As I sat in the bath tub, soaping a meditative foot and singing, if I remember correctly, "Pale Hands I Loved Beside The Shalimar," it would be deceiving my public to say that I was feeling boomps-a-daisy. The evening that lay before me promised to be one of those sticky evenings, no good to man or beast. My Aunt Dahlia, writing from her country residence, Brinkley Court down in Worcestershire, had asked me as a personal favor to take some acquaintances of hers out to dinner, a couple of the name of Trotter.
They were, she said, creeps of the first water and would bore the pants off me, but it was imperative that they be given the old oil, because she was in the middle of a very tricky business deal with the male half of the sketch and at such times every little helps. "Don't fail me, my beautiful bountiful Bertie," her letter had concluded, on a note of poignant appeal.
Well, this Dahlia is my good and deserving aunt, not to be confused with Aunt Agatha, the one who kills rats with her teeth and devours her young, so when she says Don't fail me, I don't fail her. But, as I say, I was in no sense looking forward to the binge. The view I took of it was that the curse had come upon me.
It had done so, moreover, at a moment when I was already lowered spiritually by the fact that for the last couple of weeks or so Jeeves had been away on his summer holiday. Round about the beginning of July each year he downs tools, the slacker, and goes off to Bognor Regis for the shrimping, leaving me in much the same position as those poets one used to have to read at school who were always beefing about losing gazelles. For without this righthand man at his side Bertram Wooster becomes a mere shadow of his former self and in no condition to cope with any ruddy Trotters.
Brooding darkly on these Trotters, whoever they might be, I was starting to scour the left elbow and had switched to "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," when my reverie was interrupted by the sound of a soft footstep in the bedroom, and I sat up, alert and, as you might say, agog, the soap frozen in my grasp. If feet were stepping softly in my sleeping quarters, it could only mean, I felt, unless of course a burglar had happened to drop in, that the prop of the establishment had returned from his vacation, no doubt looking bronzed and fit.
A quiet cough told me that I had reasoned astutely, and I gave tongue.
"Is that you, Jeeves?"
"Home again, what?"
"Welcome to 3A Berkeley Mansions, London W.1," I said, feeling like a shepherd when a strayed sheep comes trickling back to the fold. "Did you have a good time?"
"Most agreeable, thank you, sir."
"You must tell me all about it."
"Certainly, sir, at your convenience."
"I'll bet you hold me spellbound. What are you doing in there?"
"A letter has just arrived for you, sir. I was placing it on the dressing table. Will you be dining in, sir?"
"No, out, blast it. A blind date with some slabs of gorgonzola sponsored by Aunt Dahlia. So if you want to go to the club, carry on."
As I have mentioned elsewhere in these memoirs of mine, Jeeves belongs to a rather posh club for butlers and valets called the Junior Ganymede, situated somewhere in Curzon Street, and I knew that after his absence from the metropolis he would be all eagerness to buzz round there and hobnob with the boys, picking up the threads and all that sort of thing. When I've been away for a week or two, my first move is always to make a beeline for the Drones.
"I'll bet you get a rousing welcome from the members, with a hey-nonny-nonny and a hot-cha-cha," I said. "Did I hear you say something about there being a letter for me?"
"Yes, sir. It was delivered a moment ago by special messenger."
"Important, do you think?"
"One can only conjecture, sir."
"Better open it and read contents."
"Very good, sir."
There was a stage wait of about a minute and a half, during which, my moodiness now much lightened, I rendered "Roll Out The Barrel," "I Love a Lassie," and "Every Day I Bring Thee Violets," in the order named. In due season his voice filtered through the woodwork.
"The letter is of considerable length, sir. Perhaps if I were to give you its substance?"
"Do so, Jeeves. All ready at this end."
"It is from a Mr. Percy Gorringe, sir. Omitting extraneous matter and concentrating on essentials, Mr. Gorringe wishes to borrow a thousand pounds from you."
I started sharply, causing the soap to shoot from my hand and fall with a dull thud on the bath mat. With no preliminary warning to soften the shock, his words had momentarily unmanned me. It is not often that one is confronted with ear-biting on so majestic a scale, a fiver till next Wednesday being about the normal tariff.
"You said...what, Jeeves? A thousand pounds? But who is this hound of hell? I don't know any Gorringes."
"I gather from his communication that you and the gentleman have not met, sir. But he mentions that he is the stepson of a Mr. L. G. Trotter, with whom Mrs. Travers appears to be acquainted."
I nodded. Not much use, of course, as he couldn't see me.
"Yes, he's on solid ground there," I admitted. "Aunt Dahlia does know Trotter. He's the bloke she has asked me to put the nosebag on with tonight. So far, so good. But I don't see that being Trotter's stepson entitles this Gorringe to think he can sit on my lap and help himself to the contents of my wallet. I mean, it isn't a case of 'Any stepson of yours, L. G. Trotter, is a stepson of mine.' Dash it, Jeeves, once start letting yourself be touched by stepsons, and where are you? The word flies round the family circle that you're a good provider, and up roll all the sisters and cousins and aunts and nephews and uncles to stake out their claims, several being injured in the crush. The place becomes a shambles."
"There is much in what you say, sir, but it appears to be not so much a loan as an investment that the gentleman is seeking. He wishes to give you the opportunity of contributing the money to the production of his dramatization of Lady Florence Craye's novel Spindrift."
"Oh, that's it, is it? I see. Yes, one begins to follow the trend of thought."
This Florence Craye is...well, I suppose you would call her a sort of step-cousin of mine or cousin once removed or something of that nature. She is Lord Worplesdon's daughter, and old W. in a moment of temporary insanity recently married my Aunt Agatha en secondes noces, as I believe the expression is. She is one of those intellectual girls, her bean crammed to bursting point with the little gray cells, and about a year ago, possibly because she was full of the divine fire but more probably because she wanted something to take her mind off Aunt Agatha, she wrote this novel and it was well received by the intelligentsia, who notoriously enjoy the most frightful bilge.
"Did you ever read Spindrift?" I asked, retrieving the soap.
"I skimmed through it, sir."
"What did you think of it? Go on, Jeeves, don't be coy. The word begins with an l."
"Well, sir, I would not go so far as to apply to it the adjective which I fancy you have in mind, but it seemed to me a somewhat immature production, lacking in significant form. My personal tastes lie more in the direction of Dostoyevsky and the great Russians. Nevertheless, the story was not wholly devoid of interest and might quite possibly have its appeal for the theater-going public."
I mused awhile. I was trying to remember something, but couldn't think what. Then I got it.
"But I don't understand this," I said. "I distinctly recall Aunt Dahlia telling me that Florence had told her that some manager had taken the play and was going to put it on. Poor misguided sap, I recollect saying. Well, if that is so, why is Percy dashing about trying to get into people's ribs like this? What does he want a thousand quid for? These are deep waters, Jeeves."
"That is explained in the gentleman's letter, sir. It appears that one of the syndicate financing the venture, who had promised the sum in question, finds himself unable to fulfill his obligations. This, I believe, frequently happens in the world of the theater."
I mused again, letting the moisture from the sponge slide over the torso. Another point presented itself.
"But why didn't Florence tell Percy to go and have a pop at Stilton Cheesewright? She being engaged to him, I mean. One would have thought that Stilton, linked to her by bonds of love, would have been the people's choice."
"Possibly Mr. Cheesewright has not a thousand pounds at his disposal, sir."
"That's true. I see what you're driving at. Whereas I have, you mean?"
The situation had clarified somewhat. Now that I had the facts, I could discern that Percy's move had been based on sound principles. When you are trying to raise a thousand quid, the first essential, of course, is to go to someone who has got a thousand quid, and no doubt he had learned from Florence that I was stagnant with the stuff. But where he had made his error was in supposing that I was the king of the mugs and in the habit of scattering vast sums like birdseed to all and sundry.
"Would you back a play, Jeeves?"
"Nor would I. I meet him with a firm nolle prosequi, I think, don't you, and keep the money in the old oak chest?"
"I would certainly advocate such a move, sir."
"Right. Percy gets the bird. Let him eat cake. And now to a more urgent matter. While I'm dressing, will you be mixing me a strengthening cocktail?"
"Certainly, sir. A martini or one of my specials?"
I spoke in no uncertain voice. It was not merely the fact that I was up against an evening with a couple whom Aunt Dahlia, always a good judge, had described as creeps that influenced this decision on my part. I needed fortifying for another reason.
These last few days, with Jeeves apt to return at any moment, it had been borne in upon me quite a good deal that when the time came for us to stand face to face I should require something pretty authoritative in the way of bracers to nerve me for what would inevitably be a testing encounter, calling for all that I had of determination and the will to win. If I was to emerge from it triumphant, no stone must be left unturned and no avenue unexplored.
You know how it is when two strong men live in close juxtaposition, if juxtaposition is the word I want. Differences arise. Wills clash. Bones of contention pop up and start turning handsprings. No one was more keenly alive than I to the fact that one such bone was scheduled to make its debut the instant I swam into his ken, and mere martinis, I felt, despite their numerous merits, would not be enough to see me through the ordeal that confronted me.
It was in quite fairly tense mood that I dried and clothed the person, and while it would perhaps be too much to say that as I entered the sitting-room some quarter of an hour later I was a-twitter, I was unquestionably conscious of a certain jumpiness. When Jeeves came in with the shaker, I dived at it like a seal going after a slice of fish and drained a quick one, scarcely pausing to say "Skin off your nose."
The effect was magical. That apprehensive feeling left me, to be succeeded by a quiet sense of power. I cannot put it better than by saying that as the fire coursed through my veins, Wooster the timid fawn became in a flash Wooster the man of iron will, ready for anything. What Jeeves inserts in these specials of his I have never ascertained, but their morale-building force is extraordinary. They wake the sleeping tiger in a chap. Well, to give you some idea, I remember once after a single one of them striking the table with clenched fist and telling my Aunt Agatha to stop talking rot. And I'm not sure it wasn't "bally rot."
"One of your best and brightest, Jeeves," I said, refilling the glass. "The weeks among the shrimps have not robbed your hand of its cunning."
He did not reply. Speech seemed to have been wiped from his lips, and I saw, as I had foreseen would happen, that his gaze was riveted on the upper slopes of my mouth. It was a cold, disapproving gaze, such as a fastidious luncher who was not fond of caterpillars might have directed at one which he had discovered in his portion of salad, and I knew that the clash of wills for which I had been bracing myself was about to raise its ugly head.
I spoke suavely but firmly. You can't beat suave firmness on these occasions, and thanks to that life-giving special I was able to be as firmly suave as billy-o. There was no mirror in the sitting-room, but had there been and had I caught a glimpse of myself in it, I have no doubt I should have seen something closely resembling a haughty seigneur of the old regime about to tell the domestic staff just where it got off.
"Something appears to be arresting your attention, Jeeves. Is there a smut on my nose?"
His manner continued frosty. There are moments when he looks just like a governess, one of which was this one.
"No, sir. It is on the upper lip. A dark stain like mulligatawny soup."
I gave a careless nod.
"Ah, yes," I said. "The moustache. That is what you are alluding to, is it not? I grew it while you were away. Rather natty, don't you think?"
"No, sir, I do not."
I moistened my lips with the special, still suave to the gills. I felt strong and masterful.
"You dislike the little thing?"
"You don't feel it gives me a sort of air? A...how shall I put it?...a kind of diablerie?"
"You hurt and disappoint me, Jeeves," I said, sipping a couple of sips and getting suaver all the time. "I could understand your attitude if the object under advisement were something bushy and waxed at the ends like a sergeant major's, but it is merely the delicate wisp of vegetation with which David Niven has for years been winning the applause of millions. When you see David Niven on the screen, you don't recoil in horror, do you?"
"No, sir. His moustache is very becoming to Mr. Niven."
"But mine isn't to me?"
It is at moments like this that a man realizes that the only course for him to pursue, if he is to retain his self-respect, is to unship the velvet hand in the iron glove, or, rather, the other way about. Weakness at such a time is fatal.
There are limits, I mean to say, and sharply defined limits at that, and these limits I felt that he had passed by about a mile and a quarter. I yield to nobody in my respect for Jeeves's judgment in the matter of socks, shoes, shirts, hats, and cravats, but I was dashed if I was going to have him muscling in and trying to edit the Wooster face. I finished my special and spoke in a quiet, level voice.
"I am sorry, Jeeves. I had hoped for your sympathy and cooperation, but if you are unable to see your way to sympathizing and cooperating, so be it. Come what may, however, I shall maintain the status quo. It is status quos that people maintain, isn't it? I have been put to considerable trouble and anxiety growing this moustache, and I do not propose to hew it off just because certain prejudiced parties, whom I will not specify, don't know a good thing when they see one. J'y suis, j'y reste, Jeeves," I said, becoming a bit Parisian.
Well, after this splendid exhibition of resolution on my part I suppose there was nothing much the chap could have said except "Very good, sir" or something of that sort, but, as it happened, he hadn't time to say even that, for the final word had scarcely left my lips when the front door bell tootled. He shimmered out, and a moment later shimmered in again.
"Mr. Cheesewright," he announced.
And in clumped the massive form of the bird to whom he alluded. The last person I had expected to see, and, for the matter of that, about the last one I wanted to.
Copyright © 1954, 1955 by P. G. Wodehouse
Copyright renewed © 1983 by Ethel Wodehouse