Jeeves—my man, you know—is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.
As an instance of what I mean, I remember meeting Monty Byng in Bond Street one morning, looking the last word in a grey check suit, and I felt I should never be happy till I had one like it. I dug the address of the tailors out of him, and had them working on the thing inside the hour.
“Jeeves,” I said that evening. “I’m getting a check suit like that one of Mr. Byng’s.”
“Injudicious, sir,” he said firmly. “It will not become you.”
“What absolute rot! It’s the soundest thing I’ve struck for years.”
“Unsuitable for you, sir.”
Well, the long and the short of it was that the confounded thing came home, and I put it on, and when I caught sight of myself in the glass I nearly swooned. Jeeves was perfectly right. I looked a cross between a music-hall comedian and a cheap bookie. Yet Monty had looked fine in absolutely the same stuff. These things are just Life’s mysteries, and that’s all there is to it.
But it isn’t only that Jeeves’s judgment about clothes is infallible, though, of course, that’s really the main thing. The man knows everything. There was the matter of that tip on the “Lincolnshire.” I forget now how I got it, but it had the aspect of being the real, red-hot tabasco.
“Jeeves,” I said, for I’m fond of the man, and like to do him a good turn when I can, “if you want to make a bit of money have something on Wonderchild for the ‘Lincolnshire.'”
He shook his head.
“I’d rather not, sir.”
“But it’s the straight goods. I’m going to put my shirt on him.”
“I do not recommend it, sir. The animal is not intended to win. Second place is what the stable is after.”
Perfect piffle, I thought, of course. How the deuce could Jeeves know anything about it? Still, you know what happened. Wonderchild led till he was breathing on the wire, and then Banana Fritter came along and nosed him out. I went straight home and rang for Jeeves.
“After this,” I said, “not another step for me without your advice. From now on consider yourself the brains of the establishment.”
“Very good, sir. I shall endeavour to give satisfaction.”
And he has, by Jove! I’m a bit short on brain myself; the old bean would appear to have been constructed more for ornament than for use, don’t you know; but give me five minutes to talk the thing over with Jeeves, and I’m game to advise any one about anything. And that’s why, when Bruce Corcoran came to me with his troubles, my first act was to ring the bell and put it up to the lad with the bulging forehead.
“Leave it to Jeeves,” I said.
I first got to know Corky when I came to New York. He was a pal of my cousin Gussie, who was in with a lot of people down Washington Square way. I don’t know if I ever told you about it, but the reason why I left England was because I was sent over by my Aunt Agatha to try to stop young Gussie marrying a girl on the vaudeville stage, and I got the whole thing so mixed up that I decided that it would be a sound scheme for me to stop on in America for a bit instead of going back and having long cosy chats about the thing with aunt. So I sent Jeeves out to find a decent apartment, and settled down for a bit of exile. I’m bound to say that New York’s a topping place to be exiled in. Everybody was awfully good to me, and there seemed to be plenty of things going on, and I’m a wealthy bird, so everything was fine. Chappies introduced me to other chappies, and so on and so forth, and it wasn’t long before I knew squads of the right sort, some who rolled in dollars in houses up by the Park, and others who lived with the gas turned down mostly around Washington Square—artists and writers and so forth. Brainy coves.
Corky was one of the artists. A portrait-painter, he called himself, but he hadn’t painted any portraits. He was sitting on the side-lines with a blanket over his shoulders, waiting for a chance to get into the game. You see, the catch about portrait-painting—I’ve looked into the thing a bit—is that you can’t start painting portraits till people come along and ask you to, and they won’t come and ask you to until you’ve painted a lot first. This makes it kind of difficult for a chappie. Corky managed to get along by drawing an occasional picture for the comic papers—he had rather a gift for funny stuff when he got a good idea—and doing bedsteads and chairs and things for the advertisements. His principal source of income, however, was derived from biting the ear of a rich uncle—one Alexander Worple, who was in the jute business. I’m a bit foggy as to what jute is, but it’s apparently something the populace is pretty keen on, for Mr. Worple had made quite an indecently large stack out of it.
Now, a great many fellows think that having a rich uncle is a pretty soft snap: but, according to Corky, such is not the case. Corky’s uncle was a robust sort of cove, who looked like living for ever. He was fifty-one, and it seemed as if he might go to par. It was not this, however, that distressed poor old Corky, for he was not bigoted and had no objection to the man going on living. What Corky kicked at was the way the above Worple used to harry him.
Corky’s uncle, you see, didn’t want him to be an artist. He didn’t think he had any talent in that direction. He was always urging him to chuck Art and go into the jute business and start at the bottom and work his way up. Jute had apparently become a sort of obsession with him. He seemed to attach almost a spiritual importance to it. And what Corky said was that, while he didn’t know what they did at the bottom of the jute business, instinct told him that it was something too beastly for words. Corky, moreover, believed in his future as an artist. Some day, he said, he was going to make a hit. Meanwhile, by using the utmost tact and persuasiveness, he was inducing his uncle to cough up very grudgingly a small quarterly allowance.
He wouldn’t have got this if his uncle hadn’t had a hobby. Mr. Worple was peculiar in this respect. As a rule, from what I’ve observed, the American captain of industry doesn’t do anything out of business hours. When he has put the cat out and locked up the office for the night, he just relapses into a state of coma from which he emerges only to start being a captain of industry again. But Mr. Worple in his spare time was what is known as an ornithologist. He had written a book called American Birds, and was writing another, to be called More American Birds. When he had finished that, the presumption was that he would begin a third, and keep on till the supply of American birds gave out. Corky used to go to him about once every three months and let him talk about American birds. Apparently you could do what you liked with old Worple if you gave him his head first on his pet subject, so these little chats used to make Corky’s allowance all right for the time being. But it was pretty rotten for the poor chap. There was the frightful suspense, you see, and, apart from that, birds, except when broiled and in the society of a cold bottle, bored him stiff.
To complete the character-study of Mr. Worple, he was a man of extremely uncertain temper, and his general tendency was to think that Corky was a poor chump and that whatever step he took in any direction on his own account, was just another proof of his innate idiocy. I should imagine Jeeves feels very much the same about me.
So when Corky trickled into my apartment one afternoon, shooing a girl in front of him, and said, “Bertie, I want you to meet my fiancée, Miss Singer,” the aspect of the matter which hit me first was precisely the one which he had come to consult me about. The very first words I spoke were, “Corky, how about your uncle?”
The poor chap gave one of those mirthless laughs. He was looking anxious and worried, like a man who has done the murder all right but can’t think what the deuce to do with the body.
“We’re so scared, Mr. Wooster,” said the girl. “We were hoping that you might suggest a way of breaking it to him.”
Muriel Singer was one of those very quiet, appealing girls who have a way of looking at you with their big eyes as if they thought you were the greatest thing on earth and wondered that you hadn’t got on to it yet yourself. She sat there in a sort of shrinking way, looking at me as if she were saying to herself, “Oh, I do hope this great strong man isn’t going to hurt me.” She gave a fellow a protective kind of feeling, made him want to stroke her hand and say, “There, there, little one!” or words to that effect. She made me feel that there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. She was rather like one of those innocent-tasting American drinks which creep imperceptibly into your system so that, before you know what you’re doing, you’re starting out to reform the world by force if necessary and pausing on your way to tell the large man in the corner that, if he looks at you like that, you will knock his head off. What I mean is, she made me feel alert and dashing, like a jolly old knight-errant or something of that kind. I felt that I was with her in this thing to the limit.
“I don’t see why your uncle shouldn’t be most awfully bucked,” I said to Corky. “He will think Miss Singer the ideal wife for you.”
Corky declined to cheer up.
“You don’t know him. Even if he did like Muriel he wouldn’t admit it. That’s the sort of pig-headed guy he is. It would be a matter of principle with him to kick. All he would consider would be that I had gone and taken an important step without asking his advice, and he would raise Cain automatically. He’s always done it.”
I strained the old bean to meet this emergency.
“You want to work it so that he makes Miss Singer’s acquaintance without knowing that you know her. Then you come along——”
“But how can I work it that way?”
I saw his point. That was the catch.
“There’s only one thing to do,” I said.
“Leave it to Jeeves.”
And I rang the bell.
“Sir?” said Jeeves, kind of manifesting himself. One of the rummy things about Jeeves is that, unless you watch like a hawk, you very seldom see him come into a room. He’s like one of those weird chappies in India who dissolve themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. I’ve got a cousin who’s what they call a Theosophist, and he says he’s often nearly worked the thing himself, but couldn’t quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals slain in anger and pie.
The moment I saw the man standing there, registering respectful attention, a weight seemed to roll off my mind. I felt like a lost child who spots his father in the offing. There was something about him that gave me confidence.
Jeeves is a tallish man, with one of those dark, shrewd faces. His eye gleams with the light of pure intelligence.
“Jeeves, we want your advice.”
“Very good, sir.”
I boiled down Corky’s painful case into a few well-chosen words.
“So you see what it amount to, Jeeves. We want you to suggest some way by which Mr. Worple can make Miss Singer’s acquaintance without getting on to the fact that Mr. Corcoran already knows her. Understand?”
“Well, try to think of something.”
“I have thought of something already, sir.”
“The scheme I would suggest cannot fail of success, but it has what may seem to you a drawback, sir, in that it requires a certain financial outlay.”
“He means,” I translated to Corky, “that he has got a pippin of an idea, but it’s going to cost a bit.”
Naturally the poor chap’s face dropped, for this seemed to dish the whole thing. But I was still under the influence of the girl’s melting gaze, and I saw that this was where I started in as a knight-errant.
“You can count on me for all that sort of thing, Corky,” I said. “Only too glad. Carry on, Jeeves.”
“I would suggest, sir, that Mr. Corcoran take advantage of Mr. Worple’s attachment to ornithology.”
“How on earth did you know that he was fond of birds?”
“It is the way these New York apartments are constructed, sir. Quite unlike our London houses. The partitions between the rooms are of the flimsiest nature. With no wish to overhear, I have sometimes heard Mr. Corcoran expressing himself with a generous strength on the subject I have mentioned.”
“Why should not the young lady write a small volume, to be entitled—let us say—The Children’s Book of American Birds, and dedicate it to Mr. Worple! A limited edition could be published at your expense, sir, and a great deal of the book would, of course, be given over to eulogistic remarks concerning Mr. Worple’s own larger treatise on the same subject. I should recommend the dispatching of a presentation copy to Mr. Worple, immediately on publication, accompanied by a letter in which the young lady asks to be allowed to make the acquaintance of one to whom she owes so much. This would, I fancy, produce the desired result, but as I say, the expense involved would be considerable.”
I felt like the proprietor of a performing dog on the vaudeville stage when the tyke has just pulled off his trick without a hitch. I had betted on Jeeves all along, and I had known that he wouldn’t let me down. It beats me sometimes why a man with his genius is satisfied to hang around pressing my clothes and what-not. If I had half Jeeves’s brain, I should have a stab at being Prime Minister or something.
“Jeeves,” I said, “that is absolutely ripping! One of your very best efforts.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The girl made an objection.
“But I’m sure I couldn’t write a book about anything. I can’t even write good letters.”
“Muriel’s talents,” said Corky, with a little cough “lie more in the direction of the drama, Bertie. I didn’t mention it before, but one of our reasons for being a trifle nervous as to how Uncle Alexander will receive the news is that Muriel is in the chorus of that show Choose your Exit at the Manhattan. It’s absurdly unreasonable, but we both feel that that fact might increase Uncle Alexander’s natural tendency to kick like a steer.”
I saw what he meant. Goodness knows there was fuss enough in our family when I tried to marry into musical comedy a few years ago. And the recollection of my Aunt Agatha’s attitude in the matter of Gussie and the vaudeville girl was still fresh in my mind. I don’t know why it is—one of these psychology sharps could explain it, I suppose—but uncles and aunts, as a class, are always dead against the drama, legitimate or otherwise. They don’t seem able to stick it at any price.
But Jeeves had a solution, of course.
“I fancy it would be a simple matter, sir, to find some impecunious author who would be glad to do the actual composition of the volume for a small fee. It is only necessary that the young lady’s name should appear on the title page.”
“That’s true,” said Corky. “Sam Patterson would do it for a hundred dollars. He writes a novelette, three short stories, and ten thousand words of a serial for one of the all-fiction magazines under different names every month. A little thing like this would be nothing to him. I’ll get after him right away.”
“Will that be all, sir?” said Jeeves. “Very good, sir. Thank you, sir.”
I always used to think that publishers had to be devilish intelligent fellows, loaded down with the grey matter; but I’ve got their number now. All a publisher has to do is to write cheques at intervals, while a lot of deserving and industrious chappies rally round and do the real work. I know, because I’ve been one myself. I simply sat tight in the old apartment with a fountain-pen, and in due season a topping, shiny book came along.
I happened to be down at Corky’s place when the first copies of The Children’s Book of American Birds bobbed up. Muriel Singer was there, and we were talking of things in general when there was a bang at the door and the parcel was delivered.
It was certainly some book. It had a red cover with a fowl of some species on it, and underneath the girl’s name in gold letters. I opened a copy at random.
“Often of a spring morning,” it said at the top of page twenty-one, “as you wander through the fields, you will hear the sweet-toned, carelessly flowing warble of the purple finch linnet. When you are older you must read all about him in Mr. Alexander Worple’s wonderful book—American Birds.”
You see. A boost for the uncle right away. And only a few pages later there he was in the limelight again in connection with the yellow-billed cuckoo. It was great stuff. The more I read, the more I admired the chap who had written it and Jeeves’s genius in putting us on to the wheeze. I didn’t see how the uncle could fail to drop. You can’t call a chap the world’s greatest authority on the yellow-billed cuckoo without rousing a certain disposition towards chumminess in him.