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Part 17 A

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« on: December 25, 2022, 03:06:23 am »

He that questioneth much shall learn much, and content much; but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh; for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge. But let his questions not be troublesome, for that is fit for a poser; and let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak.
---Francis Bacon

'You look,' said the Dean, 'like a nervous parent whose little boy is about to recite The Wreck of the Hesperus at a School Concert.'

'I feel,' said Harriet, 'more like the mother of Daniel.

    King Darius said to the lions:--
    Bite Daniel. Bite Daniel.
    Bite him. Bite him. Bite him.'

'G'rrrrr!' said the Dean.

They were standing at the door of the Senior Common Room, which conveniently overlooked the Jowett Walk Lodge. The Old Quad was animated. Late-comers were hurrying over to change for dinner; others, having changed, were strolling about in groups, waiting for the bell; some were still playing tennis; Miss de Vine emerged from the Library Building, still vaguely pushing in hairpins (Harriet had checked up on those hairpins and identified them); an elegant figure paraded towards them from the direction of the New Quadrangle.

'Miss Shaw's got a new frock,' said Harriet.

'So she has! How posh of her!

    And she was as fine as a melon in the corn-field,
    Gliding and lovely as a ship upon the sea.

That, my dear, is meant for Daniel.'

'Dean, darling, you're being a cat.'

'Well, aren't we all? This early arrival of everybody is exceedingly sinister. Even Miss Hillyard is arrayed in her best black gown with a train to it. We all feel there's safety in numbers.'

It was not out of the way for the Senior Common Room to collect outside their own door before dinner for a fine summer's day, but Harriet, glancing round, had to admit that there were more of them there that evening than was usual before 7 o'clock. She thought they all seemed apprehensive and some even hostile. They tended to avoid one another's eyes; yet they gathered together as though for protection against a common menace. She suddenly found it absurd that anybody should be alarmed by Peter Wimsey; she saw them as a harmless collection of nervous patients in a dentist's waiting-room.

'We seem,' said Miss Pyke's harsh voice in her ear, 'to be preparing a somewhat formidable reception for our guest. Is he of a timid disposition?'

'I should say he was completely hard-boiled,' said Harriet.

'That reminds me,' said the Dean. 'In the matter of shirt-fronts--'

'Hard, of course,' said Harriet, indignantly. 'And if he pops or bulges, I will pay you five pounds.'

'I have been meaning to ask you,' said Miss Pyke. 'How is the popping sound occasioned? I did not like to ask Dr. Threep so personal a question, but my curiosity was very much aroused.'

'You'd better ask Lord Peter,' said Harriet.

'If you think he will not be offended,' replied Miss Pyke, with perfect seriousness, 'I will do so.'

The chimes of New College, rather out of tune, played the four quarters and struck the hour.

'Punctuality,' said the Dean, her eyes turned towards the Lodge, 'seems to be one of the gentleman's virtues. You'd better go and meet him and settle his nerves before the ordeal.'

'Do you think so?' Harriet shook her head. 'Ye'll no fickle Tammas Yownie.'

It may, perhaps, be embarrassing for a solitary man to walk across a wide quadrangle under a fire of glances from a collection of collegiate females; but it is child's play compared, for example, with the long trek from the pavilion at Lord's to the far end of the pitch, with five wickets down and ninety needed to save the follow-on. Thousands of people then alive might have recognised that easy and unhurried stride and confident carriage of the head. Harriet let him do three-quarters of the journey alone, and then advanced to meet him.

'Have you cleaned your teeth and said your prayers?'

'Yes, mamma; and cut my nails and washed behind the ears and got a clean handkerchief.'

Looking at a bunch of students who happened to pass at the moment, Harriet wished she could have said the same of them. They were grubby and dishevelled and she felt unexpectedly obliged to Miss Shaw for having made an effort in the matter of dress. As for her convoy, from his sleek yellow head to his pumps she distrusted him; his mood of the morning was gone, and he was ready for mischief as a wilderness of monkeys.

'Come along then, and behave prettily. Have you seen your nephew?'

'I have seen him. My bankruptcy will probably be announced to-morrow. He asked me to give you his love, no doubt thinking I can still be lavish in that commodity. It all returned from him to you though it was mine before. That colour is very becoming to you.'

His tone was pleasantly detached and she hoped he was referring to her dress; but she was not sure. She was glad to relinquish him to the Dean, who came forward to claim him and to relieve her of the introductions. Harriet watched in some amusement. Miss Lydgate, far too unselfconscious to have any attitude at all, greeted him exactly as she would have greeted anybody else, and asked eagerly about the situation in Central Europe; Miss Shaw smiled with a graciousness that emphasised Miss Stevens's brusque 'How-d'ye-do' and immediate retreat into animated discussion of college affairs with Miss Allison; Miss Pyke pounced on him with an intelligent question about the latest murder; Miss Barton, advancing with an evident determination to put him right about capital punishment, was disarmed by the blank amiability of the countenance offered for her inspection and observed instead that it had been a remarkably fine day.

'Comedian!' thought Harriet, as Miss Barton, finding she could make nothing of him, passed him on to Miss Hillyard.

'Ah!' said Wimsey instantly, smiling into the History Tutor's sulky eyes, 'this is delightful. Your paper in the Historical Review on the diplomatic aspects of the Divorce ...'

(Heavens! thought Harriet, I hope he knows his stuff.)

' ... really masterly. Indeed, I felt that, if anything, you had slightly underestimated the pressure brought to bear upon Clement by....'

' ... consulted the unedited dispatches in the possession of ...'

' ... you might have carried the argument a trifle farther. You very rightly point out that the Emperor ...'

(Yes; he had read the article all right.)

' ... disfigured by prejudice, but a considerable authority on the Canon Law ...'

' ... needing to be thoroughly overhauled and re-edited. Innumerable mistranscriptions and at least one upscrupulous omission....'

' ... if at any time you require access, I could probably put you in touch with ... official channels ... personal introduction ... raise no difficulties ...'

'Miss Hillyard,' said the Dean to Harriet, 'looks as though she has been given a birthday present.'

'I think he's offering her access to some out-of-the-way source of information.' (After all, she thought, he is Somebody, though one never seems able to remember it.)

' ... not so much political as economic.'

'Ah!' said Miss Hillyard, 'when it comes to a question of national finance, Miss de Vine is the real authority.'

She effected the introduction herself, and the discussion continued.

'Well,' said the Dean, 'he has made a complete conquest of Miss Hillyard.'

'And Miss de Vine is making a complete conquest of him.'

'It's mutual, I fancy. At any rate, her back hair's coming down, which is a sure sign of pleasure and excitement.'

'Yes,' said Harriet. Wimsey was arguing, with intelligence about the appropriation of monastic funds, but she had little doubt that the back of his mind was full of hairpins.

'Here comes the Warden. We shall have to separate them forcibly. He's got to face Dr. Baring and take her in to dinner.... All's well. She has collared him. That firm assertion of the Royal Prerogative!... Do you want to sit next him and hold his hand?'

'I don't think he needs any assistance from me. You're the person for him. Not a suspect, but full of lively information.'

'All right; I'll go and prattle to him. You'd better sit opposite to us and kick me if I say anything indiscreet.'

By this arrangement, Harriet found herself placed a little uncomfortably between Miss Hillyard (in whom she always felt an antagonism to herself) and Miss Barton (who was obviously still worried about Wimsey's detective hobbies), and face to face with the two people whose glances were most likely to disturb her gravity. On the other side of the Dean sat Miss Pyke; on the other side of Miss Hillyard was Miss de Vine, well under Wimsey's eye. Miss Lydgate, that secure fortress, was situated at the far end of the table, offering no kind of refuge.

Neither Miss Hillyard nor Miss Barton had much to say to Harriet, who was thus able to follow, without too much difficulty, the Warden's straightforward determination to size up Wimsey and Wimsey's diplomatically veiled but equally obstinate determination to size up the Warden; a contest carried on with unwavering courtesy on either side.

Dr. Baring began by inquiring whether Lord Peter had been conducted over the College and what he thought of it, adding, with due modesty that architecturally, of course, it could scarcely hope to compete with the more ancient foundations.

'Considering,' said his lordship plaintively, 'that the architecture of my own ancient foundation is mathematically compounded of ambition, distraction, uglification and derision, that remark sounds like sarcasm.'

The Warden, almost seduced into believing herself guilty of a breach of manners, earnestly assured him that she had intended no personal allusion.

'An occasional reminder is good for us,' said he. 'We are mortified in nineteenth-century Gothic, lest in our overweening Balliolity we forget God. We pulled down the good to make way for the bad; you, on the contrary, have made the world out of nothing--a more divine procedure.'

The Warden, manťuvring uneasily on this slippery ground between jest and earnest, found foothold:

'It is quite true that we have had to make what we can out of very little--and that, you know, is typical of our whole position here.'

'Yes; you are practically without endowments?'

The question was so offered as to include the Dean, who said cheerfully:

'Quite right. All done by cheeseparing.'

'That being so,' he said seriously, 'even to admire seems to be a kind of impertinence. This is a very fine hall--who is the architect?'

The Warden supplied him with a little local history, breaking off to say:

'But probably you are not specially interested in all this question of women's education.'

'Is it still a question? It ought not to be. I hope you are not going to ask me whether I approve of women's doing this and that.'

'Why not?'

'You should not imply that I have any right either to approve or disapprove.'

'I assure you,' said the Warden, 'that even in Oxford we still encounter a certain number of people who maintain their right to disapprove.'

'And I had hoped I was returning to civilisation.'

The removal of fish-plates caused a slight diversion, and the Warden took the opportunity to turn her inquiries upon the situation in Europe. Here the guest was on his own ground. Harriet caught the Dean's eye and smiled. But the more formidable challenge was coming. International politics led to history, and history--in Dr. Baring's mind--to philosophy. The ominous name of Plato suddenly emerged from a tangle of words, and Dr. Baring moved out a philosophical speculation, like a pawn, and planted it temptingly en prise.

Many persons had plunged to irretrievable disaster over the Warden's philosophic pawn. There were two ways of taking it: both disastrous. One was to pretend to knowledge; the other, to profess an insincere eagerness for instruction. His lordship smiled gently and refused the gambit:

'That is out of my stars. I have not the philosophic mind.'

'And how would you define the philosophic mind, Lord Peter?'

'I wouldn't; definitions are dangerous. But I know that philosophy is a closed book to me, as music is to the tone-deaf.'

The Warden looked at him quickly; he presented her with an innocent profile, drooping and contemplative over his plate, like a heron brooding by a pond.

'A very apt illustration,' said the Warden; 'as it happens, I am tone-deaf myself.'

'Are you? I thought you might be,' he said, equably.

'That is very interesting. How can you tell?'

'There is something in the quality of the voice.' He offered candid grey eyes for examination. 'But it's not a very safe conclusion to draw, and, as you may have noticed, I didn't draw it. That is the art of the charlatan--to induce a confession and present it as the result of deduction.'

'I see,' said Dr. Baring. 'You expose your technique very frankly.'

'You would have seen through it in any case, so it is better to expose one's self and acquire an unmerited reputation for candour. The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it--that is at the bottom of the ψευδη λέγειν ὡς δει.'

'So there is one philosopher whose books are not closed to you? Next time, I will start by way of Aristotle.'

She turned to her left-hand neighbour and released him.

'I am sorry,' said the Dean, 'we have no strong drink to offer you.'

His face was eloquent of mingled apprehension and mischief.

'The toad beneath the harrow knows where every separate tooth point goes. Do you always prove your guests with hard questions?'

'Till they show themselves to be Solomons. You have passed the test with great credit.'

'Hush! there is only one kind of wisdom that has any social value, and that is the knowledge of one's own limitations.'

'Nervous young dons and students have before now been carried out in convulsions through being afraid to say boldly that they did not know.'

'Showing themselves,' said Miss Pyke across the Dean, 'less wise than Socrates, who made the admission fairly frequently.'

'For Heaven's sake,' said Wimsey, 'don't mention Socrates. It might start all over again.'

'Not now,' said the Dean. 'She will ask no questions now except for instruction.'

'There is a question on which I am anxious to be instructed,' said Miss Pyke, 'if you will not take it amiss.'

Miss Pyke, of course, was still worried about Dr. Threep's shirt-front, and determined on getting enlightenment. Harriet hoped that Wimsey would recognise her curiosity for what it was: not skittishness, but the embarrassing appetite for exact information which characterises the scholarly mind.

'That phenomenon,' he said, readily, 'comes within my own sphere of knowledge. It occurs because the human torso possesses a higher factor of variability than the ready-made shirt. The explosive sound you mention is produced when the shirt-front is slightly too long for the wearer. The stiff edges, being forced slightly apart by the inclination of the body come back into contact with a sharp click, similiar to that emitted by the elytra of certain beetles. It is not to be confused, however, with the ticking of the Death-watch, which is made by tapping with the jaws and is held to be a love-call. The clicking of the shirt-front has no amatory significance, and is, indeed, an embarrassment to the insect. It may be obviated by an increased care in selection or, in extreme cases, by having the garment made to measure.'

'Thank you so much,' said Miss Pyke. 'That is a most satisfactory explanation. At this time of day, it is perhaps not improper to adduce the parallel instance of the old-fashioned corset, which was subject to a similar inconvenience.'

'The inconvenience,' added Wimsey, 'was even greater in the case of plate armour, which had to be very well tailored to allow of movement at all.'

At this point, Miss Barton captured Harriet's attention with some remark or other, and she lost track of the conversation on the other side of the table. When she picked up the threads again, Miss Pyke was giving her neighbours some curious details about Ancient Minoan civilisation, and the Warden was apparently waiting till she had finished to pounce on Peter again. Turning to her right, Harriet saw that Miss Hillyard was watching the group with a curiously concentrated expression. Harriet asked her to pass the sugar, and she came back to earth with a slight start.

'They seem to be getting on very well over there,' said Harriet.

'Miss Pyke likes an audience,' said Miss Hillyard, with so much venom that Harriet was quite astonished.

'It's good for a man to have to do the listening sometimes,' she suggested.

Miss Hillyard agreed absently. After a slight pause, during which dinner proceeded without incident, she said:

'Your friend tells me he can obtain access for me to some private collections of historical documents in Florence. Do you suppose he means what he says?'

'If he says so, you may be sure he can and will.'

'That is a testimonial,' said Miss Hillyard. 'I am very glad to hear it.'

Meanwhile, the Warden had effected her capture, and was talking to Peter in a low tone and with some earnestness. He listened attentively, while he peeled an apple, the narrow coils of the rind sliding slowly over his fingers. She concluded with some question; and he shook his head.

'It is very unlikely. I should say there was no hope of it at all.'

Harriet wondered whether the subject of the Poison-Pen had risen at last to the surface; but presently he said:

'Three hundred years ago it mattered comparatively little. But now that you have the age of national self-realisation, the age of colonial expansion, the age of the barbarian invasions and the age of the decline and fall, all jammed cheek by jowl in time and space, all armed alike with poison-gas and going through the outward motions of an advanced civilisation, principles have become more dangerous than passions. It's getting uncommonly easy to kill people in large numbers, and the first thing a principle does--if it really is a principle--is to kill somebody.'

'"The real tragedy is not the conflict of good with evil but of good with good"; that means a problem with no solution.'

'Yes. Afflicting, of course, to the tidy mind. One may either hulloo on the inevitable, and be called a blood-thirsty progressive; or one may try to gain time and be called a blood-thirsty reactionary. But when blood is their argument, all argument is apt to be--merely bloody.'

The Warden passed the adjective at its face-value.

'I sometimes wonder whether we gain anything by gaining time.'

'Well--if one leaves letters unanswered long enough, some of them answer themselves. Nobody can prevent the Fall of Troy, but a dull, careful person may manage to smuggle out the Lares and Penates--even at the risk of having the epithet pius tacked to his name.'

'The Universities are always being urged to march in the van of progress.'

'But epic actions are all fought by the rearguard--at Roncevaux and ThermopylŠ.'

'Very well,' said the Warden, laughing, 'let us die in our tracks, having accomplished nothing but an epic.'

She collected the High Table with her eye, rose, and made a stately exit. Peter effaced himself politely against the panelling while the dons filed past him, arriving at the edge of the dais in time to pick up Miss Shaw's scarf as it slipped from her shoulders. Harriet found herself descending the staircase between Miss Martin and Miss de Vine, who remarked:

'You are a courageous woman.'

'Why?' said Harriet lightly. 'To bring my friends here and have them put to the question?'

'Nonsense,' interrupted the Dean. 'We all behaved beautifully. Daniel is still uneaten--in fact; at one point he bit the lion. Was that genuine, by the way?'

'About tone-deafness? Probably just a little more genuine than he made out.'

'Will he lay traps all evening for us to walk into?'

Harriet realised for a moment how queer the whole situation was. Once again, she felt Wimsey as a dangerous alien and herself on the side of the women who, with so strange a generosity, were welcoming the inquisitor among them. She said, however:

'If he does, he will display all the mechanism in the most obliging manner.'

'After one is inside. That's very comforting.'

'That,' said Miss de Vine, brushing aside these surface commentaries, 'is a man able to subdue himself to his own ends. I should be sorry for anyone who came up against his principles--whatever they are, and if he has any.'

She detached herself from the other two, and went on into the Senior Common Room with a sombre face.

'Curious,' said Harriet. 'She is saying about Peter Wimsey exactly what I have always thought about herself.'

'Perhaps she recognises a kindred spirit.'

'Or a foe worthy of--I ought not to say that.'

Here Peter and his companion caught them up, and the Dean, joining Miss Shaw, went on in with her. Wimsey smiled at Harriet, an odd, interrogative smile.

'What's worrying you.'

'Peter--I feel exactly like Judas.'

'Feeling like Judas is part of the job. No job for a gentleman, I'm afraid. Shall we wash our hands like Pilate and be thoroughly respectable?'

She slid her hand under his arm.

'No; we're in for it now. We'll be degraded together.'

'That will be nice. Like the lovers in that Stroheim film, we'll go and sit on the sewer.' She could feel his bone and muscle, reassuringly human, under the fine broadcloth. She thought: 'He and I belong to the same world, and all these others are the aliens.' And then: 'Damn it all! this is our private fight--why should they have to join in?' But that was absurd.

'What do you want me to do, Peter?'

'Chuck the ball back to me if it runs out of the circle. Not obviously. Just exercise your devastating talent for keeping to the point and speaking the truth.'

'That sounds easy.'

'It is--for you. That's what I love you for. Didn't you know? Well, we can't stop to argue about it now; they'll think we're conspiring about something.'

She released his arm and went into the room ahead of him, feeling suddenly embarrassed and looking, in consequence, defiant. The coffee was already on the table, and the S.C.R. were gathered about it, helping themselves. She saw Miss Barton advance upon Peter, with a courteous offer of refreshment on her lips but the light of determination in her eye. Harriet did not for the moment care what happened to Peter. He had given her a new bone to worry. She provided herself with coffee and a cigarette, and retired with them and the bone into a corner. She had often wondered, in a detached kind of way, what it was that Peter valued in her and had apparently valued from that first day when she had stood in the dock and spoken for her own life. Now that she knew, she thought that a more unattractive pair of qualities could seldom have been put forward as an excuse for devotion.

'But do you really feel comfortable about it, Lord Peter?'

'No--I shouldn't recommend it as a comfortable occupation. But is your or my or anybody's comfort of very great importance?'

Miss Barton probably took that for flippancy; Harriet recognised the ruthless voice that had said, 'What does it matter if it hurts ...' Let them fight it out ... Unattractive; but if he meant what he said, it explained a great many things. Those were qualities that could be recognised under the most sordid conditions.... 'Detachment ... if you ever find a person who likes you because of it, that liking is sincere.' That was Miss de Vine; and Miss de Vine was sitting not very far away, her eyes, behind their thick glasses, fixed on Peter with a curious, calculating look.

Conversations, carried on in groups, were beginning to falter and fall into silence. People were sitting down. The voices of Miss Allison and Miss Stevens rose into prominence. They were discussing some collegiate question, and they were doing it intently and desperately. They called upon Miss Burrows to give an opinion. Miss Shaw turned to Miss Chilperic and made a remark about the bathing at 'Spinsters' Splash.' Miss Chilperic replied elaborately--too elaborately; her answer took too long and attracted attention; she hesitated, became confused, and stopped speaking. Miss Lydgate, with a troubled face, was listening to an anecdote that Mrs. Goodwin was telling about her little boy; in the middle of it, Miss Hillyard, who was within earshot, rose pointedly, stabbed out her cigarette on a distant ash-tray, and moved slowly, and as though despite herself, to a window-seat close to where Miss Barton was still standing. Harriet could see her angry, smouldering glance fix itself on Peter's bent head and then jerk away across the quad, only to return again. Miss Edwards, close to Harriet and a little in front of her on a low chair, had her hands set squarely and rather mannishly on her knees, and was leaning forward; she had the air of waiting for something. Miss Pyke, on her feet, lighting a cigarette, was apparently looking for an opportunity to engage Peter's attention; she appeared eager and interested, and more at her ease than most of the others. The Dean, curled on a humpty, was frankly listening to what Peter and Miss Barton were saying. They were all listening, really, and at the same time most of them were trying to pretend that he was there as an ordinary guest--that he was not an enemy, not a spy. They were trying to prevent him from becoming openly the centre of attention as he was already the centre of consciousness.

The Warden, seated in a deep chair near the fireplace, gave nobody any help. One by one, the spurts of talk failed and died, leaving the one tenor floating, like a solo instrument executing a cadenza when the orchestra has fallen silent:

'The execution of the guilty is unpleasant--but not nearly so disturbing as the slaughter of the innocents. If you are out for my blood, won't you allow me to hand you a more serviceable weapon?'

He glanced round and, finding that everybody but Miss Pyke and themselves was sitting down silent, made a brief, interrogative pause, which looked like politeness, but which Harriet mentally classed as 'good theatre.'

Miss Pyke led the way to a large sofa near Miss Hillyard's window-seat and said, as she settled herself in the corner of it:

'Do you mean the murderer's victims?'

'No,' said Peter, 'I meant my own victims.'

He sat down between Miss Pyke and Miss Barton, and went on in a pleasantly conversational tone:

'For example; I happened to find out that a young woman had murdered an old one for her money. It didn't matter much: the old woman was dying in any case, and the girl (though she didn't know that) would have inherited the money in any case. As soon as I started to meddle, the girl set to work again, killed two innocent people to cover her tracks and murderously attacked three others. Finally she killed herself. If I'd left her alone, there might have been only one death instead of four.'

'Good gracious!' said Miss Pyke. 'But the woman would have been at large.'

'Oh, yes. She wasn't a nice woman, and she had a nasty influence on certain people. But who killed those other two innocents--she or society?'

'They were killed,' said Miss Barton, 'by her fear of the death-penalty. If the unfortunate woman had been medically treated, they and she would still be alive to-day.'

'I told you it was a good weapon. But it isn't as simple as all that. If she hadn't killed those others, we should probably never have caught her, and so far from being medically treated she would be living in prosperity--and incidentally corrupting one or two people's minds, if you think that of any importance.'

'You are suggesting, I think,' said the Warden, while Miss Barton rebelliously grappled with this problem, 'that those innocent victims died for the people; sacrificed to a social principle.'

'At any rate, to your social principles,' said Miss Barton

'Thank you. I thought you were going to say, to my inquisitiveness.'

'I might have done so,' said Miss Barton, frankly. 'But you lay claim to a principle, so we'll stick to that.'

'Who were the other three people attacked?' asked Harriet. (She had no fancy to let Miss Barton get away with it too easily.)

'A lawyer, a colleague of mine and myself. But that doesn't prove that I have any principles. I'm quite capable of getting killed for the fun of the thing. Who isn't?'

'I know,' said the Dean. 'It's funny that we get so solemn about murders and executions and mind so little about taking risks in motoring and swimming and climbing mountains and so on. I suppose we do prefer to die for the fun of the thing.'

'The social principle seems to be,' suggested Miss Pyke, 'that we should die for our fun and not other people's.'

'Of course I admit,' said Miss Barton, rather angrily, 'that murder must be prevented and murderers kept from doing further harm. But they ought not to be punished and they certainly ought not to be killed.'

'I suppose they ought to be kept in hospitals at vast expense, along with other unfit specimens,' said Miss Edwards. 'Speaking as a biologist, I must say I think public money might be better employed. What with the number of imbeciles and physical wrecks we allow to go about and propagate their species, we shall end by devitalising whole nations.'

'Miss Schuster-Slatt would advocate sterilisation,' said the Dean.

'They're trying it in Germany, I believe,' said Miss Edwards.

'Together,' said Miss Hillyard, 'with the relegation of woman to her proper place in the home.'

'But they execute people there quite a lot,' said Wimsey, 'so Miss Barton can't take over their organisation lock, stock and barrel.'

Miss Barton uttered a loud protest against any such suggestion, and returned to her contention that her social principles were opposed to violence of every description.

'Bosh!' said Miss Edwards. 'You can't carry through any principle without doing violence to somebody. Either directly or indirectly. Every time you disturb the balance of nature you let in violence. And if you leave nature alone you get violence in any case. I quite agree that murderers shouldn't be hanged--it's wasteful and unkind. But I don't agree that they should be comfortably fed and housed while decent people go short. Economically speaking, they should be used for laboratory experiments.'

'To assist the further preservation of the unfit?' asked Wimsey, drily.

'To assist in establishing scientific facts,' replied Miss Edwards, more drily still.

'Shake hands,' said Wimsey. 'Now we have found common ground to stand on. Establish the facts, no matter what comes of it.'

'On that ground, Lord Peter,' said the Warden, 'your inquisitiveness becomes a principle. And a very dangerous one.'

'But the fact that A killed B isn't necessarily the whole of the truth,' persisted Miss Barton. 'A's provocation and state of health are facts, too.'

'Nobody surely disputes that,' said Miss Pyke. 'But one can scarcely ask the investigator to go beyond his job. If we mayn't establish any conclusion for fear somebody should make an injudicious use of it, we are back in the days of Galileo. There would be an end to discovery.'

'Well,' said the Dean. 'I wish we could stop discovering things like poison-gas.'

'There can be no objection to the making of discoveries,' said Miss Hillyard; 'but is it always expedient to publish them? In the case of Galileo, the Church--'

'You'll never get any scientist to agree there,' broke in Miss Edwards. 'To suppress a fact is to publish a falsehood.'

For a few minutes Harriet lost the thread of the discussion, which now became general. That it had been deliberately pushed to this point, she could see; but what Peter wanted to make of it, she had no idea. Yet he was obviously interested. His eyes, under their half-closed lids, were alert. He was like a cat waiting at a mouse-hole. Or was she half-consciously connecting him with his own blazon? 'Sable: three mice courant argent; a crescent for difference. The crest, a domestick catt....'

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