If my sense of perturbation had not been sufficiently aroused already, it was given an additional invigorating poke with an exceedingly sharp stick when, as we loaded up the car, Jeeves informed me that both Madeline Bassett and Aunt Agatha had also been invited to the weekend chez Honoria.
‘I am perturbed, Jeeves’, I told him, ‘increasingly so. Were I to now, round the corner and bump into that fellow Dante, I would take him to one side and teach him a thing or two about what it is to experience utter despair in the face of impending horror.’
‘“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”, sir?’
I looked at him, and decided not to ask for clarification.
‘That’s easy for you to say Jeeves, but the fact remains that the places were rough enough already – this news has not served to make them any plainer.’
‘Indeed not, sir.’
With that, Jeeves dealt with the last of the bags before I took my place behind the wheel and we set off together. Despite my sense of foreboding, the drive down to Hampshire was, at the same time, a cause for celebration. The storm clouds may well have been gathering over Ditteridge Hall, but, for now at least, the sun was shining brightly. And if three hearty cheers were the order of the day for the celestial b’s donning of his haut-de-forme, then an additional hip hip hooray was surely appropriate for one Bertram Wilberforce Wooster. Sporting the splendid Stetson, I felt sure I was setting a trend that would soon be de rigueur in gentlemen’s clubs up and down the country.
Though I was therefore feeling somewhat cheered as we travelled, I none the less took it upon myself to maintain a frosty silence on our journey. I was determined to make Jeeves aware that my annoyance at his agreeing to this trip had not been dissipated in the slightest. As we neared our destination and crossed the county border, Jeeves, however, endeavoured to effect a conversation.
‘I wonder if sir might be interested to learn that, according to the science periodical to which I subscribe, the newt population in the county of Hampshire is in decline. Experts have blamed the…’
‘Stop right there Jeeves,’ I countered with a forcefulness that surprised even myself a little. Generally, I’m not one to play the high and mighty but this line of discussion threatened to take, not only the biscuit, but the biscuit tin too. ‘You may wonder away, to your hearts content, Jeeves, but no’ I continued, ‘such matters do not interest me. Were I ever to be asked to offer up a fig in order to learn more, I would, without a doubt, declare that the price being asked was far too dear. I could not pay it. And even were the subject to take on a degree of fascination that was hitherto unknown to me, as a consequence, perhaps, of a severe blow to the head, now would not be a fitting time for it to be discussed – not when I find myself driving head long into the lair of a creature who would likely have Heracles thinking twice before he engaged it in combat. We’ll have no more of it Jeeves, do I make myself clear?’
‘Most efficaciously so, sir. I’ll not mention the matter again.’
And with that no more was said until we at last arrived at Ditteridge Hall. I climbed out of the car and headed up the steps to the front door leaving Jeeves to deal with our luggage. The door was open and Honoria was there anxiously looking up the driveway.
‘Hello Bertie, so glad you could come. But I was hoping you might be Gussie. I’ve just requested a home visit and though we’re well out of his practice area I nonetheless demanded he came. I’ve run out of my medication you see, and simply can’t do without it. He hesitated about coming at first but I threatened to complain to the GMC if he didn’t and he soon came round to my way of thinking. I can’t imagine why, but I think he finds me a little intimidating. By the way, seeing that he’ll have come all this way, I’ve insisted he stay for the weekend. You don’t mind do you Bertie’’ she asked before adding coyly, ‘there’ll still be plenty of time for us to be alone?’
I nervously mumbled a non-committal reply, made my excuses and entered the house where I was promptly shown to my room. There I found Jeeves dutifully unpacking my bags.
‘This weekend is getting worse by the moment Jeeves. It was bad enough knowing Honoria’s father, the eminent psychiatrist Sir Roderick Glossop, would be here. Surely it’s enough to have one doctor in the house who disapproves of smoking and gambling, drinks no wine and once declared me to be ‘en vacance avec les fairies’ simply on account of my having cats in my flat. But now Gussie’s going to be here too. Put two doctors together and the conversation over dinner is sure to be reduced to tedious medical talk, unable as they are to exchange anecdotes on any other subject. And one can hardly indulge with any enthusiasm in those little pleasures that weekends were made for when your own GP is looking on with a disapproving eye’
‘It is certainly regrettable sir, one can only hope that some good might come out of the weekend.’
Such optimism may all be very commendable but, as we gathered around the dining table that evening, anyone in search of an ‘all’s well that ends well’ would have been left scanning the horizon in vain. Gussie, who was well out of his depth discussing matters medical with Sir Roderick, spent the evening gazing forlornly at Madeleine who resolutely refused to meet his eye. She, despite Debrett’s no doubt having some pretty stern words to say on the matter, maintained an endless monologue on the happiness of flowers, the delightful essence of puppies and her conviction that rabbits are in fact gnomes who serve the Fairy Queen. Honoria exerted all her effort in a vain attempt to appear alluring without drawing the attention of her father who himself continued to regard me as someone about whom he saw no reason to change the less than favourable opinion he had previously formed. And Aunt Agatha scowled as only a hormonally deficient aunt can.
Once dinner was over each went their separate ways leaving me alone. In the absence of medical supervision I settled down to make the most of the supply of cigars and decanter full of port that rested on the sideboard. However, no sooner had I poured myself a stiff one, Jeeves entered the room.
‘Might I make a suggestion sir?’
‘Suggest away Jeeves” I replied, feeling more positive now that the evening held out the possibility of not being entirely without its merits.
‘I wondered if it might not be beneficial if you were to meet with Mr Fink-Nottle. He’s just left the house to wander round the lake. He has an air of melancholia about him. It occurs to me that he would benefit from a little company’.
‘I sometimes wonder at you Jeeves. What could possibly induce me to spend time with Gussie when he is largely the cause of the precarious position in which I now find myself? And besides what would I talk to him about’
‘I”m sure you’d find something sir. And it would be an opportunity for you to wear your hat. I fancy this evening is just the occasion for it’
Jeeves passed me the hat that he had been concealing behind his back and, as I placed it upon my head, the suggestion Jeeves had made suddenly seem to hold some appeal. I quickly sank the drink I had just poured and headed off for the front door.