Truthfully, I have to confess to being a little muddled and just a dashed bit out of sorts following the whole incident with Chuffy and the Stoker clan. Having already been struck on the head once that night, before receiving a further blow to the face, followed by a furious beating with old Stoker’s cane, I think one could probably forgive a chap for his inability to recall what exactly happened next.
The fire must have been put out though because the cindering remains of the cottage were no longer ablaze when I finally risked a glance at the place.
“What if I offered you double? That’s nearly $500 a year Jeeves!”
Aware that I probably had the gormless look on my face that Aunt Agatha disliked so much, I searched for the source of the discussion. It concerned Jeeves after all, and at this point in time it was the only name my aching noggin wanted to focus on.
Chuffy and Pauline appeared to be long gone, but old man Stoker was still about the place, apparently pleading with the towering form of my very own former valet.
“Sir is most generous, but I’m afraid my mind is made up.” Jeeves tipped his hat in that particular way that Jeeves did, a sign to acquaintances that their conversation was at an end, I had been fortunate enough to observe it before on one or two occasions.
Those dratted officers were still hanging around as well, and if I had been more of my usual self then I would have told them exactly where to go and boil their heads, particularly the one who had bashed mine. Jeeves, however, was far more polite in his addressing of them.
“What should we do with the marauder sir?” Either skinny and young, or old and fat asked.
Marauder? I was fairly certain that I would have remembered if there had been a marauder in my house.
At that exact moment, my head gave a particularly painful throb, and what sort of a chap would I be if I didn’t confess to eliciting a small groan at the unpleasantness of the sensation. My mind, however, was clearing and I was aware of the short and sharp look Jeeves sent in my direction before returning his focus to the two blasted policemen that had kicked this whole dratted thing off.
“This gentleman is not a marauder” Jeeves spoke swiftly, directing his arms somewhere towards the bushes. “However, he is, I fear, quite drunk. I am sure a night in the cells will do him some good.”
The officers looked as if they wanted to say something further, but Jeeves has a remarkable way of giving a chap the cold shoulder, without said chap feeling at all as if they’ve been slighted by the fact. The officers seemed to think it best to pick up whoever it was lying in my bushes and be off with him, following the cobblestone path that Stoker must have stormed down only moments earlier.
“Sir?” Jeeves was at my side once more, as if it were the most natural place in the world for him to be.
“Jeeves” I replied, doing my best to smile back at him. Good manners and all that.
My head gave another frustratingly painful hum. I may have winced and whimpered a little at this one.
When something pressed firmly around the source of the agony, the old whatsit-instinct kicked in, causing my body to jerk without warning away from said pressure. But Jeeves, as if he had been expecting it pressed a hand against my chest to keep me still. It was only then I realised that the matching appendage was probing firmly around the back of the old dome. Once the initial shock of it had warn off, I felt myself being lulled by the familiarity of Jeeves’ presence. Blast it, I had missed him.
After a little prodding Jeeves drew his hand back, examining it by the light of the small torch he’d set down beside us.
“No blood sir” he assured me, “There does, however, appear to be some bruising. Can you tell me your name and our location sir?”
What a dashed silly thing to ask. I opened my mouth to tell Jeeves so, but a spark of concern in his eye caused me to hesitate.
“Well…” Feeling a little awkward I answered his question. “Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, and I believe we’re…” I glanced around, taking a short moment to recall, “Just outside my cottage in Chuffy’s village. The place does, however, seem to have burned down.” How that had happened I could not recall; my memory was still a little foggy following the first blow to the head I’d received that night.
My answers seemed to satisfy Jeeves’ concerns though. He gave a pleased nod in response to my answers, before proceeding to examine the soreness around my face.
“Jeeves” I assured him, “I have been punched in the face enough times to know what a blossoming black-eye feels like.” Despite the reassurance that this Wooster hadn’t completely lost the plot, Jeeves was still fussing about my person in the way a doctor or nervous mother might do.
“As you say sir.” My former valet drew back giving me a chance to properly take him in. Now, just so we all understand each other, this is not the sort of thing I would usually do, after all, examining another chap, or indeed a lady for that matter, is quite the ungentlemanly thing to do. However, I had never actually seen Jeeves sitting on the ground before, particularly in the middle of a cottage garden in the deepest and darkest hours of the night. He was kneeling just in front of me, looking as well put together as he always did, bowler hat still positioned neatly on his head. This sharp contrast of familiar and bizarre just gave me reason to pause.
If Jeeves had noticed my staring gaze then he did not comment on it.
“Sir, am I correct in thinking that Mr. Stoker kicked you twice in the chest after hitting you across the back with his cane?”
“I honestly couldn’t tell you Jeeves.” I shifted a little, “although it does smart a little around there.”
The man looked hesitant, and a hesitant Jeeves was always followed by a request or warning. “Sir, if you would forgive the intrusion, I think it best that I examine the area to ensure there is no bleeding or damage to your ribs.”
Bleeding? How did one bleed from a kick to the stomach?
Jeeves never asked for anything without a good reason though, so I waved my hand in the warmest way I could manage. “Carry on old chap.”
My head still hurt, but my attention was focused entirely on Jeeves who shuffled a few degrees closer, his hands slipping under the shoulders of my jacket in the usual way they did when he was assisting me with removing the garment from the front. It was a procedure I was well acquainted with, albeit not one that was usually performed while the two of us were so close to the ground.
I felt the warm woollen material of the jacket slide down my back and proceeded to do what I could to remove it. However, You see, the thing about removing one’s jacket, while also trying to prop oneself up with one’s hands, is that such an ordinarily simple task becomes quite difficult indeed. So instead I just sort of left it where it was, pooled around me on the ground, with the sleeves shrugged off down to my wrists.
Jeeves did pause at this, but, as it apparently did not interfere with his inspection, he said nothing of it. Instead he focused his attention on working through the buttons of my waistcoat, loosening it to allow better access to my shirt.
“Everything okay sir?”
It occurred to me in that moment that I must have been uncharacteristically quiet.
One of the first things you learn, growing up in the manner that I did, is that active conversation makes things a lot less awkward when another chap is undressing you in such an intimate manner. I remember once asking my Aunt Dahlia why one chap needed another to undress and dress him in the first place. She’d told me to stop complaining and finish my dinner.
“Everything’s fine Jeeves” I told him quickly, “Just feeling a bit of a chill is all.”
“I apologise sir, I will be finished shortly.”
Jeeves must have known I was lying. It was a perfectly barmy night, not a chill to be seen… or heard… how exactly did one go about experiencing a chill?
I did however, certainly felt a chill of some description when Jeeves pulled my shirt and undershirt free in order to press his hand against the bare skin covering my lower ribs. His hand was most definitely warm, and it caused such a rush of blood to my head that I felt almost certain I might pass out again. I made a firm attempt to focus on the pain rather than the precise movement of each finger in turn as they examined first my ribs and then the bruising around my chest and stomach.
“Nothing broken sir, and I do not see any signs of serious internal bleeding, just surface layer bruising.”
“Good.” Realising how breathless I sounded, I quickly cleared my throat. “Well, no serious harm done then.”
The cottage chose this moment to give a particularly offensively loud creek as part of the first floor gave way, crashing down into what looked like the kitchen below.
Jeeves didn’t answer, drawing my attention back to him. With Jeeves I have realised, over our several months together, that there is far more to be discovered about his opinion or thoughts on something by reading his eyes rather than focusing on his words or gestures. And what I found in that darkened blue gaze was something quite hard and cold. The moment it seemed to dawn on him that our eyes had made contact they widened for a brief period in surprise, before softening into something else.
I became rather aware, as our eyes continued to hold the other’s attention, that the warmth of Jeeves’ hand still rested just above my hip. I must have become aware of it only shortly before he did because the contact was suddenly gone.
His eyes flicked away, only to return and give my person a rather uneasy look.
While I know Jeeves always takes personal offence at a messy appearance, which I was no doubt radiating like a pig in muck at this moment, that was not the impression I was getting from his current state of unease.
“Are you quite alright Jeeves?”
He nodded, clearing his throat. Whatever had been hanging in the air between us was gone in that moment.
“Quite alright sir.” He moved forward again to shift my jacket back over my shoulders, before straightening up so as to return to his feet. I took the hand he offered me and clambered unsteadily onto my own shaky hooves.
The strong arm that supported me moved without hesitation, assisting me steadily back towards the potting shed.
“I say.” It had just occurred to me. “Where will you sleep Jeeves?”
Jeeves cleared his throat delicately. “You need not trouble yourself with that sir.” He was already helping me to lower myself down onto the makeshift bed I’d crafted. “If you should feel your condition worsen in anyway, I would appreciate it if you were to let me know.”
I was just in the middle of asking him where he would be in case I did need to let him know, but the door to the potting shed had already closed.
Far too exhausted to think any more on this tonight, I shifted my jacket back off my shoulders and pulled it over myself. He was Jeeves, and no matter whether he was in my employ or not, I felt most assuredly that he would not be far away.