Back by popular demand, if a broad definition of the word popular is applied, Part II of my homage to P.G. Wodehouse, a Junior Lipstick Club story
The F. of the S.
* * *
Eustacia Bellows and Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (said Hilda Gudgeon) had been pals since childhood. When Stacey was nine she saved Cyril from drowning in the village pond, and when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress. When Cyril was lying-in with mumps, she read him Pickwick. In the holidays she took him for bracing walks and corrected his square cut.
They met again by chance in London last spring. Cyril had just stepped in front of an omnibus, and Stacey, who happened to be on hand, dashed into the road and pushed him aside.
When Cyril had finished gulping like a stranded goldfish, she deposited him in a neighbouring tea and bun shop and got to work on rekindling the friendship. For love had hit her, as surely as the number 37 omnibus hadn’t hit Cyril. Stacey could see the poor lamb was lost without her. It had been almost two years since they’d last met — how Cyril had managed to survive all that time in London without her was a mystery.
“Fancy running into you again, Pompy old pet,” said Stacey, opening proceedings with her trademark cheerfulness.
Cyril blinked like a bewildered rabbit. I don’t know what kind of shove she gave him, but Stacey was our school’s half-prop — Rosie Benger’s shoulder still gives her trouble after being on the receiving end of one of Stacey’s tackles. Given the choice between colliding with an omnibus or Stacey Bellows, I’m not sure I wouldn’t take my chances with the bus. I dare say Cyril, who was always on the delicate side, was feeling it.
“How’s the metrop treating you?”
“Fine, fine,” Cyril gurgled.
“You’re looking well,” said Stacey, proving the adage that love is blind, for Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was not one of nature’s greatest hits. His closest friends might, after a good meal and some financial inducement, be persuaded to call him Byronic, but a consumptive Byron at best, with some sort of wasting sickness thrown in.
Cyril sniffed his tea.
“So, no secret troubles then?”
“One merely wonders. Chaps don’t usually go about flinging themselves at omnibuses, you know. I suppose the odds are lower for poets. Some worm criticises your latest effort, and just as you’re pondering whether life is worth living, along comes the number 37. I expect it’s an occupational hazard.”
Cyril bristled –- or tried to. Weakened by his ordeal, Cyril’s bristling was on par with that of an existential hedgehog who has given up on life.
“The critics were very complimentary about my last volume.”
“Were they? That’s terrific! I’m dashed sorry I haven’t read it. The only thing of yours I’ve read is that collection you sent at Christmas. Something about butterflies, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Where Doth the Moth?: Prose studies of the anthropomorphic condition.”
“And they liked it, you say?”
“One critic,” said Cyril proudly, “called it the most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster.”
Well, love may be blind, but even love could not overlook the fact that Where Doth the Moth? contained some of the worst bilge ever flung at the poetry-loving public. To give you just one example:
Love, love, and thirst.
Fools endure like true honey.
Digestion is a torpid bride.
Hero holds the highest grape.
Bounder laps the rotting pool.
The flounder is a fool.
It goes on like that for another thirty-seven stanzas.
“I’m just putting the finishing touches on my next volume,” said Cyril. “I’ll send you a copy.”
“And you’ll be invited to the wedding.”
“Is someone getting married?”
“I am,” said Cyril, brightening a little. “Angelica Blake has just agreed to marry me. I was on my way to speak to her father when you… err… ran into me. My mind was dwelling on Angelica’s tender face.”
“Your mind, such as it is, was very nearly dwelling all over Piccadilly Circus. I don’t like the sound of it. Are you sure this female is a good influence?”
“Angelica is my ideal,” said Cyril, filling himself with air. “She walks in beauty like the night…”
“So she’s a pippin,” said Stacey. “But is she fit to handle the business of being Mrs Pomfrey-Waddelow? The woman who marries you will need nerves of steel and the biceps of an all-in wrestler. Can she do the Australian crawl with one arm, and lug a kicking boy in the other — that’s what I want to know.”
Cyril shuddered. “I haven’t fallen in a pond in years.”
“No, you’ve moved on to omnibuses. What would this Blake female have done if she’d been the woman on the spot today?”
“Oh, Angelica,” said Cyril with feeling. “To see her beloved, as I hope I may now call myself, stricken before her eyes would haunt her delicate soul forever.”
“Sensitive girl, is she?”
“Naturally. She’s a poet too, you know. This afternoon, she’s reading her Sonnets of Sincerity to the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society.”
Stacy was renown at school for her quick thinking, and her wits did not desert her at the crucial moment.
“I’d like to see that. A pal of mine is on the committee. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I buzzed down to Wimbledon and joined the festivities.”
“I wish I could join you,” said Cyril. “I have to catch Angelica’s father before he leaves for the country.” Cyril’s brow, by the despairing light of the tea-shop, wore an unearthly aspect. “She says she can’t marry me unless he gives his consent.”
“What? In these enlightened times?” asked Stacey, brightening.
“Her father is Sir Igneous Blake, the gravel magnate. He’s about eight feet tall and looks like Grendel on one of his bad days. He bullies poor Angelica terribly.”
“Well, don’t let him bully you, old thing. Make a good impression, and if he gives you any trouble, be firm.”
“I’m wearing my best suit,” said Cyril.
Stacey inspected Cyril’s costume. His morning coat was covered in dust and there was a hole in one trouser leg. His hat was intact, but it was a filthier, more misshapen hat than strictly fashionable. Cyril looked less like something the cat had dragged in, than something a discerning cat would give a wide berth to. It occurred to Stacey that a prospective father-in-law might feel the same way.
“On second thoughts,” said Cyril, “perhaps it can wait until I go down there on Friday.”
“Why put it off?” Said Stacey. “I’d do it now if I were you.”
“Do you really think so?”
“I do. Show old Pop Blake that an omnibus can’t keep a good Pomfrey-Waddelow down. Besides, you don’t want to keep a dear girl like Angelica waiting for an answer.”
“No. I suppose you’re right.”
“That’s settled then,” said Stacey. “Sit tight and finish your tea while I pop out and get you a taxicab.”
* * *