I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare—or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad—who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping. There’s no doubt the man’s right. It’s absolutely that way with me. Take, for instance, the fairly rummy matter of Lady Malvern and her son Wilmot. A moment before they turned up, I was just thinking how thoroughly all right everything was.
It was one of those topping mornings, and I had just climbed out from under the cold shower, feeling like a two-year-old. As a matter of fact, I was especially bucked just then because the day before I had asserted myself with Jeeves—absolutely asserted myself, don’t you know. You see, the way things had been going on I was rapidly becoming a dashed serf. The man had jolly well oppressed me. I didn’t so much mind when he made me give up one of my new suits, because, Jeeves’s judgment about suits is sound. But I as near as a toucher rebelled when he wouldn’t let me wear a pair of cloth-topped boots which I loved like a couple of brothers. And when he tried to tread on me like a worm in the matter of a hat, I jolly well put my foot down and showed him who was who. It’s a long story, and I haven’t time to tell you now, but the point is that he wanted me to wear the Longacre—as worn by John Drew—when I had set my heart on the Country Gentleman—as worn by another famous actor chappie—and the end of the matter was that, after a rather painful scene, I bought the Country Gentleman. So that’s how things stood on this particular morning, and I was feeling kind of manly and independent.
Well, I was in the bathroom, wondering what there was going to be for breakfast while I massaged the good old spine with a rough towel and sang slightly, when there was a tap at the door. I stopped singing and opened the door an inch.
“What ho without there!”
“Lady Malvern wishes to see you, sir,” said Jeeves.
“Lady Malvern, sir. She is waiting in the sitting-room.”
“Pull yourself together, Jeeves, my man,” I said, rather severely, for I bar practical jokes before breakfast. “You know perfectly well there’s no one waiting for me in the sitting-room. How could there be when it’s barely ten o’clock yet?”
“I gathered from her ladyship, sir, that she had landed from an ocean liner at an early hour this morning.”
This made the thing a bit more plausible. I remembered that when I had arrived in America about a year before, the proceedings had begun at some ghastly hour like six, and that I had been shot out on to a foreign shore considerably before eight.
“Who the deuce is Lady Malvern, Jeeves?”
“Her ladyship did not confide in me, sir.”
“Is she alone?”
“Her ladyship is accompanied by a Lord Pershore, sir. I fancy that his lordship would be her ladyship’s son.”
“Oh, well, put out rich raiment of sorts, and I’ll be dressing.”
“Our heather-mixture lounge is in readiness, sir.”
“Then lead me to it.”
While I was dressing I kept trying to think who on earth Lady Malvern could be. It wasn’t till I had climbed through the top of my shirt and was reaching out for the studs that I remembered.
“I’ve placed her, Jeeves. She’s a pal of my Aunt Agatha.”
“Yes. I met her at lunch one Sunday before I left London. A very vicious specimen. Writes books. She wrote a book on social conditions in India when she came back from the Durbar.”
“Yes, sir? Pardon me, sir, but not that tie!”
“Not that tie with the heather-mixture lounge, sir!”
It was a shock to me. I thought I had quelled the fellow. It was rather a solemn moment. What I mean is, if I weakened now, all my good work the night before would be thrown away. I braced myself.
“What’s wrong with this tie? I’ve seen you give it a nasty look before. Speak out like a man! What’s the matter with it?”
“Too ornate, sir.”
“Nonsense! A cheerful pink. Nothing more.”
“Jeeves, this is the tie I wear!”
“Very good, sir.”
Dashed unpleasant. I could see that the man was wounded. But I was firm. I tied the tie, got into the coat and waistcoat, and went into the sitting-room.
“Halloa! Halloa! Halloa!” I said. “What?”
“Ah! How do you do, Mr. Wooster? You have never met my son, Wilmot, I think? Motty, darling, this is Mr. Wooster.”
Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season. She had bright, bulging eyes and a lot of yellow hair, and when she spoke she showed about fifty-seven front teeth. She was one of those women who kind of numb a fellow’s faculties. She made me feel as if I were ten years old and had been brought into the drawing-room in my Sunday clothes to say how-d’you-do. Altogether by no means the sort of thing a chappie would wish to find in his sitting-room before breakfast.
Motty, the son, was about twenty-three, tall and thin and meek-looking. He had the same yellow hair as his mother, but he wore it plastered down and parted in the middle. His eyes bulged, too, but they weren’t bright. They were a dull grey with pink rims. His chin gave up the struggle about half-way down, and he didn’t appear to have any eyelashes. A mild, furtive, sheepish sort of blighter, in short.
“Awfully glad to see you,” I said. “So you’ve popped over, eh? Making a long stay in America?”
“About a month. Your aunt gave me your address and told me to be sure and call on you.”
I was glad to hear this, as it showed that Aunt Agatha was beginning to come round a bit. There had been some unpleasantness a year before, when she had sent me over to New York to disentangle my Cousin Gussie from the clutches of a girl on the music-hall stage. When I tell you that by the time I had finished my operations, Gussie had not only married the girl but had gone on the stage himself, and was doing well, you’ll understand that Aunt Agatha was upset to no small extent. I simply hadn’t dared go back and face her, and it was a relief to find that time had healed the wound and all that sort of thing enough to make her tell her pals to look me up. What I mean is, much as I liked America, I didn’t want to have England barred to me for the rest of my natural; and, believe me, England is a jolly sight too small for anyone to live in with Aunt Agatha, if she’s really on the warpath. So I braced on hearing these kind words and smiled genially on the assemblage.
“Your aunt said that you would do anything that was in your power to be of assistance to us.”
“Rather? Oh, rather! Absolutely!”
“Thank you so much. I want you to put dear Motty up for a little while.”
I didn’t get this for a moment.
“Put him up? For my clubs?”
“No, no! Darling Motty is essentially a home bird. Aren’t you, Motty darling?”
Motty, who was sucking the knob of his stick, uncorked himself.
“Yes, mother,” he said, and corked himself up again.
“I should not like him to belong to clubs. I mean put him up here. Have him to live with you while I am away.”
These frightful words trickled out of her like honey. The woman simply didn’t seem to understand the ghastly nature of her proposal. I gave Motty the swift east-to-west. He was sitting with his mouth nuzzling the stick, blinking at the wall. The thought of having this planted on me for an indefinite period appalled me. Absolutely appalled me, don’t you know. I was just starting to say that the shot wasn’t on the board at any price, and that the first sign Motty gave of trying to nestle into my little home I would yell for the police, when she went on, rolling placidly over me, as it were.
There was something about this woman that sapped a chappie’s will-power.
“I am leaving New York by the midday train, as I have to pay a visit to Sing-Sing prison. I am extremely interested in prison conditions in America. After that I work my way gradually across to the coast, visiting the points of interest on the journey. You see, Mr. Wooster, I am in America principally on business. No doubt you read my book, India and the Indians? My publishers are anxious for me to write a companion volume on the United States. I shall not be able to spend more than a month in the country, as I have to get back for the season, but a month should be ample. I was less than a month in India, and my dear friend Sir Roger Cremorne wrote his America from Within after a stay of only two weeks. I should love to take dear Motty with me, but the poor boy gets so sick when he travels by train. I shall have to pick him up on my return.”
From where I sat I could see Jeeves in the dining-room, laying the breakfast-table. I wished I could have had a minute with him alone. I felt certain that he would have been able to think of some way of putting a stop to this woman.
“It will be such a relief to know that Motty is safe with you, Mr. Wooster. I know what the temptations of a great city are. Hitherto dear Motty has been sheltered from them. He has lived quietly with me in the country. I know that you will look after him carefully, Mr. Wooster. He will give very little trouble.” She talked about the poor blighter as if he wasn’t there. Not that Motty seemed to mind. He had stopped chewing his walking-stick and was sitting there with his mouth open. “He is a vegetarian and a teetotaller and is devoted to reading. Give him a nice book and he will be quite contented.” She got up. “Thank you so much, Mr. Wooster! I don’t know what I should have done without your help. Come, Motty! We have just time to see a few of the sights before my train goes. But I shall have to rely on you for most of my information about New York, darling. Be sure to keep your eyes open and take notes of your impressions! It will be such a help. Good-bye, Mr. Wooster. I will send Motty back early in the afternoon.”
They went out, and I howled for Jeeves.
“Jeeves! What about it?”
“What’s to be done? You heard it all, didn’t you? You were in the dining-room most of the time. That pill is coming to stay here.”
“I beg your pardon, sir?”
I looked at Jeeves sharply. This sort of thing wasn’t like him. It was as if he were deliberately trying to give me the pip. Then I understood. The man was really upset about that tie. He was trying to get his own back.
“Lord Pershore will be staying here from to-night, Jeeves,” I said coldly.
“Very good, sir. Breakfast is ready, sir.”
I could have sobbed into the bacon and eggs. That there wasn’t any sympathy to be got out of Jeeves was what put the lid on it. For a moment I almost weakened and told him to destroy the hat and tie if he didn’t like them, but I pulled myself together again. I was dashed if I was going to let Jeeves treat me like a bally one-man chain-gang!
But, what with brooding on Jeeves and brooding on Motty, I was in a pretty reduced sort of state. The more I examined the situation, the more blighted it became. There was nothing I could do. If I slung Motty out, he would report to his mother, and she would pass it on to Aunt Agatha, and I didn’t like to think what would happen then. Sooner or later, I should be wanting to go back to England, and I didn’t want to get there and find Aunt Agatha waiting on the quay for me with a stuffed eelskin. There was absolutely nothing for it but to put the fellow up and make the best of it.
About midday Motty’s luggage arrived, and soon afterward a large parcel of what I took to be nice books. I brightened up a little when I saw it. It was one of those massive parcels and looked as if it had enough in it to keep the chappie busy for a year. I felt a trifle more cheerful, and I got my Country Gentleman hat and stuck it on my head, and gave the pink tie a twist, and reeled out to take a bite of lunch with one or two of the lads at a neighbouring hostelry; and what with excellent browsing and sluicing and cheery conversation and what-not, the afternoon passed quite happily. By dinner-time I had almost forgotten blighted Motty’s existence.
I dined at the club and looked in at a show afterward, and it wasn’t till fairly late that I got back to the flat. There were no signs of Motty, and I took it that he had gone to bed.