P.G.Wodehouse. Jeeves in the offing, 1960

‘Well, all right,’ I said. ‘I accept your statement that you and Kipper are that way. But why, that being so, did you blazon it forth to the world, if blazoning forth is the expression I want, that you were engaged to me?’

‘I told you. It was to soften Mother up.’

‘Which sounded to me like delirium straight from the sick bed.’

‘You don’t get the subtle strategy?’

‘Not by several parasangs.’

‘Well, you know how you stand with Mother.’

‘Our relations are a bit distant.’

‘She shudders at the mention of your name. So I thought if she thought I was going to marry you and then found I wasn’t, she’d be so thankful for the merciful escape I’d had that she’d be ready to accept anyone as a son-in-law, even someone like Reggie, who, though a wonder man, hasn’t got his name in Debrett and isn’t any too hot financially. Mother’s idea of a mate for me has always been a well-to-do millionaire or a Duke with a large private income. Now do you follow?’

‘Oh yes, I follow all right. You’ve been doing what Jeeves does, studying the psychology of the individual. But do you think it’ll work?’

‘Bound to. Let’s take a parallel case. Suppose your Aunt Dahlia read in the paper one morning that you were going to be shot at sunrise.’

‘I couldn’t be. I’m never up so early.’

‘But suppose she did? She’d be pretty worked up about it, wouldn’t she?’

‘Extremely, one imagines, for she loves me dearly. I’m not saying her manner toward me doesn’t verge at times on the brusque. In childhood days she would occasionally clump me on the side of the head, and since I have grown to riper years she has more than once begged me to tie a brick around my neck and go and drown myself in the pond in the kitchen garden. Nevertheless, she loves her Bertram, and if she heard I was to be shot at sunrise, she would, as you say, be as sore as a gum-boil. But why? What’s that got to do with it?’

‘Well, suppose she then found out it was all a mistake and it wasn’t you but somebody else who was to face the firing squad. That would make her happy, wouldn’t it?’

‘One can picture her dancing all over the place on the tips of her toes.’

‘Exactly. She’d be so all over you that nothing you did would be wrong in her eyes. Whatever you wanted to do would be all right with her. Go to it, she would say. And that’s how Mother will feel when she learns that I’m not marrying you after all. She’ll be so relieved.’

I agreed that the relief would, of course, be stupendous.

‘But you’ll be giving her the inside facts in a day or two?’ I said, for I was anxious to have assurance on this point. A man with an Engagement notice in The Times hanging over him cannot but feel uneasy.

‘Well, call it a week or two. No sense in rushing things.’

‘You want me to sink in?’

‘That’s the idea.’

‘And meanwhile what’s the drill? Do I kiss you a good deal from time to time?’

‘No, you don’t.’

‘Right-ho. I just want to know where I stand.’

‘An occasional passionate glance will be ample.’

‘It shall be attended to. Well, I’m delighted about you and Kipper or, as you would prefer to say, Reggie. There’s nobody I’d rather see you centre-aisle-ing with.’

‘It’s very sporting of you to take it like this.’

‘Don’t give it a thought.’

‘I’m awfully fond of you, Bertie.’

‘Me, too, of you.’

‘But I can’t marry everybody, can I?’

‘I wouldn’t even try. Well, now that we’ve got all that straight, I suppose I’d better be going and saying “Come aboard” to Aunt Dahlia.’

‘What’s the time?’

‘Close on five.’

‘I must run like a hare. I’m supposed to be presiding at the tea table.’

‘You? Why you?’

‘Your aunt’s not here. She found a telegram when she got back yesterday saying that her son Bonzo was sick of a fever at his school, and dashed off to be with him. She asked me to deputy-hostess for her till her return, but I shan’t be able to for the next few days. I’ve got to dash back to Mother. Ever since she saw that thing in The Times, she’s been wiring me every hour on the hour to come home for a round- table conference. What’s a guffin?’

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Categories: Wodehouse, P G