by Tipton Plimsol, Jeeves, Guild of Valets and Ladies’ Maids
Good morning, sir (or, as the case may be, madam). Tea? Toast? Morning Pick-Me-Up? No? Very good, sir. Then, with your permission, I shall introduce myself and my guild.
I am Plimsol, the Jeeves of the Guild of Valets and Ladies’ Maids. Jeeves? A rank, sir. It means I am head of the Guild. The name derives from a fictional member of my profession, one who was legendary for getting his rather blundering master out of various difficulties. You are familiar with the character, perhaps? You are?
Ah. Permit me to correct you, sir. It is a liberty, perhaps, on my part, but it really won’t do for you to err in these little matters. Jeeves was not a butler. He did serve as butler in one novel, I believe, but that was a temporary position. Jeeves was a valet, the finest valet ever to grace the pages of fiction. Sam Weller, sir? An amusing fellow, but terribly forward. He did not know his place, sir. Indeed he did not.
But this literary discussion, though diverting, is not of the essence. I was in the process of telling you the function of my little guild.
A note before I continue, sir. In England, from perhaps 1650 to 2075, only the nouveau riche would say “Val-ay.” It is “Val-et,” sir.
Sometimes, Agents must assume the guise of gentlemen or gentlewomen. When they do this, a valet (or ladies’ maid) is de rigueur. Without this essential property (property in the sense of stage prop, sir, and not in the sense of a slave; do keep that in mind), Residents will suspect either a deception or a very serious financial embarrassment indeed. The whisper, sir, would fly round the club. I can hear it now, sir.
Scene: The Club
Colonel Fitzroy adjusts his tartan blanket and glances at old Colonel Farquhar, trying to determine if the fellow is dead. Seeing Farquhar’s chest rise and fall, he offers him the latest gossip. He barks, “meet young blighted Jimson yet?”
(For purposes of this flight of fancy, you are Jimson, sir).
“No, I haven’t,” says Colonel Farquhar, blinking sleepily.
“He’s not what he seems,” Colonel Fitzroy mutters darkly. “No valet.”
“No valet?” Colonel Farquhar screams, as if his old friend had just said that you had no head. “No valet? Not even the merest suggestion of a valet?”
“Not a smell of one. Flat has only one occupant, vis., young blighted Jimson. When he’s out,” and Colonel Fitzroy leans forward and taps his fellow Colonel significantly on the knee, “there is no-one home.”
“Financial position a bit strained, perhaps? In these days of high taxation…”
“One still requires a valet, taxes or no taxes. Dash it, one can owe one’s man. The fellow ought to be happy to be in work with a roof over his head, and of course once one comes into the title and family estates…” Colonel Fitzroy’s eyes blur for a moment, thinking lovingly of his ancient uncle, the Laird of Drear-on-Swamp, and of the sickbed on which said uncle was even now, perhaps, losing the final round of his battle with the Angel of Death.
“Quite,” murmurs Colonel Farquhar. “Cut the fellow, eh?”
“Cut him dead,” says Colonel Fitzroy, with a certain grimness.
There is a moral, sir, in the scene I have laid before you. You need a valet (or, of course, a ladies’ maid).
What is that, sir? A Resident valet? Indeed, sir? No, sir, I fear that such a person would hardly do. Why? If you will turn your mind to the question for a moment, sir, I think you will see why. You do not see it, sir? Then allow me to explain.
The valet (and even more, the ladies’ maid–do remember that casual sexism of this sort is a vital part of your role and of mine) is an inquisitive creature. He also knows what is done and what is not done in your alleged set. When you inevitably make an error on some subtle point of etiquette, he (or she) will notice, and will remember. When your errors start to mount up, your valet will become suspicious. He may not suspect you of being a time traveler (though if he’s read The Time Machine and has a rather fanciful mind–unlikely, but not impossible–he might), but he will suspect you of something. At first, he will confine his activities to gossiping about you with other people’s servants, but as the evidence against you accumulates, he may conclude that you are a spy for some foreign power.
If of patriotic bent, he will then report you, possibly to old Colonel Farquhar, under whom he once served. Colonel Farquhar will remember what that old fool Colonel Fitzroy said about you at the Club, and, one fine day, will gather up some of the old crew and an odd policeman or so and call upon you at your flat. You will not like the result, sir. It is not pleasant, sir, being shot or hanged as a spy. And once they take you into custody, your chances of getting to your Door are slim indeed.
If your Resident valet is not of patriotic bent, he will merely blackmail you.
Neither situation is precisely pleasant, sir, I think you will agree.
Therefore, we of the Guild of Valets and Ladies’ Maids stand ready to serve you. We will follow you (through the same Door, as there isn’t a second-class compartment for time travel) with the heavy luggage. We are trained in all the subtle arts of our trade, and will be able to advise you on manners and morals, as well as assist you in the donning of the soup and fish.
Thank you, sir. Not at all, sir. We are happy to be of service, sir.