Can a third-generation Bertie Wooster get out of his impending marriage to Penny Dreadful? Only Jeeves, great-great-nephew of the original famous Jeeves, can save the day
THERE WAS NO TIME TO LOSE. “Jeeves!” I called out. “Jeeves!”
“Sir?” He was in the front sitting room. I burst through the door like an express train being chased by rocket in an angry mood. I mean, I’d never seen an express train burst through a door, but I was in one once. If something could burst through the door like Bertram Wooster III did just now, it would be an express train in fear of its life. I imagine steam was even coming out of my ears.
“Yes, Sir?” My man Jeeves was, as ever, as cool as a slice of cucumber in a freshly-made glass of Pims. He was busy, standing on a stepladder and calmly adjusting a philodendron in the corner.
“Jeeves!” I said. “This is no time to be fraternising with foliage!”
“Sir?” He climbed down from the ladder and came to face me.
“We’ve got a devil of a crisis!”
“Indeed, Sir?” said Jeeves. He glanced back in the corner at the philodendron as though, in a housefire, it would be the first thing he would protect. Sherlock Holmes said that once, and I’ve no doubt he was right on the money. I mean, that in case of fire the first thing you glance at is your baby, or something like that. Baby being a metaphor for the philodendron you might like to save.
“This is no time to be worrying over houseplants, Jeeves! We’ve got a crisis on our hands!”
Really, the man could sometimes be infuriating. If I didn’t know he had the brainpower of a supercomputer, I’d think the man was a bit dim. But, like his great-great-uncle Jeeves, who used to be the valet of my great-great-grandfather Bertram Wooster – the first, although his parents didn’t know it at the time they named him – he had oodles of the grey stuff between the ears. Much more than most people would know what to do with.
“Pay attention, Jeeves! I need your help. Otherwise, I’ll find myself walking down the aisle with Penny Dreadful!”
“Miss Penelope Purbright? I was not aware there was such a closeness, Sir.”
“Nor was I, Jeeves. But she seems to think I have proposed tying the knot.”
‘Dearest Bertie, I’d love to go down the aisle with you! Your love-bunny, Penny’
“And this was not your intention, Sir?”
“Indeed not! I was just tootling out of the Drones Club, thinking how jolly it would be to get another jar or two into me before returning home for a bracing whiskey and soda and the sleep of the innocent. So I sent old Pongo a test message, asking him to come down for an ale.”
“And did Mr Pendragon involve you somehow with Miss Purbright, Sir?”
“No, the bally Mr Pongo never showed up! So I had my pint of ale and came home for the evening ritual as usual. But I’ve just woken up to see this message: ‘Dearest Bertie, I’d love to go down the aisle with you! Yes, let’s get married, the sooner the better. Your one and only love-bunny Penny’.”
“Most disturbing, Sir.”
“She must have intercepted my text message to Pongo, and read it wrong or something.”
Jeeves glanced back at his old pal the philodendron, making sure it was still there and hadn’t fainted from shock. Then he turned back to me. “Strange things do happen, Sir. If I might be so bold as to to ask to have a look at your mobile phone?”
‘Jeeves, this is no time to be making eyes at potted plants!’
“Do, Jeeves, and have it sent back off to the company or Elon Musk or wherever it came from. There’s something wrong with it.”
He took the thing off me gingerly like it was a dead but particularly interesting-looking newt and stared at the screen. Then he looked back around at the philodendron and raised an eyebrow at it.
“Jeeves, this is no time to be making eyes at potted plants!”
“No, indeed. If you’ll permit me, Sir, I notice that there seems to have been a miscommunication. Your text message was mispelt, no doubt due to the peculiarities of the autocorrect function. It asks the recipient to come down the aisle with you. And perhaps for the same reason it was mistakenly sent not to Mr Pendragon but to Miss Purbright, who thought you wished to lead her down the church aisle to matrimony.”
“Gosh, Jeeves, what am I going to do?”
Dashed if my man Jeeves didn’t turn around and look at that philodendron again like he expected to find an answer hanging there like ripe fruit.
“What are you staring at?” I roared at Jeeves. I looked at the plant. There was nothing particularly notable about the damned thing. It was green and tall, just like a philodendron should be, if it plays its cards right.
“If you’ll permit me to explain, Sir,” Jeeves said, and then did a rummy thing. He stared back at the plant, raised that eyebrow again, and said to it: “I think it’s time, don’t you?”
“Time? Time for what? I’m the one with the problem, not the bally plant!” I shouted. “I don’t imagine it would mind being eternally bonded to Penny Dreadful. I mean, she’d probably water it with vodka, but maybe that would be a welcome change for it.”
‘“Have you indeed?” And I meant it to sting’
“If you’ll take a closer look, Sir, you’ll see that here, just under this upper leaf, there is a small video camera. I have for some time been filming our interactions, as I believe they are of significant educational benefit for the greater masses. So our conversations and problem-solving encounters are being streamed straight to the TikTok video application and watched in real time by millions of the deserving public, eager for instruction.”
I was dumbstruck. I mean, what? What? And I retorted in no uncertain terms: “I mean … I say … what? What?”
“I have for some time been quite sure that you would find this practice entertaining and profitable.”
“Oh, have you, Jeeves? Have you indeed?” And I meant it to sting.
“I should mention that you have now become an international TikTok star. I – we – have millions of followers, Sir. Fans who are keen to watch and learn. This also means that I – we – have attracted a great volume of sponsorship.”
“What the bally heck are you babbling about, Jeeves?”
“Your internet stardom has attracted the attention of purveyors of many luxury goods, who would be very happy to offer you a gift or the use of their products if you would care to demonstrate them in your video channel. You have, Sir, become an Influencer.”
“What are you drivelling about?” I said, then paused, as what Jeeves said entered the old grey matter and sank in. “What luxury goods?”
“Just this morning, Sir, I received a request from a representative at Maserati car manufacturers. They were very intent upon offering you the use of a vehicle from their house for a limited amount of time.”
“They suggested a month, but I convinced them that nothing under a year would be acceptable to a gentleman of your standing.”
I thought about this. I mean, sometimes Jeeves gets a bit too big for his breeches and oversteps the boundaries of valet something or other, valet-ness. On the other hand, his big brain does get me out of the odd scrape that fate dishes up.
“But what about this marriage with Penny Dreadful?”
Jeeves gave a gentle cough.
I believe that it has already been cancelled, Sir. This episode is still currently streaming and … ”
My mobile phone pinged with a text message.
“If I’m not much mistaken, that will be Miss Purbright now, retracting her acceptance. You see, this episode – interlude – has already been streamed to your millions of fans. No doubt Miss Purbright … ”Jeeves glanced down at the screen. “Yes, she has done it. Shall I read it out to you, Sir?”
‘The hashtag #PennyDreadful is now number 2 in the trending list’
“Certainly not! I’ll take your word for it. Just delete the whole thing. Delete her from the phone entirely.”
“I’m afraid I can’t delete her entirely, Sir. She is one of your three million followers.”
“Even though she now knows that I call her Penny Dreadful?”
Jeeves coughed delicately and handed the phone back to me. “The hashtag search term #PennyDreadful is now number two in the trending list. And I believe she has just changed the name of her Twitter identity to match that epithet.”
“But she still doesn’t want to marry me?”
“A narrow escape, Jeeves.”
I peered up into the philodendron. It wasn’t such a bad old plant, really. “Will Maserati throw in some leather motoring gloves and goggles?”
“I’m sure they can be prevailed upon to provide them.”
“Well, sign us up, then! When can they deliver?”
“I believe the car is waiting for you outside the front door, Sir.”
What can I say? “Jeeves,” I said, “you’re one in a million.” I turned to Philly the Philodendron. “One in a million!” I repeated.
Jeeves turned to the plant as well, and a corner of his mouth just flickered, but then maybe I was imagining it. He looked back at me. “Thank you, Sir. I aim to give satisfaction.”
• A version of this story first appeared in the anglophone German magazine Spotlight in October 2020