"Jeeves," I said one morning, during the ritual imbibing of tannic acid, "Have you decided when precisely you will be leaving this poor Wooster for greener pastures and tasty shrimp?" The summer was fast approaching- indeed the bright sun of this morning had prompted the question- and I was all too aware that with it went Jeeves on his two weeks holiday. "I thought, sir, that the weather is usually more settled next month, if I may be so bold. Would a departure five weeks from now be too soon, sir?" I sighed a gusty one and fixed him with a baleful eye. The look may have been hindered by the sleep residing in said eye, but that was neither here nor t. "You know full well that your holidays always roll around too soon, Jeeves." I pointed out, "It's when they're no longer there that you most appreciate things, what?"
"Quiet, sir." and I think a smile considered appearing on his face.
All in all I had put such distressing thoughts from my mind when Jeeves again brought them to the fore, over a shared plate of biscuits one afternoon. "I will see about a replacement valet for you tomorrow, sir, if I may."
I shook my head, swallowing a too-large mouthful before I could speak. "No Jeeves, you may not. No more pale imitations for Bertram. I will summer over with what friends and relatives will have me." I had done this last year and been the better for it, in the main. Jeeves had been able to spend his two weeks hauling shrimp with no danger of being called in to rescue the young master from bloodthirsty replacement valets. And the young master had been able to spend his two weeks with a little less of the usual Jeeves-on-summer-holiday gloom, diverted by those freak ideas which sometimes found their rattling way into the twins' minds.
"If you are sure, sir." He had the set of approval about his shoulders and I nodded as regally as a pleased-as-punch man can nod. "I am, Jeeves. You need have no fear of your holiday being rudely interrupted by bloodthirsty valets, and I will be safe from the same."
He polished off a biscuit in the same way a cat might polish off a particularly toothsome bowl of cream. "Very good sir."
Of course, it is all very well talking gaily about which friends and relatives will aid Bertram in his search for a roof for his head and so on, but quite another to find the requisite number of houses to provide these requirements. Owing, no doubt, to a particular lack of Jeeves', I could hardly play the "Any problem you want solved I will solve" card which usually worked so well when escaping to the country. This was a poser, however by some ingenious mentioning of school, the ties of blood and so on; I had no fewer than four prospective places to stay over the two weeks. Surely, I thought, I cannot be hunted out of four houses in a fortnight?
Naturally, the place I picked as Wooster GHQ during Jeeves' absence was the abode of my Aunt Dahlia. Of this Aunt, out of the many Aunts I am cursed with, I am fond. Accordingly I braved the telephone as soon as poss., preparing to do battle with the typically convoluted path to actually speak with anyone at Brinkley Court.
Having won the appropriate listener, I then had to exert myself to be friendly to my Aunt (no great problem) and promise I would in no way upset Uncle Tom (my complaints I never mean to were met with grim humour probably founded on the Quorn or Pytchley fields) and regretfully inform her that Jeeves would not be available for her use.
"You want me to accept you without the palliative of Jeeves?" She asked- if the distressed cry of the fox upon discovering it's been discovered constitutes a question.
"I rather hoped" I countered stiffly, "That you could accept me as I am, aged r."
"I can, you nincompoop, but that doesn't mean that I want to." She followed this with some choice phrases which I am certain she didn't learn at the finishing school she was forced through.
Eventually the eternally sunny disposish. of the Wooster wore through and she accepted me into the comfortable folds of Anatole's cooking.
"Splendid! See you a week from tomorrow then."
"I dread the day, young blot," and she rang off.
"Well, Jeeves, at least I have one Aunt rallying round." I hardly needed to look for him, since he is so efficient as to know precisely when the y. master needs a pick me up (after dealing with Aunts is always a safe bet) and he was providing me with one as he agreed.
"Indeed sir." The perfectly balanced w and s appeared and I sipped it thoughtfully.
"You know, Jeeves, I can't imagine any of your Aunts calling you a young blot, or a blighter, or any of the other juicy phrases Aunt Dahlia bestows upon her favourite nephew."
A slight twitch of his left brow indicated to me that he would be smiling, if paragons like Jeeves smiled at the humour of mere mortals. "That would be because they don't, sir. They tend to use the far less imaginative Reggie."
I could think of little to say to this- the idea of Jeeves allowing his name to be played with in such a fashion (even though he isn't particularly fond of it, as he told me once) was so foreign as to prevent other thoughts from flowing. "Oh, Ah." I mumbled, weakly.
"Precisely, sir." He glided from the room and I goggled. How on earth was I to spend two weeks explaining my less vocal comments to some under- butler? I hoped Jeeves had a good two weeks of it, in any case. There was no need for both of us to be miserable.
“You made it then, you blighter?” My Aunt Dahlia, as I may have commented before, is particularly juicy in her choice of words.
“I did, with nary a scratch to me or the car.” I returned, though from the look on her face I suspect she wished the news had been different. I often wonder if she wouldn’t be happier if I was bed-ridden and thus, presumably, less mobile. She denies it, in a half-hearted sort of way that suggests I am, yet again, correct in my thoughts.
“I hope you haven’t come up with a list of stunts you need your favourite nephew to pull?” I was anxious to get the worst news over and done with. However her answer was pleasingly negative and I was able to attend to the highlight of the afternoon- one of Anatole’s dinners- with a will impressive to see. One would never know how much the loss of Jeeves hurt.
I had overcompensated for his absence by purchasing and donning an overly cheerful bow tie in violent green. A splash of colour at the neck is often called for when wearing formal black, I think. This tie met with great approval in some circles, but not in all. Uncle Tom, despite being as eccentric as they come regarding pieces of silver warped into odd shapes, is apparently very boring in re neckwear. However I had staunch support from the rest of the table, which was occupied by two familiar faces. These were the faces that launched a thousand mishaps, no matter what Jeeves might say instead. Claude and Eustace beamed at me and made light of the whole loss of Jeeves in such a way to suggest they really cared.
All in all, a very promising start to the Wooster holiday.
However, as so often happens when I am with my Aunt- any of them- trouble soon found itself on the same path, not parallel to me, but standing waiting. There being no other path and Aunt Dahlia behind, I could do nothing but walk straight into it, to be metaphorical about these things. The only good thing I could say for it was that at least it waited until after breakfast.
The first lot of trouble was not, in fact, my fault so much as Aunt Dahlia’s except she, being an Aunt, passed it off onto me. Many a time I have said show me an aunt, and I will show you someone who will pass the fault along to a nephew. It turns out that my worthy aunt had, in her infinite wisdom, allowed her husband Tom to glimpse the balance sheet of milady’s boudoir. I don’t know why she did this. Usually, she is like unto Balaam’s ass in showing anything to do with Tom needing to bail her out until he has had his fill of Anatole’s best, won some money and purchased whatever his current silver desire is. Nevertheless, view it he had, and get upset he certainly had, since it told him, as far as I could work out, that this idea of Dahlia’s was in the red quite squarely.
Well, this sent his insides, as Aunt Dahlia put it, into the largest knot seen since she had forgotten to tell him that thirty of the neighbouring women and children were coming over for afternoon tea the day he was planning on polishing his silver. In short, he could not stomach even Anatole’s ambrosia.
Anatole, needless to say, threw his apron in and threatened to leave. Tom (unfed and understandably worried about his pocket book) forbade Dahlia to entice Anatole with more money, saying something along the general lines of Macbeth in his ‘do it quickly’ mood. Aunt Dahlia, in terror, had managed, somehow, to placate Anatole. Following this, though, she instructed Seppings to find someone to learn from Anatole, in case it took her longer to placate him next time and they had to revert to peasant for days in their time of trial.
Seppings, she said, had told her there was only one person whom Anatole had taught his knowledge, and that was Jeeves. My aunt was not impressed that Jeeves was not in tow to continue his lessons, but had managed to get another person in the family- an otherwise timid- looking fellow called Andrew Thickering- to take lessons.
“Well, this is all very well and good, aunt of my bosom, and I am pleased you have sorted out your domestic issues, but I fail to see where I come into this.” I commented, as soon as I could get a word in edgeways.
“Are you completely stupid, Bertie?”
There was only one answer that she wanted from me, no matter its truth, so I gave it to her. “Yes, aged relative, I am.”
She nodded, “I had for a moment forgotten I was talking to Bertie, instead of one of the brighter specimens of humanity.” She agreed, “The point is that you must sit in on these lessons and pick up all you can about chopping shallots, boiling pigs and baking potatoes as you can, to pass the hints on to Jeeves. I don’t expect you to join in the cooking- I want to keep Anatole if at all possible- but I do expect you to prick up your ears and learn something.”
I frowned and wished it were later so I could swallow the idea with some brandy or other strong spirit. “You want me to try and teach Jeeves to cook like Anatole.” It may have been possible to get my tone flatter had a roller been employed, but I doubt it.
“Exactly. Just in case Thickering doesn’t take to it. Seppings told me Jeeves has already mastered several of Anatole’s dishes….”
“What if Jeeves isn’t available when the worst comes to pass?” I queried, with remarkable insight.
“Then you’ll make him available. You won’t ever part with Jeeves, I know you won’t, so that won’t be a problem. You can just ship him back from America or France or wherever you are hiding, and all will be well.”
I goggled. I don’t mind to admit it, because a man hardly expects his man to suddenly become the property of another, even one as scheming as an aunt.
“And don’t goggle like that, Bertie, it’s a perfectly reasonable request. Did you have something else planned for this sojourn?”
Before I could point out that looking after myself and wallowing in my Jeeves- less state was enough to be going on with, she stitched me up.
“Good. I will tell Anatole to expect you and Thickering both after lunch. You can find out what’s for dinner while you’re down there.” Having elicited a dumb nod from one too afraid to speak, she waved me off. “Go and try and stop your cousins from plotting something terrible, will you?”
Dumbly, I did as she bade.
Forgive me if you’re familiar with the layout of Brinkley court. You may settle back with some tea or other beverage until I’ve told the other chaps what’s where, as it were.
There are plenty of places to plot, especially if, like me, you spent a lot of time there as a child and are acquainted with all the ins and outs of the grounds. However there is only one spot where the twins would even consider doing anything, and that is through the main garden and near the gardener’s shed. The gardens are full of flowers and various fountains and ponds, with one particularly large stretch of water complete with bridge. I strolled over this and navigated the bushes which led to the shed. Having described as much of the grounds as is necessary, you fellows can down drinking vessels and join in again.
“Bertie! You made it! We were beginning to think the Aunt had you in her clutches forever.” Claude was lounging against a tree, smoking.
“Yes, well,” I was still reeling from the shock of being told to learn how to cook, “how come she never gets you in her claws?”
“Because we are beneath her notice, you chump. It’s a mark of her respect for you that she even…”
“Bothers to ask you for favours. Take Claude and myself, instead. Do we go around asking you for favours? Do we respect you?”
“No, you bally well don’t. You plop yourselves into the Wooster lap and help yourselves to all you can see.”
I like to think the pained expression Eustace gave me was because he was wracked with remorse, but I suspect it was more to do with his inability to light the gasper in his hand.
“Now, Bertie, you speak as though we turn up in our hour of need, take all and give you nothing in return.”
“Which is unfair and untrue. For while we invariably turn to you for help…”
“Knowing, as it were, which of our friends and cohorts has the kindest heart….”
“…we always pay you back, don’t we?”
“No, you don’t. I have forked out more getting you out of choky and into decent, respectable, clothes and away from decent, respectable, people than you have ever given me back in alcohol.”
“We always mean to pay you back.” Claude amended, finishing his smoke with a flourish and dropping it beneath his foot.
“Which is what counts, isn’t it, Bertie old chum?”
Well, there’s not much that I have ever been able to say to those two to convince them that normal society doesn’t behave as they do, so I merely nodded.
“And what did the aunt want with you, then, old chap?”
I was midway through explaining that she wanted me to don an apron and generally look like a man with a purpose, when we were interrupted.
The interruption wasn’t quite as rude as that suffered by Moses, when- if you recall- a bush burst into flames and declared itself God- but it was ample for our purposes. A distinctly car-like sound had been heard. We stared at each other, no doubt resembling Moses in his jaw-agape confusion, and stood to dust off the grime of a reclining smoke out of doors.
“She didn’t mention guests, did she?” Claude appealed to me, no doubt reasoning that as the favoured relation and having spoken with her most recently, I would have up to the minute knowledge.
“No, otherwise I would have told you, if only to try and convince you not to bound upon the poor creature and startle it.”
My reasonable suggestion was greeted with derision and, as much to escape their steely gazes as from any suicidal-cat feeling, I suggested we move out.
Curiosity might kill one cat, but it did not kill me.
It did, however, cause my heart to skip a beat, and if the gasping going on near me was anything to go by, the twins’ suffered a similar fate.
“Do mine eyes deceive me?” Eustace muttered. This told me three things- first that he had retained some sort of ability to memorise things, second that I wasn’t imagining this and thirdly, and most importantly, that he had been spending too much time with Jeeves.
Removing herself from the car was a figure I recognised all too well. Blessed with the profile of an angel and the heart of stone, Honoria Glossop had, in the past, tempted me. But no more! I had realised in time that I wanted no part of her moulding and managed- with Jeeves’ help of course- to escape the entanglement.
There was another, just as blessed, profile extricating itself from the passenger side and I noted, with some amusement as well as worry, that the twins were sporting visages normally seen on that of Gussie Fink-Nottle. I checked my own jaw was in place as we proceeded down the walk to meet the new arrivals.
“Bertie!” Honoria’s voice launched a thousand ships, if I got that Jeevesian gag right, and she put it to good use.
“Honoria! How are you?” One must respond to females as they want to be responded to, and no matter my personal feelings on the matter.
“Well, very well. I say, do you remember my friend?” Here she stepped aside to reveal the profile in close up, and I considered it thoughtfully.
Pale, and a little unsteady on the pins, was the unmistakable figure of Daphne Braythwayte. We nodded at each other, and smiled a little. A friend of Honorias, I had met the girl once or twice in various circs.
“Claude and Eustace, Daphne Braythwayte.” At least Honoria did the decent thing and introduced us all.
“Pleasure. Honoria, I think it might be a good idea if I met my host now, before I fall asleep. I simply can’t keep this up for much longer.”
Well, she sounded more like the Bassett than the Glossop, but perhaps opposites attract friends as much as they are said to attract fiancés. I like to think Jeeves is my friend as much as anything, after all.
“Of course, Daphne, and then I must fly to get back in time. Come on.” I made to help her, but a bracing figure like Honoria needs little help when dealing with friends like Daphne. Instead, we found ourselves lugging bags as far as the door, like the gentlemen we are, and then listening to Aunt Dahlia cooing over the newest addition to her household.
Don’t misunderstand me, for I always strive to keep the female’s name as blemish-free as possible, but I was uneasy. Deeply uneasy. La Glossop had a habit of finding hot, thick soup and dropping the Wooster in it, often without easy recourse to Jeeves. Faced with the prospect of her acting merely as a taxi service I was more than a little pleased, though I did not let that show on my face, for fear of being given a hearty, bracing slap.
“Oh, don’t look so glum, Bertie. I know I shouldn’t have come when you were here, but I didn’t know you were, and I’d promised Daphne that I’d take her somewhere where she could just get well again.”
There’s not much that one can say to that while still being preux, but I managed to say it “Oh, quite.”
“I knew you’d understand. You’re so decent Bertie.” And she slapped me anyway.
Reeling from the shock, it was a bruised and battered Wooster which stumbled into what had previously been Anatole’s private domain. Thickering was already there, and I instantly felt a little more at ease. Surely, I thought, if Thickering could deal with Anatole face to face, and learn from him, I could sit and pick up some tips to pass on to Jeeves? I wasn’t expecting many of the things that I picked up to be of much use anyway, because Jeeves can already work wonders on any dish of food you are likely to name- along with many you aren’t- and I tend to get a little lost after spreading butter on toast.
However, an Aunt is not to be millefeuilled with, and so I descended, robed, and sat in the corner as meek as a worn-out mouse.
“Non, You will learn nothing there! Come, stand here, and watch closely. Your Jeeves, he was a good student.” His tone left me in no doubt that he thought I wouldn’t be able to help Jeeves (a sentiment I was happy to agree with mere minutes ago) and I decided to give it a proper go. A Wooster does not back down from a challenge- ask anyone. Particularly ask Tuppy Glossop, who, you will recall, ruined my faultless evening dress one night when he tied back the last ring on the Drone’s swimming pool, causing me to fall in while proceeding across it by same rings. Besides, I didn’t want to upset my Aunt, but neither did I want to upset Anatole. The consequences to both would be catastrophic.
“Now, tonight, we learn the basics. Thickering, you will first chop this onion, please.” Simple as that instruction sounded, it got poor old Thickering into a bit of a stew and the task wasn’t completed for another half hour. Dashed odd, these French, but then the results are always worth it, from Anatole.
After similar lessons on dealing with potatoes and carrots, I was released along with Thickering. The poor man had worked up quite a sweat and I pitied him, though not as much as I pitied myself. I was in need of two things, or possibly three. A stiff drink and a Jeeves, with the possible addition of a smoke. Glumly searching for two of the items I ran into Aunt Dahlia.
She was peering at sheets of paper and hid them as I came in, with a suspiciously guilty look. “Bertie! I thought you were Tom.”
“I know you are getting on in years, oh aunt of mine, but surely you are not so blind as to mistake us?”
She threw a pen at me- which I caught neatly- and asked more civilly how the cooking was going.
“Did you know there were so many different ways of chopping vegetables? I’m exhausted just watching.”
“It will do you good. You never did exercise enough. Have you seen the twins?”
“I’ve been locked up with Thickering and Anatole, aunt. Anatole banned the horrors from his kitchen as soon as he met them.”
“Well, could you please go and keep an eye on them? They’ll get up to even worse things without you hanging on.”
“I’m not here to look after the foul boys who- whom?- you invited out of some misplaced familial feelings.”
“Why do you think I let you come, young blot? Of course you are. Run along now.”
Well, I could hardly point out that you don’t tell men of my age and standing to run along, because she was my favoured aunt. Dutifully, I ran.
So my days passed, full of running after twins (this usually involved me sticking my head into a couple of rooms, snaffling the nearest book and beverage and secreting myself in the sun on the garden) watching Anatole (I felt that, if pushed, I could now at least dice vegetables. He’d got me to try it and it was surprisingly do-able, with help) and staying out of Daphne Braythwayte’s way.
As with most girls, Daphne was the one who ended up causing all the trouble. A week after she arrived, now looking more alive than on that fateful day, she was wondering through my particular garden haunt. I cowered behind the seat and she passed me by, with nary a glance left or right as some fellow said, heading further away from the house. I thought nothing of it- bracing walks are good for all and sundry and are often taken at Market Snodsbury- until I met with Claude and Eustace after breakfast the next morning.
“I say, Bertie, you haven’t been engaged to Daphne, have you?” Eustace asked as he got outside some eggs and b.
“No. Just because women frequently hang off me doesn’t mean all of them do.’
“Oh. Good-oh. Just thought I’d check.”
“Why?” I was suspicious. Usually my short-lived engagements were not the thing of interest for the twins.
That wouldn’t have soothed the troubled waters, even if Claude hadn’t airily waved his fork and spread egg yolk everywhere as he tried to distract me. I felt like the stern uncle- an unusual feeling since my nieces and nephews have never met me.
“I say, Bertie, have you ever noticed….”
“Now hang on a minute. You can’t ask a question like that and then beg off! What are you planning?”
“Well…She has a certain something about her, don’t you think? I mean, wouldn’t you say that she is more than just a pretty profile?”
We were lucky that the women folk had eaten earlier or in their rooms, as I gather Daphne was still doing.
“Well, yes, but I’m not getting engaged to her just because you like her.”
“Oh no, not you, old chap. I’m going to get engaged to her.”
You could have knocked me down with a feather, “You?! But you never get engaged.”
“Exactly. I’m going to now though. What do you say?”
“I say it’s tripe and you’ll regret it later.”
“Pish posh.” And on that firm rejoinder, I was abandoned as they moved off arm in arm.
I didn’t have long to lick my wounds though, because Uncle Tom appeared. “Oh good, you’re alone. Bertie, I want to have a serious conversation with you. Come into my office, please.”
Uncle Tom is a good egg, as good as ever was, but he and I do not have serious talks. He wrote to me when I was at school, occasionally, always with some money included, but that is about as far as we go- although I liberate the odd silver object d’art.
However I’d finished the meal and had nothing to do until the daily grind with Anatole, so I could hardly beg off.
“Oh, yes, well. Jolly good then. Lead on!”
He didn’t even offer me more than a seat when we were locked in his office.
“Now. Bertie. Please don’t think this is any easier for me than it is for you. However Dahlia and I are worried that you haven’t had a father to talk with you about this and I feel it is my duty. So.” He coughed. I nearly offered him a glass of water, but the sinking sensation in my stomach stopped me. I mean to say, when an older man sits down and talks about Father Figures and The Talk and embarrassment, well, if you don’t know what he’s about to say you’re a dunderhead. Bertie Wooster is many things, but a dunderhead is not one of them.
“The thing is, Bertie, I need to explain to you what happens between a man and a woman, because you will get married someday, don’t you know.”
I hemmed and haw’d a bit, to show that I was listening but with approaching dread footsteps, as the hymn goes.
“And when that happens, you must be prepared. Now, you know the differences between a man and a woman, in terms of anatomy, don’t you?”
Well, I’m as easy going as the next man, really I am. Easy-going Wooster they call me at the Drones, but that doesn’t mean that I feel any better about being talked to like this. I stared out the window in search of inspiration and muttered “No” as I watched Daphne wonder after the twins.
“Hmm. Well, you have a certain organ, and the woman, she has a ….cleft, and when a woman and a man get together, you fill that.” His voice got a little high towards the end so I sought to put him at his ease with a joke.
“I don’t have an organ, Uncle Tom. Jeeves won’t let me have one in the flat- too noisy. But I know all about pianos, and clefs. Don’t worry about it.” I grinned in what I hoped was a reconciliatory manner and hoofed it.
The grass was green, the snail on his thorn and so on, but the Wooster heart was not glad. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I’d had the talk before, you see (what small boy, on emerging from his prep school hasn’t) but from my Aunt Agatha. It had sat between us for months, because whenever I thought I’d forgotten it, my roommates would comment on an aunt or a girl and I would be left back where I started. I finally got over it by engaging my Wooster self in practises which didn’t remind me of my aunt, but provided the same relief that she had mentioned. So I was hoping that the same coldness didn’t spring up between Uncle Tom and myself. I had no wish to be celibate.
I was brooding on this, not watching where I was going, when I stumbled across Eustace, sitting by the side of the path and looking as broody as I felt.
“What ho, Eustace! Fill us in, then.”
He heaved a gusty sigh, almost blowing me over, and muttered something. I settled down next to him and asked him to repeat himself.
“Daphne. She’s just accepted Claude’s proposal.”
“I say! That’s a bit thick, old bean. Why on earth’s did he propose? I thought you were all for Daphne and he couldn’t stand her.”
“Well, so did I. Except then we thought, well, maybe she can’t tell us apar…Maybe she just thinks of us as Claude-and-Eustace-the- twins.”
“Ah.” And that explained it all. Claude, in a moment of fun, had decided to test their theory and was now stuck with it.
“Is that all you can say?”
“Erm….” I cogitated for a moment, finally coming up with something, “you’ve had a lucky escape. Women, in my experience, cannot be redeemed by profile alone.”
“That hardly makes me feel better. Go and finish burning Anatole’s kitchen down, would you?”
I did. Sometimes a man knows when he isn’t wanted.
Part of a letter Seppings received that same afternoon:
…if you would let me know the probable abode of Mr Wooster in two days’ time so I may arrive with due expediency, I would be most grateful.
I hope that your cough has subsided…..
I don’t know if you’ve ever been shelled at, of an evening? I have, once or twice, and the same effect, without the threat to life and limb, was achieved when Daphne and Claude came down to dinner arm-in-arm. Uncle Tom frowned, and looked at least a little apologetic for putting us both through that ordeal, but Aunt Dahlia screeched and jumped up to give Claude a hearty back-slap and wring poor Daphne’s hand.
Mind, I don’t say poor out of any sort of feelings for the girl, though I’m sure she’s a decent enough sort. But anyone looking at shacking up with the twins is in for a hard time of it, as I found one dreadful week I spent at their ‘digs’. They seem to need no sleep, is half the problem.
Anyway, the dinner- one in which I had had a slight hand, although I suspect any remnants of that had been removed by Anatole as soon as I was released- was overshadowed by the discussion of the upcoming nuptials.
“At least you aren’t engaged to Bertie, Daphne dear.”
“Here, I say! That’s a bit harsh, aged r.”
“She has a point, Bertie. You can’t stay engaged for more than a week, can you?”
“I’ll have you know I once managed nine days.” I said with all the hauteur I could muster.
“Bet Jeeves was having kittens.”
“This was before Jeeves.”
“Before Jeeves? Was there such a thing?”
“Who is Jeeves?” Daphne looked a little confused at this tennis-match conversation.
“Only the most amazing man-servant you will ever meet. Intelligent, well spoken, body like a Greek god….”
“Didn’t you say he shrimps topless, Bertie? He’ll be lovely and golden when he gets back…”
“He’s so intelligent his head sticks out at the back.” Aunt Dahlia seemed a little concerned as to the direction of that previous comment.
“Will I meet this paragon when we come and stay, Bertie?”
“Oh, er, rather. You’re coming to stay?”
“As a honeymoon. You know we’ve hardly any money, and Jeeves can get us on the appropriate boat or trip or whatever, can’t he?”
“Jeeves isn’t in my pay to organise your honeymoon.”
“As you say, Bertie. He’s organised yours before.”
“He knew full well I wasn’t actually going to get married, so it wasn’t so much a honeymoon as a holiday-for-two which became a holiday for a Wooster and his valet.”
“Bertie, are you pleased we’re getting married?” That girl seemed to want to do nothing but ask me questions, despite my lack of responses.
“Of course I am, Daphne. You picked well.”
I got a kick under the table for that, but I hardly noticed, because her eyes were doing the rummiest thing. They were looking at me as if she was trying to tell me something. I hoped it wasn’t the doom- y news which normally followed those sorts of looks, but I feared it was.
Why is it, that as soon as a woman hears about my track record and my availability (not to mention my charms) she determines to marry me? Here was a girl all happily engaged, the words of the ‘will you/yes type’ barely passed into memory, and she was already peering around for other Woosters, greener pastures.
“I did, didn’t I? Two men so attentive to each other must also be attentive to their wives, wouldn’t you say?”
”Attentive? Are you sure you’re talking about the same two as I am? The two hounds sitting at this table?”
“Yes, those are the same two. Don’t you think they’re attentive to each other?”
I shrugged and stared at the two about whom we were arguing. They were staring into the middle distance as if butter, on insertion to their gobs, would have a hard time being anything else than a firm pat, but I didn’t buy it. They always looked like that just before one of their secrets came out.
Well, I wanted nothing to do with any of their schemes, and I wanted it widely known that that was the case, so I stood.
“Of course they are.” One doesn’t use phrases such as, ‘like a boil is attentive to its host’ in mixed company, but I thought it. “Very attentive. Congrats again.”
I was lounging against the outer wall, breathing in the night air of freedom and solitude, when the blasted girl turned up again.
“Oh! What ho Daphne.”
“Hello Bertie. Do you really think Claude and Eustace don’t care about each other?”
“Of course they care about each other- they can get up to all sorts of tricks without harming any of their other relatives or friends, and that is a great boon to them.”
“I mean actually look out for each other.”
“Oh! No, Claude does most of the looking out, I think, if its needed. Eustace has poorer vision.”
She seemed to think on that a moment, then said something in a low, soupy tone which sounded like, “That’s how they get around it then.”
“Get around what, Daphne?”
“Get around…oh, never mind. Bertie, do you like me?”
A tricky question, I’ve always felt. One which calls for a certain amount of discretion. You can’t go around liking every girl who asks, you see. Some, on hearing a yes, think that means you want to be engaged. Others, on hearing a no, think that means there’s no hope of such a foul future befalling them and go and top themselves.
Obligingly, therefore, given she was already engaged, I answered yes.
“Oh good. I like you too, you know. At first I thought you were maybe a little stand-offish, but then I found that you really aren’t, not at all. So that’s alright then.”
“It is.” She nodded, waved and headed back inside. I wilted.
When I came down the next morning, there were harsh words being spoken. They sounded unlike two lovers quarrelling, a thing which I endeavour never to listen to (I get Jeeves to do that- he is far better at following such things) so I set myself up in a handy spot and listened.
“I did not!”
“You must have! How else would she have known?”
“She probably saw you looking!”
“I’ve hardly looked at all since we’ve been here!”
“She probably saw you trying not to look then!”
“I think she saw you looking!”
There was a lot more in this vein and I wondered what it could be that had the twins arguing like an old married couple. Usually they joked around, or had a few bitter words, drank the bitter cup and got back to terrorising the neighbours.
After another five minutes of this tennis match, I was interrupted by a hand on my shoulder. “You can stop blighting my corridor and come in here instead.”
With her customary vice-grip, Aunt Dahlia hauled me in and glared at me.
“What on earths did you say to poor Tom? He’s been shaking his head and gibbering at any mention of music or food. He won’t eat anything which Anatole cooks him because he can’t guarantee that you didn’t have a hand in making it.”
“I can assure you….”
“You can assure me that you’ll stay here, and be as meek and apologetic to your Uncle as you can be. You can listen to him talk about silver to his heart’s content, and you can stop listening in at windows and sitting in with Anatole. And when Jeeves gets back, you can stay for another two days, while he cleans up any little things which have cropped up in that time, and then you can go.”
I chomped firmly on the inside of my mouth, to prevent a smile, and nodded sombrely. “It shall be exactly as you say, Aunt. Shall I go and invite him into the silvery den now?”
“No. You shall wait until he is safely in there, and then go and listen to him rambling. Why I ever let you come and stay is beyond me.”
“Because without your help and sustenance, I would waste away to nothing. I think I’ve put on half a pound while I’ve been here.”
“I’ve lost at least four times that. You worry me away to nothing, you see.”
She tapped my back with a handy book and sent me on my way in much the same fashion as I think she has done all my life.
This time, I escaped to my room. Once there, I leant against the window and stared at the grounds, rejoicing tunefully about my release from various cares.
The only thing which would have made me happier would be Jeeves materialising at my elbow.
“Am I interrupting something?”
I started, turned, caught myself upright again, and frowned. “Daphne! No, not at all. Come in, if you like. What can I do for you?”
“I want to marry you.”
Never let it be said that the last of the Wooster’s isn’t able, in such trying times, to provide smooth, convincing talk. “Oh, Ah.” I said. “Do you, do you really?”
“Yes. As soon as we can, I think. Because I was thinking it over, and really, I don’t think any other Wooster would do it for me.”
“And it has to be a member of the Wooster clan, so to speak?”
“Oh yes.” Her eyes positively shone, “You’re known far and wide for your fair treatment of girls and animals, and I know that I can easily help you through any immediate distress- losing your purple tie, for example.”
I don’t know if I’ve explained, before, what the purple tie that she mentioned is all about. You see, I belong to a club called the Drones (populated by variously decent sorts of chaps) and we get up to all sorts of things, most of which cannot be mentioned in mixed company. But the point is, the club tie is a particularly brilliant plum, and I gathered by her wishing to get rid of it that she wanted to fleece me of my Drones membership. I watched with approaching despair a lifetime of joy in the forms of cocktails, Jeeves’ friendly conversations, late breakfasts, lazy afternoons dodging bread and sugar lumps at the club and late evenings on the town, slithered away into the innocent flower of a girl and I thought, again, of what decent things Shakespeare had written in his day. Possibly, I reflected, Mrs Macbeth had been just the sort of person to stop Mr Macbeth from enjoying a wee dram of an evening. “Och noo,” she’d say to him, ignoring his claymore and kilt, “ye mustn’t be drinking tha’, laddie, I’ll nae hae it in this house o’mine.” And he, fresh from defeating kings and so on, would gulp and bow to her wishes. Ever it is the way with a married man.
“Oh, Bertie, it wouldn’t pain you too much, would it?”
I shook myself in as dignified manner as a beaten man can. “Of course not, Daphne. You’ve told the twins, of course?”
“Yes. They were together by that old shed. Funny, they started sort of…howling. You don’t think I broke his heart, do you?”
“They have very resilient hearts, as far as I can tell. Where they have hearts at all.”
“Oh good. Well! I’m pleased I managed to find you. I simply had to tell you just as soon as I could.”
“Yes. Well….” She stayed there looking up at me and I finally worked out she wanted a kiss. Odd, I’d never considered it part of the proposal process before, but normally the ones who propose launch themselves before I can do much more than fall over in shock. Dutifully, I pecked her a couple of times, and she laughed up at me, “Silly, no-one can see us.” Before launching into a detailed excavation of my tonsils.
Despite Uncle Tom believing otherwise, I am fairly well practised at this task, and I was bending myself to reciprocate when my eyes glimpsed a familiar back moving away. As kindly as I could, I tore her off my mouth and hurried along the corridor.
He must have been moving slowly- a long journey back to me- as I caught him on the landing. I actually did catch him, keeping him between the wall and the stairs by standing there, arms folded, trying to look angry.
“I did not mean to interrupt, sir.”
“Interrupt away, Jeeves, interrupt away.” I couldn’t hold back the smile that bubbled up on laying eyes on this paragon after two weeks’ away.
“Don’t but sir me, Jeeves. Have you unpacked?”
“Yes, sir. I arrived a little while ago. Seppings assured me there was no need to hurry.” His raised eyebrow spoke volumes. I assured him there was every need to hurry now he was here, and hauled him back to my room, “I wish to speak with you without being overheard.”
He flickered eyes this way and that and suggested we walk in the garden instead. “The fresh air will revive you, sir. You look a little pale.”
“Do I?” I shrugged, “The shock of seeing you here, Jeeves. I assumed you’d go to the flat first. How did you know I was still….”
He blinked at me and I reconsidered my question. “Never mind. No doubt you puzzled it out through some Holmesian deduction.”
His lips quirked a little and he made me laugh by intoning, “Elementary, Watson, if I may say so, sir.”
“You may, Jeeves. Say away.” I was feeling much lighter than I had ever felt in the last two weeks, and if Jeeves’ levity was anything to go by, he felt the same way. Probably not all of it, since he was now shackled to me for another 50 weeks, but he seemed to have the echo of a rumour of a ghost of a smile firmly in place, and that was enough for me.
We were wondering through the flower beds, out of earshot to anyone, before Jeeves said anything, though. I had been able to notice his browner hands, neck and face and had caught one speculative glance from that paragon next to me, before he spoke.
“Miss Braythwayte, sir, is engaged?”
“To me, yes Jeeves. She turned up at my door about an hour ago and announced she was going to marry me.” I struggled for the word Jeeves always uses in these circs. “It was a concatcatation…is that what I mean, Jeeves?”
“Yes. Thank you. It was a concatenation of circumstances, by which she decided she wanted to get married to a Wooster. Apparently I am the most suitable one to marry.”
“I can see why she may think so, sir, when faced with the twins.”
“Yes, but it hardly makes me any happier. I don’t want to marry her, Jeeves, not by a long shot. She already has plans for destroying our comfortable life, removing me from the Drones and generally moulding me. You know how I feel about being moulded.”
“Yes, sir.” We walked a little longer in silence before he said, “Would you like me to speak with the lady, sir?”
“Would this talk resolve her to break off the engagement, Jeeves, by any chance?”
“That would be the plan, sir.”
I grinned at him, “Excellent. Top-hole. You may talk with her as soon as you’ve told me how your holiday was.”
“It was very pleasant, thank you sir. The weather was clement, the fishing successful and the company stimulating.”
“You managed to get into judging another of those bathing belle contests, did you?”
“I did, sir, but also I found a group of men who enjoyed discussing the same topics as I did.”
“Spinoza and those chappies, hey?”
“I’m pleased, Jeeves. You certainly look well, and I’m certain you’re fed to the brim with fish, given they were your aim. I hope so, for I don’t mind telling you that I have no wish to be married to this girl at all. Not that she’s a bad sort, mind you….” I heaved a gusty sigh and added, “I thought she was safely engaged to Claude, which makes it even more of a shock.”
“If you like, sir, I could go now and…”
“No. I feel like it’s been far more than two weeks you’ve been gone. Fill me in on all the other juicy things you got up to. Uniting rendered hearts? Saving poor sods from the soup as you do so well with me? Providing assistance to animals and old ladies?”
His eyebrow whispered up a moderate amount and he shook his head. “Not at all, sir. I was out each day on the water, being available to render such assistance only early in the morning or in the evenings.”
We engaged in a bit of this back-and-forth, getting back into our usual banter and I, for one, enjoying every minute of it. I’d had my fill of needing to explain each of my whims in words of three syllables or more to whomever was nearest, and I’d missed the welcome and friendliness of Jeeves.
We had turned back to the house when I realised I hadn’t welcomed Jeeves back into the harness yet. “I haven’t welcomed you formally, Jeeves. It is good to have you handy again. None of these people can do what you do for me, you know.”
“Thank you sir. I’m pleased to be back as well.” He waited a decent amount of time before inquiring, “When should I begin packing for the return to London, sir?”
“Oh, Aunt Dahlia want to keep you for a couple of days, but no doubt you could work it so we could leave tomorrow, couldn’t you?”
“I’m sure I could, sir.”
“Excellent. Oh, the other thing I should warn you about is Anatole.”
“Yes, Jeeves, Anatole. Aunt Dahlia took it into her head that he might leave, and decided that he must train up someone to help tide Uncle Tom over until they could convince him to come back. Well, she wanted to get you to learn off him but I had sharp words with her- You cook exceedingly well, and the recipes he has given you are hardly surpassable by himself, but I won’t have you languishing in the kitchen of my Aunt’s house while I dine on burnt toast in London because of something she did.”
He raised his chin in a pleased manner, and I smiled and continued, “So you managed to keep your holiday. However, she decided I should still sit and watch him teach Thickering the basics, thus being able to pass on those skills to you on your return. In vain did I protest that you could peel potatoes with the best of them.”
“I endeavour to give satisfaction, sir.”
“You bally well do. And I did, too, and I sat through a weeks’ worth of lessons before I upset Uncle Tom and was banned from the kitchen. So Anatole might very well embrace you…or he could shun you. I’m never sure which way he’ll jump.”
“I’m sure M. Anatole was pleased with your lessons, sir.”
“Hmmm. Well, I didn’t burn anything down, so that’s a start, I suppose.” I stretched the mouth hopefully, “I could almost help you, I think. But the Wooster kitchen is hardly large enough for two.”
“No sir, although the thought is admirable.”
We were almost back at the house when Aunt Dahlia and Daphne appeared before us.
“Jeeves! You came!” bellowed the former, “good. There’s no trouble here at the moment, or there won’t be once you take my nephew away.”
“Good morning, madam. I intended to do so tomorrow, if that is suitable?”
“Yes, yes, in the morning, if possible.”
Meanwhile, Daphne was cosying up under my arm- the left and thus away from Jeeves- and trying to get me to kiss her.
“Is this the Jeeves I heard so much about?” She asked, between smooches.
“Yes. He is.” It’s hard to be verbose when engaged in dodging kisses. “I’ll introduce you.”
We had halted, and Aunt Dahlia had fixed Daphne with a firm look, attempting to prevent further kissing in her presence. “Jeeves, this is Daphne Braythwayte. Daphne, Jeeves, my valet. He’s just got back from his holiday.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Braythwayte. How are you?”
“Well, thanks Jeeves. Did you have a good holiday? I remember I had a maid, once, and she went on holiday and never came back. I think she ran off with a valet….I don’t really trust valets because of that.”
“You needn’t worry about Jeeves running off with Ladies’ maids.” I pointed out, “He’s the model of proprietary, isn’t he, Aunt Dahlia.”
“He certainly is. Come along, Daphne, I expect Bertie has some muddle he needs to get Jeeves to solve for him. See you at lunch, young blot.” She didn’t add the problem was the girl, but I could tell that was what she meant.
“See what I’m up against, Jeeves? She simply latched onto me and I haven’t had an easy breath since.”
“Trying circumstances indeed, sir.”
“Yes. Well, what’s the plan? Care for another turn in the garden, to make it clear to me?”
“Very good, sir.”
We walked for another half hour or so, all very pleasant with a breeze tickling the flowers and the birds echoing their laughter and so on, and I listened attentively while Jeeves outlined his plan. I interrupted several times, because it was a little complex and I’d been starved of all but the twins’ conversation for two weeks, with my vocab taking the usual dive to their, baser, level.
“Miss Braythwayte, sir, is looking for a man of means, and a man who can look after her while allowing her to feel masterful, if you follow me, sir.”
I did, and said so. He continued by suggesting that by letting drop several hints about my behaviour he would paint a picture of a masterful man, an iron fist with a very thin velvet glove, if you will. “So she’ll think it useless to change me, and give up the whole project?”
“Yes sir. The way you respond to your Aunts wishes may be explained by pointing out she all but raised you and you feel an obligation to humour her. I am sure, sir, that by providing examples of our home life I can provide what may be termed an ‘inside story’ which will be much more powerful than you ordering me around in her presence.”
“Jeeves.” I positively beamed, “You’ve hit the proverbial on the head with your usual accuracy. Once again I praise you to the heavens, wondering what good fortune brought you to my door on that much-vaunted day.”
“You are far too kind, sir.”
I lunched well that day, the happiness at having Jeeves appear at my elbow with a modicum of soup or a touch more of the reviving beverage was enough to make my wit sharper than usual and ensure smiles all around. All meaning Aunt Dahlia, Uncle Tom (who seemed well recovered, I asked not why) and Daphne, the twins having gone off to do unspeakable things together.
After seeing to the masters every wish, Jeeves collared Daphne after the meal, while I dutifully listened to a discourse on silver and imagined sneaking up and paying homage to Jeeves as I really wanted to- starting at his toes and moving up and then back to the middle. It’s difficult not to, when you live with a man as brilliant in every way as Jeeves is.
Faced with the perfect physique of a morning I had been known to surreptitiously turn on the cold tap a little more forcefully when abluting, to have it all go to naught when, seated watching him dust or tidy or what-have-you, he would say, “sir, how may I….”
I was rescued from my thinking when a maid knocked and released me by informing Uncle Tom he was needed elsewhere.
I escaped up to my room, intent on calming my thoughts, of not dwelling on his clothing when fishing. Did he really shrimp topless?
“Ah, sir. I hadn’t expected you up here quite so soon.” The Grecian body was twisting from its place under the bed, repairing my view of a delectable trouser-seat.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean for you to stop.”
Nevertheless, he stood, brushed his knees and stalked to the case, depositing a single sock there.
“I was just checking before finishing the packing, sir. I thought leaving earlier tomorrow would be a good idea.”
“One of your best, I should say.”
I struck a comfortable pose on the armchair and watched with fascination as the various hiding places of my socks, shirts and smallclothes yielded their goods to Jeeves.
“See how restrained I was, Jeeves? No rushing down into Market Snodsbury to buy myself one of those horrendous jumpers, or dashing bright spats.” I craved the attention, I’m not afraid to admit it, when I realise I can’t get any other type from him. A certain look comes into his eye, and his voice goes the opposite of soupy.
“Indeed sir, however, would I be right in saying you did acquire this before leaving the metropolis?”
With precise movements he revealed the green bow-tie I had proudly sported on alternate evenings.
“I thought I needed cheering up, Jeeves. Nothing quite like a bright tie to cheer one up when ones favourite valet has left him.”
“I left you for two weeks on my annual holiday, sir. You were quite adamant I should…”
“I know, I know, and I am pleased you went, you look much more relaxed. But it’s a bit rough on me, old thing, isn’t it? Alone in the world with Aunts closing in, no one to defend me or look after me or….”
“If you’d needed me, sir, I would have come….”
We started talking over each other then, being too keen to assure the other that he was right. “I’ll get rid of it right away, or…”
“For you to suggest that I wouldn’t…”
“will, because you’re simply bally….”
“wounded, sir. I would never….”
“dance around the place saying that…”
“old suggestion of honour….”
“Which is true, dash it, and who cares about the….”
“traditions, which I feel in this case are….”
“Sundered, and all that rot, well I say….”
“resign, of course….”
Suddenly what I was hearing filtered through to me and I shut my mouth with a click.
Jeeves did as well, only his was far less audible than mine, as with most things he does.
“Resign, Jeeves? You’ll do absolutely no such thing. The idea of it! Unless, of course, it’s my fault? In which case….” I realised too late I’d jumped to what might well be called the wrong conclusion, and I tried to employ the verbal equivalent of a back-paddle. “In which case, well, I shall have to accept it, I suppose. Couldn’t have you feeling miserable or bound by duty or some such terrible fate, could we?”
The mind will goggle at the next suggestion, but what Jeeves said was, in fact, “Indeed sir.” Very gravely.
I boggled, eyes on stalks and the whole bally lot. “Jeeves, of all the times you have said ‘indeed sir’, I think that would have to be the most impossible.”
“I apologise sir.” I shivered. That whatever-the-opposite-of-soupy is voice was back, and better than ever the spat over sartorial disagreements.
“That’s alright, Jeeves. Could I trouble you to repeat what you were saying while I was racketing on about something else? I’m afraid I may have missed the important bit.”
For some reason he decided he couldn’t possibly do so without first ensuring the sock he was holding was neatly meeting with its pair. When he spoke it was addressing the self-same socks.
“I merely wished to inform you, sir, that having spent two weeks considering little else, and taking part in what one might call experiments, it seems I am forced to admit what I was unsure was true- I love you.”
This time the eyes had to be pushed back into their parent sockets firmly. I had suspected something along these lines, but in my mind I had dared to think only of ‘I’d like to sleep with you, at some stage perhaps’ than, “I love you”.
He was still standing peering at the socks and I leapt up, replaced the chair, and fell upon him eagerly, pushing him towards the most comfortable surface in the room- the bed.
“What?” I asked, exploring that fascinating territory I believe is called the philtrum, “did I do to deserve that?”
“You were yourself, sir.”
We grinned, a la Bassett, at each other until I frowned. “None of this ‘sir’ business, Jeeves. And may I call you Reginald?”
I think- though even I am not sure I could swear to it in a court of law (unlikely though I would be to do so)- that he shuddered. He certainly leant in for another, more direct, kiss.