There was one of those long silences. Pregnant, I believe, is what
they're generally called. Aunt looked at butler. Butler looked at aunt. I
looked at both of them. An eerie stillness seemed to envelop the room
like a linseed poultice. I happened to be biting on a slice of apple in my
fruit salad at the moment, and it sounded as if Carnera had jumped off
the top of the Eiffel Tower on to a cucumber frame.
Aunt Dahlia steadied herself against the sideboard, and spoke in a low,
"Through the skylight?"
"You mean he's sitting on the roof?"
"Yes, madam. It has upset Monsieur Anatole very much."
I suppose it was that word "upset" that touched Aunt Dahlia off.
Experience had taught her what happened when Anatole got upset. I had
always known her as a woman who was quite active on her pins, but I had
never suspected her of being capable of the magnificent burst of speed
which she now showed. Pausing merely to get a rich hunting-field
expletive off her chest, she was out of the room and making for the
stairs before I could swallow a sliver of--I think--banana. And feeling,
as I had felt when I got that telegram of hers about Angela and Tuppy,
that my place was by her side, I put down my plate and hastened after
her, Seppings following at a loping gallop.
I say that my place was by her side, but it was not so dashed easy to get
there, for she was setting a cracking pace. At the top of the first
flight she must have led by a matter of half a dozen lengths, and was
still shaking off my challenge when she rounded into the second. At the
next landing, however, the gruelling going appeared to tell on her, for
she slackened off a trifle and showed symptoms of roaring, and by the
time we were in the straight we were running practically neck and neck.
Our entry into Anatole's room was as close a finish as you could have
wished to see.
1. _Aunt Dahlia._
_Won by a short head. Half a staircase separated second and third._
The first thing that met the eye on entering was Anatole. This wizard of
the cooking-stove is a tubby little man with a moustache of the outsize
or soup-strainer type, and you can generally take a line through it as to
the state of his emotions. When all is well, it turns up at the ends like
a sergeant-major's. When the soul is bruised, it droops.
It was drooping now, striking a sinister note. And if any shadow of doubt
had remained as to how he was feeling, the way he was carrying on would
have dispelled it. He was standing by the bed in pink pyjamas, waving his
fists at the skylight. Through the glass, Gussie was staring down. His
eyes were bulging and his mouth was open, giving him so striking a
resemblance to some rare fish in an aquarium that one's primary impulse
was to offer him an ant's egg.
Watching this fist-waving cook and this goggling guest, I must say that
my sympathies were completely with the former. I considered him
thoroughly justified in waving all the fists he wanted to.
Review the facts, I mean to say. There he had been, lying in bed,
thinking idly of whatever French cooks do think about when in bed, and he
had suddenly become aware of that frightful face at the window. A thing
to jar the most phlegmatic. I know I should hate to be lying in bed and
have Gussie popping up like that. A chap's bedroom--you can't get away
from it--is his castle, and he has every right to look askance if
gargoyles come glaring in at him.
While I stood musing thus, Aunt Dahlia, in her practical way, was coming
straight to the point:
"What's all this?"
Anatole did a sort of Swedish exercise, starting at the base of the
spine, carrying on through the shoulder-blades and finishing up among the
Then he told her.
In the chats I have had with this wonder man, I have always found his
English fluent, but a bit on the mixed side. If you remember, he was with
Mrs. Bingo Little for a time before coming to Brinkley, and no doubt he
picked up a good deal from Bingo. Before that, he had been a couple of
years with an American family at Nice and had studied under their
chauffeur, one of the Maloneys of Brooklyn. So, what with Bingo and what
with Maloney, he is, as I say, fluent but a bit mixed.
He spoke, in part, as follows:
"Hot dog! You ask me what is it? Listen. Make some attention a little.
Me, I have hit the hay, but I do not sleep so good, and presently I wake
and up I look, and there is one who make faces against me through the
dashed window. Is that a pretty affair? Is that convenient? If you think
I like it, you jolly well mistake yourself. I am so mad as a wet hen. And
why not? I am somebody, isn't it? This is a bedroom, what-what, not a
house for some apes? Then for what do blighters sit on my window so cool
as a few cucumbers, making some faces?"
"Quite," I said. Dashed reasonable, was my verdict.
He threw another look up at Gussie, and did Exercise 2--the one where you
clutch the moustache, give it a tug and then start catching flies.
"Wait yet a little. I am not finish. I say I see this type on my window,
making a few faces. But what then? Does he buzz off when I shout a cry,
and leave me peaceable? Not on your life. He remain planted there, not
giving any damns, and sit regarding me like a cat watching a duck. He
make faces against me and again he make faces against me, and the more I
command that he should get to hell out of here, the more he do not get to
hell out of here. He cry something towards me, and I demand what is his
desire, but he do not explain. Oh, no, that arrives never. He does but
shrug his head. What damn silliness! Is this amusing for me? You think I
like it? I am not content with such folly. I think the poor mutt's loony.
_Je me fiche de ce type infect. C'est idiot de faire comme ca
l'oiseau.... Allez-vous-en, louffier_.... Tell the boob to go away. He is
mad as some March hatters."
I must say I thought he was making out a jolly good case, and evidently
Aunt Dahlia felt the same. She laid a quivering hand on his shoulder.
"I will, Monsieur Anatole, I will," she said, and I couldn't have
believed that robust voice capable of sinking to such an absolute coo.
More like a turtle dove calling to its mate than anything else. "It's
quite all right."
She had said the wrong thing. He did Exercise 3.
"All right? _Nom d'un nom d'un nom_! The hell you say it's all right! Of
what use to pull stuff like that? Wait one half-moment. Not yet quite so
quick, my old sport. It is by no means all right. See yet again a little.
It is some very different dishes of fish. I can take a few smooths with a
rough, it is true, but I do not find it agreeable when one play larks
against me on my windows. That cannot do. A nice thing, no. I am a
serious man. I do not wish a few larks on my windows. I enjoy larks on my
windows worse as any. It is very little all right. If such rannygazoo is
to arrive, I do not remain any longer in this house no more. I buzz off
and do not stay planted."
Sinister words, I had to admit, and I was not surprised that Aunt Dahlia,
hearing them, should have uttered a cry like the wail of a master of
hounds seeing a fox shot. Anatole had begun to wave his fists again at
Gussie, and she now joined him. Seppings, who was puffing respectfully in
the background, didn't actually wave his fists, but he gave Gussie a
pretty austere look. It was plain to the thoughtful observer that this
Fink-Nottle, in getting on to that skylight, had done a mistaken thing.
He couldn't have been more unpopular in the home of G.G. Simmons.
"Go away, you crazy loon!" cried Aunt Dahlia, in that ringing voice of
hers which had once caused nervous members of the Quorn to lose stirrups
and take tosses from the saddle.
Gussie's reply was to waggle his eyebrows. I could read the message he
was trying to convey.
"I think he means," I said--reasonable old Bertram, always trying to
throw oil on the troubled w's----"that if he does he will fall down the
side of the house and break his neck."
"Well, why not?" said Aunt Dahlia.
I could see her point, of course, but it seemed to me that there might be
a nearer solution. This skylight happened to be the only window in the
house which Uncle Tom had not festooned with his bally bars. I suppose he
felt that if a burglar had the nerve to climb up as far as this, he
deserved what was coming to him.
"If you opened the skylight, he could jump in."
The idea got across.
"Seppings, how does this skylight open?"
"With a pole, madam."
"Then get a pole. Get two poles. Ten."
And presently Gussie was mixing with the company, Like one of those chaps
you read about in the papers, the wretched man seemed deeply conscious of
I must say Aunt Dahlia's bearing and demeanour did nothing to assist
toward a restored composure. Of the amiability which she had exhibited
when discussing this unhappy chump's activities with me over the fruit
salad, no trace remained, and I was not surprised that speech more or
less froze on the Fink-Nottle lips. It isn't often that Aunt Dahlia,
normally as genial a bird as ever encouraged a gaggle of hounds to get
their noses down to it, lets her angry passions rise, but when she does,
strong men climb trees and pull them up after them.
"Well?" she said.
In answer to this, all that Gussie could produce was a sort of strangled
Aunt Dahlia's face grew darker. Hunting, if indulged in regularly over a
period of years, is a pastime that seldom fails to lend a fairly deepish
tinge to the patient's complexion, and her best friends could not have
denied that even at normal times the relative's map tended a little
toward the crushed strawberry. But never had I seen it take on so
pronounced a richness as now. She looked like a tomato struggling for
Gussie tried hard. And for a moment it seemed as if something was going
to come through. But in the end it turned out nothing more than a sort of
"Oh, take him away, Bertie, and put ice on his head," said Aunt Dahlia,
giving the thing up. And she turned to tackle what looked like the rather
man's size job of soothing Anatole, who was now carrying on a muttered
conversation with himself in a rapid sort of way.
Seeming to feel that the situation was one to which he could not do
justice in Bingo-cum-Maloney Anglo-American, he had fallen back on his
native tongue. Words like "_marmiton de Domange," "pignouf,"
"hurluberlu_" and "_roustisseur_" were fluttering from him like bats out
of a barn. Lost on me, of course, because, though I sweated a bit at the
Gallic language during that Cannes visit, I'm still more or less in the
Esker-vous-avez stage. I regretted this, for they sounded good.
I assisted Gussie down the stairs. A cooler thinker than Aunt Dahlia, I
had already guessed the hidden springs and motives which had led him to
the roof. Where she had seen only a cockeyed reveller indulging himself
in a drunken prank or whimsy, I had spotted the hunted fawn.
"Was Tuppy after you?" I asked sympathetically.
What I believe is called a _frisson_ shook him.
"He nearly got me on the top landing. I shinned out through a passage
window and scrambled along a sort of ledge."
"That baffled him, what?"
"Yes. But then I found I had stuck. The roof sloped down in all
directions. I couldn't go back. I had to go on, crawling along this
ledge. And then I found myself looking down the skylight. Who was that
"That was Anatole, Aunt Dahlia's chef."
"To the core."
"That explains why I couldn't make him understand. What asses these
Frenchmen are. They don't seem able to grasp the simplest thing. You'd
have thought if a chap saw a chap on a skylight, the chap would realize
the chap wanted to be let in. But no, he just stood there."
"Waving a few fists."
"Yes. Silly idiot. Still, here I am."
"Here you are, yes--for the moment."
"I was thinking that Tuppy is probably lurking somewhere."
He leaped like a lamb in springtime.
"What shall I do?"
I considered this.
"Sneak back to your room and barricade the door. That is the manly
"Suppose that's where he's lurking?"
"In that case, move elsewhere."
But on arrival at the room, it transpired that Tuppy, if anywhere, was
infesting some other portion of the house. Gussie shot in, and I heard
the key turn. And feeling that there was no more that I could do in that
quarter, I returned to the dining-room for further fruit salad and a
quiet think. And I had barely filled my plate when the door opened and
Aunt Dahlia came in. She sank into a chair, looking a bit shopworn.
"Give me a drink, Bertie."
"Any sort, so long as it's strong."
Approach Bertram Wooster along these lines, and you catch him at his
best. St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could
not have bustled about more assiduously. I filled the order, and for some
moments nothing was to be heard but the sloshing sound of an aunt
restoring her tissues.
"Shove it down, Aunt Dahlia," I said sympathetically. "These things take
it out of one, don't they? You've had a toughish time, no doubt, soothing
Anatole," I proceeded, helping myself to anchovy paste on toast.
"Everything pretty smooth now, I trust?"
She gazed at me in a long, lingering sort of way, her brow wrinkled as if
"Attila," she said at length. "That's the name. Attila, the Hun."
"I was trying to think who you reminded me of. Somebody who went about
strewing ruin and desolation and breaking up homes which, until he came
along, had been happy and peaceful. Attila is the man. It's amazing." she
said, drinking me in once more. "To look at you, one would think you were
just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot--certifiable, perhaps, but quite
harmless. Yet, in reality, you are worse a scourge than the Black Death.
I tell you, Bertie, when I contemplate you I seem to come up against all
the underlying sorrow and horror of life with such a thud that I feel as
if I had walked into a lamp post."
Pained and surprised, I would have spoken, but the stuff I had thought
was anchovy paste had turned out to be something far more gooey and
adhesive. It seemed to wrap itself round the tongue and impede utterance
like a gag. And while I was still endeavouring to clear the vocal cords
for action, she went on:
"Do you realize what you started when you sent that Spink-Bottle man down
here? As regards his getting blotto and turning the prize-giving
ceremonies at Market Snodsbury Grammar School into a sort of two-reel
comic film, I will say nothing, for frankly I enjoyed it. But when he
comes leering at Anatole through skylights, just after I had with
infinite pains and tact induced him to withdraw his notice, and makes him
so temperamental that he won't hear of staying on after tomorrow----"
The paste stuff gave way. I was able to speak:
"Yes, Anatole goes tomorrow, and I suppose poor old Tom will have
indigestion for the rest of his life. And that is not all. I have just
seen Angela, and she tells me she is engaged to this Bottle."
"Temporarily, yes," I had to admit.
"Temporarily be blowed. She's definitely engaged to him and talks with a
sort of hideous coolness of getting married in October. So there it is.
If the prophet Job were to walk into the room at this moment, I could sit
swapping hard-luck stories with him till bedtime. Not that Job was in my
"He had boils."
"Well, what are boils?"
"Dashed painful, I understand."
"Nonsense. I'd take all the boils on the market in exchange for my
troubles. Can't you realize the position? I've lost the best cook to
England. My husband, poor soul, will probably die of dyspepsia. And my
only daughter, for whom I had dreamed such a wonderful future, is engaged
to be married to an inebriated newt fancier. And you talk about boils!"
I corrected her on a small point:
"I don't absolutely talk about boils. I merely mentioned that Job had
them. Yes, I agree with you, Aunt Dahlia, that things are not looking too
oojah-cum-spiff at the moment, but be of good cheer. A Wooster is seldom
baffled for more than the nonce."
"You rather expect to be coming along shortly with another of your
"At any minute."
She sighed resignedly.
"I thought as much. Well, it needed but this. I don't see how things
could possibly be worse than they are, but no doubt you will succeed in
making them so. Your genius and insight will find the way. Carry on,
Bertie. Yes, carry on. I am past caring now. I shall even find a faint
interest in seeing into what darker and profounder abysses of hell you
can plunge this home. Go to it, lad.... What's that stuff you're eating?"
"I find it a little difficult to classify. Some sort of paste on toast.
Rather like glue flavoured with beef extract."
"Gimme," said Aunt Dahlia listlessly.
"Be careful how you chew," I advised. "It sticketh closer than a
brother.... Yes, Jeeves?"
The man had materialized on the carpet. Absolutely noiseless, as usual.
"A note for you, sir."
"A note for me, Jeeves?"
"A note for you, sir."
"From whom, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
"From whom, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
"From Miss Bassett, Jeeves?"
"From Miss Bassett, sir."
At this point, Aunt Dahlia, who had taken one nibble at her
whatever-it-was-on-toast and laid it down, begged us--a little fretfully,
I thought--for heaven's sake to cut out the cross-talk vaudeville stuff,
as she had enough to bear already without having to listen to us doing
our imitation of the Two Macs. Always willing to oblige, I dismissed
Jeeves with a nod, and he flickered for a moment and was gone. Many a
spectre would have been less slippy.
"But what," I mused, toying with the envelope, "can this female be
writing to me about?"
"Why not open the damn thing and see?"
"A very excellent idea," I said, and did so.
"And if you are interested in my movements," proceeded Aunt Dahlia,
heading for the door, "I propose to go to my room, do some Yogi deep
breathing, and try to forget."
"Quite," I said absently, skimming p. l. And then, as I turned over, a
sharp howl broke from my lips, causing Aunt Dahlia to shy like a startled
"Don't do it!" she exclaimed, quivering in every limb.
"Yes, but dash it----"
"What a pest you are, you miserable object," she sighed. "I remember
years ago, when you were in your cradle, being left alone with you one
day and you nearly swallowed your rubber comforter and started turning
purple. And I, ass that I was, took it out and saved your life. Let me
tell you, young Bertie, it will go very hard with you if you ever swallow
a rubber comforter again when only I am by to aid."
"But, dash it!" I cried. "Do you know what's happened? Madeline Bassett
says she's going to marry me!"
"I hope it keeps fine for you," said the relative, and passed from the
room looking like something out of an Edgar Allan Poe story.