The ballroom at Totleigh heaved with figures in gaily-coloured dresses, masks, perukes, swaying and spinning to the rhythm of a waltz. It was too late at night for courtly choreography; the champagne had seen to that. They danced as though they were not ready to let go of the dying year, with the gentle desperation of revellers who knew that at the end of the clockwork night would come a morning without form and void.
The fragility of this beautiful fantasy filled Jeeves with sadness, sometimes. He wondered how much they knew: did it prey on their minds? Did they follow the news? Could they guess at the future?
Jeeves caught a glimpse of white face-powder and geisha rouge lips - Miss Byng, maybe. She had been dancing with Wooster earlier; he could not be far away. The clock struck the last quarter. The last gasp of 1938. Fifteen minutes until the unveiling. The servants were laying out glasses on a side table, ready for the midnight toast.
He had to find him. Jeeves walked through the crowd as though they were nothing more than ghosts, looking for a keffiyeh with a red rope circlet. Mephistopheles (Fink-Nottle; the man’s glasses, rakishly perched over his mask, were proof of that) pointed outdoors.
Jeeves found Bertie alone on the balcony, his keffiyeh crumpled around his neck, circlet seemingly lost. Unmindful of the cold, he was leaning against a pillar and watching the starry night sky.
“Sir,” said Jeeves.
Bertie let his head fall, piercing blue eyes resting on Jeeves. He gave a little grimace. “Too much,” he said vaguely. “Couldn’t...”
Inside, the band fell silent. An excitable babble of voices arose.
Jeeves felt Bertie’s hand on his shoulder and responded despite himself, drawing in to lend his strength and warmth. Wooster’s hand was cold, his skin pale, and he shivered in Jeeves' arms.
“What’ll happen to us, Jeeves? What’ll happen when it all falls down?”
Jeeves sought words of comfort, finding none. The ceremony of innocence is drowned, he thought. Voices from inside, laughing, counting down. He took a deep breath.
“I cannot tell you, sir,” he said. “But...”
The great clock in the ballroom began to chime. Cheers erupted from the doorway. Jeeves finished in a whisper, “I promise you this, Bertram Wooster: whatever happens, you will not face it alone.”