The evening at the Drones had been a particularly corking affair so Jeeves’s special restorative was triply necessary in the morning: after it had blown me to smithereens, gathered me up into a dustpan, and built me up again from ash like a funeral service run backwards, I had, at last, the emotional fortitude required to assemble my expression into one of grave seriousness with a hint of complacence. Rather like an elderly Pekingese gone slightly but not completely deaf.
Such needed to be without even a hint of satire because Bertram has gathered of late that what Jeeves wants in a pash and more importantly in a helpmeet is a cove with the facial and social thing-ness of a half-deaf elderly Pekingese. A Wooster does not disappoint.
I should go back a bit. Essentially, Jeeves and I had discovered some while into our acquaintance that we had a bit more in common than most masters and valets, or, rather, that we had precisely as much in common as most masters and valets but slightly more in common than most masters and valets where one was inverted, to wit, that we both were; I won’t go into the whys-and-wherefores of it all, only that there is a limit to the number of times a valet can hook his employer out of the soup of engagement without coming to realize that said employer wants quite strongly to avoid all such things forever, and also during one of Bingo’s insouciant flirtations—if insouciant is the word I want—with self, Jeeves may have seen, well, the scene played out on the sofa, and felt it necessary to reassure self that all was safe from blackmail.
Bingo of course promptly divested himself of Woosters as Bingo habitually does, but I do not want to give the impression that that left one in a rummy sitch, affections-wise, only to be mended by falling promptly in love with one’s valet.
There are some, I will admit, who upon the discovery of shared proclivity in one even reasonably agreeable to heart, mind, and senses, promptly attach themselves to the other fellow at the mouth, on the grounds that it’s a devilishly tricky thing to negotiate sometimes and loneliness is bitterer than the bitterest herb.
I did not go in for such. Discovering another fellow’s an invert is all well and good, but it does not follow that I must avail myself of him and offer him heart and body. If you know to a certainty there’s an orchard to your left whose owner does not mind the occasional pluck of fruit by passerby, you don’t cry “by Jove!” and tally forth whether you’re hungry for an apple or not.
Such was the case with Jeeves. We both regarded each other with unmistakable fondness but we didn’t want to pluck and eat each other, to follow the constraints of the metaphor rather further than may be desirable. All continued on with a bit more fellow feeling but not a bit more kissing and all was well.
Until I came, by and by, to realize that Jeeves was not an apple. Not touching him became less like not bounding over the orchard fence and more like going to Aunt Dahlia’s and refusing the absolute tops of Anatole’s cooking even while the smell was in the nose. Something exquisite and longed-for with every particle of being and something familiar enough that one could really almost feel in the nerve endings what it would be like to have it at last, only to discover, again, that you didn’t. Being in love with Jeeves was, I’ll go so far as to say, even more agonizing than that; he louses up the best of metaphors. No apple at all.
The trouble became that looking at Jeeves with eyes as soft as toffee did not induce Jeeves to offer toffee in return: whatever transition of affections had taken place had been wholly on my side, apparently, and Jeeves still regarded Wooster as a bit on the apple-y side.
This did not surprise. Jeeves has, after all, the finesse to wiggle me out of engagements not only because of a diet rich in fish but also because the beazels generally view Bertram as a sound second choice. Jeeves has no reason to turn to someone so low on the old totem p. I can’t precisely speak to what arrangements he makes or how long they last, but judging by his tastes in all other matters, he hits upon the generally-considered best of everything, which if it has any sense, is well-satisfied with him in turn. Now, Jeeves’s best is not necessarily my best, as our set-tos over fashion and all have handily proven, but I am familiar with what Jeeves likes and doesn’t—a seriousness like the aforementioned Pekingese. Every fellow he mentions to me with approval has that distinct look to him. Reads thick books. Refrains from tossing bread.
There is nothing in the world I care for as much as Jeeves, certainly not the flips and filigrees and peccadilloes of my personhood, so I had the blowout at the Drones Club, revived, assumed the Pekingese, and announced to Jeeves the reason for said blowout.
“Jeeves,” I said, “that was just the thing to celebrate the end of an era.”
“I have resigned my membership at the Drones. All revelry will henceforth continue sans Bertram.”
Jeeves lingered in the door, causing me to hold out the brief hope that he would announce that was all that had been keeping us apart, and join me on the bed, but he only said, “Oh, sir? A quite unexpected decision. May I ask what factored into your considerations?”
Now, one does not simply announce that one is bent on, well, bending oneself into all sorts of uncomfortable shapes solely for another’s pleasure—only aunts find that sort of thing charming—and surely Jeeves would not value my efforts if he knew them to be efforts at all. It is physical and mental grace without strain that impresses a Jeeves. I was thereby forced to mumble into my tea something to the effect of not being engaged by the old festivities to the same extent.
“Bit of silly rot,” I concluded, “and all that,” only to remember too late that “silly rot” is not something Jeeves would say, and the equation has it that if Jeeves is the very pinnacle, which of course he is, then Jeeves can only deserve another Jeeves, or at least as makeshift a one as I can provide. I would have to guard my tongue. “Would you have a suggestion for another club, Jeeves? One more in the lines of maturation—if maturation is the word I mean.”
Jeeves continued to look at me like I was exhibiting puzzling new symptoms of some Sir Roderick-type condition and would shortly begin to gnaw on the drapery.
At last, he said, “The Western Lion, sir, is known to have a good reputation in the best circles,” and of course I had never heard of it, proving once and for all that the best circles have been drawn elsewhere and I must tramp diligently in their directions if I hope to win the valet fair.
“Very good,” I said, and things to that effect, and ordered eggs and b., being sure to elongate the b. into its full-word form, and Jeeves shimmered out. It was a visibly perplexed shimmer, though, which lent me some small hope. He might come back and say he loved me without any changes, after all. Then there would be no new club I’d never laid ear on before, no absence of friends, no constipation of the facial expression—I would only have Jeeves, and lend myself to him in turn, and be happy.
Instead of a declaration of love, he returned with breakfast. Well, Rome wasn’t b. in a d. Bertie Wooster cannot become someone else overnight, not if Jeeves lacks a potion for it.
It was rare for Mr. Wooster to surprise me. Indeed, I can think of only one other occasion—the incident involving Mr. Little and the sofa—until his announcement of that morning. I have never been attached to the Drones Club, which seems to be the very apex of frivolity, but I had been given ample reason to believe Mr. Wooster enjoyed his time there.
I supposed the dissolution must have come about because of some rupture between Mr. Wooster and one of the club’s other members, such things not being unheard-of, and although Mr. Wooster is the most eminently forgiving gentleman of my acquaintance, he has taken umbrage from time to time at the emotional carelessness of his friends.
I should note now that while I appreciate the consideration Mr. Wooster’s friends have often offered me, I am not partial to them in themselves. They seem to offer him only the most meager of comforts yet demand a great deal in return. Therefore I could only attribute this strange decision on his part to some misstep on theirs, and I anticipated that he would be back within the walls of his regular club quite soon.
I recommended the Western Lion in the faint hope that Mr. Wooster might be so impressed with its improving atmosphere that he would maintain membership there, although I emphasize the faintness of that hope. I have all the partiality for Mr. Wooster that I lack for his frequent companions, but I had often wished him to have a little of the dignity of gentlemen from an earlier and finer time.
Much has been written on the subject of the need to be more careful in our wishes.
The first night Mr. Wooster returned home from the Western Lion, he offered me a smile I can only term as “polite,” and therefore lacking a certain characteristic buoyancy.
“Hello, Jeeves,” he said.
I took his coat. “Did you have an entertaining evening, sir?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Entertaining as the dickens—what I mean to say is, rather.” He made a slightly contorted expression as if trying to swallow his own tongue and then sounded as if he were embarking upon a recitation: “Everyone was most agreeable, Jeeves, and certainly more impressive than the crowd at the Drones. I look forward to spending many evenings there.” He then clamped his lips together and I experienced a rather strange feeling, like a sudden draft across my skin.
“Sir, are you feeling—”
“Oh, feeling,” Mr. Wooster said with a shrug.
“Right ho,” he said. “Topping. Very well indeed,” and then he nodded several times, mouth screwed shut again, and went to the piano.
I enjoy Mr. Wooster’s playing, which is peculiarly possessed of musicality even in songs I would otherwise disdain, and so I occupied myself with a few mundane tasks in the room to stay and listen. (It is unbecoming to be too boldly and obviously an audience for a performance surely intended for privacy, and one of Mr. Wooster’s slight failings as an gentleman, if considerable successes as a employer, is his inability to treat me or, indeed, any other servant, as a mere wallpaper pattern.) But Mr. Wooster’s playing that evening was as strangely diffident and jarring as his conversation. He was playing—to paraphrase Wilde—accurately, rather than with feeling, and anyone could play accurately. His heart had failed entirely to liven the music, which was more dour than his usual choices.
What interested me, too, was that ordinarily I would have delighted in it—he had selected, most likely by accident—some of my favorite composers from a dusty set of sheet music long packed away. There were notes there that I had elsewhere found transcendent. Under Mr. Wooster’s uninspired hands that night, they seemed to sour in my ears. One could not reasonably expect Mr. Wooster to play tragedy when his only natural excellence, I thought, was in a certain unintended comedy, but as I listened more closely, my opinion turned.
There was pain of sorts in the music after all. He transformed religious doubt and crippling despair into the kind of cramped bruise of a man with shoes a size too small, but that limp colored the music and turned it into something else: behold the magnificence of the universe in its contempt, per the composer, became a plea for relief powerful in its own right.
Behind, of course, the fact that it was played rather badly, without vigor, and without ease. It was the very ineptness of the performance that gave it bitter tongue.
It was then that I felt the return of that chill.
I could only conclude that, despite his proclamation, he was not well in the least. Perhaps, it occurred to me, he had suffered some heartbreak that, despite our commonality in the matter, he preferred to not discuss.
I resolved to be quite cold to Mr. Little should he appear and request entry. Mr. Wooster, notwithstanding many of his habits and tastes, deserved far better company than he had chosen, and anyone who could have made him so knotted and so careful inside his own skin was someone I would take any available opportunity to reprimand or otherwise upset. In the meantime, I would tend to Mr. Wooster as best I could.
It was puzzling, though, that as weeks passed, his playing improved, but he continued to play the same songs. I suppose any gentleman may have his tastes improve spontaneously. The atmosphere of the Western Lion must really have been working on him to his betterment.
Sod the Western Lion, I thought every night I went there, which was most, in order to maintain the fiction that I liked it and so ensure Jeeves’s approval. I had gained membership on Wooster name alone and on Wooster name alone did I retain it, because it was certain that no one there fully approved of Bertram. On entry, I was quizzed mercilessly as to my ancestors—I gave them the bit about Crécy, which they ate up like a cat with a saucer of cream—and views, and where I couldn’t echo Jeeves’s, I had none but my own to offer, which rather disgusted them, as it turns out they don’t enjoy the cinema at all and have never even in their most foolish days nicked a policeman’s helmet. I was very straight on not having done that for years, and on having had a snootful at the time, but all the same, I had spoiled on the platter, and no one would have even a bite of my company.
All the same I was obliged to spend a whole heap of hours there because, well, it was the sort of places Jeeves would like, a code I had cleverly deciphered on account of how it was Jeeves who had recommended it.
The first night, I banged off with the sheet music on the grounds in the hopes Jeeves would think I owned it already, a stratagem I’m pleased to say succeeded quite nicely, and on all subsequent nights, following a few plaintive “what ho’s!” offered to the members who look rather less like dragons, I ensconced myself in the library.
Not reading the kind of books I would prefer to read and instead reading the sort of books Jeeves would want a suitor to read was made rather easy by the fact that the Western Lion had that rather appalling taste in literature that makes everything run long and dryer than the Sahara. I had done Shakespeare in school, of course, and found him to be a bit of a secret in terms of this kind of thing, because once you waded through all the introductions written by chaps who weren’t Shakespeare no matter how much they wished to be, the things were actually bally short, and occasionally had funny bits, or at least a good murder.
Finally, a cove with eyeglasses suggested I take them home, which I think was meant to be a polite way to oust Bertram from premises, and one really has to feel sorry for them that it didn’t take in quite the manner intended. Honestly, I have always dealt with the disapproval of aunts large and small, but it was only of late that I had come to have such sympathy with people disappointed by my mere existence, which had proven devastatingly hard to change, as evidenced by Jeeves’s persistent refusal to f. in l. with said existence.
Anyhow, began reading books at home and at Lion, thus irritating them with my presence while depriving them of Shakespeare, and I didn’t even mean it to sting, it was just that that was the way of it.
It was the Shakespeare that gave me really a hope with Jeeves.
Now, the whole thing must have worked on Jeeves to an extent, because he had been quite attentive to the young master lately—though that might not have been the success of the plan so much as Jeeves taking it upon himself to reward me for tossing out anything colorful from my wardrobe that we’d ever had an old grapple about—in bringing drinks and suggesting diversions and things, but nothing really popped his cork until the Shakespeare.
“Spending the evening at home, sir?”
“Only the one, Jeeves. I assure you I’m not giving up the Lion.” Though I entertained pleasing fantasies of it burning to the ground. “I’m only rather eager to see how things shape out—I don’t remember it all very well, bit fuzzy.” I examined my words sideways in my head and found nothing too inappropriate in them, but it was well-worth being careful of it. I held up the book to indicate the title with trap firmly shut.
“Much Ado About Nothing,” Jeeves said in a voice as sonorous and knee-weakening as it was confused. It is not often one can throw Jeeves, and I would ordinarily take a bit of pride in it, but I was months into the whole improving gag now and it seemed to me he might have taken better notice of me being a changed man entirely suitable for his purposes.
“I know it’s a comedy,” I said steadily, having practiced this bit, “but I find that even lighter Shakespeare is possessed with… depth and fractal complexity.” I had learned that from the introduction and had even looked up what “fractal” meant, so that was one in the eye for ignorance. I got carried away on having pulled the thing off, so I added that one couldn’t help but thing Hero was in for a rummy time of it with Claudio, who didn’t exactly seem like the kind of chap one would want to be married to, considering how awfully he’d carried off that jilt, but then again, the way her father acted about it all, might have been better to move from one bad bet to another, eh? Better the unfamiliar devil.
Jeeves made a funny sort of face, less stuffed-frog than usual, not surprised but more, well, like he was trying to figure out the seasoning in his soup.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way before, sir. I suppose I had read the play from an early enough age that I had always taken the happy ending as prescribed, but I believe you’re correct in your assessment of the likelihood of their happiness.”
“Quite. Beatrice and Benedick, mind, another matter. Get along like a house on fire.”
“That is apt, sir, considering they alone had the friction necessary to create the sparks of passion.”
My heart rather leapt at that “sparks of passion” bit, which was promising. “I could bring home the others if you’d like. I have quite the free reign of the library. We could talk Shakespeare amongst ourselves,” and I only damned it all that I had missed out quoting the bit about the heat of a luxurious bed, which out-of-context is perfectly delightful sounding, heat and beds and luxury being three favorite things just rungs below Jeeves, and gaining up the ladder by bounds in relation to Jeeves.
“I would like that, sir,” he said, with that same funny look on his face.
It was around that time that Mr. Wooster and I developed an entirely new routine.
Each monument of his strange new behavior protruded into our lives like plinths that we needed in some way to either acknowledge or circumnavigate:
He played arrangements as classical as they were staid and imbued them with that cramped, pained life until he knew them better, whereupon they achieved technical prowess. Then their notes of melancholy filtered through them like water through the roots of a tree and the music imitated life, but on such food as could hardly sustain it. It was impossible not to listen. I would find myself with my breath caught in my chest, hoping against hope for one of the rare times he would find a piece that, respectable though it was, struck something in him so forcefully that he forgot himself for a moment and played with as much joy as he once had played everything.
He would sometimes ask my opinion. It was as impossible to compliment the playing as it was to ignore it, though I realized that his performances were improving and that often the renditions were very nearly flawless. I told him instead that I had always admired the pieces; I left out that I was beginning to despise them now.
I had not yet, at least, begun to despise the process of dressing him. There was a certain pleasure in it. Each day, without any protest on his part, I made him the very picture of a gentleman. If anything, he had become more scrupulous about propriety in such matters than I, and there were days when it seemed the only thing he would “resist the bit” at, he used to say, was even the subtlest color.
Then he would go to the Western Lion, where he would stay for several hours, and he would always come home alone, sober, and without rambling but entertaining stories of friends in trouble. He would usually bring a volume of Shakespeare along with him and that was, in truth, the delight of my evenings and the most pleasant time I could recall ever passing with anyone.
I had, as I’d told Mr. Wooster, read Shakespeare first as a boy, and while there had certainly been subsequent rereadings, my initial impressions had been deeply ingrained. Mr. Wooster admitted to having “skimmed them a time or two” but certainly seemed not to suffer any problems with his past interfering with his present, and either way was possessed of a certain skewed-but-apt view of things that was always interesting to me. One could quibble about the professionalism of an employer and valet discussing literature in such depth and detail, and with an intensity and frequency that tended, during our conversations, to elide the differences of status between us, so that we were both leaning forward, each raptly attentive to the other—and ordinarily I would have been the first to object to the practice.
But I had never, as I said, enjoyed anything so much, and it had become so rare to see Mr. Wooster at ease that I would have kept up behavior far more unprofessional than that just to see him smile.
Reading Hamlet: “I mean, the chap who really comes out of it pitiable isn’t anyone who dies, but Horatio, and Ophelia I suppose, both of them wanting to top themselves because it’s all gone blood-soaked, just because they knew Hamlet.”
“Perhaps if he had been more expedient in meeting his father’s orders—”
“A bit of the feudal spirit for the prince of Denmark? But the fellow is his uncle, you know. What I mean to say is, even Aunt Agatha I wouldn’t go after with the cleaver just on the say-so of a ghost.”
Reading King Lear: “My great-uncle had a will once similar to this, you know? Have I told you about that, Jeeves?”
Twelfth Night: “I say, it seems a rum thing for Olivia to be stuck with Sebastian, he’s a bit of a poop, isn’t he? What she liked about Viola is the girl had a bit of dash.”
“Indeed, sir. It occurs to me now, reading it with—some knowledge of such things—that Sebastian’s inclinations may have been more towards—”
“Antonio, yes, I thought so too. Well, Antonio’s getting as poor a bargain on him as Olivia. A Fink-Nottle needs a Bassett, and Antonio and Olivia aren’t. Bassetts, I mean.”
Our discussion of Twelfth Night was cut sadly short, though, by Mr. Wooster recollecting that he had not yet perfected the piece he had been practicing. He broke himself away from me and sat down at the piano. In another instant, notes as mournful as a dirge—though the piece in question was properly somewhat airy—floated up.
I looked at him.
I have always considered Mr. Wooster aesthetically pleasing. Indeed, when I first came into his service, well before I truly knew him, I indulged a few purely pictorial fantasies of his form alone. The closer we grew, the more it seemed to me that Mr. Wooster had, in fact, nothing in common with the ideal gentleman I had long imagined, and by the time it became apparent that his romanticism held the same direction as my own, questions of desire between us had become moot. I maintained all appropriate fondness for it would, in truth, be difficult to not be fond of Mr. Wooster.
Only here before me was not the Mr. Wooster I had long known, but someone else—not a stranger, but a relict, as ingrained in the habits of my thought as a childhood reading of Shakespeare.
A gentleman, exquisitely dressed, decidedly neat. A man familiar with composers from the Middle Ages on, who played each song with decided gift. Conversant in the finest literature. Belonging to the very best of clubs. A man who never—unless he forgot himself under particularly engaging or trying circumstances—said “bally” or “toodle-pip” or “tinkerty-tonk.” A gentleman whose demeanor suggested not even a passing acquaintance with “the soup.”
I am forced to recall some of the phrases I have used in this document to describe Mr. Wooster following his transformation. The very picture of a gentleman, I wrote, and it seemed to me then that what I was looking at was indeed a picture. Something flat and stripped of color. A relic of some once-vibrant life.
Or, worse still, what he resembled in that moment was an essay. Not one committed to paper, of course—I had been too young when I formed it to know the proper ways of hiding such papers, and was accordingly careful—but one written all the same. The subject: what I would like in a gentleman. What I would want, in the man I wanted above any other.
There he sat, and the only problem was that everything in me revolted against it, as though he were a fish I’d caught quite by mistake: no, throw him back, I want the other.
He had become all I had ever wanted and I had fallen in love with someone else—his former self: amiable, generous, spirited, slangy, jovial, joyful, casual in all the ways I could not be. But happy most of all, for he was no longer happy, had not been happy in months, outside of the isolated incidents of us discussing Shakespeare. I had known his behavior was altered, I had suspected he was ill-at-ease, but I had not known the depth of his misery or the depth of my regard for him until this instant, when I saw the man he was and the man he had been, and somewhere between them—the vase amidst the two faces—the reality of our situation and feelings had clarified for me. Everything became quite plainly visible.
In short, I no sooner loved him then he began to break my heart.
He looked up. “Are you feeling quite all right, Jeeves? Only you’ve gone over all funny.”
“I’m very well, sir.”
“Do you not like the playing?”
“It is superb, sir,” I said, and then saw my chance. “But perhaps something lighter?” I would carve Mr. Wooster out of the stone he’d wrapped himself in. If I could be as artful as Pygmalion, he would come to life again.
I made what I am of course aware that he refers to as my “stuffed-frog” expression.
“Not Handel, then.”
“Perhaps something livelier, sir, more contemporary.”
“Contemporary,” Mr. Wooster said, as though he was unsure how to pronounce it. He seemed like a man approaching a cliff’s edge.
“Music hall, sir. Boisterous.”
“You’re in that frame of mind, then?”
“I am, sir. Though of course it is your decision.”
“No, no. Only thought you hadn’t got that particular frame in your possession.”
“I find,” I said, in all honesty, “that I have surprised myself of late as to that, sir. Taste is such a malleable thing when it comes to—real regard.”
“For a tune?”
“As you say, sir.”
He played. It took him several bars to ease into the piece, but it quickly took on the sort of rollicking frivolity I had always associated with his performances, and a smile fitted itself on his face in an utterly unselfconscious way. The silly song, largely about love and having a great deal to do with comparisons involving sweets, replaced all canonical works in my mind. I hummed it for several days afterwards.
There’s an old saw about how if one plops a frog in water and heats it gradually, the bally thing will boil alive because it doesn’t happen all at once and so it doesn’t think to jump. It has always seemed a smidge cruel to this Wooster, though doubtless Aunt Agatha goes in for it all the time and smiles grimly over the pots.
I live in proof that the reverse is true and that masterfully unboiling the frog by degrees can leave him equally perplexed. Suddenly he is alive again. He twitches; hops. Yet he is confused—was the stuff not steam and bubbles? Can it really be true? And what of why he waited so patiently in the heat even until it cooked him to soup? What, tell, of that? What does the frog think about all this?
So it was with Bertram.
“I say, Jeeves,” said I, startled into the very mannerisms meant to be censored from the tongue. “I don’t remember this tie.”
“No, sir? Very strange.”
“Or if I do remember it, I’m sure I threw it out. You haven’t been rummaging around the bins in weeks past, have you?”
“No, sir. It must have escaped your notice.”
“I would describe it as plum, sir, and would recommend its use quite freely with black or gray. Its provenance is immaterial. It suits you very well.”
I glanced at him in the mirror. “Oh?”
“Right ho,” I said. “Mean to say—if you say so, Jeeves.” It was nice to have a spot of color again about the Wooster person, and if Jeeves didn’t mind it, then it couldn’t be minded, could it? That was perhaps how the thing had clung to life in the abode in the first place—presumably Jeeves had mounted some defense of it and secreted it away. And it could not be denied that he was looking at my reflection with a look one would not at all use to look at a half-deaf Pekingese.
“I believe that completes the ensemble, sir,” he said, and dissolved through the door.
Now, a fellow may excuse the sudden existence of one plum-colored tie in his wardrobe, but Jeeves began producing them like the cove with the rainbow scarves up his sleeves, and rainbow is the word I mean, because the things kept mounting up in brightness until it seemed he was knotting splashes of paint around my neck. “This is forest green, sir.” “Not yellow, sir, butter.” Quite the fashion for ties to be called after foods, I gather. The only question was how I had missed all of them in the first place and why Jeeves, of all people, was suddenly saying, “I believe a stripe of that fashion is being worn in America at least, sir, and the fashion should transfer.”
There was only one incident to throw the whole rhythm of it off, and that was when Jeeves got up my neck in blue silk with pink orchids, stood looking at self for a moment, and then said, “I quite apologize, sir.”
“You don’t like it?”
“We all have our limits,” he said, with a decidedly soupy tone, and the next thing I knew, the tie was smoldering in the grate and Jeeves was dressing me in gray for two days running. One never knows with valets, however much one may want to.
Then there was the matter of the bally Western Lion.
“I have heard that, contrary to its reputation, sir, it is actually a den of fearsome iniquity.”
I perked up my ears. “Oh?” One can’t rush to judgment on fearsome iniquity, in my experience: quite often it really is a lot of rot, but every so often it’s just the Drones Club or the shape of Jeeves’s mouth.
Speaking of, he twitched the lips into something that might have been a smile. “Mostly financial malfeasance, sir. All quite unlawful while remaining within the strictest and dullest propriety. I would suggest absenting yourself from the club before the police descend.”
No more upturned noses from chaps who disdained the Wooster person. No more hours buried alive alone with the books without Jeeves to discuss them with. I said, the voice a slight quiver undignified in one who’s ancestors had come over with the Conqueror, “I daresay that would be for the best, then.”
“Might I suggest resuming your membership at the Drones, sir?”
“The Drones,” I said, with a voice meant to be as devastatingly flat as pavement.
Jeeves lacked in devastation. “Yes, sir. If an investigation should ensue, the police may well conclude from your readmission there that you had simply concluded the Lion was not, after all, to your taste—whereas joining a third club might easily be interpreted as mere flight. I do not say it would, sir, only that it could be.”
“You despise the Drones Club, Jeeves.”
“That has never been true, sir,” and damn if he didn’t actually fit a bit of emotion into it, which with Jeeves sometimes has the sound of squawky surprise, like he’s put his foot into someone else’s shoe. Posthaste, he clarified like butter. “I believe it is a quite suitable arrangement. And you must miss the company of your friends.” He sounded a bit doubtful about that, one is forced to admit, but he brightened on conclusion: “Their entanglements have often proved quite enlivening, sir, have they not?”
He did not follow by noting that “enlivening” may not have been the word he meant, so I was forced to conclude it was. Well, I suppose to someone with as many superfluous brains as Jeeves, the gray matter cannot live on Shakespeare alone, but must have Fink-Nottles and Glossops to occupy it. Bits of practical mental exercise, what? Only I did still take it as a given that he would like to be occupied with Woosters only in the way one is occupied with the ice one glides over, skating: to be smooth, flat, and cool was the obstacle. Nevertheless, no good could come of refusing the bit again—certainly I’d done it enough before, and if faint heart had never won fair Jeeves, neither had iron will.
“Well, I do suppose it would be awkward for the family name for me to be indicted for financial whatsits.”
“So I suppose I really must return to the Drones.”
“As you say, sir.” He took on the expression of a man gradually discovering a termite crawling on the back of his tongue. “Tally ho, then.” He seemed to desperately wish it were Latin.
“Jeeves, you can’t go around saying ‘tally ho.’”
“I have it on good authority,” Jeeves said, “that it is an expression used casually by the very best of people,” and unlike nearly all the words he’d bunged around about the ties, in this case, it sounded peculiarly as though he meant it. Some paragon of virtue and wit had doubtless accustomed him to its use. I could not but feel the sting of jealousy. But I would not be bested.
“Tally ho, then, Jeeves,” I said, and the edges of his mouth flickered once more.
So the water began to cool around the frog.
And the frog was very well thrown by it, he has to admit in his croaks. Nevertheless, it is a very good thing not be unhappy, as I’m sure some philosopher has noted, and Jeeves seemed rather in the sunshine about it all, as well.
One does not quibble with the sunshine in Jeeves; one basks in it.
So it was that, for Jeeves’s sake, I took to wearing rather bold colors (notwithstanding the flowered tie), peppering conversations with a bit of the real tabasco, passing the occasional evening at the Drones, and once—memorably—getting fussed about with in a matter concerning Stiffy Byng. These things are sent to try us, I’m told. Nevertheless, it did rather set in as trouble that, well, I was acting much as I had before, effectively returning to the old Bertie Wooster—with some added expertise in Shakespeare, which stayed on the menu—and Jeeves hadn’t felt anything more than feudal spirit for that poor devil.
Perhaps—it occurred to me glumly, on a particularly sleepless night—I simply did not suit, no matter how I twisted myself or what beds of needles I lay down on. I mean, Honoria Glossop might have taken up picture shows and raising kittens and all that without me falling in love with her. Very often one doesn’t fall in love with people just because they’re agreeable. I for one love Jeeves, who is really topping, the best there is, and yet for years wouldn’t let me wear green pinstriped trousers, so really, being agreeable has nothing to do with it, it’s a separate thingummy altogether.
It doesn’t follow that one is automatically French cooking, if you catch the drift of the thing.
It comes to it that no matter what I do, I may always and forever be an apple to Jeeves, the way anyone but Jeeves is an apple to me. It rather put me off apples, is all I have to say about it.
I had about resigned myself to the forever dull pain of unrequited affection when the frog leaped out of the pot altogether.
(If, by the by, you are wondering why I am being so persistent in the matter of these frogs and apples, I can only allude with raised brow and an expression of pain to the fact that we writers who tackle such frowned-upon matters of love often cannot speak freely, but must adopt a kind of code best known amongst ourselves, and since the thing is never going to be published anyway, I am using the code best known amongst me and Jeeves, to wit the apples, which I told him all about some time after, and the frog, which is at least known to me, though I suspect it will come as a surprise to Jeeves. These matters of careful artistic craft are pivotal in any kind of composition.)
So it fell about that one night, we were hip-deep in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having finally shelled out for a set of collected works since I could no longer pilfer them from the Lion, and I was foaming at the mouth about how when you think about it half of Shakespeare’s couples are really a bit rum when you come down to it, what?, when Jeeves said, “Excuse me, sir,” as though he’d dropped something, and kissed me squarely on the mouth.
I admit to having made the decision in a heady rush of affection, for I had not quite finished restoring Mr. Wooster to himself and his happiness, and had already purchased a detective novel from the household funds that I had planned to present him with on the morrow. I can plead only that he was smiling, and wearing a genuinely appalling necktie, and he had just played a popular tune that had dealt quite heavily in references to violets—he was just enough like himself that he was very much the finest sight I had ever seen, and I simply grew impatient.
I do not on the whole recommend abruptly kissing one’s employer. Should a relationship be desired, one should really proceed slowly and with deliberation, and perhaps allow him to bring up the matter first.
If, however, you have waited long enough, have loved him without noticing it for years, and have loved him in full and painful awareness for a month, and he insists on discussing the machinations of Titania and Oberon with quite piercing acuity, it is within the realm of acceptability to silence him, to taste the echo of brandy on his tongue, and to apply faint pressure of teeth to his lower lip.
The intensity with which he returns the kiss does much to recommend this strategy.
I believe he ended up sprawled across me.
“What ho, Jeeves,” he said breathlessly.
He traced the lines of my profile with his thumb and the attitude on his face was one of reverence as much as lust. “You have no idea, old thing, how often I’ve wanted—only I knew you didn’t fancy me.” He added something about apples that I have admittedly yet to either decipher or correctly understand. “I did put in a bit of the old heave-ho to be who you’d want—suppose you saw me bungling at it somehow and took a bit of pity. Mind you,” he said, now focused on the shape of my left ear, “I’m not complaining.”
I spoke before of a draft. It was now a glacial press against my chest. “You endeavored—to be who you thought I would want you to be?”
“The upright sort, you know, rather like you only in me it all feels a bit grim. Resigning from the Drones, those godawful songs, all that. But tastes change, don’t they? I suppose the fashion for Bertram has come into your harbor—ideas of the proper gentleman quite evolved. Your opinions on the old wardrobe—”
“You were so unhappy,” I said softly.
He raised his eyebrows. “Unhappy, Jeeves? I don’t think so.”
“Perhaps a bit,” he allowed. “Worth it, though.” He lowered his mouth to my neck an said against it, “I’ve had improvements put on me before, Jeeves, but never by myself. Take it as read that I’ll be whatever you want me to be.”
If I had thought myself heartbroken when I saw him miserable, it could not compare to how I felt at learning he had made himself so for my sake. It felt like every muscle in me had pulled tight as wire. Mr. Wooster raised his head. “Do you doubt the y. m., Jeeves?”
“I’ve been foolish, sir.”
“You? Never.” He tugged at my collar. “Anyhow not quite the time to discuss it—”
“I would never have allowed you to alter yourself to my tastes.”
“But I wasn’t to your tastes,” he said, in tones that suggested he was being eminently reasonable and couldn’t fathom anything to contrary. “It’s worked out well, hasn’t it? I do love you, Jeeves, and what greater proof has love than the whatchamacallit of self.” And the cramped look passed over his face again. “Sorry, shouldn’t say ‘whatchamacallit,’ only the mouth is speeding on heedless of the brain. Or is ‘whatchamacallit’ acceptable these days? Seems like a lot of things are.”
“I’ve been careless with you.”
“Pish-tosh. Hardly touched me.” He moved against my leg.
I put my hand in his hair, more to steady myself than to please him. “Careless with your heart, sir, and with mine. You forced yourself to resemble what you imagined I wanted—what I imagined, in truth, that I wanted—when I should have made it clear to you what should always have been known to me, that all I wanted, in truth, was yourself.”
A change came over him. It is characteristic of Mr. Wooster that he responded to this declaration not with irritation that I had, in ignorance of my own feelings, put us both through prolonged charade quite deleterious to household morale, but rather, one of the broadest smiles I have ever had the pleasure of beholding.
“You mean that, Jeeves? Just myself?”
“I would hardly say ‘just,’ sir, but yes, yourself.”
“Imagine that,” he said. “No one’s ever hit upon wanting that before—daresay you’re quite the first. And me trying to give you the other fellow. Makes us quite like that story where the girl shears off the locks for the old pocket-watch only to find the fellow’s already done away with it for combs—good twist, that.”
“I may suggest, sir, that we are not so even in the reckonings of love as that.” For I still could not fathom him there, in my arms, having accepted my admission of foolishness and disregarded it as of no account: I had formerly and foolishly counted Mr. Wooster as perhaps not intelligent enough to be a suitable partner in life, but I had not considered whether I might not be suitably kind. “You gave up yourself, a limitless treasure, to please some fancy of mine; I merely gave up a misguided and ultimately undesirable conjecture to have you,” and I hoped that I imbued that last word with all the strength of feeling on my part that I possessed. “It is not a fair trade between us, sir.”
I expected him to argue—Mr. Wooster is possessed of a fine heart, and his sense of feudal propriety demands a great deal of defense on my behalf—but instead he said, with considerable impatience, “Then you can dashed well make it up to me, can’t you?” and kissed me again. “Honestly, Jeeves.” This in-between licks to my earlobe that rendered me to some other plane of consciousness. “If it all winds up with a quote from Spinoza, I’ll be forced to kick you. Not the time for conversation.”
I had to admit the truth in that.
I endeavored to give satisfaction and believe I was quite successful, as it the end of it all he pronounced all accounts settled and declared he would hear nothing more of the matter at all.
“Then I would recommend you play no more Schubert, sir.”
“Didn’t even like the Schubert!” he said.
“I thought I played it well.”
“You did, sir, though the tones of a dying lion were somewhat unmistakable.”
“That love should prove such a harsh critic,” Mr. Wooster said, aghast. “Fine, then, Jeeves, it’ll all fizz merrily on the keys like champagne, if that suits you, only I put in a vote for maintaining the Shakespeare. I’ve come to rather like it.”
“I should enjoy that as well, sir.”
He began to dress. “Do the tie, old thing, would you?”
“I’m afraid not, sir. I think we may find a better replacement in your wardrobe.”
“You picked it out yourself!”
“I was endeavoring to brighten your spirits, sir.”
“I consider them well-brightened. In the absence of its abilities to offer improvement, it cannot be denied that said necktie is a blight upon the eye.”
“So all returns to it was before,” he said, handing it over with such an exaggerated look of defeat that it might have been a beloved pet. “What if I need cheering up in the future?”
I allowed as to how there would be any number of options in such a case and Mr. Wooster, beaming quite ear-to-ear, pronounced himself something of a tarte aux pommes “after all.”
“So all’s well that ends well, Jeeves,” he said, and, after a memorable pause, added, “Shakespeare said that, you know,” and I was obliged to kiss him once more, as circumstances seemed to call for it rather unavoidably. I find they often do.