Jeeves Goes Online

I don’t think PG Wodehouse ever anticipated the invention of the world-wide web. If he did, there seems to be no record of it in any of his writings. But I suppose he might have done…


I don’t know what it is about life but I’ve noticed more than once that the moment you think the weather is set fair you suddenly get absolutely soaked in an unexpected downpour.

Take this morning. All was well with the world, or so it appeared. It meant no harm to me nor me to it. We were, in short, in perfect celestial harmony. I was slowly sipping a cup of tea and, slightly more slowly, considering how I might best spend this seemingly perfect day when Jeeves shimmered in stage left.

“What-ho Jeeves,” I called cheerily.

“Good morning, sir. I have just been talking to Mrs Gregson on the telephone.”

The lady to whom Jeeves referred is, of course, none other than my Aunt Agatha, as terrible a relative as a man could wish to have. She has the personality of a blast furnace and a voice like a fog horn. In fact, I don’t know why she needs to use the telephone at all. She should just point in roughly the right direction and speak. ‘Fierce’ would be one word that springs to mind. It sprang to my mind now.

“She asked me to remind you, sir, that you had promised her a special present for her birthday.”

“Those aren’t quite the facts, Jeeves. She commanded; I obeyed.”

“Quite so, sir. And the present is now where, sir?”

“The present is…” I waved my hand casually, then stopped. An awful feeling descended. Surely it wasn’t possible I had forgotten to buy it?

“You have perhaps forgotten to buy it, sir?”

No reaction was, I felt, necessary. There was a short-ish pause.

“What was the present to have been, sir?”

Now that I could remember. Aunt Agatha is very attached to her family, providing they are long dead, a sentiment that I can all too well reciprocate with regard to my own kith and whatsit. Her people came from Herefordshire, a county somewhere on the Welsh marches and one full, no doubt, of the gnawed bones of her enemies. An antique map of Herefordshire, in short, had been the item specified, preferably from the early 17th century. It had seemed such a simple commission. Now it seemed as impossible to realise as a trip to the moon, to which sphere I would soon have to remove myself in order to escape her waxing wrath.

I furnished Jeeves with the particulars then took a nervous sip of tea. I hoped his grey cells were in top form.

“Mrs Gregson’s birthday is the day after tomorrow, sir. You’ll recall she is coming to take tea with you.”

I hurriedly put my cup down. I seemed to have quite gone off the drink for some reason.

“The situation is critical sir, and admits of no delay. Time is of the essence.”

“That’s about the size of it. But what do we do?”

“If I may suggest Cassini, sir.”

I looked at the man sternly. “Not practical, Jeeves. Even if I were to flee to Italy she would smoke me out, hunt me down and bring me back to her lair in her slavering jaws.”

Jeeves coughed lightly. “Cassini, sir, far from being a Tuscan resort, is in fact a company of map publishers. They are named after the famous Franco-Italian family which produced a number of celebrated mathematicians and cartographers in the 18th century. A most accomplished dynasty. One of them also discovered the gap in the rings around Saturn. In fact…”

I held up my hand. “Saturn is where I shall have to go, Jeeves, if we fail in this quest. The moon is not nearly far enough away. The point is this – can Cassini aid us? From which font de commerce do they ply their trade?”

“That, sir, is immaterial, as their products can be ordered on the world-wide web.”

Now, I’ve heard of this web thingy at the Drones Club but no one there was much of a hand at explaining it. Jeeves had more than once tried to mark my card but somehow the thing never seemed to stick.

“Unravel the world-wide web and let us cast our net into its vasty deep,” I exhorted Jeeves.

Five minutes later, we were seated in Jeeves’ sanctum and looking at one of these computer contraptions which Jeeves has somehow managed to procure. His fingers flew across the buttons like billy-oh. All the while he was giving a running commentary. One picture changed to another and at last we were looking at just the thing.

“’Ordnance Survey maps of…Hereford from 1835…’” I peered a bit closer. “I say, Jeeves, that can’t be right – isn’t there a golf course just there? And am I’m dashed sure there was a train line the other side of the sixth hole…or was it the seventh? I know it was a par four. No it must have been the sixth, because Stiffy had just missed a simple two-footer. We were telling him what a chump he was. I was about to take a chip shot from the bunker when, without any bally warning, a train…”

Jeeves coughed lightly, halting this flow of sporting reminiscence. “As you observed, sir, the map dates from 1612. The first railway line to Hereford was not built for another 220 years. The golf course was only opened five years ago.”

“Absolutely, Jeeves. Spot on. Well, that’s it. Can one purchase this handsome item in a frame?”

“One can, sir.”

At that unfortunate moment the doorbell rang and Jeeves floated away to respond. I was sure I could get the hang of it. I pressed one button, the another and finally got to where I needed. I filled in all my details, rather slowly because typing doesn’t come naturally to us Woosters and I always have trouble remembering my address. The message proudly displaying ‘your transaction has been confirmed’ was just showing on the screen when Jeeves glided back in.

“All ordered, Jeeves,” I said breezily.

“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said, with a slight cough. I know those coughs.

“I suppose you think I can’t use the wide-web, Jeeves. I assure you I can. Time will prove my case.” And with that I marched out of the room, already thinking about whether a dozen or two dozen would be the better quantity of oysters to consume at lunch.

Two days later, Jeeves brought a well-wrapped parcel into the bedroom. “Mrs Gregson’s gift, sir.”

I tore at the wrapping like a tiger and soon I held the sacred object in my hand. It was indeed a handsome piece of work, with enough gold lettering, heraldic crests and ornate lettering to satisfy the most demanding of aunts. I studied the map more carefully. Whilst it was true that we Woosters had never topped the lists at Geog., I was surprised at how close Herefordshire was to Essex. Still, Mr Speed clearly knew what he was about, being mapmaker to King James and all that. Singing a light refrain, I placed the map carefully by the side of the bed and headed for the bathroom.

Aunt Agatha had been bidden for 3.30, and at 3.30 she arrived. She was draped in the fur of some wild beast that she had probably slain with her naked hands. She bared her teeth at me in greeting. I obediently pecked her cheek and wished her many Happy Rs of the D

“And I suppose, Bertie,” she boomed, “that you’ve forgotten my present.”

“As a matter of fact, sweetest of Aunts, I have not.” I reached behind my chair and produced the gift. “Many happy etcetera.”

Aunt Agatha was looking at the map with the same expression that the Chairman of the National Temperance Society might give when presented with the wine card. “Bertie…”

“That’s me.”

“You are a…” Words seemed to fail her, which I should have taken as a bad sign.

“Speak on, dear relative.”

“You are an unutterably muddle-headed clot!”

This was not the form I was expecting congratulation to take. She took a deep breath. I could tell she was cranking up the volume for the next para, just in case there was anyone in High Barnet who might want to listen in.

“You are a fool, a cloth-brained twit…a numbskull, a wooly-pated cretin!”

“Look here, steady on…what the…”

“You are a goat, Bertie Wooster! What do I want with a map of Hertfordshire?”

I reeled back in horror. I presumed her last question was rhetorical but I could clearly see what she wanted with it at this exact moment. She wanted to bring it down on my head, glass-side first.

I heard a light cough behind me. I turned weakly. Aunt Agatha swivelled, both barrels fixed on the intruder.

It was Jeeves. “I’m sorry to interrupt, sir, but I couldn’t help overhearing your discussion. It seems I might have inadvertently allowed Mr Wooster to open the wrong package.”

I didn’t take this in for a moment. If Jeeves had an ounce of the feudal spirit he would be admitting that he had inadvertently ordered the wrong map. I couldn’t see how this advanced my cause, nor postponed the moment of my death.

At this point, Jeeves produced another identically framed map, from behind his back. “This is your map, I believe, Mrs Gregson. ‘Herefordshire’, as you can see. The Hertfordshire one I ordered for myself. I must apologise most profusely.”

Aunt Agatha allowed the map I had so unwisely offered her to be freed from her grip and Jeeves floated out of the room with it. She examined the replacement, from time to time puffing out of the side of her mouth like a horse. I hoped this was a sign that she was blowing down the boilers.

“Well, Bertie,” she said at last, “this is much more the ticket. Top of the class. Just what I needed.” I weakly offered her a plate of crumpets. “I must say, it was very careless of your man Jeeves to get them muddled up. What a clot he is.” She swallowed a crumpet and reached for another. “I could have half killed you.”

“Not even half.”

“Quite. I could have killed you outright. Which would have been shocking for me, of course.”

Half an hour later, Aunt Agatha having demolished the Wooster crumpet ration, I watched Jeeves close the door behind her. “I say, Jeeves, that was a dashed close-run thing.”

“Indeed so, sir.” I couldn’t help noticing he was avoiding my gaze.

“Look here, Jeeves – why the devil didn’t you straighten out this mistake earlier? Before I gave her the present?”

Jeeves coughed. He has a wide range of coughs, and I’ve heard them all. This one betokened a pinch of mild embarrassment blended with a soupçon of self-satisfaction.

“When you placed the order, sir, I feared just such a misunderstanding had arisen. The county names differ by only one letter and are often confused. On checking the order I discovered my suspicions were correct. I contacted a gentleman at Cassini. He was most helpful, but regretted that the erroneous map had already been despatched. I therefore prevailed upon him also to supply the intended one.”

I thought about this. It still seemed to leave one large question open to the floor. Then, with a rare flash of insight that illuminates the Wooster globes every six years or so, I saw the solution.

“And you thought, Jeeves, that it would do me good to learn not to be so cocksure in my use of the new-fangled web-world thingy.”

Jeeves bowed his head slightly. “There is another advantage to the situation, sir.”

“Is there? Apart from my being chastened but still alive, you mean.”

“Indeed. Mrs Gregson is disposed to not having, how shall I put it, a high opinion of my intellectual faculties.”

I ran over this sentence a couple of times, translating it slowly. “Yes, she doesn’t think you’re very bright, though goodness knows why.”

“Quite so, sir. It occurred to me that such a view has assisted some of the…sleights of hand which it has sometimes been necessary to practise upon her.”

I gave Jeeves a glance that was almost warm. If I hadn’t stopped myself I might even have shaken his hand.

“She sees you as ‘a despicable foe, neither to be feared nor fled from’, you mean.”

“Exactly that, sir.”

I nodded. Future slights of hand would without doubt need to be practised on Aunt Agatha, in which case it would be as as well that she thought herself to be dealing with two idiots in the Wooster household rather than, as was the case, one idiot plus the redoubtable Jeeves.

“Well, Jeeves, three hearty cheers for Messrs Whatever they’re called, the map chaps, eh?” I rather liked this last phrase. Neat, if you know what I mean. Pithy.

Jeeves nodded. “Indeed, sir. A most accomplished enterprise.”

“But what shall we do with this Hertfordshire map? A lovely thing, but I know of no one of the parish to whom I could present it. Although, as today’s events have shown, I am not altogether certain where Hertfordshire is.”

“If I may make a suggestion, sir, my cousin resides in the county and would be most grateful to receive it.”

“By all means, Jeeves. Give away. Does he have a lineage immemorial to muse upon, as doth the recently departed Aunt?”

“After a fashion, sir. He is a keen student of genealogy.”

“It sounds like something that comes out of a bottle.” I confess I thought this rather neat as well. The narrow escape from being mauled to death had, I felt, sharpened my powers of rhetoric. Jeeves was good enough to offer a light smile at the young master’s latest pleasantry.

“It is a branch of history still in its infancy sir, though I expect it will become more popular in time. Genealogy is the study of one’s paternal and maternal antecedents.”

“Oh, I get it – grandparents, cousins, uncles and, er… aunts?” I suppressed a shudder at the last word.

“Indeed, sir.”

“Nothing, in fact, to do with genies in bottles?”

“Nothing at all, sir.”

Jeeves left the room, as silent as the midnight fox that stalks across the winter fields, as some poet or another once had cause to observe.

Another crisis averted, I reflected. Then, to celebrate my escape from death by Aunt Agatha, I poured myself a generous libation from the bottle that Jeeves had, genie-like, planted on the sideboard.

I raised the glass and proposed a toast to myself. “To aunts,” I intoned, “and may they all be in the realm of gene…genie-whatsit. And stay there.”

Brian Quinn

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