Westward Ho, Jeeves!
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‘Jeeves’, I declared, stretching luxuriously. ‘It is a beautiful morning. What was that crack of yours about days such as this? Snails feature prominently, if memory serves, as do larks and possibly – though I am less confident on this point – peppers’.

Jeeves had been busying himself with the breakfast things, but cheesed it courteously at the young master’s voice.

‘Possibly, sir, you are thinking of lines from the poem Pippa Passes, by the late Robert Browning. Having established that the hour is at seven, he notes that “The lark’s on the wing, The snail’s on the thorn, God’s in His Heaven, All’s right with the world”’.

I nodded approvingly and thought - not for the first time - how well Jeeves put these things. Though I would have expected a more imaginative pseudonym.

‘Quite so, Jeeves. As mornings go, it’s a pippin’.

And with certain reservations that will shortly become obvious, I stand by the remark. Jeeves had drawn the curtains and the sun was streaming into the bedroom, revealing the London skyline in all its winter glory. Thin plumes of smoke curled elegantly from the chimney tops, then fluffed themselves out against a bright, cloudless sky. On the street below, the cars gleamed in thin coats of ice, while the spiders’ webs stretched across the window pane had been fixed into place by a light enamelling of frost. It was, in short, precisely the sort of morning to be indoors, and it was with no little surprise that I observed Jeeves merely arch a greying eyebrow and say nothing.

‘You do not concur, Jeeves?’

‘No, sir’.

I had another peek in the direction of the window.

‘What’s the matter with it?’ I enquired peevishly. ‘Everything looks pretty ship-shape to me, but possibly you have more exacting standards’.

Jeeves refilled the hot water jug before replying.

‘It is, sir, undeniably an exceedingly clement day. My quibble is merely with your suggestion that it is a beautiful morning, as it is currently a quarter past four in the afternoon’.

I shot upright, the result – one might say the ‘upshot’ – being to bring home the realisation that I had the mother of all headaches. Sinking back onto the pillows with a groan, I narrowly avoided a silvery slick of yesterday’s dinner, which seemed to have forged a course across most of the bed and some of the carpet too. The bedside table, I noted for the first time, was littered with beer bottles and those funny cans they put drink in nowadays, while resting on its side on the floor was what looked worryingly like a pink party hat.

‘What’s happening to me Jeeves?’ I asked, plaintively. ‘Why the drink, the parties, the wild nights on the town? Every night I find myself propelled from one club to another, dancing the light fantastic with the lowest of the low. What am I to do?’

As I was speaking, the Jeeveses – for I now perceived that there were two – coalesced unsteadily into one, or perhaps one and a half, and came a few steps closer to the bed.

‘I fear the truth, sir, is that you are an alcoholic’.

‘I don’t want the truth, I want sympathy. And I am not an alcoholic, I merely enjoy the bucolic company of the young’.

I poked a leg out of the bed – testing the waters, as it were – before pulling it back sharply.

‘Jeeves!’ I had another peek under the sheets to confirm the appalling truth. ‘I’m wearing tights and a dress’.

‘Yes, sir’.

I put my head in my hands and wept. No Wooster – at any rate no male Wooster – had ever sported such garments. Even the Highland branch, so far as I am aware, never stood for any of that nonsense about kilts.

‘I will do anything, Jeeves! Save me from this pit!’

Jeeves stood before me like one of those heroic movie stars – not Arnie or one of those muscley chaps; more like Luke Skywalker levelly meeting the gaze of that elderly fellow on the Death Star.

Anything, sir?’

‘Anything!’ If there were tears in my eyes, what of it? ‘I give you my word’.

He smiled.

‘Then, sir, I suggest that we spend the remainder of the Christmas period away from the metropolis, in some place of lesser temptation. An invitation has arrived this very morning from Lord Marmalite in Somerset, and the situation strikes me as ideal’.

The room swam, the sun went out and the outline of Jeeves, which had been growing fuzzier all the time, shattered into a thousand pieces.

‘Not that, please – anything but that!’

A thousand tiny Jeeveletts frowned.

‘You gave your promise, sir. There is no place of amusement within thirty miles, and Lord Marmalite permits no alcohol on the estate. You will be far removed from temptation and the change of atmosphere may prove salubrious’.

There was no way out: a Wooster’s word is his bond.

‘Very well Jeeves. You may telegraph Lord Marmalite and inform him of our arrival’.

‘Thank you sir. I have already done so’.

Turning on his heel he left the room, while I sank back onto the bed in despair.

We arrived at Cameley Chase shortly after dinner, Jeeves having locked me in my room after breakfast to ensure that the drive passed without serious medical incident. It’s a rather lovely old pile, and anyone seeing it for the first time might have wondered at my resistance to the place. It was built in the seventeenth century by Sir Godfrey Orby-Wombwell and offers a tasteful combination of verdant lawns, homely architecture and a rather pretty ornamental lake. Unlike so many of these country estates, there’s no nonsense with peacocks strutting around the lawn, for charming as they undoubtedly are by day they make the dickens of a noise at night, rendering in my experience the dreamless almost impossible. My complaint is not with the place itself but with the ghastly crew festering within its walls. Lord Marmalite is a relative of sorts, his late brother having been driven to an early grave by my Aunt Agatha; he’s not a bad chap on the whole, but invites the most extraordinary collection of loons to stay with him. He once described himself to me as a ‘connoisseur of humanity’, which to my mind is like Ronald McDonald setting himself up as a gourmand. I have a standing invitation, and it’s a ticklish job sometimes to come up with a suitable excuse.

There were a large number of cars in the drive as we arrived, and our host came bounding down the steps resplendent in top hat, silver jacket and flashing bow tie. Before I’d had time to say ‘what, what?’ he had grabbed me by the hand and was heaving me up the stairs into the hallway.

‘Bertie old man, you’re in the nick of time’. Through the door I could hear some sort of swing band working up a head of steam, accompanied by the thump of elephantine feet. ‘We’re having a charity ball and everyone’s here. I want you to meet my guests’.

Drawing on my experience in this field, I decided to make my apologies and have an early night. But the old boy was having none of it.

‘Your man can take your things inside. My son Bungo is in there somewhere, and the two of you used to be such friends’.

This, admittedly, was true. Bungo is a fathead of the most epic proportions, but so awash with the milk of human kindness that he turns to butter if exposed to direct sunlight. The two of us have always rather stuck together, so against all my better instincts I allowed myself to be led into the ballroom.

The sight awaiting me was not for the faint-hearted. The room was a sea of jiving humanity, resembling nothing more closely than a heaving stomach. The analogy was strengthened by what appeared at first to be a lower intestine, but which turned out to be something called the conga. Marmy had gone to see to some new arrivals, and I was within inches of doing a runner when a gaggle of screaming girls detached themselves from the throng and tried to drag me onto the dance floor. I had barely escaped with my life when a familiar cough, not unlike a sheep with a blade of grass in its throat, sounded in my ear.

‘Yes Jeeves?’ I enquired frostily, for the man was not in my good books. I had secreted a small bottle of brandy about my person for just such an emergency and had found it missing. I object to having my pockets pinched, in however good a cause.

‘There is a telephone call for you, sir’.

I frowned. Over the years, I have often had occasion to thank Jeeves: one thinks, in particular, of numerous appalling encounters with Madeleine Bassett. If you’ve never had the misfortune to meet said Bassett, she’s the daughter of Sir Watkin Bassett JP, and holds three fundamental errors in her peculiarly constituted head: viz., that the stars are God’s daisy chain, that every time a rabbit blows its wee nose a baby is born, and that Bertram Wooster is off his mitten for her, the result being – but I digress. Suffice it to say that where my bachelorhood is concerned, Jeeves has frequently rendered honourable service to the cause. But that does not change the fact that one looks askance at butlers who talk through their hats, and I put this to the man fairly and squarely.

‘Don’t be an ass, Jeeves. No one knows I’m here’.

His face flickered.

‘I believe, sir, that it is Mrs Spencer-Gregson’.

I froze.

‘Aunt Agatha!’

‘Precisely, sir’.

‘But that's impossible! I thought she was visiting her cousin in Hull?’

‘I understand, sir, that the telephone has penetrated the most dismal regions of the provinces’.

‘But this is terrible! Are you sure it was she? Not – not Tuppy Glossop or Godfrey Worplethorpe?’ I was following him, despite myself, back into the hall. ‘They might have been having a joke you know. Tuppy’s a terrible prankster – once gave me a leaky hot water bottle when I didn’t have any spare pijamas’.

Jeeves gave me the sort of look one usually reserves for the elderly and infirm.

‘I feel confident, sir, that I would have detected the simulation. Shall I say that you are unwell?’

I sighed. From some things, such as Cliff Richard and Conservative politics, there is no escape.

‘No’, I said. ‘Never let it be said that a Wooster did a runner from his aunt, even one who lunches on broken bottles and dinosaur bones’. With a quavering hand, I picked up the phone.

Those of you who are familiar with the chronicles of Woosterdom and who have all the facts at your fingertips will know about my Aunt Agatha – or Mrs Spencer-Gregson, as she is known to that portion of the populace fortunate enough to have avoided a blood link. But for the sake of those who don’t, I had better pop in a brief curriculum vitae. The former group can let their attention wander for a moment. It’s a rum thing, because I’m not financially dependent on the old girl and suppose that I could barely see her from one year to the next if I chose; but the fact is that ever since I was a babe in arms she has given me the willies. She has a habit of waiting until I am reclining in an especially balmy sea of content, only to burst through the floorboards like the demon-king at the pantomime. She invariably has some appalling task for me to complete, or, if she’s feeling especially malevolent, some unusually grotesque exponent of the opposite sex for me to marry. Once, in Cannes, she had me within a whisker of treading Hymen’s happy boards with the less than lovely assistant of a criminal by the name of Soapy Sid. One shudders at the thought of our married life together: I would have had to nail down the cutlery while keeping a private detective permanently stationed in the china cabinet. In short, the prospect of a tête-à-tête with the aged relative evokes the same eager anticipation as castration, so it was with a reluctant hand that I positioned the receiver at a safe distance from my ear and invited her to speak.

‘Bertie!’ she bellowed. Like her sister Dahlia, Aunt Agatha has always found telephone lines rather superfluous. She would probably dispense with them altogether, were it not for the need occasionally to hear what her interlocutor was saying in reply.

‘Speaking’.

‘About time, too. I have something very particular to discuss with you’.

My heart sank still deeper, coming to rest somewhere beneath the floorboards in the basement.

‘Speak on, dilapidated one’.

‘I want you to do me a favour’.

The phone fell with a crash from my fingers. I have performed favours for this Aunt before, and have come to associate them with the most extreme forms of popular music. The receiver was still quacking away, so I retrieved it and invited the aged relative to rewind the tape. It is as well to know the full extent of one’s predicament.

‘It is perfectly simple’, she boomed. ‘There is a young German lady staying at the Chase by the name of Gertha Knockemaus. She is a particular favourite of my friend Mrs Finkley-Norbert, and I have assured her that you will look after the girl during her stay. I am informed that she is rather shy’.

This struck me as highly unlikely. Aunt Agatha’s associates tend to come from the same production line as Mount Rushmore and are as delicate as articulated lorries. The worst, however, was still to come.

‘She will make a most pleasing and edifying companion for you, Bertie. She has a university education and will elevate your mind from its usual frivolities. In fact, she is precisely the sort of girl you would do well to marry’.

‘Here, I say! I –’

Bertie!’ I was silenced. ‘You are considerably past the age at which a bachelor lifestyle becomes an unseemly indulgence. You are fiddling while the family line burns, and it is high time that you mended your ways. You must breed, Bertie, breed –’

‘I say, please’, I protested, cupping a hand over the receiver and peering nervously around the hall. I have long felt that Aunt Agatha spends too much time at her ladies’ club, where the conversation inclines towards the scatological. And I objected to being portrayed as some kind of nuptial Nero, who needed to be driven to the registry office with a four-foot bat. From the theme of marriage, however, rivers are more easily diverted than Aunt Agatha, and it was some time before I could stem the flow. I determined to be civil, but firm.

‘I shall keep an eye on the lady, Aunt, but make no promises of wedlock. That strikes me as only reasonable’.

She snorted unpleasantly – well, I suppose she could hardly have snorted pleasantly unless you have a taste for that sort of thing, but you get the picture.

‘You will do exactly as you are told, Bertie. I shall return from Hull within a week, and if you have not taken Gertha out at least once a day I will be extremely displeased. Do I make myself clear?’

Replacing the receiver, I mopped the brow fervently. I could see no way out: if Aunt Agatha had set what friends and admirers call her heart on my marrying this female, there seemed nothing for it but to call the banns and get measured up for the top hat and tails. In need of at least a gallon of whiskey, I made my unsteady way back to the gathering.

As I tottered back into the Hall the party was still in full swing, the floor creaking beneath an especially fruity rendition of the Lambeth Walk. Extricating himself from the seething mass, Bungo bustled over and pumped my hand.

‘Great Scott!’ I declared, viewing the dripping figure in front of me with some distaste. ‘You look like you’ve taken a shower in all your clothes’.

He grinned, shedding about a stone and creating a small ornamental lake on the floor around him.

‘Come and show me how it’s done, then, Bertie. I’ll get the DJ to find something funky’.

After my recent encounter with Aunt Agatha I wasn’t in the mood, and told him so. Bungo wiped his hands on his trousers.

‘Come and meet the other guests, then. The non-jivers are in the smoking room’.

I followed him into the adjoining room, where the usual collection of the grey and the good were draped wearily across leather armchairs discussing their ailments. Having listened for some minutes to a young dentist’s plans for a new football tournament – the ortho-windscreen trophy, if I remember rightly – I was preparing to make my apologies when the clouds parted, the heavens opened and the sun burst radiantly through the clouds. Or to be more precise: I heard a voice.

‘Bungo!’ I cried, grabbing his arm. ‘That girl in the corner – who is she?’

He looked across at the billiard table, where a dazzling apparition was declaiming to a crowd of awestruck admirers. Forgetting Bungo, I craned forward to hear what she was saying.

‘It’s the prunes!’ she declared, each syllable like the sweet ring of cut glass. ‘It’s simply impossible to obtain decent prunes in this part of the country. I’ve been constipated all week’.

‘My dear’, said a spotty young man in a simply shocking cravat. ‘I would be honoured if you would accept a packet from me. I have them on order from London and have always found them efficacious’.

She flashed a smile at him and fluttered a hundred and fifty perfect eyelashes.

‘That’s sweet of you. My doctor is insistent that I use them. I keep telling him that I should simply take larger meals – after all, you only get out what you put in – but he simply will not listen’.

I could feel my heart open to this poor, afflicted maiden like a flower to the morning dew. We Woosters are a phlegmatic breed – our hearts as hard as our upper-lips are stiff – but at that moment I felt no other desire than to spend the rest of my life conversing with that remarkable young lady in the olive dress.

I turned to Bungo, only to find him locked in conversation with a moustachioed gentleman whom he introduced as Carlos. It may simply have been the force of comparison – ‘look on this picture and on this’, as I have heard Jeeves put it – but he struck me as rather a sight for sore eyes. Nonetheless, one tries to be civil, so I smiled weakly and extended the h. Before you could say ‘Great Scott!’, however, he was hurtling towards my face as if he was planning to nut me. Only a speedy swipe with a handy statuette saved the Wooster features from possible catastrophe. Bungo leaped back as if he’d been shot.

‘What are you doing?’ he shrieked. ‘Have you gone mad?’

Keeping a wary eye on the bloodied figure at my feet, I replaced the statuette.

‘I have done nothing of the sort’, I explained with quiet dignity. ‘The man was attacking me’.

‘He was trying to kiss you!’ roared Bungo.

I was stunned. Stupefied, even.

‘To kiss me?’ I repeated. ‘But dash it, man, surely that’s illegal?’

‘Not illegal’, said Jeeves, who had ghosted in from goodness knows where. ‘Merely frowned upon. It is a custom popular in many parts of Europe’.

‘Well’, I said, reaching cautiously for the statuette as Carlos climbed slowly to his feet. ‘Tell him he’s not in Europe now, he’s in Chuffnell Cowley. He’ll get a manly handshake from me and nothing more’.

As Bungo bustled off to clean up his whiskery friend, I looked round for Jeeves to give him a piece of what I call my mind on the subject.

‘I don’t know your name’, breathed a voice in my ear, ‘but you were marvellous with that statuette’.

It was she. As I turned, I could feel some blighter vacuuming out my insides and replacing them with jelly and cotton wool. My legs were wobbling, and the Wooster knees appeared to have taken up the Lambeth Walk.

‘My name is Angeline’, she intoned, each perfect syllable knocking years off my life. ‘And you are –’

‘Angeline!’ Of course! I was almost shouting. ‘Angeline!’

She smiled.

‘I find that rather unlikely. No, I would guess that your name was … Bertie!’

My jaw crashed to the floor. Fortunately nothing was broken, so I popped it back again and pinched myself a couple of times, to make sure that I hadn’t nodded off while talking to that dentist chappie.

‘How on earth could you know that?’

Angeline toyed absent-mindedly with a tress of luxurious brown hair.

‘Well,’ she said dreamily. ‘I was told that there was a dashing young man called Bertie Wooster coming tonight’.

‘Dashing’, I repeated slowly, surreptitiously drawing in my stomach. ‘I, er, well, I suppose –’

She wagged a finger playfully.

‘No false modesty, Mr Wooster. Modesty sits very well on a man like Bungo, for he has much to be modest about. But when I meet an intelligent, good-looking and sophisticated young gentleman, I expect only the truth. I look forward to seeing more of you, Mr Wooster … Bertie’.

She gave me a peck on the cheek – one of those charming, continental customs, I suppose – before returning to the Elysium of the billiard table. With a last, wondering look in her direction, I retired to my room.

It was not until lunch the following day that I was able to catch another glimpse of Angeline. Unfortunately, a glimpse proved all I was to get, for she was seated at the far end of the table next to Bungo while I was sandwiched between a vast lady of indeterminate age and a Doric pillar. When the pillar proved to have little to say for itself, I turned my attention to the weather balloon on my right.

‘I don’t believe we’ve met’, I kicked off. ‘Wooster’s the name – Bertie Wooster’.

‘Of course’, she replied, nodding slowly. ‘Mister Wooster. My name is Gertha Knockemaus’.

I froze. The one person above all others I wanted to avoid!

‘Come to my room after lunch’, she decreed. ‘I have a proposal to make to you’.

I shook my head violently.

‘Not me, I’m sure. Some other chap, perhaps?’

Gertha laughed a chilling laugh.

‘English modesty. As a nation, it is one of your most irritating characteristics. No, Mr Wooster. You will come to my room after lunch, and you will accept my proposal’.

I started to protest, but was silenced by a look that could have come straight from Aunt Agatha’s own production line. Powerless to resist, I assented, and set about drowning my sorrows in the tomato soup.

Needless to say, when I turned up at her door an hour or two later, it was with a heavy heart and a drooping brow. After Aunt Agatha’s little pep talk, there could be little doubt concerning the nature of Gertha’s proposition, and I was at my wits end to see a way out. If a girl offers a chap her hand in marriage, it’s hardly civil to say no – not, at least, if one wishes to retain one’s reputation as a preux chevalier. The Woosters, of course, are noted for their preux, so it was with the air of a doomed aristocrat heading for the guillotine that I lifted an arm and knocked.

A voice having called me in, I stepped into rather a plush little place, although I was surprised to find that the curtains were drawn despite the extended hour. For all her formidable physical dimensions it took me a moment to locate my host, but I eventually ran her to ground in the far corner of the room where she was fiddling with some kind of cabinet.

‘Good afternoon’, she observed mildly. Her second comment nearly knocked me backwards, and made me begin to view her in a rather different light. ‘Would you like a drink? Brandy, or cognac perhaps?’

I looked on, speechless, as she poured out a healthy measure and slid it across the table.

‘You are surprised, Mr Wooster? No alcohol at Cameley Chase – I know, Marmy even had my car searched on the way in. But one must have certain essentials. I could see you were suffering at lunch – I can tell a kindred spirit a mile off – and thought I would invite you to join me’.

‘Well then’, I said, my heart warming to this remarkable lady. ‘Skin off your nose, my dear’. I took a much needed pull.

‘Hair on your chest’, she replied courteously. ‘Another?’

By the time we had sunk three quarters of a bottle, I was feeling extraordinarily well disposed towards Gorgeous Gertha.

‘I know what you remind me of’, I said, as another glassful went its merry way. There was only one comfortable chair in the room, so we had decided to share it. Gertha had convinced me that the easiest way of doing so was for her to sit on my lap with an arm draped around my neck for support.

‘What do I remind you of, Bertie?’

‘One of those big dogs – a St Bernard. The ones on the dulux adverts’.

‘Charming, I’m sure’.

‘I don’t mean you’re big and hairy, you know’. I attempted, surreptitiously, to shift position; my left leg was going to sleep, and I would have liked to ask her to move. ‘It’s just that they wander about with flagons of brandy around their necks, to give to poor blighters who can’t get any’.

‘Why do they do that?’

This, it struck me, was a very good question, and I made a note to consult Jeeves on the point.

‘I don’t know. Just nature’s way, I suppose’.

Gertha smiled mysteriously.

‘Do you approve of “nature’s way”, Bertie?’

This struck me as a rather bizarre line of questioning, but as she was still holding the bottle I offered a ringing assent.

‘Absolutely’, I declared. ‘Nature’s always the tops’.

‘I knew it’, she cooed delightedly. ‘Oh Bertie, I didn’t ask you here to drink brandy, but to invite you to join a small group we’ve started here in the village. Together, we strive to live the pure life, as nature intended. We call ourselves ‘Nature’s Children’, though the villagers call us ‘Naturists’’.

I pondered. Even in my befuddled state this sounded rather a rum bunch, with more than a touch of the Madeleine Bassetts about the whole enterprise. I thought it best, however, to express cautious intererest.

‘What sort of things do you do?’

Wonderful things, Bertie. We have picnics, we play volleyball and we dance at midnight in the woods’.

‘I’m afraid I haven’t brought any party clothes with me’.

Gertha laughed and, jumping up from the seat, led me over to the window.

‘I don’t think that will be a problem. Draw the curtains. Look outside and tell me what you see’.

I peered out obediently.

‘There are some birds, a field, the sun –’

‘The sun! What about the sun, Bertie? Look? Are there any clouds?’

‘Well, er, no –’

Precisely, Bertie!’ I have rarely seen anyone look so passionate. ‘It is nature’s way. Civilisation loads us with burdens we neither need nor ought to bear. The sun shows us the way! The sun has got his kit off, and we must join him!’

I gaped in horror.

‘You mean you’re – you’re nudists?

Suddenly I noticed something that should probably have occurred to me sooner.

‘You’re in your dressing gown’.

‘But not for long! Close the curtains!’

‘No!’ I squeaked, hurriedly throwing them open wider. ‘Absolutely not!’ The two of us rushed around the room like Pip and Lady Haversham, self virtually tearing the hangings off the walls in my desperation to avoid privacy. Gertha seemed to be in some kind of frenzy, blathering away about the trappings that smother, only for one of them to do precisely that. She had come a cropper in one of the curtains, allowing me to make a run for the landing. I shot up two flights of stairs before pausing, and then only because I was arrested by the considerable form of Bungo blundering in the opposite direction.

‘Whatever’s the matter?’

I suppose I should have kept quiet, but I needed a shoulder to cry on after my ordeal and poured out my story. To my considerable annoyance, Bungo seemed to find the whole thing rather amusing.

‘But you don’t understand, Bungo old man. Aunt Agatha wants me to marry this appalling female. I might as well get hitched to Lady Godiva. She’d probably wear a handkerchief as a wedding dress’.

He pursed his lips and widened his eyes.

‘Then you’re for it, aren’t you old chap. Unless…’

He paused.

‘Unless what? Bungo old fruit, any suggestion – however ludicrous’.

He looked at me.

‘Unless you marry someone else instead’.

I gave a snort of derision.

‘And who am I going to marry, pray tell? Jeeves? Your whiskery friend, Carlos?’

‘How about Angeline? You’ve been ogling her ever since the party last night’.

‘I have not!’

‘Yes you have. You’ve called me Angeline at least three times, and we don’t look remotely similar. Anyway, according to the old man, your Aunt is arriving tomorrow, so you’d better look sharp whatever you do’.

Tomorrow?’ I grasped his hand. ‘Bungo, I shan’t forget this advice. You’re a good egg’.

Before I could act on Bungo’s counsel, we were joined on the landing by his old man. I must confess to a certain feeling of annoyance – really, I thought, it’s getting like the third act in the Pantomime – so I attempted to nod civilly and move on. Bungo, of course, was having none of it.

‘Bertie’s going to propose to Angeline’, he kicked off, discreet as ever. Were Bungo ever to become Prime Minister, I would shudder for the security of the nation. Not only would he leave the nuclear button in the gents, he would blurt out the launch codes to the first chap he met with a beard and a furry hat. Marmy merely cocked an eyebrow.

‘I had no idea you were friends’.

‘They met at the party last night’, explained Bungo helpfully. Marmy’s eyes widened.

‘Rather hasty, wouldn’t you say? But your father was just the same – Wild Wooster, we used to call him’.

Really?’ I was astonished. When I had known him he had been about as wild as a pillowcase, and had spent most of his time encased within an armchair that looked as if it had been shrunk to fit.

‘Absolutely – so best of luck to you. You’ve got twenty-four hours until your Aunt arrives, so snap into it!’

With this thought to spur me on, I shot up the stairs bellowing for Jeeves. After a brief interval, he emerged from the study he was using as a bedroom, eyes gleaming with intelligence and the desire to serve.

‘Is anything the matter, sir?’

‘There certainly is, Jeeves. I intend to get married’.

‘My condolences, sir’.

‘Don’t be facetious. I have decided that Angeline Dew is the most beautiful girl in the world and would make the perfect Mrs Bertram. More to the point, Aunt Agatha is arriving tomorrow, and the woman she has marked out for me turns out to hold some uncomfortable views on the superfluous nature of the gentleman’s wardrobe. So fetch me a pen and paper – I have a letter to write’.

He did so and I set to work. It started well – ‘Dearest Angeline’ – but at that point I rather stuck. Mine is not what you would call a passionate nature, and beyond a vague idea that the pages should throb with suppressed emotion, I didn’t really know what to say. Nonetheless, I was surprised to hear a suggestive cough at my shoulder – like a sheep preparing itself for a night of passion.

‘Yes, Jeeves?’

‘I wonder if I might be of assistance, sir?’

I looked him up and down uncertainly. As a gentlemen’s personal gentleman, Jeeves is without peer. Beyond that sphere he can buttle and cater with the best of them, and I have heard that he is a mean hand with a dart. Whether he would be my first port of call to ghost-write my love letters was a more moot point.

‘I feel that the lady might like a poem, sir, and by a fortuitous circumstance the poetic muse is rather strong in my family’.

‘Really, Jeeves?’

‘Yes sir. You have perhaps heard of the poet Miss Kitty Delores?’ He paused impressively. ‘She is my cousin’.

I had indeed heard of this lady, and had been less than complimentary about her in Jeeves’s presence. She writes the most shocking tripe for the lower class of housewife and domestic servant: nauseatingly gooey, but the sort of stuff that sells by the barrel. My misgivings were evidently clear to Jeeves, for he stressed that he would produce something of greater erudition, more suited to the refined taste. I have never previously had cause to regret leaving my affairs in Jeeves’ capable hands, so I yielded the chair and left him to the direction of the Muses.

I had promised not to return within two hours and headed into the grounds to clear my head. Yet barely forty minutes had passed when I heard the dickens of a noise proceeding from the house. Imagine my astonishment on seeing Jeeves yelling – positively yelling, I tell you – from an upstairs window. I’d always known these artists were temperamental jonnies, but I hadn’t expected this kind of behaviour from Jeeves. Highly embarrassed, I dashed up the stairs and lugged him back in.

‘The oeuvre is on the table, sir’. He had the dickens of a smile plastered across his face, and after insisting that I make myself comfortable in an armchair handed it over with a reverential air of which Anatolé would have been proud. As he left the room – ‘artistic modesty’, he informed me – I settled back to enjoy it. What struck the Wooster eye was as follows:

‘Marry me’

When I went out on Saturday,
My thoughts were bleak and trouser-grey.
The sun shone like a tangerine,
But still ’twas night-time in my spleen.
For what price ciggies, beer or wine,
If I am robbed of Angeline?

Ohhhh, let me fold you in my arms,
Yes! Feel your vivifying charms
As, sharing all our love, we kiss
While days meld into weeks of bliss.
Dearest, sweetest, toothbrush mine,
What sweet is sweet but Angeline?

Darling, I’m a lonely man,
But now I sense the glorious plan
By which the gap within my heart
Was waiting for your nobler part.
Baby-bumpkin, dearest Aggie,
Could you bear your Bert to marry?

By Bertie Wooster

I was aghast. Appalled. After all these years, that great Rolls Royce of a brain had finally blown a tyre. Here were verses that would have disgraced an over-sherbeted nine-year old, and in the details verged bally close on the obscene. All of a twitter, I rang for Jeeves.

This sorry wreck of a once great mind swept into the room looking for all the world like somebody’s fairy godmother, blissfully unaware that he had waved his wand over the pumpkin and produced a turkey. Repressing the urge to glass him, I bit my lip and strove to break the news gently.

‘Jeeves’, I began, almost soothingly. ‘Jeeves. I have been reading your poem’.

The flush of pleasure on his face was almost painful to behold.

‘Thank you, sir. I trust that you found it moving’.

The only parts of me that had moved were my bowels, but one does not like to be unduly candid.

‘It was very - striking, Jeeves’.

He beamed.

‘I am most gratified, sir. I have taken the liberty of passing a copy directly to Miss Dew’.

I shot out of my chair. Diarrhoea would have been leisurely by comparison.

What! Please tell me you’re drivelling’.

Jeeves merely frowned.

‘In view of the imminent arrival of Mrs Spencer-Gregson, sir, I thought it judicious to adopt the maxim of Miss Kitty Delores in Buttercups for Bettsy: “the early worm catches the bird”’.

With a voiceless groan – one of those issued directly from the knee-caps – I sank back into the armchair.

‘It was supposed to be from me, Jeeves. I would have thought I was entitled to a proof-read’.

Apparently oblivious to the young master’s mental well-being, Jeeves had fetched a dustpan and brush from the next room, and was busily gathering up the remains of a coffee cup which, in my agitation, I had sent crashing to the floor.

‘I understood from our previous conversation, sir, that you bore a somewhat modest assessment of your literary faculties’.

Great Scott, man!’ I shrieked. You don’t have to be Melvyn Bragg to see that this is the most shocking dishwater. Miss Delores would be spinning in her grave. It’s obscene’.

The man was obviously taking this hard, but the time for pleasantries had passed.

‘You liken the sun to a tangerine, seat my passion in my spleen and make an extremely vulgar analogy with an instrument of oral healthcare. If Miss Dew doesn’t sever an artery laughing, she’ll probably refer me to the AA’.

Jeeves enquired whether my car had broken down, but I refused to be diverted.

‘It’s a disgrace from the first syllable to the last. And as for “Could you bear…”, anyone would think I was offering her a filling’.

‘Well, sir, in a manner of speaking –’

GET OUT!

Speeding him on his way with a well-aimed shoe, I sat back to consider my fate. No perspective greatly appealed. After about an hour of pacing, now this way and that, now that way and this, I knocked on Jeeves’ door. He was sitting at the table reading, but cheesed it on the arrival of the young master. Leaning on a doorpost, I attempted to recall him to reason.

‘Listen carefully, Jeeves. Attempt, one last time, to gather the severed threads of your brain. Whatever dry husks of intellect remain, squeeze them out. I require information’.

He looked suitably earnest.

‘When you gave that, er, composition to Miss Dew, did she read it straight away?’

‘No sir. It was her intention to dine with friends in Chuffnell Regis, before returning late at night. I impressed upon her the need to read the letter in private, at her leisure’.

I shuddered.

‘Well, naturally, one wouldn’t want her to miss any of the deeper resonances, what?’

Jeeves had the good grace to look somewhat abashed, so I continued.

‘Then she will have taken the letter with her?’

‘No sir. She was wearing a thin cardigan, and had expressed her intention to exchange it for a warmer’.

For the first time in that hideous evening, I detected a faint glimmer of hope – what Jeeves, in happier days, might have called the chapped fingernails of ‘rosy-fingered dawn’.

‘Think hard’, I urged. ‘Much may depend upon your answer. What colour was the cardigan?’

He pondered, then slowly raised his head. Something like the old intelligence was shining in his eyes.

‘It was … green’.

We Woosters are, as a rule, a pretty law-abiding bunch; but room searches are becoming something of a modus vivendi with the present representative. One thinks, in particular, of my stay at Totleigh Towers, when Jeeves and I were imprisoned on top of a wardrobe by a peevish Scots Terrier; but there have been other, no less harrowing occasions. Hence it was with an almost casual air that I sprang the lock of Angeline’s room and proceeded to ransack its contents.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a grotesquely distasteful task. There were drawers and drawers of the most extraordinary garments, fitting I know not where, but no green cardigan. Then I turned my attention to the wardrobe. It was one of those walk-in jobs, and no sooner had I stepped inside than I beheld my prize: one green cardigan, with an envelope protruding from the pocket. Trousering the offending letter I permitted myself a moment of sheer elation, before the natural order reasserted itself and a key began to turn in the door.

Many words have been applied to the Woosters, but among those that are printable you will find neither ‘slow’ nor ‘dithering’. The Woosters are men of action, of resource, and it was the work of a moment to shut the door of the wardrobe behind me and to secrete myself within the ranks of coats and furry garments. Had I been less engrossed in my search I might have heard the car, but Jeeves had assured me that the party would not be returning before midnight and it was barely six fifteen. A bit steep, I felt, and I resolved to be pretty terse with the man should I escape my current predicament. In the meantime, I waited for Angeline to go out to the bathroom.

It must have been a nasty shock when she opened the wardrobe door. She had been knocking around the room for about five minutes, whistling a merry ditty with the air of a woman who had nothing on her mind but her hair. Unfortunately, that’s all she had on anywhere else; our screams rose as one. Still clutching the green cardigan, I had at a pop at the calm, sweet voice of reason.

‘Angeline, dearest, I can explain –’

‘Then you can do so to the police!’

Now I may lack Jeeves’s experience in conflict resolution, but this sounded duff advice to me. Throwing a lifetime of unimpeachable chivalry to the winds, I locked her in the cupboard and made a dash for the door. As I hurtled across the bedroom I almost collided with Jeeves, who had entered unexpectedly from stage left.

‘Jeeves!’ I gasped. ‘Get the car!’

‘It is at the door, sir. Your luggage is in the boot’.

I didn’t ask how he knew; he always does. The wardrobe door, meanwhile, was being tested to the limit, as entirely new dimensions of rage flung themselves against the woodwork.

‘How long have we got?’ I asked nervously.

‘It is a sturdy door’, Jeeves opined, ‘but ten minutes at the outside. I suggest we depart’.

It was his most sensible suggestion for days, and I followed it to the letter.

With about twenty miles behind us the sounds of splintering oak and raging nudes began to recede from what I believe is termed my inner ear, and I was able to ruminate a little on the passage of events. Apparently Robinson Crusoe, on such occasions, used to draw up a sort of ledger, weighing pros against cons, and I have often found it a useful exercise.

‘Looking on the bright side’, I began; ‘I do not have to marry Ghastly Gertha, I shall in all probability never be invited to Cameley Chase again, and I have retrieved your revolting poem. That, at least, shall never besmirch the Wooster escutcheon. Furthermore, after my encounter with ‘Nature’s Children’ I intend never to get drunk again’.

Jeeves nodded approvingly.

‘It is as well, on such occasions, to seek out the silver lining’.

‘No doubt. But now we must turn our attention to the cloud. Rather than marrying the most beautiful girl this side of paradise, I find myself almost certainly in flight from the law. You concur, Jeeves?’

‘Precisely, sir. Sexual harassment, forced entry and unlawful restraint would, I fancy, constitute the principal charges’.

I gave him a meaningful glance.

‘You will understand, Jeeves, if I endow you with a modicum of responsibility for this unfortunate con-, er, –’

‘-concatenation of circumstances, sir’

‘Thank you, Jeeves. For this unfortunate concatenation of circumstances?’

‘Indeed, sir. I endeavour to give satisfaction’.

As the car veered off the road and bounced heavily down the embankment, I attempted a cool analysis of his response. Hanging upside down by one's seatbelt undoubtedly provides a change of perspective, but the facts looked markedly similar. When the car finally came to rest the wrong way up in a stream, also occupied by a broken bedstead and a rusting shopping trolley, I turned to Jeeves in search of enlightenment.

‘I am not angry, Jeeves. Merely – what’s the word? – perplexed. How exactly did this satisfaction take place?’

Looking for all the world like a bat, hanging upside down in men’s evening wear, Jeeves appeared to reflect for a moment.

‘I did not consider Miss Dew a suitable bride, sir, and thought it wise to disrupt the match’.

I arched an eyebrow.

‘Is that so, Jeeves? And in what particular regard did she fall short of utter, peerless perfection?’

If it were anyone else, I would have said that Jeeves looked somewhat abashed.

‘I – that is to say – I thought you might have noticed, sir’.

I waved a hand airily – humouring the man, you know.

‘No, no, Jeeves. Apparently I lack your discerning eye. What was the matter? Tell Bertie’.

‘She was’, he paused. ‘She was a man, sir’.

‘What!’ I gaped at the fellow. ‘Have you lost your mind?’

He appeared surprised.

‘Surely, sir, in the room just now you noticed certain, that is to say, certain accoutrements?

I was shocked.

‘I did nothing of the sort, Jeeves. A gentleman averts his gaze’.

Nonetheless, looking back at my tussle with Miss – or Mister, as the case might be – Dew, I was a conscious of a vague sensation that not everything was in its proper place. Something had been there that shouldn’t have been, though I had been unable to put my finger on precisely what. There was a silence of about an hour.

‘You are sure, Jeeves?’

‘Yes, sir. He is a professional con man, well known in criminal circles. He preys upon wealthy young men, extracting promises of marriage only to reveal himself shortly before the nuptials are complete. He then extorts a considerable sum of money in order to release them from their promise’.

‘But why has no one ever shopped him in to the police? The man is a menace!’

‘It is generally considered to be the lesser of two evils to meet his demands, rather than be exposed to public ridicule’.

I could see the force in this, but was puzzled as to why Jeeves couldn’t simply have had a quiet word with me. Had it really been necessary to orchestrate so public an ‘outing’? His explanation struck me as distinctly shifty.

‘There are some things, sir, which are not fit for one gentleman to discuss with another’.

‘You’re discussing it now, happily enough’.

‘Indeed, sir, but the circumstances have changed. I was not previously at liberty to divulge Mr Hartley’s secret, but now that it is in the open I am able to discuss the details’.

‘Mr Hartley?’

‘I should have said Miss Dew, sir. Hartley was the name employed by the gentleman in the days when I knew him’.

‘You knew this man? Tell me all Jeeves – I grow suspicious’.

He paused for a moment.

‘Do you think we might right the car, sir? The blood is going to my head’.

What with all the excitement, I had forgotten about our unusual position – I suppose that’s how those chaps in Australia manage – but it struck me as a reasonable request. Crawling out with some difficulty, we splashed around in the water a bit before enlisting the help of a couple of peasants to get the old thing as nature intended. I flung them a bag of gold and turned back to Jeeves. He explained, a little sheepishly I thought, that he and this Hartley-Dew character had once belonged to an organisation called ‘The Crossover Club’ – intended, one assumes, to bridge the gap between the literary and scientific communities. I was about to question him further when the peace was disturbed by the harsh wail of sirens passing on the road above. I froze.

‘Do you think they are looking for me, Jeeves?’

‘I fear so, sir’.

What with one thing and another, the fearful peril of our situation had rather escaped me up to that point. Yet the sound of danger only just over-head brought home the full reality. We were, one might say, sheltering in the armpit of the long arm of the law, and the position was not a pleasant one. I sank down onto the bonnet of the car.

‘What am I to do?’ I asked plaintively. Jeeves seemed to think that the only option was to flee to some barbarous, under-developed country where the writ of English law did not run. I suggested Cambridge, but he seemed to think that there was an extradition treaty.

‘Paris?’ I ventured. The same applied.

‘I fear, sir, that our only hope is South America’.

For the first time in several hours, I perked up a little.

‘That sounds rather jolly. I was chatting to Bungo only this morning about Brazil. There’s an awful lot of coffee there, apparently’.
Suddenly a thought struck me, which is always something of a shock. ‘But Jeeves, they’ll be watching the ports’.

He smiled serenely. Behind him the sun was reclining gracefully over the Cotswolds, like an elderly gentleman lowering his stomach into the bathtub. It struck me just how bally peaceful everything was. The local peasantry had given up trying to retrieve the purse I had thrown them from the river – there was nothing in it anyway – and the local wildlife had generally rambled off to their clubs for dinner.
Suddenly I knew that Jeeves would find the way. All I had to do was to entrust myself to him, and all would be well.

‘What do you suggest, old friend?’ I enquired gently. ‘Tell me, and I will do it’.

‘My idea, sir, is that we should complete our journey in disguise. Until we arrive in Brazil, I propose to travel as Jane, your maid’.

I looked him up and down and pursed my lips. Jeeves has a fairly powerful build, and is not what you might call elfin.

‘Are you sure you can carry it off?’

‘Yes, sir. By a fortuitous circumstance I have a dress in my size in the back of the car’.

I didn’t ask.

‘So I am to travel as your master?’

Jeeves was already retrieving his clothes from the back of the car, but halted for a moment before replying.

‘Since it is you that is the object of the search, sir, I feel that you too should adopt an alter ego. It is unusual for a gentleman to travel with a maid, so I recommend that you adopt the title of Lady Betty’.

Betty?’ I shrieked.

‘Yes, sir. It should prove easy to remember’.

I pondered a moment before making my decision. There were still sirens in the area, and it occurred to me that if ’twere done when ’twere done, then ’twere best ’twere done quickly. Swallowing hard, I bit the bullet.

‘Very well’, I said eventually. ‘I will do it. How far is the nearest port?’

‘Twenty miles, sir. A little to the west of here’.

I steeled myself and assumed my best falsetto.

‘Then, Jane –’

‘Ma’am?’

Westward ho! Jane; and here’s to the Crossover Club!’

—-
With apologies to P.G. Wodehouse and all his admirers, and to anyone of taste.