‘Sound and fury signifying nothing, sir?’
‘That’s it. Pure swank. A few civil words, and he will be grappling you … what’s that expression I’ve heard you use?’
‘Grappling me to his soul with hoops of steel, sir?’
‘In the first two minutes. He wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he has to put up a front because his name’s Poppet. One can readily appreciate that when a dog hears himself addressed day in and day out as Poppet, he feels he must throw his weight about. His self-respect demands it.’
‘You’ll like Poppet. Nice dog. Wears his ears inside out. Why do dachshunds wear their ears inside out?’
‘I could not say, sir.’
‘Nor me. I’ve often wondered. But this won’t do, Jeeves. Here we are, yakking about Jezebels and dachshunds, when we ought to be concentrating our minds on…’
I broke off abruptly. My eye had been caught by a wayside inn. Well, not actually so much by the wayside inn as by what was standing outside it – to wit, a scarlet roadster which I recognized instantly as the property of Bobbie Wickham. One saw what had happened. Driving back to Brinkley after a couple of nights with Mother, she had found the going a bit warm and had stopped off at this hostelry for a quick one. And a very sensible thing to do, too. Nothing picks one up more than a spot of sluicing on a hot summer afternoon.
I applied the brakes.
‘Mind waiting here a minute, Jeeves?’
‘Certainly, sir. You wish to speak to Miss Wickham?’
‘Ah, you spotted her car?’
‘Yes, sir. It is distinctly individual.’
‘Like its owner. I have a feeling that I may be able to accomplish something in the breach-healing way with a honeyed word or two. Worth trying, don’t you think?’
‘At a time like this one doesn’t want to leave any avenue unturned.’
The interior of the wayside inn – the ‘Fox and Goose’, not that it matters – was like the interiors of all wayside inns, dark and cool and smelling of beer, cheese, coffee, pickles and the sturdy English peasantry. Entering, you found yourself in a cosy nook with tankards on the walls and chairs and tables dotted hither and thither. On one of the chairs at one of the tables Bobbie was seated with a glass and a bottle of ginger ale before her.
‘Good Lord, Bertie!’ she said as I stepped up and what-ho-ed. ‘Where did you spring from?’
I explained that I was on my way back to Brinkley from London in my car.
‘Be careful someone doesn’t pinch it. I’ll bet you haven’t taken out the keys.’
‘No, but Jeeves is there, keeping watch and ward, as you might say.’
‘Oh, you’ve brought Jeeves with you? I thought he was on his holiday.’
‘He very decently cancelled it.’
‘Very. When I told him I needed him at my side, he didn’t hesitate.’
‘What do you need him at your side for?’
The moment had come for the honeyed word. I lowered my voice to a confidential murmur, but on her inquiring if I had laryngitis raised it again.
‘I had an idea that he might be able to do something.’
‘About you and Kipper,’ I said, and started to feel my way cautiously towards the core and centre. It would be necessary, I knew, to pick my words with c., for with girls of high and haughty spirit you have to watch your step, especially if they have red hair, like Bobbie. If they think you’re talking out of turn, dudgeon ensues, and dudgeon might easily lead her to reach for the ginger ale bottle and bean me with it. I don’t say she would, but it was a possibility that had to be taken into account. So I sort of eased into the agenda.
‘I must begin by saying that Kipper has given me a full eyewitness’s – well, earwitness’s I suppose you’d say -report of that chat you and he had over the telephone, and no doubt you are saying to yourself that it would have been in better taste for him to have kept it under his hat. But you must remember that we were boys together, and a fellow naturally confides in a chap he was boys together with. Anyway, be that as it may, he poured out his soul to me, and he hadn’t been pouring long before I was able to see that he was cut to the quick. His blood pressure was high, his eye rolled in what they call a fine frenzy, and he was death-where-is-thy-sting-ing like nobody’s business.’