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[personal profile] iridaceaena
Title: It's a Good Life, Sir
Author: Ceaena
Beta: The lovely and invaluable [livejournal.com profile] innocentsmith
Fandom: Jeeves and Wooster
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG


When Mr. Wooster feels obliged to offer some justification for the extent to which he is intimidated by his Aunt Agatha, he frequently cites her reaction to his failure to prevent his cousin (and aunt) from marrying into a vaudeville family or to the time he took up residence at Deverill Hall in the guise of Mr. Fink-Nottle; he occasionally speaks darkly of her response to a certain childhood incident involving hedgehogs, which he is reluctant to describe in any detail. At other times, he simply refers to her general demeanor; she is undoubtedly a woman who expects to be obeyed immediately and without question, regardless of whom she is commanding. I was regrettably reminded of this on the occasion of one of Lady Worplesdon's more insistent visits.

I had felt that a visit from Lady Worplesdon was imminent for several days, and after skimming the newspaper for further news of the conflict that threatened to envelope all of Europe, I brought Mr. Wooster his tea and proceeded to wake him at precisely half past nine. It was perhaps not strictly true when I answered his half-conscious inquiries by informing him that Lady Worplesdon had telephoned and was even now on her way to the flat to discuss what she had described as a matter of utmost importance with regard to his future, but it produced the desired effect - Mr. Wooster started, nearly spilled his tea, and without further debate began to throw himself into the clothes I provided (with the additional benefit that, in his haste, Mr. Wooster did not protest my selection; I had seen a suspicious-looking lump in his jacket pocket when he returned home the previous evening, and I suspected that had time permitted, the contents would have made themselves unfortunately conspicuous that morning). He fidgeted continuously as I straightened his clothing, looking anxiously at the clock, and darted for the door the instant I deemed his appearance satisfactory, instructing me to make his excuses to his aunt and telephone him at the Drones Club when it was safe for him to return.

I had just finished tidying up after Mr. Wooster’s hasty departure when the door buzzer rang in several short, insistent spurts. I opened it and was not surprised when Lady Worplesdon swept past me impatiently. “Wake my slugabed nephew and tell him to make himself presentable,” she ordered, her imperious tone not entirely covering a nervous agitation that I was unaccustomed to hearing in her. “One of my old friends is in London on a visit and has brought her niece along with her. Bertie is to have lunch with us and try not to make an imbecile of himself in front of the girl.”

“Unfortunately, Mr. Wooster has already departed for the day, your ladyship. I believe that one of his friends requested his help with a pressing personal problem, and Mr. Wooster is unlikely to return until late this evening. I will certainly inform him that you wished to speak to him at the earliest possib-”

“Nonsense,” Lady Worplesdon snapped. “That wastrel has never risen at a decent hour in his life if he could help it, and his friends are even worse, if such a thing is possible. They have no pressing personal problems that begin before noon. Now let me speak to him!” Her handbag swung dangerously with her frustrated movements, and I discreetly moved back a pace.

“I assure you, your ladyship, Mr. Wooster is not at home,” I repeated to little effect, as Lady Worplesdon was already marching toward the bedroom, throwing the door open with a flourish that struck me as rather out of keeping with her purported disdain for the theatrical professions. The room contained nothing more incriminating than a perfectly made bed, however, one seemingly deserted for some hours. Lady Worplesdon returned, her face betraying some slight puzzlement and some considerable annoyance.

“I do not know how he caught wind of this engagement. I strongly suspect your hand in the matter. However, you will inform my nephew that he will be dining with Miss Prudholme-Phelps tomorrow evening. Is that clear?”

“Indeed, your ladyship. I will inform Mr. Wooster of your instructions directly upon his return,” I said, quite truthfully, but Lady Worplesdon did not appear satisfied.

“You must tell him that I shall come and pick him up myself, and if he is not here, I shall bribe one of his unscrupulous friends to find him for me. Bertie must marry that girl, Jeeves!” she declared, her voice ringing with all the authority that age, class, and experience could give it.

“Very good, your ladyship.”

There was a pause after I had spoken, during which Lady Worplesdon made to leave, although she was obviously still unsettled in her mind. She hovered indecisively next to the door for a moment, fussing with her handbag as a pretext. “You understand the importance of this, don’t you, Jeeves?” she asked, and this time her voice was low and betrayed her age in a far different manner. “You’ve seen the papers; you know another Great War is coming.”

“Indeed, your ladyship,” I answered solemnly. Prudence forbore my admitting that Germany's sudden increase in military action was what had allowed me to predict that she would be paying a visit to Mr. Wooster.

“That someone in my nephew’s... position,” she decided after a brief pause, “should continue to fritter away his time on trivial nonsense when he could be taking an active part against the war is intolerable. Miss Prudholme-Phelps is a strong-minded girl who will be able to exert her influence over Bertie and finally make something of him.”

I was not normally in the habit of addressing Lady Worplesdon beyond what was necessary in order to perform my duties; I did not feel it was my place, and certainly she shared the sentiment. However, while I tended to view Mr. Wooster’s romantic entanglements as a pleasant enough diversion, I was not quite at ease myself at the time, and I was in no mood to be diverted from the more delicate task already at hand. Any additional complications were only likely to prolong the situation.

“If you will pardon my saying so, your ladyship,” I ventured, “I believe there is not yet cause for such concern. Mr. Wooster will take such action as he feels appropriate when he is ready to do so.”

Lady Worplesdon made a noise that I can only record as a snort. “Saying that we have no choice but to trust in Bertie’s judgment seems to me to be more than sufficient cause for concern.”

I coughed discreetly. “I was given to understand that it was deemed safer if Mr. Wooster remains ignorant of his role. Indeed, I believe Mr. Wooster himself prefers it that way, given his generally light and passive nature. This means, however, that those aspects of Mr. Wooster’s personality with which we are familiar do not accurately reflect his abilities in this regard. It is his subconscious -”

“ 'Conscious' or 'subconscious' does not change the fact that my nephew is a frivolous nitwit who expends all his energy pretending that it’s been 1910 for the last thirty years!” Lady Worplesdon said sharply, abandoning her position by the door in favor of pacing restlessly. She paused by the window for a moment, and while she is in many respects a well-preserved woman, direct morning sunlight is rarely kind when illuminating the marks of age. Lady Worplesdon’s thoughts had apparently followed a similar line, for she sighed and turned back to me. “I know I'm an old woman, Jeeves,” she said. “Most of my friends are dead by now. I probably ought to be as well.”

“ ‘Be content with what you are, and wish not change; nor dread your last day, nor long for it’,” I murmured. “I’m sure that Mr. Wooster, at least, believes we shall all live forever.”

While Lady Worplesdon did not actually inquire as to the source of the quotation and then inform me that Marcus Aurelius was an ass, the look she bestowed upon me betrayed a rare family resemblance between herself and my employer. “Suppose Bertie is somehow convinced to put forth the effort to stop woolgathering long enough to do - whatever it is he does, and this ends. Just how long do you think it will last? Will England actually have to be invaded next time before he notices? When you are as old as I am, you lose patience with all those self-important youngsters running about as though they were the first ones to ever think of using war to solve their problems.” She glared at me suddenly, evidently brought back to the task at hand. “And that is why Bertie must marry the Prudholme-Phelps girl - he needs someone to guide him into taking an active interest in international affairs and the nation’s welfare, not indulge his silly whims,” she said, rather pointedly.

“I am Mr. Wooster’s valet, your ladyship. It is my duty to carry out his requests,” I replied stiffly, more than a little affronted by the implication that my behavior had been in some way remiss.

“My nephew considers music hall lyrics to be the height of profundity,” Lady Worplesdon snapped. “He hasn’t the slightest idea what is in his own best interest, much less anyone else’s.”

“I assure you, your ladyship, that if there is ever a time when I feel there is an irreconcilable difference in views between myself and Mr. Wooster, I shall resign from his service immediately,” I said, coolly.

The conversation ended soon after; our positions had been made abundantly clear, and there seemed little else to discuss. Lady Worplesdon looked in the glass, straightening her hat and pulling her gloves taut before nodding briskly to her reflection. “I have no intention of allowing Bertie to squander this opportunity,” she said firmly as she exited, eyeing me with disfavor as I held the door for her. “He will come to dinner tomorrow evening, and he will marry Miss Prudholme-Phelps.”

“Very good, your ladyship,” I said; then, unable to help myself, I added, “God willing.”

Lady Worplesdon was already well past the threshold and therefore beyond my line of vision, but I could hear the rustle of her skirt as she abruptly turned to berate me for what she no doubt considered my blasphemy. Personally, I was of the opinion that there was some room for debate as to Mr. Wooster’s true nature, given his somewhat unorthodox tendency to shape reality to his beliefs rather than the other way around. Indeed, I felt that such a topic could result in an enlightening philosophical discussion, but as Lady Worplesdon had previously applauded Lady Florence Craye’s views, including those involving Nietzsche, with great enthusiasm, it struck me that any exchange of viewpoints between us was unlikely to end in satisfaction for either party.

As such, I did not consider it to be any great loss when, owing to the way the door obstructed my view, I inadvertently allowed it to close while Lady Worplesdon was still gathering herself to inform me of my shortcomings. Such misunderstandings occur from time to time.

I looked at the clock, decided to allow another half-hour before telephoning Mr. Wooster, to ensure that Lady Worplesdon was well clear of the area, and went to attend to the laundry.

*******

“Ah, thank you, Jeeves,” said Mr. Wooster as I set his evening whisky and siphon down on the piano, where he was picking out the melody to a song he had no doubt heard at his club earlier. He tilted the glass toward me in an appreciative gesture before sipping it with evident pleasure. “See here, have you come up with any ideas as to how I can get out of that dratted dinner tomorrow?” he asked anxiously. “Dinner with a marriage-minded female is dangerous enough to the Wooster health and happiness, but add said female’s mother and my Aunt Agatha to the mix and it’s like being between Skilly-whatsit and a plague of locusts.”

“I believe you are thinking of Scylla and Charybdis, sir. In Greek mythology, they were two sea monsters on opposite sides of a narrow channel that would-”

“That’s enough about sea monsters, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster interrupted testily. “I’m sure there are any number of times when the exact location and habits of sea monsters are a matter of l. and d., but this isn’t one of them.”

“No, sir.”

“Like I said, it’s not that there aren’t certain similarities between aunts and sea monsters. Or between marriage-minded females and sea monsters, for that matter. But I’m being pressed into dinner with Aunt Agatha and some blighted girl, not a sea monster, and there’s doubtless some trifling difference in how one goes about escaping them. There always is, somehow. Something to do with the number of legs, you think?”

“That is certainly one factor, sir,” I replied. “With regard to your engagement tomorrow night, I would suggest you attend. Lady Worplesdon was most insistent.”

“In other words, if I wanted to give Aunt Agatha the slip, it had better be by way of an extended visit to an undisclosed location, preferably like those undercover chaps in the motion pictures?”

“Precisely, sir.”

“False names?”

“Indeed, sir.”

“Long coats of the nondescriptish variety?”

“Indeed, sir.”

“Mustaches?” he asked hopefully, giving me a sidelong glance.

I suppressed a shudder as best I could. “I fear that would be overdoing the effect somewhat, sir. It would draw attention to yourself in a most unfortunate way.”

Mr. Wooster looked disappointed, but evidently elected to take a philosophical viewpoint. “Well, I don’t doubt you’re right, Jeeves; you usually are. I suppose I’ll have to suffer through somehow, but you’d better tuck into the fish until further notice. I have a deuced unpleasant feeling that I’ll be needing your brains in tip-top condition before long.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, with no great enthusiasm. If any of Mr. Wooster’s views left something to be desired, it was his unwavering insistence that eating fish stimulated the brain. While I certainly enjoyed the act of fishing, a steady diet of seafood was not necessarily something that I would have chosen for myself.

Mr. Wooster took a bracing swallow of his drink, then returned his attention to the piano, which I normally took as my cue to shimmer off, as Mr. Wooster would have it, until he was ready to retire. My employer’s expression was unusually pensive, however, and I felt that he would be more comfortable voicing his thoughts if he were not forced to deliberately seek me out in order to do so. I decided that certain articles of Mr. Wooster’s wardrobe were in need of immediate attention with the iron, a task that could be made to require no small number of trips between Mr. Wooster’s bedroom and the kitchen, where I preferred to do the pressing. This tactic was evidently effective; after several times passing through Mr. Wooster’s line of sight, he began to glance up as I went by, his fingers hesitating on the keys. “I say, Jeeves?” he asked finally, breaking off mid-chord.

“Yes, sir?” I inquired, carefully laying my armful of shirts over the back of a nearby chair, so that Mr. Wooster would be assured that he had my full attention.

“It’s just that some of the chaps were talking down at the Drones this afternoon,” Mr. Wooster began. Now that he had removed his hands from the piano, he did not seem to know quite what to do with them; they eventually settled on the bench beside him, where a few drops of alcohol had fallen from his glass. His fingers idly traced patterns with the liquid as he spoke.

“Well, that is to say, a lot of the chaps were talking, mostly about their allowances or rows with their fiancées or the occasional sporting flutter in re Tuppy’s ability to skip a hard roll across a series of champagne glasses - I could have told them that his shots go about as straight as a particularly tight moth trying to impress an above-par streetlamp by way of rhythmic dance, but I didn’t notice until Oofy Prosser started... something about a tally. Tally, tally...” Mr. Wooster abandoned the droplets in favor of drumming his fingers against the seat as he searched his memory. “Retaliating! That’s the word I want!” he declared triumphantly after a moment’s thought. “He started retaliating after Tuppy broke a glass and got champagne all over him, and by then nobody was in the mood to hear about it.”

I was beginning to consider gently redirecting Mr. Wooster’s train of thought back to his original concern, but fortunately, he seemed to realize that he had drifted from the point at hand, and he visibly reigned himself in. “Anyway, a few of the fellows were talking about how Germany’s laying into Belgium and Holland, and how we’re jolly well just across the Channel. I know that officially, we’ve been at war ever since they invaded whatever-country-that-was -”

“Poland, sir,” I could not help interjecting. “Also, while the other country you mentioned is sometimes informally referred to as Holland, its correct name is the Netherlands. Holland is one of many regions within the larger country.”

“Well, Poland, then. And the Netherlands, if you like, although I don’t believe it makes much difference - I don’t imagine the Nazis are treading carefully around Holland while the rest of the country gets the knockabout. One gets the impression they aren’t tiptoeing through the tulips so much as having an impromptu rugby match on them.

“Anyway, after the Poland bit, we were waiting around with bated breath and what not to see how the situation played out, but one can only bate so long before starting to turn a funny shade and emitting a sudden sharpish gasp, like those poets overwhelmed by catching the grass imagining flowers, you know. When nothing much more ever happened, the fellows at the club started treating the whole thing as a bit of a wheeze, if we thought about it at all - gas masks were all the rage for a while, and they’d toast the Phoney War now and again. Frankly, the actual war had more or less slipped my mind completely. But now...” Mr. Wooster looked at me with an expression that I have no doubt was meant to assure me that he was prepared to bravely face down any circumstance, although in truth he looked more as one “distraught by expectation”, as the poet would have it. “Jeeves... what’s happening?”

I had intended to introduce the topic slowly and subtly in the hopes of influencing Mr. Wooster’s views in a way that would minimize his conscious awareness of it; addressing the subject directly meant that I would have to trust that Mr. Wooster’s unreflective nature would prevent future connections or suspicions. A risk, but not a formidable one. Besides, I had little choice in the matter. “I should not be overly concerned, sir,” I said firmly. “Germany’s technique is undoubtedly effective, but it requires entirely too many resources to be tenable for long, especially for a country that has only recently regained its economic footing.”

“There’s something in that,” Mr. Wooster mused. “Your reasoning is sound. Your logic is ripe. The oppressed and conquered would salute it with a cheer and a solid back-slapping all. Still, the Germans seem to have it down so far, wouldn’t you say?”

“They have also concentrated their efforts on smaller countries that lacked resources and could not adequately defend themselves. I believe that should they try to embark on a campaign against a stronger country that would not be conquered as quickly, they would soon find that they had severely overextended themselves.”

In truth, I believed no such thing; Germany’s efficiency with its new style of warfare implied that they had made a thorough study of its strengths and weaknesses and had planned for various contingencies, and I did not for a moment believe that they were likely to defeat themselves with such an elementary error so early in the war. However, I was not the one whom I wished to convince.

Mr. Wooster appeared to ruminate on this for some little while, his fingers absently ghosting over the piano keys. Several minutes passed this way before he suddenly brought his hands down with a decisive crash, looking up at me with an expression almost akin to defiance. “Well, and why shouldn’t they make a muddle of it, by Jove!” he declared, jumping up from the piano bench with enough force to disturb several sheets of music from the stand. “It’s just like last time. Like March, as they say.”

“Sir?” I asked as I retrieved the fallen music, for I did not quite follow his train of thought.

“Oh, you know,” Mr. Wooster frowned at me around the cigarette he was attempting to light. Once the seriousness of the German affair had been impressed upon him, it had evidently caused him considerable concern, and his relief had brought a restless energy that was rendering the task difficult. “The gag about the lions and lambs checking in and out.”

“ ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb,’ sir?” I asked, eyeing his struggles with misgiving. “Sir, if you would allow me...”

“OW! Oh, dash it!” Mr. Wooster yelped, dropping the cigarette in favor of sucking on his burned finger instead. I produced a cigarette from my own case and lit it before passing it to him, then retired to the kitchen for a moment to retrieve one of the ready-made ice packs I kept in the ice box. Given the situations in which Mr. Wooster and his friends so frequently find themselves, I have deemed it advisable to have several on hand at all times.

“Thank you, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster said with some relief as I passed him the compress. “You’re a marvel as always. But I mean to say, that was how someone-or-other described the last war. Probably an aunt, or maybe a general on a newsreel. The tone of voice is much the same. At any rate, the circs are bally well just the same this time around, aren't they?”

“The Great War did end in a remarkably anticlimactic manner,” I agreed, although I was careful not to reveal how my interest had been piqued. I had not yet been in Mr. Wooster’s service at that time.

“Tchah!” Mr. Wooster exclaimed, and I strongly suspected he meant it to sting. “ ‘Great’ is hardly an appropriate moniker for that war, Jeeves. It’s a... oh, what’s the word, starts with a ‘mal’...”

“Malapropism, sir?” I suggested.

“Exactly it! Better have been called the ‘Bull War’, perhaps, or ‘Trifling War’, although that sounds rather more like the name of some romantic comedy where various males and females of the species are turning up the charm and giving the rush to the wrong people until it all works out in the last act and everyone has a hearty laugh about it.

“Come to think of it, the war did bear some resemblance to a show,” Mr. Wooster continued reflectively. “Not so much as siblings, but they could have masqueraded as first cousins, even, without too many penetrating questions and rummy looks. I remember right when all the trouble began and everyone was starting to talk about Current Events and The Way We Live Now and crying God for Harry, England, and Saint George, I was engaged to a girl who had more than a passing fondness for Shakespeare, and she insisted that I accompany her on one of her evening indulgences. I don’t quite remember what play it was - something about a war?” He looked at me expectantly.

I coughed. “War played a role in many of Shakespeare’s plays, sir.”

“Did it?” Mr. Wooster pondered this for a moment. “Depressing chap, isn’t he?”

“Shakespeare did at times take a pessimistic view of the human condition. However, he wrote a great many comedies and lighter pieces as well, and war was often used simply as a catalyst to separate the characters.”

“Well, I don’t know that I’d say this particular play was all sweetness and light, but it was something of a topper - or at least the last act or so was, once the girl noticed I was getting a head start on my nightly nine hours and started poking me in the ribcage every time one of the characters said something that was supposed to expand my soul, as she put it. I'd missed most of the background, of course, but some bloke who looked more or less the hero was in rather a tight spot after failing to take the proper precautions and going and getting himself captured in a skirmish. Right when the executioner was coming round with something appropriately disagreeable for said bloke's health, though, a messenger showed up to tell him that the king wanted a word, and everyone gathered together like the last scene in a whodunit - only more of a who-didn't-do-it, since disguises were doffed, pardons handed 'round, and the war ended with no further unpleasantness on either side. There was even a strong moral about not letting a pinup face - or a nice profile, for that matter - trick one into marrying a girl whose inner qualities are reminiscent of the sort of antediluvian monster that went around shoving other antediluvian monsters into tar pits. I distinctly recall dashing away a tear.” Mr. Wooster sighed nostalgically. “I suppose Shakespeare did stumble onto great truths every now and again.”

“I believe that is the general opinion, sir,” I responded automatically, my thoughts elsewhere. I was grateful that Mr. Wooster had failed to notice that in Cymbeline, Britain was the one to pay a tribute despite having won the war. Germany had suffered badly under its war reparations. “If I might inquire, what became of the young lady who accompanied you?”

Mr. Wooster waved his cigarette airily. “Well, I was all fired up after the play - went around telling anyone I could catch that it was just the way a war ought to wrap up. Bingo was there too, having fallen in love with a girl playing one of the dead relations, and he agreed that the Great War would probably end just the same way. After that, it seemed like the only thing to do was to head out and celebrate properly.” He shrugged. “I didn’t think anyone saw us in the dock the next morning, but she handed me the mitten by afternoon. But dashed if Bingo wasn’t right!”

Although Mr. Wooster seemed pleased by the tale’s conclusion, his face soon regained its troubled mien. He applied himself assiduously to his cigarette for several minutes, turning away in a gesture that half-heartedly suggested dismissal. He said nothing, however, and I did not leave. (As I had explained to Lady Worplesdon earlier, it was my duty as Mr. Wooster's valet to carry out his requests. I did not feel that the obligation extended to ensuring that Mr. Wooster was aware of the request at the time.)

When Mr. Wooster spoke again, it was around and through the cigarette and somewhat difficult to catch. “Bingo was supposed to ship out the next day, you know.”

“Indeed, sir?” I asked, keeping my tone neutral. A quick check of my employer’s glass revealed that Mr. Wooster was unlikely to find the remaining level of alcohol sufficient for the conversation at hand. Mr. Wooster willingly exchanged his cigarette for the glass as I refilled it, clutching at it gratefully.

“Indeed indeed, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster replied after a long draught, with nearly his usual cheer; the whisky and soda had gone no little way toward restoring his equanimity. “The silly chump had lost his head over some beazel - this was just before he fell in love with the dead relation, mind - who had lost her head over the idea of brass buttons and wouldn’t even glance at a fellow who wasn’t strutting about in uniform. The next I heard about the affair, Bingo was launching himself onto my bed at some heretofore-unknown hour of the morning to let me know he’d thrown his lot in with the troops. I ticked the fellow off properly - as soon as I’d woken up enough to get his meaning, that is - but he wouldn’t stop yapping about Victoria tearfully waving him off at the station and sending reams of soppy poetry and uplifting letters that he could clutch to his chest on the battlefield.”

“Mr. Little has always been inclined toward the dramatic,” I commented.

“I think he was aiming at getting one of the artistic chappies down on the boards to write a play about it,” Mr. Wooster agreed. “Although he would have settled for a ballad, I think - something catchy to sing defiantly between volleys, you know, or hum softly to himself in the watches of the night, that sort of thing. Anyway, he continued on blinded by the love-light until the girl dropped him in favor of a fellow with a pocketful of medals and a few less fingers than he’d started off with. Deuced inconvenient for counting, but not a bad hook for catching a patriotic-minded girl. Gave Bingo a start, though, I don’t mind telling you. After that he caught my drift at once, but by then there wasn’t much he could do about it.”

“There is some considerable difficulty in abstaining as a conscientious objector after having volunteered one's services,” I acknowledged.

“ ‘Considerable difficulty’ is not the term for it, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster said, rather severely. “ ‘Dashed impossible’, more like. For a while we thought we could get him off on a medical excuse, but wouldn’t you know, the blighter was absolutely bursting with health!” he continued disapprovingly. “The rosy cheek, the gleaming eye - all the usual symptoms. He couldn’t even muster up a decent cold, much less a touch of pneumonia or mumps or what-have-you, and he didn’t think much of it when I suggested he throw himself down a staircase. I thought we’d hit it when we checked in with a looney doctor, but Bingo couldn’t even manage that properly - by then he’d lost some of his usual vim, and he didn’t even have the heart to pretend he thought he’d turned into a pig. It ended with the doc clapping him on the shoulder and telling him that now was the time for all good, fair, and middling men to come to the aid of their country.

“That’s why we were so bally relieved when we realized he probably wouldn’t have to go through with it,” Mr. Wooster added abruptly, his gaze sliding from me to the empty glass cradled in his hands. I would have moved to fill it once again, but Mr. Wooster’s stance had shifted ever so slightly, his usual loose, easy carriage tightening and pulling into himself in a way I had not seen before, and I did not like to take any action until I felt that I fully grasped the situation.

“You know what Bingo’s like. He’d have fallen for some dratted female across enemy lines first thing, just to make himself feel at home, and what would become of him without someone following him around and dragging him out of the range of both frying-pans and fires, I haven’t the foggiest. Just... Bally relieved, was all,” Mr. Wooster finished awkwardly, abandoning his glass and reaching for his still-smouldering cigarette with nervous fingers.

I took a moment before replying. “Indeed, sir. As you say, Mr. Little is not suited to be a soldier. It was very fortunate for him that the war ended when it did - as it was for all of the men fighting. Many more would have been killed had the war continued.”

Mr. Wooster did not respond, but his posture seemed to relax somewhat. He drew at his cigarette for a moment, then asked, “What about you, Jeeves? Did anyone you know head off to fight the good fight?”

“My eldest sister's husband volunteered early in the war,” I answered; then, as I could see no harm in telling the truth, I added, “I myself had received my papers.”

This took Mr. Wooster by surprise; his head whipped up, eyes wide. “No! I say, you were drafted, Jeeves?” He checked himself. “But you can’t have been sent out, of course? The draft had only just got started; you’dve had to have been one of the very first poor saps to get touched.”

“No, sir,” I said, for this time I could see a great deal of harm in telling the truth. I could not imagine Mr. Wooster understanding what war really meant (the scent of it still rose in my mind if I considered it too deeply or awoke suddenly at night - sweat and blood, mud and excrement, hot metal and the burning of things not limited to gunpowder), and I did not like to encourage Mr. Wooster to imagine it either. “I had not yet left home before the war ended. Will you be retiring early tonight?”

“Now that you mention it, I am rather done in,” Mr. Wooster agreed, groping about for an ashtray and extinguishing his cigarette with an air of finality. “I think I’ll stagger off to bed soonish. Tired Nature’s sweet restorer, what?”

“Precisely, sir.”

“And possibly give the old subconscious a chance to knit the raveled sleeve of the Prudholme-Phelps problem, things seeming brighter in the morning and all that. You’d best get to bed early too, Jeeves - the fish ought to do it, but better not to leave anything to chance,” Mr. Wooster ordered, turning his attention back to the piano.

“Yes, sir,” I said, withdrawing to prepare Mr. Wooster’s bath and turn down his bed, the cheerful strains of one of his favorite popular tunes following me into the bedroom.

*******

“Will there be anything else, sir?” I inquired as Mr. Wooster settled himself into bed.

“No, no, Jeeves,” Mr. Wooster waved dismissively from the mound of blankets in which he was busily burrowing. “Good night.”

“Good night, sir,” I responded, and turned to leave.

“I say, Jeeves?” Mr. Wooster called suddenly, his voice already heavy with oncoming sleep.

I paused, my hand already on the doorknob. “Yes, sir?”

“I know forever is probably a bit much to ask, but I hope things stay like this for a jolly good long time, don’t you?” Mr. Wooster asked rather wistfully, half-raising his head in order to see me properly. His hair was already showing signs of disarray, and I knew that by morning (if one employed Mr. Wooster’s definition of the term), it would be so tousled as to seem that no two strands were pointing the same direction - a fact that would be lost on Mr. Wooster until at least his second cup of tea, when his eyes regained the ability to focus properly. It was not a difficult scene to picture; I had watched Mr. Wooster come to life over his morning tea nearly every day for more than twenty years.

“...Indeed, sir,” I answered. I remained by the door for a moment, watching as the last of the tension eased out of Mr. Wooster’s frame.

As I closed the door softly behind me, I made a mental note to glance at the newspaper immediately upon waking. I had a feeling that all would be right with the world.
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iridaceaena: (Default)
iridaceaena

December 2008

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