Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ask Jeeves

I am currently reading Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse and it is absolutely killing me.  Hopefully no horrible litigious outcome arises from sharing an admittedly slightly long passage that made me chortle on the train home from work.

*she clears her throat -ahem- and begins to read*

'But don't forget this, because it is a point I wish, above all, to make: even if Gussie had got to that ball; even if those scarlet tights, taken in conjunction with his horn-rimmed spectacles, hadn't given the girl a fit of some kind; even if she had rallied from the shock and he had been able to dance and generally hobnob with her; even then our efforts would have been fruitles, because Mephistopheles costume or no Mephistopheles costume, Augustus Fink-Nottle would never have been able to summon up the courage to ask her to be his.  All that would have resulted would have been that she would have got that lecture on newts a few days earlier.  And why, Jeeves?  Shall I tell you why?'
"Yes, sir."
'Because he would have been attempting the hopeless task of trying to do the thing on orange juice.'

"Sir?"
'Gussie is an orange juice addict.  He drinks nothing else.'
"I was not aware of that, sir."
'I have it from his own lips.  Whether from some hereditary taint, or because he promised his mother he wouldn't, or simply because he doesn't like the taste of the stuff, Gussie Fink-Nottle has never in the whole course of his career pushed so much as the simplest gin and tonic over the larynx.  And he expects-this poop expects, Jeeves- this wabbling, shrinking, diffident rabbit in human shape expects under these conditions to propose to the girl he loves.  One hardly knows whether to smile or weep, what?'
"You consider total abstinence a handicap to a gentleman who wishes to make a proposal of marriage, sir?"
The question amazed me.
'Why, dash it,' I said, astounded, 'you must know it is.  Use your intelligence, Jeeves.  Reflect what proposing means.  It means that a decent, self-respecting chap has got to listen to himself saying things which, if spoken on the silver screen, would cause him to dash to the box-office and demand his money back.  Let him attempt to do it on orange juice, and what ensues?  Shame seals his lips, or if it doesn't do that, makes him lose his morale and start to babble.  Gussie, for example, as we have seen, babbles of syncopated newts.'
"Palmated newts, sir."
"Palmated or syncopated, it doesn't matter which.  The point is that he babbles and is going to babble again, if he has another try at it.  Unless -- and this is where I want you to follow me very closely, Jeeves -- unless steps are taken at once through the proper channels.  Only active measures, promptly applied, can provide this poor, pusillanimous poop with the proper pep.  And that is why, Jeeves, I intend tomorrow to secure a bottle of gin and lace his luncheon orange juice with it liberally.'
"Sir?"
I clicked the tongue.
'I have already had occasion, Jeeves,' I said rebukingly, 'to comment on the way you say "Well, sir" and "Indeed, sir?"  I take this opportunity of informing you that I object equally strongly to your "Sir?" pure and simple.  The word seems to suggest that in your opinion I have made a statement or mooted a scheme so bizarre that your brain reels at it.  In the present instance, there is absolutely nothing to say, "Sir?" about.  The plan I have put forward is entirely reasonable and icily logical, and should excite no sirring whatsoever.  Or don't you think so?'
"Well, sir --"
'Jeeeves?'
"I beg your pardon, sir.  The expression escaped me inadvertently.  What I intended to say, since you press me, was that the action which you propose does seem to me somewhat injudicious."
'Injudicious?  I don't follow you, Jeeves.'
"A certain amount of risk would enter into it, in my opinion, sir.  It is not always a simple matter to gauge the effect of alcohol on a subject unaccustomed to such stimulant.  I have known it to have distressing results in the case of parrots."
'Parrots?'
"I was thinking of an incident of my earlier life, sir, before I entered your employment.  I was in the service of the late Lord Brancaster at the time, a gentleman who owned a parrot to which he was greatly devoted, and one day the bird chanced to be lethargic, and his lordship, with the kindly intention of restoring it to its customary animation, offered it a portion of seed cake steeped in the '84 port.  The bird accepted the morsel gratefully and consumed it with every indication of satisfaction.  Almost immediately, however, its manner became markedly feverish.  Having bitten his lordship in the thumb and sung part of a sea-chanty, it fell to the bottom of the cage and remained there for a considerable period of time with its legs in the air, unable to move.  I merely mention this, sir in order to --"
I put my finger on the flaw.  I had spotted it all along.
'But Gussie isn't a parrot.'
"No, sir, but --"
'It is high time, in my opinion, that this question of what young Gussie really is was threshed out and cleared up.  He seems to think he is a male newt, and you appear to suggest that he is a parrot.  The truth of the matter being that he is just a plain, ordinary poop and needs a snootful as badly as ever man did.  So no more discussion, Jeeves.  My mind is made up.  There is only one way of handling this difficult case, and that is the way I have outlined.'
"Very good, sir."
'Right ho, Jeeves.  So much for that, then.  Now, here's something else: you noticed that I said I was going to put this project through tomorrow, and no doubt you wondered why I said tomorrow.  Why did I, Jeeves?'
"Because you feel that if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly, sir?"
'Partly, Jeeves, but not altogether.  My chief reason for fixing the date as specified is that tomorrow, though you have doubtless forgotten it, is the day of the distribution of prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School, at which, as you know, Gussie is to be the male start and master of the revels.  So you see we shall, by lacing that juice, not only embolden him to propose to Miss Bassett, but also put him so into shape that he will hold that Market Snodsbury audience spellbound.'
"In fact, you will be killing two birds with one stone, sir."
'Exactly.  A very neat way of putting it.  And now here is a minor point.  On second thoughts, I think the best plan will be for you, not me, to lace the juice.'
"Sir?"
'Jeeves!'
"I beg your pardon, sir."
'And I'll tell you why that will be the best plan.  Because you are in a position to obtain ready access to the stuff.  It is served to Gussie daily, I have noticed, in an individual jug.  This jug will presumably be lying about the kitchen or somewhere before lunch tomorrow.  It will be the simplest of tasks for you to slip a few fingers of gin in it.'
"No doubt, sir, but --"
'Don't say "but,"Jeeves'
"I fear, sir --"
'"I fear, sir," is just as bad.'
"What I am endeavouring to say, sir, is that I am sorry, but I am afraid I must enter an unequivocal nolle prosequi."
'Do what?'
"The expression is a legal one, sir, signifying the resolve not to proceed with a matter.  In other words, eager though I am to carry out your instructions, sir, as a general rule, on this occasion I must respectfully decline to cooperate."
'You won't do it, you mean?'
"Precisely, sir."
I was stunned.  I began to understand how a general must feel when he has ordered a regiment to charge and has been told that it isn't in the mood.
"Jeeves," I said, "I had not expected this of you."
'No, sir?'
"No, indeed.  Naturally, I realize that lacing Gussie's orange juice is not one of those regular duties for which you receive the monthly stipend, and if you care to stand on the strict letter of the contract, I suppose there is nothing to be done about it.  But you will permit me to observe that this is scarcely the feudal spirit.'
"I am sorry, sir."
'It is quite all right, Jeeves, Quite all right.  I am not angry, only a little hurt.'
"Very good, sir."
'Right ho, Jeeves.'

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