Actions

Work Header

Cruising for Love

Chapter Text

---
February 1925
The Ritz, New York City, New York
[Bertie's POV]

The idea came to me on one of those annoyingly clement February mornings, hiding in New York from the aged a. who chews broken bottles. It was pertinent, you see, to do so, as Jeeves had just scuttled one of my engagements, and in a none too pleasant fashion.

It all started in January, whereby yours truly received a demanding missive to visit the aged relation at Totleigh Towers, or rather, to surrender myself to inspection by a "respectable, upstanding" girl named Moira Lightcliffe, whose no-doubt-terrifying mother Elizabeth was on Aunt Agatha's Committee for Moral Advancement of the Modern Woman. The telegram had hit me out of nowhere, for it was far too early in the year for such cheats, strategems, trials and tribulations. I could only suppose that the aged a. had decided to work up her nephew-hunting form early in the season, perhaps as a result of some New Year's Resolution (not to be confused with Aunt D working up her fox-hunting form early in the season). So it was off to Totleigh Towers on a wintry uncaring January afternoon, and I found myself engaged in a fortnight, and the engagement broken three days after.

I have always written of scuttled engagements filling me with a wondrous sense of liberation, so I'm sure the audience in the galleries fully expect a happy bachelor of a Wooster as a result, a jolly Bertram waxing lyrical about larks milling about and snails thorning away. But alas, that was not to be. Let it not be said Bertram Wooster is not a forgiving chap- yes I had quite the fancy for her, as she was the perfectly lissome sort of non-aunt-to-be with the same jolly lightheartedness as I, absolutely no intent to mould me into anything, and lacking in any extreme qualities like the Bassett soppiness or the Glossop back slap. And yes, Jeeves had not approved. And yes Jeeves had, by way of not approving, made me into a rather vile sort of criminal-seeming cad in front of her.

Now now, I can hear from the penny seats that this sitch is way too easy to solve. Clearly, the wailing and gnashing of the Wooster teeth must stem from Jeeves' dastardly ways in tearing this cove asunder from his one true love, rendering him a heartbreaken husk of an invalid convalescing in the Ritz while he pined for the 6A portion of Berkeley Mansions. But alas, life is not that simple. If only it were, then my brain might be capable of keeping up with everything.

You see, I had not, as a result of being torn asunder from this perfectly pleasant former fiancee, felt like I had been hollowed out into any kind of husk. Seeing her face fall, and hearing her admonish me for a wrong I did not wrong, did hurt my pride. I knew I would lose her company, which was very much a jolly sort of company I wouldn't like to have lost. And hearing everyone laugh at Bertram's attempts to defend himself, did sing (fire-wise, not vocals-wise) a little. However, I did not feel my days turn grey when I lost her. If nothing, my days were greyer when Jeeves left me (temporarily, thank heavens) over that blasted banjolele. It was all extremely confusing. I fancied that I fancied her. And I could see no flaw in her. And yet.

All the while I was with her, a little voice was restraining me, but politely and repeatedly informing me, that if I married this beazel, I would lose Jeeves. And the thought of losing Jeeves always fills me with absolute panic. No such panic ever followed the thought of losing any lady. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I find it acceptable to never marry, just for the sake of retaining Jeeves. I mean, what?

So I headed to the Pumpkin Club for a head-clearing round of social activities. I saw quite a few familiar faces from the Drones too, for this was merely the start of the society season, which is to say the dreadful husband-hunting season. We bachelors are still free to gallivant about in the wider world, unawares, until it is May, whereby all and sundry would be dragged home for the gauntlet of dinner parties, debuntante balls, and charity galas which falls upon London like an aunt-blessed plague. So I tried to put all worry out of my mind, and had a spiffing time at our sister club, because nothing clears the head like a conversation with Barmy.

Yet, the matter of Jeeves would not leave my mind. Why, I thought, was I so much afraid of losing Jeeves than any beazel? And so, as dinner roll cricket winded down, I retreated to a corner seat to write it all out.

1. I want to marry if I happen to find the right beazel

2. But if I marry, Jeeves will leave me

3. I will never marry, in the interest of keeping Jeeves.

4. I feel strangely rummy, but this isn't even the fifth cocktail

5. I feel like I'm missing something, but I don't know what it is.

After that, I was pretty much stuck. It took me a while to finally realize I might need to start reflecting deeper. It was a tall order, as I am much more accustomed to "what-ho"s than "why"s but I gave it a sporting try.

6. Why am I ok with never marrying, to keep Jeeves?

7. Jeeves must be better than a wife.

Aha! I thought. A lightbulb, metaphorically, lit above my head. This must be how leprechauns after a tiringly wet day chasing rainbows.

Comparison of Jeeves and a hypothetical wife (by Bertram Wooster):

Credit: Jeeves can make a perfect cup of oolong tea

Debit: Jeeves threw away that lavendar silk tie which is decently spiffing, he really does edit the Wooster wardrobe all the time

Credit: Jeeves puts up with the young master's mental negligence without trying to mould him

Debit: Jeeves sometimes breaks a few eggs to make an omelette, or so he calls it when half the English countryside wants Bertram bunged into Colney Hatch due to Jeevesian misunderstandings

Credit: Jeeves does that to make an omelette, which is to say, rescue the young master from the Bassets and Glossops of the world.

Debit: ran out of debits

Credit: Jeeves can make an excellent actual omelette

Debit: ok compare with a wife- I can't hold Jeeves' strong and capable hands, while I've had to let a clammy Bassett hand hang limply in mine for almost an hour

Note: make up a situation where I have to hold a strong and capable Jeevesian hand

Credit: I can't hold his hand, but his warm hands are good too on my lapels or tying my tie or divesting me of my jacket

Debit: I can't dance the Charleston with Jeeves, and I've practically danced my shoes off at balls with fillies

Note: It would appear I really want to dance the Chaleston with Jeeves

Credit: Jeeves must be quite the looker under the many many layers of whatnot

Debit: How would I know, I don't even get to admire his left ankle

Credit: Jeeves has a delightfully silken, low, soothing, indulgent baritone of a voice when he utters an "indeed, sir" borne of satisfaction

Debit: Jeeves could give emperor penguins frosbite when he utters an "indeed, sir" borne of dissatisfaction

Credit: Jeeves is always such a delight to read, every eighth of an inch of a raised eyebrow means something

I got a little lost in my tiny world, with all these jolly credits and debits and nice frolicking trips down memory lane, when-

"Why, Bertie!" Tuppy hollered, jolting me into a start, "you've got the soppiest grin this side of the Atlantic! Who's the lucky girl?"

I do? I thought. Have a soppy grin? So I turned to examine my smile in the shining silver of a nearby teapot.

"I do!" I exclaimed, with realization.

"I see, I see, practicing the wedding vows already?" he chortled.

"Tuppy, old thing. You see, hypowhatsit speaking, if well, uh, a hypothetical person, that is to say…" I smiled nervously as I fiddled with my tie, "ah dash it. What is it called when you want to hold someone's hand and dance the Charleston with them and hear the low, soothing tones of their voice a little more?"

"Why it's called, 'when do I have to fish out the spongebag trousers'! It's love, ya chump."

"Well," I simply said. "Well, well," I continued, for further emphasis.

Then his words belatedly hit me.

You could've knocked me over with an f. Me! In love with Jeeves!

I turned to examine my face in the silverware. Then and there, you could have knocked me into next Tuesday without being Honoria Glossop. It would appear, from my face-splitting dial and the increasingly enthusiastic angelic chorus within the Wooster heart, that "me, in love with jeeves" was a thought that only propelled me into greater heights of euphoria, if that's the word I want. Tuppy had started talking again, but I wasn't really listening, just giving the usual "ah"s and "well"s.

I wanted, of course, to air the thought "me! In love with Jeeves!" quite loudly and repeatedly to all present and to everyone with brick-throwing distance in the streets, and then do it all again three times over just for emphasis. I wanted to declare the sentiment with all the vigor of Bingo in a beard taking a stand in Speakers' Corner, and with all the excitement of the crowd when a fifteen-to-one horse starts pulling ahead. I wanted to go into every building in the metrop and exclaim my revelation out every window, and exclaim it so loudly that Rocky sends me a strongly worded letter from Long Island about noise disturbance. I did, of course, manage to restrain myself from doing all that.

But the thought of why I had to restrain myself, brought it all crashing down.

You see, it's not just about those deuced laws and societal whatnots, which I'm sure some graver, more intelligent chap can tell you all about in detail, but which pretty much means I can't ever do the Charleston with Jeeves in public. That aside, there is also the rummy matter wherein a paragon like he, couldn't possibly be dippy over the Wooster person. Thus, any hope of a loving embrace by the fireside is just completely out of question.

Henceforth, unrequited love, and all its requisite wailing and gnashing of teeth. I had well and truly sunken into the soup, and I coudn't even ring for Jeeves. The days turned grey, the larks stopped larking, the snails stopped thorning, and I spent most of my time cooped up in the suite, with the shutters drawn as I pined like a thing that pines. Not even the cocktails bars and jazz clubs of the dazzling metrop could lure me out. I feared that, if this were to continue, I would end up as a melodramatic version of Rocky Todd.

Not to mention, my poor imitation of those gloomy Russian chaps in the heavy tomes Jeeves always reads, is starting to stir up all the concern of his feudal spirit. He's even gone as far to as to ask me, on two separate occasions, if I'd like to re-establish contact with that former fiance. He offered to do such a thing, even when he was unable to keep his distaste for the filly out of his tone. A dashed selfless thing to do, really. It genuinely tore me asunder to know that he was fretting, maybe even remorsefully. He believed himself to have obstructed the course of true love, and he couldn't have felt too good about giving Cupid the pip- he was a little tenser about the shoulders, a little more drawn about the face, a little too vigorous with the silverware, and I'd daresay his steps were almost audible.

I saw that such circs could not continue, and I have to put the poor man out of his misery. Except that I could scarcely go up to my faithful manservant and launch into anything like "what ho, jeeves. I believe you are laboring under what you call a misapprehension. That is to say, a misunderstanding. I do not long for Miss Lightcliffe, and now I know I've never felt the tender pash for her. Rather, the subject of my pashing, is, uh, you."

That, you see, just wouldn't do, not unless a chap is practically aching to hear the phrases, "regret to inform", "give notice" and "would like a reference". I did, however, see that I could scarcely keep him here worrying over the young master. Therefore, my brilliant little idea of a cruise.

February, you see, is the month of cruises. The seven seas practically swell with pleasure cruises packing every port, so much that boats pour the metaphorical eyes and ears of said oceans. I saw therefore, that a nautical vacation would very much please the roiling Viking blood and spiffing sea legs of my manservant, and my tender pash wanted nothing more than to please him, at this juncture. A cruise is also a jolly good way to temporarily release this paragon from the young master's wittering forlorn insensibilities without offending his feudal spirit.

In fact, it was a deviation from the usual Jeevesian behaviour, that he had not shrewn about glossy brochures extolling the virtues of the far-flung Mediterranean islands, as he is wont to do this time every year.

However, while I poked around the eggs and b. that chilly morning, thinking of how to offer such a cruise to my valet, he plunged ahead and did it first.

"If I may speak freely, sir."

"Go ahead, Jeeves", I said distractedly.

"Very good, sir. I have observed, sir, that you have appeared to be in low spirits ever since the end of your engagement to Miss Lightcliffe," he said, and I heard in his voice something almost like remorse, but it wasn't remorse, I knew, for Jeeves' intelligence and pride would not allow it, but it was something still shockingly close to mildly apologetic, "as a consequence, sir, I sincerely propose you to consider the healing virtues of a cruise to the Mediterranean. A change of scenery might prove to be useful rest and reprieve."

"There are also many eligible young women aboard cruise ships," he continued, and I could hear the distaste in his voice at that, "which I mention merely as a matter for your consideration, sir. The RMS Mauretania departs in two days. For us to procure first-class tickets upon this cruise at such short notice, would be no issue, as I am in contact with a young couple who are now unable to board this particular cruise due to a last-minute family emergency. The ship makes its ports of calls at locales such as Azores, Madeira, and Corsica, where the shrimp are purported to be excellent."

I didn't, very much, like the sound of "eligible young women", but I did like the way that Jeeves said "us", and at that, my mind filled with beautiful images, i.e. the both of us drinking in the sight of shimmering seas as we sipped cocktails in the verandah cafe of the boat deck, the sight of Jeeves in his shirtsleeves, fishing pole keenly in hand, then and there for me to admire in all its glory, and the jolly good time which would be had by all if I could cajole him into a duet with me in a cozy music room.

"Spiffing idea, old fruit!" I exclaimed, "carry on, Jeeves, carry on at top speed. We must board this ship post-haste."

For the briefest instant, his left eyebrow quirked up an quarter of an inch, no doubt registering shock at my uncharacteristically enthusiastic agreement for something so nautical. But the expression was gone as quickly as it came, and he shimmered out after a very self-satisfied "indeed, sir". The purring joy of said self-satisfactory tone (he almost purred, he did) made my heart thump as if it were a door introduced to Aunt Dahlia's fist.

It was only after Jeeves had so expertly shimmered out, that I realized I had once again stumbled into a bit of a blunder. He had said "us", and in my pure elation, I agreed with a "we". A "we", however, instead of a "you", implies that it is both man and manservant who will be boarding, and not just the manservant himself.

I could, of course, correct that so-called blunder. But I did not.

I know, of course, that a Wooster must keep his word, even if said word was only said to oneself. The Woosters did, after all, fight in Agincourt. But still, correct myself I did not. Once the images of what could be, Jeeves and I on a cruise ship, had conquered the Wooster onion, it was just too much. After a few moments of frantic deliberation, the "you fathead, just take what you can get, which is to follow Jeeves around like a lost puppy, that's got to be better than denying yourself everything. Why bunge him onto the ship without you, rendering yourself dreadfully alone? Why keep that bally senseless distance which would tear you up even more? Dash the entire notion of distance. Stick by his side as much and as close as you can without him suspecting impropriety; let us be mice making do with crumbs that fall off the dinner table" side of the conflict prevailed.

Still, the notion of the cruise struck me as an increasingly good and increasingly bad idea.

---
February 1925
At sea, onboard the RMS Mauretania
[Bertie's POV]

I tipped the porters lugging away our trunks, and made our way towards our rooms. I'd much rather that Jeeves stays with me in my suite, but apparently that's just not the done thing on a cruise. At least, this wasn't those dreadful ships which put servants as and where they like to. Jeeves has a first-class stateroom, although much smaller than mine, but it is situated, he tells me, just below mine and is accessible by a staircase, so I can call on him at any time.

I was still feeling slightly under the weather from the strains on the Wooster brain. I managed, however, to dimly note that the grand staircase, being the centrepiece of the ship, was somewhat magnificent. I managed, less dimly, to note the woman leaning on the centre newel of the staircase, who was dressed in a most shocking manner (her, not the staircase). I don't mean that in any red-faced tutting way Aunt Agatha might go about, this Wooster is a most modern chap who takes things in stride. Just that her garb would make even my more bohemian friends blush, so there it was. Her dress, did however, bring out the most scenic curves in her body. I could feel Jeeves practically snapping into a stiff and cold Jeevesness next to me. The poor chap must be suffering immensely from sartorial distress, I considered and with much strength of feeling.

"Bertie!" the woman called out to me and gave a cheery wave.

"What ho!" I replied, trying to sound more perked up than I was, re: the pining Jeeves conundrum. Also, I had not the slightest dashed idea who she was, I'm afraid.

"You remember who I am, don't you?" she said, in a tone like she was savoring her words and liking the taste of them.

"Oh, rather," I said, not wanting to hurt a lady's feelings.

"No you don't," she beamed, in a tone far from anger, "you don't know me. But that's ok. I won't give you my name. Mystery is one of life's remaining pleasures. I do not regret having learned your name, however. "Bertie" sounds most lighthearted and chirpy."

I noticed, at that point, that Jeeves was in a state of iciness not seen since the mammooths came knocking.

"Are you alright, Jeeves?"

"I am quite well, sir," he said, in a tone that was anything but.

"Oh how terribly rude of me, as always, holding you busy men back from your many many responsibilities," smiled the woman, "no I shan't impose on you both any longer. I'll see you later, Bertie."

---

{15 minutes before}

The woman boarded the ship early. In a few moments, she was restless. How long, she thought, would it be until Bertie and his man arrived? She was an impatient sort of person, generous in wasting others' time rather than wasting her own.

Oh well, she decided, eying the staircase, might as well make herself pretty while she waited. So she stood there, in thought, her fingers still fiddling distractedly with her fan. Her long waves of deep brown hair, were not done into any braid or bun, but left to flow down past her shoulders. Her eyes were a striking amber, save for a burst of reddish-brown which framed her pupils like rings of fire, her pitch-black pupils dotting those strange eyes like sunspots. She had a pale, oval face of Renaissance beauty which disguised much of her age- still, there was a wrinkle or two to the sides of her eyes, which betrayed themselves while she gave people one of her broad, predatory smiles that stretched those bright-red, made-up lips. She was dressed as if she had completely forgotten she was to board a luxury cruise during a thawing winter, and instead labored under the misapprehension of being in a French bordello at the height of summer. She wore a flowing, burgundy dress so low-cut, the V-shaped neckline bordered on plunging. The sleeveless dress, although hemmed below the knees, have a long slit slashed up the side. Her gaudy sandals, with gold ribbon weaving around her feet and calves, had the sort of long thin heels that much feature in murky photographs hidden at the very back of bookshops. The vulgarity of this ensemble was only somewhat salvaged by its fine silk and expert tailoring. Any discernible propriety in her attire, however, was further impeded by the pristine white furs were draped over her shoulders. Although these furs covered skin and might thus be misconstrued as modest, they only served to further highlight a vulgar Frenchness in her appearance, as if she should have emerged from the pages of von Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs.

"Bertie!" she waved to him. He was punctual, of course, she knew Jeeves would make it so.

She exchanged pleasantries with the young man and his valet, and found no surprises in their interactions. It was all well and good, but she had places to be and nobles to harass.

"Oh how terribly rude of me, as always, holding you busy men back from your many many responsibilities," she mocked, "no I shan't impose on you both any longer. I'll see you later, Bertie."

As the duo passed her on the staircase, the woman tapped Jeeves' retreating shoulder with her fan. He froze, and she leaned in to purr, softly but calculatedly loudly enough for Bertie to hear, "we used to have such fun together, Reggie dear, do let me visit you now. I have much to tell you."

"If this is an urgent matter, miss, you may tell me at present. I will do my best to resolve the matter to your satisfaction, miss," he said in his coldest tone.

She only gave him a half-smirk that tugged at her lips. Before she waved him off, however, she caught the look of hurt and shock in Bertie's eyes.

Strange, she thought to herself after they had left, she didn't think Bertie to be so old-fashioned. Had she gotten Reggie into trouble again?

Oh well, she decided, if Jeeves was in trouble, he would invariably get himself out of it, she was certain of that.

The woman stood a while more on the staircase, just observing the flow of people, before leaving for her suite. Stranger still, she thought, this business of grand staircases. It seemed to be the main focus of cruise ship rivalries. With every new cruise ship, they got bigger, and grander, and more annoying, and more obstructive. It seemed hardly worth it, building these elaborate floating cities to be so focused on a thing for walking up and down. This ship, of course, had an accompanying elevator, but that seemed only to aggravate the uselessness of the staircase.

Perhaps, she thought almost sadly to herself, Millie would have said something about the simple beauty of the staircase, and how the bally thing was justified by way of its simple beauty, which she could not appreciate. And she, in response, would have retorted that she was much too beautiful to be considering the beauty of anything else, or anyone else, except perhaps for the beauty of Millie.

But reminiscence was a painful path to go down, despite the strange pleasure to be found in pain, so she abandoned it.

---

{4 hours later}


She decided, really, to ruminate on the matter and observe her target, until evening fell. Evening, she felt, was exceedingly romantic, and an exceedingly romantic atmosphere made anything possible. Then she took up her fan, put on her coat, and made her way towards the first location. 

"Jeeves," she commanded, pointing to him with her fan in a way that suggested the picking of poultry at a butcher's, "I am in need of your services. Come to my room at once."

He bowed and followed after her to her suite, in such an overly dignified manner that she recognized it as indignant. She had marched down to the servants' dining hall herself to get him, instead of politely enquiring for someone to politely enquire for someone to politely enquire for him. But really, when one lives a certain kind of life where being good is exceedingly difficult for others to accept, being bad (and improper, but wasn't that the same thing?) becomes much less of a hesitation.

---
[Jeeves's POV]

I was dining in the servants hall when Miss Fletcher most imprudently made her way to the venue and demanded my services in front of all who were present. Her dress had not improved from this afternoon. It had not, I fear, improved at any time in the last 20 years. I heard the whispers from the other staff, and felt my jaw clench that she was causing me no little difficulty throughout the course of this day. She took me to her suite- I repressed a shudder in thinking what the other guests would make of it.

"Miss Fletcher," I greeted coldly, giving only the slightest of bows. I could not help noticing the iron horseshoe which hung from a chime over her door- I hardly considered Miss Fletcher superstitious.

"Sit down, Reg, do sit down," she said, but abandoned the thought when I did not do so.

"Oh Reggie, isn't this all an amazing coincidence," she considered as she leaned into her armchair, "except that it's not, of course. I overheard that you were going to New York, and what do I see a short while later? A bunch of brochures about an opulent cruise from New York to the Mediterranean. I do know how much you love cruises to the Mediterranean, Reg, almost as much as I love the sound of my own voice. So I figured, after seeing how well you could puppet your young master at little Moira's, you'd find a way to get aboard this lovely boat, even if Bertie had thought it a terrible idea."

I bristled at her overly familiar address of Mr Wooster. "You were at the Lightcliffe residence, Miss?"

"Oh of course I was! An aunt's got a right to visit her dearest niece, what? Well, even a half-aunt, that is. I seldom visit, of course. Lizzie- that poor ungrateful wench, so unlike her delightful daughter- gets all sorts of worked up about a woman like me showing up. But I just had to disguise myself, and who can resist rushing down after receiving talk of a brewing scandal? Pretty entertaining stuff, although anyone worth their salt can clearly see it was all your doing. Bertie's not got an inch of anything criminal anywhere on him. But what works, works. By which I mean, it worked out for you. Poor Bertie though, he must miss her so terribly, my Moira is such a treasure."

"I cannot say, miss," I replied coldly.

"You cannot say? Well I suppose that if you cannot say, then you can bally well see for yourself. When he passed me on the staircase, he looked like what sticks to the bottom of your shoe if you walk through a lavatory in Spitalfields on a Saturday night. But maybe that's just because of something I said. Who really knows? Ah well, I shan't rub it in. I only to mean say, your actions have brought him to my attention, so I really must thank you, at the very least. Now he piques my interest, and I should want to see a good deal more of him."

"I'm afraid that may not be possible, miss," I said as frostily as I could.

"Oh Reggie, has anything good ever come out of you refusing me?" she purred indulgently.

"But this is not about any of that," she dismissed abruptly before I could deliver any retort, "this is about a pocketwatch I need you to steal."

"A pocketwatch, miss?" I inquired, endeavouring to keep the confusion out of my voice. I am familiar, of course, with the fits of domestic larceny which my employer's relative is strangely susceptible to. However, this was a woman whose wealth and power surpassed even that of Mrs Travers. And now she wanted me to engage in theft of a simple pocketwatch, which is far below the monetary value of precious silverware.

"It is of sentimental value," she immediately said, with a nonchalant wave for her hand.

"If I may speak freely, miss," I said, "I hardly considered you sentimental.'

"I suppose not," she smiled, "I would like to very sincerely apologize, Reg. I should have thought of a lie less insulting to that intelligence of yours. Ah well. You will steal it for me anyway. Just know this is about my business interests."

"The watch is on the person of Viscount Valoise," she said, handing over a passenger's list, "or rather, as he is listed here, Vicomte Valoise, but I do hate alliteration all so awfully. Please do not bring the watch to me. I'll give you the address for you to make it show up at. Also, I must advise that you will steal it before noon on the day that you choose to steal it. Morning is very important a setting to larceny, I think."

I coughed politely. "If I may suggest, is the darkness of the night not more conducive to crimes of a hidden nature, miss?"

"Oh no, not this," she said, almost too hastily, before she restrained herself, "I do implore you, for the sake of my amusement really, not to steal this watch at night."

"Rest assured, I have no intentions of stealing the watch at all, Miss Fletcher."

"Really now?" she pouted, "ah well. Do consider it, very slowly and thoroughly. Is there really nothing I can give you, that could you possibly make you reconsider?"

"I'm afraid nothing in the world could induce me, miss. As a general principle, I am not inclined to break the law. Under these current circumstances, I see no reason to make an exception."

"Oh no, now you're daring me, Reggie! Shouldn't you know better than that?" she said, a cruel smile once more playing on her lips, "no- let's not come to that yet. If I attempt to speak to Bertie, would you try to stop me?"

"If Mr Wooster should desire you company, I would oblige him."

"Really? I doubt so."

"However, should your motives decide to be questionable, for instance, if your motives decide to include the suggestion that Mr Wooster commit an act of larceny, then you might find it very difficult to acquire his company."

"I was afraid so. But more importantly, I'm afraid he might make a huge botch of the matter, and this matter absolutely cannot be botched. Is there really nothing I can give you?"

"I'm afraid not, miss."

"Ah well. So it has come to this," she said, and then reached for a canvas bag at her feet, rummaging through the contents and finally producing a diary.

"This," the woman declared, waving the diary carelessly, and fixing me with all the gleeful gaze of a child with the perfect plan for robbing the local candy store, "is pure dynamite. By which it has everything about the dreadful Calais affair. Dear Benny Harrison really does write down everything, you know."

"I must recommend that you do as I say."

I suddenly felt as if I did need to sit down.

"I don't suppose," the voice continued, "you'd like that employer of yours to discover that you made him an orphan."

The word "orphan" dropped like a bombshell.

"I know you must dreadfully hate to be parted from this Mr Wooster," she smiled, "you seem to have the most perfect thing going on with him."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Fletcher. I'm afraid I do not know what you are attempting to insinuate about my working relationship." I tried to keep my voice even, even as a jolt of panic struck me, and my muscles twitched, my eyes darting in a search for a nearby candlestick or a suitably heavy vase.

Miss Fletcher tilted her head sideways, and regarded me curiously, "oh only that he's a prize-winning chump, and I know how much you love to get one up over your employers, you know. He's wrapped around your finger, and you must toying around with him so nicely, and moulding him into anything you want, and would you really like to do lose all that? He seems willing to be robbed blind too, why it must be a sweet gig really."

I held a twitch that threatened the left corner of my lips. I saw that I had not been exposed, at least not in the way I had feared. But I once again reminded of my lifelong dislike for the woman. Even when we were tenuously allied, she always seemed to put great effort into rubbing me up the wrong way in the worst manners possible.

"Ah I see now," she let out a small laugh, "oh don't even consider it Reggie. Buy all the time you want to look for a weapon, you won't find one. And even if you do, I have lots of help stationed beyond this door, and we really wouldn't like such an awful commotion, would we?"

"And how do you know," I said, the thought suddenly striking me as I desperately grabbed onto it as a life buoy, "that Mr Wooster is not already know of the Calais affair?"

She gave me an indulgent grin. "Because Reggie darling," she said, drawing her words out slowly as if speaking to a particularly dimwitted toddler, "if that were the case, you wouldn't still be standing here, refusing to sit down, talking to me in a tone that could freeze the ninth circle of hell while you contemplate bashing my head in with a candlestick. Isn't it? So be a good boy and get that pocketwatch, won't you?"

I clenched my jaw and attempted to fix her with an intimidating glare, but any tension in our atmosphere just glanced off her incorrigible nature.

After a short pause, I forced myself to loosened the fingers I did not know I had gathered into fists, and spoke stiffly, "As you say, miss."

A brief flash of shock passed across her face, and she let out a sharp, barking laugh. "My my, you really must be robbing him blind, aren't you?"

"If I may speak freely, miss," I said, my voice lower and darker than I thought possible, "I resent the accusations you have so recklessly laid against my person. They are in every way libelous and unthinkable."

"Yes yes, propriety and all that, except dash it," she dismissed airily with a wave of her hand, "a girl just gets curious, is all, as to why you so terribly want to stay with this particular employer. After all, you could get another valeting job anywhere you want to, even if he dismisses you without a character, there's plenty of other gentlemen to hurt and have a power play with."

"Well, of course it's none of my business," she continued, attempting nonchalance, although she failed and her piqued curiosity showed considerably, "why should I look a gift horse in the mouth, if you are to do my bidding? Well well."

Her thoughtful gaze held. I felt an increasing desperation to steer conversation away from this direction so dangerous and unbeneficial to my person.

"It strikes me, miss, that you have threatened me with this diary, and compelled me into a most unpleasant conversation, only to reveal now that you had little expectation of your scheme even succeeding. Is this your usual modus operandi, miss, of winding up the persons you speak of, without the expectation of getting anything out of it?" Even as I spoke, I reached the horrible realization that I had lost my cool, and I almost winced at the curtness of my words, which were not in any shape or form proper.

"Oh dear, Reggie, you must speak like that more often! It's ever so exciting," she beamed, "so much more exciting. And if you must know, oh yes this is quite how I do things. I'm sure you could tell me all about how impulsive and unwise it is, and how it must make me a whole of enemies I need not have made at all. I'm aware of that. Why, my friends no longer greet me with some variation of "oh hello, Celeste", no they greet me now with some variation of "Why, by Jove, is that Celeste Fletcher! In the flesh! How has she not been shot dead yet?""

"But don't you wear yourself into a shadow, Reg, this girl here is perfectly capable of taking care of herself," she prattled on, distracted, as she rummaged for something within her coat, "yes yes, enough about myself. Now we must return to the matter at hand. Now we must talk shop."

"Here," she said, handing me a slip of paper, "don't lose it. Have the pocketwatch delivered to this address by next Friday. And don't be late- although, I have to say, you never are."

Then she dismissed me, and turned to arrange a glass vase containing a large bouquet of bright yellow flowers.

---

Chapter Text

---
{During the same evening}
The Verandah Café
[Bertie's POV]

It was a dreary Bertram who dragged himself off to dinner. I told myself to bear a stiff upper lip and enjoy the fare. But my mind kept leaping back to this afternoon. I didn't know what to make of it, but I did know some mysterious filly was trying to get all chummy with Jeeves. The thought kept returning, turning the food to ashes in my mouth.

"Oh, Bertie!"

I looked up. I started. In that moment, I sincerely wished that the voice belonged to the staircase filly's. That was my wish, despite the fact that I had cursed said filly's name in my thoughts for the past few moments. Even she was preferable to the woman standing in front of me. But no matter how hard I stared, the woman approaching my little corner of the café would not transform into anyone else.

"What ho, Madeline," I said, for she was none other than Madeline Bassett.

Ok hold on a sec, the audience may be crying out at this juncture, wait a moment dash it. Why is Bertram so insistent on being a gloomy Russian-ish chap? Isn't Madeline Bassett safely ensconced, matrimonially, in the very large arms of Lord Spodecup? Or that is to say, Sidcup?

At present, she was, indeed, engaged to the interesting specimen known as Roderick Spode. I say he's interesting, because he's either a gorilla who wants to become a dictator, or a dictator who wants to become a gorilla. I keep forgetting which. Speaking of which, he turned the corner shortly after Madeline. I started. I should have expected his presence, but you don't just discover a 8'6" former lingerie designer lumbering towards you without starting. He saw me, and started as well, in much the way he might start if he discovered the hem of the right trouser leg of his black shorts, to be slightly shorter than the hem of his left one. An awfully specific comparison, but the man does love his black shorts.

"Wooster," he grunted. But he said "Wooster" in a suspicious, slightly surprised sort of way, instead of an angry red-faced all-out-Spode kind of way. He was not disgruntled, but certainly far from gruntled. Still not as chummy as one might like, but I decided I would live.

"Oh Bertie!" Madeline repeated, but even more soppily, "what a surprise it is to see you here! You must have joined the ship last minute. But why? Oh, yes, now I see." Her bottom lip quivered. "Ah, how very romantic! You rushed right after me when you learned I'd be here, just like in all the moving pictures. I am so sorry for your loss, Bertie. Your efforts must tragically go to waste. I remain most dearly in love with Lord Sidcup. He is my keeper, and ours is a tie that binds. When we pass on to the next world, the ivy that blossoms on our graves would grow towards each other, in yearning."

"I say! That's great to hear, Madeline," I said, perking up already, "I mean- of course not the part about graves and whatnot, but the part where you and Spode feel so jolly, of course."

"Oh Bertie, how noble of you to wish us happiness! I do hope you manage to enjoy your trip. It will be a great challenge, I know, for you to see me every day for the next few months."

It would be.

"Oh the heart's torment, seeing your unrequited love, always so close but yet so far. My heart aches for you."

I felt, for some strange inexplicable reason, like that hit a little close to home.

"But you will have to bear it. Your sacrifice will not be in vain. I will always remember you," she concluded dramatically, and wiped a tear off the corner of her eye, her gaze dripping with concern. I was more concerned about the evil eye Spode was giving me.

Thankfully, Madeline then moved to hang off Spode's arm and soppily expound on blessed Damozels. Blessed by whom, I do know. Damozels are, and I swear Jeeves told me but I forgot most of it, something that has to do with the gold standard. But that can't be right. It's got something to do with sunshine, however, so it's right up Madeline's alley.

At the very least, observing the couple warily throughout the meal, gave me some distraction from the various Jeevesian affairs. All seemed right as rain between the couple- Madeline clung to Spode like a limpet throughout, and Spode stammered in much the way that indicates a cove really has it in for the little blister. He even managed to turn red, and not from anger, which I know because he was turning red at her and not at me.

Still, when one has been engaged, re-engaged and re-re-engaged to Madeline Bassett as many times as I have been, one gets a sixth sense for these sort of things. So now, although the seas were calm, and the skies were blue, I felt the slightest chill from a storm cloud on the furthest horizon. I felt like that poor chap sitting under the dangling sword of Damocles, as Jeeves tells me it is called. Dashed rummy, this whole business of Damocles and Damozels, someone's bound to mix the two up someday. Anyhow, I felt like that poor cove, who looks up and sees that yes the decidedly unblessed ungolden sword is still dangling from a thin hair that is holding strong. But with resignation in his voice, and a weariness in his eyes, he says "that thread's going to snap sometime this week, won't it, old chap?". And the sword does not reply, for it is a sword.

---
[Bertie's POV]

A divine retreat presented itself in the form of the after-dinner smoking lounge. The place, however, did seem a little intimidating, and not just because of the heavy cloud of smoke obscuring things quite a bit. There were square-jawed stern-faced colonel types playing very serious games of bridge and poker, like each card was a soldier on the battlefield. Really does make you wonder if the job gives them the square jaw, or the square jaw gives them the job.

Then I started. This made it a grand total of three starts in a day. I was afraid it was getting a little taxing on my nerves, and that I might just faint daintily like those Victorian damsels. You see, amongst the military ranks of the smoking lounge, was none other than Major Plank. Major Plank, as I have been unfortunately acquainted with him, is one of those Empire-building chaps with a seemingly endless flow of stories about savages in the tropics. That, of course, is not why he dislikes me. In fact, from the stories he tells of escaping marriage, him being a confirmed bachelor more afraid of babies than Peruvian stabbings, I'd daresay we would have been bosom friends under other circumstances. But "other circumstances" were never to be. As I have chronicled in detail in my previous memoirs, due to a rummy sitch involving a black amber statuette, and as part of a scheme to break my engagement to Madeline Bassett, Major Plank became convinced that I am a dastardly kleptomaniac known as Alpine Joe.

I was just about weigh the merits of trying to sneak past him and continue with my gasper, versus leaving the lounge altogether, when all my hopes of stealth were dashed.

"Monsieur Wooster." I heard a silvery foreign voice call out. An unknown chap in the kind of magnificently flashy clothes Jeeves would never allow me to wear, waved out to me. A little disconcerting, what, this whole new sitch of strangers bandying about the name of Bertram Wooster.

"Wooster?" Major Plank boomed as his head snapped towards me.

"I'm not Wooster!" I flailed, "I am the furthest thing from whatever a Wooster is. I am Ephraim Gadsby."

"Fascinating," Major Plank, "I know a Wooster who was quite decent, because he had the decency to be eaten by a crocodile on the Zambesi the other day. I also know a less decent Wooster, who went by the alias of Alpine Joe. You could do, you Ephraim Gadsby, with acquiring a face which looks a little less like Alpine Joe's. He is a notorious criminal. Causes all kind of misunderstandings. And deaths. Why, when I was in the Mandate Territory of Togoland, I knew an odd-looking chap who looked too much like one of the savages' albino exiles, and-"

Major Plank's Empire-building anecdote would have no doubt been very entertaining, but he was cut short.

"Monsieur Gadsby," went the voice of the French chap, said voice having now gone sickly sweet, "I'm terribly sorry to have gotten your name wrong. But I do know your face. Please come sit with me."

"Sorry there, old fruit, I seemed to have misplaced your name," I said as I joined said chap in the corner of the lounge.

"Oh no, you have not. Vicomte Valoise at your service. I merely overheard your name," he said as he held out an unlit gasper, "Bertie is a most charming name, monsieur."

I mustn't have been paying enough attention, becuase in a flicker of an instant, his gasper was lit by another hand. I turned to get a better look at the servant, but said servant was gone before I couldn't properly register him (or indeed, her) ever having been here.

"Is there something wrong, monsieur?"

"My man Jeeves does the same thing you know," I replied, shaking myself out of it, "just shimmers in and out of rooms without me noticing. Scares the stuffing out of me when he's right behind me and I didn't know it."

"Is that so?" he smiled, a half-amused smirk playing at his lips. His eyes drifted down, and fixed themselves upon my chest region. Then, they lingered there for a few moments.

He lay backwards in his armchair, and his eyes shot up to meet mine.

"Do you have any siblings, Mr Gadsby?"

"Oh no not at all," I said immediately, because he sounded suddenly like a magistrate asking "did you steal the police helmet, Mr Gadsby?" and then I remembered, "well I have a sister, that is. She's a good egg, that Peggy, moved to India. No brothers."

"I see," he smiled again, "I have many brothers. And many uncles. Barely a female in the lineage. I consider myself fortunate."

"No aunts?" I asked in amazement, feeling at once that he was indeed very very fortunate.

"Oh no, only one or two on my mother's side, I can't seem to remember well," he replied in a flippant tone, which suggested his aunts were either very exceptional or he was very brave, "but enough talk about family relations, I pray. I find such talk so very English and so very morbid."

He once again fixed me with that strange gaze of his, which now held a certain thingness.

"If it won't be too much trouble for you, Mr Wooster," he said, "I need you to do me a little favour."

I gulped. The room seemed, in an instant, more suffocating. Or maybe that was just the cigarette smoke.

"Sure thing, old fruit," I said, even though I should not have.

He broke into a grin so wide, it was almost mocking. "Tell me more about your man Jeeves."

Well that was a lot better than I expected, what?

So I regaled the French chap with my many tales of Jeeves' marvelous successes. I told him not only of Jeeves' constant heroics of lifting the young master out of the soup, but also his perfection at domestic chores, and the seemingly infinite intellectual knowledge within that fish-fed brain of his. I'd daresay I swooned, and for a moment I was afraid the Viscount would catch on to that, but he didn't seem to.

"How very interesting, monsieur. It must have been destiny which gifted you such a perfect manservant," he said, "he sounds most invaluable".

"Oh he is, he is, an absolute paragon, I'd say."

"Ah," he said thoughtfully. He puffed on his gasper, then withdrew it. "I do hate to give advice. It makes a man seem conceited. Perhaps, now I have to make an exception. You see, that woman in furs is so very beautiful. And your man Jeeves- is so very handsome."

"Eh?"

"You should know her, monsieur, I think everyone onboard has noticed her. I speak, of course, of the beautiful Madame in the red dress. If he takes her as a wife, would he stay as your valet?"

I didn't know what to say. I decided it was a dashed important question, which I should very much ask Jeeves later. "Sorry there, I really don't know. You'll have to ask Jeeves himself. I'm inclined to think he will stay, what? All I know is that he won't stay if I marry. Not that I mind not marrying, of course."

"I plead you not to apologise. I suppose it is I who should apologise, for poking my nose everywhere," he smiled slightly, "I am merely concerned. Word gets around fast on a ship. Your man left the servants' dining saloon early with her. He was seen entering the Madame's suite. That is all I know, I'm afraid. But it may be of no consequence."

I didn't know if I wanted ten stiff drinks or to retire to bed immediately.

"I believe I have made an error. A most grave error indeed. Perhaps I should not have spoken of that," he reflected, "come, come. Let me get you a drink, and let's speak of more pleasant matters. Marriage, for instance, and how dreadful it is. Our discussion on that topic was most enjoyable."

After that, things became a bit of a blur, but I do remember that we had a dashed jolly time, and lots of drinks. I passed out at some point in the night, lying face down on my bed in my suite, having somehow succeeded in getting there. I was still in my evening suit, but significantly crumpled (the suit, not me. Though I suppose my spirit was also significantly crumpled). Then Jeeves entered, so I managed to dimly figure that it couldn't be that late at night.

"Would you like to change into your pajamas for the night, sir?" he asked, in a voice that brokered no argument.

I merely groaned, and did not move.

"I know this is a highly inopportune time, sir," he said quickly, "but I feel the need to clarify the events of this afternoon, and no doubt, the events you have already heard to take place this evening in the servants' dining hall-"

"Huh?" I interrupted. The Wooster brain was a little impaired at this moment, and he was speaking in all those proper words and speaking too dashed fast.

"The events between Miss Fl-" he spoke, then halted. I had gotten up to face him, and he froze.

"I did not know you volunteered to entertain the other guests with a vaudeville act, sir. However, I must insist that the attire is no longer appropriate now that your act has concluded, sir," he said very stiffly.

He was referring, of course, to my new mint green bow tie.

"I will not hear you, Jeeves," I said, feeling like I was skipping a few words already, and trying not to slur, "nice French chap gave to me. Dashed if I can remember his name, though. His dress was beautiful. He does look beautiful. I like this tie. It's a gift, and I think it's beautiful."

---
[Jeeves' POV]

I was of the opinion that we were getting inconveniently sidetracked. I had entered Mr Wooster's suite not just to ready him for bed, but also to clear up any misunderstandings he may have of the events between Miss Fletcher and I.

"If I may protest, sir-" I began, making another attempt.

"Not another word, Jeeves," he interrupted, in that way he fancies to be haughty, "toss the y.m. into the pajamas. Mild horses can't drag this tie from me. That is all."

"Very good, sir."

---
{The next morning}
The suite
[Bertie's POV]

"I say, Jeeves!" I exclaimed upon gulping down one of his restoratives, "this stuff is always so dashed effective, I don't know how you do it. So sorry about my drunken revels last night."

I felt like I had intended last night to ask him some sort of burning question, but dashed if I remember what said q. was now.

"I say, Jeeves, did I ask any kind of important question last night? Or did I say anything like 'what ho, I have an important question for you, but let me dish it out in the morning, when I'll no doubt tragically forget it entirely?' Anything like that?"

"I do not recall any such occurrence, sir."

"Ah well, I'll tell you when it strikes me, hopefully it will."

"Very good, sir," he said, in that way which more suggests nothing was good at all under the sun.

"I say Jeeves, are you alright?"

"I am physically well at present, sir," he said in that tone which more implies 'but I will not be mentally well until you go boil your head, sir'.

"Come clean, Jeeves. Why are you pipped at the young master?"

"You misunderstand me, sir," he replied, meaning 'you should bally well know, you fathead'.

I dug around the Wooster onion for as much of last night's scraps as I could.

"Aha!" I said, "is this- about the mint green bowtie?"

Jeeves' eyes instantly glazed over, in a way that would have looked piscine on anyone else. "I had almost succeeded in putting the bowtie out of my mind until you mentioned it, sir."

I say, that was a little shocking. I've never expected anything like a mint green bowtie to depart so quickly from his hidebound and reactionary mind.

"Eh?" I merely said, "then why were you pipped at me?"

"I am not, to borrow your term, pipped at you, sir. I merely recall that you were well-acquainted with a purportedly French gentleman of crossdressing sensibilities last evening. If I may quote 'his dress was beautiful. He does look beautiful' Sir."

"Viscount Valoise!" I exclaimed, snapping my fingers, "that's the chap's name!"

"Indeed, sir?" he asked, one of his eyebrows creeping up further than usual.

"Odd chap. But not so odd that he wore a dress. I just meant he dressed well, Jeeves, not that he wore a dress. But now that I think about it, I don't think you'd think he dressed well at all. He asked me about my relatives, and then said he hates talking about relatives. He's afraid of matrimony too, so we were like Damon and Pythias when we got to discuss that. I told him all about what a marvel you are," I prattled. Then I remembered the rummy part re: Jeeves and the staircase beazel, and deflated a little.

"I say, Jeeves, sorry to sidetrack, but if you ever get married, would you consider it a must to leave the young master's employment?" I said, in a tone that was almost whining, but it certainly was not, thank you very much.

"I consider the contingency of a matrimonial arrangement to be highly remote, sir. Matrimony presents difficulties to our arrangement. However, should marriage become necessary, I shall endeavour to continue in your employment," he said, "if that would be fine with you at all, sir. It is after all, rather unusual to retain the employment of a valet who has married. I apologize that in such a hypothetical instance, I may require a reduction in working hours and encounter inflexibility with relocation. I fully understand the difficulties and I would be most amicable if you were to dismiss me from your employment in any such scenario, sir."

I thought it was pretty rummy, this apology for something that hadn't yet happened and most hopefully would never happen.

"Expunge it from your mind, Jeeves," I said, "this idea of me kicking you to the curb if you put on the matrimonial shackles, I mean. I'd very much like you to stay- you know I can't lose you. Of course, I'd rather you didn't- but dash it, what am I saying, you have your life, Jeeves. I would send forth all my blessings if you were to marry."

"Thank you, sir. You were recounting the events of last night with Vicomte Valoise, sir?"

"Ah yes, he did give me that nice green tie," I continued, "he saw me taking interest in his clothes. Although, at first, he misunderstood that as taking interest in his corpus, and er-"

I suddenly felt the entire atmosphere of the room was darkening. Jeeves looked like he had frozen into a no-doubt chilly flagpole waving in the South Pole.

"But of course I quickly corrected him. He didn't touch a hair on me," I said hastily, "and I do appreciate the tie."

Jeeves thankfully thawed.

"Indeed, sir. Do you remember the look of his pocketwatch, sir?"

"Eh?" I merely said, "well I didn't see anything out of place about his watch, so I didn't pay it much attention, what? Or at least, it wasn't any more out of place than his entire ensemble. Which, by the way, is a pretty standard and well-tailored soup-and-fish, Jeeves. Just in all the colors that you think are too modern."

"Very good, sir," he said, in a thoughtful sort of way.

"I'm glad to have helped, Jeeves," I beamed. I didn't know how I had, but I felt like I had.

"Your information is most valuable, sir," he said, in that soothing tone of his. I felt the Wooster pride soar a little.

---
{The afternoon and evening}
[Bertie's POV]

I spent the rest of daytime reading in the library. Unfortunately, most of it were those frighteningly improving books that Florence Craye keeps trying to throw at me. I stayed well clear of them. I did find Agatha Christie's "The Mysterious Affair at Styles", so I re-read that so many times I could practically memorize the symptoms of strychnine poisoning.

My fantasies of cajoling Jeeves into a cocktail with the young master in the scenic verandah cafe, or into a jolly duet in the music room, were just not coming to fruition. The man was utterly insistent against doing anything fun, what with the young master being around. But everything unfun was getting well taken of by the ship's actual staff. I didn't know where Jeeves whizzed off to for the entire day, though he was invariably there when I occasionally needed him, like for a word I couldn't remember. I can only presume, from what I know of Jeeves, that he was either shimmering up and down the ship aimlessly in that dashed silent way of his, or sitting in his room re-reading his Spinoza. It seems to me like the only "proper" things he can do here. Some other strange beazel briefly called out to him in the afternoon, but she did give her name to me. A certain Cate Hollins, and apparently, a lady's maid. But she seemed an alright egg- a little odd, but Bertram is a modern man. She wasn't interested in Jeeves anyhow. All her attention seemed earmarked for her lady. She just spent the entire day following said lady around like a lost puppy. I could only sit in the library, wishing Jeeves followed me around like a lost puppy.

When evening descended however, it tried me in a way that made me much yearn for the boredom of the afternoon.

It's funny, I should think, how much certain rummy memories can completely slip off your noggin when you're too busy moping about something else.

Now now, goes the hypothetical audience in the front row, is this something about Jeeves again? Are you still going on about Jeeves, you dratted lovelorn fathead?

No, surprisingly, for once, it is not. I'd like to report that on the Jeevesian front, despite my pinings for Jeeves while in the library, I decided by late afternoon to sort myself out, and put on the stiff upper lip. You could say things are slightly improving. Not due to him suddenly declaring his undying heartfelt love for me at 4pm, or anything like such. I simply found that being a moody tragic fellow isn't my kind of wheeze. So I decided, from that moment forth, Bertram would focus on the simple joys of Jeevesian company, and soak that all up as much as I can. I have much hope of progressing from pining like a thing that pines, to pining like a thing that only considers doing so on weekends and bank holidays. Or rather, in my sitch, I imagine the pining should only near unbearable when Jeeves does things like linger a little long when brushing lint off my lapel, or leaning a little closer when tying my tie.

Still, the Woosters fought at Agincourt and all that, so I'd like to think I'm shaping up pretty well with this poetic-tragedy-of-unrequited-love wheeze. Instead, when I went into the dining saloon, I faced an altogether different sort of rummy sitch. You could say it was a grave mistake, me deciding I wanted dinner. I had only unwittingly escaped the greater society of the saloon last night, by partaking in the lighter fare of the small boat deck café- however, that only resulted in encountering Madeline and Spode, so it wasn't even much of a success.

Now now, I can hear you all cry out, how has Wooster so gracefully deposited himself into the bouillon again?

I'd like to report that this Wooster is not yet in the soup. But, in the course of the evening, I came very close to doing so. You see, the cruises I usually take are short-distance, and are used as a mode of transport, meaning "as a mode of escape, considering the minimum distance one must travel away from the nephew-crusher in order to ensure physical safety". It has been quite a few years since I've taken these dilly-dallying sort of round-trip months-long cruises, and I had quite forgotten what the main highlight of such cruises are.

However, said main highlight was now in no danger of escaping me, despite I having much desire to escape it. Long, dallying cruises, it turns out, are positively rotting with romantic atmosphere, making it a high-risk hotspot much like Brinkley Court.

Which reminds me- I should ask Jeeves who it is who invented cruises. I'm sure he should know, because Jeeves is a marvel who knows everything. You see, I am highly convinced that it must have been an aunt, or even multiple aunts who came together. Brinkley Court may be rotting with atmosphere, but there is still multiple channels of escape. One may simply arrange for the ole reliable "sudden urgent telegram from London", and then hop onto a mode of transportation. Said mode of transport can be a two-seater, the railway or even a milk train. On a cruise, however, suddenly blabbing about "sudden urgent telegrams from London" gets you only a few raised eyebrows, after which you presumably (and desperately) throw yourself overboard, because that's the only way to escape the dratted place.

Regardless of who invented cruises, the sheer helplessness of this floating palace is exactly recognized by many a filly, as it would turn out. Let it not be said that the Woosters do not enjoy the company of women- I do like a swinging little ballroom dance (even if it is something dowdier like a waltz) every now and then. While the grand dining saloon does not, of course, hold a candle to Anatole's fare, the food is all quite decent.

No what I really object to, is the wide, female eyes pinned onto every eligible male corpus with dangerous matrimonial intent, when all I wanted was to fill my stomach with steak and kidney pie. We were there, ostensibly to consume food, but I felt most like I was the food.

And who is it now, you might ask? Who am I getting served up to, on a silver platter with watercress around it, and a large red apple stuffed metaphorically into my mouth as if I were a roasted version of the Empress of Blandings?

Her name (although really, blast all female names at this point) is Thalia Coppenhall. She is the daughter of some frightening man who is both a lord and a colonel, which I thought was a little much. She had milk-white skin and piercing amber eyes, much like Jeeves' filly, or rather the staircase filly, because it does sting me to consider things like "Jeeves' filly". Even her hair was the same color as said filly's. She was however, significantly younger by about half-to-one decade I would guess, and also a lot more put-together, with her hair in a high bun and her corpus fitted in a white modest corsetted thing.

A very classical first name, Thalia, but her parents are far from pagan or bohemian, and neither did she act anything like those two things. Dinner conversation went a little like this:

"Good evening, Mr Wooster," Thalia began quietly with a rather official-seeming nod, as if this were an important conference involving the President of the United States.

"Please, call me Bertie," I chirped.

"The food is most palatable, Mr Wooster," she replied, as if I had said something else entirely, "are you sure your name is not Mr Gadsby?"

Well that one struck me out of the blue.

'Not unless I'm in trouble' was what I wanted to say but I managed to check myself.

"How very funny, Thalia," said her mother, Lady Coppenhall, in a strained, patronizing tone that more said 'you dimwitted child, that's not funny at all'.

"This man is Bertram Wooster. Lord Sidcup has mentioned Mr Wooster's uncle, Mr Travers, to be a man of no little means. He stands to inherit the title of another uncle, Lord Yaxley. Do accord him due respect," Lady Coppenhall explained, but in a slow, patronizing way that made me feel like a historical artifact being introduced to a gaggle of young schoolchildren.

"Very well, Mr Wooster," Thalia said, with that slight skepticism of a person who still might think I was instead Ephraim Gadsby. She gave me an official-looking nod, and spoke in a formal tone as if we were all deciding the fiscal budget for the coming year, "I need to know- the names of parents, number and acreage of estates owned, estimated total financial assets, profession if any, age, and marital status."

I thought it was a little strange that marital status came last.

"Thalia!" her mother, Lady Coppenhall, thundered in a reproachful way. I flinched. The dratted girl didn't.

"Oh rather," I said, "well, er, Percival and Helen Wooster, both deceased. I stay in 6A Berkeley Mansions-"

I saw a glint enter Lady Coppenhall's eyes.

"-with my man Jeeves. My parents left me about 180,000 pounds-"

The glint seemed to grow stronger.

"-the last time I checked, and I haven't checked in a while, but it should be around the same amount, what? I, er, don't work. I'm 25, and I've never married."

"Engaged?" Lady Coppenhall asked, with that glint still burning strong in her eyes.

"No," I said, and suddenly it didn't seem like a good thing at all to have said that.

"Actually yes," I corrected quickly.

"To whom?" Thalia asked.

"Er…"

"You are not engaged," Thalia concluded. .

"Thalia!" her mother tried again, but to no avail.

"You are not engaged?" Thalia tried again, but with the slightest of a mocking inflection.

"No." I gave up.

"You stated that you have no profession," she said, moving on in that toneless voice of hers, "how then do you occupy your waking hours?"

"Oh I usually head over to the Drones. A gentlemen's club. A bunch of fine chaps they are, lots of old school friends. We have a jolly time playing dinner roll cricket most of the time," I perked up, and started sharing stories about helping out said bosom friends.

Usually, when a filly hears about this Wooster having no profession, and spends all his time either having fun at the Drones, fawning- sorry, talking about Jeeves, or escaping unwanted engagements (although of course I don't mention the last part), they either glare or beam. Glare, because they are the auntly sort who holds that Bertram must then be a "useless twittering dunce" (Aunt A's words, not mine) who needs moulding. Or beam, because they think a lack of labour is ever so aristocratic and romantic. Thalia did neither of those things, which failed to surprise me. She was like Galatea, if Pygmalion had done a dashed decent job at sculpting, but then Aphrodite popped in and messed up bringing her to life. She was unmoveable.

Instead, as the tales poured forth, it was Lady Coppenhall who steadily deflated. My voice trailed off in the middle of a story about Tuppy, a missing rain boot, and a tear in Rev Aubrey's trousers, because I could not continue with her face looking as if a flying machine had almost crashed onto it.

"Thalia, what do you do all day?" I tried at Thalia.

"My daughter loves to help her old school friends as well," replied Lady Coppenhall, deflating even further, which I did not even know was possible, "or rather, one friend in particular, whose name is Marge Cruise. They are best friends who have known each other for years, and my daughter speaks constantly of her."

"Nothing like the old school spirit, what?"

"Indeed," Thalia said. I started. I had not accounted for how her expressionless tone was almost Jeevesian when applied to words such as 'indeed'.

"Marge Cruise," continued Lady Coppenhall, developing on the topic she didn't seem to find at all desirable, "has suffered a crippling physical illness for years. One could say she has always faced the difficulty of deciding whether she wants to live or die. She has yet to make the decision. Thalia tells me all the relatives of this woman have left the poor dear, having given up waiting for her to decide. Of course, they pay sufficiently for her medical care. But Thalia must always rush to her side when she is dying a little more than usual, because she is without-" the lady paused briefly.

"Emotional Care," Lady Coppenhall decided on the term, and I could hear the capitalizations and distaste in her voice at that, "which I have beenn told is very important these days."

Conversation, unlike Marge Cruise, decided quite immediately to die right then and there.

We finished our courses in awkward silence, after which there didn't seem to be anything left of an excuse to occupy ourselves with. I felt like I was 8 and waiting with my bosom friends outside the office of Rev Aubrey, where he would leave us to stew for half an hour before delivering six of his juiciest. Thalia got up first from the table.

"I would like Mr Wooster to accompany me to the library," she said, and I was unable to tell if she would really like that, "I have a few interesting books to show him."

"Please, call me Bertie," I tried again.

"I'm sure if that is appropriate, Thalia. You are not engaged to him," remarked Lady Coppenhall, in a tone which must suggested 'so get bally well engaged to him right now.'

"I will send for Cate. She will able to chaperone us."

"I'm not exactly sure your Hollins can be described as being able to do anything," retorted Lady Coppenhall, sounding much like she hated this Cate Hollins even more than Marge Cruise.

"I assure you my maid is quite capable of accomplishing her duties, mother," she said stiffly. Where her voice had previously been toneless, there was now a bit of bite.

"I have always implored you to acquire a lady's companion. A companion is much more suitable as a chaperone," her mother protested.

"I have always desired to make Cate a lady's companion. A companion is much more suitable as a chaperone," Thalia retorted.

"Aha!" I realized. Lady Coppenhall gave me a glare. Thalia had fast resumed her impression of Galatea.

"My valet Jeeves," I clarified, "is not a lady's companion. But he is, after all, Jeeves. He will be able to chaperone us. Not only is he able to do anything, he is of stainless reputation. He will make sure nothing rummy happens. The Coppenhall honour will remain untarnished."

"Reginald Jeeves?" Lady Coppenhall wondered.

"The very same."

"Very well. I shall allow this unusual arrangement as I have confidence in his abilities. Send for him at once," she said, giving me an approving look that very much said 'finally, you've done something right'.

So I did. Thalia sent for Cate anyway.

---
{The evening}
Ship library
[Bertie's POV]

"Cate," greeted Thalia, in a way that I thought was dashed unfair. Her tone was unlike anything she had used on anyone previously. Although she did not smile when she greeted Cate, her voice was like a spring morning in full thaw. One could say the tone of her one spoken word was almost lilting.

"Oh, Thalia, it's so nice to see you again! I mean, I saw you this morning, and I saw you this afternoon- but it's still great to see you again," twittered Cate in a decidedly un-maid-like manner. I saw Jeeves's eyebrows (both of them!) make a record jump. I was afraid the man was going to reel.

"I am here to discuss a matter privately with Mr Wooster," Thalia said, addressing me in that official-sounding way again.

"Please, call me Bertie," I tried once more.

"Ah privately? Oh I'm sorry then to intrude," Cate said, starting for the door and seemingly having forgotten that Thalia had called her in to begin with.

"You are not intruding," said Thalia, in a most toneless way, but with some reassurance somewhere in it, "please do stay. I speak of privacy merely with regards to parental intervention."

"Mr Wooster, you have stated that you are not engaged," she addressed, "would you like to be engaged to me?"

That was a little fast, what?

"Oh rather," I simply said, not wanting to hurt the girl.

"Do you sincerely desire such an arrangement, putting aside any consideration you may have for my perceived feelings?"

"Er," I said.

"You do not wish to be engaged to me," she remarked flatly.

"I say," I I-sayed weakly.

"You do not wish to be engaged to me?" she said, injecting the slightest inflection.

"No," I admitted. She had a way of wringing such answers out of people, what?

"Mother will be disappointed," she said, in a tone that more suggested she didn't care a whit.

"Now we may converse without following the rules of the game of courtship, Mr Wooster," she decided, and I hesitated to point out that, really, I don't think she's ever followed the rules of the game of whatsit with me.

"Oh rather," I settled on instead, "call me Bertie."

"Bertram," she said, and I decided I would just have to live with that. She relaxed the slightest bit about the edges, "what brings you onto this ship?"

I started. The whole wheeze re: jeevesian pining came crashing in. I had to say something, but that something couldn't be that.

"Ah. Just the nautical air," I said, trying for gay and debonair, "and nautical things." She raised an eyebrow.

"And how are you finding that so far?" she said.

"Oh it's going quite decently, what? I found an Agatha Christie novel here," I tried, "what about you?"

"The Viscount Valoise," she said, and I could hear the distaste in her voice at that, "has been bothering me the entire day."

"I haven't seen the Viscount in the entire day," I realized.

"I wish I haven't seen the Viscount in the entire day."

"Well, what about him?"

"He won't stop asking Thalia for advice," Cate interjected, with disapproval evident. Jeeves' eyebrows once again contested the Olympic high jump.

"Advice? Well then he should asked Jeeves! Jeeves is the best in the field on this side of the Atlantic, and by that I mean England, except we are not in England now, what? The point, however, stands. It's a wonder the man hasn't biffed off to become Prime Minister," I beamed. Then I blushed to the tips of my ears when I remembered that the man was right there.

"So, uh, what was the Viscount's rummy circs then?" I flailed, hastily attempting to steer away the direction of conversation.

"Seasickness," she replied, in a tone which much implied 'it certainly isn't, but wild horses couldn't drag the real reason out of me'.

Jeeves coughed politely. All three of us turned to him.

"If I may venture to observe, sir, while the Viscount was no doubt experiencing a minor bout of seasickness, the main reason for the Viscount's woes appears to have slipped Miss Coppenhall's mind."

"And what would that be, Jeeves?"

"The answer must be left up to the discretion of Miss Coppenhall, sir."

She gave him a Look. He parried with a Look of his own. They continued like this for a few moments, giving each other these dashed meaningful looks which only seemed to make the whole room feel more tense and uncomfortable. It was all going over my head. I shot a helpless gaze towards Cate, who replied sympathetically with very much the same gaze.

"The Viscount," Thalia said at last, "experienced vivid nightmares during his first night on the ship. He learned this morning that I possess some knowledge of purported folkloric remedies."

"Ah, like putting a broomstick under the pillow, you mean?" I tried. I wasn't quite sure if that was for nightmares, but I remember it was for some similar sort of thing.

"He became quite insistent on acquiring my company, repeatedly throughout the day," she continued, ignoring me, and still doing that bally confusing staring match thing with Jeeves, "I never considered the Viscount superstitious."

"Ah I- wait dash it," I realized.

"I have to say, that's bally unsporting," I said, rising to the defense of the giver of the green tie, "if the man is terrified by nightmares, there's no need to get pipped about him being terrified, what?"

"I suppose so," Thalia considered, "but there was- certainly, something about him. One cannot help feel, from the nature of his presence, that he had messed with forces best left alone, and the nightmares were quite his doing."

"If I may venture to observe, miss?"

"Yes."

"I hardly considered you superstitious," he said, "Miss."

Then they off doing that puzzling, tense thing with their stares again.

"I say, Bertie," Cate tried, in a hapless kind of way, "do you want to go out for a smoke?"

"Oh rather," I said, eager to escape from whatever it is that was going on.

---
[Jeeves' POV]

I spent the better portion of the day observing the Viscount and making inquiries. I had already known Vicomte Valoise previously as a man who occasionally mingled in the inverted communities of London, although he is said to more often prefer the company of the more liberated nations of continental Europe. He was indeed well-known amongst the cruise staff, who have their connections to the Merchant Navy and various theatres, where an inverted nature has always appeared to correlate. He had not taken a single lover amongst any of them, they had protested, but still he frequented the theatre and various illicit establishments with regularity, making friends of them behind the stage curtains and in their underground clubs.

When I had heard him mentioned in passing by London acquaintances before this trip, he was characterized as a socially inclined man of a gregarious nature, but somewhat mercurial in temper. This is behaviour which he continues to display aboard the ship, making his interactions with Mr Wooster at least less than unusual.

No one could say exactly where from France the Viscount came from, nor could anyone place any of his relatives. He was, however, familiar to proper London and European society through his business dealings. Whispers from below-stairs went that he took a fair share out of the sort of questionable businesses owned by women such as Miss Fletcher- but so does half the aristocracy. He was better known for his luck and skill at risky financial speculations, which pay off more in his favour than not.

None of these clues, however, explicitly shed any light on Miss Fletcher's strange request. Therefore, I resolved to garner the information held by Miss Coppenhall.

We waited for a few moments for my master and her maid to depart. Then, she broke the silence.

"If I may employ the crass saying, Mr Jeeves- wild horses couldn't drag it out of me."

"Very good, miss. I have in my possession the complete series of Lord Faversham and the Butler by Fanny Rogers, miss," I said, referring to material discreetly distributed and catering to alternate persuasions, "I understand that volume 2 is fairly hard to acquire. If it would please you, miss, in exchange for information surrounding Viscomte Valoise's requests and the circumstances surrounding it, I would be more than willing to grant you perusal of the literary material."

"The book series can be handed over to you at 2pm the following day, at our present location, miss. I will then return at 5pm to collect the materials. This pattern can be repeated over the course of the next few days. From my personal observations, it should take 6 hours in total to finish the series, miss," I continued, understanding that a person of her gender, age and marital status would find it very difficult to discreetly store such material by herself.

"The Viscount was bothering me for a significantly different reason," she said immediately, eyes twinkling. She proceeded to betray the man entirely, elaborating on the nature of his requests, and all her thoughts and speculations upon the matter.

"Very good, miss."

I considered the information granted to me. There lay two possibilities: what she had just imparted was a blatant lie, or she and the Viscount are eccentrics. From the grave manner she assumed, a higher likelihood lay in the latter. I started to wonder if Miss Fletcher, within the time we had not seen each other, transformed into an eccentric as well. Perhaps the Viscount's watch was merely a watch, but psychological instability compelled her into drastic action over the object.

Unfortunately, delusional fantasies and paranoid speculations do not make for a suitable life partner, and I resolved to take action should an engagement occur between Miss Coppenhall and my young master. I understand that they are mutually undesirous of an engagement, but the contingency remains.

---
{In the meantime}
On the boat deck
[Bertie's POV]

"What do you think they could be doing in there?" Cate asked, re: the jeeves and thalia staring match, but she didn't ask accusingly

"Who knows? My man is as hard to read as one of those Egyptian hierowhatsits. I can never fully know what's going on in that fish-fed brain of his," I admitted.

"Neither can I," she shooked her head, "with Thalia, I mean. She's a marvel really, very intelligent."

"Perhaps," I considered, "there is a cloak-and-dagger mystery running afoot. Now they are putting their large minds to the task, concocting elaborate schemes to investigate the matter. Very enigmatic. Wheels within wheels."

Cate laughed. "You're a decent chap," she decided, "I hope you never get engaged to Thalia. Then I'd have to consider you the most loathsome sort of cad, and that would be a pity."

"But why so, old fruit?"

"I just don't like it. People being engaged to her, I mean."

"Jeeves doesn't like it either," I beamed, "anyone getting engaged to me, I mean."

"So he doesn't get engaged himself?"

"Oh no there was a cook," I said.

"But it didn't work out, the last time I heard," I continued, trying not to sound all too happy about it.

"What about the woman in furs?"

"Well what about her?" I asked, deflating from my high.

"Is he engaged to her?"

"If he is, he hasn't told me."

"You should break their engagement," Cate decided.

"I don't even know if they're engaged yet! Besides, I have no idea how to do anything like that without Jeeves. Every time I land in the soup, I ring for Jeeves. But now I cannot."

"Oh I'll help you!" she beamed, and I saw now that it was we who were plotting, "even if they are not engaged yet, it might happen. Might as well get a headstart on the thing. Unfortunately, you can't just whisk him off, since we're on a ship and everything. Why, when Thalia almost got engaged once, we had no choice but to decide, very suddenly, that Marge Cruise's condition had worsened, so she had moved to a cottage in the Shetland Islands to spend her last days, and that we were needed there urgently."

"Dashed clever. But wait- didn't anyone realize there was no Marge Cruise in a cottage in the Shetland Islands, and that she was still sitting in a metrop hospital or wherever is her usual haunt?" I wondered.

"People go willingly to the Shetland Islands?" she asked, puzzled, "I don't think they do, so no one came to make sure. We always decide Marge to be situated in locations too remote for anyone to care to check."

"You can decide that?"

"Oh yes definitely. Decent filly who loves taking advice. Wait, what were we discussing?"

"Er," I tried, "ah yes, breaking up Jeeves' pash with the filly in furs. Actually, that still doesn't seem sporting at all."

"Why not? We've just spent the last ten minutes with you talking all about the engagements Jeeces breaks up for you," she pointed out.

"But I wanted those engagements broken, I told him as much," I protested.

"You asked him to break up the engagement with Moira? I must've misheard when you told me of that," she wondered.

"No," I admitted, "I didn't. But it all turned alright in the end, I realized that I didn't have a pash for her after all. Ah! Jeeves was just clever enough to discover that before I did." I was pleased with the revelation.

"Alright then," she said, snapping her fingers, "then let all be fair in love and…the other thing. I suggest you chat to Jeeves' filly and drink with her, try to wheedle some secrets out of her. Something Jeeves would disapprove of, if he hears about it. Serial orphanage arson, maybe. She's bound to have some skeletons in the closet."

"I say!" I I-sayed, "I can't break into a lady's suite and start rifling through her closet in search of human bones. I'm not doing all that interrogating and blackmailing stuff either. Stiffy might, but not me. It's against the Code of the Woosters." A vague thought that sounded like 'eulalie' whispered in my consciousness, but I dismissed it. For the most part, and under most circs whereby the sanctity of my spine has not been gravely and repeatedly threatened, blackmail is against the Code of the Woosters.

"Ah well, in that case, maybe try distracting the chap, bunge him into shared fun with you and away from that filly," she suggested.

"If I could, I would," I said almost dramatically, "but the man is the soul of propriety. He won't have the slightest bit of fun with the young master around, much less any kind of fun with the y.m. himself."

"Then I know just the thing," she beamed, and started rummaging through her pockets before handing an invitation to me, with details of date and venue but addressed to no one, "Mr Elsner, B52-B56. He's holding a private party in said suite rooms the night after the next. That place has its own private promenade. Starts at 9pm, but the party only really starts at midnight. Wild stuff, I assure you. I knew a chum who knew a chum who couldn't make it. They like me enough to give me the spare and let me decide who I should trust it with. Masks are a must, it's all very anonymous actually, people use fake names all the time. So really, Jeeves doesn't have to worry about all this class and station whatsit. Do try to get him to be your plus one. And please do try to misbehave, or I might not get invited to these wheezes again. It's going to have booze, bathing suits, negro music and narcotics. Did you pack any strange clothes? Ah, you probably haven't. But if you have, put them into a bag and bunge em right in, you can change into them in the suite. It's also a bit of a costume party, you see."

"Why that's dashed decent of you," I said sincerely, "I promise I won't spoil the revels. Why, lots of old school chums call Bertram the soul of the party."

"I should warn you not to get too shocked. But I'm sure you'll be fine. You seem just like the sort of fruit who would love it," she said, and gave me a hefty wink. I briefly wondered if there was some huge gnat flying about.

"Is there some huge gnat flying about?" I wondered.

"What?" she whatted.

"Oh it's nothing. But it does remind me of this one rummy time..." and then I proceeded to regale her with that tale, previously chronicled, of Madeline and gnats and another unwanted engagement, as we walked back to her mistress and my man.

---

Chapter Text

__/__/1908

[Jeeves's POV]

Our German cryptographer has appeared peculiarly distracted since our stop in Cologne the previous afternoon. I had chalked it up to nervous anticipation- we had revealed our plans to him, and indeed it took considerable disguise and subterfuge to smuggle him across the border to Belgium. We stayed the night in Liége, as a form of celebratory rest to sooth the nerves.

That evening, a gentleman and lady came over for dinner, and were introduced as friends of my young master's father. I happened to know of Mr Wooster even before that evening. He is a Mr Percival Wooster, aged 32, an unassuming amateur novelist of agreeable conversation and disagreeable sartorial preferences. He is an unlikely, familiar face amongst the underclass, being an eccentric gentleman who keeps the company of Russian dissidents in East End and longshoremen by the docks, as his own research for mystery thrillers which he pens under a pseudonym. Many a naval officer, known to the underworld for their frequent trips to luxurious "introducing houses", appear to know him well and treat him as a close friend, although Mr Wooster himself, pale and lanky, looks very much unlike the usual members of the Royal Navy.

This mystery solved itself at some juncture in their dinner conversation, with Mr Wooster jesting about the prison-like environment of his school years in a prestigious naval academy. His years there were cut short by expulsion, as he had taken the blame for a glass of soda that his close friends had poured into an officer's eyes, through using a hole in the roof, of which said hole could thank ill-advised larceny of a cannon ball, a hasty escape and slippery fingers for its existence. His wife, Mrs Wooster, divulged that she was half-German, although she showed every trace of a British upbringing due to the great influence of many a prep school. She still held her childhood hometown in nostalgic favour and loved frequent trips to the nation.

Their visit came as a particular shock to our cryptographer, who pleaded ill and retired early for the night. Since then, we had a spot of inconvenience from the Nachrichten-Abteilung aboard the rail, and we've resorted to car travel over long scenic trails in the countryside.

When we arrived in Calais, I would admit that it was I who was in nervous anticipation. The secret service is bound to find us here, for Calais is not inconspicuous, and the Dover-Calais route is well-travelled. But the route would have to do. I had attempted to impress the gravity of the situation onto Mr Harrison, who appeared to be in no state of urgency to board the soonest steamer across the Channel.

At this juncture, I should apologize to the no doubt confused though imaginary readers, for plunging into my tale in media res. A brief rundown of the context should be necessary.

My name is Reginald Jeeves. I work as a footman in the household of the senior Mr Harrison, a tradesman-turned-gentleman well into his years. In his attempt to impress the gentry, he hires an excess of footmen, and hires them for their statuesque height, shapely legs and youthful age. As a mere boy of 16 winters, I fulfill such criteria, but I find little to do within the household. As a consequence, over the past 5 months, I found myself gradually and inexplicably doubling as the unofficial valet for his third-born son, the young Mr Harrison.

I did not mind this shift in my state of employment, for the young Mr Harrison is of a charming yet easily manageable nature. Furthermore, the uptick in my duties allowed me to sharpen my domestic skills. Certainly, I considered the peculiarity of serving as the valet, unofficial or not, to a master 6 years my senior. But my master did not seem to notice or to care of this peculiarity, and preferred my services to that of the other footmen.

However, I would admit that I considered this trip to continental Europe disagreeable, and had attempted to subtly broach this subject, but to no avail. The young Mr Harrison had returned to the country home from Oxford a year ago, and since then, he has spent his days on hunting and light reading, going to great pains to avoid the so-called honorable industries of banking, trading and law which his relatives attempted to press him into. The senior Mr Harrison, however, saw that there was one remaining industry which remained to be introduced to his son. Gentlemen, even those working as foreign diplomats, oft find the idea of espionage and intelligence-gathering to be greatly distasteful and against their principles. The senior Mr Harrison, holds no such compunctions, and has the advantage of valuable connections to the so-called "criminal classes" from his earlier days. As a result, he is often paid handsomely for his discreet services to the state. He saw fit to recruit the help of his young son, now that he was aging into his twilight years. I had aided the senior Mr Harrison in such work previously, but I had never found myself with so much responsibility as an accomplice until now.

All the above factors came together into our current mission. Three days ago, we were contacted to extract a German of some importance into the usual offices in London. We were vaguely informed that he possessed sensitive information which was highly crucial, and that he was prepared to offer this information in exchange for asylum. He had been planning to travel to London himself, ostensibly as a vacation trip, but the real reason for his trip was exposed by another person he thought erroneously to be a sympathetic ear. As a result, he was hiding out in the German countryside from the Nachrichten-Abteilung, the German secret service, and we were to act as his escorts, bodyguards and smugglers.

Shortly after we met the German however, we became privy to further details on our mission. In his anxiety to press home the importance of us ensuring his physical safety, we were told that he was the sole cryptographer for the German state, as the cryptoanalysis department of the Nachrichten-Abteilung was otherwise primitive, and unable to attract any relevant talent. As a result, almost all of the agency's information passed through his hands, and he was privy to the full network of German spies operating within the United Kingdom.

This matter of possible German infiltration is what I've long understood to be a contentious and controversial matter amongst my higher-ups. It therefore came as little surprise when he informed me that the majority of the British officials he contacted, were dismissive of his claims. There was a minority of high-ranking persons highly suspicious of Imperial Germany and thoroughly convinced of German infiltration into the UK, and they were eager to obtain this supposed cryptographer, but they were unable to affect any official action. In further absence of any organized or competent official secret service agency within Britain, the matter fell into our hands, and the nation, as a whole, was none the wiser as to this mission.

I myself was suspicious of his eagerness to defect from Germany, but it was not my place to attempt obtaining the reason any more overtly than I have. In any case, at present, the matter of getting safely to London came more to the forefront of my mind, which I considered as I served tea. Our steamer trip was postponed by Mr Harrison's insistence on social pleasantries with Mr and Mrs Wooster, who had, by coincidence, arrived too in Calais just hours before, and had invited him to tea in their rented cottage by the seaside.

The cyptographer had fled urgently to a pub in town rather than arrive in the car to the cottage, and I met him there as soon as Mr Harrison left with Mr Wooster for a nearby gentleman's club.

"I don't know if you noticed," he told me, eyes darting about theatrically as he spoke in a hushed whisper, "but I've been awfully nervous about those Woosters. Isn't it a great big coincidence that they're here? Now, and again?"

"I could not say, sir."

"Well I'll say. I know them. I was thinking it didn't make a difference. After all, I'm not handing that list over to you until you get me safely onto your shores."

"As you say, sir." He had given us to understand that he would divulge none of the identities of the German operatives until we reach London, lest we abscond with his list and leave him to his devices. This list, encrypted with an algorithm he created solely for this task, was hidden somewhere on his person, accompanied by the decoder. A discreet check of his travel trunk and coat turned up nothing.

"But now I'm thinking, it's just two of them, so I might as well tell you. The Woosters are two such operatives. The most prized and useful of the whole bunch too. That's why I've been so jumpy the past few days, now you understand. And since they're right here, might as well get rid of them, will you? Especially before they find me."

I paled. Why had he not informed us sooner? The life of Mr Harrison could be in grave danger right at this moment.

I gave him a bow, slight and stiff. "Rest assured I will contact the relevant authorities, sir."

"Good," the man said absentedly, his gaze far away as he ran the tip of his index finger over the edge of his empty glass repeatedly, "jolly good." I excused myself and went in search of all gentlemen's clubs within the vicinity.

I found Mr Harrison, to my great relief, seated safely in the jovial, benign atmosphere of a suitably crowded club, his drink thankfully untouched. I apologized to him that I had misread the ferry schedule, and we had to depart immediately. He missed the tense lines in my face, and shot me a look of petulant reluctance before fumbling hastily for his walking stick, but I managed to extract him from the club regardless. Before we departed, I glanced at Mr Wooster. He has smooth, soft features unmarked by trauma or labor, and he appeared at ease as he engaged in idle chatter. He has an open smile which makes him look younger than his 32 years, and which gives all the impression of harmlessness.

I kept Mr Harrison abreast of the situation, and we hastily arranged for a room in a nearby hotel. We sent out a coded telegram, and its encryption attracted the attention of our German, who remarked on its simplicity. Such drawbacks I were fully aware of, but we were no experts ourselves, and our superiors could scarcely be convinced of the necessity of any encryption. We stagnated in silent impatience until we received a reply the following afternoon, informing us to gather evidence on Mr and Mrs Wooster, and to eliminate them, by way of an accident, if the evidence proves sufficient.

Such extreme clock-and-dagger ways are hardly the standard modus operandi, but neither were the Woosters the standard enemies of the state. Foreign infiltrators had been tried and convicted before, but that was what they were- foreign, and hardly of the gentile breeding which the Woosters could lay claim to. To have British gentry hauled before court for aiding and abetting a foreign nation, was unthinkable. And in any case, the resulting conviction would be execution.

Our secondary mission put us at further risk. We were to continue staying in a conspicuous part of a country already well infiltrated by the German secret service, with the objective of eliminating two of their operatives. It was not at all a satisfactory state of affairs.

We could no longer make our presence known to Mr and Mrs Wooster, but we managed to monitor their house from the vicinity nonetheless. No one of note came and went from their house, in the course of two days. The singular incident I noticed, is of two men who took a more-than-passing interest towards the cottage, and spoke indecipherably in a language I could at least ascertain to be Russian.

When the Woosters departed in the evening for a play, we took the chance to break and enter. I found a few floorboards in the master bedroom, which appears to be slightly loose. Prying them open, I discovered a locked valise hidden underneath. Within it were two pistols, three magazines, a vial of liquid and an assortment of papers. I was gripped with the impulse to confiscate the ammunition and vial, but I restrained myself with the reminder that we could not be known to have entered here. I did, however, make replicas of the papers, which appeared to be naval blueprints and proposals for the military use of flying machines. The floorboards were nailed back into place, and the replicas sent off in nondescript brown paper packages.

The papers, we were then given to understand by telegram, were mostly classified documents pertaining to high-tech military projects. The reminder were confidential British reports assessing Britain's naval capabilities, and what appeared to be self-reports, written in German, of overall British military capabilities. Thankfully, the British reports were outdated by one to two years, and most of the tech proposals did not see further development, but the fact remained that the Woosters were not supposed to have possession of these highly confidential documents.

We were dining at a bistro near the cottage, when the Wooster couple arrived. In the shadow of the umbrellas on a drizzling evening, we were suitably hidden, yet still close enough to hear snippets of their conversation. Most significantly, they were to leave for the picturesque country town of Montreuil-sur-Mer in two hours. The conversation then shifted to talk of their son, an 8 year old Bertram Wooster, who I had never before heard mentioned. The existence of this son should not have bothered me, I knew.

I hastened to make the necessary changes to their vehicle, while Mr Harrison stayed to ply the couple with drink. I told myself that my swiftness only suited the urgency of the situation. But Montreuil is only an hour's drive away, and I knew that my haste was more a defense against any change of mind I might entertain.

The rain intensified, thankfully, as the forecast predicted. By the time the automobile had crashed into a tree in the sleepy countryside, the rain had progressed into a thunderstorm. Together with the alcohol in their bloodstream and the darkness of the night, I thought the scenario to provide adequate cover against any suspicions of sabotage. Furthermore, the car has suffered the uncommon but plausible effect of a fire from the collision- some fuel line must have been sheared, or the fuel tank punctured, and the fire was slowly spreading from the engine compartment, possibly due to a breach in the firewall.

I felt however, no measure of satisfaction at rhe conclusion of this objective. If nothing, it felt like something had gone very awry.

---

The bolt fell the next morning.

On the night before, I informed the cryptographer of the car crash. For a man so visibly haunted by the presence of the Woosters in all our time so far, he did not appear at all liberated by the news. If nothing, he sank into a state of deep melancholy.

Perhaps, I thought, it simply went against morals and principles to learn that people had been killed on his behalf, even if these very same people would not, in all likelihood, have hesitated to kill him.

This pleasant theory, however, was shattered that morning.

"Mr Jeeves," said the cryptographer, who always had the improper habit of tagging on "Mr"s even when addressing domestic servants, "I know this is a little late to say this, but- the Woosters- well, I need to tell you."

There was a pause.

"What would you like to convey, sir?"

He pursed his lips, and seemed to require quite some mental effort to start speaking. "It just doesn't add up, does it? What would they doing, slowly muddying about in France while they held sensitive British documents to sell to the Germans? Anyone like them would be high-tailing it to Berlin post-haste. Perhaps you could think they strayed here to target me. But they remained here in Calais, after they thought we've long since left. Or maybe they didn't think we left- but that still doesn't add up, why would they go to Montreuil then?"

"Are you alluding to the possibility of a third mission on their part, sir?"

For a moment, he turned to stare at me, relieved. But just as quickly, his agitated mood returned.

"It's not- they're innocent. Good god, they're innocent. This is all a mistake. I- what have I
….". The man stopped, shocked and lost for words.

"What causes this change of opinion, sir?"

"No it's not, it's not a change of mind. I've known all along. The Woosters, I don't know what they've done, but they've managed to piss off the Okhrana. Russian secret service, I'm sure you know. Most likely, it's all those anti-czarist Russian revolutionaries they keep hanging out with in London, or so Harrison tells me. They must've heard lots of stuff they shouldn't have. In any case, it must've been real hot stuff they learned, because the Russians want them dead, and quite eagerly at that. Though they can't go off killing British gentlemen for any reason, not when they signed that alliance treaty just a year before. So they figured- if you Brits could be convinced to off the Woosters yourselves, everything would be much easier."

I said nothing.

"So they planted the evidence, the pistols and the poison and the plans," he continued, "they already got those plans off actual infiltrators anyhow. And slightly loose floorboards, I mean, it's just such an obvious and common place to look if you're looking for hidden things, but it's also easily missed by casual visitors. But how do I know? Because they needed someone to voice suspicion of the couple to begin with, someone trustworthy, someone who should know. So they approached me at the railway station in Cologne, and I could hardly say no. Because they know everything about me. They know all my filthy secrets, except I can tell you every one of those secrets now, because I suddenly don't care anymore. I bugger men, for instance. And they had me wrapped around their finger, doing their bidding, because of it."

A short silence descended on the room again. Now I shattered it unceremoniously.

"Do you not realize..." I said, the cold fury in the my voice shocking even myself, "what you- we've done last night?"

For possibly the first time in my life, I was enraged. Enraged not that he was a homosexual, but that he was so indiscreet- in his taste for garishly colorful attire, his green carnation boutonnèires, his frequency of stumbling back into the hotel in early mornings still in his evening wear, only rumpled and smelling of another man's aftershave, all that had given Mr Harrison and I no little frustration as his escorts, and he might as well have hung a neon sign the size of ten billboards above his head. That his activities had been discovered by the Okhrana, was not any kind of surprise.

I was enraged too, and perhaps even more so, by how much of a fool I had been. I was enraged, by my inability to judge the cryptographer's strange behaviour, my blindness to the multiple inconsistencies in the theory of the Woosters as spies, and my easy trust in cliché loose floorboards.

I was enraged most of all, that I had made the biggest mistake of my life just hours before, because the both of us were such enormous fools.

I started back into the world as the frost of my words cut past his silent self-pitying despair.

"I do realize. And that's why I've told you everything. Now you can put a bullet to the back of my head for the trouble I've been through. Yes. Because I've- I've killed two innocent people. And then I-" he gave out a bitter laugh, "And then what do I do? I covered myself with bed!"

My rage by then, had returned back to simple shock. I schooled my expression into one of proper neutrality, but innately I was struck dumb by the horror of our situation. He broke the silence once again, but this time he sounded resigned and toneless, like all energy has deflated from him.

"I'm going out for a walk. Maybe I'll be back by 9," I heard someone say, and I felt miles away. I concluded, belatedly, that the owner of the voice had to be the cryptographer, for there was no one else in the room.

Mr Harrison woke at his usual time of half past nine. The cryptographer still hadn't returned. I entered Mr Harrison's bathroom in my usual morning routine of drawing his bath, and noticed a piece of paper on the shelf.

"If you're reading this, I've probably done the drastic thing to myself already, or I would have returned by now to burn this stupid note.

In any case, you must know that the encrypted list of the network of operatives is inside Mr Harrison's walking stick. It's in the hidden compartment of his stick, in the cigar tube I know he never opens. So I've replaced his cigar with mine, and the list is a scroll between the cigar wrapper and filler.

The decoder is in a space between the iron layer at the bottom of my trunk, and the inner pine layer. Just cut away the pine layer with something."

I realized, 15 minutes later, that the only walking stick within our hotel room has a tiny inscription on the underside of the crooked handle, which reads "P.G.W.". I realized, in the very same moment, with the exception of this inscription, the walking sticks of Mr Harrison and Percival Grenfell Wooster look very much alike.

Images of the cane, burning in the wreck as it was grasped in the arms of the late Mr Wooster, flashed before my eyes. I grabbed onto a side table for support, almost upsetting the glass vase of hyacinths.

At some point in the haze of considering that our entire reason for being here had literally gone up in flames, the police knocked on the door and entered to inform us that our cryptographer had blown his brains out somewhere else, the details of which I scarcely cared to register.

We finally took that bloody ferry to Dover. There was no fallout. Everything just faded back into the normal, which only served to enhance my disquiet and guilt. The obituaries reported the deaths of the Woosters as tragic accidents, but life otherwise flowed along in its usual trivial way for everyone. The senior Mr Harrison did not fire me, instead, he forgivingly saw the tragic affair as a blunder on his part for sending two young and inexperienced operatives on such an important mission. In the small, chaotic world of "private operators" and unofficial informants where rumors abound, they got near a vague resemblance of truth, and held much the same opinion as the senior Mr Harrison. And so my reputation amongst them- though it was not a reputation I cared for to begin with- remained untarnished. The young Mr Harrison fell back comfortably into his leisurely ways, although he now enjoyed a slight decrease in his father's cajoling for him to accomplish greater things.

It was not that I feared facing justice for my actions. In fact, I desired such retribution, but there was no way to confess to any of it without spilling a multitude of state secrets along the way.

I knew even then that I had to find a way to atone for my actions, but I did not know how. The matter of the Woosters mercifully and gradually faded from my mind, although I remained troubled by the occasional nightmare.

I did not expect the opportunity to arise a full decade and a half later, as I was finally accepted into the membership of the prestigious Junior Ganymedes, and found within the club book, an entry of a certain "Bertram Wooster".

Chapter Text

---
{11am the next day}
[Jeeves' POV]

It was our third day at sea. The weather remained agreeable, and the ship was cruising swiftly at a constant 20 knots. We should reach our first port of call in 2 days. However, my employed has expressed concern for my emotional state this morning, and I cannot deny that my personal affairs are proceeding less than satisfactorily. While Miss Fletcher has tasked me with obtaining the pocketwatch of Viscount Valoise, I have considered the matter of obtaining the diary to be of higher importance. Therefore, a greater portion of my energy has been directed towards discreet efforts to acquire the diary, but to no avail. While it pains me to admit so, Miss Fletcher has thus far been able to maintain ownership of it.

In the late morning, she approached me with a clear air of dissatisfaction.

"Reggie, I must tell you. I have lost two locks, a beautiful coat and a perfectly good meal to your attempts to acquire Benny Harrison's diary. I really must recommend that you redirect your efforts towards the acquisition of Count Valois's watch," she protested irritably, "even my hair is a little out of place today. I am fully confident that I can continue to outsmart you, but really you are wearing me to a shadow."

I did not mention to Miss Fletcher that her being worn to a shadow was not an unpleasant notion for me.

"After all," she continued, "you wouldn't want Bertie to have the sodding thing, would you?"

"I fear, miss, that in such a mutually harmful scenario, you'd find yourself without Viscount Valoise's watch."

"Oh don't throw my threat back at me. In any case, you know how impulsive and irrational I can get. For all you know," she said, clearly relishing whatever thought had just passed through her mind, "Bertie might find a little more in his food, just because you tried to slip a little more into mine. I would be without the watch, but you know how I can act when I'm pipped."

I resisted the urge for a physical altercation.

"Very good, miss."

She squinted at me, fixed her hair once more, and left.

I was quite reminded, under my circumstances, of a previous conversation with my employer. Mr Wooster, in his admirably and entertainingly colourful language, had compared his acquaintance Miss Byng to a "female upas tree" that "does you in if you sit under it" and "disaster on every side is what she shrews". I therefore felt, in all frankness, that all hyperbolic literary allusions to the upas tree's poisonous capabilities most suited Miss Fletcher.

---
[Jeeves' POV]

Returning to my master's side, I found him anxiously attempting to propose that I join him for lunch at the verandah cafe. This was an invitation I accepted.

Having been previously acquainted with Miss Fletcher, I have no doubt that the more irrational of her whims and fancies, have a tendency to pass after half a day. However, in the meantime, I felt it necessary to accept Mr Wooster's lunch invitation. Doing so would allow me to better ensure his food is free of certain additives.

Nonetheless, I could not help but feel that the protection of Mr Wooster also served as a form of self-justification. I admittedly harbour the emotional desire to, quite simply, share in his activities, quite apart from any other reason to do so. However, I had considered acting on this simple desire to be inappropriate. Therefore, the need to shield Mr Wooster from harm rather conveniently doubled as cover for fulfilling my desire to enjoy his company. Seeing the way that his expression brightened upon my acceptance of his invitation, I felt in that moment that his joy was reason enough. I felt my spirits lift slightly despite the events of this morning.

---
{Early afternoon}
Verandah café
[Bertie's POV]

I couldn't believe it. Jeeves had accepted my invitation. He did not seem disposed to telling me why, so I did not ask. Bertram is not a chap to look a gift horse in the mouth.

When we arrived, we were told, in very mournful tones, that almost all of the kitchen equipment was acting up, and that most of their staff had fallen sick from a cake one of them brought in last night. As a result, there was only one course which could be served, and it was mostly cold meats. The mood amongst the few remaining staff was positively somber. However, I did not let this dampen my spirits. I had a hearty breakfast, so I didn't mind a light lunch. I asked after Jeeves, and he agreed along the same vein.

As we sat down, I realized something, and decided to mentally send forth all my blessings to malfunctioning kitchen equipment and sinister pastries. You see, as a result of the lunch fare here being so substantially reduced, most passengers had biffed off to the saloon. This left the whole cafe to the disposal and privacy of Jeeves and yours truly.

I was quite dreamily appreciating the surrounding scenery and the man sitting in front of me, when said man accidentally upset my drink over my dish. This, of course, left me in no little surprise. Jeeves, after all, is grace personified. But, I suppose, mistakes are surely made every now and then.

Jeeves was all apologies, but I would have none of it.

"I would have none of this, Jeeves," I informed him, "by which I mean your apologies. Mistakes are made. And I've had a full breakfast anyway."

"Nonetheless, sir, I must insist you partake in my meal instead," he said, and switched the plates over before I could protest.

"I suggest a compromise," I considered, "this is, after all, your plate. I'll take half of this food, and you take half."

I forked a bit of the stuff, and held it out. It took a while to realize I was literally holding out a forkful of food for Jeeves.

"Well, er-" I started, and I was just about to redirect said fork towards my mouth, when Jeeves responded.

And by responded, I mean he quickly glanced about the room before he leaned forward and ate from my fork.

This is the end, I thought. This is the end of Bertram Wooster. You could have buried me six feet under, right then and there. The sight of it all was simply too much. It took me all my willpower not to just fall off my chair in joy and amazement. I pondered, in mental flailing, the way that the sun had shone upon his brillantined head, the way that his piercing eyes had gazed up at me, the way that those lips-

In the blink of an eye, Jeeves had withdrawn. He chewed on like nothing had happened. Once he was done with that, he spoke.

"I must apologize, sir-"

"No no!" I corrected hastily, "you have nothing to apologize for! It's just- that was- that was amazing. You looked marvelous. I mean, er, in general, you look marvelous today. Yes. That's completely what I meant. But wait dash it, I don't mean to suggest- actually you look marvelous everyday. Er, I suppose, what I really mean to say is-" I halted, for I was starting to blabber.

"Thank you, sir," he almost purred. And I swore a playful smirk flashed over his face for an instant. I mourned my impending funeral. The man would certainly be the death of me.

---
{Mid-afternoon}
At the bar
[Bertie's POV]

I don't know if you've ever been invited to tea at a bar, but that was precisely what Jeeves' filly proposed. Unable to find any more pressing engagement, I had no choice but to accept the bizarre invitation.

Her name, as she told me, was Celeste Fletcher, and she divulged it simply because, as she said, she had gotten bored of acting mysterious. I was expecting, in much dread, that she would go on and on about Jeeves and his many merits, as fillies in love are wont to do. Of course, I'll admit that Bertram himself goes on and on about Jeeves and his many merits, but it'd be quite the heartache to hear her do that. But she did not, and left most of the talking to me. I struggled but I did manage to steer clear of bringing up Jeeves, not wanting her to jump onto the mention of his name and start gushing about my man.

For the first half an hour or so, she simply listened to my recountings of my Etonian and Oxonian times, and made playful remarks every now and then. But as time went by, her tongue loosened up.

"I don't have much in the way of old school friends. My life was a little too…unique for that. People come and go. But I was on good terms with a man called Benjamin Harrison. He reminds me of you. A bit of an idle twit, but he meant well, and he loved sharing about his life to everyone."

I decided to ignore the "a bit of an idle twit" portion. "Well what is he doing now, old thing? Anything of note?"

"I suppose he's not doing anything of note now," she said, with almost a smirk, "because he's dead."

"Ah. I'm dreadfully sorry."

"Well don't be," she dismissed glibly, "he conked out during the Great War. Things like that happen. He left me most of his flotsam, if you can imagine, including his memoirs, unpublished of course. But if you meant to ask if he did anything of note while living, nothing of that sort either. Other than accidentally killing a man, I mean."

I'm not sure if it is generally acknowledged, but when a teatime companion suddenly hits you, out of the blue, with words like "he accidentally killed a man" right then and there in the middle of the day, that does put a damper on the atmosphere.

"Well I'm sure he didn't mean it, what?"

"I suppose so. Still, there it is. Poor chap went by the name of Aebig Borg-Finsterbergen, I recall."

I shuddered, if only at the name.

"Exactly, it's an absolutely dreadful name. That's how I'll remember it forever. Benny spoke quite a bit about him in his memoirs. Aebig was apparently a German cryptographer. Or cryptoanalyst. He had to do both, apparently. Ae- you know what, let's call him Borgie, I can't stand his name. Well, Borgie died in 1908. Benny himself passed on 7 years later, at just 29."

There was a pause.

"Tell me, Bertie. Do you, as a general rule, trust people?"

"Oh sure, why not?" I replied, regaining a modicum of speech, "best to give people the benefit of the doubt and whatnot."

"Well I tend to be more skeptical," she confided, "but I trusted in Benny Harrison. He was a very honest and trusting sort of man, much like you."

"Ah," I simply remarked. I wasn't exactly going to stop a filly from singing the merits of Bertram Wooster, but I'll admit that I'm not as honest as driven snow, or at least I forgot the exact saying. Of course, I try to be as honest as can be, but in certain circs, like when a filly asks if I want to be engaged to her, it just isn't the done thing to reject the poor girl.

"I suppose it gets a little awkward if I'm going to heap praise on you," Celeste laughed, "let's get back to talking about your chums and their shenanigans."

---
{Evening}
[Bertie's POV]

The afternoon sun gave way to dusk. I was still, as it were, drifting beautifully upon the clouds of this morning's lunch. Not even that morbid talk about dead german cryptowhatsits at tea, could deter a dreamy grin from splitting my dial.

I was making my way back to my room to dress for the evening, and I was barely registering the world as my mind replayed scenes of Jeeves eating from my fork. It seemed to me, in that instant, that life could not be better. However, just as you might think you are Fate's most prized nephew, it sidles up to you from behind and beans you a good one with a china basin full of beans. Not halfway to my destination, I bumped quite literally into the slender corpus of Madeline Bassett.

She staggered for a bit before regaining balance, but she did not fall. I was glad for that. Picking tumbling girls off parquet floors tends to create all sorts of misunderstandings.

"Oh, hello Bertie," she greeted, in a markedly distracted but still soppy way.

"What ho, Madeline," I replied, not wanting to be less than civil, "heading for dinner?"

She fixed me with a sorrowful gaze. I steeled myself. Whatever it was, it couldn't be good.

"Oh I would love to," she said shakily, close to tears, "but first I have to find Roderick."

"Ah?" I ah-ed, "Misplaced him, have you?"

"It's not that," she shook her head. Then she took on the look of someone contemplating something tragic.

"I think I should know where he is," she spoke. A dark, stormy look flashed across her face, "do you know where Thalia Coppenhall is?"

"Ah?" I tried again, "oh, right- no idea, old thing."

"Because he should be right by her side," she said, and the storminess of her expression intensified, "he spotted her at the start of today, and he seemed a little bit shocked that she had boarded the cruise. Ever since then, he's been...different. What I mean is, he's suddenly all interested in her, and he's been running after her all morning and afternoon. Sticking to her like morning dew to the buttercups. I don't like her at all, Bertie. I remember her. You wouldn't believe the way she treated elves and fairies when I knew her."

If she meant that Thalia treated them as non-existent, then I was all for it. This, of course, I did not divulge to Madeline Bassett.

I saw it was time to play, as Jeeves might put it, the role of the raisonneur.

"Maybe," I conjectured, "there's some dashed important matter he needs settled, and only Thalia can help him."

Then I remembered. "Has Spode been having nightmares?"

"Nightmares?" she asked, puzzled.

"The Viscount Valoise," I confided, "was having nightmares the first night, and he was all over Thalia trying to get her folkloric remedies."

"Her folkloric remedies," she snorted, or at least came very close to snorting, which is quite a shocking thing to hear from a filly like Madeline, "yes I know all about Thalia's folkloric remedies. Don't remind me of them."

I saw that I was making no headway.

"It's been awful, Bertie!" she moped, "Roderick's been ignoring me quite a bit today. Twice I asked him to join me for a scenic stroll along the boat deck. Both times he said he needed to see Thalia, and it just wouldn't do to go for a stroll with me."

I decided to try a different tack.

"This is not like you, Madeline," I said in an almost chiding tone but only almost, "jealousy doesn't suit you. I'm sure Spode has a very important reason to seek her company, and his love for you burns everbright, if everbright is a word."

A pause hung in the air. For me, the spectre of the sword of Damocles burned everbright.

"You're right, Bertie," she considered, and I was glad to see that my whattoneuring was succeeding, "he does still love me. And he does still pay me attention. At lunch, we were listening to the onboard orchestra. I told him that the crisp, gentle music were like the sound of the river nymphs during the Summer Solstice. He said my remark showed much fineness of feeling. I was so happy. Oh, but- why can't he call on anyone but Thalia? Anyone but her!"

Whatever rude remark Thalia must have once made about elves and fairies, it must have been dashed sharp, for it seemed to have cut a good one out of Madeline. Madeline, despite her somewhat irredeemable soppiness, is not usually a woman to hold a grudge. I was standing there, still considering how to proceed with this raisonneuring business, when Madeline continued.

"I suppose it doesn't matter. I'll probably meet him in the dining saloon soon," she said as she wiped off the beginning of a tear at the corner of her eye, "see you at the dance, Bertie."

---
[Bertie's POV]

"Jeeves!" I exclaimed, almost tearing down my door. Jeeves was laying out the evening attire.

"The young master is in the soup yet again," I informed him.

"Indeed, sir? Are you engaged to Miss Bassett, sir?"

"Not yet," I shook my head, "but the threat looms large, Jeeves." I relayed the whole sitch to him, almost tottering as I did so.

"It appears everyone's banging down her metaphorical door to get to her," I concluded, "but why, Jeeves? She's a looker, but so is Madeline. And Thalia's colder than a slab of frozen seal meat. What does Spode want with her?"

"If I may hazard a guess, sir," he began, but I was only half-listening, my attentions being diverted to the dove grey tie he had laid out for me, "I hardly think Lord Sidcup harbours romantic feelings for Miss Coppenhall. They have spent a good deal of time together, sir. But I inadvertently overheard their topic of conversation to-"

He halted. He gave a pointed look to my neckwear. Said neckwear was not, in fact, the dove grey tie he had laid out for me. It was the mint green bowtie, which I was most preoccupied with struggling with.

"I can hardly recommend the use of that tie, sir."

"Tosh, Jeeves," I retorted, "utter tosh. It goes well with grey."

"I'm afraid, sir, that the tie can be hardly said to go well with any colour."

"That's enough, Jeeves," I declared, "as I have previously mentioned, wild horses couldn't drag this tie away from me."

The atmosphere was most chilly indeed as I finished up my fiddling with the bowtie.

"You were saying, Jeeves?" I asked, taking a stab at conversation.

"It is nothing of consequence, sir," he almost sulked, or at least as much as a Jeeves can almost sulk, "allow me, sir."

He almost proceeded to tidy up my soup-and-fish as a whole, but adjusted the bowtie only with the very tips of his fingers.

"Any solutions striking your fish-fed brain yet?" I enquired, "it would be wise to mend the rift in the Spode-Madeline lute before it widens any further. Or, God forbid, go mute altogether."

"I cannot say, sir," he said, still sounding a little frosty.

"Very well. I'll be off to dinner then," I announced, "do dance with Thalia at the dance, Jeeves, and find out what exactly is going on, re: Spode constantly seeking her hospitality."

"I'm afraid your suggestion cannot be acted upon, sir."

"Eh?" I eh-ed, "why not? Aren't all first-class passengers invited to the dance?"

"That is indeed the case, sir. However, one can expect that dance partners would still pair themselves according to their station, sir."

"Very well, Jeeves", I very-well-ed again, "have it your way. I know your sense of propriety is strong. But I do hope you have a dashing good time there. Enjoy it to your utmost, Jeeves."

"I will, sir," he said, and came almost to an ace of smiling. There was genuine feeling in his voice, despite our recent tiff re: the bowtie. I almost beamed at said sincerity.

---
{Night}
[Bertie's POV]

The dance, as Madeline Bassett had alluded, is one of those ballroom dancing wheezes, and which takes in some converted version of the lounge. I was still looking forward to it, but my mood was considerably dampened by my recent encounter with said Madeline b. I barely tasted my dinner, as my mind remained occupied with the danger of Madeline's engagement falling apart at the seams.

At the end of said distracted dinner, Jeeves came to tell me that he was off to help find Lord Coppenhall's missing wedding ring, and therefore he would be late to the dance, so he apologized that I should be without his service for the start of it. A wholly unnecessary apology, of course, since he's supposed to have a good time at the dance anyway instead of thinking of serving me, and I told him that much. I remembered, of course, Lady Coppenhall holding Jeeves in high esteem when I spoke of him last night, so no doubt she had bunged him in as part of this search party. I didn't like it one bit, neither the previous business of strange fillies brushing one's valet with their ornate fans while lying draped over grand walnut staircases, or this business of frightening colonel's wives scooping up one's valet without so much as a by-your-leave and deciding he's fit for gold-detecting. I was just about to protest this whole wheeze of the Coppenhalls sticking their oar in and deciding they can delay Jeeves' festivities, when Jeeves just shimmered off.

I made my way to the lounge and beheld none other than Thalia Coppenhall, standing in the middle of it all. She had quite a bit more makeup on than usual, but she was in her usual high bun and her usual white frilly number. She was speaking to some other chap, and the way she did it made me start my most violent start in three days. Thalia didn't seem to just be on Cloud 9. She appeared to be on Cloud 99 or so. A full grin was splitting her dial, she was speaking excitedly, and she was gesturing. Gesturing! One can scarcely imagine a person who has spent all day in the company of Roderick Spode, to be in such high spirits.

If, I thought dejectedly, this was how much speaking to Roderick Spode invigorated her, what chance did I have of tearing them asunder?

"What ho, Thalia," I called out, trying to sound friendly as opposed to crushed. Hearing her speak, she sounded different, but dashed if I can put a finger on how.

She didn't seem to have heard me, so I walked closer and called out again, "Thalia?"

That didn't seem to work either. Also, her voice was rather familiar indeed, in reminding me of someone else. But who this someone was, my brain had yet to deliver the goods. I just stood there in silence for a while, still gaping at the sight of this dramatic, cheery Thalia. I was about to give up on it and leave, when she turned and noticed me.

"Oh hello, Bertie, how nice to see you!" Again, there was not only a distinct musicality to her voice, it was also higher. In fact, she sounded almost like...

"Celeste?"

She rolled her eyes, "yes, who else, Bertie? I can understand you forgetting breakfast by now, but not teatime. I did give you my name finally, I remember."

"Yes you did," I defended myself, "and I do remember. Except- why the clothes? And why the hair?"

"Why not the clothes?" she considered, "and why not the hair? All I've done is put my hair in a bun and wear a different dress, Bertie. I didn't expect you to be in such a tizzy. I can give this 'proper dress' wheeze a whirl if I want to."

"Of course you can. However," I said, "you now look like her."

With that, I pointed to the actual Thalia, every bit as frozen stiff and poker faced as she always was. Now that I observed them more closely, Thalia did look a tad more youthful than Celeste. That aside, and with the further exception of their drastic difference in mannerisms, they held an uncanny physical resemblance to each other. They were very much like, in stature, frame and colour. Thankfully, Thalia was now wearing a pale green frock, so I couldn't mistake them again.

"How interesting," Celeste chirped, "Is she a good person to look like?"

"I think so," I simply said, not knowing what passed for 'good' in Celeste's books.

"In any case," Celeste announced to no one in particular, "I shall speak to her."

"Hello there," Celeste chirped, as she approached the Coppenhalls sans Lord Coppenhall. They didn't seem to like that very much.

"And who would you be?" she addressed Thalia.

"That is my daughter, Thalia Coppenhall. How nice to see you here, Miss...?"

"It's a pleasure to meet you, darling," Celeste said, ignoring Lady Coppenhall, "why we look so much like each other, we might be sisters!"

Lady Coppenhall's expression turned a little rummy.

"Oh yes, you both look so alike, what? It's amazing!" Cate piped up.

Lady Coppenhall's expression turned a lot rummier.

"Ah, but I should hope we are not sisters. I have too many sisters," Celeste observed.

"How many?" Thalia enquired.

"Oh half of one. A half-sister, but she is already half of one too many. She is dreadful, absolutely dreadful," Celeste smiled.

Thalia nodded as if she had just been imparted with an important piece of information. "I'm sorry to hear that," she said, but she didn't sound sorry. It was not that she was coldhearted, she just struck Celeste as someone who said everything in much the same tone.

"I have a sister," Cate piped up, "or rather had. Kicked the bucket in the Great War. Her, I mean, not me. Rummy stuff, what? Except not really, I mean I didn't even know her for the first 16 years of my life. Or do I mean 15? I forget. In any case, I-"

In the meantime, I could tell the mood of Lady Coppenhall was steadily darkening. The situation was getting stickier by the moment. Intervention seemed called for.

"What ho! What ho!" I greeted, "Bertie here."

Lady Coppenhall winced at the greeting, but she seemed strangely relieved.

"It is a great pleasure to see you in attendance, Mr Wooster. I was hoping you would accept Thalia's first dance of the evening," she said formally with a rather faked smile.

Well there was nothing to do but accept. The first musical piece was nothing music hall enough for my liking, but just fast enough for a foxtrot. Lady Coppehall didn't seem to like it. But I've surmised by now, if surmised is the word, that she doesn't like a lot of things. At the very least, Thalia was light on her feet, and danced with both a natural and practiced ease. She was not on the level of Jeeves, who could Out-Fred the nimblest Astaire, but she got close enough.

What was currently at the forefront of the Wooster bean, however, is not the similarity between Thalia and Jeeves, but rather the similarity between Thalia and Celeste. It gave me an idea.

Before I could voice the cunning scheme developing in the Wooster onion, Thalia spoke.

"Lord Sidcup," she said with distaste, "has been bothering me the entire day." She said it in much the same way that she had once said "the Viscount Valoise has been bothering the entire day."

I couldn't have been happier to hear that. I could almost hear an angelic chorus.

"Ah," I ah-ed suavely, "so you mean to say that he had been running after you all day, but you do not like said running after?"

"No," she said testily, "I very much do not."

"In that case," I beamed, "you wouldn't object if he were to, say, stop talking to you completely?"

"I would like nothing more than for Lord Sidcup to cease all communication with me," she said stonily. The little rest of the dance passed with silence between us.

"If you will excuse me," she said as the music started to wind down, "I think I need a restorative now that you have mentioned the name of Lord Sidcup." She gave a brief shudder. The music ended, and in the brief lull between that piece and the next, she biffed off, presumably to acquire said restorative.

"Just look at that daughter of mine," Lady Coppenhall sighed in the backdrop, "knowing her, she's off to get a drink. I have nothing against drinks in general, of course. My husband has such a fine appreciation of them. But my little girl is very much a young, fragile thing with a sensitive disposition. She shouldn't have so many drinks. But you know how the younger set are like. They are ever so rebellious."

"I do wonder as to her age," Celeste replied, "but I know it's too delicate to ask a lady like you. Very well. If Thalia is 20 or younger, we all know the done thing is to say she is 20. If she is between 20 and 30, the proper thing is to subtract half a decade from her age before you tell me. If she is older than 30, although I doubt so, subtract a decade from her age before you tell me."

"Then she is 21," Lady Coppenhall sighed again, making Thalia either 26 or 31, "she's getting on in the years as a woman. I did tell her that 30 is the expiry date of any woman, no later than that. She's not there yet, but the few remaining years can pass too quickly. If we're not careful, she'll be condemned to spinsterhood in the blink of an eye. But she's ever so picky."

I considered, at that juncture, that one can either be a "young fragile thing" or "getting on with the years as a woman" but you cannot both. I did not, however, point that out to Lady Coppenhall. Furthermore, Thalia, while not built along the tank-inspiring lines of Honoria Glossop, is almost as tall as I am. I could not tell, under all the ruffles of her modest dress, if she is well-muscled, but she is of medium-ish frame instead of being anything dove-like or whip-thin willowy. It did put the whole notion of her purported fragility a little into question.

Then the music started up again. I hesitate, however, to use the exact words "started up again". It was more like some chappie decided to press on some piano key, stop to occupy his mind with some more urgent matter, and then press the exact same piano key again. Rinse and repeat. The rummy thing is that he always leaves enough silence between each press, for you to think that maybe it's finally ended, or desperately hope that maybe he is thinking of trying something else. But off the chap goes in these sort of respected classical works, pressing that one piano key every now and then for about a minute or two at the start.

"But enough about my daughter. This is an evening for relaxation," Lady Coppenhall decided, "tonight's music is ever so refined and soothing."

"Oh it is," Celeste agreed, "the music is wonderful."

Then she approached me.

"Bertie," she said, "the music is dreadful. And your tie is dreadful. How in the world are we supposed to dance to this? But you must have this dance with me." Then she offered her hand.

I ignored the bit about the tie and accepted the dance. I could have told her, of course, that a woman who spends so much of her time draped over grand walnut staircases, and who owns a pair of gold-painted heels with flashy ribbon for crisscrossing over the calves, has no right to criticize anyone else's wardrobe choices. But my tea with her showed me her better side, and a Wooster does not bandy around harsh words every time he feels like it, much less to a filly. There is the Code and all that.

The music, thankfully, decided to morph into something more conducive to the swinging of feet, though we stuck to a slower waltz just in case. The dance with Celeste went, if we're going by measure of dance skill, nothing of note and quite alike most of my dances with anyone else.

"I must apologize if my footwork is a little uninspired, Bertie," she said by way of conversation, "mother never did let me learn a special skill like the working ladies had. Said I had no need for it, because I was a manager, not a worker. I suppose she was right. Still, I learned the violin from quite a few of them. I never did go in for dance though, at least not seriously."

Her words left me a little puzzled. "You managed an orchestra? Or was it a theatre troupe?" I hazarded some guesses.

"Depends. Orchestras and theatre troupes dress well, entertain people, and get paid, do they not?"

"I suppose so."

"Then I guess it was a little bit like that," she said with a playful smirk. After which, there was a brief lull in their conversation.

"I say," I-I sayed when I could work up the nerve to propose my scheme, "I can't help but notice you look a lot like Thalia."

She rolled her eyes. "You told me that, Bertie. One worries very much for your memory."

"Yes yes dash it," I said weakly, "but what I mean to say is, since you already look so much like her, could you do me a favour by pretending to be her?"

"You mean now?"

"No no, at some later date." And then I out her fully abreast of the situation and my solution. The plan was a simple one. Celeste would disguise herself as Thalia, and have a row with Spode. She would have to be as rude as can be, while still behaving believably like Thalia. At the end of it all, she'd grandly declare that she never wanted to speak to him again. Knowing how Spode decided to silently pine for Madeline for many years, he would most likely respect that wish. Of course, what really tied it together was that Thalia actually didn't want to speak to him again, or so she tells me. But, knowing said real Thalia, she was choosing to suffer Spode's company while giving him the cold eye and a few half-snarky words, than actually do anything harsher. Well harsh was exactly what was needed under these circs. Thalia, whether real or performed as a role, needed to be harsh with Spode and cast him off entirely. Only with their ties completely broken, could Spode finally realize his real love lay with Madeline.

"However," I considered aloud to Celeste, deciding I should examine both sides of my solution, "you two do behave very differently, what? It might be dashed hard to act like her. So, well, if you can't do it..." I tried not to sound dejected.

Celeste dismissed my worries with a wave of her hand. "It is you who accused me of managing a theatre troupe, Bertie. Well I'll have you know I can be a perfectly spiffing actress if need be. Performance is my middle name. All I need to do is-"

She halted.

"What was that thing Reg says he always has to do?"

It took me a moment to realize she meant 'Reg' as in Jeeves. I decided I wasn't onboard with her calling Jeeves 'Reg'.

"Ah!" she exclaimed before I could say anything, "studying the psychology of the individual, he calls it. That's what I'll do. We'll put this whole thing in motion tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes, because- what was that Reggie always says?"

I decided I wasn't onboard with her calling Jeeves 'Reggie' either.

"Something about 'I dare not' and the cat in the adage and whatnot. Doesn't matter. My point is, no point in wasting time. All I need is a brief conversation with Thalia to get her character down pat. I mean, I've already observed her. Don't you worry, Bertie, we'll pull this off without a hitch."

"Dashed decent of you," I said, and meant every word of it.

"Oh no not at all," she said, a little of her smirk having returned, "I can't do this unless you have something to give me, Bertie."

I gulped. "And er, what would that be?"

"Ah yes," she ah-yes-ed, "and that is the key problem. I don't know what you could possibly give me in return, Bertie. No offense."

She suddenly felt a lot closer. I heard, in the background, the excited yelps of who might be Lord Coppenhall, who sounded as if he was doing a one-man song-and-dance. But if Lord Coppenhall was now here, and if he was sounding so dashed jolly, then-

"Bertie," Celeste purred, almost into my ear, and realized she really was too dashed close. One hand of hers was tight around my back, the rest of her corpus a hair's breath away from mine. Her other hand, entwined in my own, released me, her fingers travelleing over my wrist, towards-

"Oh," she realized something.

"Bertie," she said, very softly, "those cufflinks. Where-"

"Miss Fletcher."

I started at the third party's voice.

"Jeeves!" I could only exclaim at said third party, "well, er, what about Lord Coppenhall?"

"His wedding ring was found to have fallen into a gap between a drawer and a wall of his suite, sir," he said, then he addressed Celeste, "I couldn't help but notice, miss, that a waltz is usually not conducted in such close proximity."

Miss Fletcher just smiled and withdrew from my said close proximity. Sensing he was no longer needed, Jeeves oiled off.

Then her usual playful expression lapsed once again into that oddly soft, faraway look I couldn't quite place.

"Where did you get these cufflinks from, Bertie?" she asked, staring intently at them.

"Oh, these? Got them off auction actually. I usually buy my cufflinks brand new, but these were a little too nifty to pass up. I'm told these were once owned by someone else, no doubt someone with a little bit of dough to go around."

"Not that much dough," she smiled wistfully, "did you ever catch who this person's name was?"

"Sorry but I've not the slightest idea, old thing."

She observed my distinctive cufflinks further. "These should be hers," she said, "she always wore them. Very well- you can give me these cufflinks."

I was slightly hesitant. One does not, after all, like to part with treasured jewellery. Still, I decided it could be a lot worse. Many a favour asked by Bertram's old school chums have been a lot worse. I decided that giving her the cufflinks in exchange for her having to pretend to be somebody else, is actually a pretty lopsided trade in my favour.

"Oh, certainly," I decided, and started to remove them. Then Jeeves shimmered over, allow-me-sir-ed, removed them, and shimmered off to fetch me a spare set from my suite. Dashed efficient chap. Celeste didn't seem to think that, however. For the few minutes we had to spend waiting by the sidelines with my linkless sleeves, she didn't seem very patient. She kept asking if he was going to be back yet. I didn't know what to say. Wasn't she pashing for Jeeves and vice versa? Young love, I decided, is ever so fickle. 

"I say, Celeste," I considered when Jeeves fixed me up and we resumed our dance. A thought has only just struck me. My curiosity, you could say, was piqued. "You sounded as if those cufflinks belonged to someone you knew very well."

"They do. And they were her favourite cufflinks. That's how I remember them so well."

"Then why did she pawn them?" I asked, puzzled, "or did she do that by accident, so you're returning them to her?"

"I can't," she smiled, but with an almost pained gaze, "she's dead."

"Oh! Well I'm very sorry, old thing. I shouldn't have said that."

"It's ok," she reassured, and seemed to mean it, "it's not your fault." For an instant, a look of tremendous cold fury flashed across her face, although thankfully it was directed at no one in particular. In a blink of the eye, that look was gone.

---
[Jeeves's POV]

I watched the lights of the chandeliers glance off the the satin ballgowns of the women and the polished wingtips of the men. I watched this scene of carefree decadence, and caught the expression of simple joy on my master's face. I watched their steps, the twirls, the way that their white glacé gloves entwined. I was suddenly gripped with the dangerous impulsive thought that it should be my glove which finds itself entwined with my master's, it should be my steps which mirrors his, my eyes which meet that wide, innocent gaze. The thought struck me, briefly, before I discarded it unceremoniously.

I passed only on the periphery of the ballroom. I know myself always to be the edges of his world, of even Miss Fletcher's world, and I keep myself there. (Or do you? Do you really, always keep to your station? Do you not feel the resentment, jealousy, the unfulfilled ambition? Why else would you humiliate him, even when it's not necessary? Do you not take revenge for his petulance, his pride? But I dismissed that little voice, who sounded a little too much like Miss Fletcher's).

Because, in that moment, I did not feel resentment. I felt only a strange lonesome, like watching ships pass in the night.

----
[Celeste's POV]

Today is the anniversary of Milly. Not even her birthday, I mean the day of her death. I can't say I went through today very well. I threatened to poison Bertie, although doing that wasn't exactly necessary. I wonder how much Reggie believed that. I gave a bit too much away at tea, and tonight I've made the same blunder. Thankfully, none of my slip-ups would be of much consequence.

I had half the mind not to show up to the dance at all, but now I couldn't be happier that I did. As I danced, I felt in a reverie, like the whole world had narrowed down to those treasured cufflinks shining in my pocket.

---
[Bertie's POV]

The rest of the dance was thankfully uneventful. Despite that rummy moment where I mentioned the late probably-a-loved-one of Celeste, nothing could damper my mood that my whole clever plot was coming together. That is, nothing could damper that mood until I sauntered into my room and saw Jeeves laying out the heliotrope PJs in a most frosty manner.

Then it struck me. Eureka, I could have said. Of course the man was pipped. I had just danced away with the woman he pashed for, and who he couldn't bring himself to dance with, most likely due to that propriety wheeze. Furthermore, she was getting strangely close to me when he arrived. I remembered how icy he sounded when he said her name, as he stood there right next to our almost-embrace. I decided I must put the man's mind to rest at once.

"Jeeves", I announced, "put your mind to rest at once. I hold completely no romantic feelings at all for your filly. Not, of course, because of any flaw she has. I'm sure she has many merits. I am sure that a filly able to attract a paragon such as you, has so many merits that the young master cannot count up to such a high number. What you walked in on was an absolute misunderstanding. Her love for you burns everbright, Jeeves."

"Sir?" There was almost a trace of confusion in his voice.

"I was referring to Celeste, Jeeves. Celeste Fletcher." You'd think the man would remember the name of his tender pash, what?

"I believe there has been a grave misunderstanding, sir. There exists no romantic understanding between Miss Fletcher and I. Indeed, our relationship- if it can be termed that- is much less than sanguine, sir."

There was a pause in the room as I momentarily flailed like an electrified halibut.

"Jeeves!" I exclaimed, with realization. You can say that my cup runneth over. You could also say that metaphorical storm clouds parted, the sun shone in, the Blessed Damozel did that thing with the gold bar in the sky, God was in his Heaven, the lark was upon its wing, and snails thorned away like nobody's business.

"That's the best news I've heard in a very long time, Jeeves," I clarified.

"Indeed, sir?"

"But wait," I wondered, "then why were you frozen stiff over me dancing with her?"

"As I have mentioned, sir, I have chanced upon knowing Miss Fletcher previously, and our relationship is far from amicable. I do not recommend her as a dancing partner, sir, nor as a partner for conversation. Indeed, I would highly recommend that you avoid wandering into her vicinity at all, sir. If I may borrow an colourful expression you have once used, one may say that Miss Fletcher is a female upas tree. Sir. "

My mouth flapped uselessly. It's not every day that you hear you've gotten it all the wrong side up. It would appear that, far from pashing for Celeste, Jeeves couldn't dislike her more. Although dashed if I know why.

"Jeeves," I said inquiringly, "dashed if I know why you hate her so much."

"I cannot say, sir. I only advise that she is a most unsuitable woman, sir."

"What do you mean you cannot say? And unsuitable for what?"

"For any reason or purpose at all, sir. Her company is a dangerous one to seek."

"How so? And how did you come to realize her so-called danger?"

"I cannot say, sir."

"Why not, dash it?"

"I don't know what you mean, sir."

I could see now that the man was being deliberately obstinate. Of course, at this juncture, the usual course of action might be to say "Jeeves" in a haughty, pipped manner. But my cup was still running over from the joyous relief of there being no pash between my manservant and Celeste Fletcher. I decided to be magnanimous.

"Very well," I decided, "every man has his secrets, and whatnot. You can have yours, Jeeves."

I then remembered, and decided I should tell him all about my Spode-Madeline plans. However, before the first word of it passed my lips, I halted. As I have previously mentioned, I was in a generous mood due to the whooping news that Jeeves' heart remains unattached. Unattached, I mean, in the romantic sense. It is firmly attached in the right place within his corpus, I should presume. Therefore, although the man was deciding to keep his cards close to his chest, I decided Bertram would be the better man and display his cards, so to speak. However, just as I unhinged my jaw to do so, a certain thought halted me. You see, before I parted with Cate last night, she asked me if I could dance well. I said that Bertram can swing a dashed jolly wingtip, if that's the term. She said that was whooping good news, because impressing Jeeves is crucial for drawing him closer. Of course, it would appear now that I didn't have to win his heart over from a filly. But the task of winning his heart over from its unattached state, remained a task indeed. And so, if I had to impress him, then impress him I would. Therefore, I concluded, I should not tell him of my Spode-Madeline scheme. It was paramount to keep it secret. And then, when it is pulled off to grand success, I shall reveal all. You see, if there is one flaw with Jeeves, it is that he thinks the young master mentally negligible. I could see this plan fixing all of that. He would be overwhelmed by my sheer display of cunning and intelligence, which passed under his noble nose all this time. I doubt that he would swoon, because that doesn't seem like a Jeevesian thing to do. But I could still fantasize about him sweeping me into his arms and engaging me in a burning labial press, a la moving pictures.

Jeeces quirked an eyebrow at my half-open gape, which had been slowly transforming into a dreamy grin. "Will that be all, sir?"

"Oh! Oh definitely," I decided, "carry on, Jeeves."

Jeeves coughed.

"Yes, Jeeves?"

"What did Miss Fletcher offer you in lieu of the cufflinks, sir?"

You could have struck me down with a feather. What was I to tell the man?

"Oh nothing," I said, trying to sound glib and debonair, "I just felt like doing a good deed. What was that thing Stiffy once said? Something about how I wasn't a Boy Scout, so it should do me good to do more good deeds if only to catch up. Of course, I shall never again take on any foul horror Stiffy has earmarked for me, but I thought giving Celeste my cufflinks should be an alright thing to do. She was all 'what ho Bertie, I really like those cufflinks and I really want them. They are special and personally important and sentimental and all that whatnot. Could you please gift them to me?' Though of course she didn't say it that way. I gifted, regardless. As I have said, Jeeves, I don't see why you dislike her so much. She seems an alright egg. Something I could do a good deed for, just because."

"Very generous of you, sir," he said, but very coldly, "one can only hope Miss Fletcher does not take your kind gesture the wrong way, sir."

"Eh?"

"It is nothing of consequence, sir," he said, using that blasted line again, "will that be all, sir?"

"That will be all," I sighed, "carry on, Jeeves."

---
{The next morning}
[Bertie's POV]

It was in some godlessly dark and insane hour of the morning that Cate buzzed in. Jeeves tried to send her off, but her repeated bashing of the doorbell, which by the way sounds way louder than the one in my humble abode, was already enough to shake me awake. I could only mumble incomprehensibly.

"Miss Hollins," Jeeves announced.

Thankfully, Cate wasn't around for conversation anyway, although she still looked a lot more awake than she had any right to be.

"I hope you remember tonight's party, Bertie. I'm always forgetting these sorts of things, and Thalia gets very pipped. Oh wait, yes, that reminds me, of what I'm carrying, I mean. I collected these last night- just some spare costumes off the other attendees and myself," she informed as she dropped some large bag onto the floor, "they're just lending you the stuff mind you, so don't get them stained or damaged or anything like that. Feel free to pick and choose. It's ok if you just show up in your usual, but do wear a mask- I put two in here."

I grunted to signify acknowledgement.

"Oh hello Reg," she turned to smile at him, speaking a familiar, chummy tone like she had diapered him, "I haven't had a chance to talk to you, what? It's been a long time."

"Indeed it has, miss."

"Does your back still hurt on rainy days?"

"I am in perfect health, miss."

"Good, good," she replied, "well then I'll be off then."

"Look through the clothes, Bertie," she reminded me. And then she gave one of her weird hefty winks and toodled off.

I was just about to drift back off the sleep, when I remembered that I better have a gawd-awfully early start to the day anyway, re: the plan to mend the Spode-Madeline lute. So I reluctantly requested for tea, threw it down the Wooster hatch, and began conversing. But first, I found myself sidetracked by Cate's visit.

"I say, Jeeves," I I-sayed, "Cate gives the impression that she's known you since you were ever so high. Where did you meet her, Jeeves? Or rather, when?"

"During the Great War, sir."

"The Great War! I didn't know women went in for the Great War, Jeeves. Or even that you went in for it."

"Women were mobilized in unprecedented numbers towards the end of the war, sir. In any case, Miss Hollins was a trainee nurse in a Monégasque hospital for most of the war."

"Mona-who?" I didn't think Mona Lisa ever went in for hospitals.

"A hospital in Monaco, sir. Monaco preserved its official neutrality throughout the war, but it served as an important location for the rest and treatment of wounded Allied soldiers."

"So that's when you met her, Jeeves?"

"Indeed, sir. Miss Hollins also departed the hospital towards the end of the war, and volunteered officially for the British war effort. I was stationed in France, where I chanced upon meeting her again, sir."

There was a pause.

"Will that be all, sir?" he asked.

Strange stuff, I have to say. I was waiting for Jeeves to expound further on his war experiences, but no such talk was forthcoming. In contrast, people like Major Plank can go on forever with their gruesome tribal anecdotes.

I once more remembered my scheme to impress Jeeves, which is also the scheme to mend any rifts in the Spode-Bassett alliance. Two birds with one stone, if you will. Now that I gave it a little more thought, I realized I did need Jeeves' help after all. But I could get said help without revealing all to him.

"Jeeves," I addressed, "keep Thalia well out of the sight of Madeline and Spode today. You know how pipped Madeline was. I expect she'll blow her top if she sees Spode together with Thalia again. But give them one day where they don't see each other, and Madeline might just calm down and see the rational side of things."

"Very good, sir. Miss Coppenhall is currently located in the library. I will be able to contain her therein for the rest of the day, sir." With that, he shimmered off.

I was therefore left to solitarily contemplate where to place the disguised Celeste. After all, one does not want the Coppenhall parents to get confused seeing two of them going about. I surely could not tell Celeste to go to the library, but where? If she had her conversation with Spode in front of Lord and Lady Coppenhall, what if said lord and lady oiled off to the library and saw the real Thalia?

I was still deep in thought, when the doorbell buzzed, starting me. I gladly opened it, expecting to find a Celeste Fletcher well-disguised as Thalia Coppenhall.

Instead, I found a fully steaming Madeline Bassett.
---
[Bertie's POV]

"Bertie," she said, grinding her words out, "do you know who is in Roderick's suite right now? I was knocking on his door, wanting him to come down with me for breakfast. And do you know who answered the door? Do you know who told me that they were having a one-to-one, an importance conference, and that I should leave them to their privacy?"

"No," I said. Because I did not know. Besides, all her questions sounded rhetorical, if that is the word.

"Thalia Coppenhall," she said, almost spitting the words out like she couldn't bear to have said them.

I could not say anything. I only gurgled.

"You were the one telling me all about how they must have a very important reason to be together," Madeline continued, "could you supply me with this reason now, Bertie?"

"Er," I said. Because I did not know.

"Very well. Then I'll have to ask the Lord and Lady Coppenhall, and tell them exactly where their daughter is," she said, with an uncharactersitic severity almost on the level of Florence Craye. Then she biffed off.

---
[Bertie's POV]

There are situations where one could say time is of essence. Running from a headmaster bellowing your first, middle and last name, is one such instance. But these circs did call for running from, but rather for running to. As someone who could find himself a thousand safer things to do than seek the company of Roderick Spode, otherwise known as Lord Sidcup, I now found myself taking off like the wind towards his suite.

I skidded to a halt in front of his door, and caught my breath as I re-enacted last night's music upon his doorbell, except at a much faster tempo.

"What is- Bertie?" went a puzzled voice as said voice's owner opened the door. Thalia never goes in for sounding more than one atom puzzled, nor does she ever call me 'Bertie', so this filly had to be Celeste-as-Thalia.

"Wooster?" called out Spode. But one could tell that his heart wasn't in it. His attentions were somewhere else entirely. However, one could also tell that the atmosphere was way more awkward than tense. It was obvious that Spode and Celeste-as-Thalia hadn't gotten into the thick of things yet. They were still chewing the fat, as opposed to having an explosive row. Still, there wasn't time now. The entire scheme had to be abandoned.

"Cel-Thalia," I panicked, "you need to get out of there. Your parents are coming."

"So?" she asked, failing to grasp the gravity of the situation.

"Wooster, what the devil are you blabbering about?" Spode asked irritably, having obviously caught nothing I said. Then he turned his attentions to Celeste-as-Thalia, "you were speaking about Marge's influenza. What do you mean by that?"

"I mean that she has influenza," replied Celeste-as-Thalia, and I'll admit she imitated that toneless-but-slightly-irritated voice decently.

"But didn't you tell me yesterday that it was her bronchitis acting up?"

Celeste-as-Thalia took on a slight nervousness, "well I mean-"

"Listen," I interrupted in pleading, "you really have to clear out. The Coppenhalls-"

"Wooster!" Spode addressed irritably, "can't you tell we are in the midst of a conversation? Get out. Thalia, close the door."

And so she did.

---
[Bertie's POV]

I believe I have previously chronicled the affair of my old school chum Chuffy, and his pash Pauline Wooster. When they found themselves in the sitch of Pauline being trapped on a yacht, they were full of beans and buck. Pauline swam ashore to go track down Chuffy, while Chuffy shortly afterwards rushed to the shore and infested the waterfront. Spontaneous, energetic creatures is what I mean. Those are people who certainly won't have obstacles in the way of their plans.

Bertram Wooster, when rudely shaken out of bed in ungodly morning hours, is no such energetic, spontaneous creature. I knew that, at any moment now, Lord and Lady Coppenhall would barge into Spode's suite and reduce the disguised Thalia to a fifth-rate power for hanging about the room of someone else's fiance without a chaperone. No doubt the real Thalia would be dragged into the picture at some point, and rampant confusion would ensue.

So I did what I usually do when I have no idea what to do. I retired to the bar for drinks, had a couple, and then realized belatedly that I should send for Jeeves. So I did. But- and this is rummiest part- no one answered the man's door. So I had another couple, and headed back towards my suite to sleep it all off, in the vain hope that I would wake up and realize all of this was a bad dream.

I must been too sozzled because, when I did stagger back to my suite and turned on the lights, I beheld none other than Thalia blasted Coppenhall.

It made no sense, of course. Bertram may be the life of the party, but I try not to partake too much in the spirits when the sun is only barely rising. My few drinks must have been spiked. With absinthe maybe. 

A sort of silence dragged out. She just stared at me patiently, and realized I had no idea if this was Thalia or Celeste-as-Thalia. I decided to run with the notion of the latter, if only because it would make me feel better.

"Er," I tried, "so you're done with Spode? Cut all ties with him and whatnot? So soon? And what about Lord and Lady Coppenhall?"

"Bertram," she said, "I have no idea what you're talking about."

So this was the real Thalia then. I gurgled. I didn't know what to say to her.

"But," I flailed, "you're in the library!"

"I was. Now I'm not. Now I'm here," she pointed out, "listen, Bertram. I believe I have made a slip of the tongue yesterday. I very much need to be on speaking terms with Lord Sidcup. But now I know you've been plotting something."

I didn't say anything. My eyes just bulged. I silently cursed what people call the female intuition.

She checked her watch. "Alright. If you're not going to answer me, that's fine. I just need to check with Lord Sidcup to make sure. I don't know where his suite is, so take me there."

----
[Celeste's POV]

It wasn't going well at all. I was under the impression that this Lord Sidcup was going to be pashing and fawning over this Thalia. My lines were prepared and structured very much on that basis. But he did nothing of that sort. He kept asking after some Marge Cruise, and I have not the slightest whit who she is. His suspicions only grew as my statements turned into contradictions.

"You can't expect me to remember everything about her," I defended myself weakly, "my memory is terrible. Why don't you ask her all these questions yourself?"

"Why not!" he bellowed, "because you wouldn't let me. I tell you that, in case you've so dreadfully forgotten. You would never let me see her in the flesh. But I see now that I must induce you to let me. You have revealed yourself to be highly unreliable. You are either a compulsive liar, or your memory is like Swiss Cheese. In either case, you've thrown into doubt everything you've told me about Marge. I must see her as soon as possible."

"Well," I tried, "I'm not exactly sure she gets up so early when on a cruise. Better let her have her beauty sleep."

His eyebrows shot up. I saw immediately that I had said very much the wrong thing.

Then the doorbell buzzed.

---
[Bertie's POV]

Although I was technically leading the way, I felt very much like I was getting frogmarched to the guillotine. Not only that, but I was also all jumpy as I expected the Coppenhall parents to pop up like a jack-in-the-box at any moment. Or like a spectre, if you will. I was both a man heading to his execution, and a man haunted.

We made it there and Thalia buzzed the doorbell. I recalled the time Madeline had parted with Gussie, and shrieked "this is the end!". Well this was my end.

"Who the- what!" Spode started as he opened the door. Thalia looked over his shoulder, saw Celeste, and quirked a single eyebrow. The Coppenhall parents were still nowhere to be found- but that was only a slight relief, as I was getting the mounting feeling that somehow, this morning would end with me getting beaten to a jelly by Roderick Spode.

"And Wooster," he addressed irritably, "what in the devil are you still doing here?"

"Celeste?" called out a new voice from behind me.

I turned around and realized the voice was none other than Viscount Valoise's.

---
[Bertie's POV]

Spode tensed. One could say there was almost fear in his eyes. I didn't know why.

"Oh dear," went the viscount, "it appears she really went all out this time. Which one of you is Celeste?"

The two Thalias said nothing.

"No no," sighed the viscount, "I suppose I shan't expect her to answer."

"Viscount Valoise," addressed Spode, in a guarded but still shockingly courteous voice, "what brings you here?"

"It's my goddaughter, Celeste Fletcher," he said in an almost exasperated tone, "she is prone to certain....whims, if you will. What I mean is, she has a great urge to pose as other people. Not with malicious intent, mind you. She completely believes she is the person she poses as. We've taken her to many nerve specialists, but none of them have been able to cure her. I must ask, Lord Sidcup, which of these women have you been speaking to?"

"Her," he said, gesturing towards Celeste-as-Thalia, "and I believe that explains everything. The information she has been giving me, is quite inconsistent with my conversations yesterday."

"Then, in most likelihood, you were speaking to the real Miss Coppenhall yesterday, but not today."

"Excuse me," the real Thalia, "I believe there is a way to know for sure. Lord Sidcup, ask us where Marge Cruise is."

"Well where is she?"

"She's in a hospital," Celeste-as-Thalia tried.

"She is recuperating in a cottage in Cochem. The fresh air should do her bronchitis some good," said the real Thalia.

"It's Cochem," Spode confirmed.

"Thank you," said the viscount, much relieved, "Celeste, please follow me."

"But I'm Thalia," Celeste-as-Thalia protested, and continued to make her protests as the Viscount guided her out while making his apologies to Spode.

However, before the Viscount fully departed, he halted at the door.

"Lord Sidcup," he addressed in an almost commanding tone, "I hope you will entirely forget the events of this morning. It is a family matter we wish to keep in the family. But you must also forget that Celests bears a relation to me. Do not speak of that, to me or to anyone. Her antics today have been much too embarrassing. Again, I apologize for your inconvenience. But you must make the promise these events today never transpired."

I really felt like warning the chap that this really wasn't the way to speak to Spode. Spode was steaming with indignation. I was about to advise he run like a hare to save his spine, when Spode spoke.

"Very well," Spode shockingly conceded, biting down on his pride, "you have my word."

"Thank you, Lord Sidcup. It's been a pleasure to meet you." He tipped his hat and departed with Celeste. A confused Celeste shot me one last evil look before the door closed.

You could say I was all of a-doodah. I had no idea what just happened. I knew that Celeste was posing as Thalia only because I asked her to, and not because of any case of nerves, so how could the viscount just barge in and so readily assert that Celeste was plain loony? I had no idea. I vaguely registered some hasty reconciliation now taking place between Spode and the real Thalia, and my mood plummeted further. At the very least, no hugs or kisses broke out, but there was a lot of vigorous nodding and quick words I was feeling too low to really catch. My plans were all for naught. Bootless, is the term Jeeves would have used. And where the bally dickens said man had biffed off to, all morning, I had no idea either.

The blasted doorbell buzzed again.

I reluctantly opened the door, and encountered the visage of Madeline Bassett.

What surprised me, however, was that all rage seemed to have gone out from said Bassett. There was a romantic, soppy twinkling in her eye. For a moment, I was afraid her fury would return upon seeing Spode and Thalia now speaking to each other. But she spotted them, and no such fury returned.

She briefly greeted me and rushed towards Spode.

"Oh Roderick!" she wailed, "I have greatly wronged you!"

I gave up on making sense of anything.

"What do you mean, Madeline?" he asked softly.

"I thought you had lost my love for me. Because you kept rushing after- after that!" she said, pointing rather rudely to Thalia.

"But now I know," Madeline continued, "that all this time you were only asking after the health of her gravely ill friend. It's got nothing to do with Thalia. Oh, I know now that the kindness of your heart knows no bounds, Roderick!"

And then they had a soppy reconciliation, which very much did include hugs and kisses. Thalia didn't seem bothered, there was no frost which entered her expression. My mood lifted, for certain facts were now clear. Spode had not kissed Thalia. Spode was now kissing Madeline. Thalia was not at all bothered by said Spode kissing Madeline. I couldn't make the heads or tails of many things, but it was clear that Spode-Madeline lute was playing just fine. I headed towards my room with a spring in my step.

I opened the door and beheld none other than Viscount Valoise.

"Good morning, sir," he said, and I started for it became immediately clear that this was Jeeves.

I had never before considered the two chaps to look alike. Now that I thought about it, they had the same patrician nose, strong jaw and imposing height. But they dressed and behaved so unlike each other, it just never crossed my mind. Jeeves is all severely brilliantined slicked back hair, monochrome colours and grave expression. Viscount Valoise's hair is all mussed up in that careful, stylish way meant to look careless, with a corpus dressed almost entirely in the colours of the rainbow. Fascinating, really, how Jeeves can look so different when he styles himself in a way that would make him shudder before a mirror.

---
[Bertie's POV]

As Jeeves changed back into his valet wear, I pondered the facts of the morning. When he returned very much dressed as Jeeves, I proceeded with the questions.

"The y.m. is very confused, Jeeves," I admitted, "there's one thing I know- Madeline seems completely alright with Spode rushing to ask after Marge Cruise, but not Thalia. Dashed strange, I think. How are her feelings so different just because it's one filly and not some other?"

"Miss Bassett has never showed herself to be disposed towards paranoia and jealousy, sir," Jeeves pointed out, "it therefore stands to reason that she saw Lord Sidcup's concern for Miss Cruise's poor health in a positive rather than suspicious light. However, she appears to make an exception to her principles when she perceives Lord Sidcup to be specifically seeking the company of Miss Coppenhall, sir."

"Indeed she does," I heartily agreed, "I was just thinking that Thalia must have said something dashed sharp to her about elves and fairies. That, however, is not germane to the point. The point is, I am still very puzzled about everything else. Firstly- why in the world were you dressed as Viscount Valoise?"

"I believe, sir, that I can clear up your confusion much more satisfactorily by recalling the events in chronological order, starting with the departure of Miss Bassett from your suite."

"Go ahead, Jeeves. Tell me all."
---

[Flashback scene]
[Jeeves' POV]

I was only supposed to meet with Miss Coppenhall in the afternoon, in order to provide her with the literary material I previously promised to. However, Miss Hollins had informed me that Miss Coppenhall already entered the library early this morning. I was therefore confident that I would be able to contain her in that location for the rest of the day, as per my master's instructions, simply by providing her with the book ahead of time.

After that aspect of my duties was completed, I headed back towards the suite of Mr Wooster. I was near my destination when I encountered Miss Bassett.

"Jeeves," she addressed me, "do you know where Lord and Lady Coppenhall are? I must speak to them this instant."

"Indeed, miss?"

"Yes. Thalia is in private conference with my Roderick in his suite, which I think to be an utter disgrace."

"In that case, I could lead you to where I last saw the Coppenhalls, miss."

I led her, of course, to the library. Miss Bassett started.

"Thalia!" she shrieked, "what are you doing here? Finally done with Roderick?"

"I beg your pardon?" Miss Coppenhall asked.

"I know you were just recently in Roderick's suite," Miss Bassett replied coldly.

"I've done nothing of that sort. I've been here all morning."

I coughed.

"If I may, miss, it is possible that the occupant of Lord Sidcup's suite merely bears a resemblance to Miss Coppenhall. Recall if you would, miss, the existence of Miss Fletcher, who you no doubt met at yesterday's dance."

"Impossible," Miss Bassett dismissed, "the woman in Roderick's suite very much introduced herself as Thalia."

I was just about to provide a rational explanation suggesting psychological instability on the part of Miss Fletcher, when Miss Coppenhall spoke.

"It's that again, Madeline," she said, "sorry about it. I was testing some new spells early this morning. It produced a doppelgänger again. But don't you worry, it's nothing sinister, and it should disappear in a few hours."

"It's still extremely confusing. And you might sink the ship if you're not careful," replied Miss Bassett, sounding as if she completely believed Miss Coppenhall, "really, Thalia, don't mess with these things until you're on solid ground."

I rose an eyebrow. Miss Coppenhall's explanation was one I did not think of offering, for it seemed plainly ludicrous. However, upon further consideration of the psychology of the individual, I could see how Miss Bassett 'bought into it', so to speak. The shared eccentricity of Miss Coppenhall and Count Valoise, likely also shared by Miss Fletcher, was one which dealt with darker themes. However, one could see how their peculiarities might be similar enough to appeal to Miss Bassett, whose beliefs reside more in the lighter side of the supernatural.

"But Thalia," Miss Bassett considered, "if the doppelgänger was created this morning, then you were spending all your time with Roderick yesterday?"

"I was," she admitted, "but not because I wanted to. I assure you that I hold no romantic feelings for your fiance. He spent all his time asking my good friend, Marge Cruise."

Miss Bassett looked slightly skeptical. I coughed.

"Yes, Jeeves?" Miss Bassett addressed.

"I would like to corroborate Miss Coppenhall's statement, miss. I inadvertently overheard Lord Sidcup's comments to Miss Coppenhall yesterday. His comments were entirely in the vein of asking after the health of Miss Cruise. She is believed to be severely ill, miss. Lord Sidcup showed his concern as she appears to be a political ally he has been acquainted with."

"Very much so," Miss Coppenhall nodded.

Miss Bassett seemed to soften.

"You could ask Lord Sidcup himself," Miss Coppenhall added.

"Ah, then I shall do so immediately."

Miss Coppenhall and I exchanged a glance.

"I can't advise that, Madeline. The doppelgänger is benign to most people, but I cannot be sure of its attitude towards those of...more-than-ordinary ancestry. I have ways to hasten the disappearance of the doppelgänger, of course, but you must give me- 30 minutes."

Miss Coppenhall then drew me aside to confer with me privately.

"That's definitely Miss Fletcher in Lord Sidcup's room," she whispered, "do you know she's doing there?"

"I noticed my employer gifting Miss Fletcher his cufflinks yesterday, miss. Perhaps it was in exchange of a favour."

She considered this for a moment. "He did ask me if I mind, should Lord Sidcup never speak to me again."

"Indeed, miss?"

"Then…could it be that he sent Miss Fletcher, disguised as me, to make sure Lord Sidcup never speaks to me again?"

"In most likelihood, miss."

"Well I can't have it. He's a nuisance, but I always need him to get important information from Madeline, since I can't speak directly to her. You can tell I'm not on the best terms with Madeline. But that is not germane to the point. My main concern now is that Miss Fletcher will bunge it all up terribly. I've never mentioned Marge Cruise to her, and it is what Lord Sidcup would chiefly ask about. What should we do, Jeeves?"

"I suggest, miss, an intervention under the guise of a concerned family member. Such a relative would enter and convince Lord Sidcup that Miss Fletcher is posing as you, miss, due to a delusional disorder."

"Fair enough. I suggest you pose as Viscount Valoise, because he stays in bed all morning. And because Lord Sidcup is quite afraid of him. If you tell Lord Sidcup, while posing as the viscount, not to ever speak of this morning having ever happened, Lord Sidcup would agree."

"Indeed, miss?"

"Indeed. I'd tell you why, but I've noticed how skeptical you were about anything paranormal. You may simply considered Lord Sidcup to be superstitious. Ah- has Cate given Bertram the spare clothes for the party?"

"Indeed she has, miss."

"Then this should be even easier. A lot of those clothes are the viscount's spares."

We then proceeded to iron out the rest of the plan. Before Miss Coppenhall departed the library, I found Lord and Lady Coppenhall, and introduced them to the company of Major Plank. Lord Coppenhall had only the briefest acquaintance with Major Plank before, and seemed much intrigued and patient regarding the Major's sharing of his exploration experiences. I decided that the Major should be able to occupy them with his reminiscences for quite a long while, thus preventing Lord and Lady Coppenhall from interfering with our plans. While I put on the disguise of Viscount Valoise, Miss Coppenhall was sent to go find Mr Wooster. She was to delay him until I had fully adopted the guise of Viscount Valoise, which should take about 15 minutes. Then, she was to enter Lord Sidcup's suite with Mr Wooster, causing brief confusion before my intervention at an appropriate moment. Miss Coppenhall waited in Mr Wooster's suite, although he was not immediately present. However, I informed her that he should return soon. Considering the psychology of my master, he is inclined towards bedrest in the morning, instead of any energetic activities.

---
[Bertie's POV]

"Ah, Jeeves," I ah-ed when he was done recounting, "this clears everything up. I should have known you had a hand in this, all along. I can't thank you enough, my dear chap."

I could tell he was chafing slightly at something. "Indeed, sir? Then may I inquire as to why I was never informed of your plans, sir?"

I fidgeted. I decided something very close to the truth would suffice. "Well, you see, Jeeves, I wanted to impress you. I know it's a horribly silly thing for a cove as mentally negligible as me to try, but there you have it. I was hoping to pull it all off on my own, so that you'd be all of a doodah and think favourably of the young master."

He seemed to soften. "I have always thought very favourably of you, sir." My heart leapt.

"I must apologize, sir," he continued, "for that opprobrious remark I once made of your purported mental negligibility. I very much regret, sir, that-"

"No no, Jeeves. Say no more about it. You've apologized too many times for that already. And I already told you I will accept not a single apology on that matter, because you were only speaking the truth," I considered, "but Jeeves, moving on now to more current matters."

I halted. I didn't exactly know how to invite the man to tonight's party.

"Well, Jeeves, you must be wondering about the clothes Cate dumped off this morning."

"Indeed, sir. I have been looking through them to pick the most suitable attire for your festivities, sir. I'm afraid that none of them are suitable, sir. They are most peculiar. I believe Miss Hollins has delivered the wrong bag, sir."

"Ah, but you see, I doubt it," I revealed, and fidgeted again, "maybe it is the right bag, after all. She did tell me that this party will be most peculiar, Jeeves. Wild was the word she used."

"Indeed, sir?"

"Well yes, indeed. And uh, I'd like to invite you. To tonight's party, I mean. I can bring a plus one, apparently. You don't have to worry about propriety and whatnot, because we all have to don masks. Very secretive. If you need, you could always disguise yourself further, like by dressing as the Viscount again, and telling everyone you are that chap."

"I cannot advise that, sir. From what I have heard from other passengers on the nature of this party, the actual viscount should, in all likelihood, be a part of its festivities, sir."

"Well you can always still dress like him and say you're his doppelwhatsit what?"

"I would not be doing so, sir. However, I accept your invitation, sir."

I goggled. I didn't expect it to be so easy. However, Bertram is not a chap to look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Very good, Jeeves," I twittered, "very good." My spirits were once more high in the clouds.

Jeeves coughed.

"Yes, Jeeves?"

"However, I have one condition for accepting your invitation, sir."

"And what would that be?"

His gaze turned to the bowtie I was displaying proudly on my nightstand. He gave it a meaningful look.

"Very well, Jeeves," I sighed melodramatically, "I suppose sacrifices must be made. You may do what you wish with the tie."

He came very dashed close to smiling. "Very good, sir," he purred in that satisfied voice which always get me flushing.

---