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

Again I was compelled to pause and remind myself that an English gentleman does not slosh a sitting redhead, no matter what the provocation.

‘I hadn’t time to look properly. I was impeded in my movements by half-witted females sneaking up behind me and asking how I was getting on.’

‘Well, I wanted to know.’ A giggle escaped her. ‘You did come down a wallop, didn’t you? How art thou fallen from heaven, oh Lucifer, son of the morning, I said to myself. You’re so terribly neurotic, Bertie. You must try to be less jumpy. What you need is a good nerve tonic. I’m sure Sir Roderick would shake you up one, if you asked him. And meanwhile?’

‘How do you mean, “And meanwhile”?’

‘What are your plans now?’

‘I propose to hoik you out of that chair and seat myself in it and take that book, the early chapters of which I found most gripping, and start catching up with my reading and try to forget.’

‘You mean you aren’t going to have another bash?’

‘I am not. Bertram is through. You may give this to the press, if you wish.’

‘But the cow-creamer. How about your Uncle Tom’s grief and agony when he learns of his bereavement?’

‘Let Uncle Tom eat cake.’

‘Bertie! Your manner is strange.’

‘Your manner would be strange if you’d been sitting on the floor of Wilbert Cream’s sleeping apartment with a chair round your neck, and Ma Cream had come in.’

‘Golly! Did she?’

‘In person.’

‘What did you say?’

‘I said I was looking for a mouse.’

‘Couldn’t you think of anything better than that?’


‘And how did it all come out in the end?’

‘I melted away, leaving her plainly convinced that I was off my rocker. And so, young Bobbie, when you speak of having another bash, I merely laugh bitterly,’ I said, doing so. ‘Catch me going into that sinister room again! Not for a million pounds sterling, cash down in small notes.’

She made what I believe, though I wouldn’t swear to it, is called a moue. Putting the lips together and shoving them out, if you know what I mean. The impression I got was that she was disappointed in Bertram, having expected better things, and this was borne out by her next words.

‘Is this the daredevil spirit of the Woosters?’

‘As of even date, yes.’

‘Are you man or mouse?’

‘Kindly do not mention that word “mouse” in my presence.’

‘I do think you might try again. Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar. I’ll help you this time.’


‘Haven’t I heard that word before somewhere?’

‘You may confidently expect to hear it again.’

‘No, but listen, Bertie. Nothing can possibly go wrong if we work together. Mrs Cream won’t show up this time. Lightning never strikes twice in the same place.’

‘Who made that rule?’

‘And if she does … Here’s what I thought we’d do. You go in and start searching, and I’ll stand outside the door.’

‘You feel that will be a lot of help?’

‘Of course it will. If I see her coming, I’ll sing.’

‘Always glad to hear you singing, of course, but in what way will that ease the strain?’

‘Oh, Bertie, you really are an abysmal chump. Don’t you get it? When you hear me burst into song, you’ll know there’s peril afoot and you’ll have plenty of time to nip out of the window.’

‘And break my bally neck?’

‘How can you break your neck? There’s a balcony outside the Blue Room. I’ve seen Wilbert Cream standing on it, doing his Daily Dozen. He breathes deeply and ties himself into a lovers’ knot and -‘

‘Never mind Wilbert Cream’s excesses.’

‘I only put that in to make it more interesting. The point is that there is a balcony and once on it you’re home. There’s a water pipe at the end of it. You just slide down that and go on your way, singing a gypsy song. You aren’t going to tell me that you have any objection to sliding down water pipes. Jeeves says you’re always doing it.’

I mused. It was true that I had slid down quite a number of water pipes in my time. Circumstances had often so moulded themselves as to make such an action imperative. It was by that route that I had left Skeldings Hall at three in the morning after the hot-water-bottle incident. So while it would be too much, perhaps, to say that I am never happier than when sliding down water pipes, the prospect of doing so caused me little or no concern. I began to see that there was something in this plan she was mooting, if mooting is the word I want.

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Categories: Wodehouse, P G