Characters: Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark, General Someguy
Spoilers: Howard and Jarvis' backstories, somewhat
Word Count 3,540
Summary: Lance Corporal Edwin Jarvis meets an American without any sense of decorum, and gives him a bit of a hand.
Author's notes: This is an idea that cropped out of something else I was writing, when my Word Fairy said 'no, let's go think about that'. I had an idea of writing how Jarvis and Howard met, and exploring Howard Stark before he was a fully formed Howard Stark, and what both Jarvis and the General might have done to make Howard want to step in for Jarvis later on.
I'm not entirely sure if Jarvis met Howard before the war or during it, but I've placed it before for my own purposes, and this story is set in 1937. The MCU timeline is a thing of a great and terrible beauty, but it says that Howard was born in 1917, so he would be about twenty here. I'm guessing Jarvis is a few years older (?). It also says that Howard met Erskine at a science conference in 1934, when Howard would have only been seventeen or so, so I'm guessing he started the company really young and had success super fast.
This story contradicts a few things I wrote in 'The Virtues of Being Useful', but that's really AU now that Season Two has aired, so it doesn't matter much.
“Could you tilt your head back, sir?”
The General exposed his throat to Jarvis’ straight razor, and Jarvis leaned in to get a better look at what he was doing. The General shaved himself most days but, every once in a while, liked to have a ‘good proper shave’ and asked Jarvis do it for him. He’d done it often enough now to no longer find it stressful, but the throat area still required all his focus. The General had a wounded knee from his service in the Great War and, every so often, it would spasm and make him twitch, and those moments were risky. Jarvis had learned the signs of when it was going to happen and was able to move the razor off just in time, but the first time, he’d cut a sizeable chunk out of the General’s cheek. Luckily, the General had been good-humoured about it and forgave him. He was an easy man to work for, for the most part. Kind, to a degree, and fussy, but in a way Jarvis didn’t mind.
Jarvis pulled the skin tight and carefully drew the razor down his throat to remove the five o’clock shadow there. He found shaving a nice meditation, and it was something of an honour to be trusted with another man’s vital arteries. When Jarvis had first been chosen as batman his father, a butler for as long as Jarvis had been alive and a valet in his youth, had put him through his paces, and his lessons on shaving had been as philosophical as they were educational.
“Whatever you might think of how archaic it is, Edwin, you are entrusted with the care of your master, and you should never forget that,” he’d said. “You needn’t ever feel like an inferior, as indeed you are not. You are just as respectable as him. But your job is to look after him, and you should treat him with the respect you hope to get in return--even if you don’t receive it. Especially if you don’t.”
Jarvis had taken that advice to heart, though, for the most part, the General did treat him with respect in kind. They were hardly equals, and the General was of a generation of men who still adhered to social order like glue so Lance Corporal Jarvis needed to know his place and not give himself airs, but his work was appreciated, and he was never treated cruelly. Jarvis was content to give himself airs in his spare time and be the required level of submissive while on duty.
He finished with the General’s face and trimmed his walrus moustache, unfashionable now but nevertheless suiting him so well that Jarvis couldn’t picture him without it. They were at the Earl of Pelham’s home, and Lord Grant was a man of a similar vintage to the General who had somehow come through the war and Depression unscathed and kept a full household of staff--a practice nearly extinct now--and who dined in white tie on a regular basis. Jarvis had laid out mess dress for the General.
“These shoes won’t do, Jarvis,” he declared. “Go and give them a polish, would you? I’ll get myself kitted up, don’t worry.”
“Yes, sir,” Jarvis said.
He left the bedroom and headed down to the boot room to do a proper job of it. There was a young man on the main stairs, and Jarvis murmured an apology as he passed him by. Several steps down, Jarvis stopped and turned back as he fully registered the man’s appearance.
He was in black tie.
“Excuse me,” Jarvis said. “Are you headed to dinner?”
The man was so very American in appearance and carriage that the blunt Yankee accent that came out of his mouth was entirely unsurprising to Jarvis. “Yeah, if I can find my way to the dining room. I figured I better start early to give myself time. This is an actual castle. I’ve only seen them in movies.”
“It’s an abbey,” Jarvis corrected.
“Looks like a castle,” the man said, with a shrug. “Close enough for me.”
He must be Howard Stark, Jarvis surmised. Jarvis had heard the maids talking about him earlier in the day in whispered giggles, and his biography had been in the newspaper a few weeks ago in an article about young Lady Ashcroft, who had been seen with him on her arm. He was a young businessman from New York--very young, only twenty and a millionaire many times over--who built and designed aeroplanes and weapons.
He was dashing enough, with a neat, trimmed moustache perfectly in fashion, and features reminiscent of Errol Flynn. Shortish and square but debonair nonetheless. His dinner jacket was nicely tailored, but it was the wrong jacket and that wouldn’t be tolerated.
“I hope you won’t think me rude, sir,” Jarvis said. “But perhaps you misunderstood the dress code for this evening? Lord Grant prefers white tie at formal meals.”
“Who’s Lord Grant?” Mr Stark asked.
“The...the man who owns...this house?” Jarvis stammered. “Your host?”
Mr Stark held up his hand in a ‘stop’ motion. “Wait, I thought he was the Earl of Pelham?”
“Yes, that’s his title,” Jarvis said. “He’s called Lord Grant, though, to his face.”
“Why?” Mr Stark said.
That was a rather good question. Why was he called that? Well, he was called that for reasons that would be far too complicated to get into on a staircase with an American. “That’s his...name?” Jarvis tried.
Mr Stark made a ‘hmm’ expression and shrugged. “Good reason,” he said. “What do I call the wife, then?”
“Lady Grant,” Jarvis said, and then, back to the more important matter: “Sir, your clothing. You’re not in the right tie.”
Mr Stark looked down at himself, examining his cuffs and his shoes. “Looks okay to me,” he said. “Cost enough, and I’m not exactly a piker here.”
“Certainly not! No, I wasn’t suggesting that,” Jarvis said, quickly. “But you need to be in white tie. You’re in black tie. You can’t go to dinner in that.”
“Well, I don’t have white tie with me, so this will have to do,” Mr Stark said, and moved past him on the stairs, clapping his shoulder as he went.
Jarvis overtook him once more. “Please, I know it must seem silly, but you’ll do yourself no favours by being rebellious,” he said. “Let me look. I can perhaps find you something that will work. You really shouldn’t go like that. It will be seen as an insult. Lord Grant is very old-fashioned.”
Mr Stark sighed, throwing his hands up. “This country is about a hundred years out of date,” he said. “I mean, I know New York is in another time zone, but I thought that was just hours, not centuries.”
Jarvis gave a nervous titter. “Please, wait here,” he said. “I’ll bring you something.”
Mr Stark pulled out a packet of cigarettes and put one in his mouth. “Fine, knock yourself out.”
Jarvis hurried down to the servant’s hall, where all was a bustle in preparation for dinner. He grabbed the first footman he could lay hands on.
“Mr Stark doesn’t have white tie with him,” he said. “He’s in black.”
The footman’s eyes widened to saucers. “Crikey!”
“Are there extra servants’ livery?” Jarvis asked.
“He’s about me size, I’ll grab ‘m something,” the man said. “Hold on a tick.”
He ran off, and Jarvis went to the boot room, giving the General’s shoes a satisfactory, but not exemplary polish and getting the Cherry Blossom all over his hands in his haste. The footman found him, carrying a tailcoat, waistcoat, and bow tie on a hangar in his hand.
“I’m needed in the dining room, but here you go,” the man said, hanging it on a hook on the wall.
“Thank you very much, I’ll see it gets back to you,” Jarvis said.
He gave one last hasty polish to the shoes and grabbed the clothing off the hook, hurrying back up to the stairway, where Mr Stark had finished his fag and was now chatting to a young maid as she cocked her head and smiled at him. At the sight of Jarvis, she murmured something and beat a hasty retreat.
“I’ll talk to you later, Madge!” Mr Stark called after her, raising his hand in a wave. He turned to frown at Jarvis. “You got bad timing, pal.”
“Forgive me,” Jarvis panted. “I have...I have...” He held out the clothing. “Here.”
Mr Stark held it up, nose wrinkled in distaste. “Guess this is okay."
Much to Jarvis’ horror, he started to remove his jacket right there on the stairs, but Jarvis could hardly order him back up to his room, so he elected to assist instead to speed up the process before they were discovered by the other guests.
“Hey, whoa!” Mr Stark said, as Jarvis reached for his tie. He took a stair backwards. “You don’t go for a guy’s neck where I’m from. Watch yourself or you’ll get a pop to the jaw.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Jarvis said, and then went for his neck anyway. He pulled the tie off and stuck it in his pocket, then put the new one on as Mr Stark took his black waistcoat off to switch it for the white one. Jarvis took the discarded waistcoat and folded it over his arm, picking up the jacket Mr Stark had hung on the railing and laying it over top.
“My pants okay?” Mr Stark asked.
Jarvis was about to exclaim that he hoped to God that they were fine and certainly didn’t intend to go that far in his examination of his outfit, but then realized Mr Stark was referring to his trousers. “Your, erm, pants are fine."
Mr Stark pulled the tailcoat on and looked down at himself. “Yep, I look like a chump.”
Jarvis gave it a critical look. It was not tailored for him but would pass without deep examination, and Mr Stark’s natural presence drew attention to himself, not his dress. He would blend, which would have to do.
“You look like a gentleman,” Jarvis said.
Mr Stark leaned forward. “I ain’t a gentleman,” he said, tapping the side of his nose in conspiracy. “I think they might notice even with the fancy duds.”
“This will serve you better in the long run,” Jarvis assured him. “If you leave it in your room, I’ll see it gets back to the proper party, and I’ll take these things to your room. Which one are you in?”
“Uh...one of them,” Mr Stark said. “I think they called it the Monk’s room. It’s green, about halfway down the hall. There’s a vase next to it.”
“I’ll find it,” Jarvis said. He headed up the stairs.
“Hey, what’s your name?” Mr Stark said.
“Oh, pardon, Edwin Jarvis,” Jarvis said, stepping back down and offering a hand. “Lance Corporal Edwin Jarvis.”
“Wow, that’s British,” Mr Stark noted. “Howard Stark. Uh, esquire, probably. They keep calling me that. I think it’s an insult.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Jarvis said.
They shook hands, Mr Stark’s grip firm and his smile easy.
“I’ll see you at dinner, Jarvis,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t dine with the family,” Jarvis said.
“Why not?” Mr Stark demanded.
“I’m not...” Jarvis said. “Erm, my rank...I don’t...I’m a batman, to General ____. I don’t dine with the...family.”
Mr Stark frowned. “Batman?” he said. He made a gesture of holding something and swinging it. “What does he need a bat for? Does he beat people with it?”
“Good Lord, no!” Jarvis said, appalled at the thought. “No. A batman is a valet to an officer. It comes from the old term for a saddlebag, I believe. A batman was in charge of the saddlebags. But, now it means an aide. I’m...a...”
“Servant,” Mr Stark filled in. “Huh. The uniform threw me off, but it makes sense why you’re so helpful now. I thought you were just a nice guy. Thanks for your help.” He reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out a bill. “Here.” He shoved it toward Jarvis.
Jarvis pushed his hand back. “No, thank you, sir,” he said. “You don’t need to pay staff. And I’m not staff. I’m just...not a member of the family.”
Mr Stark shook his head. “Backwards country you got here, Jarvis,” he said. He put the money back in his pocket and patted Jarvis on the shoulder. “See you later.”
He trotted off downstairs, whistling as though he hadn’t just narrowly avoided calamity. Americans! Until this moment, Jarvis hadn’t known what the fuss was about them, but he could see why they were considered so disruptive now. He carried on upstairs and found a maid to give Mr Stark’s clothing to.
She seemed to know exactly which room was his.
Jarvis was offered dinner on a tray in his room, but the General would consider that to be giving oneself airs, so he planned to dine with the staff instead. That wouldn’t happen until after the family had dined. He cleaned up the General’s dressing room after he’d gone down, laid out his pyjamas, and then had a little while to do some reading until the staff dinner was served at 9:00PM. He went down at quarter to the hour in case he could be of some help.
The staff were clearing the table in the family dining room, and Jarvis could tell from their demeanour that something exciting or shocking had happened. They whispered to one another and scurried past the butler as he scolded them for it.
“Hey, mate,” one of the footmen, the one whose clothes Jarvis had borrowed, called to him. “Could you give me a hand? The American asked for a drink, but he’s gone out there,” he nodded to a pair of French doors. “Can you take it to‘m?”
“Certainly,” Jarvis said. He took the sidecar from him and went in search of ‘the American’, whom he found just outside the doors, leaning against the wall and smoking. “Mr Stark? This is yours, I believe.”
Mr Stark took it from him without looking and downed half of it in a gulp. “Oh, it’s you,” he said, when he did decide to look. “Lance Corporal Helpful. I ticked off your boss, so be careful. He might not want you talking to me.”
That might explain the servants’ whispers. “The General does not own my conversation,” Jarvis said. “How precisely did you, erm, ‘tick him off’?”
“Politics,” Mr Stark said. “We got onto Germany, and your General was calling the population stupid for supporting a fascist government. And I pointed out that when you knocked people down to their knees like after the Great War they get a little desperate for change.”
Oh, dear. Fascism was the General’s number one enemy. Any support of it would not be tolerated.
“And he asked me if Stark was a German name,” Mr Stark went on. “And I said, yeah, but I wasn’t German, just my ancestors. You know, kind of like your king?”
Oh, dear. Insults to the royal family would not be tolerated either.
“And he demanded a retraction, and fair enough, I apologized for it,” Mr Stark went on. “But he didn’t let it drop, or let us agree to disagree, and I’m not a fascist, and I got no love for Hitler, but I said maybe if the General knew what it was like to be poor and hungry, he’d understand why the common man might like a guy who promised them the world. And he said obviously I must know a thing or two about being common, judging by my choice of tailor.” Mr Stark’s hand was white-knuckled on his glass. “And everyone at the table thought that was real funny. So, I thought I’d come out here and cool off a little before I went through to the parlour. Not feeling real sociable right now.”
Jarvis would have liked to believe Mr Stark misunderstood the General, or that the General would have never have made that sort of remark with the intention of humiliation. But, unfortunately, that was the sort of joke that the General would find hilarious, and Jarvis could hear him say it as clear as day.
“That’s wise, I suppose,” he said. “‘Act in haste, repent at leisure’, as they say.”
“That the same is ‘leesure’?” Mr Stark asked.
“I believe so, yes,” Jarvis said. “Though I expect ‘leesure’ involves more bats.” He echoed Mr Stark’s swinging motion from earlier.
Mr Stark gave a chuckle. “I’m usually pretty good at being civil,” he said. “I got charm, you know? I know how to look like I care when I don’t. But this country--these sorts of people...I don’t know. They get my back up.”
Jarvis understood but did feel the need to defend his master in some capacity. “The General was born in a very different time,” he said. “He grew up knowing what was expected of him and what he would be. Then the Great War happened and England changed. He lost his wife and son to Spanish ‘flu. The Depression hit his family hard. He’s come down in the world, financially, if not in respectability. He’s hardly a pauper, but he’s not the man he was before 1914, I’m afraid. It’s no excuse to treat you as he did, but he’s not a man...used to being challenged by anyone.”
“Especially someone like me, right?” Mr Stark said.
Precisely. The General disliked parvenus almost as much as he hated fascists. Mr Stark gave himself airs without remorse.
“You represent much of what has changed about the world,” Jarvis said.
“He’s the sort of guy who lets me know no matter how far I climb up, I’m still gonna feel like I’m back...” Mr Stark shook his head and tamped his cigarette forcefully on the wall behind him, then tossed it to the ground and took a sip of his drink.
“I went to boarding school,” Jarvis said, in rather a blurted fashion.
Mr Stark raised an eyebrow that said ‘bully for you’ quite clearly.
“It wasn’t something someone of my social standing did very often,” Jarvis explained. “But my parents wanted a good education for me. I was living with boys far above my station, and they made sure to let me know that. I understand what’s it’s like to be the butt of the joke.”
“Got any tips for me?” Mr Stark asked, with a bitter laugh.
“What they want you to do is prove that you are not worthy of being where you are,” Jarvis said. “Don’t prove it. Kill them with kindness and politeness and charm and let them look like the smaller man.”
“And hate them on the inside?” Mr Stark said.
“Erm, well, I wouldn’t describe that as a healthy attitude,” Jarvis said. “But that’s one option.” Mr Stark chuckled again. “I’m sorry my arrangement for your clothing resulted in this situation.”
“Nah,” Mr Stark said. “He would have found something else. And you were right, if I’d have come as I was, it’d have been a hell of lot worse.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bill again. “Take this, okay? For the clothes and the drink. I mean it. You’re the only person I’ve met in this house who’s decent, you deserve a tip. Buy your girl something nice.”
Jarvis could see this was something of a point of honour, perhaps something American he didn’t understand, so he took the pound note from him. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “I don’t have a girl, however.”
“No?” Mr Stark said. “There’s plenty around, pal, just take a look.” He smiled and clapped Jarvis on the back. “I better get back in, or it’ll look like I’m sore. Thanks for being a nice guy.”
“My pleasure,” Jarvis said. “I hope your further stay in England is more to your liking.”
“I’m back up in London, soon,” Mr Stark said. “I feel on more equal footing there, but I’m scrounging up support for getting my weapons into your military and that means boring dinners with people with titles that make no sense. Don’t think the General’s gonna be voting in my favour, but I think I got it licked anyway.”
“Good luck,” Jarvis said.
They shook hands again, and Mr Stark walked back into the house. Jarvis could see the moment he put his armour up, his posture straightening and his shoulders back. Hating them on the inside. Perhaps he hadn’t had a father with advice like Jarvis had been given. ‘Respectability is about behaviour, Edwin. You behave like a gentleman, and you are one. Be of good service, do your duty, and no one can make you inferior.’
Which is why Jarvis was submissive in duty and gave himself airs on the inside. Mr Stark was very young for all his wealth, perhaps, in time, he’d learn how to comport himself better.
And he was very American, but that was probably incurable.