‘And I let Upjohn stick around, always at her elbow egging her on.’
‘Yes, Upjohn’s the bird I blame.’
‘But for his – undue influence, do they call it? – Phyllis would have remained a bachelor or spinster or whatever it is. “Thou art the man, Upjohn!” seems to me the way to sum it up. He ought to be ashamed of himself.’
‘And am I going to tell him so! I’d give a tenner to have Aubrey Upjohn here at this moment.’
‘You can get him for nothing. He’s in Uncle Tom’s study.’
Her face lit up.
‘He is?’ She threw her head back and inflated the lungs. ‘UPJOHN!’ she boomed, rather like someone calling the cattle home across the sands of Dee, and I issued a kindly word of warning.
‘Watch that blood pressure, old ancestor.’
‘Never you mind my blood pressure. You let it alone, and it’ll leave you alone. UPJOHN!’
He appeared in the french window, looking cold and severe, as I had so often seen him look when hobnobbing with him in his study at Malvern House, self not there as a willing guest but because I’d been sent for. (‘I should like to see Wooster in my study immediately after morning prayers’ was the formula.)
‘Who is making that abominable noise? Oh, it’s you, Dahlia.’
‘Yes, it’s me.’
‘You wished to see me?’
‘Yes, but not the way you’re looking now. I’d have preferred you to have fractured your spine or at least to have broken a couple of ankles and got a touch of leprosy.’
‘My dear Dahlia!’
‘I’m not your dear Dahlia. I’m a seething volcano. Have you seen Phyllis?’
‘She has just left me.’
‘Did she tell you?’
‘That she was engaged to Wilbert Cream? Certainly.’
‘And I suppose you’re delighted?’
‘Of course I am.’
‘Yes, of course you are! I can well imagine that it’s your dearest wish to see that unfortunate muttonheaded girl become the wife of a man who lets off stink bombs in night clubs and pinches the spoons and has had three divorces already and who, if the authorities play their cards right, will end up cracking rocks in Sing-Sing. That is unless the loony-bin gets its bid in first. Just a Prince Charming, you might say.’
‘I don’t understand you.’
‘Then you’re an ass.’
‘Well, really!’ said Aubrey Upjohn, and there was a dangerous note in his voice. I could see that the relative’s manner, which was not affectionate, and her words, which lacked cordiality, were peeving him. It looked like an odds-on shot that in about another two ticks he would be giving her the Collect for the Day to write out ten times or even instructing her to bend over while he fetched his whangee. You can push these preparatory schoolmasters just so far.
‘A fine way for Jane’s daughter to end up. Mrs Broadway Willie!’
‘That’s what he’s called in the circles in which he moves, into which he will now introduce Phyllis. “Meet the moll,” he’ll say, and then he’ll teach her in twelve easy lessons how to make stink bombs, and the children, if and when, will be trained to pick people’s pockets as they dandle them on their knee. And you’ll be responsible, Aubrey Upjohn!’
I didn’t like the way things were trending. Admittedly the aged relative was putting up a great show and it was a pleasure to listen to her, but I had seen Upjohn’s lip twitch and that look of smug satisfaction come into his face which I had so often seen when he had been counsel for the prosecution in some case in which I was involved and had spotted a damaging flaw in my testimony. The occasion when I was on trial for having broken the drawing-room window with a cricket ball springs to the mind. It was plain to an eye as discerning as mine that he was about to put it across the old flesh-and-blood properly, making her wish she hadn’t spoken. I couldn’t see how, but the symptoms were all there.
I was right. That twitching lip had not misled me.
‘If I might be allowed to make a remark, my dear Dahlia,’ he said, ‘I think we are talking at cross purposes. You appear to be under the impression that Phyllis is marrying Wilbert’s younger brother Wilfred, the notorious playboy whose escapades have caused the family so much distress and who, as you are correct in saying, is known to his disreputable friends as Broadway Willie. Wilfred, I agree, would make – and on three successive occasions has made – a most undesirable husband, but no one to my knowledge has ever spoken a derogatory word of Wilbert. I know few young men who are more generally respected. He is a member of the faculty of one of the greatest American universities, over in this country on his sabbatical. He teaches romance languages.’