It was a fragrant if pensive Bertram who at the appointed hour opened the door to his old friend Peregrine "Woody" Beeching.
"Ah, good afternoon, Bertie. Bit of an adventure for you being up at this hour," said Woody, sending his hat with a carefree toss in Jeeves's general direction.
"I've been up for some time," I informed him coolly. "I have something on my mind."
Woody raised an eyebrow and made a visible eff ort to bite something back a witticism, no doubt, at my expense.
"Good heavens," he said as we went into the drawing room.
"Are you wearing side-whiskers? Or are you going to a costume ball as Billy the Kid?"
"All the fellows on the Côte d'Azur had them this spring," I said. "I'll wager you'll be wearing a pair yourself by August."
"Not unless I want to look like Soapy Sid and lose my entire practice at the Bar. What does Jeeves think of them?"
"His view is of no consequence to me," I said airily. "I have not sought it."
After a bit more of this banter, Woody got down to business. "The thing is, Bertie, the reason I needed to consult you, or rather your excellent manservant is... Well, it's a bit sensitive."
I glanced up at Jeeves, who had slipped back into the room after the old pals' catching- up was done and now stood like an attentive gun-dog awaiting the command to fetch.
"Woody," I said. "Remember who you're confiding in. Graves are garrulous, tombs talkative when compared to me. Is that not so, Jeeves?"
"Your discretion has frequently been remarked upon, sir."
Woody heaved a big one. "It involves a woman."
"My lips are sealed."
"Three women in fact."
"Even more sealed."
"Her name ... Oh, dash it, I may as well make a clean breast of it ... is Amelia Hackwood."
"Woody, old chap, this is hardly news. Your engagement was in the paper."
"Well, it isn't any more. I mean, Amelia's broken it off ."
"I'm sorry to hear that, Woody." "I knew you would be, Bertie. The trouble is ..."
"Get it off your chest, old man." "Amelia is the sweetest girl who ever drew breath. I worship the grass beneath her plimsolls, the dance floor beneath her evening slippers, the"
"We catch your drift," I said.
"You should see her play tennis," said Woody. "The way she swoops across the court, the tanned limbs good heavens, she even has a backhand."
I tried not to catch Jeeves's eye while Woody filled us in on Amelia's other qualities. These, to keep it brief, included an outstanding knowledge of lepidoptery (or butterfly collecting, as I was able to establish later); a dexterity on the violin that reminded him of Paganini; and weighing heavily with her swainan ardent devotion to Beeching, W.
Into the rich unguent, alas, there had entered a substantial fly: this Amelia, it appeared, was one of those girls who, while themselves most liberally endowed with what it takes, are uneasy if the loved one is in the company of another female. At a weekend party in Dorsetshire, at Melbury Hall, the Hackwood family seat in Kingston St. Giles, Woody had made insufficient efforts to discourage attention from a couple of local maidens.
"There was absolutely nothing to it, Bertie. A pair of rosycheeked village girls were among those invited to tea. I made myself pleasant, but no more. I thought Amelia would like it if the occasion went off with a bang. The next thing you know, I'm being read the Riot Act. Amelia tells me she can't bear the thought of f fty years of me flirting with anything in a dress and that the whole thing's off ."
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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