‘But that’s the whole idea, to show her she isn’t the only onion in the stew and that if she doesn’t want me, there are others who feel differently. What are you grinning about?’
As a matter of fact, I was smiling subtly, but I let it go.
‘Kipper,’ I said, ‘I have an amazing story to relate.’
I don’t know if you happen to take Old Doctor Gordon’s Bile Magnesia, which when the liver is disordered gives instant relief, acting like magic and imparting an inward glow? I don’t myself, my personal liver being always more or less in mid-season form, but I’ve seen the advertisements. They show the sufferer before and after taking, in the first case with drawn face and hollow eyes and the general look of one shortly about to hand in his dinner pail, in the second all beans and buck and what the French call bien etre. Well, what I’m driving at is that my amazing story had exactly the same effect on Kipper as the daily dose for adults … He moved, he stirred, he seemed to feel the rush of life along his keel, and while I don’t suppose he actually put on several pounds in weight as the tale proceeded, one got the distinct illusion that he was swelling like one of those rubber ducks which you fill with air before inserting them in the bath tub.
‘Well, I’ll be blowed!’ he said, when I had placed the facts before him. ‘Well, I’ll be a son of a what not!’
‘I thought you would be.’
‘Bless her ingenious little heart! Not many girls would have got the grey matter working like that.’
‘What a helpmeet! Talk about service and co-operation. Have you any idea how the thing is working out?’
‘Rather smoothly, I think. On reading the announcement in The Times, Wickham senior had hysterics and swooned in her tracks.’
‘She doesn’t like you?’
‘That was the impression I got. It has been confirmed by subsequent telegrams to Bobbie in which she refers to me as a guffin and a gaby. She also considers me a nincompoop.’
‘Well, that’s fine. It looks as though, after you, I shall come to her like … it’s on the tip of my tongue.’
‘Rare and refreshing fruit?’
‘Exactly. If you care to have a bet on it, five bob will get you ten that this scenario will end with a fade-out of Lady Wickham folding me in her arms and kissing me on the brow and saying she knows I will make her little girl happy. Gosh, Bertie, when I think that she – Bobbie, I mean, not Lady Wickham – will soon be mine and that shortly after yonder sun has set I shall be tucking into one of Anatole’s dinners, I could dance a saraband. By the way, talking of dinner, do you suppose it would also run to a bed? The “Bull and Bush” is well spoken of in the Automobile Guide, but I’m always a bit wary of these country pubs. I’d much rather be at Brinkley Court, of which I have such happy memories. Could you swing it with your aunt?’
‘She isn’t here. She left to minister to her son Bonzo, who is down with German measles at his school. But she rang up this afternoon and instructed me to wire you to come and make a prolonged stay.’
‘You’re pulling my leg.’
‘No, this is official.’
‘But what made her think of me?’
‘There’s something she wants you to do for her.’
‘She can have anything she asks, even unto half my kingdom. What does she …’ He paused, and a look of alarm came into his face. ‘Don’t tell me she wants me to present the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammer School, like Gussie?’
He was alluding to a mutual friend of ours of the name of Gussie Fink-Nottle, who, hounded by the aged relative into undertaking this task in the previous summer, had got pickled to the gills and made an outstanding exhibition of himself, setting up a mark at which all future orators would shoot in vain.
‘No, no, nothing like that. The prizes this year will be distributed by Aubrey Upjohn.’