“Jeeves,” I said, as I shrugged off the frost-encrusted outer casings and stomped the snow from my boots, “it is colder than Old Billy Ned outside.”
“So I gathered, sir.”
“It was cold as damnit yesterday, and I suppose it shall be cold as the north side of a January gravestone by moonlight tomorrow. When will it end, Jeeves?”
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind, sir?”
“Ha!” I said, and I said it derisively.
It may be apparent to my keener readers, from the tenor of the above slab of dialogue, that I was not at my chirpiest. We Woosters are essentially summer blossoms, thriving on sunlight and balmy breezes and whatnot. And while I am generally able to keep the upper lip pressed and starchy even under the frostiest conditions, this particular December seemed determined to slip it across me in no uncertain manner. What’s more, just to put the chilled butter on the hyperborean greens, a certain nippiness had also arisen in the home of late.
It is inevitable, of course, when two men of iron will are closeted together for days on end in the dead of winter, that these little clashes will occur from time to time. Unpleasant, of course, but one shrugs the shoulders and moves on. I am not a bitter sort of chap. “Let the dead past bury its dead” is more or less the Wooster motto. But for whatever reason, I found that this particular tiff between self and Jeeves was rankling to an unusual degree. I suppose it was the weather taking the stuffing out of my morale. In any case, I felt an uncharacteristic urge to take the blighter down a peg or two and get a bit of my own back. And this, as it happens, was to be one of those rare instances in which fate stepped in and handed me my opportunity on a silver tray with watercress around it.
I shall tell you what happened. It all began when I was strolling with Jeeves on Bond Street, having run into him while he was out on some errand or other. As we biffed along, talking of this and that, we passed by a certain establishment selling various gentlemanly accoutrements. And in the window of that establishment was a positively magnificent raccoon coat.
I was so overcome by the sight of the thing that I stopped dead in my tracks and placed an arresting hand on Jeeves’s arm. “Good lord!” I said. “Will you look at that?”
Jeeves cast an austere eye over the contents of the shop window. “To what are you referring, sir?”
“Why, that absolutely ripping raccoon coat, of course.”
He leaned in for a closer look, and it seemed to me that his eye passed over everything but the item under discussion.
“There, dash it!” I said, pointing right at the thing. “Right there in the middle. I don’t see how you could miss it.”
“Ah,” he said at last. “Forgive me, sir. I was under the impression that I was viewing a taxidermied specimen of some sort, possibly prepared by an amateur hobbyist. However, now that you have brought it to my attention, I suppose that the object does bear a certain passing resemblance to a gentleman’s great coat.”
“Oh, come, Jeeves! It’s a beautiful coat. These things are all the rage in America, you know, among the collegiate set. No self-respecting young chap over there would be caught dead without one. I rather thought I’d pick one up last time I was in New York, but I missed my chance. Imagine running into one right here on Bond Street!”
“The occurrence does strain credulity, sir.”
“Well, it must be kismet. This one certainly won’t get away from me!” And I reached for the door handle.
I suppose I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. There came the censorious cough, the withering eye, and the haughty remonstration to the effect that I was neither an American, nor a member of any of that country’s institutions of higher learning. In short, the man put his ears back and generally raised such a stink that I soon found myself lowering the reaching hand with a resigned and weary sigh.
“Fine, Jeeves,” I said. “If it pains you that much, I shall refrain. But I don’t think you’re giving the thing a chance. If you really got to know it, I’m sure you’d quickly come to appreciate its finer qualities.”
“The contingency is an unlikely one, sir,” he replied. He toddled on, and I trudged after him, feeling stung, but not defeated.
For although I had capitulated to him in the moment, I had no intention of allowing Jeeves to scupper me in this matter. I would return the next day, unaccompanied, and obtain the thing when I was no longer under the watchful eye of a disapproving valet. He would kick at it, no doubt, and I would have to endure a few days of the soupy tone and the glassy, fish-like eye. But it would all be worth it, I told myself, if only to see the look on Oofy Prosser’s face when I swanked into the Drones swathed from neck to ankle in the height of American collegiate fashion, as featured in that smashing novelty number by George Olsen and His Music.
Imagine my dismay, then, when I popped in the following morning to find the thing gone. Some other chap had swooped in and collared it, and the proprietor of the establishment assured me that he had no more in stock. I went home bereft and disappointed, feeling rather like a child who has just been handed an ice cream cone, only to have the ice cream take a purler onto his shoes before he has even had a chance to taste it.
To make matters worse, Jeeves seemed positively smug about the whole affair. It might have evaded a less observant chap than myself, but I could not help but note that there was more than the usual spring in his step as he streamed through the flat, and on several occasions I thought I detected something almost resembling a smile playing about his lips. I don’t mind telling you it caused the steel to enter into my soul a bit. It was bad enough that the coat had slipped through my fingers like so much sand in the wind, but to have Jeeves strutting about the place silently reveling in his little victory over the young master – well, I mean to say, there is only so much a man can take.
So these were the circs in which I now found myself, and I don’t think you will blame me for bunging a derisive “Ha!” or two at the cove.
“Perhaps a warming restorative would improve your spirits, sir,” he suggested as I deposited myself in a world-weary armchair. “Shall I mix you a brandy and soda?”
“If you like,” I said moodily, waving a dismissive hand.
“Very good, sir.”
While he went to fetch the tissue-restorer, I attempted to withdraw a gasper from my cigarette case. But my fingers were still numb from the cold, and I fumbled the thing rather badly. The upshot was that I dropped about half the cigarettes on the floor, and I was busy muttering a few fruity oaths and picking up the scattered remains when Jeeves trickled back in.
“Allow me, sir,” he said, setting down my brandy and s. and bending himself to the task. And as he did so, I was treated, for a fleeting moment, to a rare sight: about two to three inches of Jeeves’s shapely ankle peeking out between the cuff of his immaculately pressed trouser leg and the top of his gleaming patent-leather shoe.
What was so remarkable about this sight was not so much the ankle itself, well-formed though it was. Rather, it was the fact that said ankle was kitted out in one of the jolliest wool socks I had ever seen, decorated in chevrons of kelly green and bright gold.
To say that I was blowed would not do the feeling justice. Utterly flabbergasted might come closer to meeting the case. If someone had told me even five minutes earlier that Jeeves was the sort of chap who celebrated the Yuletide season by girding his ankles in festive green and gold hosiery, I would have had a good laugh and gone about my business none the wiser. And yet, there was no denying what I had seen.
But soon my astonishment gave way to the rather fiendish sense that I had Jeeves exactly where I wanted him, viz. firmly under the Wooster thumb. I didn’t say anything right then – just gave the chap a knowing smile as he handed me the cigarettes – but the grey matter had already slid smoothly into high gear. A plan had begun to percolate.
“Not that tie, Jeeves,” I said the next morning, as I shoved in the shirt studs.
“Really, sir?” he said. “It does complement our heather mixture lounge extremely well.”
“No, Jeeves,” I replied with devastating nonchalance. “I particularly wish to wear my pink checkered tie this morning.”
Jeeves looked at me sadly, as if I had just reminded him of some distant and melancholy memory, but merely said, “Very good, sir,” and laid the thing out.
I would be deceiving my public if I said I was not a little nonplussed by this. But we Woosters are not to be dissuaded so easily. “Right ho,” I said, but I quietly resolved to try again.
Jeeves could be damnably stubborn at times. It took several attempts before I finally got him to crack. He stoically endured a mint-green silk shirt, a pair of monogrammed socks, and a tartan scarf embroidered with a rather large and baleful-looking Scottie dog. I suppose he had worked out that I was trying to score off him, and was putting on a show of indifference. But every man has his limits, even a marvel like Jeeves.
My moment of triumph finally arrived some days later, when I donned a pair of rather gorgeous lavender spats with gold buttons in preparation for a dinner out at the Ritz. Why it was these that finally shattered the man’s spirit, I could not say. I suppose he had already been considerably weakened, and these were merely the spats that broke the camel’s back. Whatever the case, the effect was immensely satisfactory.
“Sir,” he said, in a deeply pained sort of voice, “do you really intend to appear in public in those spats?”
“Why, Jeeves,” I said, taking a puff on a languid cigarette, “do mean to tell me that you find these spats objectionable? Given your own taste in gents’ footwear, I should think you would scarcely bat an eye at a mere lavender spat or two.”
He drew himself up to his full height and fixed me with a reproachful eye. “Sir?”
“I am speaking of those striking green and gold socks of yours, Jeeves.”
He winced. I could see that I had touched a raw and tender nerve. “I had hoped you would not notice the articles, sir.”
“I couldn’t help but notice them, Jeeves. I daresay one could hear the things as far off as Worcestershire. These spats strike me as positively tame in comparison.”
Jeeves gave me such a deeply wounded look that I found myself feeling a pang of conscience. It was clear that his amour propre was smarting. “Sir,” he said stiffly, “those socks were a gift from my mother. She made them herself and posted them to me some days ago, as an early Christmas present. I have been wearing them only out of deference to her wishes.”
I sagged a bit at this, suddenly feeling deeply abashed. It must have been a dickens of a wrench to him to actually wear the things. I should have realized there must have been extenuating circumstances. I started to reach out a hand, with some sort of idea of giving his shoulder a conciliatory knead, but stopped on further consideration. “Gosh, Jeeves. I’m awfully sorry, old fruit. I didn’t know.”
“It is quite all right, sir.”
“But you know,” I said gently, by way of putting in a soothing word, “you don’t have to wear them. Your mother’s not here, after all. You could just send her a telegram telling her you’re absolutely head over heels for the bally things, and she’d never know the difference.”
“I promised her I would, sir.”
“Ah,” I said solemnly, seeing all. A promise to a mother is a dashed weighty thing, after all, especially for serious-minded and noble-spirited chaps of the Jeeves variety. I had seen this sort of phenomenon before. I suppose, if I still had a mother, that I should probably be similarly susceptible. As it is, I can remember a time in my early youth when my own mother shoved me into a particularly atrocious sailor suit, and while every fibre of my being longed to see the thing commended to a fiery grave, I gamely wore it for a whole day just to please her.
I don’t mind telling you, I felt positively rotten after that. My victory rang hollow, and the sweet taste of triumph turned to ashes in my mouth. The next morning, when Jeeves advised me to wear the maroon tie (not the green) with my herringbone tweed jacket, I replied with a humble, “Right ho, Jeeves. You know best!”
It was a pensive Bertram who stepped out some time later for a brisk afternoon stroll. I wanted to do something to make it up to Jeeves – some small gesture of contrition and sympathy – but nothing suggested itself. I paced the streets of the W1 District with a heavy tread, with lemon bowed and hands shoved deep into my coat pockets. It was only as I drew near Bond Street that inspiration finally struck. To duck into a nearby shop was, for me, the work of an instant. I emerged short while later with a small parcel wrapped in kelly green paper, done up with a handsome gold bow.
I came home that evening feeling considerably bucked. Despite the oppressive cold, the spirits were buoyant. I felt like every bit the gay young boulevardier again as I trotted up the front steps of Berkeley Mansions, and there may have been an airy snatch of melody on my lips as I strode into the flat a few minutes later. Jeeves emerged from his lair to greet me as I entered, and I sensed no lingering dudgeon in his manner.
“What ho, Jeeves,” I said cheerfully, as he divested me of my coat and hat.
“Good evening, sir. I trust you had pleasant outing?”
“I did indeed, Jeeves,” I said. “A bit of bracing fresh air is just what was needed to hoist the flagging spirits.”
“I am gratified to hear it, sir.”
“No doubt you are wondering about this package, Jeeves.”
“The object had not escaped my notice, sir.”
“Well, I know it isn’t our usual custom to exchange Christmas gifts, and it’s a bit early and all that, but I felt moved by the spirit of the season, I suppose.”
“Thank you, sir. You are most kind.”
“It’s not much,” I said, proffering the package. “Just a trifle. You can go ahead and open it now, if you like.”
“I’m sure it is much appreciated, sir.” He took the package and began to open it under my anxious and watchful eye. I daresay he very nearly smiled as he extracted a pair of deeply sensible, dark grey wool-and-silk gentleman’s socks from the box. “Thank you, sir.”
“Promise you’ll wear them?”
“You have my word, sir. As it happens, sir, I also have a present for you.”
I boggled at him. “Really, Jeeves?”
“Yes, sir. If you will wait a moment, I shall retrieve it for you now.”
I sat down on the chesterfield, utterly fogged. I could not recall a single time, during our long association, when Jeeves had gotten a Christmas present for me. I couldn’t imagine what it might be. I was further astonished when he returned a moment later carrying a rather enormous box.
“Jeeves,” I said, as he handed me the thing, “what the devil is this?”
“If you care to open the package, sir, I imagine that your curiosity would be quickly alleviated.”
“Right ho,” I said, and lifted the lid. My jaw very nearly hit the floor. “Jeeves,” I gasped, and I admit that I may have choked a bit as I said it, “what have you done, you devious old scalawag?” For there, nestled in a layer of thin brown paper, was the raccoon coat.
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Wooster,” he said, and silently streamed out.
It took some little while for me to regain my composure sufficiently to go after him. I found him in the kitchen, messing about with the dinner things.
“Jeeves,” I said, “why did you do it, old thing? It’s not because I gave you guff about those socks, is it?”
“Oh, no, sir,” he replied. “I obtained the item shortly after we saw it during our outing on Bond Street.”
I gaped at him. “But Jeeves, you shouldn’t have! Won’t it wound you, seeing me going about in the thing?”
“In light of the happiness the garment seems to bring you – mystifying though it may be – I consider the sacrifice to be a worthy one, sir.” He paused, and then said, with the merest hint of a wry smile, “I only trust you will refrain from wearing it too frequently, sir, for my sake.”
“Oh, Jeeves!” I cried, overcome. “I feel a priceless ass. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”
He raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. “You have already given me exactly what I desired, sir.”
“A pair of socks?” I said ruefully. “A pretty shoddy gift, I call it, when you look at it next to the one you’ve just given me. Surely there must be something else I can do.”
“I was not referring to the socks, sir, although that gesture, however small, is appreciated more than you know.”
“Then what on earth are you referring to, Jeeves?”
“Your generosity of spirit and the pleasure of your company are the greatest gifts I could hope for, sir. Despite our occasional disagreements over matters sartorial or,” he shuddered delicately, “musical, I can say unreservedly that our association has been the happiest period of my life.”
My eyelids prickled rummily, and my throat suddenly felt about three sizes too small. I had an idea that I ought to say something pretty profound in response to a pipterino of that magnitude, but I couldn’t seem to manage anything. He’d knocked the stuffing right out of me. So I did the only thing I could think of in the moment, which was to reach out and grab his hand.
“Merry Christmas, Jeeves,” I said in a roopy sort of whisper. Not quite the stirring monologue I had been aiming for, but I felt it got the general feeling across.
Jeeves clasped my hand in both of his.
“Thank you, sir.”