I would like to apologize to torch, the recipient of this story. Although it's long, almost seven times as long as the requirement, it's...well, it's not finished. The idea you gave me was an absolute pippin of an idea--for a novel. Sorry. I could possibly have brought the story to some sort of conclusion before the deadline, but only by cutting it awkwardly short and winding up with a bastard story I would immediately have to revise and expand. I'll get the rest of this finished as soon as possible. The second half will probably be at least as long as what's already here. Again, I am most sorry.
Two hours post-noon is a dashed inconvenient time to fetch up at a country house. Too late for lunch, but too early for tea, the inmates have scattered to the four winds, leaving the arriving guest to wander a landscape as deserted as the beaches of Margate once the summer is over.
After some little thought, I turned my head towards that room where my Uncle Tom, who's potty about the stuff, keeps his collection of silver whatnots. He was usually to be found in this lair after lunch, and indeed I heard his voice as I put my hand to the knob. A second voice answered him and I let my hand drop, door unopened.
Discretion is the better part of valour, Jeeves once said, which is one of his wheezes meaning you couldn't get me into that room by tying me up in a dank cellar and sticking lit matches between my toes. I only vaguely recognized the second voice, which is to say that I knew the voice but couldn't name the bird it belonged to, but it was speaking of foliation and sconces and all that rot with an eagerness nearly matching Uncle Tom's obsession. Before I could turn from this doorway to horrors a bark sounded from behind me, making me jump like a Red Indian finding a rattlesnake in his tent.
When I say a bark I don't mean anything coming from the throat of a dog, but rather the cry of an aunt who in her youth had followed the hounds with the Pytchley and Quorn, developing a voice that could be heard over three counties.
"Bertie, you blot on the family escutcheon!" the aforementioned aunt, my good and deserving Aunt Dahlia, cried. "What are you doing here?"
"I like that," I responded with no little heat. "Here I drove from the distant metrop. in answer to an ancient relative's urgent telegram, only to have her look at me like some battered corpse the cat dragged in.
"I sent no blasted telegram!"
I tut-tutted. "You most certainly did."
"I did not."
We might have continued in this comedy cross-talk routine for some time if Jeeves, returning from putting the two-seater away, hadn't interrupted with a soft cough. "If I might suggest, sir, I believe you still have the telegram in your trouser pocket."
After searching one or two pockets I pulled the crumpled paper out and held it high. "Ha. Bertie. Come at once. Signed, Dahlia Travers."
"Give me that," the aged relative cried, snatching it from my hands like a captain of industry snatching bread from the mouths of the poor and reading it over. "I didn't send this."
I shrugged and Jeeves again coughed deferentially. "You will note, madam," he said," that it was phoned in to the post office at Market Snodsbury."
Aunt Dahlia so noted and then glowered at me. "If this is some ploy to swill down more of Anatole's cooking--"
"You wound me," I protested, though it was true the salivary glands were working over-time at the thought of that superb chef's mousse de la Boue dans une Panier de la Pate de Chaussures.
Before Aunt Dahlia could let out more than a sceptical snort, the door to her mate's sanctum sanctorum opened, disgorging Uncle Tom and guest.
The second bird was not overly tall, with hair the colour of corn silk, arrayed in the outer crust of a gentleman in a style Jeeves could not but approve. It was the monocle screwed into his left eye that fired the old brain cells, however. "Flim! Flim Wimsey! I say, it's been a few years, what?"
He looked startled for a moment and let the monocle drop from his eye. "Captain Wooster." He seemed more pleased than some have at renewing their acquaintance with the last scion of the Wooster line. "And how are you getting on, old boy?"
"Oh, tickety-boo, tickety-boo," I answered. "You?"
The aged r. interrupted. "You know each other?"
"Captain Wooster and I--"
"Flim and I were up at Oxford together," I interrupted, remembering Flim's tendency towards long-winded explanations.
"I'm surprised you admit it, Lord Peter," Aunt Dahlia said with another little snort. "Most people try to hush these things up."
Flim gave a smile and a shrug. He was always a good egg, a sound man with a cricket bat and up for a lark once you got a glass or two into him. Why, he proposed we pinch the fellows' umbrellas one night after only a single sip of the Cockburn '96!
"Lord Peter is helping Tom catalogue his silver collection," Aunt Dahlia continued.
I thought of offering him my condolences--Flim, that is, not Uncle Tom, who considered the collection his ewe lamb--until I remembered that he was keen on the bally rot himself. Flim took a First in history, if you would believe it, though he never studied like the real swotters.
"Right ho, then."
The afternoon was still young, giving me several hours before I need don the gay apparel for one of Anatole's masterpieces. As the notion of spending those hours listening to Uncle Tom and Flim prattle on about regency hallmarks and a pair of Paul de Lamerie candlesticks failed to appeal, I decided to trickle out the nearest side-door and see what entertainment the spacious grounds of Brinkley Court could offer on a pleasantly warm summer afternoon. Almost immediately I encountered Augustus, similarly out for a pre-prandial stroll.
When writing these things down I am never certain how much to explain. I mean, should I explain that Augustus was the resident cat, a creature of rather stout and sedentary nature, thus boring the socks off my regular readers? Or by omitting such explanation risk confusing any new readers when they learn that I was bent over tickling Augustus under the chin when a feminine giggle sounded from behind me?
"Why, Bertie Wooster, as I live and breathe!" the voice that presumably went with the f.g. said in a remarkable feat of identification given that only my trouser seat was visible.
Naturally I jumped and spun like Stilton Cheesewright doing his Scientific Exercises. Facing me was an absolute pippin of a girl, one of the small, compact variety. Hers, Jeeves might say, was a ship to launch a thousand faces, or rather the other way around. It didn't take long for the keen Wooster intellect to recall her name. "Myrtle--Myrtle Chandler! What are you doing on this side of the pond?" Although I had met la Chandler in New York, she was from some benighted city in the southern part of the United States, where her family had made a whacking great fortune marketing one of those disgusting sticky drinks that the great unwashed slurp down by the millions.
"Lady Attenbury invited me to come over with her, and--" She gave a muted giggle. "Father didn't like all the men I was meeting in New York. I think he was afraid to take a Yankee son-in-law home to Georgia."
Myrtle was the sort of girl who would cut a swath through the Drones, so I could understand her father's worries. I would have proposed to her in New York myself if Jeeves hadn't--well, that's a story for another day. "But he doesn't mind an English one, eh?"
"Why, Bertie, is that a proposal?" She laughed again before I could get too worried. "I think Father's hoping I'll bring home a title, but most of that sort are a rather stiff lot, don't you think?"
Remember Lord Sidcup I could only nod. Though Flim and Chuffy managed to hush their titles up quite nicely and be decent fellows.
"Of course Sidney's a dear man," she continued, confusing me with this sudden Sidney motif. "But he's a little too dull for me, I'm afraid. Do you know him?" she asked before I could insert of word of question. "Sidney Attenbury?" She giggled again. "Or I suppose I should say Lord Thetford, shouldn't I?"
I was too busy marvelling at the changes time wrought--or the possible fatheadedness of the American girl--to answer the latter question. "Sid the Squid?" She called Squid dull? The Squid I knew got sent down from Oxford for assaulting a proctor, knocking him unconscious and then kicking him when he was down. Those of us who knew and avoided him had him pegged for Dartmouth, if Colney Hatch didn't get him first.
Meanwhile Myrtle was laughing merrily. "You called him Sid the Squid?"
I shrugged, amazed that Aunt Dahlia had invited him. "Mostly just Squid." I am not one to cavil at running from the proctors, and I've been known to trip the odd policeman when the provocation was sufficient, but Squid's temper was infamous.
There were eight of us to dinner that night, the inmates previously mentioned plus Squid and Lord and Lady Attenbury. Perhaps it was the dampening effect of the parental presence, but Squid hardly seemed the type any more to kick prone proctors, coming across more as one of those gloomy birds in a Russian play, eating even Anatole's Brodequin rôti Façon Ombres with listless indifference. If he said three words the entire meal they were 'Pass the salt.' Hardly the soul of wit.
Only when Myrtle spoke to him did any animation enter his face, and even she only got the occasional nod in response. Lady Attenbury spent most of the meal watching him and Myrtle with a matrimonial gleam in her eye that made me grateful I could exclude her from my portfolio of aunts.
When the ladies rose at the end of the meal Squid slipped out the window without a farewell, leaving Attenbury to apologize. "You must forgive my son," he said to Flim and me. "He hasn't been the same since France."
I nodded, understanding completely. He must have lost a wad at the casinos. We Woosters rise above these things, but I've seen many a Drone lain low after such a blow.
"My own nerves are not what they could be," Flim admitted in a low voice.
"Bad business," Attenbury said. "Bad business."
Uncle Tom doesn't gamble as a rule, so when the gloom threatened to envelope the room like the ashes of mighty Vesuvius he interrupted by circulating the port again. With another beaker of the southern in one the world always looks brighter. "I was telling Lord Peter about your emeralds," he told Attenbury.
Flim didn't seem at all loath to change the subject. "A particularly fine piece of work, I'm led to understand. The colour is said to be remarkable, and perfectly matched. Not new stones, I think?"
"They've been in the family for three generations," Attenbury said, "but I've just had them reset by Tiffany in New York. The colour shows so much clearer in a modern setting." I might have imagined Flim's wince. "It's in the hall safe if you'd care to see it?"
Flim took another sip of port. "In the morning, perhaps, with you permission. It's hard to get an idea of colour by electric light," he said, beginning or perhaps renewing a conversation with Uncle Tom about gems of the first water, whatever that was, and dyed stones and other bally rot. I helped myself to another glass of port.
What with one thing and another and a bit too much aged port I decided to make an early night of it. I had just completed the eight hours recommended by all our leading physicians when Jeeves trickled in with the morning cup of tea.
"Good morning, sir."
"What ho, Jeeves," I responded, taking the cup and putting myself outside about an ounce of its life-restoring fluid. "Topping morning, what?" The sun was shining in the windows and the birds were doing their thing, singing and flying to and fro.
"I fear the morning has been marred by something of a contremps, sir," Jeeves said with a deferential cough. "Lord Attenbury's emeralds have been stolen out of the hall safe."
I buried my head under the covers, incidentally spilling tea on my lemon-yellow pyjamas. "Dash it, Jeeves, what the deuce is Aunt Dahlia up to this time?"
Jeeves gave another cough. "I do not believe Mrs. Travers is behind this incident, sir. Her recent summons suggests that if she were planning such a move she would first enlist your assistance."
I shook my head, surprised to get the better of a man who wears a size 10 hat. "What you have to consider is the whatchamacallit, the psychology of the individual. Aunt Dahlia is a woman of impulses. She may have planned to consult you or saddle me with the dirty work, but if the chance to pinch the bally emeralds presented itself she'd take it."
"Indeed, sir. However--"
Jeeves's however was destined to be forever unheard. Before he could finish a whirlwind burst into the room, a whirlwind that finally slowed and revealed itself as the aforementioned aged relative. "Bertie!" she yelped. "What in blue blazes are you trying to pull?"
"Me?" More tea sloshed on the pyjamas.
"Allow me, sir," Jeeves said, patting the spreading wetness with a napkin.
"You come trundling in here with a forged invitation and then steal Roland's emeralds--" Aunt Dahlia was positively sputtering.
"Me!" The only time I had ever pinched anything, discounting the odd policeman's helmet on Boat Race night, was at her instigation, nay insistence. "I thought you did!"
"Me?" she asked, stealing my best bit. We stared at each other for a moment. "But if you didn't, and I didn't, who did?"
Jeeves had left us during this exchange to stand by the window. "I believe a gentleman from Scotland Yard has arrived to discover the answer to that very question."
Inspector Sugg was one of those unpleasant, abrupt types usually cast opposite John Barrymore, doomed to bungle the case while the hero gets both the criminal masterpiece and the girl. He ordered the inmates and staff to wait in the hall while he searched the joint.
I was listening to Anatole's invectives against the copper who pulled him away from his kitchen, ruining, positively ruining his sauce for mousse de la boue dans une panier de la p&acric;té de chaussures, when Sugg returned in triumph with a mass of glittering green in his hands. He came directly towards me, washing up a few feet away with the rest of the inmates clustered around him like hens in a farmyard.
"Mr. Bertram Wooster?" he asked with the sombre satisfaction of a judge on the bench about to nick you for a five pound fine. I nodded, not liking the tone at all. "Could you tell me, sir, how this came to be in your bedroom?"
You would think with the number of times the distaff half have landed me in the soup, accused of stealing necklaces, cow creamers, and other objets d'art, that I would be accustomed to policemen asking awkward questions. The truth is I could only gawp like one of Gussie Fink-Nottle's newts stranded on the carpet.
"May I see that necklace?" Flim asked. Sugg handed it to him without a word, which I thought was rather rummy. If I tried that he would have refused, but Flim had that air of a thousand noble ancestors some birds have that make you do things without thinking.
"Surely you don't think that Bertie stole Roland's necklace?" Aunt Dahlia demanded, leaping to my defence as quickly as she had accused me earlier. "Impossible!"
"It was found in Mr. Wooster's room, madam," Sugg maintained. "Your butler positively identified the room as belonging to your nephew." I was still gawping. "It was discovered on a ledge inside the chimney after I became suspicious of a fall of soot in a fireplace presumably unused since spring." He gave a smug smile at this feat of detection.
"Are you aware that this necklace is fake?" Flim asked.
If Flim wanted to create a sensation, he succeeded. A hubbub of voices arose, over which only Attenbury's anguished "What!" could be heard.
"If you examine the stones carefully from the side," Flim said with aplomb to rival Jeeves's, "you will see that they are clear. Quartz, perhaps, or even glass." He started to pass Attenbury the necklace, only to have Sugg snatch it back, peering at it sideways. "The colour comes from paste or coloured foil in the mount, a common counterfeiting technique." He handed Sugg a small jeweller's loupe. "You might find this of assistance." Attenbury grabbed both necklace and loupe from the arms of the law and examined them himself.
That sort of thing makes an officer of the law look deuced silly, of course. "I came out from London to investigate the theft of costume jewellery?" Sugg demanded.
Attenbury took something, starts with um. Not umbrella. Umbrage. Attenbury took umbrage at that. "Those emeralds--the real emeralds!--have been in my family for three generations. It cost me a thousand pounds just to get them reset. Aspinell's valued them at twenty thousand pounds for insurance!"
"Aspinell's examined them after they were reset?" Flim asked. Attenbury nodded.
"When was this?" Sugg asked, trying to regain the upper hand.
Attenbury looked confused for a moment. "They were reset three, four months ago, in May in New York. Aspinell's examined them two weeks ago, when we first returned to England, give or take a day or two."
"So the fake could have been substituted any time in the last two weeks," Flim mused.
Uncle Tom shook his head. "I looked at them yesterday. I'm not expert in jewellery--" He gave a nod to Flim, "--but I would have noticed glass or quartz. I was particularly interested in the asterism of two of the stones, suggesting the set came from Colombia."
Aunt Dahlia gave tongue before either Flim or Sugg could open their mouths. "It doesn't matter where the bally things came from, just that this is as fake as...as a really fake thing. Whoever stole the real necklace, Bertie is innocent."
"If Mr. Wooster is innocent," Sugg asked with a rather offensively snide tone, "what is he doing with this counterfeit? No doubt he intended to substitute it for the real thing, but was interrupted before he could complete the exchange."
I finally found my tongue. "I've never seen that blasted thing in my life!" Little good it did me.
Inspector Sugg was not the first to lead Bertram Wooster away with gyves upon his wrists, but this time I was both innocent and ignorant. I could only hope that whoever pinched the emeralds felt a sharp sting of remorse at the prospect of my serving a long stretch at Wormwood Scrubs. Meanwhile I was expecting a longish stay in Market Snodsbury's gaol, but before I cold do more than bounce on the bed a few times to test the springs, the same constable that had shown me to my new quarters ordered me out.
Jeeves and Flim were waiting for me when we passed the last of the barred doors.
"You're free to go, sir," the constable said, sounding rather bored with the whole matter. He wandered off to his desk without waiting for a response.
"I say, Jeeves! Fast work, what?" I greeted that peerless valet. I should have realized Jeeves would never leave the young master in the soup. Jeeves always come through.
"Indeed, sir." Jeeves gave a little cough. "I am afraid I played only a small role in the matter. Lord Peter was responsible for effecting your release."
Flim looked uncomfortable. "Oh, well, Sugg was bein' an ass, doncha know, especially when your man Jeeves said you hadn't been in New York since Attenbury had that delightful new monstrosity made. Y'could hardly have the duplicate made without seein' the original now, could you?" He gave a shrug. "So I called the Commissioner of Scotland Yard and explained the problem to him and he called Sugg and there you have it."
I blinked at a man who called the head of S.Y. as easily as I called Jeeves. Flim saw my confusion, I suppose, because he continued. "The Brigadier-General 'members you from France, said he was happy to help, asked you to ring him up once this is all settled."
I blinked again, wondering what the deuce he was talking about and then dismissed it. The important thing was that I'd be back to Brinkley Court in time for lunch. The constable at his desk seemed uninterested in keeping me in durance vile, so I led the way out.
An absolutely spiffing automobile occupied most of the lane in front of the police station: a long, black beast with about six acres of bonnet and enough horses underneath to give the old arab steed a run for her money. The run up to Brinkley Court took about four seconds--it would have taken three if we hadn't had to pass a carter's dray.
Flim insisted on returning the beast to its kennel himself, and Jeeves rode around back with him, so I washed up alone at the front door, but before I could enter Myrtle and Squid wandered out of the rose garden together. As soon as she saw me, Myrtle gave a little cry of surprise and dropped Squid's hand, running up to me.
"Oh, Bertie!" She stumbled in her headlong dash and would have fallen if I hadn't caught her. Once in my arms she clung like a limpet. "They let you out. I was so worried!"
I gave a light laugh even as I tried to dislodge her arms. I am all for holding attractive girls, in a brotherly, preux chevalier sort of way, of course, but Squid was glaring at me from the edge of the rose garden and I didn't want him to treat me like he had the 'varsity proctor. "I have faith in my stars," I said. "And in Jeeves, my man. He can always help me out of these scrapes."
A faint frown crossed her face, or perhaps it was just the shadow of a cloud. "Well, thank heavens for Jeeves, then!" She shuddered, shaking us both like an aspen leaf about to take a header off the tree in the autumn. "The thought of you in some horrid dank cell--"
I tried another light laugh, but gave up on shaking her off. "Oh, no, Market Snodsbury's not like that at all. One of the better jails I've been in, light and airy, really quite comfortable. Good mattress, even, firm but not hard."
"Oh, Bertie!" She gave me a quick peck on the cheek and released me. Over her shoulder I could see Squid glower. "You're so wonderful! The way you're making the best of this!"
"Yes, well--" I smoothed down my jacket, already rather the worse for wear. "Seppings should be sounding the gong for lunch sometime soonish," I said, taking another step back from her. "I'd best go wash the dust of captivity from my hide and whatnot."
"Of course." She gave me another little peck on the cheek before I could escape. "I'll see you at dinner then. Sidney is taking me for a little drive and a picnic."
Despite the day's interruptions, Anatole's lunch lived up to expectations, though the company consisted only of Flim and me, Aunt Dahlia and her mate being off soothing Lord and Lady Attenbury with a visit to a neighbour. Afterward Flim invited me up to the sitting room attached to the Yellow Suite, one of the better apartments in Brinkley Court, not a place Aunt Dahlia normally bunged single gents into. Being the son of a duke, even a younger son, counts for more than a mere nephew, apparently.
Flim's man was bustling around the room when we arrived, but stopped when he saw us. "Just straightening up a trifle of disorder after Inspector Sugg's search, my lord."
"Quite all right, Bunter," Flim said, waving me to a chair and dropping into one himself. "Rally 'round, in fact. We may need your help."
"My lord? In what way may I assist?" Bunter looked not terribly surprised by the request, like he was used to being consulted about more than the cut of a dinner jacket.
Flim waved Bunter to a seat, but the gentleman's gentleman remained standing. "That ass Sugg is still convinced that Wooster here is the culprit, or at least an accomplice. I figure we had best straighten the matter out ourselves. You can tell us who in the servants' hall might have a hand in the deed." He looked at his still-standing man. "Take a seat, sergeant. I don't feel like craning my neck to look at you." Bunter gave a wry twist of his lips.
"We want Jeeves too, then," I said before Bunter could sit.
"Mr. Wooster's attendant, my lord," Bunter explained at Flim's blank look. "I will fetch him, sir," he added to me.
Flim and I talked of this and that while he was gone, nothing of any moment to record, and I lit a gasper. Bunter returned with Jeeves within a few minutes and my heart lifted. "Ah, Jeeves."
"Bunter informs me you wish my help, sir?" Standing side by side the two had identical expressions of alert attention and stood with the same impeccable posture.
"Indeed we do, indeed we do," I said. They were even the same height. "But first tell me, are the two of you twins or what? You look like two peas out of the same pod."
The two valets traded identical glances. "I fancy the resemblance you have noted is the result of early training," Jeeves said. "We were junior footmen together at Sir John Sanderton's."
"As the twig is bent so bends the tree?" The butler at Sir John's must be a formidable individual, the sort of butler who can reduce a visiting Drone to a mass of quivering jelly with a single look.
"I believe that is the adage, sir."
"Right ho." I tried to gather my thoughts, but Flim beat me to it.
"We're looking for anyone in the servants hall out of place or suspicious," he said. "And sit down, both of you! I can't think with people looming over me."
"Yes, my lord," Bunter said, this time sitting immediately, Jeeves following his lead.
"So who among the parlourmaids could be Frankie the Fiend, master of disguise?" I asked.
Bunter hesitated a moment. "Matthew Walters, Lord Attenbury's man, might warrant some attention," he said with some reluctance.
"Any particular reason?" Flim asked.
Jeeves and Bunter traded another of those identical glances. "His trousers are not what one would wish from a man in his position," Jeeves said.
"You can't condemn a man because you don't like his trousers," I protested. "Remember Lord Emsworth!" I thought I saw Jeeves shudder. Lord Emsworth was a particular sore point for him.
"No, no," Flim interrupted. "A professional judgment, right? The earl of Emsworth can wear what he likes, but a valet with wrinkled trousers is like a vicar who swears or a barber in need of a shave."
"Precisely, my lord," Jeeves said. "A man with the experience to take a position as Lord Attenbury's attendant should know that."
I nodded in agreement. Birds who sit in the House of Lords expect to get the best in employees, at least those who still have money enough to keep up the old homestead.
"How long has Walters been in Attenbury's employment?" Flim asked, showing an almost Jeevesian ability to put his finger on the nub. Remu something or another.
Bunter looked at Jeeves, who meditated on the matter for a moment. "I have formed the impression that it has not been any great length of time," he said at last. "But I have not spoken to him to verify this fact."
"I will endeavour to ascertain, my lord," Bunter said. He hesitated again and Flim made a coaxing gesture with one hand like he was trying to encourage a cat. Bunter coughed. "The May issue of Photography Today had an article detailing the process for photographing finger-prints using mercury powder. I can invite the man for a drink in my room and attempt to record his finger-prints if you think that would be useful."
Flim waved the offer aside. "I would think the police have already done so, but if you wish--"
"The fellow I think we should look into is old Squid, Attenbury's son," I suggested.
Flim raised a brow with a faint frown. "Lord Thetford?"
I always enjoy getting one up on these brainy chaps. "If he lost a packet in France maybe he's trying to get it back by putting the real necklace up the downspout." I appealed to Jeeves, "Sort of like what's his name, Gorminger, with his mother's pearls, only he wanted to put the money into Florence's play."
"Gorringe, sir," Jeeves corrected. At Flim and Bunter's blank stares he explained. "Mr. Gorringe is a gentleman of our...brief...acquaintance who substituted an inexpensive imitation for his mother's pearl necklace so he might pawn the original."
"But if the thief's intent was to conceal the theft by substituting the fake necklace," Flim mused, "why was it found up Wooster's chimney instead of in the safe?"
"Perhaps the thief was interrupted?" Bunter said.
"Equally possible," Jeeves added with an apologetic look at his fellow gentleman's g. "Is that the thief did not think the imitation could pass your lordship's inspection as had been planned for this morning."
"Then why not wait until after Flim'd eyeballed the things before pulling the old switcheroo?" I asked.
Jeeves of course had the answer to everything. "Lady Attenbury would wish to wear the emeralds to the county ball being held in one week's time. I believe it is your intent to attend as well, my lord?" Flim shrugged but didn't deny it and I laughed.
"Our thief must be bally frustrated," I explained to three inquiring gazes. "Here he had an absolute corker of a plan, fake necklace at the ready, and no good time to use the blasted thing."
Dinner that night was reminiscent of Totleigh Towers at its worst. T.T., for those who haven't been following these accounts closely, is the home--or perhaps I should say lair--of Sir Watkyn Bassett, a crusty old son of a whatnot who entertains dark suspicions of yours truly's basic honesty. The similarity with Lord Attenbury was striking, complete with the glares and gnashing of teeth. Attenbury did not share old Flim's conviction of my innocence, I surmised.
After the ladies withdrew and Squid retreated out of the window again, Flim asked what the mystery novelists call a few leading questions. Attenbury's one words answers were not very encouraging, withering to a flower of delicacy like myself, but Flim pushed on.
"Your man, Walters," he got to the point at last. "Been with you long?"
"Playing at amateur detective, Wimsey?" Attenbury asked. A less socially astute fellow than myself could have told he wasn't feeling charitable. "He's been with me for four months, since Smythe was hit by a taxi in New York and laid up with two broken legs." He gave me another glare just for good measure. "Before you try to push your pal Wooster's blame off on Walters, Inspector Sugg already asked. Walters denied it at first, but when Sugg pushed he admitted that he and one of the parlourmaids went to the cinema last night on their night out. He, or rather they, didn't return until after five o'clock this morning."
"I say!" I exclaimed, shocked by this evidence of moral turpitude in the serving class. "Staying out all night with parlourmaids. Bad show, what?"
"I don't care if he swived a hundred parlourmaids!" Attenbury retorted. "It proves he didn't steal my emeralds." He gave a guilty look at Uncle Tom, who had been sitting glumly staring into his port the entire while. "I will of course sack the man. Can't have him abusing your hospitality this way," he said in a quieter voice.
"He was gone all night?" Flim asked.
Attenbury nodded. "Sugg interviewed the girl. I doubt she was bright enough to lie. She giggled the entire time she was answering questions."
"I fear that Lord Attenbury's assessment was correct, sir," Jeeves said when we were once again ensconced in Flim's sitting room. "While an amiable young woman, Mary is not strong in mind or will. I doubt she could maintain a lie in the face of Inspector Sugg's questioning or the housekeeper's displeasure."
"So Walters has been eliminated as a suspect," I said. "Ha! to your trousers."
Flim was slowly turning his whiskey and s. glass around and around in his hands, staring into its depths. "Perhaps not," he said, looking up. "His alibi seems too...convenient. Unless he and Mary have been staying out together every night?" he asked, looking to Jeeves and Bunter.
"No, my lord," they answered in near unison.
"Then why risk his place like this? And why last night?"
Bunter seemed to be biting his tongue. Jeeves coughed. "I believe better men than Walters have been fools for love before this, my lord," he--Jeeves, that is--said.
"Well yes, but why now?" Flim protested.
"The coincidence too unlikely for fiction is a daily occurrence, I fear," Jeeves apologized.
"But it would be such a nice plan," Flim said. "He gets himself hired, substitutes the fake necklace for the real, and then gets sacked so no one suspects him when he leaves."
"He would need an accomplice to effect the theft while he established his alibi," Bunter offered.
"Squid!" I cried. "I knew it!"
"Perhaps, sir," Jeeves said, while still frowning in concentration. "If Walters's accomplice abstracted the necklace, what is Walters's role in the theft?"
Flim was frowning too, as was Bunter. I relaxed, leaning back in my chair and taking an extra-deep pull on the old gasper, reassured to be surrounded by all these frightfully brainy chaps. Suddenly Flim's face lit up and I knew I was truly in the pink.
"Concealing the necklace!" he ejaculated, if ejaculated is the word I wanted. "The bally thing still hasn't been found and where's the one place Sugg hasn't looked?"
Jeeves's brow rose like the sun dawning o'er some fruited plain. "Lord Attenbury's personal apartments."
Bunter gave a small cough, remarkably similar to the cough Jeeves gives when he's about to complain about the colour of my socks. "This is only a theory, my lord. We have no proof."
"Right you are, Bunter." Flim leaned back and took a sip of the whiskey and soda he'd mostly just toyed with up until now. "We need to search Attenbury's rooms."
The sinking sensation in my stomach told me I was about to be volunteered for another disagreeable task.
"Mr. Wooster cannot be involved in the search," Jeeves said.
I protested, of course, not that it ever did any good. "Dash it, Jeeves--" His words caught up with me. "What?"
He shook his head apologetically, though whether he was apologizing for all the frightful messes he had gotten me into in the past or for excluding me from this one I couldn't say. "If Lord Attenbury discovers Mr. Wooster in his rooms or with the necklace in his possession it will only confirm his lordship's conviction of Mr. Wooster's guilt."
I held my breath, but Flim didn't argue. "I think we need Sugg and Attenbury as witnesses when--" He gave a look at Bunter, "--if we find it." He drained his glass and stood. "No time like the present. Sergeant?" Bunter stood as well and trickled out of the room after Flim.
While we were waiting I had Jeeves fix me another tissue restorer, heavy on the restorer. Afterward he went and stood by the door, reporting the passage of Flim and company a few minutes later. I had just finished the t.r. and was contemplating a third when he stepped away.
"It would appear from the sounds of considerable excitement I hear that the emeralds have been found," he said. "Lord Peter seems to be directing them to this room. I suggest we secrete ourselves behind items of furniture. Inspector Sugg is in attendance on their lordships and I believe he would speak more freely in our absence."
Jeeves was already availing himself of the sofa as he made this speech, so I dove into some sort of cupboard thingy. It had the advantage that by leaving the door unlatched I could see most of the room, including the entrance of Flim, Attenbury, Sugg, and another chap who I hadn't met but who had Scotland Yard written all over him. Bunter was missing in action, but Uncle Tom had arrived to take up the slack. They were continuing an argument that apparently started in the hallway.
"--don't care how he discovered 'em," Attenbury was saying. "Lord Peter found my emeralds--" He rounded on Sugg, "--which you missed! If he says Walters stole them, I believe it. I insist you arrest the man!"
"Lord Peter's theory is persuasive," the other chap, the one who wasn't Sugg, said from just beyond my vision, stage right. "But without proof no jury will convict. We need proof, my lords."
Attenbury might have been mollified by this if Sugg hadn't stuck his oar in. "Even if Walters hid the thing, he had to have an accomplice to steal it. Wooster is the obvious suspect, and I wouldn't put it past him to hide it in your room."
"My nephew is not a thief," Uncle Tom protested, giving me a nice, warm feeling that he'd defend me that way. "He may be an idiot on occasion, but he's honest," he added, rather taking the shine off the previous compliment.
"How about the phoney telegram summoning him here3?" Sugg demanded. "Or his record? I have information form one Constable Oates in Totleigh that he's twice--twice!--stolen valuable items from Sir Watkyn Bassett, only to be released due to the excessive generosity of his victim."
"Captain Wooster was one of the finest officers I ever served with," Flim said calmly but with a coldness that made me shiver. "I cannot believe him guilty of this crime. Especially not without more evidence than you've presented!"
"Evidence is the key," the chappie who was not Sugg said. "Everything else is just speculation."
"If we know where they hid the necklace and they don't know we know, can't we use that?" Flim asked. I tried to work that one out and then decided to give it a miss.
"Put the necklace back and see who comes after it?" the other chap suggested.
"Oh, no you don't!" Attenbury looked ready to pop. "I'm not letting that thing out of my sight!"
"Use the fake one then," Flim said with the deceptive detachment I remembered from planning some of our deeper schemes at Oxford.
"I like that," the chap whose name I still hadn't heard said. "I suggest, Lord Attenbury, that we lock the real emeralds up in the evidence safe at the police station. I assure you they'll be safest there."
Attenbury hesitated a long minute. "Oh, all right."
"Then if you'll come with me?" the chap said, moving toward the door where I could see him. He paused with his hand on the doorknob. "Sugg, if you could mount a discreet watch on Lord Attenbury's door? We don't want...anyone...to discover the necklace is missing until we have the fake one in place." He and Attenbury left and Sugg grumbled and followed, leaving Flim and Uncle Tom behind.
Uncle Tom cleared his throat. "About Bertie, Lord Peter--" Flim raised his brow. "I have no doubt of his innocence, but--"
"But?" Flim asked, all courteous interest.
"The war changed him."
"The war changed all of us," Flim said in a flat, dead voice. I shoved a rising tide of dread away to think of later. Later.
Uncle Tom gave a quick, unhappy nod. "He never talks about it. We're not even sure what he remembers. He seems to do best when no one mentions it."
"I see." The regret in Flim's voice made me feel sorry for the poor amnesic bastard they were discussing. "I'll keep that in mind. Thank you."
I remained in my cupboard for several minutes after they left, wanting to avoid any awkward questions about what I was doing there. When I emerged the room was quiet, even Jeeves gone. I headed for my own room, abstracting the half-full whiskey decanter on the way out. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
To Be Continued...