Thursday, July 12, 2012

Jeeves and the Great Bicycle Race

[From a manuscript purported to be among the literary relicts of the estate of Sir Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse. In observance of the 2012 Tour de France which commenced this July, as it does each year.]

 Jeeves and the Great Bicycle Race

 Bertram Wooster and his soigneur Jeeves

I awoke on the morning in question feeling quite myself, very much in top form, as I may say. It was one of those bluey-shiny summer morns when the birds are a-twitter in the treetops, God's in his heaven and all's right with the w. as I think I've heard Jeeves put it. The night before, the Drones had outdone its usual orgy with a feed of unwonted splendor. The champers and oysters were thick upon the ground as the saying goes, and there flowed a bounty of the blushful Hippocrene, bumper to bumper and damn the torpedoes or something like that. It was not until the wee hours that Bertram arrived back at Wooster Arms.

Right on cue Jeeves shimmered in with the eggs and b. and a steaming cup of the life-giving. I saw at once that he was leading a two-man breakaway. I say "two-man" advisedly, as it was my Aunt Agatha immediately on his wheel. I sputtered out a "What - I say!" by way of protest, but the aged relative flew past Jeeves into the room to take that day's stage. Before Jeeves could explain the sitch, Aunt Agatha was on me like rash on a downhill crash. I think I may have mentioned that the august forebear is the stuff of nightmare. How does it go - something something royal cheer, they crossed themselves for fear, all the knights in Camelot. That would have been my Aunt Agatha, that bit about fear I mean to say.

"Still in bed, I might have known," she said in the voice of what's his name - the hound at the gates of hell - Cerberus I think it was. "You may as well dress immediately, Bertram. You are coming to Bumpleigh Hall this weekend. I require you to represent the Hall in the yearly bicycle races down at Bumpleigh."

"But dash it all, Aunt . . ." I sputtered.

"I very distinctly dislike your tone. If anyone bearing the Wooster name is to be seen careering about on a bicycle, it will be you, Bertram. You, as the Gospel phrases it so generously, 'the least of these my children.' Jeeves, see that my nephew is packed and ready today."

"Very well, Madam."

When the aged aunt chuffed off I lit a revivifying cigarette and lay back on the pillow to see my way out of this bit of hash. I had suffered through enough of these Bumpleigh-on-Moor annual races to know that I had rather be licked clean of chain grease by my uncle's four water spaniels, or curl Fabian Cancellara's hair, than ride with the local gang of thugs again.

F. Cancellara

By the time breakfast was over, Jeeves had packed the trunks for the weekend and stowed a hamper in the two-seater with a shaker of martinis, a bottle of the best, Turkish cigarettes and all the necessaries. "I hope it meets with your approval, sir," Jeeves murmured, "but I have taken the liberty of packing your most serviceable bicycling ensemble, the one you wore to such effect in last year's event."

As we drove out of London, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster was feeling pretty low down in the general classification. I mean, what with bon vivant-ing and man about town-ing on a pretty regular schedule, in fact very much as a life's calling you may say, I was not feeling confident that I could represent Bumpleigh Hall and the Wooster lineage against the barbarian hordes of Bumpleigh-on-Moor with the espiglierie and brio demanded by such an endeavor. I put the case to Jeeves in pretty much those words.

"Your reticence in the matter is very understandable, sir," was all he said. "Oh, well that's all very well for you to say, Jeeves," I said with the Wooster irony, and I meant it to sting. "There may be a solution to the dilemma, however," Jeeves continued. "If you will leave matters to me, sir, perhaps the Wooster name can be made to prevail in some manner and degree. I should think Mrs. Worplesdon" - meaning my Aunt Agatha - "should be in some measure gratified by any success you may enjoy."

I hadn't a glimmer what he might be thinking, but in my experience it is always best to turn matters over to Jeeves straightaway and trust his invincible genius to arrive at a solution. Fish, I am told, is the best aid to cogitation, and I have in our time together seen him eat little else. A herring is to Jeeves as good as another idea.

The Wooster two-seater

Alighting at Bumpleigh Hall I was greeted in the drive by the twin scourges, my young cousins Claude and Eustace. "Down for the bicycle races, Bertie?" asked Claude, knowing full well the predic Bertram found himself in and relishing it to the utmost. "We've got a betting pool on the weekend," Eustace chimed in. "We've listed you at 13-to-3 to finish last, Bertie."

"Thirtee . . . I say, couldn't you have just given me a decent handicap?"

"Oh, we did, Bertie, we gave you six hours on the field," chirped Claude. Well I mean to say, it's a bit thick when one's flesh and b. are wagering on the local ruffians against one of their own to come through the breach and ride off with the Pink Garter which, being unfit to wear in public, even on one's sleeve as Jeeves assures me, and being otherwise of no use is the traditional prize for the Bumpleigh races. And I said as much to the cousins. The part about all that being a bit thick, I mean.

That evening as I was dressing to put on the old feedbag, I thought it time to consult with Jeeves. "Jeeves," I said, "I do not like the shape of things, vis-a-vis this bicycle thingy. Not shaping up well for Bertram, would you think? Not looking like a podium spot in this local Volta a Spaniel, what?"

"That would be the Vuelta a Espagna, I believe. Though I confess the locals seem able to field a strong group of riders in the contest, sir. But if you will allow me to enlist young Claude and Eustace in the effort, sir, I am sufficiently confident to believe our side might prevail tomorrow."

"Jeeves," I remonstrated, if that's the word I want. "Those two young blighters bring nothing but woe and desolation to an otherwise cheery old world."

"The young gentlemen do, I confess, want some management and careful diplomacy, sir. But with your permission, granting their evident penchant for the wager I incline to believe they may prove valuable assistants."

"Very well, Jeeves," I sighed. "But it's against my better judgment."

"In the event, sir, I believe the young gentlemen will not disappoint. And if I might mention, sir, you are in training - perhaps a second martini would be ill-advised."

 Claude and Eustace

The race day dawned bright and June-like, all 'when on a summer's morn I wake and something something eyes, something something my something spirit flies.' Something like that, only the Wooster spirit on that particular summer's morn was feeling the urge to fly straight back to the urbs Londonensis, being pretty low down in the gen.class.

Having breakfasted and togged myself out for the impending contest, my heart followed my face down amongst the wines and spirits when I spied the local peloton roll by on their way to the start line in the village. En masse they appeared to be on day release from Newgate or Dartmoor, one of those colorful prisons you read about in Dickens, and I said as much to Jeeves. "Very apt, I'm sure, sir," was all he said.

Peloton des Damnees

To make matters worse for Bertram, Jeeves had dug out the old Pashley, which had not seen daylight since last year's go-round amongst the bracken and heather. It returned to me as in a dream that the old pony had required considerable effort to pedal, what with all the fenders and chainguards and levers and thingummies, and I imagine it was probably made of lead plumbing to boot. "I have taken the liberty to dust the machine, sir," Jeeves murmured like a museum curator.

The old Pashley

At the starting line, young Claude and Eustace were nowhere in the pic, which struck Bertram as perhaps the one bright spot in the new day. While Jeeves steadied the Pashley I clambered aboard, having clamped my trouser cuffs and reversed my tweed cap in anticipation of a brisk pace. The Wooster name was at stake and by this time Bertram's spirits were up amongst the spires and gargoyles, if that's the phrase I want. The boy stood on the burning deck and that sort of thing.

The local pack was down the road and nearly around the bend by the time I found the pedal and managed to mash it down. The Pash was off to a rolling start, pretty much a field of one and quite a furlong or a farsang off the back. I decided on the old tortoise-and-hare strategy that has served the Wooster escutcheon so admirably since the time of the Crusades, when I'm told the family forebear, old Guillaume Ousterre, managed to avoid any of that hand-to-hand silliness during the entire battle of Hastings. Which I've been told was a one-day event like Paris-Roubaix or Ghent-Wevelgem, and spilt a nearly equal amount of mud and blood.

 Battle of Hastings

After a half-hour's leisurely pedal through the local lanes and over a stretch of the moor, I came upon my first cyclist. Eustace was helping him off the ground and consoling him after his cold-hearted way about several broken spokes in the round whirly thing. I saw there was nothing more to be done and rode on, leaving the competition to the questionable ministrations of the cuz.

It occurred to me that if my strategy were correct I should be encountering more of these bicycle chappies very soon. By this time, very natch, I was dying for a gasper so I leaned the old leaden pipes against an obliging tree, seated myself in the shade, lit one of Turkey's finest and felt the revivifying smoke waft into grateful lungs. I was musing on the palpable absence, if that's the term I want, of the comp when my thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of young Claude.

"What ho, young Claude," I called out. "What's become of the other chappies?"

"No worries, Bertie," he answered. "Eustace and I managed to take out nearly all of the fellows who wouldn't take the side bet on the other course. There may be one we haven't foundered yet so I'll be needing your frame pump to manage his spokes."

"Side bet?" I stammered. "What other course? What the deuce . . . say more, young Claude, I implore you."

"Didn't Jeeves mention it, Bertie? He had us talk it over with the local riders last evening - a fifty-pound purse for a course he set. The ride goes through Biggleston, on the main street that goes up the Stairway and over Heaven's Gate before it comes back onto the Bumpleigh ride. Rather tiring, I should think."

'The Stairway,' Biggleston, Hampshire

"But . . . but . . . what about the local punters?" I queried in a fever. "You've got me losing thirteen-to-three. There will, I promise you, be an entire village baying after all our hides if I make a podium ride."

"Not to worry, Bertie - Jeeves persuaded us to put the purse on the Biggleston group. So you can still take the Pink Garter in the Bumpleigh race and nothing lost. Eustace and I will make a packet on the side race to Biggleston and, as far as Aunt Agatha, you'll be in roses."

"Well, I'm dashed. And which of you young financiers put up this princely purse, if I might know?"

"Wasn't us, Bertie. Jeeves thought you might spare it from the household money. It's a small investment, he said, for the glory of the Woosters."

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