Fate's happenstance may oft win more than toil. Many episodes in my life with Mr. Wooster may be taken as illustration of this excellent saying, for though I am cautious by nature and always attempt to prepare for every eventuality the Unexpected must inevitably intrude; it is only with patience that I have found it possible to turn 'the swans and Scotties of outrageous fortune' (as Mr. Wooster would have it) to advantage. Such vicissitudes are essentially the gifts of fortune to those with the resource and address to appreciate them. Appreciation may indeed come only after considerable struggle.
Could one read in Fate's book, its contents might be found to resemble a description of a conjurer's trick. With this in mind I have been mostly content to leave the chronicling of our long association to Mr. Wooster and his more exhilarating style of narration. Certain of our acquaintance, however (among them my niece Mabel, Mrs. Charles Biffen), have been given to wonder if it were quite as fortuitous as fortunate that I happened to be unemployed at the time of Mr. Wooster's seeking a valet. A full answer to this question being both somewhat complex and not within my master's purview, I have allowed myself to be persuaded to make an exception and take up pen.
I may trace my knowledge of Mr. Wooster to a certain rainy day some years ago. At this time I had very little faith in a beneficent Fortune, for, in addition to a recent and painful personal disappointment, I was not entirely content with my place of residence and employment.
I made my home at that time at Wee Nook, a four-story cottage in the bucolic village of Lower Wick, in Worcestershire, belonging to Mr. Montague Todd, the noted financier. I have always considered myself a creature of the metropolis, but I was not given at this point in my career to staying very long with any one employer, and I had accepted Mr. Todd's generous salary with an idea that a short period of country living might act as a tonic. After nearly eighteen months, the main quality my employment shared with a tonic was its unpalatability.
It was at Mr. Todd's behest that I called that morning at a particular house in Cockspur Street, the London residence of the Earl of Worplesdon. I had been in service to Lord Worplesdon before Mr. Todd, resigning due to his insistence on dining in flannel shirt, dress trousers, and a shooting coat. I therefore braced myself as I entered his lordship's study, announced by the butler Pounceby in a voice brimming with repressed curiosity. "Mr. Jeeves, my lord."
Lord Worplesdon looked up, surprised. He was sitting at his desk, addressing himself to a whiskey-and-soda, wearing a college rowing-jumper of indescribable antiquity and filthiness and a dressing gown very heavily spotted with ink. I apprehended he was engaged in business correspondence.
"What do you want?"
"Good morning, my lord. I have come on behalf..."
"You needn't think you can just come in here and sneer at my dressing gown any time you like, my man. I told you I'd wear what I please, and I do, and be damned to you if you don't like it." He glared rebelliously from beneath the white tufts of his eyebrows.
"As you say, my lord. I have come on behalf of Mr. Montague Todd, who wished me to personally deliver to you this missive." I handed over the envelope.
The eyebrows rose. "Working for Todd, now, are you? Does he let you boss him about his clothes?"
"Mr. Todd has excellent judgment in matters sartorial, my lord."
"Hmph. Well. Damned clever fellow even if he is a damn coxcomb. Those tips he gave me last month on Pork Futures made me a nice sum, I'll tell you. Damned clever."
"I could not say, my lord."
"What d'you mean you couldn't say? There's nothing wrong with it, you know. Only natural, sharing information with one's friends. Nothing wrong about it."
"No, my lord. Is there any message you would have me take back to my employer?"
He harrumphed and sat down to scribble a brief note. Handing this to me, he said, "And tell Todd that he's hired a damn serpent. A serpent, bigod! Well, be off with you."
"Very good, my lord. Good day, my lord."
I had not been long in Mr. Todd's service before I began to wonder if my talents might not be better used elsewhere. The periodic arrival of gentlemen who expressed an intention to horsewhip him did not in a concrete sense cause me much travail, for Mr. Todd was very thoroughly possessed of the art of dealing with the Unusual Situation. The visitors would generally leave after a half-hour's conversation, laughing heartily and smoking one of his cigars.
Nevertheless I did not feel wholly sanguine with this state of affairs. It seemed to me highly probable that the subtleties of Mr. Todd's manner of conducting business would eventually come to light, especially in connection with a new venture concerning Argentinean gold mines--the existence of which I suspected of being somewhat apocryphal.
As a rule I consider the letter of the law to be of negligible significance except as a means to an end. Personal loyalties must always supersede. But, in addition to a pronounced disinclination to be prosecuted as an accessory to fraud, I was becoming aware of a growing discomfort in my mind. For several weeks I had been sending my books, in parcels of two or three, to my sister Daisy's house in Brixton; I had no definite, rational purpose in so doing, only a nameless distress thinking of them under Mr. Todd's roof. Daisy had pointed out in a recent letter that this was likely a sign that I myself ought not to remain under that same roof, and I was not sure I did not agree.
I had, however, no intention of resigning before I found a new position, for my energies are not well-suited to a lack of occupation. When I left Lord Worplesdon's employ, I had no prearranged situation waiting; my savings were considerable and I expected to be comfortable enough for a few months. I was mistaken.
The aimlessness of my days and nights was a constant source of unease and frustration. I had resolved to wait to take a place until I found exactly the right gentleman; in my idleness I committed the error of allowing myself to become involved with a young person of brilliant attainments and dubious sincerity. I knew it was unwise; a chance encounter on a train may be pleasurable to both parties but it does not make a longer relationship advisable. The other party was very persistent in wishing to see more of me, however, and as I was at loose ends I found myself unable to resist. My emotions became engaged.
The end was predictably painful. There can be no love where there is not perfect trust, and though we were fascinated--mutually, I think--by each other's personalities, it was not often possible to relax in each other's company. Words were exchanged. (I still maintain that the sock drawer in question needed to be properly arranged; even if it had not, the response my considerate little gesture received was wholly disproportionate.) I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could not have long tolerated being addressed as "Comrade," but I was determined not to make the same mistake again. Moving away from London had not been an ideal remedy, but I would not return without thorough preparation.
With all of this in mind, I proceeded to the Junior Ganymede, and after an excellent lunch took an hour or so to peruse the Club Book. I had already several names in mind; as I flipped through the pages in search of "Wookensby, Sir Horatio," I happened upon an entry headed "Wooster, Bertram." I paused.
My encounter with Lord Worplesdon revived a distant memory of occasionally hearing the name "Bertie Wooster" pronounced with disapproval. Insofar as I had ever considered the matter, I should have supposed the sobriquet "Bertie" to derive from "Albert." "Bertram" was a name I for which I had always a whimsical fondness. I was disposed just then to approve of anything his lordship condemned; I read on.
I should perhaps mention that Mr. Wooster's entry was by no means as expansive then as it would come to be in the fullness of time. The agency that supplied his previous employees was mentioned, of course: Miss Ada Clarkson's, one of the several at which I was registered. (It is always worthwhile to be on good terms with more than one agency owner. Handled correctly, they are an excellent source of both income and information.) A few details of birth, education and present residence were noted; he seemed to have a great many aunts, I saw with sympathy. A great many friends, as well.
It was not many years since he had left Oxford, and in that time only one of his valets had been a member of the Ganymede. I could not think that Mr. MacNabb, one of the club's staider elders, had been ideally matched with a young master who, I saw, was given when intoxicated to removing all his clothes and singing comic songs while bicycling around his college's quadrangle. Most of the comments were censorious, and though I read them with amusement I noted that Mr. Wooster's income was largely dependent on an elderly uncle, and was therefore likely to be unreliable. Besides, the entry indicated there was an incumbent gentleman's gentleman, if only of a inferior non-Ganymede species; if I wished to assume the position I would have to Take Steps. I was just about to move on when the writing changed to a different hand.
Mr. Garraway, a member of the board whom I had always held in great respect and whose passing I had deeply regretted, had evidently been the butler in Mr. Wooster's childhood home. He had obviously been much attached to the family, and though the untimely deaths of Mr. Wooster's parents had meant a parting of ways, he must have been tremendously indignant when he discovered MacNabb's written opinions on his young Master Bertie. A series of affectionate and somewhat maundering anecdotes followed, all centered on the extraordinary sweet nature and good heart of the remembered child. Kittens were involved in one, I believe. It was all highly biased and sentimental, of course, and very little to the point. But looking at the scrawled word "loyalty" I decided there could be no reason not to include Mr. Wooster's name as a fallback choice.
While carrying out Mr. Todd's errands that afternoon I found the opportunity to pass by most of the addresses on my list. I was favorably impressed by the last, Berkeley Mansions, an attractive and agreeably located building with flats which appeared, through the windows, to be spacious and tastefully appointed. Other homes I had visited that day had been larger and more lavish, of course--the half-dozen motorcars outside of Lord Frogleigh's house linger in my recollection, especially as one of them had cleared both the drive and the walkway to the door, and was parked at a jaunty angle with two wheels on the front steps and two in the adjoining rhododendron patch--but none had particularly struck me as being what I sought. The doorman at Berkeley Mansions was holding a fine cambric handkerchief, and blowing his nose in an aggrieved manner. In my experience, aggrieved persons are inclined to be talkative. I approached, and asked if he could provide me with the means to ignite a cigarette.
I recommend to all young fellows beginning in my profession that they make a practice of carrying at all times a few good-quality cigarettes among the other necessaries in their coat pockets. I rarely smoke, as a dependence which creates anxiety unless one indulges in frequent breaks appears to me highly incompatible with the performance of my duties. But aside from taking pride in being equipped to supply my employer with any incidental desire (cigarette cases being peculiarly apt to be mislaid or borrowed by impecunious friends), I find the paraphernalia of smoking to be unequaled as an aid in striking up easy natural conversation--one of the most useful skills in any profession.
In this instance the rain was also helpful. We stood together under the awning as the water sheeted down, and the doorman--his name is Ned Stuggins--told me at length about his head-cold and the perfidious tardiness of the colleague who was to relieve him.
"'arlf an hour late! Hif 'e thinks Oi don't 'ave nuffin' better to do than stand out 'ere in this filthy weather an' be splashed by hevery ruddy motorcar...Oi'm not a complaining man, Oi'm sure. Oi know my place an' Oi do my duty, but my duty should of included leaving 'arlf an hour ago, not shoehorning Mrs. Ruddy Tinkler-Moulke and 'er heighteen thousand ruddy Pomeranians hinside a cab an' then getting splashed hagain when it pulls haway. An' not a farthing for my trouble, mind you...that Mr. Wooster's the honly one in the hentire building hwith a bob and a kind word..."
I listened, making commiserating noises at regular intervals, till at last he stopped to blow his nose again.
"I understand brandy is very efficacious against colds," I said. "I have an appointment to meet a gentleman on business at the Bird In Hand down the street there; would you care to join me when your shift is completed?"
This suggestion being met with enthusiasm, I proceeded down to the aforementioned public house. It was very lively; many citizens seemed to be sheltering from the rain inside their pint glasses. I inquired of the publican if anyone had come with a message for Montague Todd, and his response (shouted over the hubbub) was in the negative. Mr. Todd had said that this client was new, and rather skittish; he might decide not to come at all. I requested, and at length obtained, a booth near the rear.
Waiting, then, with a glass of stout my temporary companion, I was reading from a small volume of Wordsworth. It was a favorite poem, positing the man "who comprehends his trust, and to the same/keeps faithful with a singleness of aim;" I had reached the lines:
"Whose powers shed round him in the common strife
Or mild concerns of ordinary life
A constant influence, a peculiar grace,"
when I became aware that I was not attending to my reading, but rather to a pleasant light baritone rising from the booth behind mine.
"...right into the mulligatawny! Well, you know, bishops don't care much for soup as apparel, and as the stuff was pretty liberally distributed across both our shirtfronts I thought I'd better just thank him for his hospitality and stagger home. The note I got from Aunt Agatha on the morrow was frightful, I don't mind telling you. Would make your knotted and combined locks to part and do something I can't recall but hedgehogs come into it somehow."
Occasional splutters had been providing a counterpoint to the baritone's theme; at this point these resolved into a second voice begging the first to stop making him laugh, as he had just accidentally inhaled a quantity of his beverage, and he was sure the barmaid was staring at them.
"Probably only in sympathy, old fruit. She seems a dashed sympathetic girl--had a sort of divinely pitying gaze as she bunged down the drinks. Must remember not to come here with Bingo. Oh, I say, I'm sorry, I've set you off again. Here, take my handkerchief...oh, no, you can't, I've given it away already. I'll ask for a napkin."
"It's all right. I remembered mine today."
"Did you? So you did! Well done, Biffy! Er...I don't suppose you've remembered who it was your uncle wanted you to meet here, or why, have you?"
The friend made a disgusted noise. "Well, I almost did before you went and asked me. No, it's gone now. I thought I wrote it down on the back of this racing slip with the time and the name of the pub but all it says is 'T. about A. g. m.s,' see? But we did come early, at least. That's something, isn't it?"
"Shall we push on to the Drones, then?"
"It's still raining."
"Yes, but we can't stop here all night waiting for it to leave off. That last clap of thunder sounded like G. K. Chesterton colliding with a piece of sheet-metal. I've got an umbrella, we can brave the storm together."
The second voice agreed. I looked up with considerable interest as they rose to go, but my sight was blocked by Mr. Stuggins the doorman, arrived at last. My greeting was somewhat strained, though I flatter myself he did not notice; I was endeavoring to see around him. At the door, a tall figure was engaged in a gallant struggle with an umbrella. He had his back to me, but there was something in the lines of his shoulders which nearly overwhelmed me with a desire to go over and help him open the recalcitrant object. I frowned down at my book. I ought not to read poetry in a public place if it made me so susceptible; Wordsworth had never affected me in that way before.
That evening, returning on the last train to Worcester, I watched the rain come silvery out of the darkness, streaking over the chilly window-glass. The compartment was warm and full of yellow light, and I sat with my valise neatly stowed and my hat and book in my lap, quite alone.
"Icebergs that pass in the night, Comrade Jeeves," said the memory. "Never imagine I do not appreciate your genius for order, as well as your, shall we say, other talents and personal attributes. But perfect order leaves me no scope for my own genius. And that must not be, for the sake of the world....to say nothing of our mutual sanity. We are both as angels, who must serve heaven or fall."
I tried to picture a world of perfect order, a sunny England full of laughter and an endless series of perfectly knotted ties beneath my fingers. "In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,/Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart," read the lines on the open page in my hands. I leaned my head back, and did not meet the eyes of my reflection in the window.
A month later, I took the same train back to London. It was the 11:35; the first-class carriage was filled with holidaying children with their nannies and ladies on shopping expeditions, and I walked past several doors looking for an unoccupied compartment. I paused for a moment at one, which held only a lone gentleman. His face was obscured by a mystery novel ("The Mysterious Affair at Styles," he tells me) and his long legs stretched out onto the seat opposite. I hesitated with my hand on the door. The fact that those long legs were encased in a regrettable light check fabric made the pang I was feeling all the odder. I compressed my lips and moved on.
The throng of giggling, marshmallow-gobbling schoolgirls, who crowded into the compartment I finally selected on the very next stop, inspired me to leave the train at an early station, and take a local connection to Brixton. I had another envelope to deliver to Lord Worplesdon, and a folder of documentation on the Argentinean investments to bestow in the safe at Mr. Todd's house in London, but I nevertheless proceeded first to a tea-shop on a small, well-swept suburban street.
Business was very brisk that day, I saw as I entered. I made my way back to the kitchen and found some species of pudding steaming in the pot, and my sister bustling about the counters with the swift, seemingly erratic purposefulness which is her wont on such days. "Like a cannonball that thinks it's a bumblebee," as Mr. Wooster has characterized it; she kissed my cheek and shouted at one of the cook-maids to see if there were more sultanas in the second pantry.
"And explain to me why every clerk and schoolboy in town must come in today wanting Spotted Dick, which I haven't been able to sell a crumb of for days. And Mabel off in Brighton so we're short a waitress..."
I agreed it was one of the great mysteries and was told to put on an apron, then, or had I forgotten how to make pie-crust?
"There's never any way to prepare for this sort of rush," said Daisy, flinging mounds of batter onto baking-sheets. "I wish I knew how it happens. It can't be only that one customer hears another's order and thinks, 'hallo, I've not had Dick in years, it sounds good,' for you know they mostly don't come in at the same time, or listen to each other. I suppose there's that synchronicity thing I was reading about, but really I think they do it to annoy."
I inquired after her reading, and, as something of an afterthought, her husband's health.
"Oh, Ern's well enough. Slightly apoplectic--I told you in the last letter Mabel's got it in her head to go on stage? He forbade her to see any of her actor-friends so of course she went off with three of the other mannequin girls she works with to audition for a seaside touring company. Hand me that dishcloth, will you, love? Thank you. Cor, but you're thin. Remind me to give you something to take with you for your tea. And I've been reading that Symposium book."
I murmured something vaguely encouraging, and she shot me an irritated glance. "Well, try to contain your enthusiasm, my lad. You've been telling me I ought to read that book since you were fourteen. I do like it, I'll admit. Especially the bit about the lovers being people split in two...though I can't help thinking they must have looked pretty silly to begin with."
"That is certainly the most celebrated passage, Margaret. I've come to find it excessively sentimental as my understanding matured, but I suppose you might..."
Margaret whirled round at this point, and hurled a fistful of flour in my direction. I started back in surprise, inhaled, and spent the next several seconds coughing. "Daisy!" I expostulated, when I had my breath back.
"That's better," she said, putting her hands on her hips, and then treated me to a lecture. If I was determined to become a younger, gaunt version of Uncle Charlie, that was my business and she didn't imagine she could stop me. She could even put up with being called Margaret. But she wasn't having any sneering at True Love.
Dusting myself off with some difficulty, I replied that I didn't think I'd given her cause for a personal attack.
"I bet you don't. I bet when you look in the mirror you recognize yourself by general description. When are you going to find yourself another gentleman, then?"
"Quite soon, I hope."
"Good. I don't like seeing you this way, love. You need to take better care of yourself. Find a nice silly gentleman who'll appreciate having his tea brewed exactly three minutes and his shirts being given the right amount of starch. I know you think you'd be bored, but..."
"I have never said that, I merely..."
"...you need someplace you can take your books out of boxes and get a proper night's sleep. You are looking?"
"I've said I am," I said, rather sharply.
She pulled the apron off me and affectionately disarranged my hair. "Sit down and I'll put some biscuits in a bag for you."
I was obliged to stop at Mr. Todd's London house before going about the rest of my business, in order to brush the last of the flour from my coat. It was quiet, there, and unheated, with most of the furniture and light fixtures draped; I left my bag with my personal effects in the small bare servant's quarters, and locked away the Argentinean documents as I had been instructed. It is, of course, beneath the dignity of a gentleman's gentleman to steam open or otherwise tamper with correspondence entrusted to his care; I had taken the precaution of reading the letters while still on my master's desk, before they were sealed. Several suspicions had been confirmed in my mind.
Some impulse made me stop by Berkeley Mansions on my way to Lord Worplesdon's abode. The doorman hailed me with delight. Was I in town long? Would I care to come round to dinner that evening and meet Mrs. Stuggins? I didn't happen to be looking for a job, did I?
"Mr. Wooster's come back hearly from some country 'ouse or hother. 'E caught 'is valet Meadowes thieving. Hwell, Oi could've warned 'im the man hwas no good, honly hit twasn't my place, was it? 'E stole my silver flask last Christmas. Oi ask you! Didn't 'ave no proof, though, hor Oi would've told Mr. Wooster, my place hor not. But 'e got hwhat was coming to 'im. Hwe all do, sooner nor later, hand no mistake. So hif you 'appened to be looking for a new hemployer..."
Redirecting my steps back to Mr. Todd's house, I rang up the agency; ten minute's conversation later, I was out on the street again, this time carrying the folder of Argentinean documents as well as Lord Worplesdon's envelope.
The Earl greeted me with a wave of his port glass. "About time you got here. Todd said you'd be here at three. You're losing your touch, man."
"I hope not, my lord. But I do regret my tardiness. Here is the missive."
"Your master is, too. Some of those stocks aren't doing nearly as well as he said."
"Indeed, my lord? I am sorry to hear it. I suppose Mr. Todd must be feeling guilty; often in recent evenings he has been, if you will excuse the expression, drunk and credulous as an Earl."
Lord Worplesdon frowned. "As a lord, you mean. 'Drunk as a lord.'"
"Yes, my lord."
This took a moment to filter through, but the reaction when it came was gratifying. The Earl turned an unflattering shade of cerise, and asked what I meant. I disavowed any particular meaning. He demanded, despite my protestations, to see whatever those other papers were I was carrying. I left them in his custody, and went out with a civil word to an astonished Pounceby.
I slept unexpectedly well that night.
My telephone call the next morning required a little thought as to timing. I wanted to be sure Lord Worplesdon would have had time to contact his lawyers. I spent the early part of the day packing and tidying up, and phoned Mr. Todd at nine, precisely.
"You did what?!"
"His lordship was most insistent, sir. I did not think there could be any harm in letting him see the documents, as he is a friend and a client of yours. If I was mistaken I do apologize. I only wished, as always, to give satisfaction."
Something in my phraseology seemed to strike Mr. Todd unfavorably. His response was lengthy and vituperative; he made several suggestions as to acts which would give him satisfaction. The only one of these which was physically practicable was never to let him see my face again.
"Very good, sir," I said, and rang off.
The phone began ringing again almost immediately, but I was on my way out.
The City, as the poet has it, did like a garment wear the beauty of the morning, silent, bare; ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lay all bright and glittering in the smokeless air. I had no trouble in obtaining a taxi, and as I entered the building which was my destination I was conscious of a peculiar exhilaration.
It was necessary to depress the bell several times before I heard movement on the other side. Some piece of furniture would seem to have obtruded, for I heard a muffled crash and some muttered imprecations before, at last, the door was wrenched open.
The effort of opening the door seemed to have been almost too much for him. Mr. Wooster clung to the knob and appeared to be supporting his entire, not inconsiderably tall, person through its assistance, for he swayed back and forth as he blinked at me, looking rather lost. His eyes, despite their state of sleepy blear, were very large and blue.
He emitted a vague gargle of inquiry.
"Good morning," I said, raising my hat. "I was sent by the agency, sir. I was given to understand that you required a valet."
Mr. Wooster attempted a sentence, with limited success. He swung the door wide, in what was obviously meant for cordial invitation. I entered.
The flat was airy and agreeable, though it showed definite signs of being without the attention of a servant. These I rectified as I passed, my sense of comfort increasing with every step. Mr. Wooster followed me around, gripping various pieces of furniture, before collapsing on the sofa. There was a book titled "Types of Ethical Theory" on the floor nearby; I wondered who had been making him read it.
In the kitchen, I found a stale loaf of bread, much hacked with an adjacent carving knife, and a pot of marmalade with its top missing. Mr. Wooster had evidently been making an effort towards breakfast; I swept up those natural crumbs which had resulted and hoped that the previous incumbent had not left the larder entirely empty.
Such did not prove to be the case. Eggs, red pepper, and Worcester Sauce I located with ease, and I had, as always, a small flask of Mulliner's Buck-U-Uppo (grade B) with the other small necessaries in my coat.
I presented the mixture to Mr. Wooster on a silver salver I found amongst the china and was determined to polish as soon as possible. He took the glass and downed its contents willingly. I watched as his face went through the usual preliminary contortions following from my restorative preparation (slightly exaggerated, in a manner I was soon to recognize as typical of him). After a moment, he sat up.
"I say!" he ejaculated. He seemed pleased by this phrase, for he repeated it twice as, blinking, he looked round the flat, out the window, and back at me. He added, "You're engaged!"
"Thank you sir. My name is Jeeves."
He beamed at me. I had a brief sense, which I did not at that time wish to pursue, that the Club Book should have made some mention of the blueness of his eyes. "You can start in at once?"
"Immediately, sir," I said.