‘Herring?’ the latter say when Kipper comes seeking employment. ‘Isn’t he the bimbo who took the bread out of the mouths of the Thursday Review people? Chuck the blighter out of the window and we want to see him bounce.’ If this action of Upjohn’s went through, his chances of any sort of salaried post were meagre, if not slim. It might be years before all was forgiven and forgotten.
‘Selling pencils in the gutter is about the best I’ll be able to look forward to,’ said Kipper, and he had just buried his face in his hands, as fellows are apt to do when contemplating a future that’s a bit on the bleak side, when the door opened, to reveal not, as I had expected, Aunt Dahlia, but Bobbie.
‘I got the wrong book,’ she said. ‘The one I wanted was -‘
Then her eye fell on Kipper and she stiffened in every limb, rather like Lot’s wife, who, as you probably know, did the wrong thing that time there was all that unpleasantness with the cities of the plain and got turned into a pillar of salt, though what was the thought behind this I’ve never been able to understand. Salt, I mean. Seems so bizarre somehow and not at all what you would expect.
‘Oh!’ she said haughtily, as if offended by this glimpse into the underworld, and even as she spoke a hollow groan burst from Kipper’s interior and he raised an ashen face. And at the sight of that ashen f. the haughtiness went out of Roberta Wickham with a whoosh, to be replaced by all the old love, sympathy, womanly tenderness and what not, and she bounded at him like a leopardess getting together with a lost cub.
‘Reggie! Oh, Reggie! Reggie, darling, what is it?’ she cried, her whole demeanour undergoing a marked change for the better. She was, in short, melted by his distress, as so often happens with the female sex. Poets have frequently commented on this. You are probably familiar with the one who said ‘Oh, woman in our hours of ease turn tumty tiddly something please, when something something something something brow, a something something something thou.’
She turned on me with an animal snarl.
‘What have you been doing to the poor lamb?’ she demanded, giving me one of the nastiest looks seen that summer in the midland counties, and I had just finished explaining that it was not I but Fate or Destiny that had removed the sunshine from the poor lamb’s life, when Aunt Dahlia returned. She had a slip of paper in her hand.
‘I was right,’ she said. ‘I knew Upjohn’s first move on getting a book published would be to subscribe to a press-cutting agency. I found this on the hall table. It’s your review of his slim volume, young Herring, and having run an eye over it I’m not surprised that he’s a little upset. I’ll read it to you.’
As might have been expected, this having been foreshadowed a good deal in one way and another, what Kipper had written was on the severe side, and as far as I was concerned it fell into the rare and refreshing fruit class. I enjoyed every minute of it. It concluded as follows:
‘Aubrey Upjohn might have taken a different view of preparatory schools if he had done a stretch at the Dotheboys Hall conducted by him at Malvern House, Bramley-on-Sea, as we had the misfortune to do. We have not forgotten the sausages on Sunday, which were made not from contented pigs but from pigs which had expired, regretted by all, of glanders, the botts and tuberculosis.’
Until this passage left the aged relative’s lips Kipper had been sitting with the tips of his fingers together, nodding from time to time as much as to say ‘Caustic, yes, but perfectly legitimate criticism,’ but on hearing this excerpt he did another of his sitting high jumps, lowering all previous records by several inches. It occurred to me as a passing thought that if all other sources of income failed, he had a promising future as an acrobat.
‘But I never wrote that,’ he gasped.