As you might remember, Jeeves revealed his heart to me via a curious means: by concealing it in code in his termination letter. Thus, for our first anniversary, I thought it would be smashing to give him a little encoded message myself for him to work out.
Jeeves’s intellect being much brighter than my own by several megawatts, I recognised that this missive would have to be wrapped in a puzzle quite a bit more difficult than the one he gave me, which had required firing up the old synapses only so much as to, for instance, realise that the presence of a book about secret messages in his room implied that there might be such a thing concealed within his letter.
However, the very creation of a puzzle that could strain the limits of Jeeves’s abilities required just as towering an intellect, so I determined that I would have to seek out an expert. After asking a few of the more serious coves at the Drones about where I might find one (which garnered not a few bewildered looks), I found myself gripping my intended message before a German fellow in a garret.
He had a curious-looking sort of typewriter, on which he allowed me to type my message—after I had forked over a rather absurdly large chunk of cabbage for the privilege.
Unlike a real typewriter, when I pushed a key, an entirely different letter was printed to the paper. “Why, that’s clever,” I said.
“You have no idea,” the man said in his thick Teuton accent, taking a scornful drag on a cigarette.
Once I had finished, the man recommended I throw my original message into the fire burning pleasantly in the grate, which I did so at once, since it certainly wouldn’t do for Jeeves to simply come across the thing in the flat. My cryptographer then sent me off with encoded message in hand:
I was quite the happy customer, confident that this little puzzler would keep Jeeves occupied for at least the better part of a day.
This wasn't the only thing I had got Jeeves for the occasion: I had also got him a pair of subdued yet elegant cufflinks, which seemed to genuinely meet his approval. Jeeves, on his part, had got me a shockingly gaudy (by his standards) gold tie and matching pocket square.
“Why, Reggie!” I exclaimed. “Surely you’ll never allow me to wear these, will you?”
“I will indeed,” he said. “They would be appropriate under certain circumstances.”
“Those circumstances being safely hidden from public view in my chambers, no doubt?”
“Not at all. They would be wholly appropriate at the Drones, for instance, and would go quite well with your brown suit.”
I grabbed Jeeves’s enormous cranium and gave him a smacker on the lips. “You are a saint to indulge me so.”
His cheeks coloured slightly. “I do so love to see you happy,” he said.
Well, this nearly made me swoon right then and there, but my second gift still remained to be given. I handed him a blank envelope. He gave me a somewhat suspicious look, at which I only smiled mysteriously. “This isn’t my notice, is it?” he asked.
I scoffed. “Really, Reggie,” I said, feeling that such a ridiculous question required no additional rebuttal. However, in truth, I would have indeed preferred to have dismissed him from my employ and made an honest man out of him by binding him to self in holy matrimony.
He pulled out the slip of paper within the envelope and looked over the madcap string of letters. He looked back up at me, a twinkle of amusement in his eye. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Precisely,” I said, grinning.
“I’m meant to decrypt this, I presume?” he asked.
“That’s right. Since you captured my heart with this sort of jobbie, I thought you might enjoy solving one yourself.”
“Actually, this is of quite a different sort. The messages I gave you were an instance of steganography, meaning they were not encrypted, but rather hidden in plain sight. This, however, if I am not mistaken, is an instance of cryptography, in which the existence of a secret message is evident, but—”
“Reg,” I said.
“Let us ponder the differences between stegosauruses and whatsit after you’ve deciphered your puzzle.”
“Very well, Bertie,” he said, and he gave me a little smirking kiss.
Our gift exchange then moved to the bedroom, where it assumed a rather—ahem—more physical nature.
When I awoke the next morning, I knew that Jeeves would have already been at his puzzle for a few hours, and I was eager to see if he had already solved it or if the y.m. had actually managed to stump his darling genius.
I located him at the table, bent over several sheets of paper with letters scrawled all over them. I had to content myself with only a kiss on the top of his head, as my presence did not lift him from his immersion.
“Well, well,” I said, “you haven’t already cracked it, have you?”
“Not at all,” he said, finally looking up at me and pulling me into his lap. “It’s proving to be quite the challenge.”
I beamed proudly. “So I actually found something capable of straining that behemoth of a brain, have I?”
“You have indeed,” he said. “I believe I have determined, however, that it is not a matter of a fixed substitution of letters. The first five letters are particularly odd, and I have tried all the reasonable possibilities, to no avail.”
This had me quite chuffed. It appeared that the quid I had forked over to the German had been well spent after all. “It’s a good thing I don’t happen to be in the soup at the mo., isn’t it? So you can fritter away as many of your mental faculties on this diversion as you like.”
“There are several reasons I’m pleased that you aren’t currently in the soup,” he said, and moved to arise. “I’ll get you your breakfast.”
“You'll do no such thing,” I declared, bounding out of his lap. “I shouldn’t wish to pull you away from your new fixation. I’ll rustle something up on my own.”
He seemed pleased with this, and I made some eggs for myself and coffee for us both. He remained distracted by his continued scrawlings, so I settled in with the paper.
Over the next few weeks, I’m afraid to say I witnessed Jeeves descend into a sort of madness. Whenever I spoke to him, his gaze seemed far off, as if he were working out a pattern in his head. He spent most of his free hours cooped up in his old room, presumably hard at work on his puzzle.
He asked me for help only once, when he inquired, somewhat despairingly, if the sequence of letters was in fact random. I exclaimed that I would never intentionally pull such a cruel trick on him, but that in all honesty, I couldn’t be sure they weren’t. I didn’t explain why I couldn’t, but the fact was that it was possible that the German’s typewriter was a perverse fraud rather than a true encryption mechanism.
I now began to regret that I had been more ambitious than to have simply swapped letters as in a children’s game. Although I had wanted a challenge worthy of Jeeves, it was clear that this was destroying him from within, as if a car’s engine had been filled with taffy rather than petrol, yet was obliged to keep churning away, remorselessly gumming up the works.
While Jeeves was on a short errand, I went into his old room to check on his progress (perhaps he’d deciphered part of it?) and was horrified to discover that the walls were papered with hundreds of the sort of scrawlings he now constantly had in hand. The book about secret codes was propped open to a page where Jeeves had scribbled fervid notes in the margins. Several other pages were worn and dog-eared, and the spine was broken in two places.
It was clearly time to end this.
When Jeeves returned, I told him that I would put him out of his misery and tell him what the message was, but he said: “You mustn’t. I didn’t earn it.”
I thought that was preposturous, but relented. “All right. I won’t tell you, but only because it would sound silly after all that.”
He then admitted that he had in fact been on the brink of telling me he’d given up, which made me even sorrier. When had Jeeves ever given up on anything? I expressed my remorse to him, but he wouldn’t hear of it; he was only impressed that I had hit upon something that had turned out to be so incredibly difficult.
“It beats the socks off even the soupiest soup, does it?”
“It does indeed,” he said rummily.
“I assure you the message doesn’t say anything important whatsoever. I already tell you the important stuff all the time.”
“Like what?” he asked, smirking slightly.
I returned the smirk. “Like how much I love you.”
“I see. What else?”
“How bloody gorgeous you are.”
“I don’t recall having heard that for some time.”
“Consider it said this very moment.”
And with that, he ended the conversation with a kiss.
By the time I arose the next day, Jeeves had returned to his former self. All traces of papers and scribblings were gone, including in Jeeves’s old room—I checked when he was out. The book about secret codes was safely tucked away on a high bookshelf. Days went by as lovely as ever (between the two of us, I mean; there were still ominous tidings vis à vis various aunts and troubled chums), and I rather forgot about the whole business about my ill-advised Jeeves-teaser, until one night Jeeves came home and, while looking rather meaningfully into my e.s, brought my fingers to his lips, kissed them twice, and then moved in close to kiss me twice on the nose.
“You solved it!” I shouted, for he had done exactly as my secret message had instructed. “How?”
“I didn’t,” he confessed. “Since I admitted defeat, I reckoned it was fair game to track down the purveyor of your message’s cipher, whom I found by making a few discreet inquiries.”
“Why, Reg, that’s just as impressive as having solved the thing yourself.”
“I would have to disagree. When I saw Mr. Scherbius’s mechanism, I was astonished by its complexity. He assured me that it provides an unimaginable number of ways to encrypt a message. Even he wouldn’t have been able to decrypt your ciphertext did he not happen to remember what the machine’s settings were when you had used it. I daresay I would have had to have built a machine of a similar kind to reverse the encryption, though I believe that even then it may not have hit upon the correct solution within a reasonable amount of time.”
“Good lord,” I said. “Sorry old thing. I had no idea that such a thing was possible.”
“Neither did I.”
“Well, I daresay this should be the last time I dabble in the dark arts of cryptography.”
“I am inclined to agree.”
And indeed, from then on, Bertram Wooster kept his distance from not just cryptography, but anything remotely resembling anything capable of stumping Reginald Jeeves, and we were both all the happier for it.