Giles - my man, you know - is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. On broader lines he's like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked "Inquiries." You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say, "When's the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?" and they reply without stopping to think, "Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco." And they're right every time. Well, Giles gives you just the same impression of omniscience.
As an instance of what I mean, if it weren't for old Giles exerting his impressive cerebellum, Miss Tara Maclay would still be legging it around the countryside avoiding mismatched suitors left and right, instead of living here with me in my London flat.
Oh, Tara. To think of her is to swoon. The girl is so bally wonderful, and beautiful, and with a keen level mind on her delicate neck, between her and Giles I need never trouble the old lemon with bothersome thinking again. Here it was, eight weeks since she had come to live with me after that awful mess at Easeby, and the world couldn't seem brighter.
Even the fear of Aunt Sheila's retribution against Lumpy's marriage to the showgirl Anya Jenkins, and Aunt Jessica's fall from civilized grace, couldn't stop me from enjoying the finer points of what Tara termed a "Boston Marriage." Needless to say, following the first demonstration, neither she nor I felt it necessary to clutter up the guest room with her things, and more agreeable arrangements were hastily made.
So I didn't worry about Aunt Sheila. Or anything else, as a matter of fact. What with one thing and another, I can't remember having been chirpier than at about this period in my career. Everything seemed to be going right.
Added to this, the weather continued topping to a degree; my new stockings were admitted to be on all sides just the kind that mother makes; and, to round it all off, Aunt Sheila had gone to France and wouldn't be on hand to snooter me for at least another six weeks. She claimed that the Lumpy situation had given her "the vapors", and the sea air, plus a good healthy distance separating her from me, was the only cure. And, if you knew my Aunt Sheila, you'd agree that alone was happiness enough for anyone.
It suddenly struck me so forcibly, one morning while I was having my bath, that I hadn't a worry on Earth that I began to sing like a bally nightingale as I sploshed the sponge about. It seemed to me that everything was absolutely for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
But have you ever noticed the rummy thing about life? I mean the way something always comes along to give it you in the neck at the very moment you're feeling most braced about things in general. No sooner had I dried the old limbs and shoved on the dressing and toddled into the sitting room that the blow fell. There was a letter from Aunt Sheila on the mantelpiece.
"Oh, gosh!" I said when I'd read it.
"Miss?" Said Giles, kind of manifesting himself. One of the rummy things about Giles is that, unless you watch him like a hawk, you very seldom see him come into a room. He's like one of those weird chappies in India who dissolves themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. I've got a cousin who's what they call a Theosophist, and he says he's often nearly worked the thing himself, but couldn't quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals slain in anger and pie.
"It's from my Aunt Sheila, Giles. Mrs. Rosenby-Gregson, you know."
"Ah, you wouldn't speak in that light careless tone if you knew what was in it," I said with a hollow, mirthless laugh. "The curse has come upon me, Giles. She wants me to go and join her at - what's the name of the dashed place? - at Roville-sur-mer. Oh hang it all!"
"I had better be packing, miss?"
"I suppose so."
"Packing for where?"
I looked up, standing in the doorway, elegantly removing her gloves after completing her morning constitutional was the lovely Miss Maclay.
"Darling," I said, "I fear I have some frightfully bad news."
"What's happened?" She inquired, pale with concern.
"We're headed to France." I stated glumly. "The sea-side to boot. Oh, I know, it's simply awful."
"But it sounds lovely! I've never been to France."
"France is lovely," I conceded. "The sea-side doubly so. But this holiday, my lovely lemon, is the command of my Aunt Sheila."
"My darling Willow, you are both sweet and vexing. Your Aunt Sheila is no one to be afraid of. She and I got on fine at Barton Park. I don't think I need to remind you that it was because of her that I found myself at Easeby in the first place."
"Yes, but that was before you failed to win over old Lumps and save him from the life of the stage. No doubt she has it in for both of us now, and the old bird is as ruthless as - as, some sort of ruthless thing, don't you know."
To people who don't know my Aunt Sheila well - or at all - I find it extraordinarily difficult to explain why it is that she has always put the wind up me to such a frightful extent. I mean, I'm not dependent on her financially or anything like that. It's simply personality; I've come to the conclusion. You see, all through my childhood when I was a kid at school she was always able to turn me inside out with a single glance, and I haven't come out from under the ‘fluence yet. We run to height a bit in our family and there's about five-foot-nine of Aunt Sheila, topped off with a beaky nose, an eagle eye, and a lot of grey hair, and the general effect is pretty formidable. Anyway, it never even occurred to me to give her the miss-in-baulk on this occasion. If she said I must go to Roville, it was all over except for buying the tickets.
"Never mind, dearest," said Tara, "you and I should have no trouble making the most of this little visit." She kissed my cheek and indeed the world shown a bit brighter for a moment. "I'll make us some tea while Giles packs our things." And she disappeared through the kitchen door.
"What's the idea, Giles? I wonder why Aunt Sheila wants me."
"I could not say, miss."
Well, it was no good talking about it. The only gleam of consolation, the only bit of blue among the clouds, besides Tara joining me of course, was the fact that at Roville I should at last be able to wear the rather fruity sash I had bought two months previous and had never had the nerve to put on. One of those silk contrivances, you know, which you tie round your waist instead of a belt. I had never been able to muster up the courage to put it on so far, for I knew there would be trouble with Giles when I did, it being a pretty brightish scarlet. Still, at a place like Roville, presumably dripping with the gaiety and the joie de vivre of France, it seemed to me that something might be done.