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Jeeves and the Incalculable Mistake - Chapter Ten
english, good
backfrommars


Though in my pride I have always struggled against the idea as being defeatist and therefore an obstacle to success in one’s endeavours, the simple fact which not even I can avoid, is that there are times in one’s life when there are no completely positive solutions.

As a servant, I have of course proffered many an apology for a diverse number of things over the course of my career - for not having run the bath at the right temperature, for not buying the correct brand of tea cakes, and occasionally,  for something as simple as not having quite the right expression on my face when one of my employers was experiencing a moment of pique.  In any case, all were trivial expressions.  Flowing out of my mouth with as little concern behind them as my next breath, they were meaningless noises which served as nothing more than a spot of oil to keep the daily interchange between master and servant running smoothly forward.  But I had never begged for forgiveness before.  Not from anyone, let alone an employer.  I had never been in a position before where I had felt I needed to, and even if I had, I still would have declined.  I would have considered it intolerable to lower myself that way. 

Therefore, I found myself in an entirely new situation when I realized how much I did wish to apologise to Mr. Wooster, and how desperately I wanted his forgiveness.   So desperately perhaps, that I did not see how I was potentially taking advantage of him, by pushing him to assuage my guilt immediately, when he himself was in no state to argue. 

However, as I stated earlier, there are times when no clear-cut answer exists.  For what else could I do but apologize at the earliest opportunity?  Would he have felt better if I had remained quiet and behaved as if there was nothing to apologise for?  As if his being seriously injured was a matter of no consequence? 

No, if I were afforded the chance to visit the moment again, there would still be nothing else I could, or would wish to do differently.  Hopefully, however, I would be a little less blind.

--x--

“A mistake, Jeeves?” Mr. Wooster asked, and I was distressed to hear his voice break.  “Is that what you call it?”

“Sir, please - ”

Still lying in his sickbed, he turned his face from me, but whether in disgust or to hide the covert swipe of his hand at his eyes, I could not tell. “Nothing more than a strategic miscalculation, was that it?” he demanded ruefully.

“Sir, no!  Please believe me, I meant the word ‘mistake’ as a terrible wrong - an action I regret utterly and would give nothing more than to take back.  Not as some mere unfortunate happenstance, some…” I found myself uncharacteristically fumbling for the right phrase, “some minor misstep that merely rendered my plot less effective.”

He made no response.

“Sir, I know I have hurt you.  I have hurt you in so many ways that they are impossible to count.  I don’t even know where to begin.  I find myself at a loss for words.”

Still looking away, he let out a short, harsh, bitter laugh.  “You, Jeeves?  You who can quote every literary and philosophical chappie known to the bally human race?  Do you honestly expect me to believe that?”

He was right.  After playing the smugly superior, all-knowing dispenser of proverbs for so long, what did it say about me that I could not even apologise properly?  

“Sir,” I said as ardently as I could, “please know that it was never my intention that you should be hurt.  If you believe nothing else I say, please, please believe that.  My plan was thoughtless, unconscionably cruel and foolishly arrogant, but its only goal was to resolve the difficulties of your friends and relations.  Nothing more.  That you should have been so gravely hurt shames me, but please trust me when I say that it was an accident.”

After some moments, I heard him give out a shuddery breath.  “I suppose it would be ungrateful to blame you for only doing something I asked you to do,” he said tiredly. 

“Sir?”

“I mean, if a chap forces another chap into the role of general, then the least the first chap can do is play the good soldier and let himself be lead,” he explained, and I was so relieved to hear words that sounded like an acceptance of my apology that at the time I did not fully note the flatness with which they were delivered.

“Then, sir, I may remain in your service?” I asked, and then, like a child (though hopefully not as obvious), I held my breath while I anxiously awaited what he would say.

He finally turned to look at me and I could see how conflicted he was.  “Jeeves… I don’t….I mean, I’m not certain I can… Oh, why do you have to do this to me now!”

“Forgive me, sir.  You must be exhausted.  And of course you need some time to consider the matter.  I can only hope that you will let me attend you until you come to a decision.” 

“Jeeves…”

“Please sir,” I entreated, “allow me to do my best to repair the damage I have done.  Or at least to atone for it in some small way.”

His shoulders slumped.  “All right,” he agreed reluctantly, and, though I am horrified to say it, there was the tiniest spark of satisfaction in my breast that I had won out once again.  But I quickly soothed my conscience with the thought that it was of no consequence, that the important thing was that I was free to stay by his side in order to recompense him for all I had wrought.  

--x--

As the days went on, I focused on this aim most assiduously and came up with many plans, but actually achieved very little. 

There were minor distractions, such as gaining the hospital’s permission to stay by Mr. Wooster’s side.  Once he was out of immediate danger, even his family was expected to abide by the stringent visiting hours which governed the establishment (though I sincerely doubted Mrs. Travers would consider any such rule as applying to her), but servants could hardly expect to claim even that much privilege.  To many, our simply requesting such a thing in the first place would be seen as overstepping one’s station to a breathtaking degree.

On the other hand, a valet (or lady’s maid) was a special case.  One of the benefits of class and wealth is the expectation of greater comforts, and one of those is the presence of a personal servant to see to your needs.   Seen in that light, my attending Mr. Wooster was equivalent to his being allowed to have his favourite dressing-gown or use of the warm slippers Miss Angela had bought for him as a get-well gift.  The hospital viewed it somewhat differently, but as they were also used to dealing with wealthy potential patrons, it did not take undue effort on the part of Mrs. Travers to talk them round, with the proviso I left the nursing to the staff and did not get in the way. 

However, the greater difficulty was in fact finding something I could actually do for Mr. Wooster.   Bathing and his other attendant physical needs were seen to by the nursing staff.  I was allowed to shave him and brush his hair, but once he regained enough strength to sit up and hold the razor or brush for the time required without his hand shaking, Mr. Wooster insisted on doing these tasks himself, leaving me nothing to do but to warm the water and fetch the basin.   His wardrobe needed no attention, other than seeing his pyjamas were cleaned and pressed.  His meals were provided by the hospital, and even if they were not, his appetite had all but disappeared.  He would not even let me read out loud to him, despite the fact that he could not do it himself without tiring after more than two or three pages.  

So my struggle became less of finding some grand gesture to make things up to Mr. Wooster, and more of simply finding enough tasks to fill the day.   I would walk beside him when Doctor Lemon made him pace the halls for exercise, offer to fetch him magazines or books or newspapers when he looked bored, ask him endlessly if he would like to play cards or checkers, want to know if he needed a glass of water or a cup of tea, suggest excursions outside with me pushing him in a wheelchair around the hospital grounds - anything!  Never was I so frustrated or ill at ease with one of my employers, let alone this one.  By the end of his stay, I think I would have gladly volunteered to scrub all the floors in the hospital just to escape the long, dragging hours.

And to forget that my master no longer talked to me, and looked at me only when he couldn’t avoid it.

--x--

Mr. Wooster’s stay in hospital lasted nearly a fortnight, and perhaps the only good thing that can be said about that time is that we were spared the presence of Mrs. Spenser-Gregson due to her being in South Africa, seeing to the extrication of Mr. Claude and Mr. Eustace Wooster from the arms of the law.  (Never did I think the wilder side of Mr. Wooster’s cousins would prove to be a convenience instead of otherwise!)  However, even this fortunate circumstance was only temporary - the formidable lady was on her way home and positively chomping at the bit to find Mr. Wooster a wife who ‘would break him of this abominable frivolity’.   In her words, she would see to it that he would never pull a fire-bell again, even if it meant breaking all of his fingers in order to assure it.

Friends of Mr. Wooster, familiar with this typical predicament of his, namely familial expectations allied with the “Code of the Woosters” versus his own personal wishes, may be forgiven for supposing that this was the opportunity I was looking for.  A quickly engineered plan to distract his aunt, or even better, to disenchant her with whatever unsuitable female she happened to be putting forward as a future spouse, was indeed my usual course of action.  Even a dignified escape might have served, in normal circumstances, to elevate me once more in the eyes of my employer.

But things were not normal.  For one thing, Mr. Wooster seemed completely unconcerned about the imminent arrival of Mrs. Spenser-Gregson.

Mrs. Travers, who generally gets on well with her sister (or at least better than everyone else in the Wooster or Travers families), was surprised to find herself arguing against her nephew over the plan to keep her sister away from Brinkley.

“Bertie, you fathead!” she implored.  “You’re not thinking straight!  Can’t you see I’m offering you sanctuary?”

“Thank you, Aunt Dahlia, but I am going back to London.”

“The doctor says you can’t.”

“The doctor has no such thing,” Mr. Wooster rebutted.   “Old Lemon only said that I have to take it easy for another four weeks or so, and I can do that just as well at home as I can do it here.”

“Stuff and nonsense!  You’re as white as the belly of a fish, thin as a weasel, and as wobbly on your feet as a newborn colt who’s snorted down too much of the farmer’s dandelion wine.  Once Jeeves has gathered your things together, we’ll have you released and Harris will drive the three of us back to Brinkley, where you will stay until the storm brewing from Agatha’s direction blows over.”

“I appreciate the offer, ancient ancestor of mine, though I do find it confusingly couched in clichés involving four-legged critters - ”

“Fish don’t have legs, you silly chump,” Mrs. Travers pointed out. 

“Be that as it may, I’m a grown man and I will recuperate where I wish.”

“Be sensible, Bertie.  You’re in no shape to be dealing with Agatha and whatever block of ice she’s dredged out of the bowels of her lady’s club and insisting you walk down the aisle with.  I agree you desperately need someone to take you in line, but I simply will not have you being pushed towards the cliff while your strength is down.”

Though he winced at her choice of words, Mr. Wooster’s eyes softened a little.  “Thank you for that, old thing, but my mind is made up.  Jeeves and I will return to Brinkley to retrieve our things and so that I might say goodbye to everyone, and then we’re off.”

“You’re being selfish.  Think of Anatole!  He’s been planning meals for days!”

Mr. Wooster grimaced.  Food still had no appeal to him, a fact which I knew concerned Doctor Lemon.  “Tempting, old thing,” he lied, “but it does not sway me.  My resolve is still steely, and my plans still chipped into the old marble.”

“But Brinkley has fresh air, sunshine, and cool, quiet vistas.  What will you get in London?  Air so thick it will corrode your lungs and block out the sun.  Grey skies, rain, grimy streets, and the heat!  August is no month to be stuck in the metropolis.  To any person of sense, it singularly fails to appeal.”

“Your pastoral images are very poetical, aged A, but I intend on returning home.”  

Mrs. Travers harrumphed quite distinctly.  “We’ll discuss it more in the car,” she said, as I finished packing up the last of my master’s belongings which he had had at the hospital.  This time, however, I could tell she had already lost.  For whatever reason, Mr. Wooster was determined to return to London today and there was an implacability in his voice which I had never heard before.  And, for my part, while I had many misgivings about Mr. Wooster pushing himself in his condition, I too was eager to return to London and resume my regular duties. 

--x--

It was while Mr. Wooster was saying farewell to his friends that Mr. Seppings pulled me aside. 

“A word of advice, Reginald,” he said, surprising me by speaking to me at all.  I had been ostracized by the staff generally since Mr. Wooster’s collapse - “sent to Coventry” as the saying goes - and was not expecting anyone to see me off. “I think, my lad, that you had best sort out how you truly feel about being a servant before you let Mr. Wooster grow too attached to you again.  For his sake and yours.”

I blinked, utterly confused.  “I am afraid I do not understand, Mr. Seppings.”

“He did not ask you to solve everything this time, Reginald.  He wanted save them himself, to be more than what they treat him as - which at this point seems to be for little else than being the agency which brings you into their midst.  But you could not have that.  You had to be the one to solve everything.  You had to be the one they all lauded.  So much so that you punished him for trying to take your place.  Why do you think that is?”

My face burned with fury.

“I will tell you why.  Because you cannot accept being inferior.”

“Mr. Seppings, I must protest!”

“Be honest with yourself, Reginald.  You cut Mr. Wooster out and then humiliated him to gain the upper hand.  You make no bones about how you view your betters in your accounts in the Junior Ganymede Club book.  ‘Employers are like horses.  They require managing.’ (1)  That is what you wrote, is it not?  You did what you did because you have to be the one to solve everything, because otherwise, if you did not, then you would be just a servant and you cannot abide that.”

“Look at your previous employers,” he continued.  “Mr. Montague-Todd, for instance.  What is it, the second or third year of his sentence now?  You are a perceptive man, Reginald.  You must have had an inkling as to what he was before you signed on.  Why did you take the position?  Because it allowed you to feel morally superior.  And it also gave you a convenient excuse to leave when you grew tired of the situation.”

“I left because I abhorred his behaviour,” I argued, “as any right thinking man would have done.  And I wished to leave quickly, before my employer’s behaviour had a chance to reflect on myself.  You have possessed the same position for your entire life.  Perhaps you do not fully comprehend how quickly one’s reputation can be tarnished by the people one works for.”

“Perhaps.  But what I see is a man who only agrees to work for either those he sees as dull-witted or morally bankrupt.  Why would a so-called right-thinking man chose to do so?  Because it allows him to secretly look down at them.  Even your protestations at maintaining the proper feudal spirit and keeping to your place are your way of putting yourself above them.  It is your reminder that they are behaving improperly, while you are the one behaving more correctly and in a more disciplined fashion.  That you are the one comporting himself according to high-minded standards and they are not.  It is one thing to behave like a servant, but another to be constantly drawing attention to it.  That is the action of someone who thinks himself better than his employer.”

“However,” he went on before I could think of a coherent argument, “you have never before stayed in one place very long.  Why is that?  Is it because you might learn that you were wrong in your estimations of them?  That they might be better than you thought them?  That they might even be better than you?”

“That is not true,” I said, uncharacteristically flustered, then realized what it had sounded like.  “I mean, that is not why I ever left any of my previous positions.”

“You have never served a truly good man like Mr. Wooster before and I think this new situation is beginning to bother you.   I have seen your kind before.  You like to see yourself as apart, too far above everyone to need a job.  But now you are growing fond of him and that threatens the superior detachment you have always enjoyed.”

“I don’t have to take this.”

“I do not say all this to be cruel, Reginald.  Only to make you see.  You are an exceedingly intelligent man, which is no crime, but ambition and pride do not always lend themselves well to a life in service.   If you cannot overcome your resentment over serving those whom you see as less astute or worthy, then perhaps it would be best to choose a more suitable line of work.” 

Just then, Mr. Wooster and several of the others exited the house and Mr. Seppings and I instantly drew apart and schooled our expressions into the habitual servant’s inscrutability.   None of them noticed any tension in the air.  Mr. Wooster declared himself ready to depart, and, as the luggage had already been loaded into the boot of the two-seater, there was one last round of handshakes between Mr. Wooster and his friends and then we were off.

I found I was very grateful to be the one driving on this particular trip.  It kept my mind from dwelling on other things.

--x--


1) From “Bertie Changes His Mind”.  





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Yay!!!!

Seppings Kicks A$$!!! you Tell him.

Love this story

Thank you. I've LOVED writing for Seppings and I'm glad people seem to be enjoying his appearances.

I love how the fic has such an original storyline...

NOW JEEVES DON'T YOU GET IT

I've had a couple of people compliment me on being original, and I have to say it's been a nice little surprise. Bike ride stories or stories with a sick or injured Bertie aren't new (though in my humble opinion, we can ALWAYS use more!), so it must the guilty Jeeves aspect, or at least getting the remorse from his own mouth. Jeeves always apologizes, and there's been a couple of stories where he's rescued Bertie, but offhand, I can't think of a story where we actually hear his POV.

Does anyone know of one?


In your FACE, butler-boy! *mwahahaha* (I love Jeeves, but his behaviour really bothers me from time to time. Thank your for your putting him back on the straight and narrow! :D (Hopefully not too straight.))

No, thank you for "In your FACE, butler-boy! *mwahahaha*" That made me smile.

This chapter is just the best. Rarely do you see Jeeves picked apart like this.

What I particularly like in all of this, is the characterisation of Jeeves as an antihero, clever enough to realise his mistakes but not able to change his nature, yet starting to honestly srtive it.

I actually feld bad for Jeeves hearing the Sepping of Awesomeness dress him down like that, again, and with good reason. Must be harsh.

If you cannot overcome your resentment over serving those whom you see as less astute or worthy <...> - that sounds like a bit from a fantasy novel of some kind. =) A superior race enslaved by an inferior one, something like that.

The disenchanted Bertie with his newly-displayed steely resolve - a loose cannon, what. Anything can happen.
And I just wondered: what if by this time Bertie was already in love with Jeeves? If you don't disapprove of such an angle. But then, how hard all this really must be on him?

Thank you for your great review. "Jeeves as an antihero, clever enough to realise his mistakes but not able to change his nature, yet starting honestly to strive for it" - I think you've brought up something important there, and it's something that's quite surprised me during my writing. It's always been funny how characters will fight to go their own way and completely change the story, but Jeeves has REALLY been battling me on this one and I didn't know why. But I think it's because the character of Jeeves is so naturally unbending - even when you hammer him over the head with his mistake, it's still hard to get him to change.

I'm glad people liked the scene with Seppings. It was a very late addition to the plot and I was worried people would find it boring after having Jeeves dwell so much on the servant stuff already. But the realization that Jeeves was conflicted about being a servant was a revelation to me, and it finally pinned down what the story is about for me. Sub-plots have been dropped, scenes discarded, characters abandoned, because what the story has developed into is one about how Jeeves really feels about being a servant, and how that is changing with relation to Bertie.

Which is a bit of relief; I can't help but feeling this story has been getting out of control because, honestly, I've just been stumbling around with this one. I have notes, but there's so much I've been trying to fit in, I'm losing the big picture.

As for disapproving of the love angle, no, I really don't. I adore J/W slash, and while I may never write a sex scene, it's not because I disapprove of anything. I probably will never write a sex scene simply because I think it takes a different sort of skill. It's not all about being descriptive; as one of the writers in my usual fandom once pointed out, unless it's really good, a sex scene will create a dead spot in the narrative. I like to think I have some skill as a writer, but I don't think I have that one. Few do, really. What's so amazing about this site is that so many people here CAN pull it off, and so this is about the only place where I read this stuff.

But when it comes to the love/romance angle, that is at the back of my head when I write. It's just that my versions (not even my interpretations, either. They've separated from Wodehouse's and become very personalized) are very repressed, to the point of being completely oblivious. Bertie sees Jeeves as a friend (which is a big part of why he's been so hurt), but Jeeves hasn't even realized that much. He's just realizing now that Bertie means more to him than the man who provides him with a cushy job. I would like to eventually have them develop feelings for each other, but that will take several stories, and it all depends on whether I can keeping writing Jooster.

See, this is why I don't respond to reviews - I tend to get unbearably long-winded.

this is why I don't respond to reviews

Ah. =) I wondered.

as one of the writers in my usual fandom once pointed out, unless it's really good, a sex scene will create a dead spot in the narrative

I agree wholeheartedly. - As a matter of interest, what is you usual fandom?

my versions <...> are very repressed, to the point of being completely oblivious

I see; you're saying it might take a War and Peace worthy body of text to get them to that point? (Unless something utterly unlikely and very fanfiction-y happens to accelerate the matters, what.) Oh do go on writing, please. =)

My usual fandom is Hogan's Heroes. So far I have put any of my stories here, but if you go on my fanfiction.net account (under the name 96 Hubbles) you can check them out if you're interested. There's fourteen of them, though two aren't finished.

As for getting to the Joostery goodness, hopefully it won't require something as long as War and Peace, but it will take awhile. For me, their relationship is, in some ways, similar to the Josh/Donna relationsip on West Wing. Bradley Whitford, who played Josh, used to say in interviews that the two characters knew "deep down in their reptilian brain stems" that they needed each other, but they hadn't realized it yet. Another similiarity was that Donna worked for Josh. She probably wouldn't have stuck around if he had tried to push her into something because of his being the boss, but I think it would have bothered him to even become that guy in the first place. He also wouldn't have wanted to compromise the career or reputation of someone he cared about, so a relationship was morally verboten from the get go (at least while she worked for him) and therefore they both avoided even thinking about it for a long, long time.

So, yeah, in my Joosterland it's going to take awhile to get to the juicyness, unless something very fanfiction-y happens.



Sorry, I meant so far I HAVEN'T put any of my (Hogan's Heroes) stories here.

YESSSS you updated! I'm following this story with such an abnormal enthusiasm! It's so clever and fresh and I'm just repeating everything I've said in my previous comments. You're amazing.

I adore the fact that Jeeves isn't the perfect marvel he usually is in the books and (most of) fan fiction. The dynamic between Jeeves and Bertie is really interesting and I really don't have a clue how this will turn out!

I'm in love with your style, and to be honest you're currently my favorite author for this fandom. Please update soon. Though I don't want this to end. EVER. :'')

(The plotbunny you dropped is awesome, too. I hope you someone picks it up!)

This is some intense reading. For sure, Thank you.

In regards to the Bertie love angle. I can read Bertie as being so disillusioned in Jeeves precisely because his feelings are so much more than an employer should have for his Valet. Any other employer would have canned the Valet three yesterdays ago, but Bertie has not.Bertie is hurt and angry and that is very passionate. It feels like he's trying to resolve something in his heart as well, but just as he realizes why he's so affected by Jeeve's, it is through an act of humiliation.

in some ways this story captures the dynamic of these two very well. There has always been something passive aggressive in Jeeve's stunts but we have to acknowledge that Bertie enables Jeeves just as much as Jeeve's enables Bertie.

I agree that Bertie's feelings are so much more than employer should have for his valet, but at this point (at least with my versions) he doesn't realize them yet. That he even thinks of Jeeves as a friend is hampered by Jeeves' position, and not just because "it simply isn't done". The fact that Bertie ultimately holds Jeeves' livelihood in his hands does present a barrier.

That thought, as well as a couple of other considerations, are also part of why Bertie hasn't dismissed Jeeves yet. Hopefully, it will all come out before the end.

And I agree, Bertie definitely enables Jeeves. There's a line in Jeeves Takes Charge, which shows Bertie made a conscious decision right at the beginning to let Jeeves take over his life: "I hesitated a bit. I had a feeling that I was passing into this chappie's clutches, and that if I gave in now I should become just like poor old Aubrey Fothergill, unable to call my soul my own. On the other hand, this was obviously a cove of rare intelligence, and it would be a comfort in a lot of ways to have him doing the thinking for me."

I think this was exactly what Jeeves wanted, and that he eats it up with a fork and spoon, but it still might put him under a lot of pressure at times, and that's something I don't think anyone's explored yet. I don't know if I ever will, but it could make an interesting angle.

Great update. Steppings is quite the psycologist!

:( I feel bad for Jeeves, even though I know he doesn't deserve to be forgiven quickly, it still makes me sad that he and Bertie are so on the rocks.

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