When we emerged from our building, Mr. Wooster blinked rapidly in response to the sun. I had taken the liberty of keeping the curtains drawn in the flat so he had not seen it in some time.
He froze in the act of climbing into the two-seater and stared out at the pavement by the street. I continued to hold the door open for him and attempted to locate the source of his fixation. Finding nothing alarming I asked softly, "Sir, is there anything amiss?"
When he turned to look at me I nearly recoiled at the naked fear in his face, "N-n-no, Jeeves. Thank you, it's fine."
He sat down and seemed to force his eyes forward.
We were on our way to Brinkley Court for a rest cure as Mr. Wooster had recently undergone a severe ordeal at Bethlem Royal Hospital and needed to soothe his frayed nerves and damaged body.
"Jeeves?" He asked me suddenly as we stopped in traffic, "Do you think I'm mad? Do you think I belong in that place?"
I turned to him in surprise and found him gazing up at thin air as if there was something right beside the car, "Certainly not, sir. As I mentioned before it was entirely the fault of Sir Glossop and myself. You did nothing to warrant your stay in that institution."
"But," he began and the traffic began to move again so I pulled my gaze away, "Never mind."
Mr. Wooster was much improved when we were on the road, he chattered about Monsieur Anatole's cooking, Mrs. Travers' magazine, and the mystery novel I had been reading to him. He seemed to be returning to his usual good spirits.
But when we pulled into the drive at our destination he fell silent and began staring into space once more.
"Sir? Sir, we have arrived if you'd care to enter through the front door. I shall take the luggage to our rooms." One thing I had always appreciated about Brinkley Court was the usual quarters Mr. Wooster was given. They had an adjacent bedroom for me with a connecting door. Close proximity was even more appreciable in these regrettable circumstances.
He jerked as if he'd forgotten my presence completely, "Y-yes, Jeeves. That will be fine."
As he was still as white as a sheet I was unable to determine if his distress was due to his physical infirmity or something new. I resumed my helpless worrying. There didn't seem to be anything else I could do at that moment.
After I had unpacked and set my young master's room to rights, I made my way to the servants' corridors and the kitchens. I could hear a great deal of discussion about my employer. All of it was sympathetic, naturally, for he is very well-liked by the staff wherever he goes.
"Poor little lamb, he's as thin as a reed! And him, a delicate thing to begin with!"
"He was always a bit strange…. A sweet, sweet dear, though! He certainly didn't belong in one of them beastly asylums."
"Modeste Monsieur Wooster! Mon Coq au vin et chevre will soon 'ave ze meat on ze bones of him!"
"And he's so pale! He looks as though a stiff breeze would blow him over!"
"You know what they used to say about him… before the War, I mean."
I froze in the doorway. Mr. Wooster and the Great War was something alluded to only once before in my presence. It was a few weeks after I'd come into his employment. Mrs. Travers had cornered me in a hallway but all she had said was never to mention it and to keep him away from any references to it.
"What did they say?" I asked.
All activity in the kitchen paused. An old woman plucking a chicken spoke up, "Young Master Bertie, he had the Sight, he did. That bullet in France made it sleep. Now that Sir Glossop has gone and woke it up again."
My knees felt slightly shaky so I leaned on a nearby counter. My interpretation of Mrs. Travers' warning had been that he had lost someone dear to him, "Bullet in France?"
One of the footmen answered me, "Yeah, only two weeks before the end of the whole mess. Was a shame but he's lucky compared to most. All the gentlemen friends he enlisted with died. He doesn't remember a thing. Some would say that's luckier still."
"Mrs. Travers has got all them pretty medals they gave him in a box in her study. I cleaned and pressed his uniform m'self. It's in a trunk in the library." A parlour maid added.
"He was a hero, you ken," The old woman remarked, "Course, he could hardly be anything else with the blood he's got running through his veins. Born to be a soldier, though you wouldn't think it to look at 'em. But he had the Sight. He had it ever since he was just a tiny thing. And now it's back."
"No one ever told you, Mr. Jeeves?" One of the younger maids, Jenny, asked me, "About Mr. Wooster's soldiering, I mean?"
I shook my head, absorbing the information slowly, "No. Does everyone in his acquaintance know?"
"His aunties tried to keep it quiet. Said he was ruined and all on account of what it did to his mind. Makes him forget things and mix things up. But most of his friends would know." The parlour maid informed me. Then she tapped her left temple, "The bullet hit him here. He was in the hospital for months before he woke up. It used to break my heart to hear him after they brought him home. He would forget words or use the wrong ones. He was so clever before… not that he isn't clever now! I don't care what Mrs. Gregson or Mrs. Travers says. He's just… different."
"The Sight slept. But it's awake now." The old woman repeated.
Everyone looked uncomfortable and I cleared my throat, "Thank you, I should be getting back. Mr. Wooster may have need of me."
I found him on the floor in the corner of our rooms. His knees were drawn up beneath his chin and when he raised his head there were tears running down his face.
I rushed over to kneel beside him, "Sir?"
He didn't even look at me at first as his eyes were fixed on the doorway between our bedrooms, "I-I-I can't stay here, Jeeves. Please, I-"
I searched the room for something, anything, that might have upset him, "I'm certain I can secure us another room if you prefer, sir."
Mr. Wooster looked up at me then, "I-I believe I really have gone mad, Jeeves. I think I may need to go back to that place."
My heart wrenched as a shudder ran through him. I placed a hand on his shoulder, wishing propriety did not prevent me from gathering him into my arms and shielding him from the world entire, "No, you have no need of that place, sir. You are no danger to anyone. I do not believe you insane to the slightest degree. And even if you were I would take care of you myself."
He wiped at his eyes and I handed him my handkerchief. He was forever losing his own, "You- you wouldn't leave me, Jeeves? Even if I were mad?"
"I will never leave you, sir, unless you send me away yourself." I affirmed, straightening his collar, "Now why don't you tell me why you believe yourself mad?"
Mr. Wooster sniffed, "After we get out of here. Please, Jeeves, can we get out of this room?"
When I led him to the first room that Mrs. Travers had suggested he went even paler and refused to even cross the threshold. I scanned it hoping to find what on earth it was he found so frightening. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing.
He accepted the second option, a smaller guest room with two beds, readily enough. I moved all of our things after I settled him into his pyjamas for a lie down.
I found the Rex West mystery he had been reading on the floor across the room when I returned. At my questioning glance he stated, "I don't think I like mysteries anymore."
I sat on the edge of the bed, "Sir, will you please tell me why our usual room upset you so?"
Mr. Wooster took a deep breath, "There was a man… a long time ago. He hanged himself there, in the doorway."
I huffed out a breath, "How do you know this?"
"Because I saw him. He was hanging there with his- his eyes bulged out and his face all purple and he'd wet his trousers and- I couldn't stay there." I watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.
I tried to make sense of what he was confiding in me, "Are you saying that you hallucinated in the other room so- so you can't stay there for the memory of it?"
He shook his head and looked up at me, his eyes earnest and glistening. At that moment I knew that he truly believed what he had seen, "No, he never- went away."
"What was in the second room?" I asked feeling quite chilled.
"There was blood everywhere."
Was he truly mad? Hallucinations that do not fade or disappear, I'd never heard of that, "But there isn't anything in this room?"
He shook his head looking around, "No, and it's quiet."
"You hear voices?" I asked, wincing at the strangled tone that emerged.
I took a few deep breaths. Why not here, then? Why did he see and hear things elsewhere but not here? That made no sense to me. And why not back at the flat? He hadn't mentioned anything disturbing there.
So I asked him.
"Because no one died here, or at the flat."
I blinked, "Are you saying you are- that these are ghosts?"
Mr. Wooster licked his lips, "Some of them are. The ones that talk are, I think. But the hanging man didn't do anything but swing back and forth. He was different. He felt different."
"I- I feel them. Sometimes it gets all cold or my skin gets all prickly. Sometimes it's like when you walk on the carpet in your socks and touch the door knob."
"Static electricity, you mean?" I said and when he nodded I asked, "What did the room with the blood feel like?"
"Cold. Really, frightfully cold. She was angry. She was different from the others, too."
"The woman who was murdered. She felt like- like she really wanted to hurt us any way she jolly well could."
I could tell the conversation was upsetting for him, so I broke it off and ventured back to the kitchens to find him some lunch. My mind was running through his words over and over, trying to make sense of it all.
Was it the drugs? Did they have lasting side effects? Or could one of the 'therapies' have damaged him somehow in some way that I simply could not yet see?
The old woman's words came back to me and after I requested Mr. Wooster's tray I went over to speak with her, "You knew Mr. Wooster as a child?"
She nodded, "Always was special, he was. He first came here after his mam and da passed. Six years old and he already knew more than anyone ought. He had the Sight, it was plain as day."
"What is the Sight exactly?" I asked, wondering if I'd gone mad myself for even entertaining such a notion.
"Only someone who has it can tell you that. They see the world beyond, the past, present, and future. The young master knew enough, even at that age, to keep it to himself."
"They see spirits? Ghosts?"
"That'd be part of it, not all of it."
"What kinds of things did he tell you he saw?"
She leaned back in the chair and paused her plucking, "Oh, one time he was playing the piano in the Drawing Room and I was dusting. All of a sudden he mashed down on them keys and gave me quite a fright, let me tell you. Now I'd never heard him so much as miss a note before so's I asked him, "Whatever's the matter, Master Bertie?"
He says, 'Roger fell from the hayloft and broke his leg.' So I ran to the stables and that's exactly what had just happened. Poor Roger still limps when it rains. It never set quite the same."
I started and turned to find Jenny holding out Mr. Wooster's tray, "Thank you."
I turned back after two steps, "Did he ever say anything about the guest rooms on the third floor?"
"Oh, yes. He wouldn't even go up there. He said one room… that one Mrs. Travers always puts him in now, had a hanging man in it. And the one down the hall from that, he said there was a woman who had her throat cut. I tell you, ever since he told me that I get one of the others to clean up there. Even if I can't see 'em I don't want nothing to do with 'em."
I suppose it was simply years of conditioning that allowed me to avoid dropping the tray, I thanked the old woman- Martha, her name was- and attempted to carry it upstairs.
What did this mean? Was he recalling childhood delusions? And what then of the story of the fallen footboy?
Every logical, scientific bone in my body was crying out in objection. But there was simply no rational explanation. Mr. Wooster was not a liar and I doubt very much he ever had been. I suppose I could ask Roger about his leg but it was unlikely he would have known the young master predicted it.
The only thing to do was test the hypothesis and conduct an experiment to prove or disprove my employer's sanity. I meant what I had said whole-heartedly. I would remain by his side in sickness and in health and care for him as long as I was physically able.
I laid the tray across his knees and asked if I might sit down again. He gestured as if it were a given the way he always did, "Sir. I believe I might have a method we can use to settle this matter once and for all."
He stopped rearranging the food on his plate and looked up at me, "You mean whether or not I've lost what few marbles I had to begin with?"
I decided tactfully not to answer that, "If these… visions are accurate, if you can truly communicate with these spirits, then surely we can find a way to prove it."
"Prove it how?"
"I would like you to try and speak with the woman in the other room."
Mr. Wooster dropped his fork with a clank. I could see the terror he felt at my suggestion in his face and I very nearly retracted it.
"Sir, I do not believe she can harm you in any way."
"Will you come with me?" He asked.
I was actually shocked he would feel the need to ask me, "Certainly, sir, my place is at your side."
"Well, there's nothing to fret about then." He put on his bravest smile, and if his hands were shaking while he tied his dressing gown I did not comment on it.
I was feeling very anxious myself as I turned the door handle. My rational mind refused to believe in anything remotely supernatural, but my beloved employer's clearly did. I did not wish to cause him any strain.
His shaking became impossible to ignore as we entered the room and I had just decided to draw him back out. I placed my hand on his arm and found him freezing cold. The temperature in the room was normal.
Mr. Wooster took a deep breath and let it out and I could see it steam the air as if we were out of doors in the middle of January.
"What ho?" He choked out.
And then jerked back against me, I could feel a force pushing him back and I glanced down to see him on his heels. There was simply no way he could be exerting that much pressure in that position, particularly with his low weight.
"I say- um… Hello, we were just wondering…" He let out a very distressed sounding groan, "I mean to say, we were wondering if we might be of some- some assistance. Yes, your… wound is very impressive. Could you maybe put it away for a bit?"
He gripped my hand then and I was struck once more at his drop in body temperature.
"You remember me? Yes, I used to stay here during summer holidays. This is Jeeves. No, he wouldn't hurt anyone either. I promise. We both promise. Cross our hearts and hope to… and all the rest. Surely there's something we can do for you?"
Then something I could never possibly explain away occurred. The chair at the vanity across the room pulled out by itself. A letter opener from the writing desk began floating over to it.
"I say, he was low, wasn't he?" Mr. Wooster said, evidently seeing much more than I was.
The blade of the letter opener swung across in a slashing motion and I realised we must be witnessing a reenactment of the murder itself. Mr. Wooster turned his face away almost completely against my chest. Despite the brutal circumstances, my stomach flipped most unprofessionally.
Almost involuntarily my hand came up to rub his back in the same circular motion I had used just after he'd left the hospital. I froze as he looked up at me suddenly.
"We need shovels."
My clarity of thought was severely affected by these events, you must understand. We were actually outside before I came to my senses and insisted that he would do none of the labour apparently required.
"Sir, if I may speak freely, you are not at your usual strength. I cannot in good conscience allow you to endanger your health any further." As he was already winded simply from our walk to the site, he reluctantly agreed.
I began digging in the spot he indicated with only the barest inkling of what I might uncover. When I struck something neither earth nor stone did I begin to fully appreciate what I had put into motion.
In an isolated spot near the lake, in a shallow grave barely four feet deep, a human skull was uncovered. The rest of the skeleton quickly followed. The bones stood in sharp relief, pale and yellowed against the dark sod.
I stood there heaving both from the exertion and the horror of it, staring into this lonely interment. This was no madness, unless we two shared it somehow.
This was very real.
Her name, according to Mr. Wooster, was Mary Collins. She was killed by Lord Arthur Dainsby in 1862. She was his mistress and with child. She threatened to inform the Lady Dainsby one evening after a dinner party. He entered her rooms and they argued.
He cut her throat with the letter opener and buried her here in the dead of night. A reputably willful girl, he was able to convince everyone she had run off with a lover to the Colonies.
Her family had been shamed and she had gone unmourned and spoken ill of until they died off one by one. She lay buried in the dirt in an unmarked grave for more than sixty years.
I was forced to explain our discovery with a story about Mr. Wooster's whimsical desire for a goldfish pond. It was accepted without question by Mr. and Mrs. Travers. Occasionally Mr. Wooster's reputation for dotty behaviour is very convenient, if not terribly accurate.
"That place made him worse didn't it, Jeeves?" Mrs. Travers asked me. She was staring out at the rain from the library window.
"I'm afraid so, Madam." I replied, although it pained me to say it.
"Nothing you can't handle, though?" She turned to me imploringly.
I drew myself up a bit, "Certainly not, Madam, Mr. Wooster is my responsibility. None of the tasks required for his care could ever exceed my abilities."
She smiled at me distractedly, "Good. Now come here, I'd like to show you something. Open that trunk just there."
I did so, noticing she'd taken a polished wooden box off the desk. The trunk contained precisely what I had been told about in the kitchens. There was a highly polished pair of combat boots, a neatly folded green uniform with a gleaming RAF pin and captain's stripes, and a cap with a shiny division badge dead center.
She opened the polished box and the breath flew from my lungs. I'd understood he'd been awarded medals and had even been told he'd been considered a 'hero' by the staff. But I was utterly unprepared for this regardless.
Every British school child knew what a Victoria Cross was, after all. I felt privileged to even be looking at one.
There were five others, including the Silver War Badge he'd obviously earned from his injury. They were all obviously well cared for and glimmered in the lamp light.
"He was at Gallipoli, and I think the Cross was for the Somme. He was a sniper, you see. He had a lot of secret missions. Then they had him flying for a while. They didn't tell us much and he couldn't tell us anything in his letters. I guess we'll never know. Maybe it's for the best." She fingered the Victory Medal sadly.
I bent down and picked up two framed photographs from the trunk. The first was Mr. Wooster alone looking very smart and very young in his uniform. He was smiling but there was something dark behind his eyes.
He knew. He knew exactly what he was in for, I realised. If he had known about a footboy's broken leg he would have known he was headed into a war that would more likely kill him than not.
The second photograph featured a group of about twenty young uniformed gentlemen, all looking freshly scrubbed and ready to do their duty.
"Dead. Every one of them. Only Bertie is left." Mrs. Travers told me, "You have to know, Jeeves…" She broke off with a sob and snapped the wooden box shut, "If I'd had any idea what we were sending him into…"
She hugged the box to her chest and sat on the piano bench, "It was Agatha, really. 'Every Wooster has been a soldier', she said. And it's true. You can trace military records back to the Norman Conquest. There were three at the Battle of Hastings fighting for William the First."
I had known this; Mr. Wooster had mentioned his Norman ancestry more than once while trying to find the courage to deal with some unpleasant task.
"Anyway, I went along with it, foolish thing that I was. Of course if there's a war the boy should go. I had no idea, I really didn't. By the time he'd been over there three months we were losing fifty thousand boys a week. There had never been a war like that. They talked about guns that could fire hundreds of bullets a minute, about bombs buried under the ground, about poisonous gas… And it just went on for YEARS!
Jeeves, he joined up when we told him to, August 4th, 1914. We didn't see him again until the war had been over for two months. He spent the last two weeks of the bloody thing unconscious in a hospital bed. They didn't think he was ever going to wake up. They thought that if he did he would be… he would be so damaged we wouldn't recognize him.
But he did wake up and he could walk and talk just fine. He had some trouble with words, he still does actually. And he has trouble with his memory, you've heard him. He can't seem to keep a single quotation straight anymore. But if you'd known him before.... he had a fantastic memory for them once. He could pull out a piece of poetry to fit any occasion. It used to drive Agatha mad!" She chuckled and wiped a few tears away.
"He didn't remember anything of the war. He didn't even remember there had been a war. We worried about that until the Jackson boy… did away with himself. He was the only other one from the picture to come home alive. But the war did something to him. He hanged himself in the family stable a few months after he got back from France.
After that we figured Bertie was much better off in blissful ignorance. After all, we got the same sweet boy back, if he was a bit slow and a bit dotty and couldn't keep his Keats from his Coleridge, well so what? I know I get frustrated with him sometimes because I keep expecting him to be the way he was before. In fact, we all do! Isn't that awful?
But Agatha is much worse. It's as if being angry with him means she can stop being angry at herself. I have to say even I don't understand her need to marry him off. Maybe she just wants to make sure he's taken care of. But he's got you for that, doesn't he, Jeeves?"
"Most assuredly, Madam." I replied.
And she smiled at me then, a secretive and knowing sort of smile, "Yes, you'll be there to take care of him."
"I have secured the burial plot, coffin, and headstone, sir." I announced finding him securely in bed where I had placed him earlier.
He smiled out at me, nearly at the wattage of old, "Excellent, Jeeves. Mary should be very happy. I'm glad you suggested I talk to her… although it was quite frightening at the time, I won't lie."
"I'm sorry you found it unsettling, sir, but her body may now be laid to rest. I'm certain it's what she would have wanted."
"Oh, it is! It's exactly what she wanted! She's waited years and years. Now that I've gotten to know her, she isn't so scary at all." He proclaimed, turning to smile at thin air on the other side of the bed.
That gave me a start, "Is she in the room with us now, sir?"
"Oh, yes. She was keeping me company while you were gone. She says people like me ought not to be alone in Old Places."
"Old Places, sir?" I cocked my head.
"Yes, she says Old Places are just where there's been a lot of living, because if there's been a lot of living there's been a lot of dying. And not all of the… deceased are as friendly as she is."
I thought back to the way she'd menaced Mr. Wooster when we had first entered the room. 'Friendly' would not have been the adjective I would have chosen, "Indeed, sir?"
Mr. Wooster shook his head, "She says some… deceased are very angry and they can try to hurt the living. That's us." He added, as if he'd thought I'd forgotten.
"Why did she say you shouldn't be alone? You specifically?" I inquired.
He turned to the empty air on his other side and appeared to be listening intently for a moment, "She says that they'll be attracted to me because I can see them. They'll want to talk to me just because they can. And if they think I can help them… they might not stop until I do."
"Is there some measure of protection we might utilize?" I asked, starting to get concerned about ghostly coercion.
Mr. Wooster sounded uncertain when he began again, "She says I have more power over them than they have over me. She thinks I can make them go away if I have to."
"How do you do that?"
He turned back to me and shook his head, "She doesn't know."
After all the excitement, I was pleased to find Mr. Wooster fell asleep easily. He hadn't eaten very much but I suspected that had more to do with physiology than psychology now. To put it simply, his stomach had reduced in size from the period of deprivation.
I decided calorie laden beverages were the best option at the moment and discussed this with Monsieur Anatole after my employer had retired. I strove not to wake him when I returned to our room and changed for bed, but I needn't have worried as he slept quite deeply.
The next afternoon we held a small service and buried Miss Collins at a lovely spot in the local cemetery overlooking the valley. When I turned to ask Mr. Wooster if the lady approved, I found him gazing raptly at something above us. A beatific smile spread across his face, even through his obvious awe.
"I say," He whispered to me, "I always wondered what they meant when they said 'passed on'. It's bally marvellous, Jeeves."
"Is it, sir?" I asked, for the first time envying him his strange gift.