'And what do you make of that, Jeeves?'
I gave the telegram the frostiest gaze contained in the Wooster repertoire and handed it over to Jeeves to give it the old eagle eye. Jeeves transfixed it with one of his best. I could see in the grave incline of the noble head that he understood the nub of the issue immediately.
'Most strange, sir.'
The telegram ran as follows:
Delay arrival. Will explain in full later. Require at least another day to sort it.
'And there is no other communication, Jeeves? No forthcoming issue of apology or explanation?'
'Not to my knowledge, sir.'
'Rum!,' I said, meaningfully, and splashed the mistreated corpus into a chair. 'Not very holly and jolly, is it? Not very good will to one's fellow whatsit, is it?'
'I couldn't say, sir.'
'Tuppy, I mean. This is the second time he asked me to delay my arrival at Brinkley Court. If it meant giving Tuppy time to rectify things with Angela, I wouldn't put off the old holiday embrace to the bosom of my Aunt Dahlia and the forgathering round the fire. Or if Uncle Tom has gone batty again over a salver and Tuppy is doing his part to prevent unnecessary suffering. But the idea of missing one of Anatole's feasts without cause makes it dashed difficult to keep up the seasonal disposish of good cheer.'
'Indeed, sir. Shall I telephone Mrs. Travers informing her that you will not be making the journey tonight?'
'If you must, Jeeves. If you must,' I sighed, and settled in for a long, inglorious night in the old homestead instead.
The aforementioned l. i. night turned rather in my favour with the fortification of a stiff b.-and-s. well prepared by Jeeves, and the addition of the latest literary craze to sweep the Drones. Now I know what you're saying to yourself, with that askance glance at the page. The Drones can hardly be relied upon to know their Shakespeare from their thingummy. And if you were Florence Craye gagging to discuss the wonders of what's-his-face, you would be well right to be suspicious. But for the average Johnny, this book was the good stuff, the real Tabasco.
Even a fishy cove like Jeeves had it in him to approve when I asked him about it following supper. Not one of Anatole's finest, you understand, but a pleasant affair nonetheless. With London glimmering full of winter light and the fire crackling merrily in the grate, the cockles – if that's the word I want – of my h. were soon reheated to a piping contentment.
'I say, Jeeves. What do you make of this Baskerville chap? This Hound, eh?'
'I think it wise not to offer an opinion at this time, sir.'
'Come now, Jeeves. Now isn't the time for this cold feet business of yours.'
'My apologies, sir. I thought it best to delay until you had finished the tome as to prevent any spoiling of the joy of discovery by revealing information not learned naturally in due course.'
That was Jeeves: always thinking two steps ahead. I wagged the old Wooster noggin in contemplation.
'Right you are, Jeeves. Suspense is what counts in these things. Rather soupy, though, what?'
'I mean to say, all these secrets. Wouldn't it be quicker to biff in and ask the cove what all this business of the Hall and Hound is about, rather than legging it high and low over the countryside?'
For one who has known Jeeves as intimately and as long as I, you would think reading the man's expressions would come as second nature by now. The intellectual standing of the man forbids this, however, and so you will know what I mean when I say it gave me a pleasant start to be on the receiving end of one of the most deliciously inexplicable looks Jeeves has ever bestowed on my person. It had a kind of thingness behind it. Fond, if that's not putting too fine a point on it.
It took every bit of the Wooster pride not to blush.
'I suppose that would make it less a goose-flesher designed for cold winter nights stuck indoors and more a paragraph.'
'As you say, sir,' Jeeves said, calm as cucumbers, still with a bit of the whatsit in his voice.
A thought occurred to me. 'You know, Jeeves. I think there's something to this detective wheeze. Take one particularly brainy fellow, and add in another sort that's good at conversing with the citizenry and can sometimes be found doodling in notebooks, and you have the makings of a pretty fine partnership.'
Jeeves ticked a smallish smile at the corner of his mouth and leaned close. 'I couldn't agree more, sir.'
The night turned rather more in my favour after that moment.
I awoke the next morning with a touch of vim and a dash more v. to the step than the events of the previous day would suggest. Not even a third telegram from Tuppy hinting that Chrimbols likely would be spent in the sole company of Jeeves could sour my mood. In fact, if it was to be a repeat of the previous eve, I was rather looking forward to it. The discussion of that detective chappie and his erstwhile companion allowed the young master to make an impression on Jeeves, and he in turn thought it best to repay the effort in full, with a heaping teaspoon of oojah-cum-spiff thrown in for good measure.
It would hardly scare the legs off a beazel to say I was hopping for an opportunity to bring it up again.
Well, I mean to say, it's amazing how these sorts of things can knock you up a few days later and come banging into your flat in the middle of the morning. This particular sort was of a determinedly Fink-Nottle brand, down the horn-rimmed spectacles and pained cries of disharmony often found in the deepest wilds of Lincolnshire.
'What ho, Gussie!' I said, trying to throw a bit of light on the subject.
'You must help me, Bertie. She's gone missing! It's been a week and I haven't seen a sight of her. Oh, what will I do?'
I mean to say, what? I offered the distressed fellow a seat before he puddled onto the floor like so much pond water, and rang for Jeeves to bring in one of his better restoratives. When it seemed like I should get a word of sense out of him, I started in on my line of questioning.
'So, ah. Missing, eh?'
'It's awful, Bertie. You really must help me or I won't call you a friend any longer.'
I thought that was putting it rather strong when I had given over the f. of my a. as soon as he bashed in the door. But I did not let it show.
'Of course I'll help, old bean. What seems to be the trouble?'
'I think I've lost her!' Gussie cried, and sank further into the sofa.
'Oh, rather.' I wracked the old lemon. 'Lost who? Who's gone missing? You don't mean the Bassett, do you?'
I don't know how much you follow my past adventures, but some months previous I had spent a goodish amount of time helping Gussie leg-shackle himself to the Bassett, given name Madeline, she of the belief that the stars are God's daisy chain. It seemed a blunder indeed if he had mislaid her already.
Gussie had the soupy look of one who had skipped the last three chapters in one of those thick tomes Jeeves likes to bandy about from time to time and now was trying to remember his Damon from his what's-his-name.
'Oh. Madeline? I suppose I haven't seen her either. In fact the last time I saw her—' A wetly feverish light entered into young Gussie's bulbous eyes. '—she was with Gloria! Oh, Bertie, that means both of them are missing!'
Gloria was a name new to me. That last time I saw Gussie he was positively potty over Madeline. It didn't seem possible that he should find a second bird in the space of a few months to divide his devotion. With as much delicacy as I could given the fragile state into which Gussie was showing himself to be, I prodded, 'I say, Gloria? That's not one of your newts, is it?'
'Yes! Yes! My prized black-backed newt. Oh, I won't know what to do with myself if she's hurt.'
'Er. Madeline or the newt?'
'Oh. Well. Both, I suppose,' the Fink-Nottle equivocated, if that's the word I want. He blinked at me from behind his spectacles, looking rather like a fish out of water that hopes in vain soon to be put back in the wet where he belongs. 'Do you think she's all right, Bertie? Will you help me find her?'
It's that type of q. that makes a fellow question the listening nature of the thingummybob. Fate and that sort of rot. I had wanted an excuse to impress Jeeves with another display of the level of understanding of that deducting or deducing racket present in the self, and here a mystery had tumbled into my lap.
Not one to look a gift-horse in the m., I gave the only answer at my disposal and rang for Jeeves.
'Pack a lunch. We're going to Lincolnshire, Jeeves,' I said when he shimmered into the room. 'I have been offered a case by our newest client, one Gussie Fink-Nottle.'
'I will explain on the way. Quickly, man! Time is of the essence.'
'Very good, sir,' Jeeves said, always one to rally round when something is in the offing.
'Oh, and Jeeves?' I called before he could fade too far from the room.
'We must make one stop along the way. I want to invest in one of those topping whatsits, a hat thingummy.'
'I believe it is known as a deer-stalker, sir,' Jeeves said with a rummy tone, 'and I must register my opinion that such a thing would not become your person in a fitting way.'
'Nonsense, Jeeves. It's just the thing I need if I'm going to be sniffing high and yonder over the countryside looking for clues.'
The deer-stalker proved to be the top ticket for hunting clues at the Fink-Nottle residence, of which there were very few. Neither hair nor scale could be found of either girl or newt. After two hours of crawling around the floors in search for either—clues or newts, that is; the Bassett, for as soppy as she is, did not strike me as the type to lurk under beds waiting to spring a new form of vegetarianism on unsuspecting detectives—I retired to the pond where Jeeves was aiding Gussie in a quest for Gloria in her native h.
'This is turning into rather a ranygazoo, don't you think?' I came to a stop next to Jeeves, who had the look of a man who knew first hand what is was to be dredged up to the knees in mud and would not wish the experience on his worst enemy. 'Not at all like the romantic wilds of Baskerville Hall, what?'
'There may be some truth to that statement, sir.'
'I've been up and down Gussie's house and haven't found one bally clue in the whole caboodle.'
'Indeed, sir? Has the deer stalker not provided sufficient help in that area?'
Beneath the smooth tones that belie the intrepid feudal spirit, Jeeves was making a sharpish point that I couldn't miss. He had been downright chilly about the deer stalker since I returned to the car with it plopped jauntily atop the Wooster brow.
'No, Jeeves, it has not. And you need not say another word about it.' I doffed the thing into the mud like a hat has never before been doffed. The mud quickly sucked it up like so much b.-and-s. 'I'll be well rid of the thing if we can find a way out of this mess.'
The ears took on all the chill that left the noble Jeevsian demeanour, but it was worth it for the look of gratitude that was tossed the Wooster way.
Jeeves stared at the patch of mud that used to contain the hat rather too soppily for my tastes. 'Thank you, sir. And may I suggest that you check the study once more? Particularly the grate for the fire. It is often there that Mr. Holmes would discover a clue.'
'Do you think that carries over to newts as well, Jeeves?'
'I could not say, sir, but I think at this moment, it would not hurt to check.'
Jeeves was, as Jeeves often is, right on the mark. The fire-grate held the singular clue that might help me unravel this case yet. I assembled my entourage in the parlour and, after lighting a gasper, showed the thing off in style.
'It is a letter. Burnt by the fire,' I deduced, waving the offending article in the air. Bits of ash sprinkled to the floor. 'It seems to have bally well obscured who's letter it was or who wrote it.'
'Does it say anything regarding Gloria?' Gussie simpered.
'It doesn't seem to say much of anything at all,' I said, examining the thing over once more.
The part of the page that hadn't been charred off fully was blackened and the ink runny. The handwriting itself was the forthright, decisive kind that reminded me uncomfortably of my dealings with Honoria Glossop, Tuppy's hoot of a sister. Deuced difficult thing to read with that memory in mind.
'But as I told you, young Gussie, if newt and bird were last seen together in the same place, Occam's thingummy says that they should be found together in the same, though slightly different, place.' I recalled reading as much in one of those books at the Drones.
'But I last saw Madeline tending to Gloria here, Bertie. And we've searched the house! Oh, it's hopeless, isn't it?' Gussie drooped alarmingly.
'If I may, sir,' Jeeves said with a glance towards me, and I waved a hand to let him proceed. I have often learned that Jeeves has the very voice of reason and sense that wet Fink-Nottles like Gussie need to bolster the old spirits. 'I believe what Mister Wooster is rightly trying to imply is that, should we discover where Miss Bassett has gone, likely we shall also discover the missing newt.'
'Exactly right, Jeeves,' I sang, with a not-too-proud private sparkle in the eye for the mind of the chap in question. 'But I can't make heads or tails of where this letter came from. What do you think, Jeeves?'
'If Mister Fink-Nottle does not remember burning a letter, I think we can safely assume it belonged to Miss Bassett. There is still the faint markings of a crest at the top of the page, sir. If you can recognize it, it may help identify from whom the letter was sent.'
I peered closely at the letter-head, and after brushing away a few specks of wayward ash, the whole thing became frightfully clear. After I stuffed the old eyeballs back into the cranium, I held the offending moniker out for the general public to take a gander.
'I say—well I mean—what the bally deuce does that mean?'
'Bertie,' Gussie said, in a hushed, trembling voice poised for betrayal, 'why—it's yours! The letter came from you.'
'Tut. Utter rot and flapdoodle. I don't remember writing any letter.'
'But you must have,' Gussie cried. 'Who else would use your stationery? Madeline always warned me that if I mucked things up with her, she'd run to your open arms.'
I had never forgotten that particular threat from the Bassett, and to hear it bandied in front me again sent a shock of nerves through the old Wooster spine. 'Tchah,' I said, and I meant it to sting. 'My arms are closed and full enough as it is.' I checked a look with Jeeves to see that he, if no one else, followed my t. of thought. 'I have no use for lovesick Bassetts.'
Gussie shook his head. 'I never thought I would see the day when Bertie Wooster would steal from his friends. Well,' the poor chump sniffed, 'I hope you're very happy with her. And take care of her well. I'm afraid I'm going to need to ask you to leave now.'
And with that, we were more or less handed the mitten and chucked out of his house.
'The thing of it is, Jeeves,' I said as the car puttered its way London-ho. It was dashed cold in the wind. I longed for the deer stalker now, if only for the warmth. I had the scarf wrapped so tightly about the person that Jeeves asked me to repeat myself. 'The thing of it is, when Gussie all but bally well wished me all future misery in her company, I still don't know if he was talking about the newt or the Bassett.'
'Perhaps it is best if we do not question it, sir,' Jeeves intoned sagely, and I could only agree.
'The only thing I know for certain,' I continued on, 'this detective wheeze isn't all it's cracked up to be.'
'It's a deuced more difficult than I first thought. And what about my monogram on that letter? There's something rum about that. Something – if this is the word I want – peculiarly fruity about the handwriting.'
'It's a real corker but I think I can suss it out if you get me near a roaring fire and one of your nolle prosequi to invigorate the bean. That's how old what's-his-foot solved a case or two, what?'
'There does seem to be a connection between the two, yes, sir. It will be my pleasure to oblige.'
'You don't think Tuppy's wired to say we can expect to find ourselves stuffing our beaks with Anatole's creations anytime soon, do you?'
'I cannot say, sir, but I fear it unlikely.'
'Right ho, Jeeves,' I sighed, and let my hand fall to Jeeves's shoulder. 'I suppose you might as well start planning the seasonal feast for the two of us then.'
'Right away, sir,' Jeeves said and let my hand stay there until we entered the outskirts of London.
Tucked up once more in the peace of the old abode, a hot bath had revived the sensation to the extremities, followed by a hot drink to restore the mens sana to the corpore sano whatsit. A seventh telegram from Tuppy awaited a roving eyeball, but I was determined to let nothing disturb me until I had discovered the answer to that letter and, beyond that, that location of the missing newt. Jeeves had toddled off to the back rooms to start the preparation for the Christmas feast, with a far away sigh that he would head down to the shops to see what could be scrounged from the ballyhoo of Michaelmas in London. If he wasn't to be my distraction on velvet, I determined that nothing should. I set the self firmly in the chair to ruminate on all that I had seen in remote Lincolnshire.
Let me say that rumination of this sort, if you've never tried it, tires a fellow out like billy-o. After ankling it high and low over Gussie's house, and the rather frappe quality of the drive to London, off-set against the warmth of the bath, the Wooster chin was soon plunging southward to the Wooster chest. Between one 'ho hum' and the next, I was eftsoons in the l. of nod.
The grumble of the inner beast woke me some hours later just as Jeeves was shuffling in through the door.
'What ho, Jeeves,' I yawned, and cracked the crick that had settled in the old head-pole. 'I hope that is supper you have neatly tucked behind that tea towel.'
Jeeves was in fact carrying a square-shaped parcel, draped in a tea towel, which he placed aside in order to close the door.
'I would strongly discourage an attempt to ingest the specimen which I have brought in, sir. I believe it may have properties which are poisonous if not properly prepared.'
I tried not to show how deeply those words disappointed me. The stomach gave another rumble. 'Not supper then, I take it?'
'No, sir,' Jeeves said regretfully, and I could tell he really did regret it. 'I believe it might be called a very fortunate Christmas miracle, if you will permit me a sense of whimsy.'
'Oh, rather, Jeeves. 'Tis the season and all that.' I flashed the cove in question a smile and crept towards the thing. The rummy way Jeeves was avoiding identifying the o. had piqued my c. As I neared it, the parcel gave a little jump. The tea towel slipped, but did not reveal its contents. 'Egads, Jeeves! It moved.'
'Yes, sir.' And with a wave of his hand, Jeeves unveiled the thing to display it to its full grandeur.
After I had successfully scraped the jaw off the floor, and located a chair, and lit a feverish cigarette, I transferred the look of shock from the parcel to the man responsible for producing it.
'And what, precisely, is the meaning of this, Jeeves?'
The faintest line of confusion marred the Jeevesian brow. 'I'm afraid I don't follow, sir.'
'Well, look at it.' We both turned a steely eye on the object, no longer an innocent-looking parcel, but now resolved into a neat glass-tank holding a small creature of amphibian reputation with a thick black stripe down its back. Unless I was mistaken, this was, as they say, the newt of the hour.
I said as much to Jeeves.
'But it couldn't be the newt, Jeeves.'
'Not the newt that goes by the name of Gloria and belongs to one Gussie Fink-Nottle.'
'Not the missing newt?'
Jeeves inclined his head in the affirmative. I boggled.
'I have no idea how you do it, Jeeves.'
'Thank you, sir.'
The newt gave another lunge at its prison, rattling the thing along the table top. It seemed as eager to be off home as I was to biff it there. Gussie was still convinced that I plucked it from its rightful place next to his heart, but returning the beast to him might go a long way in repairing relations. Jeeves had mentioned an early Christmas miracle, and it certainly seemed to be that.
'Wherever did you find it?'
'If you'll excuse the assumption on my part, sir, while I was out, I paid a visit to Miss Bassett.'
If I say I boggled before, it wouldn't be such a stretch to say I gaped now. 'You found both the newt and the Bassett?'
'It was, as you said yourself, sir, highly likely that they should be found together in the same, if different, place.'
'Rather. Nothing but, of course.' I considered this for a moment. 'But what use would the Bassett have for a newt?'
'I believe the lady took it mistakenly with the rest of her possessions when she ended her arrangement with Mr. Fink-Nottle two weeks ago. She was quick to apologise for the oversight, and most pleased to return it to its rightful owner.'
This seemed in line with what I knew of the Bassett's behaviour. I hadn't known she broke it off with Gussie, but I couldn't say I was much bunged up by the notion. As long as she wasn't knocking up the door to press her tears to the Wooster shoulder, I was happy to see her off. In the war of the hearts, I thought it best to follow in the footsteps of Christmases past, and say live and let live.
'Well, I'm dashed, Jeeves. Absolutely dashed. I mean to say, in the best possible way. But hang on just a tick.'
The shock of the reveal was leaving me, and in its place slithered in the old suspicions, if that's the word I want, that every good detective carries close to the breast.
'If you knew where the Bassett was all this time, and considering that, the newt, why didn't you say something earlier? We could have avoided the whole shebang. I don't want to say the word disappointed, Jeeves, but there is a certain thingness of it that I think applies here.'
Jeeves had the grace to look suitably abashed for once. 'My apologies, sir. If there had been a way to save you the trouble, I would have seen to it, but unfortunately the circumstances surrounding this particular event forbade me from telling you until this moment.'
I eyed the cove with a bit of stern stuff until I thought he could stand no more, and then reclined in the chair and tossed a careless leg over the knee. 'If you would care to explain now, Jeeves, it would not go amiss.'
'Very good, sir. Do you recall the letter you found in the fire-grate?'
'The one bearing the old Wooster monogram and the fruity handwriting?' The thought I had been chasing around before my doze resurrected itself. 'Did I tell you, Jeeves, that it reminded me of Honoria Glossop's? A very unfortunate thing to be shot at a chap without warning.'
Jeeves gave a nod. 'That is the letter to which I am referring, sir. And I congratulate you on recognising the handwriting. It was indeed penned by Miss Glossop.'
'But why should she be writing the Bassett on my stationery? Surely Pop Glossop hasn't gone so tight around the gills that he's cutting back on paper now?'
'No, sir. I believe she borrowed a sheet from you without permission when she called upon me to offer advice while you were visiting Mrs Travers a month ago.'
'She did, did she? You didn't inform me of this, Jeeves.'
'No, sir. I was sworn to utmost secrecy about the matter, and could not resolve myself to break that oath until I explained matters to Miss Glossop earlier tonight.'
'You must have legged it right speedily if you managed to knock up both Bassett and Glossop and newt estates in one afternoon. It's amazing you're not more out of breath.'
Jeeves raised an eyebrow. 'That was fortunately not necessary, sir. Both Miss Bassett, Miss Glossop, and the newt were present in the same location, not more than a brisk walk from here. It was quite easy to call upon them and finish the shopping in the allotted hours.'
'I see, Jeeves,' I said, though I have to confess that I didn't. 'Very convenient.'
'Indeed, sir, yes, though the arrangements to allow them to be so close were less so. You may recall that I mentioned Miss Bassett ending her engagement to Mr. Fink-Nottle?'
'You mentioned something or other of her giving up on old Gussie leading to the nicking of the newt.'
'Yes, sir. I have not had time to collaborate private events with the ladies in question, but I believe events played out as follows:
'Miss Glossop came to me for aid on a delicate matter concerning Miss Bassett and herself. They wished to sever their relations to men and adopt, if you may take my point, a more Sapphist lifestyle with the other. It seemed the affair had been on-going for some time, and Miss Glossop was determined to have a place in London to which Miss Bassett could retire when she had successfully ended her arrangement with Mr. Fink-Nottle. I helped her secure such a place, and she took it upon herself to write Miss Bassett immediately. In the resulting chaos of receiving such good news, Miss Bassett hastily packed and mistakenly took Mr. Fink-Nottle's newt with the rest of her belongings. It was not until I saw them both tonight that I could inform her of her error, retrieve the newt, and secure permission to explain this to you now, as I have just done.'
It took a few blinks to clear the fog but soon the picture became clear. 'I see, Jeeves,' I said, and this time I was chock-full of honesty.
'You are not upset, sir?'
'To be rid of both threats of engagement from la Bassett and hearty backslaps from a Glossop in one fell swoop? Oh, rather not, Jeeves. Absolutely spiffing news, I say. All happiness to the both of them, what?'
'They should be very glad to hear that.'
'You still have a pensive air about you, Jeeves. If there's more, you best be out with it now.'
'I'm not sure if it has occurred to you, sir, that Miss Glossop's recent behaviour may relate to why Mister Glossop is unavailable to help receive you at Brinkley Court.'
'You mean to say you think Tuppy's in a strop over his sister biffing off to live the high life in London?'
'Something like that, sir, yes.'
I hadn't considered this, but put in that light, it seemed very likely. 'Dash it,' I said. 'Well, I suppose there's nothing for it. We'll have to stuff ourselves on succulence provided by else other than Anatole. You have the supplies, Jeeves?'
'And the necessary talent?'
'My talents do not lie in the same vein, but I shall endeavour to please, as always, sir.'
'Very good,' I said, pleased, and gave the newt the once over. 'Ring up Gussie, will you, and tell him that I'll biff this over at his convenience, and then I will leave you to it.'
'Very good, sir.'
A few days later, the newt had been successfully returned to Gussie, who was thankful enough to let us into his house and extend an invitation to join him for the Christmas Eve meal. Already having contented myself to be bereft of Anatole's excellent food until after the New Year, I politely offered a refusal and legged it back to the flat tout suite. There I was greeted with the smells of Jeeves preparing a very suitable alternative.
Set down in the evening to a small but fine feast, I gave Jeeves the last of my opinions on the Baskerville Hound, now that I had finished the thing, that we hadn't been able to discuss since the week previous.
'But then it was this Stapleton chap all along. Well, I mean, I say. This business of secrets, Jeeves. It may make for a good mystery novel, but it's dashed difficult to wrap one's head around way when it crops up in a fellow's life.'
'Indeed, sir. I myself am opposed to the notion of them. But I hope you may understand why, in light of recent events, I chose to keep select information from you.'
'I imagine it goes back to that sort of bias whatsit about things not naturally learned.'
'Yes, sir. Though I also had other reasons to think you may be sympathetic to this form of secret.'
I wasn't sure what Jeeves was driving at until he slipped his hand over mine on the table and gave it a good squeeze. Possible reasons tumbled over and clicked into place like a key in a lock. I turned my palm in order to return the gesture and gave Jeeves my best smile.
'Right you are, Jeeves,' I said quietly. 'Some secrets have more joy in being kept. Happy Christmas.'
'And to you too, sir.'