‘Very. I am counting the minutes until I can resume its perusal undisturbed.’
I’m pretty quick, and I at once spotted that the atmosphere was not of the utmost cordiality. He hadn’t spoken matily, and he wasn’t eyeing me matily. His whole manner seemed to suggest that he felt that I was taking up space in the room which could have been better employed for other purposes.
However, I persevered.
‘I see you’ve shaved off your moustache.’
‘I have. You do not feel, I hope, that I pursued a mistaken course?’
‘Oh no, rather not. I grew a moustache myself last year, but had to get rid of it.’
‘Public sentiment was against it.’
‘I see. Well, I should be delighted to hear more of your reminiscences, Wooster, but at the moment I am expecting a telephone call from my lawyer.’
‘I thought you’d had one.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘When you were down by the lake, didn’t you go off to talk to him?’
‘I did. But when I reached the telephone, he had grown tired of waiting and had rung off. I should never have allowed Miss Wickham to take me away from the house.’
‘She wanted you to see the big fish.’
‘So I understood her to say.’
‘Talking of fish, you must have been surprised to find Kipper here.’
‘Oh, Herring,’ he said, and one spotted the almost total lack of animation in his voice. And conversation had started to flag, when the door flew open and the goof Phyllis bounded in, full of girlish excitement.
‘Oh, Daddy,’ she burbled, ‘are you busy?’
‘No, my dear.’
‘Can I speak to you about something?’
‘Certainly. Goodbye, Wooster.’
I saw what this meant. He didn’t want me around. There was nothing for it but to ooze out through the french window, so I oozed, and had hardly got outside when Bobbie sprang at me like a leopardess.
‘What on earth are you fooling about for like this, Bertie?’ she stage-whispered. ‘All that rot about moustaches. I thought you’d be well into it by this time.’
I pointed out that as yet Aubrey Upjohn had not given me a cue.
‘You and your cues!’
‘All right, me and my cues. But I’ve got to sort of lead the conversation in the right direction, haven’t I?’
‘I see what Bertie means, darling,’ said Kipper. ‘He wants -‘
‘A point d’appui.’
‘A what?’ said Bobbie.
‘Sort of jumping-off place.’
The beasel snorted.
‘If you ask me, he’s lost his nerve. I knew this would happen. The worm has got cold feet.’
I could have crushed her by drawing her attention to the fact that worms don’t have feet, cold or piping hot, but I had no wish to bandy words.
‘I must ask you, Kipper,’ I said with frigid dignity, ‘to request your girl friend to preserve the decencies of debate. My feet are not cold. I am as intrepid as a lion and only too anxious to get down to brass tacks, but just as I was working round to the res, Phyllis came in. She said she had something she wanted to speak to him about.’
Bobbie snorted again, this time in a despairing sort of way.
‘She’ll be there for hours. It’s no good waiting.’
‘No,’ said Kipper. ‘May as well call it off for the moment. We’ll let you know time and place of next fixture, Bertie.’
‘Oh, thanks,’ I said, and they drifted away.
And about a couple of minutes later, as I stood there brooding on Kipper’s sad case, Aunt Dahlia came along. I was glad to see her. I thought she might possibly come across with aid and comfort, for though, like the female in the poem I was mentioning, she sometimes inclined to be a toughish egg in hours of ease, she could generally be relied on to be there with the soothing solace when one had anything wrong with one’s brow.
As she approached, I got the impression that her own brow had for some reason taken it on the chin. Quite a good deal of that upon-which- all-the-ends-of-the-earth-are-come stuff, it seemed to me.
Nor was I mistaken.