Whatever dramas may have arisen from time to time in life, Jeeves' grip on the morning saucer has always remained firm and unshaken. Whether conveying news of political friction in the Balkans or of irrupting aunts on the doorstep the man has always carried a beautiful cup of tea. So when I heard the ominous clink of crockery I knew the world's foundations were quivering even before I opened my eyes.
"What ho, Jeeves. Nice morning, what?"
A fairly safe opening, I thought, given that the newly drawn curtains were admitting a whole treasury of golden rays to brighten the interior of the Wooster bedroom with their cheerful glow. Yet the springing sun's touch was clearly failing to pluck at Jeeves' manly heartstrings. Framed in the halo of sunlight he loomed over me like Jehovah about to inflict a plague of pyramid scheme salesmen on both the upper and lower Nile. Any valet displaying an irate eyebrow in that openly disapproving manner was clearly as impervious to polite chit chat as Vlad the Impaler in the grip of a hangover.
The thing was, I couldn't imagine what could have caught the man so fully on what was clearly the rawest of raw spots. I'd never seen him in such a state before, not even when a gang of red revolutionaries had turned up at the apartment at five o'clock in the afternoon for an anticipated feast of scrambled eggs and sardines. Although, to be fair, on that occasion it had been the sight of Bingo Little's false beard which had unmanned Jeeves to the extent of forcing him to clutch at a table for support. But the premises were currently pest free and without trace of either Bingo, any of his many fiancées, or even revolutionaries of any hue. The only thing visible which might have been described as slightly irregular was the decidedly well shaped leg which had somehow escaped from underneath my rather disordered bed clothes -- a female leg, in point of fact, if you see what I'm driving at.
Yet there was nothing in that which should have been responsible for poor old Bertie getting his hot tea handed to him in a frozen mitt. Jeeves knows very well there are some services which even the best of gentlemen's gentlemen cannot provide for the young master and none of my modest domestic debaucheries has ever drawn a hint of disapproval from the great man before. Indeed, whereas we have frequently failed to see eye to eye in the matter of floral cummerbunds or purple socks, Jeeves has uniformly approved my choice of women. I like females who laugh a lot -- well, what other sort would consort with a certified half wit like Bertram? But whatever their shape, size or inclination to lots of giggles after generous doses of champagne, Jeeves has always greeted each and every one of them into the apartment as warmly as if they the proverbial flowers in May.
I daresay that may be because the relationships are always of a transient nature. A pair of spats in old Etonian colors I'll wear as often as Jeeves will let me get away with, but no girl need expect an invitation to linger in Abernathy Mansions once the trysting's done and completed to everybody's satisfaction. Truth to tell, ever since Cynthia Wickhammersley nearly sank one of her floating ribs laughing at my tentative offer of a joint canter to the alter rail I've decided that the life of a bachelor gay is what suits Bertie Wooster best. It's true that I've been greatly scorned by many of my contemporaries who've boldly set off along the tempting highway of marital life, but I'm also duty bound to record that several of them have since ended up with their offside wheels very deep in the ditch. Enough at least for Bertie to reflect that there are worse fates than being stupid and single, provided one has -- as I have -- a considerable private income and Jeeves' unparalleled problem solving abilities to keep us both in our present happy state.
So, to labor the point, why was I waking up to find myself underneath eyes of terrible aspect, prying through the portage of Jeeves' head like brass cannon? Where was the usual feudal spirit of goodwill between master and man, between valet and valeted? It suddenly occurred to me that I might gain an insight into the developing plotline by asking him that very question.
"Something wrong, Jeeves?" I asked lightly, pretending not to be aware of the storm clouds gathering in a black line on the horizon.
"Might one inquire as to where you happened to meet the young lady, sir?"
This was a decidedly rum question, a blatant expression of curiosity as far distant from Jeeves' usual disinterested behavior as it was possible to imagine: I felt as if I was watching an Old Bailey Judge enter his courtroom with his face blacked up and playing a banjo -- the senses reeled, as you might say. But I rallied and responded.
"It happened to be at Goodwood. In the private enclosure, if it matters."
There was some emphasis on the last words, a firmly implied measure of rebuke. After all, where does one get off if the domestic staff feel entitled to an full explanation of their employer's activities? Apart from anything else it was dashed embarrassing to have somebody else listening to one being cross examined by one's manservant as to one's doings, if one gets one's drift. Fortunately, apart from the eye-catching leg, the only other thing visible from underneath the bedding was a tangle of blonde hair and the only noise coming from the night's partner was a regular series of snores. And, don't you know, I felt quite bucked up: there's nothing like a love sated girl as compensation for the fact that Bertram's life had been singularly free of any kind of formal prizes since my collection of pressed flowers was judged best in class at infant school.
"And may I assume that the lady was wearing her travelling coat at the time you met and kept it on until you returned home? And may I further assume that she disrobed in the dark?"
By Jove, that collapsed my self confidence in short order. No one has more respect for the raw horsepower residing in Jeeves' fish fed cerebral cells than Bertie, but even I had never suspected that his intellect was of positively Sherlockian caliber.
"Good Lord, Jeeves, how did you know that?"
I'm sure that for a second he was on the point of saying, 'Elementary, my dear Wooster' but even the most insidious temptation has always found it hard going with a personage of Jeeves' strong character. Instead of speaking he simply pointed to a set of nether garments thrown over the back of a chair and revealed to a disbelieving world by the rising sun.
"Good God," I choked, "Trousers!"
"Or slacks," Jeeves suggested icily.
"She's an American -- pants," I adjudicated, and then seized the cup of tea with fingers that trembled a great deal more than Jeeves had. "I've escorted a woman wearing pants around the private enclosure of Goodwood. If anybody ever finds out about this I'll be the laughing stock of London -- no, but wait, she was wearing a skirt underneath her coat. She must have been, because I could see her ankles and calves. I'm sure of that because I remember admiring them an awful lot."
Jeeves picked up the feminine abominations and showed them to me as undeniable evidence for the prosecution.
"Sir, allow me to point out the numerous wrinkles around the lower legs and the knees. I believe that the young lady initially tried to enter the private enclosure with her pants in full view underneath her coat and was very properly turned away by the enclosure stewards for being inappropriately dressed. Normally, that would have been an end to the matter, but being an American and quite without shame, I believe she simply retired to some private place and there rolled up her trouser legs, perhaps securing them with string or in some other extemporized fashion, and then entered the enclosure by another gate. Of course nobody would have dreamed that she was not wearing a skirt underneath her travelling coat."
"Good God, Jeeves." I hadn't been so shaken since Aunt Agatha had blithely announced that I was under starter's orders to marry Honoria Glossop. "Imagine if one of those confounded leggings had come adrift and unrolled down as I was talking to her -- I'd have been warned off the turf for life. No decent bookie would have accepted one of Bertram Wooster's wagers ever again. It's all the fault of those blasted Americans for not taking a hard line with their womenfolk from an early age. Just because they can get away with outlandish behavior in California they think they can do it in civilization. This has been a lesson to me, Jeeves, a very firm lesson to stay away in future from any girls with any hint at of sun tan. Not unless we're at the Casino at Roville-sur-mer."
"A wise decision, if I may venture to comment, sir. But I fear you've failed to grasp the situation in its entirety. If you met this young person in the private enclosure at Goodwood, then may I assume she has a certain social status which requires she be allowed to leave in a manner befitting such standing?"
They say that no man is a hero to his valet, and has the implications of Jeeves' words sank in, I must have looked more like a stunned mullet than any human being has a right to. For he was absolutely spot on; had I been entertaining a chorus line girl it would have been a simple matter to dress her, pop a couple of crisp fivers down her cleavage as marks of appreciation for a night well spent and to gently push her out through the door with expressions of mutual good will. But in this case . . .
"Jeeves, dash it all, she was carrying a letter of introduction to one and all in society signed by Freddie Threepwood -- you remember Freddie Threepwood?"
"Certainly, sir, the second son of Lord Emsworth of Blandings Castle. He married Miss Niagra Donaldson, the daughter of the founder of Donaldson's Dog Biscuits company of Long Island. A most successful union, I am led to believe."
"That's as maybe, Jeeves, but whom we have here is Annette Pederson, the daughter of the family Pederson, with which is associated the family enterprise of Pederson's Prophylactics of San Francisco, rubber goods as sold at all good barber shops and drug stores. Every time an American on the West Coast gets the urge the necessary item he reaches for first is almost certainly to be a Pederson manufactured prophylactic. And if the Americans out West are anything like the Americans we've met in New York I daresay they get the urge an awful lot. The essential point, the nub of the conversation I'm trying to put across is that the Pedersons have more dollars to scratch themselves with than all the consumers of Donaldson's dog biscuits put together have fleas. Reading between the lines of Freddie's letter it seems that we're talking about a family business which every day fills entire trains of boxcars with rubber necessities intended to keep the size of the population of the United States within reasonable limits."
"Doubtless a worthwhile aim, sir, though not perhaps achieving as much success as one might wish for in an ideal world. None the less, from what you've said it's clear that we cannot simply put Miss Pederson out into the street. She must be escorted back to her residence with all due politeness, or at least seen into her taxi, if so she chooses to depart. Therein lies the difficulty. As you may have already observed, today is distinguished with remarkably clement weather. So clement indeed that I fear there is no possibility of Miss Pederson wearing her coat -- nor do I think she would be amenable to any suggestion of rolling up her . . . hmmm . . . her pants again."
"So at the very least, Jeeves, the good old noblesse oblige of the Woosters requires me to escort her downstairs and to open the taxi door for her. Is that the way you see the scenario unfolding?"
"I fear so, sir."
"Are you seriously suggesting that I appear in public on the pavement of Berkeley Square with a woman wearing pants? I'll swim in blood first!"
Fear had gripped Bertie's palpitating organs in a grip of steel. For I knew, I just knew, that fate would decree the moment I stepped out into the sunlight would be the moment that Aunt Agatha would loom over the horizon.
Aunt Agatha, the curse of the Woosters, who dated the start of the fall of the Empire from the first raising of a skirt hem above floor level. Aunt Agatha, widely known as the fiery harridan of the Fernie Hunt ever since a female huntress of advanced ideas had been observed riding astride a horse instead of using a side saddle as nature intended. If Aunt Agatha saw Bertram on the streets of London escorting a trouser clad female the resulting invective would make Lloyd George at his rabble rousing noisiest sound like a soft breeze brushing the tree tops. Within hours the entire mass of Wooster matriarchs would be trampling me underfoot, invariably bringing in their wake Sir Roderick Glossop and the certificate of lunacy he'd been itching to inscribe Bertram's moniker on ever since the unfortunate affair of the cats, the fish and the stolen hat. Another by product would probably be a sinking of Anglo-US relationships to a level not known since 1812, but such diplomatic niceties would mean nothing to a man being hunted down by an Agony of Aunts.
Or, even worse yet, what if one of my fellow members from the Drones Club espied me in the streets with a trousered female: the thought was enough to make me cringe like a beaten puppy: "What ho, Bertie, taking your girl rat catching, what?"
My name would be stricken from the Club records and made a hissing and mockery amongst London society. Instead of being a proud adornment to my fellows because of my achievements I would be shunned and passed on the other side of the street. No longer would people remark on sighting the elegant Wooster frame: "You wouldn't believe it to look at him, but that chap can throw a bread roll further than any other man in London." Instead, it would be: "You wouldn't believe it to look at him, but that chap was once seen in broad daylight in Berkeley Square with a colonial female dressed like a chap herself. By Jove, they should have treated him like Oscar Wilde and thrown him into Reading jail."
I stared at the glowing window like those soothsayers in the fiery furnace awaiting their doom: "No chance at all of rain, Jeeves? Not even a hint of a cloud anywhere in the sky?" I pleaded forlornly.
"None at all, sir. The weather forecast on the wireless was emphatic on the uniformly fine sunshine which may be expected for the next twenty four hours. No doubt we can rely on the veracity of the British Broadcasting Corporation."
I felt like sobbing: "No rain, not a drop -- in England, of all places. Dash it all, Jeeves, it's hard, it's dashed hard. I feel like a Bedouin camel herder drowning in the only deep oasis in ten thousand square miles of desert because I never bothered to learn to swim."
"An elegant description of your difficulty, sir."
"No, wait a minute, I see a way out. You can escort Annette down to the street yourself and hail a taxi for her. I'll say I've sprained my ankle or something."
Jeeves drew himself up to his full height with graven mien: he regarded me with hooded eyes and the expression of a Roman Senator arriving home unexpectedly to find his wife trying on a new male slave for size.
"I fear, sir, that such an undertaking would be totally incompatible with my position as Grand Master of the Worshipful Guild of Personal Retainers."
So there it was, mutiny above decks in broad daylight, shameless and flagrant, with poor old Bertie cast in the role of Captain Bligh. With any other servant I would have sprung from the bed with an angry cry and shown him the way out. But that had been Captain Bligh's response too, and look where that got him, cast adrift in an open boat. Which was where I would end up too, floating aimlessly on the sea of life without Jeeves as my guiding star. No, I must put my faith in the man's genius to get us out of this spot.
"Then what's to be done, Jeeves, what's to be done?" I demanded in desperation.
"Well, sir, it would be quite easy to buy a dress: the problem which presents itself is in persuading Miss Pederson that she must change her apparel because she cannot possibly appear on the streets of London wearing pants. Do you feel she might take the suggestion amiss?"
I shuddered: "Jeeves, this is a girl who apparently flies her own aeroplane, hunts mountain goats with a rifle through the Californian high country and is on first name terms with everybody in Grosvenor Square from the US Ambassador on down. Apart from which her father can apparently call up President Hoover whenever he likes by mentioning two magic words, 'Campaign Funds'. If we insult her there'll be a huge scandal, not to mention that we might end leaping from rooftop to rooftop around Berkeley Square like goats ourselves, dodging Miss Pederson's gunfire. No, blast it, I can't simply tell her that while she might be appropriately attired for the High Sierras she's currently the essence of high farce in high society."
"Then we must depend on the psychology of the individual. You, sir, must rise immediately and repair immediately without bathing to the Maison de Mode dress shop in Cumberland Street. It's only a few minutes walk away. I will give you a note for Madam Juin, the proprietress, to explain the situation. She will immediately select something suitable and you will bring it back. You will then tell Miss Pederson that you rushed out and bought the garment as a token of your appreciation for the pleasure of her company during the night. Then you must beg her to try the dress on and see how it looks. We may hope that she will be so pleased with the spontaneous presentation of your gift that she will keep on wearing it when you take her out to her taxi."
"Go out, unbathed and unshaven -- into a female dress shop. Jeeves!" It was a cry of anguish torn from my soul.
"Should you meet any of your friends, sir, you can explain away your appearance by saying that you've spent all night at the tables at Crockfords, and have just finished breaking your fast at a costermonger's coffee stall in Covent Garden. As for Madam Juin, she is discretion herself, and so are her staff. Your secret will be safe."
"Safe! And what if one of Bingo Little's ex-fiancees arrives in the Maison De Mode whilst I'm there? The story will be spread around the whole Metrop before I've finished signing Madam Juin's check."
"The likelihood of any such encounter is extremely remote, sir," the man said loftily, rather like Zeus having to explain his grand plans to a slow witted mortal.
"Remote! Do you know how many girls Bingo has been affianced to in his time? Laid end to end they'd stretch the length of Rotten Row."
"Considering the general quality of Mr Little's selections that might be an appropriate venue for the event, sir. Though I'm bound to say the sight would probably frighten the horses rather badly."
"Ah!" I said. Fear had lent wings to my normally sluggish brain and exposed the flaw in Jeeves' strategy. "You're forgetting, I can't buy a dress for Miss Pederson without knowing her dress size. So that puts paid to that idea."
"Not at all, sir. We shall simply lift the bedclothes off Miss Pederson and I will be able to judge her requirements by eye."
Had anybody else bar a master tailor made such a claim I wouldn't have believed it. Yet I'd had it proved to me time and time again that Jeeves could indeed name my clothing sizes to within a fraction of an inch with a single glance. That the talent might extend as far as female bodies was something I'd never considered, but presumably he knew his own abilities best.
"She . . . she hasn't got any clothes on at the moment, Jeeves."
"Then my task will be so much the easier, sir."