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 Candler! What are you doing on this side of the pond?" Although I had met la Candler 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 million bots.
"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?"
Remembering 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 your 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 those were, 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 contretemps, 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 mastermind 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 gaols 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 apartment."
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 here?" 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.
When I pried my eyes open the next morning Jeeves was just floating in with one of his patented morning pick-me-ups, demonstrating once again his superlative sense of timing.
"Drink this, sir," he murmured, even so low a sound cutting through my skull like a hot knife through butter.
Once I had gulped down that life-saving fluid and forced my bulging eyeballs back into their sockets I felt much more the thing. "Whew! Good morning, Jeeves! And what's the news today?"
"Good morning, sir. I trust you are feeling better?"
"Considerably," I nodded, despite the lingering impression that the top of my head was still zooming about the room.
"Lord Peter and an Inspector Parker have determined that the telegram summoning us to Brinkley Court was telephoned to the Market Snodsbury post office from this house," Jeeves continued. "The clerk at the post office stated her impression that it was a feminine voice, but could not confirm the recollection. As Mrs. Travers vigorously maintains that she sent no such summons, Lord Peter is looking into the matter."
"Ah." I leaned back against the pillows. "Any chance that what's her name, Walters's bit of fluff, could have 'phoned it in?"
"Mary?" Jeeves's brow raised an infinitesimal fraction of an inch. "It seems most unlikely, sir. Lord Peter and Inspector Parker have both interviewed her and I believe she would have been induced to tell the truth if she had."
Chaps like Flim don't need rubber hoses in dark cellars, only what Jeeves calls 'force of personality.' "If she didn't and Aunt Dahlia didn't, who did?" I asked, getting right to the nubbin of the matter.
"Logic suggests Miss Candler, Lady Attenbury, or Lady Attenbury's maid," Jeeves suggested, "though we cannot entirely discount the other female servants."
"Anyone new among the distaff servants?" I asked, all those detective novels once again paying off.
"No, sir," Jeeves dashed my theory.
"Unless Myrtle was a dashed sight more disappointed in New York than expected I don't see why any of them would go to the trouble."
Jeeves gave me an austere look that suggested without words that I should not find myself proposing to la Candler. "I believe the motive is more likely to divert suspicion from the real culprits onto yourself, sir; what the sensational press calls a 'frame up.'"
Despite everything that shook me to the core. "I say, that's rather rotten, what? Setting another chap up to take the blame?"
"I fear we are dealing with hardened criminals, sir."
I'm not much of one for going down to breakfast when staying at country houses, preferring to sneak up on the day after having the morning ration of calories in the safety of my own room. So it was late morning, getting on towards lunch-time, before I encountered Squid, smoking a gasper on the terrace.
"What ho," I said, raised to do the courteous thing even towards those who at last meeting looked ready to tear out my liver and spleen. "Topping morning." It was, too, the sun shining, sky blue, all that bally rot. I thought about quoting that thing of Jeeves's with the lark and snail, but it didn't seem to line up right in my head.
Squid gave a grunt and what might have been my name in response.
"Pretty rummy, the family jewels being pinched like that," I commented, hoping to draw him out on the subject. Even with Walters fingered, Squid was still my favourite suspect for fellow conspirator.
Squid threw his gasper to the ground. "What's your game, Wooster?"
The sudden change of subject left me dizzy, but I can make country-house chit-chat with the best. "Tennis, I suppose. Billiards, darts, a little golf. I can engage you in a round of any or all of the above. Excepting darts, of course, unless you want to go down to the Boot and Beatle or Laughing Cat with me. Aunt Dahlia has rather forbidden darts after that trick shot involving Seppings, Augustus the cat, and a painting of the third duke of Bunbury."
Squid opened his mouth and closed it again. His fists clenched and I stepped back a discreet foot or so. "Stay away from Myrtle," he growled at last, before turning away.
Hardly had he toddled off before le père de la famille tottered up. Attenbury looked embarrassed, like a Drone about to ask his bookie for another week's credit. "Mr. Wooster," he said by way of greeting. "I must ask your pardon for my unwarranted suspicions. Lord Peter has convinced me you can have had nothing to do with this despicable theft," he said, showing once again that even a peer of the realm was capable of making a manly apology.
"Say no more, say no more, old bean," I said, feeling no need to rub his nose in his mistake. "Already forgotten, what?"
"You are a true gentleman," Attenbury said, which is a thing no man minds hearing about himself, though a trifle embarrassing for one possessing my natural modesty. "You may wish to know," he continued, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, "that I have sacked my man Walters for his disgraceful behaviour the night before last."
"Cast him into the outer darkness with wailing and gnashing of teeth?" I asked, half-remembering that gag from the Bible--though it may possibly have been Shakespeare; all the best bits coming from one or the other.
Attenbury blinked like an owl, though he didn't turn his head around backwards. "The police insist that he remain in the area, unfortunately, so he has relocated to the pub in Market Snodsbury."
I winced in sympathy, knowing what the beds were like in your average country pub. Those chaps who like to sleep on all the nails would find them uncomfortably lumpy. "Right ho. Serves the blighter right."
"Indeed," he said, stealing Jeeves's best bit.
After another minute or so of chit-chat, nothing of any importance, Attenbury and I said our adieux and I found the longing growing in me for sustenance. Attenbury's mention of the pub sparked the specific desire for fish and chips, a dish that no self-respecting French chef of Anatole's standing has ever agreed to prepare. To inform Seppings of my impending absence was the work of but a minute, and not more than five more found me strolling towards the village with my hat on my head and a song in my heart.
I'd never slept at the Laughing Cat due to the general mateyness between Aunt Dahlia and myself guaranteeing me a bed in the old dosshouse at need, but I had sampled their ale on one or two occasions. After a stiffish mile or two in the sun I was panting like a hart for a glass of their best. Fortunately the barmaid was quick on her feet, able to set me up almost before I had finished entering the room. I wet my parched and arid tongue with half the cool and foamy before turning and surveying the room.
The main bar of the Laughing Cat was a dark, low-beamed room, lit only by two inadequate lamps behind the bar, and occupied at the present time only by a couple of sons of toil buried under tons of soil sitting at one of the tables. I didn't think they would cooperate in whipping up a game of darts while I waited for my f. and c., so I wandered out to the parlour.
I never know how much description to bung into these pieces. The readers' interest in description is soon exhausted, a female novelist once told me, but I find when I read it's useful to know where the furniture and such is. So I'll only say that the parlour of the Laughing Cat was a newish sort of place, added on to the old in an attempt to attract the smart young set passing through Market Snodsbury. It had big windows looking out at the river, lots of palm trees in pots, and tables outside with umbrellas for those who care for the draughtier sort of dining.
Not being so inclined, I took a seat at an indoor table near the window, though the view was rather blocked by an exuberant palm tree. The barmaid had brought out the f. and c. and I was addressing them with salt and vinegar when I heard voices from the other side of the greenery outside.
"…can keep a mistress in an apartment in Paris," a voice, which I might have been forced to call a man's voice of medium tenor if I hadn't recognized it as Flim's man Bunter, said. "But if you get friendly with one parlourmaid you're out on your ear. Our employers seemed convinced that ours must be a celibate vocation."
"Old Attenbury doesn't keep a mistress, more's the pity," another voice said with what might be called a lascivious undertone. I peered around the overly-enthusiastic greenery and saw a vaguely familiar looking cove sitting at one of the outside tables. He was an older man, perhaps in his early fifties, with greying hair that had once been brown and a small, neat moustache. I couldn't see Bunter from where I sat, but divined that he was sitting across from the other chap. "If he kept a mistress I might not be sitting here unemployed, if you know what I mean. A gent in Attenbury's position keeps those who know his secrets close to his bosom."
"If he's at all wise, he does," Bunter agreed, shocking me to the core. I had once heard Jeeves describe me as--describe me in less than flattering tones to a temporary, or we might say substitute valet, but this was worse, much worse. I could only be glad Flim wasn't here to hear this.
"I bet you know a thing or two about Wimsey," the other cove suggested.
"His lordship isn't susceptible to embarrassment over a kept woman or two," Bunter said with perhaps a touch of frost. "Such is rather expected of a man of his age and position. Of course--" and suddenly his voice thawed into its former familiarity. "--there are other secrets worth reminding him of at need. I was his batman in the war and it's not social embarrassment that Major Wimsey has to fear."
"Attenbury's son is 'round the twist," the other man said. "But everyone knows that, so it's not much use."
Listening to the two valets--for that was who Bunter's pal had to be, the ill-trousered Walters--quite casually discussing blackmail had distracted me from my lunch, which on exploratory prod now proved to be on the coolish side of warm. Despite this, I took a bite, hoping the fish would stimulate the old grey matter as to how to break the news to Flim that he had clasped an asp to his bosom--or was it a viper? Cleopatra, for reasons I've never been quite clear on, had been bitten by an asp before shuffling off this mortal coil, though from the play to which Aunt Agatha insisted I take the repulsive Thos., I rather thought she intended such eventuality. No, it was probably vipers one clasped to one's b. though I couldn't imagine how one could do this without noticing, vipers being rather stronger in the scales and fang department than, say, kittens.
While engaged in this rumination, I missed whatever Bunter might have said in reply to Walters's last comment. The next I noticed Walters was entering the door that connected patio to private parlour. He gave me a curious, perhaps even suspicious, look before crossing to the public bar and continuing out the front door. A moment or two later Bunter appeared through the patio door, carrying a beer glass upside down over his hand, which observations of Jeeves suggested was not the proper fashion for a g.'s g. to carry glassware, even when empty. He nodded when he saw me.
"Mr. Wooster, sir. How good to see you again." He evidenced no concern over what I might have heard, instead placing the empty beer glass down on my table. "If I might impose on you, sir, could you guard this while I retrieve my photographic gear? It is important that no one touch it."
I had received odder requests in my years, though off-hand I couldn't think of more than three. Still, a Wooster didn't let a pal down, even one with fewer moral scruples than my Aunt Dahlia. I nodded and he left, returning about as I finished my lunch. Burdening his arms was a considerable quantity of photographic equipment, which he set down on the next table.
"No one touched it, sir?" he asked, picking the beer glass up in the same odd way with his hand inside, and turning it this way and that.
"Nary a soul," I assured him. The Drones Club noblesse oblige reared its head, suggesting that an empty glass not remain thus. "I can get the barmaid to fill that for you if you would like."
He continued to study the thing as if it contained more amusement than was the norm for an empty glass, not even looking up. "Not beer, I think, but perhaps milk." His attention didn't seem to be on what he was saying.
I allowed myself one shudder before standing and going into the public bar to fetch this revolting beverage. Milk had the advantage that at least it was not fizzy lemonade, but had little further to recommend it, ranking rather lower than orange juice as a beverage for a man.
Bunter was engaged in puffing grey powder over the glass with a device that looked like an ear-wash bulb when I returned, so the milk might not have been a bad idea. The poor man must have been sitting out in the sun too long. He regarded the dirty glass with satisfaction and then took the proffered milk and poured it into the beer glass, confirming my suspicions that he was ripe for Sir Roderick Glossop's professional attentions. "Mercury powder, from the chemist's, adheres to the oils the fingers leave on the glass," he explained absently and unintelligibly. "The milk should provide a better backdrop for photography."
He took several photographs of the repellent object before emptying the glass into the nearest palm, and wiping the grey dust off. "His lordship was kind enough to lend me the car for this errand," he said as he packed the photographic equipment up. "Might I offer you a lift back to Brinkley Court?"
I shook my head. There are limits to the extent that I wish to associate with the mentally ill. "No, thanks. I'll walk."
What with one thing and another and an encounter with a village idler in the pub willing to give me a game of darts, it was late afternoon before I turned my steps towards Brinkley Court once more. I was within sight of that stately pile when a commanding voice spoke from the yew alley.
Conversations with the female of the species that begin with that address in that tone of voice seldom bode well. I might have legged it for the hall and the safety of the smoking room, but the code of the Woosters forbade such pusillanimity. Accordingly I stopped and waited for Lady Attenbury to approach.
"Lady Attenbury, what ho!" I said, just to show I could be polite. "Remarkably fine day, isn't it? Though word amongst the populace is that the crops could use a spot of rain." My dart-playing companion at the pub had spoken eloquently of the plight of the mangelwurzel or some such beast. "The crops require it, I'm reliably told."
Lady Attenbury gave me a look remarkably similar to Aunt Dahlia immediately before she's going to tell me to stop drivelling. "The weather interests me very little, Mr. Wooster. I wish to speak to you on a somewhat delicate matter."
"Speak away, old bean!" I assured her. "Discretion is my middle name, or it would be if the parish records didn't insist on Wilberforce."
Lady Attenbury gave me a hard look. "What are your intentions regarding Miss Candler, if I might ask?"
"Myrtle?" I began to see where the problem was. "We're just friends, great pals," I explained. "You can tell Squid to push along if he's so inclined. No problem here. He has my blessings and I'll even chip in a fish slice on the day."
Her attitude failed to thaw. "I doubt you realize the gravity of this matter, Mr. Wooster," she said. She hesitated long enough for me to wonder if she was finished and I could push on to the house, the hooves being rather sore from all this walking. "Sidney--Sidney returned from France in a nervous state," she said, dashing my hopes. "He's never been the same since then."
I nodded to show I understood, though I didn't. Not being the proctor-kicking, explosive-tempered thug I remembered from Oxford struck me as a good thing. If all it took was a loss at the casino it was worth every shekel.
Lady Attenbury dropped her voice. "Since he met Myrtle--Miss Candler--he's come more alive than he has in years. I won't let you or anyone else interfere with that!"
I could see where Squid got his temper. "Myrtle is a lovely girl--" I started to say, wondering if it would be proper to explain that Jeeves has made me swear off proposing to girls.
"Stay away from her!" she interrupted with majestic finality.
Delicacy prohibits me from explaining why I had left my room at three o'clock in the morning to walk the darkened corridor in my dressing gown, but the gleaming beacon of my goal, the lighted doorway of the bathroom, should provide my more astute readers all the clues they require to form their own explanation.
The corridor, as I believe I have already mentioned, was dark. When I stumbled over some object in the dark my first thought was of Augustus, known for his disconcerting habit of sleeping on the hall carpet, but a somewhat indelicate oath provided evidence to the contrary. The more-than-feline apparition jumped and I clutched at it to maintain my balance. The two of us thus entangled waltzed sideways into one of those tables laden with flowers and whatnots that the chatelaines of large houses like to place in hallways to trip unwary guests. In accordance with the laws of physics, this table fell over with a crash. With a second crash and the distinct sound of breaking crockery I fell on top of the remains of the table. An instant later my unseen companion fell over me, completing the ensemble.
I don't know if you have ever experienced the embarrassment of waking the household at an advanced hour of the night by destroying your hosts' furniture, but I assure you that the mortification is not lessened by the discovery once the lights have gone up that you are apparently embracing an attractive female guest amongst the wreckage. The presence of giggling housemaids did nothing to improve the situation.
Aunt Dahlia, of course, was the first to give tongue. "Bertie! Miss Candler! What on earth is going on here?" she thundered in a volume calculated to rouse those members of the household not already roused from their slumbers.
With some difficulty I managed to extricate myself from the embrace of both Myrtle and the former furniture. "I was--er--" The aforementioned delicacy of my errand presented itself. "I was, er, just going down the hall," I said rather lamely, hoping she would get the message. "I bumped into Myrtle in the dark."
Someone snickered, though I could not see who.
"And the two of you decided to destroy the house while you were up." Aunt Dahlia stuck to the main point, at least from a proud householder's point of view. She shook her head, as if it were only what one should expect from a nephew. "I would ask myself why I invited you, young Bertie, if I actually had invited you."
I decided to maintain a dignified silence at that.
Myrtle seemed as rattled as I, but she recovered in the best Yankee tradition. "I was going to the bath and dropped, er--"
With a click, the door we were lying before opened and we found ourselves looking up into the decidedly peeved eyes of Lord Attenbury. "What the blue blazes is going on here?" he demanded. He must have heard Aunt Dahlia--the P. and Q. train their daughters well--so I thought it rather rum for him to steal her question, but Aunt Dahlia didn't hold it against him.
"I'm sorry you were woken, Roland," she said. "My nephew and Miss Candler appear to have collided in the dark." She gave me a look that I would not have borne if she hadn't been a member of the delicate sex tied to me with bonds of blood. "I'll make a point of keeping the hallway more well-lit while Bertie's here."
"I say!" I protested, only to earn a quelling stare. I rose with what dignity I could and offered Myrtle a courteous hand. The redoubtable Squid, who had appeared sometime in the middle of this contretemps, pushed me aside and helped her to her feet. I received an entirely unmerited glare from him. Attenbury was giving me an pretty fruity eyeball as well, completing the unsympathetic trio.
Attenbury bent and plucked something from the wreckage; suddenly the wattage of his stare upped to glare, the camaraderie of that morning quite gone. "I believe I will return to sleep. If the night's disturbances are quite over?" His latest glare was shared between me, Myrtle, and Aunt Dahlia. Squid, in whose arms Myrtle still resided, favoured his father with a return glare.
Flim appeared in my room the next morning shortly after Jeeves arrived with the eggs and b.
"I say, old man, what was all that ruckus about last night?" he asked.
Most of my attention was focused on breaking the top off a boiled egg, not the easiest of tasks first thing in the morning. "Myrtle and I ran into each other in the dark, I'm afraid. Dreadfully embarrassing, of course." Though in the years I've known Jeeves I've encountered worse. I glanced over at my gentleman par excellence and he raised one brow a fraction of an inch in question.
"In front of Attenbury's door?" Flim asked.
I only winced, remembering Attenbury's scowl. I have been subjected to stronger glares--le Bassett springs to mind--but even the disapprobation of lesser fiends was unpleasant.
"What was Miss Candler doing there, do you know?" Flim asked without requiring more of an answer from me. "She said she was going to the bath, but her room is closer to it than Attenbury's."
Jeeves coughed. "Lord Thetford's room is on the other side of Lord Attenbury's," he suggested without being so coarse as to actually suggest anything.
Flim gave a short noise that could be rendered as 'Hah,' looking faintly disgruntled. "The introduction of the sex motive complicates everything." He started pacing and I finished my egg. "Attenbury found a set of lock picks last night. He thinks they're yours, that you were trying to break into his room."
Jeeves cut in smoothly over my sputtered protests. "Mr. Wooster is aware that only the false necklace remains in his lordship's room, my lord. He would have no reason to break in to seek it." He gave another cough. "I fear that I was privy to your lordships' conversation the evening before last. From behind the sofa," he added, very feudally taking the blame for eavesdropping.
The uneasy look Flim had been giving me since Jeeves started his speech faded. "I see."
"I do not believe Miss Candler would be so informed," Jeeves offered without inflection.
Flim gave him a measured look. "Indeed." He stared at the wall for a long minute and then shook his head abruptly. "Bunter developed the plates of Walters's fingerprints, by the way," he said in a bright, not terribly convincing tone. "He said they came out quite clearly. Inspector Parker sent them on to Scotland Yard."
I had no idea what he was talking about, but with brainy chaps like Flim that's not a rare occurrence. "Right ho." The mention of Walters reminded me, however, so I turned to Jeeves. "I saw Walters at the pub yesterday and he seemed familiar. Any idea where I might have met him?"
Jeeves looked thoughtful for a moment. "I am not aware of any such occasion, sir. Perhaps he was employed by one of your New York city acquaintances before entering Lord Attenbury's employment?"
I shrugged: it was possible. If he'd opened the door and taken my hat and coat once or twice it would account for the vague sense of recognition, though recent revelations suggested I was lucky to get both items back at the end of the evening with pockets unrifled.
"I'll have Bunter find out who else Walters worked for," Flim offered.
Flim was awfully trusting of his man. "Are you sure you can trust this Bunter?" I asked Flim. "From what I heard yesterday--Jeeves! Is it an asp or a viper one clasps to one's bosom?"
"Herpetologists advise against either, sir."
"No, I mean when one chap trusts another chap who's not as trustworthy as the first chap thinks."
"I believe the phrase you want is to clasp a snake to one's bosom," Jeeves said, clearing up that little mystery. "However--"
Flim had been listening to this exchange with slowly mounting ire. "What the deuce do you mean, do I trust Bunter! I trust Bunter like--"
Jeeves, ever the diplomat, interrupted. "I fancy that Mr. Wooster overheard my colleague's conversation with the departed Walters?" I nodded and Jeeves turned to Flim. "Bunter recounted to me his attempt to draw Walters out, in the course of which he uttered many…impertinences regarding your lordship."
Light dawned, relieving my concerns considerably. "Oh, I see!" I could only admire his cunning. "It was an act, then?"
Jeeves gave a stern and not altogether happy look. "Bunter informs me that by acting no better than themselves he can often elicit confessions from less savoury sorts as they boast of their misdeeds." Clearly he was not altogether in favour of this tactic.
Flim laughed. "That sounds like Sergeant Bunter, all right!" He turned to me. "You remember that quartermaster--" He broke off. "Well, I should go talk to, talk to Bunter and ask about Walters's former employers, perhaps drop a word in Inspector Parker's ear about Miss Candler."
I waved the tea-cup at him. "Toodle-pip, then."
Jeeves flitted about the room laying out my clothes whilst I finished breaking my fast. "What sort of day is it, Jeeves?" I asked after chasing the last toast soldier down with a final sip of tea.
"Remarkably fine, sir," Jeeves said, taking the tray away and standing by to assist with whatever tie-knotting or collar-adjusting was necessary. "I fear you will find that most of the household has decamped, however. Mr. and Mrs. Travers and Lord and Lady Attenbury have gone to visit the Kimberleys," he said, naming a local family. "Lord Thetford may have accompanied them--there was some doubt as to whether he was, er, well enough to attend." He whisked away my pyjamas as soon as I had cast them aside. "Most of the staff has been given the afternoon off, so only a cold collation will be available for dinner."
I was soon adorned in the morning crust of a gentleman. "Even Anatole's cold collations are a feast for the taste buds, nectar and--" I waved a hand, groping for the word.
"Ambrosia?" Jeeves offered.
Brinkley Court was curiously peaceful with most the inmates gone. Anatole served a lunch up to his usual standards before taking his afternoon off, but we were a small and quiet party to lunch. Flim disappeared immediately after to continue a discussion with Inspector Parker, Squid never turned up at all, and Myrtle seemed distant and distracted.
After playing two or three solitary rounds of billiards, it occurred to me that the folding of the hands in sleep had a certain attraction on a warm afternoon following an interrupted night. Suiting actions to thought, I returned stick to rack and made to return to my room, which was how I came to be struck by a thunderbolt.
When Constable Dobbs of King's Deverill was struck by a thunderbolt he took it to be a bolt from heaven, punishment for his mockery of the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, but I had no reason to believe I was courting any form of divine wrath. I was walking down the hallway near my room, not thinking of whales at all, when I saw Attenbury's door open.
My first thought was that Attenbury had returned early from the Kimberleys, my second that the figure emerging looked like Myrtle's father, whom I had met once or twice in New York. My third thought, the realization that it was Walters, sans moustache, was cut short by the descending thunderbolt.
I woke in the dark, in silence. The Germans had stopped shelling, which meant that we must have stopped their advance finally--that or our lines had collapse completely, and they could advance without the walking barrage. But no, that was defeatist talk and even in the privacy of my own thoughts I could not allow that.
The lamp had gone out. I must have fallen asleep at my desk, writing the endless letters. I could perhaps find it in the dark, I knew exactly where it was hanging over my desk, but I didn't want to risk stumbling over one of my men in the dark. When the sun came up enough light would filter through cracks and shell holes for me to see the way. I had plugged what I could lest the Germans see my feeble lamplight, but enough remained to find the lamp, though not enough that I could write without the lamp.
Writing the letters to the men's families was the worst part. They were all heroes, of course. Never mind Dickens, killed by chlorine gas in the latrine with his pants about his ankles. It sounded like a joke, a rude joke never to be told in polite company. For his parents, for his sweetheart waiting for him to come home and marry her, he died with a rifle in his hands, fearlessly facing the enemy.
How far had I gotten before I fell asleep? I remembered finishing Sergeant White's letter: I gave him the right last words, "God bless the king! Tell my mother I love her!" Gone was the weeping and swearing, the smell of shit from his perforated intestines. He died peacefully, in no pain, boldly looking into the next world.
It wasn't lying; an Oxford man never lied, at least not about important things. It was the death he deserved. A classical education gave me the mot juste to comfort a grieving family, the proper quotations to eulogize a heroic death. There was no unpleasantness, never any unpleasantness. The Crown had given me the command of a company after I had taken a First in literature, perhaps knowing I would need this skill.
There were thirty-eight letters to write, nearly a third of the company. I could remember each of them if I tried. Had I finished all of them before falling asleep? The relief, the hope, was almost unbearable. If I was finished I could rest, really rest for the first time since the Germans overran our position.
The silence was broken by the sound of footsteps while I was still trying to enumerate the dead and their letters. I lay back, hoping the Germans would mistake me for one of the men. They had come once before, but I had hid. There was no time to hide now. I could only close my eyes, lie still, and hope that if they shot me our side would re-take the bunker and find the letters.
"Is he still unconscious?" The words were English, but the accent American. I had to wonder how old the speaker was--the boy sounded like a woman!
"Could be," another American voice said, older this time. They were Allies, but something in the tone I didn't trust. If they were deserters, battlefield looters, an Allied officer was the last thing they would want to see. My sidearm was missing, a careful exploration revealed, and while I didn't want to shoot looters, still less did I want to be shot by them. "You sapped him pretty hard," the man continued with a note of complaint.
"He saw you! You walked out into the hall like a total guffin, without even looking! Should I have let him raise the alarm?"
"Of course not. I just don't want to add a murder charge if they nab us, that's all."
"He's not dead, see? He's breathing," the boy said. I exerted every ounce of control to avoid stiffening in alarm. They knew I wasn't a corpse; I could only hope they didn't decide to correct that oversight on the part of the Germans. "You need to relax, honey bunch. We have the necklace, and with Bertie missing they'll assume he took it."
"You'd better get back to that mansion before the quality return, then." The man dropped into a stuffy English accent for those two words, the tone more sarcastic than respectful.
"Oh, no," the boy said. "Bertie kidnapped me, doncha know. His dear aunt will receive a ransom note from him in a day or two."
The man chuckled. "You're wicked, Charley, just wicked. You think she'll pay?"
"Probably not." I could imagine the shrug I heard in the boy's voice. "It'll confuse the trail some more either way."
The machinations of the deserters was nothing that would help the Kaiser, but as a British officer I had the duty to prevent lawlessness among the troops. I was contemplating how I could disable them both without my sidearm when the door burst open. An inarticulate cry of rage followed by the sound of a struggle convinced me to risk opening my eyes a slit.
A lamp set on a shelf near the door allowed me to see that I was no longer in the trenches, but in a cellar of some sort, apparently belonging to a farmhouse. Two men, one older, perhaps in his late-twenties, the other younger, were engaged in a fight while another figure looked on. The third figure turned and I realized that she was a woman, not the boy I had assumed. She might have been the owner of the farmhouse, though she didn't look or sound like the French country-women I had encountered.
The younger man gained the upper hand, forcing the older back against the cellar wall, attempting to choke him while pounding his head against the stones. The younger man's back was to the woman, so he never saw her draw a sap from somewhere in her clothing and aim it for his head. Only chance saved his skull as he jerked to the side, the sap landing on his collar. The blow was sufficient to make him lose his grip on the older man and sink to the floor in pain, however. I could sympathize, having cracked my collarbone once in a riding accident, or at least I would have sympathized if I could have been certain that I hadn't just witnessed a falling out amongst thieves.
The older man stepped away from the fallen man with a look of mingled relief and contempt. "Took you long enough," he growled at the woman. I recognized his voice as the one who had been talking to the boy--the woman--before.
"I had to wait until I could get a clear shot," she said. "Fine lookout I'd be in if I knocked you out instead of him."
"Great." He reached a hand up to finger what I imagined must be a rather sore neck. "So what do we do with two of them now?" He turned towards me and I quickly closed my eyes again.
"Myrtle!" the man on the floor cried. It took me a moment to realize that must be the woman's name, that he wasn't just mangling French profanity. "You don't have to do this. I don't care what you've done in the past, I love you! Come away from here, from this man. Live with me and be my wife."
It was one of the more impassioned proposals I'd ever heard, not that I make a habit of listening to other men proposing, but it failed to move his intended audience. "You poor goober," she said with no discernable sympathy. "Why should I live in some draughty English castle with you when I can get all the money and enjoy it someplace warm and sunny?" She gave a light laugh, chilling in its heartlessness. "We should give them each another knock on the noggin for luck, tie them up, and skedaddle," she said to her companion.
I risked opening my eyes again, knowing my only chance was to disarm her when she came close. As a result I saw what the two conspirators did not, the cellar door opening a second time.
"I wouldn't advise that," a calm and cultured voice said just before my lieutenant appeared in the doorway. "This house is surrounded by police. I suggest you surrender." Lt. Wimsey was out of uniform, but I was never so glad to see him. The Allies must have pushed the Germans back to their former lines.
"I don't think so," the American deserter said, pulling a pistol from his waistband. "Not when I have an English aristocrat or two as hostages!"
Both the man and the woman were watching Wimsey, with their backs to me. I sat up and Wimsey's eyes widened a trifle before he got his face back under control. I made a circular gesture with my hand, encouraging him to continue.
"Oh, I don't know," he said conversationally. "I think you could find more valuable hostages. I'm a younger son, don't you know, the spare of the heir and spare, so to speak, and Thetford here has a younger brother, one too young for the War, if you get my meanin'. I can't say how valuable you'll find a pair like us."
Good man, Wimsey. Their eyes were on him and his voice covered up any noise I made moving up behind them. A quick and gentle pressure to two points on the neck and the man dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. I kicked the pistol away from his limp hands.
"Well done, Wooster old man!" Wimsey's voice cut drilled into my aching head like hot lead through butter. The room seemed to sway for a moment.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." He looked clean and in control. "I take it we've pushed the Germans back?"
He hesitated a moment before speaking. "Yes...yes, we have." There was a larger story behind that, I sensed, but it could wait. We weren't finished here, as Wimsey demonstrated by turning to the woman. "Well, mademoiselle?" he asked. "Unless you too have a gun I suggest you surrender peacefully."
"She may not, but I do," the man with the probably broken collarbone said, holding up the gun I had kicked away. The gun was levelled, but not precisely aimed at any of us.
Wimsey screwed the monocle that gave him the name Winderpane amongst the men into his eye, peering through it at this new potential threat. "And whom do you intend to shoot with that, might I ask?"
"Myself, perhaps," he said. "Or this treacherous jade," he added, waving the gun at the woman.
"Oh, Sidney!" She was a good actress, I had to give her that. Real tears were falling from her eyes. "I had to say that. Raleigh is a violent man; he would have killed you if he knew I love you!" The last three words came out in a sob.
He wavered for a moment, I could see it in his face, and then his expression hardened and the gun came around to point at her chest. "I don't believe you. Why should I believe you? Why should I believe any damn woman!" It was strong language to use in front of a lady, but after she sapped him I couldn't say I blamed him.
Wimsey stepped forward. "Right, then--"
The gun fired and a bullet lodged in the ceiling. "Stay where you are, Wimsey. I'm not finished with this--this--"
"Jezebel?" I offered.
"She's not worth going up for murder, Thetford," Wimsey said as casually as another man might observe that going out in the rain would ruin a good hat. "The law can deal with her, her and her accomplice."
The gun wavered and I prepared to duck. "She led me on! She made a fool of me!"
"Will being court martialed make you look less foolish?" I asked. Wimsey shook his head at me and I took the hint to keep my mouth shut.
"Women make fools of men," Wimsey said. He considered a long moment. "Well, not all women. I could introduce you to a few--" He chuckled. "There's an opera singer I know. She'll lead you on, but you'll like where she leads." He kept moving as he talked until he was standing in front of Thetford and the gun. "She's not worth it," he repeated.
For a frozen moment in time Thetford stood with his gun pointed at Wimsey's chest, Wimsey gazing at him without fear or censure. With a cry Thetford let the gun fall. Wimsey put a precautionary foot on it before laying his hand on the stricken man's shoulder.
The woman had been following this drama with the keenest of interest, of course. She took the opportunity of the gun's fall to make her escape, or tried to. I brought her down with a flying tackle, the impact knowing the breath out of me, and the curtains came down on consciousness.
I awoke an instant before Jeeves appeared with my morning tea, or rather Jeeves appeared an instant after I awoke.
"Good morning, sir."
"Good morning, Jeeves." I struggled to sit up. "I had the most peculiar dream. Squid and Flim--" but already it was fading.
"I imagine you did, sir." The tea he handed me, strong and bracing, washed the rest of the night-fancies away. "Inspector Parker has arrested Charlotte and Raleigh Durham, you will be pleased to know."
I took a sip of tea. "And who are Charlotte and whatshisname?" It really was a capital morning, despite the slight remnants of a headache.
Jeeves opened the curtains and bright sun shone in. "Charlotte Durham is the real name of Miss Myrtle Candler, while her husband, Raleigh Durham, has played the roles both of Walters and Miss Candler's father."
"Impostors, eh?" Aunt Dahlia had not been much plagued by the species, unlike some chatelaines of our acquaintance. "Ah, well, into every country-house some impostors must fall, eh, Jeeves?"
A knock sounded at the door and Jeeves let Flim and Squid in. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to see Squid so early in the morning, but he was in, so I wasn't inclined to give him the bum's rush, as they say in New York. Squid's left arm was bound to his side in a sling. I indicated the newest fashion accessory with a wave of the tea cup.
"Have a little accident?" I asked.
"Are you trying to be funny, Wooster?" Squid growled.
"Funny? Me?" I shook my head and a further remnant of the headache manifested itself. "I never make jokes before breakfast." One of Jeeves's morning pick-me-ups would not have gone amiss right then. With preternatural understanding Jeeves appeared at my elbow with a glass.
Squid opened his mouth to say something, probably at high volume judging from his expression, but Flim put hand on his shoulder.
"Thetford and I just came to say goodbye," Flim said once Squid had subsided. "Now that the Durhams have been arrested and the emeralds recovered I'm taking the old boy up to London for a few days, introduce him to a few people, that sort of thing."
Aunt Dahlia always seemed to start talking about the trains after a week's visit, lauding the frequency and quality of the train service between Market Snodsbury and the metropolis. "I should be back in London in a few day," I offered. "Look me up at the Drones Club next week and I'll give you lunch."