‘No, I’m here to collect my new butler and take him home with me.’
‘New butler? What’s become of Seppings?’
I clicked the tongue. I was very fond of the major-domo in question, having enjoyed many a port in his pantry, and this news saddened me.
‘No, really?’ I said. ‘Too bad. I thought he looked a little frail when I last saw him. Well, that’s how it goes. All flesh is grass, I often say.’
‘To Bognor Regis, for his holiday.’
I unclicked the tongue.
‘Oh, I see. That puts a different complexion on the matter. Odd how all these pillars of the home seem to be dashing away on toots these days. It’s like what Jeeves was telling me about the great race movements of the Middle Ages. Jeeves starts his holiday this morning. He’s off to Herne Bay for the shrimping, and I’m feeling like that bird in the poem who lost his pet gazelle or whatever the animal was. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him.’
‘I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. Have you a clean shirt?’
‘And a toothbrush?’
‘Two, both of the finest quality.’
‘Then pack them. You’re coming to Brinkley tomorrow.’
The gloom which always envelops Bertram Wooster like a fog when Jeeves is about to take his annual vacation lightened perceptibly. There are few things I find more agreeable than a sojourn at Aunt Dahlia’s rural lair. Picturesque scenery, gravel soil, main drainage, company’s own water and, above all, the superb French cheffing of her French chef Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices. A full hand, as you might put it.
‘What an admirable suggestion,’ I said. ‘You solve all my problems and bring the blue bird out of a hat. Rely on me. You will observe me bowling up in the Wooster sports model tomorrow afternoon with my hair in a braid and a song on my lips. My presence will, I feel sure, stimulate Anatole to new heights of endeavour. Got anybody else staying at the old snake pit?’
‘Five inmates in all.’
‘Five?’ I resumed my tongue-clicking. ‘Golly! Uncle Tom must be frothing at the mouth a bit,’ I said, for I knew the old buster’s distaste for guests in the home. Even a single weekender is sometimes enough to make him drain the bitter cup.
‘Tom’s not there. He’s gone to Harrogate with Cream.’
‘You mean lumbago.’
‘I don’t mean lumbago. I mean Cream. Homer Cream. Big American tycoon, who is visiting these shores. He suffers from ulcers, and his medicine man has ordered him to take the waters at Harrogate. Tom has gone with him to hold his hand and listen to him of an evening while he tells him how filthy the stuff tastes.’
‘I mean altruistic. You are probably not familiar with the word, but it’s one I’ve heard Jeeves use. It’s what you say of a fellow who gives selfless service, not counting the cost.’
‘Selfless service, my foot! Tom’s in the middle of a very important business deal with Cream. If it goes through, he’ll make a packet free of income tax. So he’s sucking up to him like a Hollywood Yes-man.’
I gave an intelligent nod, though this of course was wasted on her because she couldn’t see me. I could readily understand my uncle-by- marriage’s mental processes. T. Portarlington Travers is a man who has accumulated the pieces of eight in sackfuls, but he is always more than willing to shove a bit extra away behind the brick in the fireplace, feeling – and rightly -that every little bit added to what you’ve got makes just a little bit more. And if there’s one thing that’s right up his street, it is not paying income tax. He grudges every penny the Government nicks him for.
‘That is why, when kissing me goodbye, he urged me with tears in his eyes to lush Mrs Cream and her son Willie up and treat them like royalty. So they’re at Brinkley, dug into the woodwork.’
‘Willie, did you say?’
‘Short for Wilbert.’
I mused. Willie Cream. The name seemed familiar somehow. I seemed to have heard it or seen it in the papers somewhere. But it eluded me.