Jeeves and the Blind Master
Chapter 15: The Green Carnation
Several months after the story I just related, I had an interaction with Gussie that's worth noting. It goes as follows:
"Bertie, old man!"
"Tuppy, old thing!"
"I say, Bertie, where's your carnation?" Tuppy asked, after giving the old Wooster shoulders a rather hearty slap in greeting. He was like his cousin Honoria in that respect, and I had to roll the shoulders a bit to make sure nothing had been thrown out of its socket.
"Carnation? I hate those things," I answered. "Reminds me too much of one of Aunt Agatha's nightdresses that I had the misfortune of seeing once when I was a squirt."
"But it's Green Carnation Day!" Bingo Little said, coming over. "Everyone's wearing them. It's all the rage. Can't wear it at home, though, the Mrs. would throw a fit."
I looked around the Drone's Club smoking room and saw blurry bits of green floating about everywhere. Presumably on people's buttonholes. I sighed and allowed them to replace the carefully selected red rose from Jeeves with one of the horrid green flowers. Unnatural, if you ask me. Flowers aren't supposed to be that color.
Still, one goes along with one's friends, doesn't one?
Now, you might be wondering where the Fink-Nottle comes into the story, for I started before his arrival on the scene. Rest assured, dear readers, that Gussie figures prominently in this narrative. Gussie, you may recall, was one of those chaps who went to school with me when I was in short trousers. We've known each other all our lives, and I'd helped him out with a bit of bother over distributing school prizes at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School a few months back. That, and making sure his engagement to Madeline Bassett remained on the books. Didn't want the business to go awry, did we?
Not when Bertram W. was la Bassett's second-choice suitor.
He sidled up to me at the bar after an energetic game of Dinner Roll Cricket. I wanted to be the official on the field, but was voted down. Still, it was enjoyable to toss about the occasional bread roll or two. Gussie had the bit of green on his jacket that the other lads sported.
"Bertie, I've got to get married," he said, in as determined and firm a voice as I'd ever heard from him. "And you should, too. Engagements alone won't cut it any longer."
"By all the blithering whatsits, what on Earth are you babbling about?" I asked.
"Married, Bertie. We have to get married."
"We? I say, Gussie, old friend, what's gotten into you today?"
"Madeline is sick," he said, and before I could comment on his erstwhile finance, he plopped a newt tank on the bar and nearly spilled my drink. "I mean, look at her! She's barely touched her crickets."
I squinted into the tank, seeing the usual dark blur that I've come to associate with one of Gussie's newts. "You didn't give it one of these horrid flowers, did you?" I asked. Beside me, Gussie have a shiver. "Are you cold, old fruit?"
"I can't believe they're making people wear these," he grumbled, fidgeting with the flower on his lapel. If I didn't know any better, he was tearing off the petals and dropping them to the bartop, leaving him without a flower at all.
"I don't see how a newt has you thinking of marriage," I commented, going back to the original vein of conversation. Or is it vain? Or vane? I can never remember which is which. I'd ask Jeeves, but he's occupied at the moment with my trousers, or some other kind of ironing and he dislikes being bothered during those delicate and stressful times. Something about having to redo creases, or some such rot I'll never understand.
"Her name is Madeline, you ass," Gussie said, indicating his newt. "I'm engaged to a Madeline right now."
"Yes, I was engaged to her at one point, too," I reminded him. "The same one, in fact, who still thinks warmly of me, if Stiffy Byng is to be believed, and that's something I want nothing to do with. But, again, what do you mean about having to get married? Don't you and Madeline have a date for the wedding?"
"Well, yes, but I have to pass inspection first."
"Inspection? You mean from Spode? You did that already!"
"No, no, from her godmother. Dame Something, of Something Hall."
"Oh, well, I can't say as I know her, Gussie. You don't remember who the godmother is?"
"Not a clue."
"Or her address?"
"Well, I wrote it down somewhere, but now I can't find the paper."
"Ah," I commiserated. "The old lost the dratted paper wheeze. I understand your dilemma, if dilemma is the word I want. No way to get there if you don't know where you're going. What about calling Madeline?"
"I don't know where she is, either. Some friend of her's, Hellen, or Helga, or something."
"Why the rush to marry?" I wondered, thinking that a change of topic might cheer him up a bit.
"We're getting older," Gussie said in a whisper, leaning close to me. "We can't stay bachelors forever. People will start talking. They'll say it's not natural."
"People always talk. Besides, why would I want to get married when I have Jeeves to look after me?"
Gussie shifted in his seat, moving even closer to me. "But that's just my point, Bertie. You and Jeeves. Me and Marky. Those two down by Hyde Park, you know the ones. You can't live like that forever. One of you is going to have to get married, and it'll have to be you!"
"I don't understand."
"Oh, not even you can be that dense!" Gussie exclaimed. "You're the one with the money and name. You're the one who's going to become Lord Yaxley when your uncle dies. You have to perpetuate the race. Of course it'll have to be you."
"Now you sound like my Aunt Agatha."
"Bertie, you're an ass."
I waved away Gussie's insult.
"All I'm saying, Bertie, is that you should be worried. Marky's practically having conniptions every other day, trying to find a girl. Finding one Madeline can tolerate would be even better, but we'll take just about anyone now. Talk to Jeeves about it. He'll explain everything."
With that, Gussie grabbed the drink out of my hand, swallowed the lot, and disappeared into the throng of men waiting for supper to be announced. Unfortunately for me, he left the newt tank. Not that I was worried he'd forget it. Gussie would never forget one of his newts. But it was spoiling my digestion, having it so close, don't you know.
"What was all that about?" a voice asked from my other side. Biffy Biffen had just taken a seat at the bar.
"I'm not sure," I told him. I grabbed a few nuts from the bowl conveniently left at my elbow. "He was going on about how I can't remain a bachelor forever. I'm sure he's heard of Nature's Bachelors. He practically used those very words. I rather suspect I'm one of them."
"Oh, pish tosh," Biffy said, waving his hand. "You're no more a Nature's Bachelor than I am! You've been engaged. You were potty over that girl in New York, weren't you? That artist with the weird name? And for a while it was looking like Florence Cray would become the new Mrs. Wooster."
"I just don't think I'm cut out for the married life," I mumbled.
"You'll find the right girl. Look at me! And look at Bingo, getting ready to settle down for a change. Did you know he's been seeing that girl for over six months?"
"He eloped a few months ago," I told Biffy. "In New York."
"Oh, jolly good. How did his uncle take it?"
"He loved her once he learned that she was the real Rosie M. Banks," I said. "Instead of me. I'm not too much of a well-liked figure in Lord Bittlesham's house at the moment. Bingo's still friendly, though." I went on the explain the whole sorry affair.
"Huh. Anywho, what does Jeeves say about this bachelorhood of yours? Is he trying to find you a wife, too?"
"Who? Jeeves? No! He doesn't work for married gentlemen, and he's very happy working for me. He said just the other day that I was like no other master he'd ever served." I paused. "He said he'd work for me the rest of my life, if I needed him."
"But if you got married...?"
"I don't know. I've never really wanted to, once the engagements went beyond a certain point."
Biffy paused, then leaned close to peer into my eyes. "You do know what Gussie means about being a Nature's Bachelor, don't you?"
"Just some fellow not cut out for marriage, I suppose," I answered. "What else could it mean?"
Biffy leaned even closer and whispered in my ear. "He means inverts."
"Oh. Oh, I say. Are you sure?"
"Quite sure." Biffy returned to his former distance from me. "I mean, I don't care what he does in his private life, but to accuse you of it? That's not the same man I grew up with."
"Well, now, be reasonable, Biffy, old thing. He wasn't accusing me of anything. He just said I should be careful."
"You've got nothing to worry about," Biffy declared. "We all know you're in love with that Robbie girl. How's it going with her, anyway?"
It took me a moment to remember what he was talking about. Robbie… Reggie… Reggie Jeeves. He was talking about Jeeves telling me he loved me, way back in the beginning. And the boys thinking I'd taken "her" to bed by misinterpreting my words.
"Oh, ah, well," I stammered.
"Jeeves still being cool about it?"
"Jeeves? No, no, he's fine. Encouraging me, actually. I just haven't got the ginger to, well, seal the deal. Ask the question, that sort of thing, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, I know the feeling. What have you done? Does she really like you back?"
"We've kissed," I blurted without thinking. "Held each other. I've touched hi — her hair."
"That's a perfect start!"
"I daresay it'll go anywhere," I muttered. "It's so — so — I don't know. Nice. I have all these feelings. The ones we talked about, you know. But I can't tell my aunts about her, they'd have epileptic fits."
Biffy grunted. "Your Aunt Agatha's a demon in human form. There's no way she'd approve of you marrying a servant."
"Especially this one," I said with a sigh.
"But she likes you? She'd run away with you, if you were to ask?"
"She loves me, Biffy. She'd follow me anywhere," I said, thinking of Jeeves cutting his vacation short because he missed me.
"So elope, like Bingo did," he suggested.
"Would that it could be that simple," I muttered as the dinner gong went off. I thought about Gussie's comments, about things Rocky had told me in New York, about the things I'd been able to glean about inverts from the newspapers and books. There was never a happy ending. Never. Besides, I wasn't an invert. I just wanted to spend my life with Jeeves. To have our kisses and his companionship. To give him something more than a book on his birthday and an emotionless kiss every evening.
But the kisses weren't emotionless, now that I thought about them. They were full of emotions. All kinds of them. Just not the ones he wanted.
When I arrived at home later that day in order to change to go out again, Jeeves met me at the door as usual. Before I could even greet the chap, he made a strangled noise in his throat and snatched the carnation from my buttonhole with such force as I'd ever seen from the man. He fled to the kitchen.
"Jeeves!" I called, rushing after him, not even bothering to take off my hat or gloves. "Jeeves, whatever's the matter?"
I found him standing at the kitchen table, both hands pressed flat on it, his arms stiff. His breath came like a bellows, and he sounded almost like he was about to faint. I propped my stick against the wall and stepped all the way into the kitchen.
"Jeeves?" I asked, touching his shoulder.
"Who saw you with this?" he demanded angrily, crushing the flower in his fist. "Who gave it to you?"
"Oh, um, well, Tuppy gave it to me," I stammered, slightly scared by his anger.
"Glossop," Jeeves breathed, and I was close enough to see the anger flashing in his eyes. "I'll kill the blighter!" he exclaimed, in rather more harsh tones than I'd ever expected from him. I'd never heard him sound so much like Roderick Spode than in that moment, and it scared me quite a bit, actually, to see someone so calm as he usually was as angry as he was in that moment.
Roderick Spode, you may remember, is that gorilla-like specimen that haunts Totleigh Towers and sucks on the muzzle of his gun when interrogating invited guests about why they happen to be holding antique silver cow creamers. Ugly cow creamers, at that. Why my Uncle Tom wanted the whole thing is beyond me, but I don't collect silver, so I probably wouldn't understand.
But all that is beside the point. Roderick Spode was of the habit of threatening this Wooster with the gravest bodily harm known to man, and at this moment, Jeeves sounded like he was getting up a head of steam to do such a thing to Tuppy. Not beating him to a jelly like Spode wanted to do to me, or breaking his neck, like Stilton Cheesewright threatened, or even turning him inside out and making him eat himself, the very thing Tuppy himself once suggested, but something far more dastardly and sinister. Far more permanent and deadly.
Honestly, if I were a betting man, I'd put my shirt on Jeeves destroying Tuppy without a thought on it. A sure thing. A frightening thing.
"Everyone at the club was wearing them, Jeeves. Bingo said it was Green Carnation Day, or some such rot." He turned to look at me. "Everyone had them. Everyone at the whole club," I continued, babbling, trying to reassure him, for even though Tuppy and I have had our misunderstandings, especially when one considers how he callously pulled back the final ring over the Drones Club pool one evening, forcing Bertram to fall into said pool in full correct evening wear, I still didn't want to see the blighter die.
"Who saw you with this?" he asked again.
"Oh, well, that is, it was just — I mean, what's the matter, Jeeves? You look quite the fright." I paused, noting his heaving breath, his quivering nostrils. "You're scaring me, Jeeves," I finally said, taking a step backwards.
"Do you know what this is?" He dropped the flower to the floor and crushed it under his shoe viciously. "Do you know what this means?" he asked, his anger now directed at me. "Do you have any idea what danger you've put us in?" he growled. He turned away from me and tugged at his hair in frustration. I'd never seen him do such a thing, and that scared me even more that he was so out of control of himself.
"For the love of roses, Jeeves, just tell me what's wrong!" I shouted. "Snap out of it, man. Get yourself together."
"That," he said, pointing to the mess on the floor, "that is a green carnation!" he exclaimed, as if that explained all.
"I know that. But what does it mean? Why are you so upset?"
"A green carnation is the symbol of an invert," he snarled. "It was one of Oscar Wilde's affectations."
"Oh, my," I whispered, dropping bonelessly into a chair. "Oh, my word." I bent my head, lowering it to my hand for a moment. "I had no idea! I had no idea, Jeeves! Please, you have to believe me!" I grabbed his hands and tugged him close. "Everyone was wearing them, I just thought it was one of the usual fads that goes around the club every so often." I wrapped my arms about his waist and pressed my face to his abdomen. I could understand his anger now, his fear. I had just walked into our building wearing the symbol of an invert on my lapel. People would suspect me, and thus him, for living with me, of being inverts. We'd go to jail. Our names would be ruined.
I'd lose him.
Jeeves backed away from me as if burned, tugging free of my arms.
"Jeeves!" I wailed, overcome with loss at his rejection of me.
The doorbell rang.
With a speed and efficiency only Jeeves possesses, he made himself up into proper valetting demeanor and walked unhurriedly from the kitchen. I followed uncertainly, leaning against the wall by the door so I could hear what was happening without being seen. The fear that the police had already come for us made my knees weak.
"Telegram for Mr. Wooster," said the doorman, Jarvis. I'd said hello to him not five minutes previous upon alighting from my taxi. He had to have seen the flower. Was he giving us a warning that he'd called the police, as happened so often in those lurid romances? Or had he come to blackmail us to keep Jeeves's secret? Or to accuse me?
"Thank you, Mr. Jarvis," Jeeves said at his most polite, nothing out of place with his voice. "Was there something else?"
"Actually, Mr. Jeeves, I'd have a talk with young Mr. Wooster if I were you. He's got the wrong flower today, and I wouldn't want rumors to start. Don't know where he got it, since he didn't have it earlier, but with his bad eyes, he probably has no inkling it's even there. Wearing it for an hour or two, no one will think anything of it, him being so eccentric, but I'd have him be careful in the future."
"Thank you, Mr. Jarvis, I had already attended to the flower situation, however I will have the conversation you recommend directly."
"You're welcome, Mr. Jeeves. We have to look out for our dim young gentlemen when they can't look after themselves, don't we?"
"As you say," Jeeves replied.
I heard the door close, lock, and then Jeeves appeared beside me. "Mr. Wooster," he began, but I interrupted him.
"Are we safe?" I blurted. "He won't spread rumors, will he?"
"I believe that Mr. Jarvis was more concerned about your reputation than about the actuality of the symbol, sir," Jeeves answered. "He believes you slightly dim, sir, an attitude shared by many ignorant individuals about persons who cannot see."
"Don't I know that one, eh, Jeeves?" I muttered. "But we're truly ok? There're no suspicions about us?"
"I doubt it, sir, however, you never answered my question as to who saw you wearing the flower."
"Oh, just the men at the club. And the cab driver. But I didn't go anywhere else, didn't visit or anything."
"Then I believe, sir, that we are indeed safe. It would not be the first time that the members of the Drones Club acted impulsively about something they did not understand. And if, as you say, all of your friends were wearing them, then there will be no suspicions towards you or your actions or character from the club staff."
I sagged in relief and only then started crying. Jeeves scooped me up in his arms and carried me, still sobbing, into the living room, where he deposited me on my usual side of the sofa. He returned with a cool compress and a glass of some restorative.
"Here, sir, please drink this," he said, holding the glass to my lips. Obediently, I swallowed.
I felt energy buzzing through my system. My eyes bulged out of their sockets, the tears having stopped as suddenly as they began. Jeeves put a brandy for me on the table and sat beside me. Without speaking, he put his arms around me and pulled me half into his lap. I wrapped the arms around him in turn. He held me tightly, his nose buried in my hair.
"I'm sorry," he said softly after a long moment of just holding each other.
I raised my head to meet his eyes. I saw heartache and fear. "Too close a call, what?" I asked.
He nodded. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
I rested my head on his shoulder. He stroked my cheek and bent to kiss me chastely on the lips.
"I love you," he breathed. "I was beside myself with worry for you."
"I know," I answered. "I know. But you'll have to teach me the other signs. You'll have to tell me, so I can watch out for them and avoid them. If all these dust-ups about my clothing were really about these symbols, you have to tell me. I don't want to argue with you over something that can be avoided by a simple explanation, what?"
He looked at me with a rather chagrined expression on the dial. "Yes, sir."
"Are you saying that some of them were about this kind of thing?"
"Yes, sir. The lavender socks, especially."
"But I loved those!"
"I know, sir, however lavender is a color often associated with inverts."
"Indeed, sir," he said, trying to reassure me with his voice. "Though not all of our disagreements have been because of this specific issue, it has occasionally been a factor, sir."
"Well, you'll just have to speak up about it," I declared.
"Are we back to 'sir' now, Jeeves, now that the danger has passed?"
"Sir, I apologize if —"
"Just once, call me Bertram," I begged. "Please."
"Bertram," he said, his eyes shining. It was rather like the first time he'd said my name, when he first told me he loved me after our first kiss. Only there was more feeling to it, and I felt the heart all aflutter again. I had to kiss him, after hearing my name with that voice from his lips. We kissed, and kissed, and kissed some more, desperately, as if it were the only thing we needed in the entire world, until the clock struck the half-hour and we came back to ourselves.
"Your telegram, Ber— Sir," Jeeves said, rising. He tugged his waistcoat back into place and straightened his tie, then bent to do the same to my clothing, which had been mussed in all the moving about and the roaming of the Jeevesian hands up my back.
I sighed, slightly miffed that he'd reverted to 'sir' so quickly. "You'd better read the blasted thing," I groused, waving a hand. "It's just going to be bad news."
Jeeves cleared his throat and began reading.