Chapter 1: 1. Grab the tiger by the tail
Bertie realises he has a crush on Jeeves. Jeeves isn’t up for it.
Notes: If you are reading from the beginning, why, thank you.
If you are finishing this off, I apologise for the long hiatus. I made some minor edits to the original chapters, but you needn’t worry that the story has changed (although some hints in Chapters 24 and 26 are now more explicit). The chapter summaries outline the plot in case you need a refresher. I added more notes, to explain references and thank Esbe, who is amazing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Rummy thing, valeting. I mean, I wonder what drove Jeeves into it. I can’t imagine that it provides the necessary stimulus for that fish-fed brain of his. Was he in dire straits? Was he broken-hearted? Was he undercover? He could not be merely my valet.
The thought that Jeeves harboured some dark secret began to dawn on me as that busy old fool, the unruly sun. I’d like to kick the sun in the seat of its pants, if suns have got pants.
As soon as the thought that Jeeves had a mysterious reason for being in my employ crept up on my horizon, it blazed across my mind and scorched every other thought I had of Jeeves. I had some pretty fruity thoughts of Jeeves that I had been fondly entertaining that I completely lost the tail of. It took a glass of the stiffest and several of his fellows to coax them back.
It was only a week or two of cocktails at night, trying to coax back the scampered fruity thoughts and dispel the fruitless attempts to divine Jeeves’s motives in becoming my valet before I resorted to asking Jeeves to hold the soda. It wasn't my way to get sloshed at home, but I couldn't bring my wonderings and troubles before Jeeves to tidy up and mend for me. You see the dilemma. He was genesis of the problem, and therefore not the solution. Quid pro quo. No, that’s not right. It’s not right and I can’t ask Jeeves.
“Jeeves!” I called.
“Mix me a brandy and soda. No soda.”
I pondered again what might motivate a paragon such as Jeeves to emanate from the background of my sitting room holding a tray.
“Brandy’s a solution, I suppose, Jeeves, what?”
“If you mean that brandy is a solute uniformly mixed with soda as a solvent, then you would be incorrect, sir. The solvent is the water and the solute is carbon dioxide. The brandy — ”
“You mistake me, Jeeves. Two more of these and the slinkiest, fruitiest tail would not elude me.”
I downed what I planned to be the first of several. The best-laid plans, however, gang aft agley. Jeeves has translated the Scots to me, but it doesn’t spring to mind. Never mind, the events I relate will show you better than I can explain it.
“I fear alcohol will not allow for clarity of thought, sir.”
Jeeves’ brow did not furrow, but something like a furrow disrupted his map. It took me a minute but I isolated the effect to his lips. Another minute and I had it. It was either a pout or a moue. I had just drawn breath to ask (Had I been holding my breath? It seems that I had) but it came out on (in?) this side of a gasp instead.
“Sir,” said Jeeves firmly, depositing the tray with an unnecessary flourish. “A good night’s sleep will more likely provide the elusive tail than a series of beverages.”
He gripped my elbow and steered me from the room as a boisterous child might sail a toy boat across the carpet. I have described his features as finely chiselled; yet in that moment I perceived that they were not so much marble as positively stone.
In my preoccupation with Jeeves’, well, occupation, had I overlooked some sartorial matter? Sudden and forceful movements on Jeeves’ part are mainly due to sartorial matters. My calves were swathed in a debonair pair of lavender silk socks, prevented from pooling unattractively about the Wooster ankles by a pair of sock garters.
“Pipped, Jeeves? I rather thought the lavender socks had been accepted. This close to bed time is not the hour for these doubts re. socks. Your wont on these matters generally expresses itself in the moment unless it is leaving the iron on them whilst it biffs off to answer the telephone, what?”
“Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat.”
That didn’t ring a bell. I tried it in my head in Mr Griggs’ voice from second year Latin. It didn't sound right. Had to be one of Jeeves’, then.
“Nonsense, Jeeves. Omnes, um. Omnes… Do you know, Jeeves, I’ve never known you so far off the mark. Omnes vulner-ay…” I realized where I’d read that before. “Oh, I know that one, Jeeves! It's on every sundial. Well, it makes neither sense there nor here. Why the opprobium for the socks — is it opprobium?”
“Opprobium, sir. I take no issues with the socks, Sir. The shade is quite different to that of the regrettable waistcoat of last season. I consider that we came to a satisfactory agreement on purple garments."
I placed my drink on my night table and began to loosen my tie. A tail twitched in my mind’s eye. “Jeeves.”
“It’s not the socks?”
I’d let the man get away from me in the past. Although I had relented on the waistcoat, there had been extenuating circumstances at the time that I won’t go into now. It sounds like a limerick gone wrong, now that I think about it.
There once was a chef name of Anatole,
Whose dinner I’ve missed… oh damn it all.
I’ve a fiancée more
Than I wanted before,
If Jeeves would just…
No, that one’s not coming out right.
There once was a prince among valets,
Who ruled whilst he offered the chalice,
Iron fist, velvet glove,
He managed my love,
So I had none, nor any white jackets.
No, that was the other time with the mess jacket.
Waistcoats don’t mix with my man,
If they’re red, when my jacket is tan.
I was to be married,
Yet justice miscarried,
I’m as free as you’d think that I am.
My man hates connubial bliss,
He strives so I give it the miss.
I’ve come very near,
To the altar, I fear,
But never as near as first kiss.
You get the gist of it, I expect.
I once had a valet named Jeeves.
He hated brass buttons on coats.
I got engaged,
The cat isn't mine,
And limericks are deuced hard to write.
I’ve gone off piste.
Back on track. I have tested the limits of Jeeves’ feudal spirit and found that as a pastime, I like it less than golf. My own poignant anguish in his absence is detailed elsewhere. Dashed if I would let a stony moue eat away at me over lavender socks.
“I worry, Jeeves. I ask for a brandy and soda, and you tell me the hours wound. You have mixed for me a million b. and s.’s. You have only seen one pair of lavender socks grace the young master’s ankles. If you mean to tell me it’s eaten away at you all day, I say rubbish. The evening finds me no less firm than the ack emma. The socks will come to no harm.”
Jeeves did not speak. I glanced his way, and his face was as unreadable as the Rongorongo glyphs.
I sat on the bed and offered a shoe. Jeeves is, at the end of the day, my man. He knelt before me to remove the old brogues, and then sat back on his heels.
“As I said, sir, it is not the socks. The phrase I offer alludes to the removal of the socks.”
Cryptic, that. He removed a shoe and held my foot in his hand.
“Ultima necat?” I asked. “The last hour kills? Dashed depressing, Jeeves.”
“Indeed, sir.” His hand slid up from my ankle to my garter. I goggled.
“J-Jeeves!” I gave a manly squeak.
I noticed that his eyebrow was a sixteenth of an inch higher than it had been a moment earlier. I thought of all the times I had sent Jeeves ahead with the luggage. He had that look of having unpacked the suitcases, heard the below-stairs gossip, and prepared a snoot-full upon hearing the two-seater on the gravel.
“You’re ahead of me, Jeeves.”
He was on the other foot, now.
“Extraordinary thing, Jeeves, you being here.”
“This is a duty I perform daily, sir.”
“Not you holding my foot, you bearing my cup, Jeeves. Not that you bore the most recently requested cup. No chance you’d bear it now?”
“What do you mean, ‘no, sir’? Extraordinary that you would be my valet, and extraordinarier that you would refuse to valet. Unaccountable. Damn and blast the fool unruly sun, Jeeves! Do not correct my quote!”
I could see, though he hadn’t moved a fraction, that he wanted to give me the full first three lines. I only remembered them at all because he’d said them not two weeks earlier when he handed over his incomparable restorative instead of my usual morning tea. Silence reigned for a moment, my foot still in his hand.
“Tell me something I’ve been wanting to know, Jeeves. You know why you choose to work here and I do not. Time to fill me in.”
Jeeves straightened up from his heels and I found that he loomed just as well on his knees before me as he did on his feet at my elbow. I don’t know if you’ve been early to a really big do and heard the orchestra warming up? It charges the air. One goes from milling about aimlessly to the business of filling up the dance card. It is neither as abrupt as a starting shot, nor as familiar as the dinner-gong, yet my heart was racing and my mouth hung open. I’d never felt any excitement over a dance card, but in that moment I felt a sudden fellow-feeling with every beazel who’d ever gazed up at me and asked if she could put me down for the waltz.
He began to speak and in that instant my heart became a panicked parakeet flapping about within the confines of my ribs.
“It is a personal feeling, sir.”
Air was in short supply. As I panted at the edge of my bed, the thought occurred that my breath must reach Jeeves’ face. I swallowed nervously and attempted to draw in air through my nose. I may have become light-headed in the attempt. Jeeves looked down and his lashes swooped down like a pair of ostrich-feather fans carried by a modest cabaret dancer. I giggled and Jeeves was up like a rocket.
I jumped up with him. Shaky and panting. I had somehow got ahold of his arm and most of the
back of his jacket. He froze.
“Pygmalion and Galatea, what?”
We stood there for a moment, and I regained my breath.
“Your statement is more accurate than you realise.” Jeeves spoke quietly, and I noticed he did not call the young master sir.
His voice was frosty and I loosed his arm. I wound my other hand a bit in his jacket and looked longingly at the tray on the sideboard.
“I just meant the statue,” I said. “It being still, if you see what I mean.”
“As did I, sir.”
Here’s where I knew it had gone all gang aft agley. Jeeves had been my valet and everything had been lovely. Now I was hanging onto the man’s jacket in my bedroom and he was both standing stock still and champing at the bit to be off.
“I should have just asked you, Jeeves,” I said morosely. “I should always just ask you. You would sort it.”
“In the morning, sir.”
I let go. Jeeves shimmered out like the fog on little cat feet.
“Chill in the air,” I said to the room. I pulled a fretful jacket round the shoulders and climbed into my bed. I ran over the events of the evening in my mind.
|raised eyebrow||jacket grasping|
I stopped there. He’d solved it. Personal feeling. He’d been ahead of me; I’d got that right. He was my valet because of personal feeling. Jeeves wanted me to catch my cat of a thought sober and at home. No, not just at home: in bed. ‘In the morning, sir.’
I settled down into my bed. Jeeves was going to sort it all out in the morning. The mystery wasn’t completely solved, but I’d firmly grasped the tail of my musings and finally glimpsed the whole cat.
Beta'd by Esbe.
I posted the first draft of the first chapter at indeedsir on live journal.
This is set before Ring for Jeeves but after every other book, so between 1934 and after 1946. Wodehouse put a 20 year difference between Jeeves and Wooster in one interview and an 11 year difference in a letter, so here let’s just say there’s an age difference.
‘Busy old fool, unruly sun’ is from John Donne, The Sun Rising:
“Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch…”
‘Quid pro quo’ is ‘tit for tat’.
‘Gang aft agley’ means ‘go oft awry’, from Robert Burns’ poem ‘To a Mouse…’
‘Seize the day’ is an aphorism from Horace’s Odes.
The Rongorongo glyphs are from Easter Island.
‘Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat’ means all hours wound; the last one kills — it’s common on sundials and Neil Gaiman says it somewhere in American Gods. I highly recommend the television show based on this work.
Galatea is a reference to a Greek myth. Pygmalion loses all interest in women (!). He makes a statue of one, Galatea, and falls in love with it. Aphrodite brings it to life, and the sculptor marries the statue-made-woman. Why yes, I wrote Mister Robots, why do you ask?
My non-limerick is inspired by Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan:
There was a young man of Tralee,
Who was horribly stung by a wasp,
When they said, ‘Does it buzz?’
He replied “Yes, it hurts,
It’s a horrible brute of a hornet.”
— W.S. Gilbert.
Psmith wears lavender gloves in Psmith in the City: “‘Commerce,’ said Psmith, as he drew off his lavender gloves, ‘has claimed me for her own. Comrade of old, I, too, have joined this blighted institution.’” Aunt Dahlia says she couldn’t possible ask Tom to put on lavender gloves and present prizes in Right Ho, Jeeves.
Compare these symbols of dignity to Bertie’s jolly purple socks in Jeeves and the chump Cyril: “And all the time Jeeves remained still pretty cold and distant about the purple socks…”
‘The fog comes on little cat feet’ is from Carl Sandburg’s Fog (1916).
Chapter 2: 2. Bonne Nuit
Jeeves knows he has a crush on Bertie. Maybe he can cure it with sex?
I confess that the delicious pain that ran through my veins as I slid the silk from his calves each evening was one that I would miss. Each hour that I served him my resolve would weaken, until that last hour. That last hour, when the guv’nor would be mine to handle and mine to puzzle out.
Would it be Bertie, rakish young man, slyly stashing an unsuitable tie under his pillow, as if I were not observing him in the mirror over the mantel? Would it be my guv’nor, toff totty, singing and sighing after a night at the Drones? Would it be Mister Wooster, clinging friend, glum after a dinner with a vicious old aunt? Or my Bertram, wide-eyed darling, quietly submitting to being undressed, be-pyjama-ed, tucked in, and bid bonne nuit?
A change in our connection would mean that the illicit pleasure I took from undressing him would alter. I could predict a few different outcomes, but the secret of my pleasure would be out.
I placed the lavender socks in a context of a previous occasion, when we had successfully avoided wearing an unsuitable shade, a more purple shade, of waistcoat. Both in colour and in fabric, the waistcoat had been extremely cheap. It was this outbreak of tastelessness that first required my gentle management of my guv’nor’s psychology, and most instructive it had been.
This most recent pair of socks, however, was chosen for me, signalling that he noticed and accepted my manipulations. The fabric was suitable. Suitably fine, suitably appropriate, suitably luxurious, suitably soft. The fabric he chose told me that he knew how I liked to see him.
I stood outside the guv’nor’s door, listening intently. He would calm now, and sleep well. I had planned to disclose my attraction to him at the start of the race weekend, when his friends and family would be likely to be occupied. This had come a day early, but the socks were clearly a sign and I seemed to feel that I could drop the pretence of being aloof.
I lit a gasper and wandered about the flat, setting it straight before I retired to my room. He relied on me to set all between us to rights in the morning, and I generally contrive to find a way.
He had been trying to provoke me to express some feeling of late. A gaudy tie, a hideous waistcoat — I almost fainted — to these he could have had no real attachment. No, their purpose was to provoke. I imagined what defence he would have given to the socks if I had ruined them. Would they have been ‘jolly good’ or ‘topping, what?’ or ‘quite the thing’? I sighed. If it were not for his exhilaration and enthusiasm as he tried to arouse a sympathetic feeling in me, I would recoil from his words. He was the least poetic man of all the beauties I’d known. It is incongruous that such a sweet, budding lip can utter such silly street slang.
I had expected the guv’nor to make some sort of declaration, given his intense thirst for spirits. In vino veritas. This I wanted to avoid at all costs, and had neatly done so. It would be I who would delimit and mark out the bounds of action. Hearing him attempt to do so would have been painful in the extreme, but knowing that his thoughts lay in a similar vein to my own was soothing and realising that he wished to voice those thoughts was arousing.
Perhaps it is unsatisfactory to realise that gentlemen’s personal gentlemen can desire their masters. If so, then the relation of this affair is not for you. Close your book and ‘biff off’ as the guv’nor would put it.
Proceeding? Perhaps I can relate that I had long sensed the guv’nor’s mood and it had awoken in me a feverish dream. I said to myself on that evening, that my dream would be realised and, like all things in this imperfect world, would become distorted and sullied in its realisation. This is unavoidable.
I pondered. In the short term, I would discover how I would react to what the guv’nor might say in an intimate moment. I planned with which tie I might profitably gag him. I would soon see if my infatuation would leave me.
In the long term, perhaps the connection between man and master would be tempered by fire and cooled by time. The guv’nor himself seemed to maintain an affable acquaintance with many young men he had been with at Eton and Oxford and even with the many young women whose engagements to him I had broken; therefore, I surmised that our working relationship would not only remain after all else had burned away but might even be enhanced by an ease and openness that had been closed to us previously.
I confess I was also filled with a certain apprehension. I closed my mind to it — foolishly, it turned out — as my resourcefulness was my greatest asset (idiot) and I would only act on disaster as it came. (Disaster in my case came disguised as a domestic nurse named Sally, but that will be revealed in Chapter 22.)
I was so certain in my own resourcefulness and tact that I told myself the first of many lies to come: I would sleep well; I could expect a happy issue. In fact I slept fitfully, which I attributed to the effects of my late indulgence in nicotine.
My morning was as usual and I did not alter our routine when I entered the master bedroom. My first luxury of the day is to watch the guv’nor awaken. He is generally both hard and shy because of it, blushing prettily and sitting up obediently to receive his mid-morning tray to hide his shame.
He gaped up at me, blinking.
“Your tea, sir.”
“Oh, ah, yes. Yes, yes. You’ve sorted it all out, Jeeves?”
I smiled at him, and leaned to put my face next to his. “Your tea, sir.”
I assume he realised that he had not yet brushed his teeth. He tucked nervously into his eggs and bacon. I left him to his repast. He looked doubtful now. He’d see the lavender tie I had been keeping against this day when he rose to dress and be cheered. My face was still smiling and told myself that it was because he would be surprised and delighted.
In truth, I wanted to please him. (But I did not understand that then.)
‘In vino veritas’ means ‘in wine, truth’ or ‘drunken words are sober thoughts.’
Chapter 3: 3. Wrong Cat
Bertie’s pretty sure he can seduce Jeeves. He can’t.
Lark’s on the wing, snail’s on the thorn and all that, but somehow not all was in tip-top-tippity shape. I sensed that Jeeves’ iron will would brook no premature delivery of his promised sorting-out.
Now, Jeeves anticipates the young master in such a way that he generally extracts a tie or hat out of the deal. Although our dealings have always ended in ways that both please and surprise me, I always undergo an extraction — A toothsome dentist! I’ll have to work that up somehow and relate it at the Drones. Handy about the white jackets, now. But I digress. Digress with me?
Digress with me, for a tortured few moments. Imagine that my bed is a reclining, mint-hued chaise and my man a white-coated cove with his hands in my mouth. I’d have to close my eyes against his bright lamp and his deep voice would caress my ear. “Just a little wider for me, there’s a good lad — swallow — ” Perhaps his thigh would press and rub against my arm as he rolled about on a wheeled stool. It’s much like when a chorus girl perches on the arm of your settee, I expect. Perhaps his thumb would press beneath my chin and his forefinger would trace my cheekbone…
Well, as I say, I had more than one thing rattling around the old bean at brekker. Suffice to say, the morning had not begun with the pressing of my tender, little hand. I was very nearly kissed, though. At least, Jeeves had seemed ready to spring into action before the mechanism failed and he reverted to valeting.
I recalled the slow slide of his hand from my ankle to my calf of the evening before as I sipped my tea. My calves are shapely, and I felt that his hand had been an appreciative one. A moment had extended between us like a seaside taffy on blistering hot day, sweet, strung out and about to break and drop onto the pier if one didn’t catch it up with one’s tongue. In that moment I had realised that I had a fellow in my feelings.
Kissing one’s valet is a situation of considerable delicacy. You see, any request on my part might inspire Jeeves to do the feudal thing by the young master. I didn’t want feudal things from Jeeves. The Code of the Woosters requires a stainless honour.
Perhaps kissing wasn’t the promised solution. Jeeves had entered the cosy boudoir, and exited, valeting. Now that’d I’d unstrapped the nosebag he’d be bound to come in for the tray and to help me into the daily trappings. I’d obviously be required to remove my pyjamas.
I squeaked. You are surprised? I’ll have you know, the sudden manifestation of the manservant interrupts one betimes a tender contemplation. A fruity thought, if you will.
“How do you do it, Jeeves?”
“You’re like a genie in a bally bottle!”
I noticed then, that the daily trappings included a lavender tie. “Oh I say, Jeeves. This is rather lovely.”
“Thank you, sir.”
I biffed off to perform the morning ablutions, shave the whiskers and what-not, and came up short at the door handle. Do you know the one about the cat? Not my cat. Not the cat I was speaking about before. No, this cat is some other fellow’s cat and it’s in a box. Only you can’t know if it is alive or dead until you’ve opened the box. Starts with an L. Leyendecker? Lagerlöf? One of those foreign chaps.
“Jeeves?” I shouted. “The cat-in-the-box chap?”
Jeeves’ voice filtered through the woodwork.
“You refer to the paradox created by Erwin Schrödinger, illustrating the absurdity of holding two contradictory situations true at once.”
“That’s it exactly, Jeeves.”
I hesitated. Whom would I find on the other side? Would it be Jeeves, my marble valet who would help me don the gay apparel, or would it be the secret sharer of that hot, sweet moment from the evening before that I held in amber in my heart? Shortest odds on the board were for the latter, given the evidence of the lavender tie.
I opened the door and let my pyjama shirt fall from my shoulders. I slid my thumbs jauntily into the waistband of the bottoms and glanced over at Jeeves to see the effect. I’m a dashed fascinating sort of chap with my shirt off. I’ve been called a good many things, and that one tops the list and waves a flag.
Jeeves. Jeeves was Jeeves, stuffed frog. Apparently I’d have to let the hours do their work. No, it couldn’t be. Morning, he’d said. Well at least there were only a couple of hours left of it!
I was valeted into my togs, tie last. I generally do my own tie, it’s the cufflinks that require the warm and steady hand of the personal gentleman. I turned to Jeeves, as this was point at which he’d give me the last flick of the brush or a tut-tut over my pocket square.
“Sir, if I may?” said Jeeves, as he moved his hands to my tie.
“Right-ho.” I lifted an eager chin. After he’d adjusted the knot, his placed his hands gently on my collar. I glanced up at him. Surely now, now…
“In the sitting room, sir.”
“Don’t be an ass, Jeeves! Ah, no. No, no, wait a bit.” Golly that had come out wrong. I placed my hands over his and tried to recover the moment. Taking a deep breath, I glanced up again, raising my face to his.
“Jeeves, surely now…“
“Sir,” he said, slipping his hands from mine and turning me by the shoulders, “I shall make up this room as usual and then speak to you in the sitting room.” He gave me a little bit of a shove in the direction of the door.
I don’t know if you’ve been swinging along, ooja-cum-spiff, only to find the last ring tied back and the only recourse a drop into frigid waters? Well if you haven’t, it feels a bit like opening a box and finding a dead cat in it.
Thanks for the beta, Esbe! I very much appreciate your skills, time and effort.
‘The lark’s on the wing, the snail’s on the thorn’ is from Browning’s Pippa Passes.
"Press her tender little hand, ringed with dainty fingerlets..." From The Gondoliers (1889), Gilbert and Sullivan.
Schrödinger's cat is a 1935 thought experiment by Erwin Schrödinger.
Don the gay apparel: from the lyrics to Deck the Halls, written by Thomas Oliphant in 1862.
Bertie talks about Tuppy looping back the rings above the swimming pool more than once, but here’s a quote from Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit: “One night after dinner at the Drones he betted me I wouldn’t swing myself across the swimming-bath by the ropes and rings. I took him on and was buzzing along in great style until i came to the last ring. And then I found that this fiend in human shape had looped it back against the rail, thus leaving me hanging in the void with no means of getting ashore to my home and loved ones. There was nothing for it but to drop into the water.”
Chapter 4: 4. Resourcefulness, Rewarded
Jeeves can get some satisfaction, but it’s not as satisfying as he expected.
I held many assumptions regarding gentlemen, and my gentleman in particular, assumptions I had based on close observation, the club book at the Junior Ganymede, and personal experience. And I think I may say that on one level, I was correct in those assumptions. I stood and watched the guv’nor play piano for a few moments before interrupting him.
I coughed and was gratified with the speed at which he responded. He spun around on the piano bench and gripped his knees as he looked up at me.
“Jeeves! I’ve been sorting out my music and found your favourite. D’you know, I’ve had the lyrics wrong the whole time and you never said?”
He began singing.
“I tell you sister, I love my mister, and I can’t tell you why — Oh come now, Jeeves. It’s bally obvious.”
His singing voice caused a slight frisson of tenderness to bloom within me. The guv’nor often sings popular music without changing the gender of the song’s object, and his lack of self-consciousness in doing so has always charmed me.
“As you say, sir.”
“Sorting it now, are you, Jeeves? Dash it, out with it!”
I had anticipated his lack of patience and was in fact counting on it to be to my advantage. I stepped forwards. He leant back to hold my gaze. I raised my eyes to the wall opposite, for I did not want him to realise how strongly I wanted the answer to his question.
“For whom did you fag at Eton, sir?”
“A gentlemen never tells? …No? Hm. Well, Boko.”
I confess I had long wanted to know for several reasons, but for my current purposes the relevance of the man’s identity was pertinent to only one. The club book had provided information to me on all the guv’nor’s friends, and thus I knew that George Fittleworth, referred to by his friends as Boko, was to be discouraged from close male friendships. Resourcefulness rewarded.
I nudged the guv’nor’s knees apart with one finger and moved to stand between them, placing my hands again upon his collar. His face opened up like a book onto my favourite page: darling Bertram, eyes brimming with excitement. I slid my hands into his hair and pressed his face into my waistcoat. Never one to remain silent, he gave a choked gurgle and brought his hands up to grasp the backs of my thighs. I held him there, gently rubbing my fingertips against his scalp.
After a few moments he sighed, and rubbed his face lower before trying to look up at me. I prevented this gently and to my intense satisfaction he brought one hand up against the front of my trousers. I placed one hand on the top of his fair head and moved the other to the back of his neck. With this encouragement, it seemed probable that the guv’nor would respond, as he no doubt had done many times previous with other gentlemen. Boko, certainly. I had always disliked Boko. Hated him.
“I say, Jeeves, this is rather jolly! Setting the honest toil aside. You’re fit to burst at the seams! Is this the thought that’s been — oof!”
I thought is best to be slightly more forceful in my suggestion. I was not disappointed. He giggled a bit (I did not understand) and rubbed his hand against me. He then freed my manhood while leaving me almost entirely dressed, a neat trick that I suppose had come in handy in shared quarters but was hardly needed now. He kneaded me beneath my tails as he rather expertly brought me off. I predicted his eagerness and his willingness to comment on mine, but had expected him to stray towards the romantic. His pragmatism indicated to me that we could easily form a mutually agreeable arrangement.
Another mistake, one that would take me some time to realise.
I glanced down as he put my clothes to rights. He seemed rather earnest in his efforts. As if they had minds of their own, my hands ceased to grip his head and my fingers began to stumble through his brilliantined hair. Pomades with a softer hold would allow some of his natural curl to show to good effect. With his hair as long as it was now, it was the perfect opportunity to add a new item to the shopping list. I felt a burn of the familiar douleur exquise.
“Jeeves, old chap, I presume you have a sherry in the pantry now and then, what?”
“I’m having a brandy and soda, and you’re having a whatever-you-have. A break from the daily whatsit.” I took a step back as he stood up with grace and ease. I looked down involuntarily, unable suddenly to meet his eye, but he cocked his head to peer up into my face.
“Jeeves? Look we’ve some things to be going on with and I know I’d rather have something to cushion the corners a bit, what? Don’t you, er — want to, um. Have a seat, Jeeves!”
“Thank you, sir.”
I walked past him to the sideboard to mix his drink, musing his apparent lack of response. It was possible that he had removed temptation behind the bathroom door as I’d laid out his clothes. He had amply demonstrated his ability to become aroused, this morning and mornings past. His impatience caused me to chuckle inwardly: it had hardly disturbed my plan.
“Sir, you are having lunch with Mrs Travers.”
“She’ll keep, Jeeves.”
The guv’nor was gazing at me steadily, rocking back and forth with his hands in his pockets. He must have wiped his mouth on his handkerchief, as it seemed to sit slumped over with lassitude in its berth. On a whim I decided to allow it, and handed him his glass.
“I fear not, sir.”
Her voice was apparent as I spoke. Of course I had timed my approach to him against her arrival, with the hope to remove the possibility of my reciprocation, but it seemed that had not been necessary. Wooster apparently didn’t find turnabout to be fair play. The opportunity would instead serve to postpone an inevitable discussion. Tact. He would have a clearer head in the afternoon.
‘I tell you sister, I love my mister, and I can’t tell you why’ is from Hammerstein and Kern’s Showboat (1928). Wodehouse collaborated with Kern and Bolton on many musicals, from 1915 on.
‘For whom did you fag at Eton, sir?’ For more information than you ever wanted on fagging, and everything you might think that entails, read Alec Waugh, the fiction The Loom of Youth (I’m sorry, it’s pretty dull if you’re used to his brother Evelyn), and the non-fiction, Public School Life. (specifically the chapter on romantic friendships). If you get your hands on a copy of Pleasure, then I envy you.
‘Douleur exquise’ means the pain of loving someone you cannot have.
Chapter 5: 5. Two Strong Willed Men
Bertie explains that the Code won’t allow him to take anything Jeeves isn’t offering.
I found Jeeves in his lair, doing something complicated to a shoe with a curiously shaped brush. He stood as I leant against the doorframe. I was patting the pocket where I keep my cigarette case and he came forward, anticipating me. He lit my cigarette just as I brought it to my lips.
It just goes to show, doesn’t it? If Jeeves wants to go to New York, we go to New York, but only after I’ve begun to want to go to New York, too. Whereas you can’t tell me my smoking habits had created a yearning for lighting cigarettes in Jeeves’ marble breast.
Obviously Jeeves had never been to Eton, but perhaps he’d never been to any school moulded along the Eton line. He clearly knew all about it, being Jeeves. Working backwards from the evidence, I could see where he had drawn his conclusions as clearly as if Poirot were prancing about the kitchen declaiming it to the surviving remainder of last Friday’s dinner guests.
You see, Jeeves is a fan of the psychology of the individual, and the individual Bertram Wilberforce Wooster had fulfilled his rôle as many a young Englishman is called upon to do. However, the Woosters are not only old boys. No, the Woosters uphold a Code.
“Thank you, Jeeves.”
Jeeves was impassive, but I could see that he expected something from the young master. I plunged right into it.
“Jeeves, thank you, also, for answering my question of yesterday.”
“If, well if, if — you realise I can only give you what you ask for, Jeeves. I’m happy to play along, well, dashed ecstatic to play along, Jeeves, but it’s all going to be a bit one-sided. It’s the Code, you see. Do you see? I mean I’ve mentioned the Code — ”
“Sir, I give you permission to make any request freely at any time. I will act only as your best interests and as my own personal tastes direct me.”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes. Yes. That’s all very well and good, Jeeves. You have the feudal spirit. Come what may, however, I must uphold the Code. When you say ‘any request’, Jeeves, am I to understand you mean requests that must be made sotto voce behind locked doors?”
“Yes, sir. If I may ask…” He paused delicately.
I’m afraid I tittered nervously, but it didn’t light the same squib beneath him as it had the prev. night. He stood his ground.
“You experienced enjoyment of our activity at the piano bench, but you remained un-aroused. I admit I found your responses contradictory.”
“Oh, you don’t know that one? Well, I say, Jeeves, it’s not often I’ve come across something that you haven’t. Although, below stairs perhaps it’s not necessary. You see, you just keep the thews and sinews at work and, being thus occupied, you react at a minimum. Or to put it another way, I was putting rather a lot of work into breathing and not falling over backwards and thus, straining the thighs. Keeps the line of the trousers straight. Ahem.”
I could see him contemplating this, no doubt filing it away in his massive cranium. I watched with hideous fascination as a red flush suffused his neck and crawled up across his generally pale but tanned-after-shrimping-holidays face.
“It’s quite alright, dear chap. You be as you are! It’s just as I was saying, it’s going to be one-sided. Anything I can do — well — within the Code, if you know what I mean — ”
“I will give the matter some thought, sir.”
This sounded rather sporting.
“Well, then. Er, I’ll leave you to it, dear old soul.”
I took a last drag and handed the end to Jeeves. He had to take it, you see. He seemed to understand me in that moment, gazing thoughtfully at the filter as I legged it to the sitting room.
I felt rather masterful and assertive, which was ironic because exactly the point I was getting across to Jeeves was that I was the master and therefore incapable of being assertive.
Jeeves qua valet generally means that Jeeves creates the framework wherein a gentleman shows his appreciation. I mean he had obviously started as he meant to go on and I was bally well all for that. Absolutely topping! I don’t remember if I rubbed my hands together with glee or slapped my thighs, but I had that giddy feeling one gets when the girls leave the gentlemen to their cigars and all the gentlemen are the butteriest Crumpets ever sliced at the Drones.
And yet. Something had seemed to tell me that, unless I headed Jeeves off at the pass, he’d assume a that practical solution would be the wisest. Quid pro quo. Nothing of the sort would do, of course.
And while I had successfully nipped in the bud any thoughts he might have had about meeting me half-way, I realised that in having to do so it was apparent that Jeeves didn’t actually know how I managed in Eton, Oxford, and now the Drones. I’d wondered about Jeeves and life below stairs, but I had no idea how he managed, either. And he’d gotten the Eton bit right on the mechanics of it; however, he showed no knowledge of the esprit de corps.
I’ve been with same Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets since we were in short trousers; therefore, with some exceptions abroad, I’d drawn all my experience from the same well. Lovely chaps, all of them. With Jeeves it was different.
There is something — I can’t quite put my finger on it — a thingness, a tightness that wound between Jeeves and myself that I had never felt so strongly as I had when he had held my foot in his hands the evening prior. It was this thingness that had been distinctly lacking on the piano bench. I’d known, though, to deny myself and to give myself up to Jeeves. Now that Jeeves knew what constrained me, he might temper his approach.
I sighed. I’d only know when he approached me again. When two strong-willed men live in close quarters, they remember their rights; only you see I had just ceded mine. You can’t have your cake and also eat it, but perhaps Jeeves would feed it to me, slowly and tenderly, in the smaller hours.
‘Sotto voce’ means ‘in a quiet voice, as if not to be overheard.’
‘Qua’ means ‘in the capacity of’ and it usually goes ‘noun qua noun’. For example, instead of saying ‘Discussing a story in its capacity as a story’ you could say ‘Discussing story qua story’.
‘Esprit de corps’ means ‘a feeling of pride, fellowship, and common loyalty shared by the members of a particular group.’
Chapter 6: 6. I fly thee, for I would not injure thee
Jeeves experiences the unfamiliar feeling of being wrong-footed.
"Dining in, sir?" I asked. Mr. Wooster was oddly relaxed after a visit from an aunt.
"Hmm? In." He drew in a sharp breath, paused, and then blew it back out, slowly, through pursed lips. "Ah, you know, I think I'll be in until they unmask the villain." He drew up his knees and curled on his side, propping a crime novel against his palm and curling his fingers over the top.
Although I had carefully envisioned my plan's unfolding like a map, from service to seduction of my guv'nor, the execution of the plan was already ranging over terrain much steeper than I had foreseen. The path that had appeared smooth as I held Wednesday's inebriated and sexually frustrated young master's calf now led me to today's honourable and calm employer. Had he given his sexual needs over to me along with the other physical needs that were my purview?
He didn't give much mental power to anything beyond his piano and his stock of half-remembered poetry. It was horrible to contemplate that his skill in the one area we could share might be negligible.
I had already begun his seduction earlier than planned. I hadn't known that the Code that ensnared the guv'nor repeatedly in country homes across the realm extended to men. Working men. No matter.
I mused over his words. A bit one-sided, he had said. I had expected to share attentions until the fever passed from us, but his intention seemed to be to remain firmly subordinate. Yet he only placed himself in this position because he was my master and his misplaced honour required that he take nothing without my permission.
His self mastery as he kept me tidy while, well, 'playing along' was at odds with my memory of his hold on my jacket as he prevented me from leaving his bedroom only the night before. He had been unsteady, breathing heavily, hands heavy and on the cusp of a romantic declaration. I'd seen various combinations of these before on cruises, in casinos and at garden parties, minus the hands. The Code would not allow him to restrain a woman.
I knew what I wanted, at the time. My plan had been to make him impatient, wanting, begging. His Code was useful to us as servant and master, but useless in a more intimate context. What if I had drawn him up from his knees and kissed him, if I had tasted his used mouth and brought him off into a handkerchief? I would have had to use the vodka spritzer to clear the air before showing up Mrs Travers. The guv'nor would have been no sillier than usual at the table... but this train of thought was pure indulgence.
"Sir. Your meal awaits you."
"Jolly good, Jeeves." He brought his book with him and continued to read. I uncovered his plate.
"Jeeves? Dashed gripping book, this." I was standing so near his elbow that I fully expected him to nudge me as he sliced his meat. He did not. I remained in place, examining him. He had cleared half his plate before he turned and looked up at me. His eyes were a bit glassy.
"It's a very good book," he whispered, and then gave a weak smile.
"Indeed, sir?" I confess that I felt anger in that moment. I took a step backward, and then another, and found myself furiously scrubbing the roasting pan. These moments are, fortunately, rare. I pictured in my mind's eye, the careful slicing up of a pair of hideous purple socks. Each meeting of the scissor blades gave a satisfying snick. By the time Mr. Wooster tiptoed into the kitchen, I had successfully regained my sang-froid.
"Look here, Jeeves."
"Well, you know--" he began. Then he changed tacks.
"Don't you know?" He smiled at his hands, and then stuffed them into his pockets. He rocked back and forth.
"Erm, I've just remembered, I'm off. Something about silver. Aunt Dahlia. I'll, I'll just be going. So, ah. Thank you." He wheeled about on his heel and sprang away as if he'd just lit a firework with a short fuse.
"Toodle pip!" He shouted from the hallway.
I ignored him and cleared away his meal.
His hat and stick were not in the hallway. He'd definitely left the flat, no doubt for the Drones. Although I had calmed myself, anger simmered in my bones. I recognised in that moment a lie I had told myself: that I had been content. I realised that I had been reining in a mild fury at my guv'nor's ability to douse his desirable qualities in alcohol. Clearly he was currently at the Drones, loosening his inhibitions with gentlemen inclined to remind him that they'd been at school together.
The ordeal of meeting me on the common ground of our lust was clearly a Situation for which he was unprepared. I had placed him in a familiar role at the piano bench but he had not reciprocated. In lieu of giving himself over to me in his pleasure, he'd offered me his Code. Bertram, gaping at me from the settee. Bertram, gulping as I caressed his calf. I'd wiled away a pleasant moment reliving his desperate clasp on my arm and imagining that he'd pressed himself against me, endeavouring to relieve himself in my arms. I paced in the hallway, allowing myself to know and feel the depth of my bitterness at his denial to give me what I had given him. The only comfort to be had in that moment of awful realisation was that his Code forbade his seeking advice.
The knowledge that I wanted to give him pleasure more than he wanted to take it burned away my delusion of a practical arrangement between us. Resourceful, patient and capable? I hardly recognised myself.
Thank you for the kind comments. This fic has been spiffed up thanks to Esbe's beta.
‘Sang-froid’, literally ‘cold blood’, means ‘composure’.
Situation: “Mr. Wooster is a young gentleman with practically every desirable quality except one. I do not mean brains, for in an employer brains are not desirable. The quality to which I allude is hard to define, but perhaps I might call it the gift of dealing with the Unusual Situation. In the presence of the Unusual, Mr. Wooster is too prone to smile weakly and allow his eyes to protrude. He lacks Presence.” From Bertie Changes His Mind.
Chapter 7: 7. Tell me about him
Bertie gets advice from an old friend.
I wandered lonely as a cloud, tarum-ta-tum-tarumty hills, and so on.
I’d meant to go to the Drones, to see if they’d got up any games. Instead I found myself on my tutor’s doorstep. I felt as though I’d dropped through a crack in the pavement and landed ten years back.
“Bertie? Come in, come in, dear boy.” Waterfield peered behind me, but the street was empty at that hour. “Not in any trouble?”
“No trouble, old fruit. Just drifted here, as it happens. Anyone over?”
“Only you. Now, have a brandy and tell me who’s breaking your heart.” He smiled down at me through his spectacles and gave me a friendly pinch. I hung up my coat and went through.
“First dart in the red! I suppose you’ll lend me an ear.”
He made us drinks, handing me mine and sitting down. I sat down at his feet.
“Tell me about him?”
“Ah, well, you see. Dashed difficult. No one’s got a patch on him.” I chewed a meditative lip. “In all the time I’ve know him, he’s gotten everything right. Except me. He can’t be properly trying.”
We ruminated a bit. We’d never had much to say in our time and it was as cosy as a boiled egg in a ham pie.
Finally, Waterfield crossed his leg over the other way. “My man’s club is the Ganymede,” he said.
“I’ll finish yours, shall I?” I didn’t mind ruining the crease of my trousers to sit at his knee, and he lodged his fingers behind my ear. Cosy, as I said. Add a smoother brow on Waterfield and another fellow or two on the settee and you’d have a tableau from my youth. I turned my face into his knee. When it had all burnt out this part had remained, and by golly, it soothed like ice in August.
“No one is talking about you, Bertie, but I’ve always assumed that Jeeves is being good to you.”
“He’s perfectly topping. He’s sorted any number of engagements and other scrapes. I’m certain he’s not bothered by appearances. We’re in New York half the time and we travel together. Well, not together. On the same boat.”
“No doubt you’re letting I would not wait upon I would?”
“Did I ever with you?” I said indignantly. He laughed.
“I encouraged you rather thoroughly.”
It was silly of me not to tell all to Waterfield. I’d spent my holidays with him when I was up, rather than spend them alone in my rooms. There were at least a dozen of us each year, parents abroad or in my case, deceased. He gave the best Christmases and the key was to know that he meant us to be there, and that we were always at home in his rooms. I thought of him as an Oxford Father Christmas, limited to the environs. It was a few years later that I tripped over him in a certain Paris club and things warmed up between us.
What never changed was his collection of lost souls. We were as ugly a lot as a toddler’s collection of seaside pebbles, and as precious to him as the children he never had. If I couldn’t bear to tell him, then it would be because it was just as sordid as it was beginning to seem. The horror of that thought slid into my mind like a shiv.
I submit to you the following evidence: Jeeves tenderly slid his palm along my stockinged calf. Highly suggestive, that.
Pah, you say. He gave you his body and not his heart.
To which I parry: Good! He prizes his heart above the flesh. Any paragon worth his salt would be the same. I expressed this to Waterfield.
“He’s physically inclined. We’ve, well I’ve, I’ve given him relief. But he’s not tucking a meaningful group of flowers into my buttonhole or slipping scented oils into my bath.” My face felt puffy and sticky and as I spoke, my dinner did warm up stretches in my stomach, possibly contemplating a leap for freedom.
He’d have to hear all of it, if I wanted any advice. Having to say it out loud made it seem like a colossal shambles.
“He put my face where he wanted it, and I declined the same attentions. And I’ve explained to him why not. The Code and all that. He hasn’t had any of this,” I said, sweeping out my arm to indicate the room. “Not the way I’ve had it. There aren’t any Waterfields for him. He told me he’d explain it.” I wiped my face a bit on his trousers. “I thought he saw a way through it.”
He scraped his nails along my scalp for a few minutes.
“Adams?” He called.
“Wooster’s man, Jeeves. Would you say he’s fond of Bertie here?”
“Potty for him, sir. Do you suppose…” Adams stepped around us to the bookcase and took down one of my contributions to decline of the Empire. He knelt beside me.
“Can you make this one out for Eddie? It’s our favourite of yours.”
“Absolutely. Look, I don't know what's in the club book, but it’s not like that.”
“Rubbish. Nobody does odds on it any more in the club. It’s all over but the sweeping up. I’ve told Eddie here.” He looked up at Waterfield, who shook his head.
“Bertie says there wasn’t any kissing, Adams.”
They shared a look. Jeeves and I share looks. I sat up a bit. “Go on, tell me. It can’t be any worse than it feels.”
“Kiss his face off. Right!” Adams clapped me on the shoulder and stood up. “Shall I make up the spare room?”
“No thank you, I’m not staying. And kissing his face off is not in the Code,” I said, glum up to my neck.
“Sod your Code, sir,” said Adams kindly, taking up our snifters.
“I say, Adams, did you really kiss Waterfields’ face off?” I asked, standing myself. It seemed dashed unlikely, they were such old dears. Knowing Waterfield I assumed a pash not unlike that of Romeo for Juliet, all tender kisses and polite devotion. I could picture it of Adams, though. He had the face of a sea captain who scraped the barnacles off his boat with his chin.
“Talked it out, we did. That won’t go for Jeeves. He does like his poetry, though, doesn’t he?”
I thanked them and took my leave. I’d kissed. A gentleman never tells, but I’d kissed not directly beneath the mistletoe. I’d kissed Pauline Stoker to put a fire under Chuffy, though I’d bungled it a bit and pecked her on the eyebrow.
My stomach contents awakened from their fitful slumber and began sloshing about in another bid for freedom. I’d laid my plan for kissing Pauline out before Jeeves, and Jeeves had been dead against it. ‘Jealousy is undoubtedly an extremely powerful motivating force,’ he’d said. He hadn’t even been my man when he said it, he been Chuffy’s. And he spoke of personal feelings then, too, when he’d come back to me after he’d untangled everyone’s strings and tied his and mine together.
I had a flash of something, a name. Galatea. Something about his chiselled features brought it to mind, no doubt. Jeeves would see the connection and explain it to me, quick as a jot.
Having failed in my attempt to distinguish my door key from its brothers, I was musing upon the Code of the Woosters. Specifically, I was considering whether it was within said Code to politely knock upon my own front door for my manservant to come and minister to me in a servant capacity, at an hour when said servant would most certainly be in his pyjamas. I was thus occupied when the door opened suddenly and I was yanked in.
‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ is from the eponymous Wordsworth poem (1807).
‘I’d kissed Pauline Stoker to put a fire under Chuffy, though I’d bungled it a bit and pecked her on the eyebrow.’ Bertie is refering to events in Thank You, Jeeves.
Chapter 8: 8. Adjournment
Jeeves seizes an opportunity to dote on Bertie.
I was thoroughly polishing the wood of the hall stand when my ear caught the intermittent tinkle of keys on the other side of the door. Though alcohol eases many a man’s way into intimate relations, I have no need of libations. There is no unease associated with a natural bodily function in my mind. As the rattle continued, I began on the mirrors. I find vinegar leaves fewer streaks.
I had expected the guv’nor later in the evening, on the arm of the doorman. I had a tip ready for him in my pocket. I could only assume Mr Wooster’s impairment came from trepidation, as it was clearly too early to be drunk. Mr Wooster, when fretful, is prone to mention Agincourt and Crécy while demanding to be managed in the firmest hand possible. I exercised my knack for management immediately, I am happy to say.
I had just brought him up against the wood of the doorframe, when I recognized that it was not fear that numbed his fingers and slowed his step.
“Sir, a physical recuperative is in order.”
“Jeeves,” he whispered. His eyes bulged. “Jeeves, I, ah. Oh dear.” He began swallowing compulsively, and I loosed one lapel to bring the umbrella stand between us. Perhaps I’d been overforceful when I helped him in. I brought an arm around him and shrugged him up against my shoulder.
“Sir, a cool bath will reduce your temperature.”
“Bally cold enough already. Just put me to bed, Jeeves.” He nestled into my side, his forehead coming against my neck. Poor young gentleman. He was rarely ill. He began to tremble. The inevitable occurred as he was suddenly sick into the elephant leg.
I considered how best to bring him to his room. He sagged against me and burst out a tearful exclamation: “Adams is such an ass, Jeeves.” He held my silk pocket square over his face and tried to curl away from me. I had a perfectly good handkerchief in my pocket.
I set down the leg and picked him up. He’s a slight enough fellow. I had the passing thought that I’d never expected to carry anyone over any threshold. I pushed fancy aside to focus on the matter at hand. My bedclothes would be much easier to clean than my master’s. It was possible his fever would break and a bath, though helpful from a medical standpoint, would feel unpleasant to him in his fevered state. I changed course for my room, and deposited him on the bed. He immediately rolled away from me.
He shivered violently, face down. The effect was piteous. I carried over my wash basin, and set it by him.
“We shall make this a sick room. Your room is much too warm to reduce your fever.” I’ve never seen the guv’nor so miserable. He seemed to shrink into himself like a snail.
“I’m most extraordinarily drunk, Jeeves. You, you, you should leave. You hate it when I’m drinking. Shuffle off, old man. Go somewhere with shrimp or something. Make a weekend of it.”
I wetted a face towel from my pitcher and wiped the back of his neck.
“What the blazes are you playing at, Jeeves?” He batted at my hand, and then gave it up for a bad thing and began creeping up under my pillow.
I hauled him back by the hip and pulled him over onto his back. “Now your face, sir.”
I caught his hands in my right, holding them against my chest, and used the cloth to wipe his sweat-soaked hair from his forehead.
“You were at the Drones, sir?”
“Ye-e-e-s.” He relaxed a bit.
“And I’ll come back Monday, shall I?”
“That would be for the best.” Tears were falling into his ears, so I turned him a bit more towards myself. It is important to keep the cloth moving across the skin, as it is the constant movement that keeps the skin wet and allows the moisture to evaporate, giving a cooling sensation.
“You’ve had too much champagne at the Drones. You’ll stay in tomorrow and read crime fiction in your apple green pyjamas and cashmere robe. I shall have been shrimping in Dorset, and bring back potted shrimp for your larder by teatime. You’ll have had a cold tray, therefore I’ll make a light, warm soup for your evening meal. I’ll have a blanket warming on a rack by the fire. If you chose to play before you retire, I’ll place it on your shoulders to stave off chill.”
His sleep did not rearrange his expression. As my hands were now used to his temperature, I pressed my lips to his forehead. His fever was still high. I re-wet my cloth and moved my armchair to the side of the bed.
My plans could be pushed back a week or so. July was bound to find London empty. I only knew one Adams, but I couldn’t imagine it was the same Adams that my guv’nor had met up with this evening.
Any errors that remain are all mine: many thanks to Esbe for the beta.
Jeeves is right about Bertie’s appeals to the bravery of the Woosters.“This mess-jacket was very near to my heart, and I jolly well intended to fight for it with all the vim of grand old Sieur de Wooster at the Battle of Agincourt.” From Right Ho, Jeeves. To put it in context, the Saint Crispin’s day speech in Henry V takes place just before the good guys win the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. “There comes a moment when he must remember that his ancestors did dashed well at the Battle of Crecy and put the old foot down.” from Thank You, Jeeves. The Battle of Crécy (Cressy) took place in 1346. These two battles were decisive English victories in the Hundred Years’ War. According to Dahlia Travers, they also fought in the Crusades (Jeeves and the Greasy Bird).
Elephant’s feet, zebra hooves, and other macabre ‘trophies’ were not uncommon in furnishings. Elephant’s foot umbrella stand is a parlour game.”
Chapter 9: 9. Hit the Road to Dreamland
Bertie is as sick as a dog.
Bobbie Wickham! Now, why Bobbie Wickham? I’d sprung awake like a third-watch policeman sliding off a lamppost, filled with terror.
Ever fall into a fountain on boat race night? My sleeve of care having undergone regular repairs, I came into consciousness soaking wet and with the hyper-awareness of chilled sobriety. No?
Perhaps you’ve taken a tumble from a horse into a ditch during wet weather? It’s not just the abrupt change from a gentle canter in pleasant company to a sudden aquatic adventure, it’s the sopping cold pinks all the way back, with a soupçon of lingering humiliation and a dash of secret relief at being excused from the hunt.
I sensed, in that dark hour, that I was at a crossroads — I could either emerge from a warm, woollen counterpane on what could not possibly be my bed (feathers weren’t in it, neither was silk) into what the tip of my nose was telling me was a cold bedroom, or I could nuzzle under and cope with it all in the ack emma. As I pondered, another thought rose up. Fountains, ditches, something. Fountains, ditches, whats-it? Ah, there it was, you see. There was a distinct pong that clarified my course of action.
Jeeves has this clever wheeze for when McIntosh has visited our premises. I should write it up for Milady’s Boudoir. The ladies may find useful after uncles come up from the country for a visit. Actually I’ve observed Jeeves at work for years and I could give any number of household tips.
For this one, you get an atomizer, the kind that comes with your brushes and mirror set, and you fill it with vodka. You gently spritz the air, the uncle-graced chairs and the doggy rugs, and — here’s the clever bit — you’ve only your memories to tell you they’d been there! And much like Bobbie Wickham, the spritzer is all ample curves filled with the cheap spirits that turns men into fools. Bobbie’s punctured any number of water bottles by proxy. I shuddered.
I tried to remember whose house I was staying in, and how Bobbie could have come to be invited. I was struggling with the bedclothes when a large hand slid between my shoulder blades and gave me a gentle shove into an upright posish. It could only be Jeeves.
“Jeeves!” Only it didn’t come out like that. It came out, “Jee — ” and then I remembered all and bit the inside of my cheek.
“Sir,” he said gently, “you require assistance.”
He brought a cup to my lips.
“Ganymede, eh?” I said, with a laugh like seal barking politely.
“Sir.” His voice was soft. “A hot bath.” And he picked me up like so much nothing (which is coincidentally what I felt like), all bulging arms and overstuffed chest.
He set me down on a stool and began to run hot water into the bath. My rubber ducky seemed altogether too jolly as it bobbed about. I’d have to tell it all about my miserable attempt at seduction. I had tried, I had failed. I could do no more. I’d fallen from a debonair rake at the piano bench starting something naughty to an orphan with the flu who’d been sick on his luvvie. Well, I was already an orphan, so it wasn’t so very far to fall.
“Was I in your bed, Jeeves?” I said. Any old thing could fall from my lips at this point. Had, last night. Ha, ha. I hugged myself.
“Your wet clothes must be removed. Your arm, sir.”
“Ah, no. No, no no no. This bit I can manage, what? Excuse me.” I drew a deep breath. “You — didn’t we, didn’t we agree that you were having a holiday? Because I’ve been at the Drones, and exceeded the posted limit.”
“Yes, sir. I am presently in Dorset.” He knelt before me, and began to undress me. “I am setting out coffee for myself, in anticipation of a promising sunrise. I shall not eat until perhaps elevenses, at which time I shall have a substantial repast. I only have this last morning left of my holiday and I don’t mean to eat again until after I’ve served your tea. I shall serve you potted shrimp sandwiches, to demonstrate that even apart, your wishes shape my hours.”
I suppose he’d seen the fearfully and wonderfully made thews and sinews, though I’m less of the fearful and wonderful and more of the hopeful and, frankly, wilted.
“Shrimping, eh?” It seemed that I might be hallucinating. Are all hallucinations of this sort? I must say, as hallucinations go, it was a corker. “You’re not as tanned as I would have guessed. You’re usually quite bronzed when you’ve just returned; less of the chiselled and more of the poured. Your forearms, Jeeves.”
The water was hot enough that my skin tingled. I was filled with a mellow delight.
“I’m filled with a mellow delight, Jeeves. I wonder if you’ve ever noted that the night is blackest before dawn?”
“I am currently at that point in my Dorset morning, sir. I shall take my coffee down to the sands to ponder the rising of the sun.”
“Do you know, I was ever so miserable, Jeeves. Do you remember you telling me the other day that you would get us all sorted? Rubbish. You might as well have been in the other room when I was sucking you off.” I squeezed my ducky and he shot to the surface. My hands felt unaccountably weak and my head felt like it was going to float off. I tried to shoot my duck across the tub, with varying degrees of success. It was twenty goes before I got him over the edge. I thought perhaps I’d roll over then and go back to sleep, but a strong, bare forearm propped me up.
“Sir, if you will allow me, I shall help you to your bed.”
Noodly things, legs. I wobbled. Jeeves held my waist and I smashed my face into his chest. Usually, he glimmers, spectre-like, but it was like crashing into a wall.
“It’s all backwards, Jeeves. You’re solid as a house but you aren’t even here.”
“Yes, sir.” I looked up quickly, but I’d missed it.
“Say, ‘yes, sir’ again.”
“No.” I sighed as he relinquished me to my usual berth. “With the smile.” I waited a bit, then I cracked open an eye.
“Yes, sir.” I couldn’t hear it that time. He was standing by the bed, so I got clear look at his fingers. They were twiddling.
It shows that it wasn’t really Jeeves. Jeeves smiles like a loon. Well no, not quite. The left corner of his mouth moves a fraction of an inch, either to the side, creating a dimple, or upwards, causing his cheek to become shaped in such a way that it invites a gentle nibble. He shares these smiles with me. This was proof, don’t you know. Conclusive proof that my mirage was as feeble as all the rest of my ideas.
“It’s a flop. Kill the cat. Put it out of it’s misery. Kindest to call it, I suppose.” I’d be asleep in a minute. Hallucinations are waking dreams, are they not? “I prefer you when I’m dreaming.”
“Sir. A moment of your attention?”
I wasn’t sure I could do it with one foot in dreamland, but we Woosters are chivalrous to the extreme. When my eye lit upon him, Jeeves smiled. I can guess what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that I was already asleep, standing in dreamland and ordering in. You see I thought so too, at the time. That’s why I asked him to kiss me goodnight. The Woosters are priceless asses to be ruled by a Code that doesn’t allow one to kiss a man’s face off.
The third watch is 3PM-midnight, sometimes called swing shift.
‘Soupçon’ is ‘a very small quantity of something.’
‘Ack Emma’ is from British signalmen's telephone pronunciation of A.M.
Roberta ‘Bobbie’ Wickham persuades Bertie to pierce Hildebrand ‘Tuppy’ Glossop’s water bottle with a hat pin in Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit.
Bertie speaks fondly of rubber ducks in Right Ho, Jeeves: “The discovery of a toy duck in the soap dish, presumably the property of some former juvenile visitor, contributed not a little to this new and happier frame of mind. What with one thing and another, I hadn't played with toy ducks in my bath for years, and I found the novel experience most invigorating. For the benefit of those interested, I may mention that if you shove the thing under the surface with the sponge and then let it go, it shoots out of the water in a manner calculated to divert the most careworn. Ten minutes of this and I was enabled to return to the bedchamber much more the old merry Bertram.”
Chapter 10: 10. Mirror, Mirror
Jeeves makes plans to get Bertie out of his system.
“Kiss me, Jeeves.”
There was no harm in this. Clearly, Mr Wooster was already drifting into slumber. I leant down to press my lips to his cheek, but he turned to kiss me full on the lips, one hand grasping my chin and the other coming to rest against my face. He smiled and hummed two bars of a song I did not recognise, his lips still against mine. Then he released me.
He wouldn’t remember in the morning. Perhaps he’d recall it as a dream. I drained the bath. My plan, if it came to kissing, was to permit it after certain parameters had been well established. The bath set to rights, I replaced the towels. I’d have to replace the flowers in the morning. I had weeks of bouquets set up with the flower shop. Celosia was next.
His kiss left a curious afterimage on my lips. Kissing invites romanticism, and might excite a schoolboy crush. He would absolutely forget himself. Mr Wooster’s desirable qualities include a delightfully and dangerously open countenance. Our engagements between us have so far countered above and below stairs gossip. The difference in our ages also helps.
I sighed. All my bedding would have to be changed. The breaking of fever had caused Mr Wooster to sweat through his clothes. I did my final turn through the flat. The door needed locking and I’d have to rinse the umbrella stand. It couldn’t be soaked, but perhaps a careful rinse with a bleach solution would save it. I hummed his song as I went about my work, but I still couldn’t place it. (I know it now, of course.)
My goal was for both of us, by turns, to seek relief from the tyranny of bodily needs. It would solve a number of problems, such as his frequent engagements to beaky women with frustrated academic urges and my need to holiday in Italy or France. We both prefer unattached time at the British seaside. In this light, I might allow the kissing, as I allow his driving, because he enjoys it and is remarkably proficient at it. I tried to imagine how he’d go about it, our recent experiences adding colour and detail to my previous scenarios.
Sometimes, when he plays the piano, when he plays my favourites, I imagine that he’d be equally gifted in pleasuring me in other ways. As I clear his breakfast tray, he might blush and ask me in some ridiculous slang to share his bed. Give us a hand, old thing. You’ll never get me in my trousers with my prick like this, what?
He is graceful and artless, silly and sincere. His heart seems to have arrested in its course to adulthood and his only attachments were formed at an early age. He is ideally suited to remain a bachelor. If his needs are met, our household will remain as it is.
I admit, I had been surprised that Mr Wooster had been able to control himself during our physical encounter. He’d clearly intended to give me pleasure and take none for himself. My plan was for us each to take what we needed, no more and no less. His Code would pose little difficulty if he could grasp the logic. How had he ever managed Oxford?
Oxford. Oxford, Waterfield, Adams. Ah.
They weren’t the most careful of people, but they hardly circulated. They were quite domestic. Forgettable. Mr Wooster was already prominent. As the future Lord Yaxley, he would perhaps take a seat in the House of Lords. In safeguarding his future against gossip and my own against the discomfort of a new situation, it was only prudent that I eliminated the type of passionate expression favoured by Adams. Waterfield’s page in the club book was blank: same as a full-page announcement in the Times.
As I performed my evening toilette, I paused a moment to examine my reflection. I am tall. I have all my hair. My forearms, through work and exercise, are developed. Servants are like uneasy ghosts. Resting in peace, the ghost is nothing. Dead. If a servant does not serve, what is he? Nothing. My nose is crooked, hands are worn, and he only ever sees me in my uniform. Quick handling was required if I was to take advantage of my master’s passing fancy. The echo of his kiss was a good promise for the future, at least until the season started again at Christmastime.
My plan, though modified by circumstance, was still sound. I’d have to rest well in the few hours remaining of the day. I resolutely went to sleep.
Celosia is a useful flower, edible and having medicinal properties. Celosia is an ‘everlasting’ flower and is often used in dried arrangements. It represents foolishness, or a joyous, uncomplicated affection.
I have spent absolute ages on Wooster’s family tree. Many good people have done the same. I had hoped to add the family tree to this fic at some point; it shows that from textual evidence, Bertie would stand to inherit a title. But I'll be happy just to finish writing it at this point.
Chapter 11: 11. Snail's on the thorn
Bertie thinks Jeeves is going to set them on the right path to romance. He's wrong, of course.
An aroma of tea wafted to my nostrils and I surfaced from my bedclothes. I sang a bit. “Skies would never be so blue! I would soon be…”
Jeeves looked ’round from the wardrobe. It had the same effect on me as the sun coming out from behind a cloud. I tried to remember how we’d left things.
“I say, Jeeves, did I do violence to an elephant leg umbrella stand last night?”
“Do not distress yourself, sir.” Like a balmy wave, he came to me bearing a cup of tea from the nightstand. His noble brow was pale.
“What rhymes with alabaster, Jeeves?” He knows these things.
“Disaster, faster, master, sir?”
“Hmm. And what rhymes with pearl? You know an awful lot about pearls.” He does. I can’t remember half of what he’s told me about their irritated and uncultured interiors.
“Good lord, no. Nothing further from my thoughts. No, Jeeves, I’m thinking up limericks and I need a way to describe your skin. Man, tan, Cannes, hmm. When you come back from Dorset, you gleam like a polished bronze. Pearl, curl — does your hair curl, Jeeves?”
“No, sir. Touching upon a different topic, if I may suggest…”
My tweeds were laid out. I smiled indulgently. Poirot and Holmes need not apply. “…We could take a few days at the seaside while you recover your strength.”
I wriggled about a bit, and stretched out my limbs. Though I’d come home the previous much the worse for brandy and stomach-curdling unease, the new day found me tickety-boo and boomps-a-daisy. Jeeves was without his jacket, and that cheered me up immensely. I almost told him he was talking rot, when I realised the seaside was just the ticket for reasons other than my health.
“That’s just the ticket, Jeeves! The sun will do you a world of good. And you can go shrimping!”
He was rolling up his shirt sleeves, and I took a moment to admire his brawny arm. To suggest the thing and buckle straight down to pack was to him but the work of an instant. Once I was dressed, we’d be off.
“Give us a hand, Jeeves,” I said, shoving off my duvet. His eye sprang to my face, then detoured to take in the rest of me.
“Your luncheon first, I think. I’ll bring your tray.”
“Breakfast, surely, Jeeves?”
“Luncheon, sir, “ he said, gravely. A dimple appeared in his cheek, and he floated away. I was in my green pyjamas and my skin had a smooth, silky feeling. I smelt distinctly like roses. I’d felt so gritty and discouraged last night, and Jeeves had been so grim and moody before that. Yet I had awoken with a song on my lips and Jeeves was clearly raring to whisk us away. Simply goes to show, doesn’t it? Jeeves would always find the way, though it be more than I could envisage. A respectful cough informed me that he had returned.
“I think I dreamt you were in Dorset, Jeeves.” I said, spearing a rasher of streaky bacon.
“My shrimping attire differs from this, sir,” he said, indicating his togs.
“You mean you’ll be wearing your own clothes?” My mind reeled. A proper holiday for him would not include his uniform. He probably owned white linen shirts that would become transparent in the sea spray. His trousers would be rolled up above his calves. His hair would fall forward, over his forehead. No one we knew would be there. My mouth fell open, and I may have pressed a hand to my heart.
“Jeeves. I’ve told anyone who will listen that you stand alone.”
“Thank you, sir.”
He turned and raised his arms to top of the wardrobe, where he must have secreted some packing paraphernalia. My eyeline was crowded with the shift of his shirt across his muscular back. He gripped the side of the wardrobe with one hand, his arm bare to the elbow, as he shifted onto his toes to reach farther up. I couldn’t say what he was groping for, because the view was causing a sizzling, fizzing sensation to crawl in my veins. I was never so grateful for a tray over my lap in my life. Jeeves finished his business with the top of my wardrobe and biffed off.
I mused on Adams’ words. Poetry and kisses.
Shall we call him a statue or a viking?
His profile is certainly striking.
He longs for the sea,
But between you and me,
In my bedroom he's bally exciting.
Jeeves had everything in hand. Kisses would bungle it. I’d promised Jeeves I’d stick to the Code, hadn’t I? I couldn’t back out now. Trust Jeeves, that’s my motto.
‘I can’t remember half of what he’s told me about their irritated and uncultured interiors.’ Jeeves goes on and on about pearls in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit.
Jeeves spends his holiday shrimping in Jeeves in the Offing.
Chapter 12: 12. Shrimping in Dorset
Jeeves caught a bug from Bertie, hurt comfort sort of.
As I’d booked us onto a local train with changes, we were highly unlikely to encounter anyone of our acquaintance. Our second train would be an express. Mr Wooster had seemed struck by the novelty of carrying his bag as we made our way down the platform but was now using it as a footstool as he finished his crime novel.
We travelled in the same compartment. Two hours in, I hummed the part of the song Mr Wooster had hummed against my lips, but his book apparently left him no room for other thoughts.
“The sky would never be so blue…” I commented, and paused. I’ve found that if three words from any song in Mr Wooster’s repertoire are strung together in his hearing, there is a high likelihood that he will complete the song and follow it up with a few more.
“Hmm? Pardon, Jeeves?”
“The sky. The sky would never be so blue…” I looked out of the window.
“Yes, quite. I say, I think this one’s going to have the partner solve the crime, not the detective chappie. Mark my words, Jeeves.” He flung himself down on the seat as if it were a bed, one arm behind his head and his feet on the windowsill. I thought of The Fossil Hunters hung sideways, winning prizes nonetheless.
He’d laid his jacket on the seat, and was now reclining in his cream-coloured shirt with a vivid blue cravat. His brown silk socks were patterned with blue clocks. I could see them, actually, with his feet propped up so high. I supposed the seats weren’t as deep as the settee at home and didn’t allow him to curl on his side.
“I only packed the one. Did you bring any?”
“No. Only a volume of poetry.” My guv’nor’s eyes bulged. He sat up, swaying a bit with the movement of the carriage.
“I wrote a poem this morning.”
I wondered if he was going to recite it. He opened his mouth, shut it again, and then laughed. He stood in front of me and rested his hands on my case, on the rack above me.
“I say, old fruit, do you mind? Is it in the side pocket?”
I slipped it out of my coat pocket and he perched on the edge of the seat beside me.
“Ah,” he said. “No ‘sir’ on holiday?”
I handed him my book.
“No ‘sir’ when we’re both in a first class carriage, not between us, if we travel together. The poet is Paul Valéry. He is both a scientist and a poet, famous for his ‘great silence.’ He abstained from writing poetry for a period of twenty years, and then he wrote this.”
I meant to say more on the subject, and Mr Wooster looked at me expectantly. His eyes are a very particular shade of blue. With his income, the ease with which he makes a home wherever he lights, and the expression of rapt anticipation with which he gives his attention, it is hardly surprising the he’s been engaged to dozens of women, some of them twice. Florence Craye three times. She has a nose you can open a tin with.
He slowly raised his hand, and brought the backs of his fingers to my forehead. “When did you say we arrive, Jeeves?”
“After six. The next train is an express.”
He carefully placed our books in his bag, and moved back to his seat. I hardly remember the remainder of our journey, but we changed trains and arrived with all our bags to the cottage I took each year in Dorset. As luck would have it, I was such a regular visitor that the owner had placed the keys for me under the mat and left me to it.
I checked each room, removing dust cloths. Mrs Collins did a good job of preparing for the guests and this occasion was no different. It struck me that we’d missed teatime. The thought of preparing tea was oddly unappealing. Wooster found me lighting the boiler.
“Where do I put these, Jeeves?” He had our valises.
I followed him out and indicated the smaller of the two rooms.
“Mine in here, sir. Thank you — you needn’t have troubled yourself.” I really wasn’t myself. I hadn’t even thought to bring his bag in, and here he was, carrying both of ours.
He gave me a reproachful glance and set down our bags.
“Not ‘sir’ again, am I?” He drew himself up. “Just for that, you’re getting the bigger bedroom.”
He went in and sat on the bed and patted the coverlet.
“Sit with me a bit. I’ve lots to say.” I sat beside him.
“Thank you, Jeeves. Sit tight.” He sprang up and began to rummage in his valise. He took out a book.
“Mr Wooster, I — ” his name sounded different when I addressed it to him.
“Mister? Mr Wooster? Mr Jeeves — ha, ha, excuse me. Erm, Jeeves and Wooster?” That sounded lovely in his voice. My memory held it and repeated it. I could feel his voice slicing and carving, painfully engraving our names on my mind.
“Wooster — ” I meant to get up and get him something to eat, but he pressed me back with a hand to my shoulder.
“No, no, hear me out. You’d best get comfy. Back up to the headboard. Now, it’s about poetry. Did you know that my mother loved to hear me recite? Can’t surprise anyone with that, I suppose. Scoot over a bit, you’ll fall off.” He sat again beside me, the book in his hand. He smelled strongly of cigarettes and roses.
“It’s this Russian poet. I’ll read until I find the bit I’m after, shall I? And then you’ll explain it to me. I got it for you, but I read this rather good bit out of the middle in the shop and had to finish it. I’ll just read along from here until I find the bit I want.” I was glad I was still in my coat, for I was unaccountably cold.
Later, I was in the small bathroom, trying to wash my face. Something was incongruously amusing, and my young gentleman was laughing. I wanted to laugh but my giddiness was affecting my legs. I was trying to push him out of the bathroom but he insisted on assaulting my neck with a cold flannel.
“Stand still and stop being so dashed tall! Neck wiping is definitely in it! Look, I’ll wipe your neck, or I’ll chuck this flannel at you when you’re back’s turned and it’ll wipe itself. At this distance I can’t miss.”
“Did you bet on it?” I asked. When Bertie laughs, it is almost impossible not to smile. I could barely school my face.
Mr Wooster had heated the towels the way I do at home, but I refused to bathe. It was important to retain all my clothing. He kept saying, “As you are!” and “Just as you like!”
We each had an arm around the other, and we had to match our strides, because we were in training for a three-legged race that he’d bet sixty pounds on. When we reached the bed, he listed all the other events. The list was terribly long and full of names I recognised and some I didn’t. I calculated I could afford 5,302 throws to dunk Tuppy into a tank of water and my young gentlemen laughed so hard the bed frame knocked against the wall.
“No one’s here to hear it, sir,” I said.
“I suppose that’s why we’re here,” he replied. I hadn’t meant to make him sad.
“Which event does Lord Sidcup compete in?” I asked, just to hear him laugh again. He’d already told me it was the long-distance egg toss.
I awoke with a start the following morning. My master and I were chastely sleeping on the covers, the coverlet from the smaller room and an afghan from the front room across us. He’d made a fire, and it had gone out. A glass of water stood on the nightstand nearest myself, next to a tray of half-eaten food. Many a Drone who cannot tie a bowtie is able to call taxis in the rain, but Wooster can also play anyone’s favourite piano music from either side of the Atlantic or the Channel, present a plausible alibi to most suspicious of London magistrates, and beg a decent cold tray off any kind woman within a ten-mile radius.
My guv’nor’s face was pressed against my shoulder, his fingers tucked around my bicep. I slipped my arm out of my coat without waking him, and went to light the fire. July or not, the room was cold at that hour. I began to run a bath. My plan would unfold without Codes, aunts, Adams?, uniforms or telegrams, and we’d bring back whatever suited us to Berkeley Square. Today, Wooster would tell me how he wanted me, and we’d start.
More than one museum has made the mistake of hanging The Fossil Hunters sideways. It did win a prize hung sideways in 1929.
Wooster was actually engaged to Florence Craye four times (Jeeves Takes Charge, Joy in the Morning, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, and Much Obliged, Jeeves (Jeeves and the Tie that Binds). He had about 22 engagements, depending on who is counting.
Wooster aliases have included:
I thought Bertie would get Jeeves one of Pushkin’s epic poems, on some bookstore clerk’s recommendation. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin include the lines “The less we love her when we woo her, / The more we draw a woman in.” I’m not sure this tactic would work on Bertie. Here's a faithful if not beautiful translation of a famous 1830 Pushkin poem:
I loved you once: perhaps that love has yet
To die down thoroughly within my soul;
But let it not dismay you any longer;
I have no wish to cause you any sorrow.
I loved you wordlessly, without a hope,
By shyness tortured, or by jealousy.
I loved you with such tenderness and candor
And pray God grants you to be loved that way again.
Chapter 13: 13. Wooster shows his hand
Bertie realises he and Jeeves aren’t on the same page in the bedroom or anywhere else.
Jeeves shimmered in, bearing my morning tea. He looked like the Venus de Milo might, if she had arms and was holding out a dainty cup of darjeeling. Smooth cheek, gentle eye. Smashing view from the rear. You’ll like this next bit, if you can believe it. His dark hair hung a bit loose and he was wearing a plain white linen shirt, no tie, with his sleeves rolled up. He had on brick coloured, canvas trousers with braces, and his feet wore braided leather sandals. His toes were long and pale. He had sparse, dark hair on the knuckles of his feet.
Jeeves is a solid cove, with the sort of tummy you want to push your face into, but for all that he is as light on his feet as a zephyr. He floats by with a duster and I only know he’s there at all because my soul is soothed. His presence calms. Other people don’t notice it, which comes in handy when he needs to biff someone with a cosh. It’s nothing to worry about: it was only the once. Oh, he was glorious.
“What? What? Tea? Oh yes please, thank you. Ha, ha! Dashed easy you had it last night compared to me, Jeeves. I had a pudding steamer right by the door, but you never needed it. Although knocking back the b. and s.’s didn’t help my case.”
I cast about for a more alluring topic.
“Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat? The hours wound, was it?” Golly, I’d hit the nail on the head and driven it through the post. Jeeves began to speak with a voice like a train going into a tunnel, where the lights go out and your ears stop up and all you feel is a deep, thrilling rumble.
“I begin each day waiting to dress you, and end each day undressing you. Two men in such close quarters will necessarily need …relief. Couldn’t I provide this to you, as you have done for me?”
This might, I thought, have been more seductively put, but I let it go.
“I see a snag, Jeeves.”
“It solves any number of problems with seeking relief outside the flat.”
“Well, you might have numbers of ways of seeking relief outside the flat, but I don’t. I’ve only got the one way I can think of, and it’s inside the flat.”
The way Jeeves had ended my engagements like a carny taking his break at the whack-a-mole game, I’d suspected he was saving me for someone special, i.e. himself. Surely I couldn’t be mistaken? He’d as good as spelled it out in lavender ties and green silk. Did you know that the dressing gown that matches my green pyjamas has carnations on it? Even in America, they know what that means. I’d sifted all the clues and Jeeves’ desires were as plain as a maiden aunt.
“We know where, and with whom, we can best meet our needs. The question before us is: how I can give you what you have given me?” His technique needed polish. Lacked sex appeal, don’t you know. He was still standing.
I pulled up my knees, and rested my chin on them.
“Here’s the snag, Jeeves. From what I can gather, you get your relief, and then you need it again. And then you’ve pawned your little all and started in with that of your nearest and dearest for more. Glossop, the nerve specialist, discusses it at dinners. Now, you and I, we’ve no hope of recovery. We’ve gone years skating in circles on ever-thinner ice and it’s breaking up around us. We’ll be rolling in the deep by teatime and that’ll be the end of what we know about ourselves, Jeeves.” I had to ask. “I’m pretty well sunk already, as it happens. You?”
Jeeves was silent. Perhaps it’s different for him. He hadn’t actually called off his own engagements, had he? They’d died off on their own, the lucky blighter. And he’d had many ‘previous employers’, note the plural. Not that I’m any better. I don’t regret any of them, but I would give anything to have read my pages in the club book, before Jeeves ripped them out. There might have been any number of names inscribed therein. And Jeeves had said, literally told me, that he’d ripped them out because he had no intention of ever leaving me. He’d said he’d never serve a married gentleman, either.
Jeeves had gone to a lot of effort to set up this wheeze and I was trusting him to see it through. The bookies at the Junior Ganymede wouldn’t take your money on us, if you can believe Adams.
“Won’t you tell me why we’re here in Dorset and not in the flat?” I asked, to keep up my end. I think there’s a reason why dancing, and drinking, and lovemaking all happen at night. My own meagre store of tender moments with Jeeves was nocturnal. I’d just have to wait the day out.
Yes whack-a-mole was invented in 1976. Shhh... it's fiction.
Green carnations are a symbol of Oscar Wilde.
Jeeves says he ripped out Bertie’s club book pages and has no intention of leaving Bertie in Much Obliged, Jeeves.
Chapter 14: 14. Misfire
Jeeves sets the record straight: unsexy almost sexy times.
My guv’nor is a stubborn man. I can manage him.
“Relief was a poor choice of words.” I took my place next to him on the bed. “We are in Dorset to shake off associations with your flat. Shall I return your favour of the other day?” I placed my hand high on his thigh. He immediately gave a good impression of having swallowed a fly.
“Let us not talk of the past, Jeeves.” He hastily drank his tea down and I placed his cup and saucer on the side table.
“Tell me about this cottage. Work backwards from the last fellow to the first fellow, and don’t leave any out. I want to know all. If this Wooster has caught your eye, I’d like to see where I fit in.”
This was a truly bizarre request, but my master’s mind often took a circuitous route to his point. As it was, I couldn’t give the information because it does not exist.
“This cottage is of recent construction. The owners of the property built it for letting it to holiday- makers such as myself. There were no previous owners or residents. It would be impossible for me to know exactly how many visitors have stayed on these premises. I estimate that given a four month holiday season and an average stay of two weeks, that approximately — ”
“Your question — ”
“Save your words. You misunderstand me, Jeeves. I mean the fellows with whom you meet your needs. Jeeves? Go on, don’t be coy.”
“I have not come here with any others, Wooster. I have no wish to endanger myself or anyone else.”
“Oh I say, are we in danger? Are we men of unnatural tastes? Are we indecent?” His eyes lit up.
“We are recuperating from illness at the seaside, as any two men might do. Nothing in our lives beyond these walls will change, therefore we have nothing to fear by being here.”
“But there were fellows, Jeeves?”
He mused a bit, and began to pick at the coverlet. It was almost painful to watch as thoughts occurred to him, one by one.
Via long years of service, I know exactly what pleases him. Although at this time, we were testing new waters, I endeavour to give satisfaction, as I always have, and always will. I had long wished to catch his lip in my teeth, and close his mouth with kisses. So I did. My finger tips dragged against his cheek and the rough stubble made him seem like a stranger, a doppelgänger of the man I know. My mouth had barely had a taste of his when he pulled away.
“This reminds me of a dream I had last night — ”
I kissed him again. His lips were a bit pink, but nowhere near as used as I wanted to see them. His hands came to rest against my chest. I hove my leg across his lap and pressed him against the headboard. He sank sideways into the pillows and I got a good couple of bites into his neck. He was gasping as I brushed my nose up his throat and sucked a little at his earlobe. I wanted to lick every inch of him. He squirmed delightfully beneath me, and I gave one heavy thrust against him.
“Jeeves, you monster,” he giggled, and pulled me more tightly to him by the hips. My guv’nor often laughs when he is nervous. Livid marks on his neck would almost show above the collar. I hadn’t had much occasion to realise that his skin bruised so easily before.
“All right?” I asked. I rolled off him to the middle of the bed. He sat up and looked down at me.
“Bertram,” I hazarded, pressing against his firmness.
“Yes, old thing? “ he said a bit breathlessly.
“Tell me, Bertram, how do you want it?”
“Desperately? Immediately? Nakedly?”
His cheeks were pink. More words came tumbling out of his mouth. I could see his tongue, so l pulled him down and tasted it again. Deep within me, the low embers of my desire for him flamed into life. Finally, finally I’d have him and put them out. He was light as a feather, bracing himself on my arms. He turned and nuzzled the edge of my sleeve, pushing it up and mouthing against the inside of my elbow. It tickled and I drew my arm away.
“Bertram,” I said patiently, “with which physical act do you want to reach your release?” He flopped back with a groan.
“Damn my release, Jeeves.” He rubbed his face with his hands, and then turned to look at me. “What’s your first name?”
“I prefer that you call me Jeeves. That way, there is no possibility of future error.”
“An occasion when you inappropriately use my Christian name in lieu of my surname.”
“Unless I am very much mistaken, this is dashed inappropriate of us. I mean to make it more so. I mean for us to be bally inappropriate in this room, in the front room, and also in the kitchen. And we’ll do it as Jeeves and Wooster, not Jeeves and Bertram.”
I felt my face redden. I held my emotions in check. “This is not inappropriate. It is discreet.”
“Have you got a list, Jeeves?”
“To what kind of list do you refer, Wooster?”
“A list of the release mechanisms of the young gentleman?” This type of dry humour does not suit my guv’nor. I did have a list, but I was endeavouring to give satisfaction.
I applied my lips liberally to his face and neck, and began on his chest. He did not wriggle.
I had planned for the possibility, though I had considered it a remote one, that between us we would not touch the infinity of delight. Our long association would remove any embarrassment and, if anything, free our conversation of an evening and allow us to choose travel destinations more suited to our inclinations.
The doorbell rang.
“Breakfast!” Wooster cried, untangling himself from me and springing for the door. He’d ordered meals the night before, then.
I weighed the likelihood of our arrangement being more successful if I allowed Wooster the illusion of romance. In my weakest moments, I pictured us in a kinder world.
- I turn the pages as he plays Liszt and Handel, instead of Porter or Gershwin, and watch his hands as he plays just for me.
- I replace all his underclothes with ones made in Paris and scent them with sandalwood.
- I fill his bathroom with full-blown red roses, so that a room that only I ever saw him in would be splendid.
- I take him in my arms and call him “Darling Bertie,” the next time his eyes fill with tears.
- On some wet Tuesday, instead of ham sandwiches and milk, his supper tray holds petit fours and champagne, and he allows me to sit on a cushion next to the settee he lies on and set each cake at his lips as he pores over a detective novel.
- I serve him pineapple sponge cake and syrup in a porcelain bowl as he turns pink in a steaming bath in New York, and we talk about returning to England disguised as a man and his gentleman. We’d know all the while I was a satyr preying on an eternal boy freed from a dreary country estate and finally let loose in the city. I’d soak up his joy, and what then?
He would not be happy. I’d had ample opportunity over the years to study him. As one of nature’s bachelors, he was happiest in his flat, with his writing and his music, or on his cruises. I was quite at home at the flat with my books, his music and the cruises, as well. My original plan was sound.
I would not indulge him.
Chapter 15: 15. Definitely not in uniform
Bertie manages to seduce Jeeves. Finally! And it's not awful!
We’d gone shrimping after breakfast. Not fiercely exciting, but a way to pass the time together. Actually shrimping is dashed good fun if you’re lying on a blanket under an umbrella, reading the grand dénouement of a mystery. Jeeves thought I might want to stay in, but I’d had quite enough of hearing about relief and release. Jeeves needed tying up and tickling with a feather, or blindfolding and being made to taste and name liqueurs. Do him a world of good. He’d obviously never found out why the Greeks wrestle naked in front of a crowd. We were too old for that but we could at least go to Italy and wear matching cravats to the museums.
He shrimped, and I read the rest of my book. At one point I crowed, “I’m right! I told you on the train, didn’t I? The stalwart sidekick saves the day!” And Jeeves positively beamed over his shoulder at me, net in hand.
After Jeeves knocked off the shrimping, we sat eating cockles in vinegar under the shade. I sat by his feet and poured sea water over his toes. I dried them carefully and sat back to admire my work.
“Thank you, Wooster.”
“Oh don’t thank me. You’ll get sandy again just walking back to the cottage.”
I started putting suntan lotion on the tops of his feet.
“Is it hard on the feet, valeting?” I asked.
“No. Some butlers or cooks find their work hard on the feet. Serving as a valet is pleasant.”
“Is it, Jeeves? I mean, it’s a modern world. You could write. You could keep the books somewhere. You could do double books! Do you know, you’d be a cracking criminal mastermind. We’ve stolen silver, pearls, and diamonds. And emeralds! You’d need someone who doesn’t get engaged every week to do your dirty work, probably. Jeeves, do you even like London? It’s just that, someone who loves to voyage afar and pulls in silver and jewels hand over fist sounds more like a pirate than a valet.”
Jeeves drew his feet away from my hands. “If I were a pirate, who would you be?”
“Do they have pianos on pirate ships?” I asked. Jeeves shook his head.
“So you see,” he said gravely, “I could never be a pirate.”
“The only thing I do for you, Jeeves, is provide you with amusing anecdotes for your club and a substantial wage.”
“And a lovely flat to live in.”
“To work in.” Let’s call a spade a spade.
Jeeves sipped his ginger beer and looked out over the sea.
“I know everything about you, except why you laugh,” he said.
“I know everything about you,
I would soon forget to smile without you…” I sang for a bit.
Jeeves loves my tenor. He was rapt. I sang another one, but he asked for the same again. I didn’t mind, as I had to fill our hours before evening. I was going to assert myself. Absolutely assert myself, in a way that was not at all masterful. Worshipful, perhaps.
“Who are the chappies that wear white and carry plates in church, Jeeves?”
“Acolytes. I’d like to do some rowing, I think. Will you bring a book, Jeeves?”
“Thank you.” Since Jeeves has been leaving off the ‘sir’, I’ve been filling it with other epithets. He seems a bit prim, with the poetry and his vast store of historical dates, geography, and natural history, but he’s not. Jeeves has oodles of sass, which he unleashes on the unwary. He has dressed in women’s clothes, impersonated police detectives, and filled the flat with cucumbers and cats. Sassy. I mentally filled in his missing ‘sir’ with ‘gorgeous’. Thank you, gorgeous. It sounded good, coming from him.
We spent our afternoon on the water. A few more days, and Jeeves would be quite tanned.
He’d potted his shrimp and had cleared our tea when I leant next to him against the kitchen counter. Jeeves was up to his elbows in the sink, and some of his hair fell forward over his eyes. He tossed his head once or twice to flick it back. Just under his eyes was a bit red from the sun and he’d never unrolled his trousers after shrimping. He let me look my fill. When I get to his age, I’ll have the worst crow’s feet. I went over and pushed his hair back for him, and traced over where the sun had burnt him. He stopped his washing up and closed his eyes. Just because I could, I stepped behind him to put my face against his back and wrap my arms around his waist.
After a while, he resumed his washing up. This pastime was positively coming back with us to London. I squeezed a bit, and he lifted an arm and turned around. He brought his soapy arms around me as I kissed him on the chin.
“I’m on my tip-toes, Jeeves.” I tugged him down, ready for another onslaught of his particular brand of kisses. His hands were wet and one left a soaking wet print right on the seat of my trousers. I giggled.
“Why do you laugh?” Jeeves’s stuffed frog voice also makes me laugh, so I laughed again.
“Jeeves, I’m laughing because your first name is either Sylvester, Aloysius, or Stephen. Are you Steve Jeeves, Jeeves?”
“Aha! I knew that! I’ve known it all along! And do you know what else? You haved eyelashes like Spanish fans! If you’re worried that I’ll call you Reggie or Reg, stop. Nothing is further from my mind. And I’m laughing now because you’re going to be naked for your own good and this time you won’t mind in the least, and I’ve just now realised that you’ve scented my baths. I am also laughing because you are a statue come to life and a Viking returned to fight along the Dorset coast. Reginald, take me to bed and bite me some more.”
He looked a bit torn at this. I thought I knew why. “Bath first, Reginald?”
“Bath first, Bertram.”
Over the years, I’ve realised that I’m a bit of a doll for Jeeves. It took a few tussles over socks, waistcoats, jackets and what-have-yous. He likes me as a bit of a living Arrow collar advertisement, living in London and playing piano. We’ve parted brass rings over checkered suits, moving to the country and the banjolele. We hate it. Although I test the limits with a stray paisley cravat or pink tie, I know Jeeves loves to see me a certain way. I love for Jeeves to see me at all. He has a bit of a routine, and I’ve sussed out that it includes a bit of Bertram nudity and then some dolling up.
I smoked as I watched him set up a bath. I’ve sometimes asked him to light a gasper to bring him near enough to smell his pomade. I still do that, actually.
“You too, old thing. We’ll never fit and that’ll get us out the faster.”
“You get the fire going, Bertram.”
“I think I'll stand here and watch, Reginald,” I said, digging in my heels.
He looked like he’d been doused in gasoline and I was holding a match. He minded me seeing him. Marble statue no more, here was a soft, lovely man, shyly wreathed in steam. Galatea indeed! I didn't think much of his plan. The way he’d figured it, we would tumble around this Dorset cottage, smoothing down the edges, and then we’d go home to trade orgasms like Christmas parcels back at the flat. That wasn’t on. Not at all!
He didn’t have to be indispensible for me to need him. By Jove, I needed him to breathe. It wasn’t ever going to be enough. I wanted him to need me back, don’t you see. And he did need me, because he could do anything and go anywhere and instead he was blushing next to our bath.
I’d hold Jeeves’ pudding basin if he’d hold my elephant leg. Damn, I very nearly said that out loud. I searched for the words that would bring Jeeves past the finish line to where I’d tenderly fling a blanket over his foam-flecked, heaving hide. I’d never get there if I didn’t put myself on record before witnesses.
“You see, Reginald, I have an idea that you’ve quite a bit of chest hair. And I also suspect that you’ve hair that comes straight down into where I’d like to rub my cheek. There’s a very good chance that if you bare your thighs, I’ll nose my way down and see if you’re ticklish behind your knees. I might even lick between your toes, if they aren’t sandy. I mean to work my way back up, and then turn you over and start again.”
My words were bringing a bit of glow to his face. “Take off your braces,” I said, and I meant it to scorch.
He complied very slowly. Could he really not sense that I was keen? My reaction was dashed near to piercing my trouser front. As he opened his shirt a strangled sort of coo emerged from my throat. I shifted a bit, gave it up and adjusted myself manually. A sudden memory of Jeeves ordering and reordering my shaving implements each day as I took my bath caused my cheeks to flame.
“Go on, then,” I said, my voice all trembly.
His stuffed frog face never looked so dear.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Reginald. Just — just get on with it!” He turned a bit to the side to step out of his trousers.
“Goodness’ sake, man!” I shouted.
I leapt on him as the leopard pounces on the antelope. We wrestled a bit and then found a rhythm of movement that made perfect sense out of the popularity of jazz and swing. The bath began to overflow. I made a mental note to wash us properly later, but a quick rinse was all we had time for. We were terribly late for sex and the sooner we entered the bath the sooner we’d be back to being naked and slippery again. Jeeves stands alone in uniform, but when well soaped there are no words. No words.
Eternal thanks to Esbe for logic, grammar and all-around good beta.
More about the Arrow collar man here. Please at least take a peek, the images are beautiful.
Suntan lotion is more of a 40s thing, but everyone should always use sunscreen.
Chapter 16: 16. Sax and Violins
Rating has changed from Mature to Explicit.
Please read the tags.
Jeeves lets himself be seduced. This was my first ever smut. It hasn't gotten any easier.
Rarely do I lie to myself. Though I call a young gentleman my master, and even to myself call him my guv’nor, I am the captain of my soul.
Yet in that bathroom, shame unmasked me. I acknowledge that I had been lying to myself all along. He had trusted me guilelessly. Darling Bertie, giving me a blow and me determined not to enjoy it. ‘Is it for this that I have given away mine ancient wisdom and austere control?’
My master was brave enough to ask for what I had dared not name. My mind recoiled from the contrast between his affectionate accosting of me in the kitchen and my brutish shoving at the piano bench.
It was with shame that I undressed before him. I would give him this, because he’d said we’d sink together. Did he know how low? I hated myself, not for loving him, but for loving him as poorly as I did. To my utter humiliation, I was worried he would find my body undesirable. More: that I feared he would have me and move on to other men, that he would find me incapable of the depth affection he would expect in our lovemaking, and, worst of the lot, I was truly terrified that he was too shallow to endure the depths of my need for him.
His lack of patience, for these reasons, was a boon. As before, he came straight to the point and we were naked and writhing in less time than it takes to soft-boil an egg.
He abruptly got up to switch on the lamps against the setting sun. He must have caught the expression on my face. He’s the only one who has ever noticed that I have expressions at all.
“Well, I want to see you, Reginald. You’ve seen me about a billion times and I’ve only been seeing you these five minutes.” I didn’t think my expression changed, but he continued, “Oh, shut up.”
He sat at the foot of the bed and took up one of my feet. He pressed into my sole, lost in thought.
“Bertram?” I’d split his lower lip, and he was probing it absentmindedly with his tongue. The effect was strangely arousing.
“Bassett. Oh good heavens, I am thinking of Madeline Bassett.”
“Now, Bertram?” The incongruity of his thoughts and my desires almost startled a laugh from my throat.
“No, not like that. I just, it’s just that I have a sudden sympathy for her.”
“She is married to Lord Sidcup. His knees, Bertie. In those black shorts.”
Bertie looked at me with an alarming gleam in his eye.
“Reginald, I’ve said it before, you stand alone. You are The It. You are — well, you are specific.”
“Oh, no.” I drew away my foot and sat up. I was holding back a laugh. It was another way of hiding from him.
“Yes, you are specific. And you are a — ” He was already giggling as I cut him off.
“Betram, please don’t say it.” I was begging, but he didn’t know that.
“A dream come true!” My word, he meant it. Did he ache with it? Did it kill him to know that all his happiness walked through London, where anything could happen?
“How on earth am I a rabbit?” I hoped I sounded sane. I wanted to say, I hate this. Go get married and leave me alone. Let us become woodcutters and live in the forest and never talk to anyone else, ever. Give me back my heart, you’ll never take care of it. Cry over me, beg me to fuck you. My humiliation was complete: I was crying.
“Heaven help me, I am perfectly sincere: you are soft, and you have a wobbly lip, and you look ready to bolt: you are actually my specific dream rabbit. Take me out back and shoot me.” And I laughed.
I laughed and cried, and he laughed and cried. We were completely ridiculous, on a shrimping holiday in Dorset. Had I really planned to seduce him here? I should worry.
We sat there, holding each other. I was grateful for his words. He has a wonderful way with words. He makes the most serious topics into the silliest romps.
“Do you know,” I said, “I’ve sometimes wanted to gag you with a tie.” His prick stirred. Promising.
I got up and made the fire, and I came back to our bed with a damp cloth and a couple of his ties. He wiped his face and settled back into the pillows. He smiled, waiting. He is so slim and bruises so easily. I took his wrists and bound them together above his head, and then gently filled his mouth with a rolled up tie. Gift from an aunt, best use for it.
I knelt between his legs at the edge of the bed and took him in my hand. He was gratifyingly hard. I bent down and tasted him, slipping my tongue beneath his foreskin and swirling about the head. The flavour caused my mouth to water. I began to take him deeper, coordinating my mouth and my hand, taking him further and further in. He matched my slow rhythm, pushing up with hips.
I looked up. He had grasped the top of the headboard with his bound hands, the tie wet behind his teeth. I moved up and nipped at one of his nipples. He pushed the tie against his teeth, opening his lips wide and sucking in a breath. He probably got the crop at school. I could nick one from the stables the next time we were at Brinkley Court. I soothed his nipple with my tongue, and pinched it between my fingers as I began on the other one. His hips were bucking beneath my thighs, but his prick barely glanced against me. I plucked the oils from the side table drawer, and before him on my knees, I reached back to prepare myself. He was watching me.
“If you come off before me,” I said, “I’ll finish on your face, Bertie.”
He screwed his eyes shut, and lay still. I shuffled forward, poised above his cock, and he looked at me again. Under his heated gaze, I grasped his length and guided him inside me. All is honesty, man to man, in the joining together. One knows exactly what the other feels. Bertie groaned and bit down hard on the tie as my weight landed flush against him.
I rocked slowly to adjust to his girth, and then quickly gained speed. He had begun a steady grunting and I placed my hand over his throat to feel it in my palm. Cock swelling, he thrashed beneath me as he neared his release. I gently squeezed his throat, placing my other hand over his at the top of the headboard. He was so good for me, my Bertie. I kissed a tear that escaped his eye and felt the vibration in his throat as he came, his scream caught behind the cloth in his mouth. I removed the gag. He lay gasping as I untied his hands and gently brought his arms down.
His eyes were tightly closed. I knelt up and set one foot next his ribs, letting my prick bounce against his cheek. He started and then stared, eyes wide, as I frantically tugged myself off. I spent on his arm and face. I had one hand on the headboard as I caught my breath. He curled up around me, alternately nuzzling his filthy face against me and licking the spend from my side.
We ended up rather stickily entwined.
“Power without abuse loses its whatsit,” Bertie murmured.
“Its charm.” He’d read my book.
“I can put more water in the bath if you like, old thing.”
“Allow me.” In my foresight, I’d closed the curtains. I brought him a glass of water from the kitchen. I ran the water and added lavender oil. I put the towels on the radiator to heat. He was up, stretching like a cat.
“Cat that got the cream, what?” I smiled. His eyes widened. He turned away, and then he spun back. He clasped his hands behind his back.
“Ah, Jeeves. Thank you. Reginald. Topping, absolutely topping. Ah, well I suppose it’s — well. We’ll bring that back to the flat, shall we?” He scratched behind his ear, and then frowned at his fingers. “Bathtime again, I think. I think I need another rinse.”
Left alone in the bedroom, I thought back through the past few days. Having passed Rubicon, it was pointless to hide my regard. I began to sing as I joined him in the bath.
Skies would never be so blue,
I would soon be lonesome too,
For I’d never live without you.
I love everything about you.
Life would soon become a trial,
I would soon forget to smile.
For I love you so dearly I want you to know,
Nothing would be worthwhile.”
He sang along with me after the first three words. I believe the claw-foot tub in his suite at the flat would fit us both comfortably.
I've learned all about Victorian towel rails and racks, and bath radiators. What we do for fan fiction!
Did they say 'blow job' in the first half of the last century? I didn't check.
‘Is it for this that I have given away, Mine ancient wisdom and austere control?’ is from Hélas, by Oscar Wilde.
‘Power without abuse loses its charm’ is from Tel Quel by Paul Valéry: “Enfin, c'est donc l'instinct de l'abus du pouvoir qui fait songer si passionnément au pouvoir. Le pouvoir sans l'abus perd le charme.”
‘Let us become woodcutters and live in the forest and never talk to anyone else, ever.’ In E.M. Forster’s Maurice, the protagonists leave society to become woodcutters and stay together, forever.
Stiffy Byng says “Jeeves, you really are a specific dream-rabbit” in The Code of the Woosters. But it’s Bassett who really lays it on thick with bunnies, rabbits, God’s daisy chain, and fairy queens. Stiffy probably picked up the expression because, as the ward of Bassett’s father, they both live at Totleigh Towers. Wodehouse uses the expression elsewhere: Monty Bodkin calls his girl “my precious dream rabbit” in Full Moon.
‘Having passed the Rubicon,’ is from my favourite song from The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan.
The song Bertie sings is Without You, written Nora Bayes. Download link here. I think Bertie would sing it a zillion times better. The song was composed by Irving Fisher and written and sung by Nora Bayes (sheet music here). Irving Fisher starred in Bolton and Kern’s (with some songs by Wodehouse) Broadway musical Sally. Here with Marylin Miller as Sally.
All errors are my own, because I have a wonderful beta in Esbe. Thank you, Esbe!
Chapter 17: 17. In it for the Long Haul
Bertie and Jeeves get a dose of reality.
We awoke in each other’s arms. Well, no. Jeeves was wrapped tightly around my pillow, and I around Jeeves, my nose pressed into Jeeves’ back and my arm draped over his hip, hand wedged between his silk-clad thighs. I drifted for some indeterminate time on the thought that Jeeves and I were abed. Working backwards through the hours, we’d slept like brothers, we’d read a bit, we’d had a late supper, we’d had a long bath, and we’d had an absolutely fruity resolution to a very short bath. I weighed anchor there, my morning hardness pressing up against Jeeves. Not very preux of me.
I removed my hand from its warm and cosy hideaway, and slid it up under his pyjama shirt. I cupped his tum, and ran my thumb across the hairs there. They were short and silky, and the flesh beneath them was warm and soft. I wanted to burrow my fingers into the crease at the top of his thigh, but Jeeves hadn’t even twitched. I suppose a touch of the flu, followed by energetic shrimping, and topped off with a tumble with the young master is bound to tire a chap.
I extricated myself and stood, stretching. My muscles ached in a deeply triumphant way that spoke of a glorious understanding. Jeeves lay in repose, but for the gentle movement of his breathing. He had a touch of sun still across his nose and cheeks. We could stay here forever and be fishermen, he and I. I would row him out, and we’d fish with nets or however one fishes, and then we’d take our catch to a fishmonger’s. We’d walk home just as the streets were beginning to fill with town business. We’d leave our fishermen’s sandals to dry out front, and we’d be at home. My heart ached just as much as the rest of me at the thought of it. Would he let me serve him a cuppa? I would serve him, you know. I dashed well would. There had to be a million lives we could live together.
I set off to make tea. I was just tying my robe and staring at the kettle when our landlady tapped at the door.
“What ho, what ho!” I halloo-ed.
“There you are, dear. And Mr Jeeves? Out shrimping at dawn, I daresay?”
“Well, no. No. Um, is that breakfast you have there, Mrs Collins?”
“I thought I’d do you a proper fry-up at the house, but perhaps Mr Jeeves…”
“Excellent! That’s just the thing! We’ll meet you at the main house, then? It might be an hour.”
“That’s fine, dear. I’ll just leave these buns but it’s the full English at the house in an hour. You and Mr Jeeves.” She opened a cupboard above the oven, and said, “The trays are just here.” I gave her a friendly grin.
“Trays, trays, trays, teacups, saucers, bud vase… I don’t have any roses. Hmm.” I tapped my chin.
She ended up making our tea and setting the tray, and saw herself out as I carried the tray in to Jeeves. Jeeves was awake, but he hadn’t released my pillow. As I put the tray on the night stand, he uncurled and sat at the edge of the bed, swinging his legs down.
“Reginald,” I said, just because I could. “I wish I were in uniform. I wish I had a flower for the tray.”
“I overheard your conversation, sir.” He took his cup and saucer. He seemed a bit stiff and creaky, which was utterly charming. The urge came upon me to engage him in violent exercise, but I wasn’t sure if Jeeves had said ‘sir’ by habit, or to make a point. I snaffled my tea and quaffed it by the window.
“My apologies, Jeeves. I meant to give you a lie-in. I wonder if we’ll be like this now, some days. I say, though, could I be your man today? We’re out for breakfast, we could even wear town clothes if we like.”
I set down my empty cup and leafed through his side of the wardrobe.
“I’ll lay your clothes out. Thank goodness your shoes are so well-kept, I’d be hopeless at polishing them.”
“I will not accompany you to breakfast, sir. It is not appropriate.” He opened his mouth as if to say something else, then snapped it shut. He abruptly left the room.
“No need to shave, Jeeves!” I called after him. “I won’t if you won’t.” I gave a bit of sigh for all the sirring and Jeevesing we were bandying about.
Jeeves came back and dressed himself, ignoring the clothes I’d laid out for him. He’d shaved, the blighter. I’d assumed this holiday would, at the very least, allow me to discover the amount of grey in his beard. At the very most, well. Anything and everything he could give me.
He switched the trousers I’d laid out for myself for another pair, and carried my shoes with him as he glided into kitchen.
I’m used to his silences, but he hardly even glanced at me. I’d left a gap down my chest wide enough to earn a smirk from Mrs Collins when I’d belted my robe. It occurred to me that while I had cousins, old boys, blues, Drones and even a collection of poets, novelists and painters, Jeeves never mentioned anyone apart from some distant family and a favourite niece. Probably they didn’t often breakfast together.
I tried to remember how many times Jeeves and I had breakfasted out. Several, in fact. Countless. Silly ass. I went to cajole him.
“Don’t be a silly ass, Jeeves,” I said, shaking my socks at him. He didn’t look up, so I wriggled my toes. He gave a pained sigh and turned his best stuffed-frog face to me.
“Sir, we cannot eat breakfast at Mrs Collins’s.”
“Nonsense. She’s half-way through cooking it up. We can’t let her down.”
“We’ve only a few more days, Bertram.” His voice was steady, but brimful of thingness. I looked at him then, really looked. He was so different, and still so Jeeves. His hair was soft and lay in whorls, instead of scraped back and glued down. The grey in it showed quite a bit. His shirt was open at the throat, and he hadn’t tied on the cravat I’d laid out for him. His neck seemed slimmer without the collar, and his shoulders seemed muscular rather than merely large, now that they were no longer hidden by a jacket. His forearms were thick and beginning to be tanned. This was always the best part of having him home from his holidays, seeing them like this.
I wobbled a bit as I pulled my socks on. I reached forward to take my shoe back. He seemed reluctant to unleash the thing, and sat back a bit deflated.
“That’s enough of that, Reginald. Shall we see what Mrs Collins has for us? She could probably do with the company.” I wasn’t going to say anything, but I’d seen the black-framed portraits when I had arranged for our meals. We’d all lost someone. “I’ll shave off the scruff, Jeeves, if it bothers you that much.”
As I knelt beside him to tie my laces, he traced a finger down my ear and along my jaw. I felt a stab of the painful loneliness that comes from having an unrequited love for one’s valet. It’s like having an aunt instead of a mother, Christmas at school and a best friend below stairs. It’s always almost. Even yesterday had been only just. As his fingers caressed my face, I felt it was but a drop of the tenderness I wished to dissolve in. If we were back at the flat, there’d be no end to his tender ministrations. And now, now! I’d be free to minister right back.
“You must realise, Betram, that words can bring us great harm. Even here, where no one knows us, we are still two men, we — ”
“Gibberish. You’re positively blithering, man.” I stood up. “It’s a breakfast. I’ve only got eyes for bacon, at the moment.”
I thought of all the empty chairs at Mrs Collins’s. I wouldn’t push the man, but surely he needed his breakfast, just as I did. Surely he wanted, well, to just sit and eat and chat and drink tea. We’d spent such a pleasant day the day before. And I’d — I’d sort of seen it all in my head, the three of us at breakfast, talking about the cottage and the grounds.
Jeeves looked mulish.
My heart gave a big squeeze, sort of like a hiccough. I felt a nasty prickling feeling in my eyes and nose. I took a slow breath. “You won’t step out with me, for a spot of breakfast, with Mrs Collins, the owner of this cottage, who has invited us both?”
“Well, then, Jeeves. Tinkerty-tonk.”
I left. Well? He ate alone in kitchens all the time. Perhaps he likes it that way.
I was sopping up egg yolk with the last bit of a buttered soldier, when I heard a dear, familiar cough. I found I was fascinated by the Colcough pattern on my plate as Jeeves popped his head round the dining room door.
“Ah, excuse me, Mrs Collins. I let myself in. Forgive me, I thought I’d find these sooner.” He brought forth an elaborate bouquet of mixed flowers and bowed.
“Oh Mr Jeeves. How lovely.” She was already up and pulling out a chair for him across from me. She seized the flowers, plucking one out.
“Here’s for your plate, Mr Wooster!” She sang, putting one of the blooms alongside my spoon.
“Oh I say, is there pudding?” I knew I was beaming like a lighthouse. Silly of me, to think that Jeeves would let her down.
“Toffee pudding. I’ll bring it out directly, with a plate for Mr Jeeves.” She was already in the kitchen. Jeeves was grasping the back of his chair with his eyes fixed on something behind me. I could guess what it was.
“Both boys, Jeeves. And her husband.”
“Yes, Mr Wooster. It occured to me you wouldn’t insist on your own account, after you left.”
“No harm done. I’m — She thought you were still ill. I had a job convincing her not to call a doctor for you. Because of your advanced age.”
“Oh now, Mr Wooster! You gossip!” Mrs Collins had returned with a tray, and began unloading provisions for a small army before Jeeves.
“Now Mr Jeeves, these are spiced sausages. I’ve not served you them before, because they are new from our new Spanish butcher. He has a Spanish wife, and three daughters. He wears yellow shoes!”
They discussed the many odd fashions of the townsfolk. Jeeves knew all their names and chucked in details at a Dickensian tilt. He had stretched his legs out beneath the table, and if I put one foot forward I’d be nudging his heel. I did so, and he drew his feet back. He mended this by spearing a sausage end and holding it out to me on his fork.
“Taste this, Mr Wooster. I doubt we’ll find the like in London.”
“Ah, thank you. Mr Jeeves.” I smiled. Mr Jeeves! The sausage was sweet, and filled my mouth with a dry, creeping burn. “Oh I say, it lingers, doesn’t it?”
Mrs Collins smiled at us. “Now Mr Wooster, you did say your lawyer — ”
I was quenching a small fire on my tongue with tea, and a bit sloshed down the wrong pipe at her words. I waved my hands frantically and gave as good as any gorilla to my breast. Jeeves drew an eyebrow up a smidge and straightened his spine as an invisible uniform cloaked his form. Mrs Collins seemed to catch a whiff of my desperation and left to bring in the pudding.
“Lawyer, sir?” said Jeeves, with a touch of frost.
“I beg your pardon, Mr Jeeves?”
“Mr Wooster.” We stared at each other. The thingness sprang up and entwined us in its mystical binding. I wanted to tell him that the Devonshire hours were lovely but all the other hours we’d spent hadn’t yet borne their fullest fruit. There was something yet to discover between us, and literature, poetry, the stage and celluloid had never directly provided the example.
I’d live in Devon forever, if that’s what was required, but I knew it wasn’t. Did he? Emotions made faint ripples across his map and his hands were flexing on the edge of the table. He’s a still sort of chappie generally, but he seemed to me to be full of restless movement, like a Nebraska cornfield in a tornado. To a general audience he would probably appear tranquil, with a hint of dyspepsia.
Mrs Collins was bustling about. We ate our pudding as Mrs Collins told us more about the cottage and her house.
“…And the entailment is a bit of a tangle, but as you said, a lawyer could set it straight.”
“Consider that matter settled, Mrs Collins. Say no more about it, in fact. Er — This pudding, it’s quite the thing! Anatole hasn’t got a patch on Mrs Collins, has he, Mr Jeeves?”
“Mrs Collins, if you would be so good as to give me your recipe?” Jeeves raised his chin, tilted his head and gave a suspicion of a smile to Mrs Collins.
“Now, now, Mr Jeeves, you only have to ask.” She glared at him, the way cook used to glare at me when she caught me stealing biscuits — biscuits that happened to be my favourite, that she’d always roll out and bake on the afternoons I spent reading in the kitchen. It struck me that Mrs Collins was chuffed that Jeeves was asking.
As she cleared, she recited the ingredients, and Jeeves asked if she browned the butter. My heart started speeding up. Jeeves glanced at me, and my breath got short. Had his eyes always been such a dark brown? I wasn’t sure suddenly if he’d got the cottage for seven days or eight days. It seemed of vital importance to know exactly how many hours remained of our holiday. I was also desperate to know if he needed the pudding recipe to be polite or because he’d be adding it to our rota back at the flat. Only a few days.
By gosh, what if he was truly counting them down? What if he’d formed a sentimental association between self and Mrs Collins’s treacle pudding, and we'd have a privately important dessert along with a privately important colour and a privately important favourite country cottage and a privately important song —
Mrs Collins was pouring me another cup of tea, Jeeves was pushing his hair off his forehead, and I couldn’t bear another second.
I had an inkling that I knew what Jeeves meant by his cryptic motto. Omnes vulnerant, ultima necat. The very minutes were rushing past me like the outgoing tide. I didn’t want a last hour, don’t you know. I wanted an unlimited supply and a quarterly bonus. Only a few days. Bally rubbish!
I brandished my cigarette case and legged it to the scrap of garden behind the kitchen.
Nothing inappropriate about breakfast. Nothing inappropriate about a holiday at the seaside. And none of anyone’s business about the rest of it. And if Jeeves thought Dorset rented its hours by the week, I’d tell him all about how I’d bought the cottage for him and hired Mrs Collins to be his housekeeper.
Thank you a million times, Esbe, for beta.
Entailments were usually to keep landed gentry landed. They forced the land to be passed to the most immediate male heir, unless there wasn’t one. Without a male heir, the land is divided among the female heirs. I didn’t research the law for the 30s, but presumably Mrs Collins wants to prove there are no male heirs (not hard to believe after WWI) and free her land up for sale.
Chapter 18: 18. Piano from the seventh storey
Jeeves makes plans to run away. Ditching Bertie at the first disagreement as usual.
I tapped a cigarette on my case (a fine example of guilloché enamel, it was sterling silver — a generous gift from my master several Christmases before) as I went in search of Mr Wooster.
“Light from mine, old chap,” he said. The guv’nor didn’t meet my eye as he extended his hand.
My other hand held the rest of the pudding, so I leant forward to catch a light. His little finger hooked in mine to steady my hand as I sucked in the first draw. We could never be like this in London.
I straightened. We had the whole afternoon ahead of us, and the sun wouldn’t set until twenty past nine. I would be glad when we were settled back into ourselves, but for the next few days I would be steeped in the unfathomed brew of our passions. The adrenaline caused time to slow and my blood to rush.
“We’ve all day, Jeeves,” crowed the guv’nor with no little enthusiasm.
He picked up a stone, and bowled it high, over the treetops.
As we strolled towards the cottage, I felt the warm, sticky toffee sauce trickling from under the ill-fitting cover. Once inside, I made straight for the kitchen to put away the pudding and wash my hands. Mr Wooster hovered in the periphery. I wasn’t quite quick enough with the pudding and I made to lick my wrist before the sauce could reach my shirt cuff.
“I say, Jeeves!” He darted towards me and pulled my hand to his mouth. The sensation of his tongue on my wrist, wet and hot, on my palm and between my fingers, his nearness, his eagerness: I set all these distractions aside.
“Sir, I must ready this bowl to return it to Mrs Collins.” He slurped inelegantly and muttered against my fingers,
I drew myself away.
“Sir, we must maintain some order to our days, even on holiday.”
“Oh absolutely, Jeeves.” He obediently placed his hands behind his back. “I’ll just — well, I’ll — No piano here, what? I’ll have one sent from London.” I turned in some surprise at the guv’nor’s words, but he had left the kitchen.
I already knew from remarks at breakfast, that he had purchased the cottage from Mrs Collins. He has frequent outbreaks of altruism. Yet, with his comment about the piano, came the sudden realisation that my guv’nor was holding a future of shared Dorset weekends close to the vest. Our pantry was not sufficiently stocked for either our dinner, or for the next few days. I could walk to the high street and return in a cart. I set off, making lists as I went.
On my way back to the cottage, I caught myself making a mental list for packing for our return. If I have a weakness, and like any man I have several, it is that I sometimes plan ahead beyond the necessary. Though I curb this tendency (à chaque jour suffit sa peine), Mr Wooster had borrowed against our remaining days by planning without my advice. My packing list for Sunday’s return depended on the motives for Mr Wooster’s impetuous purchase.
Could we never pass a week without a crisis? I sometimes wondered if his genius is to create a life made up of a series of storms in teacups from which to choose the plots of his novelettes. If they hadn’t been named for me I’d have asked to be co-author.
For myself, I had enjoyed our time together in Dorset. Did he plan to make his home in a small, Dorset cottage? He could afford to play at furnishing a cottage hung with trellised vine, but this was painting from a photograph. Our life, our true life, the model from which we would create art in oils to decorate our nights, lay in Berkeley Mansions and ended at the gate of the Yaxley estate.
Mr Wooster was not in as I put away my purchases. I decided to return the pudding bowl to Mrs Collins.
“No, no, I’m not coming in. Just this, and some things I picked up for you in town.”
“Now, Mr Jeeves, you’ll have a spot of tea with me, won’t you? Kettle’s just boiled.”
Over tea I discovered that Mr Wooster had ordered meals for our stay, but had not known our departure date; that Mr Wooster had agreed to purchase the cottage the day before, because he wanted a quiet place away from town; and that Mrs Collins was under no illusions and in fact had assumed that an intimate friendship had long existed between me and my master.
“All those telegrams you’ve gotten, sometimes three a day, so romantic. Mrs Beadle at the post office said to me, she said, one of them had forty words! I always wondered when you’d bring him down. And look at him, he’ll be just the one to call out in Housey-housey. It’s a pity Mr Collins isn’t with us, he loved his bingo nights.”
I pictured Bertie at a piano, wearing a garish chequered coat, shouting, ‘Legs Eleven! All the way to heaven!’ I had little doubt that the same mental picture that gave me inward pause would fill Mrs Collins with glee.
“You’ll find him engaging enough at home, Mrs Collins, but he’s very shy of crowds. He’s a bit of a homebody, our Mr Wooster. This is the first time I’ve been able to persuade him to come down.”
“I’m surprised to hear you say so, Mr Jeeves. He was that interested in hearing about it this morning.”
“Knowing him as I do, I would never suggest him for more than the piano during service. However, he is a man of his word. He’d never want to disappoint you. If he said he would — and gave his word — ”
“Oh no. Nothing like that. I’m glad you told me. We’ll keep him to ourselves, Mr Jeeves.”
Mrs Collins patted my arm. I was glad she had found a buyer. She had a niece she was fond of in London and we spoke at length on the marriages of nieces and the difficulty of their children being away at school during the off-season. I myself rarely see Mabel’s children, unless she calls them to the kitchen during my visits and demands I perform sleight-of-hand for them. I am grateful they attend a day school and that Mr Little feels no loyalty to Eton.
I was sent back to the cottage with scones, blackberry jam and double cream for tea. Mr Wooster was engrossed in an Agatha Christie left behind by some other tenant and barely stirred as I placed a tray on the side table. He smelled of the sea and I withdrew to rinse out his costume and leave his beach towel on the railing outside to air.
I thought ruefully of plans that we would now have to lay aside. I could not return to this Dorset town, these simple people. Our safety and our home lay in the general anonymity of London. In the map of that great city, where the invisible paths traversed by lords and telegraph boys were overlaid, we had found our secret intersections and vast divides.
In Dorset, all we had was the dangerous illusion of a gap in nature. I began to pack my things.
Beta'd by Esbe.
All mistakes are my own.
‘A chaque jour suffit sa peine’ is from the Sermon on the Mount: Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Matt 6:34. This proverb is a common aphorism in France.
Thanks for the cricket help, Esbe!
The only legal gambling in the British armed forces was housey-housey (also called lotto, or bingo). “Legs eleven: an expression for any very tall thin man. From No. 11 in the game of ‘House’.” In Soldier Words and Phrases (1925).
The paths of telegraph boys and lords intersected at Cleveland Street
Chapter 19: 19. B. and s. (no s.)
Bertie thinks he can persuade Jeeves to stick around. He pulls out all the stops.
“Dinner isn’t for hours, yet. It is Sunday, isn’t it, Jeeves?” He was elbow-deep in starched shirts. Refolding is a mania with him.
“Is breakfast coming each day, sir?”
“Yes, Jeeves. Sorry, Reginald. Old habits and all that. Reginald! Reginald, Reginald — does anything rhyme with Reginald?”
He didn’t answer me. I walked over to the mirror above the mantel to remove my collar. My thin neck boasted a need for ointment: I probed with my fingers. Here and there on the Wooster corpus I felt the evidence of what I would tell anyone who asked was a good rugby match.
“Let’s go to the long mirror, Reginald. See my blushing honours upon me.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever told you about it, but my man has left me before. The only reason why I wasn’t upset upon seeing him packing his case, is that he’s always come back to me. It is a matter of principle with him to withdraw rather than confront. When your brain bulges at the back, the pure intelligence overtakes the heart.
I piled on more Shakespeare.
“Wilder to me than a whatsit in its wildness.”
A moment passed, and then he made a noise between a cough and a laugh.
“If you wish me to say, ‘tiger’, you may ask me directly.”
I craned ’round to see his face, which now wore a dimple. I wandered over to apply my lips to his jaw, which he permitted briefly before giving me a kiss and then firmly pushing me off.
In one second, with no advance alarm, he had donned an invisible valet’s uniform and was smoothing down the phantom lapels as he shimmered to the wardrobe. I couldn’t see his face, but he wore a distinctly amphibious air about the shoulders.
I wondered how this bit would go, back home. “A stiff b. and s., Jeeves.”
“You heard me. I’ll have it in the bath.”
I flung myself down on the bed, dislodging his open bag and sending his habiliments fluttering to the winds, and placed my hands behind my head. You can’t rattle Jeeves with anything less than paisley, but I meant to try.
“We do not have brandy, sir.”
“Glass of sherry, then.”
“I consider it to be ill-advised, sir, to combine drink and high emotion.”
“I’m waiting, Jeeves.”
“You had three baths just yesterday.”
Gotcha! I thought.
“You love the Wooster corpus in the bath. And the middle one was just a rinse. Do you never wonder why we’ve never modernised, Reginald?” I turned up the wattage on the Wooster grin.
He sat beside me, and his very hair seemed to slump, flopping forwards like marcel waves in a downpour. The effect was piteous.
“Bertram, we can never stay here to live. By the day’s end tomorrow, the entire village will know that you’ve purchased this cottage. It is inadvisable to return here together.”
“Where’s the harm in it? The village will give all their love to me, because they want to love you and you won’t allow it. They’ll love you via me as proxy. Story of my life.”
It would make an excellent one of my stories, come to think of it. He couldn’t know as much as he did about the natives without having counselled them all the same way he did the Drones, and the Drones adored him to a man. I’ve doubled his salary twice to prevent them from poaching him. I filed those thoughts away, as Jeeves seems to dislike my writing. He never mentions it, though he’ll put a red line through anything likely to put me hot water before I hand it in to my editor. The poor man probably gets ribbed for my books endlessly at the Ganymede.
He perked up a bit, and then turned to me with a dark look. His finger traced my collarbone, and he bent his head to gnaw at the top of my arm.
“We have an hour or two before dinner, Bertram.”
“And how long before Berkeley Square?”
I could think of a dozen things that we could do in two hours. I had half a dozen plans that would take all night to execute. I had yet to come up with something that would take a week to finish. A year to finish. A lifetime.
I swallowed down the nameless fear that was quenching my arousal and tilted my head, exposing the side of my neck he’d missed the day before. He fastened on like a vampire seeking sustenance, his hands kneading my waist. I could hear a gasping, girlish sigh and recognised I was the source. I gave a manful grunt and tried to sit up.
“Oh Bertie, oh look at you.” said Jeeves in a rueful voice. I spluttered.
He dragged me down the bed and pinned me chest to chest, with his forearms beneath my shoulder blades, his hands curled up over my shoulders, and his elbows at my sides. He moved his body over mine, his belly making an intimate and growing acquaintance with my lower parts. I hid my face in his neck, gulping in air.
He was nibbling my ear. I’ve never thought much of ears. Sometimes when you dance, you talk into your partner’s ear, her ear being so close already to your mouth. It’s handy, isn’t it? You whisper to her, easing off on the gas. But feeling Jeeves’ mouth on my ear, his breath, his low, thrilling voice, murmuring to me: he could be reporting the shipping news and my reaction would have been the same. The genesis of at least a quarter of my engagements became palpably obvious.
“This, this every day, Reginald.”
“Please say ‘Jeeves’.”
“This every day, Jeeves.” I blushed to say his working name with my voice thin and raw. We still hadn't settled on what to call each other in our private moments and it was too early for pet names. I worked a hand between us and managed to open his trousers enough to push them off a bit. He helped.
He nosed my head the other way, and began kissing my temple.
“Beautiful, beautiful, darling…” Had he really been saying these things all this while? I’d managed ‘Reginald’ with a fairly straight face but saying ‘Jeeves’ now, when he had packed his bag and I had my dial set to ‘twit’, I could only imagine he was saying a last goodbye to all that. I kissed him wildly. His lips were soft and slow as I parted them and gave his tongue an idea I’d had to make him stay. He drew back.
“Bertie. Bertie, don’t hide.”
Tenderness filled his face. When I’d wanted to convince him to allow me the honour of loving him, it had been easy to bare my feelings. Now, naked in his arms, engulfed in his flesh, I felt the terror of what we were becoming. If he’d offered to blindfold me and give me six of the juiciest, it would have been less painful and more erotic. Instead he was unmaking me in a terribly tender way. As if he loved me back.
Happiness was a cheese-wheel rolling downhill, and we were the unhappy saps tumbling after it at risk of life and limb.
“Can’t we just go back to the flat and I’ll play for you and you’ll do whatever it is you do in the afternoons? We can be just as you like, whatever you like.” My voice sounded ridiculous. His fingertips stroked beneath my neck a few moments.
“It was slowly killing me to touch you, sir.”
“Jeeves, you were just packing! It can’t be both unbearable there and unbearable here! This is all going to blazes. Visits. Cruises. How, Jeeves? You in a uniform, with a salver. Me sitting, you standing — it just won’t do, Jeeves! And if we can’t manage it here, and we can’t manage it back in Berkeley Square, then where does that leave us?”
His valet’s cough rang out like a death-knell to my hopes. “Sir, I believe I have a solution.”
“I — I didn’t mean, you not go back to Berkeley Square, old bean. I don’t, I mean, I do want us home. And it is your home.” It is not too much to say that the pressure of the Niagara was building behind my eyelids.
“Darling Bertie.” If I explain that as he said this, he slid along the unabridged Wooster in such a way as to clarify his response to our relative positions, you’ll understand that my toes curled as I brought my legs up around him.
“Ooh-ooh-oof!” My hips gave a fair imitation of an untamed mustang.
He pushed up onto his elbows and gave me the honest smile that I’d seen the night before and on the beach. That was three times, and I meant to never lose count.
My legs flopped petulantly.
“How much do you care that people know about us?” I asked.
“I find that I care a great deal.”
“People already know, Jeeves. Here, and in London.” To my shame, I throbbed beneath him as I spoke.
“Suspicion is titillating, but gossip is poison, sir.”
He said ‘sir’ with his body ensconcing mine the same way he says ‘very good, sir’ when he scores against me. Master and man, staying and leaving, having and not having: they were all muddled up.
“Jeeves. Bally well stop it. You’ve a packed bag with your frock coat and spongebag trousers. Now, I do rather fancy you in them, so they can come right back out. We’re staying on for the week. We’re staying on ’til Sunday. I mean to wring each blasted hour of its every delight.”
“As you say, sir.”
“Unpack, Jeeves. Put the uniform on. Make dinner. And get me that damned sherry.”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Unpack, Jeeves. That bag is taunting me.”
“Not yet, sir.”
His compelling argument was frotting right up against my remonstrances, you know. It always boils down to this: he’s generally right about things, what? If I could keep him in Dorset just a few days longer, to practice for London, perhaps he would see that we could pull it off.
“I suggest — ”
“Later, Jeeves.” I huffed out. You have to consider that he’s usually right.
Endless thanks to Esbe. Without her beta this would be unreadable. All remaining errors my own.
“This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honours thick upon him…” is from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.
“Wilder to him than tigers in their wildness” is from Shakespeare’s Lucrece.
Chapter 20: 20. Tiger skin rug on order
Jeeves is lying to himself. It’s never ‘just sex’, Jeeves! Jeeves runs away to London, Bertie stays in Dorset.
My guv’nor never takes my impending absence lightly, and yesterday’s performance was especially enjoyable. He had appeared by turns insouciant, demanding and desperate. I only missed a few hours of sleep in vigorously allaying his immediate fears. The early train to London was too crowded for me to catch any sleep on the way back, however.
Bertie, sighing in my arms. It took so few kisses, to return the smile to his face. He had come dangerously close to declaring himself to me, but then we are very fond. I was that close to melting into words, myself. We had peered awhile into the abyss, and maintained our footing on the bridge of reason.
(At least, that was what I told myself, at the time.)
I had thought Dorset the perfect place to set our duties aside for pleasure. Instead, we had been dropped into village life as if it were a British Natural History Museum diorama. I have no intention of illustrating the stereotype of the dissolute Londoner and his blithe protégé to the Dorset seaside. Any change in our enduring connection must be made cautiously, and with as little outward disturbance as possible.
I had left him instructions for tea-making. I’d packed the things he wouldn’t need and might forget. The guv’nor’s amour propre would never allow him to chase me up to London. I’d wired his lawyer to meet him in Dorset, in any case.
In his absence, I could easily make arrangements to have the carpets cleaned. Lined curtains in all the rooms, and a second lock for the door into the sitting room from the hallway. A denser bolster for the master’s bed. I’d have to move the bed from the wall, also, for at least these next few weeks. The headboard would knock otherwise.
Imagination plays an important part in the duties of a gentleman’s personal gentleman. I contrive to anticipate the contretemps that ensnare my master when he is in drawing rooms or his club, beyond my reach. To be in readiness for his return, I stretched my imagination beyond the bounds of practicality and propriety, into the realm where desires flame and expire.
- bed posts added (master bedroom)
- keyed lock installed (master bedroom)
- several Spanish reds
- bright silk scarves
- Japanese silk dressing gown (the guv’nor)
- half dozen silk shirts (myself)
- smoking jacket (myself)
Queen’s Crescent Market
- gauze bed curtains
- red lampshades
- jasmine bath oil
The guv’nor is not a man of depths. Were his surroundings inveigling and his entertainments varied, his desires would be exhausted before any harm could be done. We were only in New York six months before his thoughts strayed home and he thought to wonder if he’d missed boat race night. I looked around the empty flat. I would find us a way, we would reach the other side of our explorations intact. I always find a way. ‘The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.’ By hoping for what is achievable rather than what is desirable, my plans generally meet success.
An orderly, clean space and the rhythm of our London days are what is needed in the long run. Soon enough he’d start another of his novelettes and disappear into his paper and ink for several months. I thought of long afternoons, polishing silver and listening to the faint clack of the keys and the zing of the carriage return of his typewriter. During these periods, he generally took his tea at his desk and his supper in the kitchen with me, having littered the dining room table with diagrams, books and drafts.
He is quite shy of his writings, which are surprisingly unexaggerated. I sometimes read his drafts over breakfast in lieu of the newspaper. Although his plots defy belief, he often omits life’s strange coincidences and lucky chances, not wishing to strain his readers.
His readers come from all walks of life, but most of them are patterned after the valet Adams: romantics to the last man, lost in an Edwardian dream of French dinners, luxury motors, and country estates. In a future book, I thought then, Lord Yaxley would find a butler (he’ll need an agency, no one at the Ganymede would dare) and I would find a quiet office from which to direct the flow of reams of paper.
Perhaps, if Lord Yaxley ever collected his papers, I’d return to play secretary. The guv’nor imagined me omniscient, but in those years, although I could type and keep books, I could not take shorthand. (I am now a satisfactory secretary, when the need arises.)
As I stood there, lost in thought, the doorman came up with a telegram.
Jeeves, 15 Berkeley Mansions, Berkeley Square, London. Return next train. What the dickens are you playing at. No reply unless you make it with your very own glottis. Bring brandy. Your dashed confused, Bertie.
I ’phoned in the following reply:
Wooster, care Collins, Somer Fields, Lyme Regis, Dorset. Lawyer arriving Dorset with paperwork. Curtains replaced in flat tomorrow. Tiger skin rug on order. Awaiting instructions, Jeeves.
Thanks always, Esbe! for beta.
‘Amour propre’ is self-respect.
‘Contretemps’ is a minor dispute.
‘The miserable have no other medicine but only hope’ is from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Queen’s Crescent Market still exists, and it would have sold the sorts of things Jeeves put on his list — I think. It was planned and built in 1862, coming into use later (I couldn’t find an exact date), and bustling by the 1870s.
My favourite Edwardian dream of French dinners, luxury motors, and country estates is Brideshead Revisted, by Evelyn Waugh.
Chapter 21: 21. Alone in Dorset
Well, well, well. You didn’t think Bertie would stay alone for more than five minutes? Welcome more OCs.
I shall always remember the morning I woke up alone in a cottage in Dorset, on my solo shrimping holiday. What’s that, you say? Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, off shrimping on his own in Dorset? Utter tosh, and you’d be right. Jeeves, impersonator of rabbits, had run back to London faster than a mechanical hare before greyhounds, leaving the y.m. alone.
As I recall, I awoke and flapped a fin, coming up against everything you’d expect in a bed, because you, who have been with me from the start, would be expecting a bed sans Jeeves. For those of you just tuning in, the number of nights I had awoken clamped to Jeeves as a jockey to his steed were but two, but they had established a pattern.
Be that as it may, my heart is already firmly stamped ‘withdrawn from circulation’ and the bookplate reads, ‘ex libris Jeeves’.
As I lay there, I weighed the odds of Jeeves being in the kitchen making my tea against those of his having packed off to London. From my limited experience of Jeeves’s soul’s awakening, if he wasn’t drinking deeply of the blessedness of sleep, he was coalescing into matter at my bedside with cup in hand. High odds kitchen, low odds London.
I meant to strive, to seek, to find my Jeeves, and not to yield, but it was so dashed early. I awoke again when Mrs Collins came ’round with breakfast. She agreed to send a telegram for me and I scribbled out my siren call on a scrap of butcher paper. It had come wrapped around the Spanish sausages she’d brought for Jeeves.
I remembered him pulling his hidden feet away from mine, while publicly tendering his fork to my lips. He’d packed his blasted bag and then made love to me as if…Well. It was like a puzzle whose pieces fit correctly but whose picture was all scrambled. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. The painting titled Jeeves and Wooster seemed to be a two panels shy of a triptych. Here was Jeeves, gently grasping the calf of the young master. But where were the two lovers in their shared bed? Or the grey-haired and stoop-shouldered couple, entwined in a tender embrace?
The thingness between us surpasses a tender pash. It had to, given the dangers we run just to indulge. In our gratitude for the miraculous fact of us being alive at the same time, of existing in the same London, of sharing each other’s lives for the few decades remaining to us, we ought to throw on wanderer’s robes and make a pilgrimage to Italy, where chaps like us walk hand-in-hand in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
It was deuced irritating, but Jeeves had done a runner. As if that would save him from the embarrassment of reciting poetry, choosing my buttonhole and matching my ties to my eyes! He was lost from his first day in my employ, if those were anything to go by. I contemplated hideously expensive timepieces engraved with our stylised and heavily intertwined initials, plain settings for an enormous diamond tiepin, and other injudicious gifts a man might give his paramour.
If he was pipped over the cottage he could dashed well stick it. I was on holiday and though I shrimp not, I do paddle. A towel about my neck, I sauntered to the water for a mid-morning splash.
I was just coming up the steps in the tiptoeing, penguin-armed gait that the Englishman in a wet bathing costume assumes upon entering a house, when Mrs Collins came out with a rough, flannel robe.
“It’s the lawyer, sent by Mr Jeeves. Got a pile of papers with him. He has to go to town and back again before we’re all sorted. And a telegram for you, Mr Wooster.”
My man Jeeves has had many careers. Why he lit on valeting is something he was then explaining to me with kisses and mood swings. He’s been a page, a secretary, a butler, a floor walker, and a valet unto others. No, that’s not conveying it. He’s been entrenched in the following: a girl’s school, the halls of commerce, both country and city houses — that doesn’t quite convey it either. He has successfully impersonated lords, policemen and bookies. He seems to have folded into his breast an accordion of frustrated careers. Third and fourth hands at piano. Thug — well, hero to yours truly, but thuggish to outward appearances. Author of 18 pages of the Junior Ganymede Club book, editor of same. Mechanic, thief, bartender-cum-doctor-cum-saint, depending on whether you view his restorative as beverage, medicine or miracle, and butler. There might be more, who knows? I was mentally adding ‘interior designer’ as I composed my reply. It was terse:
The lawyer waiting in the front room was a junior clerk, fellow by the name of Cholmondeley. Chummy, we call him. He’s putting in for the Drones. Given his skill at catching a grape in his mouth from 20 feet, I would say he’s a dead cert. Mrs Collins put him in her spare room and we fixed on a plan of work-row-work-swim for the following day.
I meant for Jeeves to return to me, as I couldn’t very well leave Mrs Collins until the papers were in order. You see, although Jeeves had sent someone down from the solicitor’s, he didn’t know it was Chummy who’d arrived. When he did know, he got the completely wrong end of the stick, shoved it under the atlas and sent us spinning.
Beta by the amazing Esbe. Check her out.
"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
‘Ex libris’ means ‘from the books of’.
Homosexuality was legal in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Archimedes, demonstrating the lever, said, ‘Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.’
Chapter 22: 22. Jeeves and the Spinning Atlas
Jeeves faces some consequences. His eyes are opened a bit by re-reading Bertie’s works. Dahlia ropes him in for some saving of the day.
With the innovations to the flat completed and the goods from the tailor aired and placed in the appropriate drawers and wardrobes, the only thing wanting was for the guv’nor to return. Although stubborn, he is also reasonable, and I had an excellent reason to call him back to the flat.
I exchanged pleasantries with Mrs Collins on the telephone and began to relay my message for Mr Wooster.
“Speak to him yourself, Mr Jeeves. He’s lunching here with the lawyer.” The guv’nor came on the line.
“Mr Jeeves.” He spoke carefully, constrained by his audience. I confess to a small thrill that I was free to speak as I chose whilst he was bound by convention.
“Bertram. I realise you are not at liberty to speak.”
“No. Not as such. Erm. A-ha! Mr Jeeves, when should Mrs Collins put in an order for those Spanish sausages you like?”
I could perfectly picture the meaningful dance of his eyebrows as he said it. The likelihood of the guv’nor packing sausages in the same valise as his clothes seemed high.
“No need to bring any. I’m sure we can find similar here in London.”
An uneasy silence held between us. Had I missed an appointment? The tailor, the wine merchant… I could see the back of my head and neck in the corner of the wall mirror. I felt a bit queasy. I turned to straighten the sofa cushions but the telephone cord had me tethered.
“It’s quite alright, Jeeves.” As the guv’nor spoke, I could hear another man’s voice very near the mouthpiece saying something that began with ‘Bertie, old bean’.
“It’s not bad, this shrimping wheeze. I’m afraid I don’t tan as well as you do. My shoulders are as speckled as a quail’s egg. Chummy’s worse, he looks like a boiled lobster. Tell me something, Jeeves.”
I heard myself whisper, “Sir?” Had the solicitor’s sent Francis ‘Chummy’ Cholmondeley? By calling me ‘Jeeves’ Mr Wooster was re-establishing my rôle as valet in our conversation. Of course, he must, he was being overheard and Mr Cholmondeley would be aware of my place.
“What’s the cream you recommend for sunburn? You got it after we were on the island with the swan, do you remember?”
I did remember. We had been in Woollam Chersey, visiting Agatha Craye, formerly Gregson, now Lady Worplesdon. That evening, Mr Wooster had soaked in an oatmeal bath in the clawfoot tub of the en suite. I’d carried in hot water several times, to maintain the correct temperature. Lavender oil added to the water had soothed his skin. After a gentle pat dry, he’d had an aspirin with cucumber water. A massage of olive oil across the worst of the burn was necessary for several days afterwards. I had let him sleep in Turkish bathrobes until I deemed we could dispense with the oil.
“Mr Cholmondeley can no doubt ask the pharmacist for a suitable cream, sir.” A few moments passed. He was waiting for the reason of my call. I coughed. “Shall I forward your correspondence, sir?”
“You won’t, um… You won’t bring it down with you? Please.”
“Do you require my services in Dorset?”
“Do I require? Require, Jeeves? Dash it! Look here, Reginald, you sent Chummy down here yourself.”
“Sir?” I said sharply.
“Don’t ‘sir’ me, they can't hear us now. They’ve stepped out to give eggshells to the roses, though what roses need with eggshells is anyone’s guess. Listen, as soon as the paperwork — ”
I held the receiver against my chest and thought for a moment.
“ — even listening? You bally well know — ”
“Sir, please telephone rather than telegraph when you choose to return to London. I believe it necessary to avoid the telegraph operator’s gossip.”
“I say, Jeeves! I — ”
I gently replaced the receiver in the cradle.
In Mr Wooster’s absence, his aunt, Mrs Dahlia Travers, had telegraphed from Brinkley Court requesting the presence of her nephew. Since we were presumably both in Dorset I had chosen not to communicate her summons to the guv’nor; however, reading between the lines, it was clear that she wasn’t after her nephew. I inferred that she required my particular skills.
A short telephone call later and she had invited me down on some pretext. She was more relieved than otherwise that I would not be distracted by what she termed “any detours into the young blot’s hellish abyss”.
The situation, which she called ‘the Yaxley problem’, was the simple matter of breaking up an engagement between Lord Yaxley and his intended. As Mr Wooster averages three engagements each season, my experience in such matters is rather extensive. I immediately discovered that the family Code precludes cornering the woman and offering them money. Dahlia Travers and Agatha Craye well knew that the problems created by the Code of the Woosters typically find their solution in my own lack of chivalry, wide and varied acquaintance, and willingness to subvert the stated goals of the participants to achieve a successful outcome.
I considered the consequences of a marriage between the current Lord Yaxley and his servant. I thought of my niece, Mabel. I even thought of myself.
Dahlia Travers was aware that I’d begun my last engagement in order to break off someone else’s. Indeed, after she mentioned it I was sure that everyone in the house was quite up-to-date on that. As that tale was already published in the Strand, I hardly minded.
The truth of the matter was that my former fiancée couldn’t very well turn down her employer and expect to keep her position. The sorts of fellows that need a Code never have one. She married him anyway, silly woman. Some people won’t be helped. Weeks it took, and all for nought.
I felt a twinge of anger over Mr Wooster, paddling about with Mr Cholmondeley in Dorset as I added reinforced bedposts to the master bed and fitted heavier doors in his flat. I would not allow Mr Cholmondeley’s ambitions to interfere with my efforts.
Mrs Travers continued, “Can you imagine her an inmate here? Not that I begrudge her Anatole’s cooking or the Blue Room. I just couldn’t look Seppings in the eye if I asked him to serve her at the table.”
“Have you met Lord Yaxley’s fiancée, madam?”
“Well, yes, I suppose I have. Not that I remember. I couldn’t have known.”
“Whereas she would remember. She knows you all, and yet she persists in her engagement, madam.”
“Look here, Jeeves. I mean this. Yaxley cannot be allowed to marry that girl. It is for Bertie that I am doing this. His only job is to be the next in line. If he seems only half-baked it’s because he’s not done cooking.”
I gave her my calmest gaze as I loosened my hands, fighting the sudden urge to throttle her thick neck.
“I will give the situation the attention it requires, madam.”
As I entered the flat in my street clothes, I half-hoped to encounter the guv’nor curled up on the chaise with a novel. It’d be a change up for us to see each other unexpectedly and at our ease. A quick glance at the hallstand and I knew I was alone. I put together a hot toddy and prepared for sleep.
Mr Wooster would have had his clothes sent out to be laundered by now. I wondered if he had returned them to the wardrobe himself. Mrs Collins might have done for him whilst I was away, but it was unlikely that she’d do for both Mr Wooster and Mr Cholmondeley. Perhaps she wasn’t easily shocked. Did Dorset see a lot of sailors in the war?
The last hour. Of my day, not his. I’d have had him tucked in by now. No need tonight to tidy the flat. No need to cast a final glance around his room. I rinsed my glass in the kitchen and returned to my room via the hallway. It seemed to me as if the sitting room, dining room and master bedroom winked out of existence in the absence of their owner.
As a page, I had been tall and slim and in calf-baring breeches. My cheeks were pinched by the ladies and the cook generally saved me something from the table. As a footman, I wore a cut-away coat that revealed my waist. I was rather more in danger of pinches and I found that a grand old estate offered many opportunities to further my private education. The comings and goings of the staff and guests had taught me to hold my friendships lightly. In due course, I thought I’d marry the prettiest ladies’ maid and train to be butler.
Instead, the ravages of time, a yearning for travel, and a growing fear for my reputation found me in London. As a valet, I made myself indispensable. Half sick of the shadow of love that began to colour my normal duties, I truly felt that the curse had come upon me. For me, fondness turned to passion, for him, admiration became unthinking reliance.
In the beginning, the wonder in his admittedly large blue eyes was flattering. The generous tips were helpful in hastening my planned retirement. As the months became years, I found that I purposely placed Mr Wooster in increasingly bizarre situations and devised ever more convoluted solutions to his perceived problems, with the express intent to command him and then fill him with relief and joy.
And in this last hour, it was agonizingly clear what particular kind of relief and joy I wanted to bring him. Although I had contrived to find a way, I felt sick to realise that what I wanted, a balance of physical needs, was at odds with the elegance and charm of our life together. I needed something altogether cosier, darker, and deeper. Past class, past occupation, past gender, beyond all of this and yet of it: we were poised outside of time in a kind of unchanging Gilded Age fantasy. To write of our love, God had passed the pen to Evelyn Waugh, and he’d passed it round to a few of his French friends before handing it back.
Our games were no longer to be played at Brinkley Court, Totleigh Towers or some other great house. The rooms on the other side of the hallway at Berkeley Gardens had been altered to a perverse purpose.
I dreamt that night of my Bertram slathering sun lotion on Mr Cholmondeley as I looked on, and I awoke in my bed furious and ashamed.
That day, I made an entry for Mr Cholmondeley in the club book at the Junior Ganymede. I wrote, ‘Useful.’ Just as I locked the binding, Adams clapped me on the shoulder.
“Jeeves, you ugly dog. How’s your gentleman?”
“He has recovered, Adams. Thank you for sending him in a cab, I would have worried if he’d walked back with that fever.”
“Ah. We thought him a lovesick puppy, not actually ill. Forgive me, Jeeves. I don’t know him like you do.” He mistook the look I gave him, and continued, “Neither does Waterfield, not really. Not at all, anymore.”
My anger melted a bit. Adams is quite charming. He has to be, with that face.
“He signed one of his books for us. Have you read ’em? Course you have. Put him out of his misery, Jeeves! Love him or leave him, eh? He’s too pretty to find around my rooms again. Ha, ha! Take a joke, man!”
“In answer to your question, Adams, I have read them all.”
“Let me tell you, Jeeves, we’ve read them, every one. That you let him write it all down all these years, with your own names! If what every one thinks hasn’t landed you two years at Her Majesty’s pleasure by now, then times have certainly changed. It’s meant a lot, to Waterfield and I.” He pulled on his short beard and frowned at his shoes.
“You must enjoy the time to read, Adams.”
“We don’t just stay in. Times have changed. We’ve enjoyed the symphony season this year. It were grand to see Eddie out on the town.” He smote me again on the back and crossed his arms, pushing his hands up under his armpits. He had thought the better of embracing me, it seemed. Demonstrative fellow.
‘Ancestors at Agincourt’ ran through my mind as I made my way to the lobby. I made a mental note to re-read Mr Wooster’s books as I collected my coat.
Sally Dawson, Lord Yaxley’s fiancée, turned out to be a quiet girl. She was very young. She met me in the kitchen, and the cook bustled about as we sipped our tea. I tried to imagine her of an evening with Lord Yaxley, listening to the wireless. He shambled in at one point, dropping a kiss on her head as he took a bun from the table and stepped outside with it. She smiled up at him fondly, clasping his hand on her shoulder until he moved away.
At that, I abandoned the idea that a romance would distract her from her ambitions. His tenderness in that brief moment revealed a deeper connection than one motivated by passion or fortune.
I counselled Mrs Travers to contact her solicitors and ask specifically for Mr Cholmondeley to come ’round to write up a prenuptial contract. We could prove against ambition if she agreed, and possibly tempt her away in the bargain with a young man nearer her own age.
I began to re-read Mr Wooster’s books, starting with Extricating Young Gussie. Some of the deftness of phrase I recalled from the drafts had fallen by the pen of the editor. Or had the change in our relations coloured my perception of the past? Had Adams’ words predisposed me to see depravity wearing comedy’s cloak? They read as tales of battle, where the intrepid David seeks to remain at his Jonathon’s side despite the beazels, aunts, and valet-poachers in his path, or tales of horror, where the innocent is waylaid by supernaturally lovely mermaids on his journey to his one true love.
Yet as I read them, either I became better acquainted both with the fictional Wooster and his fictional man or my guv’nor became a better writer with the years. His Wooster was merrier and sillier than mine, and completely unaware of his handsomeness. His man was physically attractive, omniscient and ever calm. If only!
“Madam, you have engaged Mr Cholmondeley to write the prenuptial agreement?”
“Do you really believe she’ll leg it when she sees the contract?”
“We will have removed the motive of financial gain, madam. The social position, however, still remains, as does financial security during the marriage.”
“Social position, my foot, Jeeves! She won’t be invited into any drawing room I can think of. And Yaxley is eighty. How long of a marriage will it be?” She kicked over an antique chair as she spoke. I righted it.
“Does Lord Yaxley get invitations, madam?”
“Shocking, is what it is. People will talk.”
“He has never visited any of the houses Mr Wooster and I have stayed in, and we have never visited the Yaxley estate, madam.”
“There isn’t one. They live in Kensington.”
The source of Mr Wooster’s income is investments, therefore I should have guessed that there was no estate. The Yaxley estate must have been sold before the crash, or there wouldn’t be any money to speak of.
“And if, madam, the girl in question provides an heir to the title?”
The vocabulary, audible in the kitchen, garden and perhaps the stables, was colourful enough that I was sure to hear it repeated by everyone from the boot-boy to the butler. I silently alphabetised the names of Louis Armstrong’s first and second Hot Five, until her ladyship moved onto a new topic.
“You’d better have it right, Jeeves. He’d have to marry her, then. Absolutely not in the Code to do otherwise. Of course, Bertie will be sick about it.”
A singular pain cramped my side. Yaxley would marry an expectant Miss Dawson, and Bertram Wooster might be second in line to inherit the title Lord Yaxley. Give it a few years; he might be third or fourth.
Mr Wooster has never been engaged to anyone after his money rather than his title. Not a single chorus girl, no waitresses. I thought his Code had rendered the lower classes invisible to him at first.
Without the threat of a title, he would be just another man in London. We’d bid adieu to the delicate balance between societal expectations and our private appetites. Goodbye to all that. Just two blokes in Dorset. Closed doors. No one’s business.
I had never met Mr Cholmondeley, but he was young, of a wide and varied social circle, and obviously free in his movements. A perfect deputy. Miss Dawson might have been in a family way already: she was certainly affectionate enough with her master for it to seem possible. If not, I wanted discover how easily persuaded she could be to become so. Mr Cholmondeley obviously didn’t mind being served seconds. She would realise that an heir would remove all arguments against a wedding. I hated myself a little bit for the sordidness of the matter. I always do find a way.
“Madam, I believe I have a solution. Mr Cholmondeley’s prenuptial contract will tell us if Miss Dawson can be persuaded by money. If she cannot, then perhaps we can deduce a happy announcement before the wedding. Of course, sometimes weddings are called off at the altar.”
“You wouldn’t leave it that late, surely, Jeeves?” Aunt Dahlia came as close to a whisper in her horror as I’ve ever heard her. It reminded me of shrill hiss of steam leaking from a car radiator.
Tempting; however, she was right. I wouldn’t leave it that late, if the contract didn’t dissuade her and she wasn’t already expecting. Dahlia wanted the engagement broken, and I wanted an heir between Bertie and a lordship. It was going to be tricky, but I would find a way.
An heir would remove family objections to the wedding. An heir would render Bertram Wooster, Esq., unremarkable in everything but blue eyes and deep pockets. For all of Agatha Craye’s machinations, Bertram Wooster was about to become a garden-variety Drone.
The Code was good for something, after all. If it was vicious to deprive the guv’nor of his inheritance and title, at least he’d never begrudge it. He was already rich.
This was my first ever fic. I would have done things differently if I'd plotted it out from the beginning. So many rookie mistakes! I think they take a bath 3 times in one day, and Jeeves just takes off to avoid confrontations too many times. Two or three times, for sure. I learned a lot from comments and from my excellent beta from Esbe. Any errors that remain are my own. Please comment. I read the comments even after I orphan my fics. I'll put links to my other orphaned works when I finish this one.
“‘The curse is come upon me,’ cried/The Lady of Shalott.” The Lady of Shallot, Tenneyson.
Chapter 23: 23. Wrong End Of The Stick
Bertie starts writing another book to take his mind off Jeeves.
When Jeeves is wrong, he’s not just a smidge off the straight. Not a bit like it, by Jove. When he is wrong, I’ll have you know, my man Jeeves launches off on a tangent like a clay pidgeon from a particularly creative and marginally unsafe station on the course.
Do you know what I never told him? I never told him that I missed him. All that time that I was in Dorset, Chummy would tell me of the milk-fed girls of the town, and I would show him the shrimp I caught. Mrs Collins would pot them. All that time, I missed him.
In the dead of the night, I’d sometimes listen closely in the dark to the noises one always encounters in the country. Was the old bungalow seizing up in the chill, or were country-fattened mice holding sporting events? Beams creaking, mice squeaking, hard to say, what? It would never be Jeeves, tiptoe-ing along the corridor, because Jeeves tends to materialise or manifest — if he takes any time at all he wafts — but as I fell into sleep, I always dreamed that Jeeves had come back to me.
But there wasn’t any point in dreaming, was there? All the shouting down the receiver in the world wouldn’t bring Jeeves back down to Dorset. Soon enough, even Chummy was off, mumbling about something to do with my aunt Dahlia. Not that I had cared to listen. My heart wasn’t in it. Once or twice when I thought Jeeves was on the line, the cardio-whatsit shuddered and turned over like a motor lacking oomph. It was never him.
After one too many mornings waiting at the window like Sister Ann, I thought I’d write another book. It’d been an age since Jeeves had fished me out of the bouillon but there were always the myriad minor scrapes that seem to perpetually threaten to put Drones into either the gaol’s broad arrow, matrimony’s morning coat or the city suit and tie of honest labour. Of course I’d also be writing about the sleights of hand wrought by the inimitable Jeeves to put them back into circulation again.
At last, when the old Wooster blood would no longer let me lie about suffering a sea-change for my own valet, I said my farewell to the lonely cottage and Mrs Collins and made my way back to the environs of the metrop. This mountain would indeed go to Mohammed. I worked up a few good opening lines to confront Jeeves with as I was coming up on the train, but he wasn’t at the flat when I arrived. He wasn’t at the flat by tea-time either. I had the Wotton’s maid from next door make up a tray. I didn’t like her to serve my shrimp, though. I was saving it for Jeeves.
In my flat, that first morning after Dorset, I listened for a discreet cough as I waited cosily and patiently in my bed for my tea. I gave that up for a bad job by luncheon and dressed myself. I couldn’t find anything particularly cheery in my wardrobe so I set out for Saville Row and veered off at the last minute to a place that boasted so loud a check in the front window that from a distance the window appeared barred.
When I returned, the doorman asked if he should bring up the papers whilst Jeeves was away.
After a day I decided that I definitely could and would write another book about Jeeves and the Drones. From thence, my mornings started, after a two-minute hope and a drizzle of disappointment, with good old drinks and smokes, the ‘breakfast of the champions’ as they say in the colonies.
There was a dashed odd sort of rug in the sitting room, the type of thing old colonels like to bring back from Africa. It hadn’t been there earlier and given Jeeves’s absence I did the gentlemanly thing and introduced myself. I called him Tom and propped him up over the chair facing mine at the table. We’d chat a bit as I went through the notes and papers laid out for my book. However, Tiger Tom was no Jeeves in this or any other fashion. Indeed, no shawl draped itself over my slender shoulders and no logs burst merrily into flames when the cold darkness began to gather around me.
“I say, Jeeves?” I shouted a few dozen times towards the kitchen, but then the words died on my lips. Damn it all. Jeeves, being absent… his methods were rough. On his campaigns, I’ve bicycled eighteen miles in the dark and wet, been in gaol countless times, hidden in any number of tonneaus and wardrobes, dived under several dozen tables and behind a score of sofas. Rough, as I said. Lacking a certain je ne sais quoi, and Jeeves not present to proffer a pithy aphorism in Latin.
If Jeeves has a fault, it is his asceticism. He dips a toe in all that my life affords, without actually submerging. He’s happy enough with silk socks, as long as the shins he’s sliding them onto belong to Wooster, B. Now he’s off finding Victorian animal skins to relieve the young master upon. Dashed silly I’ll look, laid out like a harem tenant. I perched my dullest hat on Tom’s dome. It suited his personality.
But I wasn’t only missing my man, my valet. I missed the tie that binds us. The personal feeling Jeeves has spoken of, the thingness that seems to coil around our ankles and tether us to adjacent bedrooms whether in London or New York, this thingness that was strained to the breaking point by social convention at Brinkley or Aunt Agatha’s in Hertfordshire — it had begun as a delightful hum reverberating through the flat whenever Jeeves was home and had since soared into song whenever his hands lie upon the old corpus. Well, in the flat, that thingness had gone missing where one would have least expected it. We’d got it back a bit in Dorset, but now it was missing again. It was missing, and you can add ‘in bed’ to that without humour. It was missing in bed, and that means exactly what you think it means. Missing in the flat. Missing on the phone. Missing.
The brooding Jeeves who’d grasped my shapely calf and uttered alluring words in my bedroom, that one was missing. The trembly, dear Jeeves who cried into my shoulder in our holiday cabin — he was yearned for, but alas, he was nowhere to be found. The incomparable Jeeves who relentlessly curates my clothing, endlessly polishes and dusts, and ceaselessly fishes the y. m. out of the soup, that Jeeves is the one who ignites a blazing pash in the Wooster bosom. He’d gone.
Even the cold and bitter Jeeves who solemnly clasped my head at the piano bench as I took the little he would give me, even that blasted one was missing. In fact, that one was not only missing but also making a right ass of himself leaving tiger skins lying around at the flat.
As I spent the hours mapping my next treatise on my favourite vintage of the Jeevesian inebriant I had a bit of an epi-whatsit. I wanted Jeeves to offer himself with all the ease, charm and naturalness with which he proffered Spanish sausages at Mrs Collins’s dinner table. I didn’t want footsies under the table, although that had been what I was angling for at the time.
What with running off to the seaside and sharing a bed, I’d have thought that buying the house from Mrs Collins for Jeeves would teach the Duke of Windsor a thing or two about romance. The snag was that Jeeves was still a bit prickly. I wanted him unprickly. Sheathe the knives, old chap, fold the balisongs, I wanted to tell him. Take my hand in the dark, gather me in your arms and carry me in your bosom. For those in a similar state of mind, speaking these words into a mirror makes one feel a complete ass. Skip it. Practicing in the bath, pref. to a yellow duckie, gives superior results.
Those days, I got into the habit of sleeping in Jeeves’ bed. You see, I thought that way if he came in very late, I’d be bound to see him straight off. I wouldn’t have to wake and wonder.
Also, I had snubbed my toe against my bedpost five straight days since I’d returned from the coast. Jeeves had moved my bed further into the room at precisely the increment to trick the eye and cause the foot to strike the post with the force for footer and the aim for snooker.
I couldn’t move the bed back on my own, but I preferred the bare bulbs to the red lampshades. I had immediately removed the shades the very first night. Red lights — my bed — his employment — dash it all, what was the man implying? A dagger in the heart would have been friendlier. I suppose you learn the time-tested, blokey pranks away at school. Not that we had any pranks for the ‘fellow-you’re-in-love-with-who-writes-out-your-pay’. The closest we had was nearer the reverse. We’d assign the fags to impossible errands like finding the blue ‘captain’ cricket ball or asking nurse for the sit-on thermometer.
There were other things that he’d changed around the flat.
The dressing gown I found hanging off the hook near the bath was cut in such a way that even my storky frame seemed to gain billows and oomph. The satin sheets on my bed felt cool and slippery rather than smooth and silky. I ended up in Jeeves’ room wrapped in his flannel bathrobe and tucked between his cotton sheets. The round-tipped scissors in the right pocket of his robe gave me a manly chuckle. No one’s eyebrows are that perfect by nature’s hand alone. I thought of Jeeves gamely triming his nose-hairs by the glass and wondered if he preened for me.
He couldn’t possibly. He wouldn’t. He’d hung up the ’phone, gone off without a word.
Mrs Willkins, that’s the Wotton’s maid who brought me my tea, began leaving boiled eggs and cold meats in the cooler. With that, the fruit bowl and my tea, I hardly noticed Jeeves was gone. Hardly. I lunched each day with the Drones to ladle up verisimilitude for my stories and dodge dinner rolls.
It had hardly been a month when I received an anonymous letter from Chummy about old Yaxley. My uncle, it seemed, had changed his will. I knew it to be from Chummy because he was the only one at my solicitor’s who’d be daft enough to start a letter with ‘Bertie, old thing’.
It was good news, indeed the best of news, but I’d no one to share it with.
“Old Yaxley’s gathered his orange blossom, Tom,” I told my new companion over our beaker of the warm south.
Tom was listing to port, so I straightened him. As he slid off the starboard side, I lunged for him. I
meant to put him back on the chair back properly, but instead I surprised myself by grabbing his hat, leaping up and running out the door. The two-seater makes it to Brinkley as fast as the train, and I didn’t want to bother with tickets and timetables.
How could I have ever doubted Jeeves? He always comes through in the end. I’d wear a boring hat for him. I’d wear the gold hat for him, and bounce for him too.
Jeeves’ absence had to have a perfectly good explanation, because Chummy’s letter was postmarked Market Snodsbury.
Beta’d by Esbe, then I added all the errors in afterwards.
Bunny says he’s tired of waiting at the window for Raffles like ‘Sister Ann’ in Hornung’s Wilful Murder. Rafflesredux.com says it comes from the story of Bluebeard. British audiences would recognise the reference from panto, where Sister Ann is traditionally played by a man in drag.
‘Sea-change’ is an idiom, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:
"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
‘If the mountain won't come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain’ is a rephrasing of a translation of a purported proverb, in Francis Bacon’s Essays, 1625. It is not actually a proverb, and does not refer to any events in history or Islamic literature.
‘Je ne sais quoi’, literally ‘I don’t know what’, means a certain ineffable something.
Chapter 24: 24. A Mile in Sepping’s Shoes
Mr Seppings, the Travers’ butler, had taken advantage of my presence to take his annual week, and I had persuaded the under butler to see a good dentist up in London. Stepping into the vacancy I had created, I embarked on an inventory of the wine collection. An orderly pastime makes an orderly mind.
I was five barrels deep in an alcove of the Travers’ cellar, deciphering labels from wines laid down by butlers past, when Mr Cholmondely halloo-ed down the cellar staircase. He eventually found me. If he’d acquired any colour in Dorset, he’d since lost it. He hung onto the stones of the archway and peered in, filling in the narrow entrance with his shoulders. He looked for all the world like a gargoyle in its niche.
“I say, Jeeves, you’re a hard one to find. Mind if I bend your ear for a tic? Wooster says you’re the one to untangle the knots of family, eh, what?”
“Perhaps after the evening meal, sir. The task at hand — ”
“It’s Sally. It’s about the contract I’m drawing up. She says she has her own! She won’t look at mine, or show me hers. And I can’t get Mrs Travers to understand that it’s between Sally and Yaxley. It’s between them, the concerned parties. You can understand that, can’t you Jeeves?”
“Sally won’t show you hers?”
“I — what?”
“Her contract, sir?”
“Right. I um, I asked to look it over, as a favour you know.”
“Has Miss Dawson accepted your favours, sir?”
His mouth hung open a moment, and then he drew himself up.
“What I’m saying is, that she won’t have anything to do with the contracts.”
“Well, sir, if I might make a suggestion, take the adjacent seat to her at the whist table. You see, she is quite the paradox: unlike the educated ladies of your acquaintance, she is unused to male conversation yet well accustomed to male attention.”
He met my gaze a minute.
I thought he would leave, ruling him out as a potential progenitor of a future Lord Yaxley. Or perhaps he would laugh, since we were men discussing a woman not present, ruling himself in. Or perhaps he would simply ask me to do his work for him. It would be easy enough to procure a copy of Miss Dawson’s contract and persuade her to sign the contract he had drawn. Or perhaps I would do Lord Yaxley’s work for him, and knock Bertie out of succession. Myriad avenues of approach immediately sprang to mind. He relaxed against the stones of the archway.
“Jeeves, Wooster spoke of you a great deal to me, in Dorset.”
Standing immobile in silence is such a part of my job that I reacted not at all.
“I’m not half bad at lawyering,” he continued. “I do all my firm’s pro bono hours for girls just like Sally and men just like you.”
I waited. If he wanted to prevail on my better nature or to prove his own, we would be waiting a long time. After a bit of silence, he came to the point.
“Look it, Mrs Travers says you’re in this up to your neck. I need half an hour with the head housekeeper and Sally, or else Cook and Sally. You set it up for the kitchen garden. It’ll only take ten minutes to lay out why she should have a lawyer for Yaxley read over her contract, regardless of what Yaxley says. You might need to stay for propriety’s sake, so have the time free. And as you’re butler, I’ll leave this here.”
He came forward and slapped a fiver down on the barrel nearest me, and stuck his hand out.
“Family interests are opposed to Miss Dawson’s,” I said.
“And a good contract protects all parties. Shake on it?”
I shook his hand. He looked for a moment as if he’d clap me on the shoulder, but instead he made it into an awkward wave and ducked back up the stairs.
The next day I sent Miss Dawson and Mr Cholmondeley ahead of us in the kitchen garden with a basket, shears, and instructions to cut mint for preserves. Cook and I, meanwhile, were choosing edible flowers for an amusing salad for upstairs. We indulge M. Anatole, for although he grumbles at the simple fare Cook serves downstairs, he loves to remake our favourite dishes for us when time allows. Lately he goes for ridiculous sizes: enormous shepherd pies with geometric patterns in peas across the top, or scotch eggs made from quail’s eggs. Today he had pulled down his cheeks and groaned at Cook’s cold tongue and doorstep dinner in the servant’s hall, then offered the downstairs a bone marrow stew and baguette supper in exchange for anything bright we could find him from the borders of the lettuce beds.
Ten minutes in the garden passed uneventfully. Apparently Sally Dawson found Mr Cholmondely about as alluring as I did, which is to say, not at all. He was the type to stoke fires, fetch footstools, or find an extra cushion. At the moment he was holding a parasol over Miss Dawson, whose patient eyes were blinking with wry amusement. I pictured him a Rover scout, diligently sewing an apple-polishing badge onto a sash. Mr Cholmondeley had just put the handle of the parasol into the crook of his elbow in order to earnestly put his palms together whilst declaiming the wonders of legal protections when Miss Dawson’s eye caught mine and I almost smiled. Clearly, Miss Dawson’s soul remained unawakened by Mr Cholmondeley. How his reddened shoulders had stimulated the guv’nor to visit the Lyme Regis chemist’s I refused to speculate.
I left Cook to find whatever else was needed and took the flowers in to M. Anatole.
A few days later found me, in my official capacity as butler, pouring out sherries in the butler’s pantry for Lord Yaxley and the head gardener. We were toasting the complete absence of women. Sally belonging to both upstairs and downstairs, we’d lost everyone in a skirt to the admiration of trousseau and dresses, just arrived from Paris. At the sight of a half dozen boxes with French labels, Anatole had gone too, to translate. To be agreeable, I sent up the handsomest footman balancing a tray of Pimm’s cups and a basket of finger sandwiches.
We sipped our sherries in dull and companionable silence. After a time, the gardener set his sherry glass down gently. He stood and sniffed, and then replacing his cap, he left us with a mumbled, “Ta ra”.
Lord Yaxley stood next. “Good girl, my Sally.”
“I’m grateful to you, Jeeves. Lawyer chap says you talked her around on the contract. She’ll have a lot of life ahead of her, when I’m gone.”
The wedding was soon enough that I began to wonder when the guv’nor would arrive and what nonsense he might be wearing. Was Mr Wooster to be out of the line or not?
If Mr Wooster were without a title or an estate, we could be part of a more modern world.
Thank you, Esbe, for the super swift beta!
And thank you, you who are reading along. It's been bad weather for many of us since November 2016. May our creativity fill the world with enough stories, pictures, songs and poems until life overflows with happiness.
Chapter 25: 25. Behind the Sofa
Bertie has come to Brinkley Court for his man.
I drove straight past the house and headed for the garage, meaning to leave the two-seater and enter via the tradesmen’s door, and from there directly into Jeeves’ domain. This plan was instantly doused as I came across McIntosh pulling ineffectually on a lead, attached to fellow too young to smoke who was quietly doing nothing with a girl too young to wait at the table. I tucked a bouquet I had brought along under my arm — you know, a dozen roses is never as large a bouquet as you would guess — and flicked open my cigarette case.
“Lady Worplesdon?” I asked casually. A couple of thorns, omens of aunts ahead, were pricking my elbow through my jacket.
The girl giggled, and the page gently freed a gasper. McIntosh milled about on the bounds of his leash.
“Go on, both you, I’ve got more than just these. You can swap them for all kinds of things.” At Brinkley Court, almost all the below-stairs would know they were from me, for ‘wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.’ Cigarettes are better than money in a closed system like school or gaol, and the ones not in uniform almost never get the chance for tips.
“She’s being let in by Mister Jeeves, most like,” offered the boy. The girl had the goods: “She’ll be shown through to ma’am’s first sitting room.”
I wended my way in through the downstairs to the main floor, greeting the familiar faces, but Jeeves and aunts had not yet reached the sitting room door. The sitting room was absolutely sans Aunts Agatha and Dahlia. As I turned to go and wait it out in the temporary lair of Jeeves, a faint haranguing on the air activated the muscle memories from childhood. Gazelles would weep and goats gnash their teeth to see me as I sprang behind the settee in a single, elegant bound.
I hadn’t purchased a vine-festooned cottage, pined whilst potting shrimp, written a decent-ish rough draft of yet another ode to Jeeves, shared a morose decanter or three of wine with a stuffed and striped Bengal tiger named Tom, nor driven self and roses (1 doz., red) up to Worcestershire singing, well it doesn’t matter what I was singing — I didn’t do all this to endure aunts.
“Jeeves! I should have known you’d bring Jeeves here, Dahlia. You can send him right back to London. Yaxley is marrying that girl or you’ll tell me why not.”
“Why not! Why not!” Aunt Dahlia’s words reverberated and even a solitary child such as myself (my sister being much older) could tell that she’d had a lifetime’s experience goading Lady Worplesdon.
“Oh, stop your nonsense, Dahlia!”
A quiet cough silenced them. Jeeves’ cough has that effect on those who are unaccustomed. I quelled the urge to stand and hurl the bouquet at his head. Damn the chap, how I’d missed him, and now I didn’t dare try to sneak a peep at him.
“Mr Cholmondeley,” Jeeves announced.
“Stay, Jeeves,” boomed Aunt Dahlia.
“This is family business!” thundered Aunt Agatha.
“Oh, um, I won’t be discussing the details of the contract, ma’am,” The crackle of Chummy stiffening his spine was audible in his voice.
“I beg your pardon, Lady Worplesdon. If I may disclose — ” began Jeeves.
It was a complete set of my angels and demons, if you take Chummy as a stand-in for the Drones. Actually they’re more like unruly cherubim, the Drones.
“Damn and blast, I won’t see the young blot wiped off the escutcheon! Why can’t Sally be left an annuity in George’s will, like any other nurse?”
Me, wiped? I wasn’t in any position to ask for clarification, crouched down as I was.
“Dahlia, do be quiet. Georgie’s left no other way.”
“Um — Being of sound mind and body, Miss Sally Dawson and Sir George Wooster — ”
Aunt Dahlia snorted, although I admit I fished around a bit before I landed on ‘snorted’. There isn’t a word that quite captures the volume and intensity of the action — as I say, she snorted, and she did so violently. Also pointlessly, as it happens, for they were all immune: Aunt Agatha from birth, Jeeves from frequency of contact, and Chummy by the breastplate of righteousness. Aunt Dahlia drew a deep breath to shout. Aunt Agatha cut her off.
“Tottie,” she said, with the air of someone laying down a royal flush. Aunt Dahlia threw herself onto the settee, knocking me off my heels. Chummy gasped.
“Can we accord Miss Dawson the respect — Look, the banns have been read but I’ll drive them to Gretna Green myself if, if…” He trailed off, quailing no doubt at whatever fearsome faces my aunts were pulling. He lacks the Wooster fortitude.
“I believe Lady Worplesdon is referring to Miss Charlotte Miller, sir,” explained Jeeves.
“Right. I don’t know who that is.” Chummy mightn’t, but I did. She was a ghost of engagements past — not mine, Uncle Percy’s.
“I understand that the family looks forward to a happy occasion, sir,” explained Jeeves, and I heard their voices become muffled as the door shut behind them.
The Code of the Woosters has forged and sundered unions since well before yours truly, though it has paid me particular attention in the last decade. In the previous century, Percival Craye, then engaged to my Aunt Agatha, had been ejected from a fancy dress ball in the company of a barmaid named Charlotte ‘Tottie’ Miller. Aunt Agatha thought Percival should make an honest woman of Miller and broke off the engagement. As Florence Craye’s mother is not named Charlotte Miller, perhaps time revealed that honesty wasn’t required. But if Aunt Agatha thought it was required now, well. She’d always referred to Jeeves as my keeper, keeping me from marrying. Her idea of a joke, you see. What if he got to keep me after all?
Aunt Dahlia’s comments became as clear to me as a pane of glass in re: Bertram, ‘wiped’. She needn’t have put in her grain of salt. It was kind of her to mind my place in the queue for oof and title; however, I have piles of my own and ‘Mister’ is the only title I require.
Though, surely this spectre of Uncle George’s past boded some strange eruption to our state.
All errors are mine.
A millions thanks to Esbe, who did a super speedy turnaround on beta!
‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.’ Matt 7:20. Bertie did win a scripture prize, after all!
‘Hung about with trellised vine’ is from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.
‘In re’ means ‘with regard to’ in legal jargon.
‘Some strange eruption to our state’ is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Chapter 26: 26. Meow Meow Meow
Jeeves underestimated the Wooster Clan.
In the end, I did not enlighten Mr Cholmondeley in too fine of detail; however I did convey the important information with broad brushstrokes. Lord Yaxley must have confronted Lady Worplesdon with the fait accompli.
“To a lovely wedding, and to a happy announcement.”
For all their differences, Agatha Craye and Bertram Wooster both stubbornly adhere to the Code of the Woosters. The Lady Worplesdon, as Agatha Wooster, had owed nothing to a careless barmaid, yet she threw over Percy Craye without a moment’s pause when she thought he would leave the girl in the lurch. She broke her own heart, and then she went on to break Lord Yaxley’s heart over his own salad-days barmaid, and she’s gone on breaking hearts or making marriages as she deems just ever since.
I served us another pair of sherries. My resourcefulness and tact extend to whatever actions are necessary. I am reminded, as Mr Wooster has written to quite amusing effect, of a prior engagement of mine that removed the object of a Wooster’s affections without too much difficulty to him or myself. But as I toasted Sally and Lord Yaxley with Mr Cholmondeley, I was relieved that someone had already provided the necessary material for the guv’nor’s title to have half a chance of going to someone other than my Mr Wooster. It would only take a few months to find out. It was always difficult to keep Mr Wooster undesirable to others, but I could manage a few months more. His personal charm and his current income were enough to attract matrimonial attentions, but the removal of a potential inheritance and an ancient title would go a long way. My rumination was cut short by Mr Cholmondely.
“I say, Jeeves, do you know if Bertie is coming for the wedding? Only no one’s really coming, are they? I mean, especially not now.”
I had the uneasy presentiment that Mr Cholmondeley had been secretly communicating with the guv’nor. This was confirmed at that exact moment by the ‘shave and haircut, two bits’ that Mr Wooster had regrettably picked up on one of our trips to New York.
“Jeeves!” He was struck by a sudden coughing fit upon perceiving Mr Cholmondeley.
“No don’t get up — ah, a-hem — Chummy,” said the master as he swung my sherry from the tray and shot it down his throat.
“What ho, Bertie!”
“What ho! A wedding, eh? I didn’t pack the soup and fish, but, er?”
“Is it? Yes — shall we sit? Were you sitting? I was just — Chummy, is that my tie?”
It was most emphatically not. The material was inferior and the colour bilious. I excused myself. I had to squeeze out through Mr Wooster’s (I still refused to call him Bertie) heavy gaze and past his impossible legs. A butler has interminable duties and I would have been remiss not to alert M. Anatole to another place at the table. I stoically resisted the urge to reorder the guv’nor’s wardrobe until after the post-dinner brandy was sent into the smoking room.
The guv’nor rose from his seat when I entered his room, but came no closer. He did sway a bit. I glanced at the sideboard but the brandy was untouched.
“Jeeves.” His voiced sounded strained. He was clearly in the grip of a strong emotion.
I caught myself before I began to persuade him into his nightwear. My eyes alighted on his tie and I remembered Mr Cholmondeley. I stiffened my resolve.
“Jeeves, it’s the last hour.”
“Indeed, sir. I see that Jacobs has your room in order.” I meant to step back, but Jacobs had left the curtains open and had forgotten to turn back the bedcover. The guv’nor observed me silently as I tended his room.
“Do you — do you never wonder where Claude and Eustace are?”
“I understood, sir, that they are in South America.” The guv’nor was being tiresomely indirect.
“They are. No, they absolutely are. But not this whole time. I mean, not the whole time since you saw them last. For Uncle Tom and Aunt Dahlia’s silver jubilee, everyone was there. Even my sister.”
The beginnings of a headache throbbed at my temple. I made a list of interested parties in my mind: Lord Yaxley, Mr Cholmondeley, and Lady Worplesdon for Miss Dawson’s reputation and future, Mrs Travers and myself, in our own ways, for Mr Wooster.
“Sir, the silver jubilee was during my annual holiday. You purchased a soft-bosomed shirt for the occasion.”
“Yes, yes, I know you know. It was you that sabotaged that shirt. It’s a dead cert that you bribed Seppings into spilling the only glass I’ve ever known him to — Nevermind the soft-bosomed shirt! Red herring. No, I mean to tell you that Claude and Eustace were here. They came up from London with Uncle George and his nurse, Miss Dawson.”
“I see. Claude or Eustace, sir?”
“Claude and Eustace, Jeeves. They’re identical, so we won’t be able to tell, and they do everything together, so they can’t say.”
The guv’nor seemed unaware of the slight against his future aunt. I mentally added Miss Dawson, Bertram Wooster, and Messers Claude or Eustace Wooster as apparently for themselves, or for the potential future Wooster, to my list of interested parties.
I have spoken to you of my disdain for the Wooster Code. Nevertheless, the Code works admirably well when seen as a machine for propriety rather than a vessel for personal happiness.
“So that’s you off the hook, Jeeves. I mean, if you were going to get engaged again. To prevent Uncle George from doing so.”
“I have always acted from the best motives, sir.”
“Bally rot, Jeeves,” he cried, and jammed his hands in his pockets. “You’re here to break up the engagement.”
“That is what Mrs Travers has asked, sir. In fact, many paths of action presented themselves as solutions to the present dilemma. Sir, I must inform you that unless drastic measures are undertaken, you may never inherit your title. Your antipathy towards marriage, your apathy for the female — ”
“Less of it, Jeeves.”
I was tempted to tell him that although Dahlia Travers and I both wished the best for Bertram Wooster, Esq., my vision of Bertie, sun-soaked and untethered, was coming along to careful fruition. Until I knew his reaction to losing the title, I couldn’t reveal my part in it.
“Sir, your Aunt Dahlia believes it is your duty to carry on the family name.”
“If you mean my duty to live with someone, and take care of them, and take them places, and give them things, and tolerate a frankly staggering range of fabrics in the home furnishings — I fulfill my duty. I fulfill it to the giddy limit.” His eyes were so large, and so blue, and so certain.
“Sir, I am to turn down Mr Cholmondeley’s — ” I began, with my eyes firmly closed. I didn’t see him coming.
Thanks again awfully, Esbe, for swift beta!
‘Fait accompli’ means the ‘done deal’.
Chapter 27: 27. Rapprochement
Bertie and Jeeves manage some honest sex. Adult roleplay at teen/adult sex: if you want to skip it, stop reading at: “Sir — ” I think he tried to say...” and pick up again at: His hand drove into my hair...
I kissed him. I kissed him, and I kept on kissing him. At the first application of the Wooster lips, my man Jeeves stood stiff and unbending. Those of you who, like myself, are aficionados of Jazz, are probably familiar with the woodwind instruments. They require a properly dampened reed in the mouthpiece. The reed itself will not vibrate without a liberal soak in alcohol or, in a pinch, a softening up in the mouth of the player. Jeeves is the same.
He came very slowly to life in my arms, holding me a bit gingerly, as if he thought I might be contagious. I gentled my efforts, making it up on the balance by adding a little tongue.
Now, there are times when the author draws across the scene a gossamer veil of metaphor. This author is going to slice right to the meat of the action, and leave the juicy bits in.
I can only tell you all about it now because I jotted down all the details the next day on the train. It’s dashed odd, isn’t it? I mean, the unknown you reading this on some unknown day in some unknown place — unknown to me that is, obviously you know who you are — and then I’m the one writing it but you don’t really know me, not to say hello to, unless I am very unlucky and I’ve somehow mixed up my ‘to publish’ and ‘to stow beneath my floorboards’ manuscripts and somehow my editor hasn’t redlined what he deems too Wildean and you do know me, in which case, I really do wonder who you might be. Don’t let my mention of the train distract you.
I don’t mean to spoil the story, but it all comes out right in the end for Bertram. True love, and all that. Now most comedies end with a marriage, and love’s first kiss generally features prominently right before “The End”. However, in my present moment, here as I write, I can say love’s first kiss hasn’t got a patch on love’s thousandth kiss or even love’s millionth kiss. (Jeeves makes me write that one million kisses are not inconceivable if one imagines a hundred and fifty kisses per day over a period of twenty years. No imagination required on behalf of yours truly.)
Let’s flip back a few pages, and re-read the lines, “You’re going to say that I was already asleep, standing in dreamland and ordering in. You see I thought so too, at the time. That’s why I asked him to kiss me goodnight.”
That was our first kiss, and it was achingly tender. I love that he kissed me then, that I asked him and he didn’t deny me, especially as we weren’t particularly nice to each other just after.
Jeeves says it wasn’t the first kiss but I should know, shouldn’t I? I was there. Anyway, it only counts if it’s on the lips. For Jeeves, the valid target area includes all sorts of Victorian nonsense.
The real, red-hot tabasco is further down the page, but it’s nothing without the kiss.
His lips were already wet and full, and I pulled the reins up to brush the softest of kisses to his mouth. I felt a cold fire running through my veins and melting me against him. He takes such excellent care of me, and all I wanted in that moment and in every moment since, was to show him how grateful I am.
Gossammer veil, pulled back.
Jeeves kissed back as if he wasn’t sure I’d got the right address but wanted to be a good sport about it.
“I don’t give a toss about Chummy’s blankets, Jeeves,” I hazarded. “He’s asleep already anyways. It’s dashed late o’clock.”
“Sir?” He dragged open his eyes as if the lids were rusted, and then stepped back right into the door.
I grasped the thick panelling and praised the foresight that carved such conveniently deep ornamentation, bringing myself right up against his buttling kit. Jeeves is just the sort of plushy fellow that inspires Rodin, Rubens, and that-other-one-who-draws-plushy-looking-fellows.
Turning his head a shade, he tipped his chin up a bit beyond my reach. This put his earlobe right in nuzzling range.
“Mmmm, Jeeves.” Gosh his cologne ripens to a delicious mélange of musk, lemons and carbolic acid.
“Sir, it is unwise for us to continue this to its logical conclusion if you have allowed any element of risk — ”
“You’re not my valet.”
I stepped back and began to doff my shirt.
“You buttle, therefore you are the butler. In your buttling, you’ve spoken of your concern for Chummy’s counterpane. I can rest your mind at ease there: he’s said his prayers and tucked himself in ages ago. He’s one of those early to bed, early to get first whack at the kippers types.”
“You know a lot about it, sir.”
Jeeves can’t bear for me to leave the cuffs for last, and he caught a wrist to undo my cufflink.
“Mmm, Mrs Collins thought it ever so handy, his getting their milk in before the birds could pierce the caps for the cream.”
He undid the second of the pair, and as I pulled my vest over my head I saw that he put them both in his pocket. Too right, Jeeves. Back to duties.
I took another step back, and made to take off my trousers. I hadn’t quite reached the bed but he dove down for my shoes like clockwork. He was right though, I’d never get my trousers past my heels without chancing some sartorial mishap. I was at least close enough to sit at the very edge of the mattress, and I lay back and shimmied my trousers and shorts down my thighs.
I was very much all at attention, if you catch my meaning.
“Those early mornings, in Dorset, Jeeves. I remember you, oh I remember you — ”
I was remembering him right then as I pushed up into my fist, the satin shifting beneath me as a wave of passion almost brought me off.
“Sir — ” I think he tried to say, but his breath caught as he laid a shaky hand on my thigh.
“The butler has keys to every room in the house. He could sneak in here, knowing me as he does. He might have heard the family despairing over my being rusticated for unhealthy attachments.”
I raised my head to see Jeeves mesmerised by the motion of my hand, one hand distractedly rubbing the hairs of my thigh and the other with the fingers tucked into the top of my sock.
“Jeeves,” I said, and I twisted out of his grasp and crawled up the bed, which had a very convenient headboard, “Don’t you think he’d be surprised at what a dissolute young rake I’ve become?”
Jeeves looked a bit lost.
“Do you see a jar of ointment on that nightstand? It isn’t arnica, is it?”
He stood and came to the head of the bed, shaking his head as his placed an index finger on the lid.
“This one is petroleum jelly, sir.”
“Open it, Jeeves.”
Jeeves looked down, and the jar was already open in his hands. A lock of his hair tumbled down over his forehead and it struck me that in the years to come it would turn grey and one day far, far away, I’d lose him. We were unmoored from our place as master and servant, those were forever going to be a pantomime for public consumption. We had drifted into dangerous waters, he and I, only us two. We’d have to play it out like the game we were playing in that bedroom, as the only way to be honest with each other.
I hung my head down, leaving the rear elevation elevated. “Jeeves, we’re not bloody doing this on that tiger.”
His laugh fell out of him like a soggy cake from a paper bag, surprising us both. He clasped a hand on the back of my neck and pushed me down into a decorative bolster.
“Not on our knees, sir. Now, I think a butler wouldn’t even remove his uniform for this.”
The way he said ‘this’ and slid his greased fingers down my cleft, I sensed that we wanted the same things.
He must have freed himself without a sound, for I hadn’t expected to feel him rubbing up the back of my thigh, his clothed knee pushing my legs farther apart as he probed my rim with a finger.
“Did you get this far at school, sir?”
“No, no I haven’t yet. At university I will, though.”
“I see, sir.”
“I’ve already got a place at Oxford. I’m a bit worried though, that I lack experience.”
“Oh I wouldn’t worry about that, sir,” he said, sliding another finger alongside the first. “I’m sure you’ll be quite experienced before you’re sent up.”
I pushed back against him.
“That’s right, my lad. This’ll be a treat for both of us.”
It was easy to be terrifically eager, because I recall that at that age, we all went off like rockets at the slightest provocation.
His hand drove into my hair, but it was too short to grip. I'd trimmed it for the wedding. He leaned back instead and held my hip as he lined himself up.
“Now we’ll do this slowly, and see how we get on.”
I was practically writhing at this point.
“Hush now, sir. I haven’t locked the door, so you mustn’t wake the house.”
I shied like a horse, turning to look at him in horror, and he immediately pulled out and gathered me up. “It is locked, Bertie, locked and bolted. I promise.”
“I’m sorry — ”
He kissed me, and he really kissed me, and I think that everything came right between us for a little while. It wasn’t long before I’d calmed enough for him to push my knee up and settle it on his shoulder. He wrapped his hand around the front of my thigh and pressed his length into me.
“Now, Jeeves. Start now.”
“You look so lovely.”
“Yes alright, thank you, now now now — ”
His hands came round beneath me and he pulled me into his lap, and then he tipped backwards. “Come on then, Bertie. Show me.”
I showed him. He put his arms up and held me by the shoulders. I got a really good rhythm going. Just as I thought it couldn’t be improved, he became impossibly harder and I got a hand on myself just in time to come off on him as he came off inside me.
That uniform was utterly ruined, but I had his valeting raiment in my bag.
Chapter 28: 28. Silk and Roses
Jeeves is feeling pretty good about the whole state of affairs between himself and Wooster.
“Was going to woo you, Jeeves, via some roses,” murmured Mr Wooster into my collar. “Chap like you, s’probably more like, like tiger lilies — ” the guv’nor broke off into a fit of giggles.
“Ah — Water pitcher.”
I raised my head and saw them, wilted and much the worse for travel. Per accidens causa, I loved them. Of course, I couldn’t keep them since everyone downstairs must have seen Mr Wooster bring them in.
He yawned extravagantly, and rolled off me, immediately sitting up to examine the offense he’d committed to my uniform.
“Oh I say, Jeeves. Is this going to come out?” His hand hovered over the stain, and I observed a slight trembling in his digits. It worried me, that he was still anxious. I took his hand and pressed it to my chest, and he stilled.
He shot me a glance, and then took his hand back to rub up across his brow, obscuring his eyes.
“I’ve got your real uniform in my bag. It’s probably less wrinkled than this one.” He said. He stood carefully, only wobbling slightly on his way to the en suite.
“I thought you’d like to wear it when I drive you back down,” he called over his shoulder, and then he shut the door.
Obviously, we’d achieved a rapprochement, and I was much relieved. Soothing, the guv’nor has described it, the regular rhythm of our days together. ‘Safe and restful,’ I’ve heard him say. With my waistcoat removed and my jacket buttoned, my appearance was unlikely to raise comment. I hung my valet uniform in his wardrobe and set his valise open to air.
“Did I completely ruin it?” He was standing naked in the doorway, holding up a wet sponge.
“Yes, sir. We won’t be needing that.”
“Oh, bother!” He exclaimed with a smile, tossing the sponge behind him. “Oh dear. Dreadful. Alas, poor waistcoat, I knew him. You’ll hardly be needing it now, though. By Jove, it didn’t belong to Seppings, did it?”
It was mine, as I have stepped in on occasion on our Brinkley Court visits over the years. It was fitted by Mr Wooster’s tailor. His understanding of drape, fit, and support is unparalleled. Service is one half work and the other half reputation and appearance, thus any gentlemen’s personal gentleman must use every opportunity to enhance either. Mr Wooster meant no offense and I took none: the young give no notice to the old. As I cast about the wardrobe for his pajamas, his arm came up beneath mine and he plucked the sleeve of my hanging uniform.
“Will you wear it tomorrow, Jeeves?”
“No, sir.” I turned to face him, having lighted upon the silk robe from the flat. It was a superb example of the Japanese yukata.
“Sticking around here, then?” It is difficult, when nude, to fidget. He grasped his elbows, arms across his middle, and ground the back of his heel into the carpet, watching his toes swing from side to side. I slung the robe around his shoulders and he obliged me by pushing his arms through the sleeves. I tied the inner sashes, then the outer, and placed my hands on his hips.
“Seppings returns on Sunday; therefore I return to London on Monday, sir.” The smoothest silk, the brightest hues — the guv’nor looked a picture in it.
“Then I’ll just leave the car here, and you can be off when Seppings arrives. You’ll have to give me my cufflinks, though, I didn’t pack any others. I’m off tomorrow.”
His eyes met mine shyly.
“Jeeves, I didn’t come across any matching trousers.”
“Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea, sir.”
The guv’nor puffed out a silent laugh as I leaned into his shoulder to sweep my palms up the backs of his thighs and cup the callipygous section of his slender form. It was at that tender moment that Mr Cholmondeley’s voice came piping through the door.
“I say, Bertie, old thing, I wonder if I could borrow the butler? I’m locked out of my room.”
“Locked, you said?” whispered Mr Wooster. I kissed his forehead.
“And bolted, sir. You are taking the second train?”
“What? Second ack emma, or second pip emma?”
Mr Cholmondeley took up a timid knocking.
“Third train in the morning then, sir. I’ll come up during elevenses and see you packed.” I put his cuffs in his hand and closed his fingers over them, holding his hand between mine. The guv’nor huffed and drew away.
“Switch it off, Jeeves, if you’re not going to stay.” The view from the rear was better than I had anticipated.
“Mr Cholmondeley? Sir is asleep,” I chided, as I came into the corridor.
“Oh right. Right.” He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders.
“Mr Jeeves. As a member of the Ganymede, your employment contract comes with the rider that a full month’s pay is held for you by the club in the case of a sudden change of employment, with another full month at five years. Now you must know that it is highly irregular for you to attend Bertie at this hour — if you’d like me to review the provisos of your employment with Bertie at any time, or discuss with you your rights as an employee and a tenant upon termination, I am very happy to do so, pro bono. I know you have not terminated your employment with Mr Wooster; however, your contract is with Bertie, not his aunt, and as a valet, not a butler. Whatever you are doing here, it isn’t required of you.”
Here he ran out of breath. His blush had deepened from red, to tomato, to vermillion as he had gone on, and I was rather curious to see what could possibly come next. The sound of movement behind the door prompted me into action. I turned and began to walk towards Mr Cholmondeley’s room, which prompted Mr Cholmondeley to trot obediently at my heels. I held open his door.
He shook his head, and then held up a hand and said loudly, “Locked out! Let’s go get the keys, shall we?”
“Mr Cholmondeley, Mr Wooster has only just got to sleep. However he managed without me, I can only say it did him no good. As for my being here, I’m only doing the same as you, sir.”
He glanced at me shrewdly.
“Doing Dahlia Travers’ dirty work?”
“Knocking on Mr Wooster’s door after midnight. Goodnight, sir.”
‘Actus reus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea’ means ‘the act is not culpable unless the mind is guilty.’
A million thanks to Esbe for the swift beta and general encouragement: you’re a super star!
The phrase ‘bathroom en suite’ in attested from 1932, but it could be older. It was difficult to search for ‘en suite’ meaning bathroom.
‘Per accidens causa’ means produced by accident, for example, water produces heat per accidens, since it is accidental to water that it should be hot and thus accidental to it that it should produce heat. Spinoza states, ‘anything can be the accidental cause (per accidens causa) of joy, desire, and sadness.’ Here Jeeves get three for one.
Chapter 29: 29. Honest Toil
Bertie and Jeeves find out that wherever you go, there you are.
Lunch at the Drones always seems like a good idea when Jeeves isn’t home. I had the further inducement that I needed details on the 1923 darts tournament for my book. Sifting the conversation at the Drones for stories to pad out my novels requires the patience of a saint and a few lashings of the mixture-as-before.
Fully half the stuff they tell me is too improper to print. Mildly improper is all right, though. So far, I've skirted scandal. I suppose I have Jeeves to thank for keeping me from landing in a Section 11 bottomless soup.
I stowed my notes and made for home. Perhaps I’d had one or two lashings more than I’d ought, because I spent several minutes blinking at the positively regimental row of hats and coats that I certainly hadn't hung myself before I registered that Jeeves was in the offing.
“Oh I say, you’re here — you’re in uniform! That's rather delightful."
“What do you call those? Vambraces?”
"Sleeve protectors, sir.”
Jeeves, though he floats about like a phantom, has a Presence. He stood before me, a feather duster en garde, armoured in sleeve protectors and an apron and still looked toothsome. Then he turned to the living room. Good lord, I hadn't arranged for anyone to come in and put the rooms to rights.
I dashed in after him.
“Cleaning the flat today, Jeeves?” Mmm. Not my best opener.
I had the oddest sensation that I was dreaming. I leaned over to catch Tom’s glass eye where he was slumped half off his chair. No help there. I sat on the piano bench and scratched my eyebrow.
“Jeeves, did I play Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine for you here on this piano bench? Did we get really ill and go to Dorset? Did I follow you to Brinkley?”
“Sir, the flat requires a great deal of attention after an absence.” He was all business.
In a pristine uniform and demure canvas vambraces — he stood primly before me. In my mind's eye, I could see a neon sign flashing — V! — A! — L! — E! — T! — above his head.
Everything was all right, then, wasn't it? Everything back to rights. I was gentleman, and Jeeves was my gentleman's personal gentleman. I draped my lissom form provocatively across the piano bench, the over-all effect dampened by the cacophony of my elbows on the keys of the piano at my back. Ignoring me, Jeeves brought in Tom from his perch and smoothed him out before the hearth, closed the curtains against the slanting rays, and began pummelling the couch cushions back into shape. He drifted into the dining room and then wafted one step back again.
“Shall I remove these papers to your desk, sir?”
The constellation of my notes held connections I hadn't yet put to paper.
“No, we’ll eat in the kitchen a day or two, shall we? It’s just I’m still switching the scenes around and slipping in bits as they come.” Between you and me, I hadn’t the slightest intention of eating apart from Jeeves if I could help it. I had as many schemes against formal dining as magicians have hidden pockets.
Jeeves nodded, tapping the feather duster against his palm.
I drew my foot off my knee and slid down the bench a bit, the piano protesting. Jeeves drew close but the message he was reading in my eyes must have been garbled in the transmission, for he only reached his long arm over my head to swipe the duster across the top of the piano. The heady scent of him went right to my head and my hands came up to hold his waist.
He stood still for a moment. Then he set the duster on the piano and took a step back.
“Sorry, Jeeves,” I said, folding my hands in my lap.
“Not at all, sir.”
“I want to clasp you to my bosom.”
We contemplated each other a bit. I slid my foot forward.
“Jeeves, you’re out of range.
His inscrutable eye roamed the scenery from my toe on up. When his eyes met mine, I detected a corking smoulder in their depths.
Jeeves removed his sleeve protectors, untied his apron, and, bundling them together — join me in amazement — tossed them over his shoulder. His hand passed over his hair (not a strand apart from his brothers) and knelt carefully between my knees.
“If you come forward and put your foot on my shoulder, this would, I fancy, produce the desired result.”
“Er, what result is that?”
His cupped my knee, the thumb rubbing gently at the tender spot on the underside. My shoe looked completely out of place against the pristine black of his frock coat. As if he divined my thoughts, his hand slid down my calf to the offending brogue, and with his eyes firmly on mine, he brushed his cheek along my instep and turned to the toe of my shoe with a kiss.
I jerked away with a yelp, but he kept his grip, his free hand clamping down like a vice on my other leg.
He leant forward, hitching my foot over his shoulder and getting comfortable with one of my knees under his armpit and the other leg hugging his neck, an arm circling my hips to keep me from beaning myself on the piano.
“I was given to understand, sir,” he said, then paused to lick his lips.
“— Given to understand,” and here he gave my thigh a nuzzle, “that you require — ” He pressed forward a little. “A valet. Sir.”
Strictly speaking, I ought, at this juncture, to have brought us to gently to our feet and explained that what he was doing was not at all valeting.
“I can’t!” came out of my mouth in an inarticulate gargle. It was the best I could manage under the circ.’s.
“No! Not, not like this.”
“Gentlemen have told me they find this extremely invigorating.”
Gentlemen? When — it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were doing it all backwards. On one hand, I was absolutely ecstatic that our relations were progressing in our London life. On the other, the entire point of Jeeves’ Dorset cottage was for us to have a place to — excuse me for being blunt — fuck on equal footing. And on a third hand, which we’ll have to allow for the sake of this argument, it was completely unbecoming of a preux chevalier to hold a kneeling servant between his thighs.
“Jeeves,” I pleaded. “Jeeves, please. I can’t like that, you know I can’t.”
Jeeves huffed. He untangled my legs and sank down on his heels, head bowed.
“If you will pardon my saying so, sir, I recall no such objection to this activity in the past.”
“No, I mean, speak frankly and all that, no secrets between us, et cetera, but, I am not the sort of fellow who, um.” Horror seized me as I realised that I was almost exactly that sort of fellow. “I can’t explain it very well but the crux of the matter is that it should be after hours. After hours, Jeeves, I insist. Isn't that what we said when we started this wheeze? The last hour?"
"Most correct, sir."
He pushed off my knee to standing, looking like he'd gotten the end bit of the banana.
"When is after hours, exactly?"
Jeeves stopped his activities.
"When you require nothing further, sir."
"So -- after dinner? No, no, you do kitchen things after dinner. Good lord! Must we put an hour on it?"
"If that is your preference, sir."
Not this bally nonsense again. Well I'll be damned if I write an orgasm into the calendar. The afternoon seemed interminable, broken up by a delivery or two (one of which ended up being flowers for the flat), stilted requests for b. and s.’s (me to Jeeves), several phone calls (oddly, all of them for Jeeves), and one stately pronouncement of dinner (Jeeves to me).
Dinner was conducted with excruciating formality in the dining room, the handwritten notes wherein I descried Jeeves’ brilliance squared in impeccable rows on one side of the table and my meal under a silver plate cover on the other. There was only one place setting. I sighed.
“Thank you, Jeeves.”
Jeeves, with deferential zeal, whisked off the plate cover to reveal a flattened veal cutlet and a hot tomato soup.
I felt a headache coming on.
“Quite, er, delicious looking. Yellow, isn’t it? The soup.”
“Consomme aux Pommes d’Amour, sir.”
I recognised the recipe as wheeze of Anatole’s, but Jeeves had it down to a T. Dessert was a pile of cut fruit, which doesn’t sound much, but it was a daintily balanced pile, where obviously a goodish amount of thought and consideration had been applied to artful effect.
After dinner, I roamed aimlessly about the flat. Jeeves was doing the washing up. I wandered into Jeeves’ room and right away I could see that an unseen hand had dragged out the extra blankets and pillows I’d dragged in. Well. I thought it prudent to put all of Jeeves' shoes (and his nightstand Spinoza) in the umbrella stand, as a sort of insurance. He could hardly leave me in his soft-soled, sponge bagged, frock coat valetting kit.
I ambled back into the kitchen, where Jeeves was now seated at the small table where I had imagined we’d share a cosy type of meal and rehash past exploits to colour my damn book with. He was darning a sock. A stack of them lay on some newspaper. I pulled out a chair for myself.
After a bit of quiet sitting and darning, Jeeves shook the egg out and set down one mended sock to start up another. The mend was undetectable. I could feel the raised stitches, but to the eye they were indistinguishable. I hadn't realised how much time in the day Jeeves is occupied.
He sifted through the cards of silk threads from a cantilevered box.
I said. “I am glad you're here, Jeeves. I half thought you'd run off again. Back on the job, though, aren't you.”
“Is it going to be very much longer?”
Jeeves set down his mending. He met my eyes and said, “Whenever your preference, sir.”
"Jeeves! We'll have words! We'll have them right now! You're going to tell me --"
The phone rang again.
" -- exactly how --"
"The telephone, sir."
There are times when one wonders if AG Bell had any idea how routinely his invention would dash the cup of joy from one’s lips, because if it wasn’t the Aunts on the other end, then it was Jeeves on this. He'd be gratified, however, by the way Jeeves flung himself into the telephone-answering routine. Never one to stick around for an unburdening of the breast, is Jeeves.
It was a minute or two before he called me to the phone. Dashed if it wasn't the worst news possible: old Yaxley had made Sally a widow. The poor girl, fate had her pinned to the mat, suffering blow after blow. She wouldn't mind Chummy's help now, I daresay. Well, family is family. I opened my mouth to call for Jeeves, and heard the front door slam.
Damn and blast. It was always the same. Curiosity got the better of me, though, and I went to see if he'd left in the non-creaky shoes he wears about the flat or the galoshes that live in the bench part of the hall stand.
Jeeves had done it again, but at least he'd had to do it wearing galoshes.
Beta'd by Bee, to whom I owe the finishing of the fic. Thanks for seeing me through that rough patch, darling Bee! Your support really meant a great deal through all that. Many thanks. All errors my own.
If you are reading from the beginning, why, thank you.
If you are finishing this off, I apologise for the long hiatus. I made some minor edits to the original chapters, so I hope no-one gets spammed with update notices, the story hasn't changed (although some hints in Chapters 24 and 26 are now more explicit). I added more notes, to explain references and give more thanks to Esbe.
Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were both convicted under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885. Can’t Help Loving Dat Man of Mine is by Buck Clayton, from Showboat (Kern and Hammerstein II, based on a novel by Edna Ferber). Sung here by Ella Fitzgerald. Showboat has the Kern/Wodehouse song ‘Bill’ in it.
The ‘t’ in ‘to a t’ is probably from to a tittle, where tittle means a small stroke in writing, such as the crossing of the ‘t’. ‘To a tittle’ is attested to 1607, ‘to a t’ from 1693.
Chapter 30: 30. Hot Water Part One
Sally's a widow, Jeeves is a runaway (again!), and Chummy shows his stripes.
My train preceded Lady Yaxley's by barely an hour or so, but I managed to prepare the cottage for inhabitation. I decided to alert Mrs Collins to her condition, although to a woman of her experience perhaps Lady Yaxley's gait would give her away. As much as one dislikes stirring up sad memories for anyone, especially someone as kind as Mrs Collins, Lady Yaxley required empathy and Mrs Collins, a widow herself and one who had borne, raised and lost children, met the requirements.
As I understood it, the disappearance of Lady Yaxley from the hospitality of Mrs Travers had caused no alarm. She'd said she would return for the funeral, and the Woosters, caught up with the legal tangle of Mr Wooster's status as heir presumptive, let her go. It was the first time I was grateful for the gift of this cottage, because it was the perfect place to sequester the Lady in the meantime.
The irony was not lost on me that my motivations for housing Lady Yaxley in the holiday cottage were perhaps the same as the guv'nor's had been – pushing someone into a domestic arrangement that would not be lasting.
With the best of intentions, the guv'nor wanted to separate my working hours from my personal time. He was convinced that at some appointed time each night, I would change my uniform for some common man's mufti and we would fall into each other's arms. Mr. Wooster fails to realise that as his valet, every moment of my day is his. There is no respite. Even at night, alone in my room, he invades my dreams. If I circumvented the Wooster Code with a costume change behind the scenes, I would only expose it for the Shavian fantasy that it is.
I pressed my lips firmly together. Lady Yaxley had travelled quite far, and was understandably fatigued. Between Mrs Collins and myself, we could provide her a peaceful refuge.
The spare room at Mrs Collins' house was sparsely furnished. I had just finished dressing the bed when Mrs Collins came in, an enormous eiderdown in her arms obscuring her face. She let it fall in a crumpled mess at the foot of the bed and then stood against the wall at the side of the window, so as to see down to the cottage without moving the curtains.
"That lawyer you sent us said the sun shines right into this window in the mornings. Well, I wouldn't know, would I? I've never slept in here. It's always been the spare room. I've got the perfect blanket in the airing cupboard, Mr Jeeves, you can help me hang it over the rod." She bustled out and returned with a blanket over her shoulder and a neatly folded stack of clothes, shoes on top. She put them on the dresser, and stood there a moment, her back to me.
The late Mr Collins had had the courage to promise her more than I had ever so much as suggested to someone else. In his clothes, literally in his shoes, and sleeping under his roof, I was going to be a poor stand-in.
She gave the shoes a brisk pat. "It's not what you're used to, I dare say. We'll make do, though, won't we, Mr Jeeves?"
"Country clothes never go out of fashion, Mrs Collins," I assured her.
"They never go into it, dearie," she said, and managed a smile.
My Lady proved to be an easy cottage guest. She spent most of her time seated outside on a kitchen chair beneath the tree next to the house, holding her knitting in her lap, staring at the sea. I suggested to Mrs Collins that I bring the lounge chairs up from the sand to the strip of garden, but she shook her head with a smile and said Lady Yaxley couldn't use them. Such is the infinite wisdom of women, a man cannot know the physical discomfort an expecting lady goes through.
At first, the three of us took all of our meals together at the house, Mrs Collins cooking elaborate courses. However, I prefer a late supper and my Lady’s appetite would wax and wane, and after a day or two of proper dinners in Mrs Collins' dining room, we mutually agreed to eat sandwiches at the cottage instead.
The day after the midwife came around for tea, Mrs Collins and I converted the second bedroom at the cottage into a nursery. Per instructions, we got the shopping out of the way, and none too soon: the paint was barely dry in the second bedroom when its occupant arrived.
A baby, especially a first baby, I discovered, is an education. I suddenly acquired an assorted set of skills, not to mention an appreciation at the marvel of creation. It kept us all busy. Especially me. I needed to stay busy.
As the days went by, the lengthy telegram I anticipated from Mr Wooster never came. In town, I got worried glances from Mrs Beadle at the post office; when I stopped by the butcher's, Mr Acosta came right around the counter, shaking his head, to lay a hand on my arm as he handed me my spiced sausages. At the bookshop, however, I got enough smiles to make up for it all after I ordered ten of Mr Wooster's books.
In the books, the constant threat of Mr Wooster being bred like a prize-horse is always countered by my seemingly magical actions. We are always together, he and I, in a world that is silent on the subjects it does not wish to confront.
The very day that I received the package of the books, I read one cover to cover in my bed. I was at the halfway point in his extensive catalogue of our joint adventures. To hear his voice in the words, to see myself through his eyes, was both painful and precious. Each book, an ode to my skills as the perfect servant, my resourcefulness, my dependability, telling the story of his naïveté, his loyalty, and his artlessness. He shines like a new minted sovereign, and I burned to gather him, hoard him, caress him like a miser would with his coin, put him to my tooth, and in the end spend him to hoard his pleasure. Memories of his touch flooded me. That time on the piano bench when I thrust so wantonly into his willing mouth, I knew even then that, had I loved him less, I would have reciprocated without a second thought. When I caressed him and he responded in his straightforward manner, with no fear of consequences, it took all my self-control each time to stop myself from similarly giving in to my needs. By the end of the book, my body was craving him as if it had never known any existence sans Bertram. (I must remind myself to call him Mr Wooster.) I admit that in that darkness I gave in to temptation.
I loosened the drawstrings, undid the fall buttons and pushed a hand inside. My hand felt rough on the sensitive skin of my member. Already, I had become used to his soft palms and manicured digits. He touches me reverently. Ah yes, that’s how he touches me; his fingers are as long as mine but slimmer, delicate, an artist’s fingers. They are nimble, and surprisingly sure. Images arose of the master in various stages of undress, his body covered with signs of our time together (I never bruised him deliberately but I was seldom over careful), accompanied those of his in various stages of stimulation, till I settled on the one when I had gently fed him from my plate. He had opened his mouth trustingly, his eyes never leaving my visage. I tugged at my member as I recalled him opening his mouth, I thrust into my own hand as I envisaged him closing his lips around the fork tines, my thumb roughly rubbed the head as my mind relived the way he swallowed each bite. He draws his pleasure from my hand, from only my hand. Everything he needs or wants – the food he eats, the sheets he sleeps on, the clothes that caress his form, the blade that shaves him, passes through my hands. He owns my time, but I shape his every minute.
Even as I knew I would regret it, I lost myself to sensation and imagination. My body and my mind craved him. Although I was well and truly his servant, could he ever truly master me as I wished him to? I thought of his voice, demanding my body as casually as he calls for his after dinner drink. What I truly wanted was for him to be sure of me, sans any bindings of employment contracts, wages, or cottages. In the dark, alone, I could admit to myself that I knew that he loved me. What I wanted, and could not have, was to be sure that I could keep him mine. If only I could somehow cut him out of society without hurting him! I imagined him as free as Mr Cholmondeley to stare, as charming in his unaffected desires as Sally, taking his pleasure from my body as his right. I arched and writhed, muscles straining, seeking sensation on my skin as I desperately tugged at myself. A keening sound escaped me and by God I needed his constant, thrumming presence, his careless moans and ridiculous commentary – "Jeeves, I won't stop till you beg me. Go on, tell me to make it good." I groaned, screwed tight at the brink, imagining him drive himself wild on my lap, sheathing me snug, feeling him lean back and push his clever fingers down and press behind my balls. I pressed there, sweat cooling on my skin as the blankets fell away from my thrashing form.
I climaxed almost painfully, my climax crashing into me. I spilled over with a sob that unsurprisingly ended in his name, and lay in my mess, twitching and shaking. He'd caress me then. He would kiss the bruises he'd given me and whisper that I was perfect, so dashed good, bally marvellous. He'd probably go a second time, rubbing off on me with his member and stuffing my fingers in his mouth. The languor that follows a release threatened to send me to sleep, so I mopped up with the night-shirt and stretched out the mild ache in my limbs. It was a good thing that I did my own washing. I remade my bed and laid in it.
An acute loneliness made the bed seem colder. Mr Wooster would never be like that with me. The closest we could get would be to enact his little fantasies ensconced in his apartment. His life is comfortable, why would he spend it skirting the edges of propriety? He wants his valet to service him in the carnal as well as the domestic, and if I'm honest, I want that too. But want does not dictate fate and so I must stay away. It was the prudent course.
Those mornings in the spare room were never too bright for me. There would never be enough light for me again.
As soon as Lady Yaxley could receive company, I sent for Mr Cholmondeley. He got straight to the point before I'd even offered him a seat.
"You heard that Yaxley’s passed on?"
"Her Ladyship has mentioned it."
"Right. It's none of my business, of course, but I can't quite understand why you are here with Sa— with Lady Yaxley, instead of with Bertie at Berkley Mansions."
He was correct; it was none of his business. He was in a chair with a cup of tea and a tray of sandwiches when Lady Yaxley came in to pass me the baby.
"There you go, Georgie. Uncle Jeeves has got you. He's half asleep already." She turned to greet Mr Cholmondeley, who choked on his tea and scrambled to his feet.
"Oh. Everyone here says 'Sally'. Be right back, Mr Jeeves."
Mr Cholmondeley stared after her, and then gave me a puzzled smile, "You're an uncle! Congratulations."
"In name only. You must save your congratulations for my Lady."
Unlike the guv'nor, Mr Cholmondely accepted, what I have elsewhere called 'the unusual Situation', with the stoicism of a ship's captain altering course to avoid an iceberg. His jaw tightened, and then he got up and walked around to my side of the coffee table. Peering down at Lord George, he asked, "Is he supposed to be that size? Where are his legs?"
"He is of a perfectly healthy size, and he is swaddled."
The baby fixed Mr Cholmondeley with an inscrutable gaze for a long moment. Abruptly he yawned, bringing up his tiny fist to his mouth. Mr Cholmondeley was transfixed.
"Good Lord, he has a nose on him, hasn't he?" He sat next to me on the settee. "The Woosters won't be happy. The wedding was on -- what was the date?"
"Did Lady Yaxley not disclose her happy anticipation?"
Mr Cholmondeley leant over the table to retrieve his watercress sandwich. He finished half of it in one bite and held up his other hand at me until he could speak.
"Mm. It won't make a difference. The assets haven't transferred to Bertie yet, and regardless, this baby is heir apparent. It poses an interesting legal question, of course, if Sally never verbally indicated her pregnancy before the death of old Yaxley. Is it necessary to complete the inheritance of the heir presumptive, before transferring it to the heir apparent?" He shot me a horrified look. "You — Good Lord! Surely you haven't brought Sally here to talk her out of—" Handing him the baby shut that off at the source. He was sitting down, so it was probably safe, although perhaps some instruction was needed.
"His head must remain supported. And elevated. Yes, just so. I requested you in particular, Mr Cholmondely, from Kettle, Kettle, Kettle, and Potts, for a deed transfer of this cottage."
The baby lay in the crook of Mr Cholmondeley's arm, mostly in his lap. He bent forward awkwardly to finish off the sandwich in his hand, and then sat back into the cushions, gingerly tucking the blanket around the baby. Possibly he'd never held a baby.
"Thank you, I suppose. Mr. Kettle indicated it was a transfer of the deed of the house to Sally," he said. "Who is representing Mrs Collins?"
I surmised that Lord George would probably not wish to wake up in a strangers' arms, therefore I slid my hands beneath him and cradled him to me before enlightening Mr Cholmondely as to the details of the transaction. He grasped the details but misinterpreted my motives.
"I'll represent you in this transaction, Mr Jeeves, but I warn you, I'll only sell to Sally based on the previous valuation. She may be rich now, but we cannot take advantage."
"The deed is a gift, Mr Cholmondeley. Lady Yaxley most needs a rest, I can provide one."
"You don't have to give her a house for that. Look it, Mr Jeeves, you could give Sally ten bungalows and, I can assure you, it wouldn't stop me from securing this baby his inheritance. I represent the Woosters, plural." He paused, and asked delicately, "As the clerk acting on behalf of the executor, it would help to have the date of birth." Only Lady Yaxley, Mrs Collins, the midwife, and I knew the date. Also everyone in Combeinteignhead knew, but what a village knows never comes to the ears of outsiders.
"Perhaps we should ask Lady Yaxley?"
His response was a flat, "Ask Lady Yaxley." He leaned forward and asked me, "Why won't you say?"
The reasons were several, uppermost being the impertinence of the question. Legally, if the Lady Yaxley had not notified the family of an heir apparent in ventre sa mere, Mr Wooster would inherit until she chose to do so.
"Am I to understand that the family is... unaware?"
"Well, at Brinkley Court, I've been working on transferring assets to Bertie. But from a legal standpoint, the date of birth won't matter. All that this is, is extra paperwork. For me."
"It'll matter to the Woosters. It's a loss of title and assets."
"A what? This baby, a loss? I think not. This baby needs —"
His eyes latched on to Lady Yaxley and followed her as she entered the room and came around the settee.
" — needs, ah, needs — he needs — legal representation."
I handed over the baby and pulled straight my sleeves.
"Ta ever so, Mr Jeeves. Mr Cholmondeley, all Georgie needs is his dinner and a sleep." Lady Yaxley stood by us, rocking the baby in the gentle sway of mothers everywhere.
An infant knows his mother and this one began immediately to nuzzle against her bosom. I rose, proffering my cigarette case to our guest as an excuse for us to exit the cottage for the house, but Mr Cholmondeley was immune to my delicate signal. A trance held him fast. His practical acceptance of the Situation apparently extended to the imminent domestic scene. My path to the door lay between the Lady Yaxley, whose country manners I had adopted as the norm of the cottage, and Mr Cholmondeley, who had clearly never heard a woman speak so plainly about nursing her baby. Lady Yaxley gave Mr Cholmondely a slow, indulgent smile. Her hair was careless pinned, a few natural curls escaping to fall about her face. The brisk outdoors air had painted her cheeks with a blush, and her face was full of teasing for Mr Cholmondeley's earnest, chivalrous rush to appoint a lawyer to a newborn baby.
"So I'll just feed this one now, and then we'll eat at the house, since there's the five of us."
"Right, right. Babies eat. Your baby, er. Carry on then." His eyes never left them, but he managed to stand. His first step toward the door brought them face to face.
The Lady Yaxley was an extremely unlikely siren, her call a simple domesticity and an unselfconscious gathering of the gifts the world has to offer, and yet Mr Cholmondeley was clearly disposed to suffer the sea change that transforms us into the rich and strange. They didn't notice me leave.
Half an hour found all of us present and accounted for at the dinner table, Mrs Collins presiding. I had an excellent seat from which to observe Mr Cholmondeley tumble under enchantment over a pork pie and a small pot of cider. What was to me completely unremarkable was perhaps to Mr Cholmondeley a rennaissance iconograph. It was no one's place to tell him of Lord George's uncertain parentage, but as his business was in fact that very detail, it was highly probably that he would eventually discover it. I didn't envy him the despair that attends the death of our idealisation of the loved one.
Mr Cholmondeley left the house after dinner with his papers signed, but he didn't get very far. From my window, I could make out his shadow on the curtains, pacing back and forth in the cottage below. We met again over the milk bottles, but he had the grace to blush to his hairline and the good sense not to make excuses.
I put him to work cutting and buttering doorsteps as I made up a morning tray for Lady Yaxley.
"Jeeves, will you be traveling to Brinkley Court for the funeral, do you think?"
"I will not attend the funeral, no."
"Right. But as Bertie's valet, will you be there?"
"Mr Wooster has not given me any indication. Now, I usually carry this tray over to Lady Yaxley, but as you are here, perhaps you wouldn't mind."
"No, not at all. I say, Jeeves, why do you call her that? She told me she's asked you to call her Sally, and I know Mrs Collins does."
"I know my place."
"I notice you don't call me 'sir'."
"I engaged your services, Mr Cholmondeley."
"To give Sally a house. The papers are signed, so that's done with. So if I follow you, you are not valeting for Wooster, and Wooster isn't Lord Yaxley, Sally is a Lady, and I am a house guest—"
I raised an eyebrow. I exaggerated it so he wouldn't miss it. He rolled his eyes in response.
"— oh, come off it. It's none of my business, but I know I'm not the first house guest at the cottage."
"No doubt at your colonial boarding school, your entertainments differed from those at Eton and Harrow."
"I'm going to take this in before the tea gets cold, but I just want to point out that neither the late Lord Yaxley, the executor Lady Worplesdon, nor the heir presumptive share your sentiments regarding Sally. She's 'Sally' because she said so. She humours you because she knows London, but here in Combe in, er..."
"Yes. Here, we take each other as we find each other. And if you refuse to, that's your lookout. That's on you."
"And yet you are candidate for the Drones, a club for gentlemen of leisure."
"Mutual respect, Mr Jeeves. With mutual respect, I could hit an Earl on the nose with a biscuit. Have a little for Sally and drop this nonsense."
I decided a long walk into town was for the best.
Shavian: from George Bernard Shaw and a reference to Pygmalion.
In two parts, due to length.
Chapter 31: 31. Hot Water Part Two
Jeeves musters allied forces.
Our duties to others were all superseded by the baby, and by extension, his mother. We were waiting in the liminal space of the holiday town, where the particular customs of the townspeople eclipsed our own. We'd been there forty days when Lady Yaxley let drop that she expected the Wooster twins might arrive soon to London, and so she might be expected to travel for the funeral. Kettles and Potts would bring the remains down from Woking. Mrs Collins asked if the baby would be staying with a wet nurse, and there it was.
Lady Yaxley was happy to fulfil her duties, but she didn't see why George had to be a lord at all. Surely it was best for George to grow up with his mother?
Mr Cholmondeley said Eton was as good a school as any and better than most, that George had a duty to England.
Their discussion included that second, parallel text of signs and allusions that only the lovelorn employ. Mrs Collins dealt out a hand of gin rummy and we continued our own conversation.
I knocked and went gin, however, Mrs Collins didn't mind losing at gin rummy as long as she was winning at other games. She deftly reshuffled the cards as she dropped the conversational gloves.
"I'll be sad not to have you here at the cottage, Mr Jeeves. Your Mr Wooster was so pleased to buy it for you."
"And I was pleased to receive it, Mrs Collins. However, the Lady's needs exceed my own. Although — ", I looked at the lady in question, who was twisting Mr Cholmondeley's handkerchief in her hands and nodding seriously as he spoke, his hands outlining invisible futures in the air before them. "I wonder how long she'll stay."
"You're not one much for staying, are you, Mr Jeeves?"
I wasn't quite sure of her meaning. I'd been staying at the cottage on odd weekends off for years.
"Mr Wooster lives in London; therefore, so must I."
She sniffed. "If you and your Mr Wooster had to come all the way down here to the country to do the things you can't do in London, then why not keep the cottage?"
I took a breath to tell her why not, but she cut me off.
"I'll tell you why you won't."
I shot an alarmed glance at the young folk, but Mr Cholmondely was gazing earnestly into Lady Yaxley's shining eyes, her hands clasped in his and her rosy cheeks and fair hair contrasting well with her plain, grey, button-front dress. Not what titled widows wear for an evening with company in the drawing room, but perhaps what practical new mothers wear at home.
"You may have fooled all of Combeinteignhead, but you can't fool me. You don't want a home, here or in London. You don't want a home, and I'm talking about a real home, Mr Jeeves, not a workplace called home –you don't want a home apart from Mr Wooster, so you'd rather not have one at all."
"My dear Mrs Collins, that is precisely the point I'm making. A 'home', a village, is exactly what Sally needs and also the only thing I give her.
"A girl like Sally has men chucking houses at her every other minute. Thank goodness Mr Cholmondely won't be able to do that."
Sally was now curled into the arm of the settee, and sat with her leg tucked under her and her cheek resting on her arm. With her baby in her lap, she was the picture of domestc bliss. Mr Cholmondely was incrementally crumpling up at the opposite arm, stifling yawns but caught in the amber of Sally's attention. His back was to me, but if his expression was mirrored in Sally's, the baby wouldn't be fatherless for long. He had flung an arm along the back of the settee, his hand unconsciously reaching towards my Lady.
"I have lived with Mr Wooster for many years already, Mrs Collins. Yet neither common sense, nor logic, nor a practical demonstration of the difficulties the difference in our positions makes will convince Mr. Wooster to abandon his principles."
"Oh, abandoning principles, is it? Because from where I'm sitting," here she fanned out on the table an impressive meld with no deadwood, "You're the one doing all the abandoning. Now, don't give me that face. He wants you in his house because you want to be there. And the only way he can be sure, is to make sure you have your own house, and then for you to refuse to live in it. Now, when he hears you've given the cottage to Sally, he might think that you're making a grand declaration. You see, I wrote to him all about it after the first week."
I wasn't making a grand declaration. Sally and I had to see where the chips were going to fall, and plan accordingly. I would never work for a married man, and she would never live by the Code. After all is said and done, why wasn't it Mr. Wooster who had to upend his life? Why couldn't he leave the Woosters of Agincourt in the past, take me over the kitchen table, and make me his?
Mrs Collins patted my hand, and dealt out the final round of our contest.
"Your Mr Wooster told me there's a piano coming, but not to send it back, because he's only going to buy the cottage from Sally the first chance he gets." She winked at me. "Keep it this time, it was so lovely to have you both here. You won't regret the time you spend together. If I'd known I'd have Mr Collins and my boys and lose them, I'd still do it all again."
She glanced over at the sofa.
"Another hand, do you think, Mr Jeeves?"
I didn't need to look to know that Lady Yaxley was reeling in another fish from the sea. For her generous heart, it was a spontaneous choice effortlessly acheived. My own heart, ticking away like a bomb in my chest, was a constant threat to my plans. Where Mr Wooster and I stood back to back, hacking and slashing an onslaught of suitors, Sally wandered through the garden of life, picking her suitors as fancy took her from both sides of the hedge.
Mrs Collins patted my hand, and in an excellent display of social genius, she gave a series of enormous, escalating sneezes that woke up the baby.
Lord Yaxley wailed away downstairs as I sat down heavily on my bed. I balanced the wishes and needs of Mr Wooster, Mrs. Travers, Messers Eustace and Claude, Lady Worplesdon and Lady Yaxley, Mrs Collins, young Mr Cholmondeley, my neice Mabel and her hapless husband Mr. Biffen, on one side, and the needs of Lord Yaxley and myself on the other. I made the calculations as I undressed. I removed Mr Collins' thick, handknit cardigan and thought of who might live in the cottage and send carelessly long and entertaining telegrams via the Combeinteigh post office, I folded his worn soft cotton shirt and pondered who might carry on the Wooster name with the least disruption to the Aunts and the best opportunities for the self, and I laid the skillfully patched twill trousers beneath the mattress to coax as much of a crease down the leg as could be expected whilst I wondered: how much could a reputation withstand in an England where even Kings leave their duties to serve Aphrodite? I went to the window and watched Cholmondeley hanging his jacket over Lady Yaxley's shoulders as they made their way with the baby back to the cottage. Before, Lady Yaxley's hours communing with the sea spoke to me of loneliness and grief, but I might have been mistaken. She might have been dreaming of love and happiness. I decided that my path forward in Mr Collins' shoes would be worthy of him.
The next morning, I laid out my new strategy to the interested parties, and then I placed a telephone call.
"Mr. Seppings, Lady Yaxley returns to Brinkley Court tomorrow with Master George, Lord Yaxley. Mr Chomondeley and I accompany her, and will require rooms."
Seppings was cheeky enough to inquire if my room was to be downstairs.
POV Bertie next.
This work would never have gone beyond the first chapter if not for the encouragement of Bee. She's done all the editing, provided incisive logic, and a deep store of Wodehouse knowledge. She's fixed all kinds of inconsistencies and encouraged me to finish when things got hard. I know the plot sort of darts from here to there, but this was never planned from page one. The characters wrote themselves and are fighting me every step of the way to the finish line. When I get there, please thank Bee.
Chapter 32: 32. Closed Ranks
The Wooster clan have Jeeves over for dinner. Not really.
Claude, Eustace, and I sank slowly and deeply into the upholstery of the second-best drawing room of the East Wing, the dust motes swirling gently around us in the cool of the indoors. I buried myself in an armchair, and Claude and Eustace threw themselves on the settee and then smeared themselves in a tangle from one armrest to the other. Being without a fourth at tennis, we had resurrected a game from our childhood. Our matted locks spoke of our contest, they having bested me in an energetic afternoon of cowboys-and-lawn-tennis.
Back when Claude’s Rs were still Ws and Eustace’s thumb kept up residence in his mouth, Claude had suggested a fast-draw serve contest, and then of course we instituted a serve at ten paces. Two of us would start back to back at the net, the object being to hit the other with the ball or defend oneself from a hit with the racquet. The most fun was to get a volley going. The third would judge the outcome, and then play the winner. Eustace insisted on costumes. We didn’t spare each other a jot, and I had the bruises to prove it. They played with such gusto, it was evident they’d make an excellent father. I mean they would make an excellent father, if either of them reached fatherhood.
“Right,” I said, pulling off my makeshift eye-mask. I thought very, very hard about standing up.
After a pause, Claude piped up. “Right, I’m getting up,” he said.
“Right-oh. I’ll join you,” said Eustace, and raised his torso a few inches above Claude’s lap, only to fall back again with an oomf.
Thirst battled exhaustion, and won.
I reached an arm up behind me, and fished around for the bell-pull. The twins offered encouragement. After all, those can’t do – prod others into doing.
“Other side. No, left. Left! Double lefter than that. Oh, Bertie, you’re miles off.”
“Right, he means. Your right, Bertie. Right!”
“Bertie, you’re aiming lower the righter you go. Aim up a bit.”
“Well show us your aim, then,” I said. “Seppings must be rung to bring the medicinal. I’m completely knackered.”
Eustace raised his chin, tilting his head back to peer up into Claude’s face. “I say, Claude.”
Claude curled forward over Eustace with a groan.
“Go on, Claude. Hit the bell with your shoe. My arms are about to fall off."
Claude raised a leg and waved a futile hand, then seemed to ooze into action.
He began to twist against the armrest, managing not to dislodge Eustace, who wriggled obligingly until Claude could lie along the settee and use the armrest as a pillow. He ended up with one foot up on the back of the settee and the other planted on the floor. Eustace pulled one of Claude’s arms across himself and tucked his knees in.
“No,” said Claude. Superflously.
No point getting in the middle of that.
Desperate times, and all that— I rallied and twisted round till I could sight the bell and lobbed an ashtray. The bell made single sharp tink.
"Not sure they'll consider that a pull, chaps."
"Bertie, another!” saith the terrible two in chorus.
“Listen, my dear old buck-a-roos. That is all you’ll get out of Bad Luck Bertie.”
The twins were silent so loudly one could almost hear them bickering over which one them would get up.
Just as Claude said, “Oh, all right,” Seppings swept in, with pitcher and glasses on tray and ice clinking invitingly. I took two because… Well, Eustace and Claude only need one of anything, really.
“Dinner is in the conservatory tonight, sirs. Madam wishes to celebrate the beginning of the season.”
Now, if I was thirsty, the blame was the twins’. Therefore it follows, that if I was tipsy, the blame was Seppings’.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had to tie a bow around the ivory column. There’s a trick to it, to get the creases exactly right. You put your fingertips on each side of the bit that goes around and just under it, and the person doing the tying pulls it all tight. Then you withdraw your fingertips and you have the most perfect bow. With two it’s like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube, but on one’s own it’s as fiddly and messy as trying the reverse. I did my best, but the mirror showed that the bow had an inquisitive, challenging angle to it. “And what are you going to do about it?” it seemed to say. I was running a trifle late already, so it would have to do.
I wore short trousers the last time the Woosters dined in the conservatory at Brinkley Court. These days, between Anatole and the gardener McGregor, there are always herbs, bushes, and even trees of all sorts in there. Between McGregor and Aunt Dahlia, there are also urns ready to be trundled to terraces and banks of plants to replant the beds. Add in the need Aunt Dahlia and Seppings have for fragrant flora to decorate the rooms, and you can believe me when I say that the proposed dinner was more likely to resemble a meal in a jungle than a conservatory of a spiffy homestead. A panther lurking about wouldn’t have surprised yours truly.
I smoothed the front of my soft-bosomed shirt and gave my cock-eyed bowtie a twist to coax it straight as I pushed through some ornamental shrubbery.
“Chummy! What ho! And Sally!”
Sally was inexplicably at the head of the table, between my two aunts. I mean what, what? Aunt Agatha was clutching a giant mess of crochet to her chest. With a smile on, she actually resembled my smilier aunt, Aunt D. There was only one empty place at the table, and it was facing across from a broad-shouldered someone who could probably use a trim. He turned in his seat, I thought to greet me. Do you ever feel like a loose collection of atoms held together by a whim? My ionic bonds could have used a boost in that moment.
His face was as marble.
Seppings took my elbow, stepping between me and the table.
“Sir,” he said, and tugged. The thought struck me that Jeeves hates soft-bosomed shirts. I hoped it niggled him. “This way, sir.”
“Oh right. Thank you. Seppings. So many flowers! You’re not waiting at table tonight, are you, Seppings? Oh, of course, Georges will have to bring in the courses on the cart. You’ve quite outdone yourselves. Flowering trees! Has Anatole been in to see it? It must have taken you ages to light these torches. Do you remember when— before, when we dined in here all the time? We had a fountain in here, I think, with cupids…”
I don’t know what else I said, but I could feel the sympathy of the table on this unlucky Wooster’s side. Chummy on my left and Uncle Tom on my right immediately brought me up to date on labour disputes in charity hospitals (Chummy) and a recent exhibition of Dutch silver (Uncle Tom). The centre-pieces weren’t tall enough to obscure Jeeves from my view, but their height was sufficient to making sociability, vocally or otherwise, mercifully awkward. Jeeves sat between Eustace and Claude, who were doing, frankly, a too obvious a job of treating him like an empty chair by speaking across him. I do recall thinking their treatment of him a mite harsh. At the same time, I was immensely relieved not to have to engage in social intercourse with the blighter. Touched to the core, of course. They all were projecting an invisible barricade around me – cousins, Aunts, house staff and beyond. There was a tense moment when Jeeves broke through, asking me to pass the salt, but Chummy plunked his down within my reach and that was that. Jeeves addressed me as Mr. Wooster, if you were wondering.
But I wanted the closed ranks to realise that their services were not required. Man and master, Jeeves and Wooster, was all done and dusted. The mind was made up, though the body wasn’t quite done with the death throes. My eyes kept sliding past Jeeves, unable to pin him with even a glance. I finally mustered courage at the cheese plate and lifted my head, with the phrase, ‘Excellent table, what?’ at the ready, because it was an excellent table, with all of Aunt Dahlia’s dogs nosing our ankles beneath it and the honeysuckle above our heads strong enough to bring on a headache, when our attentions were claimed by two of the grounds staff carrying in a platter, upon which was seated a rather ferocious dragon.
The applause for Cook and Anatole was honestly come by. The two were supervising lighting the confection aflame and accepting our congratulations — with a beaming face and quivering mustachios (Anatole) and hands on cheeks and a blush like a bad sunburn (Cook). I admit that I wanted badly to know what Jeeves thought of it. The dragon was carved from ice, guarding eggs that were bowls of ice cream. Cherries in brandy were aflame all around, and with the lights so low, it was a scene out of a fairy tale. Half the table were on their feet, walking around it to see it at every angle. Jeeves had turned in his chair for his own gander. Claude had a hand on Sally’s shoulder, and they were saying something to Cook, who had her eyes squeezed shut tight with laughter. Chummy’s eyes were fixed on Eustace, and I could tell by the shapes he was drawing in the air that Eustace was telling him about the time the kitchen had made the Trojan horse and filled it with soldiers spun from sugar.
Jeeves turned around, and our eyes finally met like two clouds on a course that could only produce a thunderclap. His face was deeply shadowed, not that his expression ever gave anything away. Uncle Tom chose that moment to use the back of my chair to heave himself up, tipping me back and breaking our gaze.
“Cigars, my boy,” he said, and let go. Seppings was saying something to Jeeves, probably explaining that guests served themselves dessert, same as breakfast, so I followed Uncle T. out.
Uncle T had been buttonholing me since I arrived. He was showing off his collection greater detail than ever before, to the extremes of showing me the albums of exhibition notices from when he lends them out to museums. More or less half of the collection was on display throughout the house, apparently. I don’t care for silver much myself, but chewing the fat with Uncle T on the subject was pleasanter than you would think. My cousins, especially Angela, leg it when the talk turns to silver, but I don’t mind it. Perhaps that particular September found both Uncle Tom and I in need of staunchly incurious companionship.
As I followed him, my heart fondly recalled the days of yore. We used dine in the conservatory towards the end of summer quite often, when I was the leader of a crew of cousins (simply by virtue of age) and the summer seemed to go on for years. Mother was still alive, and so was Uncle Willoughby. We were rather propah as a family, but the summer dinners were anything but. We didn’t bother with seating arrangements, all of us ragamuffins were ‘allowed at the table’, and Seppings made sure that some of the downstairs or the grounds could come up at the end for a toast. The desserts were always elaborate.
Uncle Tom and I, as I said, hadn’t stuck around for afters. We had brandy and cigars in the music room. He spread some music out on top of the grand, but not for me to play. He was after my opinion on what to add that Aunt Dahlia’s guests might know how to play. As he passed me sheaves and I passed back sheets, I thought how comforting his silence was. When Chummy tumbled in with Claude and Eustace, all quite the worse off for wine, I took myself off to bed.
I don’t know if Seppings thought Jeeves would help me out of my studs, but no one came to valet.
Thanks again to Bee, who won't let this story die. Life is busy but the virus has managed to put a stop to that. Here's my silver lining for you guys. I do mean to meet my obligations, years and years old as they are. Please forgive any shortcoming in my efforts.
Chapter 33: 33. Ship Ahoy
Jeeves and Bertie part ways.
I slept poorly.
Not because I was waiting for Jeeves to cross the threshold. Those dreams were dashed against the rocks of reason and lay in a companionable wreckage next to the Titanic. Definitely, I was angled towards an uninterrupted, quiet night of rest. Yet it seemed, on this particular night, all the sheep in Yorkshire were not able to entice Morpheus to embrace me. At about four in the ack emma, I gave it up for a lost cause and made my way to the library to snatch something improving and dry from the shelves. Perhaps something about horse husbandry, or pig rearing.
I was absolutely bound and determined not to cross paths with Jeeves, so I tried to remember which of the doors of the first floor of the East wing I had opened the least. It’s a tricky thing, you know, to think of something you haven’t done. There was one I am certain I last opened in a game of hide-and-seek, decades previous.
I headed from the library straight to Aunt A’s drawing room. It’s got the aunt-sized lap-quilts that the library lacks and while one may query the importance of sleep one cannot doubt the efficacy of warmth while reclining to keep one’s spirits hovering above ground level. Aunt A is my father’s sister. That has no bearing, I’m simply setting the scene. The scent of the potpourri brought it to mind. Aunt A and my mother, the oiliest of oils and the wateriest of waters, had been best friends. I don’t remember it, but that’s what I’ve been told. I swaddled myself in a couple of quilts and tucked myself into the squashiest of the armchairs. It was the kind of cold where you want to keep as much of yourself inside the blankets so as not to let the heat leak out. Only the tip of my nose felt the chill, and then I finally was out like a light.
A housemaid and I shared a shriek at about seven, she entering perchance to light the fire and I exiting to stumble up the stairs to bung the corpus into a suitable crust for breakfast. As my heartbeat ratcheted down, I headed for the basin to splash water on the sleep deprived mask and scrub the dentures. The best way to learn human anatomy is by attempting to sleep in a chair. Joints, muscles and assorted tendons, whose existence was usually revealed only to ardent devotees of Asclepius, clamoured for arnica. I steadfastly ignored them all and opened the keeper of clothes. Everything inside the wardrobe was unwelcoming and uninspiring. I chose the worst of the lot, to match my mood. To top it off, I tacked on a bowtie. Polka-dotted. Tying them comes easier and easier with practice.
Aunt Agatha was the only one at breakfast, still clasping her mass of crochet.
“Good morning, Aunt.” I aimed for a warm cheerful morning chirp only to have said aunt give a hiss that would make an alley cat stay up nights to imitate. Her bundle of wool gave a piteous wail, followed by a series of snuffles.
“Good lord, Aunt Agatha, what have you got there?”
Giving me a disdainful eye, she rose imperiously and began to sway from side to side. Then wonder of wonders, she turned her back to me, and began to coo, as well. She swayed, and she cooed, as a turtle dove. I’d say that nothing surprises me anymore, excepting that just then my other aunt came in at a tilt and made straight for the first aunt, abandoning the usual war cries from atop the hunting horse that she normally brings into daily use for, upon my honour, cooing. Both of them cooed as Aunt D took charge of the bundle.
Two tiny fists emerged from the frothy woollens and maps of my aged-Aunts immediately rearranged themselves to resemble those paintings in RC churches of Madonna gazing upon the baby Christ.
But the world was not done doling out surprises yet. As it turns out, Aunt Agatha has an extensive vocabulary for praise. The entry for ‘praise’ in Aunt A’s thesaurus had never before been revealed to any nephew, yet before my very and weary eyes both aunts awarded the bundle top marks and blue-ribbons for yawning. They then exchanged a ranking of which of the Woosters he most resembled. Intrigued, I peered over Aunt D.’s shoulder.
“Claude and Eustace, surely?” I asked. A sudden silence descended as we all regarded Georgie, but the Wooster heredity had stamped him with the same nose as the rest of us. He could have been any of ours, really. A sudden thought broke through the morning fogginess.
“Oh I say, does this mean, er. I mean to say, if this is Georgie, Sally’s Georgie, then —” Hope dawned in the Wooster breast afresh. I had indeed hoped that the last few weeks’ rannygazoo would have culminated in a thorough sweetening of the Aunts and a consequent straightening out of the tangle in favour of the young blister. Had I been swapped out for a new model?
As always, Aunt A was quick to snooter me, “Oh, don’t strain yourself, Bertram! It was all talked about at dinner. You’d already have known, if you had paid any attention. Dahlia, I’m sure you’re ready for a plate. I’ll take our little Lordship now.”
One could see the winds of change. I was yesterday’s newspaper. There was a new last of the Woosters now and he had all the – what is the aunt equivalent of avuncular – aunterly perhaps – attention. I’d have to ask — I’d have to ask, that’s all.
Aunt Dahlia flicked a deft elbow to ward off my more angular aunt, declaiming, “Now, Aggie, you’ve had him to yourself all morning. I haven’t even sat down!”
They bickered over Georgie’s head and had me fetch them each a cuppa. I placed those dutifully at the table and sat down to shovel in the eggs, beans, and crumpets. It's rummy how the diversion of aunterly attention sort of changes a fellow's appetite. Fortunately, I had swallowed quite a few shovelfuls before Sally came in and carted Georgie off. Immediately, the aunts’ gimlet gaze swivelled back in my direction.
“Mmf!” I said, swallowing hastily to lob the first ball. “My publisher in New York says there’s a studio that wants to adapt one of my novels. A very respectable studio.”
It was a day for historical firsts, because (someone insert a drumroll here) the Aunts found that idea spectacular.
“The ocean’s the best place for you,” sniffed my Aunt Agatha. “You’ll make tomorrow’s boat if you can get to your flat by tonight.”
Aunt Dahlia added, “Take my advice and book a suite on the Cunard White Star Line. Angela and Tuppy said they had a lovely time.”
Aunt Agatha was staring at my bowtie. My hand rose to straighten it, but it was already straight. I could hear the gears shifting and wheels whirring as her stentorian tones casually pronounced, “Oh, Bertram. I hear there’s a Hollywood Cricket Club. I’m sure they’ll accept a letter of introduction from the Drones.”
“I row, Aunt A. I don’t even own whites.”
“Well get some,” she pronounced. I shot a startled gaze at Aunt Dahlia, but the two of them were exchanging an expression. I knew that expression. It forebode some evil plot involving yours truly and the daughter of a close friend. A single daughter. A single daughter aspiring to be an Aunt some day. A single daughter of marriageable age aspiring to be an Aunt some day. They’d have to be pretty quick to get her on a boat by the morrow.
I legged it.
The lawn was dewy enough and my shoes were leather enough to dissuade a tromp through and so I stuck to the straight and narrow, or as straightish as the narrow walks in Brinkley grounds could be. The rain could scarcely be called such, drizzling half-heartedly, as if it were experimenting to see how heavy a mist could get before it qualified as rain. I skirted the house looking for my rainy-day bench. This r.d.b. had seen yours truly through many a gasper and perhaps as many engagements. It was an oasis of tranquillity, my bee-loud glade, as I stumbled through life from one tureen to the next. I had a trip across the Atlantic to plan and a longish, perhaps permanent, leave from king and country to reckon with. I was free, well and truly. It hadn’t submerged yet in the grey matter. It would take at least couple of turkish at the very least. I came around a corner on the gravel and immediately regretted it. Jeeves was sitting on my bench.
See Agincourt, Battle of.
I pulled my tie askew as I doggedly made my way to the other end of the r.d.b.
“Good morning, Bertie.”
I don’t know if he turned to me to say it, because I was concentrating on my cigarette. I rolled it between my fingers pondering over which end to light and which one to wet. Some pheasants were gallivanting about at the bottom of the lawn. The poor blighters had no clue what was coming. Yesterday’s hounds may have looked lazy under the table, but give them a month, and any surviving pheasant, fox, or stag would have a tale or two for down the pub.
I sighed. “Hullo, Jeeves,” I said to the cigarette.
“I gave away the house in Dorset,” he replied, sans preamble. I sucked in a lungful.
“Yes, I heard. I thought perhaps you would come around to the flat after, actually. I was waiting for you to choose between one or the other. You know, a couple of confirmed bachelors in Dorset or man and master in London. Either way.”
My eloquence went without effect.
“I gave it to Lady Yaxley. She’s been living there with Lord George,” he said.
My eyes snapped to his profile. His clothes made him look lumpy, as if his Pygmalion had forgotten all about stone and sculpted him from pudding instead. Those couldn’t possibly be his shoes. They looked as if Mackintosh had been at them for a whole week.
“Good lord, wherever did you get those shoes, Jeeves?” Then I remembered that he’d run out on me in wellies, and began to laugh. “Never-mind, never-mind, Jeeves.” I took a couple of deep lungfuls. Laughing had brought me dangerously close to crying, but I stiffened the lip.
“Well then, Jeeves, let’s have it out.”
“I wish to tender my resignation, Bertie.”
I winced. It couldn’t possibly mean what I had wanted it to mean in London. And of all the days to finally acquiesce to the oft repeated wish, he’d chosen this one! Bally unsporting if you ask me.
“Yes, well, your absence from the flat for the last few weeks tipped me off.” Bonhomous was not what I was feeling.
“I wanted to do this in person.”
“You could have saved yourself a trip and done it in person before you ran off.”
I had the queerest sensation that I was looking at myself from the outside, and that everything that was happening had already happened. I closed my eyes.
I was never going to sit on this bench, ever again. The bench had lost its sanguinity. I was never going to sit on this bench, and tomorrow I’d be miles away.
“Bertie? I wanted there to be no mistake when I say this —”
“Yes! Quite, thank you for that. I know it’s not easy for you here, as a guest. Chummy has your wages and a reference. You may collect your things from the flat.” I tucked the cigarette between my lips and turned to give him my hand.
“Pax, Jeeves?” I mumbled, cigarette clamped between my teeth.
He took my hand between both of his. I tried to “shake” but he held on.
“Pax?” He asked, with the merest tilt of the head. I’d given him my right hand, so I plucked the cigarette with my left.
“It—” Jeeves rubbed a thumb across my knuckles and my voice caught. “It means ‘friends’. We said that at school.”
His thumb stilled.
“You can come around the digs whenever it suits.” I rallied as I pictured a ticket for the boat in my hand instead of a soggy cigarette end. In three weeks’ time, I was going to buy a white suit with a narrow collar and wear it to dinner in California with a soft bosomed shirt. My voice was steady as a rock as I delivered the final news, “I won’t be there.”
“Bertie, that is precisely my point.” He paused, and took deep breath, the sort of breath Louis Armstrong might take before one of his longer solos. Knowing we were in agreement was quite enough for me, thank you. I didn't need to hear the reprise.
“Jolly good!” I said, to cut him off.
Jeeves’ grip tightened, but I tugged my hand free and stood. It isn’t easy to dash the cup of joy from one’s lips, but this one had long run dry.
I wanted to plaster a smile to the map, and hear my voice say, Toodle-pip! But the vocal chords bent the other way.
“The next time someone tries to love you, Jeeves, I suggest you take them up on it.”
Not my snappiest adieu, but it didn’t matter. Nothing in England mattered to me just then.
EDIT: SHIT SHIT SHIT my beta is on the case, don't worry, she already told me Agatha is a Wooster. As soon as she gives me all of her corrections, I'll fix it.
SECOND EDIT: Phew, she's given it the A-OK.
I've said before that I won't abandon this, and I won't. Thank you anyone still reading: I may have to increase the chapter count to get these silly men together properly. I refuse to leave them suffering, even though they haven't been exactly kind to each other. And thank you, Bee, for all your continued help. I bet you didn't think you'd still be editing this years later, when you first offered and this was only one short chapter long.
Okay here is the thing with the elephants: whenever I can't think of a word, I write [ELEPHANTS]. Usually I remember to take them out afterwards!