Jeeves was engaged in arranging bronze chrysanthemums in a bowl on the mantel when I emerged from the Wooster bedroom. "What ho!" I greeted him jauntily. Such was my mood that with any bird less dignified I might have biffed him on the shoulder, but that's just not the sort of thing you do with Jeeves. "What ho, what ho," I repeated.
"Good morning, sir," Jeeves said, repeating the salutation with which he had greeted me an hour before when he brought in the sausages.
"Topping morning, what?" I walked over to the window and might have flung open its draperies if Jeeves hadn't opened them himself some time previous.
"Most clement for November," Jeeves agreed.
"Especially after all the drizzle last week. Why does it always rain for Guy Fawkes, do you think?"
Jeeves finished with the flowers and gave the bowl a keen gaze, moving it finally three hairs to the left. "The Americans have the same complaint about their own Independence Day, I believe. It has been theorized that the smoke from gunpowder has an adverse effect on the weather."
"Tickles the clouds and make them let loose, you mean?"
"That is the general theory, sir," Jeeves stated with perhaps a hint of doubt in his voice. "Will you be lunching in today?"
"Much too top hole a day for that, don't you think?" I said, crossing to the mantle to steal one of the flowers for my buttonhole. "Make hay while the sun shines, don't they say? I thought I would toddle down to the Drones and see who's up for a spot of lunch."
Jeeves's hand intercepted mine before I could disarrange his flowers. "If I might suggest, sir, I believe this would be more appropriate." This was a species of red vegetation that appeared in his hand as if by magic. It was rather larger and redder than was the Wooster wont, but I have never known Jeeves to err in matters sartorial. If he has a fault it's that his tastes tend too far to the conservative, so if he thought this red cabbage leaf unexceptional then so it was.
"Right ho," I said after he had affixed the bally thing to my lapel. "Toodle-pip, then, Jeeves. If you want to totter down to the Junior Ganymede yourself feel free; I shan't need you."
"Very good, sir." Jeeves hesitated and looked at the clock. "Would you care for a whisky and soda first?" It was my turn to look at the clock, which read ten-thirty, earlier than is my wont regardless of what my Aunt Agatha might say. My look must have said it all. "Or perhaps another cup of tea?" he offered instead.
Jeeves's sudden impulse to provide the young master with liquid refreshment was rather rummy. "No need," I said with the cheery wave, heading for the great outdoors.
I had scarcely quit Berkley Square when two well-known figures turned the corner towards me, Tuppy Glossop and his uncle, Sir Roderick.
There was a time when the sight of Sir Roderick, the noted loony doctor, would have sent me leaping for the high hills, he and I having failed to click after he arrived at my flat to find it occupied by a plethora of cats, thanks to my cousins Eustace and Claude. He had thus determined that I was non compos mentis and unfit to marry his daughter Honoria, but an otherwise unfortunate night mutually spent with our faces covered in burnt cork had sparked an unlikely friendship. It was with a light heart then that I greeted them. "What ho, Tuppy! Sir Roderick!"
"Mr. Wooster." Sir Roderick was actually smiling, proving once again that he could be one of the lads once the ice was broken. Tuppy looked less pleased.
"Bertie!" he yelped. "What are you doing in London? I thought you would be down at Brinkley Court." B.C. is the residence of my good and deserving Aunt Dahlia, as sound an egg as ever chivvied a fox.
"Aunt Dahlia telephoned to say they were quarantined for the scarlet fever," I explained, wondering at his interest in my plans.
Sir Roderick chuckled. "That sounds like the excuse I once used--"
Tuppy interrupted what looked to be an interesting reminiscence. "No, I'm sure Mrs. Travers--" His voice trailed off at some thought known only to himself.
"Hildebrand and I are off to the Bellona Club for lunch," Sir Roderick inserted into what was threatening to become an awkward silence. "Would you care to join us if you are disengaged?" Hildebrand was the name that Tuppy's parents had provided the vicar at his christening, a piece of information that he naturally tried to keep quiet.
"Not an engagement to be seen, old bean," I said. "Lead on." The Bellona Club was new to me, but I trusted Sir Roderick to provide a good feed.
As we walked Sir Roderick rambled on about the Bellona Club and his membership in it, but I wasn't paying much attention, spending my time trying to figure out the concerned glances that Tuppy kept shooting me.
"--fought in the Boer War, though you wouldn't think to look at me now," Sir R. said. "Rose to captain before I took shrapnel to the left calf."
"Er, yes," Tuppy said. He opened his mouth and then closed it again, with a sideways look at Mrs. Wooster's bonny lad. He had the look of a man nerving himself up to bite an uncle's ear, inhibited by the presence of an onlooker. "Yes, um." He pasted a ghastly smile on his face. "Did your aunt say how Angela was, Bertie?" he asked in a rush.
The poor sap must have been more worried about his fiancée than I thought. "Tickety-boo," I reassured him. "Tickety-boo. Well, actually she didn't mention Angela, but she said only one of the maids caught it. She was pretty incensed about the quarantine, told me to sneak in anyway."
I may have forgotten to mention at the time that Tuppy and Sir R. were both wearing the same red flower with which Jeeves had garnished me, and now I'll be dashed if the doorman of the Bellona weren't sporting the bally thing as well. There must have been a special offer on them, a conspiracy amongst the gentlemen's gentlemen of London to save some dosh.
Once inside, Tuppy pulled Sir R. aside and I courteously studied one of the paintings on the wall to give him privacy to put the bite on. It had been years since I had had to depend on Uncle Willoughby's largesse, but I remembered the embarrassment of having to ask for an advance from time to time. Sir Roderick looked not unsympathetic, though why he looked at me I couldn't say, and the business was quickly completed.
Sir Roderick was still smiling but didn't look terribly happy, if you know the expression I mean, when he stepped forward. Tuppy must have bit him for a whacking good sum. Honeymoon money, perhaps? "Mr. Wooster--" His smile if anything was more forced. "Hildebrand has a...tiresome formality to conclude before lunch. Would you care to indulge me in a game of billiards while we wait?"
Billiards was exactly what I wanted to work up an appetite for lunch. "Capital idea, Sir Roderick."
The billiard room was deserted, a condition nearly unheard of at the Drones. Sir Roderick proved to be an acceptable player, if somewhat given to leisurely shots. One time he spent a solid minute studying his shot, the billiard room quiet enough that I could hear a church bell tolling somewhere in the distance. Shortly afterwards Tuppy rejoined us, looking solemn enough that I wondered if he hadn't been negotiating with a bookie rather than contemplating matrimony.
It was still early for lunch, so Tuppy and I played another game after Sir R. and I finished, and then I stood by and offered helpful advice while Tuppy played his uncle. By the time that round was over it was time to get outside some calories.
The dining room at the Bellona was pleasant enough, not as sprightly as the Drones, of course--one could not use a ballistic bread roll to punctuate and argument, one felt--but airy and well-appointed. The headwaiter was able to seat us without delay despite the growing crowd. Scarcely had we been seated when a beak at the next table turned around.
"Wooster, old man!" Flim gave the glad cry. "Good to see you again. You know my friend Freddy Arbuthnot?" he asked, waving to the chap at the table with him.
Oofy Prosser had introduced us once when I ran into them lunching at the Baribault, so I said hullo and then made the round of introductions at our table. Arbuthnot and Sir Roderick already knew each other, illustrating Jeeves's wheeze about it being a small world. They hadn't seen each other for a while, so the rest of the conversation was put on hold for a time as they asked how Old So-and-So was doing.
Flim and Arbuthnot were wearing the same ruddy flower as everyone else. Even the waiter, hovering to take our orders, was sporting one, looking like a splash of fresh blood on his chest. A rifle shot to the heart bleeds surprisingly little, the organ and the man dead before it can pump out much blood. Private Jones had looked like that, just a tidy red spot and a calm white face. I couldn't believe he was dead until I turned him over and saw the mangled mess the bullet had made exiting his back.
Lieutenant Wimsey turned to look at me, all the blood leaving his face like it had the private's. He was dead; they were all dead, all the corpses with their neat little bullet wounds, waltzing around the room in nightmarish parody of life. One of the corpses leaned towards me and I jerked back, remember the clammy feel of dead flesh. My chair overset, dropping me backwards. I think I screamed when Lt. Wimsey's body fell on top of me. Knowing the Germans would hear I forced myself to silence as I tried in vain to struggle out from under his weight.
I felt a prick on my left shoulder, a sting like a bee. How strange that that would hurt more than a bullet to the heart. My strength was ebbing, the lights dimming. I could only hope Sgt. White and the boys would forgive me for being so late.
Just before the lights went out for the last time I heard a voice speak.
"I always carry a sedative on Armistice Day."
That's all for now. I would like to thank, if that's the right word *grin*, the_blue_fenix for the suggestion that led to this story.