In media res is how Jeeves says to begin the thing, on account of all the other histories starting off with the dawn of time like that first “fiat lux” from the heavens was the starting whistle and only gradually and grudgingly making their way to Jeeves and self at all. Such stuff is rot. H. G. Wells may have had his virtues, but starting off his book with that potted history of Mars is what did us all in. “Oh ho,” your average chronicler of extraterrestrial life thinks, “if Wells figured we’d better know about Mars before we get to the rest of it, who am I to argue? Fellow did get closer than most, after all, must have known his stuff.”
And all the while the reader despairs. At what point, he or she may well ask, will the heat rays turn up?
Well, Bertram Wooster is no dillydallying chump of an author looking to pad his word count and hear the little clink of additional coins pitter-pattering down with each new adjective, nor are his scruples so dour he looks down the entire length of his nose at the piddling task of entertainment. On the score of doing justice to the reader I have not a single qualm. I have held off and let other pens precede me solely because of the rather awkward nature of my centrality to it, viz., Jeeves and I having saved the planet from utter destruction. A full and honest account of such cannot help but burnish the Wooster image. Skeptics will accuse this humble author of arrogant trifling.
I raised this matter with Jeeves. “Skeptics, Jeeves,” I said, “will accuse this humble author of arrogant trifling.”
“I do not think so, sir.”
“Your feudal spirit and all that prevent you from seeing it, no doubt. But such venom is real.”
“If you’ll permit me to suggest it, sir, I think the nature of your heroism--”
“Ours, you mean.”
“Thank you, sir. The nature of our heroism is such that the world has largely misunderstood it. You’ll recall the film in which you were portrayed by Randolph Scott, in which it was suggested there was quite a bit of shooting and shouting involved in the endeavor. A corrective from yourself will restore the truth to the public eye and, though I hesitate to mention it, possibly disenchant some of your more ardent unwanted admirers.”
“It really is getting that I can’t poke so much as a wingtip out the door without some damp-eyed young person wringing my hand with thanks.” And, what was more, sometimes offering in the plainest language to commit lewd acts with, near, and upon me, but I judged that rather more than Jeeves, who had gotten awfully sniffy about some of this, would want to hear.
“Said thanks are richly deserved, sir, but diplomacy rarely attracts them.”
“You’ve hit upon the very solution like a bull’s-eye. As admirable as I daresay it all might have been, it did admittedly all bear a suspicious resemblance to a pleasant conversation. Kept the oceans from boiling up like soupe à l'oignon and the streets from running red with blood, and all that, but you’d be bored stiff by it in the cinema. You certainly wouldn’t throw your undergarments at it.”
“Has that happened?” Jeeves said, looking mildly aghast, which is the closest Jeeves ever comes to conveying absolute, bone-chilling horror.
“No, no, old thing,” I reassured with the very whitest of lies. “Purely by way of being a hypothetical.”
After all that was worked out, Jeeves impressed upon me that the best service I could now do for mankind was to be as straightforward as possible about the affair with the Flancherians, and it is straightforward I intend to be.
So!--as the Beowulf poet says, and why shouldn’t he--it was in the middle of last May that, in my Aunt Dahlia’s garden (Aunt Dahlia being my good and deserving aunt, and not the one who pickles the fingers of children in jars of brine), I spied what appeared to be a newt, and, under a spell of temporary madness, decided it would be just the thing for my friend Gussie Fink-Nottle’s birthday. If it had been an ordinary orangey-brown kind of newt, I would have rejected the thing as the amphibian equivalent of Modern Dutch and simply gone on, being regrettably all too familiar with your garden-variety English newts.
This one, however, seemed to have decided that if it were going to be seen, it was jolly well going to look its best. Its body looked like oxidized silver with more than your average number of rainbows swirling around just underneath the topmost layer of slimy newt-skin. That seemed an advantage. Furthermore, and this really put the decision to bed, it was quite apparent the thing would be easy to catch, because it was making its way along the garden path with a lot of heave-hoing and swaying back and forth like it was suffering from sunstroke.
I will not go so far as to claim that I said, “Oh, you poor thing,” but I did feel some reluctant stirring of the heart towards it, and it seemed the sensible thing to do to get it somewhere wet as soon as possible.
Jeeves viewed this with the greatest approbation.
“It is my duty to inform you, sir,” he said, watching the now-quite-vigorous newt paddle back and forth in my bathtub, “that if this becomes a fixation--”
“Fear not, Jeeves. He’s only a gift for Gussie.”
By a slight relaxation of his jaw, Jeeves signaled that this gave him comfort that surpassed understanding. “It does appear to be rather out-of-the-ordinary for such a creature. Mr. Fink-Nottle will be pleased, no doubt. I would suggest, however, that more suitable accommodations could be found: I believe fitting a glass cage with both adequate water and greenery should suffice for the time-being. It will all be easily found in the greenhouse.”
He made no move to sally forth, however, so he was still a bit miffed.
“I shall go to the greenhouse, Jeeves,” I said, fully expecting him to appreciate my sacrifice. “And as Gussie’s birthday is not three days hence, I have no qualms about assuming full care of said newt. But if this turns out to be a new species of some sort, labor not under the misapprehension that it will be phylum Jeevesia.”
“The phylum would be Chordata, sir. The species or perhaps subfamily would be the only alterations.”
“And you don’t mind losing forever the chance at naturalist immortality?”
“No, thank you, sir.”
Well, he soon regretted that, because no sooner had I fetched up my amphibian friend and hoofed it speedily to the greenhouse than a beam of light caught me around the middle in an atypically familiar manner and hoisted me up like Peter Pan. I felt like a bag of potatoes, though no bag of potatoes ever voiced fear quite so loudly: I am unashamed to admit that I sounded my barbaric yawp, as the poet said. I kept tight hold on my newt, and, as it turned out, thank goodness for that.
I don’t know if it’s common understanding or not, but the air gets a bit parky and thin once you’ve climbed a ways into the sky, and once I’d gotten about eye-level with some cumulus I remembered this and commenced to gasp and shiver only to give it up as useless because in fact I could breathe perfectly well and was even a little on the warmish side.
“Take heart, newt,” I advised it. I relayed the information I’d so masterfully committed to memory in my youth, re: the prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven while still alive and in full possession of his faculties. I’d won a prize for Scripture-knowledge and so had details of this sort at my fingertips.
“Although,” I said, as we neared what I took to be the stratosphere, or some kind of sphere at any rate, “just now my resemblance to the prophet Elijah escapes me.”
The newt made wet squelching sounds with its mouth that I tried my best to interpret in the proper light.
What happened to me next is beyond the ken of most, if ken is the word I mean. The newt and I, simply put, cracked the dome of the world like an egg and set forth amid the stars—came into space, and so on. The ability to breathe grew increasingly more perplexing. Science, I decided, was bunk and hokum. All human knowledge was bunk and hokum. I intended to tell Jeeves as soon as possible that there had been an enormous revision to all prior philosophy and that he could cast his Spinoza into the dustbin.
It occurred to me then that, there being no real guarantee of anything any longer, there was no guarantee I would see Jeeves again at all.
There at last was the cold and lack of air I’d heard rumors of.
I made a few gestures back towards what was rapidly and insultingly becoming a globe rather than a place—a splotch of blue and green that invited me to be awed by the wonder and magnificence of the cosmos. Awed I refused to be. I was helpless and something close to heartbroken. It’s funny the things you realize once you’ve ascended into outermost space with a newt and a lasso of light clutched about your midsection.
The world was very small, you see, and yet he wasn’t. He was bigger than the rest of it.
All of this meant that by the time I made it to the spaceship, I was perhaps a little wet-eyed and put-out, and in no condition to quibble with being abruptly divorced of my newt by two creatures that seemed to be simply larger—waist-high or so—versions of same. Perhaps the Red Queen found believing six impossible things before breakfast to be as easy as what-have-you, but even with a solid luncheon under my belt, I found it difficult to take it all in. The human mind has its limits and I had found mine.
Consequently, when one of the newts touched a button on its collar and informed me in a voice that emitted from its open mouth like a gramophone that I’d saved the crown princess, the best I could do was, “Oh? Fancy that,” and I daresay it sounded somewhat withering.
The Flancherians, as they introduced themselves, were—and they conveyed to me that they understood all too well that this was a bit awkward—somewhat on the verge of possibly considering to destroy the world. They didn’t know it as “the” world, though—that is the kind of cultural difference one must acknowledge rather swiftly if one is to be an ambassador to alien races—but only as “my” world.
“We are able to communicate over long distances,” one of them said. “The princess told us of fear and distress and intolerable heat.”
“It was a bit balmy, I suppose.”
“She went unaided, even in her suffering. We could not fix the signal to retrieve her with so many giants striding back and forth and shaking the ground.”
“Well, all’s well that ends well, and all that,” I said, whereupon wondering if I hadn’t said the word “all” one too many times, or at any rate thrown a few too many “ell” sounds in. “Since there’s no need to break out the cannonade now that it’s all sorted out, what say you pull the car around again and deposit me back on terra firma? Lips sealed as though with wax about the existence of all this, naturally,” which I thought was the most understanding thing to say. Nations are always sending mustachioed men and even one or two beazels with daggers laced into their stockings to participate in nefarious goings-on across borders. I considered it bad form and not a little disloyal to have risked a princess on that kind of thing, but Romans will do as Romans will do, and Flancherians likewise will do as Romans will do, or something like that, if you follow me.
They whispered amongst themselves with many long lashings of their tongues. I stared out at the stars and whistled gamely to show I didn’t mind. I had to admit, even with all my despair and loneliness and the ineffable feeling of possible madness looming, I did have a nice view.
“We will carry on with our plan,” the spokesnewt informed me once the conversation was through.
“Right then,” I said.
There followed a slight pause as comprehension dawned. Bertram Wooster does not allow the destruction of an entire world, much less one in which he was until very recently a contented resident, without a fight.
I lifted my chin like a prizefighter.
“On the whole,” I said, “I think I’d rather you didn’t.”
“We had already intended it.”
“Well, you can jolly well un-intend it. The road to hell being what it is, and all that, so you might consider prying up this particular paving stone and letting us be. I say, it’s hardly preux, is it? When I’ve saved your princess? Notwithstanding that I’d thought at the time she would have been tops for Gussie Fink-Nottle, because it would a bit churlish to insist upon the point, misunderstandings being what misunderstandings are. A princess in the hand is worth two newts in the bush at least, you might say, and I quite agree.”
Then they said their translators were getting all gummed-up about the spokes and accused me of everything but cutting paper doilies out of their dictionaries, to which I hotly and daringly replied that if their education hadn’t taught them the King’s English they had jolly well better turn around posthaste and enact something in the way of a Board of Governors coup. The situation rather deteriorated from there.
The best I could do, at last, was say that I really considered the whole situation dirty pool.
“You, of course, will be spared,” they said, seemingly aghast that I would consider it otherwise. “You showed compassion. You brought the princess to water. You will be brought into the Royal Family.”
“Bully for me,” I said, frankly not feeling it was bully in the slightest. But forthwith I hit upon a solution to all conceivable problems. “I say! Can you fetch up someone else with that light of yours?”
“Yes,” the spokesnewt said in that long, drawn-out way a person says yes when they would really prefer not to say yes at all. A lesser man might have been offended, but I was big enough to appreciate how quickly we were coming to this kind of shared understanding. It had to bode well for things.
“Right, then,” I said. “I require Jeeves and, for that matter, so do you. If anyone wants a reason not to blow up an entire planet, Jeeves can supply it. What we have here is your classic social fix, you see, with one whopper of a misunderstanding, to wit, that you lot bear a suspicious resemblance to newts. Things were said that cannot be unsaid, princesses were left to sizzle, and so on. Jeeves is just the man for the occasion.”
More hissed conferences, which I bore with considerable impatience. The spokesnewt at last said, “Where would we locate this Jeeves?”
“Around about where you snatched up me, of course.”
I spent some time describing him and they spent some time saying irritably that words like “paragon” were of no use in this situation. At last they had it.
There was a spot of the floor that looked something like an unusually thick soap bubble. I had entered through it myself and now watched it with impatience, not putting it past the Flancherians to have somehow gotten their wires crossed and pilfered the wrong chap. Could I imagine a fate worse than being miles above hearth and home, a sole survivor alongside Spode? But at last a brilliantined head rose up. I rushed forward like a knight on a charger with a toothache kind of feeling in my chest.
I had always thought it would come on, when it did come on again, with a kind of silliness; that was how it had been with Bingo, back in our school days.
But the sight of him did not reduce me to butterflies and sap, but only instead to the old familiar sense of knowing that everything would be all right—that everything but the heartache would be cured by his presence. I mean, how could the other be? It would require reciprocation, and reciprocation would boggle the mind. I am attractive to precisely two types of persons, and attractive in both cases only because they mistake me for some other chap, someone either fundamentally more impressive (if not a bit dunderheaded) or someone more biddable, when in fact all my virtues are elsewhere and I am as resilient in my habits as chewing gum. Which of course Jeeves knows, having unstuck me so many times. If no man is a hero to his valet, it can only follow that likewise no man is a swain.
The veil of slippery Flancherian stuff dissipated from around him and he said, “Sir!” rather forcefully. He did not appear to notice the Flancherians or, for that matter, anything else.
“Hello, Jeeves,” I said. “This may test even your powers.”
He’d gone a bit gray about the gills for someone ordinarily in the ruddiest bloom of health. You had to consider that presumably he hadn’t suffered any earth-shattering revelations of desperate affection on his way up through the stratosphere, so he’d had nothing to distract him from the unadulterated panic of it all. I found a flask in my pocket—a gentleman never lacks for a prudent restorative—and passed it over.
Jeeves accepted with the utmost gratitude and took one or two very long, very determined pulls from it, and just like that was himself again. It was by far the most flapped I’d yet seen him, but of course it would have destroyed a lesser man, and he had himself all buttoned up again in two minutes flat. This was, I indicated to the Flancherians, impressive in and of itself.
“Jeeves,” I said, “these newt-like creatures are the Flancherians. You’ll recall the, ah, lovely creature I showed you earlier?”
His lightning-like brain processed my delicacy at once. “Indeed, sir. A figure of obvious and singular merit.”
“She was, as it turns out, the crown princess of these fine people—evidently they do all their growing-up towards the tail end of things or else the royals run suspiciously shrimpy, I haven’t yet ascertained—on a bit of a joyride or some sort of clandestine venture, irrelevant which just now, when she found it all a bit, well, bone-dry and steaming for her, or rather bone-dry and baking, wouldn’t it be? Because you can’t steam without water to begin with. Anyway, the apple of their eye was parched to a crisp and apparently on her last legs—the back two—when I prudently scooped her up and doused her.”
“A wise choice, sir.”
“In hindsight, couldn’t have wished it to have gone better. Anyway, as I was taking the princess to more suitable accommodations, our hosts here mapped us both out, so to speak, jiggled the knobs, and up we came, just like you.”
“And why was I, ah, likewise summoned, sir?”
“That, Jeeves, is the still-beating heart of the matter. Our hosts have got their minds set on destroying the planet, and it seems nothing else will do. I myself am spared thanks to hobnobbing with the royals, and now you’re here,” which temporarily made some slight lump rise in my throat. “Still—quite a large number of people left below.”
“Ah,” Jeeves said. “I see.” And it continued to be a day for great impossibilities, for he quietly begged that I excuse him, produced a crisp linen handkerchief, and dabbed once or twice at his brow.
“A three pipe problem, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps even four, sir.” He inclined his head towards the spokesnewt. “I beg your pardon, but what would be your manner of address?”
The spokesnewt considered this. “My name would be unpronounceable to your tongue.”
“You could loan us one of those,” I said, pointing to the gramophone-collars, but Jeeves shook his head minutely and so I dropped the matter as a dog would drop the morning paper.
“Anything equivalent would suffice. Without the vocative, conversation hastens towards rudeness.”
The spokesnewt’s neck ruff flared out when Jeeves said “vocative,” and I was disturbed to think it might have been from pleasure. There had been chaps who’d gotten like that in Greek and Latin classes, all shivery over conditionals, and I’d always had the good sense to steer well clear.
“You may call me Tabitha,” the spokesnewt said. “Miss, I believe, is your term.”
“Indeed, Miss Tabitha. I don’t know that introductions have been effected—I am Reginald Jeeves, at your service, and this is Mr. Bertram Wooster. Allow me to express my sympathy at the anxiety you all must have felt at the princess’s disappearance and troubles, and my relief and pleasure that she was restored to you through Mr. Wooster’s inestimable kindness.”
Tabitha’s ruff fluttered again. “Mr. Wooster has our thanks, certainly. He will be brought into the royal family, as we told him. But the disrespect to the princess cannot be borne.”
“I should jolly well think it might be,” I said, unable to stay silent any longer. “It isn’t as though we could have known. She didn’t come adorned with a tiny crown and accompanied by handmaidens and ministers of state, did she? Swanning about unannounced and uninvited and looking like a newt.”
“Sir,” Jeeves said.
“Dash it, Jeeves, they’re considering murdering Aunt Dahlia. And Stiffy, and Bingo, and Gussie, and, well, everyone. They won’t even single out Spode or Aunt Agatha to precede the masses.”
“What is a newt?” Tabitha said.
“Therein lies the problem which I called you here to correct, Jeeves,” I said. “Notwithstanding, you know, that I would have done it anyway, if able to summon any up to be spared. They simply don’t appear to grasp the family resemblance, let alone understand the effect it would have on conduct and general good manners. Blast it, if I hadn’t been intending her as a—”
Jeeves stepped on my foot.
It was as though the sun had risen in the west.
He gave me a rather intent stare that bordered on, if not outright insouciance, than certainly something well past the feudal, and despite the circumstances, it had a rather warm effect on me.
All such things aside, I could see the point behind such deliberate clumsiness: they would undoubtedly be perturbed to find out I’d saved their princess only to bang her into a glass cage and present her to Gussie Fink-Nottle. Really, it wouldn’t be the kind of fate one would dream of for any girl, much less a princess.
“I beg your pardon. A spot of sunstroke, I’m afraid. Starstroke, really, I suppose.”
“Mr. Wooster mentions newts, Miss Tabitha,” Jeeves said smoothly, “because on our planet, there is a species of unthinking animal that bears, well, a superficial but nevertheless quite striking resemblance to your people. Newts are much smaller than Flancherians, and much duller in their colors, but as the princess was, well, dainty in her size, her coloring was perceived as unusual but not so extraordinary as the truth. You see, we are not accustomed to visitors. We tend to assume terrestrial origins.”
The ruff remained distinctly flat; the lady, uncharmed. “It is highly offensive to suggest a resemblance between the princess and some sort of beast.”
“But you may consider,” Jeeves said, “how well it speaks of Mr. Wooster to attend to her even when he did not know her for royalty. He entertained angels unaware, as it were.”
“He and the princess will have many years to work out the meaning of his initial aid,” Tabitha said, and she sounded, if possible, somewhat wry: disconcerting given the hiss-and-crackle of her translated voice.
“I see,” Jeeves said.
He sounded rather as if he did see, but I for one did not. Though I wouldn’t have refused a second smoldering glare, I didn’t want my foot stepped on again, so I settled on a single polite yes-but-some-of-us-don’t-see kind of cough.
“This is,” Jeeves said, “in fact a situation I have encountered before.” He offered me a melancholy smile I didn’t like the look of. “It is my duty, sir, to inform you that you have once again become affianced.”
“I haven’t done anything of the sort! Tabitha, tell him it’s rubbish.”
“Of course you are affianced,” Tabitha said. “You brought the princess to water. You saved her life.”
“Well, we’re not—we aren’t biologically—I mean to say—”
“The union is not expected to produce children,” she said, and just as before she had managed to sound wry she now managed to sound a bit put-out about having to talk about such things in public. “The princess will father her own children to ensure the purity of the royal lineage.”
I was rather in over my head with all this: evidently women were more complex than I’d supposed.
Generally speaking, I would never have risked tearing a girl’s heart in two by ducking shamefully out of an arrangement, but the princess being elsewhere—perhaps being introduced with similar cold chills to the concept of our nuptials—emboldened me. Then, too, it was one thing to go along with being undesirably wed when my objection was one of general principle—a desire to be unattached, a worry for what would become of the Drones Club in my absence, a terror of the lady in question—and quite another to do it when I was all too aware my affections were elsewhere engaged.
“I am afraid,” I said, drawing myself up like Sydney Carton or some likewise doomed nitwit, “the bird of my heart has flown. I cannot marry your princess, father her own children though she may well be able to do, because I have tender feelings in another direction.”
“Marrying the princess,” Tabitha said, “is what allows us to spare you from the destruction of your world.”
“Then things must proceed,” Jeeves said, at the same time as I said, “You mean to say your plan is to drop Jeeves back?”
“Certainly,” Tabitha said, “and—certainly. The world was an insult to the princess, and only you offered her aid. You will therefore be exempt from the requirements of death to your species by becoming, in effect, a member of ours.”
“Look,” I said, “we have to sort this out once and for all. To begin with—no, Jeeves, it must be said,” dashing nimbly out of the way of another glower, “you can’t be such a silly monarchical ass about the situation, you’re behaving as though no one ever put pen to paper to write a constitution. I admire our house of Windsor as much as anyone, but damn it all, I wouldn’t expect you to know the Queen from a hole in the ground. Do you know her? No, of course you don’t, and you even had a head-start on us. Translators and spaceships and monitors—you don’t understand that half the time the film breaks in the projector down there. We aren’t cruel, we’re just dim.”
“If you want to blow a whole planet to smithereens because people who have never met a Flancherian took one for a newt, you may as well light on down and be fitted for your own pair of black shorts, that’s how asinine it is. But if you’re set on it, then I don’t want to marry your silly princess and you can put me right back down with Jeeves.”
(I have to count on Jeeves’s memory for all this, I’m afraid, because at the time, it was all something of a blur: I’d built up a full head of steam and was letting my mouth roar like a locomotive. Jeeves, however, has made it perfectly clear that he remembers every word of it as though, he says, it were etched in granite.)
Tabitha looked up at me with unblinking eyes and a decidedly flat ruff.
“We cannot be rude,” she said finally, which seemed a bit much, but I suppose I have to concede one might well declare war on a country but still wipe one’s feet on the mat before mucking up their floors. “A marriage must take place—we cannot discharge our obligation for the rescue of the princess without it. We did not imagine you would refuse.”
“Well!” I said, feeling strong language was called for. “I say!”
The Code of the Woosters, I went on to explain at great length, does not permit a gentleman to save himself at the cost of all and sundry, and especially, I hinted, acutely aware of Jeeves’s well-oiled mind beside me, at the cost of his nearest and dearest. But really, notwithstanding a major dictator or two, I couldn’t have borne it in any case.
Tabitha waited for her translator collar to churn through all that and then, eyes narrowed, turned to Jeeves. “We could accept another human as the princess’s consort. You might remain.”
Jeeves said, “No, miss,” in rather mellifluous tones.
“You might at least consider it,” I said, irritated that he would throw away his life as easily as he’d throw away a polka-dotted tie. “Who knows what the coming catastrophe might look like, after all? We could be rent limb-from-limb. Go up like Lucifer matches. It might get dashed unpleasant, Jeeves, even outside of the final farewell.”
Tabitha did not put me at ease by saying none of this was so and I was being dunderheaded about the whole affair, so I turned to Jeeves with raised eyebrows and another hearty “well!”
“It is impossible for me to acquiesce,” Jeeves said.
The Flancherians all hissed to each other for several long minutes and then decided that the thing to do was to lock Jeeves and self up in a not unpleasant holding cell while things were sorted out, reluctantly promising not to blow up the planet without giving us advanced warning.
I took the soft padded things as attempts at bedding, but due to the Flancherians all being ankle-biters, they barely sufficed as chairs. Nevertheless, having been on my feet quite a while, I was happy enough to sit and gestured for Jeeves to do the same.
“No need to stand on ceremony with both of us undoubtedly being dead in an hour or so,” I said.
Jeeves did sit, but could not be prevailed upon to loosen his tie, and indeed seemed mildly horrified at the thought of risking death without it firmly knotted. It was a shame—I had been looking at what there was to see of his throat and would have liked to have seen more of it. But the sartorial customs of the gentleman’s gentleman still granted the devoted onlooker quite a number of favors: the nipping in of the jacket at the waist, the exposure of the strong and clean-shaven jaw, the sharp contrast between the starched white of shirt collar and the deep black of all else, the brilliantine, the plummy voice, the exact shape of his ears. I suppose not all of those were available to your garden-variety valet and were in fact particular to Jeeves himself, but I was new to conscious appreciation. Such nuance!—I could have spent a lifetime looking at him.
“Sir,” he said after a moment, “you might seriously consider—”
“You are amiable, you are at ease in company, you will grow accustomed—”
“No, I dashed well won’t. You’re the one who ought to consider, they were as pleased as punch with you and your vocatives.”
He lifted the corners of his mouth in a manner that alluded to a smile in a most familiar fashion. “It seems we are at an impasse, sir.”
It was something of a new experience, having won a kind of compromise with Jeeves: it felt like the vindication of every mustache and trombone, as though every discarded garment were off somewhere singing a chorus of hosannas.
“In any case,” Jeeves said, deaf to the hosannas, “it seems felicitations and, I suppose, advanced condolences are in order.”
“You referred to your inability to marry the princess because of sentiments directed elsewhere. As I said, my felicitations—to you and the doubtlessly deserving candidate.”
“Doubtlessly, he says,” I announced to the walls, “as though he has ever liked a single one of them before. The condolences, I suppose, are on account of the impending bang-splash?”
“As you say, sir.”
I considered the laces of my shoes. My ears—never my best feature, I’m afraid—felt scorched enough with blush that they must have turned the red of the gaudiest of fire hydrants. I did not want to die parted from Jeeves, but it had to be said that I’d have died parted from him lickety-split if it had meant him living, and so it was my duty to convey that to him. To say, with a minimum of awkwardness, that really he would be doing me something of a favor.
“You might consider removing me from one last fix, Jeeves.”
“If I can, sir, of course. Circumstances permitting.”
“They wouldn’t seem to, would they?”
“Hope is the thing with feathers, as Emily Dickinson said.”
“Did she?” I couldn’t see the relevance of it. “The fix, Jeeves, is such: you would be unsticking me from something of an unpleasant situation if you would only say yes and stay.”
“Allowing a valet to perish is, of course, one of the cardinal sins an employer can commit,” Jeeves said with some acerbity, if acerbity is the word I mean, “and would ordinarily merit a lengthy entry in the Junior Ganymede’s book. Under the circumstances, however, sir, I cannot oblige. Your honor as an employer—”
“You’ve polished these so well,” I said, still availing myself of the mirror-like shoes. “Awkward to admit it, Jeeves, but I’m afraid it’s my honor as a gentleman that concerns me. The Code of the Woosters, you know. I wouldn’t wince at keeping aforementioned felicitations and giving the condolences the good old heave-ho over the shoulder without a second look back.”
Sounding as I had never heard him sound before, Jeeves said, “I should not like to misunderstand you, sir.”
“I can’t think why you should be worried about that. You’ve never misunderstood me.”
“No, Jeeves,” I said, rather forcefully, I thought.
“If I may, then,” he said. And with one hand on my cheek he turned me towards him.
The kiss suffered under the constraints of all such kisses—that it was somewhat overburdened with the task of pushing past surprise, that we were unfamiliar with each other in such a capacity, that there was on my part at least an abrupt panic over taste of breath. Then, too, there was the impending destruction on the mind. But despite that, we made an admirable showing of it, hot and agreeable and ending in rumpled linen from hands having gone places hands were not accustomed to go. One of those fumbling affairs, when Jeeves is ordinarily so graceful, because we both endeavored to move around without parting. It concluded at last with the seats in some disarray and myself sitting astride Jeeves in a very brazen manner.
“Well, Jeeves,” I said, “the situation is thus.”
“I daresay.” And that was a genuine smile, and a bally distracting one.
“I mean you understand completely that I can’t allow you to not marry the newt princess. –Do you think people ever imagine the things they’ll say by sunset when they push off their pillows in the morning? Certainly not in this case.”
“As I said, we are at an impasse.” He traced the shape of my face from ear to chin and chin to ear, and then brushed his thumb over my mouth. “Likewise, sir, I must insist that you not decline our host’s invitation.”
Leave it to Jeeves to find a way of summing it all up without ever bashing together the words “newt” and “princess.”
“You’ve talked me into quite a lot over the years, old thing,” I said, “but not that. Not now. A line must be drawn in the sand or you’ll run roughshod over me completely: cruises, yes, but not this.” The headiness of it all, I confess, was like champagne, and I may have moved on him in a fashion that produced a most agreeable response.
“Perhaps I’d quite like you to run roughshod all over me,” I said, recalling the glower. “You do tend to manage things rather well. Of all the things you’ve brought off without a single hitch, I may as well be one myself.”
“This event—minus the particularities, of course—”
“—I’ve considered many times, but it was unconscionable shortsightedness to forget your verbal dexterity.”
“You reached the point of the straddle but didn’t think I might voice opinions?” I stroked him through his trousers and his mouth opened involuntarily—I seized the opportunity to bite at his lower lip. “Was I all ‘yes, yes,’ Jeeves? Or did you prefer to imagine me speechless?”
“I’m afraid I can never quite imagine you,” he said. He undid my buttons with far less care than he’d used on them that morning, and on the whole it all promised to go rather well, and would have if the Flancherians had not come in to find us somewhat on the borderline of in flagrante delicto.
They didn’t appear to know what they were looking at, fortunately, which allowed us both to smooth down our ruffs—I’m very up-to-date now on Flancherian turns of phrase, you see.
“We have decided,” Tabitha said, “that you have both shown unusual honor.”
The thing with feathers began to squawk rather loudly inside my chest. “Honor is our watchword.”
“And a closer look at your planet has revealed the presence of animals such as the ones you suggest, and we will concede that the uneducated eye could confuse them.”
“Our eyes are nothing if not uneducated. Untutored, bottom-of-the-barrel things, really.”
“We appreciate the consideration you have given this,” Jeeves said.
“In the past,” Tabitha said, “we have entered into long-term alliances with various worlds, but it has been some time since we have created a new one. If your planet would be agreeable, our honor could also be assuaged by favorable relations.”
That seemed, I had to admit, like the kind of option they could have stood to pinch their nostrils shut and offered earlier, regardless of how they felt about it, but the memory of squashed toes was still too present for me to mention it. Besides, it wouldn’t exactly be the height of politesse, would it? We diplomats must give consideration to such things.
As I said before, it’s not my intention to bore the reader to tears until the story is cast aside with cries of despair at seeing one more thorny paragraph as studded with politics as a fruitcake is with cherries, and most of this played out in public eye anyhow. Jeeves and I were lassoed down in plain view of Buckingham Palace, Tabitha followed with the princess in tow, and introductions were made all around. The rest is all in the history books. A tenth of it or so even made its way into the film.
I do need to correct a point that has gone too long ignored, to wit, that it was Jeeves, and not your humble author, who suggested the capstone on it all really ought to a set of human-Flancherian nuptials after all—ringing the wedding bells for the hapless being one of Jeeves’s pastimes. And it is similarly untrue and similarly widespread as rumor that Gussie bore up under the arrangements with a stiff upper lip and the certainty that he must do all he could for England. On the contrary, I’d never seen a man so delighted. He wrung Jeeves’s hand like a dishrag and hit it off with Tabitha at once. I don’t inquire into the ins-and-outs of it all—the princess can see to her own business, as Tabitha made clear, and by all accounts she’s pleased as punch about the whole thing. Jeeves and I are invited to a formal affair of state in a few months, and I fully intend to be well-fortified with martinis before any details are divulged.
(What I mean to say is—surely they can’t, can they? Even considering that a few good swims, as it turned out, restored her to proper size. Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments, and all that, but all the same. Of course, it’s rude in the extreme to speculate about a lady, and this will have to be another bit I mark to be taken out with scissors.)
I showed all this to Jeeves and he hemmed-and-hawed over it like a wise old sheep and mostly approved of it, outside of agreeing with me that we’d have to excise certain telling portions.
“But I find, sir, that you’re underrating your own achievements.”
“Not at all. ‘Verbal dexterity’ made it in, you see.”
“Indeed,” Jeeves said. “But you misconstrue Miss Tabitha. She was immensely affected both by your care for the princess and by your unwillingness to save your own life at such great cost. Seconding things as I did, I perhaps helped the matter, but it is your actions, I firmly believe, that persuaded her we were worthy of being brought into an alliance.”
“By Jove. Do you really think so?”
“As I said, sir, though the film of your exploits may neglect it, it was the stuff of true heroism. Out of consideration for this place, such as it is, I did not dare inform her of your extraordinary nature.”
“I am the commonest of chaps, you know,” I said, stretching out on the sofa beside him. “Verbal dexterity aside. I simply seem to blunder my way from consequential event to consequential event, but if you weren’t there, I’d drown in the soup.”
“Your schedule, at least, is free of consequential events for the afternoon,” Jeeves said, depositing the pages on the end-table. “Shall I endeavor to persuade you, sir, that you underestimate yourself?”
And thus the affairs of men and newts alike were resolved as neatly as even Shakespeare would have wished.