- Published: 1 November 2018
- ISBN: 9781473558854
- Imprint: Cornerstone Digital
- Format: EBook
- Pages: 320
Jeeves and the King of Clubs
I was idling away the pre-cocktail ennui, flicking cards into the coal scuttle, when in buttled Jeeves with the quenching tray.
‘Your whisky and soda, sir,’ he murmured, placing a perfectly judged tumbler at my elbow.
I thanked him with a nod, sinking with ease the six of hearts. ‘Be it ever so humble, Jeeves.’
‘There’s no place like home.’
‘As I am led to believe, sir.’
‘I mean, Monte Carlo is all well and good.’
‘But there’s only so much baccarat a man can play.’
‘So many promenades he can toe along the front.’
‘So many snails he can winkle out with one of those contraptions.’
‘Pinces à escargots, sir?’
‘Before, one morning, he takes a long, hard look in the mirror and asks: I wonder how Mayfair is muddling along without me?’
‘I see, sir.’
‘After a while, abroad is always so dashed abroad, what?’
‘It does have that quality, sir.’
‘Thank you for your postcard, by-the-by.’ I indicated a seaside panorama mantelpieced between the snuff-boxes. ‘I trust the gods smiled down on you in Herne Bay?’
‘They did, sir.’
‘Could you see the breeze and taste the sun?’
‘I could, sir.’
‘Did the shrimps jump eagerly into your net, with lemon wedges clamped between their tiny teeth?’
‘Well,’ I said, accidentally consigning a joker to the log-basket, ‘you seem suffused with joy, jollity, and song, and eager to bop life squarely on the conk.’
‘You are too kind, sir.’
‘Supper in an hour, would you say?’
I flicked the nine of diamonds, which ricocheted alarmingly off a lampshade. To my amazement, Jeeves snapped the errant card from out of thin air, and then coughed very slightly.
‘Concerning supper, sir …’ His answer was a question.
‘I’m always concerned about supper. Wouldn’t trust a chap who wasn’t.’
‘I wonder, sir, if I might absent myself this evening?’
I have to admit this rather put a damper on my mood of domestic tranquillity. Master and manservant had just been reunited after a fortnight’s dislocation across the Channel, and now welcome’s red carpet was being rolled up from under my travel-weary dogs.
‘Really, Jeeves? On my first night back?’
‘I thought tomorrow was your evening for cribbage and gin?’
‘It is, sir, and I must apologise for the belated nature of my entreaty, but I have only just received a telegram from Lord MacAuslan urgently requesting an interview.’
‘So that was the knuckle at the knock?’
‘It was, sir.’
‘Hang on a sec – Lord MacAuslan? Am I dreaming, or didn’t you used to valet for him?’
‘I did, sir, some years ago, prior to his lordship’s departure for Berlin.’
‘I say, Jeeves, I’m not sure I like the sound of this. I mean, lord or no lord, you don’t go snaking another gentleman’s personal gentleman just because you’re sick of German sausage.’
‘Quite so, sir. However, I infer from the content of the telegram that re-employment is not his lordship’s motive. And, if you will permit me, I have no desire to return to Lord MacAuslan’s service.’
‘Too much tartan?’
‘Yes, sir. And I felt his lordship’s fondness for the music and dance of the Scottish Highlands was perhaps a little vigorous for the domestic setting.’
‘So what gives?’
‘Without further information, sir, I would not like to hazard a guess.’
Disappointed though I was, it would have been unreasonably petty to confine the man to barracks merely to peel the spuds for my supper. We Woosters are capable of more than ‘the frivolous work of polished idleness’ – despite what many an aunt has accused, more often than not in writing.
‘Very well, Jeeves. But inform Lord MacAuslan that he owes me a snifter.’
‘I am most grateful, sir. In anticipation of a favourable response, I took the liberty of laying out some cold game pie, and have iced a split of the’99.’
‘Yes, sir. I thought it might prove a benison.’
‘Bung it back in the icebox, Jeeves. I’ll biff off to the club and scare up some supper there.’
‘Very good, sir,’ he said, replacing the nine of diamonds into the ivory card case with a pleasingly agile flourish.
It was a ravenous Wooster who stepped out that warm summer’s evening, strolling up Hay Hill and down Dover Street towards the Drones. So it came as something of a blow to find the club’s windows tightly shuttered and its oak firmly sported. I knocked to no avail, when it struck me – the place must still be padlocked for its annual wash and brush-up.
I try whenever possible to escape these weeks of sorrow and lamentation by booking a foreign jaunt to coincide with the fortnight that the Drones Club ceases to buzz. This summer it appeared, for reasons inexplicable, I had undershot my target by several days. Was it, I wondered, a leap year? Expocketing my club diary I found the following annotation:
During the summer closure, members may obtain reciprocal hospitality at the Athenaeum.
The heart sank.
It is custom and practice for London’s finer clubs to stagger their summer holidays, alternately admitting members from cousin establishments so that the denizens of clubdom can always drink port in a storm. Bitter experience over many years, however, had taught most club secretaries that reciprocity with the Drones is precisely the specimen of good deed that never goes unpunished.
One memorable August, expatriated Dronesmen took umbrage at the less-than-generous measures dispensed by the barmen of The In & Out club on Piccadilly. They extracted their revenge one moonless night, dismantling a two-seater Rover Nine owned by the president, lowering each part into the basement through an unlocked cellar hatch, and rebuilding the vehicle atop the green baize of the billiard table. By way of nailing their thesis to the door, they topped up the car’s petrol tank with crème de menthe.
This year, it seemed, the Drones had been spike-bozzled by every club of note, and we were left seeking alms from the Athenaeum – the Club of Last Resort.
With a resigned sigh I set the compass south, crossed Piccadilly, and descended St James’s Street – dawdling briefly to window-shop the shoes in Lobb, the hats in Lock, and some dusty burgundy in Berry Bros. Tipping the trilby to the guardsmen outside St James’s Palace, I perambulated along Pall Mall to the corner of Waterloo Place where, opposite Edward VII’s newish statue, loomed the Athenaeum’s hulking cream edifice.
‘Good evening, sir,’ an elderly doorman intoned. ‘Are you the guest of a member?’
‘Actually, I’m a reciprocal, in exile from the Drones, here to see about some supper.’
‘Your name, sir?’
He ran a quill down to the ‘W’s and then, with a look I’ve heard described as ‘old-fashioned’, gestured wearily across an expanse of chequerboard marble towards the coat-racks.
Hatless, gloveless, caneless, and thirsty, I made my way to the bar, only to be met by a sepulchral chill and the forlorn glance of two dog-collared sky pilots nursing a single schooner of sherry.
The barman was languidly polishing a silver tankard with the calculated malice of an Australian leg-spinner.
‘Salutations, barkeep! How’s business?’
‘Business, sir, is slow,’ he replied, menacingly. ‘Business is often slow.’
‘Nobody in from the Drones?’
His insolent eyes traversed the almost empty room. ‘I can’t see any, sir, can you?’
A wise king once observed that the saddest words in the English language are ‘Shall we go straight through to dinner?’ And so it was, with unslaked melancholy, that I turned on my heel and ankled across the hall to the coffee room.
I was accosted at the threshold by the maître d’, who was equipped with one of those accents so madly French you feel sure they are working it for a bet.
‘Bonsoir, monsieur.’ He bowed low from the waist. ‘Will monsieur be dining alone?’
Behind him stood table after table of dark-suited singletons. In front of each man was a low, metal music-stand that splayed open the spine of some or other book. The diners stared down at their texts as if blinkered, forking mouthfuls as they read and only occasionally missing their mouths and spearing their cheeks. Of amusement, bonhomie, repartee – nothing was doing. The mournful tableau was animated intermittently by tongue-moistened fingers turning sun-faded pages.
‘What about the club table?’ I enquired.
Mine host glanced ruefully towards ‘Temperance Corner’, where three men were eating in slow communal silence, while a fourth slumped napping like a dormouse.3
I craned my neck around the corner. ‘I don’t suppose there’s anyone in from the Drones?’ The desperation in my voice was, I fear, not well disguised.
At this, the maître d’ perked up. ‘Ah! Monsieur should’ave said. This way, if you please!’
He guided me energetically past a brace of bishops towards the far wall, where a brass handle projected from the painted wood panelling.
‘We find that many of our réciproques prefer a livelier ambience, monsieur,’ and, with that, he flung open the hidden door with a theatrical swagger.
There was a terrible roar of voices combining, perhaps, the innocent enthusiasm of the Last Night of the Proms with the bloodthirsty vim of a Light Brigade charge.
Some primitive instinct, doubtless acquired from a wily forebear at the Battle of Crécy, prompted me to duck – thereby narrowly avoiding a bread roll hurled with practised accuracy at the Wooster bonce. Every eye turned to follow this well-buttered missile as it arced upwards in a graceful parabola, paused for a second at the crust’s crest, and descended into the main dining-room towards a military gent with a walrus moustache.
The moment of impact was spectacular. The roll landed bang on the bullseye of a bowl of vichyssoise, creating a tidal splash that comprehensively bespattered the old boy’s arms, chest, neck, and face.
The silent room fell silenter still. Even the Drones mob was struck dumb.
And then there was a delicate but distantly audible ‘plonk’ as the military man’s monocle fell into his claret.
Normal service was soon restored by the unmistakable yodel of Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright – ‘Oh, I say, that one had jam on it!’ – followed by the deafening whistles and hoots that characterise Dronesmen at the trough.
Concluding that discretion was the better p. of v., I slid into the private room, closed the door behind me, and braced myself to accept the poggled abuse of my fellow Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets.
Before I sat, though, I hailed a hovering steward. ‘I say, might you pop out to the old campaigner who was inadvertently drenched by my friend, and suggest that the Drones Club settles his bill? It’s the least we can do.’
‘Certainly, sir. I am sure Colonel Stroud-Pringle will be grateful.’
There’s a story from World War I, perhaps apocryphal, but possibly true, that sums up Australia’s love of gambling.
Dear Girls, You are prohibited from reading this book until you are twenty-one years old.
The reason I agreed to travel to Europe with my dad was because I was sick of having fun overseas.
It will come as no surprise to Australia’s 24 million sports fans that our sunburnt continent is home to one of the most dominant predators the world has ever seen.
So here’s how it is: I’m a live-in carer for Walter Smyth. He is very rich, very old, very sick and very senile. Over the next eight years, dozens of people will occupy this role.
The thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.
The October wind twirled coffee-coloured willy-willies south across the Queensland border.