Jeeves and the Patience of a Saint

Chapter One

Over the many years I've spent in Mr. Wooster's employ, I have spent very little time parted from his company. There is, of course my annual two-week holiday to the coast of France, to fish aboard my cousin's sailboat; and occasionally, Mr. Wooster has been known to embark on tourism jaunts for a fortnight. But it was only recently that circumstances conspired to see us parted for an unusually long period.

These circumstances first announced themselves in the form of a telegram.

I was engaged in that year's fishing sojourn, which, while enjoyable, is always accompanied by a pall of worry; Mr Wooster is not to be left to himself for long. Thus I opened the missive with a sense of foreboding; I was not surprised by what I read.

I was informed that Mr. Wooster's was to accompany a group of his club-members to a ski lodge in the alps of Switzerland. The tone of the telegram was somewhat harried, as it seems his peers had pressed Mr. Wooster in to the journey against his wishes in order to aid them in their pursuit of the members of a neighboring ladies club.

Knowing, as I do, Mr. Wooster's aversion to the dangerous sport of downhill skiing, I began to grow concerned for his safety.

I bade my cousin a regretful farewell and returned home to London in the hopes that Mr. Wooster would soon escape the manipulations of his acquaintances with all limbs intact, but as weeks passed and he did not return, I realized that I would have to intervene.

Telegrams escalating in misery had filtered in daily from my morose employer. "Jeeves-am beset by worst type of harridans-have lost all drones to fairer sex and horrifc downhill hurtling-please help!"

Having been away from him for a full four weeks, I felt a growing discomfort and concern at his absence. With his very gratified approval by way of the telephone, I made arrangements to join him in the mountains straight away.

I soon found myself disembarking with the other passengers of a snowy steamer, having wound our way through the mountains to the station nearest Mr. Wooster's locale. The train was full of holiday death-defyers, toting their heavy wooden skis over lumbering Swedish shoulders, and I found myself at a loss to imagine Mr. Wooster among these nordic giants. He had insisted on meeting me at the station, and I took slow breaths of the icy air to calm myself at the prospect of seeing him after a long four weeks.

Little, however, could have prepared me for the arrival of my employer. He pushed eagerly through the crowd, a happy smile of greeting on his expressive features.

Since I entered his employ, I have meticulously structured Mr. Wooster's grooming regimen. I see to it that he meets with a barber of good reputation twice a month, and in the interim, I keep a sharp pair of barber's scissors on hand. His hair grows exceedingly quickly, and can become unruly if left too long.

But now, his hair -- untended this past month -- had grown beyond unruly. It had settled into a soft halo of golden curls, framing his face in a shockingly rustic manner. I was ashamed to find myself blushingly comparing his appearance -- hatless and tousled by the crowds and winds -- to Michelangelo's David, though, given the brisk weather, rather more clothed.

Naturally, this sort of lapse in grooming would need to be remedied at once. I'd see to an appointment at the first opportunity, once we had returned to London. But I will admit that the effect was not unbecoming, in the mountain setting, and away from London society.

"Jeeves!" he cried, as we shook hands warmly, "I've never been so glad to see anyone in my life!"

"I trust you're well, Sir? The mountain air seems to be invigorating."

"All this dratted air seems to be capable of is plunging my fellow man into dire circs with the ladies of Winthrop Lodge. I'd have chosen the sportive horrors of the slope over the silliness of the Winthrop events, but I rather fancy having legs which walk."

He was in good spirits, at least, and continued to describe the athletic efforts of the Drones club members, as we walked to the gondola shed. There, we were quickly ushered into the small car along with the other passengers and luggage. The Swiss gondola attendants were somewhat pressed for service, with the majority of the train passengers that required the use of the gondola, so our car was particularly crowded. It quickly filled with skiing enthusiasts and sight-seers, and Mr. Wooster and I became pressed into the rear of the enclosure.

As a large man bearing a large basket boarded the gondola, I felt brief panic. It occurred to me that I might plummet to my death in a state similar to that of a tinned sardine. Just then, Mr. Wooster was jostled by a pair of skis; he fell roughly against me, and my discomfiture was replaced by shock.

The crowd pressed in against us as the doors closed; there was no question of escape. Looking down, I could see his face flush, and the feel of his chest against my own nearly caused the same reaction in me.

"I say!" he remarked, attempting to put space between us, but the crowd stood in mute refusal. As he squirmed, his jacketed chest rubbed against me. I could feel the soft curls of his hair against my cheek.

Then he stilled, and watched me curiously from under lowered lashes for the duration of the ride. As for myself, I passed the time by cataloguing, from memory, Mr. Wooster's ties; when that proved too brief an occupation to occupy my concentration, I began mentally pairing the ties with his morning and evening outfits. I was aware of Mr. Wooster observing me, aware, of course, of his body pressed against my own; but I am satisfied that I gave no outward sign of discomfort.

The Drones Club ski lodge left a great deal to be desired, but the quarters were serviceable.

When we arrived, the club members were preparing for a snow-shoeing excursion, and Mr. Wooster was greeted with cheers and ordered to come along. He sent a panicked look in my direction as he the high-spirited young men ushered him towards the snowy mountainside.

I was relieved, however; after the uncomfortable gondola ride, it was refreshing to have some time to unpack Mr Wooster's and my things in contemplative solitude. After approximately one hour, I had regained my full composure, and banished all thoughts of our cramped gondola ride. Before I could quite finish unpacking, however, a heavy thud at the door caught my attention.

"I say, Jeeves!" called the familiar voice of Mr. Little through the oak door, "Jeeves, could you come out here and lend a hand?"

I opened the door to reveal a snow-covered Mr. Wooster, unconscious and without a coat, slumped on the doorstep of our quarters. Mr. Little stood nearby, grinning at my stony expression in a manner that managed to be both ineffectually apologetic and infuriating at once.

"He was right along with us, you see, when he must have lost his footing. Stumbled into a bit of a gorge, and that's when he must have lost his coat and boot in the tumble. You know how clumsy old Bertie is. It was a few moments before anyone had even realized where he'd gotten off to!"

He paused here to chuckle for a moment. When I failed to join him in his mirth, he continued.

"Took me an eon to drag him back here. You'll see to him, won't you old chap? I've got to be catching up with the fellows. We were on our way to visit the neighbors. A ladies' club, can you believe the luck? Well, I'm off then."

And with that, Mr. Little spun on his snowshoe (having worn them indoors and tracked in a considerable amount of now-melted snow) and clomped off toward the hills.

I stooped to examine Mr. Wooster, horrified at the chill of his skin, and quickly hefted his slight frame off the damp floor. Placing him on the bed, I saw that his grey lambswool sweater was soaked through to his shirt, and even his undershirt. His trousers were plastered to his legs with water and snow, and his extremities were bright red in color.

An examination of his head revealed no injury there, nor could I find one in the rest of his body. A simple faint, then, out of fear, no doubt.

I quickly placed more wood on the fire, removed his boots and wool socks, and chafed his feet and hands quickly between my palms. When they lost a little of their chill, I carefully peeled off his upper garments and was relieved when he began to shiver. He had been completely still upon his arrival, and it had worried me a great deal.

Fortifying myself, I undid the buckle of his drenched trousers, and removed them along with his undergarments. I replaced these with a dry pair from the armoire, as quickly as I could. Yet as I wrapped him in the quilt and blanket, my concern returned; he had not yet awakened. I hoisted him in my arms to lay him down on the hearth, telling myself that he would, if awake, excuse such a liberty.

Still, he shivered violently, and remained unconscious.

Although I am not a man to thrill to the lurid adventure novel, I have, in the interest of improving my general knowledge, perused accounts of scientific expeditions to the poles. Now I recalled reading in Dr. Fisher's Guide to the Antarctic Circle that the most efficient way to prevent hypothermic shock was to utilize another's body warmth.

Looking down upon Mr. Wooster, shivering on the hearth, I knew that I was facing a task that would certainly appear improper by every standard of my profession. Yet I was willing to cast that aside in order to help him.

I locked the door, and removed my tie with slightly shaking hands. I shrugged out of my jacket and shoes, and rolled the sleeves of my shirt to the elbow. This was the extent I was willing to bend; I hoped that it would be enough. I unravelled Mr. Wooster's blankets, and, with a shuddering sigh, wrapped them tightly around our bodies.

I have spent the better part of three years avoiding the type of situation I now found myself in; one that might strain the boundaries of professionalism between myself and my employer.

With trepidation, I wrapped my arms around his quaking shoulders. His skin was cool and soft beneath my touch, and I was gratified to sense the tension in his back lessen slightly at the feel of my warmth. I bent my legs, and found that his own were just the right length that I could warm his feet with mine. I grasped his hands in my own, as well; for a moment I was overwhelmed, and clenched my eyes shut against the back of his neck, as I felt how sweetly his body curved to my own.

Slowly, slowly, his breathing eased from the gasping, shaking pants with which he had begun. His face slackened from the pinch of cold, and I allowed myself the opportunity to closely watch him sleep. His hair, drying in soft curls, fell lightly over his brow, curving in tandem with his long eyelashes, and the delicate bow of his upper lip. It was too much; I could not look again, and removed my gaze to the fire as it danced in the grate. So I remained, tense and shaken, folded against my employer's body, until he began to stretch and rouse himself.

The first stretch lengthened his torso, pushing his chest out against my hands, and his lower back against my midsection. I stifled a gasp, and began to slowly disentangle myself as I felt the stirrings of arousal reinstate themselves for the fifteenth time that hour.

It was clearly a physical reflex; but it would not do at all, to have him waken to find me pressed intimately to him, in a state of ardor. I arranged myself a few handspans apart from him, sucking in a shuddering breath when he attempted to inch back towards my warmth.

"Jeeves!" he murmured, disoriented. His eyes darted around the room. "I survived! I thought I'd have been buried in the depths of the freezing tundra by now!" he smiled faintly, and tried to wiggle further into his warm bedding.

"Mr. Little explained that you had taken a fall from the trail. I'm relieved to see you awake, Sir. How do you feel?"

"Mmm... Warm. Thank you, Jeeves." His voice was rough from sleep and the cold.

"I'm gratified that you are out of danger, Sir. May I prepare your nightclothes? I am informed that a brush with hypothermia is extremely exhausting. I could have the cook prepare some hot tea and soup to eat in your room, if you wish." I rose and began to lay our Mr. Wooster's pajamas while his eyes followed me around the room.

"Yes. Thank you, Jeeves," and there was true gratitude and very real fatigue that slurred his words.

Mr. Wooster fell back into sleep with his soup spoon halfway to his mouth, and had I not been there to catch it, he might have ruined the sheets.

Lying in bed the following hour, as I prepared for my own slumber, I could feel the phantom shape of my employer, pressed against me.

I closed my eyes, and told myself, firmly, that while today might have been trying, tomorrow things would have returned to normal.

And with that incorrect proclamation, I slept.