‘I regret to say that her ladyship has fainted.’
‘It was she I heard going bump?’
‘Precisely, sir. Thank you very much, sir. Good-bye.’
He replaced the receiver and went about his domestic duties, these no doubt including the loosening of the stricken woman’s corsets and burning feathers under her nose, leaving me to chew on the situation without further bulletins from the front.
It seemed to me that the thing to do here was to get hold of The Times and see what it had to offer in the way of enlightenment. It’s a paper I don’t often look at, preferring for breakfast reading the Mirror and the Mail, but Jeeves takes it in and I have occasionally borrowed his copy with a view to having a shot at the crossword puzzle. It struck me as a possibility that he might have left today’s issue in the kitchen, and so it proved. I came back with it, lowered myself into a chair, lit another cigarette and proceeded to cast an eye on its contents.
At a cursory glance what might be called swoon material appeared to be totally absent from its columns. The Duchess of something had been opening a bazaar at Wimbledon in aid of a deserving charity, there was an article on salmon fishing on the Wye, and a Cabinet Minister had made a speech about conditions in the cotton industry, but I could see nothing in these items to induce a loss of consciousness. Nor did it seem probable that a woman would have passed out cold on reading that Herbert Robinson (26) of Grove Road, Ponder’s End, had been jugged for stealing a pair of green and yellow checked trousers. I turned to the cricket news. Had some friend of hers failed to score in one of yesterday’s county matches owing to a doubtful l.b.w. decision?
It was just after I had run the eye down the Births and Marriages that I happened to look at the Engagements, and a moment later I was shooting out of my chair as if a spike had come through its cushioned seat and penetrated the fleshy parts.
‘Jeeves!’ I yelled, and then remembered that he had long since gone with the wind. A bitter thought, for if ever there was an occasion when his advice and counsel were of the essence, this occ. was that occ. The best I could do, tackling it solo, was to utter a hollow g. and bury the face in the hands. And though I seem to hear my public tut-tutting in disapproval of such neurotic behaviour, I think the verdict of history will be that the paragraph on which my gaze had rested was more than enough to excuse a spot of face-burying.
It ran as follows:
The engagement is announced between Bertram Wilberforce Wooster of Berkeley Mansions, W.1, and Roberta, daughter of the late Sir Cuthbert Wickham and Lady Wickham of Skeldings Hall, Herts.
Well, as I was saying, I had several times when under the influence of her oomph taken up with Roberta Wickham the idea of such a merger, but – and here is the point I would stress – I could have sworn that on each occasion she had declined to co-operate, and that in a manner which left no room for doubt regarding her views. I mean to say, when a girl, offered a good man’s heart, laughs like a bursting paper bag and tells him not to be a silly ass, the good man is entitled, I think, to assume that the whole thing is off. In the light of this announcement in The Times I could only suppose that on one of these occasions, unnoticed by me possibly because my attention had wandered, she must have drooped her eyes and come through with a murmured ‘Right-ho.’ Though when this could have happened, I hadn’t the foggiest.
It was, accordingly, as you will readily imagine, a Bertram Wooster with dark circles under his eyes and a brain threatening to come apart at the seams who braked the sports model on the following afternoon at the front door of Brinkley Court – a Bertram, in a word, who was asking himself what the dickens all this was about. Non-plussed more or less sums it up. It seemed to me that my first move must be to get hold of my fiancee and see if she had anything to contribute in the way of clarifying the situation.