July - December 2001 (January 2002)

Disclaimer: the wonderful P. G. Wodehouse did not use them in this fashion. Edits by elynross. Merry whatsit. Do not archive without permission.


"Well, Jeeves," I said in a stern if somewhat muffled voice, "I must say that I am pretty dashed disappointed."

"Indeed, sir? Turn your head a little more to the left, if you please."

"Pretty dashed disappointed," I repeated, though owing to the circumstances it came out more along the lines of 'pwetty daffed dishappointed,' which is not the kind of thing a chap who outgrew sailor suits several years ago likes to find himself saying, particularly not 'pwetty.' I shuddered, and Jeeves gave a faint, reproving hiss, like that of a small and exceptionally refined tea kettle.

"Please try to remain still, sir. I am afraid that I inadvertently got spirit gum on your nose."

There wasn't much to be said to that except 'Tchah!', so I said it. "Tchah, Jeeves! At least try to keep a steady hand, or the revolting young blighters will be treated to the spectacle of the Abominable Snowman instead."

"I am afraid I do not quite understand you, sir," Jeeves said, and dabbed on some more spirit gum.

Since 'Thnowman' is not a word that tends to come up in daily conversation chez Wooster, I was inclined to believe him. I did not repeat myself this time, though. 'Pwetty' had been bad enough.

The reason behind the muffled tone of Bertram's otherwise bell-like voice can be summed up in two words: my Aunt Dahlia. No, dash it, that's three words. At any rate, it was this female ancestor of mine, of whom I am as a rule extremely fond, who was at the root of the problem, since it was entirely due to her cajoling, persuading, and eventual blackmail that I was currently being glued into the large, white false beard that interfered with the clarity of my diction.

Aunt Dahlia is normally a good and friendly sort of aunt, to whose comfortable country home I am always happy to be invited in order to have a bit of a social get-together with the old flesh and blood and to sample the masterly efforts of her superb French chef, Anatole. Only the previous evening he had dished up some nonettes that could have reduced strong men to tears, and since I would be staying over Christmas, I could look forward to finding out what this outstanding soup-slinger could accomplish by way of holiday fare. Anatole seemed at the top of his form, and Aunt Dahlia had assured me that Christmas dinner would be spectacular. Since his output the rest of the year was fit for the gods, one could only imagine that the festive season inspired him to undreamed-of heights.

But even the thought of Anatole's Christmas dinner was only a thin silver lining on the pretty sizeable cloud that hung over yours truly. Before a bite of this or any other dinner could pass my lips, I would have to dress up as Father Christmas and hand out presents to the boys at the annual Market Snodsbury Grammar School Christmas fête. I was already wearing the red trou, the red white-fringed tunic-style garment over plenty of padding, and most of a generous white beard. Also, due to Jeeves' unaccustomed clumsiness with the spirit gum, I would now have a beard-like growth on the tip of my nose. Rather than come to my rescue in my hour of need, it seemed that Jeeves had embraced the idea of a stouter, redder, more bearded Wooster.

"I'll look a most frightful fool," I said gloomily through a mouthful of face fungus. "The little blighters will laugh their fat little heads off." A terrifying idea struck me. "What if they pull the beard?" A nice bally fool I would look with the beard coming off, I mean to say. Highly unconvincing as jolly old St. Nick.

Jeeves tugged a little at the luxuriant white curls, and I thought the lower half of my face would come off in his hand, leaving him, like that chappie Samson I boned up on when studying for the Scripture prize at school, clutching the jawbone of a colossal ass. "You need have no fear of that, sir. It's quite firmly attached."

I attempted one last, pitiful appeal. "Dash it, Jeeves, there must be some way for you extricate me from this situation. The entire house party will be there. Tuppy Glossop will dine out on this story for months. Evie Spradley will giggle behind her hand — you know how that type of girl giggles."

Uncle Tom, the husband of my good and deserving Aunt Dahlia, is as gentle and inoffensive an old bird as one could hope to meet, but he has what one might call a fatal flaw in his character. He collects old silver, and in the pursuit of some rare porringer or jug, he has been known to make rash and impulsive decisions. One need only think of the time when he was fully prepared to exchange Anatole, God's gift to the discriminating palate, for a ribbon-wreathed horror with a fat infant leering from the lid.

He was currently attempting to induce, inveigle, or in-something else that I've forgotten but Jeeves no doubt knows — intimidate, is it? — the well-known financier Archibald Spradley, a tough egg if I ever saw one, into parting with an acanthus-wreathed soup tureen, the sight of which could make sensitive women faint and weak men go blind. Aunt Dahlia had invited Spradley to stay over Christmas, in what I feared would be a fruitless attempt to soften him up by soaking him in festive cheer and Uncle Tom's best port.

Spradley had brought his daughter Evelyn, the apple of his eye, and it had frequently fallen to my lot to entertain her while Spradley and Uncle Tom spent long hours poring over Uncle Tom's collection, no doubt getting into heated discussions about gadroon borders, or whatever collectors of old silver do when left to their own devices. I had chatted with Evie Spradley, I had demonstrated the finer points of billiards for Evie Spradley, I had taken Evie Spradley to the Market Snodsbury Christmas fair, I had listened to Evie Spradley play carols on the piano, and through it all, she had giggled. She was one of those small, slim, vivacious girls who seem to find life a source of endless amusement, and there had been moments recently when I had contemplated hiding in my room with a juicy whodunnit, a stiff drink, and possibly a pair of earplugs, but Aunt Dahlia had made it very clear that she expected the Spradley female to have no complaints of Bertram's attentiveness.

"I am afraid, sir, that it is far too late, at this point, to attempt any alterations to the programme," Jeeves said. He attached a final portion of whisker up by my right ear, patting it gently into place, and stepped back to survey his handiwork. "Very good, sir. Your hat, sir."

"Hat? Hat? Oh, my sainted aunt!"

* * *

I have heard Jeeves speak on occasion of the times that try men's souls, and as I staggered back into my room and sank gingerly into the nearest chair, it seemed to me that my soul had been tried as few men's ever have. "Jeeves," I said, speaking carefully, as my swollen lower lip was rather sore. "Get this off." I gestured at the remains of what had once been a full, flowing white beard that would have been the pride and joy of any Old Testament prophet.

"That may not be advisable, sir." Jeeves materialized at my left elbow. "The solvent necessary to remove the spirit gum is rather strong, and should not be used on or near open wounds or lacerations, according to the instructions. I would assume that first-degree burns also fall into that category."

I tugged feebly at the soot-blackened foliage. "No, Jeeves. I want every trace of this blasted outgrowth removed from the Wooster phiz, pronto. The stench is revolting. I smell like one of those chappies trapped in the burning oven. Shadrach, or Meshach, or possibly even Abednego." Giving up on the strands of faux fungus, which gave every impression of having become fused to my chin, I began to struggle out of the red tunic. "I would like an explanation, Jeeves."

"For what, sir?" He approached with a bottle of beard-remover in one hand and a swab of cotton in the other, managing to look like the high priest of some Roman temple or other carrying the sacred regalia in a procession. "I was, I admit, unaware that this particular model of false beard was so highly flammable, and that the children would be carrying candles. A most ill-advised choice on the part of the headmaster."

I tipped the noggin back and drew in air between my teeth as the damp cotton made contact with the currently rather sensitive Wooster complexion. Jeeves was right, the solvent stung like billy-o. "I pleaded with you, Jeeves, to get me out of this potentially disastrous situation. You refused, and as a result, I am as scorched as a roast handled by an inferior cook." Not to mention the split lip, as the headmaster, in his headlong rush to extinguish the flames, had beat me rather vigorously around the head with his coat. My left ear was still ringing. "In our years together, I have noticed what one might call a pattern, viz., that public humiliation for Bertram usually turns out to have some deep ulterior motive, if ulterior is the word I want, beneficial to some party or parties. I do think, Jeeves, that after almost becoming Wooster flambé, I am entitled to know what the scheme or ruse was on this particular occasion."

He paused in his application of the deforestating liquid, which was something of a relief, as the sensation that my features were being removed one by one in some species of acid bath was not a pleasant one. "Ah. Yes, sir."

I waited, but as no explanation seemed to be forthcoming, and the cotton swab once again began to remodel my cheekbones, I drew my brows together sternly. "Come, now, Jeeves. Where's the old feudal spirit?"

Jeeves cleared his throat. "Very well, sir. As you are aware, it has at times seemed wise to me to nip certain romantic entanglements in the bud."

I winced as a particularly stubborn piece of scorched beard was detached from my jaw. "And most of the time, you have made the right choice," I said magnanimously. There have been times when I have objected to Jeeves's interference in my own and others' romantic pursuits, but as time has passed, I have been forced to admit that Jeeves's decisions have been more sensible than my own. If it were not for his timely interventions, I would be a staid, married man — in fact, possibly a bigamist — rather than a gay, carefree bachelor.

"The best way I have found of ending an inconvenient tendresse has been to create an embarrassing and, if at all possible, humorous situation. Most temporary attachments do not survive seeing the object of infatuation as an object of ridicule."

Jeeves turned aside and shook the bottle of solvent, and I pondered his words. They seemed to suggest some rather disturbing possibilities. "By golly, Jeeves! You don't mean to say that...?"

"Yes, sir."

That certainly cast a whole new light on the point at issue, I mused, tugging at the small beard fragment that remained firmly stuck to the old schnozz. While I still felt less than perfectly gruntled at having worn an outfit in a color more suitable for pillar-boxes than well-dressed gentlemen, not to mention having been set on fire, I began to perceive that there were more important matters at stake than B. Wooster's personal dignity. Evie Spradley's persistent giggles and fluttering lashes took on a new, sinister meaning.

"Well, in that case," I said, "though your methods were rather radical, I will concede that you were acting with the young master's best interests at heart. La Spradley does not strike me as the ideal mate. She would probably giggle across the breakfast table."

"Yes, sir," Jeeves said, his voice a model of neutrality, rather as though Switzerland had suddenly started to speak.

I nodded, taking no offense at the implied reproach. The Woosters do not bandy a woman's name, not even that of a giggling menace. Jeeves swabbed my chin and the area around my mouth, and it was some time before I could speak again without risking getting a snootful of solvent. "Was the stratagem successful?" I asked.

"I fear not, sir." Jeeves refused to meet my eye, as well he might; putting the young master through a harrowing experience for the sake of a higher goal is one thing, but now it appeared that the sacrifice of my comfort, my dignity, and half of my left eyebrow had been in vain. "It would appear that the attachment in question is more deep-rooted than I had believed."

"In that case," I said, fingering my upper lip to make certain it was still there, "I am bally well going to have a serious word with Aunt Dahlia. She wants me to show Evie Spradley the winter garden by moonlight. I will have to put my foot down." Previous occasions of putting my foot down around said aunt had not infrequently resulted in having the rug yanked out from under it, but I was resolved to be firm. Girls who are shown gardens by moonlight are apt to read something into it, and it seemed to me that Aunt Dahlia could hardly expect me to become engaged to a giggling half-pint for the sake of Uncle Tom's blasted soup tureen.

"Yes, sir."

The last piece of the blackened beard yielded to Jeeves's gentle persuasion, and I breathed a sigh of relief. While the Wooster face was undoubtedly still not at its best, the removal of the charred remains had at least, I hoped, elevated me from the class of frightful fiends from whom children flee screaming in the street, since that had been rather a harrowing experience for a sensitive plant such as myself. I rather suspected that my visage would still cause the discriminating hostess to sniff in disapproval, though, and that Aunt Dahlia would not want a Bertram with a split lip and a lacerated jaw to grace her dinner table.

"I rather think I'll stay here, and have some soup sent up," I said, much as it pained me to renounce one of Anatole's no doubt excellent offerings. Then a new and frightful thought occurred to me. "By golly, Jeeves. You don't think Evie Spradley will come here, do you?" She seemed exactly like the kind of girl who would want to kiss it and make it all better.

"No, sir." Jeeves put aside the bottle of solvent and the cotton swabs. One of his eyebrows quivered an ominous fraction of an inch, and I sat up in alarm, as this seemed to betoken considerable inner turmoil. "I do not believe that you need feel any anxiety concerning Miss Spradley, sir."

"I don't?" That was good news, but dashed mystifying. "But Jeeves, you just told me that the attachment in question was still going strong."

"Yes, sir. It was not Miss Spradley to whom I was referring, sir. You need not concern yourself with this matter any further. I will ask the kitchen to send up some soup." He gathered up the bottle, the swabs, and the ruins of a once-proud beard, preparatory to shimmying off.

"But, dash it, Jeeves—" I broke off, only in part because impassioned vociferation caused my lower lip to twinge most unpleasantly. A sensation of sudden enlightenment gripped me, and it was only by exercising the strictest self-control that I was able to refrain from shouting 'Ah ha!' The forbidding look on Jeeves' face woke compassionate feelings in my breast, and I decided to postpone the interrogation his utterances unquestionably merited. "Very well, Jeeves. That will be all."

He vanished in that sudden way of his, like a ghost at sunrise, and I was left to contemplate this new and intriguing state of affairs. While it was a considerable relief to know that Evie Spradley was not in the market for some Wooster-shaped husband material, it seemed clear that there were issues closer to home that required my full attention. Jeeves would no doubt decide to tell me the truth in his own good time.

If he didn't, I should simply have to take matters into my own hands. One can only wait so long for a good thing, after all.

* * *

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