"I say, Jeeves, what in the world are you doing?" Now I'm not one to normally question Jeeves' actions, or his ability to cogitate—if that's the chap I want, it sounds like one of Jeeves'—the fish-fed grey matter, but this was unusually barmy. That is to say, odd, not Barmy-my-fellow-Drones, but I'm getting off the point.
"I say, Jeeves," I said, as I've said, "What in the world are you doing?"
"I'm carving a turnip, sir," he replied sanguinely, continuing on his merry work of brutalizing the poor vegetable. I propped myself against the stove beside the kitchen door and watched the spectacle. There was my valet above all other valets in his usual pinstripe trousers, but sans usual morning coat, shirtsleeves rolled up to reveal tantalizing glimpses of Jeeves' forearms, and apron tied snuggly around waist. The apron was smeared with innards of the turnip as he stood wielding a sharp kitchen knife over it.
"I can see that, Jeeves! I meant, why are you hovering menacingly over the kitchen table carving out bits of this turnip? Has it offended you in some way? Offered unsavory opinions on your mother?"
The Jeevesian lips twitched just so, and if I wasn't so bally distracted by said turnip and t.g. of forearms I would have clapped myself on the back for a job well done. It isn't just any man off the street who can get the Jeevesian lips to twitch, which is as good as a bout of laughter from him. Despite this rare phenomenon I pressed on. "I see no point in carving a turnip, Jeeves, unless—" I hesitated here, suddenly losing footing on my newly found ground that Jeeves was losing one of his numerous marbles. Which is an expression I never understood. What do marbles have to do with losing one's mind anyway? It's not like brains are made of marbles! But I've gotten off the point again. I pressed Jeeves, "—unless it's for some complicated turnip recipe?"
"No, sir, the turnip is not intended for consumption. It is merely decorative." Jeeves continued dissecting the specimen like the science chap in the book. The name escapes me at the mo. I eyed the gruesome smile Jeeves has just finished up with. It had three teeth. Frankenstein, that's the chappie. Jeeves was carrying an air of the Frankenstein about him, the turnip playing the role of his soon-to-be-living monster.
"Er, Jeeves," I said.
"It won't come alive?"
"The turnip. It won't suddenly sprout legs and biff off for parts unknown, possibly the Alps, with a sudden yen for some female specimen to keep it company," I clarified.
Jeeves paused in the middle of cutting out an elaborate eye, glancing up at the young master with a rare air of confusion. "It seems a highly unlikely event, sir. May I inquire as to why this eventuality concerns you?"
I waved vaguely at thin air, wiggling my fingers for emphasis. "You've taken on a Frankenstein air, Jeeves." His demeanor took a turn toward the stuffed frog, but I forged on. "I only mean to say it's odd you're suddenly taking up the carving of turnips as a hobby, old thing. Whatever for?"
"I've placed turnips about the flat this time of year for the last five years, sir." He turned back toward his project and swiftly popped out a piece of the turnip's eye. I scrunched my nose in sympathy for the thing.
I vaguely recalled seeing different colored turnips and even a beet or two floating about in previous years, but I didn't recall any faces on them. I did distinctly remember being pleased Jeeves seemed more inclined to decorate with them than try to fob them off on my dinner plate. "Jeeves," I said, "I vaguely recall the turnips, but I don't recall any faces on them."
"I've recently amended the tradition, it is true, sir." Jeeves dug the knife in to carefully carve out what looked to be the thing's eventual nose.
"And why is that again?"
"For protection, sir," Jeeves said with a somewhat distracted air. It was understandable since he appeared to be working the knife around a nostril.
"Protection? This isn't like that blasted Edwin's mob protection wheeze?" I scoffed.
"No, sir, while young Master Edwin's 'wheeze,' as you say, sir, was an imaginative venture in capitalism, the placing of carved turnips about one's homestead is based in an old fables of the Isles, most notably in Ireland." Jeeves popped the nose piece out and began inspecting the turnip closely, polishing his work here and there into a fine finish.
It was a ghastly array of features, with its toothy grin, empty, staring eyes, flared nose and drawn eyebrows. I even detected the hint of an ear just off the side.
"And again I find myself asking whatever it's for, Jeeves. I know no more now than I did when I came upon this bloody scene, looking only for a spare gasper."
"My apologies, sir." Jeeves wiped his hands on a towel and tugged the apron with its complicated knot off in what appeared to be one smooth gesture. The man was a marvel. "I've been remiss in my duties and shall have your case replenished immediately—"
"Tosh, Jeeves. I only ran out because Barmy and Oofy wanted to see if cigs could be fashioned into artillery in a new Drones game. Something to do with a tumbler, three ice cubs, a string and a pack of gaspers. I forget how it was all meant to work out, but needless to say, treading across the ancient boards was a bit of a trick after the first hour of testing." I eyed my man suspiciously as he whisked all the removed turnip bits into the bin. I couldn't help noticing he'd done a bang up job of avoiding my simple question going on ten minutes now. "I say, old thing, I can't help noticing you've done a bang up job of avoiding my simple question."
Jeeves collected the carton of gaspers from the pantry as he spoke. "My apologies, sir. I did not think the turnip would disturb you unduly. As I have said, it is merely a tradition dating back some centuries, usually attributed to the will-o-wisp or Stingy Jack fables and meant to ward off spirits intent on harm."
"Spirits intent on harm?" I parroted back.
"Yes, sir." Jeeves had plucked my cigarette case from my jacket unnoticed and already had it filled. He offered a gasper in my direction. I took it as I asked,
"Do you believe in spirits, Jeeves?" The notion boggled the Wooster grey matter, not that there was much to boggle re g.m. It was hard to believe my man, Jeeves among gentlemen's personal gentlemen, astute student of the psychology of the individual and all other scientific branches, would believe in such things.
He held a lighter up to the waiting cig dangling from my lips. "The best in this kind are but shadows, and the worst are no worse, if imagination amend them, sir."
"Shakespeare, Jeeves?" It had the air of the bard, if I was any judge, though depending who you ask, this Wooster isn't considered to be much of a judge at all. I was more than content to leave my days of university behind me along with the edifice they came in.
"Indeed, sir, from A Midsummer Night's Dream, when—"
"Never mind 'when,' Jeeves." I said. "That sounded very much like you don't believe in spirits!"
"That is correct, sir. I find myself in doubt of ghosts and spirits coming to haunt the living from the beyond." Jeeves subtly herded the Wooster corpus out of the kitchen, leaving the unappealing turnip behind. "However my sister's husband has brought the tradition into the family, and I was forced to assure my youngest niece I would carve an appropriately alarming visage in the style of Stingy Jack."
"Stingy Jack being one of these fables?" I was deposited at the chesterfield as Jeeves biffed off to whip up a w. and s.
"Yes, sir. Stingy Jack was said to have fooled the Devil into forfeiting his soul, but since Heaven would not take a soul so depraved as to be capable of pulling the wool over the Devil's eyes, the Devil sent Jack's spirit to wander the night with only a candle to light his way. Jack carved out a turnip and placed his candle inside it, carrying the turnip wherever he went on his journey."
I digested these words. A shiver passed through me. "Deuced spooky, that, what?"
"Many feel it has the air of the unnerving, sir." Jeeves offered the w. and s., standing off to my side, just out of view. I jumped an inch or six as the apparently hovering silver server floated into view.
"Dash it, Jeeves! Now is not the moment to sneak up on the young master!"
"I take it you do not believe in ghost stories, sir." Jeeves' tone was perfectly ordinary, with only the underlying hint of amusement. I shot him a knowing glare but the whiskey and soda quickly calmed my nerves.
"So you did this for the tender feelings of your niece then, Jeeves? Am I to take it you shall be delivering it to her doorstep at next opportunity then?" I generally left the decoration of the flat to Jeeves, barring the occasional hideous vase or hippopotamus figurine from one aunt or another, since he tended to care more about the place's appearance than I did, but the idea of that questionable turnip face peering out at me from every corner of the flat unnerved me more than I would admit. Nothing like a rotten vegetable staring you in the face in the morning to set one's day on edge.
"Indeed, sir, that was my intention." Before I could express my relief the doorbell rang with a, well, a ring, as doorbells generally do, and Jeeves was shimmering off to answer it. He returned a moment later. "A telegram, sir, from Mrs. Gregson."
I jumped, the w. and s. sloshed dangerously. "Aunt Agatha," I yelped manfully. "What does she want?"
"Shall I read it, sir?"
"Yes, yes!" I sat up straight, dropped my legs off the chesterfield, and knocked back the rest of my drink. "Can't we have one week of peace?"
"Mrs. Gregson intends to stop by the day after tomorrow, sir. She wishes you to give lunch to her and her new acquaintance: a young lady of notable background, if a somewhat wispy personality, who would, in Mrs. Gregson's words, provide a 'not entirely unsuitable match that would curb the unhealthy habits of your idiotic lifestyle,' sir." Jeeves related all with a calm demeanor. Not even his eyebrow lifted a fraction.
I sunk back into the chesterfield, feeling all the despairs of the world dropping onto my shoulders. "Jeeves?" I croaked.
"That is an ill omen of the highest caliber."
"Do you think I must give them lunch? Any time to whisk ourselves off to Cannes? Or…or Cuba?"
"It seems unlikely, sir, since Mrs. Gregson will know of your return from France only this week. I believe you may have to 'grin and bear it,' as they say." Jeeves collected my tumbler and whisked off to the bar once more.
I ruminated on this, if ruminated is the word I want. Gratefully accepting Jeeves' latest w. and s. I said, "Didn't you say that turnip thingummy wards against evil?"
"Against restless and harmful spirits, sir," Jeeves concurred. "It is a tradition people began to ensure Stingy Jack and other spirits would be spooked away from their homes."
"You'll have to make your niece another one then," I declared.
"Sir?" Jeeves had an air of bemusement. Twice in one day! If I wasn't so bally worried about Aunt Agatha I'd have appreciated that more.
"No, Jeeves, don't argue. Our need is greater. We must ward off the evil spirit of Aunt Agatha. You can't deny, can you, that my dragon aunt is a dark and harmful whatsits." I gave him a firm nod. "Absolutely not."
"One could say Mrs. Gregson's formidable determination often has regrettably unfortunate events for yourself, sir," he agreed mildly.
"Right, right." Lob Turnip Jack in the window then, my good man." I beamed up at him and sipped more of my drink. "Or wherever it is one lobs a turnip. And carve up a dozen more. We need all the protection we can get."
The corner of Jeeves' mouth turned upward. "Very good, sir."
"We'll ward off Aunt Agatha," I said, hoping saying it often enough would help the turnip fellow work out its mission and fire up its determination to do its job. Not that a turnip thinks. Or has a job. But whatever helped these turnips along, what?
"As you say, sir."
"And a dozen more like this one, Jeeves. So many they're practically overwhelming the flat." I insisted.
"I'll pick up the necessary squash tomorrow, sir."
"Is that all, sir?"
"Unless you have any more tips about warding off dragon aunts, Jeeves."
"I'm afraid such advice eludes me at the moment, sir."
"That's all then."
"Very good, sir."