Jeeves Takes Charge
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"Jeeves Takes Charge" is a short story written by P. G. Wodehouse. It was first published in the United States in The Saturday Evening Post on 18 November 1916, and in the United Kingdom in the April 1923 edition of Strand Magazine. Its first book publication was in Carry on, Jeeves in 1925. In 1995 Recorded Books recorded the book onto cassette tape narrated by Alexander Spencer.
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Arrival of Jeeves
Bertie Wooster narrates, recalling Jeeves's first days as his valet. Bertie had been staying at Easeby, his Uncle Willoughby's estate in Shropshire, with his valet Meadowes, and had been forced to return to London in search of a new valet after having observed Meadowes stealing his silk socks. At the time, he was engaged to Lady Florence Craye, who upon his departure from Easeby had given him a thick and complicatedly intellectual book entitled Types of Ethical Theory, expecting him to read it in the week before his return.
In his London flat, Bertie picks up the volume and begins to read it, feeling achy and suffering from "morning head", but is interrupted by the arrival of Jeeves, a new valet sent by the local agency. Bertie is immediately impressed by Jeeves's manner of walking: he "floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr", a sharp contrast to Meadowes's flat-footed clumping.
Jeeves, observing Bertie's painful state of mind, goes directly to the kitchen and returns with a drink on a tray, suggesting that Bertie drink it. It consists, he explains, of Worcester sauce for colour, raw egg for nutrition, and red pepper for bite, among other ingredients. Bertie willingly swallows the contents of the glass, and feels a change immediately. He felt as if everything in the world is just fine.
- "You're engaged!" I said, as soon as I could say anything.
Jeeves notices a likeness of Lady Florence on Bertie's mantelpiece and comments on the eccentricity of her father, Lord Worplesdon, whose employ he left when his lordship insisted on dining in dress trousers, a flannel shirt, and a shooting coat. Bertie reveals to Jeeves that he is engaged to Florence; though Jeeves replies courteously, Bertie detects "a certain rummy something about his manner", and assumes that it must be due to Lady Florence's being somewhat imperious with the domestic staff.
Jeeves enters with a telegram from Florence, instructing that Bertie must return immediately, since a matter of extreme urgency has arisen. As Jeeves is packing, he expresses disapproval of Bertie's "rather sprightly young check" suit, suggesting a simpler brown or white twill instead; Bertie informs him that this is "absolute rot" and "perfectly blithering", to which Jeeves nevertheless replies courteously.
Return to Easeby
That afternoon, Bertie and Jeeves return by train to Easeby. Bertie cannot imagine what crisis might have caused Florence to insist on his immediate presence. He recalls that Uncle Willoughby is finishing a history of the Wooster family, and that despite his present appearance of seemliness and propriety, he was "a bit of a bounder" in his youth.
Upon arriving at Easeby, Oakshott, Willoughby's butler, shows Bertie directly into Lady Florence's room, where she explains the dire situation in which she has found herself. She recalls how, before his departure, Bertie, who was at this point dependent on Willoughby for financial support, had suggested that Florence do her best to ingratiate herself to him, in preparation for the announcement of their engagement. She had done so by offering to let him read his nearly-complete history of the family to her.
He read the manuscript to her gladly, but Florence was alarmed to discover that it was not, in fact, a history of the family; rather, it was his reminisces, to be titled Recollections of a Long Life. Worse yet, it consisted largely of scandalous stories, especially about people who had grown to become "the essence of propriety", one of whom was her father, now Lord Worplesdon; indeed, the book began with a tale of how Willoughby and Worplesdon were thrown out of a dance hall in 1887. Even Lord Emsworth—"Not the one we know? Not the one at Blandings?"—was the subject of such a story.
Florence is outraged at her father's behaviour as a young man, and fears lest such disgraceful information become public. The manuscript is to be mailed the next day to Riggs and Ballinger, publishers who specialise in such reminisces, and she wants Bertie to intercept and destroy it, since she will be away for the next several days. He expresses reluctance; they argue, and he raises numerous objections; but at last Florence accuses him of preferring his uncle's money to her love, and vows never to marry him if the manuscript is published. He acquiesces and leaves the room, immediately encountering Jeeves, who informs him that someone has been putting black polish on a pair of his brown shoes, and that they are ruined.
Theft of the parcel
The following day after breakfast, Bertie waits around the house until Uncle Willoughby emerges from his library and deposits the parcel with the manuscript on a table to be taken with the mail. Bertie snatches it immediately and absconds to his upstairs bedroom, whereupon entering he "nearly stub[s] [his] toe on young blighter Edwin, the Boy Scout." Edwin Craye, Florence's younger brother, explains that he was tidying Bertie's room as last Saturday's act of kindness, since he is five days behind, and had been six until he polished Bertie's shoes. Bertie tries to convince him to leave, which he will not do until presented with another act of kindness to do in place of cleaning the room; Bertie hands him a box of cigars, and instructs him to go to the smoking room and cut the ends off. Pondering what to do with the manuscript, Bertie eventually decides on locking it in the bottom drawer of a bureau in his room.
On Saturday morning, Willoughby accosts Bertie to inform him that, upon telephoning Messrs. Riggs and Ballinger, he was informed that they had not yet received the parcel. Oakshott has asserted that there was no such parcel among the mail on the day Willoughby intended to send it; consequently, Willoughby believes it has been stolen, possibly by a kleptomaniac. Bertie informs his uncle that he has already discovered and sacked his valet Meadowes for stealing various small items. They part, Willoughby baffled and Bertie pretending to be.
Later, Bertie goes for a stroll in the garden, and, while passing under the open library window, hears Edwin accusing Bertie of having stolen the parcel, since he saw him with it while in his room earlier. Willoughby does not believe it; nevertheless, Edwin convinces him to search Bertie's room, suggesting that he affect to be looking for something left by Mr. Berkeley, the room's previous occupant.
Bertie dashes to his room to relocate the parcel, but is unable to find the key to the drawer in which it is locked, and is busy looking for it when Willoughby enters and awkwardly announces his intent to search the room for Berkeley's cigarette case. When he reaches the locked drawer, Jeeves enters the room and offers him the key, which he had found in Bertie's clothes from the previous evening. Bertie "could have massacred the man" until, to his surprise, Willoughby opens the drawer and discovers that it is empty. He departs, apologising for the intrusion.
Bertie then queries Jeeves, who assures him that the parcel is stowed safely elsewhere. Bertie thanks Jeeves heartily for saving him much embarrassment.
Florence returns to Easeby on Monday morning and goes directly to interrogate Bertie about the parcel; however, they are interrupted by Willoughby, who announces joyfully that Messrs. Riggs and Ballinger have received the parcel, and returns to his library. Florence is furious and will hear no explanation. She breaks off their engagement immediately, accuses Bertie of having caved to the allure of his uncle's money, and informs him that his Aunt Agatha was right all along about his spinelessness. She storms away, leaving Bertie to search for Jeeves.
Bertie confronts Jeeves who admits to having mailed the parcel. He thinks that Florence overestimated people's offence at being mentioned in the book, mentioning a similar experience which his aunt had; Bertie cuts him off and tells him that he is sacked. Jeeves, no longer in Bertie's employ, then gives the true reason why he mailed the parcel: he did not believe Florence and Bertie were suitable for each other, she being of a highly arbitrary temperament, and inclined to make him read Nietzsche. Bertie will not hear it, orders him out, and goes to bed.
The next morning he awakens considerably less heartbroken and, upon opening to a particularly difficult passage in Types of Ethical Theory and reflecting that Nietzsche is much worse than that, re-hires Jeeves. He then asks him again about the check suit, which Jeeves maintains is "a trifle too bizarre". Bertie hesitates, undergoing an internal struggle:
- I had a feeling that I was passing into this chappie's clutches, and that if I gave in now, I should become ... 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 do the thinking for me. I made up my mind.
He orders Jeeves to give the suit away. Jeeves, looking down at him "like a father gazing tenderly at the wayward child", informs him that he gave it to the under-gardener the previous night.
- Russian Wodehouse Society: Information about Carry on, Jeeves and the stories which it contains.