Fic: Green Ice: Part III
Title: Green Ice
Fandom: Jeeves and Wooster x Lord Peter Wimsey
Rating: G or PG, I guess
What with one thing and another and an encounter with a village idler in the pub willing to give me a game of darts, it was late afternoon before I turned my steps towards Brinkley Court once more. I was within sight of that stately pile when a commanding voice spoke from the yew alley.
Conversations with the female of the species that begin with that address in that tone of voice seldom bode well. I might have legged it for the hall and the safety of the smoking room, but the code of the Woosters forbade such pusillanimity. Accordingly I stopped and waited for Lady Attenbury to approach.
"Lady Attenbury, what ho!" I said, just to show I could be polite. "Remarkably fine day, isn't it? Though word amongst the populace is that the crops could use a spot of rain." My dart-playing companion at the pub had spoken eloquently of the plight of the mangelwurzel or some such beast. "The crops require it, I'm reliably told."
Lady Attenbury gave me a look remarkably similar to Aunt Dahlia immediately before she's going to tell me to stop drivelling. "The weather interests me very little, Mr. Wooster. I wish to speak to you on a somewhat delicate matter."
"Speak away, old bean!" I assured her. "Discretion is my middle name, or it would be if the parish records didn't insist on Wilberforce."
Lady Attenbury gave me a hard look. "What are your intentions regarding Miss Chandler, if I might ask?"
"Myrtle?" I began to see where the problem was. "We're just friends, great pals," I explained. "You can tell Squid to push along if he's so inclined. No problem here. He has my blessings and I'll even chip in a fish slice on the day."
Her attitude failed to thaw. "I doubt you realize the gravity of this matter, Mr. Wooster," she said. She hesitated long enough for me to wonder if she was finished and I could push on to the house, the hooves being rather sore from all this walking. "Sidney--Sidney returned from France in a nervous state," she said, dashing my hopes. "He's never been the same since then."
I nodded to show I understood, though I didn't. Not being the proctor-kicking, explosive-tempered thug I remembered from Oxford struck me as a good thing. If all it took was a loss at the casino it was worth every shekel.
Lady Attenbury dropped her voice. "Since he met Myrtle--Miss Chandler--he's come more alive than he has in years. I won't let you or anyone else interfere with that!"
I could see where Squid got his temper. "Myrtle is a lovely girl--" I started to say, wondering if it would be proper to explain that Jeeves has made me swear off proposing to girls.
"Stay away from her!" she interrupted with majestic finality.
Delicacy prohibits me from explaining why I had left my room at three o'clock in the morning to walk the darkened corridor in my dressing gown, but the gleaming beacon of my goal, the lighted doorway of the bathroom, should provide my more astute readers all the clues they require to form their own explanation.
The corridor, as I believe I have already mentioned, was dark. When I stumbled over some object in the dark my first thought was of Augustus, known for his disconcerting habit of sleeping on the hall carpet, but a somewhat indelicate oath provided evidence to the contrary. The more-than-feline apparition jumped and I clutched at it to maintain my balance. The two of us thus entangled waltzed sideways into one of those tables laden with flowers and whatnots that the chatelaines of large houses like to place in hallways to trip unwary guests. In accordance with the laws of physics, this table fell over with a crash. With a second crash and the distinct sound of breaking crockery I fell on top of the remains of the table. An instant later my unseen companion fell over me, completing the ensemble.
I don't know if you have ever experienced the embarrassment of waking the household at an advanced hour of the night by destroying your hosts' furniture, but I assure you that the mortification is not lessened by the discovery once the lights have gone up that you are apparently embracing an attractive female guest amongst the wreckage. The presence of giggling housemaids did nothing to improve the situation.
Aunt Dahlia, of course, was the first to give tongue. "Bertie! Miss Chandler! What on earth is going on here?" she thundered in a volume calculated to rouse those members of the household not already woken.
With some difficulty I managed to extricate myself from the embrace of both Myrtle and the former furniture. "I was--er--" The aforementioned delicacy of my errand presented itself. "I was, er, just going down the hall," I said rather lamely, hoping she would get the message. "I bumped into Myrtle in the dark."
Someone snickered, though I could not see who.
"And the two of you decided to destroy the house while you were up." Aunt Dahlia stuck to the main point, at least from a proud householder's point of view. She shook her head, as if it were only what one should expect from a nephew. "I would ask myself why I invited you, young Bertie, if I actually had invited you."
I decided to maintain a dignified silence at that.
Myrtle seemed as rattled as I, but she recovered in the best Yankee tradition. "I was going to the bath and dropped, er--"
With a click, the door we were lying before opened and we found ourselves looking up into the decidedly peeved eyes of Lord Attenbury. "What the blue blazes is going on here?" he demanded. He must have heard Aunt Dahlia--the P. and Q. train their daughters well--so I thought it rather rum for him to steal her question, but Aunt Dahlia didn't hold it against him.
"I'm sorry you were woken, Roland," she said. "My nephew and Miss Chandler appear to have collided in the dark." She gave me a look that I would not have borne if she hadn't been a member of the delicate sex tied to me with bonds of blood. "I'll make a point of keeping the hallway more well-lit while Bertie's here."
"I say!" I protested, only to earn a quelling stare. I rose with what dignity I could and offered Myrtle a courteous hand. The redoubtable Squid, who had appeared sometime in the middle of this contretemps, pushed me aside and helped her to her feet. I received an entirely unmerited glare from him. Attenbury was giving me an pretty fruity eyeball as well, completing the unsympathetic trio.
Attenbury bent and plucked something from the wreckage; suddenly the wattage of his stare upped to glare, the camaraderie of that morning quite gone. "I believe I will return to sleep. If the night's disturbances are quite over?" His latest glare was shared between me, Myrtle, and Aunt Dahlia. Squid, in whose arms Myrtle still resided, favoured his father with a return glare.
Flim appeared in my room the next morning shortly after Jeeves arrived with the eggs and b.
"I say, old man, what was all that ruckus about last night?" he asked.
Most of my attention was focused on breaking the top off a boiled egg, not the easiest of tasks first thing in the morning. "Myrtle and I ran into each other in the dark, I'm afraid. Dreadfully embarrassing, of course." Though in the years I've known Jeeves I've encountered worse. I glanced over at my gentleman par excellence and he raised one brow a fraction of an inch in question.
"In front of Attenbury's door?" Flim asked.
I only winced, remembering Attenbury's scowl. I have been subjected to stronger glares--le Bassett springs to mind--but even the disapprobation of lesser fiends was unpleasant.
"What was Miss Chandler doing there, do you know?" Flim asked without requiring more of an answer from me. "She said she was going to the bath, but her room is closer to it than Attenbury's."
Jeeves coughed. "Lord Thetford's room is on the other side of Lord Attenbury's," he suggested without being so coarse as to actually suggest anything.
Flim gave a short noise that could be rendered as 'Hah,' looking faintly disgruntled. "The introduction of the sex motive complicates everything." He started pacing and I finished my egg. "Attenbury found a set of lock picks last night. He thinks they're yours, that you were trying to break into his room."
Jeeves cut in smoothly over my sputtered protests. "Mr. Wooster is aware that only the false necklace remains in his lordship's room, my lord. He would have no reason to break in to seek it." He gave another cough. "I fear that I was privy to your lordships' conversation the evening before last. From behind the sofa," he added, very feudally taking the blame for eavesdropping.
The uneasy look Flim had been giving me since Jeeves started his speech faded. "I see."
"I do not believe Miss Chandler would be so informed," Jeeves offered without inflection.
Flim gave him a measured look. "Indeed." He stared at the wall for a long minute and then shook his head abruptly. "Bunter developed the plates of Walters's fingerprints, by the way," he said in a bright, not terribly convincing tone. "He said they came out quite clearly. Inspector Parker sent them on to Scotland Yard."
I had no idea what he was talking about, but with brainy chaps like Flim that's not a rare occurrence. "Right ho." The mention of Walters reminded me, however, so I turned to Jeeves. "I saw Walters at the pub yesterday and he seemed familiar. Any idea where I might have met him?"
Jeeves looked thoughtful for a moment. "I am not aware of any such occasion, sir. Perhaps he was employed by one of your New York city acquaintances before entering Lord Attenbury's employment?"
I shrugged: it was possible. If he'd opened the door and taken my hat and coat once or twice it would account for the vague sense of recognition, though recent revelations suggested I was lucky to get both items back at the end of the evening with pockets unrifled.
"I'll have Bunter find out who else Walters worked for," Flim offered.
Flim was awfully trusting of his man. "Are you sure you can trust this Bunter?" I asked Flim. "From what I heard yesterday--Jeeves! Is it an asp or a viper one clasps to one's bosom?"
"Herpetologists advise against either, sir."
"No, I mean when one chap trusts another chap who's not as trustworthy as the first chap thinks."
"I believe the phrase you want is to clasp a snake to one's bosom," Jeeves said, clearing up that little mystery. "However--"
Flim had been listening to this exchange with slowly mounting ire. "What the deuce do you mean, do I trust Bunter! I trust Bunter like--"
Jeeves, ever the diplomat, interrupted. "I fancy that Mr. Wooster overheard my colleague's conversation with the departed Walters?" I nodded and Jeeves turned to Flim. "Bunter recounted to me his attempt to draw Walters out, in the course of which he uttered many…impertinences regarding your lordship."
Light dawned, relieving my concerns considerably. "Oh, I see!" I could only admire his cunning. "It was an act, then?"
Jeeves gave a stern and not altogether happy look. "Bunter informs me that by acting no better than themselves he can often elicit confessions from less savoury sorts as they boast of their misdeeds." Clearly he was not altogether in favour of this tactic.
Flim laughed. "That sounds like Sergeant Bunter, all right!" He turned to me. "You remember that quartermaster--" He broke off. "Well, I should go talk to, talk to Bunter and ask about Walters's former employers, perhaps drop a word in Inspector Parker's ear about Miss Chandler."
I waved the tea-cup at him. "Toodle-pip, then."
Jeeves flitted about the room laying out my clothes whilst I finished breaking my fast. "What sort of day is it, Jeeves?" I asked after chasing the last toast soldier down with a final sip of tea.
"Remarkably fine, sir," Jeeves said, taking the tray away and standing by to assist with whatever tie-knotting or collar-adjusting was necessary. "I fear you will find that most of the household has decamped, however. Mr. and Mrs. Travers and Lord and Lady Attenbury have gone to visit the Kimberleys," he said, naming a local family. Lord Thetford may have accompanied them--there was some doubt as to whether he was, er, well enough to attend." He whisked away my pyjamas as soon as I had cast them aside. "Most of the staff has been given the afternoon off, so only a cold collation will be available for dinner."
I was soon adorned in the morning crust of a gentleman. "Even Anatole's cold collations are a feast for the taste buds, nectar and--" I waved a hand, groping for the word.
"Ambrosia?" Jeeves offered.
Brinkley Court was curiously peaceful with most the inmates gone. Anatole served a lunch up to his usual standards before taking his afternoon off, but we were a small and quiet party to lunch. Flim disappeared immediately after to continue a discussion with Inspector Parker, Squid never turned up at all, and Myrtle seemed distant and distracted.
After playing two or three solitary rounds of billiards it seemed to me that the folding of the hands in sleep had a certain attraction on a warm afternoon following an interrupted night. Suiting actions to thought, I returned stick to rack and made to return to my room, which was how I cam to be struck by a thunderbolt.
When Constable Dobbs of King's Deverill was struck by a thunderbolt he took it to be a bolt from heaven, punishment for his mockery of the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale, but I had no reason to believe I was courting any form of divine wrath. I was walking down the hallway near my room, not thinking of whales at all, when I saw Attenbury's door open.
My first thought was that Attenbury had returned early from the Kimberleys, my second that the figure emerging looked strangely like Myrtle's father, whom I had met once or twice in New York. My third thought, the realization that it was Walters sans moustache, was cut short by the descending thunderbolt.
The final part of this will be posted quite soon. I have everything done except the last half of the last scene, so a very little wrap-up will finish this story. I hope you all will bear with me for a few days. The complete story, once beta'd, will be posted to the Yuletide archive, so if you want to wait you can.
ETA: Green Ice is finished.