‘And… No, sir, I regret that it has for the moment escaped my memory.’
‘Some other little something, sir, that I was told regarding Mr Cream. Should I recall it, I will communicate with you.’
‘Yes, do. One wants the complete picture. Oh, gosh!’
‘Nothing, Jeeves. Just a thought has floated into my mind. All right, push off, or you’ll miss your train. Good luck to your shrimping net.’
I’ll tell you what the thought was that had floated. I have already indicated my qualms at the prospect of being cooped up in the same house with Bobbie Wickham and Aubrey Upjohn, for who could tell what the harvest might be? If in addition to these two heavies I was also to be cheek by jowl with a New York playboy apparently afflicted with bats in the belfry, it began to look as if this visit would prove too much for Bertram’s frail strength, and for an instant I toyed with the idea of sending a telegram of regret and oiling out.
Then I remembered Anatole’s cooking and was strong again. Nobody who has once tasted them would wantonly deprive himself of that wizard’s smoked offerings. Whatever spiritual agonies I might be about to undergo at Brinkley Court, Market Snodsbury, near Droitwich, residence there would at least put me several Supremes de fois gras au champagne and Mignonettes de Poulet Petit Duc ahead of the game. Nevertheless, it would be paltering with the truth to say that I was at my ease as I thought of what lay before me in darkest Worcestershire, and the hand that lit the after-breakfast gasper shook quite a bit.
At this moment of nervous tension the telephone suddenly gave tongue again, causing me to skip like the high hills, as if the Last Trump had sounded. I went to the instrument all of a twitter.
Some species of butler appeared to be at the other end.
‘On the spot.’
‘Good morning, sir. Her ladyship wishes to speak to you. Lady Wickham, sir. Here is Mr Wooster, m’lady.’
And Bobbie’s mother came on the air.
I should have mentioned, by the way, that during the above exchange of ideas with the butler I had been aware of a distant sound of sobbing, like background music, and it now became apparent that it was from the larynx of the relict of the late Sir Cuthbert that it was proceeding. There was a short intermission before she got the vocal cords working, and while I was waiting for her to start the dialogue I found myself wrestling with two problems that presented themselves – the first, What on earth is this woman ringing me up for?, the second, Having got the number, why does she sob?
It was Problem A that puzzled me particularly, for ever since that hot-water-bottle episode my relations with this parent of Bobbie’s had been on the strained side. It was, indeed, an open secret that my standing with her was practically that of a rat of the underworld. I had had this from Bobbie, whose impersonation of her mother discussing me with sympathetic cronies had been exceptionally vivid, and I must confess that I wasn’t altogether surprised. No hostess, I mean to say, extending her hospitality to a friend of her daughter’s, likes to have the young visitor going about the place puncturing people’s water- bottles and leaving at three in the morning without stopping to say good-bye. Yes, I could see her side of the thing all right, and I found it extraordinary that she should be seeking me out on the telephone in this fashion. Feeling as she did so allergic to Bertram, I wouldn’t have thought she’d have phoned me with a ten-foot pole.
However, there beyond a question she was.
‘Oh, hullo, Lady Wickham.’
‘Are you there?’
I put her straight on this point, and she took time out to sob again. She then spoke in a hoarse, throaty voice, like Tallulah Bankhead after swallowing a fish bone the wrong way.
‘Is this awful news true?’
‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!’
‘I don’t quite follow.’
‘In this morning’s Times.’
I’m pretty shrewd, and it seemed to me, reading between the lines, that there must have been something in the issue of The Times published that morning that for some reason had upset her, though why she should have chosen me to tell her troubles to was a mystery not easy to fathom. I was about to institute inquiries in the hope of spearing a solution, when in addition to sobbing she started laughing in a hyaena- esque manner, making it clear to my trained ear that she was having hysterics. And before I could speak there was a dull thud suggestive of some solid body falling to earth, I knew not where, and when the dialogue was resumed, I found that the butler had put himself on as an understudy.