‘Are you looking for someone?’
I replied that I was looking for Bobbie Wickham.
‘I’d go on looking, if I were you. Bound to find her somewhere.’
‘Bobbie?’ said Phyllis Mills. ‘She’s down at the lake, fishing.’
‘Then what you do,’ said Wilbert Cream, brightening, ‘is follow this path, bend right, sharp left, bend right again and there you are. You can’t miss. Start at once, is my advice.’
I must say I felt that, related as I was by ties of blood, in a manner of speaking, to this leafy glade, it was a bit thick being practically bounced from it by a mere visitor, but Aunt Dahlia had made it clear that the Cream family must not be thwarted or put upon in any way, so I did as he suggested, picking up the feet without anything in the nature of back chat. As I receded, I could hear in my rear the poetry breaking out again.
The lake at Brinkley calls itself a lake, but when all the returns are in it’s really more a sort of young pond. Big enough to mess about on in a punt, though, and for the use of those wishing to punt a boat- house has been provided with a small pier or landing stage attached to it. On this, rod in hand, Bobbie was seated, and it was with me the work of an instant to race up and breathe down the back of her neck.
‘Hey!’ I said.
‘Hey to you with knobs on,’ she replied. ‘Oh, hullo, Bertie. You here?’
‘You never spoke a truer word. If you can spare me a moment of your valuable time, young Roberta -‘
‘Half a second, I think I’ve got a bite. No, false alarm. What were you saying?’
‘I was saying -‘
‘Oh, by the way, I heard from Mother this morning.’
‘I heard from her yesterday morning.’
‘I was kind of expecting you would. You saw that thing in The Times?’
‘With the naked eye.’
‘Puzzled you for a moment, perhaps?’
‘For several moments.’
‘Well, I’ll tell you all about that. The idea came to me in a flash.’
‘You mean it was you who shoved that communique in the journal?’
‘Why?’ I said, getting right down to it in my direct way.
I thought I had her there, but no.
‘I was paving the way for Reggie.’
I passed a hand over my fevered brow.
‘Something seems to have gone wrong with my usually keen hearing,’ I said. ‘It sounds just as if you were saying “I was paving the way for Reggie.”‘
‘I was. I was making his path straight. Softening up Mother on his behalf.’
I passed another hand over my f.b.
‘Now you seem to be saying “Softening up Mother on his behalf.”‘
‘That’s what I am saying. It’s perfectly simple. I’ll put it in words of one syllable for you. I love Reggie. Reggie loves me.’
‘Reggie,’ of course, is two syllables, but I let it go.
I was amazed.
‘You mean old Kipper?’
‘I wish you wouldn’t call him Kipper.’
‘I always have. Dash it,’ I said with some warmth, ‘if a fellow shows up at a private school on the south coast of England with a name like Herring, what else do you expect his playmates to call him? But how do you mean you love him and he loves you? You’ve never met him.’
‘Of course I’ve met him. We were in the same hotel in Switzerland last Christmas. I taught him to ski,’ she said, a dreamy look coming into her twin starlikes. ‘I shall never forget the day I helped him unscramble himself after he had taken a toss on the beginners’ slope. He had both legs wrapped round his neck. I think that is when love dawned. My heart melted as I sorted him out.’
‘You didn’t laugh?’
‘Of course I didn’t laugh. I was all sympathy and understanding.’
For the first time the thing began to seem plausible to me. Bobbie is a fun-loving girl, and the memory of her reaction when in the garden at Skeldings I had once stepped on the teeth of a rake and had the handle jump up and hit me on the tip of the nose was still laid away among my souvenirs. She had been convulsed with mirth. If, then, she had refrained from guffawing when confronted with the spectacle of Reginald Herring with both legs wrapped round his neck, her emotions must have been very deeply involved.