‘Don’t you like the Red Room?’
‘The Red Room!’
I gathered from his manner that he had not come to beef about his sleeping accommodation.
‘Then what is your little trouble?’
‘My little trouble!’
I felt that this sort of thing must be stopped at its source. It was only ten minutes to dressing-for-dinner time, and we could go on along these lines for hours.
‘Listen, old crumpet,’ I said patiently. ‘Make up your mind whether you are my old friend Reginald Herring or an echo in the Swiss mountains. If you’re simply going to repeat every word I say -‘
At this moment Pop Glossop entered with the cocktails, and we cheesed the give-and-take. Kipper drained his glass to the lees and seemed to become calmer. When the door closed behind Roddy and he was at liberty to speak, he did so quite coherently. Taking another beaker, he said:
‘Bertie, the most frightful thing has happened.’
I don’t mind saying that the heart did a bit of sinking. In an earlier conversation with Bobbie Wickham it will be recalled that I had compared Brinkley Court to one of those joints the late Edgar Allan Poe used to write about. If you are acquainted with his works, you will remember that in them it was always tough going for those who stayed in country-houses, the visitor being likely at any moment to encounter a walking corpse in a winding sheet with blood all over it. Prevailing conditions at Brinkley were not perhaps quite as testing as that, but the atmosphere had undeniably become sinister, and here was Kipper more than hinting that he had a story to relate which would deepen the general feeling that things were hotting up.
‘What’s the matter?’ I said.
‘I’ll tell you what’s the matter,’ he said.
‘Yes, do,’ I said, and he did.
‘Bertie,’ he said, taking a third one. ‘I think you will understand that when I read that announcement in The Times I was utterly bowled over?’
‘Oh quite. Perfectly natural.’
‘My head swam, and -‘
‘Yes, you told me. Everything went black.’
‘I wish it had stayed black,’ he said bitterly, ‘but it didn’t. After awhile the mists cleared, and I sat there seething with fury. And after I had seethed for a bit I rose from my chair, took pen in hand and wrote Bobbie a stinker.’
‘I put my whole soul into it.’
‘I accused her in set terms of giving me the heave-ho in order that she could mercenarily marry a richer man. I called her a carrot-topped Jezebel whom I was thankful to have got out of my hair. I… Oh, I can’t remember what else I said but, as I say, it was a stinker.’
‘But you never mentioned a word about this when I met you.’
‘In the ecstasy of learning that that Times thing was just a ruse and that she loved me still it passed completely from my mind. When it suddenly came back to me just now, it was like getting hit in the eye with a wet fish. I reeled.’
‘Reeled. I felt absolutely boneless. But I had enough strength to stagger to the telephone. I rang up Skeldings Hall and was informed that she had just arrived.’
‘She must have driven like an inebriated racing motorist.’
‘No doubt she did. Girls will be girls. Anyway, she was there. She told me with a merry lilt in her voice that she had found a letter from me on the hall table and could hardly wait to open it. In a shaking voice I told her not to.’
‘So you were in time.’
‘In time, my foot! Bertie, you’re a man of the world. You’ve known a good many members of the other sex in your day. What does a girl do when she is told not to open a letter?’
I got his drift.
‘Exactly. I heard the envelope rip, and the next moment… No, I’d rather not think of it.’
‘She took umbrage?’
‘Yes, and she also took my head off. I don’t know if you have ever been in a typhoon on the Indian Ocean.’