A close call.
"Yes Sir," said Breem. I shall endeavour to ascertain the whereabouts of your golf
clubs, just as you wish.
What a stout fellow Breem seemed to be. My man-servant wasn't so amenable. He often held his own opinions and although nothing was said, I knew that his displeasure meant cold toast and scurrilously runny eggs for breakfast until I was brought round to his way of thinking. So here I was with Breem, borrowed from Swindon-Smith while he was japing about in Scotland with his recently betrothed. Though why he needed to go and marry the gal, but there you go. Once a fellow is smitten, that is that as they say. I once had a close call, and if you have the stamina for another pint or two I will tell you a story
that might make a grown man weep.
It all started, as they say in the penny thrillers, one sunny Sunday after kippers and
toast and a decent cup of cha. My manservant Potts had just started to clear away the
last crumbs, when he was summoned by the telephone. Not one to shy from his
duties he toddled off and answered the instrument. I was ruminating on what to do
with a perfect Sunday morning, when Potts returned and in one of those polite yet
infuriatingly little coughs he wanted to know if I was at home.
"Well," I said. Potts are you loopy man. "Can't you see me sitting here reading the
He then gave one of his little smirks and the penny dropped. I had been having
trouble with a certain young thing of late and had given instructions to Potts to leave
the wretch out in the cold should she try to contact me again. Well Audrey must be on
the other line and Potts true to form had straight away got the picture.
But you know how it is with these delicate things. One gets to thinking and all of a
sudden the buds are budding, the birds are singing and the jolly old ticker is giving a
swift kick in the ribs next to some particularly tasty kippers and toast to say 'Go on
don't be a cad all your life' and in that moment I said I was in and Potts could inform
whom ever was on the line that I was likely to be in for a goodish hour or so before tea
with my Uncle Reginald in the Lipton tea rooms on Rumpole street at 11ish. I expected
Potts to return with the news of a visit, but he just hung up and went about doing
what he does for three pounds 2 shillings and sixpence a week all found.
Now I must tell you a little of Uncle Reginald as he pertains to my story. He is a stout
fellow, well that is just the half of him. His girth would put Old St Nick to shame
at the dinner table. He blames it all on his time in the army as a cook, but the family
having seen him put away a goodish portion of the Sunday roast in about ten minutes
flat, beg to differ. So Uncle Reginald although rotund, has an eye for the ladies and fancies himself a bit of a goer, much like the favourite at odds on in the 2.30. He has the charm of one of those Indian snake chaps who whistle dixie or something and the snakes fall out of the trees to follow him.
The ladies love my Uncle Reginald, but then ladies are a rum lot at the best of time. You
can give them chocolates from Belguim, and instead of being grateful you are chided
because of their waistlines. You can shower them with baubles from the jewlery
arcade and they admonish you for spending so much. And you can arrange to meet
them somewhere and all of a sudden their hair needs washing. A creature of strange
habits mark my words. But Uncle Reginald seems to bring something to the meeting that
they love and they just fall over themselves to administer to his every need, like school
girls. Although, there was one particular incident involving 3 chorus girls at the Tivloi, but it seems it was all a bit of a misunderstanding and the Bishops involvement was kept hush hush, but that is for another time.
So, there I was sitting comfortably, reading the sports column when a strange niggling
feeling came over me. One of those rather horrid penny dropping moments, like
finding you have lost your ticket on the Clapham omnibus and the ticket collector is
one seat away to chucking you off and you have to see your dentist or something
within the hour.
I had the feeling that my liptons tea would be usurped by Audrey. A chap gets these
blinding intuitions now and again and this was one of those moments. I summoned
Potts and trying not to act too feebly asked if it was indeed Audrey on the end of the
telephone just a moment ago.
Potts is one of those men that can see a mans weakness and although I haven't
caught him doing it, he seems to stick it to me every time. Like the time he and I
came to grips over a certain decorators daughter and her Turkish period. I was
swaddled in tassles and ottermans up to my eyeballs and Potts, well he just let me.
The infuriating thing was, he was right all along and I had a devil of a time getting rid
of the hubble bubble pipe and the flea ridden rug.
So when he had that look, I knew he had something up his sleeves, although they
were pulled up for dishwashing at the time. He confirmed my suspicions and said it
was indeed the young lady Audrey Spillingham of Spillingham Hall. Potts will
sometimes only answer the given question and you have to tease out the gist of the
thing from him as a fisherman teases out his net. So I asked if she was visiting before
my appointment at eleven o 'clock. No he said, she was wanting to invite me to the
Hall for a weekend of tennis and games, but then said she would write it all down and
send it over in a short telegram before lunch and not to bother with the details now.
It seemed to me Audrey would be incapable of a short telegram as she had the
propensity to talk the hind leg off a donkey, but I was more bemused at the seemingly
long conversation she had had with Potts. Whenever I tried to elicit a decent chin wag
with Potts he clamed up and not even a Wiltshire oyster knife could get him to
divulge more than a yes sir no sir three bags full sir. But here he was, having a
longish natter with my Audrey about everything but the weather.
Now that I had the whole story I felt rather chirpy and decided to dust off the plaid
jacket and tweed trousers for the mornings run. Potts had never taken to the new
look as the magazines described it, but all the fellows at the club took to it straight
away and I too went to Livermans on Bond and ordered the latest.
So I dismissed Potts to the shining of kettles or something in the kitchen and
buttoned up for tea and cakes
Now, I had a hat that matched the énsemble but do you think I could find it. It was
one of the american types with a small brim and band sporting a small feather worn
rather jauntily on an angle. I had had it when Mulbury, Stinker Watson and I nearly
ended up in the watch house last St Patricks Day on O'shaunassy street. I couldn't
find the darn thing and I rather suspected Potts had spirited it away. So I decided to
wear my homburg and dare I say it myself I cut a dash.
Things were looking up as I checked the time and made my way down stairs to the
foyer. I usually catch a cab, but as the sun was shining and all seemed right with the
world I decided to walk. It was only across the common and, as they say in America 2
Now a homburg on a Sunday is a quite studious thing but get a whiff of a breeze and
the once steady hat has a mind of its own and is apt to take off on the walk before the
wearer catches up. And so it was with mine.
It was spirited off my noggin and with a practised air rolled down the garden path
narrowly missing perambulators and nannies, ankle biters on trikes and the odd war
veteran ending up at the feet of an angel.
Oh, I don't mean a real angel, but this lass was as a vision in cream and gold.
I was quite the sporting type at Cuthberts private college for boys in Islington and then Oxford, so I sprinted after the darn thing, ducking and weaving until I managed to reinstate it on the old head. It was then I looked up into the most liquid blue eyes, the most fluttering lashes and perfectly formed nose and mouth of my angel.
A chap can be as talkative as a parrot in other chaps company but put a female in the
den and one is lost for words. I fell into this category and managed a thank you miss,
and a few indecipherable grunts, and stood there looking like a lemon, shuffling my
feet. Luckily, young ladies these days are quite the modern type and straight away my
vision smiled and introduced herself. She had the voice of milk and honey and as she
said Angela Bloom I felt quite weak at the knees. Some names are course on the ear,
but Angela Bloom seemed to sing. It was then I knew by the pounding in my ribs that
I had been shot by cupids arrow, right between the kippers and toast.
"Henry Protheroe" I managed to say with a silly grin on my face, just as the bells of
the local church chimed eleven o'clock.
Now, my errand intruded and I gave Angela my card and said something about a prior
engagement and made a dash. I say dash but I felt I was floating on air, skipping and
trilling through the common like some love sick fawn to Rumpole street. It was only when I burst thought the door of Liptons and spied Uncle Reginald that I realized I hadn't any details of Angela.
Uncle had squeezed his portly frame into a side booth, the top three buttons on his
waistcoat the only disernable sign their was more of him underneath the table. I
waved and made my way over, smimmying past cake trays and waitresses in black and
white, to plonk myself down on the bench opposite. Uncle was already eyeing the three tiered sweets cart and gave me a cursory nod while at the same time trying to attract the young waitresses attention with one stubby finger waving the air. I don’t know how he does it by once again his charm was working and 2 little working girls sidled up to the booth to take our order. I watched the master at work as the girls giggled and scribbled down our order. He just had the knack and if you could bottle it and sell it for sixpence at the corner store, you’d be a millionaire in no time. But I wasn’t here to watch and so I asked Uncle why I was summoned to his side on this perfect Sunday morning.
So it wasn't long before the reason for our rendezvous became apparent. Uncle Reginald
was getting engaged and needed some moral support from his favorite nephew. His
own rather sparse side of the family were all tripping off in far flung places, but
having been to India in his youth Uncle Reginald confined his journeys to the corner
cake shop in his declining years. Now I was his only relative within spiting distance so
to speak and he felt blood was thicker than water.
Between the cake trolley and a pot of tea for two, he mapped out his needs.
It seemed he had been invited by his betrothed to the ancestral home, and had not
the slightest clue about these jolly affairs. I on the other hand had been to many an
ancestral plot for long weekends, dance parties and the like and was more than
willing to spread my largess about the subject. As the conversation progressed over another visit to the cake trolley, Uncle came to the conclusion that if I were to accompany him to the Hall then I could coach him, on the spot so to speak and this latest love of his life and soon to be wife would think him a cultured man, fit to take over the family real estate. Then, just as I was about to pop a tart into my mouth he floored me with his betroths name. Margaret Spillingham of Spillingham Hall. Treacle tarts are sticky affairs at the best of times but this one fell fair and square onto my tweed trousers landing inevitably upsidedown.
You can see the pickle I was in. Here was my Uncle, blood line and all that, asking me to accompany him to Spillingham Hall where one of my less than successful forays into cupids lair lived. Audrey Spillinghan was one of those jolly girls who took to physical activity like a duck to water. She would hike, ride, bicycle, play tennis, draughts and practically anything with winning the only goal. And to add to this quite disturbing addiction to a healthy lifestyle she had a knack of thumping a chap on the upper arm with all the force of the hydraulic pump at Swindon Lock. Not bad looking for those sporty types she took to me with the mandate to change me into some Olympic athlete by Shrove Tuesday so we could win the village pancake chase through the streets of Spillingham. I was even cajoled into purchasing a pair of running shorts and sprinting slippers, but thankfully Potts, for once, saw my folly just in time, and they quietly disappeared to the Chinese laundry never to be seen again. I came down with a cold just in the nick of time and Audrey had a substitute on the bench and so Shrove Tuesday passed quietly with a hot toddy, and the Sporting times promising a quick win at Ascot for the 11 o’clock handicap.
But a girl like Audrey likes a challenge and hates to loose hence the persistent telephone calls and telegrams to no doubt join her at the hall for a round of golf, followed by a brisk 20 mile walk around the estate and a rub down by a stable hand with a hessian rug.
How I was smitten by Audrey was one of those rummy sort of events that if you asked me at the time I would have been at a loss to say just how I fell for her. It started I recall with a trip to the Spillingham Arms and a pint of the finest ale and ended with a darts match and the winner takes all. The all, happened to be me. Quite how I became the chip on the table of double or nothing eludes me, but Bingley my oxford pal assures me I only had about five pints before I came up against Audrey and that was that. She took to me as a hero who would put himself on the line to win, and that competitive streak made her go all gooey as they say in the penny romances. I was invited back to the Hall for the rest of the weekend and through a haze of her finest scotch and nights at the Arms I ran, walked, hiked, bicycled and generally wooed her with my athleticism. Sobering up a week later was a quite different story and by then it was too late, she was smitten and I had a reputation to live up to. It was only by getting ill could I duck and weave, her invitations, until I asked Potts to stop answering the telephone or say I had been seconded to the Foreign legion that I hoped to slither out of the affair.
So now with sponged trousers, an Uncle in distress and a visit to Spillingham Hall I felt I was between a rock and a very hard place. Any thoughts of Angela were put aside as I took a cab home and opening the door of my apartment, asked Potts to pack.
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