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Part 16


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« on: December 25, 2022, 01:04:59 am »

From noise of Scare-fires rest ye free, From Murders Benedicite. From all mischances, they may fright Your pleasing slumbers in the night: Mercie secure ye all, and keep The Goblin from ye, while ye sleep.
   ---Robert Herrick

'Oh, miss!'

'We are so sorry to disturb you, madam.'

'Good gracious, Carrie, what is it?'

When you have been lying awake for an hour or so wondering how to reconstruct a Wilfrid without inflicting savage mayhem upon your plot, and have just tumbled into an uneasy slumber haunted by the embalmed bodies of dukes, it is annoying to be jerked into consciousness again by two excited and partly hysterical maid-servants in dressing-gowns.

'Oh, miss, the Dean said to come and tell you. Annie and me have been so frightened. We nearly caught it.'

'Caught what?'

'Whatever it is, miss. In the Science lecture-room, miss. We saw it there. It was awful.'

Harriet sat up, dazed.

'And it's gone off, miss, rampaging something horrible, and nobody knows what it mayn't be up to, so we thought we ought to tell somebody.'

'For goodness' sake, Carrie, do tell me. Sit down, both of you, and begin from the beginning.'

'But, miss, didn't we ought to see what's gone with it? Out through the dark-room window, that's where it went, and it may be murdering people at this very minute. And the room locked and the key inside--there might be a dead body lying there, all blood.'

'Don't be ridiculous,' said Harriet. But she got out of bed, none the less, and began to hunt for her slippers. 'If somebody's playing another practical joke, we must try and stop it. But don't let's have any nonsense about blood and bodies. Where did it go to?'

'We don't know, miss.'

Harriet looked at the stout and agitated Carrie, whose face was puckered and twitching and her eyes bolting with imminent hysteria. She had never thought the present head scout any too dependable, and was inclined to put down her abundant energy to an excess of thyroid.

'Where is the Dean, then?'

'Waiting by the lecture-room door, miss. She said to fetch you--'

'All right.'

Harriet put her torch into her dressing-gown pocket and hustled her visitors out.

'Now tell me quickly what's the matter, and don't make a noise.'

'Well, miss, Annie comes to me and says--'

'When was this?'

'About a quarter of an hour ago, miss, or it might be more or less.'

'About that, madam.'

'I was in bed and asleep, never dreaming of nothing, and Annie says, "Have you got the keys, Carrie? There's something funny going on in the lecture-room." So I says to Annie--'

'Just a minute. Let Annie tell her part first.'

'Well, madam, you know the Science lecture-room at the back of the New Quad, and how you can see it from our wing. I woke up about half-past one and happened to look out of my window and I saw a light in the lecture-room. So I thought, that's funny, as late as this. And I saw a shadow on the curtain, like somebody moving about.'

'The curtains were drawn, then?'

'Yes, madam; but they're only buff casement-cloth, you know, so I could see the shadow as plain as plain. So I watched a bit, and the shadow went away but the light stayed on and I thought it was funny. So I went and woke Carrie and said to her to give me the keys so as I could go and look in case it was something that wasn't quite right. And she saw the light, too. And I said, "Oh, Carrie, come with me; I don't like to go alone." So Carrie came down with me.'

'Did you go through the Hall or across the yard?'

'Across the yard, madam. We thought it would be quicker. Through the yard and the iron gate. And we tried to look through the window, but it was tight shut and the curtains pulled close.'

They were out of Tudor Building now; its corridors as they passed through had seemed quiet enough. Nor did there seem to be any disturbance in the Old Quad. The Library Wing was dark, except for a lamp burning in Miss de Vine's window and the dim illumination of the passage lights.

'When we came to the lecture-room door, it was locked and the key in it, because I stooped down to look through the hole, but I couldn't see anything. And then I saw that the curtain wasn't quite drawn across the door--it has glass panels, you know, madam. So I looked through the crack and saw something all in black, madam. And I said, "Oh, there it is!" And Carrie said, "Let me see," and she gave me a bit of a push and my elbow bumped against the door and that must have frightened it, because the light went out.'

'Yes, miss,' said Carrie, eagerly. 'And I said, "There now!" and then there was a most awful crash inside--dreadful, it was, and something bumping, and I calls out, "Oh, it's coming out after us!"'

'And I said to Carrie, "Run and fetch the Dean! We've got it in here." So Carrie went for the Dean and I heard whoever it was moving about a bit, and then I didn't hear anything more.'

'And the Dean came along and we waited a bit, and I said, "Ooh! do you think it's lying in there with its throat cut?" and the Dean said, "There, now! How silly we've been. It'll have gone out through the window." And I says, "But all them windows are barred," I says. And the Dean says, "The dark-room window, that's where it's gone." The dark-room door was locked too, so we run round outside and sure enough, there's the window wide open. So the Dean says, "Fetch Miss Vane." So we comes for you, miss.'

By this time they had reached the east angle of the New Quad, where Miss Martin stood waiting.

'Our friend's vanished, I'm afraid,' said the Dean. 'We ought to have been quick enough to think of that window. I've been round this quad, but I can't find anything wrong there. Let's hope the creature's gone back to bed.'

Harriet examined the door. It was certainly locked from the inside, and the curtain over the glass panel did not fit quite closely. But everything within was dark and silent.

'What does Sherlock Holmes do now?' inquired the Dean.

'I think we go in,' said Harriet. 'I suppose you haven't such a thing as a pair of long-nosed pliers? No. Well, it's probably just as good to break the glass.'

'Don't cut yourself.'

How many times, thought Harriet, had her detective Robert Templeton broken through doors to discover the dead body of the murdered financier! With a ludicrous feeling that she was acting a part, she laid a fold of her dressing-gown across the panel and delivered a sharp blow upon it with her closed fist. Rather to her astonishment, the panel broke inwards exactly as it should have done, to the accompaniment of a modest tinkle of glass. Now--a scarf or handkerchief wrapped round to protect the hand and wrist, and prevent leaving extra finger-prints on the key and handle. The Dean obligingly fetched this needful accessory; and the door was opened.

Harriet's first glance by torch-light was for the switch. It stood in the 'Off position, and she struck it down with the handle of the torch. The room stood revealed.

It was a rather bare, uncomfortable place, furnished with a couple of long tables, a quantity of hard chairs and a blackboard. It was called the Science lecture-room partly because Miss Edwards occasionally used it for coachings that needed little in the way of apparatus, but chiefly because some dead-and-damned benefactor had left to the College a sum of money, together with a quantity of scientific books, anatomical casts, portraits of deceased scientists and glass cases filled with geological specimens; saddling this already sufficiently embarrassing bequest with the condition that all the bric-Ó-brac should be housed in one room together. Otherwise there was nothing that particularly fitted the room for scientific study, except that it communicated on one side with a closet containing a sink. The closet was occasionally used by photographic enthusiasts as a dark-room, and was so called.

The cause of the crash and bumping heard by the two scouts was plain enough as soon as the light was turned on. The blackboard had been flung to the ground and a few chairs displaced, as though somebody, hurriedly making her way from the room in the dark, had become entangled among the furniture. The most interesting thing about the room was the collection of things that lay on one of the tables. There was a spread sheet of newspaper, on which stood a paste-pot with a brush in it, part of a cheap scribbling block and the lid of a cardboard box, filled with cut-out letters. Also, laid out upon the table were several messages, couched in the Poison-Pen's now familiar style, and pasted together in the usual way; while a half-finished work in the same style of art had fluttered to the floor, showing that the Pen had been interrupted in the middle of her work.

'So here's where she does it!' cried the Dean.

'Yes,' said Harriet. 'I wonder why. It seems unnecessarily public. Why not her own room?... I say, Dean--don't pick that up, if you don't mind. Better leave everything as it is.'

The door in the dark-room was open. Harriet went in and examined the sink, and the open window above it. Marks in the dust showed clearly where something had scrambled over the sill.

'What's underneath this window outside?'

'It's a flagged path. I'm afraid you won't find much there.'

'No; and it happens to be a spot that's overlooked by absolutely nothing except those bathroom windows in the corridor. It's very unlikely that the person should have been seen getting out. If the letters had to be concocted in a lecture-room, this is as good a place as any. Well! I don't see that we can do much here at the moment.' Harriet turned sharply on the two scouts. 'You say you saw the person, Annie.'

'Not exactly saw her, madam, not to recognise. She had on something black and was sitting at the far table with her back to the door. I thought she was writing.'

'Didn't you see her face when she got up and came across to turn off the light?'

'No, madam. I told Carrie what I saw and Carrie asked to look and bumped the door, and while I was telling her not to make a noise the light went out.'

'Didn't you see anything, Carrie?'

'Well, I don't hardly know, miss, I was in such a fluster. I saw the light, and then I didn't see nothing.'

'Perhaps she crept round the wall to get to the light,' said the Dean.

'Must have, Dean. Will you go in and sit at the table on the chair that's pulled out a bit, while I see what I can see from the door. Then, when I knock on the glass, will you get up and out of sight as quickly as you can and work round to the switch and turn it off? Is the curtain much as it was, Annie, or did I disarrange it when I broke the glass?'

'I think it's much the same, madam.'

The Dean went in and sat down. Harriet shut the door and put her eye to the chink in the curtain. This was at the hinge-side of the door, and gave her a sight of the window, the ends of the two tables and the place where the blackboard had stood beneath the window.

'Have a look, Annie; was it like that?'

'Yes, madam. Only the blackboard was standing up then, of course.'

'Now--do as you did then. Say to Carrie whatever it was you said, and Carrie, you knock on the door and then look in as you did the first time.'

'Yes, madam. I said "There she is! we've got her." And I jumped back like this.'

'Yes, and I said, "Oh, dear! Let's have a look!"--and then I sort of caught against Annie and knocked--like that.'

'And I said, "Look out--now you've done it."'

'And I says, "Coo!" or something like that, and I looked in and I didn't see nobody--'

'Can you see anybody now?'

'No, miss. And I was trying to see when the light went out all of a sudden.'

The light went out.

'How did that go off?' asked the Dean, cautiously, with her mouth at the hole in the panel.

'First-rate performance,' said Harriet. 'Dead on time.'

'The second I heard the knock. I just nipped away to the right and crept round the wall. Did you hear me?'

'Not a sound. You've got soft slippers on, haven't you?'

'We didn't hear the other one either, miss.'

'She'd be wearing soft slippers, too. Well, I suppose that settles that. We'd better have a look round College to see that all's well and get back to bed. You two can be off now, Carrie--Miss Martin and I can see to things.'

'Very good, miss. Come along, Annie. Though I'm sure I don't know how anybody's to get to sleep--'

'Will you stop making that filthy row!'

An exasperated voice heralded the appearance of an exceedingly angry student in pyjamas.

'Do remember some people want to get a bit of rest at night. This corridor's a--Oh, I'm sorry, Miss Martin. Is anything wrong?'

'Nothing at all, Miss Perry. I'm sorry we disturbed you. Somebody left the lights on in the lecture-room and we came to see if it was all right.'

The student vanished, with a jerk of a tousled head that showed what she thought of the matter. The two servants went their way. The Dean turned to Harriet.

'Why all that business of reconstructing the crime?'

'I want to find out whether Annie could really have seen what she said she saw. These people sometimes let their imagination run away with them. If you don't mind, I'm going to lock these doors and remove the keys. I'd rather like a second opinion.'

'Aha!' said the Dean. 'The exquisite gentleman who kissed my feet in St. Cross Road, crying, Vera incessu patuit dean?'

'That sounds characteristic. Well, Dean, you have got pretty feet. I've noticed them.'

'They have been admired,' said the Dean, complacently, 'but seldom in so public a place or after five minutes' acquaintance. I said to his lordship, "You are a foolish young man." He said, "A man, certainly; and sometimes foolish enough to be young." "Well," I said, "please get up; you can't be young here." So then he said, very nicely, "I beg your pardon for behaving like a mountebank; I have no excuse to offer, so will you forgive me?" So I asked him to dinner.'

Harriet shook her head.

'I'm afraid you're susceptible to fair hair and a slim figure. That in the slender's but a humorous word which in the stout is flat impertinence.'

'It might have been extremely impertinent, but actually it was not. I shall be interested to know what he makes of to-night's affair. We'd better go and see if there's been any more funny business.'

Nothing unusual was, however, to be observed.

---

Harriet rang up the Mitre before breakfast.

'Peter, could you possibly come round this morning instead of at six o'clock?'

'Within five minutes, when and where you will. "If she bid them, they will go barefoot to Jerusalem, to the great Cham's court, to the East Indies, to fetch her a bird to wear in her hat." Has anything happened?'

'Nothing alarming; a little evidence in situ. But you may finish the bacon and eggs.'

'I will be at the Jowett Walk Lodge in half an hour.'

---

He came accompanied by Bunter and a camera. Harriet took them into the Dean's room and told them the story, with some assistance from Miss Martin, who asked whether he would like to interview the two scouts.

'Not for the moment. You seem to have asked all the necessary questions. We'll go and look at the room. There's no way to it, I take it, except along this passage. Two doors on the left--students' rooms, I suppose. And one on the right. And the rest bathrooms and things. Which is the door of the dark-room? This? In full view of the other door--so there was no escape except by the window. I see. The key of the lecture-room was inside and the curtain left exactly like that? You're sure? All right. May I have the key?'

He threw the door open and glanced in.

'Get a photograph of this, Bunter. You have very nice, well-fitting doors in this building. Oak. No paint, no polish.'

He took a lens from his pocket and ran it, rather perfunctorily, over the light-switch and the door-handle.

'Am I really going to see finger-prints discovered?' asked the Dean.

'Why, of course,' said Wimsey. 'It won't tell us anything, but it impresses the spectator and inspires confidence. Bunter, the insufflator. You will now see,' he pumped the white powder rapidly over the frame and handle of the door, 'how inveterate is the habit of catching hold of doors when you open them.' An astonishing number of superimposed prints sprang into view above the lock as he blew the superfluous powder away. 'Hence the excellent old-fashioned institution of the finger-plate. May I borrow a chair from the bathroom?... Oh, thank you, Miss Vane; I didn't mean you to fetch it.'

He extended the blowing operations right up to the top of the door and the upper edge of the frame.

'You surely don't expect to find finger-prints up there,' said the Dean.

'Nothing would surprise me more. This is merely a shop window display of thoroughness and efficiency. All a matter of routine, as the policeman says. Your college is kept very well dusted; I congratulate you. Well, that's that. We will now direct our straining eyes to the dark-room door and do the same thing there, The key? Thank you. Fewer prints here, you see. I deduce that the room is usually approached by way of the lecture-room. That probably also accounts for the presence of dust along the top of the door. Something always gets overlooked, doesn't it? The linoleum, however, has been honourably swept and polished. Must I go down on my knees and do the floor-walk for foot-prints? It is shockingly bad for one's trousers and seldom useful. Let us rather examine the window. Yes--somebody certainly seems to have got out here. But we knew that already. She climbed over the sink and knocked that beaker off the draining-board.'

'She trod in the sink,' said Harriet, 'and left a damp smear on the sill. It's dried up now, of course.'

'Yes; but that proves she really did get out this way and at that time. Though it scarcely needed proving. There is no other way out. This isn't the old problem of a hermetically sealed chamber and a body. Have you finished in there, Bunter?'

'Yes, my lord; I have made three exposures.'

'That ought to do. You might clean those doors, would you.' He turned, smiling, on the Dean. 'You see, even if we did identify all those finger-prints, they would all belong to people who had a perfect right to be here. And in any case, our culprit, like everybody else these days, probably knows enough to wear gloves.'

He surveyed the lecture-room critically.

'Miss Vane!'

'Yes?'

'Something worried you about this room. What was it?'

'You don't need to be told.'

'No; I am convinced that our two hearts beat as one. But tell Miss Martin.'

'When the Poison-Pen turned off the light, she must have been close to the door. Then she went out by way of the dark-room. Why did she knock over the blackboard, which is right out of the line between the two doors?'

'Exactly.'

'Oh!' cried the Dean, 'but that's nothing. One often loses one's way in a dark room. My reading-lamp fused one night, and I got up to try and find the wall-switch and brought up with my nose against the wardrobe.'

'There!' said Wimsey. 'The chill voice of common sense falls on our conjectures like cold water on hot glass, and shatters them to bits. But I don't believe it. She had only to feel her way along the wall. She must have had some reason for going back into the middle of the room.'

'She'd left something on one of the tables.'

'That's more likely. But what? Something identifiable.'

'A handkerchief or something that she'd been using to press down the letters as she pasted them on.'

'We'll say it was that. These papers are just as you found them, I imagine. Did you test them to see if the paste was still wet?'

'I just felt this unfinished one on the floor. You see how it's done. She drew a line of paste right across the paper and then dabbed the letters on. The unfinished line was just tacky, but not wet. But then, you see, we didn't get in till after she'd been gone for five or ten minutes.'

'You didn't test any of the others?'

'I'm afraid not.'

'I wondered how long she'd been working here. She's managed to get through a good bit. But we may be able to find out another way.' He took up the box-lid containing the odd letters.

'Rough brown cardboard; I don't think we'll bother to look for finger-prints on this. Or to trace it; it might have come from anywhere. She'd nearly finished her job; there are only a couple of dozen letters left, and a lot of them are Q's and K's and Z's and such-like unhandy consonants. I wonder how this last message was meant to end.'

He picked the paper from the floor and turned it over.

'Addressed to you, Miss Vane. Is this the first time you have been honoured?'

'The first time--since the first time.'

'Ah! "You needn't think you'll get me, you make me laugh, you ..." Well, the epithet remains to be supplied--from the letters in the box. If your vocabulary is large enough you may discover what it was going to be.'

'But ... Lord Peter--'

It was so long since she had addressed him by his title that she felt self-conscious about it. But she appreciated his formality.

'What I want to know is, why she came to this room at all.'

'That is the mystery, isn't it?'

There was a shaded reading-lamp on the table, and he stood idly clicking the light on and off. 'Yes. Why couldn't she do it in her own room? Why invite discovery?'

'Excuse me, my lord.'

'Yes, Bunter?'

'Would this be any contribution to the inquiry?'

Bunter dived beneath the table and came up, holding a long black hairpin.

'Good heavens, Bunter! This is like a leaf out of a forgotten story. How many people use these things?'

'Oh, quite a number, nowadays,' said the Dean. 'Little buns in the neck have come back. I use them myself, but mine are bronze ones. And some of the students. And Miss Lydgate--but I think hers are bronze, too.'

'I know who uses black ones this shape,' said Harriet. 'I once had the pleasure of sticking them in for her.'

'Miss de Vine, of course. Always the White Queen. And she would drop them all over the place. But I should think she was about the only person in College who would never, by any chance, come into this room. She gives no lectures or classes and never uses the dark-room or consults scientific works.'

'She was working in her room when I came across last night,' said Harriet.

'Did you see her?' said Wimsey, quickly.

'I'm sorry. I'm an idiot. I only meant that her reading-lamp was on, close to her window.'

'You can't establish an alibi on the strength of a reading-lamp,' said Wimsey. 'I'm afraid I shall have to do the floor-walk after all.'

It was the Dean who picked up a second hairpin--in the place where one might most reasonably expect to find it--in a corner near the sink in the dark-room. She was so pleased with herself as a detective that she almost forgot the implications of the discovery, till Harriet's distressed exclamation forced them upon her.

'We haven't identified the hairpins for certain,' said Peter, comfortingly. 'That will be a little task for Miss Vane.' He gathered up the papers. 'I'll take these and add them to the dossier. I suppose there's no message for us on the blackboard?'

He picked up the board, which contained only a few chemical formulŠ, scribbled in chalk, in Miss Edwards's handwriting, and restored the easel to an upright position, on the far side of the window.

'Look!' said Harriet, suddenly. 'I know why she went round that way. She meant to get out by the lecture-room window, and had forgotten the bars. It was only when she pulled the curtain aside and saw them that she remembered the dark-room and plunged away in a hurry, knocking over the blackboard and tumbling into the chairs on the way. She must have been between the window and the easel, because the board and the easel fell forward into the room, and not backwards towards the wall.'

Peter looked at her thoughtfully. Then he went back into the dark-room and lowered and raised the window-sash. It moved easily and almost in silence.

'If this place wasn't so well built,' he said, almost accusingly, to the Dean, 'somebody would have heard this window go up and run round in time to catch the lady. As it is, I wonder that Annie didn't notice the noise of the beaker falling into the sink ... But if she did, she probably thought it was something in the lecture-room--one of those glass cases or what not. You didn't hear anything after you arrived, did you?'

'Not a thing.'

'Then she must have got out while Carrie was fetching you out of bed. I suppose nobody saw her go.'

'I've asked the only three students whose windows overlook that wall, and they saw nothing,' said Harriet.

'Well, you might ask Annie about the beaker. And ask both of them whether they noticed, as they came past, if the dark-room window was open or shut, I don't suppose they noticed anything, but you never can tell.'

'What does it matter?' asked the Dean.

'Not very much. But if it was shut, it rather supports Miss Vane's idea about the blackboard. If it was open, it would suggest that a retreat had been planned in that direction. It's a question of whether we're dealing with a short-sighted or a long-sighted person--mentally, I mean. And you might inquire at the same time whether any of the other women in the Scouts' Wing saw the light in the lecture-room, and if so, how early.'

Harriet laughed.

'I can tell you that at once. None of them. If they had, there would have been an eager rush to tell us all about it. You may be perfectly certain that Annie's and Carrie's adventure formed the staple of conversation in the servants' hall this morning.'

'That,' said his lordship, 'is very true indeed.'

There was a pause. The lecture-room seemed to offer no further field for research. Harriet suggested that Wimsey might like to look round the College.

'I was about to suggest it,' said he, 'if you can spare the time.'

'Miss Lydgate is expecting me in half an hour for a fresh attack on the Prosody,' said Harriet. 'I mustn't cut that, because her time is so precious, poor dear, and she's suddenly thought of a new appendix.'

'Oh, no!' cried the Dean.

'Alas, yes! But we could just go round and view the more important battlefields.'

'I should like particularly to see the Hall and Library and the connection between them, the entrance to Tudor Building, with Miss Barton's former room, the lay-out of the Chapel with reference to the postern and the place where, with the help of God, one leaps over the wall, and the way from Queen Elizabeth into the New Quad.'

'Great Heavens!' said Harriet. 'Did you sit up all night with the dossier?'

'Hush! no, I woke rather early. But don't let Bunter hear, or he will start being solicitous. Men have died and the worms have eaten them, but not for early rising. In fact, it is said that it's the early worm that gets the bird.'

'You remind me,' said the Dean, 'that there are half a dozen worms waiting in my room to get the bird this minute. Three late-without leaves, two gramophones-out-of-doors, and an irregular motor-vehicle. We shall meet again at dinner, Lord Peter.'

She ran briskly away to deal with the malefactors, leaving Peter and Harriet to make their tour. From Peter's comments, Harriet could make out little of his mind; she fancied, indeed, that he was somewhat abstracted from the matter in hand.

'I fancy,' he said at last, as they came to the Jowett Walk Lodge, where he had left the car, 'that you will have very little more trouble at night.'

'Why?'

'Well, for one thing, the nights are getting very short, and the risks very great ... All the same--shall you be offended if I ask you--if I suggest that you should take some personal precautions?'

'What sort of precautions?'

'I won't offer you a revolver to take to bed with you. But I have an idea that from now on you and at least one other person may be in some danger of attack. That may be imagination. But if this joker is alarmed and bottled up for a bit--and I think she has been alarmed--the next outrage may be a serious one--when it comes.'

'Well,' said Harriet, 'we have her word for it that she finds me merely funny.'

His attention seemed to be attracted by something among the dash-board fittings, and he said, looking not at her but at the car:

'Yes. But without any vanity, I wish I were your husband or your brother or your lover, or anything but what I am.'

'You mean, your being here is a danger--to me?'

'I dare say I'm flattering myself.'

'But it wouldn't stop you to damage me.'

'She may not think very clearly about that.'

'Well, I don't mind the risk, if it is one. And I don't see why it would be any less if you were a relation of mine.'

'There'd be an innocent excuse for my presence, wouldn't there?... Don't think I'm trying to make capital out of this on my own account. I'm being careful to observe the formalities, as you may have noticed. I'm only warning you that I'm sometimes a dangerous person to know.'

'Let's have this clear, Peter. You think that your being here may make this person desperate and that she may try to take it out of me. And you are trying to tell me, very delicately, that it might be safer if we camouflaged your interest.'

'Safer for you.'

'Yes--though I can't see why you think so. But you're sure I'd rather die than make such an embarrassing pretence.'

'Well, wouldn't you?'

'And on the whole you'd rather see me dead than embarrassed.'

'That is probably another form of egotism. But I am entirely at your service.'

'Of course, if you're such a perilous ally, I could tell you to go away.'

'I can see you urging me to go away and leave a job undone.'

'Well, Peter, I'd certainly rather die than make any sort of pretence to you or about you. But I think you're exaggerating the whole thing. You don't usually get the wind up like this.'

'I do, though; quite often. But if it's only my own risk, I can afford to let it blow. When it comes to other people--'

'Your instinct is to clap the women and children under hatches.'

'Well,' he admitted, deprecatingly, 'one can't suppress one's natural instincts altogether; even if one's reason and self-interest are all the other way.'

'Peter, it's a shame. Let me introduce you to some nice little woman who adores being protected.'

'I should be wasted on her. Besides, she would always be deceiving me, in the kindest manner, for my own good; and that I could not stand. I object to being tactfully managed by somebody who ought to be my equal. If I want tactful dependents, I can hire them. And fire them if they get too tactful. I don't mean Bunter. He braces me by a continual cold shower of silent criticism. I don't protect him; he protects me, and preserves an independent judgment ... However; without presuming to be protective, may I yet suggest that you should use a reasonable caution? I tell you frankly I don't like your friend's preoccupation with knives and strangling.'

'Are you serious?'

'For once.'

Harriet was about to tell him not to be ridiculous; then she remembered Miss Barton's story about the strong hands that had seized her from behind. It might have been quite true. The thought of perambulating the long corridors by night was suddenly disagreeable.

'Very well; I'll be careful.'

'I think it would be wise. I'd better push off now. I'll be round in time to face the High Table at dinner. Seven o'clock?'

She nodded. He had interpreted strictly her injunction to come 'this morning instead of at six.' She went, feeling a little blank, to cope with Miss Lydgate's proofs.
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