Sometimes of a morning, as I’ve sat in bed sucking down the early cup of tea and watched my man Jeeves flitting about the room and putting out the raiment for the day, I’ve wondered what the deuce I should do if the fellow ever took it into his head to leave me. It’s not so bad now I’m in New York, but in London the anxiety was frightful. There used to be all sorts of attempts on the part of low blighters to sneak him away from me. Young Reggie Foljambe to my certain knowledge offered him double what I was giving him, and Alistair Bingham-Reeves, who’s got a valet who had been known to press his trousers sideways, used to look at him, when he came to see me, with a kind of glittering hungry eye which disturbed me deucedly. Bally pirates!
The thing, you see, is that Jeeves is so dashed competent. You can spot it even in the way he shoves studs into a shirt.
I rely on him absolutely in every crisis, and he never lets me down. And, what’s more, he can always be counted on to extend himself on behalf of any pal of mine who happens to be to all appearances knee-deep in the bouillon. Take the rather rummy case, for instance, of dear old Bicky and his uncle, the hard-boiled egg.
It happened after I had been in America for a few months. I got back to the flat latish one night, and when Jeeves brought me the final drink he said:
“Mr. Bickersteth called to see you this evening, sir, while you were out.”
“Oh?” I said.
“Twice, sir. He appeared a trifle agitated.”
“He gave that impression, sir.”
I sipped the whisky. I was sorry if Bicky was in trouble, but, as a matter of fact, I was rather glad to have something I could discuss freely with Jeeves just then, because things had been a bit strained between us for some time, and it had been rather difficult to hit on anything to talk about that wasn’t apt to take a personal turn. You see, I had decided—rightly or wrongly—to grow a moustache and this had cut Jeeves to the quick. He couldn’t stick the thing at any price, and I had been living ever since in an atmosphere of bally disapproval till I was getting jolly well fed up with it. What I mean is, while there’s no doubt that in certain matters of dress Jeeves’s judgment is absolutely sound and should be followed, it seemed to me that it was getting a bit too thick if he was going to edit my face as well as my costume. No one can call me an unreasonable chappie, and many’s the time I’ve given in like a lamb when Jeeves has voted against one of my pet suits or ties; but when it comes to a valet’s staking out a claim on your upper lip you’ve simply got to have a bit of the good old bulldog pluck and defy the blighter.
“He said that he would call again later, sir.”
“Something must be up, Jeeves.”
I gave the moustache a thoughtful twirl. It seemed to hurt Jeeves a good deal, so I chucked it.
“I see by the paper, sir, that Mr. Bickersteth’s uncle is arriving on the Carmantic.”
“His Grace the Duke of Chiswick, sir.”
This was news to me, that Bicky’s uncle was a duke. Rum, how little one knows about one’s pals! I had met Bicky for the first time at a species of beano or jamboree down in Washington Square, not long after my arrival in New York. I suppose I was a bit homesick at the time, and I rather took to Bicky when I found that he was an Englishman and had, in fact, been up at Oxford with me. Besides, he was a frightful chump, so we naturally drifted together; and while we were taking a quiet snort in a corner that wasn’t all cluttered up with artists and sculptors and what-not, he furthermore endeared himself to me by a most extraordinarily gifted imitation of a bull-terrier chasing a cat up a tree. But, though we had subsequently become extremely pally, all I really knew about him was that he was generally hard up, and had an uncle who relieved the strain a bit from time to time by sending him monthly remittances.
“If the Duke of Chiswick is his uncle,” I said, “why hasn’t he a title? Why isn’t he Lord What-Not?”
“Mr. Bickersteth is the son of his grace’s late sister, sir, who married Captain Rollo Bickersteth of the Coldstream Guards.”
Jeeves knows everything.
“Is Mr. Bickersteth’s father dead, too?”
“Leave any money?”
I began to understand why poor old Bicky was always more or less on the rocks. To the casual and irreflective observer, if you know what I mean, it may sound a pretty good wheeze having a duke for an uncle, but the trouble about old Chiswick was that, though an extremely wealthy old buster, owning half London and about five counties up north, he was notoriously the most prudent spender in England. He was what American chappies would call a hard-boiled egg. If Bicky’s people hadn’t left him anything and he depended on what he could prise out of the old duke, he was in a pretty bad way. Not that that explained why he was hunting me like this, because he was a chap who never borrowed money. He said he wanted to keep his pals, so never bit any one’s ear on principle.
At this juncture the door bell rang. Jeeves floated out to answer it.
“Yes, sir. Mr. Wooster has just returned,” I heard him say. And Bicky came trickling in, looking pretty sorry for himself.
“Halloa, Bicky!” I said. “Jeeves told me you had been trying to get me. Jeeves, bring another glass, and let the revels commence. What’s the trouble, Bicky?”
“I’m in a hole, Bertie. I want your advice.”
“Say on, old lad!”
“My uncle’s turning up to-morrow, Bertie.”
“So Jeeves told me.”
“The Duke of Chiswick, you know.”
“So Jeeves told me.”
Bicky seemed a bit surprised.
“Jeeves seems to know everything.”
“Rather rummily, that’s exactly what I was thinking just now myself.”
“Well, I wish,” said Bicky gloomily, “that he knew a way to get me out of the hole I’m in.”
Jeeves shimmered in with the glass, and stuck it competently on the table.
“Mr. Bickersteth is in a bit of a hole, Jeeves,” I said, “and wants you to rally round.”
“Very good, sir.”
Bicky looked a bit doubtful.
“Well, of course, you know, Bertie, this thing is by way of being a bit private and all that.”
“I shouldn’t worry about that, old top. I bet Jeeves knows all about it already. Don’t you, Jeeves?”
“Eh!” said Bicky, rattled.
“I am open to correction, sir, but is not your dilemma due to the fact that you are at a loss to explain to his grace why you are in New York instead of in Colorado?”
Bicky rocked like a jelly in a high wind.
“How the deuce do you know anything about it?”
“I chanced to meet his grace’s butler before we left England. He informed me that he happened to overhear his grace speaking to you on the matter, sir, as he passed the library door.”
Bicky gave a hollow sort of laugh.
“Well, as everybody seems to know all about it, there’s no need to try to keep it dark. The old boy turfed me out, Bertie, because he said I was a brainless nincompoop. The idea was that he would give me a remittance on condition that I dashed out to some blighted locality of the name of Colorado and learned farming or ranching, or whatever they call it, at some bally ranch or farm or whatever it’s called. I didn’t fancy the idea a bit. I should have had to ride horses and pursue cows, and so forth. I hate horses. They bite at you. I was all against the scheme. At the same time, don’t you know, I had to have that remittance.”
“I get you absolutely, dear boy.”
“Well, when I got to New York it looked a decent sort of place to me, so I thought it would be a pretty sound notion to stop here. So I cabled to my uncle telling him that I had dropped into a good business wheeze in the city and wanted to chuck the ranch idea. He wrote back that it was all right, and here I’ve been ever since. He thinks I’m doing well at something or other over here. I never dreamed, don’t you know, that he would ever come out here. What on earth am I to do?”
“Jeeves,” I said, “what on earth is Mr. Bickersteth to do?”
“You see,” said Bicky, “I had a wireless from him to say that he was coming to stay with me—to save hotel bills, I suppose. I’ve always given him the impression that I was living in pretty good style. I can’t have him to stay at my boarding-house.”
“Thought of anything, Jeeves?” I said.
“To what extent, sir, if the question is not a delicate one, are you prepared to assist Mr. Bickersteth?”
“I’ll do anything I can for you, of course, Bicky, old man.”
“Then, if I might make the suggestion, sir, you might lend Mr. Bickersteth——”
“No, by Jove!” said Bicky firmly. “I never have touched you, Bertie, and I’m not going to start now. I may be a chump, but it’s my boast that I don’t owe a penny to a single soul—not counting tradesmen, of course.”
“I was about to suggest, sir, that you might lend Mr. Bickersteth this flat. Mr. Bickersteth could give his grace the impression that he was the owner of it. With your permission I could convey the notion that I was in Mr. Bickersteth’s employment, and not in yours. You would be residing here temporarily as Mr. Bickersteth’s guest. His grace would occupy the second spare bedroom. I fancy that you would find this answer satisfactorily, sir.”
Bicky had stopped rocking himself and was staring at Jeeves in an awed sort of way.
“I would advocate the dispatching of a wireless message to his grace on board the vessel, notifying him of the change of address. Mr. Bickersteth could meet his grace at the dock and proceed directly here. Will that meet the situation, sir?”
“Thank you, sir.”
Bicky followed him with his eye till the door closed.
“How does he do it, Bertie?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is. I believe it’s something to do with the shape of his head. Have you ever noticed his head, Bertie, old man? It sort of sticks out at the back!”
I hopped out of bed early next morning, so as to be among those present when the old boy should arrive. I knew from experience that these ocean liners fetch up at the dock at a deucedly ungodly hour. It wasn’t much after nine by the time I’d dressed and had my morning tea and was leaning out of the window, watching the street for Bicky and his uncle. It was one of those jolly, peaceful mornings that make a chappie wish he’d got a soul or something, and I was just brooding on life in general when I became aware of the dickens of a spate in progress down below. A taxi had driven up, and an old boy in a top hat had got out and was kicking up a frightful row about the fare. As far as I could make out, he was trying to get the cab chappie to switch from New York to London prices, and the cab chappie had apparently never heard of London before, and didn’t seem to think a lot of it now. The old boy said that in London the trip would have set him back eightpence; and the cabby said he should worry. I called to Jeeves.
“The duke has arrived, Jeeves.”
“That’ll be him at the door now.”
Jeeves made a long arm and opened the front door, and the old boy crawled in, looking licked to a splinter.
“How do you do, sir?” I said, bustling up and being the ray of sunshine. “Your nephew went down to the dock to meet you, but you must have missed him. My name’s Wooster, don’t you know. Great pal of Bicky’s, and all that sort of thing. I’m staying with him, you know. Would you like a cup of tea? Jeeves, bring a cup of tea.”
Old Chiswick had sunk into an arm-chair and was looking about the room.
“Does this luxurious flat belong to my nephew Francis?”
“It must be terribly expensive.”
“Pretty well, of course. Everything costs a lot over here, you know.”
He moaned. Jeeves filtered in with the tea. Old Chiswick took a stab at it to restore his tissues, and nodded.
“A terrible country, Mr. Wooster! A terrible country! Nearly eight shillings for a short cab-drive! Iniquitous!” He took another look round the room. It seemed to fascinate him. “Have you any idea how much my nephew pays for this flat, Mr. Wooster?”
“About two hundred dollars a month, I believe.”
“What! Forty pounds a month!”
I began to see that, unless I made the thing a bit more plausible, the scheme might turn out a frost. I could guess what the old boy was thinking. He was trying to square all this prosperity with what he knew of poor old Bicky. And one had to admit that it took a lot of squaring, for dear old Bicky, though a stout fellow and absolutely unrivalled as an imitator of bull-terriers and cats, was in many ways one of the most pronounced fatheads that ever pulled on a suit of gent’s underwear.
“I suppose it seems rummy to you,” I said, “but the fact is New York often bucks chappies up and makes them show a flash of speed that you wouldn’t have imagined them capable of. It sort of develops them. Something in the air, don’t you know. I imagine that Bicky in the past, when you knew him, may have been something of a chump, but it’s quite different now. Devilish efficient sort of chappie, and looked on in commercial circles as quite the nib!”
“I am amazed! What is the nature of my nephew’s business, Mr. Wooster?”
“Oh, just business, don’t you know. The same sort of thing Carnegie and Rockefeller and all these coves do, you know.” I slid for the door. “Awfully sorry to leave you, but I’ve got to meet some of the lads elsewhere.”
Coming out of the lift I met Bicky bustling in from the street.
“Halloa, Bertie! I missed him. Has he turned up?”
“He’s upstairs now, having some tea.”
“What does he think of it all?”
“He’s absolutely rattled.”
“Ripping! I’ll be toddling up, then. Toodle-oo, Bertie, old man. See you later.”
“Pip-pip, Bicky, dear boy.”
He trotted off, full of merriment and good cheer, and I went off to the club to sit in the window and watch the traffic coming up one way and going down the other.
It was latish in the evening when I looked in at the flat to dress for dinner.
“Where’s everybody, Jeeves?” I said, finding no little feet pattering about the place. “Gone out?”
“His grace desired to see some of the sights of the city, sir. Mr. Bickersteth is acting as his escort. I fancy their immediate objective was Grant’s Tomb.”
“I suppose Mr. Bickersteth is a bit braced at the way things are going—what?”
“I say, I take it that Mr. Bickersteth is tolerably full of beans.”
“Not altogether, sir.”
“What’s his trouble now?”
“The scheme which I took the liberty of suggesting to Mr. Bickersteth and yourself has, unfortunately, not answered entirely satisfactorily, sir.”
“Surely the duke believes that Mr. Bickersteth is doing well in business, and all that sort of thing?”
“Exactly, sir. With the result that he has decided to cancel Mr. Bickersteth’s monthly allowance, on the ground that, as Mr. Bickersteth is doing so well on his own account, he no longer requires pecuniary assistance.”
“Great Scot, Jeeves! This is awful.”
“Somewhat disturbing, sir.”
“I never expected anything like this!”
“I confess I scarcely anticipated the contingency myself, sir.”
“I suppose it bowled the poor blighter over absolutely?”
“Mr. Bickersteth appeared somewhat taken aback, sir.”
My heart bled for Bicky.
“We must do something, Jeeves.”
“Can you think of anything?”
“Not at the moment, sir.”
“There must be something we can do.”
“It was a maxim of one of my former employers, sir—as I believe I mentioned to you once before—the present Lord Bridgnorth, that there is always a way. I remember his lordship using the expression on the occasion—he was then a business gentleman and had not yet received his title—when a patent hair-restorer which he chanced to be promoting failed to attract the public. He put it on the market under another name as a depilatory, and amassed a substantial fortune. I have generally found his lordship’s aphorism based on sound foundations. No doubt we shall be able to discover some solution of Mr. Bickersteth’s difficulty, sir.”
“Well, have a stab at it, Jeeves!”
“I will spare no pains, sir.”
I went and dressed sadly. It will show you pretty well how pipped I was when I tell you that I near as a toucher put on a white tie with a dinner-jacket. I sallied out for a bit of food more to pass the time than because I wanted it. It seemed brutal to be wading into the bill of fare with poor old Bicky headed for the breadline.
When I got back old Chiswick had gone to bed, but Bicky was there, hunched up in an arm-chair, brooding pretty tensely, with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth and a more or less glassy stare in his eyes. He had the aspect of one who had been soaked with what the newspaper chappies call “some blunt instrument.”
“This is a bit thick, old thing—what!” I said.
He picked up his glass and drained it feverishly, overlooking the fact that it hadn’t anything in it.
“I’m done, Bertie!” he said.
He had another go at the glass. It didn’t seem to do him any good.
“If only this had happened a week later, Bertie! My next month’s money was due to roll in on Saturday. I could have worked a wheeze I’ve been reading about in the magazine advertisements. It seems that you can make a dashed amount of money if you can only collect a few dollars and start a chicken-farm. Jolly sound scheme, Bertie! Say you buy a hen—call it one hen for the sake of argument. It lays an egg every day of the week. You sell the eggs seven for twenty-five cents. Keep of hen costs nothing. Profit practically twenty-five cents on every seven eggs. Or look at it another way: Suppose you have a dozen eggs. Each of the hens has a dozen chickens. The chickens grow up and have more chickens. Why, in no time you’d have the place covered knee-deep in hens, all laying eggs, at twenty-five cents for every seven. You’d make a fortune. Jolly life, too, keeping hens!” He had begun to get quite worked up at the thought of it, but he slopped back in his chair at this juncture with a good deal of gloom. “But, of course, it’s no good,” he said, “because I haven’t the cash.”
“You’ve only to say the word, you know, Bicky, old top.”
“Thanks awfully, Bertie, but I’m not going to sponge on you.”