‘It’s just that I think he may have yielded to sudden temptation and all that.’
‘Nonsense. He’s probably been acting this way all his life. I’ll bet he was swiping things as a small boy.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Or crackers you would call them, wouldn’t you? He was telling me he occasionally pinched a cracker or two in his salad days.’
‘Well, there you are. You start with crackers and you end up with silver jugs. That’s life,’ she said, and buzzed off to keep her vigil, leaving me kicking myself because I’d forgotten to say anything about the quality of mercy not being strained. It isn’t, as I dare say you know, and a mention of this might just have done the trick.
I was still brooding on this oversight and wondering what was to be done for the best, when Bobbie and Aunt Dahlia came in, looking like a young female and an elderly female who were sitting on top of the world.
‘Roberta tells me she has got Upjohn to withdraw the libel suit,’ said Aunt Dahlia. ‘I couldn’t be more pleased, but I’m blowed if I can imagine how she did it.’
‘Oh, I just appealed to his better feelings,’ said Bobbie, giving me one of those significant glances. I got the message. The ancestor, she was warning me, must never learn that she had achieved her ends by jeopardizing the delivery of the Upjohn speech to the young scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School on the morrow. ‘I told him that the quality of mercy … What’s the matter, Bertie?’
‘Nothing. Just starting.’
‘What do you want to start for?’
‘I believe Brinkley Court is open for starting in at about this hour, is it not? The quality of mercy, you were saying?’
‘Yes. It isn’t strained.’
‘I believe not.’
‘And in case you didn’t know, it’s twice bless’d and becomes the throned monarch better than his crown. I drove over to the “Bull and Bush” and put this to Upjohn, and he saw my point. So now everything’s fine.’
I uttered a hacking laugh.
‘No,’ I said, in answer to a query from Aunt Dahlia. ‘I have not accidentally swallowed my tonsils, I was merely laughing hackingly. Ironical that the young blister should say that everything is fine, for at this very moment disaster stares us in the eyeball. I have a story to relate which I think you will agree falls into the fretful porpentine class,’ I said, and without further pourparlers I unshipped my tale.
I had anticipated that it would shake them to their foundation garments, and it did. Aunt Dahlia reeled like an aunt struck behind the ear with a blunt instrument, and Bobbie tottered like a red-haired girl who hadn’t known it was loaded.
‘You see the set-up,’ I continued, not wanting to rub it in but feeling that they should be fully briefed. ‘Glossop will return from his afternoon off to find the awful majesty of the Law waiting for him, complete with handcuffs. We can hardly expect him to accept an exemplary sentence without a murmur, so his first move will be to establish his innocence by revealing all. “True,” he will say, “I did pinch this bally cow-creamer, but merely because I thought Wilbert had pinched it and it ought to be returned to store,” and he will go on to explain his position in the house – all this, mind you, in front of Ma Cream. So what ensues? The sergeant removes the gloves from his wrists, and Ma Cream asks you if she may use your telephone for a moment, as she wishes to call her husband on long distance. Pop Cream listens attentively to the tale she tells, and when Uncle Tom looks in on him later, he finds him with folded arms and a forbidding scowl. “Travers,” he says, “the deal’s off.” “Off ?” quivers Uncle Tom. “Off,” says Cream. “O-ruddy-double-f. I don’t do business with guys whose wives bring in loony-doctors to observe my son.” A short while ago Ma Cream was urging me to try something on for size. I suggest that you do the same for this.’