I don’t think PG Wodehouse ever visited East Garston or anywhere else in West Berkshire, nor set one of his stories there. If he did, there seems to be no record of it. But I suppose he might have done…
It’s a rum thing, life. There it is, ripping along like billy-oh, all rose-petals and trilling larks and the next minute it turns round and whacks you for six. I mean to say, take the other morning. I was just finishing my eggs and b and sipping a cup of Mr Souchong’s finest when Jeeves shimmered in.
“What-ho Jeeves,” I called cheerily
“Indeed, sir. Mrs Gregson has just telephoned to remind you about the Boy Scouts’ party tomorrow.”
This was a disaster of the first water. Jeeves’ reference was to my aunt Agatha, as fearsome a relative as can be found in a month of Sundays, or a week of Thursdays for that matter. Some time in the dim and distant she had cornered me in her lair and bullied me into agreeing to give away the cups to a troupe of the vilest of vile Boy Scouts in, of all places, Maidenhead. Add to that her attempts to lure me into matrimony with her even viler secretary, Georgina Fflockington-Psmith, and you will see how the flaming fires of hell appeared balmy by comparison. I leaped out of bed.
“Jeeves, we must away!”
“The bags are packed, sir.”
“To the jolly old Queen’s Arms.”
“I have already booked the rooms, sir.”
So that’s how we found ourselves snugly ensconced in double-quick order at the QA. It’s one of my favourite inns, a mere ninety minutes from the lights of Mayfair but well out of reach of the tentacles of sundry aunts. Freddie and Sue are a decent pair of coves, and Michael an excellent manager and generally hands-on and finger-on-the-pulse kind of chap, and I have almost managed to forgive Sue for trying to marry me off to a rich widow of the parish. Moving on down the list, it’s also an absolute mine of info about local turf conditions. We Woosters are well known for our sporting instincts and there’s little that pleases me more than picking up a red-hot tip for a long-priced winner in convivial surroundings. They also do a very decent nosebag in the dining department. All in all, it’s as civil a place as one could hope to find.
I left Jeeves to unpack and sauntered across to the bar for a quick snifter. Imagine my surprise when the first person I should see was Buffy Frobisher. He was leaning into a generously sized G&T and looking as miserable as a policeman who has just had his helmet pinched.
I gave him the usual ‘what-ho’ and slid into the adjacent berth.
“Bertie,” he croaked. “I’ve forgotten it.”
You should know that Buffy is always forgetting things. He has a memory like a leaking sieve. I suppose sieves always leak but you get my drift.
“Forgotten what, old fruit? Tell me all.”
The long and short was that some days before Buffy had heard a dead-cert being tipped on the wireless from a racing cove who was apparently always spot-on in steeplechases. Buffy usually forgets to go the bookmakers, or to bring his money, or to collect his slip. This time he had forgotten the name of the horse.
“Forty to one, Bertie,” he mumbled. “And I’ve got fifty smackers here. That would make…”
After a short silence, we both agreed that it would make a decent pile. I then recalled that I had fifty smacker or thereabouts in my pocket-book. The only problem was nailing down the name of the blasted animal in question.
At that moment I saw a familiar domed head passing through the restaurant. “Ahoy!” I called. Jeeves changed course and glided towards us. “Excellent. Rally round, Jeeves. You remember Buffy? He has a problem.”
“I am sorry to hear of that, sir.”
Buffy started to lay the thing out in his usual tangled manner. “There we have it, Jeeves,” I said some minutes later. “Does any solution spring forth in your giant lobes?”
“Perhaps Mr Frobisher could check tomorrow’s runners in the sporting press in case a name suggested itself.”
“I’ve done that twenty times,” said Buffy dejectedly. “Well, nineteen at least. My mind’s a blank.” Poor old Buffy’s mind was always a blank but it seemed kinder not to mention this.
“In that case, sir, I confess to being at a loss. I will give the matter my attention. And, if I may say so, sir…”
“Yes, Jeeves, what is it?”
“The waistcoat, sir.” He averted his eyes slightly.
I looked down at the canary-yellow cloth that proudly swathed the Wooster chest. “What’s wrong with it?” I asked testily. “It’s one of my finest.”
“Yellow waistcoats, sir, are only being worn this season by provincial actors of dubious morals.”
“I’m sorry you think so. None the less, the waistcoat stays. That is my final word in the matter of waistcoats.”
“As you wish, sir.”
We ate well that night – I in the restaurant on a mouth-watering rack of lamb, a hunk of Stilton and some very approachable claret, Jeeves at the bar doubtless on huge platefuls of succulent fish to feed his brain. I tottered off to my well-earned rest at about eleven. Jeeves escorted me to my room and ensured I got pointed towards the bed with the minimum of damage.
“Any thoughts on the Buffy conundrum?” I asked him sleepily.
“The problem is certainly a challenging one, sir. Let us hope the morning may bring results.”
I don’t know what results the morning brought Jeeves, but it brought Buffy and I to a bracing nine holes at the local course. It seemed my Christian duty to take the old chap’s mind off his troubles. Yet no good deed, as some wise fellow once observed, goes unpunished. Two shocks awaited me on our arrival back at the inn at two o’clock. The first was that my motor-car had vanished from the parking lot. The second was that the fifty pounds had vanished from the pocket-book in my room. I popped straight round and rootled out Michael in his bunker.
“Your man went off in the car about half an hour ago,” he told me. I paused for thought. Jeeves, a thief? It was rum in the extreme. I steered my way into the bar and ordered a large brandy. Buffy went off in search of a wireless so he could glue his shell-like to the race commentary.
Apart from Jeeves’ basest treachery, two other interesting points now struck me. Point one was that, with no money, I had no means of paying the bill. Point two was that, with no car, I had no means of mounting a quick escape from the consequences of point one. The sword of Damocles, or some such weapon, was hanging over me. I had got as far as thinking about train timetables when there was a whoop from the next room. Bertie dashed in.
“I’ve remembered it, Bertie!” he shouted. “It’s called ‘Unforgettable’. And it’s leading by six lengths! All is saved!” He started to dance a jig.
“Yes, but look here, you chump – that’s all very well, but the race has started! You can’t place a bet now. Anyway, who would you bet with?”
At this cold logic the poor old duffer reeled backwards like a wounded stag. He tottered against the bar where Michael was standing, a large B&S at the ready. Buffy drained it. “My God, Bertie,” he said, “you’re right.” Then he slid down onto the floor.
At that awful moment, Jeeves appeared. I swivelled round and fixed him with my coldest of cold stares.
“Good afternoon, sir. Is Mr Frobisher unwell?”
“He remembered the name of the horse, but I’ve just pointed out that it’s too late to pop any of the folding under its saddle. But what I want to know is…”
Jeeves coughed lightly. “There, perhaps, I can be of assistance, sir.” He produced a slip of paper. ‘Unforgettable’, it read, ‘to win in the 2.15 at Newbury, at 40/1, £50 wagered, pp Mr B. Frobisher.’ Buffy and I goggled at it for a few seconds.
“This morning, sir, while you were still asleep, I fell into a conversation with a gentleman who knew the tipster who spoke on the wireless, a Mr Brookes. It seems that Mr Brookes is a well-known radio personality.” Jeeves gave a slight shiver, then pushed on with his narrative. “It transpired Mr Brookes lives locally and my informant was kind enough to give me his address. Finding you out, I took it upon myself to visit him and ascertain the name of the horse he had prognosticated…”
“The horse he had what, Jeeves?”
“Prognosticated, sir, to win. I was then able to place the bet in Lambourn in, as they say, the nick of time.” He handed the betting slip to Buffy, who was now looking like a startled frog. “I was compelled to take the motor-car, sir. The matter was critical and admitted of no delay.”
“But hang it all, Jeeves, where did you get the money from?”
Jeeves coughed again. “I took the liberty of borrowing the sum from your pocket-book. Of course, Mr Frobisher will now be in a position to repay you – perhaps, I might suggest, sir, with interest.”
I glanced at Buffy to see if he had taken this last point in. It appeared not. “But what if the horse had lost, Jeeves?”
“There was little likelihood of that, sir. I was able to speak to the jockey on the telephone. He assured me that the race was, as he expressed it, ‘in the bag’.”
“How did you manage to speak to him?”
“He is my cousin, sir. Will there be anything else?”
At this happy juncture, Freddie padded up to me with a telegram. I read it.
“Jeeves – not a moment to lose! Aunt Agatha has smoked us out and she’s motoring here to kidnap me to be sacrificed by the boy scouts of Maidenhead. She’ll be here by tea-time!”
“Indeed, sir.” And with that, rather than dash about seeing to the valises, the blasted man walked coolly back into the bar.
Ten minutes later we were rolling down the highway towards Great Shefford, Boxford and points east. “What was that back there, Jeeves?” I ventured. “Did you need a bracer before the voyage?”
“Indeed not, sir. I thought it wise to apprise Mr Frobisher of the fact that we were going for a drive but would be back to take tea with him at four.”
“No fear, Jeeves! Not were it served by all the sultry maidens of the Orient.”
“Quite so, sir. But Mrs Gregson will be arriving at the Queen’s Arms at that time in need of a man. It occurred to me that Mr Frobisher could take your place with the Boy Scouts. It is unfortunate I forgot to warn him of her arrival, for I know he finds Mrs Gregson as daunting as you do.”
“’Daunting’ barely comes close. Jeeves, once again you have excelled yourself.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“That waistcoat,” I said after a pause. “Second thoughts and so forth. Perhaps you had better do with it what you will on our return.”
“I have already given it to the gardener’s boy at the Queen’s Arms, sir.”
“I suppose it was a bit loud, what?”
“It was unforgettable, sir.”