Photo courtesy Everyman’ Library PG Wodehouse Collection
Photo courtesy. Everyman’s Library PG Wodehouse Collection

On the birth anniversary of PG Wodehouse (born October 15, 1881), Arunabha Sengupta pays homage to this great writer of comic fiction by penning a brand new Jeeves story.

(With apologies to the master storyteller)

One

The day that blotted the Drones Club with events of the most villainous skulduggery had dawned bright with the sun smiling in its full glory. There was not a spot of grey in the sky, nor in the soul.

“Jeeves,” I exclaimed, as I put the good old Wooster frame outside of a generous forkful of bacon and eggs. “A topping day, what?”

“Indeed, sir.”

I beamed on the man with more than a little geniality as he flitted about with the salver. The milk of human kindness seemed to slosh about inside me, with a spring in my step, a song on my lips, in short the entire cast of sweetness and light.

The London air was bracing. The old bean had just been reset into top gear — aided by the ingenious concoction Jeeves brews up whenever the young master feels under the weather. Aunt Agatha, the one who chews broken bottles and conducts human sacrifices at full moon, was safely out of circulation, spending her summer holidays in the south of France. In short, it seemed the maddest, merriest day of all glad New Year when God was in heaven and everything was right with the world.

“One can smell the whiff of summer in the air, Jeeves.”

“The weather is most clement, sir.”

“One of those days when the hand itches for the good old willow, knowing that the ball will be struck with a perfect crack, eh Jeeves?”

“Most assuredly, sir.”

“What was that you once said about fields from Lord’s to some puddle?”

“I think you are referring to the quote on the dawn of a new season, sir. The day seems endowed with that spirit which is born anew every April and passes over every green field in the land — Lord’s or Little Puddleton.”

“Nicely put, Jeeves. One of your own?”

“It is Neville Cardus, sir.”

“Oh yes, good stuff Jeeves, good stuff.”

He was oozing out, bearing the heartily emptied breakfast cups and plates cups when I called him.

“Jeeves, you do know of the cricket weekend at the Drones due to start this evening?”

“Yes, sir.”

So, it was like this. The Club was to kick things off with a cricketing trivia contest on that very Friday evening. This was to be followed by a two-day match during the weekend, between the old Etonians and the old Harrovians who are generally found wandering foggily in the premises. I was to be one of the star players to take field on the morrow, eager to put runs under my belt, savouring the recoil of the bat as the crisp drive beat the cover fielder and raced away to the fence.

There were also a couple of events in the contest I was quite keen on. You see, I hate to tell you myself, but I am right up there with the very best when it comes to cricketing nitty-gritties and all that. You know, ‘who was the last Loamshire batsman to score a fifty in less than an hour while sporting a handlebar moustache’ and that sort of thing.

As you can imagine, I had not only registered for the contests, but had also put a good bit on old Bertie clocking in as the fair winner at the home stretch.I knew I had it all securely tied up with knobs on, but long experience urged me to run it by Jeeves and that massive brain of his.

“Let me tell you Jeeves, there is a competition to form the best possible All Time Test Eleven.”

“I am aware of that, sir.”

“You know of it?” Don’t ask me how he does it, but Jeeves always seems to know everything that matters. After several years of association with his mysterious ways, it has ceased to surprise me anymore. But, since the plans had been announced only the previous night, his getting wind of it seemed rather remarkable even by his august standards.

“Yes, sir. Mrs Travers was on the phone just before you woke up, and expressed her intention to come over to discuss the All Time Test Eleven competition.”

This was news to me, and quite baffling to boot. Not that I had any qualms about her coming over, if qualms is the word I want.

The Mrs Travers he was referring to, as you no doubt know, is my favourite Aunt Dahlia. In contrast to the typical sample picked from the platoon of Aunts, especially Aunt Agatha on whom I have already dwelt a fair bit, this relative of mine is all right. She is a large genial soul, and I am never happier than when we get together for the occasional aunt-nephew rendezvous. Granted, she is blessed with the rather trying ability of bringing the house down in an uncomfortably literal sense —  you know, when one spends most of one’s younger days on horseback chivvying foxes with the Quorn and Pytchley, one tends to make herself heard from Lord’s to The Oval with a mere whisper, and up at Trent Bridge with a rather more full throated effort. But, I was always happy to throw my door open to this old ancestor whenever she was in town. What puzzled me was her interest in the competition.

“That’s rummy, Jeeves. Did she tell you what she wanted to discuss?”

“Not very coherently, sir. She endeavoured to explain in detail, but a few minutes into the conversation thought it would be better to come over in person.”

“You mean she started out along the road to loud and clear and stopped halfway?”

“Precisely, sir.”

“I never knew she was that much into cricket. Just goes to show, Jeeves, you can never quite get a sound grip on the subject of aunts. But did she give you the gist of the competition?”

“Yes, sir. As I far as I gathered, the participants of the contest are expected to submit the best possible cricketing eleven formed with the names that abound in the literature produced by Mr PG Wodehouse.”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself, Jeeves.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Strange, isn’t it? We, the characters of old Plum, talking about others who appear in the stuff he inflicted on the public.”

“Not entirely, sir. It is a device of literature known as meta-fiction. In literary theory it is also called self-referential fiction.”

I tried to wrap the old bean around the intricacies of modern day literature and the o.b. in turn showed an uncanny determination to unwrap itself. I gave up the unequal struggle. “Plum never went in for such stuff himself, did he Jeeves?”

“Not the serious kind, sir.”

“I shudder to think what would happen to the readers, all those grown men with mouths to feed, if Plum had spit on his hands and started to churn out that sort of thing by the yard. Imagine picking up a Wooster or Blandings caper, expecting to curl up with a nice easy read, and findin git bursting at the seams with blooming self-referential drivel. They would be positively invalidated by shell shock. Can you even contemplate, Jeeves?”

“The mind boggles, sir.”

I hastily put aside the horrid thought. There were more urgent matters to focus on. Lighting a thoughtful gasper, I turned towards him.

“I know it must come as a shocker to you, Jeeves, given that the whole thing was announced just yesterday and all that, but I have already finalised my All Time Eleven. I had the team ready before I tucked myself in for my eight hours.”

“I am glad to hear that, sir.”

“Would you mind giving me your opinion on the team, Jeeves?”

“I am agog to hear it, sir.”

I admit I felt a flush of pride as I reached for the piece of paper on my bedside table. I knew I was pretty good at this cricketing stuff, but the quickness with which I had jotted down the names surprised even me. Goes to show that a fellow is often quite unaware of one’s own untapped potential.

“The trick in creating a good team, Jeeves, is to find the right balance. One needs all the skills stacked up, batting, bowling, fielding and wicket-keeping, in perfect proportions. And in the process also have specialist openers and spinners and fast bowlers in the mix. It can be deuced difficult, Jeeves.”

“I would presume so, sir.”

“So, here is what I have done, Jeeves. I have killed two birds with one stone. Or maybe several, by tossing one, solitary, precisely aimed stone. One of my openers is a wicketkeeper and the other an all-rounder. That gives me plenty of room to play around with the rest of the line-up, right Jeeves?”

“Indeed, sir?”

You know, there was a kind of rummy something about his manner. Perfectly all right and all that, but not what you’d call the most enthusiastic. It somehow gave the impression that he was not convinced.

“Yes, Jeeves. And when I tell you the names of the opening batsmen, the doubt that I hear in your voice will wipe itself.”

“Most assuredly, sir.”

I felt it was time to put him in his place. I mean, I will be the first one to admit of the powers of the immense brain of his, but this was cricket after all. Like everyone else, I knew much more about the game than every other person.

“Okay, Jeeves. Since I hear that pestering doubt in your voice, let me spell it out. One of the openers is Trevor Bailey. I borrowed his name from Cuthbert ‘Bill’ Bailey, that crony of Pongo Twistleton in Service with a Smile.”

“Indeed, sir. The name occurs elsewhere as well in the works of Mr Wodehouse. Bill Bailey appears in Love Among the Chickens, and Rupert Bailey, a friend of the Oldest Member, in The Clicking of Cuthbert.”

“Yes, Jeeves. Bailey is the all-rounder. And along with him there will be Alec Stewart the wicketkeeper. You know, after Colonel DSO Stewart of Luck Stone.”

“Yes, sir.The only blood and thunder story, if I may use the expression, in Mr Wodehouse’s works.”

I allowed myself a satisfied smile. I would go so far as to call it a smirk.

“Now tell me Jeeves, isn’t that a real good combination at the top, leaving us free to load the team with middle order men.”

“If I might make the suggestion, sir, the two names you just confided to me, while no doubt players of excellent credentials, were not really the most successful while opening the innings and at the same time carrying out the other duties as expected of an all-rounder. Mr Stewart played just seven Test matches in which he kept wickets and opened the innings, and averaged a decent but not spectacular 36. As for Mr Bailey, he passed fifty on only one occasion in his 23 outings as the opening batsman of England, and averaged 21 in that position. They would not be very prudent choices of men to start the innings for an all-time eleven, sir.”

Well, I wasn’t going to have any of that. You can’t just take a bunch of numbers and allow that to make decisions in the game. That isn’t cricket, if you know what I mean. The cold figures can never tell you about the warmth of the summer day as one waits at the crease for the bowler as he trundles in, the sweet sound of the willow striking the leather and all that sort of rot. I decided to give him a good old iron-hand-in-the-velvet-glove wheeze.

“That’s absolute rot, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

“I mean you heard about the stuff about lies, damned lies and statistics.”

“Indeed, sir.”

“And you have no doubt seen that gag about statistics being like a bikini hiding the essential and revealing the obvious.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, then?”

“The quotes you allude to sir, while they no doubt cater to the popularity of the masses, fall rather short of factual accuracy. While the first statement is attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and was popularised by Mark Twain, they were made in reference to insubstantial and weakly argued use of data. Mark Twain confessed that he made the remark in jest. And the two gentlemen, while without doubt excellent in their own fields, were not experts on the subject of statistics as a science.”

“Jeeves, I haven’t heard such nonsense in my life. What about the one with the bikini?”

“The second quote, sir, linking the subject to women’s undergarments, is attributed to Aaron Levenstein, and was originally used with regard to questionable uses of the science of numbers. It is indeed repeated ad infinitum, no doubt because it provides the general populace the excuse to leave computation aside and rely on their beliefs and biases. Often human nature finds thinking with numbers rather strenuous and tends to avoid such exertions, sir. The quotes serve as very adequate justification for cerebral inaction, sir, with the stamp of authority that comes with being associated with famous names and clichés.”

My head was swimming by now, but the honest fellow was not done as yet.

“On the other hand, sir, there is a maxim by HG Wells which states, ‘Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write.’ Unfortunately, this has never gained significant rating in the scale of popularity, presumably because it impresses the need of thinking with numbers — a pursuit most, left to their own devices, would give more than a substantially wide berth.”

A throbbing sensation in the temples told me that the conversation had reached saturation point.

“Bailey and Stewart will do just fine, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

“In any case, their job is to bowl and keep wickets as well as open the innings. The rest of the batting will rally around. Just look at the list, Jeeves. There is Michael Bevan, after George Bevan of A Damsel in Distress. There is the great CB Fry after SH Fry of A Mixed Threesome in The Clicking of Cuthbert. Wilton St Hill after Hill, the butler in Love Among the Chickens. What on earth is the matter, Jeeves? Out with it, dash it.”

The matter was that Jeeves had raised one of his eyebrows a third of an inch, his way of letting the young master know that he did not quite see eye to eye with him. As is natural when two strong men cohabit in close quarters, a strain is bound to develop from time to time. It was one of those moments when you could slice through the tension with a half-hearted cross-batted stroke.

“It occurs to me, sir, that Mr St Hill would not fit the requirements of this competition since the character from the canon you allude to is named simply Hill. I would voice reasonable doubt as to whether in his current occupation as the butler of Mrs O’Brien, Hill will ever develop the spiritual elevation required for sainthood. Even otherwise, St Hill was what can be called, without taking too bleak a view of his commendable efforts, a rather mediocre player. He averaged less than 20 in Test cricket and less than 30 in First-Class.”

I sat aghast, unable to believe my ears. “That is pure rot, Jeeves. I have it from excellent sources that CLR James himself put St Hill in the same class as Bradman and Grace.”

“Pardon me, sir, but while Beyond the Boundary is an interesting and, in portions, educating book, one would be prudent not to believe everything Mr James wrote in it. Celebrated cricket writers of the past have often taken the liberty of indulging in their doubtless desire of venturing into the field of romantic fiction. The same would be true for Neville Cardus and his words about some cricketers of the stature of Mr Emmott Robinson. Besides, if I may point out sir, Mr Bevan, while a sterling batsman in the limited-over variety of the game, was hardly of the same calibre in Test matches. And Mr Fry, despite his doubtless renown as an all-round sportsman and classical scholar, could not quite match his feats in international cricket. His average…”

I raised a restraining hand.

“Jeeves, enough. I would not like to hear any more about averages.”

“Very good, sir.”

“Was it not Cardus himself who said ‘the scoreboard is an ass?’”

“Indeed sir, but Mr Cardus also confessed to possessing a mathematical faculty that did not extend beyond basic arithmetic. Besides, he was often observed roaming around the city of Manchester while concurrently matches were being contested at Old Trafford. On such instances he was known to base his fictitious match-reports with surreptitious looks at the same scoreboard to which he attributed the traits of the unflattering animal.”

“That’s nonsense, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

“I must tell you that you’ll feel dashed silly when I come back with the trophy being offered for the contest.”

“I look forward to it with lively anticipation, sir.”

“My bowling attack, by the way, includes James Anderson, after Binky Anderson of A Job of Work. There are also Dominic Cork, Alan Connolly, Freddie Brown and Mitchell Johnson. You know, after, Clarissa Cork of Money in the Bank, Aloysius Connolly of Indiscretions of Archie and one of the many Browns and Johnsons who flit about in the canon. Now tell me, will that side not frighten the daylights out of any team?”

“Perhaps, sir, if one is playing the Minor Counties, or one of the weaker school elevens.”

“That is preposterous, Jeeves.”

“I would recommend a different side, sir.”

“I guess we can change one or two players…”

“I was thinking of a fresh eleven, sir.”

This was too much to take even for a chappie as indulgent as Betram Wooster. “You would not allow a single player of my team, Jeeves?”

“They would be most welcome to witness the match, sir, as long as they did not play in it. I would say it would be more advisable to open with Bobby Simpson…”

I raised a hand with an air of finality.

“We will not discuss it any further, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

“That will be all, Jeeves.”

“Pardon me, sir, but your cricket equipment has arrived.”

This brightened me up quite a bit after the strain of the dialogue. I had been looking forward to getting my grip on the new Stuart Surridge I had ordered.

“Has it, indeed? Lead me to it, will you, Jeeves?”

“Certainly, sir. There is one piece of apparel that has somehow been sent along with it. No doubt it is a simple case of what is known as a shipping error. Current day online ordering often results in erroneous deliveries of this nature.”

After our recent exchanges, the old Wooster guard was up. I looked at him sternly. “Yes, Jeeves? And what might that be?”

“A Harlequin Cap, sir.”

I had to put my foot down now, and firmly at that. After all, Drones is full of men who practically live their lives to satisfy the whims of their valets. I know it from experience that if you give them a what’s-its-name, they take the thingummy.

“I ordered that, Jeeves,” I said coldly.

“No doubt you intended it as a charitable donation to the Bodyline exhibit section of the Lord’s museum, sir?”

I drew myself haughtily. “Whatever do you mean, Jeeves?”

“Do you intend to take the field in that cap, sir?”

“I certainly do, Jeeves.”

“If I may point out sir, Mr Douglas Jardine made himself rather unpopular by donning a headgear of an identical type. It would perhaps be much more advisable, and I might add comfortable, to wear a normal cricket cap as the cricketers do while playing for their counties or a floppy hat to make yourself immune to the bright sun.”

“Balderdash, Jeeves.”

“Pardon me, sir, but according to Cardus himself, ‘Jardine made himself notorious and even Whitehall, far away in London, feared a disruption of colonial relations’.”

“Next time you meet him, tell Cardus he is an ass.”

“Very good, sir. I presume calling him a scoreboard will have the desired effect.”

“Jardine is the captain of my team, Jeeves. After Hank Jardine of The Coming of Bill.” I declared with finality and meant it to sting.

“Very good, sir.”

Two

Jeeves withdrew to go about his day’s work and I immersed myself in the bath, trying to put the difficult conversations behind me. My spirits, although smarting from the vote of no confidence from Jeeves, were hardly dampened. I was full of confidence as I splashed about and later dried myself. I had just finished getting inside my suit when the bell rang and the familiar sound of the hoofbeats of a galloping aunt reached me followed by the old ancestor in person.

“What ho, old flesh and blood,” I greeted.

“Don’t stand there like a mannequin, young Bertie, although I must say a role without a brain suits you rather nicely. I need your help without delay. And this needs to stay between us.”

I thought of pointing out that with the throw and carry of her hunting tones it was more likely to remain between us and half of London, but I could see she was worked up and you can push even your favourite aunt just so much.

“I am at your service, dear old ancestor. But, why this sudden interest in cricket?”

Aunt Dahlia let out one of the cries which had presumably made her the life and soul among her cronies at Quorn and Pychley.

“Listen Bertie, you ass, I am not interested in cricket. What I am interested in is the thing they are offering as the first prize for the All Time Eleven nonsense. Have you seen it?”

“You know, with this thing and that …”

“I know, you young retard. You are too busy downing cocktails whenever you are at Drones. It would be too much to expect you to observe what’s happening around you. It is an old nineteenth century silver set combining a bat, ball and stump. To me it looks perfectly ghastly, but Tom would give his right arm for it.”

The fog cleared. If you remember, Aunt Dahlia had married old Tom Travers en secondes noces as I believe the expression is, the year Bluebottle won the Cambridgeshire. This Uncle Tom, apart from looking like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow, was a rather good sort. But he went off his rocker when it came down to old silverware. He was absolutely nutty about the stuff. I wish I had a pound for every time I got embroiled, if embroiled is the word I want, in complicated capers surrounding silver cow creamers.

“Here is what I intend to do, Bertie, and wipe that smirk off your face.”

“I was only smiling, because the light of realisation had dawned on me…”

“The illusions people harbour,” she sighed as she waved off my claim. “Tom will be back in town on Sunday evening, and I need to touch him urgently for a rather hefty sum for Milady’s Boudoir. If I can get my hands on this piece of junk and present it to him, wrapping it with all those sugary sweet words about how much I missed him, the thing will be in the bag. So, get cracking.”

It made perfect sense now. Milady’s Boudoir, you see, is a paper Aunt Dahlia runs, for which I once wrote an article on ‘What the Well Dressed Man is Wearing.’ It has always been rather hard up and Uncle Tom has had to bail it out at a fairly regular rate. I raised a placating hand.

“Have no fear, my dear Aunt. The first prize will be outside your doorstep by this evening.”

Aunt Dahlia did not seem to be too reassured.

“So get cracking on it.”

“It is already cracked, have no worries Aunt Dahlia.”

“So Jeeves has already worked it out?”

This gave me a nasty jolt. I would go so far as to say I was positively peeved.

“Jeeves? My misguided aunt, this is not a regular everyday problem where Jeeves can appear like a healing zephyr and hand out the instant solution. This is cricket. It requires thought, it requires cricketing acumen, it requires obstinate opinions and a solid disregard for facts and figures. As I told you Aunt Dahlia, your case is in my hands. I have already done what is required.”

For a full minute that followed I was subjected to a splitting  earful of what my dear Aunt Dahlia thought about cricket and idiotic nephews who believed they had any sort of sense, cricketing and otherwise.

After wishing that she had never butted in the way of fate to pull out the all-day sucker on which I had nearly choked as a baby, the old relative returned to the topic at hand. “Bertie, I so wish you won’t take it the wrong way, but you are a disillusioned muppet. Do you know a guy called Percy Warblington?”

I did indeed. He was one of the new faces in Drones, with a distinct resemblance to a crab. He looked like a crab, walked like a crab and I am quite sure if a crab ever talked it would be in the same rasping voice that this bloke was blessed with.

“Yes, I do. He is a new member. The guy who looks like a crab.”

“A crab?” Aunt Dahlia seemed to weigh the features of the crustacean against that of Warblington. “Would you go that far?”

“Come on Aunt Dahlia, he looks more like a crab than most crabs do.”

“I am not so familiar with the physiology of a crab, Bertie, and this is no moment to spend prattling about the lower depths of the animal kingdom. He is into publishing and I am trying to get him to arrange a regular dose of articles by some hideously highbrow authors in the Boudoir. He was staying with us at Brinkley Manor and the topic of the competition came up. He knew all about Tom being potty about silver and all that. He suggested that he could win the blasted thing and hand the prize over to me to pass it on to Tom.”

“Dashed civil of the blighter,” I conceded. “But, you have overlooked one tiny detail, old f and b. He won’t win it, because I will. Don’t let your face get all lined with worry, though. I will do the same, and hand over the damn thing to you and you can wrap it up with bubble paper for Uncle Tom.”

“Bertie, you know you are my favourite nephew, but if you don’t stop blabbering this instant I can’t guarantee that I won’t strangle you with my bare hands.”

I wondered whether to take offence but there was obviously something on her mind. I allowed her to continue.

“The only catch here is that Percy, god bless his dear soul, has not the dimmest idea about cricket.”

“So, you have come to the right place. You have my services. You don’t need Percy.”

“No, I don’t need Percy, and I don’t need you. I need Jeeves.”

This cut me to the quick. “Jeeves?”

“Yes. The plan is quite simple. Jeeves crams himself up to the neck with fish and produces the best eleven that ever played cricket. And I take the list back to Percy for him to enter it in the competition.”

I was hurt, well and truly hurt. In every other matter with which Aunt Dahlia has approached me, I have never thought twice before ringing for Jeeves. But, this was cricket for g’s sake. I drew myself up haughtily.

“You are making a grave error of judgement, my dear old relative. Rest assured, you will get the silverware this way or that, but you will look dashed silly when it is old Bertram who brings it to you.”

I raised my arm and rang for Jeeves. By the time he was rattling off his batting order I was already legging it for the great open spaces where your abilities are not subjected to unfair doubts.

Three

I had a few hours to kill after lunch before the results of the contest were supposed to be announced. Taking advantage of the absolutely corking weather, I went on a jolly saunter around Mayfair. It was halfway along my walk that I suddenly remembered that I had not submitted my team to the competition committee. I rang Jeeves from a shop on Stafford Street and asked him to cable it across. And just as I stepped out into the bright sunshine once more, something blonde, svelte, with delicately modelled features loomed into my awareness, and soon I was staring at a form at once fair, familiar and frightening.

It did come as a shock. I mean, most of you will agree that when one expects a girl to be safely tucked away in Totleigh Towers, one can get a nasty jar when hit between the eyes by her very self standing right in the heart of London. It is like going out to bat against a Minor County side and suddenly finding Harold Larwood charging in at you, no holds barred. I was looking at Madeline Bassett.

I suppose you know that this Madeline, while a rather good candidate for any beauty pageant, comes across as less than the ideal conversational partner whenever she opens her pretty mouth. I mean if a girl suddenly tells you that every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born in the Milky Way, you tend to ask yourself whether is not advisable to distract her and sprint for your dear life.

Worse, she has somehow convinced herself that the Wooster soul is pining away for her. Madeline, if you must know, got hitched to my chum Gussie Fink-Nottle. When they drifted apart, it was a period fraught with untold danger for Bertie and the alarming peal of the wedding bells had never sounded louder or nearer. You see, Madeline had made it public that the moment she became available, I was in for it. Luckily before I could order the wedding cake she was scooped up by that horrid eight foot dictator called Roderick Spode, who nowadays goes by the name Lord Sidcup.

Now, finding me in front of her, Madeline’s melting, lustrous eyes stayed fixed on my face uncomfortably long before she sighed, “Oh, Bertie.”

“What ho, Madeline.”

“I’m so sorry.”

This struck me as odd. “Sorry, eh? What about?”

Her eyes, already packed to the limits with her all-encompassing soul, now became even more goofy.

“I do realise Bertie. It pains me so. I know it must be agony for you to look at me and know that I will be forever like the distant and forbidden garden…”

“Oh, rather.”

“Let us gently preserve this like a tender and fragrant memory, encased in lavender, to be opened only on lonely summer evenings as the sun sets…”

“Yes, yes, rather, quite so, quite so.”

“Tell me Bertie, you were not following me around, were you? The strings of the heart unable to see reason and desperate for the…”

“What? Dash it, no, of course not. I didn’t have the foggiest idea you were in town. What were you doing here anyway?”

“Oh Bertie, I shouldn’t have come to London. The very thought that I’ve caused you pain will keep me sleepless for nights. I was here to meet my cousin Percy.”

“Oh, right. I didn’t know you had a cousin named Percy.”

“Yes, I do. Percy Warblington, the son of my Aunt Hilda. You know my aunt Hilda, my father’s sister.”

This was a surprise. A small world apparently. As I have already mentioned, I did know young Percy. I did not know he was related to the Bassett though. And I did not know Aunt Hilda. Aunts are best avoided in any case, that has always been my policy. Add to that this Aunt Hilda was a sister of Watkyn Bassett, the Bosher Street magistrate who fined me for trying to separate a policeman from his helmet on the boat race night. Since then, Pop Bassett has held on to this sneaking suspicion that I was an incorrigible kleptomaniac.

“Ah yes, I’ve met Percy at Drones. I had no idea he was a cousin of yours.”

Madeline peered into my soul with her saucer-like eyes. “Will it trouble you to look at him now, given that we are related?”

Well, it was a delicate question. Percy Warblington was not really a corker to look at anyway, resembling a crab as I have already mentioned. Besides, anything that remotely reminded me of Madeline was bound to be painful, though not really in the way she meant. What can a guy do in such cases? I mumbled something like, “Oh rather, you know,” and hastily took her leave with a hurried “Pip pip.”

I was getting a little late for the announcement of the results and was walking towards the club rather briskly when I was suddenly struck by the villainy of it all and stopped dead on my tracks. It was positively Machiavellian, as I have heard Jeeves put sometimes.

So, if this Percy was the nephew of Watkyn Bassett, it changed the entire complexion of the matter surrounding the silver bat, ball and stump set. I am sure you remember old Pop Bassett was another of those collectors of such junk and a sworn rival of Uncle Tom. If Percy Warblington got his hands on this blasted thing, it was hardly likely to be sent lovingly to Aunt Dahlia. It was bound to find its way to Totleigh Towers, to roost among Watkyn Bassett’s nasty collection. That Percy Warblington did not have a clue about cricket should have already told me that he would turn out to be such a blackguard.

The only reason I did not stagger was that I knew he did not have a chance. After all, even if he had his team prepared by Jeeves, using his base knavery to pick the brain of my man against my own Aunt Dahlia, his side could not better one prepared by the astute cricketing acumen of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.

It was with a revived surge of hope that I trotted round the corner of Bruton Street and walked into the premises of Drones. The hall had been darkened for the occasion and the results were just about to be announced. The voice of the announcer came through as I tripped over a tangle of legs before finding a vacant seat.

“Before we announce the winner, here is the best team in batting order.” A projector was turned on and the first name appeared on the wall. I goggled, unable to believe my eyes.

Bobby Simpson. You won’t believe it, that was the name that stared back at me. The opening batsman suggested by Jeeves. It refused to disappear, even when I blinked and squeezed my eyes hard.

A voice whispered in my ear, distinctly crab like. I admit that the comparison may be slightly askew because I have never had a crab whispering in my ear. But the words seemed to sink the claws deep into my heart: “Hard luck, Wooster.”

A couple of seats away from me, Percy Warblington sat with a smug, satisfied smile on his face. He looked like a crab that had peeped out of its shell to find the neighbourhood well stacked with algae, fungi, molluscs and worms of the choicest variety.

I did not wait any longer. Negotiating the tangle of legs backwards, I staggered out of the hallway, collected my hat and coat and stumbled out.

Four

“Jeeves,” I said as I tottered into the dear old flat. “I could do with something strong.”

“Certainly, sir.”

I slumped on the sofa as he floated in with the restorative laden on a tray.

“We have been duped, Jeeves,” I said after a deep and long gulp.

“Indeed, sir?”

“You know Percy Warblington, Jeeves? The infernal scum you prepared your All Time XI for?”

“Not personally, sir. However, I have seen the gentleman once or twice when I was in the employment of Lord Worplesdon.”

“A short squat fellow who looks like a crab?”

“There was indeed more than a passing resemblance to the cancrine, sir.”

“You know what Jeeves? He turns out to be a nephew of Sir Watkyn Bassett.”

“I gathered as much, sir.”

This came as such a jolt that the decanter almost crashed to the floor. The sound of glass breaking into thousand splinters was the last thing my nerves needed to hear at that moment and Jeeves saved the situation by catching it in the manner of an alert Wally Hammond in the slips.

“You knew it Jeeves? When did you come to know it?”

“About the same time to which I alluded, sir, when I was in the employment of Lord Worplesdon.”

I could not believe my ears.

“And yet you… you made the All Time Eleven for him? Do you know Jeeves that your team has won the contest? I mean, I think it’s your team. All I saw was the name of the blasted Bobby Simpson at the top of the batting order.”

“Indeed sir, but it is more than probable that many more of the participating members would have selected Bobby Simpson as their opening batsman. You will most probably remember the character based on whom the selection was carried out, sir. Enoch Simpson gave stirring renditions of Dangerous Dan McGrew and The Charge of the Light Brigade in the tale of the Song of Songs.”

“This is not the time to go into those petty particulars of recitation, Jeeves. Yes, I pulled a bummer. I should have listened to you and all the glorious praise about Simpson…”

“Indeed, sir. In my team he would be accompanied in his task of opening the innings by the nonpareil Victor Trumper. The noble Trumper with his flashing blade has influenced many a great literary piece on cricket, and it is most fitting that he goes in first with Simpson. Eustace Trumper, as you are no doubt aware sir, appears in Money in the Bank and is infatuated by Clarrissa Cork. There were other choices that suggested themselves, ranging from Graham Gooch, Desmond Haynes and Alastair Cook, as all these three surnames appear in the works of Mr Wodehouse. Alastair Cook benefits from being a left-handed batsman. I am given to understand that a right-hand, left-hand combination is often the preferred partnership at the top and many judges are prone to accord more points to such a pair. However, most experts also agree that Trumper was the best batsman to play the game before Jack Hobbs and also unmatched on bad wickets.”

“Spare me the gory details, Jeeves. You suggested this to Percy Warblington? You do know that old Pop Bassett is a collector of old silver as well.”

“Indeed, sir.”

“Then you do know that Percy winning the contest means that the silver cricket set is likely to land up in the possession of Watkyn Bassett.”

“I would go further, sir, and say it is more than likely. It is almost certain to be presented to Sir Watkyn Bassett. I did acquire the intelligence that Mr Warblington is desirous of a rather large loan from Sir Bassett, and this piece of silverware would have been extremely fortuitous for him to come by at this moment.”

“Oh, you do know that, do you Jeeves?”

“Yes, sir. The perusal of the club book at Junior Ganymede has helped me ascertain the fact quite adequately.”

I struggled to put my next thought into words.

“And yet you helped him win? You virtually presented the damn thing to Watkyn Bassett himself on a silver salver, Jeeves.”

“Allow me to interject here, sir, and point out that you are basing your assumption on the fact that Mr Warblington did win the contest.”

I waved an impatient hand.

“Oh, come now Jeeves. I saw the name of Bob Simpson on the screen. No member of Drones will be putting scientific thought into the selection of the All Time Eleven like you. At best their logic will be based on foggily remembered names. Your team is sure to win by some couple of dozen horse-lengths.”

“It did indeed, sir.”

My eyes almost left their sockets at the words. “Good Lord, Jeeves. You knew it all along?”

“A team with a middle order comprising of Sir Vivian Richards, Mr Walter Hammond, Neil Harvey and Andy Flower, followed by the bowling of Malcolm Marshall, Frederick Spofforth and Derek Underwood, along with the all-round skills of Keith Miller, could hardly be expected to end up anywhere but at the top, sir. However, just to be certain I called Robinson, the cloakroom attendant at Drones. I am pleased to inform you, sir, that my suggested eleven has indeed come out at the top.”

“And you say that without batting an eyelid?”

“Indeed, sir. Robinson also informed me that Mr Fotheringay-Phipps has collected the prize on your behalf and will be bringing it over shortly.”

Once again I goggled, my jaw hanging open. I sat transfixed, hardly able to believe my ears. It was as if after the stumps had been knocked out of the ground and the bowler had leapt on to the lap of the slip fielder in obscene celebrations, the umpire’s arm had slowly extended to signal a no-ball.

“Jeeves, I am dashed if I can make head or tail of the thing.”

“Your confusion is most natural, sir, since you are not quite abreast of all the details of the matter.”

“Then tell me all, my man, tell me all.”

“Certainly, sir. After you left us in the morning, I dictated the full side to Mrs Travers. When she started to make notes, I took the liberty of suggesting that since time was of the essence she could telephone Mr Warblington and arrange matters so that I could cable the team to the Drones Club on his behalf. At the same time, sir, when you went out, I noticed that it had slipped your mind to take your own team list with you. When you called to ask me to I bring it around to you, I made the suggestion of cabling it across on your behalf as well.”

“Did you, Jeeves? I thought I was the one who made the suggestion.”

“It was certainly your idea sir, I merely guided your thought to this course when we conversed on telephone. It did seem the most advisable course to take. This done, I merely sent your team under the name of Mr Warblington and the team I made up under your name, sir.”

Life had come surging back to my limbs. Percy Warblington might well have been Machiavellian, but it takes more than mere Machiavelli to put one over my man Jeeves.

“Jeeves, that was brilliant.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“This definitely ranks with your best efforts.”

“Thank you, sir.”

My jubilation was interrupted by a soft, familiar sound, like a sheep clearing its throat on the distant slopes of the Alps. Jeeves had coughed.

“Is there anything on your mind, Jeeves?”

“Indeed, sir. I was just wondering if you will grant me the satisfaction of going over the entire team.”

“Of course, Jeeves, if that’s what you want. I am, to use your own words, agog to hear it.”

“Thank you, sir. Sorry for troubling you, but I would like to point out that no enthusiast of the noble game can restrain himself from expounding on the theme of an All Time Eleven.”

“Go on Jeeves, you have my ears.”

“Thank you, sir. It would have been most convenient if one had been allowed to use the names of the actual cricketers who appear in the books of Mr Wodehouse.”

“Do actual cricketers appear in the books, Jeeves?”

“They do indeed, sir. Especially in the school stories. George Beldam, Len Braund, Denis Compton, Mr Johnny Douglas…your original choice Mr Charles Fry, George Hirst, Jack Hobbs, Gilbert Jessop, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, Victor Trumper, Hugh Trumble, Wilfred Rhodes, Mr Plum Warner. Most of them hail from the late nineteenth or the early years of the twentieth century, when Mr Wodehouse wrote most of his school stories and the action took place during the course of a number of cricket matches. However, down the line men like Jim Laker, Peter May, Ray Tattersall, Len Hutton and Fred Trueman were also named in the various stories.”

“That’s news to me, Jeeves.”

“Unfortunately we had to constrain ourselves to only the fictitious characters like you and me, sir. Hence I had to construct the most optimised cricket side with what I had at my disposal. I have already spoken about Bobby Simpson and Victor Trumper opening the innings. It seemed the ideal number three would be Wally Hammond of Gloucestershire and England. There are three Hammonds who appear in the school stories written by Mr Wodehouse, one of them by happenchance is a cricketer of Downing’s house from Mike. Hammond the real cricketer, apart from being one of the greatest batsmen of all time, could also bowl more than useful medium pace, and was, I am given to understand, an exquisite fielder in the slip.”

“Excellent choice, Jeeves.”

“Thank you, sir. At number four I thought of none other than Sir Vivian Richards of the West Indies. If you recall sir, George Richards is the man who is often found engaged to Ada in Psmith in the City.”

“It is certainly better than my line up, Jeeves.”

“Kind of you to say so, sir. Apart from being excellent exponents of their craft, the next two batsmen I proposed add further value due to being left-handed. The infusion of the southpaws, as they are I believe are referred to, make the batting reserves more dextrous. It is remarkable that one of these men is from Zimbabwe, which provides ample evidence that even the supposedly weaker teams in cricket do produce excellent performers. Indeed, cricket is unique in being an individual sport within a team game. The batsmen I allude to, as you no doubt have ascertained by now, are Neil Harvey and Andy Flower. Orlando and Teddy Flower are two child actors in Laughing Gas, while Harold Flower is a messenger at the Planet Insurance Company in the story The Tuppenny Millionaire in the collection The Man Upstairs. As for young Master Harvey, he is a friend of Master Renford at the Seymour’s House in The Gold Bat and The White Feather.”

“Incredible, Jeeves. I guess we have covered the batting by now.”

“Indeed, sir. Apart from the all-round skills of Keith Miller which adds considerably to the strength of the willow in the team. A most admirable man to come in at number seven, and, if I may add, the most dashing and debonair according to several learned opinions. Alexandra Miller, known as Sandy to her friends, became the wife of Mr Montrose Bodkin in Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin. There was also JG Miller who appears in Money in the Bank.

“They did, indeed.”

“We now move to the wicketkeeper, sir, and we did have a lot of choices ranging from Rodney Marsh, Deryck Murray, Bob Taylor and Bob Waite. After considerable deliberation I went for Godfrey Evans, who was reputed to be one of the very best. While there is an Evans in Ice in the Bedroom, he is nothing but a mythical employee of J Sheringham Adair. However, there also happens to be a taxi driver of the same name who appears in Sam the Sudden. This is apart from Llewellyn Evans of the Appleby gang who is present in Do Butlers Burgle Banks?”

“It is proving to be quite a team, Jeeves.”

“Thank you, sir. When we move along to the bowling department, we are, if I may use the expression, quite spoilt for choice. We have an immense number of West Indian fast bowlers to choose from including Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Andy Roberts, Ian Bishop, Winston Davis and Courtney Walsh. All these surnames appear in the works of Mr Wodehouse, but I could only accommodate Marshall. Most experts agree that he was the most lethal of all those men who bowled at a pace universally acknowledged to be frightening. Marshall is the gentleman adept at disguises who appears in Luckstone, sir.”

“You mean there is no room for the other bowlers like Ambrose, Roberts and all the rest, Jeeves? Not even your own namesake Percy Jeeves?”

“Unfortunately not, sir. Neither could I include any of such redoubtable bowlers as Frank Tyson and Bob Willis. The reasons, if I may add, are sound. Good men, to quote the bard, must of force make way for the better. The next man in the bowling line up happens to be Frederick Spofforth — according to many a learned judge of cricket the greatest bowler to play the game. It was for genuine reason that he was bestowed the nickname Demon. PB Spofforth, if your remember sir, appears in our own novel Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen. He gets into a little unpleasantness with Mr Orlo Porter.”

“Yes, I recall, Jeeves.”

“With Marshall, Miller and Spofforth, we have a bowling attack which, if I may say so, sir, would take away from most teams the sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care. But the final endeavour was to find an adequate spin bowler. The choices for this spot ranged from Johnny Briggs, Ian Peebles and Alf Valentine. Finally I opted for Derek Underwood, who performed for a greater duration in more varied lands. The Underwoods, Lady Florence and her daughter Vicky, appear in Sunset at Blandings. It occurred to me that it would add a certain poetic value to the team if the last man was chosen from that unfinished novel, since that is the last that Mr Wodehouse ever wrote.”

The team of Wooster The team of Jeeves
Trevor Bailey Victor Trumper
Alec Stewart (wk) Bobby Simpson
CB Fry Wally Hammond
Michael Bevan Viv Richards*
Douglas Jardine* Neil Harvey
Wilton St Hill Andy Flower
Freddie Brown Keith Miller
Mitchell Johnson Godfrey Evans (wk)
Dominic Cork Malcolm Marshall
Alan Connolly Fred Spofforth
James Anderson Derek Underwood

I leaned back in the sofa, all soothed and relaxed.

“Your side would give mine a proper hiding, Jeeves.”

“The side is indeed a rather formidable one, sir.”

“An innings defeat would be likely.”

“Indeed, sir, and a big one at that. Not many could last for long in front of that bowling and the batsmen of the team are not prone to be dismissed easily either.”

“I suppose I need to call Aunt Dahlia and deliver the news.”

“I have already taken informed her, sir. I telephoned her just before you reached home.”

“Thank you, Jeeves. Do you know Jeeves, you absolutely stand alone?”

“I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir.”

I thought for a moment.

“And Jeeves.”

“Yes, sir?”

“About that harlequin cap…”

I think I noticed a gleam appear in his eye. “Yes, sir?”

“You can put it away and order a normal cricket cap, Jeeves.”

“Thank you, sir. I have already taken the liberty of sending it away to the East End Thrift Store, and procured a white floppy hat for your upcoming match, sir. I trust you will find the shade it offers rather soothing under the mid-day sun as you stand in the slip.”

“Thank you, Jeeves.”

“Very good, sir.”

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry.He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)