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Authors: P G Wodehouse

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Adrian Peake's face had taken on a pallor which would have brought any member of his circle of female acquaintances, could
she have seen it, rallying round solicitously with eau-de-Cologne and champagne. He was wondering what madness had led him to urge Jane to tell her father about their engagement, and wishing that girls did not take a fellow so literally.

'His attitude in the present case certainly suggests it,' said Joe. Tubby tells me the man seemed absolutely berserk. All he would talk about was this idea he'd got of taking you apart. Tubby tried to reason with him. "Oh, I wouldn't," Tubby said. "I will," replied Sir Buckstone testily. "I want to see what's inside him." And then a lot of stuff about your liver. He's like that when he gets into these lunatic furies of his. Nothing can stop him working them off. In this case, for instance, any ordinary man would have paused and said to himself: "I simply mustn't disembowel this fellow. He will bring an action against me for assault and battery and win it hands down. I will curb myself. I will exercise self-control." But not Sir Buckstone. He doesn't think of the jam it may get him into. All he cares about is the passing gratification of beating you to a jelly. Just so long as he can feel that you will spend the next few months in hospital—'

Adrian Peake rose abruptly.

'I'm going to get out of here!'

'I would. Right away. It was what I was about to suggest. I'll take the boat off your hands. How much did you pay for it?'

'Twenty pounds.'

'I'll mail you a cheque. And now I'd be off, if I were you. Don't stop to pack. I'll send your things on. What's the address?'

'It's in the telephone book. I wonder when there's a train.'

'I wouldn't wait for trains. Hire a car.'

Adrian's thrifty soul writhed a little at the thought, but he saw that the advice was good.

'I will.' He paused. He did not like Joe, but he supposed that he ought to display at least a formal gratitude for what he had done. Thank you, Vanringham.'

'Not at all. Good-bye.'

'Good-bye.'

Joe leaned back on the rustic bench, gazing contentedly up at the sky through the branches of the tree that shaded it. A voice spoke behind him, and he turned.

Framed in the open window of the parlour was a small, round, rosy man in a loose sack suit. He was also wearing, though Joe could not see these, square-toed shoes of a vivid yellow. On his head was a hat of the kind designed primarily for the younger type of Western American college student. He was chewing gum.

'Nice day,' he said.

'Very,' said Joe.

'Say, did I hear that young fellow call you Vanringham?'

'Yes.'

'T. P.?'

'J.J.'

'Oh,' said the little man. One would have supposed that he was disappointed. 'Well, pleased to have met you.'

'Quate,' said Joe.

CHAPTER 10

J
ANE
had been having her usual busy morning. Owing to the fact that her father, shirking his responsibilities in a way that ought to have brought the blush of shame mantling to his cheek, deliberately avoided their society, and that her mother had, up to the present, given no sign that she was aware of their existence, the task of entertaining the paying guests devolved almost entirely upon her.

Sometimes a keen-eyed croquet player would espy and intercept Sir Buckstone before he could dive into the nearest shrubbery, but as a rule it was left for Jane to play the jolly innkeeper. Her mornings, in consequence, were always full.

Today she had played clock golf with Mr Chinnery, listened to Colonel Tanner on life in Poona and heard what Mr Waugh-Bonner had to say about mice in bedrooms. She had admired Mrs Shepley's knitting, discussed the news in the paper with Mrs Folsom, advised Mr Profitt on his backhand drive, and would no doubt have got together with and encouraged Mr Billing in his activities, had he not been, as on the previous day, taking a sun bath. She was now in the dining-room doing the flowers.

For some moments, tense and concentrated, a small white tooth pressed against her lower lip and her small nose twitching,
she stood arranging pansies in a shallow bowl. There was not the slightest chance that a horde of gorging paying guests, absorbed in food, would notice her handiwork one way or the other, but this did not prevent her striving for perfection. She was an artist, and liked to get things right. Satisfied at length, she stepped back; and, as she did so, a voice behind her said, 'Hello'.

The dining-room at Walsingford Hall opened on to the terrace. It had French windows, flung wide on this beautiful morning, and through these there had come a figure which, only vaguely familiar at first glance, she recognized immediately as she came forward. It was the little man in the sack suit who had intruded upon her farewells to Adrian down in the water meadows.

'Hullo!' she said, taken aback. The apparition had startled her.

He advanced into the room. His eyes were kindly and his jaws rose and fell in a rhythmic motion.

'Saw you in here, so I came in.'

'Oh?'

'Bulpitt's my name. Sam Bulpitt.'

In the county of Berkshire there were girls, many of them, who long ere this would have raised haughty eyebrows and pointed the way to the back door. But Jane was far too friendly a little soul to come the Baronet's daughter over anyone, even a man wearing shoes as gamboge as those. She supposed that he represented some commercial firm – one, possibly, that dealt in cheap jewellery or imitation silk stockings – and had arrived in pursuance of his professional duties to try to drum up trade, but she smiled at him amiably.

'How do you do, Mr Bulpitt?'

'I'm fine. How are you?'

'I'm fine.'

'Nice place you've got here.'

'You like it?'

'I think it's swell.'

'Good. Er – is there anything I can do for you, Mr Bulpitt?'

'I guess not. Just go right along looking like a lovely radiant woodland nymph surrounded by her flowers.'

'Very well,' said Jane. She crossed to the sideboard and began to busy herself with the big vase that stood on it. 'And presently, no doubt, you will tell me what the idea is.'

'Pardon?'

'I was just wondering why you were here.'

For the first time, it seemed to strike the little man that he had been remiss. He chuckled amusedly, showing those gleaming teeth of his like one who realizes that the joke is on him.

'Why, sure. Ought to have told you that at the start, shouldn't I? You must be thinking I'm loco. I've come to see Alice. You'll be her little girl, of course.'

'I beg your pardon?'

'I'll bet a dollar on it. You're the living spit of what she was twenty-five years ago. Smaller, of course. You're perteet, and she was always kind of buxom. But I'd known you anywheres.'

A possible solution occurred to Jane.

'When you say Alice, do you mean my mother?'

'Sure.'

'I never knew her name was Alice. Buck always calls her Toots. Do you know her, then?'

'Sure. Matter of fact, she's my sister.'

The vase rocked in Jane's hands.

'You're not my mysterious uncle?'

'That's right.'

Jane laughed happily. She was always fond of watching her father's reaction to the unforeseen. She anticipated great pleasure from the spectacle of his first meeting with the new relative.

'Well, well, well!'

'Sure,' said Mr Bulpitt, who had been intending to say that himself.

Here he made an unexpected exit on to the terrace, busied himself delicately there for a moment and returned. His jaws were no longer moving, but it was plain that this was only a temporary phase, for he took a package of gum from his pocket and began stripping a piece of it. He inserted it in his mouth, once more setting the machinery in motion.

'You can buy gum anywheres in England now, they tell me,' he said, in passing.

'Can you?'

'Yessir. March of Civilization. Surprised me when I found it out.'

'Have you just arrived in England?'

'That's right. In France before that. Down South. Nice, Cannes, Monte Carlo. Came the southern route on one of those Italian boats. Get gum in France, too. Amazing. Well, how is the old-timer?'

'The old-timer?'

'Alice. Grand girl. Wish I'd seen more of her these last twenty-five years. How's she doing?'

'Oh, she's splendid.'

'That's good. Say, to think of her being mistress of a great place like this. How did that come about?'

'You mean how did mother come to marry Buck?'

'Yeah. Last I saw of her her station was humble. She'd gotten a job demonstrating underclothes.'

'When Buck met her, she was in the chorus of a musical comedy.'

'I see. Same thing. So she went on the stage, did she?'

'In a piece called
The Pink Lady.'

Mr Bulpitt was interested.

'Say, was she in that? Some show, that was. Never saw the New York production myself, because I was out on the road with a patent floor sweeper all the time it was running. Saw the Western company, though. Twice. Once in Kansas City and once in St. Louis. Boy, that was music. Don't get any like it nowadays.' He put back his head and closed his eyes. 'To – ah – you – ah – beryootiful lady, I—Pardon me,' he said, recovering, 'you were saying—'

'They brought the New York company over to London and Buck went to see it and fell in love with mother at first sight and sent a note round asking her to supper – he was a great dasher in those days – and mother went, and about a week later they got married.'

The story seemed to affect Mr Bulpitt deeply. In the formative years of his life he had been a singing waiter, and the nightly rendering of mushy ballads to an audience inclined on the slightest provocation to cry into its beer made him susceptible to sentiment.

'A real romance!'

'Oh, rather.'

'The great English lord and the little American Cinderella.'

'Well, Buck's not a lord, and I'm bound to say I've never looked on mother as a little Cinderella, but it was very sweet, wasn't it?'

'You betcher. There's nothing like romance.'

'No.'

'It's love that makes the world go round.'

'Well put.'

Mr Bulpitt paused. He coughed. His eye had taken on a meaning glint. His hand stirred slightly, as if he were about to drive home his remarks by prodding her in the ribs. And though he allowed it to fall without making this physical demonstration, Jane had no difficulty in divining what was to come. It was her companion's intention, she perceived, dismissing the amours of the older generation, to touch upon those of the younger.

'And say, talking of love and romance—'

'Yes, I know.'

'Down by the river yesterday evening.'

'Yes.'

'Who was he?'

'A friend of mine.'

'Well, I sort of guessed he wasn't somebody you couldn't stand the sight of. What's his name?'

'Adrian Peake.'

'Quite a smacker you were giving him.'

'Quite.'

'Reminded me of a painting by that fellow, you see his stuff everywhere, that does pitchers of guys in three-cornered hats and short pants.'

'Marcus Stone?'

'That's right. You're pretty fond of him, I guess?'

'Very. And now,' said Jane, 'I'm sure you must be wanting to see mother.'

She moved to the bell and pressed it. But in supposing that this action would cause her companion to change the subject, she had vastly mistaken her Bulpitt. He was not a man who changed subjects.

'Good-looking young fellow.'

'Yes.'

'Known him long?'

'Not very.'

'What does he work at?'

Jane flushed. The question was a simple one – even a less probing person than Samuel Bulpitt would probably have asked it – but she found it disturbing. Hearing it, she experienced a quite definite twinge of regret that she was unable to reply that Adrian was a rising young barrister or even an earnest toiler in an office, and it made her feel disloyal.

'I don't quite know what he does. He was a gossip writer at one time. He's got a sort of income. Quite small.'

'I see,' said Mr Bulpitt, nodding. 'Lowly suitor.'

The door opened. Pollen, the butler, appeared. Mr Bulpitt wiped his hand on his trouser leg and extended it reverently.

'Lord Abbott?'

'No, sir,' said Pollen, ignoring the hand. 'You rang, miss?'

'Yes. Will you tell my mother that Mr Bulpitt is here.'

'Very good, miss.'

The butler withdrew, and Mr Bulpitt returned to his cross-examination, as fresh as ever.

'Any prospects?'

'I beg your pardon?'

'This boy. Does he show any sign of getting places?'

'No.'

'Oh? And what does his lordship think about it?'

'He doesn't know.'

'You haven't wised him up?'

'Not yet.'

'I see. Well, it's too bad he's quitting. You'll miss him.'

'Quitting?'

'Leaving. This boy Peake. Didn't you know?'

'But he can't be. He only came yesterday.'

'Well, that's what he was saying to that young J. J. Vanringham down at the inn.'

Jane started.

'Vanringham!'

'That's what he told me his name was. Hard-looking guy with a pair of shoulders on him. I heard them talking. I only came in at the tail end of the conversation, but Peake was saying he was hiring a car and lighting out.'

Samuel Bulpitt was a solid little man, but he was flickering before Jane's eyes as if he had been a picture in the smoke. The discovery that Joe Vanringham had had the nerve, the audacity, the crust to follow her to her home filled her with a fury which for the moment took her mind completely off the astonishing fact that Adrian Peake had decided to curtail his visit. She was conscious of an overwhelming desire to be alone and out in the open. Like someone recovering from a swoon she wanted air.

'Do you mind if I leave you?' she said. 'Mother will be here in a minute.'

'Go right along,' said Mr Bulpitt agreeably.

She flashed out through the French windows, and he started to potter about the room, sniffing the flowers. And a few moments later the door opened again and Lady Abbott came in.

 

At the moment when Pollen arrived with his message, Lady Abbott had been reclining upon a settee in her boudoir, thinking of her Buck and how much she loved him and what a pity it was
that he allowed himself to get fussed about trifles like owing Mr Chinnery five hundred pounds. She herself never fussed about anything. She was large and blonde and of a monumental calmness which not even earthquakes on the terrace or the falling in of the roof would have been able to disturb.

And if this placidity should seem strange in one who had once earned her living in the chorus of musical comedy, it must be remembered that it is only in these restless modern days that the term 'chorus girl' has come to connote a small, wiry person with india-rubber legs and flexible joints, suffering, to all appearance, from an advanced form of St. Vitus's dance.

In the era of Lady Abbott's professional career, the personnel of the ensemble were tall, stately creatures, shaped like hourglasses, who stood gazing dreamily at the audience, supporting themselves on long parasols. Sometimes they would emerge from the coma for an instant to bow slightly to a friend in the front row, but not often. As a rule, they just stood statuesquely And of all these statuesque slanders none had ever stood with a more completely statuesque immobility than the then Alice (Toots) Bulpitt.

She was looking rather like a statue now, as she paused in the doorway and surveyed this brother who had been absent from her life for a quarter of a century. It was Mr Bulpitt who supplied the animation fitting to so dramatic a reunion.

'Well, well, well!' said Mr Bulpitt. 'Well, well, well, well, well!'

A flicker of interest disturbed the marmoreal calm of Lady Abbott's face.

'Gosh, Sam,' she said, 'have you been chewing that bit of gum ever since I saw you last?'

Mr Bulpitt performed another of his delicate withdrawals to the terrace.

'Different piece,' he explained, returning and speaking more clearly. 'Well, well, well, well, well!'

Lady Abbott permitted herself to be drawn into a brotherly embrace.

'It's great seeing you again, Alice.'

'Great seeing you, Sam.'

'Gave you a surprise, eh?'

'You could have knocked me down with a feather,' said Lady Abbott, quite untruly. The feather had not been grown by bird that could have disturbed her balance for an instant. 'What are you doing on this side? Business?'

'And pleasure.'

'You still travelling with those floor sweepers of yours?'

'Gee, no. I quit peddling them fifteen years ago.'

'What are you doing now?'

'Well, you might say I'd retired. I thought I had. But you know how it is. You get with a bunch of the boys and they talk you into things. Say, you look just the same, Alice.'

'You're kind of fatter.'

'I guess I have put on a pound or two.'

BOOK: Summer Moonshine
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