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Jeeves and the Explosive Parcel

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In anticipation of the severe disapprobation of Mrs Gregson at the breaking of Mr Wooster’s engagement to her preferred niece-in-law, Miss Tennyson, I had presumed so far as to book passage for two on the next acceptable liner to New York. It is foresight like this which enables me to maintain my standing in Mr Wooster’s esteem. His professions of gratitude as we hastened up the gangway were profuse and highly satisfactory. Although I maintained a calm demeanour, I was inwardly exultant at the thought not only of several days in the sea air, and all the attractions of New York to follow, but of the concessions I should be able to exact from him in the matter of his offensively striped new socks.

Our journey passed uneventfully. I thoroughly enjoyed walking the decks and making the acquaintance of other passengers, and was fortunate enough to observe for some minutes a pod of North Atlantic right whales seemingly at play. Mr Wooster followed the whales’ example, occupying himself with innocent amusements and avoiding any further entanglements.

It was a pleasure, too, to install ourselves once again in the Stuyvesant Towers. I find the kitchen of this residence particularly convenient, and it affords me a larger bathroom than in the London flat. Mr Wooster at once commenced reacquainting himself with American friends, and was soon immersed in the social whirl of Manhattan. With an ocean between us and the wrath of Mrs Gregson, I dare say we both breathed more easily. I cannot say that I find Mrs Gregson an agreeable lady, but I respect her. She is formidable.

Proust, in the first volume of his great work À la Recherche du Temps Perdu, introduces the theme of involuntary memory, the manner in which some stimulus will unexpectedly and vividly evoke a recollection from one’s past. In Proust’s case, dipping a madeleine in his tea evoked the memory of dipping another such madeleine in tea taken with his aunt as a child. I do not know whether the madeleine or the aunt produced a more vivid impression upon the author as a youth. I do know that on one occasion while struggling to negotiate the thronged concourse of Grand Central Station, I caught a whiff of a distinctive perfume which brought to mind with startling suddenness the memory of my own Great-Aunt Jenny, to whom I was quite devoted as a small boy but of whom I had not consciously thought for many years. I continued my progress with unshed tears in my eyes.

Aunts, as Mr Wooster has been known to remark, are rum creatures.

I experienced this phenomenon again one morning while bringing in Mr Wooster’s post and sorting it to determine whether it contained any items of particular urgency, or any which could be immediately discarded. On that day, he received letters from Mr Rockmeteller Todd, Mr Hildebrand Glossop, his sister Mrs Scholfield, and a brown paper parcel inscribed with no return address. Indeed, the address with which it was inscribed was indistinct, owing to a large ink-blot, and I was unsure whether “Wooster” was the name intended. It may have been “Watson.” I was inspecting it more closely, and Mr Wooster, propped up on his pillows and taking his tea with shining morning face, was just inquiring what I had there, when involuntary memory reared its head.

Though I seldom speak of it, I had some passing involvement in the events of the Great War. Mine was a minor rôle, but it required me to be familiar with, amongst other things, a variety of explosive ordinance. The memory which came to me then with devastating force was one of my very near destruction by a Mills hand grenade, which, due to muddy ground which caused me to slip as I threw, I failed to lob a sufficient distance from myself.

The Mills bomb, once activated, emits a distinctive whirring sound, which I now heard issuing from the parcel. After the pin is pulled, one has an interval of seven seconds to throw the grenade and take cover before it explodes. I do not know by what means the grenade which I now know to have been inside the package was activated, but I knew with absolute certainty that I must get it away from myself and Mr Wooster without delay. I believe that my alarm must have shown on my face, for he had just time to enquire “I say, Jeeves, what’s gotten into you?” as I pivoted, briefly considered, and decisively flung the deadly object through the open doorway of Mr Wooster’s bathroom.

I then attempted to throw myself across the bed, intending to carry Mr Wooster with me and shelter both of us behind the article of furniture, but too much time had elapsed. With a deafening report, the grenade exploded. Had I been able to hear anything after the explosion, I dare say I would have been dismayed by the ensuing smashing of porcelain and glass, and gushing of water from the devastated commode. I felt a sharp impact against the back of my left thigh and fell ungracefully across the foot of the bed.

All was a confusion of dust and tinnitus. My heart was beating thunderously, both with the exertion of the moment and with the alarm of my involuntarily recalled memory. I struggled to breathe, and felt a cold sweat break out profusely over my entire person. It was quite counterproductive. It seemed to take an age for me to push myself up with my arms and to roll onto my side. I remembered the nightmarish slowness with which my younger self had turned and lurched toward cover, my feet sliding again in the mud so that I fell flat upon my face. In the event, lying prone was what saved me. The portion of broken wall which I had hoped to make my shelter was entirely destroyed by the blast, while I was unharmed, apart from a broken nose sustained through sudden contact with the ground.

The dust in the air was thinning as the larger particles settled to the ground, though much was still borne aloft by the breeze swirling in from the hole, large enough to admit the body of a grown man, which the explosion had torn in the exterior wall. I felt the breeze upon my face, being unable to hear either it, or the sounds of the street which must have been drifting in. I wished that it had been possible to close the bathroom door.

Mr Wooster was sitting motionless, and for a dreadful moment I feared that he had been killed, but that moment elapsed, I saw that he was merely frozen with astonishment, like a startled rabbit. He had a great deal of plaster dust in his hair and about his person, which made him appear somewhat ghostly. He was still holding his teacup, but its contents were splashed over the front of his heliotrope pyjamas.

His lips moved, and very faintly, as if at a great distance, I heard through the tinnitus whine my own name. It was a relief to realise that I was not, after all, stone deaf.

“I shall be better directly, sir,” I said, and attempted to rise. However, I was felled once more by a stab of pain in my left thigh. Twisting to see it, I discovered that my trouser leg was saturated with blood, which was also staining the counterpane. A jagged lump of metal shrapnel protruded from the flesh visible through a large rent in the fabric. You will readily imagine my dismay.

As I considered my course of action, Mr Coneybear, our elevator operator, entered the room somewhat precipitously. He appeared winded and his eyes were very wide and white in his dark face. I could not make out what he said through the singing in my ears, but I expect it was an inquiry as to the origin of the noise, which must have been quite audible throughout the building.

I am heartily glad that Mr Coneybear was there. I believe I was suffering from shock, and lacked my customary presence of mind. He acted quickly to bandage my leg with a torn pillow-case, which staunched the bleeding, and in the opinion of Doctor Levine, may have saved my life. I wished very much to stand by myself, which I am sure would have brought on a fresh spate of bleeding and done me incalculable harm, and had to be held down by both Mr Coneybear and Mr Wooster. Mr Wooster remained, seated on the bed with his arms around me, while Mr Coneybear departed to summon more expert aid.

Perhaps because of the differing timbre of his voice, Mr Wooster was more audible to me than Mr Coneybear had been. I could hear him, a little more clearly than before, repeating to me, “Hold still, now, Jeeves, there’s a dear chap. Hold still.” He was, doubtless in his own reaction to the shock, crying, so that his tears made pink tracks through the ashy white of the dust on his face. He permitted me, at least, to wipe them away with my handkerchief. I did not like to see him so distressed. He continued to hold me, and to speak soothingly, until the crew of an ambulance arrived. I remember little from that point until the evening of that day, when I awoke in a hospital bed.

 

The first sight I beheld upon opening my eyes was merely a jug of water standing on the bedside table, but the second was the face of Mr Wooster. He sat beside me, reading Harper’s Bazaar. He was fully dressed, and must have taken the opportunity to wash the plaster out of his hair, perhaps in my small bathroom, as he surely could not have done it in his own. When I stirred, he looked up, and delight bloomed upon his face. It was a very welcome sight.

“You’re awake, Jeeves. I am glad to see you awake.” The tinnitus had faded to a moderate whine while I slept, and it was easier by far to hear him. I took stock of my condition. I felt a pleasant, soft numbness which I attributed to morphia. I was disinclined to rise, but felt quite capable of doing so.

“They think it was anarchists!” Mr Wooster exclaimed.

“Do they, sir?”

“Yes, although Lord knows what anarchists would want with me. I advanced the theory that it was Aunt Agatha, but the police captain didn’t seem to think much of that.”

“It would be a remarkable escalation of hostilities for Mrs Gregson to resort to explosives, sir.”

“Apparently there’s a lot of it about. Must be seasonal, like ‘flu.”

Presently we were joined by Dr Levine, who explained that I had sustained a deep laceration on the left thigh, from which he had removed a piece of shrapnel which I might keep if I liked. My wound was clean, sutured and expected to heal well. I told him about my tinnitus, and after examining my ears and performing some tests, he assured me that he expected it to clear up by itself with time and rest. I was to remain in hospital a few days, after which, if I made good progress, I might be discharged to recuperate at home. He congratulated me upon my heroism, which I found mildly embarrassing.

“Home, for the nonce, is a suite at the Plaza Hotel,” Mr Wooster told me. “I’ve had our stuff moved. We’ll be quite all right there until the repairs are done. I’ll get you a trained nurse and you shall want for nothing.”

He remained steadfastly at my side while I spoke to the police, giving them what little information I could. The fact that I could identify the bomb as a Mills grenade, and that I thought the name on the package may have been Watson rather than Wooster, might at least be of some help in tracing the culprit.

“I’m impressed that you could tell what it was just from the sound, Mr Jeeves,” said the senior detective. “That’s a big help.”

“It’s amazing what Jeeves knows,” Mr Wooster said proudly. “He is a marvel.”

He stayed, and read to me, and poured me glasses of water most solicitously until a nurse whom, in England, I should have addressed as Matron shooed him out. In the morning he was back with a sheepish grin and a copy of the New York Times bearing the headline “Quick-Thinking Valet Saves English Lord’s Life in Bomb Attack.”

“I shall have to write and request a correction,” he said, passing me the paper. “You are, unquestionably, a quick-thinking valet who saved my life, but I’m not a lord.” He grew more serious. “I shall never forget this, Jeeves. You’ve pulled me out of the soup many a time and oft, but you’ve reached a new high. If not for you, I’d be in bits. Smithereens! They’d have to bury me in a shoebox.”

“There is really no need for any fuss, sir,” I demurred. “I only did my duty, and acted in self-preservation besides.”

“If I can’t make a fuss of you when you save my life and get wounded doing it, when can I make a fuss? You must just resign yourself to a lifetime of fuss and gratitude, my dear Jeeves. I’ve brought you grapes.”

I will own that it was comforting to have him there. When I was alone and closed my eyes, I saw once again the mud of a French field rising up to smack me in the face, and my heart pounded. The singing in my ears was louder and worse when all was quiet, so I welcomed Mr Wooster reading to me. So eager was he to please, he actually tackled Spinoza for me. I doubt he understood much of it - Mr Wooster’s gifts are not of the intellectual variety - but I have always found his voice pleasant. He brought me fresh fruit every day, and my own pyjamas and dressing gown, and was altogether very kind to me.

The tinnitus having subsided, and my wound remaining clean and healing well, I was permitted to leave hospital. Mr Wooster put me into a taxi and took me to the Plaza Hotel, where he had engaged a very acceptable suite of rooms. At my request, we did without the trained nurse. I had already had more than enough unwanted attention from persons insistent on regarding me as a hero. One aggressive young lady of the “baby vamp” variety had inveigled her way into the hospital intent upon proposing marriage, but was fortunately apprehended by the Matron.

When we entered the suite, Mr Wooster excitedly showed me the bouquets, telegrams and cards which had arrived from friends and well-wishers - not sensation-seeking New Yorkers, but people we knew well. I was particularly touched by a card signed by the members of the Junior Ganymede Club, wishing me a swift and smooth recovery. I confess that I had harboured some hopes of resuming my duties, or at least the lighter ones, but the effort and discomfort which the walk from the ward to the taxi-cab, and from the taxi-cab through the lobby of the hotel had cost me made it clear that this was out of the question. Mr Wooster, too, was adamant that I was to rest. I might lie in bed, or recline upon the sofa with my hurt leg elevated, but I was to attempt nothing more strenuous.

After several days of sponge-baths, I was eager to bathe properly, and after some negotiation we agreed that I might. Mr Wooster filled the bath and assisted me to get in. It felt odd, to say the least, to be assisted by him, and I believe we were both somewhat embarrassed by the reversal of rôles. Rather than linger and chat to me, as I commonly do while he bathes, he left the room once I was seated. I soon heard him playing the piano in the sitting-room. I soaked contentedly, listening to “Rhapsody in Blue.”

(To be continued)