some time. A very good sort. She’s playing in that show at the Apollo at the moment. I remembered now that she had been at Ciro’s with a party the night before, and the twins had insisted on being introduced.
“We are soul-mates, Bertie,” said Claude. “I found it out quite early in the p.m., and the more thought I’ve given to the matter the more convinced I’ve become. It happens like that now and then, you know. Two hearts that beat as one, I mean, and all that sort of thing. So the long and the short of it is that I gave old Eustace the slip at Waterloo and slid back here. The idea of going to South Africa and leaving a girl like that in England doesn’t appeal to me a bit. I’m all for thinking imperially and giving the Colonies a leg-up and all that sort of thing; but it can’t be done. After all,” said Claude, reasonably, “South Africa has got along all right without me up till now, so why shouldn’t it stick it?”
“But what about Van Alstyne, or whatever his name is? He’ll be expecting you to turn up.”
“Oh, he’ll have Eustace. That’ll satisfy him. Very sound fellow, Eustace. Probably end up by being a magnate of some kind. I shall watch his future progress with considerable interest. And now you must excuse me for a moment, Bertie. I want to go and hunt up Jeeves and get him to mix me one of those pick-me-ups of his. For some reason which I can’t explain, I’ve got a slight headache this morning.”
And, believe me or believe me not, the door had hardly closed behind him when in blew Eustace with a shining morning face that made me ill to look at.
“Oh, my aunt!” I said.
Eustace started to giggle pretty freely.
“Smooth work, Bertie, smooth work!” he said. “I’m sorry for poor old Claude, but there was no alternative. I eluded his vigilance at Waterloo and snaked off in a taxi. I suppose the poor old ass is wondering where the deuce I’ve got to. But it couldn’t be helped. If you really seriously expected me to go slogging off to South Africa, you shouldn’t have introduced me to Miss Wardour last night. I want to tell you all about that, Bertie. I’m not a man,” said Eustace, sitting down on the bed, “who falls in love with every girl he sees. I suppose ‘strong, silent’ would be the best description you could find for me. But when I do meet my affinity I don’t waste time. I——”
“Oh, heavens! Are you in love with Marion Wardour, too?”
“Too? What do you mean, ‘too’?”
I was going to tell him about Claude, when the blighter came in in person, looking like a giant refreshed. There’s no doubt that Jeeves’s pick-me-ups will produce immediate results in anything short of an Egyptian mummy. It’s something he puts in them—the Worcester sauce or something. Claude had revived like a watered flower, but he nearly had a relapse when he saw his bally brother goggling at him over the bed-rail.
“What on earth are you doing here?” he said.
“What on earth are you doing here?” said Eustace.
“Have you come back to inflict your beastly society upon Miss Wardour?”
“Is that why you’ve come back?”
They thrashed the subject out a bit further.
“Well,” said Claude, at last, “I suppose it can’t be helped. If you’re here, you’re here. May the best man win!”
“Yes, but dash it all!” I managed to put in at this point. “What’s the idea? Where do you think you’re going to stay if you stick on in London?”
“Why, here,” said Eustace, surprised.
“Where else?” said Claude, raising his eyebrows.
“You won’t object to putting us up, Bertie?” said Eustace.
“Not a sportsman like you,” said Claude.
“But, you silly asses, suppose Aunt Agatha finds out that I’m hiding you when you ought to be in South Africa? Where do I get off?”
“Where does he get off?” Claude asked Eustace.
“Oh, I expect he’ll manage somehow,” said Eustace to Claude.
“Of course,” said Claude, quite cheered up. “He’ll manage.”
“Rather!” said Eustace. “A resourceful chap like Bertie! Of course he will.”
“And now,” said Claude, shelving the subject, “what about that bite of lunch we were discussing a moment ago, Bertie? That stuff good old Jeeves slipped into me just now has given me what you might call an appetite. Something in the nature of six chops and a batter pudding would about meet the case, I think.”
I suppose every chappie in the world has black periods in his life to which he can’t look back without the smouldering eye and the silent shudder. Some coves, if you can judge by the novels you read nowadays, have them practically all the time; but, what with enjoying a sizable private income and a topping digestion, I’m bound to say it isn’t very often I find my own existence getting a flat tyre. That’s why this particular epoch is one that I don’t think about more often than I can help. For the days that followed the unexpected resurrection of the blighted twins were so absolutely foul that the old nerves began to stick out of my body a foot long and curling at the ends. All of a twitter, believe me. I imagine the fact of the matter is that we Woosters are so frightfully honest and open and all that, that it gives us the pip to have to deceive.
All was quiet along the Potomac for about twenty-four hours, and then Aunt Agatha trickled in to have a chat. Twenty minutes earlier and she would have found the twins gaily shoving themselves outside a couple of rashers and an egg. She sank into a chair, and I could see that she was not in her usual sunny spirits.
“Bertie,” she said, “I am uneasy.”
So was I. I didn’t know how long she intended to stop, or when the twins were coming back.
“I wonder,” she said, “if I took too harsh a view towards Claude and Eustace.”
“What do you mean?”
“I—er—mean it would be so unlike you to be harsh to anybody, Aunt Agatha.” And not bad, either. I mean, quick—like that—without thinking. It pleased the old relative, and she looked at me with slightly less loathing than she usually does.
“It is nice of you to say that, Bertie, but what I was thinking was, are they safe?”
“Are they what?”
It seemed such a rummy adjective to apply to the twins, they being about as innocuous as a couple of sprightly young tarantulas.
“Do you think all is well with them?”
“How do you mean?”
Aunt Agatha eyed me almost wistfully.
“Has it ever occurred to you, Bertie,” she said, “that your Uncle George may be psychic?”
She seemed to me to be changing the subject.
“Do you think it is possible that he could see things not visible to the normal eye?”
I thought it dashed possible, if not probable. I don’t know if you’ve ever met my Uncle George. He’s a festive old egg who wanders from club to club continually having a couple with other festive old eggs. When he heaves in sight, waiters brace themselves up and the wine-steward toys with his corkscrew. It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.
“Your Uncle George was dining with me last night, and he was quite shaken. He declares that, while on his way from the Devonshire Club to Boodle’s, he suddenly saw the phantasm of Eustace.”
“The what of Eustace?”
“The phantasm. The wraith. It was so clear that he thought for an instant that it was Eustace himself. The figure vanished round a corner, and when Uncle George got there nothing was to be seen. It is all very queer and disturbing. It had a marked effect on poor George. All through dinner he touched nothing but barley-water, and his manner was quite disturbed. You do think those poor, dear boys are safe, Bertie? They have not met with some horrible accident?”
It made my mouth water to think of it, but I said no, I didn’t think they had met with any horrible accident. I thought Eustace was a horrible accident, and Claude about the same, but I didn’t say so. And presently she biffed off, still worried.
WHEN the twins came in, I put it squarely to the blighters. Jolly as it was to give Uncle George shocks, they must not wander at large about the metrop.
“But, my dear old soul,” said Claude, “be reasonable. We can’t have our movements hampered.”
“Out of the question,” said Eustace.
“The whole essence of the thing, if you understand me,” said Claude, “is that we should be at liberty to flit hither and thither.”
“Exactly,” said Eustace. “Now hither, now thither.”
“But, damn it——”
“Bertie!” said Eustace, reprovingly. “Not before the boy!”
“Of course, in a way I see his point,” said Claude. “I suppose the solution of the problem would be to buy a couple of disguises.”
“My dear old chap!” said Eustace, looking at him with admiration. “The brightest idea on record. Not your own, surely?”
“Well, as a matter of fact, it was Bertie who put it into my head.”
“You were telling me the other day about old Bingo Little and the beard he bought when he didn’t want his uncle to recognize him.”
“If you think I’m going to have you two excrescences popping in and out of my flat in beards——”
“Something in that,” agreed Eustace. “We’ll make it whiskers, then.”
“And false noses,” said Claude.
“And, as you say, false noses. Right-o, then, Bertie, old chap, that’s a load off your mind. We don’t want to be any trouble to you while we’re paying you this little visit.”
And when I went buzzing round to Jeeves for consolation, all he would say was something about Young Blood. No sympathy.
“Very good, Jeeves,” I said. “I shall go for a walk in the Park. Kindly put me out the Old Etonian spats.”
“Very good, sir.”
IT must have been a couple of days after that that Marion Wardour rolled in at about the hour of tea. She looked warily round the room before sitting down.
“Your cousins not at home, Bertie?” she said.
“No, thank goodness!”
“Then I’ll tell you where they are. They’re in my sitting-room, glaring at each other from opposite corners, waiting for me to come in. Bertie, this has got to stop.”
“You’re seeing a good deal of them, are you?”
Jeeves came in with the tea, but the poor girl was so worked up that she didn’t wait for him to pop off before going on with her complaint. She had an absolutely hunted air, poor thing.
“I can’t move a step without tripping over one or both of them,” she said. “Generally both. They’ve taken to calling together, and they just settle down grimly and try to sit each other out. It’s wearing me to a shadow.”
“I know,” I said, sympathetically. “I know.”
“Well, what’s to be done?”
“It beats me. Couldn’t you tell your maid to say you are not at home?”
She shuddered slightly.
“I tried that once. They camped on the stairs, and I couldn’t get out all the afternoon. And I had a lot of particularly important engagements. I wish you would persuade them to go to South Africa, where they seem to be wanted.”
“You must have made the dickens of an impression on them!”
“I should say I have. They’ve started giving me presents now. At least, Claude has. He insisted on my accepting this cigarette-case last night. Came round to the theatre and wouldn’t go away till I took it. It’s not a bad one, I must say.”
It wasn’t. It was a distinctly fruity concern in gold with a diamond stuck in the middle. And the rummy thing was that I had a notion I’d seen something very like it before somewhere. How the deuce Claude had been able to dig up the cash to buy a thing like that was more than I could imagine.
Next day was a Wednesday, and as the object of their devotion had a matinée, the twins were, so to speak, off duty. Claude had gone with his whiskers on to Hurst Park, and Eustace and I were in the flat, talking. At least, he was talking and I was wishing he would go.
“The love of a good woman, Bertie,” he was saying, “must be a wonderful thing. Sometimes—— Good Lord! what’s that?”
THE front door had opened, and from out in the hall there came the sound of Aunt Agatha’s voice asking if I was in. Aunt Agatha has one of those high, penetrating voices, but this was the first time I’d ever been thankful for it. There was just about two seconds to clear the way for her, but it was long enough for Eustace to dive under the sofa. His last shoe had just disappeared when she came in.
She had a worried look. It seemed to me about this time that everybody had.
“Bertie,” she said, “what are your immediate plans?”
“How do you mean? I’m dining to-night with——”
“No, no. I don’t mean to-night. Are you busy for the next few days? But of course you are not,” she went on, not waiting for me to answer. “You never have anything to do. Your whole life is spent in idle—but we can go into that later. What I came for this afternoon was to tell you that I wish you to go with your poor Uncle George to Harrogate for a few weeks. The sooner you can start, the better.”
This appeared to me to approximate so closely to the frozen limit that I uttered a yelp of protest. Uncle George is all right, but he won’t do. I was trying to say as much when she waved me down.
“If you are not entirely heartless, Bertie, you will do as I ask you. Your poor Uncle George has had a severe shock.”
“He feels that only complete rest and careful medical attendance can restore his nervous system to its normal poise. It seems that in the past he has derived benefit from taking the waters at Harrogate, and he wishes to go there now. We do not think he ought to be alone, so I wish you to accompany him.”
“But, I say!”
There was a lull in the conversation.
“What shock has he had?” I asked.
“Between ourselves,” said Aunt Agatha, lowering her voice in an impressive manner, “I incline to think that the whole affair was the outcome of an over-excited imagination. You are one of the family, Bertie, and I can speak freely to you. You know as well as I do that your poor Uncle George has for many years not been a—he has—er—developed a habit of—how shall I put it?”
“Shifting it a bit?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Mopping up the stuff to some extent?”
“I dislike your way of putting it exceedingly, but I must confess that he has not been, perhaps, as temperate as he should. He is highly strung, and—— Well, the fact is that he has had a shock.”
“Yes, but what?”
“That is what it is so hard to induce him to explain with any precision. With all his good points, your poor Uncle George is apt to become incoherent when strongly moved. As far as I could gather, he appears to have been the victim of a burglary.”
“He says that a strange man with whiskers and a peculiar nose entered his rooms in Jermyn Street during his absence and stole some of his property. He says that he came back and found the man in his sitting-room. He immediately rushed out of the room and disappeared.”
“No, the man. And, according to your Uncle George, he had stolen a valuable cigarette-case. But, as I say, I am inclined to think that the whole thing was imagination. He has not been himself since the day when he fancied that he saw Eustace in the street. So I should like you, Bertie, to be prepared to start for Harrogate with him not later than Saturday.”
She popped off, and Eustace crawled out from under the sofa. The blighter was strongly moved. So was I, for the matter of that. The idea of several weeks with Uncle George at Harrogate seemed to make everything go black.
“So that’s where he got that cigarette-case, dash him!” said Eustace, bitterly. “Of all the dirty tricks! Robbing his own flesh and blood! The fellow ought to be in chokey.”
“He ought to be in South Africa,” I said. “And so ought you.”
And with an eloquence which rather surprised me, I hauled up my slacks for perhaps ten minutes on the subject of his duty to his family and what not. I appealed to his sense of decency. I boosted South Africa with vim. I said everything I could think of, much of it twice over. But all the blighter did was to babble about his dashed brother’s baseness in putting one over on him in the matter of the cigarette-case. He seemed to think that Claude, by slinging in the handsome gift, had got right ahead of him; and there was a painful scene when the latter came back from Hurst Park I could hear them talking half the night, long after I had tottered off to bed. I don’t know when I’ve met fellows who could do with less sleep than those two.
AFTER this things became a bit strained at the flat, owing to Claude and Eustace not being on speaking terms. I’m all for a certain chumminess in the home, and it was wearing to have to live with two fellows who wouldn’t admit that the other one was on the map at all.
One felt the thing couldn’t go on like that for long, and, by Jove, it didn’t. But, it anyone had come to me the day before and told me what was going to happen, I should simply have smiled wanly. I mean, I’d got so accustomed to thinking that nothing short of a dynamite explosion could ever dislodge those two nestlers from my midst that, when Claude sidled up to me on the Friday morning and told me his bit of news, I could hardly believe I was hearing right.
“Bertie,” he said, “ I’ve been thinking it over.”
“What over?” I said.
“The whole thing. This business of staying in London when I ought to be in South Africa. It isn’t fair,” said Claude, warmly. “It isn’t right. And the long and the short of it is, Bertie, old man, I’m leaving to-morrow.”
I reeled in my tracks.
“You are?” I gasped.
“Yes. If,” said Claude, “you won’t mind sending old Jeeves out to buy a ticket for me. I’m afraid I’ll have to stick you for the passage money, old man. You don’t mind?”
“Mind!” I said, clutching his hand fervently.
“That’s all right, then. Oh, I say, you won’t say a word to Eustace about this, will you?”
“But isn’t he going, too?”
“No, thank Heaven! The idea of being cooped up on board a ship with that blighter gives me the pip just to think of it. No, not a word to Eustace. I say, I suppose you can get me a berth all right at such short notice?”
“Rather!” I said. Sooner than let this opportunity slip, I would have bought the bally boat.
“Jeeves,” I said, breezing into the kitchen, “go out on first speed to the Union-Castle offices and book a berth on to-morrow’s boat for Mr. Claude. He is leaving us, Jeeves.”
“Mr. Claude does not wish any mention of this to be made to Mr. Eustace.”
“No, sir. Mr. Eustace made the same proviso when he desired me to obtain a berth on to-morrow’s boat for himself.”
I gaped at the man.
“Is he going, too?”
“This is rummy.”
Had circumstances been other than they were, I would at this juncture have unbent considerably towards Jeeves. Frisked round him a bit and whooped to a certain extent and what not. But those spats still formed a barrier, and I regret to say that I took the opportunity of rather rubbing it in a bit on the man. I mean, he’d been so dashed aloof and unsympathetic, though perfectly aware that the young master was in the soup and that it was up to him to rally round, that I couldn’t help pointing out how the happy ending had been snaffled without any help from him.
“So that’s that, Jeeves,” I said. “The episode is concluded. I knew things would sort themselves out if one gave them time and didn’t get rattled. Many chaps in my place would have got rattled, Jeeves.”
“Gone rushing about, I mean, asking people for help and advice and so forth.”
“Very possibly, sir.”
“But not me, Jeeves.”
I left him to brood on it.
EVEN the thought that I’d got to go to Harrogate with Uncle George couldn’t depress me that Saturday when I gazed about the old flat and realized that Claude and Eustace weren’t in it. They had slunk off stealthily and separately immediately after breakfast, Eustace to catch the boat-train at Waterloo, Claude to go round to the garage where I kept my car. I didn’t want any chance of the two meeting at Waterloo and changing their minds, so I had suggested to Claude that he might find it pleasanter to drive down to Southampton.
I was lying back on the old settee, gazing peacefully up at the flies on the ceiling and feeling what a wonderful world this was, when Jeeves came in with a letter.
“A messenger-boy has brought this, sir.”
I opened the envelope, and the first thing that fell out was a five-pound note.
“Great Scot!” I said. “What’s all this?”
The letter was scribbled in pencil, and was quite brief:—
Dear Bertie,—Will you give enclosed to your man, and tell him I wish I could make it more. He has saved my life. This is the first happy day I’ve had for a week.
Jeeves was standing holding out the fiver, which had fluttered to the floor.
“You’d better stick to it,” I said. “It seems to be for you.”
“I say that fiver is for you, apparently. Miss Wardour sent it.”
“That was extremely kind of her, sir.”
“What the dickens is she sending you fivers for? She says you saved her life.”
Jeeves smiled gently.
“She over-estimates my services, sir.”
“But what were your services, dash it?”
“It was in the matter of Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace, sir. I was hoping that she would not refer to the matter, as I did not wish you to think that I had been taking a liberty.”
“What do you mean?”
“I chanced to be in the room while Miss Wardour was complaining with some warmth of the manner in which Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace were thrusting their society upon her. I felt that in the circumstances it might be excusable if I suggested a slight ruse to enable her to dispense with their attentions.”
“Good Lord! You don’t mean to say you were at the bottom of their popping off, after all?”
Silly ass it made me feel. I mean, after rubbing it into him like that about having clicked without his assistance.
“It occurred to me that, were Miss Wardour to inform Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace independently that she proposed sailing for South Africa to take up a theatrical engagement, the desired effect might be produced. It appears that my anticipations were correct, sir. The young gentlemen ate it, if I may use the expression.”
“Jeeves,” I said—we Woosters may make bloomers, but we are never too proud to admit it—“you stand alone!”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
“Oh, but I say!” A ghastly thought had struck me. “When they get on the boat and find she isn’t there, won’t they come buzzing back?”
“I anticipated that possibility, sir. At my suggestion, Miss Wardour informed the young gentlemen that she proposed to travel overland to Madeira and join the vessel there.”
“And where do they touch after Madeira?”
FOR a moment I just lay back, letting the idea of the thing soak in. There seemed to me to be only one flaw.
“The only pity is,” I said. “that on a large boat like that they will be able to avoid each other. I mean, I should have liked to feel that Claude was having a good deal of Eustace’s society, and vice versa.”
“I fancy that that will be so, sir. I secured a two-berth stateroom. Mr. Claude will occupy one berth, Mr. Eustace the other.”
I sighed with pure ecstasy. It seemed a dashed shame that on this joyful occasion I should have to go off to Harrogate with my Uncle George.
“Have you started packing yet, Jeeves?” I asked.
“For Harrogate. I’ve got to go there to-day with Sir George.”
“Of course, yes, sir. I forgot to mention it. Sir George rang up on the telephone this morning while you were still asleep, and said that he had changed his plans. He does not intend to go to Harrogate.”
“Oh, I say, how absolutely topping!”
“I thought you might be pleased, sir.”
“What made him change his plans? Did he say?”
“No, sir. But I gather from his man, Stevens, that he is feeling much better and does not now require a rest-cure. I took the liberty of giving Stevens the recipe for that pick-me-up of mine, of which you have always approved so much. Stevens tells me that Sir George informed him this morning that he is feeling a new man.”
Well, there was only one thing to do, and I did it. I’m not saying it didn’t hurt, but there was no alternative.
“Jeeves,” I said, “those spats.”
“You really dislike them?”
“You don’t think time might induce you to change your views?”
“All right, then. Very well. Say no more. You may burn them.”
“Thank you very much, sir. I have already done so. Before breakfast this morning. A quiet grey is far more suitable, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Next month: “Bingo and the Little Woman.”
Note: Thanks to Neil Midkiff for providing the transcription and images for this story.