Most chaps in my position, I imagine, would have pondered all the rest of the evening without getting a bite, but we Woosters have an uncanny knack of going straight to the heart of things, and I don’t suppose it was much more than ten minutes after I had started pondering before I saw what had to be done.
What was needed to straighten matters out, I perceived, was a heart-to-heart talk with Angela. She had caused all the trouble by her mutton- headed behaviour in saying “Yes” instead of “No” when Gussie, in the grip of mixed drinks and cerebral excitement, had suggested teaming up. She must obviously be properly ticked off and made to return him to store. A quarter of an hour later, I had tracked her down to the summerhouse in which she was taking a cooler and was seating myself by her side.
“Angela,” I said, and if my voice was stern, well, whose wouldn’t have been, “this is all perfect drivel.”
She seemed to come out of a reverie. She looked at me inquiringly.
“I’m sorry, Bertie, I didn’t hear. What were you talking drivel about?”
“I was not talking drivel.”
“Oh, sorry, I thought you said you were.”
“Is it likely that I would come out here in order to talk drivel?”
I thought it best to haul off and approach the matter from another angle.
“I’ve just been seeing Tuppy.”
“And Gussie Fink-Nottle.”
“It appears that you have gone and got engaged to the latter.”
“Well, that’s what I meant when I said it was all perfect drivel. You can’t possibly love a chap like Gussie.”
“You simply can’t.”
Well, I mean to say, of course she couldn’t. Nobody could love a freak like Gussie except a similar freak like the Bassett. The shot wasn’t on the board. A splendid chap, of course, in many ways—courteous, amiable, and just the fellow to tell you what to do till the doctor came, if you had a sick newt on your hands—but quite obviously not of Mendelssohn’s March timber. I have no doubt that you could have flung bricks by the hour in England’s most densely populated districts without endangering the safety of a single girl capable of becoming Mrs. Augustus Fink-Nottle without an anaesthetic.
I put this to her, and she was forced to admit the justice of it.
“All right, then. Perhaps I don’t.”
“Then what,” I said keenly, “did you want to go and get engaged to him for, you unreasonable young fathead?”
“I thought it would be fun.”
“And so it has been. I’ve had a lot of fun out of it. You should have seen Tuppy’s face when I told him.”
A sudden bright light shone upon me.
“Ha! A gesture!”
“You got engaged to Gussie just to score off Tuppy?”
“Well, then, that was what I was saying. It was a gesture.”
“Yes, I suppose you could call it that.”
“And I’ll tell you something else I’ll call it—viz. a dashed low trick. I’m surprised at you, young Angela.”
“I don’t see why.”
I curled the lip about half an inch. “Being a female, you wouldn’t. You gentler sexes are like that. You pull off the rawest stuff without a pang. You pride yourselves on it. Look at Jael, the wife of Heber.”
“Where did you ever hear of Jael, the wife of Heber?”
“Possibly you are not aware that I once won a Scripture-knowledge prize at school?”
“Oh, yes. I remember Augustus mentioning it in his speech.”
“Quite,” I said, a little hurriedly. I had no wish to be reminded of Augustus’s speech. “Well, as I say, look at Jael, the wife of Heber. Dug spikes into the guest’s coconut while he was asleep, and then went swanking about the place like a Girl Guide. No wonder they say, ‘Oh, woman, woman!’ ”
“The chaps who do. Coo, what a sex! But you aren’t proposing to keep this up, of course?”
“Keep what up?”
“This rot of being engaged to Gussie.”
“I certainly am.”
“Just to make Tuppy look silly.”
“Do you think he looks silly?”
“So he ought to.”
I began to get the idea that I wasn’t making real headway. I remember when I won that Scripture-knowledge prize, having to go into the facts about Balaam’s ass. I can’t quite recall what they were, but I still retain a sort of general impression of something digging its feet in and putting its ears back and refusing to cooperate; and it seemed to me that this was what Angela was doing now. She and Balaam’s ass were, so to speak, sisters under the skin. There’s a word beginning with r—“re” something—“recal” something—No, it’s gone. But what I am driving at is that is what this Angela was showing herself.
“Silly young geezer,” I said.
“I’m not a silly young geezer.”
“You are a silly young geezer. And, what’s more, you know it.”
“I don’t know anything of the kind.”
“Here you are, wrecking Tuppy’s life, wrecking Gussie’s life, all for the sake of a cheap score.”
“Well, it’s no business of yours.”
I sat on this promptly:
“No business of mine when I see two lives I used to go to school with wrecked? Ha! Besides, you know you’re potty about Tuppy.”
“Is that so? If I had a quid for every time I’ve seen you gaze at him with the lovelight in your eyes—”
She gazed at me, but without the lovelight.
“Oh, for goodness sake, go away and boil your head, Bertie!”
I drew myself up.
“That,” I replied, with dignity, “is just what I am going to go away and boil. At least, I mean, I shall now leave you. I have said my say.”
“But permit me to add—”
“Very good,” I said coldly. “In that case, tinkerty tonk.”
And I meant it to sting.
“Moody” and “discouraged” were about the two adjectives you would have selected to describe me as I left the summerhouse. It would be idle to deny that I had expected better results from this little chat.
I was surprised at Angela. Odd how you never realize that every girl is at heart a vicious specimen until something goes wrong with her love affair. This cousin and I had been meeting freely since the days when I wore sailor suits and she hadn’t any front teeth, yet only now was I beginning to get on to her hidden depths. A simple, jolly, kindly young pimple she had always struck me as—the sort you could more or less rely on not to hurt a fly. But here she was now laughing heartlessly—at least, I seemed to remember hearing her laugh heartlessly—like something cold and callous out of a sophisticated talkie, and fairly spitting on her hands in her determination to bring Tuppy’s grey hairs in sorrow to the grave.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—girls are rummy. Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.
It seemed to me in the circs. that there was but one thing to do—that is head for the dining-room and take a slash at the cold collation of which Jeeves had spoken. I felt in urgent need of sustenance, for the recent interview had pulled me down a bit. There is no gainsaying the fact that this naked-emotion stuff reduces a chap’s vitality and puts him in the vein for a good whack at the beef and ham.
To the dining-room, accordingly, I repaired, and had barely crossed the threshold when I perceived Aunt Dahlia at the sideboard, tucking into salmon mayonnaise.
The spectacle drew from me a quick “Oh, ah,” for I was somewhat embarrassed. The last time this relative and I had enjoyed a tête-à-tête, it will be remembered, she had sketched out plans for drowning me in the kitchen-garden pond, and I was not quite sure what my present standing with her was.
I was relieved to find her in genial mood. Nothing could have exceeded the cordiality with which she waved her fork.
“Hallo, Bertie, you old ass,” was her very matey greeting. “I thought I shouldn’t find you far away from the food. Try some of this salmon. Excellent.”
“Anatole’s?” I queried.
“No. He’s still in bed. But the kitchen maid has struck an inspired streak. It suddenly seems to have come home to her that she isn’t catering for a covey of buzzards in the Sahara Desert, and she has put out something quite fit for human consumption. There is good in the girl, after all, and I hope she enjoys herself at the dance.”
I ladled out a portion of salmon, and we fell into pleasant conversation, chatting of this servants’ ball at the Stretchley-Budds and speculating idly, I recall, as to what Seppings, the butler, would look like, doing the rumba.
It was not till I had cleaned up the first platter and was embarking on a second that the subject of Gussie came up. Considering what had passed at Market Snodsbury that afternoon, it was one which I had been expecting her to touch on earlier. When she did touch on it, I could see that she had not yet been informed of Angela’s engagement.
“I say, Bertie,” she said, meditatively chewing fruit salad. “This Spink-Bottle.”
“Bottle,” insisted the aunt firmly. “After that exhibition of his this afternoon, Bottle, and nothing but Bottle, is how I shall always think of him. However, what I was going to say was that, if you see him, I wish you would tell him that he has made an old woman very, very happy. Except for the time when the curate tripped over a loose shoelace and fell down the pulpit steps, I don’t think I have ever had a more wonderful moment than when good old Bottle suddenly started ticking Tom off from the platform. In fact, I thought his whole performance in the most perfect taste.”
I could not but demur.
“Those references to myself—”
“Those were what I liked next best. I thought they were fine. Is it true that you cheated when you won that Scripture-knowledge prize?”
“Certainly not. My victory was the outcome of the most strenuous and unremitting efforts.”
“And how about this pessimism we hear of? Are you a pessimist, Bertie?”
I could have told her that what was occurring in this house was rapidly making me one, but I said no, I wasn’t.
“That’s right. Never be a pessimist. Everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. It’s a long lane that has no turning. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Have patience and all will come right. The sun will shine, although the day’s a grey one. … Try some of this salad.”
I followed her advice, but even as I plied the spoon my thoughts were elsewhere. I was perplexed. It may have been the fact that I had recently been hobnobbing with so many bowed-down hearts that made this cheeriness of hers seem so bizarre, but bizarre was certainly what I found it.
“I thought you might have been a trifle peeved,” I said.
“By Gussie’s manoeuvres on the platform this afternoon. I confess that I had rather expected the tapping foot and the drawn brow.”
“Nonsense. What was there to be peeved about? I took the whole thing as a great compliment, proud to feel that any drink from my cellars could have produced such a majestic jag. It restores one’s faith in postwar whisky. Besides, I couldn’t be peeved at anything tonight. I am like a little child clapping its hands and dancing in the sunshine. For though it has been some time getting a move on, Bertie, the sun has at last broken through the clouds. Ring out those joy bells. Anatole has withdrawn his notice.”
“What? Oh, very hearty congratulations.”
“Thanks. Yes, I worked on him like a beaver after I got back this afternoon, and finally, vowing he would ne’er consent, he consented. He stays on, praises be, and the way I look at it now is that God’s in His heaven and all’s right with—”
She broke off. The door had opened, and we were plus a butler.
“Hullo, Seppings,” said Aunt Dahlia. “I thought you had gone.”
“Not yet, madam.”
“Well, I hope you will all have a good time.”
“Thank you, madam.”
“Was there something you wanted to see me about?”
“Yes, madam. It is with reference to Monsieur Anatole. Is it by your wish, madam, that Mr. Fink-Nottle is making faces at Monsieur Anatole through the skylight of his bedroom?”