Well, I wouldn’t say that photograph requires explanation, chappie. I confess I rather like having people scratch their heads and wonder just what it’s all about. Yes, it’s a footprint. A sandal print, more precisely. Yes, taken right out in front of the manor house.
No, it’s not a camera trick. If you go up to the estate now you’re not going to see it, but Aunt Aggie had the caretakers come in and re-sod, of course. Look, you’ve surely read about them, seen the occasional blip on the telly? About size-shifters?
Why, yes, that’s exactly what I mean. They’re quite real, although I’m told there’s only a hundred or so across the whole of the globe, so of course most of us never meet one. But, yes, I have, and so—
I don’t think I’m starting this the right way. Hold on. Let’s go back. Most of my best stories end with a hangover, but charmingly enough that’s where this one begins. It begins when I met Jeeves.
I might have been out with Gussie the night before—most of my worst mornings come about after evenings that involve that rabbit—but it doesn’t matter. It felt like my head had barely hit the pillow when my alarm clock went back off.
I knocked the damnable thing off the nightstand, and it stopped, then started again. Then I realized that it wasn’t the clock at all; it was the doorbell.
Throwing on clothes wasn’t too difficult even in my febrile state, as I hadn’t finished undressing before I’d fallen over. I managed to get my shirt back on and staggered off to the door, throwing it open and planning to give whoever was behind it a piece of my mind.
So, picture this: for a mouse, you see I’m not that short, a few inches past five feet. But standing there was this huge, immaculately dressed tiger. Tigress, I should say. White blouse tied at the neck in a sort of frilly ribbon affair, black pinstripe slacks, a black lapel jacket with tails, dressy sandals. Charming pageboy haircut. Not overly feminine, but not mannish, either. I know you’ve seen her, but she was rather a shock to the system right then. I suspect I was staring somewhat stupidly, and directly into her eyes. They’re two different colors, you’ve noticed? One green, one amber.
“Good morning, sir,” she said, in that clipped contralto of hers. “The agency sent me. They said you were in need of a valet.”
Now, that just confused me even more. I know I’m from a well-to-do family, but money isn’t what it once was and times aren’t what they once were, and this all seemed a bit of a throwback. I hadn’t had a valet for years, and furthermore I was quite sure that valets were all supposed to be gentlemen, not ladies.
After I failed to muster any response, she simply stepped inside and shut the door behind her. “Thank you, sir.” She headed straight into my bedroom, which gave me enough alarm to collect my thoughts and dash after her.
Well, dash may be overstating it. It took me at least a minute to make it there, and by the time I got there she was heading back out. “Late night, sir?”
I mumbled some kind of assent.
“Just a moment, sir.” She went past me into the kitchen.
I steadied myself against the bedroom door, and realized that somehow in that short time she’d made my bed and straightened the room up. Completely. It’d been transformed from unkempt bachelor flat to four-star hotel in the time it’d take a good bartender to make a martini.
By the time I made it to the kitchen, she handed me a glass of…of something. I know there was a whole egg in there, and some other kinds of sauces. Maybe a dash of brandy. It was a bit nose-wrinkling, let me tell you.
“Drink this, if you will, sir,” she said. “All at once.”
I was dubious, but my head had been spinning most of the time this curious woman had walked in, and I felt like I had nothing in particular to lose. So I downed it and started coughing spastically. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot coal.
Then the room stilled and the fog in my head began miraculously lifting.
She took the empty glass away and said, “Call me Jeeves, sir.”
I queried her as to what agency had sent her, and why, and never quite got a straight answer. To this day I’m not quite sure whether Jeeves is her first name or her last name—I know her other name is Dahlia, so I suppose it’s “Dahlia Jeeves,” but for all I know it might be “Jeeves Dahlia.” Between you and me, I’m quite sure she enjoys the ambiguity.
She told me that a valet does housekeeping, arranges travel, does household accounting, the whole shebang. “So what is it, then? You come over in the morning and leave in the evening?”
“If you’d like, sir.”
“I mean, this is a flat. I don’t exactly have servants’ quarters.”
“I observed that, sir.”
“Very small. Well, it’s big for a single bedroom place. I suppose you’re used to being on an estate.”
“It depends on the employer, sir. If I’m not mistaken there is a Tilsdale estate you’re associated with?”
“In the family, yes. I suppose if you traveled with me there you’d have quarters, of course. Ah, would you expect to travel with me?”
“That’s up to you, sir.”
“But it’s what valets customarily do.”
“It is, sir.” As we’d been talking, a plan had been slowly taking root in my mind. You know that my family has a few businesses, all under Tilsdale Holdings. Yes, yes, “Tilsdale Tips” Tea, exactly. The thing is, even though the businesses seemed to be doing well, they were all losing money. Aunt Agatha had hired a few business associates the year before to help, but in my opinion they were just making matters worse. Aunt Aggie had little interest in hearing me out, but perhaps a fresh pair of eyes was just the thing. So I asked her, “You said that you know household accounting?”
“Do you know business accounting as well?”
“I’m well-versed in generally accepted accounting principles, sir.”
“Hmm. Hmm. I think we—you and I—should pay a visit to the old estate and see if we can’t go over the books of the family concerns. I’ve been over them myself, of course, but I can’t help but think the businesses should be doing better than they are. Aunt Aggie’s been pressured into renting out parts of the estate, you know, just to make ends meet.”
“Not even rent, I should say, because they’re all business associates of hers she’s brought on to turn things around, so it’s part of their compensation. In any case, it’s a veritable hotel there these days, I tell you.”
She furrowed her brows. “That’s a curious affair, sir. Should I make arrangements for us to leave this weekend, then?”
“Yes. Yes, that would be splendid.”
On the appointed day, Jeeves woke me up—as had already become usual—with a cup of tea. Unlike other days, though, she’d laid out traveling clothes for me. I suppose this is something else valets do, but I’d already thought of my own the night before, and I pointed out a purple blazer that I’d picked up in Monaco and was quite fond of.
Jeeves, though, gave it quite the frown as she took it out of the closet. “I’d assumed this was some sort of Halloween costume, sir.”
“Jeeves,” I protested, “bright colors are in fashion these days.”
“The brown jacket I selected is more fitting for a gentleman, sir.”
I put my hands on my hips. “Now, let’s not forget who’s in charge here. The purple blazer. It may be unconventional, but I like being daring. And I insist.”
“Very good, sir.” She didn’t keep the disapproval out of her voice, but she handed him the blazer.
We had a curious exchange on the way to the taxi, also. She was carrying both her bag and mine, and even though she’s my valet, she’s a woman, and this tweaked my chivalrous side. “Do you need any help?”
“Not at all, sir.”
As we got into the cab, I joked, “You do rather look like you could carry me with the bags.”
“I might have to be larger, sir.”
“You’re quite large as you are.”
“Only relatively. Have you ever met a size-shifter, sir?”
“Never even seen one. Have you?”
She nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“You’re full of surprises, Jeeves. I’ve heard most of them have an ill temper, and one’s best off not being any closer than reading the occasional tabloid story.”
“Great power turns some into tyrants, I fear. But not all are like that, sir.”
“I suppose not, but better safe than sorry, eh what?”
She smiled. “That’s not very daring of you, sir.”
“This isn’t the same as a jacket color, Jeeves.”
“No, sir,” she said.
From her tone it was clear she’d much rather meet an angry giant than see someone wearing a purple blazer, which gave rise to a suspicion in me. “You brought the brown jacket along, didn’t you?”
“Merely in case you change your mind, sir.”
“I’m not going to.”
“Of course, sir.”
“I mean it.”
“Of course, sir.”
We got to the estate and Aunt Aggie was there to meet us. I don’t know if you’ve met her; she’s just an inch shorter than I am, but she’s got at least a foot on me in diameter. And for a woman of sixty she can move quite quickly. I suspect it involves inertial mass. “I hadn’t expected you back so soon!” she said, cordially but in a way which let me know she was less than pleased.. “It’s only been two months since your last visit.”
“Quite so, Aunt Aggie, but I’d wanted to introduce my valet to you, whom I suspect you’re somehow responsible for, and perhaps to get her opinion on…” That’s when I realized Aggie was staring at Jeeves with a slightly open mouth.
“Good afternoon, madam,” Jeeves said politely.
“Good afternoon.” She turned back to me. “Your valet is a woman?”
“She’s who came over from the agency. Aunt Aggie, meet Jeeves. Jeeves, Agatha Tilsdale.”
Jeeves gave a slight bow.
“I apologize for my reaction, but I’d thought valets and butlers were always men,” Agatha said.
“Conventionally so, madam. I suppose I’m not a very conventional woman.”
“Well, come in, come in.” Then, rather deflatingly, she continued, “That’s a very nice jacket, Gordon. I surmise Jeeves laid it out for you, or you’d have come in something dreadful like that purple thing.”
“Always the best for you, Aunt Aggie,” I gritted. Yes, I’d relented and allowed Jeeves to prevail, although I’d already suspected that was a mistake. This all just confirmed that.
“Purple!” She threw her hands up in the air as she led them inside. “Can you imagine, Jeeves?”
“Undoubtedly not, madam,” Jeeves said.
At dinner that evening, things were crowded and a little testy. The two business partners ate with us. I’d only met them in passing, two foxes named Edgars and Edgars. They prattled on at length about reorganizing the garden supply business and the tea business, and spun tales of complex recovery plans and funding allocations and I admit my eyes glazed over a few times, even though I was trying to find a way to wedge my proposal into the talk. Jeeves ate with the estate servants, and I imagined she was having a far less soul-deadening conversation.
Finally, I butted in, “While we’re here, Aunt Aggie, I thought I’d take a look at the company books again.”
“What would you want to take a look at the books for?” Edgars—or Edgars—said. I never could tell them apart.
“You’re not an officer of the company,” Edgars added.
“Not even an employee.”
They were beginning to sound positively puffed up, so I stood firm. “In fact, I believe I am an officer of the company, as I’m a Tilsdale.”
“You have no head for numbers, Gordon,” Aggie sighed. “Must we do this charade again?”
“That’s not true at all. There are just some bits that don’t make sense to me—”
“That’s because you have no head for numbers,” Edgars said.
“We can help you, though,” Edgars added condescendingly.
“Thank you,” I said, drawing myself up, “but I’ll ask Jeeves.”
The Edgars tensed up again, until Agatha let slip that Jeeves was my valet. That set them completely at ease—who’d think a household servant could see through their nefarious plans?
Of course, anyone who knew Jeeves would understand she could, and she did. I admit I was flummoxed by it all as she, Aunt Aggie and I sat around the accounting ledgers that evening, with Jeeves having spent a good hour making precise notations in her own notebook.
“So you’re sure their books aren’t honest?” I asked her after she’d finished explaining what she’d found.
“That they’re stealing from all our companies?”
“And that the funds they keep asking Aunt Aggie for to run their recovery plan is just funding them and their associates here?”
“They’re paying a dozen men to live here and do nothing, effectively.”
“Stop asking the same question, you besotted bobblehead,” Agatha snapped before Jeeves answered.
“I never liked those Edgars,” I said to her. “I told you that some time ago, Aunt Aggie, I did.”
“You’re an idiot, Gordon. How could I have known you were right?” She held her head in her hands.
“You’ll have to fire them at once.”
Then, something extraordinary happened. I almost never see Aggie in any state other than happy or exasperated. Mostly exasperated, around me, I confess. But at that, she burst into tears.
I patted her shoulder. “Aunt Aggie, I’m sure we can right things without them. They’re clearly no good—no, worse than no good.”
“But I can’t fire them, Gordon.”
“Of course you can.”
“No, I can’t. You don’t understand. They’re majority holders of Tilsdale Holdings now!”
That brought me up completely short. I couldn’t have been more taken aback if she’d grown a third eye. “You sold to them?”
“No. Yes. But no. It’s—” She raised her hands over her head. “It’s an agreement with them. You know I’ve been working with them for some time.”
“As part of their agreement, they were to meet milestones in the company turnaround, and each milestone met granted them more company holdings. As of last week, together they and their associates have a combined fifty-five percent share. Why, they might be able to fire us now.”
Jeeves cleared her throat. “If I may make an observation, madam.”
Agatha looked at her dolefully.
“As I’ve shown, if we use the correct account reconciliations rather than the ones they’ve been describing to you, those milestones were quite clearly not met. Your funds have been funding them, not your holdings. Therefore, they’ve obtained the ownership shares fraudulently.”
“Do you think I should confront them with that?”
“I do, madam. Threaten to go to the authorities if they do not relent.”
Agatha took a deep breath, drawing herself up, and nodded. “I shall.”
I couldn’t help but beam. “Excellent work, Jeeves.”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, packing up her notebook. “I’ll be retiring for the evening, unless you need anything else?”
“No, I’m quite fine.”
“Very good, sir. Ring if you need me.” She left the room.
“Smart and beautiful,” Aunt Aggie said, looking after her.
Well, that was so out of the blue I stared at her. “Beautiful?”
“You’re such a nitwit, Gordon. If she wasn’t below your station I’d slap you until you consented to propose to her immediately.”
Well, there was no good response to that, was there? I harrumphed and left her alone.
While I’d gone to bed that night thinking things had gone from dire to resolved, the next morning I discovered they’d gone from dire to far worse. Jeeves came to me earlier than usual, and with no tea. She looked worried. While I hadn’t known Jeeves for that long then, seeing her worried was jsut as unexpected as seeing Aunt Aggie crying.
“What’s happening, Jeeves?”
“It’s your aunt, sir. She confronted Mr. Edgars and Mr. Edgars.”
“And it didn’t go well?”
“That’s quite an understatement, I fear. The other boarders throughout the estate are numerous and the Edgars have as much said that they’ll use them as an effective army to hold the place. They’ve locked Miss Tilsdale in her own suite, and they may be planning to secure this wing as well.”
“Good lord. What do they expect to do, hold us prisoner until we promise not to go to the authorities?”
“Just so. I overheard them conspiring to force her to sign a legal document signing all of Tilsdale Holdings to them.”
“Blast.” I ran a hand through my head fur. “This is your fault, Jeeves.”
“If you hadn’t encouraged her to confront them, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“If she hadn’t confronted them, they would have still taken over Tilsdale Holdings, sir,” Jeeves pointed out to me.
I sighed. “You’re right, you’re right, of course. I’m speaking in anger.”
“I understand, sir.”
“So is this it, then? Out of other options?”
“Perhaps not, sir. They’ve revealed themselves to be less con men than mere bullies, which makes me suspect they will be dissuaded if they’re confronted by a stronger force.”
“How do you mean?”
Jeeves pursed her lips, then folded her hands in front of her. “Do you trust me, sir?”
“Then, if I may be so bold: follow me, sir.” She headed back out of the room, striding purposefully. I had to hurry to keep up.
We found the two dastardly foxes in the dining hall, in an animated argument with a squirrel maid who was refusing to take their orders to the kitchen. “We’ve heard what you’ve done with the lady of the house, sirs, and we’ll have no part of it,” she was saying.
“Shortly we’ll own this estate,” Edgars—or Edgars—said testily. “We’d prefer to keep all the staff on, but we don’t have to, you know.”
“I doubt you’ll be able to,” she sniffed.
“And I doubt you’ll be successful in persuading Miss Tilsdale to sign over control of her company,” Jeeves said as she strode up.
Both foxes turned. “And who are you?” one said.
“She’s the ‘accountant’ who put it into Tilsdale’s head that we’re trying to defraud her.”
“Taking the word of a maid over ours. That’s insane.”
“Preposterous,” Edgars agreed.
“With all due respect, gentlemen, you know I’m correct,” Jeeves said, tone reproving. “I must insist you release Miss Tilsdale at once, and turn yourselves into the proper authorities.”
“You must insist,” both Edgars said, staring at one another, then at her.
“I believe Miss Tilsdale gave you a chance to back out with no repercussions whatsoever, and you’ve repaid that by trying to coerce her. That’s not civilized behavior.”
The foxes looked at one another again, this time without speaking, then back at her. “I don’t see what say you have in the matter,” one finally said.
“You’re a maid!” the other one said.
“I’m a valet,” Jeeves corrected.
“No matter,” the first Edgars said. Then he raised his voice. “Smith!” he yelled. “Bring your squad!”
Jeeves merely crossed her arms as a half-dozen more foxes charged into the room.
“Take the old woman’s idiot niece and his valet to a lockable room,” ordered Edgars.
I narrowed my eyes and was about to give them a what-for, but Jeeves sounded even more stern. “I’m not going to allow that, sir.”
“And you’re going to stop us how?” Edgars said, pointing at her. On cue, two foxes grabbed her arms.
“Yes, you and what army?” Edgars added jeeringly.
Jeeves started to grow. Rather, Jeeves grew. There was very little time lapse between the moment she was the mere six-foot-something I’d come to know and the moment she was well past twice that. She hadn’t quite reached the twenty foot ceiling, but no one in the room was even up to her hip level. Those two foxes still held onto her arms, but now they were hanging on for dear life, ten feet up in the air.
Yes, I’m absolutely telling the truth. And yes, the sandal print in the photo is bigger than what a nearly twenty foot high woman would make. Patience. I’m getting there.
Even at that size Jeeves was still polite, but in the way of a gentleman fighter. “Just me, sir,” she replied, shaking her arms and sending both foxes flying. She stepped forward quickly and grabbed two more foxes, knocking both of them together soundly. I was aghast for a moment, but when she dropped them they groaned, and I realized that, marvelously, she knew just the right amount of force to knock them out of commission rather than to do permanent damage.
Both of the craven Edgars started to bolt, but all she had to do to catch them was to lean forward. After she’d grabbed them she crawled out through the great doors to the courtyard. As it turned out she hadn’t quite fit through; she’d just shouldered her way out. The remaining henchmen and myself hurried after her.
The foxes were shrieking. “Attack her! Jones! Everyone!” To my dismay, I realized they did have a veritable army at their command—at least a dozen more foxes were emerging from the estate, running toward Jeeves. I realized that as large as she was, that many attackers could likely just pull her down.
And then she grew again.
All those foxes slowed down, staring, as she went up thirty feet, forty, fifty, topping out at nearly sixty. The two Edgars looked very small in her hands all of a sudden, like dolls. She leaned over, and I have to say if you haven’t seen a sixty foot high woman before, even a casual move is awe-inspiring. “I don’t think attacking me is wise,” she said to her would-be assailants.
Half of them bolted immediately; the braver ones kept facing her, but backed away. “We might have guns!” one shouted.
“Unless you’re a very good shot, those won’t hurt me now, and while I’d rather not do you harm, I assure you that you won’t get more than one shot.”
“Don’t listen to her!” Edgars yelled. “She’s not invulnerable. She’s just—”
Jeeves held her hands, with both foxes, out in front of her, fixing her gaze on them. She cleared her throat, which sounded almost delicate, then bared her huge teeth and snarled. She was on my side and even my blood ran cold. For Edgars and Edgars, held trapped in her hands with the cavern of her mouth a mere yard away—well, I almost felt sorry for them. Almost. They both shrieked again and curled up into blubbering balls of fluff.
I flinched, but I confess—as out of place as the thought was—that it was that moment that I thought Aunt Aggie was right. She really was beautiful. I shook the thought out of my head a moment later; it was hardly a thing to think about an employee.
Of course, it was hard to think of her as an employee right then. As she straightened up and looked down at us all, it was very clear who was in charge of the current situation.
“We’ll go release Miss Tilsdale, ma’am,” one of the henchmen finally said, in a very small voice.
“An excellent idea,” she said gravely. “I’m going to hand-deliver these two to the nearest police precinct.”
I was astonished at the thought. “Jeeves,” I called up, “you can’t very well walk through the streets like that!”
“Hard surfaces should support my weight while taking minimal damage,” she said, “and I am a registered size-shifter, sir.”
Honestly, I’m still not sure there is such a thing as a “registered” size-shifter, but it didn’t seem to be the time or place to accuse her of pulling my leg. I just scratched my head and fell silent.
“Please, just let us go,” Edgars blubbered.
“We don’t want to go to prison!” Edgars cried.
“Mister Tilsdale suggested to me earlier that size-shifters can sometimes be quite mean. Are you sure you don’t want to go to a nice safe jail?”
One of the whimpering foxes mumbled something I couldn’t make out.
“I’m afraid I didn’t quite catch that. Did I hear the word ‘bite’?”
“Jail!” he shrieked. “I said jail! Please take us to jail!”
“Very good, sir,” she replied. She looked back down to the grass. “Are Smith and Jones here?”
Two foxes muttered nervous confirmation.
“I’d like you and your men to be gone by the time I return,” she said.
“But we’ve been living here!” one—Jones, I think—protested. “All of us have clothes and even furniture, we can’t just—”
Jeeves cut them off by stomping her foot. I’m not sure she raised her sandal much more than halfway to her knee before slamming it back down, but the impact knocked more than one fox clear off his feet and I’m quite sure everyone in the estate felt the rattle.
“Give us an hour, ma’am.”
“Thank you, gentlemen.” She turned and walked off, as calm as a lake on a summer day.
Less than a minute later Aunt Aggie burst out of the estate, charging toward me. “Gordon! These men have been babbling nonsense about—about—what in the world happened to the lawn?” Understand, Jeeves’ sandals flattened the grass and even a bit of the soil everywhere they’d touched, but of course, there was now the evidence of that simple, incredible stomp—of course, the very footprint in that photo.
“Nonsense about a giant tigress, Aunt Aggie, by any chance?” I inquired as nonchalantly as I could manage, and I gestured at Jeeves’ receding form, already a good quarter-mile off.
Dear old Aunt Aggie opened her mouth as if to speak, closed it again, stared at me, then fainted dead away.
My aunt recovered, of course, although it took Jeeves and I the better part of an hour to reassure her that the estate was safe, that she was firmly back in control of the family holdings, and, most importantly, that Jeeves was not the personification of a biblical-proportion disaster.
“But she’s helped us immeasurably!” I protested, not for the first time that evening.
“This time,” she said darkly. “Look at the damage she did and the fright she gave people.”
“Madam, if I may,” Jeeves began.
“You may not!” Aunt Aggie barked, then bit her lip, clearly afraid of the tigress. She started again more quietly but remained firm: “I do thank you for your help, but I’m simply not comfortable having you in my house.”
“As you wish, madam,” Jeeves said, ears back. She started to turn away, but—as much of a force of nature as Agatha Tilsdale can be herself—I’d had about enough of this all.
“Now see here, Aunt Aggie,” I snapped. “If she goes, I go with her. You’re treating her like she’s some kind of rampaging monster, instead of as a—as a very capable woman and an invaluable asset. And beautiful. You said so yourself.”
I noticed Jeeves’ ears colored faintly, but she remained professionally silent.
“That doesn’t mean she isn’t a rampaging monster,” Agatha said.
“Well, she’s our rampaging monster, then,” I said, crossing my arms. That earned a decidedly displeased look from Jeeves; I gave her an apologetic fractional shrug.
Aunt Aggie glowered for a full minute in silence, then sighed deeply. “All right, all right. I apologize, Jeeves. I’m overreacting. But I’ve never had a day remotely like today in all my life.”
“Neither have I,” I said. “You have to admit it was rather exciting, though, wasn’t it?”
That just got me another glower from my aunt, but the smile from Jeeves counterbalanced it.
What? Oh, come, you’ve met Jeeves. No? Truly? I’m sorry, all this time I thought you had! But of course you and I haven’t spent much time together, I suppose. She’s—well, I can’t say she’s always with me, but she does seem to always be there when I need her. I suppose that’s what good valets do. And as I said, I think she likes to have an air of mystery about her.
How big can she get? Well, I asked her once and she gave one of her typical non-answers, so—ah, but you can ask her yourself in just a few moments, chap. Did you catch that rumble from the street just there? The rattling of the window? No, that’s not some large truck passing by. You don’t get that kind of traffic on Travers Lane. I know that sound precisely by now, let me tell you. Those are footsteps.