‘I’m sorry, Jeeves,’ I said, consulting my watch, ‘but I shall have to be dashing off. Urgent appointment. You must tell me the rest later.’
‘At any time that suits you, sir.’
‘Are you doing anything for the next half-hour or so?’
‘Not planning to curl up in some shady nook with a cigarette and Spinoza?’
‘Then I strongly advise you to come down to the lake and witness a human drama.’
And in a few brief words I outlined the programme and the events which had led up to it. He listened attentively and raised his left eyebrow a fraction of an inch.
‘Was this Miss Wickham’s idea, sir?’
‘No. I agree that it sounds like one of hers, but actually it was Sir Roderick Glossop who suggested it. By the way, you were probably surprised to find him buttling here.’
‘It did occasion me a momentary astonishment, but Sir Roderick explained the circumstances.’
‘Fearing that if he didn’t let you in on it, you might unmask him in front of Mrs Cream?’
‘No doubt, sir. He would naturally wish to take all precautions. I gathered from his remarks that he has not yet reached a definite conclusion regarding the mental condition of Mr Cream.’
‘No, he’s still observing. Well, as I say, it was from his fertile bean that the idea sprang. What do you think of it?’
‘Ill-advised, sir, in my opinion.’
I was amazed. I could hardly b. my e.
‘But it worked without a hitch in the case of Bertha Simmons, George Lanchester and old Mr Simmons.’
‘Very possibly, sir.’
Then why this defeatist attitude?’
‘It is merely a feeling, sir, due probably to my preference for finesse. I mistrust these elaborate schemes. One cannot depend on them. As the poet Burns says, the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.’
‘Scotch, isn’t it, that word?’
‘I thought as much. The “gang” told the story. Why do Scotsmen say gang?’
‘I have no information, sir. They have not confided in me.’
I was getting a bit peeved by now, not at all liking the sniffiness of his manner. I had expected him to speed me on my way with words of encouragement and.uplift, not to go trying to blunt the keen edge of my zest like this. I was rather in the position of a child who runs to his mother hoping for approval and endorsement of something he’s done, and is awarded instead a brusque kick in the pants. It was with a good deal of warmth that I came back at him.
‘So you think the poet Burns would look askance at this enterprise of ours, do you? Well, you can tell him from me he’s an ass. We’ve thought the thing out to the last detail. Miss Wickham asks Mr Upjohn to come for a stroll with her. She leads him to the lake. I am standing on the brink, ostensibly taking a look at the fishes playing amongst the reeds. Kipper, ready to the last button, is behind a neighbouring tree. On the cue “Oh, look!” from Miss Wickham, accompanied by business of pointing with girlish excitement at something in the water, Upjohn bends over to peer. I push, Kipper dives in, and there we are. Nothing can possibly go wrong.’
‘Just as you say, sir. But I still have that feeling.’
The blood of the Woosters is hot, and I was about to tell him in set terms what I thought of his bally feeling, when I suddenly spotted what it was that was making him crab the act. The green-eyed monster had bitten him. He was miffed because he wasn’t the brains behind this binge, the blue prints for it having been laid down by a rival. Even great men have their weaknesses. So I held back the acid crack I might have made, and went off with a mere ‘Oh, yeah?’ No sense in twisting the knife in the wound, I mean.
All the same, I remained a bit hot under the collar, because when you’re all strung up and tense and all that, the last thing you want is people upsetting you by bringing in the poet Burns. I hadn’t told him, but our plans had already nearly been wrecked at the outset by the unfortunate circumstance of Upjohn, while in the metropolis, having shaved his moustache, this causing Kipper to come within a toucher of losing his nerve and calling the whole thing off. The sight of that bare expanse or steppe of flesh beneath the nose, he said, did something to him, bringing back the days when he had so often found his blood turning to ice on beholding it. It had required quite a series of pep talks to revive his manly spirits.