‘This butler of Mrs Travers’s. Do you know where she got him, Miss Wickham?’
‘At the usual pet shop, I think.’
‘Had he references?’
‘Oh, yes. He was with Sir Roderick Glossop, the brain specialist, for years. I remember Mrs Travers saying Sir Roderick gave him a super- colossal reference. She was greatly impressed.’
Ma Cream sniffed.
‘References can be forged.’
‘Good gracious! Why do you say that?’
‘Because I am not at all easy in my mind about this man. He has a criminal face.’
‘Well, you might say that about Bertie.’
‘I feel that Mrs Travers should be warned. In my Blackness at Night the butler turned out to be one of a gang of crooks, planted in the house to make it easy for them to break in. The inside stand, it’s called. I strongly suspect that this is why this Swordfish is here, though of course it is quite possible that he is working on his own. One thing I am sure of, and that is that he is not a genuine butler.’
‘What makes you think that?’ I asked, handkerchiefing my upper slopes, which had become considerably bedewed. I didn’t like this line of talk at all. Let the Cream get firmly in her nut the idea that Sir Roderick Glossop was not the butler, the whole butler and nothing but the butler, and disaster, as I saw it, loomed. She would probe and investigate, and before you could say ‘What ho’ would be in full possession of the facts. In which event, bim would go Uncle Tom’s chance of scooping in a bit of easy money. And ever since I’ve known him failure to get his hooks on any stray cash that’s floating around has always put him out of touch with the blue bird. It isn’t that he’s mercenary. It’s just that he loves the stuff.
Her manner suggested that she was glad I had asked her that.
‘I’ll tell you what makes me think it. He betrays his amateurishness in a hundred ways. This very morning I found him having a long conversation with Wilbert. A real butler would never do that. He would feel it was a liberty.’
I contested this statement.
‘Now there,’ I said, ‘I take issue with you, if taking issue means what I think it means. Many of my happiest hours have been passed chatting with butlers, and it has nearly always happened that it was they who made the first advances. They seek me out and tell me about their rheumatism. Swordfish looks all right to me.’
‘You are not a student of criminology, as I am. I have the trained eye, and my judgment is never wrong. That man is here for no good.’
I could see that all this was making Bobbie chafe, but her better self prevailed and she checked the heated retort. She is very fond of T. Portarlington Travers, who, she tells me, is the living image of a wire-haired terrier now residing with the morning stars but at one time very dear to her, and she remembered that for his sake the Cream had to be deferred to and handled with gloves. When she spoke, it was with the mildness of a cushat dove addressing another cushat dove from whom it was hoping to borrow money.
‘But don’t you think, Mrs Cream, that it may be just your imagination? You have such a wonderful imagination. Bertie was saying only the other day that he didn’t know how you did it. Write all those frightfully imaginative books, I mean. Weren’t you, Bertie?’
‘My very words.’
‘And if you have an imagination, you can’t help imagining. Can you, Bertie?’
Her honeyed words were wasted. The Cream continued to dig her toes in like Balaam’s ass, of whom you have doubtless heard.
‘I’m not imagining that that butler is up to something fishy,’ she said tartly. ‘And I should have thought it was pretty obvious what that something was. You seem to have forgotten that Mr Travers has one of the finest collections of old silver in England.’
This was correct. Owing possibly to some flaw in his mental make-up, Uncle Tom has been collecting old silver since I was so high, and I suppose the contents of the room on the ground floor where he parks the stuff are worth a princely sum. I knew all about that collection of his, not only because I had had to listen to him for hours on the subject of sconces, foliation, ribbon wreaths in high relief and gadroon borders, but because I had what you might call a personal interest in it, once having stolen an eighteenth-century cow-creamer for him. (Long story. No time to go into it now. You will find it elsewhere in the archives.)