I expelled a pint or so of H2O.
‘You may well ask,’ I said, moodily detaching a water beetle from my hair. ‘I don’t know if you know the meaning of the word “agley”, Kipper, but that, to put it in a nutshell, is the way things have ganged.’
Reaching the mainland some moments later and squelching back to the house, accompanied by Bobbie, like a couple of Napoleons squelching back from Moscow, we encountered Aunt Dahlia, who, wearing that hat of hers that looks like one of those baskets you carry fish in, was messing about in the herbaceous border by the tennis lawn. She gaped at us dumbly for perhaps five seconds, then uttered an ejaculation, far from suitable to mixed company, which she had no doubt picked up from fellow-Nimrods in her hunting days. Having got this off the chest, she said:
‘What’s been going on in this joint? Wilbert Cream came by here just now, soaked to the eyebrows, and now you two appear, leaking at every seam. Have you all been playing water polo with your clothes on?’
‘Not so much water polo, more that seaside bathing belles stuff,’ I said. ‘But it’s a long story, and one feels that the cagey thing for Kipper and me to do now is to nip along and get into some dry things, not to linger conferring with you, much,’ I added courteously, ‘as we always enjoy your conversation.’
‘The extraordinary thing is that I saw Upjohn not long ago, and he was as dry as a bone. How was that? Couldn’t you get him to play with you?’
‘He had to go and talk to his lawyer on the phone,’ I said, and leaving Bobbie to place the facts before her, we resumed our squelching. And I was in my room, having shed the moistened outer crust and substituted something a bit more sec in pale flannel, when there was a knock on the door. I flung wide the gates and found Bobbie and Kipper on the threshold.
The first thing I noticed about their demeanour was the strange absence of gloom, despondency and what not. I mean, considering that it was little more than a quarter of an hour since all our hopes and dreams had taken the knock, one would have expected their hearts to be bowed down with weight of woe, but their whole aspect was one of buck and optimism. It occurred to me as a possible solution that with that bulldog spirit of never admitting defeat which has made Englishmen – and, of course, Englishwomen – what they are they had decided to have another go along the same lines at some future date, and I asked if this was the case.
The answer was in the negative. Kipper said No, there was no likelihood of getting Upjohn down to the lake again, and Bobbie said that even if they did, it wouldn’t be any good, because I would be sure to mess things up once more.
This stung me, I confess.
‘How do you mean, mess things up?’
‘You’d be bound to trip over your flat feet and fall in, as you did today.’
‘Pardon me,’ I said, preserving with an effort the polished suavity demanded from an English gentleman when chewing the rag with one of the other sex, ‘you’re talking through the back of your fatheaded little neck. I did not trip over my flat feet. I was hurled into the depths by an Act of God, to wit, a totally unexpected dachshund getting between my legs. If you’re going to blame anyone blame the goof Phyllis for bringing Augustus there and calling him in his hearing a sweet pussykins. Naturally it made him sore and disinclined to stand any lip from barking dogs.’
‘Yes,’ said Kipper, always the staunch pal. ‘It wasn’t Bertie’s fault, angel. Say what you will of dachshunds, their peculiar shape makes them the easiest breed of dog to trip over in existence. I feel that Bertie emerges without a stain on his character.’
‘I don’t,’ said Bobbie. ‘Still, it doesn’t matter.’
‘No, it doesn’t really matter,’ said Kipper, ‘because your aunt has suggested a scheme that’s just as good as the Lanchester-Simmons thing, if not better. She was telling Bobbie about the time when Boko Fittleworth was trying to ingratiate himself with your Uncle Percy, and you very sportingly offered to go and call your Uncle Percy a lot of offensive names, so that Boko, hovering outside the door, could come in and stick up for him, thus putting himself in solid with him. You probably remember the incident?’