torch, October 1999

Disclaimer: truly, I mean no harm. Two of the characters in this story belong, I believe, to the estate of the late great Pelham Grenville; the third is an escapee from the lunatic asylum that I like to call my mind. Title taken from Donne, for no particular reason. Written for the WLU circle challenge. Many thanks to Nonie.

I think I'm probably going to hell for this. Send feedback, please: torch@doubleagent.org (it'll be flambeau@clovenhoof.com soon enough, the devil has all the best domain names). Do not archive this story without permission.

As virtuous men pass

"Dash it, Jeeves," I said, "something has got to be done about this." Sinking onto the lounge in my comfortable cabin aboard the Queen Anne, I clutched at my brow rather like someone in a Jacobean tragedy — or do I mean Elizabethan? One of those gloomy things where everyone is always creeping about in disguise — who has just found out that half his relatives have murdered the other half and are planning to blame him for it. "Immediately."

Jeeves looked completely unruffled. The impassioned cry for help I had summoned him with had presumably lost some of its urgency through being relayed by the ship's steward, one J. Blenkinsop, who bore a remarkable resemblance to a tortoise in both appearance and manner, but one would have thought that a repetition in person would have moved him. "Yes, sir. I am afraid you will not be able to see the ship's barber until tomorrow, but a judicious application of hair pomade—"

"Jeeves!" I bent a reproachful glance on him. "This is not a moment to be talking about hair pomade. Momentuous events have occurred, Jeeves, and I need you to fire up your brain on all cylinders, instead of blithering about barbers."

"I beg your pardon, sir. I was under the impression that by 'this' you were referring to the arrangement, or rather disarrangement, of your hair." Jeeves has rather rigid views on what a gentleman's coiffure ought to be. It was clear that mine did not, at the moment, meet with his approval.

"Well, I wasn't." Not that he didn't have a point. Bertram's normally sleek tresses were sticking up every which way, like the quills upon the fretful porpentine. "At least, only indirectly. The bally woman grabbed me, Jeeves."

I shuddered at the memory. Patricia 'Popsy' Everingham is one of those smallish girls who seem to be filled to the brim with equal amounts of high spirits and gin fizzes, topped off by large brown eyes and the kind of vivid red hair that frequently goes with an impetuous nature. Some Hollywood years as a leading lady in romantic comedies have given her a free, easy manner and remarkable expertise when it comes to getting the party of the second part into a clinch. We had met during a game of quoits on the first afternoon of the voyage and become great pals, but until the fateful moment earlier in the evening, no suspicion had entered my mind that she felt anything but the purest friendship.

"Yes, sir. You have some traces of lipstick on your face, sir. Pink Passion, if I am not mistaken, which Miss Everingham has stated in several interviews to be her favorite."

"The shade of Miss Everingham's lipstick is not relevant. The fact that she may arrive here at any moment is. You don't suppose," I said, struck by a sudden thought, "that you could answer the door when she does, and tell her I'm dead?"

Jeeves appeared to give the matter some thought. "I believe a sudden illness may be a better prevarication, sir. If you were to get into the bed—"

"No. No, no." I shook my head. "She would come in to lay a soothing hand on my brow, and then I should be completely sunk." It is rather difficult to get away from a determined girl who is leaning over your bedside. Hiding under the bedclothes, however tempting, will not do the trick. "No, it is absolutely imperative — do I mean imperative, Jeeves?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Absolutely imperative, then, that self and Popsy Everingham do not have any kind of tryst, assignation, or tête-a-tête. Particularly not in a small, enclosed space." The first class staterooms on board the Queen Anne are not exactly cramped, but they don't offer much to a man who may need to make a running start in order to effect his escape.

"May I take it, then, that Miss Everingham has plans of a romantic nature that you would prefer to avoid?"

Embarrassing as it was, it had to be said. "Not so much romantic as, ah, amorous, I'm afraid."

I really must hand it to Jeeves. Not so much as a shade of surprise marred the marble calm of his finely chiseled features at this distressing news. I have always prided myself on my ability to keep my head when unforeseen circumstances transpire, as unforeseen circ's very frequently have in the life of B. Wooster, particularly when temperamental young ladies are involved, but Jeeves has achieved a level of inscrutable calm that lesser men can only wish for. "I take it you are attempting to find a way to refuse the intimacy without offending the lady," he said.

"Yes. Yes. There you have the matter in a nutshell, Jeeves. I look to you as my savior." I leaned back on the lounge, ran a nervous hand through my disordered locks once more, and waited for him to present one of his amazing solutions to the problem in question.

"I see, sir," he said, and sank into a sort of meditative trance, while I twiddled my thumbs and wished fervently for a whisky and soda, possibly less the soda and with rather more whisky. "Perhaps — no."

"What?"

"I'm afraid the first idea that occurred to me would not be feasible. On the other hand, it may be possible — no, that will not do either."

"I say, Jeeves!" His utterances were beginning to cause me some concern. It was not like Jeeves to be so hesitant in offering a possible way out of whatever troubles had embroiled, if that's the word I want, his young master. "You don't mean to say that the problem of the Popsy popsy has you stumped?"

"There is bound to be a solution." His eyes moved from my face to a region slightly to the south and west, and sharpened with disapproval. "You appear to have a few dog hairs on your person, sir," he said, nimble fingers plucking them from the area of my shoulder and chest.

"So I should jolly well think," I said. "What with one thing and another, I became rather entangled with Sweetie Pie earlier in the evening."

Sweetie Pie is Popsy Everingham's Pekinese, and a less aptly named creature never walked the earth (or more frequently, was carried over it in his fond mistress' arms). During the aforementioned clinch, Sweetie Pie had been hanging over Popsy's arm, attempting to chew my ear off. At least, I believe it was Sweetie Pie.

"Allow me, sir." Jeeves stepped closer. "The animal must have been in prolonged contact with your back."

He leaned forward, obviously intent on eradicating all signs of my close encounter with the canine Jack the Ripper. I must say I thought he was choosing a dashed peculiar time to be concerned with the state of my costume. There are times when there are things in a man's life that are far more important than a few stray Peke hairs down the back of his suit. Popsy Everingham could be among us at any moment.

No sooner had I completed that thought than there was a knock on the cabin door, the kind of cheerful, impatient knock that heralded the arrival of a shortish redhead with decided views on Bertram's future. "Jeeves!" I said.

"One moment, sir," he said, bending a little further over me where I sat. Just then the boat lurched on a wave, and Jeeves with it, and I reflexively put out a hand to steady him.

There was another quick knock, and then the sound of the door opening. Due to the proximity of Jeeves' midriff to my face, I couldn't actually see anything, but my suspicions that it was Popsy Everingham were borne out when the next sound to reach my ears was a girlish shriek of a decidedly familiar timbre. Feeling like an early Christian on hearing the roar of the lions, I was expecting her to order Jeeves out and pounce, when to my immense surprise I heard rapidly retreating footsteps and the sound of the cabin door slamming shut again.

A moment later, Jeeves straightened up and stepped back, holding a few stray Peke hairs between forefinger and thumb. "I believe, sir," he said, "that Miss Everingham will not renew her attentions."

"You do?" I blinked, confused. "I mean, you don't?"

"No, sir."

"You're quite certain?"

"Yes, sir."

He drifted off in the direction of the bathroom, presumably to dispose of the evidence of Sweetie Pie's latest murderous assault, and I was left to contemplate the situation. It struck me as extremely rummy, and the more I pondered, the rummier it seemed. When Jeeves drifted back again, I turned to him with an air of perplexity.

"I don't quite see what's to stop Popsy from returning later," I said. "In fact, Jeeves, I don't see what induced her to leave so hastily. Or at such a high volume. I would have thought that it would take an earthquake, or at least a threat to Sweetie Pie, to wring a sound like that from a self-possessed young woman like Popsy."

"You need not concern yourself with that, sir," Jeeves said calmly. He was looking so particularly inscrutable that I wondered if he had practised the look in the bathroom mirror before coming out. "Will that be all, sir?"

"No, Jeeves, that will not be all. I can't face Popsy Everingham tomorrow without knowing what is behind her change in attitude, always provided that such a change has taken place. I demand an explanation, Jeeves," I said in my sternest manner.

"I see, sir." Jeeves seemed a shade less calm. "You would like to know what it was that caused Miss Everingham to leave your cabin, and that will prevent her from making any further, ah, advances."

"Yes, I would."

"You're quite certain?"

"Yes, dash it!"

"Very well, sir." Jeeves came towards me again, and there was an expression on his face that I'm quite certain I'd never seen before. His hands went to the buttons of his trousers. "Very well. It will be my pleasure."

* * *

jeeves & wooster || e‑mail