It was a summer day in a charming village on the southwest coast of a particular England.
Further description is probably unnecessary. The Author would like nothing better than to stretch out for a few paragraphs of tangy salt air, cheeky seabirds, and tourists looking dubiously at their white boating shoes and the baskets of shrimp on the pier. But the story, by its lack of angst, erratic capitalization, and elliptical conversation fragments, already stretches the bounds of speculative fiction; it will therefore be assumed that the Reader is tolerably familiar with the features of a seaside resort and doesn't need a great whack of wordcount on the subject. The sun sparkling on the glassy waves may be taken as read. On with the story.
The tall man with the dark, shrewd, sympathetic face arrived at his inn alone, and on foot. There was nothing particularly odd about this; the village was small and notable mostly for its sea-fishing, and didn't contain enough square miles for the inn to be other than close to the train station. The man had been there in past summers, and remembered the desk clerk's name and to ask after his wife's lumbago; he was shown up to his room with great solicitude, and in return tipped with precision.
Once the door closed, and he was alone, there was the important business of unpacking to be attended to. The bowler hat was hung symmetrically on the rack; the brown tweed jacket of his off-duty suit, immaculate and unwrinkled despite the journey, he draped over a hanger. He ran his fingers over a few surfaces as he put away shirts, undershirts, pants, trousers, and handkerchiefs, but it was only a reflexive gesture and he found next to no dust. The inn was one he'd selected himself: it was as well-scrubbed and friendly as its world.
Task complete, he opened the window and allowed himself the luxury of standing and breathing in the sea air. It was nearly always sunny in this England, and this day was no exception; he lingered for several moments, admiring the trim flowerboxes that hung from the windows of the opposite house, before abstracting from his right breast pocket a small notebook.
Arden Forest, read the first page to which he turned. Enter Act V. Consult w/ heroine Rosalind/"Ganymede." Note: good candidate for D. e. M. training.
The corners of his mouth turned up fractionally as he read, for he was fond of Shakespeare. Another entry, headed, Small pig-infested South Sea island did not meet with the same approbation.
Enter end 12th chapter. Rescue murderous crew of schoolboys left too long to their own devices.
Jeeves sighed, and, returning to the valise he'd just unpacked, withdrew from its emptiness a naval officer's uniform. While he was in the process of laying it out for the next morning, he thought he heard familiar laughter below. He went to the window, but saw only the edge of a paper sunshade painted with butterflies, disappearing around the corner out of view.
Four days later, the hallway door swung open. If anyone had been standing in the tidy little inn bedroom at the time, they would have had a glimpse not of the usual wooden panels and plaster and Victorian prints of dubious quality, but of another seaside quite different to the one properly located outside, crowded with war ships and cruisers. The grim harbor had no witnesses, however, as the room was empty, and the door promptly shut on its tropic breeze.
The vast number of unaware persons in this world who believed it to be the one and only real world were left, for the moment, undisabused.
The dark man did not stagger in, by any means; his step shifted deliberately from a firm to a noiseless tread as he entered the room, and his expression changed very little as he took off the peaked white-topped cap and threw it back into the waiting valise. But an observer - again, an entirely hypothetical one aside from the Author and the Reader, who in this case don't count - might have noticed that the still-spotless uniform was being shucked with a good deal of speed, and went into the valise folded with no very great care.
Jeeves had had a long few days of it, between the weeping, epically unhygenic schoolboys and the sticky atmosphere of atomic age political allegory. He'd amused himself at some points speculating what his employer would have had to say about the whole situation, but aside from a wistful urge to push the head of the boy's choir overboard he could come up with very little. Despite their mutual and indubitable Britishness, the two worlds were too incompatible; he could not wish Mr Wooster here even in jest. Aside from anything else, it would have put his young master off bacon permanently.
After a thorough bath and a long night's sleep, he rose and put on his own clothes again, and, checking first with the desk clerk and finding no calls or messages, he proceeded down to the seafront and relieved his feelings by whiling away the rest of the first week paddling around in a shrimp boat.
At some point during the long, dull stretch of afternoon that Sunday, all the peace and solitude began to register as irksome, not to say suspicious. There had been no letters bearing news of stolen silver and auntly wrath, or frantic telegrams begging the return of the prop of the household. While this was not unprecedented in the history of his holidays away from 3a Berkley Mansions, London, W.1, it was certainly unusual.
Jeeves took an egg-and-cress sandwich and his copy of The Times down to one of the innumerable rows of deckchairs by the seawall, and there among innumerable old ladies and gentlemen taking the sun he flipped through its pages, searching for the fly in the ointment.
The society engagements contained no impending nuptial disasters; he looked for, but found no mention of the arrest of one Ephraim Gadsby, of the Nasturtiums, Jubilee Road, Streatham Common.
Baffled, he was scritching a bored and importunate shopcat under its chin while he paged through advertisements promising large sums of money lent, no security necessary, boasting the virtues of Mulliner's Snow of the Mountains Face Cream, or advising those in trouble to Leave It To Psmith! Crime not objected to!, when a collective wheezy sigh arose and swept through the elderly denizens of the deckchairs, like a gentle wind blowing through a large display of harmonicas.
Jeeves looked up, and followed the admiring gazes to a young couple climbing onto a tandem bicycle.
The boy, bright-haired and insouciant in white linen and dark glasses, was in front holding the machine steady, while the girl, in an extremely unpracticed manner, attempted to climb sidesaddle on the backseat, displaying flashes of shapely calves and ankles. Jeeves recognized her butterfly-spangled sunshade a moment before she turned and caught sight of him; she said something to the boy, and they both caught his eyes and waved, their turned faces inspiring another deep, rattling sigh of longing from the deckchairs.
They were young, bubbling over with espieglerie and joie de vivre; they were both, frankly, indecently lovely. Jeeves narrowed his eyes slightly as he nodded back. None of the spectators seemed to have noticed this interaction, all still rapt and staring.
The pair of them seemed too beautiful, too golden and desirable to belong to this world. This was, of course, because they did not.
Jeeves was well aware that it was within the rights of a deus ex machina to visit any world he or she chose, whether on business or for pleasure, and that this included a world chosen by another of the guild as his particular home-spot. He wasn't, however, especially pleased by that fact, especially when the unannounced visitor was a literal deus. Those of the ancient gods who still remained in general circulation tended, on the whole, to be those most addicted to creative interference.
The cat at the side of his deckchair, alone unimpressed, and annoyed at its sudden neglect, leapt onto Jeeves's newspapery lap and began eating the remains of his sandwich. By the time he'd extricated the animal from himself and his plate, and folded his newspaper again, the young couple had mounted the bicycle and begun trundling down the path, ringing the bell and swerving wildly and with a complete lack of necessity, as the pedestrians parted before them like waves at low tide.
Jeeves reflected darkly for a moment on the utter stupidity of having the half of the couple who was driving be the one who was proverbially blind.
That night, Jeeves was ensconced at a table downstairs at the inn, addressing himself to Spinoza's Treatise on the Improvement of the Understanding and the consumption of a quiet Welsh rarebit and pint, when over the sociable din of the other drinkers he heard a high, clear whistle. Glancing up, he saw Cupid winding his way across the room. The process was somewhat impeded by a tendency on the young god's part to bump directly into every person and piece of furniture in between, as it evidently didn't occur to him that mortals and their props wouldn't automatically move out of his way, but he seemed wholly unbattered (unlike some of the people, or indeed some of the furniture) and unbowed, broadcasting his charming smile liberally around the room.
Jeeves laid down his book and cleared his throat, and the god oriented on him and headed over.
"What ho, old jam-basket," he said, first patting the back of the chair opposite Jeeves to find it and then tossing himself into it, uninvited. "Fancy running into you."
Jeeves thought of pointing out that he was one of the few things in the room that Cupid had not in fact run into at this point, but confined himself to inquiring if Cupid and his lady wife were enjoying their little visit.
"Oh yes. Well, pretty well. It's a jolly little place, though a bit narrow to my way of thinking."
"Narrow, my lord?" Jeeves noticed a barmaid lingering, breathlessly, behind the god's elbow and wished, vainly, for her to depart.
"Well, you know, there's not much scope for my gifts in a world where the heights of the divine pash. seem to be expressible at most with a bit of heated knee-fondling."
"Mfreep," said the barmaid, or words to that general import.
Cupid's blank gaze went unerringly to her face, now flushed a fetching pink. He smiled. "Muriel, isn't it?"
She nodded helplessly, eyes wide.
"Muriel," he repeated, in caressing tones, "Would you do something for me?"
The girl strained with every atom of her being to express her entire willingness to do anything he asked, anything at all. Jeeves closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath.
"Would you....bring me a bottle of champagne? Oh, and another one of," gesturing negligently and nearly knocking over Jeeves's pint glass, "whatever my friend here is drinking. Thank you."
Jeeves felt beholden to point out, "Small inns on the British coast are not especially known for the quality of their champagne, my lord."
Cupid looked mildly confused. "But it'll be smashing, naturally. I mean, I ordered it." He noticed Muriel still standing staring at him, and said kindly in her direction, "Run along and fetch those drinks now, there's a good girl."
Muriel squeaked and ran for the bar.
"Now, where was I?"
"Bemoaning the limited scope of my world."
"Oh, yes. But Psyche says she finds it peaceful and," a bright, roguish look, "one does have to keep one's own chosen darling happy, doesn't one."
"I could not say, my lord."
"Couldn't you?" asked Cupid, grin growing even more worryingly bright.
Mercifully, Muriel and two more barmaids returned at this moment with their drinks, so Jeeves was spared trying to formulate a response; he was, however, obliged to watch as the three girls, giggling nervously, asked Cupid for his autograph. To Jeeves's profound irritation, he agreed, and cheerfully signed each of their hands with the name of a leading matinee idol. (None of the girls seemed to notice that each of the signed names belonged to a different matinee idol.)
When they had gone at last, and the predictably excellent old bottle of champagne the barmaids had left was wrangled open with a minimum of efficiency and a maximum of foam, the god proposed a toast. One toast to Jeeves turned into another to both their beloveds. Jeeves politely did not protest his part in this dedication. And then Cupid decided, and would not be dissuaded from his decision, that the occasion called for a game of darts.
Unfortunately, there was an unattended board, and Cupid produced from somewhere a set of handsome black and gold-tipped darts.
"I must say, though, my old toffee-engine, I don't understand it," he said, offering the black darts to Jeeves. They were sleekly fletched and perfectly weighted.
"Understand what, my lord?"
"Why you like things to be so orderly," inflecting the word to mean desperately dull, "and yet you so seldom interfere or break the bounds of the plausible. This champagne for example," he waved it expressively. "I made it appear in the inn's backroom, but you know and I know you might have perfectly well changed it to vinegar. Or made lovely young whatshername, the barmaid, dump it over my head - I could see you were only longing to do it. It is your world, you can do what you like with it. So why didn't you?"
Jeeves inspected the points of his darts. "I have always felt, my lord, that such methods lack subtlety."
"Hmph," said the god, and threw.
If Jeeves had been concerned for the health of those in the immediate vicinity, he needn't have been; blind or not, Cupid threw with lethal accuracy. Being no slouch at darts himself, and basking in the comfortable feeling of having had the last word for the moment, Jeeves was just beginning to enjoy himself when the god threw his second treble twenty and then remarked, "But what am I doing to do with you?"
Jeeves's throw went cockeyed, and his dart bounced off one of the wires and clattered to the ground. Clearing his throat, he went to retrieve it, asking mildly, "I beg your pardon, my lord?"
"And so you bally well ought to," said Cupid, smiling, his eyes unnaturally lit from within. "For you don't appreciate me at all. Do you?" He held out one hand, and the darts in the board came flying back out of the cork into his waiting grasp.
"You don't approve of me one whit, and I'd like to know what I've ever done to you. I could do quite a bit, you know." He paced slowly, soundlessly closer. "If your employer hasn't ever taken more than the most disposable fancies to any of his young ladies, and they to him, it's only because I didn't care to disoblige you."
The god's eyes were wide, sightless and fathomless as the sea. They did not belong in this room, this inn, this neat and charming little town; what was rising from their depths was dark and old. It had no place or purpose in this world except to break it and gloat lovingly over the pieces. "If," the god said softly, "if I threw this dart right now in the general direction of your left upper ribcage, you might find yourself acting less subtly, Jeeves. You would have time to close your eyes, perhaps, unless you really wanted to be inspired with an overruling passion for that little barmaid, or the chappie with the port and lemon over yonder." The golden dart twitched in Cupid's fingers. "But you couldn't stand forever looking like a stuffed frog with its eyes glued closed. You'd have to wish yourself somewhere, and open your eyes on someone. Where would you go, I wonder? Where is home?"
Jeeves looked away, and coughed, like a sheep clearing its throat on a distant, misty hill five miles away. "Your throw, I believe, my lord."
Cupid blinked, shrugged impatiently, and threw: double bull, a perfect finish. The small crowd that had gathered to watch, which had been oblivious to the more metaphysical moments of the game, let out a cheer, and Cupid, pleased, bowed to each and every one of them, all in more or less the wrong directions.
Jeeves handed the champagne bottle back to the god, remarking, "I must say, my lord, that you seem to be making very reckless use of your divine accoutrements this evening."
"Oh, I'm always being chided for not looking after them properly," said Cupid, taking a negligent swig from the bottle and grinning around the room. "Among other things I'm chided for. That's the only reason the guv'nor let me marry to disoblige m'mother, you know: he thought Psyche was such a nice steady girl." He wobbled slightly on his feet, and laughed, sounding surprised.
"And have you become steadier under her influence?" inquired Jeeves, taking the black darts out of the board and collecting them together in a large cambric handkerchief he kept in his pocket.
Cupid laughed again. "Not noticeably." He took another drink, staggered as the bottle came down, and began feeling around behind him for a chair. "I could have told him I wouldn't, but. But I had to marry my Psyche, she would keep getting into the most awful jams without me, and anyway she's my - my home..." His knees buckled, and Jeeves caught him neatly under the arm as he fell, letting the darts drop from his loosening hand. Jeeves picked these up as well.
"Water from the river Lethe," he said, as he steered the god solicitously towards the door. "I'm afraid I took the liberty of putting a few drops in the bottle while you threw. It seemed the best course of action."
"You had...in your waistcoast pocket....?" Cupid said, dredging up incredulity from somewhere as his feet dragged along like lead.
"I happened to have a vial with me, yes. It is, admittedly, a rather implausible coincidence. But as you said yourself," Jeeves reminded the unconscious god, "this is my world."
Cupid was lighter than expected, so it was easy enough to carry him to a nearby park bench and dispose him, carefully, in a seated position. Jeeves was just taking a moment to write down a formula on the pad of paper he kept in his breast pocket when - in another remarkable stroke of good fortune - there came wandering by a slim figure carrying a lamp.
"Oh, dear," said Psyche.
Jeeves explained that he regretted to say the god of love had imbibed not wisely but too well. He had just been in the process of writing down a little remedy of his own invention which gentlemen told him they found extremely invigorating after such nights.
"I'm sure they do. Oh," Psyche said, shaking her head as she came around to heft Cupid to his feet, "for your sake, husband, what sort of mess have you gotten into now?"
Cupid leaned into her and nuzzled her neck, and she rolled her eyes. "Thank you for looking after him, Jeeves. I don't suppose you know where he's left his...?"
Jeeves offered the darts in the handkerchief.
"Thank you," she said, gratefully. "You really are a wonder."
"Not at all, my lady," said Jeeves. "Will you require further assistance in conveying him home?"
"Oh no, I'll be quite all right." she said, shifting her husband's arm over her shoulder. Cupid made a happy-sounding noise. His free hand came up, and began to wander regions from which Jeeves tactfully averted his eyes.
She went on, in a fond and exasperated voice, "I did tell him, you know, not to try to stir up trouble with you on your own ground. Considering the psychology of the individual." For a moment, her words echoed in Jeeves's ears with precisely his own intonations. Then she laughed, ruefully, and seemed again only an exceedingly lovely girl, brushing a kiss against the side of her husband's forehead. "Silly ass."
Psyche smiled at him, and fumbled in the handkerchief before extracting one of the gold-tipped darts. "Here," she said, holding it out, and when, Jeeves came no further, huffed an annoyed breath, reached out and fitted it in the buttonhole of his jacket like a flower. "A gift, just in case you ever find you want it."
She hefted Cupid up again, eliciting another pleased murmur and grope, and then turned and staggered off into the night.
Jeeves watched the gods walking away, and then, as the calm night swallowed them, turned back to resume his dinner.
Arden Forest was shady and green, and young Ganymede - or Rosalind, as she was revealed to be - was just the sort of young lady Jeeves most admired in a distant and platonic way.
"Then is there mirth in heaven," he intoned, dressed in flowing golden robes he flattered himself suited him immensely, "When earthly things made even atone together."
The train back to London had a comforting solidity, and as he came in the flat door a pleasant light baritone voice was raised in song. "--give me your answer do. I'm half crazy, all for the love of -- what ho," said Mr Wooster, rising from the piano bench and beaming. "That you, Jeeves?"
"Indeed, sir," he said, placing his bag at his feet.
"Silly question, I suppose, unless you have occult powers of disguise of which I'm not aware," Mr. Wooster observed. "Have a good holiday?"
"Quite agreeable, though somewhat more full of incident than I would have preferred."
"You shall have to tell me all about it. Still," said Bertie hopefully, "good to be home, what?"
"Very good indeed, sir," said Jeeves.