Whether it be in response to a request to rate one’s quality of life on one of those infernal questionnaires that doctors these days seem so keen on employing, or the answer one gives to a pal enquiring as to how one is faring in the steeplechase of life, everyone has times when the expression ‘Tickerty-Boo’ is not the one that comes most readily to mind. This was just such an occasion. Only the previous day I had left my home with a spring in my step and a lightness in my spirit that would have left nobody in any doubt that the bells were ringing out in celebration of all that was propitious in the world of Mr B. Wooster – but then the world become an altogether less joyous place. ‘Boos’, ‘Tickerty’ or otherwise, were no longer les mots juste.
It all began to go wrong whilst I was seated in my dining room perusing the national papers. I had finished breakfast when the finest gentleman’s personal gentleman in the Home Counties, if not all England, glided into the room. I greeted him cordially and, eager as ever to hear what a man with a brain the size of a planet thought concerning the issues of the day, proceeded to regale him with what I had gleaned from my reviewing of that morning’s headlines.
‘I say, Jeeves’, I began, ‘it says here that one now has to wait an average of over two weeks for a routine GP appointment and, furthermore, that there’s a national shortage of HRT.’
‘Indeed so, sir. It is a concern for us all.’
‘A concern for us all it most certainly is, Jeeves, and a bally sizeable one at that. One dreads to think how Aunt Agatha will cope if deprived of her hormonal replacement. The aged relative is barely human when she’s taking the dashed pills, imagine how she’d be without them. Make no mistake Jeeves, the thought itself is enough to make a grown man don a disguise of a mountain goat and head for the hills. There’s not a nephew in all the world who will be safe within a hundred miles of her.’
‘An encounter with Lady Worplesdon in such a state would, undoubtedly, be one that was best avoided, sir. Perhaps it is for the best then that she has sent a note.’
‘A note, Jeeves? What note?’
Jeeves did not answer but instead extended his gloved hand and passed me the piece of paper that he had been carrying on the tray with which he had entered the room. It is a well established fact that the Wooster’s are renowned for their bravery – in the face of danger they laugh with ne’er a care, in the moment of crisis they rise to the challenge, but I don’t mind admitting that I was made to physically stagger by what I now had cause to read. I was left, not only speechless and open mouthed, but also in such a state of tremulousness, that it was as much as I could do to avoid spilling the morning Darjeeling down my as yet undivested nightwear.
The piece of paper that Jeeves had handed me was the right hand side of a prescription. On it were printed the words Elleste Duet Conti. Alongside was a box that had been ticked and below, in a hand befitting one well practiced in the training of her evil acolytes in the dark art of advising on medicines management, were scrawled the words: ‘Obtain these for me Bertram – or I’ll see to it that you marry Madeleine Bassett The choice is yours’. A large letter ‘A’ confirmed, if confirmation was ever needed, who had authored such a minacious ultimatum.
‘Is anything the matter, sir?’, enquired Jeeves. I couldn’t help noticing, however, that there was an air about him that suggested he already knew the contents of the note he had conveyed.
‘Not at all, Jeeves, not at all.’ I spluttered, struggling as I did so to regain my composure. ‘Aunt Agatha can attempt to put the frighteners on me all she likes but I happen to know that the Bassett has eyes, and heart, for just one man. And that man is Augustus Fink-Nottle. There’s no uncertainty about it – Gussie’s the chap for Madeline, always has been and always will be. Theirs is a love which acts as a constant in a world of ever changing health service management structures, an engagement as unshakeable as the mind of an administrator who has determined that a breach has occurred in a two week wait referral pathway. Without doubt Aunt Agatha’s threats are as empty as a health secretary’s promises.’
‘One would like to think so, sir’ replied Jeeves in that tone he employs when he knows something that others do not. ‘But the word is that Miss Bassett is not as enamoured with Mr Fink-Nottle as was once the case’
‘Madeline not enamoured with Gussie! She is as besotted with Gussie as Gussie is with newts. And greater love has no man than that which Augustus Finknottle has for all things amphibian.’
I had hoped that Jeeves would have remarked favourably on my knowledge of taxonomy but he continued on, seeming unimpressed.
‘Mr Fink-Nottle’s love for members of the subfamily Pleurdelinae is undoubted sir; as, indeed, is his love for Miss Bassett. But, alas, that love no longer finds itself requited. It is a matter of regret that Miss Bassett has ended the agreement that once was in place.’
To say I was shocked would have been an understatement. But dealing with the unforeseen was something that I was becoming increasing used to, as I now proceeded to explain to Jeeves.
‘Well I don’t know Jeeves – is nothing sacred anymore? Can’t a man depend on anything? Only yesterday I was treated in a most unexpected manner. As is my custom on a Thursday afternoon I had it in mind to drop in at the Drones. As I arrived, Bates, the hall porter, ushered me to one side and asked if I would be so kind as to leave. He informed me that Bingo Little had, for reasons I cannot begin to imagine, turned against me and engineered a vote of the members, the upshot of which was such that I have been barred from the club for behaviour unbecoming of a gentleman. Can you imagine it Jeeves?’
‘Bates was clearly ill at ease as a result of the whole dashed business. Usually, to borrow a phrase from old Bill Shakespeare, he is as polite as a pineapple, but yesterday, his manner was nothing short of offish’
‘Sherry what, Jeeves? To what are you referring?’
‘Sheridan sir. ‘As polite as a pineapple’ – a phrase coined by Mr R. B. Sheridan in his 1775 play ‘The Rivals’. The phrase was not one of Mr Shakespeare’s’
‘Well thank you for that Jeeves. Here am I facing potential disaster in the form of marriage to Madeline Bassett without so much as a bolt hole to escape to as a consequence of my having been mysteriously excluded from the Drones, and all you can see fit to do is to correct my knowledge on matters literary. Thankfully, I have this to cheer me in the hour of my distress’
With that I lifted from the chair next to me the fine Stetson hat that I’d previously ordered and which had arrived from the United States by that morning’s post. I placed the item on my head, ignoring Jeeves’ obvious displeasure as I did so.
‘I trust sir is not considering wearing such an item out in public. I feel to do so would be less than wise. It makes you look somewhat…’, he hesitated for a second, ‘…American.’
‘It’s all very fine you taking that attitude Jeeves. As you well know I once wrote a piece entitled ‘What the Well-dressed man is wearing’ and I am here to tell you Jeeves, that a certain well-dressed man will most certainly be wearing this very fine hat – and I’ll not have you suggesting otherwise. Arriving at the Drones with this on my head will ensure that the unpleasantness of yesterday will be cast aside in an instant. I’ll be ushered in once more, greeted with open arms, like an adventuring hero returning from distant shores’.
‘If you say so, sir’
‘I jolly well do say so Jeeves, and there the matter must end. Your comments regarding what I choose to adorn my head were unsolicited and they have only added to the stress that this mornings revelations have caused me. It’s all beginning to make me feel quite unwell. In fact I’ve not felt this nauseous since Madeline Bassett once described the stars as God’s daisy chain. If it wasn’t so difficult to get a doctors appointment I’d have half a mind to seek urgent medical attention’.
‘I’m sorry to hear that sir. If the young gentleman would like, I’d be happy to be of service to you and enquire into whether a GP appointment might not be forthcoming for you this morning. Perhaps sir could enquire regarding your Aunt’s medication at the same time.’
‘Haven’t you been listening Jeeves. Doctors appointments can’t be had for love nor money. Whilst it’s true Jeeves that, over the years, you have managed the seemingly impossible on more than one occasion, not even you could secure a tête-à-tête with my doctor today. But try if you wish, I’ll not deny you the opportunity of making yourself look a fool!’
Jeeves silently left the room and I took the opportunity to assess how I might don the Stetson so as to maximise the air of jauntiness that I hoped to exude. Within a few moments, Jeeves was back.
‘The doctor will be pleased to see you this morning sir’
I was dumbstruck. It was clear that Jeeves was pleased with himself and though aware that to do so would only serve to increase his sense of self satisfaction, I couldn’t help but ask how the devil he’d managed it.
‘I simply dialled 111 and told the young lady who answered my call that I was concerned that you might do something foolish’. He paused for a moment to cast a censorious glance at the hat that continued to bedeck my head. ‘The recommendation I was afforded was that you should see a doctor within two hours. On relaying this information to the receptionist at the practice at which you are registered, an appointment was duly offered. Apparently they have a new doctor in post. He can see you at noon.’
A couple of hours later I was minding my own business sat in the waiting room of the local GP surgery. In the absence of a copy of ‘Milady’s Boudoir’ I occupied my time by flipping through the latest edition of ‘What Ho!’ magazine replete as it was with photographs of Stiffy Byng and Harold ‘Stinker’ Pinker’s recent nuptials. My reverie was disturbed however by a ruckus that was taking place at the reception desk where a young women was becoming increasing agitated with the staff.
‘Never mind your zero tolerance policy, I simply must see the doctor this morning regarding a matter of the utmost importance. I shall take a seat in the waiting room and won’t be leaving until I’ve been attended to.’ The women fixed her steely-eyed gaze upon the lead receptionist and added in a lower, more menacing tone, ‘Be warned, about my person I have a list of all my problems – and I’m not afraid to use it.’
Though heartened by the fact that the doctor seemed to have a loyal and enthusiastic following, my mood dipped when the aggrieved party took a seat next to me and I recognised her as Honoria Glossop, a woman to whom I once had the misfortune of being engaged.
‘Bertie Wooster, as I live and breath.’ She let out a shriek of what less enlightened souls may have mistaken for laughter, before adding in a conspiratorial tone, ‘I was hoping we might run into each other, I’ve been thinking about you recently…ever such a lot’
‘Have you H,Honoria?’, I stammered, far from flattered by the notion that I had been on her mind and not a little alarmed by the seductive wink with which she ended her sentence. ‘Why might that be?’
‘Oh Bertie, surely you must know. Of late a change has come upon me. I’m not the women I once was. No longer is Bingo Little the one for me. I need someone more virile, a real man. Somebody a lot like you, Bertie. I have feelings for you Bertie – surely you feel it too’.
It was not just her words that threatened the Wooster composure but also the manner in which they were spoken. More practiced in the art of breaking in horses than that of the seduction of menfolk, Honoria then made an ill advised attempt to appear coquettish. Undoubtedly the affect had more of the macabre about it than she had intended and the upshot was that, in my alarm, I all but fell off my chair.
If there is one thing a true gentleman knows it is to recognise when a quick exit is required. This was, without a doubt, a clear example of such an occasion. I was afforded my opportunity when a buzzing sound was heard and my name flashed up on a display panel indicating that the doctor was now ready to see me. I smiled awkwardly, proffered a hurried farewell and made my escape, I darted off in the direction of the consulting room with the sound of Honoria’s sonorous voice ringing in my ears, announcing to those patiently assembled how she wanted all the world to know that she longed that we would always be together.
Reaching the relative safety of the doctors room, I knocked on the door but entered without waiting for the customary invitation to do so. Inside the Wooster nervous system was dealt another shock no less unexpected than the surprise experienced by many the year I won the school scripture knowledge prize. Sat at a desk, stethoscope around his neck, was none other than my old chum Gussie, his horn rimmed glasses and small chin confirming as true what I found hard to believe and making the matter unworthy of debate.
‘Good morning, it’s Mr Wooster isn’t it?’, he began, attempting to adopt a professional air.
‘Yes it is Gussie, And well you know it – but what the dickens are you doing passing yourself off as a family physician?’ Gussie tried to ignore what surely none could consider an unreasonable question.
‘If you don’t mind Mr Wooster, it’s Dr Augustus Fink-Nottle. The doctor-patient relationship works better that way. Now, if you would be so kind, please inform me of the number of units of alcohol you consume per week, whether or not you smoke, and the degree to which you exercise. Then I will measure your blood pressure and undertake a blood test to determine your cholesterol before asking you to complete a patient satisfaction survey as you leave. Would that be acceptable to you Mr Wooster?’
I was uneasy about answering the questions he had posed, suspecting he’d be less than impressed with my replies.
‘Aren’t you going to ask me why I’ve come to see you?’ I countered before adding, with what I liked to think carried an air of contemptuous disbelief, ‘Dr Fink-Nottle”
‘Oh, OK, if I must. Tell me, what is concerning you today?’
‘As it happens, a number of things’, I replied.
Gussie attempted to point out that he could deal with just one problem per consultation but I was having none of it.
‘Firstly I want to know how you find yourself working as a General Practitioner, and what’s all this I hear about you and Madeline Bassett breaking of your engagement and leaving me at risk of being paired with her myself on account of my disgruntled Aunt Agatha. Answer me these questions in a satisfactory manner and then I’ll thank you if you’d simply issue a prescription for said aunt’s HRT and show me to the back door through which I can leave and thereby escape Honoria Glossop who, even now, is sat outside waiting to devour me like some human form of preying mantis’
At these words, Gussie’s professional demeanour left him and was replaced by an appearance consistent with that of a small frightened child.
‘She’s not here again is she? She turns up repeatedly demanding more HRT. She believes they are the answer to her violent mood swings and comes here each day with implausible stories of how she needs additional supplies. Thus far her medication has allegedly been left on the bus, eaten by the dog and stolen by person or persons unknown. She’s clearly taking far too much. I try to refuse to issue her any more but you should see the menace in her eyes when she holds me up against the wall and threatens me with physical harm if I don’t give her what she wants. I’ve taken to stockpiling pills, patches and topical gels in order to ensure her demands are met.’
‘Well that my explain her alarming behaviour in the waiting room. A gentleman doesn’t like to cast aspersions on a ladies character, but her forwardness in the waiting room was unseemly to say the least’
‘I’m sorry Bertie, but you understand that I daren’t spare you any HRT for your Aunt Agatha, or indeed anyone else – my life simply wouldn’t be worth living if I were to deny Honoria”
“Your life wouldn’t be worth living?! What about mine? Doesn’t it bother you Aunt Agatha is lining up Madeline as my future wife.’
‘Alas, Bertie, having put myself through the new government programme which seeks to train fully qualified GPs in just six weeks, she won’t even talk to me. Turns out she regards being married to a GP as social suicide.’
‘Well give it all up then Gussie, return to your newts!’
‘I can’t Bertie. This is my new vocation. It turns out that my years of studying pond life was preparing me for this.’
‘I say, old thing, that’s a bit harsh’
‘I didn’t mean it like that Bertie. It’s just that my love of newts has been replaced by a love for my fellow man. But it’s all a lot harder than I’d imagined – I’m not sure six weeks training is really enough. People constantly come to me in trouble Bertie. All day long I see those who are ‘out of sorts’, those who are ‘all of a dither’, and even some who are ‘in a proper pickle’. There are these frightful NICE guidelines to tell me what to do, but they don’t cut the mustard Bertie and I never know whether I’m supposed to be applying a protocol or following an algorithm. Not even Jeeves would cope with what I have to deal with each day. It’s all so very difficult Bertie but, I have heard the call. I must continue as a GP even though I fear Madeline will never be able to bring herself to look at me again. Unless, of course, you had a plan of how I might win her back?’
It was then that the code of the Wooster’s crept up behind me, tapped me politely on the shoulder, and bid me ‘good day’. Gussie was a pal, and pals, no matter how trying, are never to be let down. I gave the matter some thought and, given the impossibility of the situation, applied my top drawer strategy – I tried to think what Jeeves would do.
‘We could try that scheme of Jeeves’s – the one where I push a small boy into a lake and we engineer things such that Madeline is watching on as you dive in to effect a rescue. Seeing you act so gallantly is sure to elevate you in her affections and so ensure the path of true love once again runs smooth.’
Gussie fell silent and adopted a countenance more serious than I had ever seen him adopt before.
‘Mr Wooster, that is a dreadful suggestion to have made. Small boys should on no account be pushed into water, no matter the seriousness of the situation. I’m afraid I will be forced to raise a safeguarding concern about you. Or at least I would but, given the dashed referral forms are so beastly complicated, I shall merely glare at you disapprovingly and insist that you promise never to speak of such things again.’
I gave him my word after which Gussie insisted that it was time for me to leave.
‘As ever Bertie, I’m running late and I’ve other patients to see. I’m afraid that, to avoid returning to the waiting room you’ll have to leave through the window. I’ve only been here a short time but I’ve already used it on the numerous occasions that the practice manager has been after me for not coding things properly for QoF purposes.’
Though he’d been of little help, I thanked Gussie anyway and made my undignified exit through the consulting room window and thence I made my way back to my rooms. There I found Jeeves packing as if for a weekend retreat. I asked him what the occasion might be.
‘I hope you don’t mind sir, but I took the liberty of accepting an invitation to Ditteridge Hall. Miss Glossop has been on the phone and has requested the pleasure of your company for the weekend. I felt sure you’d respond in the affirmative and assured the young lady that we would make our way there the moment you returned.’
That some consider Jeeves as the wisest of men is sometimes hard to swallow. Here he was, once more placing me in a situation that could not help but end in disaster. But a gentleman’s word is his bond and since Jeeves had promised I would travel to Ditteridge Hall, then to Ditteridge Hall I would have to travel.
I did however insist on one thing. My stipulation was simply this, that my new Stetson hat should accompany us on the jaunt to Hampshire. To his credit, Jeeves obliged, packing the headwear without so much as the raising of an eyebrow.
If my sense of perturbation and 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.
As I made my way across the driveway a car pulled up and out climbed one whose finely chiselled features could belong to none other than Bingo Little. Despite his being the instigator of my downfall at the Drones, he was still an old school pal, and so I decided that a civil course remained the most appropriate to pursue.
‘What ho, Bingo! It’s not like you to frequent country houses on the weekend. I didn’t expect to bump into you here.’
‘I don’t suppose you did. I expect you rather hoped that you would be able to continue, uninterrupted, your despicable attempt to steal from me the woman I love. Out of my way Wooster, I don’t wish to talk to you.’
To say I was flabbergasted was not the half of it. How anyone could imagine that I was foolish enough to put myself anywhere near the line of Honoria’s fire, was beyond me. Up until now Bingo had avoided looking directly at me but now, his eyes no doubt drawn by the splendour of my hat, he turned his head to face me. And then, just as Bingo had noticed something remarkable about my appearance, it now became my turn to note something remarkable about his.
‘I say Bingo, what’s that on your top lip?’
‘That Bertie, is what is termed a moustache, a sign of masculinity – something for which real men are well known. I thought Honoria would be interested to see it.’
‘I don’t doubt it Bingo. And very impressed I’m sure she’ll be. How ever did you manage to grow it so quickly?’
Bingo seemed to be pleased with my positive appraisal and softened a little.
‘Well Bertie, I’ve been to see Gussie in his new role as a GP. He’s been marvellous. He gave me this cream and told me to rub it into the requisite area three times a day.’ He pulled a tube of testosterone gel from his pocket and demonstrated the application process. ‘So you see Bertie, with this being so effective, I believe I can win back Honoria’s affections. May the best man win,’ And with that he placed the tube back in his pocket, turned back toward the house, and strode off purposefully.
Alone again I continued on my way to the lake. Gussie was there, just as Jeeves had suggested and, true to his description, he was the very picture of a soul bereft. Clearly he was thinking about Madeleine, a subject about which I, however, was not prepared to enter into discussion. We stood looking at each other for a few minutes, the silence growing more awkward, until I blurted out the only thing I could think of to say.
‘I say Gussie. Have you heard that the newt population in these parts is in decline?’
With the conversation turning to the subject of his beloved newts, Gussie’s eyes lit up and his tongue was loosed.
‘Newts in trouble Bertie, but why?’
For a moment I wished I’d not silenced Jeeves on the matter earlier in the day. Unable to answer him, Gussie took it into his head to discover the reason for himself.
“Would you pass me your hat Bertie, I have an idea”
‘An idea, Gussie, what sort of an idea?’ I asked, not liking the turn this conversation was taking. Take it from me, a man capable of spending long hours in the company of semi-aquatic creatures with a penchant for stagnant bodies of water, is capable of pretty much anything.
‘Trust me, Bertie, I’m a newt enthusiast’
With that Gussie snatched the hat from my head and plunged it into the lake, drawing it back out brimming with water. He proceeded to pour the contents out onto the ground in front of him and went on to repeat the procedure time and again until, eventually, a newt was included in the sodden contents of my Stetson. Gussie examined the creature closely and then announced his findings.
‘It’s a male newt Bertie and at this time of year a young male newt’s fancy ought to be turning to thoughts of love. But this newt seems to have no such inclinations. He should be changing his colour and bending his body in an expression of romantic intent – but he’s not.’ Gussie was finding it difficult to speak now, choking with the emotion of it all as he forced the words out. ‘It’s as if he’s lost what it is to be male – it’s almost as if this male newt is…female’
At that moment a cough came from the bushes and Jeeves stepped out from behind them.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt you Mr Fink-Nottle, but I couldn’t help but overhear your observations. The article I was referring Mr Wooster to earlier this afternoon was suggesting that the feminisation of male newts was occurring as a consequence of high levels of oestrogen in the water, possibly as a result of local women on excessive doses of HRT excreting high levels of the hormone. Might that tie in with your findings Mr Fink-Nottle?’
Gussie went pale.
‘What a fool I’ve been Bertie. I see now how foolish I’ve been to think I could ever be a doctor. My real love is for newts. I’ve neglected them and threatened their existence trying to be something I’m not, something I don’t have the passion for, nor the necessary resilience. I renounce it all. No longer will I be a GP – no longer will I prescribe HRT to Honoria’.
And with that, displaying a sense of urgency I’d rarely seen in him, he dashed back to the house shouting as he went ‘Let me through, I’m a doctor no longer’.
Jeeves looked at me as I gazed crestfallen upon my hat that lay, ruined forever, on the ground.
‘The misfortune that has befallen your hat is most regrettable sir. But perhaps you might find some consolation in the good that seems to have resulted from its misappropriation. Miss Basset will soon have Mr Fink-Nottle back now that he is no longer a GP and a deoestrogenised Miss Glossop, her ardour dampened, is sure to find her desire for you diminished. Mr Little will, I am sure, replace you once more as the one who leads among those vying for her affection. Furthermore, with the reduction in the prescribing of HRT for Miss Glossop, one can only imagine that there is enough for everyone else, not least your own Aunt Agatha.’
‘I agree Jeeves, but for the state of my hat, a satisfactory resolution all round.’
We began to make our way back to the house. As we did so we saw Gussie and Madeleine, walking hand in hand together. As they passed Gussie nonchalantly tossed a couple of small cardboard boxes in my direction which, in one deft movement, I swiftly pocketed. All the evidence suggested that a burden had been lifted from Gussie’s shoulders and love was in the air once more. Further indication that Cupid had been busy putting in the hours presented itself when, on nearing the Glossop ancestral home, we were greeted by the disconcerting sight of Honoria and Bingo, arms entwined in what can only be described as a clinch. Clearly the moustache was already having the desired effect.
‘One wonders how long Bingo will be required to maintain his hirsute appearance once Honoria’s HRT is reduced’, I commented to Jeeves as we climbed the steps to the front door.
‘One does indeed, sir. One can only hope that Miss Glossop’s passion for facial hair is temporary since, I fear, Mr Little has had his last tube of testosterone cream now that he too will be needing to find a new GP’
‘Indeed Jeeves. The plan to take short cuts on the training of GPs seems not to have worked out so well after all. And there therefore still remains, the problem of getting a GP appointment in a timely fashion. You understand the posish Jeeves?’
‘Indeed I do sir, the problem is a most vexing one.’
‘Have you a solution, Jeeves?’ I asked hopefully.
‘Alas no, sir. I fancy it’ll take a greater mind than mine to solve that particular problem’
‘But Is there a greater mind than yours Jeeves?’
‘Who can say, sir? Who can say?’
I dismissed Jeeves for the night but, feeling the need for a restorative before retiring myself, I made my way back to the dining room. I had not forgotten the decanter of port that was stationed there and which was no doubt anxiously awaiting my return. Sauce in hand I headed then for the drawing room where I made myself comfortable in an old leather armchair and contented myself with the thought that, with Bingo and Honoria reunited once more, all charges of my supposed ungentlemanly behaviour would be dropped and I would once more be held in good standing at the Drones. Within moments, however, a deafening roar disturbed by reverie. I looked up and saw the imposing figure of Aunt Agatha standing in the doorway, clearly with malevolence still very much on her mind.
‘Bertram Wooster, where have you been? You’re as bad as my doctor. I can never get to see him when I want to either. I’ve been looking for you. Have you got me my pills yet?’
I paused a moment, quelling the habitual panic that Aunt Agatha invariably evoked in me, before getting to my feet. I placed my hand in my pocket and, pulling out what I found there, answered her with a smile.
‘Yes, Aunt Agatha, I rather think I have!’
[With huge apologies to P.G. Wodehouse, the master of comic prose which always brightens even the darkest day.]