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A Good Stiff Drink

Chapter Text

Suitably fortified, Digory marched his motley troops out the kitchen door towards the body in the garden. Technically, he supposed marching should have entailed a smidgeon more rhythm, but Digory defied even that hum-drumming Sousa fellow to march with Polly tugging on one elbow and Bertie jostling the other. There was also a dog underfoot somewhere – possibly two; Digory wasn't certain. A kaleidoscope of wagging tails and bedraggled petunias collided before his eyes.

A forceful tug on his arm jerked him to a stop, one foot in the mulch and the other in Asta's mouth. Digory looked down. There was a third foot, and it was missing its shoe. A fourth, similarly attired, stuck its grubby toes in the air like tiny potatoes left behind by some carless gardener.

"The stiff," pronounced Digory, sweeping his arm in a grand gesture and nearly knocking Nora upside the head. "Sorry. I mean, the corpus corporis delecti, I mean the corpuscule delectable – no, that's not right…"

"The stiff," repeated Nora, steering the conversation back to smoother linguistic ground.

"Just what I said," agreed Digory. He felt very agreeable all of a sudden. The crisp air, the fresh soil underfoot, the very Englishness of his garden all agreed with him. The gin had most definitely agreed with him. Even the houseguests agreed with him – at least, Nora did. And Polly, even though she often disagreed with him, agreed with him, in a manner of speaking. And – oh. The body. Well, that was rather disagreeable, wasn't it?

"I don't see any blood," said Nora. "What do you think, darling? Strangulation? Poison?"

Nick was just kneeling down for a closer look when the corpse gave a mighty groan, rolled over and vomited into the much abused rhododendrons.

"Yes, I'd say poison," Nick drawled, "but more your usual sort, my dear. Poor fellow's half drowned, but not dead – though he might well wish he were."

"Good gad!" exclaimed Bertie.

"Most unusual, sir," agreed Jeeves.

"Not around here," muttered Polly.

Digory didn't wish to disagree with her – not when he was feeling so agreeable – but when he tried to point out that he was not in fact in the habit of finding corpses, alive or otherwise, in his garden shortly after breakfast, Polly cut him off.

"Let's get him sitting up, then, and get something warm into him," she ordered. Under her breath, she added something derogatory about men, thoughtlessness, and taking a pulse.

"I'll heat the gravy, shall I?" offered Digory loudly, talking over her.

Polly glared at him. "I fancy he's already had his fill of that," she censured. "And so, for that matter, have you."

Digory felt obliged to disagree with that assessment as well, which pretty much canceled out any remaining agreeableness that had suffused him but a moment before. How fleeting was agreeability, he mused ruefully. Agreeableness. Agreeable-osity? 

From the ground, the erstwhile corpse belched loudly.

"If you will excuse me, sir," murmured Jeeves, "I will prepare a restorative."

Bertie spun round, but his man had already melted away and was presumably already in the butler's pantry. "Take heart, ladies!" Bertie cried. "And do not faint – or if you do, take heart–"

"You already said that," interrupted Digory. The body groaned again. Nobody paid either any heed.

"– for the draughts that Jeeves prepares are as elixirs unto gods, or goddesses, and will presently restore the lively pulse, the blush to fair cheeks not unlike the first blush of affection–"

Ignoring Bertie entirely, Nora and Polly continued making observations. "He looks even worse than you did this morning, Digory," said Polly critically. She stooped to take the man's pulse with only a quick glance in Digory's direction. Digory stood patiently by and tried not to fidget under Nora's suddenly intense observation.

 The corpse groaned under Polly's ministrations. Digory sympathized.

Nick had produced a martini from someplace and sipped it as he idly watched the proceedings. "See, Nora, this is why I don't like vacationing in the countryside. It's not good for one's health."

Nora turned up her nose at him. "If you're going to sulk, then I'll just have to solve the mystery myself."

"What mystery?" Nick toyed with his olive. "The man's smashed, not strangled."

"We can at least find out who he is," she countered. "And what he's doing in Digory's garden. If it won't be too much of a strain on your delicate disposition, darling."

Nick pulled her to his side. "You know I can't resist you when you alliterate."

"Not in front of the others, Nicky." But she permitted a swift kiss on the cheek. "Now will you get to work?"

Nick rolled up his sleeves, stood safely downwind, and began questioning the inebriated interloper as best he could.

The ex-stiff's name, it transpired, was Wilberforce Abernathy Lickspittle IV. It was all they could get out of him for some time, but it was quite enough to be getting on with.

"With a name like that, I'd drink too," commented Nick.

"You are drinking," Digory pointed out. Nick shrugged.

"Just imagine how the First must have felt!" exclaimed Nora. "At least the Fourth has a precedent."

"And a hangover. My guess is he wasn't drinking the kind of liquor that improves with age." Nick sipped his martini and made a face. It was warm.

"Time hasn't done his name any good, either," replied Nora, wrinkling her nose.

Polly cleared her throat. A glass had magically appeared in her hand via Jeeves, who stood diffidently a step behind. The contents of the glass were of indeterminable color, being halfway between puce and mauve, and of indeterminate state – neither solid nor entirely liquid. Polly visibly steeled herself against the fumes and handed the glass to W.A.L. the Fourth. It was testament to his high tolerance for noxious liquids (applying the term generously) that he swallowed it in one gulp. Digory's stomach turned over. The others looked impressed. Even the unflappable Jeeves appeared somewhat flapped.

"Wilberforce," the man belched.

"Yes, you – er – mentioned that." Bertie tugged at his collar. "You might wish to consider stopping."

"Abernathy."

Bertie looked longingly at Nick's martini.

"Lickspittle."

"Oh, may as well finish the round, then. Tally-ho, there's a good chap."

"The Fourth." The man fell back on the ground. Digory winced on the rhododendrons' behalf.

"Quite, quite. Well done, awfully – and I do mean that."

"Hush, Bertie." Polly gently but firmly pulled the man back to a sitting position. It could not properly be called upright, since he listed eastward and swayed back and forth like a mizzenmast amidships on a rough sea, but it evidently met Polly's minimum standards.

 Digory chalked the lowering thereof up to the gravy. It had certainly had the same effect on him. "Mr. Lick– er, can we call you Will?" he blurted.

The man grunted.

"Good," said Digory, relieved. "In that case, Will, what are you doing lying in my garden?"

"Don't you mean laying?" interrupted Nora.

"Pretty sure it's lying, old bean," offered Bertie, at which point Digory began doubting his own grammatical instincts. Anything upon which he agreed with Bertie Wooster had to be immediately suspect.

Nick shook his head. "I'm with Nora. If he's lying, that means he isn't telling the truth. And that name is so absurd – no offense – that no one would lie about it, so he must be laying."

"Thank you darling," said Nora, leaning on his shoulder. She tried to sip his martini, but Nick pulled it away and kissed her on the nose instead. Nora made a face at him.

"But you can't just lay," protested Bertie. "It's not the done thing. You have to lay something – like an egg. It's a whatchamacallit. An intransigent verb."

"Intransitive, sir," corrected Jeeves.

"I ain't any such thing!" cried Wilberforce from the ground. He was trying without success to fend off Polly, who was intent on checking his head for injury.

"It's probably harder than the rocks," Digory tried to reassure her.

Bertie nodded fervently. "Oh, rather. Because he's on the rocks, what?"

Polly gave them both a withering look and prodded a bit harder at the unfortunate skull.

"Ow! Lay offa me, woman!"

"See?" cried Bertie triumphantly. "Lay (off of) – verbal phrase. Me – indirect object."

Polly paused in her less-than-tender ministrations to stare at Bertie. He preened, basking in the light of her gaze.

Digory sulked. "I'm the one who said it correctly in the first place," he complained. "But does anyone listen to me? Oh, no. Only when I find a dead body–"

"Who's not actually dead," Nick pointed out.

"Only when I find a seemingly dead body," Digory said more loudly, "does anyone pay any attention to what I have to say." Startled to find his audience was in fact attending, he took a breath and gathered steam. "And then what do you do? Criticize! He's not dead enough. His name isn't good enough. He must be laying about! Er, lying. And another thing–"

Polly cut him off. "No one is criticizing your body, Digory." She broke off, flustered and slightly flushed. "I mean your stiff – er, Wilberforce. Or your grammar," she added as an afterthought.

Mollified, Digory subsided. "Well, all right then."

"And I weren't lyin'," added Wilberforce indignantly. "Some bleedin' blighter–"

"I say!" objected Bertie. "That's no way to speak in front of a lady!"

Nick stayed conspicuously silent, and Nora slapped him on the arm.

Scandalized, Digory added his two pence. "Or in front of Polly!" On second thought, maybe he was a farthing short.

A faint wince crossed Jeeves' hitherto inscrutable features. For her part, Polly merely looked amused.

"I mean," backpedaled Digory, "much less in front of Polly – er, Ms. Plummer – who has so valiantly tended you in your… in your…"

Bertie willingly floundered into Digory's wake like an enthusiastic pup following a punting boat only to swim off with the paddle. "In the thorny thickets of your moral compass! The morass of your plundered rosebeds–"

"Rhododendrons," interjected Digory.

"Quite right, quite right! The rho. which by any other name doth smell–"

"Like a distillery?" said Polly wryly. "If you're quite finished, perhaps you great philosophers could help our guest inside."

Philosopher indeed. Digory sniffed. Polly knew perfectly well he was a theologian.

Bertie let the slight fly over his head, as he did so many other things. "And then we can get to the bottom of this!" he exclaimed.

"Bottom of the bottle, maybe," said Nick, downing the last of his martini. "I doubt there's much else to it than that."

"Bottom of the bottle?" W.A.L. the Fourth echoed in alarm, swaying between Nick and Jeeves as they tried to hoist him to his feet. "Izzit empty? Why? Why is the rum gone?" With that plaintive cry, he tipped forwards. Only Polly's quick thinking and the hook of her umbrella kept him from falling prostrate into the daffodils.

"Polly," whispered Digory loudly. "Don't you carry rum in your flask?"

She fixed him with a stern look. "Not now, Digory."

Ever the optimist, Digory followed her in the hopes that not now did not exclude the possibility of later. He had, after all, been operating on the same principle for years and regularly proposed to Polly every six months. She had never turned him down flat – and he knew she would not hesitate to do so were her mind truly made up. So Digory continued to wait patiently for the day when the long purgatory of not now might end, should Polly ever decide her life had room for adventure and romance both.

In the meantime, there was always the hope of rum.