torch, torch@doubleagent.org
July 1, 2006

Disclaimer: by request only. Written for damned_colonial. Do not archive without permission.

With sheep

The view before me was one that would have made a landscape painter leap for his brush and canvas with a glad cry and produce something called 'Pastoral Peace' or 'Evening Stillness, with Sheep.' The park and meadows lay bathed in the treacly light of the setting sun, and everything had a sort of serene drowsiness to it, particularly the sheep. The view behind me, once I had turned the full 180, was one that would likewise have pleased even the most fervent aesthete, if that's the word I want. Ashworth Hall is rather smallish and cosy as stately homes go, and the surrounding gardens, maintained by a gnarled individual with the kind of beard you could easily mistake for one of the shrubberies, were in their finest flower.

"Jeeves," I said, "this is intolerable."

"Yes, sir."

"Absolutely intolerable, blast it. Something must be done."

"Yes, sir."

Between the gardens and the park lies rather a large ornamental lake, and in the middle of the lake is a smallish ornamental island with a few ornamental trees and bushes. On warm summer evenings, it is quite pleasant to row out to the island and bathe from the side that is away from the hall, with a sheep or five as one's only audience. What is a dashed sight less pleasant is to find, after a refreshing splash, that the small boat and all one's clothing has vanished. "I don't suppose you would consider swimming to shore and bringing back dry clothes and a boat. You could easily slip in through the side entrance."

"No, sir. If I may mention it, you are the one most suitably attired for swimming to shore."

"But I can't walk into Gerry's house party without any clothes on. Lady Hickleton is bound to be out in the garden with that secretary of hers."

"You could easily slip in through the side entrance."

"Jeeves," I said, "you're not being very helpful."

"No, sir."

"And why didn't you notice the boat drifting off?"

"I'm afraid I may have inadvertently closed my eyes for a moment, sir. Drifting off myself, so to speak."

I eyed him with a certain measure of disapproval. "In the future, Jeeves, don't close your eyes."

"No, sir." He turned his head and looked towards the house. "Mr. Pearse will notice your absence, sir, sooner or later."

"Probably later," I said gloomily. Gerry, though a good egg in many respects, is not what you might call particularly observant of his fellow men. Particularly not when Aline Beddoes is in the same room. "I say, Jeeves."

"Sir?"

"It's going to get pretty chilly out here when the sun goes down."

"Yes, sir."

"And I'm not wearing any clothes."

"No, sir."

"And you're wearing quite a lot of them."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you think, in the interests of preserving the young master from pneumonia, that you might—"

Jeeves, not being what anyone might term slow in his mental processes, was already undoing the buttons on his jacket. "Yes, sir," he said. One of his eyebrows quivered in a way that seemed to indicate some fairly strong emotion, but there are times to consider your valet's dignity, and times when said dignity must take second place to more urgent considerations, and as the sun slowly sank behind the tree-tops, my considerations were getting pretty dashed urgent. The mosquitoes were coming out.

"I appreciate this, Jeeves," I said. "Your sacrifice will not go unrewarded."

It's amazing, really, what a difference clothes make to a person's outlook on life. Wearing Jeeves's trousers, shirt, and socks raised my spirits to a surprising extent, although judging by the expression on his face, his own had been lowered to a corresponding degree by being left with shoes, knee-length underwear, vest, and jacket. I considered telling him to buck up, since at least his current half-dressed state hadn't revealed any unsightly physical flaws — rather the reverse, if you take my meaning — but then I thought better of it. It was possible that he wouldn't take comments on the shapeliness of his calves in the spirit in which they were intended.

Instead, I tried calling out towards the house and waving my arms in the traditional manner of castaways on desert islands, with no result other than barking my knuckles on a nearby willow. I sank down on the grassy bank next to Jeeves and stared moodily at the spot where the boat had lain. "This is a fine kettle of fish, what?"

"Most unfortunate, sir."

I brushed away a mosquito from the tip of my nose. "Lady Hickleton said she was going to play the harp for us all again tonight. As a treat."

"Yes, sir. I believe she was going to request her secretary to sing a few German lieder as well."

I shuddered and brushed away a couple of mosquitoes from Jeeves's knee. "Some people have dashed peculiar notions of entertainment, Jeeves."

"Yes, sir."

"We could both swim ashore later, and sneak into the house when everyone's asleep."

"I believe the kitchen entrance is frequently left unlocked," Jeeves said. "Very careless, but under our present circumstances, it must be considered a convenient oversight. Allow me, sir." He brushed away a mosquito from the back of my neck. At least, I suppose it was a mosquito.

"You don't have to ask permission, Jeeves," I said, leaning fractionally closer.

A moment later, he brushed away another mosquito, rather more slowly. "Very good, sir," he said.

* * *

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