October 15th is the birthday of P. G. Wodehouse and Mario Puzo.
I sat on the chaise longue, idly toying with my new iPhone 5.
“I say, Jeeves!”
“Have you seen one of these yet?”
“I have been made aware of them by the relentless efforts of the advertising media, sir.”
“Well it’s really quite something. Listen.”
I pressed the button.
“Tell me, Siri, how much money does Oofy Prosser have?”
After a short silence, my trusty electronic companion replied: “I’m sorry, Bertie, but I haven’t been able to find that information. How else can I help you?”
This was a blow.
“Dashed thing doesn’t seem to be working. And it was on absolutely tip-top form last night at the Drones. Still, jolly good gadget, eh what?”
There was a certain something about Jeeves’s manner, an iciness that I’d seen before.
“Indeed, sir. Very diverting. Shall I lay the table for tea, sir?”
“Tea? Are we expecting someone?”
“Indeed, sir. Lady Worplesdon. She is in town, and was desirous of an audience.”
I leaped from the sofa like a salmon that’s had an electric shock. You may or may not recall my Aunt Agatha – she’s the one who dines on broken glass and lists her hobbies as “snarling and nephew-baiting”.
“Aunt Agatha! Dash it, Jeeves, why didn’t you tell me?”
“I regret, sir, that we are victims of O2’s notoriously sketchy mobile phone signal. Her text message only just came through.”
I eyed him suspiciously. I didn’t believe a word of it. The blighter was still smarting because of a pair of purple Converse All-Stars I’d bought that hadn’t met with his approval. I had had to be quite firm with him on the matter, and it had led to a certain froideur. I yield to nobody in my admiration of Jeeves and his mental acuity, if that’s the right word, but I mean to say, what? When it comes to footwear I stand steadfast. A chap has his limits. And what with my snazzy new electronic pal, there was a distinct whatsit in the air.
He coughed that cough of his, the one that sounds like a distant sheep clearing its throat.
“Shall I prepare tea, sir?”
I waved an airy hand.
“Yes, Jeeves, tea away. And make sure there are plenty of Jaffa Cakes. I might as well meet my fate with the taste of chocolate on my tongue. How did she sound? Aunt Agatha, I mean.”
“It is notoriously difficult to tell, sir, from the comparatively inexpressive medium of text messaging, the mood of ones interlocutor, but I divined from her use of the words ‘hellhound’ and ‘blighter’ that Her Ladyship was not in a mood for trifles. That is, of course, not allowing for the possibility that her iPhone’s auto-correction facility was responsible for some of her more outlandish vocabulary.”
“Couldn’t you have said we were out of town or something?”
“Impossible, I’m afraid, sir. Unfortunately you have enabled Location Services on Facebook.”
A dark frown crossed my brow.
“That wasn’t me, Jeeves. That was Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright’s idea of a joke. And I’m dashed if I can work out how to turn it off. That’s the last time I take this thing to the Drones.”
“Indeed, sir. If you will excuse me, sir, I will see to the tea. Lady Worplesdon indicated that she would be arriving imminently.”
No sooner had he sidled off to the kitchen than the doorbell rang, and presently he returned.
“Mr. Little, sir.”
This was not what I’d expected, but a dashed relief nonetheless. When you’re staring into the gaping maw of the beast, there’s nothing that perks you up more than the sight of an old friend.
“I say Bingo, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Fancy some tea?”
“Oh Bertie, you ass, how can you talk of tea? You have no poetry in your soul.”
The poor chap had a distinctly moonish look on his face, and I immediately guessed what the problem was. Bingo, I don’t know if you remember, is the one who can’t walk down the street without falling head over heels in love with some totally inappropriate girl. Only the month before I’d had to enlist Jeeves’s help to extract him from an alliance with a waitress.
I plopped back on to the sofa and flung an insouciant arm along the back.
“What’s her name, Bingo?”
“What? How on earth did you…?”
“You forget, Bingo, that I’ve known you since we were boys. I recognise that look anywhere. What’s her name?”
“Oh Bertie, she really is the most wonderful girl. Not like all those English girls.”
“She’s not English?”
“No, Italian. Well, Italian-American. Her name is Constanzia Corleone, but I call her Connie. Oh Bertie, she’s absolutely wonderful! Slim, raven-haired, olive skin, sultry eyes. She’s in town with her father. Strange chap. Terribly well-dressed and everything, with the sharpest spats you’ll ever see, but talks as if his mouth is full of gravel. I must say he didn’t seem awfully pleased to meet me. He kept banging on about respect and loyalty. I tried to tell him that I was as respectful and loyal as anyone, but he just sort of mumbled to himself about the family coming first, and how if you don’t put your family first you can’t call yourself a man. Then all of a sudden he sort of perked up a bit, laughed a frankly sinister laugh, clapped me on the shoulder, said he’d make me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and toodled off. I’ve got to say he rather put the shivers up me, but Connie seems to think he’ll come round.”
I was rattled. This Corleone chap sounded like a bit of a pill.
“Well I don’t know, Bingo. Those Italians can be awfully fiery.” I turned to Jeeves, who was bringing in the tea things. “What do you think, Jeeves?”
“Bingo here has met a young lady.”
“Indeed, sir? How felicitous.”
“As you say, Jeeves, felicitous. But the father, one Corleone, seems to be kicking up rough. What do you recommend?”
Jeeves inclined his head.
“Would that be Don Vito Corleone, sir, the renowned olive oil importer, businessman and crime syndicate boss?”
Bingo paled beneath his tan.
I rounded on Jeeves.
“Did you say crime syndicate boss?”
“Indeed, sir. Don Corleone is, shall we say, renowned for his uncompromising business methods, and he has been known to express the deepest disapproval of men who toy idly with his only daughter’s affections.”
It was my turn to pale.
“When you say ‘uncompromising methods’ and ‘deepest disapproval’, Jeeves…”
“Indeed, sir. I believe the colloquial expression is ‘sleep with the fishes’. One can only express the devout hope that there is not a large body of water to hand when Mr. Little next encounters Signor Corleone.”
There was an anguished cry from my side. It was Bingo.
“I’m doomed!” he cried. “Absolutely done for!”
And he collapsed into the sofa with a wail.
I tried to pour oil on the waters.
“I wouldn’t get so worked up, old stick. After all, you’re not an idle dallier. You love his daughter. When he realises that, he’ll change his tune and start polishing up the jokes in his wedding speech.”
Bingo let out a hollow groan.
“Polish up his pistol, more like. They all carry them, these gang types.”
“If I may make so bold, sir.”
Jeeves was smiling that quiet smile of his.
“What is it, Jeeves? Do you have a solution?”
“I could not possibly say, sir. It occurs to me, however, that no matter how tough and gristly a man may appear, there will always be one person tougher and gristlier.” As these mysterious words descended on our befuddled ears, there came the faint tinkling sound of the doorbell. “If you will excuse me, sir, I trust that will be Lady Worplesdon.”
The penny dropped. I looked at Jeeves with a wild surmise, like that fellow in the poem.
“Aunt Agatha! Dash it, Jeeves, you’re right! The man hasn’t been born who could go fifteen rounds with the old stiff. One sight of her and he’ll be as meek as a lamb.” I looked at him appraisingly. “Why blow me down, Jeeves, you nail it every time. You’re a living marvel.”
“Thank you, sir. I endeavour to give satisfaction.”
And he just stood there.
“Well Jeeves, what are you waiting for? If I’m not mistaken, did the doorbell not ring a few seconds ago? Go and get Aunt Agatha, usher her in, and Skype old Corleone requesting his immediate presence. There’s no time to lose. We must put your plan into action.”
A faraway smile fell over Jeeves’s finely-chiselled features, the smile of someone who knows a good thing in the 2.30 at Windsor.
“There is one matter outstanding, sir, before I let Lady Worplesdon in.”
I was aghast.
“Jeeves! You wouldn’t!”
“I’m afraid so, sir.”
So that was that. He had me, as the expression has it, over a barrel. I had to admit defeat.
“Very well, Jeeves. Never let it be said that a Wooster is not generous to the bottom of his soul.” I stood up to my fate like a man. Don Corleone would have been proud of me. “Take the shoes and dispose of them as you will.”
“Thank you, sir. I gave them to the newsagent half an hour ago. I will fetch Lady Worplesdon, sir.”
And out he shimmered, leaving me to reflect on the one immutable fact of life: Jeeves knows best.