Author’s Note: Today, October 30, marks the 108th birthday of the great Patsy Montana (she died in 1996). The best way to mark the occasion is, of course, to listen to her music—particularly her immortal signature tune, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” (1935). Go ahead and do so; I’ll wait here until you get back.
There, now, wasn’t that a kick? Montana wasn’t a country singer in any meaningful sense, though she did come from rustic Beaudry, Arkansas (not far from where President Bill Clinton was born), and the fact that “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” is often described as the first million-selling record by a female country artist simply underlines that there weren’t many real female country singers in those days. Personally I consider her work an example of swing music—but who cares? The important thing is, she was a great singer, dynamic, engaging and, yes, gifted in the yodeling department.
I wrote the following story maybe five years ago, when family circumstances were keeping me and my lovely wife apart most of the time—and, coincidentally, when I was getting into country music for the first time in my life. The story was written as a gift for my lovely W. (as Bertie would say), who like me is a devotee of the works of P.G. Wodehouse, but she’s given me permission to share it with the wider world. Ms. Montana’s birthday seems as good a time as any to do so.
Jeeves and the Yankee Yodeler
“Jeeves,” I said, putting down my teacup and looking up from my newspaper, “why do you think it is that so many chaps get married?”
“I cannot say, sir,” he replied. “They have not seen fit to confide in me.”
I was surprised to detect no hint of frostiness in his tone. The fact of the matter was, the faithful retainer and I had had a bit of a falling-out in recent days, and the air had not been without a touch of the f. as a result.
The subject of this falling-out will not surprise those friends and associates familiar with the history of relations between Jeeves and myself, and in particular with his unfortunate inclination to attempt to run the Wooster establishment from top to bottom.
When it comes to hats, I am prepared to yield gracefully to Jeeves. In the matter of ties, his expertise cannot be faulted, and he has much of interest to say on trousers.
Though the Woosters are known for their easygoing savoir faire, however, beneath the civilized veneer lurks the spirit of a tiger cat, and it is that spirit which comes to the surface when Jeeves presumes to dictate terms in the area of music.
The whole affair had its roots, as whoever it is would say, in a phonograph record which Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright brought in to the Drones Club the week before the incident I am recording.
He had won it from an American sailor in a dice game at a pub, dice being one of the few games in which young Catsmeat is in any sense competitive. You may take this from Bertram W., who in rainy weather still feels a twinge in the lower regions, courtesy of Catsmeat’s ill-conceived scheme to win the Drones Club Darts Cup, an effort which, in addition to causing me considerable physical discomfort, ruined a pair of white-linen ducks of which I was more than a little fond.
Dice, however, involves no appreciable skill at marksmanship, and in this game Catsmeat comes into his own. The men of the Drones are not noted for their acuity, but it is rare that Catsmeat can find a game with even our most ardent sportsmen. When occasionally a new member is foolish enough to take up the cudgels, the occasion can be relied upon to draw a large and appreciative crowd to witness Catsmeat’s artistry.
To return to the inst. at hand, however, this nautical chap had been so foolish as to put up a phonograph record in a dice game with Catsmeat, and it was through this mechanism that the lads at the Drones first encountered Miss Patsy Montana.
Miss Patsy Montana is a practitioner of an American musical school called “country music,” presumably because it is popular with weekenders and the landed gentry.
To judge by Miss Patsy’s record, a jaunty little something called “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the distinctive feature of “country music” is a fast, high-pitched yodel which, as Jeeves observed a couple of days later when Catsmeat and a few other lads from the Drones dropped by the Wooster digs, is “singularly penetrating.” Apparently, when a cowboy is canvassing the neighborhood for a sweetheart, Alpine yodeling tops his list of desirable attributes; if so, Miss Patsy Montana would seem likely to lap the field.
Her skills certainly endeared her to the Drones Club, where her record was played so often as to be in danger of wearing out, and when Catsmeat and the other lads dropped by said digs a day or two later, we immediately beat a path to the phonograph and brought the record out for action.
I will confess that, even then, I was not without apprehension where Jeeves was concerned. Jeeves, I had had occasion to note in the past, is singularly close-minded when it came to music. Where the inquiring mind seeks out new worlds to conquer, Jeeves—at least where music is concerned—seems to think that his current worlds are more than adequate.
When Pongo Twistleton and Freddie Widgeon had dropped by to play “My Brother Makes the Noises for the Movies,” for example, Jeeves had jumped as though a police wagon had run over his foot, and his later remarks on the subject were, I felt, in poor taste.
When it comes to music, I should explain, Jeeves is particularly devoted to a cove named Brahms. As it happens, I had once—at the instigation of my Aunt Agatha, who chews razor blades and can stop the tide with a single disapproving glance—been to a concert to hear this Brahms.
He turned out to be a long-haired perisher who kept his back to the audience and waved his hands throughout the concert. So far as I could tell, his songs had no tune, no rhythm and nothing that you’d call catchy in the word department, and were shockingly short on pep. The best I could say in his favor was that the whole business went off rather snappily, the concert running no more than five or ten minutes—or so it seemed to me, though my Aunt Agatha ventured to suggest, with offensively personal side comments, that I had slept through the greater portion of the proceedings.
So this Brahms is Jeeves’ beau ideal in the field of music, and I sensed intuitively that he might be less than open to the talents of Miss Patsy Montana. Whether or not I closed an eye or two at the Brahms concert, I’m fairly certain that it included no yodeling.
And indeed, when later I got Jeeves’ notes on the evening, he was less than complimentary on Catsmeat’s find, though conceding that Miss Patsy Montana was in every respect superior to our attempts to replicate her technique. Which was, I thought, an uncalled-for remark, perhaps due to Jeeves’ having been forced to get up at rather a late hour to talk to the policeman who had been summoned by our sadly hidebound neighbors, whose musical tastes are seemingly no broader than Jeeves’ own.
And when he learned that, under the influence of rather a good lot of Champagne, Catsmeat had agreed to sell the phonograph record to me for 50 pounds, Jeeves’ already gloomy demeanour seemed to darken even further. He muttered something about getting to know the policeman better which I did not catch, owing to my having put on the record just then.
And so matters rested for the next several days, with the conversation between Jeeves and myself limited to the requirements of his daily duties. When he heard that I had with difficulty secured two tickets to hear Miss Patsy Montana in a personal appearance at the Palace Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue on the evening of the day whose events I am recounting, he limited his remarks to an expressive roll of his eyes which, frankly, I did not appreciate.
Finding, however, that Jeeves seemed to have decided to take the mature viewpoint and accept a fait accompli as, well, accomplied, I seized the opportunity to continue the conversation.
“I see that Potty Gelsworth has married again, Jeeves,” I said.
“Yes, sir,” he replied. “I observed the item in this morning’s newspaper. I trust the union will be a salubrious one for both parties.”
I doubted this. Potty, birth name Philip Gelsworth, was a rather stout cove who was something of a lion in the local theatrical establishment. He had been married twice before, once to a local beauty who had, as it turns out, preferred the company of a truck driver of her acquaintance, and again to a girl who worked as an accountant and preferred her books to her husband. You might have thought that experiences of this sort would have dampened his enthusiasm for the blessed state, but apparently he was of the school that believes that the third time’s the charm.
“It dashed won’t be salu … sal … salub … well, it dashed won’t, that’s all,” I said. “If ever there’s someone who ought to have sorted out this marriage thing, it’s Potty. But he’s gone off and done it again.”
“It is mystifying,” Jeeves conceded.
“So many chaps seem to get married that you’d think there was something to it,” I continued, “but there doesn’t seem to be, Jeeves. The Drones Club is full of chaps who get married and are never heard from again. Freddie Eynsford-Hill got married, swore off drinking and a few weeks later started drinking again and never stopped. And when I say that he was drinking too much for the Drones, I’m saying something.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said. “I believe, however, that most young gentlemen who decide upon matrimony are motivated by feelings of love for the young lady in question.”
“You’ve put your finger on it, Jeeves,” I said. “But I’ve been in love plenty of times myself, and it always wore off before long—fortunately, before I actually got to the altar. You’d think that, seeing how it’s worked out for so many chaps, other chaps would think twice before donning the old striped bags and morning coat.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said. “I understand, however, that it is characteristic of young love to believe its situation to be unparalleled in the course of history. The poet Tennyson … ”
“Was the poet Tennyson married?,” I asked.
“Yes sir,” replied Jeeves, who is a font of information on such topics. “His wife, the former Emma Sellwood, was the sister of the woman his brother had married, making the bard his own brother-in-law.”
“Well, then, scratch the poet Tennyson from the roster,” I said. “His views on marriage can’t be of interest, since he came from a family of practitioners and ought to have known better.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said.
“Consider, for example, the case of Banjo Carter-Wrenne,” I continued. “Once a light of the Drones, now never seen on the premises, and widely believed to be still in traction after his honeymoon, which his bride induced him to spend exploring the hills of Scotland on bicycles. Bicycles, Jeeves, when there are motorcars for hire in every town in the area.”
“It did not seem well-advised,” Jeeves said. “It was consistent, however, with the known habits of Mr. Carter-Wrenne’s bride, a young woman devoted to strenuous exercise.”
“Known habits do not enter into it,” I said warmly. “Not when you’re trying to pedal up Ben Nevis in the July sun. What ought to enter into it is Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted brain specialist. Banjo was never the brightest of beans at the Drones, but this is one step away from cutting out paper dolls and eating telephone directories.”
I paused. The mention of young Banjo had brought to mind an event of earlier that afternoon. On my way home for tea, I had come up the street and noticed, getting into a cab at the corner nearest to Chez Wooster, someone who from a distance looked rather like Banjo’s half brother, Chips Gayden-Wrenne.
This Chips, who worked on Fleet Street as an editor of one of the theatrical papers, had been a member of the Drones for years and years, continuing even after he married an American singer named Sarah Olliday, who was hailed by general acclamation at the Drones as easier on the eyes than the average singer, which is saying something, and easier on the ears as well, which isn’t saying as much.
In the past few years, however, he hadn’t been seen around the old haunts, and the general assumption at the Drones was that he and Sarah the singer had come to a parting of the ways, especially since she was still much in evidence around town.
“Do you know, Jeeves, speaking of young Banjo, I almost fancied I saw his brother Chips getting into a cab down the street just now.”
“Yes, sir,” Jeeves replied. “He and Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne left here only a short time before your arrival. He expressed his regrets at having missed you.”
“Chips Gayden-Wrenne, here?,” I said disbelievingly. “Chips Gayden-Wrenne, who hasn’t been seen by anyone since the days of the elder Pitt, emerged from hiding and the first thing he did was come here? Tush, Jeeves, you’re puling. You must be thinking of someone else.”
“No, sir,” Jeeves said, beginning to clear the remnants of tea. “He came here on a matter of personal business, and was kind enough to explain to me in what manner he has been occupied of late.”
“Jeeves,” I said, folding up my newspaper and leaning forward, “you fascinate me strangely. What account did young Chips offer of himself?”
“It seems,” Jeeves began, “that Mr. Gayden-Wrenne has a mother, a lady of advanced years who resides in the suburban precincts of Nassau.”
“Stick to the point, Jeeves,” I advised him. “It’s only in heavyish novels, where the writer is being paid by the word, that it’s necessary to provide the genealogies for all your characters.”
“Actually, sir,” he replied, “the existence of Mr. Gayden-Wrenne’s mother is of a salient nature to his tale. It seems that the passage of years has left the elder Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne in the way of being non compos mentis.”
“A crumpet or two short of a plate, you mean?”
“A few feet shy of the green, eh?”
“The motor is running but the clutch is out?”
“Carry on, Jeeves,” I said. “Just trying to make sure I have the lay of the land.”
“Unfortunately, sir, it has been some years since she has had sufficient possession of her faculties to see to her own needs, and since the death of Mr. Gayden-Wrenne Senior, the younger Mr. Gayden-Wrenne has resided with her in the capacity of guardian and caretaker.”
“Hold up a moment, Jeeves,” I said. “I remember when old Chips’ governor toddled off this mortal coil. It was the year Welsh Poof won the Derby, and that’s three years ago if it’s a day.”
“Four years in August,” Jeeves replied.
“And do you mean to say that, for all that time, Chips and his better half have been living with a loopy old lady somewhere off in some God-forsaken rural hellhole?”
“No, sir,” he said. “Mr. Gayden-Wrenne has been so engaged, but Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne has remained at their connubial quarters.”
“Wait, wait,” I said, looking for a cold cloth to bathe my temples. “Are you saying that she’s in town by herself, and Chips isn’t coming home at all?”
“Every other week,” Jeeves said, “when Mr. Carter-Wrenne is able to see to their mother, Mr. Gayden-Wrenne spends a Saturday at home. Otherwise he is not in residence.”
I couldn’t make head nor tail out of it, and I am not a man easily thrown off the scent.
“See here, Jeeves,” I said, “you can’t mean that she puts up with him spending all his time with his mother. Wives are notoriously jealous of their husbands’ time. Biffy Wofford’s wife calls the Drones every half-hour to find out when he’ll be home. When Biffy was knocked over by a cab, she accused him of hiding from her in the emergency ward at St. Polgrebe’s.”
“Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne is apparently of a different sort,” Jeeves said. “She is not pleased at his absence, he says, but she understands the difficulty of his position and supports him in his efforts to do the right thing vis a vis his mother.”
“Well, Jeeves,” I said, sitting down to think this over. “Well, Jeeves. Well, Jeeves, I’ll be blowed.”
“She supports him? Really?”
“Apparently so, sir.”
“Do you remember when I was engaged to Honoria Glossop?”
“I told her that I wouldn’t be able to see her one Thursday night because I was going to be defending my title in the Drones Club tabletop-football test match, and she said that, if I didn’t want to see her on Thursday night, I might as well not see her for the rest of my life.”
“Miss Glossop was, I fear, a rather exacting young woman, sir.”
“And Chips is running off for years on end, and his wife is supporting him? Jeeves, will wonders never cease?”
“Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne is a remarkable young woman, sir.”
“Really, Jeeves, it’s enough to make you rethink the whole marriage question,” I said after a moment. “Except that it’s so hard to find someone like Miss Olliday. Most of the girls I meet are rather more like Honoria Glossop.”
“Or Madeline Bassett, sir,” Jeeves offered.
I winced audibly. Madeline Bassett was another former fiancee of mine, a poetical sort who once asked me if I didn’t think that fairies nestled in every nutshell and gamboled on every gossamer. She had once suggested that I change my name to Bruce, as more things rhymed with “Bruce” than with “Bertram.”
“Very true, Jeeves,” I said. “Best, perhaps, to leave well enough alone.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, “and perhaps envy Mr. Gayden-Wrenne his good fortune, even in this time of woe.”
“That’s well put, Jeeves,” I said. “That’s very well put.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I slipped on my jacket and picked up my cigarette case and gloves preparatory to heading off for the Palace, and was halfway out the door when it occurred to me that Jeeves’ masterful summing-up had, nonetheless, left at least one loose end dangling like nobody’s business.
“I say, Jeeves,” I said.
“You mentioned that Mr. Gayden-Wrenne had come here on a matter of personal business. What on earth could bring him here, especially if he has so little time with his wife to begin with?”
“He came, sir, bearing the standard of Art,” Jeeves said. “It appears that the elder Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne is a devotee of ‘country music,’ and in caring for her Mr. Gayden-Wrenne too has developed an interest in such music.
“He is particularly attached to the work of Miss Patsy Montana,” he continued, “and in fact had come to town in the hope of escorting the younger Mrs. Gayden-Wrenne to Miss Montana’s concert at the Palace Theatre. Being unable to obtain tickets, he repaired to the Drones, where he was told of your phonograph record and conceived a desire to play it for his wife.”
“I see,” I said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here to play it for them. Did you see to it, by any chance?”
“Of course, sir,” Jeeves said. “I could hardly do otherwise, given the high opinion of both individuals fostered in me by Mr. Gayden-Wrenne’s story. She seemed to enjoy it. I hope I did not overstep my bounds, sir.”
“Not at all, Jeeves,” I said, turning to go. “If I had been here, I might well have made her a present of the thing.”
“That thought occurred to me,” Jeeves said, handing me my hat and stick. “So I took the liberty of doing so on your behalf.”
I stopped, my hand on the doorknob.
“You gave her the record?”
“On your behalf, sir,” Jeeves said. “It seemed the appropriate gesture.”
I can’t say that my heart didn’t feel a pang at the loss of that singularly entertaining record, but as I thought it over I realized that Jeeves was right. It was the appropriate thing to do, as gestures go.
“Very good, Jeeves,” I said. “Easy come, easy go.”
“It’s probably halfway back to Nassau by now,” I said with a shrug, turning again to the door.
“No, sir, I think not,” Jeeves said. “I rather fancy that it is at present in the cloakroom at the Palace Theatre.”
I turned back.
“Jeeves,” I said, “you’re talking rot. You only just now said that old Chips wasn’t able to get his hands on any tickets.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, “which is why I took the liberty of offering them yours.”
“Oh, I say, Jeeves!”
“Again it seemed the appropriate gesture,” he said calmly. “And it occurred to me that you might have forgotten that tonight is the free-form table-tennis tournament at the Drones Club. I believe Mr. Fink-Nottle is hoping you will partner with him in doubles.”
I paused, torn betwixt would and would not, or would not and would, whichever way that chap in the poem was torn. Not hearing Miss Patsy Montana perform in person was a dagger to the heart, but at the same time the comic possibilities in watching Gussie Fink-Nottle try to strike a moving object with another moving object were not to be sneezed at.
And, much as it pained me to admit it, Jeeves was right. It was the appropriate gesture.
“Very good, Jeeves,” I said with a sigh. “I have only one further question.”
“Am I wearing trousers?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“You haven’t given them away to anyone without my noticing?”
“Very good, then,” I said. “In that case, I’m going on to the Drones.”
Which, I need hardly say, is exactly what I did.