Chapter 1: Note on the Text
In which Bertie makes a note and has a dialogue.
What ho, readers.
These little adventures follow on after the ones I had with Jeeves, and they reflect his spirit. Rather melancholy that, as he had been the love of my life for as long as I could remember having had a love of my life. Or even before that, if I am accurate about the whole wheeze. He left a gaping yaw in the Wooster soul when he shuffled off, but he asked me to carry on and try to be happy, and I did my best.
Of course, some things are different, what? And I do hope you are, well, rather more chuffed for Bertram at the good things than not, if you see what I mean and er, well, whatsit. We do not get our first choice, always, but sometimes things work mysteriously for the good anyway.
“Wooster, are you all right? You look a bit choked up.”
“Ah, Stilton, just, er, noting to the readers and well, er thing. See?”
“Nice use of ‘whatsit.’ Don’t let them worry you. They are entitled to feel as they will. We were highly attached to the two of you, you know. You warmed us all with your tender affection. I broke down myself when I read about how you gave him your mother’s ring.”
“Dashed good of you to say.”
“Ah, don’t cry, Wooster. Here.”
“Thank-you, Stilton. I’m not crying.”
“Not very much, at least. No, no, you’ve wiped your nose with it. I don’t need it back just yet. Here.”
“Is that a stale dinner roll?”
“I brought it back from the Drones for you.”
“The heart swells with nostalgia.”
“It does, indeed.”
“Might we play cricket?”
“We’ll need Rocky to make a third. Does he understand about cricket?”
“He can spell it. It rhymes with ‘wicket’ and ‘picket,’ I am given to understand. Er, and ‘thicket’ I suspect.”
“Ah, well, perhaps not, then. I brought an old top hat of my uncle’s as well. We could toss cards in it.”
“Jolly good! Half points for leaners?”
“As you say, Wooster. And you may swill as many cocktails as you like, even up the odds a bit. You tossed a fair hand on the Arts and Entertainment Committee. Er, Wooster, what is this dialogue doing here?”
“Jeeves always put a dialogue into the reader notes, Stilton.”
“Generally it had something to do with the text, I thought.”
“I do not understand you, Stilton. We mentioned the readers right there. And look, here I’ve referred to them again.”
“Why yes, yes we did mention them. Just there, as you say, and again here and here and here. Quite right, Wooster, it was my own mistake. Carry on while I call Rocky back from his barbaric yawping and find a deck of cards.”
Yes, so I do hope that you find it in your heart to be chuffed for all the good things that happen, even if you are sad about the other things. We all were, you know.
“Please stop nagging the readers.”
“Is that a cocktail?”
“Yes, and it’s for you, with a Turkish cigarette for afters.”
Chapter 2: Something is missing
In which Bertie spurns some unwelcome advances and is courted by a wanton pair of trousers. Rocky Todd drops his pajama bottoms in the town square, and Anatole bungs a knife at someone.
It had been just over a year since I had buried the bally fabulous cove, who for all intents and purposes had been my spouse practically since I left Oxford. After living with, and loving, Reginald Jeeves for more than twenty years, it seemed that life would have stopped the day he collapsed on the street in front of the pelleteria. But it bally well kept marching on, and Wooster found, on mature reflection and thingummy, that some other things might have to go on as well. Like the spy wheeze.
I would have thought that I was shut of that the instant Reg shuffled off the thingum coil, but as it turns out, the Wooster name had been a byword in certain clandesti-whatnot circles for a blasted long time. My own father had been a spy, who had gotten on the wrong side of a blighter called deWolfe, the same chap, incidentally, who dragged my Reg into the espionage wheeze in the first place. It was a bally mess, I must say, what with all these blighters being called “Woolf” or “The Wolf,” but in the end it was two coves, this deWolfe and another chappy with criss-cross scars on his cheek and known, simply enough, as ‘the scarred man.’ They were tall, slender specimens, not unlike the willowy Wooster model in build, but with sandy hair, not golden. Both of bally b.s died not long after Reg, de Wolfe possibly at the hands of Anatole, Aunt Dahlia’s old chef, also known as “the spy Dumas.” I killed the scarred man myself, which was blasted unsettling, and something of an accident—I’d been trying to disarm him and the train swerved, sending my knife into his throat.
Anatole refused to tell me what happened with deWolfe, because he had promised to do his best not to chuck any knives about. Apparently, his best is not terribly, er, effective in these situations, as several sharp objects had been bunged about the place with undue force. I had been teasing him, mostly—it makes most fellows bally nervous when sharp implements fly about in close vicinity to the vital and personal bits. Likely, I’d never be able to get to the bottom, er, top, er, crux, or whatsit, of that mystery. And what could I say when I’d killed the other fellow myself, even if it was something of a mistake? Besides, I’d have to admit that I knocked myself unconscious, bally embarrassing, and only D’Arcy knew that.
And dashed oddly, I was the director of a top-secret organization originally known as the MI20 as we describe in our tale of the “Darkest Hour.” Jeeves had left the name alone for reasons of stealth, but Stilton and I agreed that we would need to change it because neither of us could bear to be associated with the man who tortured us. So now it was MI22, which had been around the year I met Reg, or first whatnotted with him. It would not be preux to be too specific about the dates and events what with all my engagements to beazels and er, suchlike, with Reg. Stilton is my second-in-command now, but he is really more of the brains and brawn of the operation combined. I’ve known him since we were wee nippers trying not to sicken on the truly unhappy sausages served at Malvern House. As youths we had not mixed well, having experienced what Jeeves had termed an ‘imperfect fusion of soul,’ but Jeeves himself made us friends. And now, Stilton has become my best friend. And that is where things get a bit rummy.
When we were young spies, Reg had insisted that we always offer Stilton a home because he saved my life, even before he liked me very much, but I thought there was something more to it. They had some type of an affair in New York, about a year before Reg and I finally hooked the pinkies, as we explained in “Stilton’s Passport.” Reg described it as a perfunctory connection, but I suspected that as we grew to know each other better, perhaps he had been wrong. I know Reg was always looking about for someone to act as my backup protector. I did not realize, until he grew ill, how much he had done for me, and what it meant to have a person to protect and shelter. And by that time, it was too late to even thank him properly—I was so busy protecting him.
Stilton and I grew close during Reg’s illness and since we’d been on our own, something very rummy happened. He grew attached to me, and much later I noticed that he had—Wooster is not always the quickest bird. And when I did notice, I did not know what to do. I was kerflummoxed—had Reg thrown us together intentionally?—but that was tosh, since he’d started doing that long before the war. I never considered that maybe Stilton’s first lover, our pal Wally, had begged Reg for this favor. Or that something else happened, some spy wheeze that made Reg feel guilty and responsible, much as he had felt guilty and responsible when attention was focused on yours truly.
On the morning in question—that’s spy talk, you know—Wooster awoke to the highly unwelcome sensation of another body trying to insinuate itself into the sheets. Further investigation revealed that the b. in question was a young want-to-be spy named Carlo. I’d been staying at our villa—the same villa Reg and I had rented on our first honeymoon trip in Italy—and after more than twenty years, I knew all the nearby denizens by name. This Carlo had started spending time at the house when he was a wee nipper because his aunt was our housekeeper. He’d grown up into a stunner. The cove was utterly breathtaking, all muscles and white teeth and dark, flashing eyes and smooth, tanned skin, but the Wooster skin absolutely crawled whenever he tried to get too chummy with the willowy corpus. It was unaccountable, because the blighter was absolutely corking of physique and oozing with attractiveness and animal magnetism and all that should be most ooffa-cum-spiff. Nevertheless, the heart wants what does not make the s. crawl.
I spoke strongly but firmly, much as I had to a Roderick Spode bent on bending the Fink-Nottle corpus in ways it was not designed to bend. “No, Carlo. No. You may not come into the bed. Go home. I would be alone.” The unwelcome b. continued to insinuate into the s.s. “Begone, I say.”
The W. s. made as if to jump out the window as he wheedled. “Ah, but Signor Bertie, your friend is gone for three weeks and you need to share some love.
A wave of revulsion nearly convulsed the w. frame, but I stood my bedlinens, rather like Caesar on the road to Damascus. “No, Carlo. You must leave. I will call Francesca if you do not desist immediately.” More spy talk, or perhaps it was police talk. Stilton had been teaching me some firm language and he didn’t like to be cross-questioned about these fine points.
Francesca, my housekeeper and Carlo’s aunt, had driven the young rascal from the house the previous week with an angry broom, and he appeared to have a welt or two about the person. Further observation revealed that Francesca had heard the firm tones and advanced upon the tactical position with appropriate weaponry—that was military talk, don’t you know. “You! Carlo!” Ah, Francesca was bally well pipped. “You don’t even like boys! This is very bad, Carlo!” She wielded a very nimble and surprisingly strong broom. Carlo yelped as he met a firm thwack. Wooster nestled into the pillows grinning like a cat that ate the Cheshire cheese, if that is the meta-thingummy I want.
Francesca brought tea about an hour later. She was so terribly kind. As she did every morning, she patted the shoulder gently and smoothed the hair and kissed the forehead. A few minutes later, I rose and freshened up, pulling on comfy togs. I paused to stroke my purple loafers, the last gift Reg had bought me, and closed them up in their special compartment. The house teemed with secret doors and drawers and hidey holes thanks to Jeeves. I locked the purple loafers away and pulled on a pair of blue ones, proud that I had managed to secure these shoes against numerous Jeevesian incursions, even if I would have gladly forgone all further items of fruity clothing to have him back, whole and well, for even a single day. Rummy things, feelings.
I ankled down to partake of a wholesome breakfast. Francesca fussed over me, patting the golden hair and kissing the cheeks and telling me that I was “bello.” I nearly purred—I’d been so achingly starved of affection—but I missed Stilton snorting and calling me a coddled git then blushing and squirming when she coddled him in his turn. I oozed out and made my usual morning visit to Reg. We had buried him in the nearest part of the cemetery, on a hill overlooking the valley and our house.
Beloved Friend and Companion of Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, Lord Yaxley
All happiness or unhappiness solely depends upon the quality of the object to which we are attached by love
I was the happiest man alive
Stilton had explained the inscription to me and also put in a bench because he did not like me sitting on the damp ground. I told Reg that I missed him but otherwise all was well and cheery chez Wooster. Wouldn’t do to worry him what with him being unable to help, but the truth of the matter was that I had been feeling decidedly less than boomps-a-daisy.
I wiffled into town, thinking over the rummy events of the past few weeks. It all started when I fell asleep in Stilton’s lap—the fellow is dashed comfy. I woke and smiled up at him sleepily and he had stroked the hair from my face and tenderly kissed the top of the golden head. Wooster had then stammered and blushed as Stilton apologized. Before we could talk anything over, some blighter had called from the MI22 offices. Wooster had been publicly identified as an invert, which made matters complicated, so off went Stilton to London, leaving Wooster with a corpus full of unsettling emotions. The days felt empty without Stilton’s friendship, but I was uncertain about the idea of opening up my heart to him. Jeeves had been the center of my world for so long.
A pair of truly fruity periwinkle linen trousers was beckoning wantonly from a shop window when a familiar voice sounded in the ears, interrupting my thoughts.
“Is that Bertie Wooster?”
I turned and saw the somewhat creased, but still recognizable face of Rocky Todd, an old pal from New York. Apparently, he and Stilton had been something of an item during the war. Despite my joy at seeing an old pal, an unpleasant twinge passed through the slender frame. How had he come here? No one knew where I lived, unless Stilton had given him word because he had given up on Wooster.
“Bertie!” Rocky, looking rumpled as was his wont, trotted down the street, a messenger-style satchel flapping excitedly behind him. A much-battered pajama trouser sent up a puff of dust as it hit the ground and I smiled. Rocky loved pajamas. “What are you doing here?!” He folded the willowy corpus into a huge, heartfelt, and dashed comforting hug. I was strongly reminded of his soft ways and fetching person from the days where we had toyed with romantic involvement in the wilds of Long Island. At that time, I had been in love with Jeeves and Rocky had not really had a chance, cute though he was. He remained cute, I noted, feeling a species of stir in the region of the trousers. Perhaps a fling with Rocky would be fun, if only it were preux to start a fling.
“Rocky, my dear chap! What brings you to this little slice of heaven?”
“Business, Bertie, but it’s beautiful here. I’d love to stay and write. Would you know of an out-of-the way cottage?”
The Wooster hospitality was at his service. “I know of just the place, Rocky. Might I offer you some refreshment while you tell me of this business?”
We oiled to the nearest bistro, arm-in-arm. The proprietor, a delightful chap known as Luca, frowned until I explained that Rocky was an old friend, and then adopted a look of longsuffering. He muttered something to his son, who went haring away. The Mayor would ankle in at any moment to get a gander at Rocky.
Rocky, meanwhile looked around eagerly. “Where is Jeeves, Bertie? I had heard the most horrible rumor in Paris that there was no more PB and J…” Those toffee-nosed American spies had called Jeeves and me PB and J for years. Apparently they find this amusing. Blighters. The Toddian visage went white as my mouth flapped open in indignation and sorrow. He took my slender hand in both of his and squeezed warmly. “Oh, Bertie. I am so terribly sorry. He was a good man.”
“Thank-you, Rocky,” I said quietly. Rocky had had no idea that Jeeves was more than my valet and work partner. “He was an excellent man.” I felt a deuced prat not telling him everything, but he would figure it out if he spent any time here.
“How are you bearing up?”
“Rather well, all things considered, Rocky. He was buried just over a year ago. But tell me, what brings you here?”
We took some espresso. I had a small sandwich and Rocky had a custard-filled donut, but he still seemed hungry, so we nipped over to get some tagliata di manzo and some really fine small birds, roasted nicely, and some picci and grilled radicchio. “Bertie, this is fabulous!” Rocky praised, but Enrico, the cook, who normally glowed when praised, just looked grim. I wondered what had gotten into everyone. “You know how it is, Bertie, there are reports of Dumas. No one knows who he is, but someone intercepted a telegram from this town to a contact in Cannes.” I should have known that telegrams were traceable. Deuced rummy forgetting that, but then I had not sent any telegrams, not even when Reg had died, nor had Stilton. Rocky pulled out a copy.
YOU STAY THERE, BAD SPY. STOP. I HAVE KNIVES AGAINST YOU. STOP. YOU STAY AWAY. STOP.
The communiqué—that’s another espionage term—had ‘Anatole’ written all over it. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing. The deuced entertaining thing was that he spoke perfectly good English when he wanted and maintained this odd bit only when he was posing as a chef. And he was a dashed fine chef. Rocky continued, consulting his notebook. “A useful contact was found dead in a hotel, weltering in a pool of blood. The wound was made by a large knife thrown with some force from short range.”
I asked a few more questions, but Rocky did not seem to want to talk about this man weltering in a pool of blood in a hotel. It must have been deWolfe and Anatole must have bunged the knife at him. “Rummy,” I said, making a mental note to chide the chef and send round some money from our MI budget to pay for cleaning the carpet.
“Rummy is right, Bertie. And another died at his home in Cannes. The staff say one of his friends came to visit and hared off right after the burial. Kept a large roll of knives with him and complained about their filet mignon au poivre. No one remembers his name, but the fellows from the club in Paris say it’s that chap Dumas. They sent me here and then to MI whatever number to find you. You’re the only one he’ll talk to in person.”
Yes, indeed, Anatole had always refused to speak with anyone except me. And he probably did complain about the flambé. He was quite particular, and we had left his friend Georges in Cannes on his deathbed during that last adventure. So Georges must have died and Anatole biffed off straightaway home. It all made some sort of sense, but Wooster began to wonder if a scorecard was needed. “Ah, well, Rocky, that Dumas business was long ago. However, I do know of a cheap cottage rather near to where I am staying.”
At this point the mayor hoofed in. “Signor Bertie, we have some problem.” I hied to help. “We are not liking this. It is not safe for us to have many spies here.”
I grew grave and somber and serious and other solemn things. Once the neighborhood begins to fill with spies, there is much tossing of cutlery and scaling of walls and general mayhem, not to mention the matter of unflattering nicknames. Stilton, for example, was known in spy circles as ‘Punkin’head,’ entirely by my fault as it happened. I was called “peanut butter,” a vile sticky substance for some reason much beloved by Americans in lieu of the much superior spread marmite. I wondered what Rocky’s spy nickname was. “I apologize, Signor Mayor. This is an old friend of Signor Jeeves and mine from many years ago. It would be very bad to turn him away.”
The mayor grew uncomfortable. “I will bring you to the cottage in the car, but we have to cover your friend’s eyes so he cannot see the way.”
It was rummy, especially as the road was fairly clearly marked, but I cooperated because I did not want anyone to know where the villa was. Rocky had been a decent enough chum, but the villa was private and I did not want it overrun like my flat had been back in those old days. As we were explaining the wheeze to Rocky, a sharp knife thwacked itself into the doorframe, sending Roberto and Fabrizio, I think they were, diving for cover, cursing angrily. Picci flew everywhere. I looked up, delighted. Anatole was back.
I biffed out to take Anatole in a warm embrace and admonish him for throwing knives. The little chef became stubborn. “I can only trying my best not to throw the knives. And I am not liking this Mr. Todd. He is too nosey. Why is he doing this?”
Rocky was speaking with the mayor. “Bertie! Is this true?”
“Too true, Rocky. The villa is a local treasure, usually closed to outsiders and whatnot. We could find you a place in town?”
The mayor grew expansive. “Oh, yes, we have a lovely place in town for guests. Such nice food we have and also,” he adopted a tone suitable for coaxing a six-year-old to eat bitter greens, “you can see the telegram office.”
Rocky shuddered. The natives appeared somewhat ill inclined as well, and Rocky grew apprehensive. “Bertie, what if I scare off this Dumas? I’ll wear the blindfold…but how will I find you? I need your help for a, er, personal problem.”
In the end we toted Rocky to the small cottage by my gate house. I bought the periwinkle trousers and found some really fruity new pajamas for Rocky. He was as wealthy as Rockefeller, but I insisted. After all, it was his first visit. He seemed immoderately chuffed to receive a present.
Francesca’s sisters and nieces and daughters volunteered to come and ‘do’ for him, which Wooster read as ‘keep an eye on this foul blot.’ At least one of them was in the house at all times. Even Anatole gave Rocky the old stink-eye. I could not understand it, but then I had not listened very hard to Carlo that morning.
Chapter 3: Rocky's welcome
In which Anatole decides that Rocky Todd should not be hugging nice Mr. Wooster and does something about it. Meanwhile, in London, Stilton Cheesewright does a great deal of paperwork and revisits his own romantic past.
Anatole went to live with Bertie, heart heavy in his chest. The chef had buried his lifetime friend and sometime lover, Georges, and was now dependent on the kindness of a man who knew him primarily as a servant. Long before this, Bertie’s father had enjoined Anatole to do his best to protect his son, and, by killing spies associated with ‘the Wolf,’ the little Frenchman did his very best to honor that promise. To that day, Bertie had no real idea that he had been tangled in the web of the Wolf since his boyhood. How could Anatole have told Bertie that his father had angered that stupid deWolfe and his ridiculous scarred friend with the criss-cross face during the Great War? Bertie’s father was already supposed to be dead by the time any angering occurred. How do you tell a boy such a thing? Besides, Georges was dead, with his scarred chest, and the scarred man with his criss-cross face and also that terrible deWolfe who was so cruel. What would it matter if Anatole forgot to tell Bertie about his father?
Anatole’s boyhood friend, Georges, one of the most notorious spies of the twentieth century, had died humbly unaware of that fact. In this Georges was much like Anatole himself, who remained ignorant of his fame as a spy and assassin of incredible note under the name of Dumas. In fact, Anatole had never heard the name Dumas in association with either his friend Georges or himself. Certain things tend to slip the mind when one is occupied alternately by such engrossing concerns as making timbale de ris de veau Toulousiane and assassinating evildoers. While he wended his way toward the town’s single taxi, hopeful that he could find some attractive ingredients to prepare a nice meal for Mr. Wooster that evening, Anatole was arrested by the sight of Rocky Todd, running up and hugging that same Mr. Wooster in a very friendly way. Too friendly, if anyone had asked Anatole, which the Mayor did in no short order.
The Mayor had never been a spy, which Anatole viewed as an incredible waste of natural talent. “Are we liking this one?” The Mayor was a strong proponent of D’Arcy Cheesewright as the replacement of Jeeves in Bertie’s life. D’Arcy had been a frequent visitor, and Bertie had always seemed happier when he was about, even long before Jeeves became ill. Keeping Bertie happy had been a mayoral priority ever since he had begun to suspect how very much wealth the cheerful, mild-mannered man had at his command. The benefit simply in terms of caring for and feeding orphans was enormous, and the trade in purple was booming. D’Arcy provided added benefits. The large burly man never seemed to ask for anything, insisted on paying for things in cash, and always helped the Mayor and the priests with bothersome tasks. He had purchased an expensive marble bench the mayor’s brother-in-law had been trying to sell for some years. Most endearingly, D’Arcy never asked troublesome questions. This new man seemed overemotional and flighty. Plus he had just dropped some very ratty-looking pajama trousers on the ground in front of the enoteca. No, clearly, he would not do at all.
Anatole had been a spy for a long time, and he had kept a careful eye on the younger set over the years. He thought over what he knew about this youngster. Rocky Todd was unusual. Like Bertie, he refused to kill, and it had never been clear how such an essentially gentle soul had wound up in the spy trade, or, having entered, had managed to stay alive. Jeeves was sometimes credited with the prolongation of Bertie’s life, but Rocky had had no partner, apparently working off and on with various spies. It could help Mr. Wooster to know how this Todd had stayed alive. Anatole himself was curious, and he rarely found matter for curiosity in those days. Anatole considered what to say. The Mayor shied from overly direct speech. “For a visit he is nice enough.”
The Mayor nodded thoughtfully, hearing the unspoken truths. “You can throw the knives very well?”
Anatole shrugged humbly. “Not as good as Mr. Wooster, but not so bad.”
“Good. You throw the knife to make Mr. Wooster see you do not like so much this friend. And we help you.”
Anatole felt slightly guilty about frightening poor Mr. Todd. He was a nice enough young man and basically harmless. Of course, as an assassin, Anatole had developed a number of means of feeling less guilty over the years, and he was also rather partial to the idea of Bertie and D’Arcy making a match. The looks D’Arcy gave Bertie when he thought no one was looking would melt the heart, and the two young men had been very welcoming of him as a friend and equal, not simply a chef.
Anatole decided to apply his mind to his first love. “Can we find something nice for Mr. Wooster’s dinner? You will come also and I will cook for you?” Cooking had always been a welcome outlet, especially at Brinkley Hall where he had had the privilege of working with Mr. Seppings, who had been a very good man and a tender and thorough lover. One never knew with these British—Seppings had been an absolute genius between the sheets. The Mayor beamed at this invitation. His wife had died during the war and he enjoyed French food and good company, particularly the company of Francesca.
The emergency had passed by the time he arrived in England, and D’Arcy Cheesewright passed a pleasant few weeks in London and the Wooster estate, visiting Bingo Little. He had found time for a dinner with Florence Craye, who had married Percy Gorringe, and Honoria Glossop and her husband Charles, or possibly Harold, something-or-other. Some woman had been invited to make up the numbers, but D’Arcy spent most of the evening listening to Tuppy Glossop’s stories about Bertie. During another round of investigations into Bertie’s old flat in Berkeley Mansions, D’Arcy nailed up the numerous hidey holes Jeeves had created, then consulted Bertie’s solicitors. They would rent the space as housing was at a premium after the Blitz. D’Arcy camped in the guest room.
He had rented out his uncle’s houses and sold the small flat he had shared with his first lover, Wally, and then used for years as a place for their assignations. D’Arcy had always felt woefully inadequate as a lover. Wally had married and they had conducted a sporadic affair for more than a decade. Wally married in large part to protect D’Arcy, but he had chosen a wife who was very tenderly attached to him. D’Arcy had been nearly felled by grief when he realized that Wally had found a loving home that did not include him. The pain renewed itself when he passed the block where they had conducted most of their relationship. He hadn’t the heart to return to those once-beloved rooms.
As the weeks mounted, D’Arcy became increasingly nervous. The loss of Bertie’s company had him gasping in pain at odd moments. How he could have become so attached to someone without any real return perplexed him. Wally, his first lover, might have had some insight into this, but he was dead and could not be asked. D’Arcy phoned home—his rooms in Bertie’s houses were home—rather more than strictly necessary. Jeeves and Bertie had long before made D’Arcy welcome in their homes, places where he always had a room and a bed and a meal waiting for him. He did not know how he would have managed all those years without their friendship and support. Bertie seemed cheerful. Mature reflection had D’Arcy questioning that appearance, however. Bertie managed to seem cheerful even when Jeeves lay dying. In fact, Bertie had sounded oddly brittle when D’Arcy came to think about it.
In the morning, he phoned specifically to ask if anything was wrong, and Bertie mentioned that Rocky Todd had shown up unexpectedly. “I didn’t like to mention it, old top, as I knew of the history between you. But he had no idea you stayed here. He’s dreadfully upset about something, and he knows about Georges dying and that blighter deWolfe. It’s all rather rummy.” Rather rummy, he agreed, and D’Arcy was happy that Anatole had arrived the same day.
The business at hand had also been unsettling. The MI20, or 22, office was full of detailed reports of truly horrific occurrences, and D’Arcy would dearly have loved to burn them all, but had the papers filed away and locked. He carefully tracked down every paper about himself, Bertie, Jeeves, and Wally. He took all that could be troublesome, and put it in a safe deposit box for safer keeping, and had the box shipped to Paris. Reports of Rocky Todd only mentioned poetry. No record existed of Anatole despite many mentions of “Dumas,” who D’Arcy realized was both Anatole and his friend, Georges, the one he pretended to hate—it was rather distressing to know how many notorious spies were in fact more than one person. Just in this one case, the Wolf had really been two men, and also Dumas. D’Arcy mutinously refused to tell the MI6 everything he knew (unless they asked, of course) because they had blacklisted Bertie, but he dutifully reported both of them, the Wolf and Dumas, as dead. No one need ever know that Anatole was still alive and well.
As D’Arcy put the neglected offices to rights, he came across a parcel that had been delivered several months earlier, after circulating through numerous government offices for a period of years. It was from Wally. Fingering the parcel, D’Arcy thought back to his last, unexpected, meeting with his lover during the war. He had not seen Wally for more than a year and they had only a single night together. They had eaten rations and talked and then made love. As the sky began to lighten, Wally roused D’Arcy and cupped his face in a large hand. D’Arcy had blinked and smiled sleepily, deeply grateful to awaken to the sight of that well-beloved face. “I have to go soon, and I may not see you again, so I must say this now. You are the love of my life, D’Arcy. Wherever you go and whatever you do, I want you to know that no one could have been as thoroughly and utterly loved as you are by me. I am so terribly, terribly sorry I had to leave you.”
Tears had started down D’Arcy’s cheeks. “Oh, Wally. I love you. I always have, and I am so sorry I could not show it more.”
Wally had smiled sadly and fondled D’Arcy as much as he would allow. Years later, D’Arcy would suspect that Wally had always understood why it had been so difficult for him to be more fully open. “I do know and I have known. But I have always loved you just as you are, D’Arcy.”
They came together one last time, and parted smiling. They never asked if it would have been different for them had they commanded Wooster’s wealth and Jeeves’s brains. Perhaps they could come together again some day. A week later, Wally was dead. D’Arcy was not to learn of it for nearly a year. Jeeves, recently injured, had shared the news just before he returned to Bertie. “I had been uncertain of the nature of your continued connection or I would have sought you out. He died bravely and without pain.” D’Arcy had been unable to speak and Jeeves continued. “I don’t know when you last saw him, but he had a son, Gordon. He named his only son for you.” Jeeves had asked no questions, but he held D’Arcy as he wept for his dead lover and then let him sleep in his arms. Jeeves never mentioned the incident to Bertie.
The parcel was battered, and dated just before their last meeting. It contained a diary and some paperwork for the MI20. There was an official letter for Jeeves, and a personal note to D’Arcy, containing a birth announcement.
After all these years, I’ve had a son, little Gordon. Give my best to Wooster when you see him. WF.
D’Arcy had called with a gift for the widow and orphan, but Wally’s wife had been away in the country. It was as well, he thought. The wife had tried to be welcoming to him at first but D’Arcy always felt dishonest accepting her good wishes and hospitality.
It took some days, nearly a week, before D’Arcy could bring himself to open the diary. It was a record of Wally’s continued search to find a man known in the spy community as the “yawp.” Apparently, this Yawp had been tangled up with a spy with a criss-cross scar on his face, known unimaginatively as ‘the scarred man.’ D’Arcy sat up straighter as he read this. Bertie had killed a scarred man fitting this exact description, the same description Jeeves had given of the spy known as ‘The Wolf.’ D’Arcy was not a brilliant man, but he was methodical, and he went back to the files and looked up some information about Jeeves and this Wolf business again. Apparently, deWolfe and Jeeves had been paired up by the MI20, a man who tortured his spies in order to force them to commit heinous acts. It was easy to see how the two men, deWolfe and the scarred man, who looked alike aside from the scar, could have been confused with each other. This deWolfe had been treated very brutally and he had never been caught after the MI20 was killed and all his other known spies were brought back in or 'died.' It had been Jeeves’s life’s work to find the Wolf, which he likely thought was just deWolfe (even if Jeeves never learned his real name). Jeeves had failed this task and left it to Bertie. How heartbreaking.
D’Arcy returned to the description of the Yawp. Like many of the scarred man’s known associates, the Yawp had a series of scars on his breast. They would appear to be hatch marks, arranged closely together in parallel, or in groups of five. Wally believed that the marks indicated some type of torture. Then something else popped out from the text and D’Arcy gasped. The Yawp had been an officer but not a spy, and, because he was not trained, should have been treated as a wounded civilian. D’Arcy blenched when he read the account. The Yawp was Rocky Todd, aficionado of Walt Whitman’s poetry and one of D’Arcy’s former lovers. Sweet and cheerful, Rocky had been D’Arcy’s favorite former lover, aside from Wally, if the truth were known. Wally would never have known enough to make this connection—D’Arcy had never spoken of his other lovers—but Jeeves would have recognized the descriptions immediately. What a shame that this had come to them so late. D’Arcy also knew that the ‘scarred man’ had been killed only a few months before, the same day as that deWolfe who had been so cruel to Jeeves. D’Arcy decided to call Bertie, but as he closed the book, he received a telegram.
YOU COMING NOW, SPINE BREAKER. STOP. THOSE MEN TRYING TO KISS NICE MR. W. STOP.
D’Arcy just had time to fetch his bag and board the next train back. He phoned from France to make arrangements to have the rest of the files delivered to an office in Paris, barely making his train back to the villa.
Chapter 4: Interim note on the text
In which Stilton provides some clarification on the spies and their names and their aliases. Bertie proves adept with codes.
Anatole, who is a dashed good chef, read this little piece for me and said that it was ‘too confusing these Wolfs and Woolf and deWolfe.’ I have a dashed lot of trouble with it myself, so I brought in Stilton to try and explain. He made this list in his spy notebook—well, his list is in code, but that would be deuced hard to read without the book key, which is NOT Eulalie because he will not let me use that.
“Wooster? What are you writing?”
“A reader note, Stilton.”
“I am not commenting on that lingerie reference again. The Earl of Sidcup is mortified that you keep mentioning it.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize… Ah, so could we use your list?”
“Of course, Wooster.”
Spy known as ‘The Wolf’: actually two men.
1. Werner deWolfe in “Jeeves’s Lair” a.k.a. Captain W. Woolf in “Bertie’s Uncle” a.k.a. Jeeves’s officer. Rather nasty blighter. Killed by Anatole using a knife in a hotel lobby. Dashed good shot, that. Blighter left weltering in pool of own blood. Good riddance.
2. That scarred blighter from the train in “Jeeves’s Lair” a.k.a. ‘the scarred man’ and also spy with the 'criss-cross' scar. Note to self: what a bally stupid code name. Aren’t codes supposed to be unrelated to the thing being coded? What blitherer came up with this rot? Killed on the train by Bertie, semi-accidentally and while protecting me. Absolutely dreamy. Ahem. Remains of scarred bloke were cremated when body not claimed.
The Wolf is reported dead to the MI22. I said Dumas did it.
Dumas: actually two men.
1. Anatole the chef, from Brinkley Court and 2. Georges, friend of Jeeves (And of deWolfe) in “Bertie’s Uncle” and “The Darkest Hour” and also a friend/enemy of Anatole. Died of illness at his home in Cannes.
Note to self: why does Anatole blush whenever Georges and flambé are mentioned in the same sentence? He said he had been in love with Seppings. Also blushes at the mention of rum punch. Rummy.
Dumas is also reported dead to MI22.
Yawp: just one fellow.
That poor Rocky Todd a.k.a. Rockmeteller Todd, poet and a dashed adorable chap. Cuddly and nice. Smells just lovely and makes cute noises when excited. Yum.
Not dead, but a bit frayed-seeming.
“Yum? Stilton, what kind of reader notes are these? And how do you know what kind of noises? Stilton, I am not sure that’s terribly preux to be saying about Rocky.”
“Wooster, what on earth are you reading? Where did you get that? What are you doing?! That’s private!”
“You said I could use your notes to help the readers keep track of the confusing spy things. Why are you turning all red like that?”
“This is my diary, Wooster. How did you even decode it?”
“Well, er, ‘patchouli.’ You always liked that scented oil. Remember when I gave some bottles to Wally to rub on you? In Paris? D’Arcy you do look very red. Are you quite all right, old bean?”
“Give me that back, please. My spy notebook is out on the desk. The code for that section is ‘timbale.’ I am going to compose myself before I call you a twit and a nincompoop.”
“Please do, Stilton. It hurts my feelings when you speak that way.”
Stilton’s spy notebook list is rather boring.
Chapter 5: Old friends
In which Bertie continues to spurn unwanted advances and begins reading old diaries and manuscript drafts written by Jeeves.
The next few weeks were rummy and upsetting. That Carlo kept infiltrating the house at odd hours, having to be chased away, and Rocky had taken it into his head that I intended to begin what Jeeves would have called a ‘liaison’ with him. I felt beset at every turn. It was dashed unnerving, the more so because I genuinely liked Rocky and found him to be a bit of a specific dream rabbit and I had a spot of real love for Carlo, whom I’d known from when he was a nipper. And I’ve likely mentioned how truly beautiful he was, but it almost felt like he was forcing himself to offer ‘his love,’ which is never the nicest feeling. The skin simply crawled.
I began reading Reg’s diaries. He’d started keeping them after he joined me, the first time he’d made a home for himself. They had been very sporadic at first and gotten more detailed and reflective over the years. Reg had been gone long enough that reading them felt much less like prying and more like a visit with an old friend. I was pleasantly surprised—I had been so stung when I first looked at them, right after he died. It had been like reading something written by a stranger, but now I considered how tender we had been as lovers and friends, and how he, we, had struggled against those feelings in the early years. For the first time, perhaps, I saw him as he really was then, not through the haze of an affection that had not yet had time to grow. Jeeves rather liked me—for an employer—from the first, and even berated himself for not understanding my ‘peculiar argot’ better. I still forgave myself for all the times I was imperious and difficult, as he had set about a rather relentless course of moulding the young master like a defective jelly quite from the beginning. I do so hate to be moulded. The bit about needing to be broken like a horse that I had seen in the Junior Ganymede book was absent, and I was sorry I had burned so many of our letters and things.
The feeling was brief. We had agreed before he died that I would take one last look and then live with my own memories of him, only keeping these journals. I never knew why. I didn’t dwell on these questions, though. D’Arcy was away and I had no one to go to if I woke gasping and crying in the middle of the night. Looking back, Rocky was nearby that whole time, but it would never have occurred to me to ask him for that kind of help in case he misinterpreted my feelings. Stilton was always willing to let me curl up next to him without asking for anything. Only in his absence did I begin to recognize the generosity that enabled him to comfort me and then let me drift back to sleep amongst his pillows.
To distract myself, I looked for some clue as to why Reg had insisted we offer Stilton a home back in those old days. And I found it. Jeeves had written a very brief account of his assignations with Stilton.
One of Mr. Wooster’s long-time associates, a Mr. Cheesewright, kindly invited me to train at the police facility. He suggested that I might be well suited to such work, and that it would afford me a greater scope for my obvious talents for intrigue and cleverness. Kindly meant, I am sure, but the benefits of employment with Mr. Wooster far outweigh these advantages. We met several times in this way, and I found myself taken with his forthright bluntness. It is inexcusable, but I succumbed to base temptation and allowed myself to have carnal relations with him. He is a very vigorous and robust young man and has a very pleasing personal scent. The connection was extremely physically satisfying, the more so for being rather businesslike and without the complications of tender emotions, which can be tedious in casual encounters of this sort. Of course there could never be anything lasting between a servant such as myself and a gentleman like Mr. Cheesewright, even if we had been so inclined. I found myself thinking of my employer, who was on a visit with Mr. Todd, and my shame at my behavior was considerable despite my great enjoyment of the physical release. Mr. Cheesewright has subsequently renewed his engagement to Lady Florence Craye and my visits to the police training facility have been curtailed by this and Mr. Wooster’s return.
He was quite right about Stilton’s personal scent, I thought to myself. It was dashed pleasing. Another entry about a year after Reg and I had become involved caught the e.s.
I had occasion to visit at the club frequented by Lord Yaxley on an errand to that gentleman for Mr. Wooster, and Mr. Cheesewright’s uncle asked me to wait on him in his chambers. I had no choice but to go.
“Reginald Jeeves, my nephew D’Arcy speaks very highly of you.”
“No need to act all coy, Mr. Jeeves. I have some understanding of who and what you are. I’ve asked you here because I require a favor. And not a small one.”
“Sit.” I opened my mouth to refuse, but he insisted and I obeyed. “My nephew has no one but me, and I fear that his procliv- his profession, rather, may prevent his marriage. Please promise that you will look out for him. He seems rough, but he is a sensitive lad, and he needs.” The old man cleared his throat. “He needs a kind home with caring friends. I know you have provided well for that blighter calls himself Ephraim Gadsby. That willowy blonde, Frances or Flossie or what have you, D’Arcy was engaged to had nothing but good to speak of him. I understand this Gadsby fellow prevented her from being arrested at a nightclub and now he works for you. If you can set that one to rights, you can certainly help D’Arcy. He’s always been a very good boy and he genuinely admires and respects you. Will you do an old man this favor?”
I could not but agree. It has been very difficult to convince Mr. Wooster of this necessity, despite Mr. Cheesewright’s vigilance to protect him from harm. I wish some day to understand these circumstances better, but for now I can only be enduringly grateful for the cheerful good nature Mr. Wooster displayed after agreeing to my request. I cannot believe I was lucky enough to have attached such a kind, generous man.
The eyes filled. Once we had begun to exchange our affections, Jeeves praised me in nearly every entry, even the ones where he complained about my socks or expressed dismay when I left all the difficult decisions for him. Then I remembered that we had started working on our next manuscript together. His draft pages were in with my things and, thankfully, I had not thought to burn them.
I woke that night gasping, the tears streaming out of me. With a pang, I realized how much I missed Stilton. The heart swelled and I sobbed into the pillows. I felt disloyal to Reg but dashed frightened that Stilton would move on because I had been unable to decide how I felt about him and I still did not know.
Jeeves (unedited draft)
“Hold still, Lad,” I braced myself for the next cut. “Good Lad, that’s two. They’ll believe I tortured you. Now you must run, Jeeves. You must run away and hide.”
I shuddered and looked at my officer questioningly. How could I desert my post? It was a criminal offence punishable by death. “Sir? I don’t understand.”
My officer, a slender man who I knew then as Captain Woolf, ran a hand through his sandy hair. “They’ll find you, no doubt, put you in the office. You did excellently well on the test, Jeeves. The best score ever recorded. You’ve been marked by that, in whatever way that score marks you, and now by me, on your flesh. This will make them think I completed my job on you. Whenever you have the opportunity, you must run. Run away and hide. Keep moving, keep running. Call no attention to yourself. Form no attachments or they will be killed, unpleasantly killed, Jeeves. Be cold, be aloof. Never let them see what you value.” The slender man kissed me on the forehead, patted my shoulder and picked up his bag. “Run. Hide. That’s an order. My last order to you.”
The next morning, I followed him, using the lessons he had taught me. He was dead that afternoon—or so I thought. My chest was scarred in a few more places and my nose was broken. I had been too close to a blast that sent debris through my shirt, making a pattern of scars around the two neat, parallel lines my officer had made. My friend Georges found me wandering in the woods, dizzy with pain. His clothes were torn and there were three fresh cuts on his chest, narrow and straight and neat, just like the two on mine. “Reginald. Come with me. We have much to discuss.”
I would not learn for many years that Captain Woolf had not been killed and it would take somewhat longer to realize that I had never known his real name.
Anatole was shocked when his boyhood friend Georges brought a young Englishman to their camp. “This is Reginald.” A spot of dark blood showed on Reginald’s chest, and a similar one showed on Georges.’ Anatole looked his question, but Georges shook his head. “We only need to know that he is like me in this. We must try to protect him. ” Georges sat the young man next to the two other Englishmen there, a tall, slender blonde, and another man, taller and lankier with sandy hair and two deep gashes crossing on the left side of his face. The blonde man looked cheerful and smiled mildly at Reginald. The scarred man scowled.
The young man looked at Georges, and Anatole realized that he had understood their conversation. “You are a good young man?” he asked this Reginald.
The young man considered. Anatole thought that he was exceptionally beautiful when he pondered, except for his nose. “I can only try my best,” he said finally, in flawlessly accented French.
Anatole laughed and gave him a bowl of stew. The young man took a careful bite and looked back up in delighted surprise. “I can only trying my best, Reginald.” Anatole spoke English to show that he could.
“Anatole is a brilliant chef,” said the slender blonde Englishman. “I’ve started looking out for a place for him in England after the war, but it’s difficult when one does not officially exist.”
“Indeed,” said the scarred man, sharpening a knife and scowling. “One does not officially exist.” The blonde man said something sharp and the scarred man sloped off.
Reginald sorted through his meager possessions and the blonde man glanced in interest at the two slim books. “Burns? You like this?” The two men discussed poetry and philosophy at some length, without exchanging their names.
Reginald would leave the next morning with a group of young French soldiers, and Anatole would not see the young man again for several years. Their meeting in Brinkley Court would be a surprise. Reginald would never learn that the slender blonde man he met that evening was Mr. Wooster’s father, believed dead for some years. And Anatole would not understand exactly who the scarred man was until after Reginald was dead and buried. Lucky for the scarred man, he would already be dead by the time Anatole understood his connection to Reginald’s officer.
Jeeves (unedited draft)
….My body ached for the closeness and comfort of my officer, the more so as he had told me to avoid contact or forming any close ties with anyone else. The young soldiers encouraged me to have congress with a young woman, a local girl who was willing to exchange her favors for food. I took her into the woods and gave her some of my rations. She started to open her dress, blushing and weeping. I was strongly reminded of the first time my officer decided to have sexual contact with me, of the shame and fear I felt. Grateful that I could speak enough French to reassure her, I caught her hands to stop her, and pulled her close until she stopped crying. She clung to me and pressed her face against my shoulder. Then we buttoned her back up and I told her to go.
I will never forget the look of shocked gratitude on her face, the affectionate kiss and touch of my cheek as she looked at me closely and told me that I was beautiful, except for my nose. She asked if I had ever been with a girl before. My shaking head and then the sensation of her lips on mine as she offered herself to me lingered for years in my memory. My body did not respond to her, but I rubbed her back and held her again to ease my feeling of loneliness and then stepped away and told her to go, that she owed me nothing.
It is only in writing these words that I realize how very much my first evening of sexual relations with Bertie—his face pressed against my shoulder as he fought back tears of grateful relief—was like that long-forgotten moment. I can never measure the very great good fortune I had in attaching him, but I see now that my ability to do so stemmed from the luck I had in other, earlier friends. I wish this knowledge had come early enough for me to thank them.
WWII: The Villa
Jeeves (unedited draft)
War had broken out and we were called to duty once again. Mercifully, we would be together with our partners D’Arcy Cheesewright and Wally Fortescue. Less mercifully, there was something to explain that I would have preferred to let rest. Bertie’s face worked in horror as I explained what he called the ‘interesting’ scars on my breast, two narrow parallel lines surrounded by many rougher smaller marks and lumps. “He cut you? Your officer? The Wolf?” By this time, we had learned that my officer was a spy called the Wolf. Of course, we did not yet know the whole truth.
Bertie reached out for me and I held him close against me, stroking his golden head and kissing him tenderly. I could see his sense of the general goodness of the world crumbling. I had wept at the necessity, but I would do anything, make any personal sacrifice, to ensure that he would live.
“Darling, I understand that this is difficult to hear. Please, though, I need you to listen, love. Try to stay calm.”
Bertie gathered himself and looked at me solemnly. “All right, Reg. Fire away.”
“He cut all of his lovers. All of them, love. Each time he was… violent.”
I should have predicted that Bertie would nearly lose control at such a thought, but regulating my own feelings of shame distracted me. “Reg? He was violent to you?” He sat up. The steely look that entered his eyes made me feel strangely aroused. I so adored it when he became manly and forceful, especially during our amorous activities.
“It’s all right, love. I was not harmed as you think.”
Bertie saw through my dishonesty. “He…took you. He cut you. He frightened you. You bally well were harmed.”
“He cut me instead of being terribly violent, but there were others and I do not know… Bertie, Georges is one of the others he cut. I have no idea what was done to him because he will not speak of it. You must never be alone with Georges. Never. You must promise me that you will never meet him without me or D’Arcy, love.”
His beloved face worked again. Georges had been kind and generous to us always and such behavior would appear shabby to my beloved darling. “All right, Reg. I trust your judgment, but I will bally well kill this Wolf character.”
“You must promise never to let Georges know what I told you, love. If I die,” here my poor darling became almost incoherent with upset, and I soothed and held him until he calmed himself. “Love, if I die, you must continue this work. You must find this spy called the Wolf, whatever he is, before he finds you.”
“Why are you saying all this, Reg?”
“I cannot tell you why, love, because I do not know myself but he means to kill you. You must promise to keep yourself safe.” My voice shook in a particular way and he immediately stopped pressing me for explanations. I was the more brittle one in our association. He knew that I would shatter into a million pieces if he died, that I was the one who woke screaming every year around the anniversary of the night he had been kidnapped and tortured.
Bertie leaned against me, and nodded, then eased his arms around me and nuzzled my face. “Of course, Reg. I’m sorry. You’re right. How long do we have before we must depart?”
“Three days, love.”
“Can we spend them naked together?” The heart melted in my breast.
“Perhaps not all of them. There is some work to be done, love.” His nimble fingers had already begun unfastening my buttons and I felt my arousal in response to his lips as he kissed the exposed skin of my chest. I would never grow tired of his kisses and caresses or of the feeling of his beloved body next to mine. “Bertie?”
“Would you perhaps consider being forceful and taking charge this evening?” Of course, he agreed, good-natured as always in our lovemaking. I will never understand how I attached him.
It had always made the young master feel rather wounded and sore to think how very much Reg had held back over the years. When he finally anteed up and let spill about the nature of those ‘interesting’ scars on his chest, the grey matter spun at the realization of how very good he had been to shield me in that way. Until Reg explained, I had flitted about blithely, thinking that evil was a rare thing and the world was an essentially cheerful and benign place. I was never able to repay the generosity and kindness that allowed me to believe this until I was nearly forty years old. The very great good fortune I experienced when Reginald Jeeves came to my front door could never be measured.
Years later, I am very glad that Reg never learned everything about his officer, how his name was really Werner deWolfe and how he was only one of the spies called ‘The Wolf.’ I am glad that Reg never knew what the other one, the criss-cross scarred evil blighter had done. My poor Reg would have killed him and he never would have forgiven himself for taking a life. Eventually, and too late, Anatole and I killed the two blighters who had gone under that name, cutting and torturing their way across Europe. I am glad Reg never knew that, either. I don’t know how I would have faced him.
Chapter 6: Epiphanies
In which Bertie solves a mystery and finds advances he does not wish to spurn. Rocky has a difficult evening and Anatole’s knife is confiscated. The next morning, Stilton dresses like a bohemian clown and Anatole observes that spies are often silly.
Rocky was sweet and fun and funny and attentive, but also very distressed from time to time, rather like a child with a sore tooth. He was also clearly available for more than merely chummy affection. Somehow the heart was just not in it. We had a nice enough visit, because he was not one to press his suit, but one evening, Rocky insisted we take a swim together. He stripped off to his shorts and I caught sight of his chest. It was covered with scars, interesting scars, the same type of scars that Jeeves and his friend Georges had—hatch marks. Jeeves had two. Georges had three. Rocky had twelve, two groups of five and two more. Reg’s and Georges’s scars were small and neat, but Rocky’s were not all uniform. He’d clearly struggled against some of them. The heart absolutely bled to think of what he had gone through, but the most chilling thing was that he seemed to think nothing of it. Reg and Georges had the most awful shame about those marks, but Rocky seemed to act as if they were not even there.
Rocky jumped into the water and drifted into the place where Reg and I used to watch the moon rise and make love in the water. I never swam there now unless Stilton was paddling about in a welter of anxiety about drowning without a bally oar in his hand. He made that place safe and let me enjoy those memories, but I thought the Wooster stomach would start to spew its contents forth seeing Rocky there, grinning eagerly, scars dancing across his chest. The willowy corpus nearly curled up in dread when I realized I would have to decide what to do on my own. I dearly wished Stilton was back.
I jumped down a ways away and Rocky paddled over to me. We played for a while, splashing each other, and then I asked. “Rocky, old top. Your chest. What happened to you?”
His face clouded. “Those wolves,” he whispered. I nearly fainted. Rocky knew that there were two spies called ‘The Wolf’? How had he known? Reg and I had spent twenty years chasing them around Europe and I had only learned after killing one of them. And the other one had blasted introduced himself to me. “Help me, Bertie. What if he finds me again? He took me, Bertie. The first two cuts were for practice, he said, the smooth one, deWolfe. But then the scarred one found me… so roughly, again and again. He said such awful things. I tried to hide, but he keeps finding me. Please help me.”
He rested the bean against the Wooster breast. I asked him what the wolves looked like—deWolfe and the scarred man, he said. They were tall and slender and they had sandy hair streaked with grey. The scarred one had a criss-cross scar on his face. I could have died right there. Reg had been unable to kill and he let the scarred man escape only to hurt poor Rocky. I kept Rocky talking until I was sure we had the right coves, that they really were dead and there was not some other blighter floating around waiting to harm him. “Rocky, old bean, I think you’re safe now. Dumas took care of it.” I did not bother to mention that Dumas could have meant either Anatole or his (and Reg’s) dead friend Georges, or, I supposed, me. That detail hardly mattered. It was only important to let Rocky know he was safe.
Rocky started to cry then, in great, heaving sobs, as he told me what that blighter had done to him. It never bore repeating. My heart opened right then and I realized that I had not forgiven myself for killing that scarred blighter until that moment. I would have killed him again in an instant after seeing Rocky’s pain. “I couldn’t tell anyone else. I was so afraid of what they would think of me. But you won’t pity me or be repulsed by me.”
“Oh, no, Rocky, of course not.” I bunged the arms about him and let him have his cry out. “It’s over now. You needn’t worry.”
Eventually, Rocky calmed himself, and then he whispered. “But Bertie, it’s not safe. He told me that I have to take you. Take you or kill you. And I can’t… I stayed away from you all this time and then I just found you by accident. He told me to hurt you.” The organs congealed in the Wooster corpus as Rocky collapsed sobbing again. “I don’t know what to do. I just want shut of this, Bertie. Can you help me?”
I hushed and soothed the poor chap until he calmed enough to climb out of the water. I helped him crawl up onto the dock and called for Anatole. The little chef dashed out, knife in hand. “Can you help Rocky back to the house? He needs something to help him sleep. Get Francesca to give him two of my pills.” Rocky let up a howl of agony, much like the one he’d let out when he had realized he might have to get dressed every day, when Anatole caught sight of his chest and exclaimed in alarm. “Ah, perhaps make that three.” I put Rocky’s shirt on him, while Anatole apologized profusely in French and English and surprisingly good Italian. Francesca had been teaching him, apparently. I confiscated the knife, just in case Anatole’s best was not quite good enough to prevent mishaps. As far as I knew, he had skewered at least two spies the last time I let him out of my sight fully armed.
Anatole took hold of Rocky while I went to the phone and called Sir Roderick Glossop. He listened, and then he advised me to have some other friend, preferably one who was armed and dangerous, bring Rocky to him in Paris. “If he told you that he was supposed to harm you, do not stay in the house alone. Have you called someone to help you, son?” I assured Sir Roderick that I would be fine.
I explained as much of the situation as seemed sensible to Anatole, then dried off and pulled on clothes and the blue loafers and a sweater. I bundled up a blanket and some food and oozed toward Reg’s grave. I had not had a good visit with him in some time, and perhaps he could help me sort out my feelings and thoughts.
That Carlo accosted me on the path. I would never understand how I could find him so beautiful and yet so utterly unattractive, but perhaps it was the wheedling and pressing. He was like an octopus, all hands and arms and sucking lips. It was worse than being engaged to Madeline Bassett and Florence Craye at the same time. I managed to break free and he came at me again, and I used a knife. No one ever remembered that I carried them still, the set that Reg had given me as a young man. It caught him by the sleeve, pinning his arm against a tree. I didn’t even nick him, but I felt guilty afterward. He was really just a confused nipper.
“No, Carlo.” I said firmly. “No.” I took the knife from the tree and he went back down the path.
Anatole had been a spy for many years, and he had chased after and eventually killed the man—Werner deWolfe—who had hurt his boyhood friend Georges. He would never tell Anatole what those scars meant, which had only made matters worse. Georges had been a hard man, given to violence and intrigue. Anything too horrible for him to discuss would have been very, very bad.
The small amount of guilt Anatole felt at killing the slender, urbane deWolfe who seemed so like Mr. Wooster’s father dissipated as he saw the state to which Rocky had been reduced. Anatole helped Francesca give Rocky some pills, then pulled a comfortable chair to the bedside to wait and watch with him. Rocky was soft and gentle, and it would not do to leave him alone with his pain and anguish on this night.
When I reached Reg, I started to talk, and then the truth crashed down on me. I was alone, looking at a slab of stone. Reg wasn’t there, and it was no use pretending. I had even helped Rocky and gotten myself out of the soup with that Carlo without saying the first thing to Reg about it. I burst out sobbing. I sat on the ground next to the bench, and rested my arms on my knees and sobbed myself dry. I sat, waiting for moonlight so I could find my way to the gate house, where I could sleep. “Ah, Reg, I wish you could help me,” I whispered.
The person I really missed in that moment was Stilton. Reg had been gone for such a long time. I had lost his help and advice long before he died, and the person I’d relied on was Stilton. As I watched the moon rise behind the clouds, I thought of those awful months, watching over Reg and nursing him, seeing to his every need, and I understood for the first time how strong that had made me. I nearly choked at the thought that I had never thanked him properly. Reg had given me so much, and even in his utter dependency, his first thoughts had been of me, how he could help me be a better man. I did not know how I had been so fortunate, but I knew it would be a betrayal of his love and trust to turn my back on the man who was now my greatest help and support. I realized how ashamed he would be to think I would shy from Stilton’s generous affection and friendship without examining my own feelings honestly. The moon peeked out from behind a cloud and I heard a muttered oath. A beefy fellow was lumbering up the path, carrying a basket, which had gotten hooked on a branch.
He seemed startled to see me, but he managed to keep hold of everything and didn’t yelp. “I am sorry, Wooster. I didn’t mean to intrude… They said you’d gone to sleep in town.” I launched myself at him and as I slammed into him with a force that would have bowled Reg right over, he made a small noise and then gently rubbed my back as I clung to him. Taking a slender shoulder he pushed me away to get a look at the dial, then pressed me against his chest again. “Bertie, whatever is the matter?”
“I wasn’t expecting you for weeks yet.”
“Anatole sent me a telegram. He thought you were in danger. He and Francesca have drugged that Rocky Todd into a near coma.” I stiffened. “You know something. Something that wasn’t in the reports. Don’t you?”
“It’s a long story.”
“Come with me, then, and let’s hear it. I have a picnic.” He looked at me closely and wiped at my face gently. “What’s made you cry?” I couldn’t answer and he changed the subject.
We picked up my things and started walking, and it seemed rummy how easy it was to talk to him and to understand him when he answered. He told me about Bingo and Tuppy and I felt a pang of loss of their friendship, but D’Arcy said we’d meet them in Paris, that he’d arrange it. Suddenly, he planted a hand on the small of my back and led me to a sheltered glade. Reg and I had once made love there under the stars, but generally we could not make it so far before our feelings overtook us. Apparently, Stilton and Wally had loved this place.
We sat and ate and I explained about the scars and he explained about Wally’s notebook. “Reg thought it was over with him, at least that’s what he said before he died. I think his friend Georges kept him safe somehow from those blighters, but they got hold of Rocky, too. He is the only one besides us and Anatole who knows there are two of them. There’s not just one ‘Wolf.’”
Stilton sat, transfixed with horror. “He took them violently, or tortured them, and then cut then each time, to mark it? To remind them? Wooster, Rocky has twelve marks on him.”
“Why didn’t he ask for help?”
“He was afraid of what people would think of him. That he was used that way, that he couldn’t protect himself.”
“Ah. Now what can we do for him? Can we help him?”
“We need to get him to Paris. Anatole will take him. I only hope he keeps from bunging knives at anyone. Maybe we should send Carlo with them, or ask Glossop to send that Charles—or Harold—Honoria married. It might be safer.”
“I, oh, gods, Wooster.” I let him rest the bean on my shoulder. I rubbed the back of his neck and made a sort of soothing noise that Reg had taught me long ago. Stilton wept.
“Hush, D’Arcy. Thank-you for coming back. I needed you tonight.”
We sat for a few moments, and then he raised the head and looked into my eyes. I felt a stir, a powerful stir that had to do with his personal scent, my feelings of affection for him, and my gratitude for his presence in my life. No wonder I had been confused. I had craved Reg physically well before he let me see him as a person, and my feelings for Stilton were already wrapped up in our friendship. My real, true friendship with Reg had grown later, and I realized in that moment how lucky I had been. Stilton leaned in and I closed the gap and the lips touched. Kissing Stilton was simply lovely. We didn’t halt and hook noses and apologize, as I half expected we might—as Jeeves and I had done on that long-ago morning, adding a certain innocent sweetness to our connection.
D’Arcy started off slowly to get the feel of me and let me get the feel of him. Eventually he used the whole mouth, and gently cupped the back of the golden head as he worked his tongue against mine, making the most endearing little grunting noises. I had not thought he could be so tender. We pulled back to catch a breath and looked at each other, mouths slack, quivering like plucked bowstrings. “I, D’Arcy, I want…” The throat closed, and he stroked the golden hair and bent down to pash with me, keeping one arm firmly about the willowy frame, then pulling me into his lap. It felt warm against his comfortable frame, and safe. He’d been so kind and undemanding that I was not afraid of becoming aroused in front of him. I knew he wouldn’t press me.
When I began to work at his buttons, he pulled away to watch my shaking hands. I eased the shirt off him and stroked his chest and arms and shoulders until we were both shaking like jellies. Then I traced the circle of his nipple with an eager finger, and he caught my hand and held the palm against him. “Please, Bertie. I don’t want to come off just yet.”
He lifted the sweater over my head, then my shirt. “You are so beautifully made, Bertie.” I blushed to the roots of my hair, and he held me and stroked the back, and paused and fingered my ring, the one Reg had given me so long ago. He rubbed my chest and I wriggled against him.
Stilton slid a finger into my waistband and looked at me questioningly, and I nodded and let him undress me. “You are lovely, Bertie, simply gorgeous.” Then I helped him uncover the Cheesewright terrain, which was nicely fuzzy, and we tentatively got to know each other better. It should have been strange to see each other like this, but I could hardly contain myself. His private bits were every, er, bit as nice as one could want, lovely and smooth and firm and fuzzy in all the right places. The Cheesewright lips broke into an amused smile when I exclaimed excitedly as I touched him. He pulled a vial of scented salve from his pocket, and I caught at his wrist. Had he been intending to meet Rocky? They had been an item and now poor Rocky was lying drugged in the house. How terribly selfish of me not to have thought.
“D’Arcy? Were you intending to meet someone else? I am so sorry old top.” I began to move away, but he held me against him and kissed the top of my head.
“Bertie, how could I…” He paused and looked at me as if he was remembering something. “Of course not. Bally Glossop insisted I start seeing to myself, and I can, here. It’s so hard in my room, with you so close by. I felt so uncomfortable. What if I made a noise?” He stopped and watched the Wooster mouth work like a goldfish.
I stammered. “I haven’t been able to, ah, er, at all.” I had tried, but the feeling of utter desolation when I came off alone rather ruined the release.
He pulled a blanket around us. It was so soothing to be there in the shelter of his warm arms, with all that lovely skin and fuzziness rubbing against my bare body. “May I ask?” I swallowed my pride and explained. I will never forget the rummy look on his dial as I told him how I had choked with guilt when I tried to see to myself while Reg was alive and what we had done together. “You scald the heart, Bertie, you honestly do.” He bent again and kissed me tenderly. “Is this all right? Is it too soon for you?”
“It is lovely, D’Arcy. Thank-you.” I thought of the loud noises and thumping that he and Wally had made when they were together, the noise that had frightened me the first time I heard it. “Thank-you for being so gentle with me.”
D’Arcy opened the blanket to look at me while he ran a hand over the corpus and I felt myself unfurl. His look of rapt attention melted the heart in my breast. He inhaled sharply at my response to him and I whimpered with want when he brushed against my straining member. He stopped, terrified that he had hurt me. “Please don’t stop,” I gasped, clutching at him. “Please, D’Arcy.”
“I don’t want to hurt you. Is this all right?”
“You’re not. Please don’t stop.” He took me carefully in hand, and then laid on some salve and started again, and I collapsed against him almost ecstatically. “Oh, thank-you, D’Arcy. Ah, yes, just like that. Oh.” It had been so long since I had felt sexual pleasure that was not mixed up in the horrible guilt of knowing that Reg could no longer feel the same way or the utter aching loneliness of wanting to be held and spoken to gently as I took my release. We both watched Stilton’s hand as he touched my private bits, looking each other from time to time, and kissing, as he experimented and I encouraged, and finally begged, him to continue. When I was too overcome to speak, he murmured to me, saying soft things. The climax was glorious.
While he held me gasping and trembling against his chest and told me that I was lovely, D’Arcy took my hand to keep me from grabbing at him, and when I calmed, he showed me how to avoid his numerous ticklish bits. I thought it would take some doing to get the hang of it, but apparently my fumbling pleased him because he curled up spasming in every limb, murmuring my name again and again and again. He sounded almost frightened by the intensity of his response, and I wrapped myself around him and stroked as much of him as I could reach. I pulled the blanket around us and we fell asleep, and when we woke about an hour later, he gently turned me away from him and kissed my spine in five places.
“You missed a spot, Stilton,” I said, looking at him over my shoulder while he ran his hand up and down my back, pausing to cup my bare bottom, as if he were gauging the size of us against each other. “It was six places, not five, as I recall.”
“I am quite sure it was five.”
“I would enjoy one more.” He administered the kiss, and I deemed it satisfactory.
“Very well, then, coddled lamb. Shall we return to the house?”
“Certainly. And I believe what you meant is precious darling coddled lamb.” He snorted.
“I take it that you are not offended by my advances, then, precious darling coddled lamb? Bah, that is a mouthful.”
“I will show you my bath.”
“I believe you once recommended a wash with strong soap and hot water after such activities.” He snorted, then pulled me against his strapping chest.
“If you like.” I cuddled as closely as I could against him and he stroked the slender back. “Let’s go, so I can coddle you in comfort, lamb.”
We dressed and walked back to the house. Stilton carried our things in one hand and kept a firm hold of me with the other, pausing from time to time to press me against him and kiss the top of the golden head. “D’Arcy?”
“I am glad you’re back.”
“Not as glad as I am.”
D’Arcy woke, pleased to see that Bertie had remained nestled closely against him. Francesca came in with tea, and stroked D’Arcy’s hair and kissed his forehead as he clutched the bedclothes. “It is very good that you are here with him.” She patted the golden head fondly and Bertie made a small noise and burrowed closer against his friend’s side. D’Arcy tucked the blankets around him and colored when he realized that the consummation of this relationship had likely been communicated throughout the small community. Then he considered how fortunate he was, having been deeply beloved by his friend Wally and now perhaps, beginning a deeper friendship with Bertie, who cuddled against him in a way that melted the edges of his heart.
“Is she gone?”
“Can we talk about last night?”
The thought of discussing sexual affections in the stark daylight made D’Arcy squirm, the more so because the intensity of his climax had deeply unsettled him. He had never had an experience like that before and had been shy of continuing their activities in the bath. Bertie had been very kind, helping him wash and put on his paisley pajama bottoms. The slender man had then nestled beside him and drifted to sleep without uttering a single word of reproach, complaint or teasing. “What would you like to do?” Bertie made a move and D’Arcy yelped. “Ho!”
“Oh, D’Arcy I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have presumed….”
A deep red flush suffused D’Arcy’s cheeks. “I er, ah, whatsit.” He pulled the covers over his head, suddenly understanding how Bertie felt when he gabbled.
Bertie got up and pulled the shutters closed, then returned to the bed. “Will you let me in?” The covers lifted and Bertie burrowed in to snuggle D’Arcy in the dim light. “What’s wrong?”
Bertie stroked D’Arcy’s hair as he struggled to speak. “I, er, ah, whatsit,” he said again. D’Arcy was mortified at his inability to frame a thought and deeply grateful for Bertie’s patient kindness. Eventually, D’Arcy pulled himself together and voiced his fear. “I am afraid it won’t satisfy you. I’m not used to all this.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You, I mean, I, er… well, I can’t do what I saw. I’m so big, a bally oaf, and I don’t want to hurt you.”
“You’re not an oaf, D’Arcy. What is it you saw?” Bertie rubbed the back of D’Arcy’s neck thoughtfully, and D’Arcy touched the ring around Bertie’s neck. “Oh! Was it you, then, that night?”
“We were out on the lawn, er, you know, and Reg suddenly wrapped me up in a blanket.” D’Arcy remembered more details. He and Wally had snuck off to their secluded glade and were floating back to the house in a haze of satiation, when they caught sight of their friends, naked in the moonlight. They had just slid together, moving almost like a single person. Wally had gasped and Jeeves had immediately shielded Bertie’s nakedness from their view, laying on his side and covering them both with a blanket. D’Arcy had led Wally away and they just caught the sound of Jeeves telling Bertie how much he loved him.
“It happened more than just that once, Bertie. The pair of you were like bally rabbits. There was no going for a moonlight stroll without being afraid we’d be tripping over the two of you up to heaven knows what. Not that it was terrible. You were both so beautiful, it simply took the breath away.” His tone grew gentle as tears welled up in Bertie’s blue eyes. “I’m sorry. I should not…are you hurt by hearing this?”
Bertie shook his head. “No, D’Arcy. I’d have been mortified at the time if I’d known, but, was it nice? Were we? Did it seem nice to you? I haven’t been able to remember very clearly.”
Stilton’s face took on a far-away look. “You were breathtaking together, Bertie.” D’Arcy gathered Bertie against him and wiped the tears from his cheeks. “Now that we are talking, please tell me why were you crying last night.”
Bertie gathered his thoughts. “I missed you,” the slender man finally said in a small voice. D’Arcy felt his heart liquefy.
“I am deeply moved, but that can’t possibly be all, Bertie. Your face is still puffy. You must have sobbed your heart out.”
“I realized that I could take care of myself, that I was, and how long I had been. And I was so upset about poor Rocky. And Reg. I lost him so long ago as a help, and I only just understood that he’s really gone. But …I missed you.”
“I am sorry that you had to realize that all on your own after the night you must have had with Rocky.”
“Thank-you. But, D’Arcy, I also realized that I want you, this. You were so bally marvelous last night, but it’s more than just how much I want...”
D’Arcy’s mouth opened and then closed. “I was bally mar…? You want? Bertie, you’re shaking like a leaf.” Further investigation revealed something else. “You haven’t anything on. Where are your pajamas?”
“I didn’t want to make an extra trip to my room alone last night, you know, after. I’m sorry, D’Arcy, I don’t mean to pressure you.”
“Oh, no, please. I’d very much like, er. Perhaps we should have another go at, well. Are you as embarrassed as I am?”
“Yes, but we are grown men. May I share your tea?”
“She brought you a cup, too.”
“And then…” Bertie whispered in D’Arcy’s ear.
“I believe I would very much enjoy that.” He paused. “Will you, er, show me how you would? I never have, er, before.”
Bertie did not turn a hair for which D’Arcy was grateful. “Of course, unless you’d like something else.”
“No, that is, your suggestion sounds wonderful, Bertie.”
“Can you hold the teacup? I’m shaking.”
These negotiations were cut short by a howling cry from downstairs.
Anatole dearly wanted to fling a cleaver, but he knew Mr. Wooster would be upset if he got blood on the carpet. Carlo had wandered into the house again and tried to crawl into bed with Rocky, thinking, no doubt, that it was Mr. Wooster. Rocky had cried out in his drug-induced haze, and Anatole let up a howl of annoyance that roused the whole house.
“You! Carlo! What are you doing?”
“But I want to be a spy like S. Jeeves. Is this not the way?”
Anatole could have wept or laughed, particularly when D’Arcy came pounding down the stairs a moment later in pastel paisley pajama trousers and a clashing paisley silk dressing gown. Both had been gifts from Bertie, who, wrapped in a toweling robe much too big for him, followed on his heels, holding out a navy dressing gown and remonstrating, “My very dear D’Arcy, please be reasonable…” D’Arcy took in the tableau of Anatole, holding a novel in one hand and shaking a finger at Carlo who looked rather sheepish. Francesca was approaching them carrying a broom. All three of them looked up and snickered when they saw the mismatched paisley. Rocky was sound asleep. D’Arcy then marched back up the stairs, taking the dressing gown from Bertie and muttering to himself about lambs and coddling and paisley.
Bertie, satisfied that Rocky was not hurt, followed soon after. Anatole turned to Carlo. “You do not want to be a spy, Carlo. It is not so good. You do not want to be so silly. Maybe you talk to Signor D’Arcy about being a policeman. That might be good for you. Carlo, you are a nice boy. You should have a nicer life than this.”
Carlo turned this over in his mind. “Then it is OK to have a girlfriend?”
Anatole grinned. “Yes, it is very good. You bring her here and we will have some dinner.”
Young Carlo smiled happily. “I will do that.”
Bertie was in his own bed, trembling, when D’Arcy found him. “You’ve got me looking like a bohemian clown, Wooster.” The blue eyes looked a bit panicked as Bertie tried to look cheerful. D’Arcy sighed and climbed into the bed. “Would you mind a bit of a snuggle?” Bertie crowded up against his friend. “Is this still a bit soon for you?”
“It’s just nerves, Stilton.”
D’Arcy allowed his hands to explore the situation tentatively and they discovered Bertie’s bare bottom. “You haven’t anything on again. Have you gone off pajamas? I thought you liked pajamas.”
“I didn’t feel like looking for anything. Do you mind?”
“Not at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. You are lovely like this.” Bertie snuggled closer with a small noise and D’Arcy let his hand cup the round buttocks and stroke them. “Is this all right?” He paused. “Ah, er, am I?”
“Are you what, old top?”
“Your very dear D’Arcy. Am I?” He allowed his other hand to stroke Bertie’s bare back.
“Yes, well… at least rather dear, when you are not prancing about in mismatched paisley like a Bohemian clown.”
“Rather dear, is it?”
“Your hands on me feel utterly, supremely topping, and I’m about to start leaking a bit at the edges. It’s not crying, really, but only because it feels so smashing.”
“Ah, you melt the heart, Bertie, you honestly do.”
Chapter 7: The quality of love
In which some cures are effected, things are resolved, and Bertie finds a way to carry on. Anatole makes a flambé and comes to an understanding.
SIX MONTHS LATER
Rocky made a full recovery. I’m not sure what happened exactly, but some cove who studied with Sir Roderick pumped Rocky full of medicine and then they showed him pictures of bunnies and flowers and playing children and eventually Rocky was able to rejoin society. They had me come to Paris to make sure that he wouldn’t try to kill me, and apparently it worked, because he just burst out crying and told me that he could never really see me as a lover. I was bally grateful, of course, but I acted terribly disappointed. Stilton was a bit stiff afterwards.
“Terribly disappointed, is it?”
“Er, ah, well, Stilton, I seem to recall that you found him quite pleasing at one time. Cuddly and nice, I believe you said.”
I could see this roll around in his lemon. “I suppose that is true,” he admitted.
“You had some very flattering things to say about his corpus as I recall.”
“As did you.” He had me there.
“And I am disappointed about the reason he is not interested.”
“I concede your point. It was a terrible thing.”
“Will we go back to the flat now?”
“Not for dinner?”
“I would like to nestle against you.” Stilton got a very rummy look on the dial.
“Bertie, you melt the heart. I am sorely tempted to set a hand at the small of your back and lead you straight home and do my very best to lavish you with affections, but I would like to treat you to a nice dinner first.”
The Cheesewright visage resolved into a look of amusement as I became rather excited. “Might we have flambé? Will we wear evening clothes?”
He grinned, deeply chuffed at his success in pleasing me. “If you wish it. Have you any pink socks?”
A shudder of desire and sorrow set the willowy frame quivering. “I bought some new ones.”
The promised hand was set at the small of the back. “You look sad of a sudden.”
A sudden jolt of enlightenment rocked the Cheesewright corpus. “Wooster, it wasn’t just those shirts and underthings and pajamas, was it? You dressed up for, er, well, whatsit, in other things as well?” I flushed. “There’s no shame in it, but I had no idea you were such a minx.”
“A minx?!” I sputtered indignantly. He chuckled.
“I mean that in the most loving way, Bertie. It is quite adorable and also, well, rather enticing, if you must know.” He flushed and I took his arm as we ankled home. “You seem to be enjoying the purple socks.”
“Very much so. Thank-you for thinking of them.”
“Will you show me how to lavish you with affection again?”
“If you like, but you know that I like your attentions, don’t you?”
“You never said so. Not as such.”
“I like your attentions, D’Arcy. More than the socks.”
He got that sheepish look, the one that made me wish I were big enough to tumble him about like Wally did. “I, er, like it when you teach me to lavish you. Very much so.”
Suddenly, I was inordinately pleased with him. “As do I.”
D’Arcy sat in the comfortable chair in his room in the Paris flat, the room Bertie now shared with him. They had never cleared away the evidence of Bertie and Jeeves’ relationship from this house—neither had had the heart for it since the tokens meant so much to both of them—and D’Arcy refused to sleep in Jeeves’ bed here. Bertie was out at the club and planned to see his tailor on the way back, leaving Stilton to do some work. Instead, he pulled out a crumpled envelope, which held a letter written in a shaky hand.
My very dear D’Arcy;
We have just said good-bye, likely for the last time, and I would like to thank you for giving me a few last pleasant days alone with Bertie before the end. It is the very greatest gift that anyone other than he has ever given me, and there is no adequate recompense to you, my very dear friend, for this generous kindness. Yet I must ask you one last favor. Please see Bertie comfortably situated…. No one, I think, can understand as well as I do the manifold attractions and sterling qualities he possesses, but you may well come closest. I think him the finest man I have ever known, and it is a mark of my deep affection for you that I can entrust him to your friendship.
Your place in my heart is second only to his and I therefore must say this, even if I am thinking irrationally and without foundation. You have been our dearest friend for so many years that I do not understand, D’Arcy, what your feelings might become, but if you do become attached to him, please know that I deeply and utterly approve. I could think of no one finer or more worthy. However you dispose your heart, though, D’Arcy, please know that I wish you a long life full of affection and happiness.
I thank you for your friendship and companionship over these many years. Please know that until my last breath I will regard you with affection and trust.
A voice startled him just as the tears began to flow. “D’Arcy? I am just dropping these so they do not wilt.” Bertie was much earlier than expected. He laid a bunch of flowers on a nearby table, and knelt by his friend’s side. D’Arcy began to sob at his gentle touch, and Bertie carefully took the letter from his hand without tearing it or glancing at it, and crawled into his lap. “My dear fellow, whatever is the matter?”
After a few moments, D’Arcy calmed himself enough to speak. “I am sorry. I thought I had a few hours yet to collect myself before you came back.”
Bertie gasped, the blood draining from his face. “Oh, D’Arcy, you mustn’t do this, please. What is it? Are you ill?”
Stilton froze, remembering how long Jeeves had kept his final illness a secret, then closed Bertie in his arms. “Oh, no, nothing like that. I am sorry. It’s just sorrow… you should read this.”
Bertie read the letter, then folded it carefully and put it back into its crumpled envelope. “No wonder I loved him so. But you knew this. I don’t understand why you are so upset by this today.”
“I miss him, Bertie. I never told him…never thanked him…never asked.”
Thinking of a night about a year before when D’Arcy had helped him understand his own Reg, Bertie brushed D’Arcy’s hair away from his face and helped him use a handkerchief, then kissed him on the forehead and rubbed the back of his neck and then his temples. D’Arcy had never been so coddled in his life, but he found it very comforting. Bertie was so gentle and kind with him, even when he pretended to be annoyed by it. “But that’s why he wrote this. You didn’t feel any real attachment for me before he died.”
“I didn’t think so.”
“Neither did I… when did you?”
“Maybe that night you lost your shoes, when you leaned against me, not understanding how well he thought of you, even after all those years, until I told you.”
“You did tell me. I can never thank you enough for that night. But you could not really…we were both still so upset about Reg.”
D’Arcy considered. “You’re right, Bertie. I did finally truly understand why he became so attached to you. You clearly knew so little of him when you must have fallen in love and he misunderstood a great deal about you as well. I don’t know when, exactly, that I became attached to you. Well, before we, er, whatsit, you know.”
Bertie kissed his friend’s head again and then patted him fondly. “I’ll run us a bath, D’Arcy.”
D’Arcy flushed. “Us?” Bertie had given him a great deal of privacy since the first time he’d become embarrassed sharing the bathroom space.
“Yes. Us.” Bertie kissed D’Arcy’s forehead and gazed at him warmly. “I do have my duty to turn you into a coddled git, after all.” D’Arcy smiled and then his face worked and he bowed his head against Bertie’s shoulder and wept. “My very dear D’Arcy, whatever is wrong?”
“I love you.”
His heart melted, the more so because it was D’Arcy’s first declaration, but Bertie forced himself to make his voice light. “That’s really not a crying matter, D’Arcy. I have absolutely no intention of spurning you.” Stilton snorted. “Will you be all right here while I start the bath or would you prefer to just snuggle?”
D’Arcy let Bertie cuddle him and wipe his face again while he weighed his options. “Will you help me undress?” he wondered, then had another thought. “Might I undress you first?” Bertie smiled fondly at him.
“Whatever you like, dear.”
“Would we have honeysuckle in the bath?”
“Yes, if you like.”
A difficulty occurred to D’Arcy. Most of his encounters had been very rough and tumble or quite casual and his experiences with Bertie were neither. The slender man was too small for D’Arcy’s rougher habits, and being gentle made the beefy Stilton feel extremely vulnerable. Over the past few months, he’d learned that Bertie was invariably kind and rarely teased—at least verbally—during lovemaking. D’Arcy had never felt so safe during his intimate life before. “Bertie, I’ve never actually, you know…. In the bath, you know.” Bertie stroked his face and kissed him gently on the lips. They worked their tongues together for a few minutes. Wally had been even bigger than D’Arcy, so it was no surprise that they had never made love in a bathtub or even had a bath together. Bertie liked such things, though, and D’Arcy was amenable to being taught.
“That’s all right. You help me so very much. Come along now, and I’ll help you for a bit of a change.”
ONE YEAR LATER
Anatole stood in the kitchen watching D’Arcy and Bertie rowing out on the lake, their faces alight with affection and friendship. He was pleased to see them so happy, but he felt a deep twinge of regret at Reginald’s absence. Bertie and he had been very well suited, and D’Arcy and Rocky would have been a good pairing. It was better to have more people about the house. Rocky was expected the next week for a visit, and he was bringing his wife, the one he had divorced years before. They were not lovers, he had been very clear, but she had been ill and needed a rest somewhere sunny and she was enchanted with the idea of staying on her own in the walled town, but near enough to visit some friends. Rocky would stay in the cottage.
Francesca stood behind Anatole, wiping her eyes. “They are good men,” she said.
“Very good,” agreed Anatole, pondering the evening’s menu. The Mayor was coming for dinner and some other friends and it seemed that a nice steak au poivre might be suitable, but it would not do to frighten anyone with the fire. Carlo’s young Iulia had screamed and jumped under the table when he tried the Crepes Suzette a few weeks before and now he was seeing a different young woman, Stefania, who was not so fearful.
“You also are a good man,” said Francesca, patting Anatole fondly.
The little chef paused. He would never claim to be a good man. Good men did not leave people weltering in pools of blood on nice carpets in hotels. Of course, Anatole considered, it had been more than a year ago, so probably it was better not mentioned again. “Not that good, really,” he said truthfully. “I can only trying my best.”
“Good enough for me,” said Francesca. Anatole flushed, and she kissed him.
“Well you are very good anyway,” said Anatole enthusiastically, then he grew worried. “But you know the Mayor he comes to see you.”
“I invited my sister. She likes him.” Anatole also liked him—the Mayor was a very handsome man for his age—but the little chef considered that Francesca was to be preferred.
“So, it all worked out to something of a bit of all right, what?” I looked down at Reg’s grave and the profusion of flowers and greenery there, wishing that he could be there to congratulate me, which was rummy because if he had been there I would not have had this news. The mind works in mysterious ways. It had taken something for me to realize that speaking to Reg was not an entirely empty thing now that he was gone—one of his final diary entries. I could finally remember how we had been together, how tender and beautiful it had been when we weren’t fighting over my socks.
I woke feeling clear for the first time in days. Bertie was so delighted, and I could only smile as he eagerly did all the things he could think of so I would have a happy day, including a quick errand in town so I could sit with Francesca and doze in the garden as I like. He dressed in pink for me, and after dinner, I snuggled and held him, reaching into his trousers and encouraging him to take some release. Sometimes, he is not able to see to himself, and it brought me such joy to help him experience that pleasure, even if I cannot share it as fully as I once did. As he drowsed in my arms, I kissed him and moved to leave this short remembrance of my rich feelings of happiness. Bertie has been such a marvelous gift to me, so preciously beloved. I envy the one who will enjoy his declining years. My one selfish hope is that he will not forget me as the years, which I hope will be many for him—more than we shared together—pass after my going.
“I’ll never forget you, heart’s delight.” I reached up to finger the ring at my neck, and remembered suddenly that I had left off wearing it, that it was now in the box with my most precious reminders of him. And my mother’s plain ring, the one I had given to Reg—I’d buried him in an engraved family piece—was being resized for D’Arcy because the evening before he had asked me to be his all the days ever after until we died and I had said yes. D’Arcy knelt in front of all our friends to ask, and at first Anatole was angry because he thought it was a negative comment about his flambé. Some friend of Carlo’s had squealed and hid under the table a few weeks before during the flaming part. Once we all realized what D’Arcy was doing, everyone cried and congratulated us. We toasted Reg and Wally and Georges and our other dead friends and loved ones and then Anatole made the flambé and it was a great success.
We’d agreed I’d tell Reg on my own first. The heart quailed as I edged up to tell the ghost of the man who had been my deepest soul’s companion how another had done what I had not realized I’d wanted. Before I could speak, I read the stone on which he declared himself as mine to all the world, and understood what Reg had really done. It was his way of saying that he wanted the same thing all along, too, and had finally found a way to do it. I was overwhelmed by how very much D’Arcy had given me—himself, his heart, and now this rich understanding of Reg that erased a last lingering anxiety I never knew I had. I could have exploded from sheer gratitude and happiness.
I heard something snap and turned to see Stilton hesitating on the path, laden with blankets and a basket full of our dinner, feeling as if he were intruding. I waved and he came and paid his respects until I pulled him away, remembering that he and Reg had also been friends and that the grievous loss was never simply mine. As we oozed along the path, he kissed the golden hair, and I wondered idly who Reg might have made a go of it with if things were reversed and I was lying under a bed of flowers, which would have been much neater and with a bench that matched the stone, no doubt.
We floated toward the glade where we had first come to our understanding. “I am sorry, Bertie. You know I would have changed things if I could have.” I looked at his big round face and thought of the money he had inherited from his uncle and how it had come just a few years too late to protect him and Wally. I thought about what good men they were and how deserving of the happiness that Reg and I shared for so long. They had done their best, just as Reg and I had and now D’Arcy and I would.
“And I would have for you, Punkin’head.”
“Don’t you mean your very dear Punkin’head?” I smiled at him and squeezed his beefy hand. The glade had been his place with Wally and we’d all shared it, but that night I wanted to be alone with D’Arcy, without the ghosts of our dead lovers. He was so generous with me, always leaving enough room for me to miss Reg and have other friendships. Most of the time it comforted me to think of them, but I needed something special and separate that night, something for just the two of us.
“Will we go for a swim instead? In our place by the water?”
The light was fading and I could strip down in that sheltered place. The trees and reeds had grown up, shielding what had been an open glade and a tiny inlet when we first came to the villa. D’Arcy liked to sit on the grass and watch me undress and play in the water, where only he could see me. If it were warm enough, like tonight, I would then eat sprawled out in front of him, pretending not to notice how he squirmed to manage the tightness in his trousers. Eventually, we would make love, but he was shy of being seen unclothed in the sunlight.
He touched my chest, and his brow contracted. “Where is your ring?”
“I put it away.”
“I have this now.” His eyes darkened and he fingered the ring I now wore, an Oxford crest—the one he had given me the day before at dinner.
“It will not hurt me if you wear his token, lamb. I loved him, too, and I know how much these things mean to you.” And then he told me the best thing—he had bought the plots beside Reg so we could all be buried together. I felt my heart swell, and suddenly, I wanted to be as close to him as possible. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my head on his shoulder. “Will you show me another way to lavish you?” he asked and I started in surprise. He always locked the door before ‘lavish lessons,’ as he called them, since I would demonstrate on the unclothed Cheesewright corpus and he was terrified that someone might see his endearingly unguarded reactions or hear his little grunts of surprise and pleasure.
The breath quickened. “Oh, yes.” We sped to our destination, stopping only to find the special smoky candles that kept away the insects, who did little to enhance proceedings.
I don’t know how Jeeves would have ended this story. I’d like to think he would have been happy for me, as I like to think I would have been for him—although I imagine that Reg and his new lover, who would always call him ‘Reginald’ or ‘dearest,’ would lie tangled together in a field full of flowers, reading poetry and feeding each other bits rather than prancing about naked and splashing like children in the water as I do with D’Arcy, who has proven to be an excellent playmate. Reg would have found an equal, I like to dream, someone who would help him slake his thirst for knowledge and who could meet him in conversation on the topics he liked. In my mind’s eye, I can see him sitting with a garland of flowers on his hair—something he would never have permitted from me—his beautiful smile flashing as he leans forward to kiss his new love, the hint of sadness behind his blue eyes in remembrance of his very great love for me only making the moment sweeter. My love for him still warms me every day.
There should be something philosophical here—like the quote that Reg chose for his tombstone saying that the quality of one’s loved objects makes them happy or whatsit—but I feel a need simply to enjoy the time I have with those I love.