Dashed if I know how he does it, but no sooner had the young master entered the old homestead, Jeeves was on hand to take the coat and stick and offer the soothing restorative. Nothing so surprising, you say, from that paragon of valets? Consider this: I was not expected back for two more days, and it was no earlier than three o’clock ack emma. But the restorative was sorely needed, after the evening I’d had, so I questioned not, and quaffed.
Once I had placed the glass back on the salver, Jeeves asked, “May I ask, sir, who is this…person?”
I had hoped he wouldn’t ask, but I suppose one’s valet is entitled to a question or two when one turns up at three in the morning with a previously-unknown representative of the serving classes, what? “Jeeves, this is Barrow. Barrow, Jeeves.”
Barrow muttered a greeting, already considerably wilted under the full force of Jeeves’s stuffed-frog glare.
“Barrow will be staying in the flat until we can find him another job.”
“As what, sir?”
I glanced over my shoulder at Barrow. “A valet,” he said. One of my tougher New York acquaintances might have added, “You wanna make something of it?”
The stuffed-frog expression grew even stuffed-froggier. “Surely not, sir.”
But here I am, getting ahead of myself, as always seems to happen in these circs. The situation started—as so many situations do—with a summons from Aunt Dahlia. Dahlia, my regular readers will remember, is my good aunt, or at least my better aunt. She is not, I mean to say, my Aunt Agatha, who chews broken bottles and conducts animal sacrifices by the light of the full moon. Rather, she is that fox-hunting daughter of the Pytchley and the Quorn who induces nephews to steal cow-creamers through threats of withholding access to her French chef’s top-drawer cuisine.
“Jeeves,” I said, on the morning of the summons. “Aunt Dahlia has summoned me.”
“Indeed. She summons me to Yorkshire.”
“Yorkshire,” I confirmed. “Far outside her usual stomping grounds, yes. It seems she has herself been summoned by a fearsome specimen named Violet Crawley, the Dowager Lady Grantham. This aforementioned f.s. particularly desires her to bring with her a young eligible gentleman, and--” Here I turned to the reverse of the page. “—and everyone else she could think of is either engaged, in chokey awaiting trial, or down with mumps, so I will have to do. I say!”
“You may not have noticed,” I explained, “but there is a certain insinuation to her words. An insinuation that I would not be deemed a suitable companion for this Yorkshire sojourn if any alternate were available. That I was chosen, as it were, as a last resort.”
“I did observe that implication, sir.”
“I’m of half a mind to refuse to go,” I said. “We Woosters are known for our family feeling, but there is a limit, Jeeves. A bally limit.” I scanned the rest of the page. “Opening of the foxhunting season, excellent country, a superlative stable…well, I quite understand the appeal for Aunt Dahlia, but I can’t imagine why she thinks I would be an ornament to the gathering.”
“There is a second page, sir,” Jeeves remarked.
“So there is.” The second page revealed the reason I was being press-ganged. The fearsome specimen had a ghastly granddaughter she despaired of seeing married. It was to this g.g.d. that Bertram was to be sacrificed—or at least dangled in front of, like a rabbit before greyhounds—as the price of Aunt Dahlia’s admission to the hunt field. Relaying these circs. to Jeeves, I added, “This Dowager drives a hard bargain, it seems.”
“Aunt Dahlia will not pursue a single fox unless she produces the goods.”
“The goods being Bertram.”
“She concludes by saying that she knows I would not deprive a beloved aunt of an opportunity like this, but on the off chance that I require further inducement, she relates several of Anatole’s recent menus, and indicates that, if she does not attend this hunt, she will be too despondent to issue invitations to any nephews whatsoever for the foreseeable future.” I dropped the pages in my lap. “Aunt Dahlia is no slouch in the hard bargain department, either,” I observed.
I was getting very tired of this yes-sir, indeed-sir business. “Well? What do you suggest?”
“I suggest that you attend, sir. Provided that you refrain from anything in the nature of moonlit strolls or intimate conversations with the young lady, the danger should be minimal.”
“Minimal, you say?” I considered. Minimal was not the same thing as nonexistent. “Well, I suppose you’ll be there to fish me out of the soup if needed.”
Jeeves coughed like a sheep on a distant hillside.
“I direct your attention, sir, to the date of the invitation. The sixteenth.”
“Well, what of it?”
“I regret, sir that the date coincides with that of the Junior Ganymede Club’s annual dinner. If you recall, I accepted the honour of serving as Master of Ceremonies, after receiving your assurances that I would be free to attend. I believe your words were, ‘No matter how thick the soup, Jeeves.’”
The words rang a bell, now that he mentioned them. “It’s the same day?”
“The very same day?”
I reviewed my options. “My options are these. I can attend this blasted hunt meeting, sans valet, and hope for the best. Or I can decline, and suffer Aunt Dahlia’s wrath.” Insisting that Jeeves miss his dinner was not an option. A Wooster keeps his word.
“Should some emergency arise, sir, I could join you in Yorkshire on the next morning’s train.”
I appreciated Jeeves’s feudal spirit. I would not like to board a train for the countryside on the morning after an annual club dinner. One is not at one’s best, you understand. The sound of the whistle alone is likely to prove a trial, let alone the rocking motion of the carriage. “Very well. Dispatch a telegram indicating that I will attend, and haul the Wooster riding costume out of mothballs.” Privately, I resolved to do my best to avoid soup of all kinds—except, of course, the literal—so that I would not need to summon Jeeves the morning after his big blow-out.
What, it’s my turn now? All right, about the same time Mr. Wooster was getting his telegram, I was packing his Lordship for the trip he and her Ladyship were taking to New York. Ever since they announced the trip, I’d been figuring I’d get to go along—valets usually do. I don’t mind saying I was looking forward to it—I’ve never seen America, and I don’t imagine I ever will unless I’m hauled along as somebody’s valet.
Then the Dowager Countess came up with this plan of having a house party for the opening of the hunt season. Something nice for Lady Edith, it was supposed to be. I thought it was a fine idea as long as I wasn’t involved—I suppose if you don’t have any real problems, having your two sisters get married and your parents go off on an interesting holiday while you sit around the enormous ancestral pile and do nothing might be a little depressing, and a house party might be just the thing to cheer you up.
That’s what I thought, anyway, until Carson managed to convince his Lordship that he couldn’t possibly have a house party with so many gentlemen guests without me. In those days, if he were on fire he’d burn to a crisp rather than admit I might be qualified to toss a bucket of water on the flames, so I can only assume he found out somehow that I was looking forward to New York—even though I’d taken the precaution of complaining about the trip three or four times a day—and did me out of it from sheer spite.
At that point, naturally, I didn’t care one way or the other whether Lady Edith wanted cheering up or not, and resented the hell out of the whole damn business.
O’Brien still got to go—there were plenty of maids around to take care of the lady guests, and anyway, the Dowager hadn’t invited so many of those. She said she’d send me a postcard. I suggested she instead take the postcard, fold it up until it was all corners, and put it in a place she slapped me for mentioning in mixed company. (She did send me a postcard, though.)
So that was how things stood on the first day of the house party. I was unhappy. Carson was smug. His Lordship was absent.
A number of the gentlemen had brought their own valets, and Carson took one of the others, but that still left me with three to look after, as well as serving at dinner and passing stirrup-cups in the morning before they rode out. I did them up for dinner in strict order of precedence, which put Mr. Wooster last, after Lord Havisham and Sir Cyril Worthington. Lord Havisham was wider than he was tall, and Sir Cyril was good-looking enough, but ordered me around like a particularly dimwitted serf, so, even though I was in a rotten mood by then, Mr. Wooster looked pretty good by comparison, even after he greeted me with a cheery, “What ho! You’re here to shove me into the old soup and fish, I imagine?”
“Better get cracking, then,” he said. “I heard the starter’s gun almost a quarter-hour ago.”
He was, I decided, a complete loony. Unfortunately, he was still better than either of the other two. “Sir?”
“The dressing gong, I mean.”
“Yes, sir. I had several other gentlemen to see to,” I said stiffly, putting the studs into his shirt.
“Oh, no criticism implied. Just making conversation. Normally I’d have my own man with me, but a Wooster keeps his word.” Then he babbled for several minutes about how his valet had something more important to do than dress him that night. I wasn’t paying much attention, but at one point, I sighed heavily, thinking about how I had better things to do as well—namely, being in New York. Mr. Wooster stopped babbling. “Something bothering you, old fruit?”
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with, sir.”
Once he was into his shirt and trousers, he had me tie his white tie. Three times, claiming the first two times that the “perfect butterfly effect” had not been achieved. At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, and I thought it was pretty damned suspicious. But I’d learned my lesson with the Pamuk business, and kept my hands and my suspicions to myself.
“How’s that, sir?” I asked after the third attempt. It didn’t look any different from the first two as far as I could tell, but we were running out of time.
“Perfect, thank you, ah….”
“Barrow.” After I’d put him into his jacket, he dismissed me with a demented grin and a “Toodle-pip!”
Then I had to run upstairs and get into my livery to wait at table, and race downstairs so Mr. Carson would have plenty of time to glare at me before we started serving dinner. After about two hours of that, I was dying for a smoke, so I rounded up Isis, tossed a leftover scrap of meat at the back door, and observed loudly that she was clearly desperate for her evening walk.
Normally, it would have been the job of one of the footmen to walk the household dog, but his Lordship had decided that, since I was so fond of Isis, I should be allowed to keep on doing it after my promotion to valet. I couldn’t exactly argue about it, since my alleged fondness for the animal was the main reason I’d been promoted in the first place. I suppose she wasn’t so bad, as dogs go, and it did come in handy every once in a while when I had my own reasons for wanting to get out of the house for a bit.
I could pretty much wander wherever I wanted on the excuse that it was where the dog wanted to go, so that evening I chose the formal garden, which was, after all, a nicer spot for an evening smoke than the kitchen doorway. Grabbing a stick, I chucked it as hard as I could, then sat down on a bench to while away the moments until Isis brought it back.
By the time I finished the cigarette, she still hadn’t returned. I tried calling a few times, but she didn’t come running, so at last I decided I had better go looking for her. I walked all over that bloody garden, with no sign of dog, until at last I tried the hedge maze.
“—say, do you know the way out of this thing, old boy?” I heard a familiar, slightly mad voice saying. “Er, girl? Yes, girl. Jeeves did suggest avoiding moonlit strolls with females, but I suppose you’ll be all right. I’m more of a cat person, myself, but any old port in a storm, what?”
I followed the voice into the maze, where I found Mr. Wooster following Isis, apparently in the sincere belief that she was leading him to the exit, rather than to the part of the maze that had once contained a rotting rabbit carcass. “I hope his Lordship’s dog isn’t bothering you, sir,” I said.
“Oh, no. She’s been dashed helpful. Have you ever thought of slinging a barrel of brandy around her neck, for the benighted traveler?”
“We generally keep the brandy in the drawing-room, sir.”
“Well, that’s one way of doing it,” Mr. Wooster sighed. “The drawing room is just so dashed full of females, at present. Also, I appear to be stuck in this maze.” He looked at me with a flash of inspiration. “I say, do you know the way out?”
“Yes, sir. Would you like me to show you?”
“If you don’t mind.”
“Just let me collect the dog, sir.”
“I know a trick for attracting dogs,” Mr. Wooster remarked, going along with me as I went to fetch Isis.
“Do you, sir?”
“Aniseed. Sprinkled on the trousers. Draws them like a magnet. Not that magnets draw dogs. But you know what I mean.”
“All the best dog-nappers use it,” he explained confidentially. “My man Jeeves taught me the trick when we had to steal my aunt’s dog back from an American theatrical producer.”
Like I said, I thought he was a complete loony.
I had been wandering in the hedge maze like an Israelite in the desert for some time before the dog found me, followed shortly by Barrow. I don’t know how valets do it, but they always seem to be on the spot at just the right moment, don’t they?
Jeeves probably would have had a stiffish b. and s. with him when he rescued me, but not every valet is a Jeeves. And Barrow did have cigarettes, so that was something. My own were in my room, as Jeeves doesn’t like me putting anything in the pockets of my evening costume. Something about “breaking the lines of the garment.”
I said something to that effect as I accepted one from his case, and Barrow expressed surprise that I allowed Jeeves to dictate my behavior in such a fashion. “Not just cigarette cases,” I said. “He also has strong feelings about cummerbunds, mess jackets with gold buttons, Alpine hats, Old Etonian spats, and any number of other things. We Woosters are known for our iron will, but experience has proved the maxim that Jeeves Knows Best. Many a time he’s helped me slip the matrimonial noose at the eleventh hour, and what is a mess jacket to that?”
“You’re uninterested in marriage, sir?”
A shudder passed through the willowy frame. “Not only uninterested, repelled. If I were to describe some of the ghastly creatures Jeeves has saved me from—not that I would, you understand, it wouldn’t be preux—but if I did, you wouldn’t sleep for days.”
“I understand, sir,” Barrow said. There was a sort of significance to it, and it was then that I started to think this weekend might not be completely without advantages for Bertram. You see, Jeeves is a paragon among valets, but there are certain things one cannot ask him to do. Snogging the young master in a hedge maze is one of them, and it naturally follows that anything rummier than that is completely out of the question.
Barrow was no Jeeves, but he was a valet with dark, brilliantined hair, who had only just now herded me neatly out of a shallow puddle of soup.
I was interested, if you take my meaning.
But he hadn’t given off a clear enough signal for me to venture anything direct just yet, so I decided to bring up one of our New York adventures, and eventually work around to dropping a reference to a visit to one of that city’s pansy clubs. Plenty of people went as a sort of urban safari; if Barrow was not receptive, I need not mention that I attended such places a little more frequently than was typical of a mere curiosity-seeker.
My plans were dashed when Barrow responded to the mention of New York with a look of abject dismay. Well, to most people it would likely have appeared that he still wore the professional mask, but recall that I have learned to read the expression of Jeeves; no mere Barrow could conceal his reaction from me. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Nothing, sir. You were saying?”
“No, you are distinctly pipped, and I wish to know why. Unburden yourself.”
“New York is a sore subject at the moment, sir.”
“Ah.” A Wooster, as a rule, does not pry, but I sensed that young Barrow wished to say more. “How so?”
Barrow unleashed his tale of woe. The circs. were that Lord Grantham had recently embarked on a two-month visit to no other place than New York. Barrow had, I gathered, already packed his suitcase with a spare pair of striped trousers and a few tins of fish—or whatever valets put in their suitcases—when his hopes were crushed by the news that his services were required for this very house party. His plight touched the Wooster heart. It must have been a bitter blow. “A bitter blow,” I said. “Jeeves would never have stood for it.”
“He would resign, sir?” Barrow asked.
“Oh, no. He would simply have arranged things so that I saw the error of my ways before the date of departure.”
“How would he do that?”
“Impossible to say,” I answered. “I never see these things coming. Anyway, I wouldn’t dream of going to New York—or anywhere else—without Jeeves.”
“You came here without him,” Barrow pointed out. “Sir.”
“Only because of the Junior Ganymede Annual Dinner. And a spot of blackmail by my Aunt Dahlia.”
By then, I thought I had a pretty good idea what Mr. Wooster was being blackmailed about. At the time, I didn’t know anything about Anatole or cow creamers, so I figured this Aunt Dahlia—Mrs. Travers to those of us below stairs—must have caught Mr. Wooster in a compromising position or something, and used it to lead him around by the nose. Now, of course, I know that if anything like that had happened, Jeeves would have managed to convince Mrs. Travers that Mr. Wooster was rehearsing for an amateur theatrical in which the other gent was playing a woman, or emulating the pose of a classical work of art for an exhibition of living pictures, or something of the sort.
But under the circumstances, it seemed like enough to confirm what I suspected. “I had better be getting back to the house, sir,” I said. Isis had been out much longer than usual already, and I would have to come up with a story in case Carson had any questions. “But perhaps we could continue this conversation later?”
“Of course, old chap,” Mr. Wooster said. “I’m sure you must be frightfully busy.”
“Yes, sir. I doubt I’ll have another free moment until all the guests are in bed.”
“Right ho,” Mr. Wooster said. “I suppose it’ll be an early night for most, with the hunt tomorrow.”
“I expect so, sir. If you were to find that you had trouble sleeping, I would think the billiards room would be pretty much deserted by, say, midnight.” I decided to put it that way, since turning up in Mr. Wooster’s room with no professional reason for being there would leave me open to a spot of blackmail myself, if Mr. Wooster got cold feet.
“The billiards room, midnight. I suppose I might while away the midnight watches there, what?”
“I expect I’ll stop by there to check that everything’s in order for tomorrow.” There was absolutely nothing about the billiards room that needed to be prepared for tomorrow, and even if there was, the sensible time to do it would have been when the guests were out in the hunt field, not in the middle of the bloody night, but I thought Mr. Wooster might be too loony to catch my meaning if I didn’t spell it out more or less directly.
“Oh! Right-ho. Well, if I happen to run into you there, perhaps we could…talk.”
As Barrow had predicted, the guests started trickling up to bed pretty early-ish—the fixture was slated for six AM or some similar hour better faced, if one must face it at all, from the opposite direction. I retired to my room along with the others and curled up in an armchair with an improving book to await the appointed hour.
Here, I should interject that, the opinions of aunts to the contrary, Bertram is not a chump. I generally favor the direct approach to communication, where one says what one means and means what one says. But when what one means can land one two years without the option, one must learn to say something else. In short, I fully understood that Barrow intended our rendez-vous in the billiards room to go considerably beyond conversation—or, indeed, billiards.
On or about the stroke of midnight, I put aside Death of a Duchess and ankled down to the billiards room, which I had taken the precaution of scoping out earlier in the evening. It wouldn’t do to get lost on an errand like that.
I arrived to find the room dimly lit by the lamp over the billiards table. Barrow was perched, in his shirtsleeves, on the edge of the table, and had taken the sensible precaution of bringing with him a decanter of brandy and two glasses. I applauded his foresight.
Joining him on the edge of the table, I accepted a glass of the aforementioned brandy. I had wondered about the choice of the billiards room for the purpose, but the location began to grow on me. It lent a sort of matey air to the proceedings, as if one were with a pal in the games room of one’s club. And matey, I’ve found, is precisely the right note to strike on occasions like these. One doesn’t want to pretend to be conducting a great romance—it isn’t preux, and the other party may get the wrong idea—but an efficient and businesslike exchange of pleasure makes the Wooster blood run just a bit cold. Two pals having a good time together is just about the ticket.
“Well I say,” I said. “This week-end is shaping up to be a bit less dire than originally anticipated, what?”
“It’s not so bad, I guess,” Barrow agreed. He omitted the “sir,” another detail which showed his skill at creating the optimal mood for the situation. One doesn’t like to be sir’d when one is hoping to have the other chap’s tongue in one’s mouth soonish. It lends a tawdry air, is what I mean.
“Not a patch on New York, of course,” I added, remembering Barrow’s private pain. “But let’s see if I can help you forget about New York for a bit.”
Here, a Wooster must draw a veil. A Wooster may be an invert, but he is not a pornographer. Even though this narrative will not see the light of day while the involved parties are within the grasp of prosecution, it simply wouldn’t be preux. Suffice it to say that matter proceeded more or less as they usually do. Those in the know can imagine the details, and those out of the know will be none the wiser.
I will say only that matters had proceeded pretty far, and we were in a deuced compromising position when the billiards room was invaded by butlers.
Or rather, just one butler, but he was furious enough for a whole pack, flock, or herd of them. “What is the meaning of this?” he bellowed. To be precise, he bellowed a lot of things, but that was the nub or gist.
I declined to answer, being rather absorbed in the task of doing my trousers back up. Barrow was, I believe, similarly occupied.
“Mr. Wooster,” the butler said. “I think it would be best if you were to leave.”
“Er,” I said. “Right-ho. I don’t suppose my Aunt Dahlia needs to hear about this, what?”
Carson took several deep breaths in a manner reminiscent of that of a bull preparing to charge. “No lady needs to hear about behavior as filthy and depraved as this.”
I could have done without the “filthy and depraved” part, but I was disinclined to argue.
When Carson turned his wrath on my partner in crime, it became clear that he had moderated his opinions substantially in expressing them to a guest. “Filthy and depraved” were sweet nothings compared to the things he said to poor Barrow. He wound up by saying, “You will pack your things and leave this house immediately. I hope it needs not be said that you will not be given a reference. Indeed, if I were you, I would avoid mentioning that I had ever been employed here, because if anyone asks, I will tell the truth.”
“You’re sacking me?” Barrow sounded outraged.
“You should consider yourself lucky I am not having you arrested.”
I was inclined to agree with Carson—the situation was an unfortunate one for Barrow, but in these circs. it’s best to scamper with one’s tail between one’s legs, and be grateful that decency prevents the discoverer from spreading the tale too widely. Barrow, however, was having none of it. “Arrested, right,” he spat. “Because the valet who murdered his wife, him you’d be glad to have back any time. But a bit of harmless—this is worse, is it?”
“Mr. Barrow, you cannot possibly imagine that accusing me of hypocrisy will improve your situation in any way,” Carson said.
“It can’t possibly make things any worse, can it? Out on my ear, without a reference, from the only place I’ve worked in my life? You might as well just shoot me now; I’m done for.”
“A display of hysterics will not improve your situation, either. Will it be necessary for me to summon some of the other staff to forcibly remove you from the premises?”
“Barrow,” I interjected. “Let’s not make a scene, what?”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because—I’d rather you didn’t.” It wasn’t much of an argument, but Barrow actually subsided a little. “I’ll help you find another place,” I told him. “Just, please, pack your things and go quietly.”
“Go where?” he snarled. It was like the snarl of a kitten that has been stepped on—furious but impotent, and a bit pathetic.
Carson suggested the infernal as a destination; I ignored him. “You can come down to London with me for a start, and put up at the flat for a few days until we figure out what to do.” Until Jeeves figured out what to do, I meant, but it didn’t seem right to drag his name into this situation. “And I’ll, er, cover what you’re owed in the way of wages,” I added. I had a feeling Carson would not be inclined to fork over the pay envelope, and it seemed the least I could do.
With Carson breathing fire down my neck and Mr. Wooster offering pretty reasonable terms if I would only shut up, I decided to live and fight another day. After stuffing what I owned into my Army kit-bag, I met Mr. Wooster in the garage and we started for London.
The first thing he did, once we were on the road, was impress on me that Jeeves couldn’t know what had really happened. “He doesn’t know, you see, about me. He might hand in his notice, and I couldn’t bear that. We’ll tell him…well, we’ll tell him something happened, and you lost your place through no fault of your own. He’ll know how to go about finding you another job.”
It seemed to me like the best option might be to have this Jeeves storm off in a huff, and I could slip into his position, with a few extra perks. But my clever plans had a way of backfiring on me in those days, so I thought I’d better see Jeeves in action for myself before going toe-to-toe with him. “I don’t know how anyone could find me another job, with no reference and no experience I can mention,” I pointed out.
“Neither do I, when it comes down to it,” Mr. Wooster said. “But Jeeves will. Jeeves can do anything.”
He went on to tell a few stories illustrating Jeeves’s genius. If they were even halfway true, he was a master manipulator that could put O’Brien to shame. Maybe putting the problem in his hands wasn’t such a bad idea. I may even have realized, at that stage, that I could learn a thing or two from Jeeves.
That brings us back, more or less, to the point at which we started. Barrow had just indicated that the task before Jeeves was to secure him a job as a valet, and Jeeves had indicated his doubt that such a thing was possible.
“Why not?” Barrow asked.
“Indeed,” I added. “Why not?”
“A person who would be seen in public in such a suit could not possibly aspire to such a position, sir,” said Jeeves.
I looked at Barrow’s suit. It was a rather dashing pin-striped number that gave him the air of an American gangster. I could understand Jeeves’s objection; he’d certainly never have allowed me to buy anything like it. “Nevertheless,” I said. “He was previously employed as Lord Grantham’s valet, and lost that position through circumstances that were entirely my fault. A comparable position must be found. Honor demands it.”
“May I enquire as to these circumstances, sir?” Jeeves asked.
“You may not,” I told him. Barrow and I hadn’t been able to come up with a plausible story ourselves, and since the matter could not be put to Jeeves, I had decided that stern silence on the subject was the only thing.
“Very well, sir. I had only thought that, if Lord Grantham previously found this…person’s services acceptable, convincing him to re-engage him might be the most expedient course.”
“Not on,” I told him. “The rift is permanent. Apply the brain to the problem—er, in the morning would be soon enough. After a hearty breakfast of fish, perhaps. In the meantime, bung him into the guest bedroom, and I’ll see myself to bed.”
“The guest bedroom, sir?”
“The very one. Unless you’d like to share your lair with him. Whatever you think best, of course.”
After a rather lengthy pause, Jeeves said, “The guest bedroom, sir.”
What with the night I’d had, and being unemployed and everything, I had hoped to have a bit of a lie-in the next morning, but Mr. Wooster’s man had me up at dawn doing his job, while he watched and made pointed remarks about the way I put kettles on and ironed newspapers. Putting kettles on was a more-or-less constant exercise, because apparently, Mr. Wooster’s morning cup of tea had to be presented to him precisely three minutes after he first opened his eyelids, whenever that was. I didn’t think that Mr. Wooster was the sort to fly into a rage over having to wait a few minutes for his tea, but when I mentioned that to Jeeves, he said it wasn’t the point.
Mr. Wooster had that lie-in I had been hoping for, so it was about noon by the time we actually made tea and carried it in. Or rather, Jeeves made the tea, since he didn’t think I could be trusted not to cock it up, and I carried it in while he hovered at my elbow.
Accepting the tea, Mr. Wooster sipped it. “Ah, nectar. What sort of day is it, Jeeves?”
“Exceedingly clement, sir, now that the morning frost has been burned off.”
“Oh, excellent.” He sipped some more. “I say, Jeeves, what’s Barrow doing in my bedroom? I know I said to find him a job, but I didn’t mean yours.”
“I am attempting to discover, sir, if he possesses any skills whatsoever that would allow me to in good conscience recommend him for a position.”
I would have been offended if Jeeves hadn’t been saying things like that all morning.
After some more sipping, Mr. Wooster asked, “Does he?”
“He has excellent posture, sir. It is a start.”
That was the first time Jeeves had let on that I had any redeeming qualities, in his eyes.
“It occurs to me, sir,” Jeeves continued, “that with some small amount of training, he might make a passably adequate footman.”
I’d been swallowing a lot that morning, but I choked on that. “I was already a footman,” I said. “Before I was a valet.”
“Er,” Mr. Wooster said. “I don’t suppose you’d consider returning to it?”
“No,” I said. After all I’d gone through to become a valet in the first place, I wasn’t about to take a step back down the ladder. “I’m a valet, sir.”
“It’s valet or nothing, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster said. “And it can’t be nothing—as I said, the young master’s honor demands it.”
“I regret to say, sir, that honor likewise does not permit me to recommend Mr. Barrow for a position as a valet.”
“The Wooster will is as iron on this point, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster said.
“I will endeavor to develop a satisfactory solution, sir.”
“That’s the stuff, Jeeves. In the meantime, how about some breakfast?”
It was about then that I remembered the bacon Jeeves had had me put on the stove before taking the tea in.
After breakfasting on slightly burnt bacon and slightly runny eggs, and splashing about a bit in a tepid bath, I oiled out of the flat to the Drones club. Since I wasn’t expected to show my face until Tuesday at the soonest, I was greeted with a glad cry and numerous offers of good fellowship. The day was marred only by one of my closer friends asking, “I say, old thing, is Jeeves ill?”
“No,” I said.
“Ticked off at you?”
He very likely was, but I replied again in the negative. “No. Why do you ask?”
“Your socks don’t match your tie. Are you sure he’s not ill? I can’t imagine why he’d send you out like that if he wasn’t.”
I muttered something about the light over the bureau being out, and changed the subject.
I was beginning, in short, to see Jeeves’s point of view regarding Barrow’s inadequacies as a valet. He had his good points, you understand. One in particular he had begun to demonstrate last night in the billiards room, before we were so rudely interrupted. But in other areas, he was clearly not up to the standard to which I had become accustomed. He was not, I thought, much worse than average—he was certainly better than the sock-stealer or the house-burner-downer I had put up with in Jeeves’s absence. But Jeeves was a cut above, and any valet he recommended would be expected to meet a higher standard.
I decided to try finding Barrow a position on my own, by asking around the Drones if anyone needed a valet. Unfortunately, each fellow member I put the touch on had the same question: Does Jeeves approve this candidate? I had to confess that he had his reservations.
“In that case, old thing, I think I had better try my luck with the agency,” they, to a man, replied. Each using slightly different words, of course, but echoing the sentiment. I would not be able to oil out of the problem that way. Everyone who knew me, knew also that I had a superior valet. They would not be fobbed off with a sub-par specimen.
Only one alternative plan floated through the Wooster onion, and it was unthinkable. If Jeeves continued to balk at the fence, I would have to hire Barrow myself. The thought chilled the blood. I had no need for two valets, and Jeeves would never consent to share his duties in any case. I would be condemned to a lifetime of burnt bacon and poorly-matched socks, all for the sake of a moment’s pleasure.
Even worse, I would be condemned to a life without Jeeves. While Jeeves had never given the slightest sign of interest in what one might call billiards-room type activities, he more than made up for it with his steady presence, wise counsel, and general dreaminess. It was only through steadfast refusal to contemplate the concept that I restrained myself from falling head-over-heels in love with him. And the Wooster soul is, at heart, a romantic one. Given the choice between love and lust, it was no choice at all.
So it was in a fairly lowish state of mind that I made my way back to the flat. Barrow took my coat and stick, then offered a brandy and soda, heavier on the soda than I would have wished. It was a grim portent of things to come.
As I sat down at the piano bench to poke moodily at the keys, Barrow faded into the background, and Jeeves emerged. “What ho, Jeeves,” I said despondently.
“Sir, I believe I have identified a solution to the problem, which, while not ideal, would satisfy the honor of all involved parties.”
The Wooster ears pricked up. “You have?”
“It would entail some personal discomfort for yourself, sir,” he cautioned.
The ears subsided. “If you mean giving him your job, the plan has been considered and rejected.”
“No, sir,” Jeeves said, a hint of abject horror in his tone. “Indeed not. Such a course does not even bear thinking of.”
I brightened again. “All right, then. What’s the plan?”
“I will endeavor, sir, to mold Barrow into an acceptable valet.”
“Teach him the ropes, you mean?”
“Yes, sir. At the conclusion of the course of instruction—which may take several months—I should hope to be able to recommend him for a position with a gentleman who is not exceedingly particular.”
“That sounds bally perfect, Jeeves!” How many times had my friends wished for a valet like Jeeves? Surely finding a place for a valet personally trained by Jeeves himself would be a lead-pipe cinch. “Er, and the personal discomfort? Will you need to take him away to an isolated mountaintop to impart the secrets of the trade?” If he did, I was willing to make the sacrifice.
“I do not expect to have to resort to such an extreme, sir. I had envisioned requiring him to perform many of my usual duties, under my direct supervision. We can expect that, in the beginning at least, the results will be similar to those experienced this morning.”
I considered. A few months of such inconvenience was better than a lifetime of same, or than a permanent stain on the Wooster honor. “But you will be in the wings, so to speak, to attend to any crises?” I checked.
“Right ho, Jeeves. Proceed with the plan as indicated.”
If I thought Jeeves was rough on me that first morning, it was nothing compared to how he was once I was officially taken on as apprentice valet. Have you ever seen one of those war movies that starts out with the hero in Army training camp, running obstacle courses and making beds until his hands cramp, while a grim sergeant-major hurls abuse at him? It was like that, only with less shouting and more silent glaring.
At the time, if you’d asked me, I would have said I only stuck with it because the alternative was being thrown out on my own meager resources. Appealing to Mr. Wooster’s sympathetic nature would have been useless—Jeeves would have gotten rid of me just as easily as a white mess jacket with gold buttons, an alpine hat, or any other unsatisfactory article Mr. Wooster dragged home. But really, there was something else to it. Mr. Wooster clearly thought that the opportunity to learn at the feet of Jeeves was an opportunity any valet with a drop of good sense would kill for. And there was something about Mr. Wooster that even I just didn’t want to disappoint.
So I learned how to make beds and cook eggs. I learned to tell when Mr. Wooster was waking up in the morning, before he even knew it himself. I learned six different formulas for compounding shoe polish, and the uses of each. I even learned what the “perfect butterfly effect” was, and how to achieve it, though I wasn’t allowed to try my hand on Mr. Wooster’s white ties until I’d done it properly on Jeeves five times running.
Once Jeeves decided I was more or less competent in those basics, he moved on to teaching me the principles of correct dress. We observed gentlemen in a variety of situations, and he quizzed me on the inadequacies of each one’s attire. The man could spot a water-spot on a shoe at fifty paces. It was a little frightening.
Around the same time, he declared that it was time to do something about my wardrobe. I thought I had a couple of nice suits—as nice as I could afford, anyway—but Jeeves hated them all. I had to hide in the pantry whenever Mr. Wooster had friends over; Jeeves apparently would have died of shame if anybody saw how I dressed.
“Be reasonable,” I told him. “You can’t expect me to dress as well as, say, Mr. Wooster on what a valet gets paid. It’s just not possible.”
In answer, Jeeves took me on a scavenger hunt through London’s second-hand shops for anything with the slightest hint of potential. Anything we found with a fabric and cut that Jeeves deemed acceptable was only affordable if it was stained or damaged. “An advantage, Mr. Barrow,” Jeeves said, “since your cleaning and mending skills are deplorable.”
Jeeves added a reading list of improving books to my course of study.
Over the next few weeks, I got used to being valeted by the double act of Jeeves and Barrow. I have to admit, until the advent of Barrow, I hadn’t realized how much of valeting was like a swan sailing serenely on the surface and paddling frantically beneath. But then again, for Jeeves it probably was as effortless as it seemed.
For Barrow, not so much. One afternoon, Jeeves had him practice answering the door for a full hour, and from their conversation, I gathered it wasn’t the first time. I wouldn’t have been able to stick it, myself, but the few times Barrow objected, Jeeves simply reminded him that he was free to leave and make his own arrangements if he liked.
I considered stepping in, as this was not precisely within the spirit of my agreement with Barrow, but Jeeves had insisted that he must be given a free hand to proceed as he saw fit. I did take the precaution, however, of asking Barrow how he was bearing up under the strain, one evening early on when Jeeves had ankled out to the Junior Ganymede for a respite from his duties as tutor.
“I’m managing, sir. Mr. Jeeves is a bit strict, but very knowledgeable.”
“He is a valet among valets,” I agreed. “What he doesn’t know about valeting, isn’t worth knowing. If there is anything he doesn’t know. I personally consider it unlikely.”
“Indeed, sir,” Barrow said, in an uncanny imitation of Jeeves. In his own voice, he added, “Except that one thing.”
“Oh, yes, there is that.” Jeeves had continued to hint that he would like to know the circumstances that prompted our swift departure from Yorkshire, but I had remained obdurate, if obdurate is the word I mean.
Fortunately, the real circs. had been adequately concealed from Aunt Dahlia. The butler had apparently told the other guests something about a family emergency. Dahlia, being part of the family, had smelled a rat, but I put her off with something about the Junior Ganymede Annual Dinner and a rummy sitch that Jeeves preferred I not describe. It was very nearly the truth, since the sitch had been rummy, and if Jeeves had known about it, he would surely have counseled discretion. The mention of the Junior Ganymede was, I admit, a red herring.
“You know,” Barrow said. “Since he’s out….”
I had put the firm kibosh on any hanky or panky while Jeeves was present in the flat, but he had given us to understand that he’d be gone for some hours. It was in the manner of a practice exam for Barrow, to see if he could handle a spell of solo valeting without disaster.
I omitted the details of the next hour or so from my report to Jeeves, and I will similarly omit them here. Suffice it to say that, despite the flat not being equipped with a billiards room, we managed to enjoy ourselves.
Such became our usual procedure on Jeeves’s evenings out. It was dashed convenient, being able to do such things right there in the flat, but a thought intruded. The thought of what it might be like to be able to do such things right there in the flat with Jeeves present. That is to say, not only present, but participating. In place of Barrow, I mean, not in addition. While Barrow was a perfectly amiable sort and I wished him well, I did not love.
Still, things proceeded well enough. Barrow began to improve, and Jeeves unbent enough to offer the occasional word of praise. One evening, perhaps two months after Barrow’s training began, Jeeves asked if I might be all right on my own for the evening. “It’s an open day at the Junior Ganymede, sir, for prospective members.”
“Of course, old thing,” I told him. “I’ll muddle along all right with Barrow.” There was a newish thing or two I wanted to try with him, anyway.
A sheep—or rather, a Jeeves—coughed. “I propose to take Barrow with me, sir.”
“With you?” I yelped. “To the Junior Ganymede?”
“Yes, sir. If you recall, the object of this enterprise is to secure for him a permanent position. The resources of the club will greatly enhance the odds of success in this endeavor. I will need, in short—” A nearly invisible look of pain passed over the Jeevsian dial. “—to sponsor him for membership.”
“You think he’s ready?”
“He is sufficiently prepared that I can present him without abject humiliation, sir, and the next open day is not for six months. Unless you would prefer for him to remain a fixture in the household for that length of time, this is the best available option.”
I saw immediately that if Barrow became a member of the Junior Ganymede, our periods of privacy in the flat would be at an end. Still, as Jeeves pointed out, finding him another job was the point of the whole thing. And I couldn’t say that having Jeeves to myself again, sometime sooner than six months hence, wouldn’t soften the blow. “Proceed as you think best, Jeeves,” I declared.
I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when Jeeves asked me along to the Junior Ganymede. From what he’d said about the place, and about me, I gathered that in his opinion, it would take three or four years of diligent study before I was fit to empty the ashtrays there.
On the walk over, he crammed me full of last-minute instructions on how to avoid embarrassing both him and myself. At one point, he said, “When you appear before the membership committee--”
“The committee which reviews all prospective members,” he explained. “With my endorsement behind you, there is some hope that they may be convinced that you meet the required standard.”
Jeeves had mentioned something about it being an open day for prospective members, but I hadn’t thought much of it. I’d figured he just thought it would be a good chance to show me what real valets looked like, and to compare me to them in unflattering terms. “You want me to join your club?”
“Want is perhaps too strong a word,” Jeeves answered. “But I think it best, if we are to achieve the goal of placing you in a suitable position.”
To be honest, I’d almost forgotten about that. I’d slipped into a life of valeting Mr. Wooster and being berated by Jeeves, and it seemed like nothing would ever change. “You think it’s time?” If I had given it any thought at all, I would have expected that Jeeves thought I had several years to go.
“Time to begin thinking about it. Provided you make a decent showing this evening, that is.”
“Right ho,” I muttered.
Jeeves glared at me.
“I mean, I’ll do my best, Mr. Jeeves.”
“Better,” he said.
Jeeves was a pretty popular man in that club of his. Going in, we had to run a gauntlet of valets and butlers, shaking his hand and calling him “Reggie.” A few even clapped him on the shoulder. I was surprised their hands didn’t freeze solid and drop off at the wrist.
I was also surprised that he didn’t haul off and give a sock in the jaw to the chap who asked if I was his nephew. Instead he said, “No,” in a perfectly reasonable tone, as if suggesting a blood relationship wasn’t a deadly insult. “Mr. Barrow is my protégé.”
Protégé sounded a lot better than “half-witted imbecile my employer saddled me with,” which was how I would have guessed he’d introduce me, except that he’d use some other word I didn’t know that meant “half-witted imbecile.”
Once we’d greeted all of “Reggie’s” pals, it was time to scope out the competition. I was feeling pretty good about my candidacy at first—there was one fellow with off-center creases to his trousers and a thick North-country accent who I knew I could beat with one hand tied behind my back. Then we went into the reading room.
“Mr. Jeeves,” I said.
“You have to hide me.”
“That’s Mr. Carson. The butler from my last place.”
Jeeves whisked me off to a private corner of the bar.
“If he’s a member, there’s no way I’m getting in,” I said. “He was the one who sacked me.”
“I’m not acquainted with the gentleman,” Jeeves said. “Excuse me. I will make enquiries.”
While he was gone, one of the ash-tray emptiers whose ranks I was unworthy to join came around to ask if I wanted a drink. I did, and knocked it back pretty quickly, figuring that what Jeeves didn’t know, couldn’t hurt him. But when I tried to pay for it, the boy told me that drinks were put on the member’s bill. Since I wasn’t a member, it would have to go on Jeeves’s and I could settle up with him later.
Maybe I could argue that it had been purely medicinal, after the shock of seeing Carson. He might buy that.
Jeeves returned. “Mr. Carson is a prospective member, like yourself,” he said. “But if he does have information to your disadvantage, he can be expected to share it with the membership committee.”
If he shared what he knew, the membership committee would definitely conclude that I didn’t meet the required standard. And if Jeeves found out why I didn’t meet the required standard…well, I didn’t know what he’d do, but I knew I wouldn’t like it. “If he doesn’t know I’m here, he won’t have any reason to tell them.”
“He will see you at the dinner. All prospective members are seated together.”
I spotted a loophole. “Do I have to be at the dinner?”
“You do if you wish to be considered for membership.”
“Well, then, I’m sunk.” If Carson saw me, I’d be lucky if he only told the membership committee, and didn’t brand me with a scarlet S (for Sodomite) in front of everyone. And, it occurred to me, Jeeves having introduced me around as his protégé might look pretty bad for him, too.
Now, I’ve been going on about what a hard time Jeeves was giving me, and he was, but he was doing me a good turn, and I didn’t want him to be drummed out of his club and enveloped in scandal on my account. I also thought there was a decent chance that if that happened—and particularly if Mr. Wooster was in any way affected by the scandal—he might devote the rest of his life to making mine a hell which would make the last two months look like a holiday in Monte Carlo by comparison.
“I have to leave before he sees me,” I said. “It’s the only way.”
“Even if the consequence is that I deem our work to have been a failure?”
Even if it meant he gave up on finding me a job, I translated. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s not just me that could get hurt if he tells what he knows. I can’t explain, but…it could reflect badly on you and maybe even Mr. Wooster.”
If I hadn’t been so distracted, I would have expected Jeeves to get on my case for the “Yeah.” Instead, he said, “Mr. Barrow, I would not previously have credited it, but I am now convinced that you have acquired a modicum of what Mr. Wooster terms the feudal spirit.” Then he signaled the bar-boy to bring us a round.
It took me a good five minutes to pick my jaw up off the floor. My lack of the feudal spirit was, according to Jeeves, my worst deficiency as a valet, even worse than the way I used to dress or my complete ignorance of the perfect butterfly effect. Coming from Mr. Jeeves, saying I had “a modicum of the feudal spirit” was like anyone else saying I deserved a knighthood. Maybe even a peerage.
After the drinks had been brought, he continued, “You are correct, of course, that such a scandal cannot be attached to Mr. Wooster. The outcome must be avoided at all costs.”
Still reeling from the earlier surprise, I almost missed the import of what he said—namely, the bally bugger knew. I stammered out something like, “What kind of scandal? I didn’t say anything about a scandal.”
Jeeves gave me a look as if to say, You know perfectly well what kind of scandal. “There is a contingent of the membership committee which would be sympathetic, but the vote must be unanimous. And, unfortunately, we cannot rely on complete discretion from the entire membership. There are those who feel that making such proclivities known to prospective employers is more important than even the confidentiality of the club walls.”
“Right,” I said. “So what’s the best way for me to slip out of here without him seeing me?”
“Such a drastic course should be reserved for the last resort,” Jeeves said. “It is essential for a valet who wishes to be deserving of his master’s confidence to be able to offer satisfactory solutions to difficult problems. Consider it an exercise.”
We had been working on offering satisfactory solutions to difficult problems for the last week or two, with Jeeves describing various scrapes from which he’d extricated Mr. Wooster and his various friends and relations, then stopping at the crucial point for me to try to guess how he’d fixed everything. I didn’t get too many of them right.
“What do we have, and what do we need?” Jeeves prompted.
“We need to get Carson to keep his mouth shut,” I said. “We have…nothing? We know he wants to join the Junior Ganymede. I guess you could offer to give him a boost to the membership committee if he keeps quiet, but I don’t think that would do it. His chances are probably pretty good already, without….oh.” An idea dawned.
“How does this membership committee of yours feel about vaudeville?”
I had the rare pleasure of seeing Jeeves stumped. “In what sense?”
“In the sense of a butler who, in his youth, trod the boards as a member of a comedic song-and-dance act called the Cheerful Charlies. It’s Carson’s deepest, darkest secret. If the membership committee would disapprove—maybe even if they wouldn’t—we can Eulalie the hell out of him.”
“You refer to the occasion on which Mr. Wooster diverted the violent attentions of Mr. Spode by alluding to his ownership of a boutique by that name?”
“Yes, of course that’s what I mean.”
“I was slightly confused by the use of ‘Eulalie’ as a verb,” Jeeves said. “I admit, the membership committee would not look with approval upon a past such as you describe. It may work.”
“Did you have something else in mind?” I asked.
“I had thought of arranging to have a telegram sent from Yorkshire requiring his immediate return to attend to an emergency of unspecified nature,” Jeeves said. “The difficulty, of course, is that he would know upon his arrival that the telegram had been a ruse, and he could reappear at some future date. The, as you say, Eulalie approach may be a more long-term solution.”
“You mean you like my idea better?” I admit, I was gloating a bit.
“As you know, the psychology of the individual is paramount in these cases. Being largely uninformed about Carson’s individual psychology, my solution was, perforce, a somewhat generic one.”
In other words, Yes, and kindly shut up about it.
So, before the dinner, Jeeves buttonholed Carson and laid out the situation. Carson and I ended up across from each other at the prospective members’ table, but he was effectively muzzled. He did glare at me a few times, but his glares were nothing on Jeeves’s, and when it all got a bit much, I said, “You aren’t looking too cheerful this evening, Charlie,” and there was nothing he could do about it.
That night, Jeeves and Barrow ankled back into the flat at a latish hour, with Barrow looking somewhat worse for wear. I would have expected Jeeves to tear a strip off of him, but instead, Jeeves sent him to the guest room, and saw to the young master himself.
“Well, Jeeves, tell all,” I said as he removed and brushed the jacket. “Did Barrow get in?”
“The membership committee’s final decision will not be made known for some days, sir, but I have every expectation of success.”
“Jolly good. I suppose we’ll be seeing him off to a lair of his own before long, eh?”
“Indeed, sir. It is about that matter that I wish to speak.”
There was a certain rummy thingness to Jeeves’s tone. It was not a thingness I particularly liked. “Speak, then,” I said cautiously.
“I understand, sir, that there are some respects in which you prefer Barrow’s services to my own.”
He couldn’t possibly mean what I thought he meant. Where was the outrage, the disgust? No, he must have meant something else. “Of course I don’t, Jeeves. Barrow’s improved substantially, but you are the standard by which all other valets are measured, what?”
“Do you require me to speak more plainly, sir?” Jeeves took a deep breath. “He is, I understand, closer to your own age, and more conventionally handsome. And perhaps, too, you desire a less forceful personality in that regard. I am prepared, sir, to hand over my post to him, now that he has been suitably educated, if that is your preference.”
I gaped like a stranded fish. Once I had regained the power of speech, I said, “You knew? Jeeves? You…knew?”
“Yes, sir. The state of your clothing and his on those evenings when I returned from the Junior Ganymede was most illustrative.”
“And you’re not…er…you don’t mind?”
“I mind only that I was never given the opportunity to assist you in that way, sir,” Jeeves said bleakly. “I admit, I had cherished hopes, but as you have never shown the slightest flicker of interest, I must conclude that you are not…interested.” A line from some poet or another sprang to mind—Here cracks a noble heart.
“Oh, Jeeves!” I said, too overcome for further words.
“I never intended to raise the subject,” he continued, clearly not taking in the full meaning of my Oh, Jeeves. “I mention it now only because I thought you should have all relevant information when making your decision.”
Still overcome, I repeated my “Oh, Jeeves,” but this time accompanied it with a full-on labial press, in hopes of forestalling further misunderstanding.
Here again I must draw a veil, but only a short one of the filmy sort. Before we could get very far, Jeeves broke things off with a, “Sir, we cannot proceed with this activity while Barrow is in the flat.”
I had to concede the logic of his position. “Wouldn’t be precisely preux, would it?”
“No, sir. Nor dignified.”
“How fast do you think you can have him bunged into a new position? Provide an estimate. I intend to count the days.”
There was a sharply indrawn breath from the Jeevesian direction. “You have made your decision, sir?”
“There is no decision to be made,” I declared firmly. “Your position is yours; this Wooster accepts no substitutes. Even without—oh, I say!” A terrible thought struck me. “You don’t think, do you Jeeves, that the young master requires this? That is, you didn’t make this generous offer only to keep your position?”
“Of course not, sir. I have long desired you.”
“Thank goodness.” On the heels of my relief, another question followed. “Then why didn’t you bally say so?”
“It would not have been appropriate, sir, given that you showed no interest.”
“It would hardly be appropriate for the young master to show an interest in a domestic employee without some assurance that said interest was welcome, would it?”
Jeeves was momentarily stymied. “I had not considered the matter from that angle, sir.”
“Consider it. It would not be at all preux, would it?”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves said. “So you pursued this activities with Barrow because….”
I was experiencing a bit of tension which required a physical outlet. Since the most obvious one was unavailable, I chose instead to biff Jeeves over the head with a pillow while saying, “Because he asked, you silly ass.”
I honestly don’t know what came over me.
Fortunately, Jeeves permitted the lapse. “I see, sir,” he said, extracting the pillow from my grasp and replacing it on the bed.
“Yes,” I said. “That is the whole of his complicated seduction technique. That and rescuing me from a hedge maze. Consider yourself informed. And I believe we can take the rescuing part as read, so all that remains is the asking.” Except Jeeves had already done that, too. “And the ridding the flat of Barrows.”
“Toward that end, sir, I do have some idea that there is a way in which we could see Barrow returned to his previous post. He has given me to understand that he misses Yorkshire, so I believe this would be considered a satisfactory outcome on his part.”
Now, I said earlier that it couldn’t be done, but if Jeeves was saying it could, I had to consider that he might have facts not at my disposal. “How so? You do understand the circumstances that led to our midnight departure?”
“I have some idea, sir. Mr. Carson, the butler of Downton Abbey, happened to be at the Junior Ganymede this evening. We discussed the situation in a frank manner.”
I almost asked how frank, but decided I really didn’t want to know if, for instance, Carson had specifically mentioned that my trousers were around my ankles, or any other incriminating details he may have cared to name.
Jeeves continued, “He has not told his Lordship that Barrow is no longer employed there, feeling it was not suitable news to include in a letter. In fact, he came to London in part to secure a replacement valet to have on hand when his Lordship returns from New York next week. And, quite appropriately, he told the rest of the staff nothing of the reasons behind Barrow’s departure. Barrow can be seamlessly reinserted into the scene, provided Mr. Carson can be induced to remain silent.”
“I see a problem,” I said. “How is Carson to be induced to remain, as you say, silent? I have to say, he was anything but silent on the night of the incident.”
“May I direct your recall, sir, to the matter of Mr. Spode and Eulalie?”
“Carson designs ladies’ underclothes?” I couldn’t picture it. Then, I couldn’t exactly picture it with Spode, either.
“Not precisely, sir, but he has a secret that he similarly wishes to continue to conceal.”
“And Barrow knows this secret?”
“He does, sir.”
“And it’s the real Tabasco?”
“I introduced the subject to Mr. Carson this evening, and his response was most encouraging, sir.”
“So it’s a matter of one hand washing the other, what? Carson keeps mum, Barrow keeps mum, and everything is boomps-a-daisy?”
“I had envisioned something along those lines, sir,” Jeeves said.
“You may proceed with my blessing,” I said. “If you’re certain the wheeze will work?”
“It will, sir. My only concern was that you might wish to retain Barrow.”
“I do not,” I said. “Barrow, while a fine individual in many respects, is no Jeeves.”
“I understand, sir. In that case, I will meet Mr. Carson tomorrow for another frank exchange of views.”
“And he’ll biff off back to Yorkshire, with Barrow in tow,” I concluded. “Leaving us as alone in the flat as two lovebirds in a nest?”
Miracle of miracles, Jeeves let me sleep in the next morning, taking care of the tea and newspapers all on his own. He didn’t wake me up until about nine, when he said he had to step out for a bit and I should get up and make myself presentable.
It was a good thing I did, because not long after I reported to the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea, Jeeves came back, accompanied by Carson.
My first thought was that Jeeves really hadn’t known what I got sacked for, and now that Carson had filled him in, Jeeves had invited him round to help beat me to a pulp for corrupting Mr. Wooster with my filthy ways. I don’t know why I thought that. Guilty conscience, I suppose.
Instead, Carson—after being prodded stiffly in the back by Jeeves—said, “Mr. Barrow, Mr. Jeeves has given me to understand that you dismissal from Downton Abbey was the result of an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“Has he?” I asked, looking at Jeeves. The situation he’d stumbled in on really wasn’t open to misinterpretation.
Jeeves mouthed back, “Eulalie.”
“Yes,” said Carson. “So I would be glad to welcome you back with--” He cast a beseeching look at Jeeves, as if to say, I really have to?
Jeeves nodded, as if to reply, Yes, you do.
“—with my profound apologies.”
I wanted to ask how profound, but I thought I’d better not press my luck. “Well,” I said. “I have missed Downton.”
Carson pressed on. “Since Mr. Jeeves has explained that you’ve devoted the last two months to professional improvement, there will naturally be no problem with continuing your salary without interruption.”
“I have been learning a lot from Jeeves.” If Jeeves had gotten all that out of him with just the Cheerful Charlies, I clearly still had more to learn. But maybe Jeeves wanted his pantry, and his Mr. Wooster, back. I would, in his position. And my agreement with Mr. Wooster only extended to finding me one job; I had a feeling that if I turned this one down, Jeeves would say I was on my own. “All right,” I said. “I’ll come back.”
“Very good,” Carson said. He turned to Jeeves. “And you’ll….”
“I will refrain from mentioning to the membership committee both the matter we previously discussed, and the positively shameful manner in which you failed to cultivate Barrow’s natural talents,” Jeeves said.
“I beg your pardon,” said Carson.
“Whose responsibility is the training of male staff in a country house, Mr. Carson?” Jeeves demanded in a voice like a village school headmaster. I had been quizzed in that manner a few times myself, and I couldn’t say I didn’t enjoy seeing someone else on the receiving end.
“The butler’s,” Carson said. “But--”
“And for how long has Mr. Barrow been seeking promotion to valet?”
“I don’t recall. Several years. I didn’t consider him suited to the position.”
“Neither would I have, Mr. Carson, based on what I saw when he arrived here. But it took only two months of concerted effort to transform him into an entirely satisfactory valet. Such rapid improvement suggests that the only factor lacking was, indeed, effort. I understand that a butler in a large house has many responsibilities, but I expect that at some point in the last eight years you might have found the time.”
Carson shuffled his feet a little and said something about maybe having been a little remiss. “There was a war, as you know, for four of those years.”
“Yes,” Jeeves said. “For four of them.” He paused meaningfully. “Fortunately, it has ended. I’ll be watching Mr. Barrow’s future career with some interest.”
Carson slapped the train tickets into my hand—I was going back that afternoon, apparently—and left, tail firmly between his legs.
“Did you mean all that, Mr. Jeeves?” I asked when he had gone.
“All of what?”
“‘Entirely satisfactory,’ ‘rapid improvement,’ and so on? Or were you just trying to tick Carson off?”
“‘Entirely satisfactory’ might have been a slight exaggeration,” he said. “Largely satisfactory would, perhaps, be more accurate.”
I was pretty happy with ‘largely satisfactory.’ “And watching my future career with some interest?”
“I expect we will encounter one another at the Junior Ganymede whenever the household comes to London, and of course I encourage you to write if any pressing matters arise betweentimes.”
“I’m getting in, then?” I asked.
“The membership committee has not yet released the list, but I expect my recommendation will prove decisive.”
The membership committee wouldn’t dare reject anyone who had Jeeves’s backing, I translated. They knew what he could do. “Thank you, Jeeves. Not just for the club recommendation, but…well, everything.”
We shook hands, and I went back to the guest room to pack. I did it pretty carefully, putting my new suits in my new trunk—also bought secondhand, and extensively refurbished. I didn’t put it past Jeeves to come in and criticize my trunk-packing, by way of a final exam.
He did come in, but gave my trunk only a cursory glance. “Mr. Wooster would like to speak with you before you go.”
I went to the living room, where Mr. Wooster was seated at the piano. “What ho, Barrow?”
“Good morning, sir,” I said.
“I understand you’re leaving us soonish?”
“Yes, sir. On the two o’clock train.”
Mr. Wooster played a few idle notes. “Well, it’s been dashed pleasant having you here.”
“That’s kind of you to say, sir.” I couldn’t ever remember anyone saying anything like it, in fact.
“If you ever find yourself in a rummy sitch, drop us a line, and the young master will rally round,” he added.
“Thank you, sir. And I appreciate all your help. And Mr. Jeeves’s. It’s been….” I trailed off, genuinely moved.
Here’s the thing. I still wasn’t convinced that Mr. Wooster wasn’t at least a little bit loony. I had learned that his stories were all true—even the one about the aunt’s dog and the aniseed trousers—but I didn’t think it was entirely possible for one sane human being to get into quite as many scrapes as he did in an average year.
But, loony or not, he was the kindest man in England. Most men, after that night in the billiards room, would have booted me out with a couple of quid and maybe a vaguely-written letter of reference, if I was lucky. A good many would probably have blamed me for the whole thing, since I had set up the meeting and picked the place. I don’t think that thought ever occurred to Mr. Wooster—and not because he’s stupid, either. More because he saw past how angry I was, and saw that I was scared and hurting, too.
Jeeves had told Carson that the only thing needed to turn me into a largely satisfactory valet was effort. Jeeves is an unparalleled genius in our field, true, but even he can make a mistake once or twice a year. And I think that must have been one of them, because it took something else, too. It took somebody being kind to me when he didn’t have to, and I didn’t even really deserve it.
The best way to put it, I guess, is that it took Jeeves two months’ concerted effort to make me a better valet. It took Mr. Wooster to make me a better man—and I don’t think he even noticed he was doing it.
I have to tell you, I was nearly counting the minutes until Barrow’s departure, but when the door closed behind him for the last time, I felt a slight pang of emptiness. Here we were, two lovebirds in a nest, but I felt just a little bit like we had just bunged out a fledgling. “Do you think he’ll be happy, Jeeves?” The matter had a certain personal relevance, since my own anticipated future happiness with Jeeves might never have come about if Barrow hadn’t crashed into our lives.
“He may be, sir,” Jeeves said, coming to sit beside me on the piano bench. “The situation at Downton is a highly suitable one for an ambitious young man, provided he is given the proper guidance. If he finds that he prefers the greater…intimacy…of serving a bachelor gentleman, we can always consult the club book when he is next in London, and locate someone of a sympathetic temperament.”
“Ah,” I said. “The matter is ticking along quietly in some corner of that great brain of yours?”
“In that case, I may safely banish it from my own rather smaller brain, and devote myself to more pressing matters?” I leaned up against him in a way that I hoped implied what sort of matters I had in mind.
“Your brain is entirely satisfactory, sir,” he said, cradling it—or rather, cradling my head, which contained my brain—in one of his large, capable hands. “But yes, you may consider the matter well in hand.”
“Jolly good,” I said, and applied what brain I possessed to the question of how best to kiss my man.
Jeeves and I spent the next week or so in and around the immediate environs of the bedroom. Without going into unseemly detail, I can say that any and all activities appropriate to the location are more enjoyable when performed in the company of the fellow soul one loves.
I halfway expected that, out from under Jeeves’s eye, Carson would turn on me, but he didn’t. When we got back to Downton, he told the others that I had been in London learning valeting from a master of the profession (true), and that he hadn’t told anyone I would be back because he knew that I could have my pick of places after studying with Jeeves (less true). Then he made the others give me my postcard from O’Brien, which somebody or other had decided could be used to decorate the servant’s hall since I wasn’t there to receive it.
A few days later, the reason for Carson’s continued reasonable attitude became clear, when the Junior Ganymede membership list arrived. I was on it. And so was Carson, but his name was in the little section marked “Probationary members.”
Jeeves truly did think of everything.