Fandom: Jeeves & Wooster
Total wordcount: 11292
Notes: 3 1/2 years in the making. Thanks again to everyone who held my hand and listened to my whining all this time. No words are adequate to express how much I owe beta_goddess for going through this process with me. The other people responsible know who they are...or they should.
WARNINGS: DARK!FIC. Includes non-consensual sex, alcoholism, and forced alcohol withdrawal.
Summary: Jeeves is forced to face his failure as a gentleman and a gentleman's gentleman.
“Very good, sir,” I replied, trying to make sense of these disturbing words.
Despite my wish for Mr. Wooster’s drinking to be maintained at a manageable level, it was never my intention for him to completely eschew alcohol. Such a development would be a personal misfortune, indeed, although on a clearer second thought, it might be a chance at salvation for both of us. On third thought, I was once again dismayed.
“Did you intend to undertake this plan of action immediately sir?”
“No time like the present perfect, is there? By all means, Jeeves. Let it be a new day,” he announced, dispatching me to fetch breakfast, even though it was, as I had pointed out, time for tea, soon to be followed by the commencement of his usual gin and tonic.
“Shall I empty the apartment of all such beverages?”
“Well, you might keep a splash of sherry for your cooking, but other than that you should pour it all out. Or give it to the less fortunate. Cheer them up a bit.” With that he attempted to smile, which led to another groan and clutch of the head. “Perhaps we’ll hold off on breakfast a while longer. Maybe just a spot of tea.”
“Very good, sir.”
Despite my inner turmoil at this turn of events, I proceeded to follow Mr. Wooster’s instructions, although not precisely to the letter. I allowed him to hear me ostentatiously pouring out a bottle of gin before bringing him a light repast of toast and marmalade along with the requested tea.
By six that evening, he was dressed and seated in the parlour, listening to a programme of classical music on the wireless, while reading (or at least gazing upon the pages of) a rather tawdry crime novel that I believe he had brought back from the United States, a place I wished more than ever we had never trod foot upon. No sooner had the final notes of Chopin faded from the air than a news broadcast commenced and Mr. Wooster began to look around with an air of purpose that I had come to associate with the request for his usual evening libation.
I had not yet formulated a plan of action because I had yet to decide upon the best outcome for all concerned. If it were possible for Mr Wooster to completely give up alcohol, it might prevent the dire consequences that Edgar had outlined. Furthermore,I told myself that I could and would find the strength to give up my own interests, if I believed him to be truly happy in his new found sobriety.
That was the proverbial rub. While I had on previous occasions thwarted my master’s express wishes by various ruses, the intention and result had always been to provide for his happiness. I was not yet convinced that a life of abstinence would accomplish that.
I spend the next several hours perceiving the growing restlessness and nearly tangible discomfort as the night wore on. Mr. Wooster took to pacing, whistling nervously and sitting down at his piano bench momentarily to play a few stray notes, only to rise again and look out the window nervously, as though awaiting important news in the post.
It was all I could do not to offer him liquid refreshment, but I was loath to reveal that I had not carried out the instructions as a result of my own ambivalence on the matter.
This state of affairs lasted until nearly half past nine, at which point Mr. Wooster yawned rather ostentatiously and announced his intention to retire for the evening. When I offered my assistance, he bestowed upon a grin so patently ingratiating it would not have deceived a backwards nine-year old and allowed that I should not interrupt my reading of the Times, clearly not discerning that I had been unable to focus on more than a single word for the better part of the evening.
While I had perhaps used discreet manipulation over the years to effect specific outcomes on my employer’s behalf, I could confidently say that until that night I had never been the sort of manservant who indulged in the nefarious practice of listening at keyholes. Of course it had never before come to pass that Mr. Wooster should seek to conceal his activities from me. I knew he would not do so of his own volition. Such was the power of the alcoholic compulsion upon him and by extension over me. I stood at the door long enough to ascertain that he was drinking, at which point I opened the door and witnessed the nearly obscene sight of Mr. Wooster taking deep gulps directly from a silver flask.
What tore most at my heart was the fact that he owned such an object without my knowledge.
Caught in the act, he was unable to stop. His eyes met mine, vulnerability evident on his face. Not until he had emptied the flask and a trickle of clear fluid had spilled down his chin, did he toss it aside. He lay down on one side, clearly broken and ashamed, silently pleading for help. I longed to reach out and comfort him in this time of need, but I felt I could not even offer a fatherly tousle of the hair without revealing the most depraved aspects of my nature.
As I shook my head in disapproval, rather than displaying compassion for his misery, it occurred to me that I had deprived Mr. Wooster of any possibility for a relationship with a woman. Clearly no Madeline Bassett or Florence Craye would have been suitable or capable of offering succor, but perhaps there was, unknown to me, a female in existence who could have made a difference. I’d done everything in my power to make sure it never happened, at what I assumed was Mr. Wooster’s behest, spoken or otherwise. What right had I to do that if I could provide no substitute beyond my nighttime forays into Mr. Wooster’s bed and body?
“Jeeves,” he whispered, in a voice that spoke of total defeat. “Please help me.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
He nodded and put his head down on the pillow, still fully attired. Normally, I would insist that he undress and wear his pyjamas, but I could not bear to be that close, again fearful that even my most concerned and delicate touch would give me away. I waited until he was visibly asleep before moving to at least loosen some buttons, allowing him to rest more comfortably. While I had no desire to violate him on this particular night, I did take the opportunity to plant a kiss on his sweaty brow and lay fully clothed on the bed for several hours as he thrashed and occasionally muttered in his sleep, including, I thought, perhaps my name.
As dawn appeared, I withdrew to my own chambers having reached a decision, one that tore at the fabric of my self-regard. No servant should ever have to pay a call such as I did that day, to Mr. Wooster’s Aunt Dahlia.
She received me in the sitting room of her London residence, with her customary graciousness. No doubt she was surprised to hear me breaching her nephew’s confidence, but sadly and rather to my astonishment, she reacted to my words with no surprise whatsoever, but only a shaken head and sepulchurous sigh.
“It’s a curse of this family. Bertram’s father was…well, we shall not speak of it. I had hoped that with your firm hand to guide him, young Bertie might have escaped, but I imagine the blood is too strong.”
Even if Mrs. Travers’ words had not been meant as a rebuke, they cut me like the sharpest blade of a master chef, leading to one undeniable conclusion. I had failed.
“I’ll tender my resignation immediately.”
“You’ll do no such thing. It will take both of us to get help for Bertie, if help is still possible. I’ve allowed Bertram to remain in his unmarried state because I intuited that your care for him was of a more altruistic nature than the various prospects you’ve so cleverly helped him elude.”
I nodded, gratitude catching in my throat while the anguish of self-disgust racked at my heart.. If she knew my true part in her nephew’s situation, she might look on me less favourably.
“Am I wrong about you, Jeeves? Do you not love my Bertram?”
“I would not say differently, Madam.”
“Of course not. Now get home and tend to him until I’m able to make arrangements.”
When I arrived home, Mr. Wooster was sitting up in bed, complaining vociferously of a headache, but making no reference to what had transpired the night before; neither the revelation of his own misery nor any possible knowledge that I’d spent a sleepless night cradling his feverish body, my actions devoid of any carnality beyond a chaste touch of my lips to his throat.
“What ho, Jeeves? I’m feeling deuced ragged this morning. It’s as though the old noggin had been torn off and substituted for the ball at a match..”
“I’ll see to it immediately, sir.”
My heart remained conflicted for the balance of the week as I watched Mr. Wooster return to unrestrained drinking and found myself alternating between ashamedly taking advantage of the effects by night and nursing Mr. Wooster through them the following morning. My self-loathing was nearly complete, but I could stop myself no more easily than he could. Perhaps it was something akin to those who take the opportunity to avail themselves of their favourite indulgences in the weeks leading up to Lent. I knew I would never be able to touch him in this way again, nor should I.
When the call came from Mrs. Travers, I felt a profound sense of relief mingled with loss. On the last night that I took what now felt like an accustomed place in Mr. Wooster’s bed, I barely troubled to make myself silent feeling that his drunkenness had grown so all-pervasive that he would remember nothing in the morning. Amid my own feral grunts, it was impossible to hear whatever moans might have echoed from my master’s lips as I possessed him for the final time.
The following morning, I made sure that his trunk was packed and brought him the train tickets along with his first drink of the day and the small amount of solid food he’d become willing or able to consume.
“What’s this then, Jeeves?” he asked squinting at the ticket, in his usual state of morning disarray, attempting to shield his eyes from the sunlight as it shone wanly through the curtain.
“Your holiday, sir. I’m sure you remember speaking with great enthusiasm of your desire to see the Highlands?”
“The Highlands, are you sure?”
“Quite sure, sir,” I replied with all the fabricated cheer at my disposal, hoping, much as it pained me, that in his addled condition he could be convinced, because the alternative, as outlined by Mrs. Travers, was brute force.
“What did I say precisely about these bally Highlands?”
“As I recall, sir, you were rather keen on the fresh air and healthful life. I believe you also expressed a desire to see the caber tossed.”
His expression was one of utter confusion, as was to be expected, but perhaps some part of him knew as surely as I did that things could not be allowed to continue as they were, nor was he strong enough to overcome the temptation on his own, even with whatever assistance I might offer.
“Will you be coming with me, Jeeves?”
“Not on your initial journey, I’m afraid, sir. I’ll need to take care of a few matters here in the city.”
He looked so crest-fallen that I sought to reassure him, even though it meant I was compounding the lie. I hoped that the cure he was about to undergo would prove so efficacious as to provoke a measure of forgiveness toward whatever tactics had been necessary to bring him to it.
“I’ll be arriving shortly thereafter. No more than a day or two, I should say. And I’m sure the attendants at the resort will be able to see to your needs in my absence.”
He nodded slowly, so as not to jar his delicate head.
“All right then, Jeeves. The Highlands it is. Do find something with a suitable bit of tartan about it for my travel, will you?”
On any other occasion, I would certainly have vetoed the suggestion of such attire most vociferously, and for a second it occurred to me that perhaps I should do so now in order to avoid raising his suspicions at my acquiescence. The smile that suffused his features with a hint of his old joie de vivre, however, touched my heart deeply enough to make up for the sartorial horror that I knew would unfold.
I shall never forget the vision of a truly terrifying plaid suit, driving cap and scarf, accompanied by his jaunty, slightly inebriated voice singing, “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland afore ye. But me and my true love shall never meet again on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond.”
He was still singing as I left him on the train, and I waited until it was no more than smoke in the distance before I allowed myself the luxury of tears.
According to Mrs. Travers, the cure provided at the asylum would take a minimum of 30 days, at which point I might be allowed to see Mr. Wooster, if his doctors permitted. I could barely stand to be physically separated from him by minutes or miles much less the time and distance between London and Inverness.
The chores with which I busied myself over the next forty-eight hours, including a thorough rooting out of Mr. Wooster’s various caches of alcohol, were hardly enough to dispel my growing concerns about what might be taking place in Scotland. I failed to comprehend exactly how the facility intended to address his dependency on the spirits short of mere deprivation. I’d already seen the results of such treatment and had no faith that it would prove any more effective in a remote location.
Perhaps a stronger stomach for suffering was needed. Again, I could not help but despair of my own future in Mr. Wooster’s service if I had failed quite so dismally to do what was necessary.
So great was my gloom that I wondered if I was even fit to make the journey to Inverness and again serve my master. I spent one night alone in his bed, weeping tears of regret into a pillow that smelled intoxicatingly of his hair, with overtones of sweat and sourness. Giving in to the depths of my own compulsion, I performed an act of self-abuse that struck me as being no less vile than the things I had perpetrated upon Mr. Wooster in his obtunded state. As I laid hands on myself, I imagined him to be awake and completely compliant to my desires, a state of affairs I knew could never be.
For the first time I understood the temptation to lose one’s faculties along with doubts and fears in a bottle, rather than the sensible use of spirits as a relaxant and aperitif. Perhaps if I led myself down the same primrose path for just one evening, I could be more sympathetic to Mr. Wooster’s weakness.
The first glass was poured with the intention of imbibing many others and again I failed. There was no way for me to poison myself into insensibility in the name of empathy or for any other reason and I still could not understand why Mr. Wooster failed to have such self-control when the deleterious effects of his drunkenness were as obvious to himself as any other sane person.
All I had was pity and self-recrimination for my own lack of empathy, but the determination that I would be there, ready to resume my duties as soon as he was deemed fit for life among society again. I proceeded to make my own arrangements to follow him hoping that I might be able to see Mr. Wooster earlier than the prescribed one month. How could a visit from one’s manservant possibly interfere in the progress of a cure as long as no illicit transfer of liquor occurred?
My first attempts to pay a friendly visit were thwarted by a female who wore the garb of a nurse, but whose attitude displayed nothing of a commitment to helping humanity. She existed only to turn me away from the gated entrance, telling me in her broad brogue that Mr. Wooster would not be receiving visitors until his treatment had been completed, that all former associates were immediately suspect and if I should attempt to approach the facility again, I would be met with the force of law.
The anger I felt toward that miserable wench was something fiercer than I’d felt toward any of Mr. Wooster’s female acquaintances. Only by the greatest self-control, and the knowledge that this harridan could prevent me from seeing Mr. Wooster indefinitely, did I refrain from taking out my frustration in word or deed.
Instead I proceeded to take up residence in a small cottage that had been secured for my use. I had with me a collected works of Shakespeare and for the better part of a month, I indulged myself in the histories and tragedies, dreaming of barbarous and bloody events in order to distract myself from both the concern for my master and the deprivation I had already resigned myself to.
A hideous wind whistled over hills surrounding the cottage, making me wonder why anyone would voluntarily live in these parts and how any individual as afflicted as those suffering from the ill effects of alcohol could possible hope to get well there. I had no faith in the prescribed cure and no hope for any other, so I kept my own counsel along with the Bard until the blessed day when a messenger arrived with word that Mr. Wooster was permitted to have a visitor.
I was met at the gate, not by the gorgon, but by a somber looking gentleman attired in black who led me out to a grand lawn. I barely registered his words about how much progress Mr. Wooster had made during his stay at Brocklehurst, so avid was I to find him amidst the various unfortunates I spotted surrounded by wives and loved ones. I saw the desperation on their faces and did my best to maintain a less emotional demeanour, perhaps successfully until I heard the familiar words, and felt my very heart leap within my chest.
“What ho, Jeeves?”
I’d walked past without even seeing him, as he barely resembled the man who I’d kept continuously in my heart over the last month. He sat in a chair with a blanket over his lap as though he were an invalid wasting away his golden years at the family manse, rather than the vibrant man I had seen off at Waterloo station a mere thirty days earlier. I could not tell when he had last been properly shaved, at least three or four days by his appearance, and the wisps of gray among the whiskers reminded me of just how long I had been in his service. Never had I been forced to confront the reality of his actual age. Under the growth, I detected a gauntness about his cheeks and in vain did I search for the sparkle of his blue eyes. They seemed dull, the fires tamped down.
“I trust you are well, sir.”
Rarely had the typical formality felt more of a lie.
“Never better, Jeeves. Although I must say, I’m very disappointed in you.”
I stood perfectly still, preparing myself for what must be coming; a full-blooded condemnation of my chicanery in arranging for his confinement and deprivation, perhaps even my termination from his employ.
“I have seen neither hide nor hair of a caber since I arrived here.”
In that moment there was a hint of the old grin and the briefest of twinkles in his eye.
“I’m truly sorry to hear that, sir.”
“And I haven’t heard anything resembling a Highland Fling. Just this bally wind all the time. Worse than that Mysterial thing they have in France.”
In that moment, he was again my Mr. Wooster, and there was still hope. Then he shifted uncomfortably in his chair and sighed, energy seemingly seeping out of him again. I chose not to correct him, as his glance fell downward toward a book I had not noticed before. It appeared to be a bible. Whil Mr. Wooster often spoke with pride about the Scripture prize he had won as a youngster, I had never known him to seek solace in the Word of God.
He sighed deeply before looking up at me, clearly struggling to form a question.
“Jeeves, have I wronged you in any way?”
I was so taken aback that I could hardly keep my own composure.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Where could he have possibly come to such a conclusion?
“They have these fellows who come around and talk every week. Oxford men, I thought, but it turns out they’re mostly Yanks. Anyway, these blokes…Well, it’s all about -- I’m not saying it’s all right, mind you, but they think I might be tempted back to my old ways, if I don’t get myself right with the almighty and anyone I might have done the old trespass against. Couldn’t think of any really. Oh, I suppose Gussie might have a thing or two to say about some bets at the Drones club that weren’t quite on the up and up, but really, Jeeves, the only person I think I might need to amend is you. It can’t have been easy on you all these years…taking care of me…cleaning...fixing…saving.”
“Stop!” I demanded, speaking to my employer in a way I could never have imagined. “There is no employer in all of Great Britain I would rather have worked for. I’m afraid if any wrong has been done, it’s allowing you to think such things. ”
“That’s kind of you, Jeeves. I suspected it might be a heaping dollop of balderdash, but I thought it best to check. They have some good ideas, I must say. Purity, unselfishness, that sort of thing.”
“But honestly, who can live up to all that? Now that I’ve put the bottle behind me, I’m expecting everything will be fine.”
“That is my devout wish as well, sir. Do you know when I may make arrangements for our return to London?”
He sighed again. So much the old Mr. Wooster and yet so far away. I noticed a roughness to his voice and couldn’t help wondering how much sickness and punishment it had taken to convince him that he was better off without the boon companion of liquor. I wished it were possible to bodily lift him into my arms and take him away from that dreadful place.
“Perhaps when I have the dreams sorted out.”
“Dreams?” I asked, immediately on guard. Dreams came from the realm of sleep, the same kingdom where I had so often possessed him.
“Yes, Jeeves. Most unusual dreams. Things I can’t account for.”
“Could you go into more detail about the nature of these dreams, sir?”
He looked off into the distance, but didn’t seem to find any answers there.
“I can’t, actually. It’s not the sort of thing one can really say in polite company and it pains me to say this, Jeeves, but I’m afraid you figure rather prominently. I’m ashamed to think of it.”
Unsteadiness began to overtake me, as though I were the one being treated for intemperate consumption of alcohol and I felt I might well become sick to my stomach. I felt sweat breaking out on my skin despite the crisp air and the infernal wind.
“That is quite extraordinary,” I managed to say, hoping to make a plausible escape without giving away my distress.
There was something slightly mournful in his tone as he found the courage to look up at me and stare directly into my eyes. Pembroke’s words about the drinking mania stemming from unresolved desire tugged at the edges of my conscience.
“You don’t think I’ll be having any more of those, now that I’m a changed man and all that, right Jeeves?”
I was barely able to get the words out, before striding away, hoping to find a safe haven to collect myself, and never had they been so true.
“I couldn’t say, sir.”
It was three excruciating weeks of daily visits before the gentleman who went by the title of Dr. Baker met me at the gate and asked me to step into his office. I had no great interest in spending time with this man, whose voice, attire and demeanour suggested nothing so much as an undertaker sizing up a prospective client prior to his actual demise, but he indicated that it was a matter of great urgency. I reminded myself that he was the keeper of the keys to this particular prison and, indeed, the first words out of his mouth provoked euphoria such as I could not remember feeling since before I became aware of Mr. Wooster’s weakness.
“I think Bertram can safely be permitted to return home.”
“This is excellent news indeed.” I hoped I was concealing the actual depth of happiness I was experiencing behind my most professional manner.
“I’ve had communication from Mrs. Travers and she has instructed me that I may speak to you as a member of the family itself.”
While I felt honoured by Mrs. Travers’ trust in me, I found myself wondering if I had done Mr. Wooster a disservice by preventing him from forming any romantic entanglements. Would a wife be a more appropriate person to hear these confidences? On the other hand, could any mere female care as deeply for him as I did? I did not believe so.
“Please speak freely.”
“Mr. Jeeves,” he started, his brogue deepening and he leaned toward me, “I need to convey with utmost seriousness that there is no actual cure for this malady. There is only the commitment taken on a daily basis to abstain.”
“I understand,” I replied, impatient to see Mr. Wooster and let him know that he’d soon be home among his familiar environs.
“I’m not sure you do. We believe that alcoholism is a disease. Cunning, baffling, powerful. If Mr. Wooster does not continue to make spiritual progress, the compulsion to drink will return. Perhaps not immediately, or even in the first weeks or months. This is a demon that can lay in wait for years. And if he takes but a single dram, it will be as though he had been drinking throughout all the days and months and years in between. It will kill him.”
Pembroke’s words about Lord Winstone, buried amid lies on his very death notice, echoed in my memory. This would not happen to Mr. Wooster while I had breath in my body.
“What should I do?” I asked earnestly, causing Dr. Baker to squint at me in confusion, before shaking his head sadly.
“You can do nothing,” he said, with an unpleasant emphasis on the last word. “I offer you this information for your own protection. Bertram is a grown man, with free will, is he not? I assure you, if he does not lean upon the Lord and his fellows in this path, he will most certainly give in to his desire for drink and be destroyed.”
Having perceived that I would not be allowed to remove Mr. Wooster from the premises unless Dr. Baker was convinced of my acquiescence to his point of view, I replied, “Of course,” offering him the lowered eyes of an obedient servant.
“Good, good,” he huffed, putting out his hand for me to grasp, which I did, hoping it would be the lifeline I could use to pull Mr. Wooster back home to London. “Let’s go tell Bertram the good news.”
Vigilance, I reminded myself, as I opened the door to usher Mr. Wooster back into the apartment.
“Good to be back in the old homestead, Jeeves,” he said, loping toward the piano, where he immediately sat down and started playing.
It was so good to hear him singing again, sounding so much like his old self, that I was willing to tolerate repeated choruses of “Home, home on the range,” as I set about unpacking his bags and preparing a hearty welcome home dinner of his favorite foods, sans of course, his postprandial brandy.
“Where the deer and the cantaloupe play…”
“I believe the lyric refers to an antelope, rather than a melon, sir.”
“Ah, yes. That does seem to make a bit more sense, Jeeves.”
“Even the United States is unlikely to contain frolicking gourds, sir.”
For a second, I feared that raising the spectre of America was an error in judgment, reminding him of a time when his drinking had started to run rampant, but which perhaps he associated with the pleasures rather than the perils of intoxication. For a horrifying second I thought he might ask me to mix him a Manhattan before dinner.
“Too true, Jeeves. What is that succulent aroma I detect coming from the kitchen? Could it be your famous Welsh Rarebit?”
“It might,” I said, smiling to myself over his eagerness to the table. While I was hardly in the same league as Mrs. Travers’ chef, Anatole, I was as determined to replace the weight he had lost both in the period of his recovery and in the too many months he had spent replacing real nourishment with drinking, as I was to monitor every association who might have any contact, from a delivery man to a passing young lady on the street.
This was my lot and I was committed to it, even as I forswore any future improper contact with my employer.
The following months showed such a reversal in Mr. Wooster’s behaviour that I found myself agreeing with the awestruck Aunt Agatha that it was truly a miracle. He rose daily by eight in the morning, and followed breakfast with a brisk walk. Days were taken up with reading and visits to fellow inebriates both in finery and squalour. I accompanied him on these sojourns and saw no evidence that he had any intention of returning to his previous habits.
Instead of frequenting the Drones club, he attended meetings in what I considered some disturbingly unwholesome parts of London, but he appeared to be quite the changed man, offering support and encouragement to those who had trod his path. I even had the amusing experience of hearing him attempt to convince Percy Wimbolt that a trip to the Scottish Highlands would be good for what ailed him, although I’m quite certain that Mr. Wimbolt was completely unconvinced that the excursion would do much to clear up his recurring flatulence.
Eventually the day came that I had devoted so much of my time and energy to forestalling. Mrs. Travers seemed pleased enough with her nephew’s progress to leave him in peace regarding the possibility of matrimony. His Aunt Agatha, on the other hand took what she called his “miraculous turnabout” as the cue to redouble her previous efforts in that regard.
The first few attempts came to naught as Mrs. Craye was still casting her net among the society girls, who might have momentarily turned Mr. Wooster’s head in the old days, but whose vivacity rang hollow now that he’d found a more serious purpose. I accompanied him on each failed outing, keeping my own counsel as I watched them bat eyelashes and listened to them simper, and of course seeing the inevitable dismay in Mr. Wooster’s eyes as they ordered a cocktail or a glass of wine with dinner.
However, each small victory only hastened the day when a suitable female actually arrived on the scene. Millicent Blythedale possessed style and grace, as well as the impeccable credentials of being vice-president of the London branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Even I had to admit that she would make an attractive companion to Mr. Wooster, if only physically, being a bit on the willowy side for a woman.
As I was completely unable to find a major flaw that could doom the relationship on a first date, I was compelled to let it proceed to a second and a third, until it became problematic for a man of Mr. Wooster’s age and position to be so blatantly chaperoned.
Thus I found myself in the excessively uncomfortable position of preparing my employer for dinner with Miss Blythedale at the Duke of York on Roger Street. Although Mr. Wooster was doing his best to make it seem as though this was a perfectly normal occurrence, I could hear the concern in his voice and sense the trepidation.
“What am I going to say to her, Jeeves? She’s a woman, you know?”
“I am aware of that fact, sir.”
“They’re different from us.”
“Indeed, sir. But you and she do have certain interests in common, do you not?”
“Apparently she plays a mean game of croquet and she ran into Gussie Fink-Nottle at a cotillion ball.”
“That should at least carry you through the hors d'oeuvres.”
“But what then Jeeves, what then?”
His eyes pleaded for my to extricate him from this, as I had so many previous entanglements, but I could not.
Now that I could no longer lay claim to his body by night, there was no reason to prevent him from becoming someone’s husband, someone who could bring a measure of happiness to his life.
“You’ll think of something, I am sure.”
“Thank you, Jeeves.”
I spent the evening listening to a BBC broadcast of the London Philharmonic’s performance of Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite and pondering my future in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Wooster, should Millicent Blythedale find herself enamoured of Mr. Wooster’s charms. She seemed a sensible woman. Perhaps she could see the value of keeping a faithful servant on retainer rather than trying to oust me completely, unlike the various females whose fondest wish had been to supplant my place in his life.
Thus with hope in my heart did I await Mr. Wooster’s return which, allowing a reasonable amount of time for dinner, dancing and perhaps a leisurely stroll to Miss Blythedale’s home, should be no later than half past nine. Therefore I was most surprised when he arrived at precisely 8:45PM.
“I trust you had an enjoyable evening, sir.”
He barely restrained the sigh and I knew him far too well to miss the tension in his jaw. Something had gone wrong, perhaps quite badly so, but it was not my place to enquire as to the details unless he chose to reveal them. In the past, I could count on liquor and his natural loquacity for revelation, but with sobriety had come the ability to keep a secret. I would need to use stealthier tactics to find out what had happened.
Rather than answering my question, he proceeded to turn off the radio, curtailing my Prokofiev without so much as a glance in my direction. He then assumed his place at the piano and began to play a song I hadn’t heard in some time. The tone of his singing voice bore an odd quality of both defiance and mourning. I rose to move closer to him.
“Molly and me. And little baby makes three. We’re so happy in my…blue….”
What could this portend but a future of marriage and respectability? A blue heaven with Millicent Blythedale and their little baby. I would take care of the child as I had the man.
“A shot of the needful, Jeeves?”
At first I hardly understood the words, as many times as I had heard them in the past. It had been months, nearly a year.
After everything he’d been through. The sickness. The arrests. The Highlands. The bible readings and meetings. Millicent Blythedale…what had that woman done that could inspire this most horrifying of all requests?
“Are you joking, sir?”
”Do I appear to be joking?”
“I cannot say at this point.”
He had turned around at his piano bench, looking up at me with a coy, knowing smile, and eyes that were both pleading and offering. It was as if he were deliberately turning a key to open the vault in which I studiously locked away my depraved nature.
“You remember those dreams I told you about?”
“I thought we would not speak of those. It was a matter of great shame. Such great shame that you wished never to imbibe strong spirits, lest you experience them again.”
“I should like to have them again.”
His gaze told me what he knew and what he was promising if only I’d completely compromise the last shred of my integrity and endanger his life in the name of my own selfish pleasure.
“Sir, I cannot.”
He turned away from me and resumed his playing, taking out his evident frustration on the keyboard, although he continued to speak.
“Is it my understanding, Jeeves, that you are refusing to fulfill a request from your employer in his time of need?”
I took a deep breath to steady my voice before replying, knowing the next words out of his mouth might be my termination as his valet and remembering the words of Dr. Baker. If he wanted to drink then no power on earth would stop him. I, however, would not be the instrument of his self-destruction, no matter what was offered.
“Yes, sir. It is.”