The Aunt and the Sluggard, part 8


by P. G. Wodehouse

... continued ...

"I beg your pardon, sir. I am leaving a small assortment of neckties on
the mantelpiece, sir, for you to select according to your preference. I
should recommend the blue with the red domino pattern, sir."

Then he streamed imperceptibly toward the door and flowed silently out.

* * * * *

I've often heard that chappies, after some great shock or loss, have a
habit, after they've been on the floor for a while wondering what hit
them, of picking themselves up and piecing themselves together, and
sort of taking a whirl at beginning a new life. Time, the great healer,
and Nature, adjusting itself, and so on and so forth. There's a lot in
it. I know, because in my own case, after a day or two of what you
might call prostration, I began to recover. The frightful loss of
Jeeves made any thought of pleasure more or less a mockery, but at
least I found that I was able to have a dash at enjoying life again.
What I mean is, I braced up to the extent of going round the cabarets
once more, so as to try to forget, if only for the moment.

New York's a small place when it comes to the part of it that wakes up
just as the rest is going to bed, and it wasn't long before my tracks
began to cross old Rocky's. I saw him once at Peale's, and again at
Frolics on the roof. There wasn't anybody with him either time except
the aunt, and, though he was trying to look as if he had struck the
ideal life, it wasn't difficult for me, knowing the circumstances, to
see that beneath the mask the poor chap was suffering. My heart bled
for the fellow. At least, what there was of it that wasn't bleeding for
myself bled for him. He had the air of one who was about to crack under
the strain.

It seemed to me that the aunt was looking slightly upset also. I took
it that she was beginning to wonder when the celebrities were going to
surge round, and what had suddenly become of all those wild, careless
spirits Rocky used to mix with in his letters. I didn't blame her. I
had only read a couple of his letters, but they certainly gave the
impression that poor old Rocky was by way of being the hub of New York
night life, and that, if by any chance he failed to show up at a
cabaret, the management said: "What's the use?" and put up the

The next two nights I didn't come across them, but the night after that
I was sitting by myself at the Maison Pierre when somebody tapped me on
the shoulder-blade, and I found Rocky standing beside me, with a sort
of mixed expression of wistfulness and apoplexy on his face. How the
chappie had contrived to wear my evening clothes so many times without
disaster was a mystery to me. He confided later that early in the
proceedings he had slit the waistcoat up the back and that that had
helped a bit.

For a moment I had the idea that he had managed to get away from his
aunt for the evening; but, looking past him, I saw that she was in
again. She was at a table over by the wall, looking at me as if I were
something the management ought to be complained to about.

"Bertie, old scout," said Rocky, in a quiet, sort of crushed voice,
"we've always been pals, haven't we? I mean, you know I'd do you a good
turn if you asked me?"

"My dear old lad," I said. The man had moved me.

"Then, for Heaven's sake, come over and sit at our table for the rest
of the evening."

Well, you know, there are limits to the sacred claims of friendship.

"My dear chap," I said, "you know I'd do anything in reason; but----"

"You must come, Bertie. You've got to. Something's got to be done to
divert her mind. She's brooding about something. She's been like that
for the last two days. I think she's beginning to suspect. She can't
understand why we never seem to meet anyone I know at these joints. A
few nights ago I happened to run into two newspaper men I used to know
fairly well. That kept me going for a while. I introduced them to Aunt
Isabel as David Belasco and Jim Corbett, and it went well. But the effect
has worn off now, and she's beginning to wonder again. Something's got to
be done, or she will find out everything, and if she does I'd take a
nickel for my chance of getting a cent from her later on. So, for the
love of Mike, come across to our table and help things along."

I went along. One has to rally round a pal in distress. Aunt Isabel was
sitting bolt upright, as usual. It certainly did seem as if she had
lost a bit of the zest with which she had started out to explore
Broadway. She looked as if she had been thinking a good deal about
rather unpleasant things.

"You've met Bertie Wooster, Aunt Isabel?" said Rocky.

"I have."

There was something in her eye that seemed to say:

"Out of a city of six million people, why did you pick on me?"

"Take a seat, Bertie. What'll you have?" said Rocky.

And so the merry party began. It was one of those jolly, happy,
bread-crumbling parties where you cough twice before you speak, and
then decide not to say it after all. After we had had an hour of this
wild dissipation, Aunt Isabel said she wanted to go home. In the light
of what Rocky had been telling me, this struck me as sinister. I had
gathered that at the beginning of her visit she had had to be dragged
home with ropes.

It must have hit Rocky the same way, for he gave me a pleading look.

"You'll come along, won't you, Bertie, and have a drink at the flat?"

I had a feeling that this wasn't in the contract, but there wasn't
anything to be done. It seemed brutal to leave the poor chap alone with
the woman, so I went along.

Right from the start, from the moment we stepped into the taxi, the
feeling began to grow that something was about to break loose. A
massive silence prevailed in the corner where the aunt sat, and,
though Rocky, balancing himself on the little seat in front, did his
best to supply dialogue, we weren't a chatty party.

I had a glimpse of Jeeves as we went into the flat, sitting in his
lair, and I wished I could have called to him to rally round. Something
told me that I was about to need him.

The stuff was on the table in the sitting-room. Rocky took up the

"Say when, Bertie."

"Stop!" barked the aunt, and he dropped it.

I caught Rocky's eye as he stooped to pick up the ruins. It was the eye
of one who sees it coming.

... to be continued ...

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