…when an impressionable young girl saves a chap from drowning, she naturally takes a proprietorial interest in his progress.
Our story continues, narrated by Hilda Gudgeon from her comfortable chair in the smoking room of the Junior Lipstick: Eustacia Bellows is in love after a chance encounter with her childhood chum Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow (and his near encounter with a No. 37 bus). Unfortunately for Eustacia (Stacey to her friends) Cyril is currently under the spell of Angelica Blake – a poet.
Start at the beginning or read on for the latest installment in my P.G. Wodehouse homage (everyone else is doing it…)
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The Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society are a formidable gang of females who take their literature seriously. At the last meeting I attended, they were panning Thomas Hardy for being too frivolous. If Angelica Blake had got her name on the programme it was either because she wrote dashed good poetry, or the inquisitors hadn’t eaten a poet in weeks. Stacey’s money was on the latter and she wanted to be in at the kill.
She also wanted a first-hand look at this Blake exhibit. If Angelica turned out to be a hearty, sensible sort of girl, Stacey was resolved not to interfere. She’d buzz off and become an African explorer or join the Canadian Mounties, or whatever it is that robust young female half-props do when their hearts are broken.
A weaker rival might have dashed off to the Ogoouė River on first sight of Angelica Blake, for in supposing her to be a mere pippin Stacey had underestimated her rival’s charms. Angelia was long, lean and extraordinarily elegant in a doeful sort of way. The impression she gave on entering the room was that the Wimbledon Ladies Literary Society had not gained a poet, so much as a giraffe.
The effect she had on the gathered assembly was remarkable. Lorgnettes returned to their holsters, lips unpursed, steely-eyed expressions softened. Angelica’s first poem about a timid mouse, arguably the second most astonishing new work since The Tay Bridge Disaster, sent them into raptures.
When Angelica had finished her recital, the chairwoman thanked her in gushing terms and invited her to join the ladies for tea in the drawing room. Stacey waited patiently among the throng of admirers who surrounded Angelica, pawing her like a zoological exhibit and offering her lumps of sugar.
Angelica may have impressed the crowd, but as the future mate of a feeble poet incapable of crossing the street without close supervision, Stacey found her unsuitable. It would be an act of sisterly kindness, she felt, to warn her off. The only problem was how to broach the subject. Stacey had the mind of a great general, and like all great generals she lacked subtlety. She preferred to charge.
“Hello, hello,” Stacey said at last, advancing into a gap at Angelica’s left elbow, vacated by an octogenarian in mauve. “The future Mrs Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow, I presume?”
The poet winced. The prospect of answering to the name Mrs Cyril Pomfrey-Waddelow was a definite blow for a girl accustomed to signing herself ‘Angelica Blake’ inside attractively bound volumes of poetry.
“Our engagement has not been announced,” said Angelica, a little stiffly.
“Never mind about that,” said Stacey, giving the poet a friendly slap on the back. “I won’t tell a soul. Pompy and I are childhood pals, you know. He tells me everything.”
“I see. Who are you?”
“Didn’t I say? I’m Eustacia Bellows. I expect Cyril’s always mentioning me.”
“Not that I recall.”
“Well that’s gratitude!” said Stacey, cheerfully. “You save a man’s life, the least you’d expect is an honorable mention.”
“You saved his life?”
“Twice. The poor chump can’t take a step without me. I expect I shall always be popping in when you are married. A delicate creature with a poetic soul like yours can’t be expected to be wading in and out of ponds all the time.”
“Cyril is not a chump,” said Angelica, rising to her full magnificence. She looked like a female giraffe, patiently demonstrating the en pointe maneuver to a remedial elephant.
“Why of course he’s a chump!” said Stacey. “What other sort of fellow would stuff himself with sweets until he was fit to burst and then jump in a pond? Or walk in front of an omnibus in Piccadilly Circus. As chumps go, he’s one of the best, but he’s a chump just the same.”
Angelica was too stately to recoil in horror. She merely widened her eyes and blinked.
“Cyril walked in front of an omnibus?”
“This very AM. If I hadn’t been there, they’d be sweeping up the remains now.”
The giraffe wilted slightly, looked thoughtful for a moment, and then reached for Stacey’s hand.
“My dear Miss Bellows, I am so grateful to you. There must be some way for Cyril and I to thank you properly. Cyril will be joining us this weekend at Grateley Towers. The honeysuckle is so beautiful at this time of year, and…”
“Cyril’s allergic to bees, you know.”
“Won’t you join us? I would love to show you the gardens, and the lake.”
“Lake, you say?” Stacey grinned. It was the sort of grin Napoleon might have grinned before a big day out in Austerlitz. “How splendid!”
The whole thing couldn’t have been chummier, Stacey tells me, and she was feeling rather rotten about having to deprive this gentle soul of her mate. But still, the thing had to be done.
To be continued…