‘Christmas Eve in Mayfair, Jeeves! There’s nothing in heaven to top it. Even with the terror of eleventh-hour shopping for the gang Travers.’
‘But we can’t pitch up at Brinkley Court tomorrow bereft of g., f., and the other one.’
‘Myrrh, sir? No, sir.’
‘I fear I’m both a little later and much tighter than expected. I bumped into Bingo, you see, and had a snifter at the Feverish Cheese. Then we met Tuppy for a quick ’un at the Startled Shrimp, and finally we were accosted by Barmy who marched us for a gargle or two at the Mottled Oyster.’
‘Very good, sir.’
‘But I did not forget the Christmas presents! I have polka-dotted socks for Uncle Tom, shaving caboodle for Cousin Bonzo, something hideously perfumed for Cousin Angela, something hideously floral for Aunt Dahlia… and a little surprise for you.’
‘You are too kind, sir.’
‘Of course, I couldn’t resist these for me.’
I located a leather case in one of the many packages and showed Jeeves my acquisition. He peered at it with the jaundiced eye of a Borgia family food taster.
‘Are they… marbles, sir?’
‘No! They are harlequin shirt-studs
fabricated from solid silver and coloured gems.’
‘They are uncommonly carbuncular, sir.’
‘Aren’t they just! I bought a dozen so I could mix ’em up: red, green, violet, yellow, azure blue, rose. What d’you think?’
‘I think they will draw attention, sir, and attract comment.’
‘Splendid! Sole purpose of visit!’
‘You are surely not proposing to exhibit them in public, sir?’
‘Put money on it! Lunch tomorrow is to be their debut. I shall compete for honours with Aunt Dahlia’s Christmas tree.’
‘I imagine it will be a closely contested fight, sir.’
Jeeves took stock of the parcels at my feet, and glanced up with concern.
‘Were there no Christmas puddings to be found at Fortnum and Mason, sir?’
An icy electric jolt stabbed my solar plexus. ‘Oh, Dickens! The pudding!’
Some weeks prior I had been given strict instructions that under no circs whatsoever, including but not limited to War, Civil Commotion or Acts of God, was I to neglect to purchase a plum pudding for the Brinkley yuletide feast. Aunt Dahlia had dispatched a series of increasingly bellicose telegrams to remind me of my duty — her final missive comprised the word ‘PUD’ repeated, at eye-watering expense, three dozen times. This was to be my sole contribution to the festive sideboard, and now I had slipped ’twixt cup and lip.
‘D’you suppose there’s anyone in this vast metrop. who will flog us a figgy pudding?’
‘At eleven o’clock, sir? I think it highly unlikely.’
‘So what do we do?’
Jeeves pondered momentarily. ‘We could make a pudding, sir.’
‘Have you ever made a Christmas pudding, Jeeves? Is such a thing even possible in a bachelor flat?’
‘Not personally, sir. But for many years I observed my mother and grandmother undertake the enterprise, and I feel sure that with a suitable recipe we might attempt to emulate their success. Our pudding will not have time properly to age, of course: many months in a dark cupboard is considered a prerequisite for adequate maturation. But I expect a dissimulation might be effected visually by adding a healthy dash of black coffee, and gustatorially by providing an abundant supply of intoxicating brandy sauce.’
‘Right… so, all of that was a “yes”, was it?’
‘It was, sir.’
We sallied forth through the green
baize door into the kitchen where Jeeves plucked from his culinary bookshelf a spine-broken copy of Mrs Beeton’s Household Management. He consulted the index, flicked to the puddings, and read with an eyebrow askew.
‘It seems relatively straightforward, sir, given the correct ingredients and sufficient time.’
‘When you say sufficient time… ’
‘An hour to cook, sir, an hour to rest, and eight hours to steam.’
I consulted my watch and counted off on my fingers. ‘So, all being well, it should just be ready for when we biff off tomorrow ack emma in the direction of Aunt Dahlia?’
‘Yes, sir. Assuming we commence preparations without delay.’
He took Mrs Beeton into the pantry and made an inventory of supplies.
‘We appear to have all that the recipe requires, sir, save for three ounces of almonds, one lemon, two fresh carrots, and a generous teaspoon of baking powder.’
‘Will it work without them?’
‘I’d be disinclined to try, sir, assuming we aspire for the pudding to be eatable.’
‘So… what now?’
‘Well, sir, the hour is late, but I wonder if we might impinge upon the festive generosity of our neighbours.’
‘You mean go door-to-door in Berkeley Mansions?’
‘And when you say we you mean me?’
I can’t pretend the scheme appealed. I mean to say, it’s one thing to tip the titfer to friendly faces in the lobby, quite another to knock ’em up on Christmas Eve demanding provisions with menaces.
‘You see no other solution, Jeeves?’
‘Sadly, sir, no.’
And so, after a quick belt of cooking sherry to splice the mainbrace, I struck out into the hallway to see what might be foraged.
My first call was to the Rees-Mogg family in 5D. They were all still out, but their nanny kindly supplied me with a cupful of nuts, of which they apparently had an abundance. Tousle-haired Mr Johnson in 2B blithely assured me he had everything else I needed, before discovering his larder to be utterly bare. Mr and Mrs May in 4A couldn’t agree which tin was baking powder and which was talcum powder, so they gave me both. Mr Farage in 4C supplied the lemon I required, but only after hacking off a largish slice for his ‘bedtime gins and tonic’. And down in the garden flat, Mr Corbyn pulled two firm young carrots fresh from the soil, but suggested I repay the barter with a bag of winter greens. (‘Leeks according to his ability,’ he said with a bearded grin.)
After this mortifying cap-in-hand tour of the building, I returned to 3A to find my man calmly sifting the flour.
‘Success, Jeeves! We have all we require.’
‘Very good, sir. I will prepare the admixture.’
‘Is there not some special incantation we should be ululating? I seem to recall something of the sort from my time in the scripture knowledge class.’
‘Yes, sir. Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded.’
‘That’s the bobby! What does it signify?’
‘It is from the Book of Common Prayer, sir. The collect for the last Sunday before Advent.’
‘So we’re a little tardy?’
‘Potius sero quam numquam,’ he replied, before clocking the bafflement on my dial. ‘Better late than never, sir.’
In no time at all Jeeves had combined the ingredients and was carefully adding the milk, brandy, and beaten eggs to give the pudding what he called ‘moistness and festive heft’. But still something nagged at the back of my noggin. And then it clicked.
‘Wait a sec Jeeves, aren’t we forgetting a rather vital addition?’
‘Holly, sir? I assumed we might find a floral garnish tomorrow at Brinkley Court.’
‘Much more important than holly — silver sixpence charms! One can’t be expected to eat Christmas pud without the prospect of financial reward.’
‘I see, sir. How many silver sixpences do we need?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, about a dozen. I don’t suppose you have a dozen silver sixpences about your person?’
‘No, sir. Perhaps foolishly, I had not anticipated tonight would require capital investment.’
‘Fair enough. But Uncle Tom will rebuff any Christmas pudding not accompanied by a bribe of silver, so we have to puzzle up something.’
Jeeves closed an eye in thought, and then the corner of his mouth twitched with the subtlest of smiles.
‘There is one solution, sir. Although it may not gladden.’
‘Anything, Jeeves. It’s very nearly tomorrow!’
‘And it does involve an element of sacrifice, sir… ’
He gave me a look, and the penny clanged.
‘Oh no, Jeeves! Not that. Not tonight, surely?’
‘I fear we have scant choice, sir. Given the pressing need for a dozen silver charms.’
And so, as the kitchen clock struck midnight, I helped Jeeves stir into our pudding twelve sparkling and never-before-worn harlequin shirt-studs fabricated from solid silver and coloured gems.
‘Merry Christmas, Jeeves.’
‘Merry Christmas, sir.’