This is the tale of how the Code of the Woosters became the Code of the Wooster – of Bertram Wooster, singular. I should reassure the reader at this point that nothing has happened to Claude and Eustace. They’re just the same pestilential blighters they always were. Uncle George isn’t exactly well, but he’s still with us. Still spends a fair bit of time at Harrogate, only now Aunt Maudie comes with him, and even in between the rest cures, he isn’t allowed to cut loose on the viands like he used to. There have been no sudden outbreaks of mortality among the rest of the family, either, Woosters or not. But I digress.
I was quite sure that I’d have an easier time starting this than I normally do. No dithering between extensive scene-setting on the one hand and getting off the mark like a scalded cat on the other. After all, this is the story of how this Wooster became a wiser and happier Wooster, and while of course it was a gradual process, one that in many ways started when Jeeves first came into my life, there was a distinct turning point: that summer with the weddings, 1937. Tuppy and Angela finally tied the knot, and the week before it, I also attended the wedding of my old pal Beefy Anstruther to one Hilda Gudgeon, who made a previous entrance in these chronicles of mine as Madeleine Bassett’s old school chum, whose Wimbledon domain I invaded in order to intercept a letter. Mad keen on sports? Small woolly dog? Jolly good, you’ve placed her.
So, it was getting on for Easter of that year, when the Gudgeon beasel spotted me in Harrods and insisted on repairing to the tea room with me. Not that I minded too much. I’d been in there for the best part of an hour at that stage, trying to fill out a long and complicated list of fabric samples, ribbons and lace that Angela had demanded I pick up for her, and the fellow at the haberdashery counter was starting to look as fed-up as I felt – and given that it was my third trip to the department store in a week, after the first two trips had failed to yield what Angela deemed sufficient supplies, well, I was jolly fed up, all things considered. So taking a break for tea and crumpets was far from the worst wheeze this Wooster could have contemplated, and while I was always a little uneasy about tete-a-tetes with females, I felt the Gudgeon was relatively safe. She and old Beefy had been an item for years, and while they did occasionally have odd bouts of falling out over various sports-related matters, neither was prone to running off with other people in the course of their spats. Unlike so many of my chums, they were both remarkably constant in that respect. Not that the old B. Wooster would have dared say so, but there you are. The Code changed.
It was looking like a cosy sort of afternoon tea, with hot buttered crumpets, and those small sandwiches cut crosswise, and I think some slices of fruitcake. No macaroons and limonado, thank goodness. A no-nonsense kind of bird, Mrs Beefy. Even then, I had a fairly high opinion of her, though I could take or leave the back-slapping she is occasionally prone to. But I can’t deny I was a little anxious when she announced, after a couple of false starts, that she wanted to talk to me about the wedding arrangements. I mean, what what? Naturally.
“Of course you’re invited,” she began, which rather put me at ease. “But Harold and I weren’t quite sure whether it would be best to ask you to be one of the ushers or not, and he didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, the sweetheart,” and at this point she chortled knowingly and elbowed me in the ribs, “so I volunteered. I know it’s a sensitive topic, and neither of us wants to upset you at all, but we don’t know what would upset you less. Obviously you’re a good friend to Harold, he’s very fond of you, and ordinarily there would be no question about it. He’d have a best man and three ushers, and you’d be one of the ushers. But the problem is with who my matron of honour is – she’s my best friend, and I really want her to be there, and she’s rather counting on it, truth be told, but I don’t want to cause you any pain, and it is inevitable that the wedding party see a certain amount of each other in the run-up to the event. And then there’s the reception. We would quite understand if you preferred not to see her. Harold could manage perfectly well with two ushers.”
It was at this point that the fog cleared.
“Your best friend is Madeleine Basset, erm, Lady Sidcup, isn’t she?” Of course. Hilda Gudgeon had been privy to the whole incident with the purloined letter. Not that she knew about the letter, but it had been her house I broke into, her sofa I hid behind, and her speaking likeness of the Basset I had appropriated. For Gussie’s use, of course, but she didn’t know that.
“Her husband isn’t one of the ushers, is he?” I asked. Madeleine was one thing, but I didn’t fancy attending suit fittings and similar with Spode, or standing next to him for rehearsals, and I really, really didn’t want to go to any bachelor parties with him. Marriage hadn’t eased his rather jealous disposition where Madeleine was concerned, in fact in four years of marriage he’d had one assault case make it as far as the bench, and another fizzle out rather earlier on during proceedings. Of fellows he’d thought were paying too much attention to Madeleine, that is. There had been a few more incidents related to the Saviours of Britain, but he seemed to have an easier time of it hushing those up.
She wrinkled her nose a little.
“Oh goodness no. That man! Neither of us likes him, and really we would prefer not to have him there at all, but we can’t not invite him. He and Madeleine are a package deal, so to speak. Part of the nature of marriage – oh dear, and there I go again. I am so sorry.”
She was so very concerned about hurting my feelings, and frankly it was rather a novel sensation. I was habituated to people just charging ahead like billy-o, wounding the Wooster sentiments with never a care in the world. I had the devil of a job trying to put her fears at rest. That was the first crack in the old Code of the Woosters, with hindsight. She could tell there was something I wasn’t coming clean about, and it didn’t make sense to her that I should be so transparently not bothered about seeing Madeleine, having supposedly pined after her for years, but without seeing much of her since her marriage. And then I kept not answering what seemed like perfectly innocent questions, and mumbling about the Code of the Woosters. I’m much better at the old dissembling wheeze now, but I was pretty awful back then.
In the end, I swore her to secrecy, ordered another plate of cakes and a fresh pot of tea, and spilled the beans. That I was not in love with Madeleine, and never had been, but that Madeleine was under the illusion I was, and I hadn’t felt able to disabuse her of the notion. That it had been a simple misunderstanding, arising from an ill-conceived attempt of mine to pave the way for Gussie’s wooing of her. That the longer the misunderstanding lasted, the less I felt I could clear things up, especially since Jeeves and I had used it in pursuit of various schemes, centred on clearing up other people’s romantic tangles. About the Code of the Woosters, and my deep reluctance to do anything that wasn’t preux. About not doing things that are Not Done. All of that. Far more circuitously and incoherently, of course.
Her reaction was rather mixed. Some of the words she used, I’d only ever heard from Aunt Dahlia in one of her rages, and some I simply didn’t recognise at all. And I don’t just mean words like 'quixotic' and 'scapegoat' either. And then there was all the laughing and the crying and the hugging and the back-slapping, and the moment when the head waiter asked us to leave the premises, and the hearty farewell at the taxi rank. The upshot of the matter was, I was duly signed on as an usher, I was also classed as an 'idiot sweetheart' by the then future Mrs Beefy, and we had settled on a suitable narrative for public consumption about my affaires du coeur, namely that while I had supposedly been very much in love and deeply disappointed, the ardour had faded, leaving only brotherly fondness. Time the great healer and all that malarkey.
She also told me to tell Jeeves all about it, and to impress on him the importance of incorporating that cover story in his future schemes. She seemed convinced that there would be some.
“A very shrewd and estimable young lady, the future Mrs Anstruther,” was Jeeves’ only comment.
And there the matter lay.
The next crack in the Wooster Code doesn’t really have much to do with the weddings, really, or at any rate, only indirectly and ah, not chronically, what’s the word – time-wise, let’s leave it at that. Aunt Dahlia was very caught up in the whole business of planning Angela’s nuptials, but not to the point where she’d failed to notice that her son Bonzo, then a stripling of fourteen or so, was failing all his literature classes at school, and a fair few others, to boot – art, music and so on. This wasn’t a new development, but she’d been hiring tutors for him for the best part of a year, a new tutor for every school holiday, and his Christmas tutor hadn’t done any better than his Summer tutor, or his Easter one from the previous year. Poor old Bonzo continued to have few interests in life beyond stink-bombs and catapults, and perhaps the odd trip to the cinema. So for his Easter vac, she called in Jeeves – or rather, she packed Bonzo off to stay with me, so Jeeves could educate him.
Unusually for one of Jeeves’ schemes, he actually talked to me about it. In fact, I rather think he used me as a sort of guinea pig for them, but not in a painful or unpleasant way. About a week before Bonzo was due to arrive, Jeeves had a rather abrupt change in attitude towards my habit of strumming random music-hall and cabaret numbers on the old piano. Instead of wincing, he would ask me to play the pieces again from the beginning, and to tell him about how they fitted into the overall plot of the entertainments they came from, and what I particularly liked about them, and so on. He had me accompany him to a music shop, where he played short snatches of gramophone records to me, and encouraged me to think about which ones I liked and which ones I didn’t. Of course, I ended up buying quite a few of the records – it seemed only civil – and a sizeable bundle of sheet music for the piano that he felt would appeal, being 'somewhat light and frivolous in tone, but by eminently respectable composers.’ We even went to the opera twice, sitting in the upper gallery rather than the stalls (where it would have looked stranger for him to accompany me), and it wasn’t boring. Mozart and Strauss, if you can believe it, but in some ways it wasn’t all that different from a revue. Jolly tunes, if you see what I mean, and plots where the path of true love is horribly thwarted but everything works out in the end. And Jeeves there right beside me to keep me from getting muddled and forgetting who was who, and what kind of schemes were afoot. Several times afterwards, I found myself humming “We’re the ladies of the chorus, and the gentlemen adore us.” And I actually asked Jeeves to procure the sheet music for The Marriage of Figaro; I had loved the tunes, but keeping them straight and remembering the dashed words was a lot harder when they were all in Italian rather than English. For a moment I felt quite faint, imagining what might have been if Florence had started her dashed programme of education with Mozart instead of Types of Ethical Theory, but Woosters are staunch, and reason soon prevailed. Florence just wasn’t a considerate person, the kind who might use insights into the psychology of the individual to make education palatable; Florence was Florence, and Jeeves was Jeeves, and Florence being Florence was one of the main reasons I found the notion of marriage with her to be so dashed unpalatable.
All too soon, Bonzo showed up on the doorstep, poor little chap, all covered in spots and with a hangdog expression. Jeeves had some rather toothsome strawberry lemonade and sponge-cake ready for him, (and for me, although my lemonade benefited from the addition of gin), and they soon got to work. It felt a little disconcerting, seeing Jeeves’ keen intelligence and laser-beam attention turned on somebody else, and Bonzo didn’t seem to appreciate it as much as I had. Silly young ass. At least I got to have a nice lie-in while Jeeves took him to the Natural History Museum in Kensington to sketch the specimens, or to various other museums to look at the history of siege warfare and engineering, and on the occasions when I did get roped along on their museum excursions, Jeeves had a positive knack for finding things I might like to see while he kept on with educating Bonzo. So Bonzo got to stare at pictures of kitchen tables with fruit and fish and goodness knows what, while I admired some rather jolly landscapes with chaps ice-skating and drinking and having what looked like rather spiffing parties. And if my companions spent rather a long time dwelling on some of the technical aspects, I could always pop out to the courtyard for a gasper. At the V&A, I got to admire the chinoiserie, all the kinds of lovely decorative touches I would never get away with adding to the flat, and Jeeves and Bonzo had highly technical discussions about the different chemical processes behind various artistic techniques. And at least these excursions were punctuated properly with stops for refreshment, at establishments that could provide suitable fodder both for a grown Wooster and a stripling lad, as well as a Jeeves. No macaroons or similar poison, at least not for me.
Going to the theatre with Bonzo and Jeeves was quite a different experience from going with Thos to the Old Vic. The latter was an ordeal to be endured, where I had to split my attention between the goings-on on stage and the task of preventing him from legging it. The former, while still rather hard work, wasn’t actually that bad. The plays and performances were chosen, Jeeves had explained, as a compromise between my tastes and Bonzo’s, so it was quite natural that I rarely liked them as much as the ones I had seen with only Jeeves beside me. Sometimes they were still a little hard to follow, but Jeeves would whisper discreetly whenever one of us looked confused, and later, we would discuss our impressions of the performance. The point, of course, was to educate Bonzo, but it ended up being quite an education for me, too, and I felt I was getting a much better sense of what my little cousin was like as a person. Very much the science and engineering type, with no ear for music at all, and a tendency to label any hint of the softer emotions as ‘silly rot.’ We had both rather taken to the adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that had been shown in a small Bloomsbury theatre, though we had both disliked the ending for different reasons. I had felt it was all rather sad, the poor monster who just wanted to be loved as he was, and Bonzo had felt it was terrible the way superstitious idiots stifled and hampered scientific progress. Bonzo had been rather thrilled with the violent drama of King Lear, though he had dubbed the protagonist a ‘silly ass’, and I had found it all rather too violent and upsetting. Truth be told, it had struck a little too close to home – all those ruthless, uncaring individuals, as nice as pie to one’s face and then sticking the dagger in one’s back at the first opportunity. The actress playing Goneril even looked a bit like Aunt Agatha, and that wasn’t just my imagination, because it was Bonzo who first said it out loud, and even Jeeves concurred. And as well as getting to know Bonzo, I felt I was getting to know Jeeves so much better, too. I had known he was incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable, but seeing some of the depth and breadth of it humbled me all over again; I had not known he could be so gentle and patient drawing out mine and Bonzo’s ideas, and the subtle amusement I could discern in him seemed at times almost like fondness, especially when directed at me.
We spent the Easter weekend itself at Brinkley Court, and that was when the holiday rather went downhill, because Aunt Agatha was there too, with Uncle Percy, young bally Thos, and young blighted Edwin. At least she hadn’t brought Florence with her, but that was the only silver lining. Upon hearing that Jeeves had been seeing to Bonzo’s cultural education at my expense, she rebuked both Aunt Dahlia and myself at great length, veering between different grievances and objections, eventually deciding that the main problem was that she was deeply insulted that no invitation had been proffered to her son or stepson to join the festivities. I managed to avoid having to put them up at the flat, on the grounds that I had only one guestroom with only one bed, and it was already occupied by Bonzo, but it was decided that for the remaining four days of the school holidays, Jeeves would collect the two of them every afternoon from Aunt Agatha’s London residence, and they would accompany us to whatever theatre and museum trips we had planned. Bonzo and I had biffed along rather well, but adding Thos and Edwin into the equation altered things. Edwin was brimfull of energy and incapable of sitting still or keeping quiet for more than a few minutes at a time, and Thos was frankly nasty. He riled Bonzo up about his spots and his failing marks at school; he sneered at Edwin’s height and squashed him whenever he ventured an opinion on anything, jeering at him for his ‘kiddishness’; he made it clear that he felt Jeeves, as a servant with little formal education, was utterly beneath him and need not be respected or deferred to.
And then, when I tried to rebuke him for his behaviour, and make him put a lid on it, he turned even nastier. Positively dripping with insinuations about how strange and peculiar I was to get so upset on a servant’s behalf, and how I a person of my mental incapacity was in no position to judge him on his conduct or attempt to regulate it. I think on another occasion I might have quite enjoyed Julius Caesar in Egypt, but it was entirely ruined by Thos’ sly hints and dirty looks. And in the interval between Acts II and III, they became rather more specific. The curtain had barely lowered on Sesto’s suicidal misery before Thos was declaring that the fellow ought to be in an asylum, and he spent the rest of the interval giving a discursion on the merits of asylums, and how they kept all kinds of dubious individuals locked up, making sure normal people were safe from them. He even repeated some of his mother’s comments about how I ought to be in one, and even pushed Bonzo to confirm Aunt Dahlia’s remarks about how her influence with the Lunacy Commissoners had been employed on my behalf – this while chiselling money out of me for lavish refreshments. Bonzo looked miserable. I was miserable. I hadn’t thought twice about Aunt Dahlia’s view of my sanity before, but now I was simply terrified. Everything I’d ever heard about asylums was running through my head, and it wasn’t good. I didn’t want shock treatments, or gruel, or straightjackets, or beatings, or cold baths. I didn’t want to be shut up and tormented and forgotten, while the rest of the family took free rein over my money and disposed of my property, and dismissed Jeeves. I would never see him again; never play my piano; never stroll through parks in the springtime, or take in another show, or play silly games at the Drones Club. I did my best to hide what I was thinking and feeling, but I think Edwin was the only member of the party who couldn’t see exactly what was going through my mind, and he was half-asleep, poor sprout. It was rather past his normal bed-time. Jeeves was maintaining his best stuffed-frog demeanour, so I could get no help there. I’m afraid I took in very little of Act III beyond registering vaguely that it was happy endings all round. Eventually, we were able to bung Thos and Edwin into a cab, with the money for the fare and the tip given straight to the cabbie, along with strict instructions to take them straight to Aunt Agatha’s, and no detours. I’m sure I heard Bonzo mutter “good riddance.”
I hardly slept at all that night, and then I had to get up early to make sure young Bonzo got on the right train back to school. I suppose I could have sent Jeeves with him, and stayed in bed, but it didn’t seem right. I remembered when I was younger, what a difference it made, having a family member meet one or see one off, rather than a servant or a paid cab-driver. So I had Jeeves make me one of his specials to go with my bacon and eggs, and we took a taxi to the station. Bonzo shook hands with me on the platform, doing his best to seem grave and grown-up, and actually thanked me for putting him up, and thanked Jeeves for organising everything, adding that it had been the best holiday he’d had since his mother had ‘started with all this education stuff.’ I was so overcome I nearly forgot to slip him his quid and wave goodbye properly, but Jeeves prompted me discreetly, and all was well. Upon our return to the flat, Jeeves suggested I might benefit from a nap before lunch, but I didn’t want any bally naps, and so I told him.
That was really the second crack in the Code of the Woosters. Jeeves fetched me a brandy and soda, and listened to me, as it all came spilling out. How much Thos had upset me the previous evening. How I didn’t want to be bunged in a bally asylum. How terrified I was of the prospect. How even Aunt Dahlia’s jocular remarks now seemed sinister, and how I didn’t know whom I could trust, or how to prevent such a thing happening. How much I liked my carefree bachelor life with Jeeves at my side, and how I didn’t want it to end. How so many people seemed to resent me for having money, and wanted to cadge it from me, and mostly I didn’t mind, but not if their plans to get my money off me endangered my own health and well-being. How helpless I felt, and how alone. How wonderful Jeeves was, and how much I relied on him, but how this soup seemed so much soupier than the kind he was used to extracting me from, much more pervasive, encorporated into so much of my life, to the point where it was hard for me even to tell what was soup and what was not soup. How I only had money because my parents had died so young, and my grandfather and Uncle Willoughby, and I hadn’t done anything to get it except live when older and cleverer people had died, and I didn’t understand it or know how to keep it or anything. It really wasn’t proper or preux to be bunging all this on Jeeves’ shoulders; really not the done thing at all; but he listened, and fetched handkerchieves, and hovered around me in what wasn’t quite a consoling pat on the shoulder, but which nevertheless conveyed support and understanding. And eventually, when I had run out of worries to voice and tears to cry, he made me drink a large glass of water and chivvied me into bed.
“All shall be well, sir,” he told me. “There are steps that can be taken. We can discuss it when you wake, if you wish, but you should rest now.”
“You won’t let them take me away?” I had asked him, half-asleep already.
“No, sir, I won’t,” he had replied. “Or rather, you won’t. We shall see to it.”
He told me later that he had been feeling guilty for a while about the extent to which he had usurped my agency; that he had watched my family and so-called friends use and manipulate me with an increasingly jaundiced eye, but he had also begun to worry that he himself might be no better than them; that my visible terror of an asylum had struck him with remorse over all the schemes wherein he had so lightly passed me off as mad. At the time, though, if I thought anything of this ‘we’ business, I think I must have thought he was being kind to me.
And so, as spring turned to summer that year, I learned some of the basics of law, finance and psychology, and their interactions. Jeeves demurred a little at the propriety of his learning as much as he would need to about my personal finances, and of his accompanying me to meetings with various lawyers and accountants. I ended up consulting over the telephone with both Hilda Gudgeon and Mabel Biffen, and finally managed to box Jeeves into a corner, where he was now my confidential secretary and adviser as well as my valet, with an increased salary to boot. Miss Gudgeon gave me an idea of what kind of figure might be appropriate, and I actually had to bargain Jeeves down. He was rather horrified at the idea of being paid extra for doing little more than what he had always done, viz. manage my affairs, but with a new title, and the additional role of teaching me to manage my own affairs. Mrs Biffen talked sense into Jeeves eventually, and with that settled, we began our investigations. It was odd actually getting to meet the people who had been working for me for years, but who I’d rarely spoken to. The accountants were mostly quite nice chaps, albeit rather inclined to summon their juniors to meetings, explain things to said juniors in five minutes, and then have the juniors take the next hour to explain things to me. And the firm of lawyers that used to work for Uncle Willoughby had been fine, too. Once I understood exactly what they had and hadn’t done, managing my estate, I was very impressed. The ‘family lawyers’ were a little different, and I ended up withdrawing my personal business from them: what they did for other family members was entirely between them and the o. f. m.’s, but I didn’t want them messing me over at Aunt Agatha’s request and then expecting me to foot the bill for it. Not cricket, what. I ended up engaging another firm to cover the things that might reasonably be done for the extended Wooster family at large that might be paid for out of general Wooster money, such as bailing Claude and Eustace out of trouble, or seeing that taxes were properly paid on bits of the estate located in Britain but belonging to my older sister in India. Uncle George, the nominal head of the family at that point, couldn’t care less, and Aunt Maudie and Aunt Emily didn’t mind, either. Claude and Eustace felt petty details such as that were rather beneath them, and Aunt Dahlia directed me to bother Uncle Tom with all of the business nonsense, and leave her alone to contemplate bridesmaids’ nosegays. Uncle Tom was surprised I had bothered to pay any kind of attention to business of any kind, but rather approved. “Better late than never, Bertie me boy, even if you should really have done all this in your early twenties,” had been his verdict, before he started talking my ear off about investment strategies.
Aunt Agatha, of course, was furious. “The Woosters have been using that firm since my grandfather’s time, you impudent little worm,” was her verdict on the matter, but Jeeves had cunningly forestalled any actual steps she might take. He had carefully researched a number of alienists, and coached me diligently before meetings with them, with the result that I now had a number of testimonials stating that while I was ‘a rather frivolous young man’, ‘not overly endowed with intelligence,’ and ‘somewhat immature in outlook’, I was fairly sane and reasonable, with no pronounced neurosis, and could not at this time be deemed not responsible for my own actions. I was perfectly entitled to instruct lawyers and accountants as I liked, and my relatives had no business over-ruling me. Getting that testimonial from Roddy Glossop, chummy as we were these days, had involved going back over the business of the cats, “much though I like you, young Bertram, this is a matter of professional ethics”, and we had ended up having quite a laugh over the whole business, though he had expressed a certain concern for my cousins’ mental health, and told me I should attempt to cultivate a stronger will, rather than letting myself be trodden upon. He had had one or two things to say about my self-esteem, and had dragged up some elements of my childhood experiences I didn’t care to dwell upon, but had given me the green light in the end. And, moreover, without bringing Honoria back as a threat. Of course the subject had come up, but (working off what Hilda Gudgeon had told me to say about Madeleine), I professed the deepest respect and admiration for Honoria, but explained that I had been glad to see the engagement ended, because I had come to see that we were not suited. It’s a jolly awkward business, don’t you know, telling a girl’s father that she’s very hearty and exuberant, slaps people on the back, believes in getting up very early in the morning to pursue all kinds of sports, and that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, but it would not make her a good spouse for someone who is utterly lacking in heartiness and likes to take things easy and have a lie-in, and who can’t hold a candle to her intellectually besides, any more than such a person would be a good spouse for her.
“Honoria deserves someone who can keep up with her and appreciate her just as she is,” I told him, not even entirely sure to what extent I was lying or telling the truth, “and that just isn’t me. I couldn’t keep up, and I wouldn’t enjoy trying. I knew that by the time we’d been engaged for a week, but I couldn’t say anything. It wouldn’t have been gentlemanly.” After bringing up my second engagement to Honoria, and learning the facts of it, Roddy lectured me quite a bit about the ridiculousness of the Code of the Woosters, and how much damage my inability to say ‘no’ might have caused. His final evaluation did include that same word the Gudgeon had used, ‘quixotic’, but it also declared I was quite sane, albeit ‘kind-hearted to the point of foolishness,’ and that was the main thing. Aunt Agatha insisted on seeing copies of all these evaluations, even the one that blamed her domineering influence upon a bereaved child as being partly responsible for my ‘extreme diffidence’, and was rather displeased to learn that there were multiple copies of everything, legally certified ones to boot, with one set of copies in a bank vault in London, and another in Geneva. Aunt Dahlia laughed like a drain at first, but then sobered abruptly.
“We did the best we could for you, you know, my young blot,” she told me sadly.
“I know, Aunt Dahlia,” I said, and patted her awkwardly. “I am all right, you know. They all said so. That I’d turned out all right. Lots of people don’t, you know. Under the circumstances. But, er, well, thanks, and all that.”
“Oh stop blithering, Atilla,” she said, and dragged me off to look at napkins.
Warning: if you find creepy sexual behaviour triggering, stop reading after the first two paragraphs, then scroll down to the bottom for a summary.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In some ways, I found the bachelor parties rather more distressing even than Giulio Cesare. Or rather, Tuppy’s bachelor party. Beefy’s was fine. Of course, I could have done without seeing Stilton Cheesewright, but I was quite resigned to the fact that we had many mutual friends and could not avoid seeing a certain amount of each other; and Tuppy was on the verge of becoming family, so I could hardly object to his presence. And I am always delighted to see Stinker Pinker (as long as the venue is not a china shop), Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, Kipper Herring and Chuffy Chuffnell. The other chaps seemed perfectly pleasant, and most looked vaguely familiar. It transpired we had almost all been up at Oxford at the same time, even if we had attended different colleges and our paths had not always crossed. No, there was nothing wrong with Beefy’s party. Stinker and Chuffy, both themselves married men, had organised it between them. They had hired a boat-house near Henley, and we had a light picnic lunch, before spending the afternoon rowing short races in various combinations of twos and fours. Of course, I was completely out of practice, not having really touched an oar since Oxford apart from a bit of gentle sculling on lakes, but I wasn’t the only one, and nobody really minded (except possibly Stilton). I caught a few crabs, but so did Stinker, and none of us actually capsized, though we had some near misses. There was a chalkboard to keep track of the various races, and a steady supply of ice-cream being run up from the village. By the time the evening started drawing in, everybody was on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, all bar Stinker, Stilton, Beefy and Beefy’s soon-to-be best man, one Gerald ‘Snippet’ Taylor, since they had kept in rather better training than the rest of us. At that point, we repaired to a nearby pub, where we had steak-and-kidney pudding, washed down with rather a lot of beer or cider. All a bit hearty, and not something I’d want to do every day, but perfectly nice once in a while. Nostalgic, in a way, and we certainly had good weather for it. Jeeves picked me up in the old two-seater at chucking-out time, and I spent most of the next day in the Turkish Baths, recuperating from the muscular strain.
Neither Stinker, Catsmeat, Kipper or Chuffy was present at Tuppy’s party; apparently their status as married men disqualified them. Stilton was present, his marriage to Daphne Dolores Moorehead being scheduled for the autumn, and so was Beefy. I didn’t care to admit it, but really Beefy was the only person present I actually liked. Claude and Eustace are family, and blood is thicker than water and all that, but they can be very trying at times, and Tuppy and I had a rather rocky relationship even before that night. I’m not just talking about the incident in the Drones swimming-bath, but about all the times he turned on me out of jealousy over my relationship with Angela, who is more like a sister to me than my own sister. Not that I have any particular problem with Sylvia; it’s just that she’s fourteen years older than me, and left home to be married when I was barely out of the nursery, and then when our parents died, I came to live with Aunt Dahlia in England, while Sylly remained in India with her husband, and Angela, being less than two years younger than me, became my constant companion almost immediately. So my sister and I aren’t as close as I am to my cousin Angela, but with no impropriety anywhere, and I’ve always rather resented Tuppy’s low suspicions, though I never liked to say anything. But I digress. I’m supposed to be writing about Tuppy’s bachelor party.
Of course I knew plenty of the other attendees from the Drones, but they weren’t people I actually liked. Oofy Prosser, for example, had never been one of my special pals, and he’d had a lot to do with setting things up, though I don’t think he’d contributed much if any money to it. I’d paid the cover charges for the cabaret show at the beginning of the evening, and that wasn’t too bad. Rather more salacious and less jaunty than I preferred, but I was given to understand that that was part of the point. Lots of dance routines that were supposed to be rather suggestive, but just made me feel rather concerned for the poor girls, making all those peculiar contortions, and dressed in a way that my old Nanny would have said was courting pneumonia. But I sent up to the bar for a magnum of champagne, and managed to keep most of it for myself (despite Eustace’s predations), and the rosy warm feeling it engendered saw me through the rest of the routine. It was after that that the evening rather went downhill. The whole lot of us went through a series of increasingly insal-whatsit bars and clubs, starting in Soho and ending I don’t even know where, but I’m pretty sure the last two clubs weren’t properly licenced, and the place we ended up in was almost certainly some species of brothel. It was supposedly a ‘dance hall’, but admittance was gentlemen only, and the beazels we were supposed to dance with rather gave me the pip. Dashed forward, I mean to say, to the point of predatory, and most of the other chaps seemed rather to be enjoying it. Beefy had vanished by that point, sensible fellow, but he might have warned me. And I mean vanished as in he never set foot in the establishment, not vanished as some of the other chaps were doing, disappearing into little cubbyholes with their erstwhile dance partners. It was appalling. And the noises. The band was far too loud, but it still didn’t cover the shrieks and giggles and... other sounds, and the jeering and guffawing from the men when a friend of theirs emerged from a cubbyhole. The gestures. The ribaldry of it all.
And of course the blighters noticed how uncomfortable I was, and started jeering at me. I’d just managed to reach an understanding with the female who’d latched onto me, Maisie she’d said her name was, whereby I would buy her all the drinks she liked, and she would dance with me using conventional and appropriate dance steps, and none of this tawdry rubbing up against me. She’d cooed about me being a ‘shy one’, but she’d agreed, and she wasn’t actually a bad dancer when she was trying to dance, rather than whatever else it was she had been attempting. But then they all intervened, Tuppy and Oofy leering, and not at all convinced by my assertion that Maisie was a very pretty girl and a very good dancer, and I was doing just fine, thank you. Tuppy’s shirt was untucked, and buttoned wrongly, and he had lipstick marks on his neck, and on the hem of his shirt. I hadn’t seen him leave, or come back, and I didn’t want to believe it – that was my cousin he was due to marry, the very next week – but there he was, encouraging me to ‘live a little’ and ‘have fun’, and ‘make a man of myself’. Oofy I had seen emerge, with two girls at once, and a smile I’d never seen on him before, and he was now detailing all of the obscene acts I could have performed upon my person, for a suitable fee, while his chums hooted in the background, and made various gestures. Stilton was grinning a different kind of grin, full of malevolence, and shaking his head slowly.
“Bertie doesn’t want any of that,” he told Oofy, in a voice that was all the more frightening for its relatively low volume. “He’d run screaming from anything like that. The other thing, well, maybe, but not from dear Maisie here, oh no. Lovely hair you have, my darling,” he told her, and she simpered, “lovely, lovely breasts,” (he reached out past me to grope her), “but Bertie might find that off-putting. No, you’re far too much a woman for Bertie.” The rest of the group stood, spellbound, as Stilton went on to detail, in extremely crude language, exactly which acts I might be physically incapable of performing upon Maisie or any other woman, exactly how my response might be lacking. They were laughing and elbowing each other. One fellow was even starting to demonstrate exactly what he might be able to do that I could not, unbuttoning his trousers with one hand while the other hand moved between his partner’s legs, right there on the edge of the dancefloor. I stood like a deer in the headlights. It was true that I had had no physical response to Maisie’s earlier gyrating against my groin. And there was such menace in Stilton’s tone, such knowing glances between him and the others, men and women both. He gestured to the chap with his trousers open – a perfectly ordinary chap whom I must have passed in the dining-room or the smoking-room dozens of times, and never thought he could be so depraved – and the chap immediately crowded his partner towards one of the nearby tables.
“Bertie,” Stilton hissed, “is incapable of grabbing a gorgeous bird, bending her over the nearest piece of furniture, and giving her a good rogering.” At that, the chap by the table actually followed Stilton’s directions, rucking his partner’s skirt up around her waist, making her squeal rhythmically as he thrust into her. And it was over the noise of that squealing that Stilton continued, ruthlessly: “Bertie would rather be the one bent over the furniture, being rogered. Maisie’s no good to him. She hasn’t got a cock to bugger him with, and that’s what he wants,” he put his big, meaty hand on my shoulder, and smiled into my face, challenging me, “don’t you Bertie? Tell everyone. This isn’t the right place for sods like you, is it, Bertie? Tell everyone what you really want.” I said nothing. I could say nothing. I was paralyzed, frozen. The silence stretched. He shook me. “Tell everyone you want cock!” He was shouting now. Oofy was grinning, enjoying himself. Tuppy was smiling too, but it was starting to look rather frozen. There would be no help from that quarter. Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps looked like he was going to be sick. The squeals rose to a crescendo, and then there was silence, and the rustling of cloth as the two put their clothing to rights.
“I want to go home,” I whispered, but it only provoked more laughter. Stilton was glancing between Maisie and the girl on the table, looking indecisive. Oofy began whispering in Stilton’s ear. Something. There must be something I could say or do.
“I’m shy,” I finally announced. “Maisie, would you help me?” I gestured towards the alcoves, and turned to whisper in her ear, as the jeers and guffaws grew, as my fellow Drones encouraged her to make a man of me. “Get me out of here, please,” I whispered, “I’ll pay you twice what you’d charge for all kinds of acts, if you’ll get me out of here and make it look like we did something.” She winked at me.
“Oooh, you want a proper bedroom for that, love,” she cooed at me loudly, and took me by the arm to march me away. Catcalls followed us, but the others seemed more interested in what Stilton was doing. He was bending over the table where the girl from earlier was still sprawled. I turned away thankfully, burying my face in Maisie’s hair, redolent of cheap perfume as it was. The noise from the bar was fainter now. We were in a hallway, with a door at the end. She told me what she would have charged for full intercourse, and gave me directions to Oxford Circus. I paid her five pounds, far more than she had asked for.
“Thank you, really,” I whispered. “Good luck for the rest of the night.” She kissed me on the cheek, with a complete absence of sexual feeling, and I was out in the cold air. I still felt sick. If Oxford Circus was that way, then surely I could walk home. It would only take me about fifteen minutes in the other direction. I went to Oxford Circus instead, and took a taxi to Berkley Mansions. It felt safer. What if there were other men like Stilton about, ready to jeer and catcall and accuse me of all kinds of things? What if there were other men like Tuppy, who would stand by and do nothing, or Oofy, who would urge them on? And poor old Barmy, who didn’t seem any fonder of the society of women than I was. Not that I was necessarily like Barmy. Everyone knew that he sometimes went to a different kind of underground club, but we didn’t talk about it. It wasn’t done. Not normally. Only tonight had been different, somehow. And I certainly didn’t go to places like that. Not preux. Sordid. Not the done thing. Not that that stopped anybody but me, apparently. Bertie wouldn’t know what to do with it, Stilton had hissed. I was not sure that I did. Or that I entirely wanted to know.
I paid the taxi driver, and used my latchkey to get into the building. Of course the doorman was not on duty this late. I took my shoes off in the hall outside the flat, not wanting to wake Jeeves, and crept in. But I didn’t want to go to bed with the smell of that horrible dance hall still on me. Maisie’s perfume, and perhaps other scents too. Beastly stuff. I was never going to go back there. I didn’t want to turn on the hot tap in case the noise of the boiler woke Jeeves, so I boiled a kettle in the kitchen, and mixed it with cold water in the bath. Of course, Jeeves heard me anyway, and came out in his pyjamas and dressing-gown. He took over the running of the bath efficiently, and helped me undress, setting my cufflinks and studs aside to be polished, putting my hat to be brushed, and setting my clothes aside for the laundry. Perhaps by some kind of telepathy, he understood that I would not want to wear my tailcoat again until it had been cleaned thoroughly, even though it had been laundered quite recently. He even laid out my heliotrope pyjamas, and added verbena bath salts to the water, and my rubber duckie. I must have looked thoroughly in need of comfort.
“Will Sir want his hair shampooing?” he asked, as if there was nothing odd at all about my bathing at three in the morning.
“Please, Jeeves,” I said. I almost wept when he started massaging my scalp. It’s not just that it was pleasant – it’s that it was pleasant in a purely wholesome and unthreatening way. I was home, safe, with Jeeves, everything oojah-cum-spiff. He rinsed the shampoo out, and without my even asking, scrubbed my fingernails with some kind of lemon preparation, and dabbed at my face with a warm washcloth. Every trace of the evening was washed away. I brushed my teeth as he added a hot-water-bottle to my bed, turned the coverlet down, wrapped the pillow in a towel. One last toweling of my hair, and I was ready to sleep.
“Good night, Jeeves,” I whispered as he turned the light out. I don’t think I even heard him reply before I was asleep.
Beefy apologised, later, when I spoke to him about it. He said he hadn’t realised I didn’t know what kind of place it was, and ended up listing various ways you could tell what kind of establishment somewhere was from the outside, so I’d know to steer clear if I wanted to. I told him it had been terribly sordid, and not my cup of tea, but I didn’t mention how much Stilton had frightened me, or any of the suggestions that had been made about my own sexual tastes. Beefy and I weren’t that close, and I didn’t honestly feel I could talk about this kind of thing to anyone. Certainly not any of the nerve specialists I had seen during the summer, even if it was supposed to be their field. There were laws against that kind of thing. Inversion, that is. People went to prison for it, or were committed to asylums against their will. It was exactly the kind of thing I was afraid of. And it wasn’t as if I’d actually done anything. Not beyond the kind of thing that everyone got up to in school, and not past school. Not once it became clear that after a certain point, you were supposed to lose all interest in other boys, and start going after women instead.
And I did like women, really I did. They could be awfully pretty, amusing, charming. Good company, to go dancing with, or walking, or for a spin in the old two-seater. Yes, I liked women. But, and I tried not to dwell on this fact, I’d never met a woman I’d genuinely wanted to take to bed. I’d had no sense of intense, passionate fascination. No cheerful interest in an afternoon’s dalliance. No reverent adoration, no sense of having met the person in whose company I wanted to sleep every night and wake every morning for the rest of my life. Not for women, anyway. Obviously I’d had the i. p. f., and the urge for a jolly, comradely d., with other boys, at school. But that was different. And you weren’t supposed to do anything much with a woman until you were married to her; everyone knew that. Though perhaps, if you were going to marry a woman, you ought to want to do that with her after you were married? Perhaps you ought not to marry a woman unless you felt those kind of urges towards her, unless you felt you would be able to be a proper husband to her? Maybe it was just as well all my various engagements had fallen through, I decided. Even when I had admired Florence’s profile enormously, and Bobbie Wickham’s corking hair and pizzaz, I hadn’t felt like that towards them. And the only person I’d ever really felt I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was Jeeves, and that was quite different, I reasoned. Quite another kettle of fish. Although what kind of fool puts fish in a kettle I do not know. It would make the tea taste absolutely horrid.
I did tell Jeeves some of it, a few days later. Enough that he would know that my aversion to Stilton had increased rather substantially, and I did not ever want to be alone with the fellow, or indeed alone with Stilton and mutual acquaintances whom I could not trust to back me over him if the occasion arose. And enough to share with him my qualms about Tuppy’s marriage to Angela, given what had happened in the brothel. I hadn’t actually seen Tuppy do anything indecent with one of the girls. I hadn’t seen him enter or leave one of the alcoves. But his shirt, and the lipstick. Sherlock Holmes would have had a thing or two to say about it. He would have known, whereas I only suspected. And it wasn’t fair to Angela, whether I said something or said nothing. Jeeves sighed, and told me that he agreed it was all most unfortunate, but that society did seem to condone that kind of behaviour. The same conduct that would be utterly unthinkable for young girls before marriage was winked at for young men. And many ladies simply preferred not to know, and you couldn’t really find out whether or not a girl preferred not to know without telling her, at which point it would be too late. A devil of a wheeze.
At Jeeves’ suggestion, I contacted a doctor who specialised in treating venereal diseases (of whom Jeeves had read in the Junior Ganymede club book), and I paid for Tuppy to have a consultation, before presenting Tuppy with the fait accompli. He grumbled, but telephoned to book the appointment while I listened. He assured me, afterwards, he hadn’t done much more than flirt with any of the girls, but we agreed that it was best to be on the safe side, and a check-up wouldn’t do him any harm. His health, and Angela’s health, were very important to me, and I quite understood the value of discretion, and was glad to have him as part of my family. Or so I told him. I wasn’t sure what I felt, not any more, remembering his frozen smile in that room. He slapped me on the back, and I went for a walk in Hyde Park, where I stared at the ducks for a long time. Life, I felt, must be so much simpler for ducks.
Summary: Beefy's bachelor party is fine, but Bertie finds Tuppy's party deeply unpleasant. They start off at a risque cabaret, and end up at an establishment that is basically a brothel in the guise of a dance hall. Stilton uses sexuality to upset and intimidate Bertie, and the rest of the group either joins in or stands by. Bertie flees. He tries to wash without waking Jeeves when he gets back to the flat, but Jeeves comes in and helps him. Bertie has some revelations about his own sexuality, and later forces Tuppy to get an STD check.
Cameo appearance by a genuine historical character, whose biography has been slightly tweaked to include a friendship with a fictional British athlete, and a stop-over in Britain during her journey from Germany to America. No disrespect is intended.
While I managed not to see very much of the Sidcups in the run-up to the Anstruther nuptials, I certainly heard a lot about them. Poor old Taylor, Beefy’s best man, who insisted I call him ‘Snippet’, seemed to have decided I was a suitable confidant for his Spode-related woes. And there were plenty of them. While he had no formal role in the wedding, Spode felt it was definitely his place to disapprove of everything, especially when it was a question of his wife coming into contact with people he felt unsuitable. In practice, this meant many of the caterers, the tailor’s assistants, and most of the musicians, and one of the bridesmaids to boot. Of course it was none of his bally business who Miss Gudgeon chose as her bridesmaids, and really, given her devotion to sports, it was hardly surprising that all three of them were athletes. Hilda had met Miss Bergmann at some sort of British sporting event in 1934, and they had got on like a house on fire. Part of the rift seemed to date from the previous year’s Olympics, where the Sidcups and the future Anstruthers had attended, but with very different circles of friends. The Bergmann beasel was supposed to be competing, but had been forced to scratch at the last moment for political reasons, and was on the verge of emigrating to the United States in dudgeon. The Anstruther-Gudgeon crowd felt Miss B. had been hard done by, and were sad to see her leave Europe; Spode, on the other hand, felt Miss B. was thoroughly undesirable and ought never to have been competing in the first place, and he didn’t want a woman like that anywhere near his wife; and then Beefy felt it was very unfair to his wife’s friend to have a man like Spode anywhere near her, and so the long day wore on. There poor old Snippet was, right in the middle. And it really didn’t help with the Spode situation that a lot of the aforementioned caterers and musicians and so on had been selected precisely because they were acquaintances of Beefy Anstruther’s European athlete friends, ones who felt they could rather do with a visa, circumstances being as they were.
In the old days, I wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with all this politics stuff, but in this case it was so very obvious that Spode was talking through his hat. That bad things were happening elsewhere in Europe, and Spode approved of them because he was just that nasty a piece of work, and Beefy was trying to help where he could. All very laudable. The Gudgeon, on the other hand, really didn’t care about politics as long as it didn’t interfere with her sports. Gretel Bergmann was a world class high jumper, and a perfectly sound individual, and Hilda wouldn’t hear a word against her, and that was that. And Madeleine Spode was her best friend from school, and she wouldn’t hear a word against her, either. We managed to get through the suit-fittings and the rehearsals without any actual bloodshed, and Snippy was actually a jolly nice chap when you got to know him. And I managed to get contact details for a couple of the musicians and caterers, including the fellow who made the wonderful chocolate cake, and commissioned a cake of my own to take home and share with Jeeves.
Jeeves liked the cake, and didn’t seem to feel I had overstepped or caused offence by taking the initiative with it, always a relief, and it was dashed nice to be able to discuss the political situation with him – actually to hold an intelligent conversation, even if it was a bit of an effort to keep my end up, and the more we talked, the more we discovered I didn’t know. Jeeves, it transpired, had distinct Views of his own. He had been watching the German situation with concern for years, but was very much in two minds about the Spanish one. In fact, he rather disapproved of everyone concerned. I’d already had an inkling that, as a traditional man of hidebound propriety, he would disapprove of Communists – the incident with Charlotte Corday Rowbotham springs to mind – but it turns out he disapproved of militias overthrowing democratically elected governments just as much, especially when said militias are full of the Spanish equivalent of Spode.
The day before the wedding, I had a quiet night in, just me and Mozart, and Jeeves puttering around in the background, dusting and tidying things. I had my Nozze di Figaro score (for piano and voices), but I also had another sheaf of papers Jeeves hadn’t seen yet, ones I’d only tinkered with when he was out of the flat. I played through the overture first, but then skipped ahead to Act II, footling around with the opening movement before plunging into Cherubino’s song – to be sung an octave down, naturally. First the introduction, jolly, sprightly thing that it was.
“Tell me what love is, ladies who know,” I sang, “Look here and tell me, what burns me so.” Jeeves had actually stopped dusting. “Look here and tell me, what burns me so. I’ll try to show you, all that I feel. New and unknown things, they make me reel.” It really had been a corker of an idea, getting that one musician chappie to do those translations. It was so much easier to put a bit of whammy in it, focus on the expression and feel it all come together, when one’s tongue wasn’t tripping over another language. “This intense feeling strikes me again, one minute pleasure, one minute pain. I start to shiver, then I’m on fire, then I am frozen, felled by desire. I long for something, outside of me; don’t know who has it, what it could be.” Jeeves had started dusting again. I put a bit more oomph in the next bit. “Sighing and groaning, out of control, shaking and moaning, I am not whole. Day and night alike, I find no ease, and my agony begins to please.” Draw out the low note, then a slight pause in singing, while the fingers twiddled away. Then gently, with lots of extra sparkly bits: “Tell me what love is, ladies who know. Look here and tell me, what burns me so. Look here and tell me, what burns me so. Look here and tell me-“ the last bit more like an answer than a question – “what burns me so.” And the last bits of accompaniment, and the final chord.
I turned around to get Jeeves’ reaction, meaning to make some kind of flippant comment, but it died on my lips when I saw his face. I don’t think I’d ever seen that much emotion on his dial before, Jeeves tending to favour the jolly old stuffed frog. And of course, once he saw me looking, the j. o. s. f. did indeed make it’s reappearance.
“My compliments, sir,” he eventually said. “That was a very fine piece of playing.” He was curious, of course, about the translation, and I explained all about the chappie who’d done it for me. How he’d actually taken his main payment as a full copy of the orchestral score for the opera, which I would have thought was just the necessary materials for working on it, but that I’d insisted on paying him a few shillings for each aria, as well. Jeeves then ended up telling me quite a bit about the history of translating opera, the views various musicians and philosophers had taken as to whether it was better to sing in one’s native tongue or a foreign one, and it was almost a normal educational evening, except something in Jeeves’ manner was a little odd. The stuffed frog was somehow intermittent, if you see what I mean, and badly fitting. A peeling facade, only half on, or something of that nature. Not that anything about Jeeves is ever anything but immaculate, of course, but that was how it struck me at the time. And then he told me he was reappraising his own views on the suitability of opera in translation, in light of my performance. I mean to say, the thought of me, fluffy, bumbling Bertram, leading Jeeves to make any kind of alteration in his mighty thought processes – the mind reeled. I tried to lighten the mood a little by joking that next time somebody signed me up for a bally concert, or twisted my arm to participate in some kind of after-dinner drawing-room musical festivities, I might actually have something to fall back on, but Jeeves was not amused.
“I could not advocate it, sir,” he said, with the frostiest visage imaginable. I was quite disappointed – was it really not good enough to be heard in public? – but then he did me the kindness of explaining. Apparently one ought not to sing love songs in public, especially not so proficiently or with so much fervour, unless one minds having other people speculate that one might be in love. If I had sung that song in a drawing room with an unattached woman in attendance, or at a concert organised by or for one, there was a risk she might think I was in love with her, especially if I sung it as I just had. Or, for that matter, it might lead women to see me as a potential love interest when they had hitherto overlooked me.
“Golly,” I said. “What a narrow escape.”
“Indeed, sir.” Jeeves paused. “If it would not be taking a liberty, might I ask if there are any other songs that have caught your attention? Perhaps I might be able to advise you on their suitability or otherwise for public performance.” I told him I was very much taken with ‘Se vuol ballare’, though I was struggling to adjust to the way the translator seemed to have given it twice as many lyrics as the original: ‘So, Little Master, you’re dressed to go dancing.’ We agreed that ‘Dove sono i bei momenti’ was absolutely not to be played anywhere near any woman I had ever been engaged to, and preferably not any woman at all, given the theme of nostalgia for past loves. ‘Non piu andrai,’ on the other hand, was suitably unromantic, and it did have a lovely jaunty tune to it, even if I felt it was rather unkind in spirit. I mean to say, poor little fellow, having quite a hard time enough with the pangs of adolescence, and then being packed off to war just like that. And the other chappie gloating, when it’s pretty clear his fiancee adores him, and is more amused by the page-boy than tempted by him. So that was definitely one to work on. As was ‘La Vendetta’, though between the tricky finger-work and the deep bass notes to sing, that one was a bit more of a challenge for a light tenor such as myself.
Meanwhile, ‘Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio’ was ruled out for drawing-room events, and for concerts with women and children in attendance, as being ‘too indelicate’, though it would be quite suitable for playing for an audience of gentlemen, being an amusing take on the difficulties of growing up, and moreover quite useful insofar as it professed an interest in women without having any content that might get one in the soup with women. Beyond a rebuke for impropriety, of course. I was a little taken aback at this, since I had purposefully omitted the details of Stilton’s behaviour and accusations during that infernal bachelor party, but to no avail. Jeeves somehow knew anyway of the doubts that had been raised and was offering me a means of dispelling them, at least a little. He was the best and wisest of valets, a pearl beyond rubies, and so I told him.
Before the evening was over, I even managed to coax Jeeves into going over one of my favourite duets with me. Not a romantic one – that would have been far too improper, and I wouldn’t have dared – but that rather jolly bit early on in the opera, where the bride and the older lady who has designs on the bridegroom are arguing about who should get first bash at going through a door. Having Jeeves sitting next to me on the piano stool, as we sang, “oh no, after you, ma’am, no no, after you” was one of the highlights of the evening, next only to that awestruck look on his face when I finished the first piece. And that duet is such a gorgeous piece, two voices twined together in beautiful harmony even when what they’re actually saying is how annoying they find each other. Spiffing, really. Nobody had told me that highly-respected, well-thought-of composers had written things that were so much fun. “Oh no, I know my duty, no, I know my duty, no, I know my duty, some things are just not done.” Marvellous.
Jeeves had me delivered to St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon, at 10 ack emma in faultless morning dress. I can’t say it didn’t give me a bit of a pang to be standing at an altar, knowing that Madeleine Bassett was about to make an appearance, but I stomped manfully on my urge to flee, instead staying put in between Snippy and Kipper. These were Beefy’s nuptials, I told myself forcefully, and I was just there to show my support and approval. All was well. The parson went on a bit, and the poor blighter sitting next to Spode had to hush him at one point, but the vows were duly said and Snippy managed not to lose the rings. No dire interruptions, nothing going horribly wrong, and when we left the church, it was poor old Snippy who had to walk arm-in-arm with La Bassett, and I got Miss Bergmann, with whom I managed to have quite a civil conversation about trans-atlantic travel, just as if she were a fellow planning a trip abroad and wanting the benefit of my experience. The wedding breakfast itself, a sort of buffet arrangement, was held at the same bungalow I had once sneaked into in order to purloin that letter, although the sofa I had hid behind was gone, along with the oars and other sporting memorabilia. It seemed that both Beefy and Hilda were selling their old houses and buying a new one, still in Wimbledon, so that they could ‘make a new start together,’ as they put it. Neither seemed to be having second thoughts – in fact, they both looked positively radiant. There were a few elderly relatives bobbing around, but most of the guests seemed to be young men and women of my own age, a good two-thirds of them serious amateur athletes. Some of them had small children in attendance, but there were enough people who knew the little blighters to keep them fairly well corralled, so apart from having a small spat with one little madam over the last of the custard tarts (there were four on the plate, and she wanted to take all of them in one fell swoop, which hardly seemed cricket to me), I escaped pretty much unscathed. I spent part of the reception talking to Angela, though I think I offended her by saying how nice I thought it was. Apparently, it was “only a very small, quiet wedding,” and most of the lack of fuss and frills I’d approved of were signs of cutting corners, and a lack of devotion to fashion. I changed the topic to the food, and everything passed peacefully. Of course, her wedding would have Anatole catering, and the most delicate Spanish and Austrian pastries could hardly compare.
Angela wasn’t wrong in saying that her wedding would be rather different from the Anstruther nuptials. For a start, rather than being at one of the parish churches either of them might actually have attended from time to time, it was at St George’s, Hanover Square: in other words, it was a Society event, with a capital S. I remain convinced that a good quarter of the attendees had never met at least one member of the couple. Over half the Drones Club seemed to be present, but there were notable absences there, too, mainly the less oofy members. So the blighter Prosser was there in all his glory, but there was no sign of (say) Ukridge, and if it hadn’t been for his wife’s steady income from literary royalties, I doubt Bingo Little would have made the guest list, either. Likewise, Freddie Threepwood was present (there’s money in dog-biscuits), but Ronnie Fish wasn’t. Conversely, old Biffy got an invite, when I knew Tuppy thought he was a terrible bore and tried to avoid him as much as possible. Still, it meant I had someone pleasant to chin-wag with while all the guests were filing in: four someones, rather, because Biffy had brought along his wife Mabel, and their child, my god-daughter Elizabeth, and since Jeeves was related to both Mabel and Bessie, he permitted himself to hover on the periphery of the conversation, rather than fading into the background as is his wont. I chatted to Biffy about my recent discovery that not all respectable composers were dull, singing odd snatches of Mozart to Bessie as illustration, which seemed to amuse her greatly. I’d initially been unsure about this whole godfather business, but it wasn’t so bad, really. It turns out that with very small children, it doesn’t matter what you say to them, as long as you sound like you’re in a good mood: they just like having someone pay attention to them. And I was genuinely touched once she got to the stage of remembering my name and Jeeves’s as ‘unca Ber’ie’ and ‘unca Weggie’. Bessie thought I was great fun, but she absolutely adored Jeeves, and really, who could blame her? On that particular occasion, she stuck to him like a burr, and spent the ceremony sitting on his lap in the back pews with Seppings and the other Brindley Court servants, while her parents sat with other Drones and school chums nearer the middle of the church.
Meanwhile, there was Bertram, still standing by the church doors, ready to grab any late-arriving guests and show them to their seats. The ceremony was long and dull. And when Cousin Angela, Uncle Tom and the rest of the retinue finally appeared, I actually had to join onto the tail-end of the procession and then squeeze myself into one of the front pews while the rest of them did the vows and whatnot, and I was faced with the horrible choice: sit next to Spode, or next to Uncle Percy, who was himself sitting next to Aunt Agatha? I only had a moment to decide, and reluctantly, I shoe-horned myself in next to Uncle Percy. This then put me in close proximity to Aunt Agatha and poisonous young Thos while leaving the church, and it could have been quite unpleasant if I hadn’t spotted Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps arguing with one of the curates, and taken it as an excuse to be about my usher duties. Which, let me tell you, were quite strenuous. As well as calming people down and steering them away from those they might be disposed to quarrel with, there was the task of getting various groups of people together for photographs, making sure everyone who wanted it had confetti to throw, and that the confetti was of a kind that the municipal authorities did not object to; I had to keep the drivers of the horse-drawn carriages calm when the time ran a little later than had been planned, make sure the members of the ‘main’ wedding party got into the carriages and left more or less on schedule, but without curtailing the photo opportunities, and call taxis for those who were not driving to the wedding breakfast. And then there was all the shaking hands with the officiant, making sure the envelope with the cheque was duly handed over, and – since Kipper, whose job it technically was, had already left – accepting the large pile of oddments that various guests had left behind in the church from one of the curates.
By the time I got to Aunt Dahlia’s, everyone else was already seated and the toasts were well underway. At least sneaking in at the last minute meant I got to sit with Biffy and Mabel, rather than with Aunt Agatha and the rest of the Steeple Bumpleigh crew, where Tuppy, the rotter, had placed me. Jeeves undertook to identify and return the lost property, and disappeared to help with the catering. Personally, I suspect he wanted to avoid Spode’s speech, which I wish I had been able to. It wasn’t just a matter of political things going over my head, either. I think I understood about half of it, but I rather wished I hadn’t, if you see what I mean. I believe he mentioned the Future of the Race at one point, and said how heartening it was to see a couple like Angela and Tuppy getting married, especially with so many other unfortunate alliances being mooted. That went right over Biffy’s head, naturally, but from the look she gave me I think Mabel took it a bit personally, though I suspect he was more thinking of the way Miss Bergmann hadn’t lacked for dance partners at the other wedding. Elizabeth’s lower lip went out, and I had to make a forkful of terrine zoom around in elaborate swoops in order to distract her from howling. Roddy Glossop’s talk wasn’t so bad, more about the sobering qualities marriage often bestows upon individuals, responsibilities alongside joys and all that kind of thing, and some rather diverting anecdotes about his late younger brother, Tuppy’s deceased father, the chemist, and how once he was married, he almost entirely lost his habit of blowing off his eyebrows. And more seriously about how delighted his brother would have been to have Angela in the Glossop family, and what a fine young woman she was, and compliments to Uncle Tom and Aunt Angela for bringing her up properly; he only made a fairly small and mild aside about the degenerate youth of today, to which she and Tuppy were apparently exceptions.
Uncle Tom, by contrast, kept it short. Poor old blister, he would normally have run a mile from any kind of social gathering like this, but he couldn’t not attend his daughter’s wedding. He mentioned how much he was going to miss having Angela about the place at home, but that he trusted she and Tuppy would visit very frequently, and pulled out the old not-losing-a-daughter-but-gaining-a-son wheeze. His mention of Tuppy’s love of Anatole’s cooking in this context got quite a few laughs, though I don’t think Tuppy liked it much. Still, he replied graciously enough, thanks to Angela kicking him under the table, and finally, we were done with the speeches, and able to really do Anatole’s cooking justice. There was dancing, later, but I managed to ankle out of a lot of that, and most of the dancing I did do was with married women and close relatives. And I stopped Bonzo from actually aiming his (rather impressive) home-made trebuchet at the dance floor, instead having him direct it out to the garden, where the damages would (hopefully) go unnoticed, and I hauled Edwin away from the alcohol before he actually made himself sick, and sent him off to help with the lost property. And, once Tuppy and Angela left for their honeymoon, I helped see other people off and set things to rights, all while dodging Aunt Agatha and the lecture I could see she had building up about its being high time I got married myself.
Eventually, Uncle Tom disappeared to his study to look at Sotheby catalogues, Aunt Agatha and the gang left, and – apart from a few cheerful individuals still hoofing around the dance floor – the festivities consisted of Aunt Dahlia sniffiling into her brandy glass while Bonzo and I patted her on the shoulder and tried to think of comforting things to say, before giving it a miss and chatting about Sherlock Holmes while she cried on us. Not the lipstick incident, of course, but rather about which of the books and stories Bonzo had already read, and what his favourites were, and why. (He liked the Hound of the Baskervilles, something which did not surprise me, whereas I rather had a weakness for the ‘Three Garridebs’.) And while I had been rather behind on the drinking, having so many blasted responsibilities, I think I must have got rather caught up by that point, because I was rambling on about great hearts hidden under cold exteriors, and how dashed dicey it was, trying to find out whether cold exteriors hid great hearts or whether people were just cold all the way through, and I think I was actually using the words “inpenenenetrabability of the human counterpane” when Jeeves appeared and intimated that there was a taxi at the door for me.
And that taxi journey was one of the biggest cracks yet in the old Code of the Woosters, because when I posed the same conundrum to Jeeves, that of how difficult it was to know what people were like beneath their facades, he reminded me of my old school prize for scripture knowledge.
“There is a Biblical phrase, sir, that I think provides a very good rule of thumb in these circumstances,” he told me, “and it is By their fruits shall ye know them.” I cast an owlish gaze his way. “So it does not matter if a person’s facial expressions remain guarded, nor does their choice of words mean much, or what kind of role they present themselves in, or the ways the relations in which they stand to other people should dictate their behaviour: but rather if you look at their actions, that will tell you what kind of person they are.”
“So Aunt Agatha’s the dreaded nephew crusher,” I managed to get out, finding enunciation rather difficult, “and you’re a paragon.” I closed my eyes, not wanting to see his disappointment and disapproval, and instead, the warmth of his, “if you say so, sir,” followed me down into sleep.
I say that that journey was one of the biggest cracks, because it was over the next few days, and on the basis of that exchange, that Jeeves and I began talking philosophy – the modus vivendi kind of philosophy, or rather, how one is to cope in a world that is frequently confusing and full of all kind of unexpected scaliness, and other people whose conduct is devilishly difficult to fathom at times, and how one ought to behave, faced with such challenges. I had had no idea, but apparently that’s what a lot of philosophy is about – How To Cope, and it would have made things a jolly sight easier at Malvern House, Eton and Oxford if they’d actually started with that, instead of trying to make us memorise a whole horde of ancient chaps with beards and whatnot. It’s not as if small boys don’t have ethical dilemmas, even if aforementioned e. d.’s mostly centre around taking the blame for infractions of school rules, or how to go about sharing the contents of one’s tuck parcels, at least in the earlier years. And when you consider how much philosophy is about finding intellectual ways to cope with the fact that Other People Are Jolly Confusing At Times – well, I’d had no idea. So we talked about my old Code of the Woosters, its advantages and disadvantages, and the fact that no other Wooster had actually seemed to adhere to it, not that I knew personally. And, marvel of marvels, Jeeves actually shared with me some of the rules he’d kept as codes to live by in the past, even some of the ones that hadn’t worked out well for him, and – which felt even more of a privilege – some of the ones he was only just starting to waver about. There was a thing he called a Mask, which seemed to have more than a passing resemblance to what I called a stuffed frog. And of course he cited an awful bally lot of philosophers, but the one I really fixed on was jolly old Conan Doyle. The thing where Watson describes Holmes as being almost more automaton than man, inhuman and perfect and above everyday frailties: apparently a young Jeeves, long ago, had decided he wanted to be exactly like that. And we got quite into the difficult relationship between Being and Seeming, and it was fascinating. Uncomfortable at times, for both of us. It took quite a serious effort for him to open up to me as much as he was, just as it was rather difficult for me to put in so much dashed mental effort into all this, but it was rewarding, too.
Quite a few of our past adventures came up, too, and while we did of course look at some of the moments where a bit less of the Code of Chivalry would have saved us an awful lot of trouble, Jeeves insisted that he had made mistakes, too. That he had been unkind – controlling – punishing – manipulative. That he had done his best to manage me like some kind of unruly circus animal. And I had a devil of a job convincing him that I had really, honestly forgiven him for all that. All the talk of power dynamics and class and what-have-you. That it had been a rather unbalanced situation to start with, what with me being his employer and all that, and he’d been trying to establish some power of his own to balance against mine. Silly blighter couldn’t grasp that I didn’t hold a grudge.
As well as philosophy, we spent a lot of time that autumn talking about fashion. Working out how our views on clothing might coincide, when we were looking at suits qua suits, as it were, and not as a means to keep score in a complicated power struggle. Just two chaps comparing aesthetics, and trying to find common ground.
I had never been better dressed.