THE AUNT AND THE SLUGGARD
by P. G. Wodehouse
... continued ...
And in came a large, solid female.
The situation floored me. I'm not denying it. Hamlet must have felt
much as I did when his father's ghost bobbed up in the fairway. I'd
come to look on Rocky's aunt as such a permanency at her own home that
it didn't seem possible that she could really be here in New York. I
stared at her. Then I looked at Jeeves. He was standing there in an
attitude of dignified detachment, the chump, when, if ever he should
have been rallying round the young master, it was now.
Rocky's aunt looked less like an invalid than any one I've ever seen,
except my Aunt Agatha. She had a good deal of Aunt Agatha about her, as
a matter of fact. She looked as if she might be deucedly dangerous if
put upon; and something seemed to tell me that she would certainly
regard herself as put upon if she ever found out the game which poor
old Rocky had been pulling on her.
"Good afternoon," I managed to say.
"How do you do?" she said. "Mr. Cohan?"
"Mr. Fred Stone?"
"Not absolutely. As a matter of fact, my name's Wooster--Bertie
She seemed disappointed. The fine old name of Wooster appeared to mean
nothing in her life.
"Isn't Rockmetteller home?" she said. "Where is he?"
She had me with the first shot. I couldn't think of anything to say. I
couldn't tell her that Rocky was down in the country, watching worms.
There was the faintest flutter of sound in the background. It was the
respectful cough with which Jeeves announces that he is about to speak
without having been spoken to.
"If you remember, sir, Mr. Todd went out in the automobile with a party
in the afternoon."
"So he did, Jeeves; so he did," I said, looking at my watch. "Did he
say when he would be back?"
"He gave me to understand, sir, that he would be somewhat late in
He vanished; and the aunt took the chair which I'd forgotten to offer
her. She looked at me in rather a rummy way. It was a nasty look. It
made me feel as if I were something the dog had brought in and intended
to bury later on, when he had time. My own Aunt Agatha, back in England,
has looked at me in exactly the same way many a time, and it never fails
to make my spine curl.
"You seem very much at home here, young man. Are you a great friend of
"Oh, yes, rather!"
She frowned as if she had expected better things of old Rocky.
"Well, you need to be," she said, "the way you treat his flat as your
I give you my word, this quite unforeseen slam simply robbed me of the
power of speech. I'd been looking on myself in the light of the dashing
host, and suddenly to be treated as an intruder jarred me. It wasn't,
mark you, as if she had spoken in a way to suggest that she considered
my presence in the place as an ordinary social call. She obviously
looked on me as a cross between a burglar and the plumber's man come
to fix the leak in the bathroom. It hurt her--my being there.
At this juncture, with the conversation showing every sign of being
about to die in awful agonies, an idea came to me. Tea--the good old
"Would you care for a cup of tea?" I said.
She spoke as if she had never heard of the stuff.
"Nothing like a cup after a journey," I said. "Bucks you up! Puts a bit
of zip into you. What I mean is, restores you, and so on, don't you
know. I'll go and tell Jeeves."
I tottered down the passage to Jeeves's lair. The man was reading the
evening paper as if he hadn't a care in the world.
"Jeeves," I said, "we want some tea."
"Very good, sir."
"I say, Jeeves, this is a bit thick, what?"
I wanted sympathy, don't you know--sympathy and kindness. The old nerve
centres had had the deuce of a shock.
"She's got the idea this place belongs to Mr. Todd. What on earth put
that into her head?"
Jeeves filled the kettle with a restrained dignity.
"No doubt because of Mr. Todd's letters, sir," he said. "It was my
suggestion, sir, if you remember, that they should be addressed from
this apartment in order that Mr. Todd should appear to possess a good
central residence in the city."
I remembered. We had thought it a brainy scheme at the time.
"Well, it's bally awkward, you know, Jeeves. She looks on me as an
intruder. By Jove! I suppose she thinks I'm someone who hangs about
here, touching Mr. Todd for free meals and borrowing his shirts."
"It's pretty rotten, you know."
"Most disturbing, sir."
"And there's another thing: What are we to do about Mr. Todd? We've got
to get him up here as soon as ever we can. When you have brought the
tea you had better go out and send him a telegram, telling him to come
up by the next train."
"I have already done so, sir. I took the liberty of writing the message
and dispatching it by the lift attendant."
"By Jove, you think of everything, Jeeves!"
"Thank you, sir. A little buttered toast with the tea? Just so, sir.
I went back to the sitting-room. She hadn't moved an inch. She was still
bolt upright on the edge of her chair, gripping her umbrella like a
hammer-thrower. She gave me another of those looks as I came in. There
was no doubt about it; for some reason she had taken a dislike to me. I
suppose because I wasn't George M. Cohan. It was a bit hard on a chap.
"This is a surprise, what?" I said, after about five minutes' restful
silence, trying to crank the conversation up again.
"What is a surprise?"
"Your coming here, don't you know, and so on."
She raised her eyebrows and drank me in a bit more through her glasses.
"Why is it surprising that I should visit my only nephew?" she said.
Put like that, of course, it did seem reasonable.
"Oh, rather," I said. "Of course! Certainly. What I mean is----"
Jeeves projected himself into the room with the tea. I was jolly glad
to see him. There's nothing like having a bit of business arranged for
one when one isn't certain of one's lines. With the teapot to fool
about with I felt happier.
"Tea, tea, tea--what? What?" I said.
It wasn't what I had meant to say. My idea had been to be a good deal
more formal, and so on. Still, it covered the situation. I poured her
out a cup. She sipped it and put the cup down with a shudder.
"Do you mean to say, young man," she said frostily, "that you expect me
to drink this stuff?"
"Rather! Bucks you up, you know."
"What do you mean by the expression 'Bucks you up'?"
"Well, makes you full of beans, you know. Makes you fizz."
"I don't understand a word you say. You're English, aren't you?"
I admitted it. She didn't say a word. And somehow she did it in a way
that made it worse than if she had spoken for hours. Somehow it was
brought home to me that she didn't like Englishmen, and that if she had
had to meet an Englishman, I was the one she'd have chosen last.
Conversation languished again after that.
Then I tried again. I was becoming more convinced every moment that you
can't make a real lively _salon_ with a couple of people,
especially if one of them lets it go a word at a time.
"Are you comfortable at your hotel?" I said.
"At which hotel?"
"The hotel you're staying at."
"I am not staying at an hotel."
"Stopping with friends--what?"
"I am naturally stopping with my nephew."
I didn't get it for the moment; then it hit me.
"What! Here?" I gurgled.
"Certainly! Where else should I go?"
... to be continued ...