Author: Sky Blue Reverie skyblue_reverie
Fandom: Jeeves and Wooster
Rating: NC-17 for explicit non-con
Word Count: Approximately 14,000
Summary: Jeeves tells Bertie about his past. Dark, but also hurt-comfort-y. A sequel to my previous J/W fics, which can be found here. This will probably make more sense if you've read those, but it's not necessary.
Warnings: EXPLICIT, GRAPHIC NON-CON.
Author's Notes: Massive thanks to my beloved betas, rivers_bend, fenriss, weaselwoman13, and the utterly amazing Essie. I would never have posted this without all of your support and reassurance.
Disclaimer: Not mine, and I apologize for the blasphemy against Plum's happy little world. Total fluff next time, I promise!
Feedback: Always greatly appreciated.
ETA: I am deeply ashamed that I neglected to thank all of the wonderful, incredibly generous folks who jumped in to help with Jeeves canon-knowledge on indeedsir. This fandom is truly a fantastic, supportive one, and I couldn't have done it without all of your help. Extra special mega thanks to my darling canon-queen Essie. *blows kisses*
My life became… unpleasant, as you may suppose. Philip had been hastily sent from the house to complete his education at a foreign boarding-school. I had been demoted from my position as valet, the one position that it had been my life's ambition to hold. I had no alternative but to inform my parents of the fact, although of course I did not give the true reasons. They were immensely disappointed in me, supposing that I had been found inadequate. I also had no choice but to visit Mr Highstead's study on a regular basis. Approximately two or three times a month, I should estimate, although sometimes more often, especially at first. He seemed to feel that he had to have some excuse to summon me to his study for punishment, so he would find some way in which I had not satisfactorily performed my duties, singling me out over even minor imperfections for which other servants were never criticized. I became more careful in attending to my chores so as not to give him any excuse to punish me. This, of course, only infuriated him more, and when he did find some trifling flaw in my work, his rage and satisfaction knew no bounds.
Gossip travels quickly in a manor-house, especially among servants. While none of the servants would dare to say anything aloud, especially where it could be heard by Highstead, I began to hear whispers as I walked down the corridors. The bullying, which had previously stopped, started up again, albeit in a different form. I was never directly confronted, but instead nearly every day would be "accidentally" tripped, shoved, or elbowed by one of the other boys, such that I was nearly always nursing a bruise or scrape of some sort. The "accidental" push was often accompanied by a sotto voce word or two, always too quiet for me to be entirely sure what had been said. It was done in such a way that there was nothing to report, no one to blame. If I had attempted to do so, I would merely have been labelled a tale-teller, and the abuse would have become worse, so I held my tongue.
At first, my circumstances seemed entirely bleak. I was able to function during the day, but I must confess to experiencing bouts of painful emotion during the night. As months passed, however, I realized that emotion would avail me naught, and that no one else would step in to improve my lot. None of the other servants were willing to risk their own positions in order to assist me, and most had never liked me. There seemed to be a general consensus that I was receiving my just desserts. On the occasion of my sixteenth birthday, I determined that I would stifle my emotions, and take what measures I could to protect myself.
As I have already mentioned, I had learned to take extra care in my work to ensure that I did not give Mr Highstead any excuse to call me into his study. Now I became even more zealous about performing every aspect of my duties with absolute precision, so as to be above reproach in this area. I also began observing the other boys when they fought. The other servant boys fought often – sometimes in scuffles that broke out over some insult or disagreement, but often in organised boxing matches which were well-attended by the other servants and were always the source of much speculation and wagering. I studied the most successful fighters' techniques, and in my free time, in addition to continuing my scholarly studies, I crept away to an empty stable and practised these techniques on a feed bag that I had suspended from the rafters with a sturdy piece of rope. My somewhat exceptional height had begun to become obvious at this point, but I was still gangly and awkward. With long hours of practise, however, I began to fill out and gain some strength.
When Alfred Conway, the old stable-master, discovered me at my practise, he began to assist me, offering instruction to improve my technique, and occasionally even sparring with me himself, when his painful joints permitted. He was an interesting character – as I learned when I came to know him, he had been quite a celebrated fighter in his younger days. He also taught me some less-than-strictly honourable tactics, which have come in quite useful over the years. He became an acquaintance, and then a friend. Although he was an "outdoor" servant, one of the grounds staff, and thus considered beneath the notice of the house servants, he was a good man, and a source of much useful information. I learned that allies of any variety, high or low, were never something at which to turn up one's nose.
None of this would avail me against Highstead directly, of course – mere physical force was not at issue. He could ruin me with a word. And if I had dared to speak out against him, his word would be believed over mine. However, after a few carefully considered yet seemingly spontaneous physical confrontations with other serving boys, the bullying did at least lessen. I had to take care that no word of my fighting should read Highstead's ears, as it would have provided him another excuse to punish me, but the boys with whom I fought, while bullies and cowards at heart, did have a code of honour of sorts, which did not include reporting fights to our superiors.
I did have one other ally – the first person who had shown me kindness in this house – Mrs Sneddon, the cook. She had continued to watch over me as well as she could. She had no direct power over Highstead, but she had absolute control over her kitchen, and she ensured that it was a haven for me. I continued my studies at the hearth – although I was no longer permitted to go into town for lessons, she borrowed books from the village schoolmaster for me. I wrote out assignments and essays, and she passed them to the schoolmaster, passing back his corrections and suggestions. I never met the schoolmaster directly, but I am grateful to him to this day for taking on an extra pupil, one he had never even seen. Eventually, she passed me word that he had taught me all he could, and that he encouraged me to continue my studies independently. With her assistance, I did so – she kept a lookout for me while I crept into the master's library late at night to borrow books. The risk was serious, and I knew the consequences should I be discovered would be severe, but the lure of knowledge was too great to resist. On a few occasions, I was nearly caught, but I always managed to escape undetected.
I did, finally, discover one weapon that I could use against Highstead. It came to me at a time when it seemed to me that my circumstances could become no worse.
Christmas had just passed, and the winter was bitterly cold. Illness claimed many in England that season, although we at Abington Chase were fortunate in that we had no contagion within our walls. Others, however, were not so fortunate. On January the third, I received a telegram that both of my parents had succumbed to pneumonia. I did not dare ask Highstead for leave to attend the funeral, for fear of what payment he would extract in return for the favour. My sister had been sent to live with an aunt, and the little that my parents left behind would go to support her, although it would not be sufficient. My aunt lived on a pension and could not support my sister on her own. I had saved nearly every penny of my small salary to that point; it did not amount to much, but I sent it to my sister, in care of my aunt. Although you may suppose that my parents' death freed me from Highstead's tyranny, in fact it did not. I was more in need than ever of my meagre wages to help support my sister, and could even less afford to have my name besmirched, as this would make it impossible for me to find any other position.
The death of my parents was a blow. Not only because of the practical difficulties of supporting my sister, but because I genuinely grieved their loss. I had hardly seen them over the preceding several years, and they had gone to their deaths disappointed in me and my prospects. I shall always regret that.
On top of this came another shock. Philip Leighton was coming to Abington Chase for a short stay. He had taken the Christmas holidays in Switzerland with his parents, but the Leightons were returning to Abington for the rest of Philip's holidays from school. I had, of course, thought of him frequently over the preceding months, and had wondered how he was faring. Often, I had wondered whether what Highstead had said was true – that he had blamed me for seducing him. I did not want to credit it, and yet I was not certain. I knew that I would have to find an opportunity to speak to him alone; I knew equally well that it would be almost impossible to find such an opportunity, as both Highstead and Mr Leighton would be watching us closely.
I had my chance quite unexpectedly one day, when I was on my way out to the stable to visit Conway. I saw Philip slip out of the house by the side door and head for the garden. It was bitterly cold and the grounds were covered in a thin layer of snow and ice, so no one else had stirred from the house. I quickly moved to follow him. I intercepted him in the garden, in a small, hidden nook surrounded by shrubbery, where we could not be seen from the main house. He looked just as beautiful as when I had seen him last – a bit older, perhaps, but with the same graceful features and the same golden hair through which I used to run my fingers as his head bent over a book.
I reached out and touched his shoulder, and he started. He turned sharply, and when I first looked into his eyes there was no spark of recognition. He quickly realized who I was and I saw memory come flooding back to him, but it was a shock to me to realize that I had changed so much in a single year that I had become unrecognizable to Philip, who had known me as no other had.
"Reginald, you shouldn't be here," he said.
"I had to see you again. How – how have you been?" I asked, cursing my own inanity.
"Ah, Reginald, I have been languishing in abject misery," he said with a dramatic sigh. "My life has been hell. Exiled from the bosom of my family, thrown to the wolves, forced to attend a horrid school filled with horrid boys and run by horrid taskmasters. Why, Reginald, we are made to wear uniforms every single day! You can't imagine how I have suffered. You are fortunate, Reginald."
I could not begin to form a response to this, so I simply regarded him in stunned silence for a moment.
He seemed to take my silence as assent. "Ah, well, you couldn't have known, I suppose. I am sorry if you suffered any slight inconvenience when I told Highstead that you had… well… seduced me, but you simply don't understand the position I was in. As it was, my father absolutely hit the roof. If he had imagined that I was anything other than an unwitting victim, well, I would have been cut off entirely – not a penny to my name!"
I found my voice. "Slight inconvenience?" I asked incredulously. "Did you give any thought at all about what would happen to me?"
"What could possibly happen to you, Reginald?" he asked in a reasonable tone of voice, as if speaking to a fractious child. "You don't have a future to destroy, as I do. My father wanted to fire you on the spot, but Highstead and I persuaded him not to. Highstead said that he would see that you were dealt with appropriately. I am sorry that you were punished – some matter of a demotion, I understand. Nevertheless, I can see that you have done well – you look hale and hearty, and handsomer than ever. You should be grateful to him."
Once again, I was rendered speechless. He filled the silence. "I know, dear Reginald, how much you must have missed me. And now you come and find me like this. It is understandable, of course, but truly, it isn't safe for me. I am sorry, but I must ask you to leave and not make any more foolish attempts to contact me. It will be difficult, I know, but it is for the best."
In that moment, the scales fell from my eyes, and I saw Philip as he really was – not the romantic figure that I had been imagining and whose absence I had been lamenting, but a spoiled, self-absorbed boy who could no more think of others' troubles than he could grow wings and fly. Any remaining tenderness I had been harbouring for him died. I felt terribly disillusioned.
He clearly expected me to make some protest, to attempt to persuade him to allow me to stay. I turned and walked away without a word, leaving him open-mouthed behind me.
I was at my usual spot in the kitchen by the hearth, contemplating this encounter, along with my sadness regarding my parents' death and the financial strain of supporting my sister, when another blow came. Mrs Sneddon found me and told me, as gently as she could, that she had decided to retire from service at Abington. She was quite elderly at this point, and could no longer continue to run the kitchen. She had a son in Devon who would take her in, and with her savings she would be able to live comfortably. I understood, of course, but this news in combination with the other ill tidings I had already received left me quite in despair.
She must have seen it on my face. She moved to comfort me, but I flinched away. I had never been physically demonstrative, but since the events of the preceding months I had come to avoid all but the most necessary physical contact with other persons.
She drew back and nodded, seeming to have come to some kind of decision, though I could not imagine what. I returned to my post and thought no more about it. That evening, as I was reading at the kitchen hearth, she sat beside me. She gave me a small phial and explained to me that it contained sleeping-drops, obtained from the chemist in the village, a particular friend of hers. One or two drops in a glass of liquid would cause a grown man to become drowsy; four or five drops would cause him to lose consciousness immediately. She told me that the druggist would be expecting me if the bottle needed replenishing. Then she wished me a good night and retired for the evening.
My head was spinning with the implications of this gift. I firmly believe that Mrs Sneddon merely intended me to use the drops to make Highstead too sleepy to summon me to his study; she was in the habit of preparing a pot of tea for him in the afternoon, which he drank while he was reviewing the household books in his study. It would be simplicity itself for me to introduce the drops into his tea. Often, I could predict upon which days I would be summoned simply by gauging his mood as he moved through the house during the day; on those days in which he was in a particularly ill temper, I could use the drops.
However, another thought occurred to me – if several drops induced unconsciousness, what might the entire contents of the bottle do? With this thought in mind, I stole into the library that night, where I knew Mr Leighton had a book which listed various chemicals and their effects. I learned, as I had suspected, that an overdose of this particular drug would cause certain death – a death which resembled heart failure suffered while the victim was sleeping. It was not an unpleasant way to die.
Such was my unhappiness at that point that I was not certain whether I would rather use the drug on Highstead or simply take the entire bottle myself. I slept little that night, contemplating my options. Eventually I decided not to take any hasty action, but to keep this information in mind for possible future use. I did determine to use a small amount of the substance in Highstead's tea the following day, as a trial.
It worked precisely as anticipated. I made certain to be in the kitchen when Mrs Sneddon was boiling the water for his tea, and introduced three drops into the small teapot, which held enough hot water for two cups of tea. A housemaid carried the tea tray in to his study, and I returned to my duties. As was her routine, approximately an hour later the maid returned to the study to pick up the tray. I went back to the kitchen to await her return – she usually shared a few moments of gossip with Mrs Sneddon before returning to her duties. She was accustomed to seeing me in the kitchen and gave it no thought.
She told Mrs Sneddon with a giggle that upon retrieving the tea things, she had discovered Highstead fast asleep, with his head upon the desk, snoring loudly. She had crept out with the tray, leaving him undisturbed. They both tutted over this lapse on his part, Mrs Sneddon throwing me a conspiratorial glance.
From that day forward, I monitored Highstead's moods closely. When he appeared to be in a temper, or had found some trifling reason to be displeased with me, I introduced three sleeping drops into his afternoon tea. The servants' gossip network spread the word of his afternoon naps, and it was generally agreed that his advancing age was the cause of these lapses. Of course, no one dared confront him directly about it, or report him to the Leightons, but at least no one seemed to suspect any foul play. Highstead himself said nothing on the subject, perhaps himself believing that age was taking its toll, and not wishing to risk his position as head of the household servants by discussing the matter.
Thus, the incidents of being called to his study decreased sharply. The episodes did not cease altogether – on certain days, I simply could not predict whether I would be summoned, and I did not always dare to use the drops – if he was in an ill humour for several days in a row, for instance, I did not dare to use them every day. Nevertheless, any lessening of these occurrences was welcome.
Approximately one month after giving me the drops, Mrs Sneddon completed her moving arrangements, and retired from service. Her departure was more difficult than I had anticipated; she was the closest thing to a friend that I had within the household. The kitchen had been a sanctuary for me, and with the arrival of the new cook, a phlegmatic and intolerant woman of German extraction, that was lost to me as well, as she had no patience for a houseman taking up space in her demesne. It also became more difficult, though by no means impossible, to introduce the drops into Highstead's tea.
Still, on balance, my circumstances were tolerable, if not enjoyable. I spent many evenings out in the stables reading by the light of a lantern, or talking with Alfred Conway. I performed my duties easily by this time; they were no challenge. I used the sleeping drops as frequently as I dared, and I continued my clandestine night-time visits to the library to borrow books, although now without the protection of Mrs Sneddon to provide a watch for me.
My seventeenth birthday came and went, and life went on in this manner. It was at this point that I made a grievous error in judgment. I knew that Conway enjoyed a glass of Scotch now and again, particularly on cold evenings. I had managed to put by enough of my wages, apart from what I sent to my sister, to purchase a bottle of his favourite brand, Glenlivet. I had procured the bottle a few days earlier, when I went into the village on my day off. In previous times, I would have stored it in the kitchen and Mrs Sneddon would have ensured that it remained undisturbed. However, since Mrs Sneddon was gone, I was forced to leave the bottle in its brown wrapper underneath my bed in the room that I shared with several other serving-boys.
Lower-ranking servants at a manor house have very little privacy. It is not uncommon for one's personal effects to be searched by curious fellow employees. In any event, several of the younger boys discovered the spirits under my bed, stole the bottle, and proceeded to become inebriated and cause a disturbance in front of the Leightons. Mr Leighton had sharp words with Highstead for failing to adequately supervise his staff. When Highstead interrogated the boys, they admitted that they had acquired the alcohol from among my possessions.
I learned these details later; the first I heard of the matter was when Highstead found me in a little-used, out-of-the-way corridor, where I had snuck away from my duties momentarily to read a few pages of Cicero's De republica. I'm afraid that I had become rather absorbed in my reading and I failed to detect his arrival. Before I even knew he was present, he had hauled me upright by my collar and slammed me face-first into the stone wall of the corridor. My face immediately exploded with searing pain, and I heard my nose break with a loud crack. Blood started pouring down and tears sprang to my eyes. My book fell to the ground, unheeded.
Highstead pressed against my back and hissed into my ear, more furious than I had ever heard him. "You've always thought you were too good for service in this house, too good for the rest of us. You even think you're better than I. Always sneaking about with a book – don't think I haven't noticed. I know everything that happens in this house. I was willing to grant you a certain – leeway. But when you cause me to be humiliated in front of the Leightons, cause me to be chastised as if I were a child…" he broke off, breathing heavily. "I think it's time you were taught a lesson. Clearly I have been too lenient with you."
He turned me around and pushed me down, forcing me to my knees. He unfastened his trousers, revealing his state of arousal. Then he grasped my jaw and forced himself down my throat, gagging me. Because my nose was filled with blood, I could not breathe. I began choking. He pulled out after a few moments and I gasped a breath, and then he forced himself back into my mouth, grasping the back of my head to keep me still while he thrust. He repeated this process several times, each time waiting until I felt faint from lack of oxygen before pulling back momentarily. The blood pouring down my face entered my mouth and I could taste the coppery tang of my own blood on his phallus.
Finally he tired of this sport and pulled me back up. He undid my trousers while I stood swaying, disoriented and light-headed. He pushed me face-first against the wall once more. When my nose again made contact with the stone, my vision dimmed and I nearly lost consciousness. Then he violated me, his shaft lubricated with my own blood and saliva. He was not gentle. When he had finished, he stepped back, and I slid to the floor, unable to move. He cleaned himself off with his handkerchief and straightened his clothing.
The intensity of his anger seemed to have vanished. "I'm sorry that this lesson had to go so hard on you, Reginald," he said in a mild tone. "I hope you understand that you brought this upon yourself. I had no desire to punish you in this manner, but you left me with no alternative." He looked at me with faint disgust. "Pull yourself together, Reginald. Clean up and return to your duties. I shall expect to see you at your post within a quarter of an hour." Then he walked away, leaving me on the stone floor of the corridor.
"Jeeves!" I choked out. By this time, I'm not ashamed to admit, the tears were flowing pretty freely.
Jeeves seemed to suddenly remember himself, as if he had been miles away during the retelling. He immediately looked at me with concern, and tenderly wiped the tears from my face with his fingertips. Then he gathered me close to him and I buried my face in his neck, breathing in his unique scent and feeling his solid form against me. It was dashed reassuring, somehow.
"I am sorry, sir," he said softly.
This only caused more tears to well up – I seemed to be turning into quite a watering-pot. "You – you're sorry?" I sniffled incredulously, my words a bit muffled against his neck. I pulled back a bit so I could look into his eyes as I spoke. "You've done nothing to be sorry for. Jeeves, I am sorry, on behalf of all of mankind. I may not understand your 'psychology of the individual' wheeze very well, Jeeves, but even I can tell that this fellow is pure evil. I don't quite know why such things are permitted to happen. I suppose that's more Stinker Pinker's line than mine. I just wish I could do something to make it better."
I snuffled some more, and Jeeves produced a handkerchief from somewhere. I have no idea where he keeps the blasted things – he hadn't a stitch on, but he still managed to conjure one and mop up the fluids dripping down the Wooster dial.
"Believe me, sir, you do." He sounded rather impassioned, in his restrained, Jeevesian way.
"I don't quite see how," I said doubtfully.
"Nevertheless, sir, it is true," he assured me.
"How is it, Jeeves, that you are not more distressed by this? I'm practically causing a flood in our bedroom and you are a veritable rock, yet these are your experiences. I don't understand, Jeeves." My lower lip was still distressingly quivery and my voice was a bit wobbly as well.
"Sir, as you know, I am not given to free displays of emotion. In addition, you are naturally shocked and upset at hearing this tale for the first time. However, sir, I confess that I am not entirely unaffected." He gave me the most stunningly unguarded look I've ever seen from him – it was as if I could see his very soul, laid bare before me in the blue of his eyes.
In that moment, I had a sudden flash of inspiration – it was quite a strange sensation, as I am not accustomed to moments of brilliance. Ask anybody of my acquaintance and they'll confirm that Bertram is not the brainiest cove around. My Aunt Agatha will be glad to give you full particulars with dozens of illustrative anecdotes.
But just now, I suddenly understood that in some odd way, I was expressing both Jeeves's and my own grief, since he couldn't express it himself. Dashed rummy, I know, but there it was. The thought of my brave, strong valet having too much self-control to mourn for his own past made me even sadder, somehow, and I welled up again. I was certainly giving Madeline Bassett healthy competition in the sentimentality department today. I pulled Jeeves to me and kissed him tenderly, putting all my sorrow and love into my actions, since my oratorical skills were bally well not up to this challenge.
Finally, and a bit reluctantly on my part at least, we separated. For some moments we merely held each other. Finally Jeeves spoke.
"Shall I continue, sir?" he asked.
I settled myself into a comfortable position in his arms. "Carry on, Jeeves."
I passed the rest of the day in… almost a trance, I suppose. I must have cleaned myself up and gone about my duties in the usual way, because no one remarked on my behaviour or appearance. Nevertheless, to this day I cannot remember a moment of the events between Highstead's last words to me and the point in time that evening when I found myself in front of Conway's quarters out in the stableyard. When the door swung open, he took one look at me and sighed. He waved me in with a gesture and closed the door behind me.
"What's old Highstead done this time?" he asked.
I started. I had never discussed my difficulties with him, or indeed with anyone.
"Yes, my lad, I hear and see more'n you might think. Highstead's always had a bit of an eye for a handsome young thing. Soon as I saw you, I knew you was his type. I figured that's why you needed the fightin' lessons."
I couldn't find any words to respond to this, so I merely stood silently.
"'S all right, you don't have to say nothin'," he said gruffly. "Lemme have a look at that nose of yours."
I had forgotten about my broken nose; I felt no pain at all. I felt nothing, in fact, except a blessed numbness. That changed as soon as Conway touched my nose with his gnarled fingers. I hissed in pain and reared back.
"Easy, easy," he soothed, as if calming a spooked horse. "I know it hurts. But I've got to get a look at it. If I don' set it, it'll heal crooked. Be a shame to mar that pretty face."
"Leave it," I said with sudden determination. That "pretty face," as Conway put it, had never won me anything except unhappiness. "I don't want you to set it."
He looked at me with understanding. "A'right then, I won' set it. But at least lemme make up a poultice for you and fetch a cold cloth. It's goin' to swell up right fierce."
I let him do that much, and we sat together for a time. He kept up the flow of conversation, relating amusing anecdotes from his past. I'm afraid my thoughts were elsewhere, and I responded very little, but he graciously ignored my inattentiveness.
I had determined that I could no longer suffer Highstead's abuse. I had reached such a point of desperation that I cared little if I lost my position or if my name were ruined. I could not go on as I had been. As Conway continued to speak, my eyes fell on the rack of implements behind him. He had many pieces of equipment for tending to the horses under his care, including several lancets – blades which were used for bloodletting. I knew that Conway took special care to keep them honed to razor sharpness.
I feigned a wince after a few more moments and put my hand to my nose; Conway quickly rose to his feet.
"Let me wet that cloth for you again, lad," he said with concern. He bustled off to do so. While he was gone, I selected one of the lancets – a smaller specimen, with a blade which folded into a carved horn handle. I hid it in my pocket and sat back down, awaiting Conway's return. We talked for a while longer; I did not wish to return to the main house right away, and I believe that Conway understood that. Finally, however, the old man could not stifle a yawn, and I took my leave, thanking him for his kindness.
I returned to my room and bided my time until the rest of the house had gone to bed. Then I lit a candle and crept into Highstead's room – he had his own bedchamber, albeit a small one. I set the candle on his nightstand, took the lancet out of my pocket and unfolded it. Then I held the blade next to his throat. I stood above him for a time, considering my alternatives. I could easily end his life with a flick of my wrist. I will admit that I was sorely tempted to do so. In the end, however, I could not bring myself to cold-blooded murder. I shook him awake with a hand on his shoulder, still holding the blade near his throat with my other hand.
He awoke with a start. "Reginald? What are you doing?" he asked, confused. I lowered the blade until the cold metal touched the skin of his throat. He jerked slightly but quickly stilled.
I looked into his eyes and spoke with two years' worth of pent-up hatred. "You will never touch me again. You will never call me into your study again. You will never so much as look at me improperly again. If you do any of these things, you will not receive another warning. I will creep into your room at night and slit your throat. Do you understand?"
He looked frightened and shaky. He nodded once, and swallowed hard. This caused his Adam's apple to move slightly, and the edge of the blade cleanly parted the skin there. It was only a shallow cut, but immediately a drop of blood welled up. I felt slightly sick. He no longer appeared as the devil of my imaginings, but merely a terrified old man. Still, remembering all that he had inflicted upon me, my resolve returned. I could not relent now.
I looked at him one moment more, letting him see in my eyes that I meant every word of my threat. Then I removed the blade from his throat, picked up my candle, and left. That night, I slept soundly for the first time in many months.
For the next two weeks, I had little contact with Highstead. I was assigned the meanest of the chores, and was given more responsibilities than any two other servants, but I did not complain. It was better than the alternative. I worked myself into exhaustion every day, and slept heavily every night.
Eventually, though, I began to adjust to the workload. My nose slowly healed, although as Conway had predicted, it had set crookedly. I did not mind – in a way, I considered it a badge of honour. None of the servants knew exactly what had transpired, but they knew that I was no longer beholden to Highstead, and they looked at me with grudging respect and a touch of fear. I still had no friends among the house staff, but at least I was no longer an object of contempt. Oderint dum metuant, I told myself – let them hate, as long as they fear.
I had greatly missed my forays into Mr Leighton's library, and, feeling emboldened by my success in intimidating Highstead, and my newfound standing among the other servants, I decided to creep into the library to borrow a book one evening. I was perusing the shelves by the light of a single candle when I heard the door open behind me. I spun around, panicked.
Standing in the room with a candle of his own was a man I had seen arrive at the house. He was valet to a guest staying with the Leightons, a Lord Yardley. I did not know this gentleman's name, however, nor did I know how he would react to my presence in this room. Clearly I had no business being there at that time of night. However – after I had considered the matter for a moment, I realized that neither did he.
"What are you doing in here?" I asked, without pausing to consider how impolitic the question was.
Fortunately, it seemed to amuse rather than offend him. "My employer is having difficulty sleeping, and asked me to find him something dull to read. Are you suffering from insomnia as well, young master…?" his voice trailed off – clearly he was waiting for me to introduce myself.
I blushed at my display of poor manners. "Jeeves," I said. "Reginald Jeeves." I awkwardly offered my hand to him.
He shook it with a gentle chuckle. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, young master Jeeves," he said. "I am Richard Armstrong. I am Lord Yardley's personal gentleman."
"Yes, I know," I said. "I saw you arrive this afternoon."
"Ah, did you now? Well, then you have the advantage of me. You know who I am and my position. What do you do, young master Jeeves?"
"I… I am a houseman, sir."
"I see. And how do you enjoy working here at Abington Chase?"
I frowned a bit. I was unsure of how to answer – I did not wish to dissemble, but at the same time I was reluctant to speak ill of my employers or the other servants. He seemed to sense my hesitation.
"I am sorry, young master Jeeves. I did not intend to pry. May I ask, then, what you are planning to read? And if you have any recommendations for something that will put Lord Yardley to sleep?"
We spoke then for some considerable time about literature. As it turned out, he was quite well-read, and had enjoyed many of the same works that I had. Eventually, though, he brought the discussion to a close.
"Well, young master Jeeves, I must be getting back, or Lord Yardley will wonder what has become of me. I am surprised, I must say, to find out that you are a member of the between staff, when you are obviously an intelligent, educated young man. Have you any higher aspirations?"
I decided to be forthcoming. "Yes, sir. It has always been my ambition to be a gentleman's personal gentleman."
"I am gratified to hear it," he said, looking pleased. "I would imagine that you have all of the qualities required, young master Jeeves, so why is it that you have not yet been assigned a gentleman to serve?"
"I was found… inadequate for that position," I said stiffly.
"Ah," he said softly. "And did you agree with that assessment?" he asked gently.
"No, sir," I said, surprising myself with my own boldness.
"Let me make a confession, young master Jeeves," he said. "I will ask you to keep it in confidence."
"Of course, sir," I said seriously.
"I have never seen eye-to-eye with Walter Highstead," he said. "I consider him to be a pompous ass who wouldn't know potential if it hit him over the head. If he has been the one holding you back, then in my mind that is a point in your favour."
"Thank you, sir," I said quietly. "Confidentially, then, Mr Highstead is indeed the person who has determined that I will not become a valet, but instead stay in my current position."
"I suspected as much," he said. "However, I think you have great promise, young master Jeeves. I believe that you would make an excellent gentleman's personal gentleman. If you are still interested in pursuing that ambition, I believe I can secure a position for you. Lord Yardley's young nephew will be coming to live with us in London and will require a valet. I believe that you would be suited for this position, and if you accepted, you would be my apprentice, as it were. Would such an arrangement interest you?"
I could hardly believe my own ears. If this were true… "Yes, sir," I said eagerly.
"Very well then," he said firmly. "I shall arrange the matter and have a letter outlining the proposition sent to you shortly. And now, I must return to Lord Yardley. It was very nice speaking to you, young master Jeeves."
We shook hands once again and he left, taking with him a book of philosophy for his employer.
I did not have another opportunity to speak with him, but I saw him occasionally in the corridors, and each time he smiled and nodded at me. After a week's stay, Lord Yardley departed from Abington Chase, and Richard Armstrong with him.
I passed each day after that in a fever of impatience, hoping that the post would bring an offer of employment. Several weeks passed, however, with no letter, and I began to despair. I imagined that Mr Armstrong had forgotten about his promise, or had reconsidered. I cursed myself for allowing myself the luxury of hope. It was difficult to continue in my old routine, since I had believed that I would be departing soon, only to find that the days stretched before me, endless and monotonous.
Then one day, my fortunes changed. I received a letter from Lord Yardley formally offering me a position as valet to his nephew. I went to the stables immediately, to show the letter to Conway. I daresay he was nearly as pleased as I was. We shared a drink together to celebrate, and then I went back to the house. I went directly to Highstead's study – the place still held terrible memories for me, but I wanted to put this unpleasant interview behind me. I told him coldly that I had been offered employment elsewhere and I was giving my two weeks' notice. His face twisted with rage as he received this news, but he quickly controlled himself, merely nodding and telling me that my resignation was accepted. I took my leave of him with a sense of profound relief.
The next several days seemed interminable. Highstead piled duties upon me, seeming determined to make my last days under him as unpleasant as possible. I did the work without complaint – he could no longer hurt me.
However, it was at this time that I made an observation. There was a new hall-boy at Abington, Thomas Fleming. He was fourteen years of age, but small for his age, and quiet. I had hardly noticed him previously – I rarely paid any heed to the comings and goings of the other servants. But something about young Thomas arrested my attention, although I could not say what.
Then, the day before I was to leave Abington Chase for my new position, I heard the housemaid tell Thomas that he had been summoned to see Highstead in his study. I saw his flinch, and I knew instantly what was occurring. There was nothing I could do at that moment, but I watched him walk down the corridor leading to that room where I had spent so many hours, and I found myself trembling – with rage, sadness, and remembered fear.
That evening, I pulled Thomas aside. I gave him the sleeping drops that Mrs Sneddon had first given me, and which I had had refilled many times since. I carefully explained to him the uses of the drug, the best method to introduce the drug, and the effects of overdose. I told him that if he used my name with the chemist in the village, he could obtain more of the drops. I did not tell him that I understood what he was experiencing, but he could see it in my eyes, I have no doubt. He nodded solemnly and took the phial.
The next morning, quite early, I said brief farewells to the other house servants. Then I went out to take my leave of Conway. I would miss him – other than Mrs Sneddon, he had been my only friend at Abington. He walked with me to the village, waiting with me for the train which would take me to London to begin my new position. When the train arrived, we said good-bye, shook hands, and I put Abington Chase behind me.
At this point, Jeeves seemed to run out of oomph, like a wind-up toy that has run down. I had almost forgotten that this was his life story, rather than some romantic novel full of evil villains and dashing heroes. I came back to reality with quite a thud.
"But – but that can't be the end of it, Jeeves!" I said.
"Of course it was not the end of my story, sir," he said. "But that is the pertinent portion. You asked how my nose came to be so 'charmingly crooked,' to use your words, and I have told you."
"But what happened to Highstead? And Conway? And Thomas what's-his-name?" I was agog with curiosity. I rather hoped that Highstead had met with an unpleasant end. Otherwise, I might be tempted to arrange one myself.
"Some months after I had begun service in Lord Yardley's household, I received word that only a few days after I had left Abington Chase, Highstead had died peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack, sir."
"Well, I must say I consider that end a dashed sight too easy for him. I rather wish he had suffered more." Then a thought occurred to me. "Wait a minute, Jeeves – you said that a large dose of the sleeping drops that you gave Thomas had that effect!"
"Indeed, sir. No foul play was suspected, and apparently the local doctor gave a certificate of Death by Natural Causes. However, I believe it is quite likely that Thomas administered a massive dose of the sleeping drops. I will never know for certain, sir. I never heard anything more of Thomas."
"What of Conway?" I asked.
"Alfred Conway died several years later, sir," he said. "I never saw him again, but I sent him my regards through Richard Armstrong on several occasions when that gentleman was going with Lord Yardley to Abington Chase."
"And what about the Armstrong fellow? And Mrs Sneddon?"
"I never heard from Mrs Sneddon again, but Richard Armstrong and I are still on quite intimate terms."
"You don't mean that you and he – "
"Oh, no, sir," he said, sounding somewhat scandalised.
"And… what about Philip Leighton?" I asked with some trepidation, if that's the word I want. I mean to say, I wasn't quite sure that I wanted Jeeves thinking about the golden-haired Philip and what he might be up to now.
"I have neither seen nor spoken with Philip Leighton since our conversation in the garden at Abington. The last I heard of him, he was living on the continent, shocking even Parisian high society with his debauchery and profligate ways. He had a serious falling out with his father over his unprincipled behaviour, and Mr Leighton refused to acknowledge his son until the day he died. However, he did not disinherit Philip, and Philip Leighton is now quite wealthy."
"Have you ever been back to Abington Chase?" I was relieved that Jeeves seemed to feel no particular nostalgia for the Leighton chap.
"No, sir. After Mr Leighton's death, Philip Leighton sold the property. I do not know the new owners, or whether they retained any of the staff. In any event, I have no desire to return."
"Yes, I can bally well see why," I said. "What happened to you after you left? I want to hear about your service with Lord Yardley's nephew."
He chuckled softly. "Another time, perhaps, sir. I must confess that I am feeling a bit fatigued. I am gratified, though, that you are not bored by my life story."
"Bored? How could I be bored? No, Jeeves, I am dashed well not bored. I certainly understand that you need a bit of a rest, but another night, perhaps you can continue your tale?" I looked at him hopefully.
"Er – there's nothing quite so grim in the next bit, is there?"
"No, sir, you have heard the most calamitous of my experiences. Compared with my years at Abington, the rest of my life has been quite agreeable."
"I'm glad to hear it, Jeeves."
Then a thought popped into the old bean, and suddenly I felt dreadfully guilty. I'd only, er, taken Jeeves on one occasion, if you see what I'm getting at, and now I thought I understood why. "I say, Jeeves – you don't ever have to… well… you know… do that again if you don't want to. I mean to say, I enjoyed it, of course, but I'm perfectly happy just to do it… ah… the other way round, if you know what I mean." I was awfully red at this point, and I wasn't being terribly coherent, but Jeeves appeared to understand me.
He looked at me fondly. "It is a generous offer, sir. I will confess that it was somewhat… difficult for me to initiate such relations. Nevertheless, I do trust you, sir, and it was not unpleasant, as I feared it would be. I believe that, in time, I may even come to enjoy that particular form of intimacy."
"Well… perhaps just on my birthdays and major holidays?" I suggested tentatively.
"I believe that could be arranged, sir," he said with faint amusement.
"Jolly good," I said happily.
I settled down into his arms and was silent for a time, idly stroking his chest. I was reflecting on all I had just heard, and I suppose Jeeves was doing the same. Not that he had just heard it, you understand.
"Deuced odd how things turn out, isn't it, Jeeves?"
"We've both gone through some pretty rotten things, I mean to say. Not that anything I've experienced compares to what you have, but we've both seen hard times, what?"
"Very true, sir."
"But – well, now we've got each other, and somehow that makes it all seem worth it. Well, for me it is, anyway. I mean – well, what I'm trying to say, Jeeves, is that having you is worth any amount of rotten luck in the past. Of course, I quite understand that you may not feel the same – I'm quite certain that Wooster, B. is not a prize worth suffering what you have."
"On the contrary, sir," he said. "It is true that I have endured certain trials. However, each experience has led me to where I am now, and I would not change that, no matter what the inducement."
I looked at him; he looked at me. I smiled soppily and he gave me a quirk of his expressive mouth in return.
"Kiss me, Jeeves," I ordered.
"With pleasure, sir."
He did so – and the pleasure was entirely mutual.
Cheer yourself up with a bad!fic or a fluffy little PWP?