While I do enjoy tickling the ivories for hours at a time, and have occasionally fancied that a bit of tricky finger-work was carried out so adeptly as to bring the house down, this was in the way of being a metaphor. Under no circumstances does a chap of sound mind think that the ceiling in his flat is going to bid a not-so-fond farewell to the world of structural integrity, so you may well understand that I was positively blowed when it actually happened.
'Jeeves!' I bleated, in between a series of hacking coughs from the plaster dust.
But Jeeves, that wonder, had already shimmered into existence behind me. 'Are you unharmed, sir?' he asked, coaxing me up from the piano bench with one gentle hand around my elbow.
I waved a useless hand at the largish chunk of ceiling that was now spread over the piano, the chesterfield, and several ornamental tables of which I suspect Jeeves is particularly fond. 'The Wooster corpus is hale and hearty, but the same cannot be said for the old flat.'
Jeeves aimed a look at the ceiling that was as cold and disapproving as the one he'd given my sprightly lime green socks; they had not lasted two nights before suffering a grim accident that had necessitated immediate disposal. 'Pardon me, sir, I believe it would be prudent to speak with Mr Manglehoffer immediately,' he said, before shimmering off to presumably remonstrate with the poor chap charged with overseeing Berkeley Mansions.
I cast a woeful eye at the bally mess, thinking that it looked the worst it had since Jeeves came into my life and took over, when there was a noise -- a creaking, groaning noise, not unlike poor Uncle Tom post-luncheon in the pre-Anatole days -- and then a second deluge of plaster and water and other assorted bits came down right around my ears, but more to the point, right on top of the old onion.
It's not that I haven't found myself insensate on the floor before. On several memorable occasions (or they would be memorable, if I hadn't been so far under the surface as to be on the other side of the earth entirely), I had woken to find myself half-wedged under a chair at the Drones Club, and on yet another occasion, I had been walloped from behind by old Spode in an effort to make it appear that I had tried, and failed, to prevent a burglary.
Still, none of the above-mentioned occasions were anything like this one, in that they distinctly lacked the warm, considerate hand of my gentleman's personal gentleman upon my brow. Jeeves rarely allows emotion to colour his voice, but there seemed to be a certain amount of tension in his measured tones as he said, 'Sir? Sir? Mr Wooster, you must wake up.'
Jeeves so rarely demands things that I was forced to open the peepers and make some sort of gargling noise in response. He was on his knees beside me, both his pinstripes and his hands coated in plaster dust.
I tilted my head one way to see the perfect bally wreckage of the flat, and looked up to see a corresponding gaping chasm in the ceiling, and then moaned in despair.
Jeeves gripped my shoulder. 'Sir, are you injured?'
'No,' I croaked, and then wrinkled my nose at the taste of some plaster dust that had found its way into my mouth.
'You mustn't worry, sir. All will be well,' Jeeves said, and with a great deal of care, helped the young master into a sitting position. Woosters are no swooning maidens (except when they are, although the mind boggles at the idea of Aunts Dahlia or Agatha ever swooning), but my head swam from the change in elevation, and I leaned my head against Jeeves' shoulder for a moment. I felt the peculiar sensation of Jeeves sliding his fingers through my hair, and I don't mind admitting that it felt dashed nice until he found what he was looking for, viz. a lump on the noggin that made me gasp when he touched it.
There was a knock at the door, and to my surprise, Jeeves remained precisely where he was instead of going to answer it. 'Enter, please,' he called.
Mr Mangelhoffer, the building manager, gingerly crept into the room.
I may have mentioned that Woosters are no swooning maidens, but I'm not convinced that Jeeveses weren't once knights of some sort, provided the Vikings of old had something like knights, and I don't see why they shouldn't have except for the obvious difficulties in jousting when aboard a ship. Even on his knees on the floor, hands securely holding the young master in place, Jeeves had all the noble dignity of one of those chaps of the Round Table. 'As you can see, this is completely unacceptable,' Jeeves informed him coldly.
'Er,' Mr Mangelhoffer said.
'Oh, it's just terrible,' said the Honourable Mrs Tinkler-Moulke, my next-door neighbour. 'I mean, really. You should see the state of my kitchen, Mr Wooster, it's simply dreadful.'
The physician that Jeeves had summoned then tightened his grip on my chin. 'Please look left, then right, Mr Wooster. Have you experienced any dizziness or felt faint?'
'Dizziness,' Jeeves reported. 'Have you felt faint, sir?'
'My head hurts,' I offered, certain that was germane, if that's the word I want, to this situation.
The doctor closed up his bag. 'He's concussed, but it's nothing serious. Keep an eye on him and call me if his symptoms worsen.'
'And the spare rooms they're putting us up in -- well, have you seen them?' Mrs T-M continued, and the Pomeranian in her arms yapped in apparent agreement. 'Old servant quarters, that's what they are. This is all too much for my nerves, I don't mind telling you.'
'Jeeves,' I said plaintively, unable to express that the last things the injured Wooster head needed were excitable dogs and more excitable widows.
Fortunately, Jeeves always knows exactly what I mean, even when the Code of the Woosters and a concussion prevent me from saying so directly. 'I think you will feel better after a lie-down, sir,' he said, and helped me to a standing position. 'Good day, madam.'
'Toodle-pip,' I offered weakly, clinging to Jeeves' arm as we went down the stairs to our appointed room.
'I think your room is bigger, Jeeves,' I said finally.
'Slightly, sir. However, the structural damages that the residences as a whole sustained mean that any available space is a precious commodity. Mr Mangelhoffer assures me that workman are attending to the plumbing situation that precipitated this event, but repairs are likely to take some time.'
Jeeves helped me remove my plaster-covered clothing with a soupy eye -- not directed toward me, but toward the clothes themselves. Jeeves always takes a spot of mud personally, as if the trouser cuff is a rebellious child who has engaged in misbehaviour just to spite him. He had brought some of my effects down to our temporary quarters, and laid out a pair of pyjamas in a sombre navy, as if to correct the upheaval in our lives via his favourite of my nocturnal attire.
'Pyjamas at this hour, Jeeves?' I said, a little startled.
'You need to rest, sir,' Jeeves said, making short work of the smallish bed and putting the bed sheets to rights with a professional flick of the wrist.
I obediently climbed into the pyjamas, with only a small detour in the direction of the carpet on account of the brain still sloshing all jelly-like between my ears. Finally Jeeves had me tucked into bed, and it occurred to me that there was a slight problem.
'Jeeves, where will you sleep?' I asked.
'I have no intention of sleeping just yet, sir. The physician instructed me that you were not to be left alone.'
'But later?' I pressed.
'I can make do with the floor, sir.'
I rolled over a bit to examine the floor, and then immediately wished I hadn't. It took some deep breathing before my head cleared enough to say, 'Dash it, Jeeves, I've all the respect in the world for your feudal spirit, but it's our home that's ruined, and I don't see why I ought to sleep in this bed when you've been turned out of yours.'
'There are no other rooms to be had, and you're injured, sir,' Jeeves said firmly. 'Please do not concern yourself.'
After a moment, I carefully wiggled closer to the wall. 'I know it's not quite the thing, Jeeves, but the Wooster frame has been described as "willowy" by more than one party. Surely we both might fit.'
'Sir,' Jeeves began.
'Pish, I'll hear no more of it,' I said, with all the imperiousness that the old ancestors at Agincourt must have possessed.
'Sir, I really must protest--'
He had a mulish set to his jaw that I am well-acquainted with, for when two men of indomitable will cohabitate, these little disagreements will rear their head from time to time. Still, I fancy I have learnt a thing or two about Jeeves, namely that if sound logic and persuasive arguments will gain me no ground, then sometimes abject pleading and a complete abandonment of manly pride may yield results. 'Please,' I said quietly. 'I won't rest well otherwise.'
There was silence for a few moments, and Jeeves seemed to sigh without actually drawing in a breath. 'Very well, sir.'
I drifted off into the not-precisely-dreamless -- that is to say, I think I slept, but not deeply. I woke to Jeeves touching my shoulder, and obviously night had fallen, but the noise from the street made me think it was not as late as all that.
'How are you feeling, sir?'
I noticed that he had relocated a chair from somewhere, and the familiar binding of a volume of poetry I had given him for his birthday lay resting on the seat. In truth, I had selected the book more for its handsome gilded leather than its subject, but Jeeves assured me that he quite admired Mr Whitman, so all's well that ends well, etc. 'Someone is conducting percussive instruments inside my head, Jeeves. I don't suppose you could nip up to the flat and fix up one of your restoratives?'
Jeeves shook his head. 'I regret to say, sir, that none of my concoctions would treat your condition better than the physician's advocated measures of quiet rest. Perhaps a cup of tea?'
I gave this due consideration. 'A bit of toast wouldn't go amiss, either, if you can manage it.'
'Very good, sir,' Jeeves said, and biffed off.
With the exception of the bed and the borrowed chair, the room was bare, the walls an unadorned white. I tried to remember what Jeeves' room looked like, but I've always attempted to give Jeeves his privacy and have only intruded in cases of dire emergency. It seemed smaller than its actual proportions, I think, because of the bookshelves I had badgered him into letting me buy as an early Christmas present. He'd said they were too much, but this Wooster can see that when a man loves his books as Jeeves does, piling them on the floor must gouge at the heart. In the end, it was only by asserting my authority as young master and arranging to have the shelves delivered while Jeeves was out doing the marketing that won the battle.
Jeeves returned in short order, tea and toast neatly arranged on the tray as if the kitchen weren't a nearly unnavigable disaster area. I managed some of it, but soon the old onion was throbbing again, and lying back down seemed the best course of action.
'Will there be anything more, sir?' Jeeves asked.
I yawned carefully and scooted back to the far side of the bed, against the wall. 'No, thank you. You'll join me when you're through?'
'It is early yet, sir,' Jeeves said. 'If it would not disturb you, I may read a while longer.'
'As you like,' I said sleepily, and closed my eyes.
I awoke once in the night, and thought for a moment that I was back at Eton, when I was accustomed to waking with some regularity to find another fellow pressed up against me in my dormitory bed. It wasn't an uncommon practise, although in retrospect it did seem that there was no shortage of boys who decided that the only cure for loneliness and homesickness was to cuddle up to one Bertram Wooster.
But a few moments of observation cleared that memory away -- Jeeves was taller and broader than any of those boys had been, and though he was not wrapped limpet-like around the Wooster corpus, he had a sort of presence and warmth that made it seem as though he were.
I spent some minutes watching the stillness of his features, or what I could see of them in the dark, before I let the eyelids sink shut again. When I opened them once more, it was morning, and Jeeves ready nearby with the breakfast tray.
'I say, did that come from our kitchen?'
'I'm afraid not, sir. Sir Everard and Lady Blennerhassett, of B7, courteously offered use of their kitchen to residents currently without.'
'Tea and toast from their flat last night, as well?'
'Just as you say, sir.'
'Dashed neighbourly of them. You'll tender my heartfelt gratitude?'
'I have already taken the liberty of doing so, sir.'
A good quantity of sleep and b. and e., not to mention Jeeves' presence, was enough to restore me to good spirits, and despite any potential indentation in the Wooster skull, I was feeling rather cheery about the day in front of us. 'Well, Jeeves, what is on our agenda for today?'
'The workman are clearing the rubble from the flat, sir. I thought it best if we remained to supervise the removal of all damaged property.'
My heart sunk to the depths like one of Jeeves' longed-for tarpon of Florida. 'Oh, Jeeves, my piano,' I said, with a fresh wave of agony at the memory of my beloved instrument.
'The damage to the piano was most distressing, sir, but had that portion of the ceiling collapsed only three feet further, I should have had to secure new employment,' he said, and I looked up in surprise at his clipped tone. His stuffed-frog expression was still in evidence, but there was a thingness in his eyes that made me look down at my teacup.
'Jeeves,' I said helplessly after a moment, feeling a bit discomfited.
He took away the breakfast tray. 'I beg your pardon, sir, I ought not have mentioned it.'
'Jeeves, old thing,' I tried again. 'I didn't know -- I mean to say --'
'I fear I have taken a liberty, sir. Please pay it no mind,' Jeeves said firmly, and I knew no abandonment of manly pride would dissuade him.
It was difficult to keep the upper lip stiff, and more difficult still to find something in the clouds which would attract a magpie or two, but I gave it a go just the same. 'Well, Jeeves, perhaps we should look at this as an opportunity to make the flat a bit more modern in appearance.'
I surveyed the flat, clear now of large bits of plaster but still coated in a fine layer of dust, not to mention distinctly damp in places as a result of the whole business with the pipes. 'It could do with a freshening up, what? Some new paint, new draperies, maybe replace that old rug that came with the flat?'
Jeeves' posture is always excellent, but he straightened up a quarter of an inch, like a hound scenting a fox. 'Do you mean to say, sir, that the rug is no particular possession of yours?'
'No, the fellow who lived here before left it behind.'
Jeeves had a look in his eyes that verged on the ecstasy of the saints, if saints were inclined to consider upholstery. 'Perhaps a visit to a number of shops this afternoon might be in order.'
'Oh, rather. It's too bad that vase left in a thousand pieces,' I said, casting an eye at an ornamental table that formerly bore a large porcelain vase with some rather natty illustrations.
'Most distressing, sir,' Jeeves said, but I knew he didn't mean it. Jeeves has this way of dusting items he does not care for, as if the act of flicking the feather duster is both physically and spiritually painful, and that vase had always received this treatment. I had thought that the rather fearsome-looking demon-subduing fellows on this vase would meet with more approval than the tigers of the previous porcelain possession, but alas, Jeeves is as hidebound and reactionary in matters of chinaware as he is in apparel.
The workman tramped in that moment and informed us that ceiling-patching could not commence while we were still inside, so we legged it for Liberty's.
'I couldn't recommend it, sir,' Jeeves said firmly.
'Come, come, Jeeves, I'm not suggesting we should decorate in rice paper and lacquerware from top to bottom, but surely a small representation would be a topping accent to the room?' I said, gazing longingly at the handsome framed scroll with its complicated, beautiful brushstrokes.
'Do you read Japanese, sir?' Jeeves asked.
'Of course not. You know I only speak enough French to play baccarat at Cannes -- any of those Oriental tongues are far beyond me.'
'Then it may be prudent not to purchase what I suspect is not a genuine article.'
I squinted at it, though of course that made it no more intelligible. 'You're suggesting it's nonsense? Good Lord, Jeeves, is there anything you don't know?'
'I really couldn't say, sir.'
Well, the heart does suffer these blows from time to time, and there's nothing for it but to soldier on. I gave the scroll one last wistful look before Jeeves herded me on to the ornamental tables.
I could have nipped off to the Drones for dinner, but if one aspires to being any kind of preux chevalier, as I do, it's not quite the thing to biff off and leave your valet holding the bag in re. supervising workmen who may or may not be thieves or assassins or both, or at least that's the way it works in Rex West mysteries. Also, I might have been just a bit fatigued from our afternoon excursion and was disinclined to move from the chair Jeeves had placed by the door.
'Perhaps you would care to lie down before dinner, sir?' Jeeves said pointedly.
I shook myself a bit, regretted it intensely, and resolved to sit up properly. 'No, no, Jeeves, I said I would keep both eyes opened while you slung some dinner together, and I will.'
'Sir,' Jeeves said, and there was a wealth of whatsit in his tone -- well, a wealth as far as Jeeves was concerned, which is to say that a discerning fellow such as myself could pick out the smallest fraction of concern in his voice.
'Put enough on the tray for two, tonight -- it'll be like a picnic, what?' I said.
One corner of Jeeves' mouth turned down slightly, a stern commentary on what he doubtless felt was a less-than-proper situation in the offing, but desperate times call for desperate metaphors that might convince one's personal gentleman to regard the reconstruction of one's home as being on the order of a lunch in a hamper at the races. 'Very good, sir,' he said, and shimmered out of the door.
Two of the workmen were having some sort of professional altercation in regard to beams in the ceiling, and the row had reached hair-raising, if highly technical, proportions when Jeeves returned, tray in hand. He gave a quelling look at the workmen, and then said, 'I believe it might be best to leave these gentlemen to their discussion, sir,' before skilfully managing both the tray and young master back downstairs.
Jeeves settled me on the bed, dinner tray in my lap, and consented (after an eyebrow waggle from Bertram) to take his seat on the chair next to my bed. We tucked in, and Jeeves is some kind of miracle to produce a good meal in these circumstances, doubtless jostling with other servants for room and resources in the Blennerhassetts' borrowed kitchen. 'I really don't know what I would do without you, Jeeves,' I said sincerely.
'That's very kind of you to say, sir.'
'Straight from the heart, I assure you. Well, perhaps more from the midsection region in this case,' I said, patting my stomach happily.
'Thank you, sir,' Jeeves said, and shimmered off with the tray again when we were done, returning with the Rex West novel from my bedside table and neatly rearranging the pillows behind my back. We read in peace for some time, but eventually I closed my book with a sigh and rubbed my temples.
'Sir, are you well?'
I let my eyes fall shut. 'Bit of a headache,' I confessed.
'Pardon me, sir,' Jeeves said, his voice low, and I was about to ask what on earth he thought he needed pardoning for, when his fingertips brushed mine aside and began to rub my temples in slow, soothing circles.
'Oh,' I sighed. 'That's nice.'
'Shall I continue, sir?'
'Oh, rather, if it's no trouble,' I said. The mattress shifted as Jeeves sat down next to me, but all of my attention was taken up by the warm press of his fingers against my skin, and I don't think I'm wrong when I say that it would have relaxed anyone, and therefore it should be no surprise to you that I dozed off a bit.
Jeeves woke me later to coax me into appropriate sleepwear, and it was a distinct mark of his concern that he had allowed me to fall asleep in my waistcoat in the first place -- usually his left eyebrow raises a quarter of an inch when he finds I've taken a nap in more than my shirtsleeves. Once I'd donned the proper raiment, I climbed back into bed, facing the wall. Jeeves extinguished the light a few moments later, and I heard the soft rasp of wool and the clicking of buttons and knew that Jeeves was changing into his own nightwear behind me.
Jeeves shimmers here and there, and I have privately concluded that he does not, in fact, actually use doors so much as will himself from one location to another. Indeed, Jeeves has often struck me as being otherworldly. But at this moment, with those soft sounds of undressing in the dark, I was vividly aware that Jeeves was a man -- and one might be tempted to say that I knew he was a man like any other, but of course that's utter rot because there's no one like Jeeves.
The mattress dipped again with Jeeves' weight, and if I had been a touch chilly before, I warmed quickly under our shared covers.
'Good night, Jeeves,' I mumbled into my pillow.
I heard a slight sigh, a warm breath that stirred the hair at the nape of my neck, and he said, 'Good night, sir.'
I awoke in the middle of the night again, as one sometimes does when the hours one spends in the metaphorical arms of that Morpheus chap are disrupted and patchwork. My usual course of action is a glass of water, perhaps a chapter or two of some dense, improving tract that I've seen Jeeves avidly thumb through, and then Bertram is off to the dreamless once more.
The grey matter, never at its peak in the middle of the night, was going to have to engineer some alternative means of getting back to sleep, because there was no bedside table with its glass of water, and no sturdy tome of philosophy at hand. Furthermore, I could get up to retrieve neither of these things because I was anchored in place by Jeeves' arms. I have spoken before that in regard to form, Jeeves is akin to a Greek god, fit from all that hauling of shrimp and other maritime activities. Indeed, I could now vouch that this was, if anything, an understatement -- in the fit sense, not in the Hellenic sense, or at least I don't think so, anyway.
I lay there in the dark, with the warmth of Jeeves' arm wrapped firmly around my hips, and thought longingly of a glass of water. But if Jeeves' feudal spirit balked at the thought of sharing the only available bed with the young master, I could only imagine his dismay at finding himself wound around Bertram like one of the old boys at Eton (although truthfully, there was a bit of that at Oxford as well). In the end, I simply hadn't the heart to wake the poor man up.
So I sighed, wriggled a bit in Jeeves' embrace, and let his soft, deep breaths lull me back to sleep.
'Is it your intention to purchase those bed linens, sir?'
It was, and they were a brilliant, vibrant purple, like something out of old Scheherazade's stories, or maybe I mean that other thing with the pirate chap, I can't remember. 'I say, Jeeves, isn't the colour absolutely corking?'
Jeeves coughed. 'Did you mean this particular shade, sir?'
'Of course I jolly well meant this particular shade,' I said hotly. 'I'm going to be the envy of the Drones Club, Jeeves.'
'The possibility exists, sir, but it strikes me that you would have to invite them into your bedroom in order to do so.'
That stopped me. A man's bedchamber is a private place, and I vastly prefer that Bertram W. Wooster, Jeeves, and the occasional cat are the only visitors. Once you start letting blubbering Fink-Nottles in, a bachelor's retreat from the world can become a war zone in a matter of minutes.
'You do raise a fine point, Jeeves,' I allowed. 'Perhaps something a bit more restful, what?'
'I had just the thing in mind, sir.'
This waking up the middle of the night business was becoming a disturbingly regular occurrence, especially in light of the fact that Woosters, as a rule, are not much given to insomnia. When various aunts say that Bertram or heaven forbid, Claude and Eustace are keeping them up nights, this is all most entirely hypersonic -- hyper -- that is to say, not the truth by a long stretch. Hyperbole! That's the baby.
So it was odd that I found myself awake again in the early hours of the morning, still dark enough that I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. I could, however, feel Jeeves' hand, splayed low against my belly.
It was a strange realisation to come to, but I had to admit that I wasn't precisely looking forward to re-establishing Wooster G.H.Q. proper. After thorough reflection, I would rather our current arrangements, insofar as sleeping was concerned, continue indefinitely. And though it makes my face go vermilion to say it, I wished that Jeeves were a little bit like the old boys at Eton after all, and that he might move his hand a bit lower. It was unworthy of Jeeves to think such things, but there you have it.
And then Jeeves made a noise in his sleep, and his hand did -- oh Lord -- precisely as I had wished. From the moment I felt the warm pressure of his fingers around me, I knew that the preux thing to do would be to wake him up immediately, but the moment of delay cost dearly. Even in his sleep, Jeeves was as skilful and efficient in handling the young master as he was while awake, and it was only a matter of time before the shuddering of my hips and an indiscreet sound pulled him out of the depths.
I kept my eyes tightly shut, and my body pliant in his arms, but his hand squeezed me just a bit and I couldn't help rocking forward to meet it. I heard a sharply indrawn breath in my ear, and I was utterly unable to stop myself from doing it again. And whether it was heaven or hell I was unable to say, except I think it was definitely heaven when Jeeves began to slowly stroke me again, cautiously and carefully, but I felt like my bones were in imminent danger of melting and though I tried to keep any whimpering to a minimum, I should have known better than to think that Jeeves would ever permit himself such a thing. Just as I was aching for that last little bit, the part that would have me spilling into Jeeves' favourite navy blue pyjamas, Jeeves wrenched his hand away and buried his face in my shoulder.
'I must not,' I heard him whisper, and I knew it was not at all well done of me, not at all.
I felt twitchy and a bit nervous the next morning, not unlike Mrs Tinkler-Moulke's Pomeranian. What hope did I have against a superhuman intellect like Jeeves? The only thing to do, as near as I could determine, was to put off the completion of 6A's renovation for as long as possible, and wait for an idea to come to me.
Who said desperate times call for hideous upholstery? Might have been that Nietzsche chap; I don't know as I never got beyond the title page. In any case, I sallied forth and bought an armchair. And believe me when I say that I stood in that shop and pretended, for all that I was worth, that I was Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and I was going to have the grandest chair in all the land.
Jeeves, I was sure, would loathe it on sight, and I was perfectly correct.
'Pardon me, sir,' he said, looking at the delivery men with both eyebrows raised. 'I believe there has been an error.'
'You can put it right there,' I told the delivery men sweetly, gesturing to the left of the new chesterfield.
'Sir,' Jeeves said again, clearing his throat. 'You...purchased this item?'
I beamed at him, although I felt a little nauseous on the inside, because in truth, the chair really was monstrously ugly, the kind of furniture that would only be improved upon if cats tore it to bits and left it covered in fur.
Jeeves' eyes narrowed an almost imperceptible bit, but of course I speak fluent Jeeves'-squinty-eyes. It meant that something had just occurred to him, and indeed it had, and I don't mind saying that it was a pretty ripe idea. 'I'm terribly sorry, sir, but I regret to inform you that the draperies we previously ordered would clash most unbecomingly with the new chair. Perhaps we should exchange the chair for one with a more complementary colour scheme.' He rather manfully avoided mentioning the truly stomach-churning woodwork on the chair as well, but that's Jeeves for you.
I pretended to think that over while the delivery men looked on in consternation, doubtless unenthusiastic about hauling the chair back the way it came. 'Well,' I said eventually, 'I don't know that you're not right, Jeeves.'
He looked very relieved, by which I mean that the corners of his mouth were no longer just a smidgen tight. 'Very good, sir.'
I had bought myself another night, at the very least, two if I kicked up a fuss and was especially difficult at Sotheby's tomorrow.
I pleaded another headache that night and curled up in bed early, content to listen to the sounds of Jeeves turning pages in his book. I had, in fact, begun to doze off when he extinguished the light and climbed into bed with me. I attempted to keep my breathing slow and deep, my skill at feigning sleep razor-sharp after years of practise for the benefit of house matrons and prefects, even as I anxiously awaited Jeeves' embrace.
But embrace me he did not, and I was a little put out about it. Jeeves lay stiffly behind me, scrupulously touching no part of the Wooster corpus. Perhaps, I consoled myself, he would gravitate naturally during the course of the night. It was foolish to think that Jeeves would do it deliberately, not when he had stopped himself from bringing events to their much-desired conclusion the other night.
Jeeves remained quite awake for some time, and it occurred to me that sometimes, one must bring Burnham Wood to Whatsit. If Jeeves would not permit himself, a sleeping Bertram might be forgiven his nocturnal presumptions. So I made a slight unhappy noise and scooted back a bit closer.
There being not a lot of space to cover, a bit of wriggling brought my back flush against Jeeves' chest. I heard him sigh, and it sounded pained. 'Shall I never hold you again after tonight?' he said, voice so quiet as to be nearly soundless.
And then I flushed red with shame, because it was clear in an instant that this could be no Etonian night-time comforting never spoken of in day; if Jeeves had touched me, it was entirely in pursuit of my pleasure, not his. If I had thought myself miserable with wanting some caring word or deed from Jeeves, how much more miserable must he be, all of his feeling yoked down by his feudal spirit, unable to give voice to his desires while his young master was entirely too cowardly to admit to his own?
But all that inner turmoil aside, I could not bring myself to leave the safety of his embrace, and eventually Jeeves relaxed, and we both drifted off to sleep.
Only one thing remained to complete the renovation of the flat: the new piano. Part of Bertram quailed at the thought, for I had loved the old piano dearly -- it had been my father's, and I could still picture quite clearly sitting next to him on the bench, all of my concentration bent on copying the movement of his fingers upon the keys. Its loss did bite at me sharply, but it was, after all, merely a thing, and I would not lose the memories of my departed father along with it.
We went to the shop of a Mr Hurst, whose reputation for meticulous care and refurbishment of fine pianos was without equal in all of London. In appearance, Mr Hurst rather put me in mind of Jeeves' Uncle Charlie, a formidable butler at Deverill Hall in Hampshire who could break a man in half with the force of his stare. He looked stern and remote, and with only the most perfunctory of greetings, waved me to a fashionable Kemble. I obediently took a seat at the bench, ran through a few quick scales, and considered a sprightly tune I'd heard just the other night, but Mr Hurst's stare made me think better of it. So I decided to thump out a bit of Chopin, something energetic, and endeavoured to pay strict attention to the feel of the keys beneath my fingers and the sound filling the room. After a minute or so, I let my hands still.
Mr Hurst's dry voice sliced through the air. 'Ah. No idle dilettante, are we?'
I hunched my shoulders. 'Depends on which aunt you ask.'
A sound emerged from his throat that I would hesitate to rightly call a chuckle. 'This way, Mr Wooster. Let us see what you make of this.'
Further back, closer to the workroom, was an Érard Grand, distinctive in its square body and handsome in appearance. I sat down at the bench, let my fingers glide along in the first few stanzas of a song I had heard at a club the other night, but then stopped. The Érard deserved something far more worthy, so I began to play the third movement of good old Köchel 333, my father's favourite, and the best I could offer on the spot to a piano with such a lovely and pure tone.
I played the third movement, and unlike on the Kemble, my fingers seemed to float along the keys, and my mind along with it, so that there was nothing left beyond Bertram and Mozart, and when I had given everything I had, the music was the only thing left.
There was silence when I finished, and when I looked up, Jeeves looked as if he had entirely forgotten how to breathe.
I could only think of his whispered lament last night, and knew there was only one thing left to do. I began to play 'What'll I Do,' softly and gently, without taking my eyes away from Jeeves. When I'm alone/ With only dreams of you/ That won't come true/ What'll I do? Irving Berlin had wondered, and so did I.
'Oh, sir,' he said hoarsely.
I turned then to Mr Hurst. 'When can I have it delivered?'
Moving pianos is a tricky business, so the earliest it could be levered into my sitting room was the next morning. Aside from the piano, the renovation to the flat was finished, so that dinner came out of our kitchen, and I was even able to cajole Jeeves into joining me. But the ceiling was patched, the paint refreshed, the flat refurnished, and apparently the plumbing situation was in no immediate danger of starting the whole business over again, so no amount of acting like Balaam's ass could delay the reestablishment of the Wooster household.
A normal chap might have been happy to be reunited with his own bed, but I felt a bit put out about the whole thing. I had thought the situation over, and had concluded that Jeeves' great brain was at work on the softer feelings that I was sure lay between us, and the best thing to do when Jeeves' great brain is at work upon anything is to get out of the way. Offers of fish, I find, also do not go amiss, although I wasn't quite sure of the etiquette of doing so in this situation.
So when Jeeves had finished tucking me into bed and asked, 'Will there be anything more, sir?' I figured he'd had the whole wheeze worked out already, and said, 'I had rather hoped so, Jeeves.'
He stopped in his tracks and raised a politely enquiring eyebrow.
I fidgeted a bit under his calm gaze. 'Well. I -- that is to say --'
'Yes, sir?' He appeared just as cool and professional as ever, as if the Jeeves whose heartbeat and warmth I had felt was merely a phantasm.
All at once I deflated. If I couldn't count on the cleverness of Jeeves' brain or on the intimacy of a shared bed, I was afraid this enterprise was sunk. 'Oh, nothing,' I said glumly. 'Good night, Jeeves.'
'Good night, sir.' He turned off the light and shut the door quietly behind him.
I lay there in the dark, wracking my mind for some solution, but at some point, either I became distracted or the day caught up with me, because I fell asleep quite before I was intending to. I woke again when I felt the mattress move under me, and realised that someone had sat down on the bed next to me. Even with my eyes closed, I knew it could only be Jeeves.
After a moment, he spoke softly. 'I have often felt, sir, that the mark of a good servant is the ability to anticipate and follow unspoken orders. But this is a liberty I will not take, not without your explicit command.'
Ha! I wanted to shout. Of course Jeeves had pulled through, as he always does. But there was something to that statement that left an unpleasant aftertaste, not unlike steak-and-kidney pie in disreputable tea shops. And the sickening thought that Jeeves might consider the young master's affections as something compulsory to be borne -- well, that I could not bear at all.
I opened my eyes, and even though the room was dark, there was still enough light to see that Jeeves was not remotely surprised that I had been feigning sleep. 'Could it not be a question, old thing? Honestly asked, honestly answered?'
Jeeves had an expression on his face that I had never seen before, less remote but still considerate, and I wondered if this was the expression I had missed in all those early morning hours. He nodded minutely in response.
'I suppose it's not really a question,' I said after a moment. 'I mean it is, but really, it's more of a declaratory statement. I just -- Jeeves, you know that Érard we bought today?'
'A handsome instrument, sir.'
'The thing is, Jeeves, beautiful as it is -- I think I'd take one of the workman's bally sledgehammers to it if it would guarantee me one more night in that small bed with you.'
'I fear I could not say the same, sir, if you desired merely physical companionship.'
I drew myself up, or as near as one can when half reclining in bed. 'You think I'd risk you giving notice again, leaving me, for that?'
The most extraordinary thing happened then: Jeeves smiled, and though I'd never seen anything quite like it before, I fancied it looked soft and not only a little sweet. 'No, sir, I didn't think you would.'
'Just so, Jeeves,' I said, much relieved and completely incapable of not beaming right back at him. I'm not certain if I reached up or if Jeeves leaned down first, but it was a fine re-enactment of pilgrims' hands do touch, only with lips and I blush to confess that a bit of tongue was involved as well. When we were both breathless, Jeeves drew back.
'Sir,' he began.
I pulled him back down. 'Jeeves, have I or have I not given you permission to take certain liberties with the young master's person?'
'Not in so many words, sir. Perhaps if you were specific as to the nature of the individual liberties that one might be permitted to take?' he asked, but I cleverly observed that he was undoing the buttons of my pyjama shirt while saying so.
I was quite ready for more of the old labial press, but I wasn't a man to be ruled by my valet, out of bed or in it, and marshalled my courage to say, 'I wouldn't mind a bit of what you started in your sleep that night.'
'Sir,' Jeeves said, and I don't think I've heard that syllable sounding so darkly appreciative in his mouth before. And after that, there was no more teasing, just Jeeves efficiently stripping all remaining clothing away while doing his best to drive me out of my recently injured head, his teeth and lips and hands everywhere. Not that Bertram took this lying down -- well, literally yes, but less literally, I discovered that the underside of Jeeves' jaw was in the way of being a spot, and hooking one of my pins round his waist was plainly the ripest idea I'd had in some time.
I hardly needed to abandon manly pride to persuade Jeeves to advance matters to their conclusion, but abandon it I did, and Jeeves seemed to appreciate that a great deal -- it's possible that he always appreciates it, but in this particular circumstance, abandoning the m.p. meant a great deal of writhing and clutching and letting sounds escape my mouth that were more the province of shadowed balconies at some distinctly fruity clubs where I've chanced to linger. In any event, it was absolutely worth it, and Jeeves, as always, proved that his self-taught education was by no means inferior to that of my public school.
I was sitting at the Érard, working through a new piece I'd picked up just the other day, and all was right in the world -- Jeeves had handed me one of his specials, and was now occupied in dusting the new ornamental tables. It's a strange hobby, but I let it pass unremarked.
Having played through the song a few times, I took myself and my drink off to sit on the chesterfield, my novel just where I left it. I gave the room and all its contents -- Jeeves included here -- a warm, approving gaze. Something comes to my mind about homes and castles, but as I've always found castles a bit on the drafty side and was just as glad that there were no gaping holes in the ceiling anymore, we'll say merely that I was extremely pleased to be exactly where I was.
I was picking up my novel when my eyes were drawn to the fireplace, more particularly to the place in front of it where I thought there ought to be a rug. The brow furrowed. 'I say, Jeeves, didn't that rug get delivered?'
I flapped a hand at the barren spot on the floor. 'You know, that spirited paisley thing I bought.'
'Oh, I sent that back, sir.'
'You sent it back?' I said, aghast.
He raised his eyebrow. 'I do beg your pardon, sir. I assumed the rug in question was part of your efforts to delay the completion of the renovation.'
My mouth gaped, it really did. But I closed it, because really -- well, I mean, what?