‘Well, it’s here in cold print.’
‘Why, that’s libellous!’
‘So Upjohn and his legal eagle seem to feel. And I must say it reads like a pretty good five thousand pounds’ worth to me.’
‘Let me look at that,’ yipped Kipper. ‘I don’t understand this. No, half a second, darling. Not now. Later. I want to concentrate,’ he said, for Bobbie had flung herself on him and was clinging to him like the ivy on the old garden wall.
‘Reggie!’ she wailed – yes, wail’s the word. ‘It was me!’
‘That thing Mrs Travers just read. You remember you showed me the proof at lunch that day and told me to drop it off at the office, as you had to rush along to keep a golf date. I read it again after you’d gone, and saw you had left out that bit about the sausages – accidentally, I thought – and it seemed to me so frightfully funny and clever that… Well, I put it in at the end. I felt it just rounded the thing off.’
There was silence for some moments, broken only by the sound of an aunt saying ‘Lord love a duck!’ Kipper stood blinking, as I had sometimes seen him do at the boxing tourneys in which he indulged when in receipt of a shrewd buffet on some tender spot like the tip of the nose. Whether or not the idea of taking Bobbie’s neck in both hands and twisting it into a spiral floated through his mind, I cannot say, but if so it was merely the ideal dream of a couple of seconds or so, for almost immediately love prevailed. She had described him as a lamb, and it was with all the mildness for which lambs are noted that he now spoke.
‘Oh, I see. So that’s how it was.’
‘I’m so sorry.’
‘Don’t mention it.’
‘Can you ever forgive me?’
‘I meant so well.’
‘Of course you did.’
‘Will you really get into trouble about this?’
‘There may be some slight unpleasantness.’
‘Quite all right.’
‘I’ve ruined your life.’
‘Nonsense. The Thursday Review isn’t the only paper in London. If they fire me, I’ll accept employment elsewhere.’
This scarcely squared with what he had told me about being blacklisted, but I forbore to mention this, for I saw that his words had cheered Bobbie up considerably, and I didn’t want to bung a spanner into her mood of bien etre. Never does to dash the cup of happiness from a girl’s lips when after plumbing the depths she has started to take a swig at it.
‘Of course!’ she said. ‘Any paper would be glad to have a valuable man like you.’
‘They’ll fight like tigers for his services,’ I said, helping things along. ‘You don’t find a chap like Kipper out of circulation for more than a day or so.’
‘You’re so clever.’
‘I don’t mean you, ass, I mean Reggie.’
‘Ah, yes. Kipper has what it takes, all right.’
‘All the same,’ said Aunt Dahlia, ‘I think, when Upjohn arrives, you had better do all you can to ingratiate yourself with him.’
I got her meaning. She was recommending that grappling-to-the-soul- with-hoops-of-steel stuff.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Exert the charm, Kipper, and there’s a chance he might call the thing off.’
‘Bound to,’ said Bobbie. ‘Nobody can resist you, darling.’
‘Do you think so, darling?’
‘Of course I do, darling.’
‘Well, let’s hope you’re right, darling. In the meantime,’ said Kipper, ‘if I don’t get that whisky-and-soda soon, I shall disintegrate. Would you mind if I went in search of it, Mrs Travers?’
‘It’s the very thing I was about to suggest myself. Dash along and drink your fill, my unhappy young stag at eve.’
‘I’m feeling rather like a restorative, too,’ said Bobbie.
‘Me also,’ I said, swept along on the tide of the popular movement. ‘Though I would advise,’ I said, when we were outside, ‘making it port. More authority. We’ll look in on Swordfish. He will provide.’
We found Pop Glossop in his pantry polishing silver, and put in our order. He seemed a little surprised at the inrush of such a multitude, but on learning that our tongues were hanging out obliged with a bottle of the best, and after we had done a bit of tissue-restoring, Kipper, who had preserved a brooding silence since entering, rose and left us, saying that if we didn’t mind he would like to muse apart for a while. I saw Pop Glossop give him a sharp look as he went out and knew that Kipper’s demeanour had roused his professional interest, causing him to scent in the young visitor a potential customer. These brain specialists are always on the job and never miss a trick. Tactfully waiting till the door had closed, he said: