There was plenty and to spare of the Rev. H.P. Pinker. Even as a boy, I imagine, he must have burst seams and broken try-your-weight machines, and grown to man's estate he might have been Roderick Spode's twin brother. Purely in the matter of thews, sinews and tonnage, I mean of course, for whereas Roderick Spode went about seeking whom he might devour and was a consistent menace to pedestrians and traffic, Stinker, though no doubt a fiend in human shape when assisting the Harlequins Rugby football club to dismember some rival troupe of athletes, was in private life a gentle soul with whom a child could have played. In fact, I once saw a child doing so.
Usually when you meet this man of God, you find him beaming. I believe his merry smile is one of the sights of Totleigh-in-the-Wold, as it was of Magdalen College, Oxford, when we were up there together. But now I seemed to note in his aspect a certain gravity, as if he had just discovered a schism in his flock or found a couple of choir boys smoking reefers in the churchyard. He gave me the impression of a two-hundred-pound curate with something on his mind beside his hair. Upsetting another table, he took a seat and said he was glad he had caught me.
'I thought I'd find you at the Drones.'
'You have,' I assured him. 'What brings you to the metrop?'
'I came up for a Harlequins committee meeting.'
'And how were they all?'
'That's good. I've been worrying myself sick about the Harlequins committee. Well, how have you been keeping, Stinker?'
'I've been all right.'
'Are you free for dinner?'
'Sorry, I've got to get back to Totleigh.'
'Too bad. Jeeves tells me Sir Watkyn and Madeline and Stiffy have been staying with my aunt at Brinkley.'
'Have they returned?'
'And how's Stiffy?'
'And your parishioners? Going strong, I trust?'
'Oh yes, they're fine.'
I wonder if anything strikes you about the slice of give-and-take I've just recorded. No? Oh, surely. I mean, here were we, Stinker Pinker and Bertram Wooster, buddies who had known each other virtually from the egg, and we were talking like a couple of strangers making conversation on a train. At least, he was, and more and more I became convinced that his bosom was full of the perilous stuff that weighs upon the heart, as I remember Jeeves putting it once.
I persevered in my efforts to uncork him.
'Well, Stinker,' I said, 'what's new? Has Pop Bassett given you that vicarage yet?'
This caused him to open up a bit. His manner became more animated.
'No, not yet. He doesn't seem able to make up his mind. One day he says he will, the next day he says he's not so sure, he'll have to think it over.'
I frowned. I disapproved of this shilly-shallying. I could see how it must be throwing a spanner into Stinker's whole foreign policy, putting him in a spot and causing him alarm and despondency. He can't marry Stiffy on a curate's stipend, so they've got to wait till Pop Bassett gives him a vicarage which he has in his gift. And while I personally, though fond of the young gumboil, would run a mile in tight shoes to avoid marrying Stiffy, I knew him to be strongly in favour of signing her up. 'Something always happens to put him off. I think he was about ready to close the deal before he went to stay at Brinkley, but most unfortunately I bumped into a valuable vase of his and broke it. It seemed to rankle rather.'
I heaved a sigh. It's always what Jeeves would call most disturbing to hear that a chap with whom you have plucked the gowans fine, as the expression is, isn't making out as well as could be wished. I was all set to follow this Pinker's career with considerable interest, but the way things were shaping it began to look as if there wasn't going to be a career to follow.
'You move in a mysterious way your wonders to perform, Stinker. I believe you would bump into something if you were crossing the Gobi desert.'
'I've never been in the Gobi desert.'
'Well, don't go. It isn't safe. I suppose Stiffy's sore about this . . . what's the word? . . . Not vaseline . . . Vacillation, that's it. She chafes, I imagine, at this vacillation on Bassett's part and resents him letting "I dare not" wait upon "I would", like the poor cat in the adage. Not my own, that, by the way. Jeeves's. Pretty steamed up, is she?'
'She is rather.'
'I don't blame her. Enough to upset any girl. Pop Bassett has no right to keep gumming up the course of true love like this.'
'He needs a kick in the pants.'
'If I were Stiffy, I'd put a toad in his bed or strychnine in his soup.'
'Yes. And talking of Stiffy, Bertie -'
He broke off, and I eyed him narrowly. There could be no question to my mind that I had been right about that perilous stuff. His bosom was obviously chock full of it.
'There's something the matter, Stinker.'
'No, there isn't. Why do you say that?'
'Your manner is strange. You remind me of a faithful dog looking up into its proprietor's face as if it were trying to tell him something. Are you trying to tell me something?'
He swallowed once or twice, and his colour deepened, which took a bit of doing, for even when his soul is in repose he always looks like a clerical beetroot. It was as though the collar he buttons at the back was choking him. In a hoarse voice he said:
'Still here, old man, and hanging on your lips.'
'Bertie, are you busy just now?'
'Not more than usual.'
'You could get away for a day or two?'
'I suppose one might manage it.'
'Then can you come to Totleigh?'
'To stay with you, do you mean?'
'No, to stay at Totleigh Towers.'