But words are not always needed. In the look he now shot at me I seemed to read a hundred unspoken expletives. It was the sort of look the bucko mate of a tramp steamer would have given an able-bodied seaman who for one reason or another had incurred his displeasure.
‘I see you have not changed since you were with me at Malvern House,’ he said in an extremely nasty voice, dabbing at the trousers with a handkerchief. ‘Bungling Wooster we used to call him,’ he went on, addressing his remarks to Bobbie and evidently trying to enlist her sympathy. ‘He could not perform the simplest action such as holding a cup without spreading ruin and disaster on all sides. It was an axiom at Malvern House that if there was a chair in any room in which he happened to be, Wooster would trip over it. The child,’ said Aubrey Upjohn, ‘is the father of the man.’
‘Frightfully sorry,’ I said.
‘Too late to be sorry now. A new pair of trousers ruined. It is doubtful if anything can remove the stain of tea from white flannel. Still, one must hope for the best.’
Whether I was right or wrong at this point in patting him on the shoulder and saying ‘That’s the spirit!’ I find it difficult to decide. Wrong, probably, for it did not seem to soothe. He gave me another of those looks and strode off, smelling strongly of tea.
‘Shall I tell you something, Bertie?’ said Bobbie, following him with a thoughtful eye. ‘That walking tour Upjohn was going to invite you to take with him is off. You will get no Christmas present from him this year, and don’t expect him to come and tuck you up in bed tonight.’
I upset the milk jug with an imperious wave of the hand.
‘Never mind about Upjohn and Christmas presents and walking tours. What is Pop Glossop doing here as the butler?’
‘Ah! I thought you might be going to ask that. I was meaning to tell you some time.’
‘Tell me now.’
‘Well, it was his idea.’
I eyed her sternly. Bertram Wooster has no objection to listening to drivel, but it must not be pure babble from the padded cell, as this appeared to be.
‘Are you asking me to believe that Sir Roderick Glossop got up one morning, gazed at himself in the mirror, thought he was looking a little pale and said to himself, “I need a change. I think I’ll try being a butler for awhile”?’
‘No, not that, but… I don’t know where to begin.’
‘Begin at the beginning. Come on now, young B. Wickham, smack into it,’ I said, and took a piece of cake in a marked manner.
The austerity of my tone seemed to touch a nerve and kindle the fire that always slept in this vermilion-headed menace to the common weal, for she frowned a displeased frown and told me for heaven’s sake to stop goggling like a dead halibut.
‘I have every right to goggle like a dead halibut,’ I said coldly, ‘and I shall continue to do so as long as I see fit. I am under a considerable nervous s. As always seems to happen when you are mixed up in the doings, life has become one damn thing after another, and I think I am justified in demanding an explanation. I await your statement.’
‘Well, let me marshal my thoughts.’
She did so, and after a brief intermission, during which I finished my piece of cake, proceeded.
‘I’d better begin by telling you about Upjohn, because it all started through him. You see, he’s egging Phyllis on to marry Wilbert Cream.’
‘When you say egging -‘
‘I mean egging. And when a man like that eggs, something has to give, especially when the girl’s a pill like Phyllis, who always does what Daddy tells her.’
‘No will of her own?’
‘Not a smidgeon. To give you an instance, a couple of days ago he took her to Birmingham to see the repertory company’s performance of Chekhov’s Seagull, because he thought it would be educational. I’d like to catch anyone trying to make me see Chekhov’s Seagull, but Phyllis just bowed her head and said, “Yes, Daddy.” Didn’t even attempt to put up a fight. That’ll show you how much of a will of her own she’s got.’