"Moral blackmail, sir?"
"That's the chap. Moral blackmail. And this Venables. His surname seems to ring a bell. What do you know about him?"
"He is an author of travel books, I believe, sir."
"I thought Baedeker had pretty well cornered that market."
"Mr. Venables's books are by way of a personal narrative, sir. The 'By' series has enjoyed something of a succès d'estime."
"Did you say the 'By' series, Jeeves?"
"Yes, sir. By Train to Timbuctoo and By Horse to the Hellespont are among the more recent."
"And have you read these wretched tomes?"
"I have not had occasion to do so, sir. Though I was able to send a copy of By Sled to Siberia to my aunt for her birthday."
"And did she like it?"
"She has yet to vouchsafe an opinion, sir."
I cast a moody eye back to the paper. A second reading seemed to make the news, if possible, more final. "The engagement is announced between Georgiana, only daughter of the late Mr. and Mrs. Philip Meadowes of Pershore, Worcestershire, and Rupert, elder son of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Venables, of Burghclere, Hampshire, late of Chanamasala, Uttar Pradesh."
"Will there be anything else, sir? Shall I put out your golfing clothes?"
The prospect of hacking through the Surrey heather looking vainly for the stray white pill had suddenly lost its allure.
"This is no time for the plus fours."
"As you wish, sir. A gentleman called an hour ago to see you, but I told him you were not to be disturbed. A Mr. Beeching, sir. He said he would return at eleven."
"Good God, not 'Woody' Beeching?"
"He did not confide his first name, sir."
"Tallish chap, eyes like a hawk?"
"There was a suggestion of the accipitrine, sir."
From infancy, Peregrine "Woody" Beeching and I had been pretty much blood brothers from the first day at private school to the last commem ball at Oxford. Our parents had been the best of friends, and as a youthful partnership Woody and I had seen more scrapes than a barber's strop. I have been lucky with my pals over the years, but I doubt that any had been more like a brother to me than this Beeching.
"Good old Woody," I said. "Is he still a bundle of nerves?"
"The gentleman did appear a trifle agitated, sir."
I laughed a merry but a brief one, as I glanced back to the tea- stained copy of the morning newspaper. "What brought him here?"
"He came to seek my advice, sir." This struck me as odd, since Woody, while prone to fretting, is not short of the grey matter. Since coming down from university he had made himself a considerable living at the Chancery Bar and was not the sort of man to be found short of an answerand often more than one, I gathered, when faced by their lordships' fire from the bench.
"You intrigue me, Jeeves."
"I believe the issue is a sensitive one, sir. As you know, Mr. Beeching is engaged to be married to Miss Amelia Hackwood and one suspects that the path of true love has encountered some anfractuosity. However, Mr. Beeching felt it improper to say more until he had properly renewed his acquaintance with yourself, sir."
"Quite right, too." I consulted the bedside clock. I had time enough to wash, shave and ready myself for the day before Woody returned. Pausing only to stipulate the eggs poached and the bacon well done, I sprang from the place of slumber and headed sluicewards with all speed.
Excerpted from Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks. Copyright © 2013 by Sebastian Faulks. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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