“There is no remedy for love than to love more.”
—Henry David Thoreau
It’s dashed funny the way things turn out, what? I mean to say, the Wooster life has hardly been one full of blight and woe, but on the other hand, it often seems that I can barely turn around before tripping over my own feet and taking a nose dive right into the soup – where I bob, unhappily, until Jeeves – my man, you know – takes pity upon the Wooster person and fishes me out. So, in this particular instance, it seemed fearfully odd that Jeeves, his brow no less bulging with the weight of all the haddock he no doubt ingests, was the one up to his nose in a bisque of his own making, so to speak, waiting for the Wooster lifeline.
But I am getting ahead of myself. And while this particular episode in the life of Bertie W. Wooster is one to make even a costermonger or purveyor of jellied eels blush, it is as well to start at the beginning as not. In any case, I lay the blame for it all firmly at the feet of the Luminous Rabbit and the Giant Squirt, for it rests as well there as anywhere. Although there is doubtless something to say on behalf of the cucumbers—
But no. It is meaningless to point fingers at the faces of the cucumbers, no matter how much they seem to deserve it. The fact of the matter is that, without the terrible treachery of the loathsome Bingo—
Ahem. Let me marshal the facts, what?
It all began, as much it can be said to begin, with that blot upon existence, that excrescence Tuppy Glossop. Tuppy, that pestilential plague, had worked his foul fascinations upon my cousin Angela, with the result that now they stick to one another like glue, and where one goes, the other follows. I couldn’t stick him at any price, but Angela – when I remarked upon the vile calumnies this monster in human form had committed upon the Wooster corpus – merely laughed, the fiend, and said it made her love him all the better.
Which gave me chills, I’ll tell you, and impressed upon me even more firmly the view that the bachelor life is for me, no matter what various aunts might say upon the subject – and say it they do, and often, shoving females in my path on many and various occasions and hoping I’ll trip. Thank God, I say, for Jeeves – and often.
But that aside, it will tell you all you need to know about the devil Tuppy when I say that he once bet me to swing across the Drones swimming pool by means of the exercise rings hanging above it. Nicely lubricated by a snifter or two, and dressed in the full soup and fish, I was getting a nice rhythm going until – disaster! That sneak thief Tuppy had looped the final ring back, obliging me to drop, with an ignominious splash, into the water. I often dwell on this, waking in the night to gnash my teeth and clench my jaw and plot my terrible revenge. It was to this end I had purchased, as mentioned, both the Luminous Rabbit and, in case of disaster, the Giant Squirt.
I had it on excellent authority that the Luminous Rabbit, when inserted into a chap’s room, would jump about squeaking and scare him into a decline. And the less said about the arcane and mysterious workings of the Giant Squirt, the better. However, fate had other plans, and my revenge had had to be delayed while Jeeves worked his magic to soothe the troubled relations between that blighter and Angela. Angela is, as mentioned, an all round good egg, and so if she desired to be leg-shackled to a chap like Tuppy, who is Wooster to stand in their way? No one. That is to say, he is someone, naturally, and not some lithe ghost loping about the place and tripping over the furniture, what?
Now I come to lay it out, it appears blindingly obvious that the blame for the entire sitch lies, not as I had suspected, with the cucumber, nor with the Luminous Rabbit, but with that all-round bounder, and my best of pals, Tuppy.
Some day soon, I shall buy him a drink.
But so far as clear as mud, eh? Let me make my final attack on the fortress that is sense . . .
It was November, and the nights were beginning to draw in early, and the less said about the mornings the better. It could be said that the Wooster body had lost its usual tautness and was becoming softer around the edges, in a way curiously reminiscent of blancmange. It was too cold for tennis, and ever since the Great Splash in the Drones I had lost my taste for swimming. It was bally hard to rise every day, and I found myself mooching round the flat most days like a lost soul, waiting for someone to put me out of my misery. Evenings at the Drones had lost their flavour. Every time I sloped over for a binge I found my ear being bent by a lovesick pal. I have a strong constitution, but eventually being asked to gush over a pic of a hard-faced female or begged to pick a chap’s best side – when both were too awful to contemplate – grew old. Bertram had had enough. He had lost his vim. He desired only to sit upon the sofa and brood. And so I did, pausing only to drink a refreshing cocktail pressed upon me by Jeeves, or to prong a pensive forkful of food into the Wooster maw.
It took me longer, therefore, than it would have under normal circs. to notice an unusual fact: something was wrong with Jeeves.
I dare say I have already mentioned my man, Jeeves. Before I employed him, I saw that there were certain poor coves in the world who were under the thumb of their valets, and I pitied them. It took less than a second for me to pity any poor cove who didn’t have Jeeves, once I realised what fortune had done for me by placing me firmly in his care. Jeeves, you see, is one of those brainy chaps one can rely upon. He has dug the young master out of more sticky situations than I can shake a stick at – and when I say that I can see no difficulty in shaking a stick at any manner of situation, if required, I think you will get my drift.
Jeeves is, you see, rather like a cross between an encyclopedia and a private detective agency in human form. His eye practically glitters with intelligence. Ask him: what is the square route of 94,312? if you are that sort of foul chap, and he will barely pause for breath before replying. Tax him with the duty of organising an impromptu dinner party for two dozen people, half whom describe themselves as fruitarians and pity any poor apple who has been plucked screaming from the tree before its time, and half whom will only gnaw upon the flesh of beasts, and he will not blink. Inform him that the young master has inadvertently become engaged to a female who believes the stars are God’s daisy chain and he will fetch a shovel to dig the young master out of the compost before even partaking of a bracer. In short: he is a genius.
So it was beyond alarming to me when I realised that Jeeves was not on his usual form. Off his feed. Why, he had allowed me to flaunt my new cheerful sunshine-yellow socks around the house for a matter of three hours before even twitching. The matter was evidently serious. I resolved to solve it immediately. So, when he oiled in later that evening with the routine brandy and s., I plunged in.
“Jeeves!” I said sternly.
It was a bold reply, but I would not be swayed from my purpose. “Jeeves! I mean to say . . . Er.”
I looked at Jeeves firmly. His glittering eye refused to glitter. In fact, it looked positively dull. Where was his verve? His vigour? It was all right for the young master to mope about the house, wishing for excitement, but I relied upon Jeeves to be ready for action at all times, just in case the excitement did by some chance come, and shove me in the soup once more.
“Out with it, Jeeves!”
“You have been neglecting the fish, Jeeves. I can see it in your face. When the fish has been offered to you, you have cast it aside. Confess!”
This stymied me for a moment. “You refuse to confess?”
“No, sir. You misunderstand, sir.”
“Well? Out with it!”
“I merely meant to signal that I have felt no more animosity than usual towards fish of late, sir.”
Well, I mean to say, what? If Jeeves wasn’t swerving the fish, then what was the matter with him? I gave him the eye. “Very good, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Yes, very good, sir— I mean, Jeeves,” I said, and straightened the cuffs with a meaningful look at him. His expression was far away. I had the sudden suspicion that here was a cove with a secret sorrow – and if someone like Jeeves had a secret sorrow, then what hope was there for humanity? “That’ll do, Jeeves,” I added, and he shuffled out with the tray like a chap who didn’t have his heart in the job.
It was enough to chill the Wooster blood. Borscht would have had nothing on me.
Dash it all!
Soon it would call for desperate measures – to whit, consulting my arch nemesis, Tuppy, who appeared to be the only one of my blasted friends who could currently hold a conversation for more than five minutes without waxing lyrical on the nose, and cheekbones, of his beloved. Besides, he had, once, unwisely remarked that my cousin Angela’s hat made her appear like a raccoon peering out from under a flowerpot, and that, though no doubt accurate, had nearly precipitated a breech twain him and his beloved which only Jeeves’ magic had been able to solve. If gratitude wasn’t enough to prompt the blighter to help solve the mystery of Jeeves’ sudden malaise, I could simply threaten to remind Angela of his words. Love conquers all, but possibly not being called a flowerpot-dwelling raccoon, what?
Before I sank quite so low as to ask Tuppy for help, however, I had my last weapon at my disposal: the Psychology of the Individual.
“What ho, Jeeves,” I said, therefore, when he slipped in, rather with the demeanour of primordial ooze – sort of runny and soupy, if you see what I mean – with the young master’s lunch, and I prepared to contemplate very heartily on his psychology.
“Sir,” Jeeves said, doing the business with the tray and so forth.
I fixed him with my eye. Not the eye of an eagle, you understand, but the full Wooster-eye experience. He failed to quail.
“It has come to my attention,” I said meaningfully, “that you are not performing your duties with the usual je ne sais quoi.”
“Do not prevaricate, Jeeves.”
“I know something’s up, Jeeves.”
I bristled. I have commented on Jeeves’ use of the words ‘Indeed, sir’ on more than one occasion. It seems to suggest, without actual words, that what the young master has said is so soft-headed that one might as well break out the toast soldiers and start dipping them in. “Don’t ‘Indeed, sir,’ me, Jeeves!”
I opened my mouth to reply, but Jeeves had already ankled out of the room. Jeeves has the uncanny ability to slip in and out of the room as if he were some species of ninja or secret agent. Usually, I appreciate this talent, particularly when employed in the mornings – which are not, I confess, the young master’s finest hours – but right now his eel-like behaviour seemed beyond the pale. I rang for him.
“Jeeves!” I accused, when he slid back in.
He looked at me, and the dim light in his eye had sweat beading on my brow. “Yes, sir?”
“Nothing, Jeeves,” I replied moodily.
“Very good, sir,” he said and – damn him – eeled out of the room.
I was so flummoxed that I quite forgot I had neglected to apply the Psychology of the Individual until halfway through – ironic, what? – the soup.
I endured it manfully, tearing pieces off my own bread roll and thoughtfully squishing them into balls in preparation for a counter attack. “Explain yourself!” I demanded.
“Consider the psychology of the individual,” Tuppy said.
My jaw dropped. Clearly, Tuppy had been learning from the best. I decided to hang on his every word.
“There is Jeeves. A man so brainy that he could outsmart a policeman in his sleep—”
“I seldom have trouble outsmarting policemen,” I interjected doubtfully, remembering the many times that those villainous gentlemen ‘John Smith of Baker Street’ and ‘Joe Bloggs of Gloucester Road’ had been fined for drunkenness and the pinching of policemen’s helmets.
“Hush, Bertie, I am speaking,” Tuppy continued, a seraphic expression on his face as he lobbed more bread at me. “As I was saying, there is Jeeves. Brainy. Packed with intelligence. And then there is you.” He left off the lobbing and looked at me expectantly, as if he didn’t need to say any more.
I took umbrage at this. “Eh?” I said meaningfully.
Tuppy rolled his eyes. “You’re enough to give anyone a pain, Bertie. With only you for company, day in, day out, is it any wonder Jeeves is feeling a bit off his best?”
I considered this for a moment, then scored a direct bread hit in Tuppy’s eye. Over his shouts of pain, I said, “There may be something in what you say. What would you suggest?”
Tuppy stopped flailing after only a matter of minutes. “I’m sure you’ll think of something to distract him,” he said moodily. “Now, I know there was something I meant to ask you . . .” He fished two ties out of his pocket, both as hideous as the other. “I’m taking Angela out tomorrow, and I was wondering which of these brought out my eyes the best?”
A man can only take so much. I eyed the horrors with distaste and rose from my seat. “Toodle pip, Tuppy, old chum,” I said gratingly, and I hoped it would chafe.
As my brain began to warm up, ready for the day ahead, I found myself contemplating Tuppy’s words. There was, I thought, something in what the blot had said. I have often commented that while B. Wooster may be easy on the eye, he is also easy on the brain. Restful. Like having a bath in warm custard, my Aunt Dahlia once said, when roused. But custard aside, I was willing to admit that the old itinerary had been light on variety of late. No soup. No shenanigans. It had been months since I had seen a girl’s profile I had liked. And as for the aunts, they seemed to have agreed en masse that I was beyond the pale and to be heartily ignored. For a dashed intellectual chap like Jeeves, I reasoned, this could only lead to stagnation. Lowered to the role merely of gentleman’s personal gentleman, rather than supreme fixer, he withered. He declined. Even the appearance of the yellow socks had failed to make him kick.
It was clear what path I had to take. I had to buck him up, to rally his spirits.
‘But how?’ I asked my rubber duck as I wallowed in the bath, allowing myself a manly splish splosh splash or two. The duck remained silent, which was just as well. But, as I lathered up the corpus, I struck upon a happy notion. The Giant Squirt! Perhaps, finally, its time had come . . .
However, the nerve flagged a touch as the clock bonged midnight and I struggled from my bed and into my carpet slippers, ready to do the deed. Clutching the dripping Squirt in one hand, and the Rabbit in the other, I managed – by the means of a species of elbow manoeuvre that would have had the natives roaring their approval – to open my bedroom door and slide into the hall. Once out, and confronted by darkness, the nerve flagged a bit further. Really, you could have found it round about the Wooster knees, if you had cared to check. But with an internal tally-ho, I slid a bit further down the ancestral corridors until I found myself in the vicinity of Jeeves’ sanctum.
It may sound bally odd to you that I had never actually gone inside Jeeves’ bedroom. That is to say, I had been inside the room, of course, it being mine, but since Jeeves had arrived I had rather left him to it. I mean to say, I hardly expected him to be conducting dark satanic rituals within it, what? Nevertheless, the nerve slid down to the slipper region as I lurked outside, sharpening up the plan a bit more.
It was then that I looked down and noticed that the Luminous Rabbit was doing a bang-up job of being luminous, in a green and ghastly manner, and that, although rabbit shaped, it had a curiously demonic tinge to it that added a certain something to the business. I clasped the Squirt firmly – a little too firmly for the good of my shirt – and set to work winding the Rabbit up.
As soon as I set the blighter down, it let out a mournful, piercing squeak that did nothing for the Wooster morale, though it moved like greased lightning down the hall. The noises it made seemed to increase, and I was all for hoofing it for home when the door creaked and the head of Jeeves emerged, blinking into the darkness. I hugged the wall and tried not to breathe. My eyes had adjusted to the gloom, and I found myself curiously paralysed upon beholding Jeeves’ midnight form. It is not often that one beholds a pal in his undergarments and nothing more, but it does not usually leave me moved. To see the stately Jeeves in such a manner, however, had an odd effect upon the Wooster interior. However, never let it be said that a Wooster quails in the face of adversity, and so when Jeeves staggered – underthings and all – down the corridor in search of the Rabbit, I slipped into his room, the Squirt under my arm.
It was the work of a moment to locate Jeeves’ bed – the sheets crumpled and warm – and slip in the Squirt. It was the work of yet one more moment to leap behind the open door when Jeeves ankled back in, closing the door with me on the wrong side of it. I could only hope that the glorious luminosity of the Rabbit had blinded him, so when the Squirt worked its magic I could slip away in the hubbub.
Instead, Jeeves merely paused where he stood.
I tried not to breathe.
Eventually, when it was a close run thing whether I would either be forced into breathing, or expire, Jeeves broke the stalemate. “Mr Wooster, sir,” he said, in dashed odd tones.
“Er, yes, Jeeves?” I replied.
There was another longish silence. It was dark, but not quite dark enough. However, I could see a positive to the situation: Jeeves’ eyes were glittering once more. Whether with rage or not, I could not tell, but at least a rush of blood to the heart would do him good, eh?
“I think I’ll just be shuffling off then, Jeeves,” I said breezily, when I began to suspect that we would stick around playing sleeping lions for the rest of eternity if I followed Jeeves’ lead.
“Very good, sir.”
This struck me as inadequate, but I was not a man to miss my chance, so I hot footed it to the door, and after only half a dozen or so gropes managed to grasp the knob and twist. The door fell open, and a moonbeam or two slid in at the same moment that Bertram slid out. I did not intend to tarry, but in the act of closing the jolly old door behind me, my eye was irresistibly drawn along the line of light to where Jeeves stood.
I had thought myself steeled to the vision of my man in his drawers, but a fresh look revealed that that was not so. I took in the lithe form. The muscled arms. The noble neck. The strong jaw. These were enough to upset the Wooster constitution, but it was the messy hair that made me trip over my carpet slippers, banging the door shut with more force than I intended. It was these reflections that were no doubt to blame for me forgetting I had let loose the Luminous Rabbit upon the world. The ghastly thing was still at large, and as I fled to my room it emitted the most piteous of squeaks, which made me leap like a startled deer and parted me from my slippers entirely. I hit myself in the eye, upon falling, and lay there flailing for a while before I collected myself and fled ignominiously, sans slippers, to my bedroom. In all the commotion, I neglected to discover the effects that the Squirt had had upon Jeeves. But if they were anything like as invigorating as the effects of the Luminous Rabbit on me, I bally well thought my work here was done.
I did not think this a good start, but I soldiered manfully on. “Sleep well?”
This forbidding reply, said in the most freezing of Jeevesian tones, made me shiver like a snowman. An icy dread clutched at my heart. Blast it! The bracing scheme – which had been, I considered, the red hot tabasco – had sprung a leak somewhere. Could it be that rousing Jeeves from his bed at midnight, and subjecting him to Rabbits and Squirts, had not given him the pep to his system that Dr Wooster had ordered?
I peered at Jeeves over my teacup. He seemed chilly, and his expression sour. Good Lord! He reminded me, in short, of an aunt, shortly after I had informed it that the Wooster heart had been won by a species of chorus girl and wedding bells would soon ring out.
It was too early by far for aunts.
“It is by sleep we end the heartache and, oh, dozens and dozens of natural shocks the flesh is prone to, as the poet says, eh, Jeeves?” I said bracingly, in the face of his chilly disapproval. “I find counting sheep works well when the mind fails to turn off. Shakespeare may not have mentioned it, but no doubt it did the trick in his case too, what?”
“Indeed, sir. Though I think you will find his reference to sleep was a metaphor for death,” Jeeves said pointedly. “In fact, Hamlet—”
I shuddered, slopping tea on the bedclothes. “A little breakfast, I think,” I interrupted, “then lay out some raiment suitable for the great outdoors. A walk around the Metrop. is called for.”
“Very good, sir,” he said. And he ankled out in a marked manner.
Well. It was a development. I brooded over my tea, and then I brooded over my bacon and eggs. The existence of a rasher was a simpler one, I mused. But perhaps I was being unfair. The pig had doubtless kicked when asked to sacrifice itself for the Wooster tum. The eggs torn from their mother’s nest as she clucked a song of woe. It was enough to put a stronger man than me off his feed.
After a breakfast that made me feel practically like I had raped and pillaged my way through a farmyard, Jeeves shoved me into an appropriately sober suit and I slid out to wander the town. The day was cold, and it did nothing to invigorate the spirit. The chill wind blew through the Wooster head like a steam train. It cut through the slender torso like a knife. It gnawed at the ankles like a rabid dog. It was not long before I sought refuge in the first available café and peered moodily at the menu.
“What can I getchew?” the waitress, a middle-aged sort with acres of teeth and yards of reddish hair, asked.
I wondered which of the assorted poisons would do the tum the least harm. “A coffee,” I decided upon, “and a slice of your finest sponge.”
“Been in a fight, have yew?” she said, indicating the shiner I had inflicted upon myself the night before, over which Jeeves’ eyes had flickered this ack emma with perhaps the most infinitesimal glimmer of satisfaction.
I drew myself up to my full height. “Coffee,” I repeated with dignity, “and sponge. Thank yew— I mean, you.”
The baggage grinned at me. “Gotchew,” she said mildly, and wandered off.
I sank back into brooding as I slowly defrosted around the edges. When I livened up enough to listen to the general chit chat floating about me – it was coming up to lunchtime and the place was beginning to heave – I began to notice a certain theme to their words.
“—and he was so greased up the blighter slid out of his grasp and only went and bloomin’ won, didn’t he?”
“He wasn’t so perky in the next bout though, was he?” a man in a terrible striped cap replied. “Sid jabbed him right in the gut and over he went. Made a week’s wages out of that,” he added dreamily.
Nods and gasps all round. The chap had drawn a crowd.
“I tell you,” Foul-Cap continued, gesticulating wildly, “this wrestling business is the next big thing. It’ll be bigger than the gee-gees before you know it.”
I perked up a little as I sipped at the bitter brew and slid a few crumbs of the cake – which struck me as dryer than the Sahara – into my jaw. I am a sporting sort, and enjoy a flutter or two when the mood takes me. Usually, Jeeves steers me right, and—
Jeeves! I gnashed my teeth, inadvertently swallowing rather more of the cake than intentional. I wondered if he’d been concealing this new sporting craze from the young master, out of pique. But then I dismissed that unworthy thought. No doubt it was the unholy combination of Squirt and Secret Sorrow that was to blame for his chilly demeanour this a.m. The noble Jeeves would never keep such bounty from the young master.
When I tuned back in, Foul-Cap was still holding forth, though his thunder was rather stolen by a newcomer to the caff, who swore blind that he wrestled every night in the comfort of his own home with any number of opponents, for the sheer joy of the sport and not the filthy lucre.
This interested me strangely.
Back at Eton, I had learned the art of wrestling, and then put it aside, as one puts aside the toys of youth. That is not to say that I had disported myself poorly – the Wooster frame is tall and lightly muscled, and I am willing to leap about and grapple with the best of them. But a particularly festive tussle on a carpeted floor as a teenager had led to such carpet burns upon the poor old bod that I had developed a distaste for the sport.
However, by a strange coincidence that pointed to the hand of Fate being involved in the business, I was currently the reluctant owner of a sprung-floor exercise studio, within the very bosom of the ancestral home. Some many months ago, the Wooster heart had ached, nay throbbed, for a particular Cynthia Jones, a member of the chorus line of a second-rate ballet company. I had gazed upon her profile, as she twizzled and leaped, and been filled with the joys of Spring. The madness had been brief. Just as soon as the builders had left me with the wreck of a comfortable second sitting room, on the good woman’s strong suggestion, I had reflected that while the profile moved me, the front had a certain firmness that boded ill for the future. When my Aunt Agatha had remarked that, if Cynthia had only been a better class of person, she would have been the perfect girl to mould me into a more productive and useful member of society, the scale fell. The veil parted. In short: I realised the terrible peril I was falling into. It was only after some particularly quick thinking from the miracle-worker that is Jeeves that the danger was averted.
This sorry business, however, had left me with a reminder of love’s young dream in the form of the aforementioned exercise room. I had entered it only briefly, when the craze for Swedish exercises had swept through London town. But it had not been long before I had shut the door upon it and its rotten mirrors and let the dust gather. As far as I was concerned, the Swedes could keep their foul contortions. Or they could pass them to some turnips if the mood took them. Either way, Bertram was done.
But now, sitting listening to the salt of the earth gloat about the noble sport of grappling, I was struck by the most marvellous of ideas. This, Bertram, the idea seemed to say to me, spreading its arms wide and beaming, is just the ticket. This is the red-hot tabasco. Cast aside the Rabbits and Squirts as but the follies of youth, and embrace me.
The plan was impressive in its simplicity: I would wrestle with Jeeves, within the exercise room, and under the influence of manly grappling, with his sporting blood up, what could he do but be moved to unburden himself to the y. m.?
I cast aside the remainder of the foul sponge and hastened to my club in search of real sustenance. I needed to be well nourished and prepared for the bout ahead.
Jeeves was still, I feared, in the grip of whatever ailed him. I noticed it most particularly when he quirked his lip at least three-sixteenths of an inch into a clear grimace when I mentioned – just testing the waters – that I had my eye upon a particularly festive set of lime green handkerchiefs. While I don’t get the bally ruler out each time I attempt to impress my mastery of my own wardrobe on Jeeves, this was clearly two-sixteenths more emotional than his usual style, and signalled to me that the Jeevesian mind was being greatly vexed by more than simply my idle chatter.
No matter! Soon, I thought, we would be back to the old status quo. I was in all eagerness for it.
About fifteen minutes after the shop boy had struggled in with my new equipment, I found, to my great pleasure, that Jeeves’ sporting blood was already up. At least, he trickled in to the exercise room with what can only be described as a look of amazement on his dial.
“Good stuff, is it not?” I said triumphantly as I tugged the mat better into position.
“I am speechless, sir.”
I took this as encouraging. “Do you like my new togs, Jeeves?” I asked, indicating the bod. I was dressed in a rather natty pair of knee-length shorts, in deepest maroon, with a fetching pair of matching sports shoes. I had pondered the merits of a matching top, but I felt that that would inhibit the grease. The words I had overheard at the café went ran through my mind once more:
“—and he was so greased up the blighter slid out of his grasp and only went and bloomin’ won, didn’t he?”
Jeeves was, it had to be admitted, several inches taller than me, and a touch broader at the shoulders, so a chap shouldn’t hesitate to take what advantage he can over the situation, eh? I had every confidence that I could slither out of his grasp like the best of them, if it came to it. It was, after all, more than a few years since I had wrestled, and I was under no illusions that my technique would be anything other than rusty.
These thoughts threw me off course, momentarily, because – for no apparent reason the Wooster brain could fathom – I was reminded of the previous night, and of staring at Jeeves’ lithe corpus in the moonlight.
I shivered with something inexplicable, and the moment passed when Jeeves said, his tone unreadable, “I fear there are no words for me to fully express my opinions on your outfit, sir.”
“Nonsense!” I breezed. “There is no need to be so hidebound, old thing. I am hardly going to frolic about in this garb on the streets of the Metrop., eh? This little get-up is solely for your benefit, Jeeves.”
I was privy, now, to the uncomfortable sight of Jeeves visibly swallowing. “Indeed, sir?” he said, a touch shakily.
The nerves quavered, even more so than when, the previous eve, I had lurked about with various Rabbits and Squirts. What the devil was wrong with Jeeves? To as reserved a cove as Jeeves, this swallowing was practically the same as a regular chap gibbering and declaring himself a teapot.
We must move on to the wrestling with all speed, I decided, for only there could the solution be found.
“I have bought you a similar outfit, Jeeves,” I said, indicating the bag where the togs reclined. “You may try it on for size, if you wish.”
“I fear I must decline, sir.”
I felt the old brow wrinkle. “No? Well, shirtsleeves and trousers it is, I suppose, though I am surprised at you, Jeeves. I did not think – no matter.”
“Sir, I think you may be under some misapp—”
“Hush, Jeeves,” I said, not really listening. I was wondering how best to tackle the greasing issue. For although the arms and the front half of the torso seemed simple enough to sort out, the back was going to prove an issue. A contortionist chappie from the circus, one of those ones who seem all India rubber, could have done it. But not I. Soon however, I relaxed – I had forgotten, for one strange moment, that Jeeves was on hand. I passed him over the pot. “Oblige me, would you?”
Jeeves looked at the jar as if he was in the grip of some strange torment.
“A nice thick layer on the old torso should do the trick, eh?” I prompted, when he failed to move.
The line of his shoulders dropped fractionally. “Sir, I really think—”
I presented my back, and the Jeevesian lips stopped flapping.
It was a bit of a rummy experience, truth be told. After unscrewing the lid, Jeeves passed the pot back to me to hold while he did his thing. Rather than simply bunging the stuff on the Wooster bod, he fiddled about, warming it between his hands. And when he started with the slicking, he seemed strangely tentative. In fact—
“I say, that tickles!” I said, trying not to squirm.
“My apologies, sir,” he murmured, in a voice that sounded half-strangled and half as if – surely not? – he was about to break down into fits of laughter.
At least he got into it with a bit more enthusiasm from that point, his hands warm and firm against the Wooster skin. When he massaged the stuff into my shoulders I fear I even let out a species of contented groan, it felt so bally good, and his hands froze for at least half a second before he continued on.
When he moved round to do the Wooster front half, it slipped clear from my mind that there was no earthly reason why I couldn’t do it myself until he was halfway through the job, and by then it would have been rude to ask him to stop.
There was a Bad Moment when his hands on the lower portion of my stomach roused the old baser instincts – even preux chevaliers like myself do have a spot or two of those floating about – but I thought briefly about Aunt Agatha, who does have her uses occasionally, and soon the bod was back firmly under the Wooster control. Jeeves was very carefully not looking at me, it seemed, so I expected he was finding the whole thing far too trying and hadn’t noticed my momentary slip. At least, I hoped so. I expected my experience in these matters was rather broader than my manservant’s. To put it delicately, I had been educated at Eton, you see . . . while Jeeves, on the other hand, had not.
When I was satisfactorily slicked up, Jeeves did up the lid of the jar and wiped his hands on a piece of cotton fabric.
“Well, shall we at it, then?” I said bracingly.
Jeeves went so still and pale that I wondered if he was doing an imitation of a statue. “I beg your pardon, sir?” he said, faintly.
I indicated the mats. “You. Me. The noble sport of wrestling. Best of three, eh? Though you may want to take off your jacket before we begin, as I suggested.” I was uncertain of the effect of the grease on pristine valet uniforms, and I doubted that Jeeves would wish to spy it out.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I really cannot comply,” Jeeves said, a bit more firmly now, clamping his lips together.
“Oh, come now, Jeeves,” I said, eyeing him. “It’ll be fun.”
I gawped at him. “No?”
“No, sir,” he repeated, more firmly this time, a tinge of colour coming back into his cheeks.
“Then why, for the love of all that’s holy, did you let me prepare myself for the match?”
Jeeves cleared his throat. “I presumed that Mr Little was your intended opponent, sir. He is due to dine here this evening.”
“He is? When did we bally well arrange that?”
“He telephoned while you were out at luncheon, sir, and invited himself. I understood from his tones that he has something important to discuss with you, so I acquiesced to his request on your behalf.”
“Jeeves, you are talking nonsense.”
“Complete hogwash, old thing.” I paused for effect. “If Bingo invited himself to sup with me, how on earth was I meant to know that, Jeeves? Telepathy?”
It was clear the man was shaken. “I take your point, sir, and can only apologise. I have not slept well for these past few weeks.”
My conscience smote me. Jeeves had not been sleeping, and I, Bertram Wooster, had only added to his woes by introducing the Giant Squirt into the equin— The equator— No. What word did I want? Some sort of mathematical jobbie. Ah – the equation. “It is no matter, Jeeves,” I said, waving away his protests. “You are sure you do not wish to join me in a spot of wrestling? For I can hardly do it by myself, what? And it seems a shame to waste –” I indicated the greased-up Wooster torso – “all this.”
For some reason, the colour rose a little higher in Jeeves’ cheeks. “No, sir. I really am sorry, sir.”
I sighed. “Oh, very well. You’d better run me a bath, Jeeves.”
“I hesitate to say it . . .” Jeeves started.
“I very much doubt, sir, that your regular soap will do the task justice.”
I glanced down at the oiled bod. “You think not, Jeeves?”
“I’m sorry to say so, sir.”
I sighed again. “I seem to recall reading that in Roman times, chaps washed in oil and it did them no harm.”
“No, sir. But on the other hand, they owned slaves, who would scrape away the oil using sharp instruments known as strigils. The famous satirist Juvenal once said—”
“Save it for the long, dark nights, eh, Jeeves?”
“A strigil, you say. Do we keep one of those handy?”
“I fancy that a butter knife might have the same effect, sir.”
I sighed for practically the third time in as many minutes. “Very well. A little role-play never did anyone any harm, what? Though I doubt the slaves of Ancient Rome had quite as much to say about their master’s ties as you do, eh, Jeeves?”
“Very droll, sir,” Jeeves said, the icy tone back, and I followed him to the salle de bain with more than a few misgivings.
However, I had barely had time to slip my mouth beneath the water and blow a moody bubble or two when my good chum Bingo Little biffed in, causing me to swallow a goodly portion of the bath water in alarm.
“Is there no privacy?” I cried. “Begone, foul fiend!”
Bingo looked hurt. “I say, Bertie, is this the greeting to give an old friend? Recall, I saved your life once.”
“No, you didn’t,” I protested, still gurgling water. “And you nearly drowned me just now, you plague spot!”
“I didn’t?” Bingo said. He rubbed thoughtfully at his chin. “Must have been some other chap. Oh well, scratch that. Recall, old thing, that we were at school together!”
“Well, there’s no denying that,” I said, relaxing back in the bath.
“I say, must you flash your bits at me like that?” Bingo protested.
I thought this a low blow, and half-rose to extract vengeance, before recalling that this might be misconstrued.
“Bung this on, for we have much to discuss,” Bingo said, averting the eyes and flinging a towel and a softish dressing gown in my direction. I sensed the hand of Jeeves in this.
It was the work of a moment to fumble the catch and drop both in the tub, the Wooster frame following closely behind with a mighty splash.
“I say, Bertie, this is not speeding things up,” Bingo protested, but he left in a hurry when I lobbed a sponge at his head.
When I emerged into my bedroom, Bingo was standing by my wardrobe, rifling through it. “Jeeves laid out your clothes,” he said over his shoulder. “What happened to your white mess jacket? You know, the one with the brass buttons. I was hoping to borrow it.”
I dressed with dignity. “It has gone to a better place, or so Jeeves told me.”
“Hmmm,” Bingo said. “Susan says . . .”
I tuned him out. If Bingo has a flaw, it is that he tends to fall in love with irritating regularity. His changeover period is about two weeks, though he would chafe to hear it so described. The current object of his adoration, a waitress with a pert nose and a pert expression, had met me once, only to pronounce that she was ‘sure I couldn’t be blamed for being a member of the idle rich, only, wouldn’t I prefer to do something with my life?’ Given that Bingo, her inamorato, wasn’t exactly starving in the gutter, nor shifting himself for the good of anyone other than Bingo Little himself, this had struck me as a touch unfair.
“—are you even listening to me, Bertie?”
“Ah! Yes, of course,” I prevaricated. “So how can I help you, old thing?”
Bingo frowned. “You wouldn’t have to help me, if Jeeves hadn’t given me the bird.”
“I knew you weren’t listening, you pest! Is this any way to treat an old friend? Consider, Bertie, that—”
“Yes, yes,” I interrupted. “But what was that about Jeeves?”
Bingo flopped on the edge of my bed. “When I said I wished to dine here, what I actually meant was that I wanted to see Jeeves.”
“I see,” I said coldly, flicking a bit of invisible dust off the cuffs.
“I say, don’t be like that, Bertie. I would have put the posish to you, but I thought that since Jeeves has such a mighty brain I would simply cut the corners and put the thing to him direct.”
I could see the wisdom in this approach. “Very well,” I said. “Continue.”
“Well, that’s just it. I put my problem to him, and he said he very much feared he was unable to help.”
The eyes bulged a bit; I could feel them straining in the Wooster head. “Unable? To help?”
Bingo nodded solemnly. “Those very words.”
“Good God, Bingo, this thing is worse than I thought.”
“This thing with Jeeves!”
I realised we weren’t going to get very far chatting like this. “Jeeves,” I said, “has something on his mind that he won’t tell me.”
“Well, you must winkle it out of him!” Bingo said indignantly. “Honestly, Bertie, what are you wasting time talking to me for?”
“You think I should press the issue?” I asked doubtfully. With the poor success of my latest scheme, I was beginning to wonder if my efforts were doing more harm than good.
“Of course!” Bingo said, sounding shocked. He rose from the bed. “I will say goodbye, Bertie, and good luck. When Jeeves is back to his usual self, ring me, won’t you?”
“So I can get his help with my problem, of course! Toodle-oo!”
When I opened the door, for a moment I froze in the doorway, unsure whether to enter or slip away unnoticed. For Jeeves was there, but not cooking. Instead, he sat at the kitchen table, elbows on the wooden surface, his head in his hands. He was the very picture of despair, what I could see of the side of his face drawn and tired.
I had just decided that there was no cowardice in flight when he looked up and saw me there. For another long, frozen moment we stared at one another, our expressions mirroring each other’s horror. I had never seen such raw, naked emotion in his face before, and it made me feel curiously shaky. It wasn’t that I regarded Jeeves as part of the furniture, not in the least, but he now seemed about a hundred and ten times more human. I wet my lips nervously, and this seemed to act rather like a red hot poker upon his backside, for he leapt up and stood to valet-like attention, though his eyes slid from my face to focus on my shirt buttons as though he were an adventuring chappie who was lost in the desert and had just spotted an oasis.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, his voice strangely un-Jeeves-like, still addressing the buttons in preference to Bertram. “How can I be of assistance?”
“Good Lord, Jeeves,” I said, blinking and trying to get a handle on the situation. “If ever a cove looked like he needed a drink more than you . . .” I went for the cabinet.
“Really, sir!” Jeeves protested, leaping forward and all but snatching the goods from me. “That is not your job.”
“Tosh,” I said, wrenching the glasses back. “If you are worrying that I will make a mess of it, then ease your black heart, Jeeves. I have poured myself enough brandy and sodas to feel quite confident in my abilities. Sit back down, will you?”
Jeeves did as asked, though with bad grace. I expected his sense of propriety was wounded, it being unusual for him to sit while the y. m. was on his pins. It was astounding though, I thought as I splashed liquid into glasses – emphasising the brandy over the s. I had not previously thought it possible that Jeeves could have bad grace, despite the fact he had a very severe way with the sugar tongs if I had done something to annoy him.
He knocked back the drink as if it were water, and I refilled it without comment.
After a further gulp, he sighed. “Really, sir, this is quite unnecessary. If you will go back to your guest, dinner will be served at eight.”
“My guest?” The Wooster brain caught up. “Oh, no, Jeeves, Bingo has biffed off in a huff. I hear you refused to help him with his little trouble, eh?”
Jeeves let out a quiet breath. “My apologies, sir, but I did not feel up to the task.”
I took a pensive swallow of my own drink and seated the Wooster behind on the chair next to Jeeves’. We must have made a pretty picture, both staring fixedly at the wall and the cabinets upon it. “Won’t you tell me about it, Jeeves?” I asked.
“About Mr Little, sir?” he said flatly.
“Sod Mr Little,” I said firmly. “About what’s got you all worked up. Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you are not your usual self at the moment, Jeeves. I have tried to perk you up –” I noted his shudder but let it go – “but my efforts have been in vain, it seems.”
There was silence between us, thick and velvety.
I sighed. “I had hoped we were friends, Jeeves.”
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Jeeves’ hands tighten around his glass. “We are, sir.”
“But you will not talk to me?”
A further silence.
“I would very much like to help you,” I went on, “as you have so often helped me.” But as that was also met with no response, I rose with a sigh. “Never mind, Jeeves. I know this is none of my business. I am sorry to have pressed you.”
To my surprise, Jeeves reached out and wrapped a hand around my wrist, drawing me back. After a heartbeat, he turned to me, and his expression was surprisingly young and vulnerable. He barely seemed to be Jeeves at all, but instead some young chap with a grave expression and pain his eyes, wearing Jeeves’ uniform. It was dashed odd.
“I have been feeling . . .” he started. Then he jerked, and let go of my wrist faster than, as they say in those thrilling detective books, a speeding bullet. “Old,” he finished. I had the strangest feeling that while that was decidedly the end of a sentence, it was not the end of the sentence he had started.
“Old?” I repeated dumbly. “Why? How old are you?”
“I just turned thirty, sir. It is having a peculiar effect on my constitution.”
“Good God!” You could have knocked me down with a feather. “But that’s only a handful of years older than me!” This didn’t appear to please him, so I added, “In terms of wisdom, Jeeves, I have become accustomed to thinking of you rather like an old man with a lengthy beard, so pardon my surprise. Thirty!”
“I am well aware of that, sir,” Jeeves said waspishly. “Nevertheless, I am thirty, and . . . and . . .”
I frowned. I had never known him lost for words before. “And what?”
Jeeves’ mouth went tight. “I would rather not say, sir.”
“Have another drink,” I said, to break the tension, and got up to do the business. “But I will say, Jeeves,” I added while I poured and stirred, “speaking as someone who often finds himself in the soup, that a problem shared is a problem halved, what?” I pondered on this trite remark I had just made. “Though in my case,” I amended, “a problem shared with you, Jeeves, rarely remains a problem for long.”
I slid him the drink. “I am not a great brain like you,” I said thoughtfully, seating myself back down beside him, “but my heart is in the right place, what?”
His mouth went, if anything, even tighter, and I thought for a moment that I’d made a bloomer. But then he said, addressing the wall, “It is as you say, sir. However . . .” He faltered again, in a most un-Jeeves-like manner. “If I confide in you, sir, will you promise to never raise it again?”
“You have the Wooster word,” I said.
He took a long swallow of his drink, then appeared to come to a decision. “I have certain feelings for a young person of my acquaintance,” he said flatly.
“Oh, jolly good,” I said, thinking no such thing.
He shot me an unreadable look. “But it is beyond the bounds of belief that my feelings are returned, and it would be highly inadvisable for me to speak. Indeed, this birthday has further impressed upon me the injudicious nature of such a course. It is folly to continue to hope, and so I shall not.”
The Wooster lips wobbled, and only partly in sympathy for the chap. I had harboured selfish hopes, you see, that Jeeves would stick by my side like glue, rather than running off to breed and so forth. But my middle name has always been self-sacrifice. Well, it is Wilberforce, in point of fact, but you see what I mean.
“Oh, I say, hard luck, old thing,” I said bracingly, reaching over to give his shoulder a comforting squeeze. “But surely no need to shelve those hopes, eh, despite the grand old age?”
His lips pinched together until they were quite white, and he frowned into his half-full glass.
I expanded on my theme. “Beats me how any woman could refuse you, Jeeves. Why, you’d think they’d be falling over themselves to land such a catch. In fact,” I added, trying to sound upbeat rather than gloomy, “I expect to hear wedding bells within the year, what?”
“I fear you are wrong,” he said, so low I could barely hear him. “But thank you, sir. I appreciate your good opinion.” He appeared to pull himself together. “I shall begin dinner now, sir. Will you take another drink in the sitting room?”
“Oh, yes, why not,” I said distractedly. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to help, Jeeves? I could bung a word in this female’s ear, if you think that would help.”
“No, sir,” Jeeves said. “I will be with you in a moment.”
“Oh, quite, quite,” I said, allowing myself to be swept out of the room.
Once alone, I brooded quite a bit on the business. I didn’t like to see Jeeves in this sorry way, brought so low by a goddess with a heart of ice. But what could I do to help? I couldn’t deny that, selfishly, I hoped she would continue cold, so that Jeeves would remain by my side. But there was also no denying that my heart bled for him, and I would have done anything I could to salve his wounds.
I was becoming as soppy as a girl, what? Madeleine Basset, that fervent believer in fairies, would have been proud of me.
This was all, I decided after ten minutes, too much for my feeble brain to take. So, after a dashed awkward dinner, where Jeeves and I both pretended we hadn’t had our little tête-à-tête, I grabbed my hat and whangee and popped off in search of good advice.
Once I arrived at the Drones, however, I found myself pausing before speaking. While Jeeves had not specified that what he had told me was a secret, as such, I wished to keep his confidence. If it had been Catsmeat, or Bingo, who’d told me of his unrequited pash, it would have been a different story – these being coves who switched their allegiances as often as they switched their hats. But Jeeves struck me as the loyal, silent type, and I flinched from inadvertently spreading gossip about the honest chap.
On the other hand, I knew what my chums were like. If I attempted a little subterfuge and pronounced that it was I, Bertie, who loved without hope, I would no doubt find myself once more engaged to Honoria Glossop before I could blink, and with Jeeves off his form that was a danger too great to be risked.
So I resigned myself to an evening of tossing bread rolls about and playing golf with hard-boiled eggs between the chair legs, and a jolly time was had. But I couldn’t stop my thoughts from straying to Jeeves, from time to time, and I hoped very much that he was out at his own club, the Junior Ganymede, seeking comfort from his chums, rather than back at the kitchen table, his head in his hands.
So, when Jeeves next entered the room, to inform me he was off to run an errand or two, if I didn’t require him, I broached the subject. “I say, Jeeves, what’s your name?”
He looked at me in a rather pained way, as if I needed a doctor. “Jeeves, sir.”
I waved that facetious reply away. “Your first name, I mean.”
I waited, while a range of emotions flitted across Jeeves’ face. It was quite mesmerising; it was as if now he had started showing emotion, he could no longer quite contain it. Dashed peculiar.
Finally, he said, “Reginald, sir.”
I blinked. “Reginald?” I repeated.
His lips quirked, very slightly. “I am afraid so, sir.”
I pondered this. “Well, these things are sent to try us, what?”
He inclined his head, his lips quirking further into something that, for Jeeves, was a full blown smile.
“What do your friends call you then?”
“Reggie, sir. Or Reg.”
“Oh, surely only Reg if they wish to annoy you, what?” I burst out. Then: “I mean to say, I hope you aren’t offended, old thing. Perhaps it is your dearest wish that people call you Reg.”
He really was smiling now. It was quite a sight – it warmed me right through. “As you say, sir,” he murmured, and exited the room.
Reginald! It would be, I reflected, a long while before I could wrap the bean around that little fact.
Besides, quite apart from the air of the calm after the storm that lingered in the hallways, I had new troubles to worry about: my Aunt Agatha was up to something. I contrived to be out the first three times she telephoned. When she sent an irate telegram, I cunningly sent back the following:
LADY GREGSON STOP WOOSTER NOT KNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS STOP SUGGEST TRYING NEW YORK STOP
Then, when the aged relative turned up at the door, Jeeves spoke loudly enough while welcoming her that I was able to shoot behind the sofa and conceal myself there until she went away again. I admit the old legs did go a bit dead, and it was unnerving to hear her expound on my shortcomings to Jeeves when half an hour had passed and I had not ‘returned’, but I heard enough to satisfy myself that I had taken the correct course of action.
“As we were discussing only earlier this week, Jeeves,” I said as he applied himself to prizing the y. m. out from behind the furniture, where I had begun to feel that I would henceforth be a permanent fixture, “it is a rummy thing to consider an old friend from a new perspective.”
Jeeves didn’t speak; he was too busy hauling.
“I have sat upon this sofa any number of times, but I had never considered the view from behind it.”
“Did you draw any conclusions, sir?” Jeeves said politely as I plumped my backside firmly upon it with a happy sigh of relief.
“Yes, Jeeves. I concluded that the only thing that could tempt me to take up such a position again would be the sudden entry of my aunt.”
And it was true. Aunt Agatha – Lady Spencer Gregson to her pals – was the sort of woman who was wont to slurp on the blood of nephews as a refreshing cocktail, before setting the hounds on him with a hearty ‘tally-ho!’
“Then let us hope she does not remain in London for much longer, sir,” Jeeves said.
I started, a fearful premonition gripping the corpus with its claws. “You think she will?”
“Her persistence does suggest she has something important to say to you, sir.”
I considered this. “What you say is true, Jeeves,” I said glumly. “Oh well. Constant vigilance, what?”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said, and floated out to leave me pondering on my doom.
I was happy, therefore, to be distracted from my nervous thoughts by my chum Bingo, who collared me at the Drones that evening with a shifty look and drew me aside.
“Drink?” he asked, his eyes darting back and forth as if he were a hound after the fox. The thought reminded me of aunts, and I shuddered.
“Please,” I said, and he beckoned to a waiter, who shot off to fetch the necessaries.
Once the whisky was lighting a warm path down my insides, Bingo spoke again.
“I say, old thing,” he started, then stopped and began again. “Recall that we were at schoo—”
I thought I knew how this one ended. “What can I do for you?” I interrupted.
He beamed. “That’s the spirit! That’s the Bertie I know and love! I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
I began to wonder if I had spoken a spot too eagerly, but there was no stopping him.
“It’s just a teeny favour. So small you’ll barely notice it. But it’ll make all the difference. So won’t you, Bertie?”
The noggin reeled a bit. “Happy to,” I said, “Count me as ready to spring into action on your behalf, and all that. But what exactly is it you require?”
“Oh, if you could just pop along to the boating lake in town tomorrow – about half past four would be ideal – and lurk about on the water, what?”
“What?” I replied.
“Yes, what?” he mystifyingly repeated.
“No, I mean, what?” I clarified.
“I don’t understand, old thing,” he said breezily. “But I’m afraid I must dash now; Susan is expecting me, you see. But you won’t forget tomorrow, will you? Half four? Boating lake? Pip pip!”
And with those unhelpful remarks he shot off, leaving me staring in bemusement at his retreating back.
“Boating, sir? In late November?” he asked. He said it politely, but I sensed that beneath the Jeevesian calm waters sharks biffed about.
I didn’t want him thinking that the young master had gone completely off his rocker, so I explained all.
Jeeves failed to look convinced. “Perhaps if I were to ring Mr Little, sir,” he suggested, “I could suggest to him an alternative scheme?”
Light dawned. “You mean you think this is connected with the problem he brought to you some little while ago?”
“I am afraid so, sir.”
I pondered on this. “Very well. Get Bingo on the instrument.”
Jeeves shimmied off. But, all too soon, he shimmied back. “I fear that Mr Little is not at home, sir.”
“Blast,” I said. I considered my options. “Oh well, Jeeves. We’d better follow his plan, as arranged. Perhaps you could lay in some tankards of tea, and a hundredweight of ham sandwiches, and so forth, to ease our waiting?”
“Our waiting, sir?” Jeeves said blandly.
I narrowed my eyes. “You aren’t expecting the young master to hang about on the water by himself, are you, Jeeves?” I shuddered. “Who knows what could befall me. No, Jeeves, there is no wriggling out of this one.”
“Very good, sir,” Jeeves said in his soupiest of tones and oiled out, leaving me once more contemplating my fate. If it wasn’t one thing it was the other. That is to say, in a battle between the hell hound Aunt Agatha and the kraken that no doubt lurked in the boating lake, ready to pull down unwary Woosters, who could say who’d win, eh?
It did cross my mind, however, that although the Wooster clan had come over with the Conqueror, if that conquering chap had been greeted off the boat by Aunt Agatha he would undoubtedly have shot back sharpish.
So Bingo and midwinter boating it was, blast it. At least, I reasoned with myself, there was little chance of me becoming inadvertently engaged whilst on the lake, unless the Aunt Who Must Not Be Named rose from the briny depths, dragging a female in her wake, what?
“Speak away, old thing,” I said, hoping he wouldn’t try too hard to talk me out of the boating business. I had no real desire to chill the Wooster bones on a body of water, but my word is my deed. Or possibly my bond. Either way, there was no bally escaping it.
“I regret to say that I have a bad feeling about this adventure, sir. Are you sure it is wise? I could make another attempt to telephone Mr Little if you wished.”
I heaved a gusty sigh. “I confess I am not rolling in the aisles at the thought of it, Jeeves, but I promised Bingo. I can’t go back on my word, can I?”
Jeeves inclined his head. “I quite understand, sir. Shall we?” He indicated the door, and I slunk out of the flat, leaving him to lock up.
The journey to the boating lake was not a jolly one. A light drizzle was falling, so I had to drive with care, and all in all I felt a little as if I was motoring to my own funeral rather than to take a little trip in the fresh air.
When I arrived at the appointed spot, I parked up and sat there for a mo. “Well, here we are,” I said without much enthusiasm.
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said in his usual way. I found that this time I didn’t have the heart to kick, so closely did his tone mirror the feeling in my own internal organs.
“Well, tally-ho, what?” I said, and slid out of the car.
Jeeves did likewise, hefting up the large hamper from the boot while I went in search of the boat-wallah. The chap expressed some surprise that I wished to hire a boat, and it took some little time before I convinced him that I was serious.
“It’s a bit wet, mate!” he said cheerily as he handed me into a small wooden rowing boat. “The seat of your trousers ain’t half gonna get soaked.”
I sat miserably, his prophecy immediately coming true, and I was soon joined by Jeeves, who had had the wisdom, I saw, to bring a waterproof jacket, which he placed beneath him.
“Shall I row, or . . .?” I said bracingly. The drizzle had turned into a miserable rain, and the Wooster head was already feeling a touch chilly, the water soaking through my hat and dripping down my ears.
Jeeves picked up the oars without comment and, with a few hard pulls, manoeuvred the little vessel with ease further out into the middle of the lake.
I looked about with distaste. The scene was far too full of nature for my tastes. A weeping willow swept the water by a picturesque wooden bridge. A gaggle of ducks quacked by. Trees were dropping their leaves everywhere, with no regard for the unfortunate groundsmen who would have to sweep them up. The water itself was calm, though the rain drops stirred it up in a manner that would have charmed me if I had been inside, regarding the scene, say, on the lid of a box of chocs.
“It reminds me, sir, of—” Jeeves began.
“No, Jeeves,” I interrupted, the water rivuleting down my face. Jeeves’ was almost dry, I noticed, under a waxed hat that had apparently appeared from nowhere. “It does not.”
“Just as you say, sir.”
“In fact, whatever you were about to say, this is the bally opposite,” I said, warming to my theme. “There is nothing poetic about this at all. None.”
“I hear what you say, sir.”
I looked at him suspiciously. There was a note of laughter in his voice that chafed. “I don’t suppose you packed a spare sou’wester for the young master, eh?”
“I apologise, sir,” he said, all contrition. “I had thought you would take care of yourself in that regard.”
“Of course,” I said sourly. I pulled out my pocket watch, hoping the water wouldn’t do its insides too much harm. “Only fifteen minutes till Bingo’s scheme unfolds, eh?”
“Yes, sir,” Jeeves said coolly. Then he unbent a little. “Perhaps a mug of tea?”
“Oh crikey, yes, please,” I said eagerly. “Might slow down the meta— What is the bally word I want, Jeeves?”
I frowned. “No, some other bird.”
“That’s the bunny! Might slow down the metamorphosis from man to ice cube, eh, Jeeves?”
It was Jeeves’ turn to frown. He rummaged in the hamper. “By some happy chance, sir, I do seem to have an extra waterproof after all,” he said, and handed it to me, followed in short order by a mug of tea.
I was too happy to get my mitts on the steaming brew to hold a grudge. I slurped it down, with only minor injury to the inside of my mouth, and held out the mug for him to refill from the thermos.
“Well,” I said, when I felt less like an ice sculpture and more like Bertie, “what shall we chat about?”
Jeeves blew on his own mug of tea. “Sir?”
I waved a hand. “May as well pass the time fruitfully while we wait for our doom, eh?”
“If you would like a sandwich, sir, I have—”
“No, no. Perhaps after the ordeal. It may be dangerous to face it on a full stomach.”
“Just as you say, sir.”
I looked over at Jeeves, who sat ramrod straight, the model of propriety. Well, apart from the hat. No hat like that would have been permitted in a drawing room this side of the Atlantic.
“Any progress on that matter we discussed?” I said without thinking.
Jeeves flinched, and a drop of tea splashed on to his now rain-damp trousers.
“Oh, I say, sorry, old thing. We agreed not to mention it, didn’t we?”
Jeeves let out a small breath that would have been a gusty sigh in any other cove. “You are kind to ask, sir, but please, I would rather not—”
I waved him to silence. “Of course, of course. Consider my lips sealed.” I tapped the fingers of one hand on my thigh. It was tedious in the extreme, sitting in a boat while the rain fell in torrents upon one’s head. I would rather have been practically anywhere else.
“I expect your previous employers never made you go on jaunts like this, what?” I said gloomily.
“There is something in what you say, sir,” Jeeves said politely. But then, to my surprise, he added: “However, I have no objection.”
I gaped. “You don’t?” I asked, a little doubtfully.
“But you objected!”
Jeeves took a small sip of tea. “Not to the expedition, sir, but to the trouble that this will undoubtedly land you in.”
I pondered on this. “Next time, Jeeves, perhaps you could put your point across a bit more forcefully, eh? I confess I have had brighter times.”
“But, sir, recall that you gave your word to Mr Little. You are a kind-hearted gentleman, and I cannot see how I would have been able to persuade you out of this course of action.”
I blushed a bit. “You make me sound like a bally saint, Jeeves.”
Jeeves’ lips twitched. “Recall also, sir, that in my youth I was a servant in a girls’ school. Compared to the young ladies there, you are extremely restful to work for.”
I couldn’t stop myself from grinning at that. “I expect I was a bit of a terror in my younger days too!”
“Not as terrifying as the young ladies, sir,” Jeeves said with equanimity.
I stared a bit at him, sipping tea in the rain, which now brought to mind a waterfall rather than a refreshing shower. He was almost as soaked as I was now, despite the hat, and his clothes clung to his skin, his white shirt going transparent and his trousers plastered to his thighs, revealing the lines of his undergarments. I was just wondering why I was thinking such bally peculiar things when a wail and a splash rent the air, and I flailed like a fish caught on a hook.
“Sir!” Jeeves snapped, catching at me. “You will overturn the boat!”
I calmed a little, then uncalmed upon seeing in the distance a figure twisting and yelping as they half-sunk into the lake.
“By Jove!” I said, flinging off the waterproof and my suit jacket in one big move, and loosening my tie.
“Sir, I can row us ov—” came Jeeves’ voice, in urgent tones, but I wasn’t listening. I dove into the water.
I hit it with a great splash that nearly knocked the air out of my lungs. It was icy cold, and for a moment I thought I had committed a schoolboy error and would drown before I even reached the unfortunate who’d fallen in – for fall in, from the small bridge that crossed the lake, they clearly had.
However, in a few ticks, the Wooster courage reasserted itself, and I began to splash over to her. I could see it was a female now – and hear her too, shrieking until she was blue in the face. Though that could have been the cold water, what?
When I reached her, she clung to me with such ferocity that I feared she would pull us both under to a watery grave. Happily, by this point, Jeeves had rowed over, and between us – with him heaving and me ho-ing – we managed to get her out of the water and into the boat. As Jeeves wrapped her, still wailing, in a towel, I hauled myself over the side and flopped down in the bottom of the boat. The rain, if anything, got heavier.
Jeeves attempted to hand me a towel as well, but the young woman blocked his way, flinging herself into my arms and rocking the boat like billy-o. “Oh Mr Wooster!” she moaned. “Mr W-w-w-wooster!”
I patted her shoulder, wondering how in the blazes she knew my name.
“Mr Little t-t-told me how h-h-heroic you were, but n-n-now I see w-what h-he meant!”
I continued patting, but my heart was clutched by an icy hand. And if I tell you that the Wooster insides were already pretty damn chilly, I think you will comprehend just how icy this clutching hand was.
“Y-you s-s-saved my life, Mr W-w-wooster! However c-can I t-t-thank you? Lady S-spencer Gregson will be s-s-so grateful!” She burst into tears. “I can’t think what happened!” she wailed through her tears. “O-o-one minute Mr Little was there, and t-t-the next he w-wasn’t! I think s-s-someone p-p-pushed me in!”
I was not so ungentlemanly as to stop patting, but at this point the bally heart had all but stopped. Bingo pushing females into ponds? Aunt-Agatha-approved females? It didn’t bear thinking about. There was some plot here, and whatever it was, it had not been designed with the health and happiness of Bertram Wooster in mind.
“Oh, I say, surely not,” I said firmly, but she carried on spluttering, and it was clear to me that the more she thought about it, the more firmly she was casting Bingo in the role of Chief Villain and yours truly as Valiant Knight.
Some half a dozen aeons later, Jeeves coughed faintly, managing to sling a towel around my shoulders and detach the beazel from my arms. We were, it seemed, back at shore.
Together, Jeeves and I managed to extract the female from the boat, and Jeeves followed it up with the basket. I thought dark thoughts as I tied the boat up and shivered my way to the car.
“I say, Jeeves, what now?” I said as I surveyed its two seats. “Will you fit in the picnic basket?”
“I will speak with the boatman and utilise his telephone, sir. To call Lady Gregson,” he added when my dial registered nothing but the confusion I felt.
“Must you?” I said plaintively.
Jeeves subtly indicated the young woman who was sobbing in my car, dampening the upholstery. “Lady Gregson will know what best to do,” he said.
“I see,” I said, gloom coming upon me. “Fainting females or Aunt Agatha, eh?”
“It is indeed Hobson’s choice,” Jeeves said, a small amount of sympathy oozing out.
I sighed. “Very well, Jeeves. Telephone the Aunt. You will find me at the flat. Call yourself a taxi, on me.”
“Thank you, sir,” Jeeves said and oiled off through the rain, leaving me to sooth and comfort the unknown female as best a cove like myself could.
Instead of planting a smacker on the young master, however, Jeeves slipped out, leaving me to my doom. It was politic of him, of course – the aunt often remarking that I was too under the thumb, and making black threats about removing Jeeves from my employ at the first possible opportunity. It would not have been wise to offer her further ammunition. However, as Lady Penelope gushed at me, and the aunt praised me in a way that sent shivers down my spine, I could only hope that Jeeves was listening at the keyhole, ready to rally round the instant they left.
My hopes of wise advice were dashed, however, when Aunt Agatha, in a tone that would brook no argument, merely sent me to dress for dinner, preparatory to dragging me out to dine with her and her new protégée. My spirit was too low for conversation other than a desultory, “I say, Jeeves, this is a bit thick,” and his telling reply: “Indeed, sir.”
Over dinner, I learned many things which disturbed me greatly. If I could have, I would have taken notes, the better for Jeeves to assist me upon my return to the flat. This Lady Penelope, a wealthy orphan, it seemed, had had an understanding with Bingo for some months now, and had travelled down to London to bring things to a satisfactory head, my aunt – in her capacity as head busybody amongst the upper classes – acting as chaperone.
How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is, to have a thankless Bingo, I couldn’t help but think as Lady Penelope smiled shyly at me and the aunt boosted me in an oily, unforgivable way. It was quite clear to me what had happened: Bingo, now in love with the sharp Susan, had decided the best way to get shot of his almost-fiancée was to shove her off on me. And what had a girl’s heart fluttering more than being rescued from a watery grave? It was a plan so cunning that I wondered I hadn’t thought of it myself. Except, of course, now I appeared to be the object of the blasted girl’s attentions.
I felt no animosity towards the girl herself, you understand. She struck me as a pleasant thing, and now she was no longer drowning she seemed quite the sensible sort. I could see, if I squinted, why Bingo had once fallen for her. But the fact remained that I had no desire to marry her – and I felt pretty sure that once she got to know the real Bertram, she would kick at the idea of marrying me too. This pair of facts would cut no ice with an aunt who breakfasted on the ground-up bones of nephews who displeased her, however, and who undoubtedly shunned beds to hang, upside down, from the rafters. I steeled myself; one slip and I would find myself writing out wedding invitations and selecting china with my blushing bride to be.
I was so busy thinking of a way out of the trap that was closing about me that I failed to listen to the aunt; always a mistake. So when she boomed at me, “That will be acceptable to you, won’t it, Bertram?” I found myself starting like a hare on the sound of the hunting horn and nodding in agreement.
“Quite, quite,” I said.
“Excellent, my boy,” the aunt said, grinning in a way that revealed she had at least eight hundred teeth, all ready to chew on a nephew who failed to fall in with her plans.
It was only later, when she bid me goodnight, and impressed upon me the necessity of not being late, that I realised I had signed up for a full day of entertaining Penelope – lunch, frolicking, dinner and a show. All in the company of Aunt Agatha. It didn’t bear thinking about.
“I shall see you tomorrow, Bertram,” the aunt said, and she leaned in to jab me hard in the ribs.
“Oof!” I said, for what else was there to say?
“Do not dare to bring Jeeves,” she added darkly, and shot me such an auntly look that I trembled in my shoes and agreed, before thinking it through.
I mean to say, ghastly, what? I slipped back to my flat like a ghost, shaken to the core – to find that Jeeves was in absentia, it being his evening off. I had rather hoped that he would have rallied round to comfort the young master, but there it was. I sloped off to bed, my heart heavy, to dream of sharks grinning at me with teeth all too like a certain aunt’s.
“Halloo, old thing!” he said cheerfully. “Topping day, what?”
“Don’t you halloo me!” I said.
“No?” He sounded hurt.
“Why, Bertie, you sound pipped! Surely you aren’t pipped?”
I gnashed the Wooster teeth. “What do you mean by sending me off to fish in lakes for hapless females!”
“Oh, that!” Bingo said blithely.
“Surely you aren’t sore about that?”
The cheek of the man astounded me.
“You did say you’d do everything you can to help,” Bingo said, sounding more hurt by the minute.
I opened and shut my mouth.
“She’s a lovely girl,” Bingo said. “I’m sure you’ll both be very happy. But must dash; I’m seeing Susan for lunch, and I need to visit the barber’s first to make sure I’m looking my best.” He hung up.
“Shame upon you,” I said, very coldly, to the receiver, and put it down. That had told him. But then the doorbell rang, and I leapt out of my skin, before remembering – oh yes, it was my doom calling, right on schedule.
It was too, too beastly for words.
And all the time, the evil aunt biffed about in the background, rubbing her hands together and cackling.
“I hope,” she said pointedly to me at the end of another evening, after taking me aside, “that tomorrow you will do the decent thing.”
A clammy chill came over me. I loosened my tie.
“Bertram!” the aunt said, fixing me with her eye. “You will do it, will you not?”
“I . . . gosh, I mean to say . . .”
“Do it, you spineless wretch, or feel my displeasure!” she proclaimed in a stage-whisper, before sweeping Penny and herself back to the Ritz, where she had installed them both for the duration.
When I re-entered the flat, I was hoping for a little comfort – and a lot of brains – from my good man. It was time, I decided, for him to rally round and fish the young master out of the soup. I was so deep in it this time, I thought, that it was over my eyebrows and threatening my hat. However, the place was in darkness, and it was left to me to grope about in the hall, knocking over sticks and a small occasional table before I came upon the light switch.
“I say, Jeeves!” I called, divesting self of hat and coat.
Reply came there none.
It was bally peculiar. Even if Jeeves had left for the evening, he would have left a light burning to guide the y. m. home.
I wandered about for a bit, feeling uncertain what to do. A variety of things flitted through my mind. Had he gone out for the evening? I could call his club and check. I was just reaching for the telephone when it dawned on me that it wouldn’t do his reputation much good amongst his peers if it were heard that his employer had had to chase up his whereabouts.
Was he injured? A sick feeling made itself known in the middle regions. But if he had injured himself in the flat, he’d gone about the business very quietly and discreetly. His wounded corpus was not in evidence in all the obvious spots.
The sickness morphed into an icy dread. Had . . . had he left my employ?
I stood stock still in the kitchen for a goodish length of time, caught in fear’s foul grip, before I pulled myself together. There was one way to discover the truth of the situation: go to his room and find out for myself.
My steps felt heavy as I loafed towards his bedroom, ready to intrude for the second time in as many weeks. Once outside, I rapped smartly on the door.
“I say, Jeeves?” I called quietly, finding out how hard it is to raise your voice when the place is deathly quiet.
I grasped my courage and the door handle and pushed.
The door opened to reveal Jeeves stretched full out on his bed, the lights on, blinking at me in a supremely confused fashion. It seemed I had roused him from a deep slumber, but I thought it best to double-check.
“I say, sorry to intrude, old thing,” I said, “but you’re not fearfully injured, are you?”
Jeeves was a strange sight, to be sure. He had removed his jacket and shoes, but was otherwise in full uniform – his shirtsleeves pushed roughly up to elbow-level. His dark hair was ruffled, as if he’d been tossing and turning in his sleep. A sleep, by the looks of it, that he had not intended. I recalled that he had mentioned recent insomnia; it appeared as if Morpheus had finally dinged him over the head with a frying pan.
Jeeves rubbed a hand over his face, and then – as if something terrible had dawned on him – he looked towards his dresser.
My eyes followed the direction of his, without volition. I mean to say, I didn’t wish to pry, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself, what? I didn’t see what had so frightened him, though. It was a perfectly normal dresser, with the usual collection of photos of frightful birds that one has the misfortune to be related to. And – oh! – a photo of the young master, grinning out cheerfully from a silver frame.
I blinked, caught off-guard. Rummy, that was the word for it. Did Jeeves really feel the need to gaze at the y. m. after hours? Didn’t he have quite enough of the Wooster dial during the daytime? I came over all peculiar.
Jeeves leaped off his bed as if the hounds of hell were after him, to insert himself between me and the dresser. He had gone quite white, as though portraying the ghost of a valet rather than the living, breathing corpus.
“Oh, er, I say, Jeeves, you have a pic of yours truly, what?” I said, in an attempt to defuse the situation. “Ha ha! I would have thought you’d have been sick of the sight of me, from looking after me day in day out, without a likeness of the young master leering over at you when you’re disrobing, eh?”
A strange blotchy colour suffused Jeeves’ face; I watched it in a kind of horror. Was he having some sort of attack?
“I mean, er, if that’s . . . Er . . .” I looked around the room, hoping for further inspiration. “I say, what a lot of books, Jeeves,” I said heartily. “Have you read them all?”
There was a small silence; except it wasn’t really a silence, as I could hear Jeeves trying to control his breath. He sounded angry to me – like a steam train gearing up to tackle a sharp slope.
“I’m awfully sorry to burst in here like this, old thing,” I said, in sorrow and alarm. “You must think it a fearful cheek. Only, I came home and all was in darkness, what? And I worried that something had happened to you, so I came to check. But here you are, right as rain, although might I suggest pyjamas next time you fancy an impromptu snooze?” I stopped. “A-hem,” I amended. “Right. I’ll just be sliding off to bed then. Goodnight, Jeeves.”
Jeeves cleared his throat. “If the photo offends you, sir, I will remove it.”
I gawped at him, a no-doubt peculiar expression on my face. I felt a little as if I had been plunged into some play where chaps make deep, cryptic remarks at each other, and no one had bothered to pass me a copy of the script. “Good Lord, no,” I said. “Why would it?”
Jeeves said nothing, just looked at me steadily. He seemed to have regained control of his breathing, though his chest rose and fell quickly beneath the crumpled shirt. Which was, I noted idly, open a button or two at the neck.
I could feel colour rising to my face, hot and heavy. “So is there a picture of your young lady, then, eh, Jeeves? You know – the love that dare not speak its name, and all that?”
Jeeves continued with the disconcerting stare. “No, sir.”
“Oh! I – ah.”
It was time, now, for a silence that would have been indicated in the script as a Dramatic Pause.
“If you give me a moment, sir, I will lay out your nightclothes,” Jeeves said eventually, his voice level. He was suddenly so still that I wondered if he could be breathing at all. It was very rummy.
I laughed, rather breathless myself, filled with something I could not name. “Good-o, Jeeves. Do you know, for a moment there I rather thought . . .” I trailed off, unsure how to go on.
“Sir?” Jeeves said, continuing very still.
“Oh, I don’t know. I had the strangest notion – I mean to say, as if you would think of me in such a way,” I babbled, the words falling out of my mouth in some order I hadn’t quite intended. “I must have drunk more than I meant to, what?” The room certainly felt too close, and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was saying, or what I meant.
Jeeves, though, seemed rooted to the spot. If it had been a play, the audience would have time to buy interval drinks, powder their noses and have a good old gossip before the action restarted.
“If you wish me to tender my resignation, sir,” he said. It didn’t sound like a question; it was heavy, flat – and entirely bewildering.
“Oh, I say! Absolutely not, old thing,” I said. And then, rather perplexed by the entire conversation, decided that absenting myself from the room would be just the ticket – so I fled, flinging a hearty, “I’ll see myself to bed, eh, Jeeves,” over my shoulder.
Exeunt, as the poet once wisely noted, pursued by a bear.
Had I really suggested that . . .?
And had Jeeves really offered his resignation, in response?
No. I sat down decisively. This was a case of fat-headed Bertram grasping not only the wrong end of the stick, but the wrong stick entirely.
I stood up again. But Jeeves had undoubtedly—
Bertram, I found, was once more for sitting. Or, more aptly, for resting his limbs on the bed in a tangled heap and resisting the urge to spring up and engage Jeeves in further conversation. I rather thought that seeing him for a second time this evening would be more than my frail constitution could take. Perhaps a year or two of morning exercises and daily cod liver oil would pep up the Wooster form enough to do it; but a daily diet of Aunt Agatha and well-meaning females had not put enough juice in the system.
Eventually, I recovered my poise again enough to shuffle off to the bathroom and do the necessaries, before slipping on a fruity pair of heliotrope pyjamas with an antique gold stripe, turning off the light, and slipping beneath the sheets.
I couldn’t stop the brain from whirring, though, in a dashed unhelpful fashion. And it was several epochs past the witching hour when, exhausted, I finally sank into a thankfully dreamless sleep.
“But – but – but . . .” I stammered. He’d sprung it upon me before I’d fully awoken, and the life-giving brew was still in the teapot rather than doing its duty in the Wooster tum.
He poured, and when he passed me the cup my body did the whole Australia-ho! business again, so hard and fierce was the expression in his eyes.
I took a long, burning draught, hoping this would wake up the system enough for me to mention that, just by the by, he was talking the worst kind of gibberish that had ever come out of his mouth.
“She is wealthy, well connected, and, from what I can gather, well read. She will be an ideal helpmeet for you, sir,” he said.
“Piffle!” I spluttered, but he continued inexorably.
“She will broaden your mind.”
“I like it narrow!”
“She will give shape and purpose to your life.”
I swallowed a mouthful of tea the wrong way.
When I had finished choking, he added, “You will enjoy, sir, having laughing, smiling children running about the place.”
“Good God!” I objected. “I will not.”
“And you will learn, sir, the comforts that only married life can bring.”
I didn’t much like the sound of those either. “But you aren’t married, Jeeves! Why the devil should I be?” I said, gesticulating wildly and losing half my precious tea to the bedclothes.
He shot me a look that suggested that I, Bertram, was beneath contempt. Lower than a worm. I recalled our previous conversation and his little confession, and I confess I did feel rather small, as if my pyjamas had suddenly grown three or four sizes too large.
“If you require my help finding a suitable replacement valet, sir, for after your wedding, I will be glad to assist.” And with those final, glacial words, he ankled off, leaving me to stew.
As I expected him to return shortly with my breakfast, I didn’t have enough time to wail and rend my sheets in privacy, so I merely restrained myself to pressing a hand to my pale brow and uttering, in low tones, “Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?”
“Your bacon and eggs, sir,” Jeeves said, unmoved, entering the room and exiting it again in short order.
I looked at them; they looked back. I am a hearty trencherman, but this morning the sight of them turned the old tum, and I pushed them aside. I was not sure what I had done to deserve all this: beleaguered by an aunt; ensnared by a misguided female; and bullied and wounded by Jeeves, who was, besides being my valet, my best and most cherished of chums.
It was enough to make the Wooster eyes sting.
I wasn’t sure what Jeeves was playing at, just as I wasn’t sure exactly what had passed between us the previous evening. This whole scenario was becoming far too wearing on the Wooster bean. However, it was clear enough, even to an unobservant cove like me, that Jeeves was steaming with rage, like a pressure cooker about to blow, and it was this anger that had prompted him to heave me over the side and abandon me to the piranhas. However, despite all my troubles, I still had a backbone, even if it was a trifle more jellified than a gentleman might wish. And if the brain was muzzy on the finer details of the sitch, it was as clear as Anatole’s clear soup on one thing: I did not want to marry Penny. And I didn’t see why I should, just because Jeeves had gone off his rocker.
The only question, now, was how to prevent it.
Jeeves lugged the items out of the drawer with the expression of a man who has spotted a fly floating in his soup, but he said nothing.
“You do not like these yellow fripperies, Jeeves,” I said coldly as he tied my bow tie.
A muscle in his cheek twitched. “Are they not a touch too bright, sir?” he said, the words sounding as if they’d been pulled from his lips reluctantly, like a fish yanked from its happy home by a fisherman’s line.
“The word you are looking for, Jeeves, is cheerful,” I replied, pulling away from him to examine the old appearance in the glass.
“Are you sure, sir?”
I frowned at my reflection. “I don’t know what word you would use,” I replied. Then I straightened up, raising my chin. “But I must admit, at this moment I don’t particularly care. I am disappointed in you, Jeeves.” The old voice wobbled just a touch.
“Sir! I must protest—”
I waved a hand, cutting him off. “No matter. You may think that you are the only one of the pair of us who can dream up a cunning scheme, but I am not as stupid as you think I am.”
“I assure you, sir, that I don’t—”
“You do, Jeeves. You think me feeble-brained.” I plucked my wallet from the dressing table and stowed it safely away. “But I am quite capable of not getting engaged, if I don’t wish to. And nothing you say can change that!”
“I have my key, Jeeves. You may take the evening off.” And with those measured words, I made my dramatic exit – only ruined slightly by the fact that I didn’t, in fact, have my key and had to slope sheepishly back in and out again. If Jeeves had been affected at all by my words, the devil if I could tell; he just stood there, staring into the open wardrobe as if a magical world lay beyond the coats.
But I had more to think about than whether my faithless valet was regretting whatever – whatever it was he was doing. Although I had spoken bravely, it would not have been one hundred per cent accurate to describe me as feeling boomps-a-daisy. After all, it was all very well me saying that I was capable of not proposing whilst in a room with no available women to propose to; it was quite another to prove that, given how many blighted females I had unintentionally almost bound myself to in the past few years. And tonight, I expected that if I failed to pop the question, it would be the end of the Wooster line, if my aunt was the woman I thought she was.
Still, as the taxi deposited me outside the hotel, I had faith in my own abilities. Jeeves had a tendency, when fishing the young master out of the soup, to make his plans a trifle elaborate. If Jeeves were working his magic, I would no doubt be, at this moment, up to my ears in newts, or clambering over a rooftop wearing a wolf costume, or sneaking into my aunt’s bedroom to purloin her pearls, for some reason that would barely be clear to me even after all had come out all right in the end. My own plan was so simple as to be nothing short of perfection: I would not propose. What could go wrong with that?
“Oh, I – I say,” I stammered, “sorry to disturb you all, but would you happen to have my man – Jeeves, you know – tucked away inside somewhere?”
I had returned to the flat at about ten, in a haze of panic, to find all quiet and empty. Jeeves had laid out my pyjamas and so forth, his duty done, but of the man himself there was no sign. I had only remembered after a few panicked moments of whirling about that I had given him the evening off, so it might not be until midnight or so that he returned.
Midnight, I had reasoned, was not soon enough. So I had dashed off, all in a lather, to the Junior Ganymede, his club.
Now, standing on the doorstep, I began to feel a bit of a priceless ass.
“I think Mr Jeeves is with us this evening, sir,” the doorman said. “Please come through. If you wait in here, sir, I will see if he is available.”
He guided me swiftly into a small waiting room type jobbie stuffed with armchairs, evidently so I didn’t put the other miscellaneous valets and butlers off their dinners, and I paced about the place feeling increasingly idiotic.
It was a full ten minutes before the door opened. I had sat down, but I popped up at the sound like a jack in the box. It was Jeeves. He had the most peculiar expression of concern on his map.
“Mr Wooster, are you well, sir?” he inquired, taking a step or two towards me and then coming to a halt.
“I bally well am not!” I said, wringing the Wooster hands. “I am engaged!”
It was odd, watching Jeeves’ face. Even through my own agitation, I noticed his expression change. Though it wasn’t his expression, as such. It was as if he had been bunged into the heart of a glacier and left to freeze right through. Rigid was not the word.
“Congratulations, sir,” he said eventually, the words seeming to whiffle out of nowhere, as his lips barely moved.
“Don’t be an ass, man!” I said bracingly. “Congratulations are definitely not in order. If congratulations were in order, do you think I would have run here – at the expense of the freshness of my suit – to prostrate myself at your feet?”
“Sir?” Jeeves said, very faintly.
I began to get the impression that if I poked the Jeevesian face, he would shatter. “I say, Jeeves,” I said with no small amount of pleading, “I confess I’m not sure exactly what it is I’ve done to anger you, but—”
Jeeves seemed to snap out of it. “I am not angry at you, sir,” he said firmly.
I considered this. “Balderdash,” I said. “You are fuming so much that Mount Etna has nothing on you.” He opened his mouth to reply, but I cut him off. “No, Jeeves. I have done something to offend. It is indisputable. But won’t you forgive me for whatever it is – because dashed if I know – and help me out of this hole?”
I was on a roll. I strode forward and clasped Jeeves by the shoulders. “You wouldn’t let the young master be thrown to the lions, eh? You can go through my wardrobe and throw away whatever you like, I promise, if it’ll make things right between us. Because, er . . .” I blushed a bit, staring fixedly a point somewhere past Jeeves’ right ear. “Because you and I, Jeeves, go together like . . . like things that go together very well, if you see what I mean, and I don’t know what I’d do without you, eh?”
There was a touch of the old silence. Then Jeeves cleared his throat. “I am flattered, sir,” he said very quietly. “I am fond of you too.”
The atmosphere seemed to have become a bit gluey and full of unspoken things. I attempted to lighten the mood. “I say,” I said, “this is just like that Shakespeare play, what?”
“Which one are you referring to, sir?”
“The one with the fellow mooning up at that girl’s balcony.”
Jeeves executed a species of jerk, and it dawned on me that I was still clutching at his shoulders, rather as if he were a life ring and I were a drowning man. I narrowed my eyes as I stared at his dial. He had an expression a bit like a chap who has just been dinged over the head with a heavy object.
“I say, old thing, are you feeling all—”
“I cannot begin to imagine, sir, how our own particular situation bears any relation to Romeo and Juliet,” Jeeves interrupted, a trifle wildly.
I resisted the urge to press a hand to his forehead and check his temperature; he struck me as a Jeeves not in the best of health. “No, Jeeves? I merely meant all that business with the female of the play, acted by yours truly, being forced to marry a bird she doesn’t want to, while her – dash it, is it an aunt? Her aunt-substitute does her best to prize her apart from her best beloved. You being the best beloved in this scenario, Jeeves. You know much Aunt Agatha is set on me getting shot of you. I say!” I added, now more than a little alarmed, “I don’t see why you’re looking a bit like you’re about to fall over, old thing, for this can hardly be news to you.”
Indeed, Jeeves was swaying slightly as if about to keel over.
“I apologise, sir,” he said, stepping clear of my grasp and fetching forth a very neat handkerchief to dab at his forehead. “I fear I am not quite myself today.” He stowed the hanky away and did an attempt at his usual Jeevesian sangfroid. “How may I assist you, sir?”
I gaped at him. “I say, Jeeves, do you need a doctor?”
A small frown furrowed Jeeves’ brow for an instant, before the skin smoothed. “I apologise, sir,” he said again. “You were telling me of the events of this evening. Do continue.”
I shuddered. The horrors of the evening had almost been chased away by the spectacle of a shaken Jeeves, but now they came back with full force. “Jeeves,” I said, sitting down heavily, “the doom has come upon me. Or, rather, I am engaged to Penny, which amounts to the same thing, blast it.”
“But, sir, you were so certain that you would not propose to the young lady,” Jeeves said blandly.
I nearly shouted a triumphant huzzah! at this. If Jeeves were waxing sarcastic, this promised a return to form that I sorely needed. “And you also knew, I dare say, that I was talking pure, unadulterated tosh, eh?”
“I did anticipate a certain amount of variance from your plan, sir. Would you care for a cocktail?”
“What?” I shook my head, and it dawned on me that he was standing. “Oh, sit down, man. It’s your club, and it’s frightfully bad form of me to intrude.”
He did so, very carefully, perching on the edge of a nearby armchair. “Not at all, sir,” he murmured politely.
“Anyway, it was after dinner that the foul trap was sprung. The ancient aunt lured me to her suite, and then left me alone with Penny. And what was I supposed to do, eh?”
“Not speaking would have been an advisable course of action, sir.”
I shot him a look. “I didn’t speak, Jeeves. The aunt had already prepped Penny. The girl clung to my arm, blotting tears from her eyes with a piece of lace, and said that although the one she loved had cruelly betrayed her, she was willing to devote the rest of her life to making me happy.”
Jeeves blinked and looked very marginally disconcerted at that. “Indeed, sir?”
“I can see the difficulties this placed you in, sir.”
A warmth blossomed in my chest. “And you will help the young master get out of it, eh?”
Jeeves folded his hands together. “Well, sir . . .”
Struck by a nameless dread, I shot up and over to where he sat, sliding down to my knees to grasp at his wrists. “I say, please, old thing! Just say the word and the yellow cummerbund will bite the dust.”
I felt a bit odd when I realised he was trembling, very slightly, at the edges, and I slid my hands down to cover his and give them a bit of a friendly squeeze.
“Please get up, Mr Wooster,” Jeeves said after a moment, his eyes riveted on my hands.
“Oh! I, er, sorry, I—” I realised what a sight I must look, grovelling at his feet, and felt a bit hot in the face. It wasn’t beyond the bounds of belief, after all, that his fellow club members were lurking in the vicinity of the keyhole, wetting themselves with silent laughter over the odd behaviour of Jeeves’ bumbling y. m.
“Of course I will help you, sir,” Jeeves continued in the same quiet, odd voice, still looking at his hands as if something harmless – a head of lettuce, say – had leapt up and savaged him.
“Ah! I will see you back at the flat, eh?”
“As you say, sir.”
I sped with all haste to the exit, and when I looked back before closing the door behind me Jeeves was still just sitting there, staring at his hands. He was probably contemplating, I expected, just how he would tell his spellbound audience about my latest soup-swimming situation.
Jeeves, who seemed to have materialised out of nowhere with the old silver salver, passed me an invigorating cool drink that seemed to be concocted partially of gunpowder. It certainly cleared the sinuses and made the bean ring. I had drunk my fill when I’d got back to the flat the night before, a fact that Jeeves seemed to have grasped by some form of osmosis.
“I have already set a plan in motion, sir,” he said, taking back the glass and swivelling on his heels. “I will run you a bath, sir, while you breakfast. Then, perhaps, you would like to pop into town for a bracer before the guests arrive for lunch.”
Terror clutched at me. “Lunch, eh? What species of demon are we entertaining?”
“Your fiancée, sir,” Jeeves said.
I started, as if he’d set off a gong behind the old bean. “Penny?”
“Yes, sir. Lady Penelope.”
“May I ask why?”
“It will be hard to sunder the bonds between you, sir, if you do not ever see her again.”
I pondered this a bit. The idea of a bracer – or a pair of bracers – suddenly seemed a better one. “Well, you know best, Jeeves,” I said a touch doubtfully.
“Thank you, sir,” he said with a respectful dip of the head, and oiled out to fetch my food.
The morning’s itinerary went precisely as planned. Breakfasted, bathed and dressed – the yellow cummerbund and socks notable by their silent absence from the Wooster abode – I grabbed my hat and shot out into the cold and, from there, into the warm, welcoming arms of a whisky and s. I almost lost track of the time, and it was ten minutes past the assigned hour when I wandered up to the familiar exterior of my apartment. Which was, for some reason, not quite so familiar.
I stared for a mo., wondering what was different. And then it dawned on me. When I had left the flat, there were fewer cucumbers knocking about. Now, there were at least threescore and ten of the things. Some lounged about, lining the path to my door. Others were stuck upright in plant pots, which gave them a sprightly air. In my window, cucumbers beamed out at me from the sill.
It was bally peculiar. I would not say that I averse to cucumbers. It would be a lie to call me an anti-cucumber activist. But seeing so many at once had a sort of chilling effect on the soul. These cucumbers, life seemed to say to me, are the devil’s work. I decided that instead of swinging the old door open with vim and calling out a cheerful ‘hulloooo’, I would slide in with a bit more of the old caution than planned.
I slipped my key into the lock and crept down the hall. We seemed to have a cucumber infestation here, too. They poked out of pockets of coats on the hall rack, and they balanced in a stack by the telephone. There was a strange, vegetable smell pervading the place too, and I had a strong suspicion it was green and long in origin.
The door to the sitting room was closed. I gave it a hard look, and then, throwing caution to the wind, pushed it open. It must have been greased recently, because it slammed back as if I’d given it a hearty shove, and I paused in the doorway for a moment, struck dumb by the scene before me. At this point, several things happened at once.
One: Sir Roderick Glossop, that eminent nerve doctor, rose from his chair and pointed at me. “The loony!” he cried, passion writ across his face. “Seize him!”
Two: Penny squealed.
Three: Bingo, wearing a particularly spiffy eye patch that made him resemble a pirate, his arm in a sling, leaped protectively in front of Penny and, slipping on a cucumber, fell down in a heap of the blighted vegetables – which was, in style, a little like those heaps of the slain that Viking chappies are notorious for.
Four: Jeeves shimmied up respectfully with a tray and said, very politely, “Cucumber sandwich, sir?”
But before I had time to process any of these alarming things, Thing Number Five occurred and rather put me out of action. Bingo rose from amongst the slime, his expression vengeful, and biffed me so hard in the face that I was no longer in a position to process anything at all.
“Our guests have left, if that is what you mean to imply, sir,” Jeeves said, hoving into view. He knelt in front of me, taking my chin in his hand and turning my head from side to side. His stare was very penetrating. He let out a small breath and turned his attention to a bowl of water and a cloth beside him. “I must offer my apologies, sir. I had no idea that Mr Little would hit you quite so hard.”
He wiped, very gently, at the corner of my mouth. It stung, and the cloth came away a bit pink. The room – well, the hallway – whirled a touch, and Jeeves had to clutch at me to stop me sliding sideways.
“So you knew he was going to hit me,” I said when I had got my bearings a bit more. I intended it to sound masterful and accusing, but it came out a bit pathetic. Like a small, curly-haired child who’s been denied his teddy bear.
“I really am sorry, sir.” He dabbed again at my face. My cheek bally stung, but Jeeves’ hands were gentle and the cloth warm and soothing.
“Could I trouble you to explain?” I managed, when he paused to rinse out the cloth. “I confess that I’m not quite clear on the details of the plan. Was that Sir Roderick? And why am I surrounded by vegetables?”
“The Cucumis sativus, more commonly known as the cucumber, is actually a fruit, sir,” Jeeves said almost absently, still dabbing gently at the Wooster dial. “There are three varieties, known as ‘slicing’, ‘pickling’ and ‘burpless’, and—”
“Spare me the history of the cucumber, Jeeves,” I said. But added: “A fruit?”
Jeeves paused in his dabbing. “Yes, sir.”
“Rummy, that. And burpless? I shudder to think of a burping cucumber.” I tried to pull myself together. “But this is beside the point, Jeeves. The sitch is still unclear.”
Jeeves wrung out his cloth and once again applied himself to tending to the Wooster cheekbone. It was immensely soothing. “It so happens, sir, that Mr Little’s former young lady—”
“Susan?” I interrupted. “The waitress?” Given how many former young ladies Bingo had to his name, I thought it best to be clear.
“Yes, Miss Smith, sir. It so happens that the young lady had an understanding with a friend of mine from the Ganymede. A young footman, sir. They had rowed, and I merely helped the couple reconcile at the young man’s request.”
“That is not the full story, Jeeves,” I said pointedly.
He shifted against me, warm fingers against my cheek. “No, sir. I thought it best to approach the reconciliation of Mr Little and Lady Penelope from two angles. Firstly, it was important to clear Mr Little from the accusation of pushing the lady in the lake.”
“By gum!” I said. “I’d forgotten that. A bit of a pickle, eh?”
“No, sir. I merely considered the psychologies of the individuals in question. Lady Penelope had revealed to you that she still held tender feelings for Mr Little, so I simply suggested that Mr Little allege he had been attacked by a thief, who then pushed Lady Penelope off the bridge to remove her as a potential witness to the attack. To that aim, I provided him with a sling and an eyepatch, to add the required verisimilitude.”
“He certainly looked the villain when he punched me in the eye,” I grumbled.
“I can only apologise again, sir. It seemed appropriate that Mr Little should have come to your flat to accuse you of stealing the love of his life. The lady was very moved by his display of possessive jealousy.”
“Gosh,” I said, struck by Jeeves’ mighty brain. “Well, never let it be said that Wooster quails from helping a friend out, no matter how painful. And it seems a happy ending has ensued, for all involved. But I don’t see where the cucumbers fit into it. And why Sir Roderick was lurking about the place, ready to strap me in the old straitjacket. Why! It seems I am in danger once again of the entire Metrop. thinking me a raving loony.”
Jeeves placed the cloth in the bowl, but he didn’t move away. “It seemed a wise precaution, sir. The Glossops’ butler confided in me, sir, that the Lady Honoria has recently ended her engagement.”
“By Jove!” I said as the penny dropped. “Leaving her ready to pick up Wooster once more?” I quivered at my narrow escape. I count Honoria amongst one of the number of females who think that Bertram is hanging about pining for them, ready to walk down the aisle with them at a moment’s notice if they hand their current flame their hat.
“I hope you will forgive the expense, sir, but I arranged for a truckload of cucumbers to be delivered to Sir Roderick’s home. I believe when he came round here, demanding an explanation, he was perturbed to see the extent of your love for the foodstuff. Indeed, he and the young lady had quite an animated conversation about it before they were interrupted by Mr Little, sir.”
“I admit that even I was a little perturbed by the sight of all this green when I arrived home, Jeeves,” I said. “But you are a bally genius, and I shan’t forget it.”
“Thank you, sir. I aim to give satisfaction.”
“And you worked out this scheme quite without the impetus of fish?”
“Yes, sir. I am not all that fond of fish, in point of fact.”
I shook the bean in amazement, then did a bit of groaning when the hallway slid in and out of focus. “Remind me to speak strongly to Bingo about this, Jeeves,” I said weakly.
“Yes, sir. I think you might be more comfortable on the sofa, if you can move now. Shall I assist you?”
“Heave away,” I said, waving a limp hand.
Jeeves did a bit of gripping under my underarms and, with a bit of staggering and lurching, he managed to get me to my feet. Unfortunately, once on the old pins, the brain decided it didn’t particularly wish the willowy frame to remain upright. I zigged left, and Jeeves – with the fast reflexes of a bookie who spots a punter who owes him money – zagged right, catching me before I came a cropper.
Pressed up flush against him, his arms tight around me, I felt remarkably light-headed. Probably because I was light-headed. Possibly. I could feel his heart beating against my skin and smell the soap he’d used to wash his hair.
Something long and hard pressed up against my thigh. I gulped and attempted levity. “I say, Jeeves, is that a cucumber in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?”
Jeeves puffed an amused breath against my neck, and very gingerly attempted to shove the Wooster corpus towards the living room. “I am always pleased to see you, sir,” he said, rather deadpan.
I gulped again.
By the time we had reached the sofa, I felt rather disinclined to let Jeeves go. I was also rather aware that I wasn’t quite in my right mind.
“I say, Jeeves,” I tried, “I say.”
Jeeves managed to disentangle himself from my arms. “I beg your pardon, sir, but I feel I should call the doctor. Will you be all right if I leave your side for a moment to ring for him?”
I leaned back against the cushions. “I’d rather you didn’t, old thing,” I whispered, “but if you really must.”
Through the haze, I thought I saw a very odd expression spread itself on Jeeves’ map. “I will only be a moment, sir. I will be right back.”
“Very well, Jeeves,” I said, waving him away, but the movement only made the room spin harder, so I closed my eyes and tried not to spin away.
I even thought, once or twice, when I woke in the night, that I saw him sitting in his shirtsleeves by my bedside, watching over me – but he seemed so fresh and well rested during the a. m. that I dismissed it as merely a pleasant, but unlikely, dream.
On the fourth day, Bingo shuffled in to the old Wooster sickroom, looking very shifty and hiding behind a bunch of flowers as big as his head.
“Are those for me?” I asked, when I got bored of looking at them, rather than his face.
He slid round the side of them, embarrassment writ clear upon his dial. “These? Oh, these!” he said, as if only just remembering what he was holding. “No, these are for . . . for . . .”
“For Penny,” I said, narrowing my eyes.
“Ah,” he said. “When it comes to that, old thing . . . they are rather less for Penny and more for –” a hideous expression passed across his face, rather like a stuffed frog – “Lydia,” he ended, his voice reverent.
“And who is Lydia?” I asked, despairing.
“Oh, Bertie, she is a goddess in human form. An angel. I took one look at her and—”
“And what of Penny?”
He blinked at me. “Who? Oh! Penny! We parted amicably, of course. But about Lydia, Bertie! You have never seen such eyes, such skin, such hair!”
I closed my eyes and let the torrent wash over me.
When he had gone, I summoned Jeeves. “I say, Jeeves, you’ll never guess what,” I said.
“Mr Little has a new young lady, sir?” he suggested, hovering by the bedside with a look in his eye that I could now decipher as an urge to check if the y. m. was about to keel over again.
“How did you know that?” I asked, stunned, allowing him to feel my forehead.
“I have a passing knowledge of Mr Little’s psychology, sir,” he said. “If you recall, sir, I remarked some few days ago that although Mr Little loves ardently, he is not always constant in his affections.”
“I think not, Jeeves!” A terrible thought struck me. “I say, you don’t think Penny will expect me to rally round and fill the breach, do you?”
Jeeves coughed delicately. “I think the likelihood is remote, sir. Recall, if you will, the cucumbers.”
I heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank goodness for that. You know, I can’t think of anything more pleasant than the idea of you and I trundling along together for the foreseeable, eh, Jeeves?”
That curious expression painted itself on Jeeves’ map once more, and I felt moved to say, “Why did you ever think I should marry Penny? I still don’t quite understand your motives, old thing.”
He went preternaturally still for a moment, and then relaxed, as if he had come to some sort of decision. He gave me a look that had my tongue sticking like glue to the roof of my mouth and my insides leaping about like a freshly-landed fish.
“May I sit, sir?”
I patted the bedside and tried to unstick the tongue. “Please do.”
He perched, not quite facing me, his back very straight. “And may I be frank?”
“As ever,” I said, the stomach doing a bit more churning.
“I am beginning to wonder, sir, with reference to that matter we discussed some time ago now . . .” He gazed off into the distance for a moment. Then he said, his tone odd: “I am beginning to wonder if it is not beyond the bounds of belief that the young person I have grown attached to should return my feelings.”
I cleared my throat. “No, Jeeves?”
“No, sir. In fact, pardon my forwardness, but might I suggest an arrangement, sir? I think you may find it to our mutual satisfaction.”
“What you say interests me,” I said, over the pounding of my heart. “Continue, old thing.”
“I still hesitate to speak frankly . . .” Jeeves said, hesitating. Then he plunged on, in a most unJeevesian manner: “But while I have come to see that Lady Penelope could not make you happy, there is someone of our mutual acquaintance who I believe would suit you very well.”
The bean spun. “Oh, I say, really?” I asked, trying not to sound doubtful. Something bally awful was happening to the Wooster innards. “Who would that be?”
Jeeves clasped his hands together very tightly, staring very much at the wall rather than at me. He swallowed hard. “Me, sir.”
It felt like we had been building up to this for days, for months – for years – as the pieces slotted into place. Like a jigsaw puzzle with two pieces that only idiot Bertram had been unable to solve. But still, for all that, it came as rather a shock. Which is why instead of clasping him to my bosom, I merely laughed, nervously, and said – in a rather fat-headed manner: “But I say, Jeeves, you don’t have the childbearing hips for the job, eh?”
Jeeves was silent for a moment. “No, sir.”
I plunged on. “And the ancient aunt might not like it much.”
A glimmer of his spirit returned. “We would hardly be required to tell her, sir.”
A lump rose in my throat. “But . . . I say, er . . .” I fiddled with the collar of my pyjamas, which suddenly felt constricting. “What of, er, love?”
Jeeves’ knuckles whitened, his fingers were clasped together so tightly. “I do not believe you would have any complaints,” he said, very quietly.
“But . . . But . . .” I couldn’t seem to get the bean to settle, my thoughts were spinning so much.
An awkward silence fell while I tried to marshal the old brain cells into saying something profound. I mean, it is dashed awkward to know what to say to someone quite as self-possessed and brimming with intelligence as Jeeves. I could hardly start gushing re. his profile, what? And I didn’t think he’d take kindly to me calling him a Specific Dream Rabbit or a Woolly Baa-Lamb, which was the sort of talk that females generally introduced into the conversation when they wished to indicate that a little attention from Bertram would be encouraged.
Unfortunately, my silence seemed to have a negative effect on proceedings.
“I see I have spoken out of turn, sir,” Jeeves said, very stiffly. “I can only apologise. Please consider my resignation as taking place with immediate effect. I will go to my room and pack.” He rose like an old man and took a step towards the door.
Never let it be said that a Wooster lacks courage, even if he lacks appropriate words. It was the work of a moment to bound out of bed and grasp him by the arm.
“Oh! I, er, I say, Jeeves,” I said eloquently, when he paused and turned, slightly, to gaze at a Wooster ear lobe.
Another silence. I could see his chest rising and falling with each quick, shallow breath.
I decided that taking an aggressive tone might help squash the old nerves. “What do you mean, resign? What utter nonsense! I won’t stand for it, old thing.”
Jeeves said nothing, just stood there. I could see that stronger words were called for. Also, stronger actions. I summoned my inner Hollywood leading man. And, I must say, it is dashed hard to summon an inner Hollywood leading man while one is dressed in pale pink pyjamas, but I did my best. With a cry of: “Come here, Jeeves!” I did the old clutch-to-the-chest manoeuvre and hoped for the best.
In the films, a man who clutched someone to his chest would end up with his love clutched, as it were, to his chest. In this case, it went somewhat differently. Jeeves did a species of quiver, and turned – as if startled to his core – and instead of clutching it was more colliding, him attempting to poke my eye out with his nose, and me biting a chunk out of the side of his face. We let out simultaneous yelps of pain and sprang apart.
After a moment, when my eye had stopped watering and I could see again, I sighed deeply. “So much for romance,” I grumbled.
“Romance, sir?” Jeeves said, his tone bemused, poking at his cheek.
“I’ll admit I pictured that going somewhat differently in my mind’s eye,” I said glumly.
“Oh?” Jeeves said. He took a step closer.
My eyes widened. His own eyes were dancing with laughter, but there was something rawer underneath it. Something dark and hot.
“A little more like this, sir?” And he clasped me in his arms, hands sliding around the back of my neck and tangling into my hair, before leaning forward and, very, very softly, pressing his lips to mine.
Every hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
I cleared my throat. “Ah. Yes. Just so.”
“Would you like attempt the manoeuvre again, sir?” he said, letting go and stepping back.
I eyed him. “Only if you stop calling me sir and start calling me Bertie.”
Colour rose in his cheeks. “I couldn’t possibly.”
“Bertram?” I suggested.
“No, sir!” he protested, the colour deepening.
“The only other option is Bert,” I said sternly, advancing on him. “And I’ll have you know I would like that just about as much as you would like me calling you Reg.”
He opened his mouth to speak, but I had another go at the embracing, and he soon gave it up as a bad job. For, I am happy to say, this attempt was rather more successful, and as he melted against me, my head spun – this time, for all the right reasons.
“I was just thinking, sir, that—” Jeeves said as we broke apart, gasping somewhat.
“It’s Bertie,” I said. “And stop that. It is impolite to think at a time like this.”
He smiled at me, very fondly. “I apologise. But I was only going to say that the philosopher Henry David Thoreau once made the apposite remark that—”
“No, Reggie,” I said, trying out the name for size. “You were not. You were going to kiss me again.”
“Very good, sir,” he said, laughter in his face, and did just that.