Monday, July 18, 2005

Homage to P. G. Wodehouse

The Baron's Boy is home for the rest of the summer holiday. Given that there are no television sets in the Neighborhood of God, the BB must resort to reading for entertainment. But then he runs into the reader's dilemma: what to do when one of your favorite authors has written his last -- or rather, what to do when you have re-read his oeuvre three times?

One thing you can do is write further sequels yourself. Here, the posthumous work of P.G. Wodehouse as Bertie sets off for the front in the Great War.

BERTIE & JEEVES GO OVER THE TOP, Part I

Even in the midst of all this dashed fighting there still seems to be a spark of jolly old what-d’you-call-it. You know what I mean, that intangible feeling of joi de vivre and esprit du corps. And it most certainly didn’t hurt that the top brass of His Majesty’s Royal Army had decided to withdraw from active duty the regiment in which Lieutenant Bertram Wooster was currently serving.

However, even the happiest of times have those bothersome black spots which will invariably find their way across the rose-coloured hue of contentment. You see, I recently came into possession of some rather lovely lavender puttees. It just so happened that an obliging chap in our Supply Company is able to procure custom-made items for a slight fee. Naturally, I was forced to take the issue up with the ‘old man,’ Captain Worthington. After he indulged in a little more tsk-tsk-ing and harumph-ing than seemed called for, he admitted that there was no specific rule against decorated footwear as long as our regiment was not on parade; and anyway, allowances could be made for units currently in the heat of battle. Thus encouraged (when his ulcer isn’t acting up, Worthington’s a dashed decent cove), I proceeded back to my billet.

Persuading Captain Worthington had been one thing; persuading Jeeves, however, was another matter entirely. Although Jeeves is without question the steady hand that keeps the HMS Wooster from running aground, he tends to be a bit—what’s the word? ‘obs-’something…‘obstreperous?’ ‘obsolescent?’ No…well, anyways, what I mean to say is, he can be a bit inflexible when it comes to clothing. Sometimes it seems to me that the British Army uniform could have been designed by one of Jeeves’ ancestors. No room for change. On the one hand, it is dashed convenient to wake up in the morning to stave off the Hun knowing that you needn’t worry about what the well-dressed English warrior is wearing. Still, I have a certain need to express myself, and these puttees seemed just the right thing with which to do so.

Therefore, it was with firm and steady conviction that I entered my billet that breezy summer morning.

‘Good day, Jeeves,’ I said with an air of nonchalance. ‘Any news from the chappies getting all the heat—what?’

‘No, sir, the German forces have been remarkably lethargic. I have it on good authority that—’ He paused as he turned around, and I gathered quickly that he had taken in the puttees all at once and the effect had been far from beneficial.

‘Something the matter, Jeeves?’ I asked as disingenuously as possible. I tried to give the impression that nothing was out of the ordinary; still, I felt a slight tension building in the pit of my stomach. A premonition of impending domestic unrest, you might say.

‘Sir, what are those—articles—with which you have chosen to adorn yourself?’ he asked with a slight touch of incredulity in his voice.

Now, certain people—not a few of them members of my immediate family—are of the impression that Bertram is not running with the rest of the herd when it comes to intellectual capacity. However, in this situation, even a much weaker mind that mine would have to realize that a stand had to be taken in order to preserve the common order. Jeeves is a marvel in more aspects than one, but the fickle train of fashion had left him standing at the platform some time ago. I therefore addressed him in a chiding but not necessarily unkind tone:

‘Come now, Jeeves. You mustn’t get stuck in such a bally rut about clothing and attire and whatnot. What you think is haute couture may not suit today’s generation.’

‘Sir, I must warn you that—’

‘Jeeves, these puttees stay and that is final. I think they go rather splendidly with the khaki material.’

‘Sir—’

‘Right ho, Jeeves.’

‘Very good, sir.’

On this somewhat chilly note, I sauntered back outside. After ambling a sufficient distance down the walkway I mopped my brow. After all, squabbles tend to take it out of a chap’s spirit, even if aforesaid chap is stout of heart and so forth. A restorative seemed to be in good order and I proceeded at a rather quickened pace to the officers’ mess.

Although occasionally daunted by life’s obstacles, a true English gentleman never remains under despair’s dark cloud for very long. After a salubrious lunch accompanied by a proper glass or two of something-or-other, I felt like a three-to-one odds on favourite at the Goodwood races. It was just as I was revelling in the pleasant noon air that I noticed the familiar figure of Annette DuChamp coming towards our section of the line.

Annette was the daughter of a local farmer who made a tidy bundle selling her family’s surplus fruits and whatnot to the chappies in the rear lines. She was an gift from heaven to blighters like Oofy Prosser who needed such-and-such spices and herbs to go with their meals, coves who keep spouting that rot about ‘gastric juices.’ Also, being rather pretty in a sort of fresh-air-open-spaces sort of farm-girl way, she was the recipient of the attentions of quite a few dashing young English officers. After seeing her blushing and smiling and hearing her murmured ‘Merci, messieurs’ as she sold her wares to the crowd of eager faces around her, one came away with the feeling that she wasn’t in it merely for the money.

At any rate, she was coming towards the mess, so I walked over and asked what she had today. An idea was beginning to form that perhaps I could pacify Jeeves slightly with some fresh vegetables and so forth. After all, it wasn’t the man’s fault that his instincts in re clothing wasn’t up to par; I imagine his upbringing had instilled in him a stern (albeit archaic) sense of etiquette that was to blame for his rigidly held views. All that notwithstanding, we Woosters do not hold grudges and it was therefore with a benevolent and cheerful heart that I purchased a few lettuces and carrots from Annette.

After a brief and casual chat about the state of things with the war and the Bosche I excused myself, saying that I must get the foodstuffs to my batman. As I was walking away, I happened to run into Basher Barnes, who had been standing some distance away enjoying a smoke. He turned and glanced back at Annette, and said in an offhand manner:

‘You know, she quite fancies you, old man.’

I must say, this shook me not a little. ‘Fancies me? I say, what?’

‘Well, she’s been asking a good many of the boys if you’re married or not. Discreetly, though. For instance, she asked Tosh Kensington if you had any children, and he replied that he hoped you hadn’t any, as you had no wife. Her face sort of lit up at this, if you know what I mean.’

Well, this was a situation, and no mistake. Not that I minded the attentions of the fairer sex. It was all rather flattering in a way, I suppose. However, the face that kept looming in my mind as Basher was speaking was that of my Aunt Agatha. As you can imagine, this was enough to cause me to break into a cold sweat.

You see, my Aunt Agatha is sensitive to class distinctions the way a ship’s captain is sensitive to mines. If she found out that I had made a liaison with a French peasant girl, I would be persona non grata throughout the entire jolly country of England—as far as my Aunt was concerned, which is all that matters. Single-minded, my Aunt Agatha is, and she would not rest until I had paid in full for such a ruinous act upon our family.

However, a chap can’t simply walk up to the girl who fancies him and say, ‘Sorry, but you might as well forget it. Tinkerty-tonk,’ and be done with it. Not even if said girl is of a lower class. It isn’t done, you see. Not sporting. I had to find a way to do so delicately but—most definitely—with finality.

My pensive musings were interrupted by Basher telling me that he had to be off; replacements were arriving in his company and he had to get them situated. ‘Give them the Cook’s Tour, I suppose,” he said glumly as he made his way towards his section. It was then that I looked down and remembered the green whatnots I had purchased for Jeeves. Putting them together in a bundle under my arm, I carried them into my billet as a sort of peace offering. An olive branch of sorts, you might say.

Jeeves thanked me courteously enough, but I must say he was still rather distant. I had considered broaching the subject of how to handle Annette with him, but since his mind was caught up on such petty matters as my puttees, it seemed rather pointless.

‘Any news on Bingo, Jeeves?’ I asked as I straightened up my bunk and put away some old magazines I had been reading.

‘No sir. I understand Mr. Little is convalescing quite rapidly.’

‘Well, I imagine it isn’t too hard to recover from having a rifle drop onto your head. And besides, Bingo’s is thick enough to take worse knocks than that.’

‘I would not venture to guess on such matters, sir. Wounds to the cerebral area can be quite difficult to categorize.’

‘Yes, there is that. Suppose I ought to pop round and see him. Comfort to the wounded and all that, what?’

‘If you so desire, sir. I believe there is a convoy of vehicles leaving here in an approximately an hour. In speaking to one of the drivers I ascertained that they are passing by the field hosptial where Mr Little is convalescing.’

‘Lucky, that. Well, I imagine I shall be away for most of the afternoon. Hold the fort here, Jeeves. If the German divisions break through send me a carrier pigeon immediately.’

‘Very good, sir.’

Several days ago, you see, back when we were on the front lines, Bingo Little had been walking around the trenches looking for his helmet. Always losing things, is Bingo: his sidearm, his helmet, cigarettes, and so forth. Anyway, he had just found it and was bending over to get it when some careless chappy coming back from reconnaissance tossed his rifle into the trench. Bingo’s luck being notoriously bad, it struck him crossways on the head and rendered him unconscious. The doctors came to the same conclusion espoused to me by Jeeves and recommended that he be taken to the field hospital in case of a concussion. Needless to say, Bingo was immensely pleased with this news and even tried to reward the cove who owned the rifle. However, he had managed to misplace his wallet and was therefore carried, penniless and grinning, off the battlefield.

I managed to find the convoy that Jeeves had mentioned, and, after catching a ride with an obliging lorry driver, I arrived in a somewhat dusty condition at the field hospital. Rather drab affair, but comfortable—though I suppose when you’re recuperating from wounds and so forth anywhere is better than those blasted trenches. At any rate, through a rather remarkable coincidence I happened upon a quite pleasant girl working as a nurse who just happened to be the sister of a Good Egg back home. Margaret Faversham, her name was; I’d seen her once or twice at the Drones for evening socials and whatnot. We chatted for a bit—apparently times were fairly trying back in England—and she was able to direct me to Bingo’s cot. I did notice at the mention of his name that her good humor seemed slightly strained. Old Bingo can be a trial to even the most patient of souls.

At any rate, I arrived at his bedside to find Bingo the last person in need of cheering up. He was sitting up in bed, a white cloth wrapped around his forehead, smiling beatifically and being rather a glutton with his luncheon.

‘I say, old man, you don’t seem to be very much in need of medical attention,’ I remarked upon watching him devour his cold cuts of ham.

‘Oh, but Bertie, you don’t know what an ordeal it’s been,’ he reproached me, waving a chicken bone at me reprovingly.

‘What, having to stuff yourself with three meals a day while getting no exercise? I should bally well think it’s an ordeal.’

‘No, no, Bertie, you don’t understand,” he sighed. ‘Having to be around her without being able to express my feelings properly.’

A familiar creeping sensation spread its way across the vastness of my jolly soul. This was a familiar refrain with old Bingo; you see, the blighter has absolutely no defenses against the fairer sex. What I mean to say is, the poor chap is forever falling in love under crossed stars and so forth. Some things in this world are unpredictable, but when asked if Bingo Little will have chosen the right girl the answer is always a resounding ‘Ha!’ It would take a superior memory than Wooster’s to recall all of Bingo’s failed liaisons.

‘So which unlucky—er, I mean, that is to say, who is it this time?’

He glared at me. ‘If you mean to taint my blissful mood with memories of those—those errors which I have made in seeking the Love of my—’

‘Yes, yes, quite, sorry to impugn the nature of your, er, attachment and so forth,’ I hastened to placate him. ‘Out with it, old bean, who is she?’

‘Her name is Margaret,’ he murmured soulfully.

A jolt when through my spine. ‘Margaret—Faversham, by any chance?’ I asked as casually as possible.

He gave a jump, quite an impressive feat while half-sitting on a hospital bed. ‘You KNOW of her?’ he gasped reverently.

‘Well, she’s the sister of rather a decent chappy back in London, don’t you know. Nice girl.’

He sniffed contemptuously. ‘ ‘A nice girl.’ Of course an ignorant oaf such as you, Bertie, would cheapen her with such faint praise. She is an angel come to minister to me in my hour of need, a heaven-borne—’

I must confess my mind stopped taking note of Bingo’s words at this point. It was far too busy sending silent messages of sympathy to poor Margaret, who by now had no doubt suffered the effects of Bingo’s lovelorn glances. Not a chap to suffer the pangs of unrequited love in silence or solitude, is old Bingo—everyone in the bally room knows of his aching heart within five minutes.

After a few more minutes of amateurish romanticism on Bingo’s part and mumbled responses on mine, I took my leave. I hastened to find Margaret and explain the predicament to her—Bingo wasn’t going to let her out of his jolly old mind anytime soon, and his incapacitated state make the whole situation worse. I found her taking a short break outside, reading a letter from her mother.

After a few words of greeting, I mentioned Bingo and she stiffened perceptibly.

‘If you’ve come to propose for him, I’ve no interest in hearing about it,’ she said grimly.

‘No, dash it, listen,’ I exclaimed. ‘The old blighter isn’t going to propose to you. He’d bally well rather suffer.’

‘So I’ve gathered,’ she sighed. ‘He’s been like this ever since he woke up.’

‘I thought he was awake when he got here.’

‘He was. He’s been doing this since the ambulance arrived.’

‘Doing what?’

She did such a jolly good impersonation of that fish-eyed stare that signals Bingo’s attraction to a female that I burst out laughing. ‘It isn’t funny!’ she fumed. ‘It’s become a running joke here. The doctors are beginning to think I’m incapable—they may even send me away, perhaps back to England.’

I could see she was visibly distressed, and it awoke within me the determined spirit of my ancestor, old Philippe de Wustre of the Flemish Light Horse Marines. It is on occasions like this that Bertram rises to the occasion, and with solemn promise in my voice and a gentle hand on my shoulder I said firmly but reassuringly, ‘Fear not, old gel. I’ll help you find a way out of this.’

‘You mean—you mean…?’ She said with hope in her voice.

‘That’s right.’ I nodded, my chest swelling as I felt the old warrior blood flow through my veins.

‘Oh, Bertie, I’ve heard ever so much about your Jeeves from my brother Edgar. You mean you’ll put him to work on this?’

Thank goodness for the old warrior blood, or else I would have fallen like an overcooked soufflé at these words. Although deflated and wounded to the quick, I managed to put up the bold front.

‘Quite, quite,’ I responded frostily. Standing up straight and tall, I bade her a formal farewell, assuring her that I would return in several days with some good wheezes from the front. Let it never be said that Bertie turns his back on a damsel in distress—even those who sting his pride mortally.

It was thus with a troubled mind that I returned to the lines. Although it pained me greatly, I decided that further strain in my relationship with Jeeves would be detrimental to my overall fighting spirit, and so it was with not a little regret that I relinquished the puttees to a pocket in my tunic before alighting from the lorry. Upon entering the billet I found Jeeves tidying his cot in preparation for ‘Lights Out.’

‘Good evening, sir. I trust Mr. Little was in good health?’

‘Oh yes, fine. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that the doctors were keeping him there at the request of the Colonel. The last time Bingo led a reconnaissance patrol he got caught up in our own wire, you know. Dashed uncomfortable to explain to the divisional commander.’

‘I imagine it would be quite awkward, sir. Will there be anything else, sir? No? Very good, sir.’

Jeeves spared one final—and none too friendly—glance for the puttees on the floor by my bunk before extinguishing the light. What with all the other mishaps in my life up ‘til now, there were plenty of things to make Bertram brood for some time before finally ambling off to the jolly old Land of Nod.
To Be Continued

2 Comments:

At 3:30 PM, Blogger Longish said...

Jolly good. This, I imagine is exactly how Wodehouse would have written a war story. I grew up with the Fry/Laurie duo, so this is speaking my language.

(Greetings from other foothills of the old Blue Ridge whatsits!)

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger Longish said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 

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