P.G.Wodehouse. Jeeves in the offing, 1960

However, by pulling this way and pushing that, I made progress, and I’d just contrived to de-chair myself and was about to rise, when another voice spoke.

‘For Pete’s sake!’ it said, and, looking up, I found that it was not, as I had for a moment supposed, from the lips of the Brinkley Court ghost that the words had proceeded, but from those of Mrs Homer Cream. She was looking at me, as Sir Roderick Glossop had recently looked at Bobbie, with a wild surmise, her whole air that of a woman who is not abreast. This time, I noticed, she had an ink spot on her chin.

‘Mr Wooster!’ she yipped.

Well, there’s nothing much you can say in reply to ‘Mr Wooster!’ except ‘Oh, hullo,’ so I said it.

‘You are doubtless surprised,’ I was continuing, when she hogged the conversation again, asking me (a) what I was doing in her son’s room and (b) what in the name of goodness I thought I was up to.

‘For the love of Mike,’ she added, driving her point home.

It is frequently said of Bertram Wooster that he is a man who can think on his feet, and if the necessity arises he can also use his loaf when on all fours. On the present occasion I was fortunate in having had that get-together with the housemaid and the cat Augustus, for it gave me what they call in France a point d’appui. Removing a portion of chair which had got entangled in my back hair, I said with a candour that became me well:

‘I was looking for a mouse.’

If she had replied, ‘Ah, yes, indeed. I understand now. A mouse, to be sure. Quite,’ everything would have been nice and smooth, but she didn’t.

‘A mouse?’ she said. ‘What do you mean?’

Well, of course, if she didn’t know what a mouse was, there was evidently a good deal of tedious spadework before us, and one would scarcely have known where to start. It was a relief when her next words showed that that ‘What do you mean?’ had not been a query but more in the nature of a sort of heart-cry.

‘What makes you think there is a mouse in this room?’

‘The evidence points that way.’

‘Have you seen it?’

‘Actually, no. It’s been lying what the French call perdu.’

‘What made you come and look for it?’

‘Oh, I thought I would.’

‘And why were you standing on a chair?’

‘Sort of just trying to get a bird’s-eye view, as it were.’

‘Do you often go looking for mice in other people’s rooms?’

‘I wouldn’t say often. Just when the spirit moves me, don’t you know?’

‘I see. Well…’

When people say ‘Well’ to you like that, it usually means that they think you are outstaying your welcome and that the time has come to call it a day. She felt, I could see, that Woosters were not required in her son’s sleeping apartment, and realizing that there might be something in this, I rose, dusted the knees of the trousers, and after a courteous word to the effect that I hoped the spine-freezer on which she was engaged was coming out well, left the presence. Happening to glance back as I reached the door, I saw her looking after me, that wild surmise still functioning on all twelve cylinders. It was plain that she considered my behaviour odd, and I’m not saying it wasn’t. The behaviour of those who allow their actions to be guided by Roberta Wickham is nearly always odd.

The thing I wanted most at this juncture was to have a heart-to- heart talk with that young femme fatale, and after roaming hither and thither for a while I found her in my chair on the lawn, reading the Ma Cream book in which I had been engrossed when these doings had started. She greeted me with a bright smile, and said:

‘Back already? Did you find it?’

With a strong effort I mastered my emotion and replied curtly but civilly that the answer was in the negative.

‘No,’ I said, ‘I did not find it.’

‘You can’t have looked properly.’

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