I don't suppose I was looking so dashed unlike something out of an Edgar
Allan Poe story myself, for, as you can readily imagine, the news item
which I have just recorded had got in amongst me properly. If the
Bassett, in the belief that the Wooster heart had long been hers and was
waiting ready to be scooped in on demand, had decided to take up her
option, I should, as a man of honour and sensibility, have no choice but
to come across and kick in. The matter was obviously not one that could
be straightened out with a curt _nolle prosequi_. All the evidence,
therefore, seemed to point to the fact that the doom had come upon me
and, what was more, had come to stay.
And yet, though it would be idle to pretend that my grip on the situation
was quite the grip I would have liked it to be, I did not despair of
arriving at a solution. A lesser man, caught in this awful snare, would
no doubt have thrown in the towel at once and ceased to struggle; but the
whole point about the Woosters is that they are not lesser men.
By way of a start, I read the note again. Not that I had any hope that a
second perusal would enable me to place a different construction on its
contents, but it helped to fill in while the brain was limbering up. I
then, to assist thought, had another go at the fruit salad, and in
addition ate a slice of sponge cake. And it was as I passed on to the
cheese that the machinery started working. I saw what had to be done.
To the question which had been exercising the mind--viz., can Bertram
cope?--I was now able to reply with a confident "Absolutely."
The great wheeze on these occasions of dirty work at the crossroads is
not to lose your head but to keep cool and try to find the ringleaders.
Once find the ringleaders, and you know where you are.
The ringleader here was plainly the Bassett. It was she who had started
the whole imbroglio by chucking Gussie, and it was clear that before
anything could be done to solve and clarify, she must be induced to
revise her views and take him on again. This would put Angela back into
circulation, and that would cause Tuppy to simmer down a bit, and then we
could begin to get somewhere.
I decided that as soon as I had had another morsel of cheese I would seek
this Bassett out and be pretty eloquent.
And at this moment in she came. I might have foreseen that she would be
turning up shortly. I mean to say, hearts may ache, but if they know that
there is a cold collation set out in the dining-room, they are pretty
sure to come popping in sooner or later.
Her eyes, as she entered the room, were fixed on the salmon mayonnaise,
and she would no doubt have made a bee-line for it and started getting
hers, had I not, in the emotion of seeing her, dropped a glass of the
best with which I was endeavouring to bring about a calmer frame of mind.
The noise caused her to turn, and for an instant embarrassment
supervened. A slight flush mantled the cheek, and the eyes popped a bit.
"Oh!" she said.
I have always found that there is nothing that helps to ease you over one
of these awkward moments like a spot of stage business. Find something to
do with your hands, and it's half the battle. I grabbed a plate and
"A touch of salmon?"
"With a suspicion of salad?"
"If you please."
"And to drink? Name the poison."
"I think I would like a little orange juice."
She gave a gulp. Not at the orange juice, I don't mean, because she
hadn't got it yet, but at all the tender associations those two words
provoked. It was as if someone had mentioned spaghetti to the relict of
an Italian organ-grinder. Her face flushed a deeper shade, she registered
anguish, and I saw that it was no longer within the sphere of practical
politics to try to confine the conversation to neutral topics like cold
So did she, I imagine, for when I, as a preliminary to getting down to
brass tacks, said "Er," she said "Er," too, simultaneously, the brace of
"Ers" clashing in mid-air.
"I beg your pardon."
"You were saying----"
"You were saying----"
"No, please go on."
I straightened the tie, my habit when in this girl's society, and had at
"With reference to yours of even date----"
She flushed again, and took a rather strained forkful of salmon.
"You got my note?"
"Yes, I got your note."
"I gave it to Jeeves to give it to you."
"Yes, he gave it to me. That's how I got it."
There was another silence. And as she was plainly shrinking from talking
turkey, I was reluctantly compelled to do so. I mean, somebody had got
to. Too dashed silly, a male and female in our position simply standing
eating salmon and cheese at one another without a word.
"Yes, I got it all right."
"I see. You got it."
"Yes, I got it. I've just been reading it. And what I was rather wanting
to ask you, if we happened to run into each other, was--well, what about
"What about it?"
"That's what I say: What about it?"
"But it was quite clear."
"Oh, quite. Perfectly clear. Very well expressed and all that. But--I
mean--Well, I mean, deeply sensible of the honour, and so forth--but----
Well, dash it!"
She had polished off her salmon, and now put the plate down.
"No, thank you."
"Spot of pie?"
"One of those glue things on toast?"
"No, thank you."
She took a cheese straw. I found a cold egg which I had overlooked. Then
I said "I mean to say" just as she said "I think I know", and there was
"I beg your pardon."
"Do go on."
"No, you go on."
I waved my cold egg courteously, to indicate that she had the floor, and
she started again:
"I think I know what you are trying to say. You are surprised."
"You are thinking of----"
"The very man."
"You find what I have done hard to understand."
"I don't wonder."
"And yet it is quite simple."
She took another cheese straw. She seemed to like cheese straws.
"Quite simple, really. I want to make you happy."
"Dashed decent of you."
"I am going to devote the rest of my life to making you happy."
"A very matey scheme."
"I can at least do that. But--may I be quite frank with you, Bertie?"
"Then I must tell you this. I am fond of you. I will marry you. I will do
my best to make you a good wife. But my affection for you can never be
the flamelike passion I felt for Augustus."
"Just the very point I was working round to. There, as you say, is the
snag. Why not chuck the whole idea of hitching up with me? Wash it out
altogether. I mean, if you love old Gussie----"
"No. What happened this afternoon has killed my love. A smear of ugliness
has been drawn across a thing of beauty, and I can never feel towards him
as I did."
I saw what she meant, of course. Gussie had bunged his heart at her feet;
she had picked it up, and, almost immediately after doing so, had
discovered that he had been stewed to the eyebrows all the time. The
shock must have been severe. No girl likes to feel that a chap has got to
be thoroughly plastered before he can ask her to marry him. It wounds the
Nevertheless, I persevered.
"But have you considered," I said, "that you may have got a wrong line on
Gussie's performance this afternoon? Admitted that all the evidence
points to a more sinister theory, what price him simply having got a
touch of the sun? Chaps do get touches of the sun, you know, especially
when the weather's hot."
She looked at me, and I saw that she was putting in a bit of the old
"It was like you to say that, Bertie. I respect you for it."
"Yes. You have a splendid, chivalrous soul."
"Not a bit."
"Yes, you have. You remind me of Cyrano."
"Cyrano de Bergerac."
"The chap with the nose?"
I can't say I was any too pleased. I felt the old beak furtively. It was
a bit on the prominent side, perhaps, but, dash it, not in the Cyrano
class. It began to look as if the next thing this girl would do would be
to compare me to Schnozzle Durante.
"He loved, but pleaded another's cause."
"Oh, I see what you mean now."
"I like you for that, Bertie. It was fine of you--fine and big. But it is
no use. There are things which kill love. I can never forget Augustus,
but my love for him is dead. I will be your wife."
Well, one has to be civil.
"Right ho," I said. "Thanks awfully."
Then the dialogue sort of poofed out once more, and we stood eating
cheese straws and cold eggs respectively in silence. There seemed to
exist some little uncertainty as to what the next move was.
Fortunately, before embarrassment could do much more supervening, Angela
came in, and this broke up the meeting. Then Bassett announced our
engagement, and Angela kissed her and said she hoped she would be very,
very happy, and the Bassett kissed her and said she hoped she would be
very, very happy with Gussie, and Angela said she was sure she would,
because Augustus was such a dear, and the Bassett kissed her again, and
Angela kissed her again and, in a word, the whole thing got so bally
feminine that I was glad to edge away.
I would have been glad to do so, of course, in any case, for if ever
there was a moment when it was up to Bertram to think, and think hard,
this moment was that moment.
It was, it seemed to me, the end. Not even on the occasion, some years
earlier, when I had inadvertently become betrothed to Tuppy's frightful
Cousin Honoria, had I experienced a deeper sense of being waist high in
the gumbo and about to sink without trace. I wandered out into the
garden, smoking a tortured gasper, with the iron well embedded in the
soul. And I had fallen into a sort of trance, trying to picture what it
would be like having the Bassett on the premises for the rest of my life
and at the same time, if you follow me, trying not to picture what it
would be like, when I charged into something which might have been a
tree, but was not--being, in point of fact, Jeeves.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "I should have moved to one side."
I did not reply. I stood looking at him in silence. For the sight of him
had opened up a new line of thought.
This Jeeves, now, I reflected. I had formed the opinion that he had lost
his grip and was no longer the force he had been, but was it not
possible, I asked myself, that I might be mistaken? Start him off
exploring avenues and might he not discover one through which I would be
enabled to sneak off to safety, leaving no hard feelings behind? I found
myself answering that it was quite on the cards that he might.
After all, his head still bulged out at the back as of old. One noted in
the eyes the same intelligent glitter.
Mind you, after what had passed between us in the matter of that white
mess-jacket with the brass buttons, I was not prepared absolutely to hand
over to the man. I would, of course, merely take him into consultation.
But, recalling some of his earlier triumphs--the Sipperley Case, the
Episode of My Aunt Agatha and the Dog McIntosh, and the smoothly handled
Affair of Uncle George and The Barmaid's Niece were a few that sprang to
my mind--I felt justified at least in offering him the opportunity of
coming to the aid of the young master in his hour of peril.
But before proceeding further, there was one thing that had got to be
understood between us, and understood clearly.
"Jeeves," I said, "a word with you."
"I am up against it a bit, Jeeves."
"I am sorry to hear that, sir. Can I be of any assistance?"
"Quite possibly you can, if you have not lost your grip. Tell me frankly,
Jeeves, are you in pretty good shape mentally?"
"Still eating plenty of fish?"
"Then it may be all right. But there is just one point before I begin. In
the past, when you have contrived to extricate self or some pal from some
little difficulty, you have frequently shown a disposition to take
advantage of my gratitude to gain some private end. Those purple socks,
for instance. Also the plus fours and the Old Etonian spats. Choosing
your moment with subtle cunning, you came to me when I was weakened by
relief and got me to get rid of them. And what I am saying now is that if
you are successful on the present occasion there must be no rot of that
description about that mess-jacket of mine."
"Very good, sir."
"You will not come to me when all is over and ask me to jettison the
"Certainly not, sir."
"On that understanding then, I will carry on. Jeeves, I'm engaged."
"I hope you will be very happy, sir."
"Don't be an ass. I'm engaged to Miss Bassett."
"Indeed, sir? I was not aware----"
"Nor was I. It came as a complete surprise. However, there it is. The
official intimation was in that note you brought me."
"Odd, sir, that the contents of that note should have been as you
describe. It seemed to me that Miss Bassett, when she handed me the
communication, was far from being in a happy frame of mind."
"She is far from being in a happy frame of mind. You don't suppose she
really wants to marry me, do you? Pshaw, Jeeves! Can't you see that this
is simply another of those bally gestures which are rapidly rendering
Brinkley Court a hell for man and beast? Dash all gestures, is my view."
"Well, what's to be done?"
"You feel that Miss Bassett, despite what has occurred, still retains a
fondness for Mr. Fink-Nottle, sir?"
"She's pining for him."
"In that case, sir, surely the best plan would be to bring about a
reconciliation between them."
"How? You see. You stand silent and twiddle the fingers. You are
"No, sir. If I twiddled my fingers, it was merely to assist thought."
"Then continue twiddling."
"It will not be necessary, sir."
"You don't mean you've got a bite already?"
"You astound me, Jeeves. Let's have it."
"The device which I have in mind is one that I have already mentioned to
"When did you ever mention any device to me?"
"If you will throw your mind back to the evening of our arrival, sir. You
were good enough to inquire of me if I had any plan to put forward with a
view to bringing Miss Angela and Mr. Glossop together, and I ventured to
"Good Lord! Not the old fire-alarm thing?"
"You're still sticking to that?"
It shows how much the ghastly blow I had received had shaken me when I
say that, instead of dismissing the proposal with a curt "Tchah!" or
anything like that, I found myself speculating as to whether there might
not be something in it, after all.
When he had first mooted this fire-alarm scheme of his, I had sat upon
it, if you remember, with the maximum of promptitude and vigour. "Rotten"
was the adjective I had employed to describe it, and you may recall that
I mused a bit sadly, considering the idea conclusive proof of the general
breakdown of a once fine mind. But now it somehow began to look as if it
might have possibilities. The fact of the matter was that I had about
reached the stage where I was prepared to try anything once, however
"Just run through that wheeze again, Jeeves," I said thoughtfully. "I
remember thinking it cuckoo, but it may be that I missed some of the
"Your criticism of it at the time, sir, was that it was too elaborate,
but I do not think it is so in reality. As I see it, sir, the occupants
of the house, hearing the fire bell ring, will suppose that a
conflagration has broken out."
I nodded. One could follow the train of thought.
"Yes, that seems reasonable."
"Whereupon Mr. Glossop will hasten to save Miss Angela, while Mr.
Fink-Nottle performs the same office for Miss Bassett."
"Is that based on psychology?"
"Yes, sir. Possibly you may recollect that it was an axiom of the late
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, that the
instinct of everyone, upon an alarm of fire, is to save the object
dearest to them."
"It seems to me that there is a grave danger of seeing Tuppy come out
carrying a steak-and-kidney pie, but resume, Jeeves, resume. You think
that this would clean everything up?"
"The relations of the two young couples could scarcely continue distant
after such an occurrence, sir."
"Perhaps you're right. But, dash it, if we go ringing fire bells in the
night watches, shan't we scare half the domestic staff into fits? There
is one of the housemaids--Jane, I believe--who already skips like the
high hills if I so much as come on her unexpectedly round a corner."
"A neurotic girl, sir, I agree. I have noticed her. But by acting
promptly we should avoid such a contingency. The entire staff, with the
exception of Monsieur Anatole, will be at the ball at Kingham Manor
"Of course. That just shows the condition this thing has reduced me to.
Forget my own name next. Well, then, let's just try to envisage. Bong
goes the bell. Gussie rushes and grabs the Bassett.... Wait. Why
shouldn't she simply walk downstairs?"
"You are overlooking the effect of sudden alarm on the feminine
"Miss Bassett's impulse, I would imagine, sir, would be to leap from her
"Well, that's worse. We don't want her spread out in a sort of _puree_ on
the lawn. It seems to me that the flaw in this scheme of yours, Jeeves,
is that it's going to litter the garden with mangled corpses."
"No, sir. You will recall that Mr. Travers's fear of burglars has caused
him to have stout bars fixed to all the windows."
"Of course, yes. Well, it sounds all right," I said, though still a bit
doubtfully. "Quite possibly it may come off. But I have a feeling that it
will slip up somewhere. However, I am in no position to cavil at even a
100 to 1 shot. I will adopt this policy of yours, Jeeves, though, as I
say, with misgivings. At what hour would you suggest bonging the bell?"
"Not before midnight, sir."
"That is to say, some time after midnight."
"Right-ho, then. At 12.30 on the dot, I will bong."
"Very good, sir."