If Jeeves had been there, he would have been able to tell me exactly how to rifle through a fellow’s belongings with minimal disturbance and maximal efficiency, but he wasn’t there, which was rather to the point as it was in Jeeves’s bedroom that I was doing said rifling.
Lest you think that Bertram is in the custom of violating proprieties, I should like to make it very clear that my motives were pure. Had I died that afternoon of a sudden and tragic fit and been whisked off to the pearly whatnots then when I had explained to St Pete he would have patted me on the back and said ‘quite understandable, what a fine fellow you are’ and all would have been rather jolly.
It had all started earlier that day when Jeeves had reminded me over breakfast that he would be taking the day off to visit his aunt.
I’d shivered in sympathy and offered my heartfelt commiserations.
“Thank you, sir. It is her fifty-sixth birthday and she has organised a bridge party to celebrate. I may be late returning home.”
Jeeves is made of sterner stuff than me. My experience of keen bridge players is that they treat it as less of a game and more of an opportunity to rake one over the coals after every hand, saying things like ‘but surely you must have known he was out of diamonds?’ and ‘why on earth didn’t you lead the King, you silly ass?’. It will come as no surprise to the astute observer that my Aunt Agatha is a champion bridge player.
Looking unperturbed by his impending doom, Jeeves shimmered away, leaving me with only my thoughts and half a pot of tea for company.
It had recently come to my attention that certain blighters of my acquaintance were once again trying to poach Jeeves. Their efforts had been fruitless and I wished to show my appreciation. After all, the thought of a Jeeves-less existence was not to be borne. Imagine being cast back on the clomping sock-snafflers of the agencies! Would any of them know how to make Berties’s morning cup of tea just so? I think not.
The difficulty was in selecting the manner of said appreciation. A cold hard spot of the ready never went amiss but it seemed to lack the personal touch. Allowing Jeeves to cull certain items from my wardrobe was always popular, but there were currently no offending items that I was willing to offer up as sacrifice.
And so it was that I found myself in Jeeves’s bedchamber like a thief in the mid-afternoon, in search of a clue to the perfect gift to remind Jeeves what a considerate, thoughtful master I was, and why he shouldn’t forsake me for a sneak like Bunty Berwick no matter how much that scoundrel offered to pay him.
Jeeves inner sanctum was as terrifyingly tidy as you would expect. The hospital corners were so sharp you could cut yourself. I opened one drawer and was confronted with rows upon rows of identical white collars, folded and arranged with mathematical precision. As bold and stalwart as I am, my nerve failed me at the thought of disturbing such neatness, and so I closed the drawer and looked elsewhere.
There was a stack of intimidating-looking books on Jeeves’s bedside table, with a notebook and pencil next to them. I glanced through and found myself confronted with the sentence ‘Look into similarities between Ezra Pound’s concept of the objective correlative and Strauss’s tone poems’, which is enough to make anyone come over all faint. I backed away sharpish, tripped over the edge of the rug, and found myself lying on the floor with a bruise on my bonce and staring at a stack of catalogues under the bed. Jackpot!
They were mostly humdrum sorts of tomes - household gadgets, gentlemans outfitters, correspondence courses and the like. But right at the bottom I found a little pamphlet entitled ‘Diverse Pleasure Devices for the Broad-minded Gentleman’ which had clearly been much thumbed-through.
“This,” I said to myself, “is the business. Jeeves doesn’t need another clothes brush, what he wants is something fun. Mark my words, we’ll find it in here. Jeeves is about a broad-minded as they come, and as tall-minded - if what you’re looking for is general largeness of brain, you’ll find it in Jeeves.”
The catalogue itself was somewhat opaque when it came to details, listing only the name of each device and the price. Luckily Jeeves had made little pencilled checkmarks beside certain items, and the telephone number of the firm was listed on the front cover. With the decisiveness for which us Woosters have always been famed, I decided to act immediately.
“‘Ullo,” said the chappie when I had rung him up.
“Good afternoon,” said I. “Is this the company that supplies the diverse pleasure devices?”
“Me. That is to say, I. Bertie Wooster. Bertram Wilberforce, if you want to be formal.”
There was a suspicious-sounding silence. “It’s a private club. We only supply to members.”
“Oh, that’s alright, I’m ringing up on behalf of one of your members. Reginald Jeeves.”
“Oh! You’re a friend of Mr Jeeves?”
“Absolutely. Best of pals and all that. And I want to buy him some of the items from your little catalogue.”
“Ohhhh, say no more, say no more. Which devices was it you had your eye on?”
“ I would like to purchase ‘Old Harry’s Humbler’, ‘Nelson’s Cat’, ‘Pertwee’s Paddle’, the ‘Old School Try’, half a dozen bottles of your ‘Gentleman’s Restorative’ and two pairs of the padded cuffs, they sound rather dashing.”
There was a hushed sort of silence. “Blimey. Planning to make a weekend of it, are we?”
“Oh, and one of the carved wooden Master’s Aids. Can you tell me which size would be most suitable?”
“The eight-inch is very popular, sir.”
“Right-o, better bung one of those in. Actually, I’ll take a ten-inch as well, just in case. Don’t want to go to all this trouble and leave Jeeves disappointed because his present doesn’t fit, what?”
“Indeed not, sir. Very thoughtful, if you don’t mind my saying.”
“Now, do you deliver?”
We came to terms as to delivery and gift-wrap and payment and so on, and when I eventually hung up the phone it was with the satisfaction of a job jolly well done.
The next day all was calm and bright in the Wooster household. Jeeves had returned home and looked none the worse the wear for an evening spent counting trumps and finessing old ladies, and I was recovering from a less intellectual but equally vigorous evening spent at the Drones Club.
“I see that the young Lord Trussell has announced his engagement, sir.”
I glanced at the newspaper that Jeeves had placed at my elbow. “Buttons? Yes, he’s been nobbled, poor chap.”
“Indeed, sir,” said Jeeves, refreshing my coffee cup with what I can only describe as a distinct air of approval, and we shared a look of bachelorly sympathy.
The telephone rang. Jeeves glided away in his customary manner to attend to it, speaking in a low murmur, and returned moments later to fill me in on the sitch.
“Please excuse me, sir. A large parcel has been delivered and I must arrange for it to be brought up. I confess, I was not expecting any such arrival this morning.”
“Oh, that’s alright,” I said as I buttered another slice of toast. “I ordered it.”
Jeeves stiffened. He trembled. He quivered like a ukulele string that had just been plucked by Lolly Lucas, the Ukulele Queen of the music hall. “You, sir?”
“Me indeed. I’m not completely incapable, you know.” I waved my toast at him in an admonishing fashion. “There’s no need to come the disapproving aunt with me, Jeeves. I ordered it for you. It’s a gift.”
This statement was not met with the cries of gratitude and delight one might have hoped for. “Sir,” said Jeeves, looking like a man who’d just been told his favourite dinner jacket had been irreparably ruined in a tragic laundry accident, “I really don’t think-”
“Oh, send it back if you don’t like it, but I really think you should have a little more faith, Jeeves.”
“Very good, sir,” said Jeeves, bearing up manfully, and he withdrew.
I busied myself disposing of the remaining breakfast items and waited for the rapturous acclaim that would no doubt erupt at any moment. I heard various sounds - the front door, the noise of a large parcel being carried into the living room, sounds of unwrapping - and then silence.
The silence lasted so long that I got up, tied my dressing gown securely in place, and went to see what Jeeves thought.
I found him standing in the middle of the living room looking at an empty cardboard box and an array of objects that at first glance resembled the contents of a stable. Leather was a recurring feature, as was metal. A flash of wood caught my eye and I found myself staring at what I can only describe as the member of a wooden chappie who clearly had nothing to complain about, next to the member of his brother who had even less.
“Gosh,” I said.
“You ordered this for me, sir?” said Jeeves, his voice pregnant with emotion.
“Why, sir, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Well, dash it all, it’s nearly Christmas, what? And I’m rather pleased that you haven’t let yourself be poached by a blighter, and you’ve already got enough handkerchieves.”
Jeeves gave me a long, assessing sort of look. I didn’t much care for it. Bertram has often been weighed in the balance and usually found wanting, and when he was deemed worthy usually regretted it. “And were you planning on - assisting me with any of these items, sir?”
I don’t know if you remember the first time you tried an oyster, but I recall the occasion distinctly. There it was, all grey and wet and slippery and horrid-looking, and common sense would appear to caution against anything as ridiculous as shoving it in one’s mouth, but somehow I did it anyway because it seemed the done thing and now I am as keen an oyster-shoveller as you’ll ever meet walking down Jermyn Street.
This struck me as rather an oyster-y sort of situation.
“I am at your disposal, Jeeves.”
“Excellent, sir,” said Jeeves, gazing at me with a tender approval the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was last in short trousers. “Now get on your knees.”
I awoke the next morning feeling rather like a rabbit that had just been pulled out of a hat.
As if he’d sensed my eyelids twitching, Jeeves floated in like an unassuming zephyr and placed a steaming cup of Assam at my elbow. “Your tea, sir.”
“Thank you, Jeeves.” I eyed the fellow in question. He seemed a touch more subservient than normal - his bow a little deeper, his head inclined a trifle more severely.
“Will that be all, sir?”
“Yes,” I said. “Wait. I want kippers for breakfast.”
“And lay out my new heather suit with the violet piping.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And order me a fresh half dozen of soft silk evening shirts.”
A tremor passed through Jeeves. He straightened up and met my eye with an expression that seemed to say ‘alright, but don’t push your luck’. “As you wish, sir.”
Order had been restored. I settled back into my pillows. “Jolly good. That will be all, Jeeves.”
The tea was perfect.