I still can’t work out exactly how I got into this bally mess. Today began as normal — two minutes after waking at noon when the noble Jeeves arrived with the tea-tray and the morning mail, on the dot as usual. Really, he is a national treasure, the kindly sort of creature you might get on crossing St. Francis with Teresa of Avila. But I have found that one does have to put one’s foot down sometimes. I told him, if it works for Fink-Nottle, it’s good enough for me — the brown envelopes belong with all the others behind the clock. Time’s winged whatsit, and all that — there will always be plenty of it left over for dealing with those. I’ve noticed how when Jeeves and I disagree over something, he tends to come round to my way of thinking in the end, like the sensible fellow he is.
The Wooster start to the day is normally reserved for important post and a dekko at the cricket scores… I see England’s doing jolly well this year… God knows how they keep it up! By the end of the century, no doubt, the entire Empire will be humming in unison to the sweet sounds of summer — the crack of willow-wood, the jovial drone of the bumble-bee going about his merry business, and the lusty roar of all Britannia’s loyal subjects cheering on the mother country as yet another victorious England team sails into dock!
But I digress. This morning followed the usual routine of a quick sploshing in the bathroom, a swill round the tonsils with a new gargle-juice I have lately discovered, then breakfast, and finally on with the golfing togs. Golf clubs are such blasted sticklers for the tiny but important details — things like how much flag one is flying from the breast. Today I decided I would sport a natty little number I found in Fortnum’s the other day — actually it was Threepwood junior who found it, a dark purple silk effort with little pink roses. One glance, and I knew I just had to have it!
I couldn’t understand what got into Jeeves after breakfast today — he’s normally such an affable cove, not much given to tantrums or unreasonability, as I believe they call it. Three times I had to remind him to put out the silken kerchief, and all I got was a "Very good, sir," in the sort of voice that would freeze a lido at twenty paces.
"Jeeves," I reminded him, "fashion… fashion stands still for no man!" I rather liked that, I must say — I’ll have to look it up some time.
"Very good, sir," he replied, with an austerity that would have cracked a Brazil nut without being asked. Really, at times the chappie verges on insolence!
Anyhow, I was minding my own business after breakfast, trundling down one of those leafy country lanes we English do so well, when the Alvis rounded a corner, and there it was: a great unmoving mountain of a Bentley which I recognised as Lady Sticklebury’s, right in the middle of the crossroads.
Well, I had nowhere else to go. With the fearsome crunch of a buckling bronco, the nose of the Alvis buried itself in the rear of the monster, and I heard this strangled — no, muffled — sort of woofling shriek from inside the Bentley, and a gurgling noise rather like a death-rattle. Well, of course I was shocked, but we Woosters are made of sterner stuff. With my usual quickness of thought I slammed the lever into reverse, and before Jack Robinson had had time to utter a peep I was off down the side road.
Naturally, I didn’t get to the golf course that day. For a start, it’s always a bore to have to recount the heroic speed of one’s reactions to all and sundry, however blameless the occasion. Besides, the Bentley might have been on its way to the club too, and there could have been a fair amount of unpleasantness shimmying back and forth across the car park. Safer, I thought, to go home again. I had a mind to quiz old Jeeves in the peace of my sitting-room on the ramifications of the episode over a leisurely and calming snifter of the Scottish nectar. In his quiet way, Jeeves has acquired rather a name for the efficiency of his cerebrations. Many is the aunt who has rued the day she crossed a Wooster’s path!
It is not too much to ask, I feel, for one’s manservant to receive one civilly on returning from the great outdoors, having harmed not a fly! Yet the look was stony. No sign of movement was on his phiz as the door swung open, other than a slight twitching of the upper lip and a queer sort of swivelling gyration of the right eyeball in the general area of my breast pocket.
"Jeeves," I vouchsafed in the stiffest manner I could muster, "this is 1929. Purple is this year’s colour! Don’t you forget it!"
"No, sir. Very good, sir." Like a human icicle the blighter stood rooted to the doorknob as I passed inside.
I have to say, though, you do have to hand it to Jeeves. When it comes to the old grey matter, the man is no slouch. Once I had explained the current predicament he seated himself slowly on the sofa, placed his hands carefully together in that familiar thoughtful way he has, and pondered a long moment, gazing at me with the unnerving disposition of a gimlet. I was still feeling somewhat sore at the fellow’s earlier outspokenness regarding my elegantly displayed chestwear, and was on the point of remonstrating further, when a low invisible rumble started to condense from out of the air somewhere.
"Hmm-hmm," he trickled, "I believe… I believe there may be a way of resolving the present impasse with the minimum of inconvenience to yourself, sir." He paused.
"Good — good!", I encouraged him. "Warm to it! Spill the beans! Issue forth! Let us have it! Carry on!"
"Indeed, sir. — Are you aware, sir, that there is at present a particular lady visiting the district with a certain… reputation?"
"Lady? Reputation? What reputation?" We Woosters may not always be of the quickest, but this kind of utterance is not calculated to steady the nerve of a fellow.
"An authoress, sir. An American lady, sir." He paled slightly at his own words, and his lip tightened.
"Jeeves," I ejaculated, "kindly explain what this has to do with the motor accident this afternoon.
"I was coming to that, sir." He unclapped his hands. "The point is that the lady is known to favour motoring in a vehicle identical to your own, sir."
At this it seemed a species of dawning might be starting to brighten the mental horizon, but without anything you could put your finger on.
"Yes? And? Who is this lady, exactly?"
"A Miss Stein, sir. I believe she is highly regarded in what are often termed… bohemian circles, sir." The man’s lip was observed to curl as it formed the frightful adjective.
"Bohemian circles? What of them? You’re making as much sense as a kipper… a kipper… as a kipper chasing a marshmallow!" The blood was starting to steam in my ears.
"Yes, sir. Indeed, sir. If you will permit me to explain, sir… The fact is, a lady enjoying her reputation may readily be considered capable of anything. It would appear to me, sir, that a letter purporting to be sent by the lady herself would be believed without fear of contradiction, regardless of its content.
I stared at the blighter. "Well, Jeeves, what have you in mind?"
"It will require some little thought, sir, assisted by some rather distasteful — investigations." He shuddered, and his knuckles whitened. "I am going to town to consult the library, sir, and will be back presently, when I hope finally to settle the matter."
Well, even a Wooster will clutch at the mouth of a straw horse when he has to, and I willingly urged the johnnie on his way even before his cycle clips were fully buckled.
On his return the faithful fellow was as good as his word. I felt unaccountably restless. Resisting the temptation to stand behind his shoulder as he deployed his pencil at the writing-desk — something which on occasion has been known to raise the prickles of even the most patient — I paced up and down the room with my fists clasped, my fingers kneading, and my brow moist as the dew on a well-chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot ‘22, until a slight upward tilt of his greying temple indicated the valet savant had completed his sensitive ordeal.
"Here it is, sir. I trust that the result will prove entirely satisfactory for its purpose." Uncoiling, he stood up and shuffled noiselessly aside from the desk. I peered at the fine hand that had drifted across the paper like the ghost of a cobweb. Then I started back like a jolly young shepherd whose shepherdess has just unleashed a streaming jet from her buttonhole. For this is what popped into view:
"Sticklebury. Lady. Lady Sticklebury. A lady in a car. A lady driving a car. Today. I am telling what I am remembering. I tell it in this way and I tell it in that way. I tell it in this way. This way. That way. Remembering. More and more I tell it. More and more. My car hitting your car. Your car. My car. Hitting your car. How many cars are there? There is one car. One car. And another car. I am seeing myself. I am driving. I am seeing myself driving. Here. There. Here and there. Here and there and there and here. One car. And another car. Driving away from your car. Driving and remembering and telling. I am remembering pretty completely everything I have been telling. What have I been telling? I am going to be telling. Or not telling. What am I going to be telling? Have I been telling? What have I been telling? I am telling that I am not there. I am driving. What driving? One car. Driving one car away from your car. Another car. Too bad. Too bad. Too bad. Happy I am. Happy. I am Stein. Stone. Stone Stein stone Stein stone. Gertrude. Stone Stein Gertrude. Stone. Am I Stone? Or Stein?" — I broke off, perspiring freely from every pore. After a short pause of about an hour and a quarter, my breath began to recover its regularity, and the jelly in my legs started to settle.
Plainly, the man had endured excruciating torments in the library. Recalling that he had been absent for over two hours, I resolved that his pains must not go forgotten at Christmas.
"Stupendous effort, Jeeves! Absolutely top-notch! Obviously, this could only be the work of someone off their trolley, up a gum tree, short of sixpence, raving without a paddle!"
"Batty as a belfry. Nutty as a nut!"
"Exactly. I had hoped that you would form a similar opinion, sir."
For once, the saintly paragon could not contain the smile of satisfaction that was soaking slowly yet decorously up his features.
"I shall see to it that it is posted to the Stickleburys at once, sir." Still, for some reason he held his gaze on my face, his stiffly curved lips immobile as a becalmed hammock under his impeccably manicured schnozz.
"Yes? Yes, Jeeves? Was there something else?"
The fellow coughed behind his fingers with the delicacy of a chihuahua gulping down a praline.
"A minor matter, sir. Your silk handkerchief — I wonder, have you perhaps given your wardrobe the benefit of some further thought?"
Like a cove whose doctor has been rather too eager to ply the rubber hammer, my hand flew to the breast of the golfing jacket in which, thanks to my distraction, my form was still draped.
"This handkerchief, do you mean, Jeeves?"
"Yes, sir. Indeed, sir. Thank you, sir. I shall endeavour to place it where it can do no further harm, sir."
"Oh, right-o, Jeeves... Well done, Jeeves!"
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