I sank therefore into an armchair.
A light cough was heard in the vicinity. Starting sharply, I saw Jeeves appearing in the frame of the door.
– Is there any problem, Sir?
I hesitated an instant. We had had some disagreements lately. However, there was no denying that he was there, and there was this je ne sais quoi in his voice which denoted a willingness to rally round the young master. I did not waver long.
– Jeeves, I said, in a hurried and distracted voice. Hear me.
– Yes, Sir. If I can be of any succor.
– Jeeves, I repeated, trying to gather my thoughts. You were right. I do not feel quite the same interest in Science suddenly. However, mark me closely, I have been informed by Mr. Walter Alaistair Appleton that by starting this Ph.D. I have contracted moral obligations equivalent to an engagement. Do you confirm this, Jeeves?
– Indeed, Sir, it has been the received opinion of the most prominent philosophers since Aristotle. The best treatment of the matter, in my opinion, is found in the treatise “Critic of Pure Reason” of the philosopher Kant. He argues…
– Let us keep this for later discussion, Jeeves. Is there no way to be honourably discharged of said obligation?
He eyed me quietly.
– Come on, Jeeves. You know what I mean. Such things have happened before, in different ways, in this place. You have never faltered. Is there hope?
– Well, Sir, it is widely considered that, should it occur that a student discovered that the results he had been working on for his Ph.D. had been anticipated by some other scholar, he could then consider himself exonerated of his responsibilities. Of course, it is usually expected that he then choose some other subject and renew his pledge, but a certain amount of leeway is definitely granted if he should feel discouraged by this stroke of bad luck.
– Agad, Jeeves, is it possible? I cried, hope filling my entire being.
But not for long. What hope was that? Before someone got interested again in this cursed subject of the early history of the kilt, long would grow the beard of the poor Bertram, and weary his eyes of decyphering old Scottish tales. I inclined the good old head a good deal.
– No hope, Jeeves, I said. No hope.
A slight cough attracted again my eyes to his person, and I saw him produce a thick and tightly bound volume which he proffered to me.
– It may interest you, Sir, to know that my disapproval of your idea of a kilt was not a mere whim but was based on previous thorough studies of the interesting story of this most particular garment?
I glanced at the title. “The early history of the kilt in the Highlands”, it read, with the precision “Presented for the title of Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, 1905″ with Jeeves name appended in calligraphic flourishes.
– It is somewhat more specialized in its geographical emphasis, but you will find that it contains most of your research.
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