You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 14

Fizz Pop

INSPECTOR BIRKENHEAD looked like the quintessence of all those Scotland Yard Inspectors who have figured in that vast and ever-growing field of literature, detective stories. He was indeed the only begetter of a great family. His position at Scotland Yard brought him into immediate contact with all the journalists, writers, curious persons and so forth who came in ever-increasing volume to study the type. He was Scotland Yard’s first line of defence, and the first to break cover from the thickets upon the encircled criminal. Subtler minds up-stairs remained hidden from the public eye and the public imagination. Criminals never saw them, knew nothing about them. Camera men never got hold of them. Between them and the amateur detective, a great gulf, in the shape of Inspector Birkenhead, was fixed. Edward Albert had met him already in a dozen stories under a dozen names.

The Inspector was a big heavy man, big enough indeed to be a lot of people. Edward Albert watched him place a chair for himself in the middle of the room and adjust himself firmly to its creaking accommodation, rest his hands upon his thighs and stick out his elbows. “Edward Albert Tewler, I believe.” he said.

There is no hiding things from these detectives,

“Yes,” said Edward Albert and the word half choked him.

His mouth was dry with fear.

He glanced in hope of some moral support from Pip, but Pip appeared to be lost in admiration of Enfin seul.

“I’m told you engaged to marry my daughter and that at the very last moment when everything was prepared for the ceremony, you insulted her and everybody by absenting yourself, absenting yourself without leave, from the ceremony. Have I been correctly informed?”

“I really did ‘ave a temperature, Sir. Over 104 it was. Five degrees above normal.”

“Nothing to what you’ll have some day,” said the Inspector prosaically.

“But Mr Chaser here knows — Reely, Sir.”

“We won’t argue about that. We won’t trouble Mr Chaser about that. I should say by the look of you she was well out of a thoroughly silly marriage, if it wasn’t —”

The Inspector stopped, unable to continue for a time. His face was suffused, His mouth closed grimly and he appeared to be inhaling intensely. His eyes protruded. He seemed to be swelling. He must have been full of very highly compressed air. It looked as though he might explode at any moment, but as a matter of fact he was exercising self-control.

Mr Pip Chaser had stopped looking at the picture and had come round to a position from which to observe the Inspector better. Even his expression of expectant amusement was mitigated by a touch, of awe. There was, if one may say so, a. sort of humming silence of apprehension throughout the room. What became: of all that air it is idle to speculate. It disappears from tills story. When the Inspector spoke his voice was calm and stern. He deflated imperceptibly.

“My daughter, if she is my daughter, was her mother’s child. That woman. — That woman brought disgrace upon my name. A wanton. A loose woman. And now. . . . Once again. No, I cannot have that sort of thing happen over again.”

“But I mean to marry her, Sir. I’m going to marry her.”

“You’d better. If you don’t —” And speaking as always, with the quiet dignity of a man accustomed to the use of studiously irreproachable language, he used these by no means irreproachable words: “I’ll bloody-well knock your silly block off for you! You understand me, Sir?”

“Yessir,” said Edward Albert.

“But then how are we going to do it? The mischief is done. Here’s everything disarranged and out of order. All her friends will know and talk. Well, Mr Chaser, you’ve a way of arranging things, she says, she says you can arrange Anything; and you know all these people better than I do. How you can arrange this now passes my imagination. What’s to be done?”

“Well,” said Pip. “If you ask me —~”

He came forward and stood for a moment with his mouth wide open, scratching his jaws, “Hey”, he said, slowly and extensively. “Nothing irreparable has happened. First there’s this lie about the temperature.”

Edward Albert murmured a protest.

“Lie?” said the Inspector, looked hard at Edward Albert, and said no more.

“Pure lie,” said Pip, “I invented it and I ought to know. He hadn’t a temperature. He had — hey — cold feet. . . . Still, we ought to keep that up. And the sooner Evangeline shows anxiety about it, the better. We can say she’s been round already, in a dreadful state of mind. Oh, I know that’s not true, but — hey — we can say it. And then we can say there was a misunderstanding about the date. And I lost the ring and got confused. Blame it on to me. That’s what Best Men are for. Any old story, and the more stories there are, the better. We contradict vaguely. We say to this man, ‘the fact of the matter is this’, and we say to that man, ‘the fact of the matter is that’. So everybody knows more than everybody else and we escape in the confusion. Just — hey — common sense, all that. The facts are bad. As you know, Sir, as your criminals know, the worse the facts are the more they have to be jumbled up. We aren’t going to have to be sifting the evidence, Sir, thank goodness. And the sooner we get the whole thing over, the better.”

“There I agree,” said the Inspector. “I stand by that firmly.”

“I’ll get busy,” said Puck–Pip. “I’ll do it.”

“But if there’s any more shilly-shally —”

“Block,” said Pip compactly, and turned to his client.

“You understand that, don’t you?”

Edward Albert nodded acquiescence. The Inspector stood up slowly and towered over his prospective son-inlaw. He shook not so much a finger as the whole terror of Scotland Yard at him.

“That girl is going to be decently and properly married whether she likes it or not, whether you like it or not, whoever likes it or don’t like it”— he hesitated —“or not. Not twice will I have the honour of my family trailed in the mud. You marry her and you treat her properly. She’s got the temper of a vixen, I admit, but all the same she’s an educated young lady, and don’t you forget it. She’s a young lady and you’re no gentleman. . . . ”

He ceased to address Edward Albert. He soliloquised, looking over Pip’s head.

“I’ve often thought if perhaps I’d spanked her at times Or somebody had spanked her. I couldn’t have spanked her. . . . But there I was without a woman to care for her. . . . It’s no good crying over spilt milk. As a little kid. . . . If only she could have stayed always as a little kid. . . . She was such a bright little kid.”

The lament of the father through the ages. . . .

So in a confusion of explanations the wedding feast was restored to the calendar and in due course Edward Albert found himself standing with Evangeline before a clergyman of venerable appearance and rapid enunciation. Pip stood behind Edward Albert like a ventriloquist behind his dummy, and three small bridesmaids of unknown provenance upheld Evangeline’s train. In a front pew stood Inspector Birkenhead, meticulously observant, and evidently resolved to knock the bridegroom’s sanguinary block off at the slightest hint of hanky-panky.

The elderly clergyman went off at headlong speed.

“Debloved getggether ‘n sigh Gard ‘n face congation join togeth man this wum ho’ matmony onble sta stuted Gard time man’s ‘sincy. . . . dained remdy gainsin void forncation. . . . fever after holdis peace.”

More of that. . . .

Then suddenly Edward Albert found he was bring addressed. The quick-firing clergyman was saying, “Wilt have this Worn thy wed wife. . . . keep th’only unt her — s’long both sha’ live?”

“Eh?” said Edward Albert, trying to get it clear.

“Say ‘I will’"— from Pip.

“I will.”

He turned on Evangeline who answered very clearly;

“I will.”

“Who giv’ s’wom mad this man?”

Rapid exchange of glances between the Inspector and Pip. Assenting noise from the Inspector and something very like

“O.K.” from Mr Chaser, who reached over smartly and put Evangeline’s hand in the priest’s. There was a slight fumble and the priest, with an impatient tug, joined the two right hands as he proceeded. He was already well away with

“Peat after me. Was name?”

“Edward Albert Tewler, Sir.”

“I, Edward Albert Tewler, take thee, was name?”

“Evangeline Birkenhead.”

“Vangline Birk’ned to wed wife . . . ”

Things drew to a climax.

“Whe’s ring?” Senile impatience manifested. But young Chaser was fully up to his duties. “Here, Sir. Yes, Sir, all correct.”

“On her finger.”

“Fourth finger — you chump,” from Pip in an audible whisper, and found it for him. “Don’t drop it.”

“Teat aft me. . . . This ring Ivy wed.

“Kneel,” hissed Pip, with a slight but helpful kick.

And so the beautiful old ceremony drew to its end. Prayers and responses were mumbled by Edward Albert out of a prayer-book suddenly handed to him. There was more lightning discourse and then Edward Albert was walking down the aisle, with Evangeline clinging firmly to his arm, to the supply organist’s interpretation of the Wedding March from Lohengrin.

“Splendid,” whispered Pip. “Splendid. I’m proud of you. Chin up!”

So far as he had any feeling left in him, Edward Albert was proud of himself.

A crowd of strange faces outside. Damn! He’d forgotten to let Leaseholds know. He’d forgotten to tell Bert. Pip was handing him his hat and helping him into the first carriage. It was a black-lined carriage, but the coal-black horses were mitigated by abundant white rosettes..

Edward Albert exhaled noisily. Evangeline remained perfectly still.

“Hey!” said Pip, realising that something had to be said about it: “That was — magnificent. Magnificent!”

“The flowers were beautiful,” said Evangeline.

“Pop,” said Pip.

Then they were going into the house of Pop Chaser. It was, Edward Albert realised, a stylish house, and it was doing itself in the best style. He had never seen such a lot of flowers except at a flower show before. And there were special maids in uniform caps and aprons to take hats and coats and things. A very young gentleman friend of the family dressed like a cadet shop-walker, acted as usher. The bridesmaids reappeared as sisterlets of Pip’s. There was a roomful of people. “Reception,” said Pip. “Smile at ’em. That’s better. This way.”

Mrs Doober was saying something, then an unknown lady in an autobiographical mood was thrust aside. Then a big fat chap was kissing the bride with remarkable gusto. He disentangled himself and displayed a broad flushed face rather like Pip’s, but stuffed with intercalary matter, and he was white-haired. “And so this is the lucky man, eh?

“Congratulations, my boy. “Con-gratulations. You carry off my family treasure and I congratulate you. Well, s’long as she’s happy. . . . ”

He held out a capacious hand.

Edward Albert was at a loss for words. He allowed his hand to be shaken.

“You’re welcome,” said Pop Chaser. “And you’ve got the sunshine on your wedding.”

“I ‘ave got that,” said Edward Albert.

“I didn’t come to the church in person,” said Pop Chaser, “but I was there in spirit.”

“Your lovely flowers,” said Evangeline.

“And my lovely Son, eh?”

“I must say it’s a perfectly lovely wedding. Isn’t it, Teddy dear?”

“I’m enjoying it all right,” said Edward Albert.

“Aah!” said Mr Chaser, and held out his large hand to a vigorously dressed plump lady. “So glad you’ve come. Your flowers and my champagne. . . . ”

Evangeline pulled her spouse aside.

“He’s doing it all splendidly. Isn’t he, darling? You ought to thank him. Perhaps if you put a sentence in your speech — just at the end.”

Edward Albert looked alarmed. “What d’you think? Feel I can’t sit down without a word of thanks?”

“Generosity and Hospitality,” whispered Evangeline,

“Perfect. You’re a dear.”

They were separated again.

Everything was moving very fast, after the fashion of wedding breakfasts. The dining-room was full of flowers again and champagne bottles had been liberally distributed about the board. A great clatter of knives and forks began. Corks popped and tongues were unloosed. But Edward Albert could not eat. His lips moved. “Lays and gem’n and you my dear Evangeline. I never made a speech’n my life,” He drank off the bubbling glass beside him and felt a rush of small needles to his nose. But it seemed to give him heart and confidence. Someone refilled his glass. “Not too much,” said Pip, close at hand and alert.

Nearer and nearer crept the moment.

“Ori,” he said, and stood up.

“Lays and gem’n, me dear Vanger. Nevangeline. You Nevangeline.” Pause.

Prompter: “Never made a speech in my life.”

Rapidly, “Ne-ma-speech m’life. Who?. . . .

“Now harsh too full. Go bless y’awl.”

Loud and sustained applause. “Siddown,” said Pip, but the bridegroom remained standing. His eye was fixed on the bride,

“Feel I carn sit down vout a word thanks. Pop. Pop Goose —”

Pip had bit him violently on the back and was standing up beside him.

“Hey” he neighed out at the top of his voice. “Magnificent speech. Magnificent. Excellent.” He forced Edward Albert down into his chair. He waved a glass of champagne dangerously, and spilt some down Edward Albert’s vest

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the bride and bridegroom. Our love to them, our good wishes. Hip, Hip, Hurrah.”

Confused applause followed. There seemed to be some hesitation. Glasses were held towards Edward Albert and Evangeline. Old Mr Chaser was addressing his son in protesting tones. “Stick to the programme, Pip,” he was saying. “Where are we? What’s come over you? You ‘aven’t got drunk, my boy, by any chance, ‘ave you?”

“Sorry, Pop! Drunk with happiness. Hey, Happiness.”

A pause. Then old Chaser rose-to his feet prepared for oratory. Some great danger — no one but Pip was quite clear what it was — had threatened the festival — and passed,

“Ladies and gen’men, Mr Tewler and my dear girl,” said old Chaser, “it gives me great pleasure today, to welcome and entertain you here today at the nuptials, the nuptials, of one who is and will be I hope always dear to us all, my dear, bright, clever, good god-child Evangeline. I feel I am ‘anding over today a very loving and precious Treasure to my young friend Tewler, our young friend Tewler. . . . ”

“Did I say something wrong?” whispered Edward Albert to his faithful dragoman.

“Did you say something wrong? Lucky I haven’t a weak heart or I’d be dead this moment.” He neighed pianissimo.

“Listen to the speaker. Go easy, that champagne.”

Edward Albert turned a face of deliberate attention to the speech.

“There have been things said and insinuated. The less said about that the better. There ‘ave been misunderstandings and they ‘ave, to put it plainly, been misunderstood. For all that and all that, all’s well that ends well. I am very ‘appy today to see ’ere at my table a very great and distinguished figure in our London life, no less a man than the celebrated Inspector Birkenhead.” Applause. “He stands for all that keeps us from being robbed and murdered in our beds. But. . . . Unhappily, unhappily —”

Pause of expectation.

“I ‘ave to report a new crime to ’im, a robbery.”

Sensation.

“‘Is own daughter, Evangeline, is the criminal. She ‘as stolen all our ‘carts and —”

The rest of the sentence was lost in riotous applause and table-banging. Somebody broke a glass unreproved. The only word audible was the concluding word, “Torquay.” Pop Chaser was radiant with oratorical success, and Pip Chaser was slapping him on the back. Apparently the old man had either not heard Edward Albert’s little slip of the tongue or forgotten it, and Edward Albert himself began to doubt whether it had really occurred. He drained a new-filled beaded glass towards his host before Pip could prevent him. . . .

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/wells/hg/you-cant-be-too-careful/book3.14.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30