Other than the topsy-turvy romances of younger couples, P G Wodehouse also regales us with romantic affairs of those who are advanced in age and young at heart. An affection which was discernible in a couple’s younger days – whether declared or otherwise – survives the harsh slings and arrows of life. A chance meeting unearths and rekindles the deep buried embers of love. A well seasoned romance bears fruit. The Valentine Spirit prevails.
One such couple we get to meet is that of Joe Danby and Aunt Julia, who make an appearance in the story entitled ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (The Man with two Left Feet). This is how the narrative unfolds.
An inconsiderate Aunt Agatha drags Bertie out of bed ‘in the small hours’ (perhaps around half past eleven in the morning!), much before he has finished his dreamless and sipped his first cup of tea. She is most distressed that her nephew, and Bertie’s cousin Gussie Mannering-Phipps, has lost his head over a ‘creature’ in New York who is on the vaudeville stage.
Bertie recalls the fact that his Aunt Julia, Gussie’s mother, was also a vaudeville artist once. His Uncle Cuthbert saw her first when she was playing pantomime and decided to make her his wife. The family had resisted, but to no avail. Aunt Agatha had then pulled up her socks and groomed her impeccably. Twenty five years later, one could not tell Aunt Julia from a genuine dyed-in-the-wool aristocrat.
Gussie had vaudeville blood in him, and it looked as if he were reverting to type, or whatever they call it.
‘By jove’, I said, for I am interested in this heredity stuff, ‘perhaps the thing is going to be a regular family tradition, like you read about in books – a sort of curse of the Mannering-Phippses, as it were. Perhaps each head of the family’s going to marry into vaudeville for ever and ever. Unto the what-d’you-call-it generation, don’t you know?’
‘Please do not be quite idiotic, Bertie. There is one head of the family who is certainly not going to do it, and that is Gussie. And you are going to America to stop him.’
In New York, Bertie runs into Gussie, now going by the name of ‘George Wilson’. Gussie is determined to win the approval of the father of the girl he loves. The father, one Mr. Joe Danby, used to be a well-known stage artist himself. He would not hear of his daughter marrying anyone who is not in the profession.
Helped by the ‘creature’, Gussie’s first show rolls around. Gussie has stage-fright and starts badly, but halfway through his second song a pretty girl beside Bertie joins in, bucking Gussie up and getting a big round of applause from the audience. It turns out that she is Ray Denison, the girl Gussie loves.
Bertie, worried by Gussie’s unwavering affection for Ray, telegraphs Aunt Julia for help. Aunt Julia arrives. Bertie does not explain the situation to her but uses the novel technique of letting her sense the problem of her own. He first takes her to see Gussie’s show. Then he takes her to Ray’s show. Thereafter, they call on the girl’s father.
This is how the scene plays out:
‘Joe!’ cried Aunt Julia, and staggered against the sofa.
For a moment old Danby stared at her, and then his mouth fell open and his eyebrows shot up like rockets.
And then they got hold of each other’s hands and were shaking them till I wondered their arms didn’t come unscrewed.
Between the reunited lovers, back-falls on the stage get discussed. Buns and ham sandwiches offered to Aunt Julia get recalled. Seed-cakes lavished on to her by Joe Danby get fondly recollected. Her singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ in a double act called ‘Fun in a Tea-Shop’ gets remembered.
Both undergo a transformation which leaves Bertie twiddling his thumbs. Aunt Julia sheds her grande-dame manner completely, blushes, smiles and even giggles. Danby, ‘a cross between a Roman emperor and Napoleon Bonaparte in a bad temper’, behaves like a school boy.
Old Danby made a jump at her, and took her by the shoulders.
‘Come back where you belong, Julie!’ he cried. ‘Your husband is dead, your son’s a pro. Come back! It’s twenty-five years ago, but I haven’t changed. I want you still. I’ve always wanted you. You’ve got to come back, kid, where you belong.’
Aunt Julia gave a sort of gulp and looked at him.
‘Joe!’ she said in a kind of whisper.
‘You’re here kid,’ said Old Danby, huskily. ‘You’ve come back……Twenty-five years!…..You’ve come back and you’re going to stay!’
She pitched forward into her arms, and he caught her.
‘Oh, Joe! Joe! Joe!’ she said. ‘Hold me. Don’t let me go. Take care of me.’
Meeting Gussie soon after, Bertie hears that Julia and Danby are to be married, as are Gussie and Danby’s daughter.
The narrative ends with Bertie receiving a telegram from Aunt Agatha.
‘What is happening? Shall I come over?’
Bertie resolves to avoid England for a long time and responds thus:
‘No, stay where you are. Profession overcrowded.’
When it comes to Cupid’s machinations, age, caste, creed, profession and social status do not really matter. Love may remain dormant for a long time, but can get revived in a jiffy – much like a Psyche getting revived by a Cupid’s kiss!
Yet another mature romance we come across in Plum’s works is that of Piggy and Maudie. We get introduced to this couple in ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ (Very Good, Jeeves).
Aunt Agatha, eager to protect the family name, plays a spoilsport in both the narratives – ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ and ‘Extricating Young Gussie’*. In both cases, she fails, much to the delight of the romantics amongst us.
In both the cases, to escape the fury of an aunt scorned, poor Bertie has to stay away from England for a long time, missing Anatole’s delectable spreads, rave parties and the Drones Club!
*(A century back, this story was first published in The Saturday Evening Post of USA in September 2015).