‘I’d have given fifty quid to have been there,’ she said, when she was able to get the vocal cords working. ‘Half-way under the dressing- table, were you?’ ‘The second time. When we first forgathered, I was sitting on the floor with a chair round my neck.’
‘Like an Elizabethan ruff, as worn by Thomas Botway.’
‘Otway,’ I said stiffly. As I have mentioned, I like to get things right. And I was about to tell her that what I had hoped for from a blood relation was sympathy and condolence rather than this crackling of thorns under a pot, as it is sometimes called, when the door opened and Bobbie came in.
The moment I cast an eye on her, it seemed to me that there was something strange about her aspect. Normally, this beasel presents to the world the appearance of one who is feeling that if it isn’t the best of all possible worlds, it’s quite good enough to be going on with till a better one comes along. Verve, I mean, and animation and all that sort of thing. But now there was a listlessness about her, not the listlessness of the cat Augustus but more that of the female in the picture in the Louvre, of whom Jeeves, on the occasion when he lugged me there to take a dekko at her, said that here was the head upon which all the ends of the world are come. He drew my attention, I remember, to the weariness of the eyelids. I got just the same impression of weariness from Bobbie’s eyelids.
Unparting her lips which were set in a thin line as if she had just been taking a suck at a lemon, she said:
‘I came to get that book of Mrs Cream’s that I was reading, Mrs Travers.’
‘Help yourself, child,’ said the ancestor. ‘The more people in this joint reading her stuff, the better. It all goes to help the composition.’
‘So you got here all right, Bobbie,’ I said. ‘Have you seen Kipper?’
I wouldn’t say she snorted, but she certainly sniffed.
‘Bertie,’ she said in a voice straight from the frigidaire, ‘will you do me a favour?’
‘Of course. What?’
‘Don’t mention that rat’s name in my presence,’ she said, and pushed off, the eyelids still weary.
She left me fogged and groping for the inner meaning, and I could see from Aunt Dahlia’s goggling eyes that the basic idea hadn’t got across with her either. ‘Well!’ she said. ‘What’s all this? I thought you told me she loved young Herring with a passion like boiling oil.’
‘That was her story.’
‘The oil seems to have gone off the boil. Yes, sir, if that was the language of love, I’ll eat my hat,’ said the blood relation, alluding, I took it, to the beastly straw contraption in which she does her gardening, concerning which I can only say that it is almost as foul as Uncle Tom’s Sherlock Holmes deerstalker, which has frightened more crows than any other lid in Worcestershire. ‘They must have had a fight.’
‘It does look like it,’ I agreed, ‘and I don’t understand how it can have happened considering that she left me with the love light in her eyes and can’t have been back here more than about half an hour. What, one asks oneself, in so short a time can have changed a girl full of love and ginger ale into a girl who speaks of the adored object as “that rat” and doesn’t want to hear his name mentioned? These are deep waters. Should I send for Jeeves?’
‘What on earth can Jeeves do?’
‘Well, now you put it that way, I’m bound to admit that I don’t know. It’s just that one drops into the habit of sending for Jeeves whenever things have gone agley, if that’s the word I’m thinking of. Scotch, isn’t it? Agley, I mean. It sounds Scotch to me. However, passing lightly over that, the thing to do when you want the low-down is to go to the fountainhead and get it straight from the horse’s mouth. Kipper can solve this mystery. I’ll pop along and find him.’