Title: Absence of Madeline (Part 1 of 2)
Fandom: Jeeves and Wooster
Summary: Gussie Fink-Nottle’s engagement to Madeline Bassett is broken when she runs off with a suave stranger. Jeeves has to share Bertie with the broken-hearted Gussie as they attempt to comfort him and repair his ego. This is a situation up with which Jeeves cannot long put. Set after “Right Ho, Jeeves” and refers back to “The Inimitable Jeeves,” chapters 3 and 4, with absolutely no attempt to place exactly when Bertie and Jeeves first got involved with each other.
Notes: Thanks to Adina_atl for her many invaluable notes on Bertie characterization, to kryptyd and peak_in_darien for betas and many kind comments, to bittersweet325 for her grammar beta (I needed it!), to sine_que_non767 for Britpick and Jeeves characterization notes as well as urging me to cut cut cut, to Tootsiemuppet for poking me with a pointy stick, to Eor for conversing with me night and day about this story for the last several months, and to my co-workers, particularly BJ, for letting me bend their ears and pick their brains. I feel as though I have not so much written this story as assembled it. I feel I should apologize for not taking some of the advice given me. Often I had quite good reasons, and if you want explanations I can provide them. But of course sometimes it was just because I was lazy.
Warnings: Sex! With three guys!
This is a rummy story to relate and no mistake. As I am writing up the histories of my life for publication I always try to be the parfait gentil knight, and therefore expunge every intimation of what one might refer to as the more delicate details, or that which won’t be quite acceptable to the general public. But of course everyone has those things in their lives, those interludes which aren’t really the stuff of conversation in polite company — or at least they should, because those interludes are very often quite integral to one’s closest and most important relationships, and can often be what Jeeves terms “Important Experiences in Learning About the Psychology of Oneself,” or something along those lines. But I’ll tell you now, setting aside my habit of self-censorship is not easy.
It was an urgent telegram from Gussie Fink-Nottle which dragged Jeeves and myself from London —
Please please please come, beg your help, Madeline gone. Do come dear old Bertie. Bring Jeeves. PS. Don’t forget Jeeves.
Gussie usually rattled around the old homestead with only a few staff for company, a retiring soul, studying his newts in the quiet, and rarely having visitors aside from his affianced, Madeline Bassett, and whatever tiresome girlfriend or aged relative she had to drag along for chaperon. Even myself, close companion of the happy school days, rarely received an invitation. He was very obviously distraught, however, and never let it be said that I, Bertram Wooster, last of the most honourable line of Woosters, would not leap to the aid of a friend in need. Though it has often been to my personal detriment, I cannot fail to be touched by another’s distress. Besides which, a week or three in the country is welcome here and there. With his usual efficiency, Jeeves had our bags packed in record time, and we found ourselves that very afternoon gliding in the two-seater between the gates of the Fink-Nottle estate.
As we were shown into his study, the young master of the house rose from his seat to take my hand, thanking me for coming, but as soon as the parlour maid who had answered the door had withdrawn, Gussie fell upon my neck hiccoughing.
“Oh, Bertie! I don’t know what to do!”
“Don’t worry, old bean,” I said, smoothing his back soothingly, “Jeeves will get it all sorted out, I’m sure.”
I must say a word or two here concerning my man Jeeves, not to leave the reader in the lurch. I know how I hate it when an author jumps into the middle of a story and one doesn’t know a thing about the characters. It’s almost as bad as when they tell you a cartload of tripe which you do already know. So, in the eventuality that you haven’t read any of my other little stories, I should probably tell you a bit about Jeeves. I can never wax too eloquent upon him, as many people have noted in their criticisms of my tales.
He holds the official position of being my valet, or gentleman’s personal gentleman, and accordingly draws his pay for choosing my socks and whatnot. And I merely describe him as he is: marvelously efficient. Upon close association one cannot help but be in awe of his intellect. It was not long before I realized that I could not get by without him, that he was, in fact, irreplaceable to me, and eventually he had become more what you might call a paramour, I suppose, if you happened to know the word, and didn’t mind attaching it to two gentlemen. Of course that’s not really something I can put in my official, published, tales. This change in the status of our relationship was, as of even date, fairly new and as yet untested; a tender bud, as it were.
To bring us back to the present moment of this story: Jeeves materialized a handkerchief, which he offered the whimpering Gussie, who stood back from me for a moment, gulping, and blew his nose resoundingly.
“I need your advice, Jeeves,” he stammered, as he got his face to a more acceptable level of moistness. Then he leaned into Jeeves, throwing both arms around that perfectly columned neck and pressing his face into that perfectly starched collar. “Should I drown myself in the pond, do you think? It’s my own pond, at least, not one belonging to a kind host who would find my bloated body. Or should I find some other way to end myself?”
Jeeves looked at me over Gussie’s shoulder, quirking his mouth ruefully and patting Gussie’s back tentatively. A brilliant man is Jeeves, and very up on the psychology of the individual, but not entirely comfortable on dealing with people in the throes of the more violent emotions. He keeps most of his own v.e. well clamped down under the phiz professional, barely readable by anyone who doesn’t know him as intimately as do I.
For a moment I didn’t realize exactly what he was doing, but I saw Jeeves’s eyes widen and it dawned on me that young Gussie had moved from simply crying on Jeeves’s neck to nuzzling as though he wanted to climb inside Jeeves’s suit with him. Raising an eyebrow just a fraction, Jeeves directed his eyes to the half-empty whiskey decanter which stood on the table next to Gussie’s armchair, and which I had not previously noticed. To me, of course, whiskey decanters are as part of the decor, as it were, but young Gussie usually sticks to such nauseating swill as straight orange juice. He is historically inclined to odd behaviors when he does partake of anything stronger. Jeeves patted the young poop on the back like one would burp a baby, and suggested it may be best to retire to Gussie’s bedroom where we could lock the door against the staff. Well, I say Fink-Nottle is very often a poop of the first water, although I quite like him, but Jeeves insists on referring to him as a ‘sensitive plant.’
Once behind the locked door, Jeeves helped young Fink-Nottle off with his jacket, and settled him on the bed as gently as one might a child, whereupon Gussie, quick as a snake, reached out and pulled me down beside him.
“Oh, comfort me Bertie! Like you used to do at school, remember?”
Indeed I did remember just how I had comforted him at school; it wasn’t something I’d likely forget. However, just at the moment, this thing with Jeeves being, as I’ve said, like unto a tender bud and all that, I wasn’t sure it was the best idea to be reliving old times. Then again I was taken aback that he was asking me in front of Jeeves, given that, to the world — Gussie included — we were trying to present ourselves as having only a proper employee/employer relationship. It was all bally confusing! But when he began to nuzzle most ardently at my own neck it became apparent that I had not misunderstood him at all.
Jeeves made a stiff half-bow, his face stolid, yet somehow annoyed, and Gussie took the hint that Jeeves was about to shimmer out. Gussie leapt to his feet with barely a stagger and seized Jeeves’s arm, looking up into his face beseechingly.
“Don’t go! Please don’t go. Stay and help Bertie comfort me?” He loosened his grip and ran his hand up to massage my good man’s upper arm. “Please?”
Jeeves’s face softened a little, slightly perplexed.
“Mr. Fink-Nottle, under the circumstances, considering your condition - "
“My condition! Sod my condition! Sod me,” he said, giggling a little with one of those sudden mood changes typical of the inebriated. “I had a good bit of whiskey to get my courage up, but it was the one that was done for the other not the other that happened because of the one.”
“Forgive me, Mr. Fink-Nottle, but I need to determine if I understand you correctly. You desired to ask for ... comforting from Mr. Wooster and myself, both, and it was to that end that you began drinking?”
He could have been asking about the weather. You could have knocked me over with a feather, so it was a lucky thing I was still seated on the bed and wouldn’t have had far to fall. It was almost as though he had been expecting this, and I couldn’t imagine how he could have anticipated such an eventuality.
“Exactly! Spot on, Jeeves!” Gussie beamed and tapped his nose, then tapped Jeeves’s nose, which made him blink. That stolid character’s blinking made Gussie giggle again, and he scooped a hand around the back of Jeeves’s neck and pulled him down for a kiss.
I know Gussie when he kisses like that. He seems to take his cue from his newts, and only goes into a mating frenzy on very rare occasions, but once he gets started he shows all the focused intensity of someone who continually believes they are going to die on the morrow, and that can be a sweetly addictive thing to experience. When he was released to breathe, Jeeves fell back a pace, looked to me, and I couldn’t help smiling. Though his current expression was a particularly unreadable one, being complex as well as subtle, I thought I detected the symptoms of his being properly bowled over by Gussie-passion. Perhaps Jeeves took my smile as consent or encouragement, I’ll never know, but from there things moved quickly and my memories are rather jumbled and fuzzy, but quite ambrosial.
Every time we did something like this in school Gussie seemed just as surprised and gratified as the first time, as though he truly expected it would never happen again, could never happen again, maybe I had made some mistake the first time, and he happily seemed to maintain that charming youthful earnestness. Perhaps it had been a mistake the first time, when we were kids in school, because it taught him to look to me for that sort of comforting whenever he was feeling really low, but, as I said before, I’m a soft-hearted sort of chappie and can never turn down a friend in need.
Much later, when all was said and done, Jeeves would point out to me that Gussie was not entirely without self-confidence and did, contrary to popular belief, have some social skills. “He believed he had a good chance of being accepted by you when he applied for succour, but that his chances were slightly less good with me, therefore he chose to place his first application with me.” Said application being the collar-nuzzling bit, if I understand all that correctly.
Now, I don’t wish to interrupt the narrative flow, but at this point I’d like to point out that there was actually more on my mind than my immediate carnal satisfaction. Probably I’ve been spending too much time around Jeeves, who perversely insists on being self-aware every minute, thereby robbing himself of much joy, I’m sure. And in addition, there are some small points that I’m sure the keen reader has probably noticed which I suppose I should comment on. For instance, that keen reader has probably not failed to notice that Jeeves responded with remarkably little surprise to Gussie’s advance, and an immediate understanding of Gussie’s intentions, which indicates some previous knowledge of his predilections.
This can be in main explained away by the fact that I had revealed all of my previous history to Jeeves when he and I became involved, and, additionally, that no small part of my modern interactions with said Fink-Nottle had been during that previous episode involving Madeline when he had asked Jeeves help in wooing her. Of course the published version of those events needed to be severely cropped for public consumption. I had to leave out the fact that part of the reason Gussie was so very upset with me, culminating in his drunken castigation of me which so derailed the awards ceremony at Aunt Dalia’s local primary school, was that I had refused him the very sort of comforting he was asking for now, without telling him why. Things had all gotten rather confused, but I had manfully resisted him, and kept my reasons secret from him. Of course my reasons were that things were rather tricky with Jeeves at that juncture, and I had a notion that dallying with Young Gussie would upset the applecart to no end, possibly beyond redemption.
However, bringing the reader’s attention back for a moment to the evening currently under discussion — I had a nagging sense throughout the proceedings at this point that Gussie’s now very apparent attraction to Jeeves came as no surprise to Jeeves at all. I remembered that, when Gussie had first been attempting to buck himself up to asking the Bassett for her hand in marriage, he had visited Jeeves at my flat in London numerous times to confer with him as to the best course of action, and it seemed to me not at all impossible that he might, during these visits, have begun to develop a fondness for the brilliant cove with the finely chiseled features who kindly lent his time and attentions to the Fink-Nottle personal problems. Furthermore, Jeeves had been available to allow Gussie to cry upon his shoulder when he had failed his first attempt at proposing to La Bassett. Young Gussie’s foolish reliance on only orange juice for drink had caused his brain to freeze so that, when faced with a Bassett romantically primed, upon whom he had but to set the spark, he found himself spewing on about newts. Let that be a lesson to us all about the dangers of relying on the juices of fruits which have not been properly fermented. Possibly Jeeves, with his keen insight on human psychology, had noticed some telltale signs of this attraction during these encounters.
I could follow the logic in this — who could fail to be attracted to Jeeves, after all? I certainly was. Still, something bothered me about the situation. I mean to say, here was I, one of the oldest and dearest, so to speak, and yet upon whom (if whom is the word I want, here) did Gussie now turn the burning eye of passion? Oh, he still said all the same sorts of things he had ever said to me when we were in school, complementing me on my ability to touch just there so well and all, but the burning e. of p. was definitely upon Jeeves, if I was any judge of the way, as Jeeves’s fingers ghosted down my shirt front to undo my buttons, Gussie hoovered them into his mouth. But, not wanting to spoil the mood and all, since everyone concerned appeared set to have an amusing evening ahead of them, I pushed the unworthy thought aside. Far be it from me to deny Jeeves his fair share of carnal adoration from someone as delicious as Gussie could be when he got going. Yes, I pushed the unworthy thought to the back of my mind and bade it stay there and not interfere with the action.
For action there was, very soon, and in no uncertain terms. Although, really, there’s not that much to say about carnal intercourse, is there? I don’t know if you’ve been in a bed with two men, but if you have you probably know what I’m talking about. Wonderful as the c. i. is when one is in the middle of it, describing it is really impossible — it turns into so much detail about mouths and hands, and one has to remember who’s were where, when and in what order, when what’s really so wonderful about being in the middle of it is not worrying too much about exactly what you’re doing. And there’s always a lot that’s awkward and messy and doesn’t make for good narrative — if you’re not there, in the middle of the mood, that sort of thing is distracting. For the sake of someone like Jeeves or Gussie I’m willing, when in the mood, to put my tongue in places which I’m appalled to think about in cold blood. But that really is the fun, in the moment, and probably half the reason I’m not at all sure I could achieve such a state of loss of self-consciousness if forced to perform with a woman. Women always seem to want everything to be hearts and roses, delicate and romantic — not awkward, sticky, smelly and fun.
And yet I suppose the reader would like some description of this situation, so I’ll take a whack at it.
With Jeeves’s competent help we were all divested of our clothing in record time, and Gussie whimpered and wiggled delightedly (and delightfully) between us like a half-grown pup who’s had a good whiff of anise.
No, no, that doesn’t work, it skips too much detail — details that, if I had known what to make of them at the time might have tipped me off that what I was doing was not just fun, but would pose a danger to... but I shouldn’t say too much too soon. I’ll try again.
Jeeves deposited Gussie onto my lap and began untying his — Gussie’s, that is — shoes. Gussie took this for an affirmative response and availed himself of the opportunity to chew my ear in no uncertain terms, and then made things challenging for Jeeves by pushing me back on the bed. I thought my foot might be screwed right off when Gussie decided to flip me on top of him just as Jeeves gripped my foot to pull the shoe off, and then he was running his fingers down the side of my foot, tickling. My attempts to remove Gussie’s tie floundered for a moment until Jeeves lent a useful finger here and there, but then I had blissful access to a throat and collarbone which I hadn’t tasted in years.
I only half-heard Jeeves opening the dresser drawer, though I noted it was rather nice that, during a moment which might normally be a distractor from the mood — Jeeves fastidiousness dictated that he could not continue past a point without certain supplies — the addition of Gussie to the equation meant I had an opposite distraction, one which kept my mood continuous.
Gussie was surprised when Jeeves returned not only with a towel but several condoms, and he looked back and forth between Jeeves and myself with something different in his face.
“I’ve never used one of these. We never had them when we were in school.”
“Nevertheless, I’m afraid I must insist upon them for certain acts,” said Jeeves. “It is a well-known fact that young boys are not overly concerned with their personal cleanliness. However, as an adult one can learn better habits.”
“Oh! For cleanliness. Of course. I thought...” His face burned with a blush.
Of course I had to ask what he had thought.
“Oh, just that... well, it only just occurred to me that, er, Jeeves...” He trailed off for a moment, and then picked up in a small and somewhat awed voice, to Jeeves; “Well, I suppose you must be quite experienced.”
I could see Jeeves was a bit stung by this expectation of promiscuity, so I hastened to say, “Nothing recent, Gussie. You needn’t worry.”
“Oh, I’m not worried!” he said, “Far from it!” He grinned, bounced up and seized a handful of Jeeves’s shirt and began tugging it untucked from the trousers so he could attack that delightful belly with his teeth. At that Jeeves consented to set aside his offense, and things proceeded happily. The clothes were disappeared, the Gussie did his unusual mating dance, and in general I suspect a good time was had by all.
The only worrying moment was when (Gussie and I having already thrown ourselves dizzyingly into that void of ecstasy where one feels, for a long moment, turned inside out, in a pleasant way) I regained my senses to see Jeeves giving me a rather rummy look. Almost pained, if you know what I mean. I wasn’t sure what it might be about, and resolved that I’d have to speak with him later about it, but at the moment young Gussie was working so hard at Jeeves as to nearly make himself sick, so I gave Jeeves the nod that he should probably give in to Gussie’s attentions before that unpleasant eventuality should come to pass, and he closed his eyes and did so in a way that made me think of the Victorian mother’s purported advice to her daughter to “close her eyes and think of England” when she was with her husband. It all was most perplexing, a sour note in the midst of the joy, and bothered me not a little, as you might imagine. Thankfully I didn’t think young Gussie noticed, being quite well occupied at a lower level, and very shortly Jeeves expression changed to that one which is familiar and yet my wonder at which never pales. Seeing him like that — every fine line of his body defined and taut — was overwhelming to me, and, although I should have been quite done already I found myself caught back up in passion and pushing hard into Gussie. Eventually, however, Gussie was able to lick his lips in triumph, and I was able to disengage — so to speak — and to remove the condom and roll it in the corner of the towel, as Jeeves had trained me to do.
An unknown length of time later, once we were all cleaned up to Jeeves’s satisfaction, and curled round one another on the bed, I traced my finger around the Gussie ear and fished for more Madeline information. “You are surpassing delicious, Gussie. What a fool she is.”
“Madeline says I’m a bit of a cold fish.”
“You’ve never been a cold fish with me. Quite the opposite.”
“It’s different with you, Bertie. Madeline makes me nervous. I can be myself with you. And Jeeves is so kind.” The corner-of-the-eye glance he gave Jeeves as he said this led me to believe it was a lot more than kindness that Gussie appreciated in Jeeves, but that Jeeves made him just a tiny bit nervous, too, and he couldn’t believe he’d made so bold as to nuzzle into such a dignified person’s suit-collar, and had a result which was, in the main, successful.
Gussie hopefully would never realize the small unsuccessful part of the interlude.
Soon after that Jeeves managed to gently remove young Fink-Nottle and himself to the appropriate rooms, much to my regret. It was a shame he couldn’t have given the staff the night off. However, such is the world we live in.
I know that I have on many occasions mentioned that Jeeves has an uncanny ability to know just when I’m going to awaken, such that he can enter the door moments later with a tea-tray. This ability also allows him to know the moment before I will wake, so that he can already have silently entered, and set the tea-tray on the bedside table, then awaken my very gently with warm breath on my neck. If being woken is something that one must suffer, this is certainly the very best way, and I murmured, “Darling!” as I rolled to face him with a sleepy smile.
The corner of his mouth quirked with a certain satisfaction. He enjoyed being addressed with endearments, although his own personal sense of propriety made it hard for him to assign any to me beyond ‘sir,’ or ‘Bertram’ when he was feeling particularly carefree.
“I hate to wake you — " he began, before someone — Gussie, as it was very soon evident — knocked on the door, resoundingly.
“Bertie, are you up? Only I saw Jeeves just go in with the tea-tray, so I know you must be up. Jeeves? Let me in?”
Jeeves let out his breath and his eyes flicked in a way that indicated he might have been rolling them if he’d been anyone else. “Mr. Fink-Nottle has been up for hours, sir,” he murmured, with the emphasis on ‘hours’ suggesting that he hadn’t had a moment’s peace during that time. Jeeves’s peaceful mornings are very important to him. He likes to putter around the house doing whatever it is valets do — shining the silver, I suppose, and musing on Deep Philosophies — as a rest from that trivial work of solving all the problems of the young master and his friends.
“Well.” I blinked, blearily. “I suppose we’ll have to let him in. Sorry, old duck. I’ll try to take him off your hands.”
I placed a hand on the back of his neck to pull him down into a kiss, but immediately upon his lips touching mine the pounding on the door renewed. I winced. “Tea, if you would.” I levered myself up in bed as Jeeves stood to the tray.
“Just a moment, Gussie!” I called, and Jeeves saw the cup installed in my hand before unlocking the door.
Gussie slunk in, hangdog, his ebullience of the night before gone as if it had never existed, and put a hand on Jeeves’s arm.
“Don’t leave just yet, Jeeves.”
“Pardon me, sir, I must excuse myself. I am exceptionally busy this morning.”
Somehow Gussie lost his grip on Jeeves’s arm; I have noted that it is nearly impossible for anyone to hold him if he doesn’t wish them to.
“What can you possibly have to do, Jeeves? I’m sure my staff has it all well enough in order.”
“Your inestimable Mrs. Widdescomb had a small matter she wished me to look into; I promised I would have a chat with her as soon as possible. But if you could be so good, sir, as to attempt to recall to mind the name and residence of any of Miss Bassett’s close friends or family who would have any information as to her current whereabouts or intentions and inform me of said persons, I will be most eager to bend my mind to this solving of your predicament.”
Giving my good man an eye that would have done justice to a deceased cod, Gussie turned to me.
As Jeeves shut the door behind him he shot me a Look that seemed filled with some sort of something, and reminded me a good deal of that terribly rummy look from the evening before.
Gussie sagged to the bed next to me and heaved a sigh. “I have the utmost faith in Jeeves. He’ll come up with something.”
“Of course he will, old thing, you just need to give him a little time to think.”
He began to untie and remove his shoes.
“What are you doing?”
“That bed looks so comfy I thought I’d climb in there with you.”
“Um. That is to say. Er. I rather thought I’d be getting out of it myself, straight away. I’m ravenous, and, hm. Should really get some fresh air.”
It didn’t seem like at all a good idea to do anything with Gussie, that morning. Jeeves seemed in some sort of a mood, and I would have to ascertain where things stood with him before I’d be able to even think about any more casual disportments.
Gussie looked disappointed, but put his shoes back on and paced, while I dressed for breakfast.
After some first rate kedgeree, I spent the day attempting to get Gussie to do the two things Jeeves wanted — to leave Jeeves alone, and to make a list of names. He couldn’t seem to keep his mind on the latter task at all — when he wasn’t mooning over Madeline or attempting to interrupt Jeeves, he was snuggling up to me. I repeatedly gently removed his hand from my knees and other parts of my anatomy, with admonitions to remember the sensibilities of his staff. The only break from one or another of these occupations was when he would lecture about newts. It began to dawn on me that, for all he stated that he wanted Madeline back, he wasn’t really all that inclined to do anything toward that outcome. Eventually, though, we hit a sort of breakthrough when he mentioned having gone for a few days at the seaside with Madeline and one of her Aunts. Theodosia was the name of this specimen, and something in his tone made me think she might not be quite as crusty a mastodon as my Aunt Agatha, or at least that he held some small soft spot for her, and I hoped the reverse might be true. I jumped on this spot of info as quickly as possible.
“We must tell Jeeves at once! Where does this Aunt Theodosia live?”
“In London, actually. Why, I’m surprised I didn’t think of her before — she’s practically a neighbour of yours.”
He found her address, and we took it before Jeeves. He helped Gussie compose a telegram asking said Aunt what Madeline might be up to — well, when I say he helped Gussie compose, I actually mean Jeeves composed said telegram and Gussie signed it. Gussie and I had a brief walk to town to dispatch said telegram, and easily as that we had the answer to all our questions; that very afternoon, as we sat in the conservatory, ostensibly attempting a game of checkers (although mostly it was Gussie attempting to feel my knee and me attempting to remove his hand from it, resulting in us holding hands under the table a good deal of the time, which seemed to mollify him somewhat), Jeeves brought a return message from the Aunt Theodosia in question, lying portentously, if that’s the word I want, on a silver salver.
’Suppose there cannot be any harm in you knowing as will be in the papers in a few days. Groom is Sidney Harrington, a curate in Dorset, two weeks from Sunday, and a bolloxey rushed job he’s made of it, too. Best. Mrs. Henry Knowle’
I read this aloud to Gussie and Jeeves, upon which Gussie’s face crumpled.
“That’s it, then! She left me because she had fallen in love with someone else. I should have known. Why couldn’t she just have told me? Oh, I suppose it’s all no use, now. I’ll never meet another girl like her. I’m doomed to spend my days alone.”
He dropped his head upon his arm on the table, scattering checkers upon the floor.
“Sir,” Jeeves interjected, soothingly, “Don’t give up all hope as yet. Let me go to Dorsetshire and assess this curate. Perhaps that will give me some inkling as to a way to proceed.”
The young poop lifted his head again, a tear trembling upon his cheek, and made a sort of whiffling noise.
“Do you really think you could, Jeeves? Oh, I don’t know, I think it’s impossible.”
“We can but try. It is in the attempt that we are ennobled.”
Gussie looked puzzled, and scarcely less morose, but waved his hand and snuffled, loudly. “Yes, yes, of course, and thank you, Jeeves.”
Jeeves begged permission to proceed immediately to Dorsetshire.
“We’ll take the two-seater and run up there this afternoon, it will be quicker,” I offered, leaping from my chair, eager to be away from the bally fascinating temptation of the Gussie-in-heat, which, I was afraid, threatened my warmest fascination — to wit, my relationship with Jeeves.
“I’d like to go along,” bleated Gussie. He took off his glasses, ostensibly to dab at his eyes with his handkerchief, but turned those eyes up to Jeeves, round and soulful as a puppy.
I thought as quickly as I could; I desperately wanted some time away from him after this day, and some time to speak with Jeeves, alone. “I don’t see how you can, old chap. There are only two seats in the car, hence the common name of ‘two-seater.’ Unless you suggest we leave Jeeves behind, and that won’t do at all. It’s vital that his brain be on the scene.”
“I have my own car, Bertie,” he responded, a bit peevishly, “I acquired it to take Madeline and her Aunt Theodosia to Little Barrington-by-the-sea and it can seat five.”
Jeeves cleared his throat.
“In fact, Mr. Fink-Nottle, I believe your gardener had a few questions for you regarding water flow in your newt ponds and some new growth of water weeds upstream.”
“Really? I saw Carpenter not a half-hour ago and he didn’t say anything.”
“It may have slipped his mind, sir. He informed me about it over dinner yesterday evening. I shall remind him as soon as I see him.”
“Oh, all right,” Gussie moaned, slumping into his chair and staring dull-eyed at the checkers. I confess, I almost cracked, but I held strong.
And so, although it was late in the day, Jeeves in his bowler and I in my snap-brimmed driving cap were to be found not over an hour later with overnight bags packed, leaping into the two-seater on our way to Dorsetshire. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was to have him to myself at last, even if I had to be driving. I certainly needed to apply his great brain to something which had been bothering me, and I laid the problem out before him as soon as we had escaped to the open road.
“For someone who’s madly in love, and leaving aside the fact that I can’t imagine how anyone could be madly in love with la Bassett, young Gussie seems bally uninterested in winning her back, Jeeves!”
“He did desire to accompany us to assess this Mr. Harrington, sir.”
“Indeed he did, Jeeves, but, I’ll be dashed if I can explain why, but I don’t think that he had any thought of finding this Harrington chap. I think he just wanted to accompany us.” ‘You,’ I wanted to say, but I didn’t. After all, it had been nearly impossible to brush Gussie’s hands off of me all day, but he’d also given Jeeves such a wistful look when he said he wanted to go along. Oh, maybe he really was thinking of finding Harrington and throttling him, but I wouldn’t have laid any large bets to that account. He had his sights set on yet another evening with Jeeves, with myself as an added garnish, was the way I would bet. But Jeeves was saying something I’d missed the beginning of, and now I struggled to catch up.
“I suspect, sir, that Mr. Fink-Nottle having been characterized by Miss Bassett as a ‘cold fish’ may perhaps stem from a similar problem to your own inability to speak with her. A sense that women are more demanding, that they will not put up with the realities of intimacy as you are used to experiencing it — the messiness, in your own words. Miss Bassett, in particular, seems demanding of perfection. Mr. Fink-Nottle once described her as ‘a fairy princess.’ She presents the appearance of being so far above the imperfect that you find it difficult to even make conversation with her. Therefore Mr. Fink-Nottle has experienced a performance anxiety, which has rendered him incapable of contemplating romantic advances toward her.”
“A performance anxiety? Like the butterflies in the stomach that I get when faced with singing or speaking in public?”
“Precisely, sir, although possibly a bit more pronounced.”
“Well then why does he want her back?”
“He is following a societal dictum that states that a beautiful girl is a prize to which all young men must aspire. He has an inferiority complex concerning his social interactions, but, whilst engaged to Miss Bassett, he feels that his social worth has been proven by his association with her. Allowing her to leave him for another man lowers his own perception of his social standing once again. He also fears that he will never again have a chance to attract a woman of her looks and social standing, having been fortunate to do so even once, given his usual lack of social graces.”
“Er, yes.” I mulled this over a bit. “By Jove, Jeeves. Nail, head and all that. I think you’ve hit upon the exact thingy — nub of the matter.”
I let a good several miles more elapse before I finally got up the courage to bring up the other matter which had been on my mind.
“There is one more thing I’ve been meaning to speak with you about, Jeeves. It’s rather a difficult topic to bring up, but I feel I must have a go at it. I er...”
“Well, dash it, I don’t know. It’s a rummy thing. I guess I’ll just have to make a run at it. At the time when we were, er, in the middle of it, so to speak, with Gussie, you gave me a rather odd look.”
“A look, sir?”
“Pained, I would say, though I may be wrong. Perhaps it was just a cramp? But if it wasn’t, I really feel I must understand what that was all about.”
He bowed his head, and I thought for a moment he would not go on, but I waited patiently and was soon rewarded.
“I thank you for asking. The fact is, sir... Your very generous nature is one of the things I most value in you, and something I do not want to suppress. It is not, however, a quality I share. Indeed, several times I have allowed my base jealousy to prevail, arraigning events such that your involvements with others were put to an end that I might have you the more to myself. Not, I think, entirely to your displeasure.”
He nodded. “That evening I attempted to put my feelings aside for the sake of comforting Mr. Fink-Nottle and that you might enjoy yourself. However, it was not an act which came easily to me. In addition I have a marked aversion to... losing control. With another whom I do not know and trust as much as yourself it is something I’d prefer to avoid.”
“Jeeves, my dear man!”
I felt myself horribly shamed that I had placed my faithful Jeeves into such a situation as to have to choose between his own comfort and my pleasure, and I pulled the car over to the side of the road, only luckily not turning it over on a soft shoulder in my haste, so that I could turn to look him directly in the eye and make my apology.
“I am dashed sorry! If I’d had any idea...”
He had braced his hand on the dashboard during my impetuous maneuver, but the slight surprise on his face now transformed into that subtle, smug, delight which tells me I have struck the right note.
“Thank you, sir. However, it’s not as if every moment were so terribly unpleasant. The problem lies mainly in the fact that I thought I could make myself be more generous than in fact I was able to be. Still, sir, it is not necessarily a bad thing for one to push one’s self from time to time, in the interest of gaining greater insight. It’s not an experience I’m sorry I had. Now that I have you to myself again, the memory of the situation is ... interesting.”
With that, he shelved the conversation in favour of a wordless communication of our lips, until a growl announced the imminent arrival on the scene of a passing lorry, and we broke regretfully apart.
The rest of the trip was in better spirits, and we soon approached the village which was our goal.
Upon entering the town we proceeded, at Jeeves’s suggestion, to the local postal facility, where the postmistress was able to provide me directions to the rented cottage of one Sidney Harrington.
“Sidney,” I said as I plunked back into the car next to Jeeves. “Sidney Harrington, that’s his name. A curate named Sidney. Why does it seem as though this should be ringing some sort of bell for me, Jeeves?”
“It was a curate named Sidney — Sidney Hemmingway, also known as Soapy Sid — who attempted to steal Mrs. Gregson’s pearls while you and she were on holiday at Roville-sur-mer.”
Mrs. Gregson being my Aunt Agatha, of course.
“By Jove, Jeeves, of course! And you foiled him and let me look the hero. I don’t know as I ever properly thanked you for that. You improved my standing a bit in Aunt Agatha’s eyes, temporarily, at least. You don’t think that this could be the same man?”
I put the car into gear and pulled out. At a sedate pace I took the two-seater out the lane indicated by the postmistress.
“It is possible. Although I feel compelled to point out that, in all probability, there may be many completely law-abiding curates in the country named Sidney.”
“Several, perhaps. At least so one might hope. Although he actually isn’t a curate at the moment. He says he’s a curate, but he hasn’t got a curating position. The postmistress said she hopes he’ll get one soon, as thinks he’s such a nice young man.”
We cruised past hedgerows blooming with blooms, cowfields filled with cows, all the bucolic pleasures of the healthy English countryside, on a road which rattled the kidneys in syncopation with the back teeth, while Jeeves mused on this.
“Delighted to be of service,” I replied, happily. “Er. Why?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Why was that interesting?”
“An ostensible curate, though currently without a curating position, who has made himself quite popular with the locals. It fits the modus operandi of the suspect, if I may use the term, who is a confidence man, and lives upon his ability to make himself appear genuine and likable.”
“He certainly pulled the wool over Aunt Agatha’s eyes! Made her look quite the fool. In fact, now that I come to think of it, you might say that he did me a good turn, in a manner of speaking.”
“This may be the address we seek.”
The cottage rented by Harrington — or possibly Hemmingway — was a place full of every rustic charm, crowded about with flowering bushes, far from any neighbors. A place, as Sherlock Holmes might have pointed out, perfectly suited to hiding evil deeds. We did not stop, but drove a mile or so further on before we found a place to turn around.
Having located the lair of the prey, Jeeves suggested we repair to the local inn, where I had a relatively civilized dinner, after which we were shown to my room with great pompous flair by the florid inn-keeper. Barely had the door shut behind this personage, before I availed myself of the privacy which we had been unable to find at Gussie’s place, and sealed my lips to those of my good man.
Jeeves gave every evidence of finding that long-awaited kiss as delightful as I did, but soon broke off.
“May I suggest a post-prandial perambulation?”
“A walk, to aid the digestion.”
“My digestion’s fine. I’d rather try out this bed.”
“Regretfully, my dear Bertram,” (and I shivered, as I often did, at the deep buzz of his voice rolling my name on his tongue as though it were a delicious treat) “We may do so at the cost of missing our intended goal. The cook informs me that Mr. Harrington often takes his dog for a walk in the evening, on fine nights, sometimes coming so far as the town square.”
I sighed. “Véry well, we’ll go for a walk. But then we come directly back here, is that perfectly clear?”
“Perfectly, sir,” he responded, with that fraction of a smile.
We had finished a third circuit of the square, and I was engaged in giving him the description of a musical which Bingo had recommended, the name of which had escaped my mind at the moment, when he touched my arm quickly and nodded to where, entering the other side of the town square from the appropriate direction, a masculine figure could be seen, led by a small, brown, bowlegged dog. However, his path did not lead him all the way around — he only reached the door of the very inn where we had our lodgings, whereat he entered.
“Jeeves! Look at that! We could have stayed inside and had a couple of cheerful drinks and seen his face in the light!”
“We would, however, have run a risk of his also seeing our faces more clearly. I believe if we position ourselves correctly we may have an opportunity to observe his face quite well while we remain obscured to him. Let us stop just over here.”
“You knew he came for a drink in the evening, didn’t you?”
“I was informed that it was a possibility.”
“Pardon me, sir?”
“Well, why didn’t you tell me that?”
“I do beg your pardon for the omission, sir. I considered it likely that, with that knowledge, and your kind and honest heart, you might consider it more sporting to remain within and offer him the opportunity to see our faces. If he proves to be a complete stranger there will be no harm done by this ruse. However, sir, if he is the person we suspect he could be I do not wish to provide him with any advantages.”
As he said this he had arrived at his chosen vantage point, and watched the large bay window of the inn carefully. Through the many small panes we could observe a swath of the common room, including a pair of elderly pensioners playing cards and the back of the man in question standing at the bar. Soon he turned from the bar with his drink, and Jeeves touched my hand needlessly. I had gotten a good look at his face in the moments it was toward us. He was short and round, with a genial and guileless face — it was definitely the confidence artist, Sidney Hemmingway.
Jeeves smuggled me in the back door of the inn, explaining to the kitchen maid that I was avoiding a friend who I wished to surprise with my presence, and took me up the servant’s stairs to my room, where he pulled the curtains closely.
“It is him, Jeeves! But what could be his game? La Bassett can’t be much his type.”
“He may be able to use her much as he does his sister — to lend him an air of respectability and collect information on rich women.”
“She wouldn’t do it, though! She’s the sort of soggy girl who thinks rabbits are gnomes in disguise or some such rubbish — she wouldn’t have anything to do with stealing pearls.”
“I’m sure your assessment of Miss Bassett’s character is correct, sir. It may be that he’s simply marrying her for her money.”
I shuddered. “I can’t imagine how any amount of money could be enough to induce someone to marry La Bassett. I’m convinced Gussie is off his head.”
“You are not in pecuniary need, if I may say so. And Mr. Fink-Nottle, because of his low sense of self-esteem in social situations, is happy to find any woman of similar class standing who is willing to be seen with him.”
“Thank heavens for small favours, eh, Jeeves!”
But my soul was moved at the thought of even the Bassett scourge being saddled with a husband with the basest monetary motives.
“We must do something. I suppose going to the police would be out of the question?”
“It would be difficult to prove a case at the present time.”
“And what about muscling him into breaking the engagement?”
“Probably also unfeasible, as well as holding the distinct disadvantage that he would then have a case to bring the police against us. Not an outcome to be desired.”
“I’ve half a mind to do it anyway. The blighter! People can’t be allowed to go about behaving so badly.” I paused, noting that gleam of intelligence in his eye. “You have a plan, don’t you? I know that look.”
“A possible course of action has presented itself, yes,” he replied, with the hint of a possibility of a smile. “It hinges upon Mrs. Gregson’s goodwill — "
“Then you may as well forget it. She has none toward me.”
“Pardon me, perhaps I should have said her ill will toward Mr. Hemmingway. It may almost be assured of success if Mr. Fink-Nottle can arouse himself to a sufficiently pugnacious state of emotion that he will be willing to fight for his lady-love.”
“But, Jeeves! You revealed to me, earlier, your conviction that our young Gussie does not actually want to be married to that Bassett blight, and yet you would still bring them back together? This is not your usual modus operandi, my dear man. You usually bring true lovers together and separate those who should be separated. Granted, even la Bassett does not deserve to be married to Harrington-nee’-Hemmingway, yet there must be some way to bring about his downfall without endangering Gussie with the prospect of matrimony yet again.”
“Nee’ is usually used in reference to the maiden name of a woman who has married. I doubt Mr. Hemmingway was married to acquire the name Harrington.”
“And I doubt Hemmingway was in fact his name in the first place. You’re evading my question, O Paragon of Virtues.”
He softened with a slight glow at the pet name. “However, Mr. Fink-Nottle does seem convinced that he wishes to marry Miss Bassett.” He paused, seeming to take a moment to gather his thoughts. I suspected he did it for effect, as his thoughts never need gathering. “The fact, in main, is that I am, as I said, not inclined to share you. And it would appear, from Mr. Fink-Nottle’s earlier behaviour, that he might expect me to continue to do so.”
“Share me!? But, my dear Jeeves... well, to be perfectly honest, I’m sure it’s you he really wants, and he’s only taking me as a necessary adjunct.”
“I hardly think that can be the case. However, if we were to assume for the sake of argument that it were, that is, if you will forgive my saying so, just as much a problem. I like Mr. Fink-Nottle, but a long-term association with him is not a prospect I find soothing to my mind. Although he can be very pleasant and accommodating when it so suits him, he certainly has not your sweetness of nature and joie de vivre. In short, I am not in love with him, Bertram.”
I was overcome with a not unmanly emotion at this exhibit of devotion.
“Véry good, then, Jeeves,” I said, my heart swelling. “Carry on, then. Carry on.”
Which he did, and very adroitly, I might add. He scooped me off my feet and carried me over to the bed, dropping me so I bounced, which made me laugh like a schoolboy. He pounced, and I was pressed into the bed by his weight, while he laced his fingers in mine and pinned my hands by my shoulders, and his hungry kiss likewise pinned my head.
When he had to come up for air he asked, “Do you trust me?”
“Of course,” I answered, unhesitatingly.
He gazed down at me, searchingly, with something a little sad in his face.
“The sweetness of your nature never ceases to amaze me. I have withheld the truth from you any number of times, and allowed you to appear the fool to others, and yet you continue to forgive me and allow me to do it again.”
Regret — that was the sadness in his look.
“That’s alright, old bean. You’ve never sacrificed my reputation as a gentleman, and your plans generally leave everyone else happier. My looking a bit foolish is a small price.”
The only answer he gave to this was another desperately passionate kiss, which, with the press of his body against mine, was beginning to make me feel as though I were melting and half losing my mind before he broke again.
“I have read,” he said, “that the greatest freedom to enjoy sexual relations can often be found by surrendering the will to another such that one has no responsibility to consider how best to please one’s partner.”
“Mnuh?” I murmured, not able to organize a coherent word at the moment.
“Would you allow me to serve your pleasure by rendering you incapable of reciprocation?”
He shifted to straddle my hips most pleasantly.
“Whatever you want,” I answered, desperate for him to continue.
“Of course. I am at your disposal.”
“Would you go so far as to say that you are mine?”
“Completely yours, always, body and soul. You know that,” I said, and I meant it.
“As I am yours, and at your command. If I do anything you don’t like you must tell me immediately. Say, ‘Reginald, stop.’”
“Because you don’t habitually call me that, so I’ll know that you mean it.” He loosened my tie, and as he turned it upon my neck I began to realize what he’d been driving at.
“Er. Jeeves. Don’t you think this is a bit... um?”
He glanced away from the knot he was doing up in my tie to a handy upright of the bedstead, and gave me his millimeter smile.
“It is not all that unusual. Independent sources suggest it is far more usual, in fact, than the type of relationship we already share.”
“Oh. Well. Er.”
“Do you trust me?” he asked again, kissing just below the corner of my jaw.
“Implicitly,” I stated.
“Good. Wait here.”
“I don’t see that I have much choice,” I said, as he crossed the room to the dresser.
“Oh, I’m sure you do. Certainly if you wished you could undo the knot.”
“What are you after?”
He returned with something in his hand.
“It seems I did pack several ties which are among the less becoming on you.”
“I’m rather fond of that gold one.”
“Then at the earliest opportunity I shall buy another like it so that you may match. It looks appalling apposed by the salmon. I shall endeavour to not allow it to distract me from my duties.”
After securing my hands he had unbuttoned my shirt, and now trailed his fingertips down my chest and belly, then slid his hands inside my shirt around my ribs. It tickled and I wiggled and laughed, but couldn’t get away from him, or even move my arms to defend myself. When I caught my breath I asked if this was his fiendish plan — to tickle me until I was blue in the face. His hint of smile was only slightly more than usual, and his answer was to begin licking and kissing at my chest and belly, biting gently on my nipples and pulling until it hurt a little and I gasped. He seemed to like that, and quickly undid my trousers, sliding them down over my hips to my knees, where they served to keep my legs pinned together while he sat back and observed me for a moment.
“Aren’t you a bit overdressed?” I asked.
He traced his fingertips over my erection and asked, “What did you just say I could do with you?”
“Anything you want,” I whispered, as he pinched and tugged at my scrotum.
“What I want to do doesn’t involve my being undressed at the moment.”
He continued to tease and lick until I was nearly insane with desire before he finally decided to undress me fully, and shed his own clothing. I squirmed impatiently as he folded both sets, carefully, and then prepared himself.
He caressed down my ribs to my hip.
“You are mine.”
“I’m yours.” It sent wonderful shock waves through me to say it, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to keep myself from release as he pushed into me. It hurt a little, and I didn’t try to hide my whimper as he seemed to be enjoying eliciting such reactions from me.
“Do you like that?” he paused to ask.
He was not asking if it hurt — he knew it hurt and he was giving me the opportunity to tell him to stop. The ties were still holding my wrists firmly enough; I pulled against them and tested the idea of pretending to myself that I was not responsible for my bodily responses. It was, as he had suggested, an oddly freeing thought to pretend that I was helpless. I found that I desperately wanted him to drive into me, even though it might hurt.
“Yes!” I gasped. “Please!”
He pushed hard for several strokes, and each time it hurt more, and yet felt even better at the same time, and each time when I moaned he paused and asked if I liked it, and I would answer in the affirmative, until finally he slid easily within me.
He curled down to kiss me, then moved to nibble at my neck and ear and whispered, “Say it again, that you’re mine,” almost pleadingly.
“I’m yours, I’m yours, I’m all yours,” I chanted, in syncopation with his thrusts, and then my mind went blank and my semen splattered across my chest. He watched me avidly, and saw that I was spent before he allowed himself his own release, his muscles all clenching, eyes squeezed tightly closed, and face contorted.
When he pulled out he removed the soiled condom and lay back down next to me, pulling the blankets over us both.
“What about untying me?” I asked.
“Not just yet,” he said, lazily stroking down my sides.
“I can’t sleep like this,” I murmured, already nearly asleep, much soothed by his touch.
He kissed me and snuggled closer, wrapping his arms and legs around me.
“If, in the future, Mr. Fink-Nottle again wants to borrow you,” he said very quietly into my ear, “I may be able to see my way clear to lending you out.”
And there we remained for a while, him looking quite content and me feeling so. I woke up momentarily when he eventually decided to untie my arms and tucked the blankets around me, and then didn’t notice another thing until he entered the room with my tea the next morning.
On our return to Gussie’s, Jeeves laid out a plan of action for us, and we spent the early afternoon engaged in a veritable orgy of telegram sending.
To Mrs. Knowle:
’Plans in works to reunite self and Madeline. Are you with me?
Details to follow. Fink-Nottle’
To Mrs. Gregson:
’Please come to lunch my place Tuesday 1pm. Bring Annie to help
Jeeves. Vital you attend. Please communicate soonest if unable to
do so. Remember pearls at Roville. Bertie.’
Arriving for Gussie:
‘Tell more. Knowle.’
And arriving for self:
‘What foolishness is this? Will be there. Gregson.’
Again, to Mrs. Knowle:
’Bring them both Tuesday 1:15PM for lunch at 6A, Crichton Mansions,
Berkley Street W, London. Important — don’t tell them where going.
As Jeeves left the sitting room with the last one, Gussie insinuated himself onto the arm of the chair in which I sat.
“I don’t mind telling you I’m a bit nervous about this idea of confronting this Soapy Sid character.”
“You’ll get a little skinful and you won’t be worried about a thing,” I attempted to reassure him.
“Just the same. Well, I mean, he’s a hardened criminal, really, isn’t he?”
He slid his hand along my shoulder to the back of my neck.
“What?” he asked, in that tone, you know the one I mean — as though he really didn’t think there was any answer to the question — as he slipped from the arm of the chair into my lap.
“Well, you see, Gussie,” I gripped the arms of the chair in a desperate attempt to avoid reciprocating and embracing him. “I can’t, you see. I just can’t. It’s Jeeves, you know. He, er, well.”
“Even after the other night?”
“Well, it turned out he didn’t feel comfortable about it, later. So I just thought we probably shouldn’t do that again for a while. It’s not that I don’t want to,” I hastened to add, as he face threatened to fall, “You understand, it’s just...”
“Yes, yes, of course I understand. It’s just Jeeves.” He climbed off my lap and straightened his jacket.
“Maybe it’s not forever. He might change his mind. I mean, he’s indicated that he might be persuaded in the right circumstances. I just don’t want to push him on the matter at the moment.”
Gussie gave me a bitter look and walked out.
* * *
Tuesday morning Jeeves was to be found rearranging the decor of the room, slightly, in order to expand the table to seat five. I entered the dining room to see him setting out a certain delft shepherdess statuette, which Aunt Agatha had presented me with at Christmas. I was not particularly fond of the thing, even if was supposed to be one of a very limited and expensive series, and Jeeves, I knew, found it appalling, so I rewarded him by snaking my arms quickly around his waist from behind and stretching up to kiss the back of his neck.
“A very sweet thought, to let her see that out on display,” I said.
“Thank you, sir.”
Precisely at 1pm Aunt Agatha swept in the door, with her parlor maid, Annie, in tow like a small ray of brown-haired sunshine following a thundercloud. The ray dimpled at Jeeves while Aunt Agatha glowered at me.
“What sort of trouble is Jeeves trying to extricate you from this time?”
“Not my own trouble. Gussie Fink-Nottle’s in fact. You recall he was affianced to Madeline Bassett? She broke off the engagement for somebody named Sidney.”
“Sidney! And you think it’s that same Sidney who attempted to steal away with my pearls at Roville?”
I tapped my nose meaningfully. “However, your own testimony will clinch the matter. Madeline’s aunt, one Theodosia Knowle, has rounded up the young couple and is on her way here with them even as we speak.”
“Theodosia. That can’t be a common name. I went to school with a Theodosia Philbert.”
“Topping! It’ll be like old home week.”
We settled in for ten minutes of companionable haranguing of me by her while Jeeves and Annie glided in and out putting the finishing touches on lunch and setting the table.
Just as Jeeves laid the last fork Annie ushered in and announced Mrs. Knowle — a short, bustling woman with a wide smile — closely followed by Madeline and Harrington-Hemmingway-what-have-you, and I greeted them at the door of the dining room.
“Madeline, what ho, old top! And the beloved aunt, yes? Heard much about you, yes, yes! Charmed! Topping, what? Drink? Tea? My Aunt Agatha, Mrs. Gregson. Lovely, topping!”
That all hadn’t come out with quite the suavity I had hoped it might, but this aunt seemed cut of similar stuff to my Aunt Dahlia; a genial soul who could overlook quite a lot in someone who was standing her a lunch.
Aunt Agatha smiled charmingly to Mrs. Knowle and asked if her maiden name hadn’t been Philbert, which, as it turned out, it had. They had indeed known each other in school, and immediately began addressing each other by first name and resolving to get caught up on old times, all very chummy.
The former Miss Philbert then turned to introduce Mr. Harrington.
Aunt Agatha drew herself up to her full height and seized his hand in a grip of steel.
“Surely we have met before, Mr. Hemmingway, at Roville-sur-mer.”
“Madam, I’m afraid you must be mistaken. My name is Harrington, and I don’t believe I have ever been to Roville,” he said.
He struggled to maintain a calm façade, but his face appeared more frozen than serene. I have never been more proud of the old relic; intimidation is her forte, most certainly. I’d put her up against any dozen of your American gangster bosses.
“I really don’t think I’m mistaken, Mr. Hemmingway. My nephew, here, Bertie, kept company with your sister for several days, and he and his man, Jeeves, can confirm my statement.”
Hemmingway’s eyes flicked from myself to Jeeves as she indicated us, as though he were watching a tennis match.
“Sidney?” Madeline asked, “What is this about?” Her eyes were doing that thing which a romantic writer (my cousin, Florence, perhaps) might describe as looking like those of a wounded dove. I never understood that reference, myself, however I’ll admit that, much as I do think of her as just about the limpest dishrag I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter, my heart did go out to her at that moment. The news that one’s fiance’ has been going around under an assumed name might be a bit unnerving, and she did look a bit shaken. I steeled my resolve. This thing would be to the better for her in the end. It was by way of being the steel scalpel which cut out an infection, or something of the sort. Couldn’t be done without a bit of pain, if you catch my drift.
“Indeed. What is the meaning of this, Mr. Harrington?” Madeline’s auntly protector demanded.
“I really can’t say,” he muttered. Then something seemed to occur to him and his eyes cleared and his voice grew strong. “It must be a case of mistaken identity. They say everyone has their twin. Well, you must have met mine. Yes, that’s the only explanation!”
“Your twin’s name was also Sidney. I suppose it is a possible explanation, but hardly probable,” Aunt Agatha responded, with a cold precision which should have done Jeeves proud.
“Agatha, what is going on here?” Mrs. Knowle asked.
“Your Mr. Harrington — or his twin, as he claims — attempted to abscond with a rather fine set of pearls at Roville. My own pearls, in point of fact. They were subsequently restored to me by Bertram,” she said, nodding at me, though my budding smile was soon nipped as she continued, “Although in retrospect I’m sure Mr. Hemmingway must have been foiled through the efforts of Jeeves, as my nephew hasn’t got the brain God gave a canary. But how is it, if I may ask, that this... gentleman comes to be in your company, my dear?”
The Knowle jaw had attained a sort of stony quality, and drinks could have effectively been chilled on the brow above.
“My niece, Madeline, is engaged to him, at the moment.” She gave Madeline a meaningful look.
Madeline’s mouth was a little ‘o,’ two bright spots of color on her cheeks.
“I assure you, Madeline — " Sidney began, but he was interrupted.
The doorbell had rung, largely unnoticed in the emotional play of the moment, and the voices which had been proceeding up the hall from the front door now resolved themselves into an inebriated Gussie, with Annie ineffectually protesting his entrance. Jeeves had tucked him safely into a pub down the street to have a few glasses, with instructions to Bob the barkeep that Gussie needed to get soused only to the point of belligerence, and was not to be allowed to fall into a stupor. With this professional monitoring his alcoholic intake the appropriate results appeared to have been reached — Bob knew his stuff. Gussie swayed only slightly as he stood in the doorway surveying the room, and when his gaze fixed on Hemmingway a look of great (if somewhat muddled) wrath fell across his features, and his hands balled in fists of rage.
“You must be the blighter!” he roared, and with a noise which may have been a fair approximation of the male newt challenging his opponent for the hand of his slithery sweetheart, he lurched in the direction of his foe.
“What? Er, what?” Hemmingway protested. “What have I done?”
However he quickly saw that standing still was soon going to result, at the very least, in being hit by the careening body of Gussie, which tilted and flailed wildly in his direction. With one doorway blocked by myself and the others by Jeeves and Annie his only possible retreat was to scuttle to the other side of the table, which he did with alacrity.
Madeline squeaked: “Gussie! Oh dear Gussie, you haven’t been drinking, have you?”
Round and round they went, Sidney’s protestations continuing, Gussie now quite unable to do more than grunt and snarl at him, and Madeline’s breathless complaints about Gussie’s behavior increasingly belied by the growing gleam of her eyes. Mrs. Knowle pulled Madeline with her close to the wall to stay out of the path of the two combatants, watching them closely and with no little disapproval. Aunt Agatha was disdainful, but not so much so as to keep her from staying well out of their way herself.
On the contestant’s third lap, Jeeves laid a hand on Gussie’s arm for a moment, causing him to pause, but that only provided an opportunity for him to spot the delft shepherdess on the mantelpiece next to Jeeves. Seizing it up with a triumphant noise, Gussie hurled the offending statuette across the room at Hemmingway with a wild overhand.
The delicate shepherdess arced through the air, Aunt Agatha watching it with widened eyes. I had no idea how much the deuced ugly thing had cost, but it was evident that she was in some concern about it.
Hemmingway somehow caught it before it hit him, but by that time his ire was well roused and he hurled it back again. Its curving flight was again carefully followed by Aunt Agatha, who bit her lip in anxiety.
Gussie was not as much of a sportsman — he failed to intercept the flying shepherdess with anything other than his forehead. Surprisingly, the china did not break — somehow it bounced, and arced again gracefully through the air, followed by the gazes of all — particularly Aunt Agatha, whose mouth formed an O — and by strange chance I had only to put out a hand to catch it.
I set it neatly upon the table while Gussie swayed and toppled, to be caught by Jeeves.
Aunt Agatha, assured that the statuette was set safely on the table, turned on the man who called himself Harrington.
“Mr. Hemmingway, that will be quite enough! You will seat yourself this moment in that chair and you will not move until I tell you that you may!”
He dropped into the chair without a word.
Simultaneously, Madeline squealed and ran to where Gussie had been laid carefully down by Jeeves, his head already beginning to bleed, and petted at him ineffectually.
“Annie!” Aunt Agatha boomed, “We need a police officer!”
Annie bobbed a curtsy and disappeared.
Jeeves rose from Gussie and gave Hemmingway a look that was one of the coldest I had ever seen from him, outside of the context of one of our own arguments over wardrobe. I reflected regretfully that it might well be wasted on Hemmingway, who, not knowing Jeeves’s understated expressions, might read it as mere annoyance.
“I shall momentarily,” said Jeeves, with emphasis on the word ‘momentarily,’ “repair to the kitchen to fetch clean rags with which to bandage Mr. Fink-Nottle’s head. I will, of course, return instantaneously should I be needed.” He took one gliding step toward Hemmingway as he said this, and that bird’s eyes grew wide.
I took a step closer, too, in case he should make any sudden moves, but he hardly noticed me. The entire time Jeeves was absent Hemmingway’s eyes were pinned to Aunt Agatha, who crossed her arms and looked down her nose at him.
Meanwhile, and somewhat more effectively after Jeeves returned with the water and clean rags, Madeline played ministering angel.
“Oh, my prince! My own valiant knight! I’ll nurse you back to health from your wounds of honor!”
How Gussie could manage to keep his bile down in the face of her cooing I couldn’t imagine. Even through his drunken haze it was obviously sinking in that she was taking him back, and it may just have been the pain of the injury, but I thought he appeared a wee bit green around the gills, and with his eyes cast the mute plea of a dumb animal in Jeeves’s direction.
Aunt Agatha was going over the full and complete story of her pearls at Roville-sur-mer for Mrs. Knowle, including how Aline, Hemmingway’s purported sister, had seemed a most sweet and wholesome girl, just the sort to play the church organ.
Mrs. Knowle’s face grew more wrathful by the moment as she heard the tale out. Eventually she wheeled upon Hemmingway, the tigress defending her young.
“Mr. Hemmingway! What were your true intentions toward my niece? It seems you no longer have the female accomplice who lulled dear Agatha and Mr. Wooster into feeling kindly disposed toward you. Had you thought to make my sweet Madeline into another siren for your evil deeds?”
I suppose one doesn’t make one’s living for years off being a confidence artist without a remarkable ability to bluff. With no cards in his hand, Hemmingway straightened his spine, leapt up, and glared back at Mrs. Knowle in a last-ditch attempt.
“I am not the person who attempted to steal Mrs. Gregson’s pearls! I have sworn that I am not, and I am offended in the extreme that you will not take my word.”
It was rather impressive, I thought — one had to admire his stamina, if nothing else.
Jeeves rose from where he had been quietly kneeling by Madeline’s side, doing most of the real work of cleaning the wound and bandaging Gussie’s broken brow, and loomed sternly over Hemmingway.
“Do cast your mind back carefully, sir, to Monte Carlo. Perhaps you remember a certain Sir Frederick Ranelagh.”
Sidney stared huntedly at Jeeves for a moment, then shook his head sharply.
“No. No, I’m sure I don’t.”
“How surprising. I happened to be in Sir Frederick’s employ at that time, and I remember you, most clearly, sir. I feel certain that he would be happy to lend his support to Miss Bassett if she decided to bring a case against you for becoming engaged under false pretenses.”
Hemmingway sat back down and visibly shifted gears. He appealed to the Knowle bird.
“Most honestly, madam, I had thought only of marrying Madeline and settling down. Retiring, as it were.” Sidney’s head drooped on his chest. “Aline left me...” he trailed off into silence for a moment. “Madeline couldn’t have done what Aline did. It’s obvious she hasn’t...” he groped for an appropriate word, and eventually settled on “that sort of character.”
“She hasn’t the brains for it, you wanted to say,” Knowle responded. “True enough, she hasn’t. But she’s a sweet girl, and I won’t see her taken advantage of.”
“How would that be taking advantage of her, really?” Hemmingway snapped back at her, rallying. “I’d have tried to make a good husband. I’ve had all the adventure and high life one could want, already, I could have devoted myself to a quiet retirement. If I’d lived off her money, how does that differ from a hundred thousand other husbands?”
Mrs. Knowle appeared quite taken aback. She appeared to be considering this, and her mouth opened as if to speak, but no words issued forth.
“Oh, don’t listen to him!” Aunt Agatha snapped, “It’s just another of his damnable ploys, I — oh!” She had brought her arm up sharply to wave a finger at him, but as she did so the crash and tinkle of smashing china was heard. She froze, her eyes as round as her mouth as she looked toward the hearth, where the sound had come from. The pieces of the delft shepherdess, which had been løfted through the air by her quickly moving sleeve, now lay within the fireplace. After half a moment a sound emerged from Aunt Agatha something like the bark of a fox terrier and something like the lunch whistle of a shirt factory.
Jeeves was sweeping up the shards when the policeman arrived.
* * *
And now, dear reader, all that remains is the denouement.
Madeline’s Aunt Theodosia finally convinced her to move from Gussie’s side only once he was firmly installed in the guest bedroom and she was assured he would not try to move for at least the rest of the day. There seemed no worry of that, as his inclination seemed to be to fade in and out of consciousness. However, after she was well and truly gone, he managed to sit up and have a cup of cocoa, but he continued looking a little off.
After closing the door on his room for the night I turned to Jeeves.
“Poor old bimbo,” I observed, as we meandered to my room, “he’s got what he thought he wanted, but I think he’s having second thoughts, now.”
“Indeed, it is true that we must be careful what we wish for. Even if, perchance, Miss Bassett could curb her more maudlin impulses, it seems unlikely that she and Mr. Fink-Nottle would make a well-balanced couple.”
As he removed my tie I had to ask, “Who would you pair him with, Jeeves? If it could be anyone at all?”
He mused, and pursed his delicious lips in that way I can barely resist. “I would venture a guess that he needs someone stable and organized, a strong individual.”
“Someone like yourself, you mean?”
“I am otherwise occupied,” he said, with that slight, fond smile, removing my shirt.
“One of your chums from the Ganymede club, then?”
“No, I fear that wouldn’t suit, as Mr. Fink-Nottle desires to make an acknowledgeable social connection. He wishes to have a wife.”
“Can anything be done, do you think?”
“There is nearly always something which can be done. I will keep my eyes open for a suitable young lady for Mr. Fink-Nottle.”
“Thank you, Jeeves, that’s good of you.”
“Not at all, Bertram.” He paused, then added, quietly, “I am fond of him, you know.”
“I’m glad of that. He’s said he wants to thank us properly when he’s feeling a little better. Perhaps it won’t be entirely a chore for you, then, if I lend you out to him.”
It isn’t often that I can goad him into giving me a swat on the pillowy bits, but it can be amusing when I manage it.
end Absence of Madeline