A few years ago I started writing a version of Heart of Darkness in the style of a PG Wodehouse Jeeves story, inspired by someone more amusing than me gloomily intoning the following brief exchange down the pub one evening:
“The horror, sir, the horror.”
“Indeed, sir, the fascination of the abomination.”
I’m not a fan of Conrad by any stretch and have always found him insufferably boring. Wodehouse, however, I love, and so I thought I could make an amusing story out of rather a grim one if under the influence of The Master. Naturally enough, I soon realised that I really didn’t have the talent or endurance to do anything of the sort and, as with so many pub-induced ideas, gave up on it very soon afterwards. In a spirit of self-indulgence here’s the beginning of it, supplied because, despite everything obviously at fault with it, I do still rather like the psittacine line.
AUNT OF DARKNESS
(A journey to the heart of Woostershire)
I was hacking in to a leisurely kipper when Jeeves shimmered in with the salver.
“A telegram, sir,” he remarked, with characteristic what’s-the-word.
“Well read it, Jeeves, read it,” I said with all the vigour of a chap who has enjoyed his full ten alloted hours of nourishing slumber.
“It’s from Mrs. Travers, sir. ‘Tom gone tonto stop. Urgent come Brinkley instanter. Love Travers.’”
“The aged relation seems to indicate that my uncle Tom Travers has gone mad.”
“Indeed, sir, I had surmised as much.”
“I mean to say, Jeeves, old Uncle T., despite a certain thingummy – begins with a ‘Q’, Jeeves, you know, ill-humour and all that.”
“That’s the chap. Despite a certain querulousness when pondering the demands of the tax-man or Aunt Dahlia’s for Milady’s Boudoir, Tom Travers has never struck me as the sort of chap liable to go off his onion. I wonder what could have brought this on.”
“I could not say, sir.”
“You don’t suppose Anatole’s run off again?”
“It is of course a possibility, sir.”
“He is French, Jeeves. The Gallic race is noted for its over-excitability. He could have done a bunk, and Uncle Tom can’t cope without his cooking, we know that much.”
“Well then I suppose we should repair to Market Snodsbury with all speed.”
“I shall lay out our houndstooth suit for the journey, sir.”
“Thank you Jeeves.”
I wasn’t exactly expecting to find Uncle Tom champing at the bit and frothing at the mouth, nor indeed lobbing flower pots at the under-gardener, but it was nevertheless a subdued Bertram Wooster who arrived at Brinkley Court that afternoon. Apprehensive, if you know what I mean. Aunt Dahlia’s icy reception to my cordial what-ho-ings only confirmed the worst.
“Don’t you ‘what-ho’ me, you foul young carbuncle,” she roared, with all the ferocity that had made her such a conspicuous presence with the Pytchley and the Quorn in her youth. (There are still occasions when I spy a nasty glint in her eye and expect her to come after me yelping ‘tantivy’ and brandishing a riding-crop. Stentorian, her voice was, as I think Jeeves once remarked with ref. to that other noisy, but decidedly less welcome, blot on the Wooster landscape, the abominable Roderick Spode.)
“What’s all this about Uncle Tom mislaying his marbles? Anatole hasn’t given notice again, surely?”
“It’s much more serious than that, Bertie.”
“More serious?” I goggled. In the grand scheme of things few things could be worse than the great chef chucking in the ladle.
“This isn’t the time for your asinine parrot impersonations, Bertie.”
“Psittacine, aged A.”
“Whatever can you mean?”
“Psittacine, not asinine. Jeeves told me once. Psittacine is the word for parrot-like. Asinine would be asses. At least I think it would.”
“Well don’t be an ass either. Ring for Jeeves at once and kindly keep quiet until he gets here. We need every ounce of that man’s brain-power to help us now, and you won’t help by burbling.”
A gentle cough, like that of a venerable librarian clearing his throat in the reading room of the British Museum after a particularly noisome morning pipe, but aware of the requirement for dignified silence which his position demanded, indicated the man’s presence in the room.
“You rang, madam?”
“Jeeves,” began the old flesh-and-blood, “this is a very delicate matter.”
“Indeed, madam. I can assure you that I have some experience of dealing with many forms of mental aberration.”
They both glanced briefly in my direction and exchanged what could only be described as a Knowing Look. I can’t be sure of this, for Aunt Dahlia emitted a small squeal or snort at this point.
“During my time in Lord Brancaster’s employ, he once-”
“Never mind all that now, Jeeves,” I said.
“Forgive me, sir, but the tale I was about to relate does have some bearing on the matter in hand. His Lordship suffered some form of nervous collapse following the demise of his favourite parrot, and was thereafter to be found at certain times of the day sitting atop the pianoforte nibbling at a seedcake in a fit of ungovernable distress. All manner of means were attempted in order to induce him to come down and to his senses, but to no avail. Eventually Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted nerve specialist, was called for, and his Lordship was taken away to recuperate.”
“Well we don’t want that, Jeeves,” groaned Aunt Dahlia.
“Indeed not madam.”
“I take it you know all about what has happened then, Jeeves?”
“I’m afraid the talk below stairs is of little else, madam. Mr. Seppings was kind enough to give me a reliable account of recent events, however. A most lamentable occurrence if I may say so. What I would suggest-”
“But dash it, Jeeves!” I ejaculated, unable to stand the suspense any longer. “What has happened? You seem to forget as you go dashing off with your schemes that I’m very much in the dark in re. the actual course of events. What, Jeeves, if you would be kind enough to tell me, has happened? Eh?”
Aunt Dahlia gave him the nod and he explained. “Mr. Travers has recently become involved with a sinister group of men calling themselves the Victoria League Club, in whose possession there rests a valuable silver statuette which Mr. Travers desires for his own collection, sir. In order to gain their confidence in order to encourage them to sell him the item, Mr. Travers was forced to join their society and masquerade as an adherent to their ignoble principles. It would seem that his will is not perhaps as strong as he had at first thought. Mr. Travers has, as I believe modern parlance has it, ‘gone native’. All attempts at communication have thus far been rebuffed. It would seem to me that the only course of action now would be for someone to locate Mr. Travers and bring him home.”
Aunt Dahlia shot me a menacing look. “You, Bertie, are that ‘someone’.”
I felt like some unfortunate young chap who has unexpectedly been biffed about the back of the bonce by a brick lobbed by the Bishop during his confirmation. I was powerless to resist…