‘Aubrey Upjohn?’ I quavered. ‘You mean my Aubrey Upjohn?’
‘That’s the one. Soon after you made your escape from his chain gang he married Jane Mills, a friend of mine with a colossal amount of money. She died, leaving a daughter. I’m the daughter’s godmother. Upjohn’s retired now and going in for politics. The hot tip is that the boys in the back room are going to run him as the Conservative candidate in the Market Snodsbury division at the next by-election. What a thrill it’ll be for you, meeting him again. Or does the prospect scare you?’
‘Certainly not. We Woosters are intrepid. But what on earth did you invite him to Brinkley for?’
‘I didn’t. I only wanted Phyllis, but he came along, too.’
‘You should have bunged him out.’
‘I hadn’t the heart to.’
‘Weak, very weak.’
‘Besides, I needed him in my business. He’s going to present the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School. We’ve been caught short as usual, and somebody has got to make a speech on ideals and the great world outside to those blasted boys, so he fits in nicely. I believe he’s a very fine speaker. His only trouble is that he’s stymied unless he has his speech with him and can read it. Calls it referring to his notes. Phyllis told me that. She types the stuff for him.’
‘A thoroughly low trick,’ I said severely. ‘Even I, who have never soared above the Yeoman’s Wedding Song at a village concert, wouldn’t have the crust to face my public unless I’d taken the trouble to memorize the words, though actually with the Yeoman’s Wedding Song it is possible to get by quite comfortably by keeping singing “Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, I hurry along”. In short…’
I would have spoken further, but at this point, after urging me to put a sock in it, and giving me a kindly word of warning not to step on any banana skins, she rang off.
I came away from the telephone on what practically amounted to leaden feet. Here, I was feeling, was a nice bit of box fruit. Bobbie Wickham, with her tendency to stir things up and with each new day to discover some new way of staggering civilization, would by herself have been bad enough. Add Aubrey Upjohn, and the mixture became too rich. I don’t know if Kipper, when I rejoined him, noticed that my brow was sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought, as I have heard Jeeves put it. Probably not, for he was tucking into toast and marmalade at the moment, but it was. As had happened so often in the past, I was conscious of an impending doom. Exactly what form this would take I was of course unable to say – it might be one thing or it might be another – but a voice seemed to whisper to me that somehow at some not distant date Bertram was slated to get it in the gizzard.
‘That was Aunt Dahlia, Kipper,’ I said.
‘Bless her jolly old heart,’ he responded. ‘One of the very best, and you can quote me as saying so. I shall never forget those happy days at Brinkley, and shall be glad at any time that suits her to cadge another invitation. Is she up in London?’
‘Till this afternoon.’
‘We fill her to the brim with rich foods, of course?’
‘No, she’s got a lunch date. She’s browsing with Sir Roderick Glossop, the loony-doctor. You don’t know him, do you?’
‘Only from hearing you speak of him. A tough egg, I gather.’
‘One of the toughest.’
‘He was the chap, wasn’t he, who found the twenty-four cats in your bedroom?’
‘Twenty-three,’ I corrected. I like to get things right. ‘They were not my cats. They had been deposited there by my Cousins Claude and Eustace. But I found them difficult to explain. He’s a rather bad listener. I hope I shan’t find him at Brinkley, too.’
‘Are you going to Brinkley?’
‘You’ll enjoy that.’
‘Well, shall I? The point is a very moot one.’
‘You’re crazy. Think of Anatole. Those dinners of his! Is the name of the Peri who stood disconsolate at the gate of Eden familiar to you?’