Case of the Missing Valet
Life is not only undoubtedly rummy, it is also downright queer. And that’s where the whole rumminess about it started, with that one word: queer. Much, it has been said, can hang on a single word, and when that s. w. is “queer,” the resulting rumminess that follows can get, well, queer.
It all started innocently enough. Yours truly had been rescued from yet another dangerously imminent matrimonial incarceration with the Basset menace, and it was one pleased Bertram that hummed in the tub that evening. And yet, the pleased tune had a note of caution to it, for, with the sharp Wooster eye, I had spotted a disturbing pattern in the fabric of life, a certain repetition of events that, if at all possible, should be steered into a better, if not brighter path. And who else, I asked myself, could point me along that path?
“I say, Jeeves,” I called, “life is a rummy thing.”
“Indeed, sir.” My saviour of the evening shimmered in with towels and whatnot, and proceeded to straighten and generally tidy.
“It’s just to say, Jeeves, that there must be some way to stop it all – not life, I mean, but just the rummy bits. It’s all getting a bit tiring, if you know what I mean.”
“I am not sure that I do, sir.”
“Well, all this having to be rescued – now, don’t get me wrong, Jeeves, I am absolutely not tired of being rescued from getting married.”
“As I am not tired of rescuing you, sir.”
“Thank you, Jeeves, you are a treasure. I’m sure you shall rescue me again. And again. And there’s the rummy bit, you see.” I splashed at the water, marshalling my thoughts. “I just wish you didn’t have to keep rescuing me from marriage. I don’t see why any of these girls should want to marry me. It’s not like I’m leading them on.”
“Certainly not, sir. You are, however, if I may say so, sir, a charming and kind-hearted man of easygoing temperament. That and your generosity of spirit would make you an admirable mate for some deserving soul.”
I looked up at my man, my heart feeling like it had drunk one of Jeeves’ restoratives. “Do you know, Jeeves, I think that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me?”
“It is not undeserved, sir,” Jeeves answered, not looking up from his messing about with washcloths or whatnot.
“Well, undeserved or not, it is appreciated,” I said. “But blast it all, it’s not the point. The point is that I don’t want to get married. It all seems a lot of nonsense. But I suppose someone’s going to get the Wooster corpus someday.”
“It does seem, sir, that a man of your position cannot dodge the matrimonial bullet indefinitely.”
“Indeed it does, Jeeves.” I punched the rubber duck playfully a bit. “Life is queer, Jeeves,” I sighed, leaning back into the tub. No sooner had the Wooster back hit the enamel, however, then the idea struck me. I sat upright, the water sloshing over the edge of the tub.
“Eureka! – that is the word I’m looking for, isn’t it, Jeeves?”
“If you believe you have found a solution to our predicament, the word would suffice, sir, yes.”
“Well, eureka, then, because it’s that other word that holds my solution.”
“What other word, sir?”
A shadow of a frown flittered over the man’s face. “I am not sure I understand you, sir.”
“Well, have I ever told you about my Uncle Cuthbert?”
“I have not heard you mention him, sir.”
“Well, no one expected him to marry, because everyone knew he was. Queer, that is. He and this artist fellow from Bournemouth even shared a cottage. Aunt Agatha always said it was disgusting, but it seemed a solid enough arrangement to me.”
Jeeves looked positively pained, as if I had strolled into the flat wearing an aubergine jacket with mustard lining. “I would not recommend posing as a sexual invert in order to avoid marriage, sir. The possible repercussions could be disastrous. After all, it is less than fifty years since Wilde was sentenced to Reading Gaol.”
A shudder went through my body as I thought of the implications. “Good heavens, you’re right,” I said. “If what they do to a fellow for stealing a constable’s helmet is any indication of the stern force of British Law –”
“Indeed, sir.” Jeeves turned his back to me and began folding various towels and placing them in the cabinets. I stared at him, trying to remember why something he had said in the last few minutes had struck me as, well … queer.
I shook it off and leaned back in the tub once more. “Still, it’s a shame I’m not queer,” I sighed. “Perhaps I am and I haven’t discovered it yet. That’d be a shock, eh, Jeeves?”
“Only if you disclosed the information to a third party, sir.”
“A third party? What are you on about?”
“Well, sir, if you were to practice homosexuality, one would presume that you would be practicing with a partner.”
“You make it sound like tennis,” I laughed. Once again, that something Jeeves had said was poking at my memory, but not having the decency to come to the fore. Well, if a thought can’t bother to make itself available, then I, for one, am not going to bother chasing after it, not when there are more interesting thoughts forming front and centre in the Wooster noggin, and this one was a corker.
“The whole homo-whatsis thing sounds intriguing,” I continued, carefully keeping my voice casual. “I mean, kissing girls and all is fun and whatnot, but I never really got into anything really interesting, if you take my meaning.”
“Perhaps ‘arousing’ is the word you were looking for, sir?”
“Yes, arousing.” I was suddenly glad of the suds covering the Wooster corpus, though I was not entirely sure why. “Now, Jeeves, since we are on the subject, I must make a confession that you might find somewhat shocking.”
“Sir?” The man’s voice was bland as ever.
I took a deep breath. “Well, you see, Jeeves, I did have a bit of what you might call ‘practice’ already, at school. With Bingo Little, as a matter of fact.”
“Some sexual experimentation is not uncommon among boys of that age, sir.”
“Well, yes, and that was before we all discovered girls, of course. But there was something about it that was, well, arousing, in a way I’ve never experienced since. And as fond of Bingo as I am, I am sure that it wasn’t just him that was arousing me, if you catch my drift.”
“I think I can glean your general intent, sir.”
Suddenly, I remembered the words that had struck me: Jeeves had spoken of a solution to our predicament.
Jeeves did not want me married any more than I wanted to be married. I looked over at the straight back and square shoulders of my gentleman’s gentleman, and a strange tug at my heart surprised me. Could the answer really be that simple? There was only one way to find out, and I screwed my courage to the s. p., as it were.
“I say, Jeeves,” I began slowly, “you don’t seem as shocked at my confession as I expected.”
“As I said, sir, the relations between you and Mr. Little were well within –”
“Yes, yes, but what of my sudden resolve to do a bit more experimentation? You have not expressed any disgust that the young master is flirting with certain classical ideas of manly love.” I hoped that he would read past my coy manner and hear the invitation in my voice.
Jeeves turned slowly around, and I gasped at the depth of feeling in his eyes. I had never seen him look so grave, not even in the matter of the white mess jacket. “And with whom, may I ask, would you experiment?”
I strove to give him my most winning smile, while attempting to look as debonair as possible, not an easy thing for a fellow to do in the tub. “Would you have any suggestions, Jeeves? I was wishing to begin the experiment as soon as possible.”
To my surprise, the man frowned. He actually frowned, not the usual hint of disdain when delivering one of his classic as-you-wish-sirs, but a full-blown, all-out, corners-of-the-mouth-to-the-bottom-of-the-chin scowl. “You might remember, sir,” he hissed, “that you would be trifling with someone’s affections. Love is not an experiment, regardless of gender.” He took a deep breath, and suddenly the mask was back in place. “I must apologize for my outburst, sir,” he continued quietly. “Will there be anything else tonight?”
I found I could not speak; only a faint squeak escaped the Wooster lips as I lay there helpless in the tub.
It might have been my imagination, but I thought I could still see indignant rage in the man’s eyes as he left without a further word, the door clicking quietly closed behind him.
I proceeded from tub to bed a much chastened, confused, and worried Bertram. A general tightening of the chest and storminess about the brain was beginning to form in my mind around my gentleman’s gentleman, and the more I thought about him, the more I realized how much he meant to me. I thought of all the words we had bandied about, from “eureka” to “experiment,” and one word that surfaced when I considered my feelings vis a vis this latest conversation with Jeeves was “aroused.”
“Aroused,” I said aloud as I snuggled into the covers. Yes, my thoughts had certainly been aroused, as well as some other things. But it wasn’t just about the classical ideas of m. love and all the interesting physical explorations that went with it, although that was definitely part of it. But when I thought of Uncle Cuthbert and his artist friend and their cabin on the seaside, there were other feelings aroused, the sort of feelings that I was supposed to be having if I actually wanted to marry the Basset menace. I thought of those broad shoulders and that rich voice and how was it was so pleasant just to have him around to talk to, and I realized that I did not want an experiment. I wanted Jeeves.
But would he want me? I decided I could not wait until morning to find out. In seconds I was out of bed and into my dressing gown, sans slippers, bursting down the hallway to Jeeves’ room.
I was shocked to see the door ajar and the room deserted; I was even more distressed to hear the soft click of the front door behind me as the man himself left the flat.
I dashed back to my room to retrieve my slippers, but decided I didn’t have time, and simply ran for it, just getting to the lift in time to see the doors close. Without hesitation, I bolted for the stairs, almost falling down them in blind panic. The word “almost” applied to all but the last flight, when I lost my footing and plummeted to the bottom, landing in a heap, bruised and bloody. Most chaps might have given up then and there, but the Wooster stock is made of stronger stuff, and I sprang to my feet, only to have my ankle collapse beneath me. I set my jaw and pulled myself up upon my good leg and limped through the lobby and out into the street, where I could see a cab already speeding into the night.
I tried to run into the street after it, but instead fell into an icy-cold puddle, where I floundered like a spent fish until the concierge came to rescue me.
I pushed aside all offers of help and made my own way back up to the flat – this time via the lift – and hobbled into the Wooster ménage a sad and puzzled man.
My first thought was to check Jeeves’ bedroom once more. It was emptier than the last bottle of champagne on New Years’ morning. Every scrap of evidence that the man had ever lived here had vanished, except for a small envelope laid upon the mantel. Upon this envelope I leapt, tearing it asunder to gain the contents.
My Dear Mr. Wooster [it ran]:
It pains me greatly to leave you without notice, and you must not think that my leaving in any way reflects any disapprobation of you or your character. I was quite sincere when I said tonight that you would make an admirable mate; simply put, I have developed certain feelings for you that must have become clear during this evening’s conversation, and so I must leave your service without delay.
I can only hope that you shall forgive me in time. Enclosed you will find the entire amount of this month’s wages in compensation for leaving you without notice. I remain, dear sir, ever yours,
I did not count the bills in the envelope; I did not know what my father’s estate paid my man, nor would I have thought it any less than he deserved, had I known. The man was without price to me. And he –
“Good Lord,” I whispered. I read the letter once again, and again. By the fourth read-through, my hands were thoroughly shaking as I realized what an ass I had been.
I folded the letter and carried it with me to my bedroom, then proceeded to dress as rapidly as possible, and, tucking the letter into my jacket pocket, I limped forth to find the man I knew I could not live without.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to find a missing person, but if your first thought is, as mine was, to go to the police, forget it. Of course, when one reports a person missing and is asked how long the person in question has been missing, and the answer turns out to be less than half an hour, there must follow certain other questions as to why that p. in q. has not in fact merely popped round the corner for a bit and shall be back in time for breakfast. That said, however, the level of risibility from the constable who asked those questions was beyond endurance, and I left without pursuing my inquiries.
Sleep was completely out of the q., and so I paced the hours away in the sitting-room, watching the hands of the clock creep forward. I had often seen the sun rise at the end of a night of merrymaking, but this morning’s sun rose upon the saddest Bertram yet, a sorry wreck of a man who had managed to finish off half the contents of the bar and all of the tobacco in the flat in his vigil, and yet had not managed to have a coherent thought other than calling the agency in the morning. To this thought I had clung through the small dark hours, and it was this thought that sustained me until the hour hand finally crept to seven, and with trembling hands I called the domestic service agency, only to be told that he had withdrawn his portfolio from their files. No, he had not left a forwarding address. Quitting the flat, I hurried over to the Junior Ganymede club, where I was told that they could not divulge any personal information about any of their members, thank you very much, sir.
I paused upon the pavement outside the club, thinking about as deeply as I ever had. Where would he have gone? He had mentioned relatives, of course, but never any specific family name that I could remember. I caught a cab to the Hall of Public Records, sure that I could at least find out who his people were. Perhaps I could get word to him, and clear this misunderstanding up. And then …
I swallowed hard, as the words “aroused” and “queer” popped up in the Wooster brain unbidden. When I remembered the tone in Jeeves’ voice when he had said the words “our predicament,” I began to tremble slightly, and when my mind recalled the look in his eye when he’d bade me goodnight, I began to shake in earnest. I emerged from the cab in a dashed awkward state, my hopes on cottages by the sea, my fears on Reading Gaol, my mind deep at sea somewhere between, and a worrying thread underneath it all that wondered if I would ever again get to see Reginald Jeeves.
Now, here’s the really rummy thing about life. Just when you think that you’ve lived through the dark of the night and are struggling toward the light at the end of the tunnel, it is dashed rummy to find that said light at the e. of the t. is instead a lamp carried by some fellow who tells you there’s no way through and you’ve got to go back the way you came. What I mean to say is that you would not find yourself gently disposed to the fellow who gave you the news, especially when it was delivered in the kind of a voice as the fellow at the records office had when he informed me that there was no such person as Reginald Jeeves.
“There was a Reginald Jeeves, but he passed on some twenty-five years ago,” the fellow sneered, as if the very act of telling me this information pleased him to no end. “A retired army surgeon, I believe.”
“No, this wouldn’t be him. My man was quite alive just last night.”
“Are you sure of the name, sir? There is a Roland Jeaves, spelt with an ‘ea’ instead of the double ‘e.’”
“No, it is Reginald Jeeves,” I said in my sternest manner. “Do you think I would not know the name of my own valet?”
The man shut the book closed with a definite snap that I did not like. “If he has stolen something from you,” he said gruffly, “then it is a matter for the police.”
“He has done nothing wrong,” I protested. “I simply wish to find him.”
The man gave me a supercilious leer. “It seems to me, sir, that if this fellow was living in your establishment under an assumed name, then he had ulterior motives. Tell me, sir, did you perhaps ever find that things tended to vanish when you went visiting? That’s how these fellows work, you know; they attach themselves to a gentleman such as yourself, and pinch from the other guests at –”
“Mr. Jeeves,” I interrupted hotly, “is a man above reproach in every way. He would never –” I stopped myself, and rose from my seat. “Good day, sir,” I said.
And I meant it to sting.
I stormed out of the premises, only to barge straight into Bingo Little himself. I decided that fate had sent him my way, and immediately began to tell him my tale of woe, or, that is, tried to tell him my tale of woe. Dame Fate, it would seem, had other ideas, and Bingo would hear none of my words, instead launching into his latest tirade about his affaire du coeur du jour, some girl he’d met who was private secretary to some famous old codger that he needed to impress.
“So I’m glad I ran into you, Bertie,” Bingo told me, pulling me by the elbow to our club. “I need your man Jeeves to concoct –”
“Bingo, Jeeves is missing.”
“But I’m sure he’ll be able to – what’s that you say? Missing?”
I nodded. “He’s disappeared without a trace.”
“Bad luck, Bertie!”
“You haven’t heard the worst of it, old spoon. There is no such person as Reginald Jeeves, not according to the Office of Records. There was one such cove, but he’s been dead for ages.”
Bingo’s eyes popped open. “I say! You mean all this time your man’s been using a phoney name? Do you suppose he was a thief? Or a spy, even?”
I frowned. “The man I know as Reginald Jeeves would never do anything wrong,” said I rather coolly.
Bingo nodded. “You’re right, Bertie. I’m sorry; I didn’t think. But there’s got to be something behind this.” He laughed. “It sounds like a case for the old codger himself.”
“I’ll thank you not to refer to Jeeves in that fashion. He might be twelve years my senior, but–”
“Not your codger, Bertie. Minerva’s codger.”
“Who is Minerva?”
Bingo’s eyes went all wispy. “Miss Minerva Vernet. She’s the future Mrs. Bingo Little, Bertie.”
“Yes, but leaving that aside, who is she, Bingo? And who is this codger of hers? Is he her father?”
“He’s her uncle, or rather her uncle’s cousin, or her cousin’s uncle, or something. In any case, he’s taken her on as his private secretary for writing his memoirs. And she loves me, Bertie.”
“So then this is the girl you just met. Who is the old codger, and how can he help me find Jeeves?”
“Didn’t I tell you, Bertie? Minerva is private secretary to Mr. Sherlock Holmes.”
“Well, Bingo, this is a stroke of luck!” I said, brightening considerably. Perhaps Dame Fortune had smiled upon me, after all. “Do you think we could get an in to Essex, or wherever it is he’s living these days?”
“It’s in Sussex, but he’s in town for the weekend; some medical conference where his friend Doctor Watson is to be the guest of honour, I understand. They all have a suite at the Carleton; I can bring you around to meet them, if you like.”
Well, no sooner proposed than done, and I often wonder how the interview would have gone had I, in fact, been introduced properly by Miss Vernet. But the lady in question had, since last seeing my friend, found out about his other engagements to no less than seven other ladies, and, having a few words to say to Bingo upon the subject, drew him into a side room for a bit of privacy in which to say them. I quickly realized that my stock as Mr. Little’s friend would soon win me nothing but a swift bum’s rush from the premises, and so would end any chances of laying my case before the famous detective. I could not let such a resource as this escape my grasp, when so much was at stake, and so I threw all propriety aside and stormed into the inner sitting room.
“I am very sorry for intruding upon you,” I said to the two men stood by the mantel, who had turned to regard me with puzzled scowls upon their features. The taller of the two, of course, had to be the man himself. The moustachioed gent by his side looked the far kinder man, his sparkling blue eyes showing mild curiosity. On the other hand, the famous detective’s gaze reminded me rather too much of Aunt Agatha; he looked as if he was reading the b. of my life and didn’t much like the story.
“I’m sorry for barging in,” I stammered, “I really I am, but –”
“But the love of your life is missing without a trace; that much I can tell,” the detective broke in impatiently. “Very well, let us hear the details of your case. At least, it will provide us a break while Miss Vernet gives her young suitor a piece or her mind, eh, Watson? Well, sit down,” he finished, waving me carelessly to a seat.
“Well, first, it’s my valet that’s gone missing, and –”
“The gender and social status of the missing love matters nothing to me, sir. Do not deny your affections for him,” he snapped, stopping my protest. “It is written upon every crease of your clothes and line upon your face. This man you love vanished from your life last night. Very well, men disappear every day, especially after a quarrel with a lover. That, too, is plain, for in such a short period of time as I deduce – note his rumpled state compared to the quality of his clothes, Watson – it must be a quarrel that convinces our young friend here that his valet is not coming back. I see that you visited the Hall of Records as well. What did they tell you?”
“That no such person exists,” I said bleakly. “There was one man named Reginald Jeeves, but he died –”
“Stop! Did you say Reginald Jeeves?” The man’s manner changed instantly at the name. “You are Mr. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster?” He spoke my name as if it were the name of some rare disease.
My jaw dropped. I’d read of the man doing such things, but this was amazing! Even the doctor looked surprised, staring at me with wide eyes and a deep frown.
I looked back at Mr. Holmes, who leaned forward in his seat, expecting some response. “How did you know my name?” I whispered.
The detective shook his head. “I have my methods, Mr. Wooster. Please, tell us what transpired last night. Leave nothing out; we shall not judge you.”
I took a deep breath and started in on my story, beginning with the bath and ending with the Hall of Records. I found myself telling everything as the detective drew me out expertly; I even managed to blurt out that I was a friend of the same Mr. Little that was currently being raked over the coals by Miss Vernet, a piece of information that made the detective scowl, but brought a small twinkle to the doctor’s eyes.
“You must admit, Holmes,” the doctor chuckled, “it is a singular case.”
Mr. Holmes’ scowl only deepened. “It is singular, though hardly a worthy one for my talents. Very well, Mr. Wooster, I think I can lay hands on your Mr. Jeeves for you. If you will excuse me a moment.” And with that, he strode out of the room via a side door, which he shut behind him.
I turned to the doctor. “I know that Jeeves hasn’t done anything untoward. The man at the Records office was wrong. He’s not a thief –”
The doctor smiled. “Of course he isn’t; he’s always done the right thing,” he said gently, and moved to the liquor cabinet, where he began mixing something complicated.
I had just opened my mouth to ask the meaning of this declaration when Mr. Holmes returned, with Jeeves behind him.
“Jeeves!” I shouted, as I leapt from my seat. I only barely restrained myself from making a scene, and instead turned to thank this amazing cove. “That was dashed quick, Mr. Holmes, I must say –” I stopped suddenly. “Hold on a moment. That was dashed quick indeed. Who else do you have in that back room?”
A most extraordinary look crossed the old detective’s face as he turned to Jeeves. “Honestly, Jack,” he said in an agonized voice, “this is the man you love?”
Jeeves looked at me, his eyes shining with some indefinable thingness that made me go w. at the knees. “I love him with all my heart, Father,” he answered softly, and the waver of his smooth baritone made said knees buckle below me, and I only managed to stagger backwards to the chair, but not before several other questions crowded my already spinning head.
“Jack? Father? You – Jeeves,” I sputtered helplessly, looking back from one man to the other. There was no mistaking it; the only amazing thing was that I hadn’t seen the resemblance as soon as I walked into the room. I blithered incoherently as Sherlock Holmes shook his head at his son sternly.
“At least the man I love has something approaching the intellect of a demented beetle,” he said, turning away from me as if I were a spaniel that had just done something reprehensible upon the carpet.
“Why, thank you, Holmes,” Doctor Watson sighed, finishing his concoction and brining it over to me. “I’m so glad you hold such a high opinion of my intelligence. Here, son, drink this,” he continued, handing me a glass full of something that smelled familiar. “You mustn’t mind the old blighter; he’s suffering from a severe case of indigestion at the moment.”
Sherlock Holmes said something that I must have misunderstood. Certainly the greatest mind of his time would not have used the words “sod off, John,” under any circumstances. However, I did not have time to consider this, because the doctor’s prescription took effect, and I realized where I had encountered the beverage before.
“I say,” I cried, “Jeeves, this is that restorative of yours!”
The doctor smiled gently, patting me on the shoulder. “Who do you think taught him to make it, lad?”
I turned to Jeeves. “But you told me it was of your own invention,” I frowned, a sudden ire rising in my chest. “Of course, you didn’t see fit to tell me your real name,” I added.
Jeeves bowed his head. “I regret, sir, that I did not tell you many things, the least of which is my real name. As for the restorative, I have changed a significant portion of the ingredients, so, in essence –”
“Jeeves, that’s not the point.” I looked at both the amused doctor and the scowling detective and decided that my first argument with the man I loved could jolly well take place away from these two coves. “Look, Jeeves, or whoever you are, we can talk about this when we get home. Please.” I reached out my hand, but Mr. Holmes stilled me with a gesture.
“I’m afraid it is not that easy, Mr. Wooster,” the detective said severely. “You see, your man Jeeves here cannot disclose his true identity to just anyone.”
Jeeves frowned at him. “I’m sure we can trust him, Father.”
The old codger waved a long white hand in impatience. “I, on the other hand, need further assurance. Mr. Wooster, you will forgive me, but I must ask you to wait here; my son and I shall discuss this further. Come, Jack,” he said, and swept out of the room once more.
I turned to Doctor Watson, whose eyes were shining with silent laughter. This doctor chap seemed to be the only sympathetic ear I’d met all day, and I could only imagine what he thought of me. But the old fellow seemed friendly enough, and patted my shoulder in a fatherly manner as he passed me a whisky and soda.
“Life is a rummy thing,” I murmured, more to myself than to him.
He patted my shoulder again. “Don’t worry, lad, it gets better,” he said, smiling at me.
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