Digory stared at the shambles on the dining table in dismay. Polly had only arrived last night. How did these things always get out of hand so quickly? And… "Why is the gravy boat full of gin?" asked Digory plaintively. It was far too early in the morning for shenanigans, he would have added had anyone asked him, but they did not.
"The flower vase was already full," answered Nick Charles, as if that explained everything. As he was currently engaged in pouring himself a libation from said vase, perhaps it did.
His wife wrinkled her nose and held out her glass. "It's pronounced vase, dear," said Nora.
"I don't see what difference it makes, they're both spelled the same. V-E-R-M– I'll be damned – darling, does O come next, or U?"
Nora pulled her glass away. "On second thought, I think I'd rather have the gravy."
"Good morning, all!" Uncharacteristically cheery for such a wee hour, Bertie Wooster waltzed in, patting his vest pockets with all the vim and vigor only the morning after vermouth can provide. "I say, what's for breakfast?" He peered at the table. "Good gravy!"
"Indeed sir," commented Jeeves, smoothly inserting a glass of harmless juice into his employer's outstretched hand.
Inwardly, Digory amended his previous and heretofore only coherent thought of the morning. It was far too early for houseguests.
"Have a bit of the hair of the dog, old thing," said Bertie, proffering the gravy boat and an empty glass. Somewhere in the house, a single bark rang out.
"One o'clock," exclaimed Nick. "Time for a drink!"
"No, dear, that was Asta."
"Ah. Two drinks, then."
"I don't drink," protested Digory weakly.
Bertie peered at him like one would at an interesting museum specimen that had not been observed in the wild since the days of Dr. Livingston, I presume. "I say, you do look a bit green about the thingummy. Doesn't he, Jeeves?"
Nora clapped her hands. "It's a lack of stimulation, that's all. No, Nicky, I don't mean the vermouth. It's not yet eleven, you know."
"My dog is off, then. Someone pass me the gravy boat."
Just as Digory resumed his horrified contemplation of the ersatz gravy, Polly made her appearance. It was a delicate moment, as when one's eyes first alight on a grandfather clock upon entering a room and the pendulum is frozen for a second in time, and one has no way of knowing whether it will continue to rise or begin its descent. Polly's mere presence could either instigate order and good sense, or else precipitate a swift decline into chaos.
"Is there any gravy left?" Polly asked. When various affirmative replies made her visibly perk up, Digory knew it was going to be One of Those Days. The best he could hope for was that no hansom cabs would be harmed.
They all sat down more or less to business, with Jeeves pouring coffee and doubling as bartender. "Where were we?" asked Nick, dashing pepper in his martini and carefully placing an olive atop his fried egg.
"Stimulation, sir," prompted Jeeves.
"Don't mind if I do." Nick proffered his glass for a refill. Nora took it from him, sipped and promptly sneezed.
"As I was saying," she continued, her eyes watering, "we need a little excitement."
Digory felt a faint sense of foreboding.
"Nonsense," said Bertie cheerfully. "All we need do is wait. Nick and Nora are here, so some body or other is bound to turn up eventually, what?"
"I think there are quite enough of us here already," muttered Digory to himself. Unfortunately, the ever-attentive butler was, well, attending.
"I believe Mister Wooster was referring to a body of the deceased disposition, sir, rather than the more synechdochial indefinite pronoun."
Unasked, Bertie translated – in a manner of speaking. "Not somebody, you know, but somebody's, er, body. Shuffled off the mortal, and all that."
There was a pause as everyone digested this (except for Digory, who did not much feel like digesting anything). Then Nora chimed in brightly, "Oh, you mean a stiff!"
"Quite," assented Jeeves, his tone only slightly cool.
"What has the old upper lip to do with anything?" wondered Bertie. "I mean, besides the obvious."
Finally, Polly stepped in. "It's American slang for a corpse, Bertie. It refers to the stiffening of limbs due to rigor mortis. Digory, are you feeling quite well? You look a bit pale."
Bertie gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder, and Digory narrowly avoided dipping his nose in the hollandaise. "Perhaps a bracing stroll, old man, to put a bit of color back in the old cheekbones," he suggested.
"It could be most salubrious, sir," added Jeeves.
Before anyone else could manage him out the door, Digory dropped his napkin on the table and stood. "Very well, I think I shall," he said a bit shortly. The chorus of farewells in his wake seemed decidedly muted. Glumly, he reflected that the others were likely glad to have the wet blanket well out of the way. Not that he had any desire to sit around drinking gin at half past ten, mind – it was more the principle of the thing.
"Still," said Digory to himself, "it's a beautiful morning, not that they'd notice. The fresh air will do me good."
And so it might have done, if not for the body sprawled among the rhododendrons not twenty paces from Digory's back door.
Digory stood still for a long moment. He took a deep breath and mentally recited one of his favorite passages from Aristotle: The things that are posterior to becoming are prior in form and in substantiality.
Then he thought: That body's posterior is substantial in form. And: It is crushing the rhododendrons.
Digory turned around and walked back into his house, pausing only to wipe his feet on the mat. He strode matter-of-factly into the dining room, even-keeledly picked up the gravy boat, and without-a-care-in-the-wordly took a long drink from its spout. Around the table, conversation ceased. Eyebrows rose.
"Bertie was right," Digory stated. A select number of eyebrows climbed even higher. "There is a stiff – excuse me – a body in the garden."
"What?" Bertie's voice cracked mid-word. "I mean to say – what, what?" he added for good measure.
Nick looked sharply at Digory. "You mean to say there's somebody pushing up daisies in your garden?"
"No," said Digory. "Rhododendrons. Pardon me, but have you any more gravy?"
Digory blocked out most of the subsequent uproar by the sensible expedient of putting his fingers in his ears. He did catch snatches of conversation, however, as it was necessary to un-stopper in order to drink. The gravy boat was essentially a two-handed vessel: if one held onto the handle alone, the spout would waver and begin to drip on one's chin in a deplorable waste of gin. Digory spared a moment of brief regret that the cow creamer could not be used instead, but alas that was a touchy subject with Bertie and was best left undisturbed in the cupboard.
"I say, oughtn't we phone the constabulary?" Bertie's voice, high-pitched with alarm, cut through the din of Digory's musings.
"That not might be altogether wise, sir," cautioned Jeeves, "after the incident with the helmet."
"Oh, tosh, that was simply ages ago."
"It was last month, sir."
"As I said. Ages!"
Digory experimented with humming a little ditty as he drank, but instead of drowning out the noise he nearly drowned himself with a spoutful of gin up his nose. Through the coughing, he heard the Charlses:
"Oh Nicky, how splendid. You needn't even take a cab to the crime scene."
"You're a ghoulish girl, my darling, have I ever told you that?"
"Only in the morning. Which is rather rich of you, I might add – you're no Greek god yourself in the morning, you know."
"No, only Greek. You're a snob."
"I thought I was a ghoul."
"And a lovely one. Would you care to accompany me to the murder, Mrs. Charles?"
"You do take me to the nicest places, Mr. Charles."
Polly chose that moment to interrupt the proceedings with what Digory privately called her Siren Voice – deceptively sweet at first, but 'ware the shoals ahead. He carefully set down the gravy boat to follow Odysseus's fine example by plugging his ears.
In a private corner of his mind, Digory could admit to having once admired another formidable woman and her peremptory orders. The resemblance ended there, of course, but nevertheless he knew Polly would not appreciate the comparison in the slightest. Truly, he only thought of it at all because he was feeling rather like his old Uncle Andrew at that moment: bemused, upset, and more than a bit blotted. If anyone should plant me in the garden, thought Digory, I should object most strenuously to the presence of another body in my flowerbed.
"Digory." Polly wielded her punctuation as effectively as some men wielded fencing foils. Or pistols. Her full stops were ammunition. Exclamation points, a slashing riposte. And the dreaded dash– "Digory!" she exclaimed. Ah, a mortal wound.
"Yes, my dear," he replied fuzzily. Polly's brow furrowed. "Girl," he blurted. "My dear girl. Er, yes?"
Exasperated, she pulled him from his chair and kept a firm hand on his elbow. "You will show us the body."
"And then what?"
Nick stepped forward. "Then I will investigate."
Nora cleared her throat.
"We," amended Nick, "will investigate."
Bertie looked a trifle put out. "But I say… Jeeves and I have rather a bit of experience sleuthing and whatnot. That is, Jeeves is a details man, you know – always turning stones right and left. Upside-down too, naturally."
"Stolen cow creamers hardly equate to homicide, Bertie," said Polly, which Digory thought unnecessarily harsh.
"You haven't met my Aunt Agatha," muttered Bertie.
Digory found himself nodding in sympathy. "Aunts," he said, clumsily patting Bertie on the shoulder, "can be murder. Q.E.D."
"With a healthy dollop of I.O.U.," agreed Bertie.
Polly was getting that pinched look again, so Digory abruptly spun on his heels (the room spun with him, but he ignored that) and marched towards the door, ready for her sake to get on with it already. He had forgotten his arm was hooked through hers but the only damage was to the umbrella stand in the corner, which Polly abused on a routine basis, so that was all right.
"Spiffing!" cried Bertie in their wake. "Are you coming, Jeeves?"
"It seems inevitable, sir."