“What ho, what ho, what ho,” said I, to the Chappie with Thistledown Hair.
“What... ho?” he replied.
“Bertie Wooster,” I said, sticking out my hand, as Stephen Black the butler looked on in horror. The Chappie gingerly poked my palm with one long finger. “I say, what a corking party! Think I saw a dress or two my man might heartily object to. Don’t think he’d really like a dress made entirely of weeping eyes, but then again, he always does cut up stiff about the latest fashions.”
“You intrigue me strangely, Bertie,” the Chappie with Thistledown Hair said.
“Why don’t you stay awhile?”
Now, if I’d been in the soup before, I’d lost hold of my crouton and was descending to the bottom of the bowl, with all the mushy veg. I rather hoped Jeeves would be along soon with a ladle.
And now, having said so, I think res’d too much in media, as it were.
It began, as most things do, when Bobbie Wickham got bored.
“Come on, Bertie,” she said, wagging a spellbook at me. “It’ll be fun!"
"Now look here," I said, to Bobbie, Stiffy Byng, and Daphne Braithwaite. “I am willing to do your bidding up to a certain point. Giving you dinner is one thing. Letting myself be used as magical target practice is quite another.”
"Oh please Mr. Wooster," begged Daphne.
Stiffy chimed in, "We need the practice. We haven't been casting spells together since we left St. Monica’s."
"That's not a strong argument in your favor, young Stiffy!" I exclaimed.
Stiffy waved this off. "We won the Theoretical Knowledge Prize our last year. You'd be in the hands of experts."
"It'd be a simple spell," wheedled Daphne.
"You’ll hardly feel a thing!" Bobbie exclaimed. "And if I cast this spell right, mummy will be so delighted she’ll entirely forgive me for wrecking the car. Come on, Bertie.”
"Do let us!" begged Daphne.
"Why can you not do this one, little thing for us?" Stiffy asked. "Do it out of your great friendship for my fiancé Harold."
"Stinker," I said sternly, "is a curate. They don't go in for magic."
"Which is why he wouldn't let us try the spell on him," said Daphne, helpfully. "But you have no profession, Mr. Wooster. Honoria told me that you were a wastrel. You can have no objections."
“Dash it,” I said, but as Jeeves had left for some kind of birthday bash at the Junior Ganymede Club after the pudding had been served, there was noone to protect poor Bertram from the coven. Before I could protest, Bobbie exclaimed that she knew I would never leave a lady in distress, and the three of them cracked open the spell book.
"Remember to multiply and not add this time," Stiffy ordered Daphne. "Got the candles Bobbie?"
"Here," said Bobbie, taking the dinner candles out of the silver holders in a way that would have sorely grieved Jeeves had he been here and not been drinking healths to some octogenarian at his club. "Oh this is fun. Daphne begins as usual?"
"It's better to do it the usual way," opined Daphne. "Since we haven't cast together in ever so long."
"It's just like riding a bicycle or driving a car," said Bobbie, swiping the book out of Stiffy's hands. "You don't forget how to do it."
"Didn't you crash your car?" Stiffy asked, rather nastily.
Before I could get a word in edgewise, Daphne started in on the thing, and Bobbie and Stiffie shoved me into my dressing mirror.
Oddly enough, it didn’t break. Instead, I found myself at the rummiest sort of party. Everyone was in costume, but they were costumes that I still can’t describe without sounding like the loony half of London thinks I am. I moved passed a woman in a dress the color of despair, and another in what looked like a toga of storm clouds. A dark-skinned fellow dressed like a Jane Austen chappie, turned and said, “Sir?”
“What ho,” said I, straightening what had been a perfect butterfly effect a la Jeeves before Bobbie and Stiffie decided that it was oojah-cum-spiff to shove any Wooster they liked through mirrors, instead of letting said Wooster enjoy his post-prandial what’s-it. “The name’s Bertie Wooster.”
He looked at my outstretched hand in mild confusion.
Evidently the party had gotten pretty bosky before I arrived.
The fellow stared at me and said, “I am Stephen Black, Sir Walter Pole's man.”
“Pleasure to meet you. I say, this is an unusual sort of party, isn’t it?”
“You should leave, sir, and leave at once.”
“Er... I would, only I don’t know how I got here--”
“Stephen,” came a Voice. It was one that deserved the capitalization. “Who is your new friend?”
And that’s about where I dropped you at the beginning of this tale. The owner of the Voice springs to my pen as the Chappie with the Thistledown Hair. I’ve tried to explain him or describe him in other ways, but as soon as I start, I find myself staring at a line reading, ‘the Chappie with the Thistledown Hair.’
He gave me to understand that this was his party and I was welcome to stay as long as I liked. It was mostly waltzing, really, but I still couldn’t make heads or tail of it. Nothing seemed to stay put, and everyone was dressed so bally strangely. When I asked for a Charleston, no one seemed to know what they were about. The lady in the storm cloud ensemble obliged me in one, though I had to teach her, and then I was obliged to dance it with even the chaps. They were dressed just as dashed oddly. I mean, if Jeeves cut up stiff about a pair of spats in Old Etonian colors, I’m not sure what he would have made of the waistcoat of butter, or the boa constrictor acting as a boa, or the cravat made of spiders I saw.
“How original you are, Bertie!” exclaimed the Chappie, as we danced a dashed odd Charleston together. “How came you to learn so intriguing a dance?”
I perked up a bit. I had a good story about learning the Charleston, and Bingo’s infatuation with the gal who taught it to me, her infatuation with me, and the inevitable series of bizarre misunderstandings that then ensued. I had everyone around me in such whoops, they were literally rolling on the floor laughing.
I felt dashed odd about it. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is an Old Boy through and through. My favorite aunt Dahlia often begs me to go drown myself in the lake. It’s the right way of showing affection. I’m not quite sure I liked all this open praise. Made a fellow dashed suspicious. What must people really be thinking if they’re gushing about you instead of calling you Attila or sending you on eighteen mile bicycle rides in the dark?
The Chappie sat up and wiped tears from his eyes. “Bertie! You must come again tomorrow night!”
Stephen Black seized my elbow and whispered in the old shell-like, “Sir, do not agree!”
“Oh, er, one doesn’t like to overstay one’s welcome,” I stammered.
“You have a standing invitation to Lost-Hope!” exclaimed the Chappie. “I shall call on you tomorrow night.”
Stephen Black released my elbow and then, as all the others were setting up and starting a sort of group Charleston, said, “Sir-- perhaps you will not be bound as I have. Over there--” gesturing to another Jane Austen costume “--is Lady Pole. I am her butler. Her husband is Sir Walter Pole, MP. We are trapped here. I beg you, sir, not to go to Mr. Norrell, but to Jonathan Strange.”
But he didn’t get another chance to explain. The Chappie whisked him off. Then the Chappie took me back to Berkeley Square, and somehow crammed a rose into my mouth. I would have protested, but I didn’t feel it or see it again. Dashed odd sort of horticulture.
“No passing on the invitation, Bertie,” said the Chappie. “It is an exclusive set.”
“Right-oh,” I said, and stumbled into my living room. I was so dashed confused I didn’t know quite what to do. For one thing, it was the ack emma already, and rather more acky than I was usually awake to see. For another, the three weird non-sisters were gone. For yet another, how was Lost-Hope through my mirror?
I shivered. Young Bobbie, Young Stiffy, and Young Daphne had meddled in they knew not what. Young Betram, it must be admitted, also meddles in he knows not what, but as my aunts have pointed out, by getting up and leaving the house I have meddled in I knew not what.
I bunged myself into my pyjamas and awoke from the dreamless to Jeeves’s gentle cough. “Sir?”
“Mmmnhhh,” said I, articulately. I was feeling rather pipped, for you see, I’d remembered what they taught us in History of Magic at Oxford. Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange were the two magicians who’d bunked up together in a pillar of darkness somewhere in Faerie over a hundred years ago. Why? That was lost in the mists of time, the mists here being the drunken haze in which I passed most of my undergraduate years.
Lady Pole, I now recalled, had been the unlucky stiff Mr. Norrell had raised from the dead back when Napoleon was still deciding whether or not he'd like to add Spain to his collection of European nations. She’d died ages ago- which was just the frozen limit. I mean, really! It's one thing to shove your host smack-dab into Faerie, but to also shove him approximately a century in the past? If the Royal Society ever called me up to ask about the magical abilities of the Triumvirate of Terror, I would have a pretty scathing report to make.
“Sir?” said Jeeves, looking almost disturbed. “I regret that I was absent at my club last evening. As you had put yourself to bed before my arrival home, I did not think you would be needing one of my specials this morning.”
“Nor did I Jeeves,” I replied, as I reverted into a sort of prehistoric goo from which Woosters had emerged several millennia back. “I’ve never felt so bally exhausted in my entire life.”
“No. I’ll tell you Jeeves, if a girl tells you, ‘Oh let me just try a little spell on you Bertie--’ or I suppose a girl wouldn’t be calling you ‘Bertie.’ I think I heard Uncle George’s wife call you ‘Reg’ once.”
“She might have done, sir, as my given name is ‘Reginald.’” He looked slightly embarrassed to have a first name.
I goggled a bit. “Reginald?”
“Er... quite. Well, then. If a girl ever says to you, ‘Reg, old thing, won’t you please let me try just one little spell on you, you won’t even feel it,’ tick her off in the strongest possible terms.”
“The Code of the Woosters,” I continued on, warming to my theme, “said nothing about a preux chevalier letting himself be--” And here I meant to say ‘abducted to the Faerie Kingdom of Lost-Hope about a century previous’ but instead I found myself blithering on about a pair of boots that had been left in a castle somewhere in Faerie.
Jeeves was clearly alarmed. I saw the hairs of his left eyebrow stir. “Sir?”
I furrowed the b. as if I’d been an medieval peasant and wanted to use my plow on my face before testing it on the fields. “Dash it, I’ve gone off track. I meant to say that once upon a time, the nameless slave--” I stopped. There was an odd ringing in my ears, the kind one usually associates with rather squiffy Boat Race nights. “There once was a cathedral in the North of England-- dash it!”
“Allow me to ascertain, sir, if you are feverish?” I felt the Jeevesian hand about the Woosterian f.b. It was rather soothing.
“Hm what, Jeeves? Is the young master feverish?"
“No, sir, but allow me to say that I see a lily on thy brow, with anguish moist and fever dew.”
“Yes!” I said, seizing Jeeves's hand, and nearly upsetting the breakfast tray. “Yes, yes, Jeeves, that’s exactly bally it! La Belle Dame hast me in her bally whastits, only I’m in Mayfair and not in a sedge. What is a sedge?”
“They are a family of monocotyledonous graminoid flowering plants which superficially resemble grasses or rushes. But as the poet Keats inform us, the sedge has withered--”
“Yes, that’s enough about sedges.”
“Let them wither from your mind, too, Jeeves.”
“They have already done so, sir.” He gave a delicate cough, like a lamb amongst non-withered sedge three counties distant. “Might I beg you to release my hand, sir?”
“Eh? Oh! Apologies about that, old thing.” I ran a hand over the metaphorical l. on my b. “But it’s not La Belle Dame it’s--” but again, my mouth ran faster than my mind (not an usual occurrence) and instead I said, “--a funny story, really! When Julius Caesar arrived in England-- dash it! Hang Julius Caesar.”
Jeeves was eyeing me strangely. Then he said, “Sir, was it Miss Wickham to whom you alluded earlier?”
I wilted in relief. “Yes! Well, her, Stiffy Byng, and Daphne Braithwaite.”
“I see, sir. You are no doubt discombobulated from Miss Wickham’s spell casting. I shall say you are not at home to visitors, sir.”
“Yes, but--” and then I told Jeeves a long and involved story about Christian geese.
Jeeves listened pityingly and said, “There, there, sir. It shall soon pass. I very much doubt that Miss Wickham is a powerful enough witch to do any lasting damage. As I have often remarked, sir, Miss Wickham is a charming young lady, but--”
"Yes, yes, no need to rub it in.” I massaged the b. and said, “There’s more to it, but I can’t bally well speak of it. I don’t know why, Jeeves. I’ve never had trouble speaking before. It’s the one thing I can do.”
Jeeves looked at me as a competent sheepdog might look at a favorite but particularly loony sheep, and was more than usually attentive the rest of the day. I thought Jeeves would, as usual, be right, and I’d be better directly, but I still locked the door. The Chappie was all right, but I hadn’t much liked his party, and didn’t fancy another invitation.
I needn’t have bothered taking precautions, though. I awoke from the dreamless to see that I wasn’t alone in my bedroom.
“Bertie,” said the Chappie with Thistledown Hair. “I so enjoyed your stories the previous evening. I must have you back to Lost-Hope!”
“Hang on,” I exclaimed. “I’m not dressed!”
“You are trousered,” said the Chappie, looking perplexed. “It grieves me that you do not have the finery even the meanest of my subjects possess, but we shall no doubt remedy this situation in due course.”
“That’s not quite--”
And then I found myself stumbling out of bed and bally well through the mirror.
Now, I’m not the best at describing things. The report my aunts received of my essays at Eton generally read, ‘Has little to no ability, but tries his best,’ or ‘Almost remembered a quotation this time.’ Jeeves has injected me with a smattering of adjectives and poetry but I’m not sure any words can do justice to Lost-Hope. Suffice it to say that if you’ve ever found yourself on the peak of Mont-Blanc, while somehow regarding the vast, churning ocean, while in the midst of a thunderstorm that had Dr. Frankenstein scurrying around with body parts, while your true love has just left you after revealing that she was actually your sister, still while during all that a drowsy numbness pains your senses as though of hemlock you had drunk, and you had an albatross about your neck-- that is Lost-Hope.
I was more bewildered than per u. All I could manage to keep straight was that I was supposed to dance because I was the only person (here using this in the loosest possible sense of the term) who knew the Charleston. When I wasn’t dancing, I had to tell stories amidst gales of laughter. Literal gales. The heliotrope pyjamas got rather damp. If I ever came croaking to a stop, a fellow in a coat of gaping mouths would get alarmingly close and a thousand tongues would dart out as if hungry for a taste of BWW.
Then, too, the Chappie and his compatriots kept heaping praise on me for each story until I was well-nigh buried in it. I began to doubt my ability to tell a properly entertaining tale, a thing which I had never before thought. One doesn’t like to be immodest, but even my aunts have gone so far as to say that Bertram Wilberforce Wooster could spin the finest of yarns. ‘An idiot,’ they’d say fondly, ‘but at least he tells a good story.’ Rather bucks one up. But the Chappie in particular was so unstinting with his praise, it made me think he was about to ask a favor, or rip my heart from my chest, or demand my firstborn. “Ah, Bertie,” he said, as the room began to dissolve about me, like an alka-seltzer tablet in water, “you can make getting a cup of tea into a grand adventure. I am reminded of the bards of old. Tell me, was your father a Christian who called himself Orpheus?”
I croaked out a ‘no.’
“Perhaps another relation,” said the Chappie, not too displeased. “It is intriguing to me, your use of language. So inventive! So charming! Your world is a fascinating one. There is no evil that Jeeves cannot solve, no friend that you would not assist, no clouds that do not part and let the sun stream down upon you.”
“Er,” said I.
“We must have you again tomorrow, to tell more stories of these...” The Chappie paused and probed his memory. “Cow creamers?”
I didn’t want to, but before I could protest, the ballroom dissolved away entirely, the door to my bedroom rattled, and Jeeves was calling out, “Sir! Mr. Wooster, sir!”
“Ah, and this is the inimitable Jeeves?” asked the Chappie. He was still with me, which I didn't much like. He ought to have dissolved with the ballroom. “I do so long to meet him--”
“No!” I protested, feeling as if the lilies with all their fever dew had sprung up all over the Wooster corpus. “He’s-- he’s on his early vacation. Hauling fishing poles, casting shrimping nets and all. This is a, er, replacement valet. While Jeeves is on vacation. Because he is. Absolutely is. On vacation. And not in this apartment. Or in London, for that matter.”
“Mr. Wooster, sir, the door is locked.” The door rattled.
“Ah, a pity,” said the Chappie. “I would have him to Lost-Hope as well. Mr. Norrell has been plaguing me. I imagine your Jeeves could set the situation to rights. I would, of course--” this almost soothingly to me, as I trembled and looked pale and had to clutch the wardrobe to remain upright “--provide him with as much fish as he requires.”
“Until this evening, Bertie,” said the Chappie, and he bally well vanished!
I sank in a heap to the ground and trembled a bit like a heliotrope jelly.
“Mr. Wooster, sir!”
“Here, Jeeves,” I croaked out. “Just a mo.”
I had great pity for the chaps in talking pictures who crawled across the Sahara on hands and knees. It was difficult on an Aubusson carpet. Sand must have been a great deal worse. I managed the lock, but then sprawled at Jeeves’ feet.
“Sir?” said Jeeves, alarmed.
I more-or-less curled up around his trouser cuffs. “It’s worse than yesterday, Jeeves, it happened again!”
Jeeves abandoned the usual cup of the wet stuff and tried to get me at least semi-recumbent. “What happened again, sir?”
This time, I gave him the full run-down on Julius Caesar. I’m not sure why.
Jeeves looked at me strangely. “I fear that Miss Wickham made some error in her spell. I shall ring her directly, sir, and endeavor to ascertain what precisely went wrong.”
As I could have told him, Bobbie didn’t know. She’d tried to set up some mirror travel, but obviously it hadn’t worked. She gave Jeeves the spell, and he tried to sort it out as I huddled on the Chesterfield without a suit jacket on, and kept babbling nonsense at him.
It eventually occurred to me that talking wasn’t doing any good. I tried to illustrate my dilemma with a crude stick figure diagram. Unfortunately the best thing the drawing master could say of me was, ‘He usually gets the paint on the canvas,’ so things came rather a cropper.
Next I tried playing the piano, but the prohibition against speaking turned out to be about singing, too, so all that I got out was a jaunty tune about a charcoal burner besting the Raven King by appealing to some saints.
Jeeves got rather alarmed at that. Both eyebrows went up.
I was rather shaken myself.
Feeling a bit like a martini, I retired early to bed, Jeeves promising that he would consult with some colleagues of his who had more experience with magic.
"Some fellows at the Junior Ganymede, Jeeves?"
"Indeed, sir," said Jeeves, tucking me into bed.
I was half-tempted to seize hold of him and beg him to stay the night, so that he could maybe biff the Chappie in the eye, or see for himself the soup out of which I needed to be fished. But I didn't want Jeeves having to go that that blasted party. If learning Rocky stayed in his pyjamas until the afternoon was enough to make Jeeves dizzy, I couldn't imagine what Jeeves would do faced with me attending parties in them. Let alone all the fruity ties made of things that definitely weren't fabric.
‘No, no,’ I thought, feeling so apprehensive the dreamless escaped me once again. ‘I mustn’t let the Chappie meet Jeeves, I mustn’t.’ I was so caught up in this, I didn’t notice that the Chappie was in the room.
“Bertie,” he said, and I sprung out of bed like a flushed pheasant.
“What ho,” I said, trying to return to bed. “Feeling a bit peaky today, don’t think I can come, ever so sorry!”
“Nonsense,” said the Chappie, pulling back the bedclothes just as I was trying my best to get them to accept me as one of their own. “You will be revitalized when you have come to Lost-Hope. I really cannot do without your stories, Bertie.”
“Right-ho,” I said miserably, and quite wore through my bedroom slippers doing the Charleston. Or a version of it, anyways. I tried to search out Stephen Black and Lady Pole, and only found the latter, when she sprained her ankle and burst into furious tears.
“I say!” I tried to offer her a handkerchief, but I unfortunately was still in pyjamas. I could only sort of ineffectually blot her face with my sleeve.
“Damn you to hell for teaching them all the Charleston!”
“I really am sorry!” I managed to lean her on something that... I sort of guessed was a chair. It didn’t move when I’d sat her on it, so a chair it was, for my purposes. Stephen Black materialized at my side the way Jeeves sometimes does.
“Sir,” he said, “were you unable to communicate with Mr. Strange?”
“No,” I said, hanging my head. “I tried to just tell my valet what happened, but out came a lot of nonsense of about Julius Caesar.”
“It was much the same with me when I tried to tell Sir Walter!” exclaimed Lady Pole, seizing my sleeve. I would have winced, but the pyjama jacket was beyond saving, even by Jeeves. “We cannot even speak of what ails us! He said that he had put a rose at my mouth. What happened when you spoke, Stephen?”
Black was silent long enough for me to realize he hadn’t much tried.
“I say, old man--”
“I am Lady Pole’s butler, sir,” he said, and I knew he could never possibly tell anyone what ailed him. Poor fellow! The heart bled.
A woman with a wig of beetles came towards us and exclaimed, “Why, you are not dancing! You had much better dance!”
Lady Pole clutched at her ankle.
I said, hastily, gesturing at Black to sit as well, “No, I was, er-- telling a story! About my pal young Bingo.”
“You have told us already of Bingo Little and Honoria Glossop,” said a fairy in a coat the color of melancholy.
“Have I?” I felt sweat trickling down the back of my neck.
The fairy with the coat of hungry mouths was frightfully close.
“I say, your coat is chewing on my sleeve,” I I-said.
“Tell us another story,” insisted the fairy in the dress of blinking eyes.
“Uh-- uh... did I tell you about Bingo and the communist Charlotte Corday Rowbotham?”
I don’t know why they’re referred to as ‘beads of sweat’ but I had enough of them to make a necklace long enough for even the most fashionable flapper.
Everyone around me was taking on a sort of sinister aspect. The Chappie was even back, looking grave and terrifying, and very seriously displeased that I had no new stories.
“What about, er... my cousins! Claude and Eustace! Before they were sent off to South America or Africa or someplace?”
There were faint murmurs, and someone said, “The fellows who tried to steal a lorry?”
“Yes! Yes, those fellows.” I told them all about Claude and Eustace and Marion, and they all cheered when Jeeves once again saved the day. Behind me Lady Pole shivered and sunk into a pained sleep, and Stephen sat down and rested. Another dance threatened, but I held them off with the skillfully long retelling of my time impersonating the romance novelist Rosie M. Banks. At the end, Lady Pole said, in a dazed sort of way, “Do you know, this is the first time I have been allowed to sit through an evening in several years?”
I mean to say! A fellow has to have a heart of ice not to wish to help.
“You must come and tell us more stories, Bertie!” exclaimed the Chappie with Thistledown Hair. “It is almost better than dancing!”
“Right-ho,” I said, miserably.
I spent all the next day scribbling down the stories. No sense in repeating them, if having my pyjama jacket gnawed on was the sort of reception I could expect for repetition. Jeeves was so concerned he even picked up some of the pages.
“You are writing your memoirs, sir?”
“Yes Jeeves,” I said, still scribbling out everything, without making much of an effort to remember proper quotations or substitute real words for slang. "Needs must.”
“Sir, there is no need for this,” he said, refreshing my tea. “You are in no danger. A friend of mine is a gentleman’s personal gentleman to a Mr. Segundus, a relation of Mr. John Segundus, the famous practical magician.”
My fountain pen skittered out of my hand. Not a great substitute for the sort of confetti and streamers and things they use in New York for parades, but it was the best I could do. “Jeeves, you paragon! You’ve fixed it all!”
With a modest quirk of the upper lip, Jeeves said, “Mr. Segundus is of the opinion that Miss Wickham and company attempted to send you to the Drones Club via mirror, but did not take into account all proper variables. They instead seem to have sent you back over a century.”
I nodded as if my neck were a spring.
“And there were some misprints in her book which meant that you possibly did not arrive in London, sir.”
I seized Jeeves by the arm and nodded again, trying to convey, ‘I am being held captive as a bally storyteller in a faerie kingdom’ via wide-eyed stare.
“As the spell was not only incomplete, but inaccurate, you must have been trapped in the mirror for some time.”
This was sort of true. I hesitated.
Jeeves crouched a little so that he could examine me as he might examine a pair of tarnished silver sugar tongs. “Is that not the case, sir?”
I told him a long story about the Christian geese again, this time with tears in my eyes. It was bally awful. Each time I tried to stop and say something else, I just picked up the thread of the tale again.
“Sir,” said Jeeves, detaching me from his arm, “you are no doubt discombobulated from your time in a place not quite our own--”
I sank to the floor in despair. “That’s not it!”
Jeeves didn’t precisely frown, but I’d no doubt he was displeased. “Though I know you are fond of the young lady, sir, I cannot think that your temperaments would be well suited--”
“That’s not it either!”
I knew Jeeves was not very pleased I was sprawled on the floor tugging my hair, but the bally ballyness of it all was too much to bear with any kind of upper lip, let alone a stiff one. Still, he sounded more puzzled than disapproving as he said, “Very good, sir,” and biffed off to the bedroom.
A moment later he came back and said, rather disturbed, “What has happened to your bedroom slippers, sir?”
I couldn’t tell him, so I just sort of groaned into the carpet.
“Likewise our coral pyjama top appears to have been masticated.”
“Not by me!” I tried to get out, but I started saying instead, “A family of shoemakers in --” I pulled at my hair. “Blast it! That wasn’t what I wanted to say!”
I tried pantomime. This, if you can believe it, was even less successful than stick figures and music hall tunes with improvisational lyrics. Jeeves watched me rather blankly, and then then gave me a b. and s. and had me lay down on the chesterfield the rest of the afternoon.
The evening was dreadful. Imagine, if you can, being asked to play some jazz improvisations while in one ear you’ve got Chopin and Liszt duking it out on the keyboard next to you, Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ chorus blaring in your other ear, Beethoven thundering out his moonlight sonata down the hall, and a regiment complete with fife and drum corps parading through the room.
I slept the whole morning through, and didn’t even bother to ask Jeeves how the weather was. It seemed perfectly clear to me that this rummy set of circs would continue on indefinitely.
After a light luncheon and a b. and s. (light on the s.), I came up with a better idea. Jeeves was a brainy cove, head sticking out at the back and all. He responded to books. I flew at once to the bookshelves and tried to find something useful. I hadn’t kept any of the history of magic books I’d studied at Oxford, due to Stinker Pinker and an accidental bonfire night two weeks before Guy Fawkes day-- I’d chucked the biography of Mr. Norrell that Aunt Agatha had given me for Christmas into the Drones Club swimming pool-- the last time I’d thought of Faerie was when I was a tyke reading Oscar Wilde’s Faerie Tales-- “Euripides!”
“Beg pardon, sir?” asked Jeeves.
“That’s not the word I want,” I said, frowning. “Eulalie? Eucharist?”
“That’s the baby!” I dashed to the bookshelf by the piano and began ransacking it. “I need Oscar Wilde!”
“Oscar Wilde, sir?”
“Oscar Wilde!” I was pleased Jeeves was following me, for Morpheus, usually a bosom friend to this Wooster, had done a runner and given me the bird ever since the Chappie with Thistledown Hair took an interest and the “little gray cells” were littler and slower than ever.
“Oscar Wilde, sir?”
“Let’s exit the music hall for now, shall we Jeeves?”
“Indeed, sir.” He paused, and said, quite delicately, “Perhaps I might better assist you if I knew why you were so bent on reading something by Mr. Wilde. Are you in the mood for a light comedy, sir? The Importance of Being Earnest, first performed in 1895, is held to be Mr. Wilde’s best farce--”
“No, no, I don’t want that,” I said, sorting through copies of The Strand. “Normally I am, as it were, a lover of the theatre.”
“Almost a patron, if you will.”
“I have sat without complaining through dress rehearsals of Ask Dad, and the attendant arguments about whatever what’s-his-name did with the other fellow’s blues.”
“But the theatre,” I pressed on, grimly, “can go up in flames for all I care.”
“No, sir? I do not know why you wish to read Mr. Wilde if that is your opinion.”
“Well it’s Oscar Wilde who wrote those fairy stories, wasn’t it?”
I dropped an armful of old school books. “Oh no, dash it! I didn’t mean it like that! Actual fairy. Raven King and all. Faerie Tales! I recall the pater and the mater reading them to me when I was still in sailor suits and curls.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Jeeves, equanimity restored.
But as soon as I found the blasted book and more or less shoved it in Jeeves’s face, it was clear that this wasn’t going to work. Jeeves took the book without understanding why I wanted it, and soon after tucked me into bed like a child with a fever. He clearly thought the y.m. was feeling sick and sad and needed to be looked after as if in need of nannie’s tender care.
Now, I mean to say, I rather liked being coddled and looked after since I was so bally exhausted, but it didn’t really fix things. I spent the whole time looking beggingly at Jeeves. It’s all well and good to have a paragon looking after you, but when you can’t bally well say what’s wrong, it’s rather hard for him to solve the problem, what?
I had almost given up when I heard Jeeves read, "His coat was the exact color of melancholy."
I didn't trust myself to really speak, but I stirred and said, “That’s ‘The Faithful Footman.’”
“Indeed it is. Is it a particular favorite, Mr. Wooster?”
I can always tell when Jeeves is feeling amiable towards me. Then it’s ‘Mr. Wooster’ instead of ‘sir’ and there’s a smile in those dark blue eyes of his.
I felt a bit bashful but gave Jeeves to understand that I very much identified with the story, and tried to convey via looks that it wasn't really the Footman that concerned me, but the Young Gentleman, who had the coat the exact color of melancholy. I found that I could talk around it elli-what’sits... elliptically! That’s the baby. But I’m not sure I managed to get at precisely what I meant, or why the coat the color of melancholy hit such a chord.
I wound up just repeating that the Young Gentleman had a rough time of it and looking significantly at Jeeves. This resulted in an offer of tea, or a b. and s. which, though both nice, weren’t really the solution to my problem. I gave up and told Jeeves to merely be careful putting the book away, as it was the last my parents had ever read to me as a nipper. I mean, when I was a nipper, not when they were nippers. I wouldn’t have been born yet, if they were nippers.
“It’s a mystery as to why they chose that book,” I told Jeeves, “but I suppose they thought it’d help prepare me for life or some such.”
Jeeves had a certain thingness to his look that was difficult for befuddled Bertram to interpret. “I suppose, sir, that you were too young to be aware of what happened to Mr. Wilde.”
“Rather. Always thought it a pity when I did find out. Though I suppose I mostly do because Aunt Agatha kept bringing it up when there was a scandal at Eton.” I sighed. “There’s always a scandal at Eton. Then they’d bring in a frightful nob to lecture us and chapel would be longer than usual, and then the fellows you knew liked to beat the bishop together had to find a new place to, er, abuse the clergy. As it were.”
Jeeves said, to the cover of the book, “I was first made aware of the Wilde affair when the young gentleman of the house at which my family worked came under similar suspicions. I distinctly overheard my father telling my mother, ‘He wore velvet coats and green carnations-- can there be any doubt?’” He paused. “It was about that time, sir, that I developed what you have referred to as my conservative tastes.”
It’s rummy how sometimes people seem trying to tell you something other than what they are literally saying. I scratched the onion and frowned.
Jeeves tried to clarify. “On occasions, sir, we have diverged on matters sartorial. I have done so out of the impulse to protect you.” There was a thingness to him that was rather... starts with an m. The sort of word that means you’d zip straight up against a person before you could say something very short, like, ‘hi’ or ‘blue’ or ‘duck.’ Magnetic! Knew I’d get it.
I stared at Jeeves, feeling rather hypnotised.
Then Jeeves frowned slightly and said, “I think you are too tired to understand me, sir. Perhaps you ought to rest.”
I didn’t like to admit that I was, but Morpheus fairly tossed me over his shoulder and sprinted as soon as I closed my eyes. Before I was spirited off, I did manage to tease him, “Rot, Jeeves! I think you just like bringing the y.m. to heel. You positively enjoy messing about with my mess jackets and such.”
I’m sure Jeeves would have protested if I’d been able to keep my eyes open. But I was dreaming before I knew it. They were pleasant, restful dreams, though, of someone petting my hair, and calling me a dear boy, and I admit I thought, ‘Well! The Chappie won’t come tonight. Jeeves is here.’
But of course, it was only a dream. The Chappie came as per u.
I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be propelled headfirst through a painting by Turner, only to find your head going through a different painting by Rembrandt, one by Monet, one by Titan, one by Reynolds, and then a fresco by da Vinici, but that’s as near about as I can explain the next few evenings at Lost-Hope.
I moped about the flat, scribbling down which stories I’d already told, leaving out ‘The Faithful Footman’ wherever Jeeves could see it, and venturing a remark here and there that I’d make whoever invented the Charleston thoroughly regret such a rash course of action. I ventured these remarks only when I had voice to speak, of course. I had a touch of laryngitis after telling the Fair Folk about an affair I called, “Jeeves and the Song of Songs,” to wit. the time the honest proletariat honestly told me, Tuppy, and a well-known operatic soprano what they thought of the song, ‘Sonny Boy,’ complete with about ten renditions of ‘Sonny Boy,’ as well as an encore where the Fair Folk pelted me with fruit.
After about two weeks of this, with no sign of improvement, Jeeves sent a telegram to Aunt Dahlia, who had gone with my Uncle Tom to Morocco, where they were hunting down the most hideous pieces of antique silver known to man or camel.
YOUNG BLOT WAS ALWAYS SENSITIVE TO MAGIC STOP, it read, in capital letters about as loud as Aunt Dahlia’s indoor voice. TOOK HIM AGES TO GET OVER THAT TOUCH OF SPANISH DRAGON FLU IN 1918 STOP QUERY ANATOLE IF SITUATION DOES NOT IMPROVE STOP NOW BETRIE YOU ASS WHY DID YOU NOT LEARN FROM AGATHA NOT TO LET PEOPLE PERFORM SPELLS ON YOU STOP ALWAYS DID A NUMBER ON YOU STOP GET SOME FRESH AIR AND YOU WILL FEEL MUCH MORE THE THING STOP
Not a very encouraging telegram. No one thought I was reacting to an unusually taxing set of circs.
Jeeves hung about while I felt sorry for myself in the bathtub, for a change of pace. After fussing with my shaving stuff he cleared his throat, making a noise like the a polite sheep with early spring allergies.
“Yes, Jeeves?” I asked, half-heartedly submerging my rubber duck. It bobbed up in its usual fashion, but it diverted not this careworn Bertram.
“You have received a bouquet from Miss Wickham, sir.”
“Very good, sir.” But he did not glide off. He remained behind me as I flicked a disconsolate loofah into the bathwater.
“Might I take a liberty, sir, and say that you are not yourself these days?”
“Take all the liberties you like, Jeeves,” I replied, sinking down into the tub. “The young master is deep in the soup, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to tell you about it. I ramble on about unimportant things like boots.”
“Boots are never unimportant, sir,” said Jeeves, coming round and looking faintly worried. “But it is not on that matter I wished to speak.”
“No?” I gestured for a towel, and Jeeves obliged me enough to bundle me up in it. “Speak on, Jeeves. You ought to know by now that you can say whatever you please to the y.m.”
“You are aware, sir, that the love that dare not speak its name is not literal?”
It might have been the exhaustion, but this seemed a bit of a reach, even for Jeeves. “Eh?”
“It is a euphemism, sir, from the poem, “Two Loves,” by Lord Alfred Douglas. Mr. Wilde defined it as a great affection of an elder for a younger man, as there was between David and Jonathan, going on to say that there is nothing unnatural about it.”
“That’s all well and good,” I began irritably, but Jeeves, when he’s got ahold of a good quotation, is a bit like Mcintosh, my Aunt Agatha’s Aberdeen terrier, when presented with anise-scented trousers. Tenacious, you know.
“-- it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man, when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.”
This was followed by one of those rummy looks you’re supposed to be able to read to find the hidden meaning, but unless it was printed in big block letters, I was at the stage of nerves and exhaustion where it was impossible to read anything.
Somewhat pettishly, I said, “I know what a metaphor is, Jeeves.”
“It is technically a euphemism, sir,” Jeeves said, promptingly.
I didn’t know what to say so I’m afraid I was rather rough drying my hair. “Blast it, Jeeves, I know you can actually talk about it and all! I mean, not in public, unless you’d like to wind up in chokey, though there’s that carpenter fellow who took up with a poet.”
I emerged from my towel to see Jeeves looking slightly pained. “You refer, I believe, to the poet Edward Carpenter.”
“That’s the chap!” I shucked the towels for the dressing gown Jeeves held out to me. “Still not in prison, is he?”
“Well, hurrah for the poet Edward Carpenter.” I had wandered into the bedroom before realizing the full import of Jeeves’s Wildean quotations. “I say!”
Jeeves looked earnestly at me. “What do you say, sir?”
“I say, I’m not that mentally negligible!”
That threw Jeeves for not one but several loops. “In-- indeed, sir?”
“It’s not being overly literal, I can’t physically manage to say it! I know that you think I’m mentally negligible, Jeeves, and I daresay it’s true, but the young master has learnt a thing or two over the years.”
“You were not meant to overhear that, sir,” said Jeeves, with a thingness to his expression I was too exhausted to understand. “I was attempting to keep the replacement valet from scheming to take my position. Yours is a kind and open-hearted nature, sir, and you are often easily persuaded. I should never like to leave you, sir.”
I could tell there was something I wasn’t getting. I wiggled a finger in my ear to see if that would help. It didn’t.
Jeeves saw I was a bit at a loss and said, slowly and carefully, “I have come to hold a very high regard for you, sir. We have had our differences--”
“As do any two men of iron will,” I said, automatically.
“--as you say, sir. But I mean only to assure you that I will never leave you, sir, no matter what you reveal to me.”
“The problem is, though, Jeeves, that I’ve been trying to tell you and I can’t!”
Jeeves had been going to pick up the underclothes and sock garters and all and now paused and said, “I am trying to tell you, sir, that I am aware of what topic now feeds like a worm in th’bud upon your mind, and am sympathetic.”
“That’s very kind,” I replied, “but that doesn’t help much.”
Then I realized part of what Jeeves had been trying to say, and threw up my hands. "Good Lord, Jeeves, that’s not it! Do you think I'm so bally distraught over being an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort I've been spending my nights chewing on the sleeves of my pyjamas and clapping my bedroom slippers together until they break?"
“When one is overcome with a distressing realization, pacing is a fairly stereotypical response, sir.”
“That was a derisive ‘ha!’ Jeeves. Become accustomed to it, if those are the sorts of theories you wish to float by the young master. I mean, really Jeeves! To the costermonger or whatever with you. You need to up your daily fish intake.” I flopped onto my bed and groaned.
“Mr. Wooster,” Jeeves said, soothingly, “many men have been similarly shaken by the knowledge of their true hearts.”
“Dash it Jeeves! I went to Eton, I shared much more than a study with Ginger Winship at Oxford--”
Jeeves did not look very surprised when I rather jolted upright and shot a terrified g. at him. “Indeed, sir?”
I paused, and added, “Er, forget the latter, Jeeves.”
“The name of the young gentleman has already vanished from my memory, sir.”
“Quite.” I cleared my throat. “That is-- I’m glad you’re so sympathetic a fellow, Jeeves, but I’ve dared speak the thing that one ordinarily... does not dare to speak, and found it jolly good, but that’s not what keeps me up at nights.”
I’d surprised Jeeves. I felt triumphant. The only other time I’d surprised him was with the fact of Biffy’s tender, if somewhat vague pash for Jeeves’s niece, Mabel. “No, sir?”
But as I couldn’t actually tell him what was wrong, it was a very short triumph. The sort of triumph I’m led to understand Julius Caesar allowed Vercingetorix, where Vercingetorix ended up publically hung at the end. Rummy sort, Julius Caesar. I dressed and wandered out into the sitting room where, blast it, there was a whole bouquet of roses from Bobbie Wickham. I picked up my walking stick and smashed them to bits.
“Sir?” said Jeeves, almost alarmed. It was admittedly unusual to see a gentil parfait such as yours truly smashing anything to bits, unless Pongo Twistleton’s had a birthday party and I’ve mistaken, say, a standing lamp for a burglar.
“I’m choking on roses, I hate them!” I managed to say-- which, as it sounded perfectly daft, was probably permissible as per the rules of the spell.
Jeeves, however, paused as if struck. “Mrs. Gregson is a powerful witch. I am sorry not to have made the connection sooner, sir.”
I agreed, cautiously. This was, in general, very true. I had no bally idea what it had to do with my particular situation, however.
“I shall telephone Monsieur Anatole,” said Jeeves, kindly. “I fancy he will have some receipt which will help. French magic tends to collect in receipt books, not scholarly works.”
I once again did not understand what this had to do with anything, but as there was probably Anatole’s splendid cooking to look forward to, I did not fuss. I merely brooded over a second cup of tea, as Jeeves made telephone calls in French much more fluent than my own.
I must have nodded off, as the next thing I knew, the Chappie was back, exclaiming, “Bertie! Dear Bertie!”
I set a new record for the Under Thirty Olympic High Jump.
“Dear Bertie,” said the Chappie, sweeping out of my bedroom, as if making an Act Two entrance in a musical comedy. “You have seemed to me out of measure sad. Why? I asked myself. My dear clever Bertie has already told me.”
I strangely mistrusted this. “Oh yes?”
“He is not dressed as finely as the meanest of my servants! How can a bard perform when he is not as handsome as his stories?”
I had an idea. Bit of a rare occurrence, you understand, which is why I was so suddenly giddy. “A coat the color of melancholy? That’s-- that’s really corking of you, old chap. That’s exactly what I wanted.”
“Melancholy!” The Chappie shook his head. “Dear, sweet Bertie, you have never had a melancholy moment in your life. No, no. I have got you a waistcoat of a long weekend in the English countryside.”
I frowned. That actually sounded like something Jeeves might have approved of.
The Chappie continued on, “What shall you like as a coat? Trust me, dear Bertie, melancholy does not suit.”
I pretended that I was Cyril Bassington-Bassington and needed the most splendid coat in all the land. “A coat of pure sunshine, please!”
The Chappie crowed with delight. “And so you shall have it, dear Bertie!”
I felt that, instinctively, I ought to have liked such an ensemble, even if it looked like something Nelson’s tailor would have made, had he been a magician and/or mad, and so exclaimed that it was topping and spiffing and so perfectly top-notch I could not bear to part with it. I had to wear it while telling the story of Gussie Fink-Nottle’s sozzled prize-giving speech (temporarily blinding both Lady Pole and Stephen Black the butler), which took the entire dashed evening.
The next morning I found myself swaying on my feet in front of my wardrobe, convinced that there was something important inside.
“Jeeves,” I exclaimed, as he came into the room, aghast at finding me in yesterday’s trousers and shirtsleeves at seven in the morning. “I have a rather fruity tailcoat of which I know you will not approve.”
I felt that I was on solid ground with this.
“Are you well, sir?” asked Jeeves, catching me before I fell over. He managed to get an arm about my waist, and raised a glass of something to my lips. “Drink, sir.”
I drank as bid. I was too exhausted not to obey.
“When did you get your tailcoat, sir?”
“Last night,” I tried, and was glad to see the Chappie didn’t object to that.
“Sir, you were asleep on the chesterfield all afternoon,” said Jeeves. “Your door was locked again when I returned from the marketing. I assumed you’d gone to bed--”
“Ha! I haven’t gone to bed in weeks, Jeeves.” This was promising. I tried, “I’ve been at a sort of party I didn’t wish to go to with....” I struggled. “When Brutus came to the British Isles--”
“Drink again, sir.”
I gulped it down. It tasted like a warm beakerful of the south. “Not your usual special, Jeeves.”
“No, sir. It is a potion of Monsieur Anatole’s devising, passed down from his mother. I took the liberty of informing Monsieur Anatole that it appeared Mrs. Gregson had placed an enchantment on you not to speak when you were a child, and that it was presently driving you mad. Monsieur Anatole was happy to assist, sir. You are something of a favorite amongst the staff at Brinkley Court.”
“You don’t say, Jeeves? That’s dashed nice to hear, though Aunt Agatha never placed a rose at my lips.” I finished off the glass. That was a bally mistake. I felt suddenly sick.
I staggered away from Jeeves, smack into the wardrobe. The doors flew open as I collapsed, coughing dreadfully, onto the carpet.
I’m not sure what alarmed Jeeves more: the fact that I had just fallen over and nearly taken the wardrobe with me, the fact that I then coughed up a very slimy rose onto the Aubusson carpet, or the fact that a waistcoat made of a long weekend in the English countryside, and a coat made of pure sunshine fell out of the wardrobe on top of me.
Jeeves had to literally shield his eyes against that. “Mr. Wooster, sir, what is this?
“A coat of pure sunshine!” I exclaimed, pointing at Jeeves, “Because I wasn’t allowed to have a coat the color of melancholy!”
Jeeves gaped at me, if I can use so inelegant a word on a chap who shimmered rather than walked. “Sir, these clothes are fairy-made.”
Rather giddy with relief, I exclaimed, “Oh by gosh, by gum, by gee, by Jove, Jeeves has got it at last!”
Jeeves took the news better than could be expected. He put on his silver-polishing gloves and apron before picking up my fairy ensemble and then wrapping the lot in brown paper. The waistcoat was easily bundled up. It took an entire roll of brown paper to get the coat to stop blinding us.
I wanted to make some kind of joke about knitting up the raveled sleeve of care, but as I couldn’t remember if the sleeve had been raveled or unraveled, or even if there was a difference between the two, I mostly just told Jeeves about the bally awful time I’d had in Lost-Hope.
“It was worse than when we went to the seaside with Aunt Agatha,” I said, shuddering.
“Most distressing, sir,” said Jeeves, gravely.
“Rather! And Jeeves, I don’t know if I can get out of it. I don’t know if I should get out of it. It’s the first rest Lady Pole and Stephen Black have been able to have in years.”
Jeeves fell silent and looked thoughtful. I didn’t bother him. It’s best to let Jeeves perkolate on his corkers. Very slowly, he said, “You said, sir, that one of your fellow guests was a butler by the name of Stephen Black?”
“Yes. Butler to Sir Walter Pole, who, as far as I can remember, was some sort of frightful nob before Wellington was Prime Minister.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Jeeves, but he said it rather distractedly.
“I’m glad you picked up on the rose thingamabob,” said I. “But what was all this about Aunt Agatha?”
Jeeves tied up the sixth layer of brown paper around the coat of pure sunshine. It still had a tendency to peep through any rips and shine through thin layers. The going was rough. “I was under the impression, sir, that as your parents read you Oscar Wilde’s Faerie Tales as a boy, they had been aware of your inclinations from an early age. As you were distressed by being unable to speak, it was a logical supposition that Mrs. Gregson had laid an enchantment on you so that you could never speak of what you truly felt. I knew of several young gentlemen under just such an enchantment after the Wilde affair came to light. It was a popular trend in aristocratic households, and why the term ‘an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort’ entered modern parlance.”
I shivered. “That does sound like something that would have happened to me. Fortunately, I was with Aunt Dahlia after my parents shuffled off the mortal c. She had a nanny already, for Angela, so Aunt Agatha couldn’t insist.”
Jeeves critically examined his handiwork. “I believe it will hold.” He remained crouching on the floor, looking pensively up at where I was huddled on the bed, hugging a hot water bottle and feeling worn rather thin, like a third-hand soft-fronted shirt. “I was aware that your time in the mirror had changed you, sir. It had seemed to me in the past that given enough time on your own, you would eventually come to a conclusion it would ill behove me to force upon you. Being stuck in a mirror seemed, if you will excuse the pun, an adequate time for reflection. I myself came to some painful self-knowledge after accidentally running through a mirror at the Battle of Arras.”
I felt rather sniffly at that. Or at least I did before realizing, “Jeeves, you knew Bobbie and Stiffie and Daphne were going to try and cast a spell on me!”
“I had an inkling, sir.”
“I’m convinced no one had a birthday party two weeks ago! You probably went out and saw that dratted Noel Coward play you couldn’t convince me to go see!”
“To my shame, sir, you are correct in the particulars. I had not, however, known Misses Wickham, Byng, and Braithwaite relied upon a faulty text. The girls’ school at which I served as a page during my adolescence was very strict on the provenance and editorial quality of its spellbooks. It grieves me to say that St. Monica’s at Bingley-on-the-Sea does not share the same high standards.”
“Couldn’t have been guessed, Jeeves.”
“I am gratified to hear you share my feelings on the matter, sir.”
“I mean, the headmistress is a friend of Aunt Agatha’s! You’d think she’d imprison the publisher in a pillar of darkness for sending her faulty textbooks.”
“You’ll still scoop me out of the soup, won’t you?”
“I shall not rest until I do so, sir.”
“Oh, well then,” I said, feeling mollified. “Carry on, Jeeves.”
“Indeed, sir.” Jeeves looked down at the two brown paper bundles as if they had insulted his mother and made opprobrious remarks about his appearance. “It pains me to do so, sir, but I think I will have to store these... items... in our wardrobe until we may properly dispose of them.”
I offered to help and, as I refused to hear his refusal, made the whole process take twice as long as it would take Jeeves to do it himself. Still, it meant more time that Jeeves, and not the Chappie, was in the room.
I think Jeeves realized this, as he floated back into the bedroom with a chair and a heavy, dusty old book.
“Going to read to me again?” I asked, feeling rather bucked up.
Jeeves favored me with a look a doting mother might give her beloved but dimwitted child. “Not as, such, sir. It is a book I have borrowed from the Junior Ganymede Club.”
“What, the club book?” I asked,
“This, sir, is the other club book.” Jeeves laid a possessive hand on top of it. “I beg you not to mind it. Sleep if you can, sir.”
I settled down, but I slept rather fitfully. Jeeves remained in his chair by the bed, flicking through the pages and frowning thoughtfully. I managed to sleep for a little bit, and nearly cried when I woke up to see Jeeves wasn’t in his chair. But he was just holding a candle before my mirror, so I settled back down. It was hard to fling myself into the arms of that good chap Morpheus, when the thought, ‘Jeeves is gone!’ was buzzing about the Wooster noggin like a hyperactive bee, so I just watched Jeeves from half-closed eyes.
Oddly, Jeeves was not looking at his own reflection, but at Stephen Black the butler. I vaguely wondered if the Junior Ganymede prefered to communicate by mirror. It would explain why Jeeves was so precise about polishing.
"-hardly expected you to summon me; Mr. Jeeves," came Black’s voice.
Jeeves bowed. "I regret the necessity of it, Your Majesty."
"I do not believe I have seen you since the batmen begged for my assistance at Arras."
"No, Your Majesty. I had no wish to intrude. And I knew after the trenches your dislike of bargaining."
Black inclined his head slowly. He was wearing a crown and dressed in midnight; dashed odd sort of uniform. Certainly different from pinstripes and morning coat, or the black tailcoat he'd been sporting in Lost-Hope. "You are the soul of courtesy, Mr. Jeeves. Though at the time, I recall you had taken to heart some lessons of Mr. Childermass."
"One may be courteous and yet take Mr. Childermass's teachings to heart, Your Majesty."
Black smiled in a tired sort of way, like a chappie who’s managed to escape a luncheon with an aunt-- alive, but not unchanged from such an ordeal. “What is it you would ask of me?”
“It is not a favor for myself, Your Majesty. My gentleman is the victim of your predecessor.”
“The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair?”
“My gentleman refers to him as the Chappie with Thistledown Hair, but no doubt we are discussing one and the same person. Time, I am told, is as malleable as silk in your realms. I ask, Your Majesty, that you release my gentleman from the hold of the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair.”
“You would do a great deal for your master.”
Jeeves put down the candle and fussed with the holder, setting it just so on the side table. Black looked on approvingly. "He is more than a master, Your Majesty," said Jeeves.
"He is a good master, which makes the lie of our class system easier to bear," said Black. "This is beyond the call of duty for even the most devoted gentleman's gentleman."
Jeeves was clutching the side table, staring at the candle flame. "It is, Your Majesty, but Mr. Childermass took a bullet for Mr. Norell. This is considerably less of a sacrifice. And....” this rather softly, as if Jeeves wanted to make sure I couldn’t hear him, “He is not precisely a master. He is my own dear boy."
I was rather astonished to hear this. I mean, Jeeves was dear to me, but I to him?
I liked to think he was fond of me-- why else would he stay, with half the Drones Club ready to double his salary as soon as he biffed off?-- but his own dear boy? Gosh! Made one feel full enough of pep to sing out a tra-la-la.
I snuggled down into the pillow and bed linens so that Jeeves and Black couldn’t see how soppy the grin plastered across the Wooster map really was.
“It has been the work of many years, building about him a comfortable world where the Great War is forgot, and he has only to trust me to be happy.”
Black sighed. “Mr. Jeeves--
"He is the joy, hope, and glamour of my life." Jeeves looked up at the mirror. “I shall allow no other to claim him.”
After a moment, Black said, “If I correctly recall the Gentleman’s methods, there is a rose at your gentleman’s lips.”
“I have removed it, Your Majesty.”
Black inclined his head, crown winking as if taking Jeeves into a secret. “If you will wake your gentleman, I will examine the spellwork laid upon him.”
I immediately closed my eyes and didn’t bother to stir until I felt Jeeves’s large, capable hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Wooster, sir?”
“Yes, Jeeves?” I said into the pillow, still grinning like a bally idiot. I’d clearly missed half of what he’d been trying to say with all that love that dare not speak its name business. The best half of it, really. But when the elder man has all the intellect, it can’t be expected of the younger to put aside spell-induced exhausted to puzzle out all the pieces.
“I regret the necessity of waking you, sir, but the Nameless King wishes to speak with you.”
I managed to tame down the grin to something resembling polite welcome. “Right ho, Jeeves.” I turned to the mirror and exclaimed, “What ho, what ho, what ho? Last time we met, you were a butler. My heartiest felici-whatsits on your promotion.”
Stephen Black smiled out of the mirror. “Mr. Bertie Wooster, sir.”
“Oh no, no,” I said, struggling out of the bed. (I admit, I put on a bit of a show of it, so Jeeves would have to hold me. It is extremely nice to be held by Jeeves.) “That’s much too good of you, Your Majesty. Call me Bertie, if it please you and all.”
“You gave me a fortnight’s rest,” said Stephen Black, “which was no small thing in those days. For that, I shall bargain with you. Does the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair have anything of yours?”
“Just my name and my stories,” I said. “Well, my nickname, really.”
“He did not chain you to the dance?” asked Stephen Black.
“Er, not as such, no. Just invited me. But I felt obliged-- you and Lady Pole were in such a bad way, and no one forced you to stand or dance when I was telling stories....”
Jeeves gave me a look that said, ‘You fat-head,’ but in a tender way.
“This will make it easier,” said Stephen Black, before fading to a slight shimmer in the mirror. ‘Page nine, Mr. Jeeves, should he prove recalcitrant.”
“Dear Bertie!” came the Chappie’s voice. I became as a rocketing pheasant and nearly jumped into Jeeves’s arms. Jeeves rather unsubtly put himself between me and the Chappie.
“Ah,” said the Chappie, rapturously, “Here is Jeeves! I see that you have not exaggerated, dear Bertie. This Jeeves is a paragon and--” The Chappie suddenly recoiled. “And an English magician!”
I peeked out from behind Jeeves’s shoulder. This wasn’t exactly true, but Jeeves was holding a spellbook. “Oh, um... er... entirely forgot. Slipped my mind and all, that crucial detail.”
“Bertie, you must come with me, I shall take you far beyond the reach of these horrible English magicians!” the Chappie exclaimed.
“Mr. Wooster will be staying with me,” said Jeeves, in tones that would have brought about a new ice age. “You, sir, will be returning to your proper time and place.”
“Without Bertie?” cried the Chappie. “Impossible! I cannot get on without his stories.”
“I wonder, sir,” said Jeeves, very coldly, “that any self-respecting fairy can beg for stories of an English magician?”
The Chappie recoiled and turned to me looking like less of a Chappie and more of a terrifying eldritch creature. “Bertie Wooster! I have given you a coat of sunshine, and you would give me tales of Christian magic?”
“Er, rather,” I said, still hiding behind Jeeves. “I’m a, er, bard of Jeeves’s. Only sing his praises and all.”
“My bard has fooled you,” said Jeeves, smirking, rather. “For two weeks you have been a captive to tales of English magic. It is the greatest trick on the Fairy Realms an English magician has played in over a century.”
“Bertie Wooster!” roared the Chappie, becoming almost aunt-like in his rage. “You are no longer welcome in Lost-Hope or any of my lesser dominions. This is an abominable trick!”
The Chappie lunged for me, but Jeeves turned to page nine and the Chappie was blown backwards into the mirror. And then further back, into what looked like an open door.
The Nameless King appeared once again in the mirror. He shut the door. And that was the end of the Chappie.
I have to admit that I was on shaky pins. I staggered to Jeeves’s chair. “Well I’m dashed. I think I owe you my life, Your Majesty!” I paused. “And I owe you my life too, Jeeves, but that’s a given.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Jeeves, tenderly helping me into the chair. “I likewise owe you many thanks, Your Majesty.”
“The Gentleman with Thistledown Hair will not be bothering you again,” said the Nameless King, and bowing, dissolved into darkness.
“Well!” I said. And, finding no other words fit to describe the circs in the English language, I said again, “Well!”
“Indeed, sir,” said Jeeves, setting down the book, and picking up a silver tray with a martini on it. “I took the liberty of making this for you, sir.”
“That’s just the stuff, Jeeves!” I said gratefully, taking it. “However did you come up with all this?”
“I realised that when you were singing you came the closest to breaking the enchantment put upon you. I appealed to the Nameless King, who is held to be the patron saint of the Junior Ganymede Club. I am a tolerable practical magician. It was not unduly difficult to call His Majesty.”
“I say, that is clever!” I finished off the martini and fished out an olive. “But Jeeves, surely as brilliant as you are, and with magic at your disposal and all-- surely you’d like to biff off and be Prime Minister or somesuch?”
“You have always pleased a gratifying amount of faith in my abilities, sir,” said Jeeves, blowing out the candle. “But I do not think you are aware of what limited options there are for men born into the serving classes.”
“No, I suppose not.” I brooded on this a moment. “Poor Stephen Black couldn’t tell anyone about the rose. I don’t know if he tried. And even now that he’s a king he seems to be getting something of a bad deal. Two weeks’ rest for saving my life? That doesn’t seem dashed fair.”
“No, sir, but life is seldom fair to those in the service. To the Nameless King, life was never fair.”
I swallowed a thoughtful olive. “Jeeves, you aren’t feeling... unfairly treated? I’d give you more vacations but I’m so lost without you I’m not sure I could last a full month apart from you. Apart from probably wandering into traffic by accident, or ending up accidentally engaged, I rather... I rather pine for you.”
There was a sort of smug thingness to Jeeves’s expression that made me feel pleasantly shivery. “I had noticed that, sir.”
“Well none of that ‘sir’ now!” I exclaimed indignantly. “I heard you calling me your dearest boy. If that’s what you call me in your head, I should like to hear you say it more often. Why don’t you?”
Jeeves kept tidying up the room, but he looked so close to a smirk I rather wanted to kiss it out of him. “It would not have been proper before now.”
“Hang propriety,” I said. I intended to throw my arms around Jeeves, but as my legs were still working on their impression of jellies and I’d had nothing but a martini and its olives all day, I more-or-less flung myself into Jeeves’s arms. “Your own dear boy demands it.”
Jeeves was smiling at me now, really smiling, but protested, “It is unoriginal to the point of plagiarism.”
“Dash it Jeeves!” I hauled myself to a more vertical posish by seizing Jeeves’s lapels. “I shan’t kiss you until you say it!”
“My dearest boy,” said Jeeves, and I made good on my promise. It will not surprise you to know that Jeeves is a genius at just about anything, and caught on very quickly to the sorts of games I liked, by going on for some time in the vein of, “Dearest of all boys, darling boy, my own dear boy....”
“Gosh, I like that,” I said, feeling rather warm and well taken care of. I also had no idea whom Jeeves was plagiarizing, but I wasn’t about to admit that. “What should your dear boy call you when we’re alone?”
“I must admit, I am not fond of ‘Reginald,’ which poses some difficulties in answering your present question.”
“Reggie?” I ventured, hoping he wouldn’t stop petting my hair.
“Yes, my dearest boy?”
I felt rather chuffed that I’d come up with something good on the first go. “You know that waistcoat of a long weekend in the English countryside, and the coat of pure sunshine?”
I felt his shudder ripple through him. “Indeed, my darling boy.”
Feeling rather boomps-a-daisy I rewarded him in the new way and the old: with a kiss and a fervent, “Get rid of those clothes, will you?”
Jeeves is, of course, borrowing the terms of endearment Oscar Wilde used for Lord Alfred Douglas.