FictionForest

THE AUNT AND THE SLUGGARD-1

P. G. WodehouseFeb 18, 2020'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

Now that it’s all over, I may as well admit that there was a time during the rather funny affair of Rockmetteller Todd when I thought that Jeeves was going to let me down. The man had the appearance of being baffled.

Jeeves is my man, you know. Officially he pulls in his weekly wages for pressing my clothes and all that sort of thing; but actually he’s more like what the poet Johnnie called some bird of his acquaintance who was apt to rally round him in times of need—a guide, don’t you know; philosopher, if I remember rightly, and—I rather fancy—friend. I rely on him at every turn.

So naturally, when Rocky Todd told me about his aunt, I didn’t hesitate. Jeeves was in on the thing from the start.

The affair of Rocky Todd broke loose early one morning of spring. I was in bed, restoring the good old tissues with about nine hours of the dreamless, when the door flew open and somebody prodded me in the lower ribs and began to shake the bedclothes. After blinking a bit and generally pulling myself together, I located Rocky, and my first impression was that it was some horrid dream.

Rocky, you see, lived down on Long Island somewhere, miles away from New York; and not only that, but he had told me himself more than once that he never got up before twelve, and seldom earlier than one. Constitutionally the laziest young devil in America, he had hit on a walk in life which enabled him to go the limit in that direction. He was a poet. At least, he wrote poems when he did anything; but most of his time, as far as I could make out, he spent in a sort of trance. He told me once that he could sit on a fence, watching a worm and wondering what on earth it was up to, for hours at a stretch.

He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn’t know there was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don’t shove in any rhymes, American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:

Be!

Be!

The past is dead.

To-morrow is not born.

Be to-day!

To-day!

Be with every nerve,

With every muscle,

With every drop of your red blood!

Be!

It was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine with a sort of scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly-nude chappie, with bulging muscles, giving the rising sun the glad eye. Rocky said they gave him a hundred dollars for it, and he stayed in bed till four in the afternoon for over a month.

As regarded the future he was pretty solid, owing to the fact that he had a moneyed aunt tucked away somewhere in Illinois; and, as he had been named Rockmetteller after her, and was her only nephew, his position was pretty sound. He told me that when he did come into the money he meant to do no work at all, except perhaps an occasional poem recommending the young man with life opening out before him, with all its splendid possibilities, to light a pipe and shove his feet upon the mantelpiece.

And this was the man who was prodding me in the ribs in the grey dawn!

“Read this, Bertie!” I could just see that he was waving a letter or something equally foul in my face. “Wake up and read this!”

I can’t read before I’ve had my morning tea and a cigarette. I groped for the bell.

Jeeves came in looking as fresh as a dewy violet. It’s a mystery to me how he does it.

“Tea, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

He flowed silently out of the room—he always gives you the impression of being some liquid substance when he moves; and I found that Rocky was surging round with his beastly letter again.

“What is it?” I said. “What on earth’s the matter?”

“Read it!”

“I can’t. I haven’t had my tea.”

“Well, listen then.”

“Who’s it from?”

“My aunt.”

At this point I fell asleep again. I woke to hear him saying:

“So what on earth am I to do?”

Jeeves trickled in with the tray, like some silent stream meandering over its mossy bed; and I saw daylight.

“Read it again, Rocky, old top,” I said. “I want Jeeves to hear it. Mr. Todd’s aunt has written him a rather rummy letter, Jeeves, and we want your advice.”

“Very good, sir.”

He stood in the middle of the room, registering devotion to the cause, and Rocky started again:

“MY DEAR ROCKMETTELLER.—I have been thinking things over for a long while, and I have come to the conclusion that I have been very thoughtless to wait so long before doing what I have made up my mind to do now.”

“What do you make of that, Jeeves?”

“It seems a little obscure at present, sir, but no doubt it becomes cleared at a later point in the communication.”

“It becomes as clear as mud!” said Rocky.

“Proceed, old scout,” I said, champing my bread and butter.

“You know how all my life I have longed to visit New York and see for myself the wonderful gay life of which I have read so much. I fear that now it will be impossible for me to fulfil my dream. I am old and worn out. I seem to have no strength left in me.”

“Sad, Jeeves, what?”

“Extremely, sir.”

“Sad nothing!” said Rocky. “It’s sheer laziness. I went to see her last Christmas and she was bursting with health. Her doctor told me himself that there was nothing wrong with her whatever. But she will insist that she’s a hopeless invalid, so he has to agree with her. She’s got a fixed idea that the trip to New York would kill her; so, though it’s been her ambition all her life to come here, she stays where she is.”

“Rather like the chappie whose heart was ‘in the Highlands a-chasing of the deer,’ Jeeves?”

“The cases are in some respects parallel, sir.”

“Carry on, Rocky, dear boy.”

“So I have decided that, if I cannot enjoy all the marvels of the city myself, I can at least enjoy them through you. I suddenly thought of this yesterday after reading a beautiful poem in the Sunday paper about a young man who had longed all his life for a certain thing and won it in the end only when he was too old to enjoy it. It was very sad, and it touched me.”

“A thing,” interpolated Rocky bitterly, “that I’ve not been able to do in ten years.”

“As you know, you will have my money when I am gone; but until now I have never been able to see my way to giving you an allowance. I have now decided to do so—on one condition. I have written to a firm of lawyers in New York, giving them instructions to pay you quite a substantial sum each month. My one condition is that you live in New York and enjoy yourself as I have always wished to do. I want you to be my representative, to spend this money for me as I should do myself. I want you to plunge into the gay, prismatic life of New York. I want you to be the life and soul of brilliant supper parties.

“Above all, I want you—indeed, I insist on this—to write me letters at least once a week giving me a full description of all you are doing and all that is going on in the city, so that I may enjoy at second-hand what my wretched health prevents my enjoying for myself. Remember that I shall expect full details, and that no detail is too trivial to interest.—Your affectionate Aunt,

“ISABEL ROCKMETTELLER.”

“What about it?” said Rocky.

“What about it?” I said.

“Yes. What on earth am I going to do?”

It was only then that I really got on to the extremely rummy attitude of the chappie, in view of the fact that a quite unexpected mess of the right stuff had suddenly descended on him from a blue sky. To my mind it was an occasion for the beaming smile and the joyous whoop; yet here the man was, looking and talking as if Fate had swung on his solar plexus. It amazed me.

“Aren’t you bucked?” I said.

“Bucked!”

“If I were in your place I should be frightfully braced. I consider this pretty soft for you.”

He gave a kind of yelp, stared at me for a moment, and then began to talk of New York in a way that reminded me of Jimmy Mundy, the reformer chappie. Jimmy had just come to New York on a hit-the-trail campaign, and I had popped in at the Garden a couple of days before, for half an hour or so, to hear him. He had certainly told New York some pretty straight things about itself, having apparently taken a dislike to the place, but, by Jove, you know, dear old Rocky made him look like a publicity agent for the old metrop.!

“Pretty soft!” he cried. “To have to come and live in New York! To have to leave my little cottage and take a stuffy, smelly, over-heated hole of an apartment in this Heaven-forsaken, festering Gehenna. To have to mix night after night with a mob who think that life is a sort of St. Vitus’s dance, and imagine that they’re having a good time because they’re making enough noise for six and drinking too much for ten. I loathe New York, Bertie. I wouldn’t come near the place if I hadn’t got to see editors occasionally. There’s a blight on it. It’s got moral delirium tremens. It’s the limit. The very thought of staying more than a day in it makes me sick. And you call this thing pretty soft for me!”

I felt rather like Lot’s friends must have done when they dropped in for a quiet chat and their genial host began to criticise the Cities of the Plain. I had no idea old Rocky could be so eloquent.

“It would kill me to have to live in New York,” he went on. “To have to share the air with six million people! To have to wear stiff collars and decent clothes all the time! To——” He started. “Good Lord! I suppose I should have to dress for dinner in the evenings. What a ghastly notion!”

I was shocked, absolutely shocked.

“My dear chap!” I said reproachfully.

“Do you dress for dinner every night, Bertie?”

“Jeeves,” I said coldly. The man was still standing like a statue by the door. “How many suits of evening clothes have I?”

“We have three suits full of evening dress, sir; two dinner jackets——”

“Three.”

“For practical purposes two only, sir. If you remember we cannot wear the third. We have also seven white waistcoats.”

“And shirts?”

“Four dozen, sir.”

“And white ties?”

“The first two shallow shelves in the chest of drawers are completely filled with our white ties, sir.”

I turned to Rocky.

“You see?”

The chappie writhed like an electric fan.

“I won’t do it! I can’t do it! I’ll be hanged if I’ll do it! How on earth can I dress up like that? Do you realize that most days I don’t get out of my pyjamas till five in the afternoon, and then I just put on an old sweater?”

I saw Jeeves wince, poor chap! This sort of revelation shocked his finest feelings.

“Then, what are you going to do about it?” I said.

“That’s what I want to know.”

“You might write and explain to your aunt.”

“I might—if I wanted her to get round to her lawyer’s in two rapid leaps and cut me out of her will.”

I saw his point.

“What do you suggest, Jeeves?” I said.

Jeeves cleared his throat respectfully.

“The crux of the matter would appear to be, sir, that Mr. Todd is obliged by the conditions under which the money is delivered into his possession to write Miss Rockmetteller long and detailed letters relating to his movements, and the only method by which this can be accomplished, if Mr. Todd adheres to his expressed intention of remaining in the country, is for Mr. Todd to induce some second party to gather the actual experiences which Miss Rockmetteller wishes reported to her, and to convey these to him in the shape of a careful report, on which it would be possible for him, with the aid of his imagination, to base the suggested correspondence.”

Having got which off the old diaphragm, Jeeves was silent. Rocky looked at me in a helpless sort of way. He hasn’t been brought up on Jeeves as I have, and he isn’t on to his curves.

“Could he put it a little clearer, Bertie?” he said. “I thought at the start it was going to make sense, but it kind of flickered. What’s the idea?”

“My dear old man, perfectly simple. I knew we could stand on Jeeves. All you’ve got to do is to get somebody to go round the town for you and take a few notes, and then you work the notes up into letters. That’s it, isn’t it, Jeeves?”

“Precisely, sir.”

The light of hope gleamed in Rocky’s eyes. He looked at Jeeves in a startled way, dazed by the man’s vast intellect.

“But who would do it?” he said. “It would have to be a pretty smart sort of man, a man who would notice things.”

“Jeeves!” I said. “Let Jeeves do it.”

“But would he?”

“You would do it, wouldn’t you, Jeeves?”

For the first time in our long connection I observed Jeeves almost smile. The corner of his mouth curved quite a quarter of an inch, and for a moment his eye ceased to look like a meditative fish’s.

“I should be delighted to oblige, sir. As a matter of fact, I have already visited some of New York’s places of interest on my evening out, and it would be most enjoyable to make a practice of the pursuit.”

“Fine! I know exactly what your aunt wants to hear about, Rocky. She wants an earful of cabaret stuff. The place you ought to go to first, Jeeves, is Reigelheimer’s. It’s on Forty-second Street. Anybody will show you the way.”

Jeeves shook his head.

“Pardon me, sir. People are no longer going to Reigelheimer’s. The place at the moment is Frolics on the Roof.”

“You see?” I said to Rocky. “Leave it to Jeeves. He knows.”

It isn’t often that you find an entire group of your fellow-humans happy in this world; but our little circle was certainly an example of the fact that it can be done. We were all full of beans. Everything went absolutely right from the start.

Jeeves was happy, partly because he loves to exercise his giant brain, and partly because he was having a corking time among the bright lights. I saw him one night at the Midnight Revels. He was sitting at a table on the edge of the dancing floor, doing himself remarkably well with a fat cigar and a bottle of the best. I’d never imagined he could look so nearly human. His face wore an expression of austere benevolence, and he was making notes in a small book.

As for the rest of us, I was feeling pretty good, because I was fond of old Rocky and glad to be able to do him a good turn. Rocky was perfectly contented, because he was still able to sit on fences in his pyjamas and watch worms. And, as for the aunt, she seemed tickled to death. She was getting Broadway at pretty long range, but it seemed to be hitting her just right. I read one of her letters to Rocky, and it was full of life.

But then Rocky’s letters, based on Jeeves’s notes, were enough to buck anybody up. It was rummy when you came to think of it. There was I, loving the life, while the mere mention of it gave Rocky a tired feeling; yet here is a letter I wrote to a pal of mine in London:

“DEAR FREDDIE,—Well, here I am in New York. It’s not a bad place. I’m not having a bad time. Everything’s pretty all right. The cabarets aren’t bad. Don’t know when I shall be back. How’s everybody? Cheer-o!—Yours,

“BERTIE.

“PS.—Seen old Ted lately?”

Not that I cared about Ted; but if I hadn’t dragged him in I couldn’t have got the confounded thing on to the second page.

Now here’s old Rocky on exactly the same subject:

“DEAREST AUNT ISABEL,—How can I ever thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to live in this astounding city! New York seems more wonderful every day.

“Fifth Avenue is at its best, of course, just now. The dresses are magnificent!”

Wads of stuff about the dresses. I didn’t know Jeeves was such an authority.

“I was out with some of the crowd at the Midnight Revels the other night. We took in a show first, after a little dinner at a new place on Forty-third Street. We were quite a gay party. Georgie Cohan looked in about midnight and got off a good one about Willie Collier. Fred Stone could only stay a minute, but Doug. Fairbanks did all sorts of stunts and made us roar. Diamond Jim Brady was there, as usual, and Laurette Taylor showed up with a party. The show at the Revels is quite good. I am enclosing a programme.

 

Leave a Reply