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Authors: P G Wodehouse

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BOOK: Plum Pie
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On these occasions when she comes to town and I give her dinner at the flat there is always a good deal of gossip from Brinkley Court and neighbourhood to be got through before other subjects are broached, and she tends not to allow a nephew to get a word in edgeways. It wasn't till Jeeves had brought the coffee that any mention of Sir Roderick Glossop was made. Having lit a cigarette and sipped her first sip, she asked me how he was, and I gave her the same reply I had given Jeeves.

"In robust health," I said, "but gloomy. Sombre. Moody. Despondent."

"Just because you were there, or was there some other reason?"

"He didn't tell me," I said guardedly. I always have to be very careful not to reveal my sources when Jeeves gives me information he has gleaned from the club book. The rules about preserving secrecy concerning its contents are frightfully strict at the Junior Ganymede. I don't know what happens to you if you're caught giving away inside stuff, but I should imagine that you get hauled -up in a hollow square of valets and butlers and have your buttons snipped off before being formally bunged out of the institution. And it's a very comforting thought that such precautions are taken, for I should hate to think that there was any chance of those eleven pages about me receiving wide publicity. It's bad enough to know that a book like that—pure dynamite, as you might say—is in existence. "He didn't let me in on what was eating him. He just sat there being gloomy and despondent."

The old relative laughed one of those booming laughs of her which in the days when she hunted with the Quorn and Pytchley probably lifted many a sportsman from the saddle Her vocal delivery when amused always resembles one of those explosions in London street you read about in the papers.

"Well, Percy had been with him for several weeks. And then you on top of Percy. Enough to blot the sunshine from any man's life. How is Percy, by the way?"

"Quite himself again. A thing I wouldn't care to be, but no doubt it pleases him."

"Little men no longer following him around?"

"If they are, they've shaved. He hasn't seen a black beard for quite a while, he tells me."

"That's good. Percy'll be all right if he rid himself of the idea that alcohol is a food. Well, we'll soon buck Glossop up when he comes to Brinkley for Christmas."

"Will he be there?"

"He certainly will, and joy will be unconfined. We're going to have a real oldfashioned Christmas with all the trimmings."

"Holly? Mistletoe?"

"Yards of both. And a children's party complete with Santa Claus."

"With the vicar in the stellar role?"

"No, he's down with flu."

"The curate?"

"Sprained his ankle."

"Then who are you going to get?"

"Oh, I'll find someone. Was anyone else at Glossop's?"

"Only a fellow of the name of Eggleston."

"Blair Eggleston, the writer?"

"Yes, Jeeves tells me he writes books."

"And articles. He's doing a series for me on the Modern Girl."

For some years, helped out by doles from old Tom Travers, her husband, Aunt Dahlia had been running a weekly paper for women called Milady's Boudoir, to which I once contributed a 'piece', as we journalists call it, on What The Well Dressed Man Is Wearing. The little sheet has since been sold, but at that time it was still limping along and losing its bit of money each week, a source of considerable spiritual agony to Uncle Tom, who had to foot the bills. He has the stuff in sackfuls, but he hates to part.

"I'm sorry for that boy," said Aunt Dahlia.

"For Blair Eggleston? Why?"

“He's in love with Honoria Glossop."

"What! " I cried. She amazed me. I wouldn't have thought it could be done.

“And is too timid to tell her so. It's often that way with these frank, fearless young novelists. They're devils on paper, but put them up against a girl who doesn't come out of their fountain pen and their feet get as cold as a dachshund's nose. You'd think, when you read his novels, that Blair Eggleston was a menace to the sex and ought to be kept on a chain in the interests of pure womanhood, but is he? No, sir. He's just a rabbit. I don't know if he has ever actually found himself in an incense-scented boudoir alone with a girl with sensual lips and dark smouldering eyes, but if he did, I'll bet he would take a chair as far away from her as possible and ask her if she had read any good books lately. Why are you looking like a halfwitted fish?"

"I was thinking of something."

"What?"

"Oh, just something," I said warily. Her character sketch of Blair Eggleston had given me one of those ideas I do so often get quick as a flash, but I didn't want to spill it till I'd had time to think it over and ponder on it. It never does to expose these brain waves to the public eye before you've examined them every angle.

How do you know all this?" I said.

"He told me in a burst of confidence the other day when we were discussing his Modern Girl Series. I suppose I must have one of those sympathetic personalities which invite confidences You will recall that you have always told me about you various love affairs."

"That's different."

"In what way?"

"Use the loaf, old flesh and blood. You're my aunt. A nephew naturally bares his soul to a loved aunt."

"I see what you mean. Yes, that makes sense. You do love me dearly, don't you?"

"Like billy-o. Always have."

"Well, I'm certainly glad to hear you say that—"

"Well deserved tribute."

"—because there's something I want you to do for me."

"Consider it done."

"I want you to play Santa Claus at my children's Christmas party."

Should I have seen it coming? Possibly. But I hadn't, and I tottered where I sat. I was trembling like an aspen. I don't know if you've ever seen an aspen—I haven't myself as far as I can remember—but I knew they were noted for trembling like the dickens. I uttered a sharp cry, and she said if I was going to sing, would I kindly do it elsewhere, as her ear drum was sensitive.

"Don't say such things even in fun," I begged her.

"I'm not joking."

I gazed at her incredulously.

"You seriously expect me to put on white whiskers and a padded stomach and go about saying 'Ho, ho, ho' to a bunch of kids as tough as those residing near your rural seat?"

"They aren't tough."

"Pardon me. I've seen them in action. You will recollect that I was present at the recent school treat."

"You can't go by that. Naturally they wouldn't have the Christmas spirit at a school treat in the middle of summer. You'll find them as mild as newborn lambs on Christmas Eve."

I laughed a sharp, barking laugh.

"I shan't."

"Are you trying to tell me you won't do it?"

"I am."

She snorted emotionally and expressed the opinion that I was a worm.

"But a prudent, levelheaded worm," I assured her. "A worm who knows enough not to stick its neck out."

"You really won't do it?"

"Not for all the rice in China."

"Not to oblige a loved aunt?"

"Not to oblige a posse of loved aunts."

"Now listen, young Bertie, you abysmal young blot…"

 

As I closed the front door behind her some twenty minutes later, I had rather the feeling you get when parting company  with a tigress of the jungle or one of those fiends with hatchets who are always going about slaying six. Normally the old relative is as genial a soul as ever downed a veal cutlet, but she's apt to get hot under the collar when thwarted, and in the course of the recent meal, as we have seen, I had been compelled to thwart her like a ton of bricks. It was with quite a few beads of persp bedewing the brow that I went back to the dining room, where Jeeves was cleaning up the debris.

“Jeeves," I said, brushing away the b of p with my cambric handkerchief, "you were off stage towards the end of dinner, but did you happen to drink in any of the conversation that was taking place?"

“Oh yes, sir."

“Your hearing, like Dobson's, is acute?"

“Extremely, sir. And Mrs. Travers has a robust voice. I received the impression that she was incensed."

“She was as sore as a gumboil. And why? Because I stoutly refused to portray Santa Claus at the Christmas orgy she is giving down at Brinkley for the children of the local yokels."

“So I gathered from her obiter dicta, sir."

"I suppose most of the things she called me were picked up on the hunting field in her hunting days."

"No doubt, sir."

"Members of the Quorn and Pytchley are not guarded in their speech."

"Very seldom, sir, I understand."

"Well, her efforts were ...what's that word I've heard you use?"

"Bootless, sir?"

"Or fruitless?"

"Whichever you prefer, sir."

"I was not to be moved. I remained firm. I am not a disobliging man, Jeeves. If somebody wanted me to play Hamlet, I would do my best to give satisfaction. But at dressing up in white whiskers and a synthetic stomach I draw the line and draw it sharply. She huffed and puffed, as you heard, but she might have known that argument would be bootless. As the wise old saying has it, you can take a horse to the water, but you can't make it play Santa Claus."

"Very true, sir."

"You think I was justified in being adamant?"

"Fully justified, sir."

"Thank you, Jeeves."

I must say I thought it pretty decent of him to give the young master the weight of his support like this, for though I haven't mentioned it before it was only a day or two since I had been compelled to thwart him as inflexibly as I had thwarted the recent aunt. He had been trying to get me to go to Florida after Christmas, handing out a lot of talk about how pleasant it would be for my many American friends, most of whom make a bee line for Hobe Sound in the winter months, to have me with them again, but I recognized this, though specious, as merely the old oil. I knew what was the thought behind his words. He likes the fishing in Florida and yearns some day to catch a tarpon.

Well, I sympathised with his sporting aspirations and would have pushed them along if I could have managed it, but I particularly wanted to be in London for the Drones Club Darts Tournament, which takes place in February and which I confidently expected to win this year, so I said Florida was out and the said "Very good, sir", and that was that. The point I'm making is that there was no dudgeon or umbrage or anything of that sort on his part, as there would have been if he had been a lesser man, which of course he isn't.

"And yet, Jeeves," I said, continuing to touch on the affair of the stricken aunt, "though my firmness and resolution enabled me to emerge victorious from the battle of wills, I can't help feeling a pang."

"Sir?"

"Of remorse. It's always apt to gnaw you when you've crushed someone beneath the iron heel. You can't help thinking that you ought to do something to bind up the wounds and bring the sunshine back into the poor slob's life. I don't like the thought of Aunt Dahlia biting her pillow tonight and trying to choke back the rising sobs because I couldn't see my way to fulfilling her hopes and dreams. I think I should extend something in the way of an olive branch or
amende honorable
."

 "It would be a graceful act, sir."

"So I'll blow a few bob on flowers for her. Would you mind nipping out tomorrow morning and purchasing say two dozen long-stemmed roses?"

"Certainly, sir."

"I think they'll make her face light up, don't you?"

"Unquestionably, sir. I will attend to the matter immediately after breakfast."

"Thank you, Jeeves."

I was smiling one of my subtle smiles as he left the room, for in the recent exchanges I had not been altogether frank, and it tickled me to think that he thought that I was merely trying to apply a soothing poultice to my conscience.

Mark you, what I had said about wanting to do the square thing by the aged relative and heal the breach and all that sort of thing was perfectly true, but there was a lot more than that behind the gesture. It was imperative that I get her off the boil because her co-operation was essential to the success of a scheme or plan or plot which had been fizzing in the Wooster brain ever since the moment after dinner when she had asked me why I was looking like a halfwitted fish. It was a plan designed to bring about the happy ending for Sir R. Glossop, and now that I had had time to give it the once over it seemed to me that couldn't miss.

Jeeves brought the blooms while I was in my bath, and having dried the frame and donned the upholstery and breakfasted and smoked a cigarette to put heart into me I started o; with them.

I wasn't expecting a warm welcome from the old flesh and blood, which was lucky, because I didn't get one. She was at her haughtiest, and the look she gave me was the sort of look which in her Quorn and Pytchley days she would have given some fellow-sportsman whom she had observed riding over hounds.

"Oh, it's you?" she said.

Well, it was, of course, no argument about that, so I endorsed her view with a civil good morning and a smile—rather a weak smile, probably, for her aspect was formidable. She-was plainly sizzling.

"I hope you thoroughly understand," she said, "that after your craven exhibition last night I'm not speaking to you."

"Oh, aren't you?"

"Certainly not. I'm treating you with silent contempt.  What's that you've got there?"

"Some long-stemmed roses. For you."

She sneered visibly. "You and your long-stemmed roses! It would take more than long-stemmed roses to change my view that you're a despicable cowardy custard and a disgrace to a proud family. Your ancestors fought in the Crusades and were often mentioned in dispatches, and you cringe like a salted snail at the thought appearing as Santa Claus before an audience of charming children who wouldn't hurt a fly. It's enough to make an aunt turn her face to the wall and give up the struggle. But perhaps," she said, her manner softening for a moment, "you've come to tell me you've changed your mind?"

"I fear not, aged relative."

"Then buzz off, and on your way home try if possible to get run over by a motor bus. And may I be there to hear you go pop."

BOOK: Plum Pie
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