However, there was good stuff in the lad, and though for a while the temperature of his feet had dropped sharply, threatening to reduce him to the status of a non-co-operative cat in an adage, at 3.30 Greenwich Mean Time he was at his post behind the selected tree, resolved to do his bit. He poked his head round the tree as I arrived, and when I waved a cheery hand at him, waved a fairly cheery hand at me. Though I only caught a glimpse of him, I could see that his upper lip was stiff.
There being no signs as yet of the female star and her companion, I deduced that I was a bit on the early side. I lit a cigarette and stood awaiting their entrance, and was pleased to note that conditions could scarcely have been better for the coming water fete. Too often on an English summer day you find the sun going behind the clouds and a nippy wind springing up from the north-east, but this afternoon was one of those still, sultry afternoons when the slightest movement brings the persp. in beads to the brow, an afternoon, in short, when it would be a positive pleasure to be shoved into a lake. ‘Most refreshing,’ Upjohn would say to himself as the cool water played about his limbs.
I was standing there running over the stage directions in my mind to see that I had got them all clear, when I beheld Wilbert Cream approaching, the dog Poppet curvetting about his ankles. On seeing me, the hound rushed forward with uncouth cries as was his wont, but on heaving alongside and getting a whiff of Wooster Number Five calmed down, and I was at liberty to attend to Wilbert, who I could see desired speech with me.
He was looking, I noticed, fairly green about the gills, and he conveyed the same suggestion of having just swallowed a bad oyster which I had observed in Kipper on his arrival at Brinkley. It was plain that the loss of Phyllis Mills, goofy though she unquestionably was, had hit him a shrewd wallop, and I presumed that he was coming to me for sympathy and heart balm, which I would have been only too pleased to dish out. I hoped, of course, that he would make it crisp and remove himself at an early date, for when the moment came for the balloon to go up I didn’t want to be hampered by an audience. When you’re pushing someone into a lake, nothing embarrasses you more than having the front seats filled up with goggling spectators.
It was not, however, on the subject of Phyllis that he proceeded to touch.
‘Oh, Wooster,’ he said, ‘I was talking to my mother a night or two ago.’
‘Oh, yes?’ I said, with a slight wave of the hand intended to indicate that if he liked to talk to his mother anywhere, all over the house, he had my approval.
‘She tells me you are interested in mice.’
I didn’t like the trend the conversation was taking, but I preserved my aplomb.
‘Why, yes, fairly interested.’
‘She says she found you trying to catch one in my bedroom!’
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘Good of you to bother.’
‘Not at all. Always a pleasure.’
‘She says you seemed to be making a very thorough search of my room.’
‘Oh, well, you know, when one sets one’s hand to the plough.’
‘You didn’t find a mouse?’
‘No, no mouse. Sorry.’
‘I wonder if by any chance you happened to find an eighteenth- century cow-creamer?’
‘A silver jug shaped like a cow.’
‘No. Why, was it on the floor somewhere?’
‘It was in a drawer of the bureau.’
‘Ah, then I would have missed it.’
‘You’d certainly miss it now. It’s gone.’
‘You mean disappeared, as it were?’
‘Yes, does seem extremely strange, doesn’t it?’
I had spoken with all the old Wooster coolness, and I doubt if a casual observer would have detected that Bertram was not at his ease, but I can assure my public that he wasn’t by a wide margin. My heart had leaped in the manner popularized by Kipper Herring and Scarface McColl, crashing against my front teeth with a thud which must have been audible in Market Snodsbury. A far less astute man would have been able to divine what had happened. Not knowing the score owing to having missed the latest stop-press news and looking on the cow-creamer purely in the light of a bit of the swag collected by Wilbert in the course of his larcenous career, Pop Glossop, all zeal, had embarked on the search he had planned to make, and intuition, developed by years of hunt-the- slipper, had led him to the right spot. Too late I regretted sorely that, concentrating so tensely on Operation Upjohn, I had failed to place the facts before him. Had he but known, about summed it up.