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Part 18

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« on: December 25, 2022, 05:22:12 am »

Go tell that witty fellow, my godson, to get home. It is no season to fool it here!

'Lor'!' said the Dean.

She gazed with interest from the Senior Common Room window, teacup in hand.

'What's the matter?' inquired Miss Allison.

'Who is this incredibly beautiful young man?'

'Flaxman's fiancé, I expect, isn't it?'

'A beautiful young man?' said Miss Pyke. 'I should like to see him.' She moved to the window.

'Don't be ridiculous,' said the Dean. 'I know Flaxman's Byron by heart. This is an ash-blond in a House blazer.'

'Oh, dear me!' said Miss Pyke. 'Apollo Belvedere in spotless flannels. He appears to be unattached. Remarkable.'

Harriet put down her cup and rose from the depths of the largest armchair.

'Perhaps he belongs to that bunch playing tennis,' hazarded Miss Allison.

'Little Cooke's scrubby friends? My dear!'

'Why all the excitement, anyway?' asked Miss Hillyard.

'Beautiful young men are always exciting,' said the Dean.

'That,' said Harriet, at length getting a glimpse of the wonder-youth over Miss Pyke's shoulder, 'is Viscount Saint-George.'

'Another of your aristocratic friends?' asked Miss Barton.

'His nephew,' replied Harriet; not very coherently.

'Oh!' said Miss Barton. 'Well, I don't see why you need all gape at him like a lot of school-girls.'

She crossed over to the table, cut herself a slice of cake and glanced casually out of the farther window.

Lord Saint-George stood, with a careless air of owning the place, at the corner of the Library Wing, watching a game of tennis being played between two bare-backed students and two young men whose shirts kept on escaping from their belts. Growing tired of this, he sauntered past the windows towards Queen Elizabeth, his eye roving over a group of Shrewsburians a-sprawl under the beeches, like that of a young Sultan inspecting a rather unpromising consignment of Circassian slaves.

'Supercilious little beast!' thought Harriet; and wondered if he was looking for her. If he was, he could wait, or ask properly at the Lodge.

'Oho!' said the Dean. 'So that's how the milk got into the coconut!'

From the door of the Library Wing there issued slowly Miss de Vine, and behind her, grave and deferential, Lord Peter Wimsey. They skirted the tennis court in earnest conversation. Lord Saint-George, viewing them from afar, advanced to meet them. They joined forces on the path. They stood for a little time talking. They moved away towards the Lodge.

'Dear me!' said the Dean. 'Abduction of Helen de Vine by Paris and Hector.'

'No, no,' said Miss Pyke. 'Paris was the brother of Hector, not his nephew. I do not think he had any uncles.'

'Talking of uncles,' said the Dean, 'is it true, Miss Hillyard, that Richard III--I thought she was here.'

'She was here,' said Harriet.

'Helen is being returned to us,' said the Dean. 'The siege of Troy is postponed.'

The trio were returning again up the path. Half-way along Miss de Vine took leave of the two men and returned towards her own room.

At that moment, the watchers in the S.C.R. were petrified to behold a portent. Miss Hillyard emerged from the foot of the Hall stair, bore down upon the uncle and nephew, addressed them, cut Lord Peter neatly off from his convoy and towed him firmly away towards the New Quad.

'Glory alleluia!' said the Dean. 'Hadn't you better go out and rescue your young friend? He's been deserted again.'

'You could offer him a cup of tea,' suggested Miss Pyke. 'It would be an agreeable diversion for us.'

'I'm surprised at you, Miss Pyke,' said Miss Barton. 'No man is safe from women like you.'

'Now, where have I heard that sentiment before?' said the Dean.

'In one of the Poison-letters,' said Harriet.

'If you're suggesting--' began Miss Barton.

'I'm only suggesting,' said the Dean, 'that it's a bit of a cliché.'

'I meant it for a joke,' retorted Miss Barton, angrily. 'Some people have no sense of humour.'

She went out, and slammed the door. Lord Saint-George had wandered back and was sitting in the loggia leading up to the Library. He rose politely as Miss Barton stalked past him on the way to her room, and made some remark, to which the Fellow replied briefly, but with a smile.

'Insinuating men, these Wimseys,' said the Dean. 'Vamping the S.C.R. right and left.'

Harriet laughed, but in Saint-George's quick, appraising glance at Miss Barton she had again seen his uncle look for a moment out of his eyes. These family resemblances were unnerving. She curled herself into the window-seat and watched for nearly ten minutes, The viscount sat still, smoking a cigarette, and looking entirely at his ease. Miss Lydgate, Miss Burrows and Miss Shaw came in and began to pour out tea. The tennis-party finished the set and moved away. Then, from the left, came a quick, light step along the gravel walk.

'Hullo!' said Harriet to the owner of the step.

'Hullo!' said Peter. 'Fancy seeing you here!' He grinned. 'Come and talk to Gerald. He's in the loggia.'

'I see him quite plainly,' said Harriet. 'His profile has been much admired.'

'As a good adopted aunt, why didn't you go and be kind to the poor lad?'

'I never was one to interfere. I keep myself to myself.'

'Well, come now.'

Harriet got down from the window-seat and joined Wimsey outside.

'I brought him here,' said Peter, 'to see if he could make any identifications. But he doesn't seem able to.'

Lord Saint-George greeted Harriet enthusiastically.

'There was another female went past me,' he said, turning to Peter. 'Grey hair badly bobbed. Earnest manner. Dressed in sackcloth. Institutional touch about her. I got speech of her.'

'Miss Barton,' said Harriet.

'Right sort of eyes; wrong sort of voice. I don't think it's her. It might be the one that collared you, Uncle. She had a kind of a lean and hungry look.'

'H'm!' said Peter. 'How about the first one?'

'I'd like to see her without her glasses.'

'If you mean Miss de Vine,' said Harriet, 'I doubt whether she could see very far without them.'

'That's a point,' said Peter, thoughtfully.

'I'm sorry to be so vague and all that,' said Lord Saint-George. 'But it's not easy to identify a hoarse whisper and a pair of eyes seen once by moonlight.'

'No,' said Peter, 'it needs a good deal of practice.'

'Practice be blowed,' retorted his nephew. 'I'm not going to make a practice of it.'

'It's not a bad sport,' said Peter, 'You might take it up till you can start games again.'

'How's the shoulder getting on?' inquired Harriet.

'Oh, not too bad, thanks. The massage bloke is working wonders with it. I can lift the old arm shoulder-high now. It's quite serviceable--for some things.'

By the way of demonstration he threw the damaged arm around Harriet's shoulders, and kissed her rapidly and expertly before she could dodge him.

'Children, children!' cried his uncle, plaintively, remember where you are.'

'It's all right for me,' said Lord Saint-George. 'I'm an adopted nephew. Isn't that right, Aunt Harriet?'

'Not bang underneath the windows of the S.C.R.,' said Harriet.

'Come round the corner, then,' said the viscount, impenitently, 'and I'll do it again. As Uncle Peter says, these things need a good deal of practice.'

He was impudently set upon tormenting his uncle, and Harriet felt extremely angry with him. However, to show annoyance was to play into his hands. She smiled upon him pityingly and uttered the Brasenose porter's classic rebuke:

'It's no good you making a noise, gentlemen. The Dean ain't a-coming down to-night.'

This actually silenced him for the moment. She turned to Peter, who said:

'Have you any commissions in Town?'

'Why, are you going back?'

'I'm running up to-night and on to York in the morning. I expect to get back on Thursday.'


'Yes; I want to see a man there--about a dog, and all that.'

'Oh, I see. Well--if you wouldn't be out of your way to call at my flat, you might take up a few chapters of manuscript to my secretary. I'd rather trust you than the post. Could you manage it?'

'With very great pleasure,' said Wimsey, formally.

She ran up to her room to get the papers, and from the window observed that the Wimsey family was having the matter out with itself. When she came down with the parcel she found the nephew waiting at the door of Tudor, rather red in the face.

'Please, I am to apologise.'

'I should think so,' said Harriet, severely. 'I can't be disgraced like this in my own quad. Frankly, I can't afford it.'

'I'm most frightfully sorry,' said Lord Saint-George. 'It was rotten of me. Honestly, I wasn't thinking of anything except getting Uncle Peter's goat. And if it's any satisfaction to you,' he added, ruefully, 'I got it.'

'Well, be decent to him; he's very decent to you.'

'I will be good,' said Peter's nephew, taking the parcel from her, and they proceeded amicably together till Peter rejoined them at the Lodge.

'Damn that boy!' said Wimsey, when he had sent Saint-George ahead to start up the car.

'Oh, Peter, don't worry about every little thing so dreadfully. What does it matter? He only wanted to tease you.'

'It's a pity he can't find some other way to do it. I seem to be a perfect mill-stone tied round your neck, and the sooner I clear out the better.'

'Oh, for goodness' sake!' said Harriet, irritated. 'If you're going to be morbid about it, it certainly would be better for you if you did clear out. I've told you so before.'

Lord Saint-George, finding his elders dilatory, blew a cheerful 'hi-tiddley-hi-ti, pom, pom' on the horn.

'Damn and blast!' said Peter. He took gate and path at a bound, pushed his nephew angrily out of the driving-seat, jerked the door of the Daimler to noisily and shot off up the road with a bellowing roar. Harriet, finding herself unexpectedly possessed of a magnificent fit of bad temper, went back, determined to extract the last ounce of enjoyment out of it; an exercise in which she was greatly helped by the discovery that the little episode on the loggia had greatly intrigued the Senior Common Room, and by learning from Miss Allison, after Hall, that Miss Hillyard, when she heard of it, had made some very unpleasant observations, which it was only right that Miss Vane should know about.


Oh, God! thought Harriet, alone in her room, what have I done, more than thousands of other people, except have the rotten luck to be tried for my life and have the whole miserable business dragged out into daylight?... Anybody would think I'd been punished enough.... But nobody can forget it for a moment.... I can't forget it.... Peter can't forget it.... If Peter wasn't a fool he'd chuck it.... He must see how hopeless it all is.... Does he think I like to see him suffering vicarious agonies?... Does he really suppose I could ever marry him for the pleasure of seeing him suffer agonies?... Can't he see that the only thing for me to do is to keep out of it all?... What the devil possessed me to bring him to Oxford?... Yes--and I thought it would be so nice to retire to Oxford ... to have 'unpleasant observations' made about me by Miss Hillyard, who's half potty, if you ask me.... Somebody's potty, anyhow ... that seems to be what happens to one if one keeps out of the way of love and marriage and all the rest of the muddle.... Well if Peter fancies I'm going to 'accept the protection of his name' and be grateful, he's damn well mistaken.... A nice, miserable business that'd be for him.... It's a nice, miserable business for him, too, if he really wants me--if he does--and can't have what he wants because I had the rotten luck to be tried for a murder I didn't do.... It looks as if he was going to get hell either way.... Well, let him get hell, it's his look-out.... It's a pity he saved me from being hanged--he probably wishes by now he'd left me alone.... I suppose any decently grateful person would give him what he wants.... But it wouldn't be much gratitude to make him miserable.... We should both be perfectly miserable, because neither of us could ever forget.... I very nearly did forget the other day on the river.... And I had forgotten this afternoon, only he remembered it first.... Damn that impudent little beast! how horribly cruel the young can be to the middle-aged!... I wasn't frightfully kind myself.... And I did know what I was doing.... It's a good thing Peter's gone ... but I wish he hadn't gone and left me in this ghastly place where people go off their heads and write horrible letters..... 'When I am from him I am dead till I be with him.' ... No, it won't do to feel like that.... I won't get mixed up with that kind of thing again.... I'll stay out of it.... I'll stay here ... where people go queer in their heads.... Oh, God, what have I done, that I should be such a misery to myself and other people? Nothing more than thousands of women ...

Round and round, like a squirrel in a cage, till at last Harriet had to say firmly too herself: This won't do, or I shall go potty myself. I'd better keep my mind on the job. What's taken Peter to York? Miss de Vine? If I hadn't lost my temper I might have found out, instead of wasting time in quarrelling. I wonder if he's made any notes on the dossier.

She took up the loose-leaf book, which was still wrapped in its paper and string and sealed all over with the Wimsey crest. 'As my Whimsy takes me'--Peter's whimsies had taken him into a certain amount of trouble. She broke the seals impatiently; but the result was disappointing. He had marked nothing--presumably he had copied out anything he wanted. She turned the pages, trying to piece some sort of solution together, but too tired to think coherently. And then--yes; here was his writing, sure enough, but not on a page of the dossier. This was the unfinished sonnet--and of all the idiotic things to do, to leave half-finished sonnets mixed up with one's detective work for other people to see! A school-girl trick, enough to make anybody blush. Particularly since, from what she remembered of the sonnet, its sentiments had become remarkably inappropriate to the state of her feelings.

But here it was: and in the interval it had taken to itself a sestet and stood, looking a little unbalanced, with her own sprawling hand above and Peter's deceptively neat script below, like a large top on a small spindle.

Here then at home, by no more storms distrest,
    Folding laborious hands we sit, wings furled;
    Here in close perfume lies the rose-leaf curled,
Here the sun stands and knows not east nor west,

Here no tide runs; we have come, last and best,
    From the wide zone in dizzying circles hurled
    To that still centre where the spinning world
Sleeps on its axis, to the heart of rest.

Lay on thy whips, O Love, that me upright,
    Poised on the perilous point, in no lax bed
         May sleep, as tension at the verberant core

Of music sleeps; for, if thou spare to smite,
    Staggering, we stoop, stooping, fall dumb and dead,
       And, dying so, sleep our sweet sleep no more.

Having achieved this, the poet appeared to have lost countenance for he had added the comment:

'A very conceited, metaphysical conclusion!'

So. So there was the turn she had vainly sought for the sestet! Her beautiful, big, peaceful humming-top turned to a whip-top, and sleeping, as it were, upon compulsion. (And, damn him! how dared he picked up her word 'sleep' and use it four times in as many lines, and each time in a different foot, as though juggling with the accent-shift were child's play? And drag out the last half-line with those great, heavy, drugged, drowsy mono-syllables, contradicting the sense so as to deny their own contradiction? It was not one of the world's great sestets, but it was considerably better than her own octave: which was monstrous of it.)

But if she wanted an answer to her questions about Peter, there it was, quite appallingly plain. He did not want to forget, or to be quiet, or to be spared things, or to stay put. All he wanted was some kind of central stability, and he was apparently ready to take anything that came along, so long as it stimulated him to keep that precarious balance. And of course, if he really felt like that, everything he had ever said or done, as far as she was concerned, was perfectly consistent. 'Mine is only a balance of opposing forces.' ... 'What does it matter if it hurts like hell, so long as it makes a good book?' ... 'What is the use of making mistakes if you don't make use of them?' ... 'Feeling like Judas is part of the job.' ... If 'The first thing a principle does is to kill somebody.' ... If that was his attitude, it was clearly ridiculous to urge him, in kindly tones, to stand aside for fear he might get a rap over the shins.

He had tried standing aside. 'I have been running away from myself for twenty years, and it doesn't work.' He no longer believed that the Ethiopian could change his skin to rhinoceros hide. Even in the five years or so that she had known him, Harriet had seen him strip off his protections, layer by layer, till there was uncommonly little left but the naked truth.

That, then, was what he wanted her for. For some reason, obscure to herself and probably also to him, she had the power to force him outside his defences. Perhaps, seeing her struggling in a trap of circumstances, he had walked out deliberately to her assistance. Or perhaps the sight of her struggles had warned him what might happen to him, if he remained in a trap of his own making.

Yet with all this, he seemed willing to let her run back behind the barriers of the mind, provided--yes, he was consistent after all--provided she would make her own way of escape through her work. He was, in fact, offering her the choice between himself and Wilfrid. He did recognise that she had an outlet which he had not.

And that, she supposed, was why he was so morbidly sensitive about his own part in the comedy. His own needs were (as he saw the matter) getting between her and her legitimate way of escape. They involved her in difficulties which he could not share, because she had consistently refused him the right to share them. He had nothing of his nephew's cheerful readiness to take and have. Careless, selfish little beast, thought Harriet (meaning the viscount), can't he leave his uncle alone?

... It was just conceivable, by the way, that Peter was quite plainly and simply and humanly jealous of his nephew--not, of course, of his relations with Harriet (which would be disgusting and ridiculous), but of the careless young egotism which made those relations possible.

And, after all, Peter had been right. It was difficult to account for Lord Saint-George's impertinence without allowing people to assume that she was on terms with Peter which would explain that kind of thing. It had undoubtedly made an awkwardness. It was easy to say, 'Oh, yes. I knew him slightly and went to see him when he was laid up after a motor accident.' She did not really very much mind if Miss Hillyard supposed that with a person of her dubious reputation all and any liberties might be taken. But she did mind the corollary that might be drawn about Peter. That after five years' patient friendship he should have acquired only the right to look on while his nephew romped in public went near to making him look a fool. But anything else would not be true. She had placed him in exactly that imbecile position, and she admitted that that was not very pretty conduct.

She went to bed thinking more about another person than about herself. This goes to prove that even minor poetry may have its practical uses.

On the following night, a strange and sinister thing happened.

Harriet had gone, by appointment, to dine with her Somerville friend, and to meet a distinguished writer on the mid-Victorian period, from whom she expected to gain some useful information about Lefanu. She was sitting in the friend's room, where about half a dozen people were gathering to do honour to the distinguished writer, when the telephone rang.

'Oh, Miss Vane,' said her hostess. 'Somebody wants you from Shrewsbury.'

Harriet excused herself to the distinguished guest, and went out into the small lobby in which the telephone was placed. A voice which she could not quite recognise answered her 'Hullo!'

'Is that Miss Vane?'

'Yes--who's that speaking?'

'This is Shrewsbury College. Could you please come round quickly. There's been another disturbance.'

'Good heavens! What's happened? Who is speaking, please?'

'I'm speaking for the Warden. Could you please--?'

'Is that Miss Parsons?'

'No, miss. This is Dr. Baring's maid.'

'But what has happened?'

'I don't know, miss. The Warden said I was to ask you to come at once.'

'Very well. I'll be there in about ten or fifteen minutes. I haven't got the car. I'll be there about eleven.'

'Very good, miss. Thank you.'

The connection was severed. Harriet hurriedly got hold of her friend, explained that she had been called away suddenly, said her good-byes and hurried out.

She had crossed the Garden Quad and was just passing between the Old Hall and the Maitland Buildings, when she was visited with an absurd recollection. She remembered Peter's saying to her one day:

'The heroines of thrillers deserve all they get. When a mysterious voice rings them up and says it is Scotland Yard, they never think of ringing back to verify the call. Hence the prevalence of kidnapping.'

She knew where Somerville kept its public call-box; presumably she could get a call from there. She went in; tried it; found that it was through to the Exchange; dialled the Shrewsbury number, and on getting it asked to be put through to the Warden's Lodgings.

A voice answered her; not the same person's that had rung her up before.

'Is that Dr. Baring's maid?'

'Yes, madam. Who is speaking, please?'

('Madam'--the other voice had said 'miss.' Harriet knew now why she had felt vaguely uneasy about the call. She had subconsciously remembered that the Warden's maid said 'Madam.')

'This is Miss Harriet Vane, speaking from Somerville. Was it you who rang me up just now?'

'No, madam.'

'Somebody rang me up, speaking for the Warden. Was it Cook, or anybody else in the house?'

'I don't think anybody has telephoned from here, madam.'

(Some mistake. Perhaps the Warden had sent her message from somewhere in College and she had misunderstood the speaker or the speaker her.)

'Could I speak to the Warden?'

'The Warden isn't in College, madam. She went out to the theatre with Miss Martin. I'm expecting them back any minute.'

'Oh, thank you. Never mind. There must have been some mistake. Would you please put me back to the Lodge?'

When she heard Padgett's voice again she asked for Miss Edwards, and while the connection was being made, she thought fast.

It was beginning to look very much like a bogus call. But why, in Heaven's name? What would have happened if she had gone back to Shrewsbury straight away? Since she had not the car with her, she would have gone in by the private gate, past the thick bushes by the Fellows' Garden--the Fellows' Garden, where people walked by night--

'Miss Edwards isn't in her room, Miss Vane.'

'Oh! The scouts are all in bed, I suppose.'

'Yes, miss. Shall I ask Mrs. Padgett to see if she can find her?'

'No--see if you can get Miss Lydgate.'

Another pause. Was Miss Lydgate also out of her room? Was every reliable don in College out, or out of her room? Yes--Miss Lydgate was out, too; and then it occurred to Harriet that, of course, they were dutifully patrolling the College before turning in to bed. However, there was Padgett. She explained matters as well as she could to him.

'Very good, miss,' said Padgett, comfortingly. 'Yes, miss--I can leave Mrs. Padgett on the Lodge. I'll get down to the private gate and have a look round. Don't you worry, miss. If there's anybody a-laying in wait for you, miss, I'm sorry for 'em, that's all. No, miss, there ain't been no disturbance to-night as I knows on; but if I catches anybody a-laying in wait, miss, then the disturbance will proceed according to schedule, miss, trust me.'

'Yes, Padgett; but don't make a row about it. Slip down quietly and see if there's anybody hanging round--but don't let them see you. If anybody attacks me when I come in, you can come to the rescue; but if not, keep out of sight.'

'Very good, miss.'

Harriet hung up again and stepped out of the call-box. A centre light burned dimly in the entrance-hall. She looked at the clock. Seven minutes to eleven. She would be late. However, the assailant, if there was one, would wait for her. She knew where the trap would be--must be. Nobody would start a riot just outside the Infirmary or the Warden's Lodgings, where people might overhear and come out. Nor would anyone hide under or behind the walls on that side of the path. The only reasonable lurking-place was the bushes in the Fellows' Garden, near the gate, on the right side of the path as you went up.

One would be prepared, and that was an advantage; and Padgett would be somewhere at hand; but there would be a nasty moment when one had to turn one's back and lock the private gate from the inside. Harriet thought of the bread-knife in the dummy, and shuddered.

If she bungled it and got killed--melodramatic, but possible, when people weren't quite sane--Peter would have something to say about it. Perhaps it would be only decent to apologise beforehand, in case. She found somebody's note-book astray on a window-seat, borrowed a sheet of it, scribbled half a dozen words with the pencil from her bag, folded the note addressed it and put it away with the pencil. If anything happened, it would be found.

The Somerville porter let her out into the Woodstock Road. She took the quickest way: by St. Giles' Church, Blackhall Road, Museum Road, South Parks Road, Mansfield Road, walking briskly, almost running. When she turned into Jowett Walk, she slowed down. She wanted her breath and her wits.

She turned the corner into St. Cross Road, reached the gate and took out the key. Her heart was thumping.

And then, the whole melodrama dissipated itself into polite comedy. A car drew up behind her; the Dean deposited the Warden and drove on round to the tradesmen's entrance to garage her Austin, and Dr. Baring said pleasantly:

'Ah! it's you, Miss Vane? Now I shan't have to look for my key. Did you have an interesting evening? The Dean and I have been indulging in a little dissipation. We suddenly made up our minds after dinner ...'

She walked on up the path with Harriet, chatting with great amiability about the play she had seen. Harriet left her at her own gate, refusing an invitation to come in and have coffee and sandwiches. Had she, or had she not, heard something stir behind the bushes? At any rate, the opportunity was by now lost. She had offered herself as the cheese, but, owing to the slight delay in setting the trap, the Warden had innocently sprung it.

Harriet stepped into the Fellows' Garden, switched on her torch and looked round. The garden was empty. She suddenly felt a complete fool. Yet, when all was said and done, there must have been some reason for that telephone call.

She made her way towards the St. Cross Lodge. In the New Quad she met Padgett.

'Ah!' said Padgett, cautiously. 'She was there right enough, miss.' His right hand moved at his side, and Harriet fancied it held something suspiciously like a cosh. 'Sittin' on the bench be'ind them laurels near the gate. I crep' along careful, like it was a night reconnaissance, miss, and 'id be'ind them centre shrubs. She didn't tumble to me, miss, But when you an' Dr. Baring come through the gate a-talking, she was up and orf like a shot.'

'Who was it, Padgett?'

'Well, miss, not to put too fine a point upon it, miss, it was Miss 'Illyard. She come out at the top end of the Garden, miss, and away to her own rooms. I follored 'er and see 'er go up. Going very quick she was. I stepped out o' the gate, and I see the light go up in her window.'

'Oh!' said Harriet. 'Look here, Padgett, I don't want anything said about this. I know Miss Hillyard does sometimes take a stroll in the Fellows' Garden at night. Perhaps the person who sent the telephone call saw her there and went away again.'

'Yes, miss. It's a funny thing about that there telephone call. It didn't come through the Lodge, miss.'

'Perhaps one of the other instruments was through to the Exchange.'

'No, they wasn't miss. I 'ad a look to see. Afore I goes to bed at 11 o'clock, I puts the Warden, the Dean, and the Infirmary and the public box through, miss, for the night. But they wasn't through at 10.40, miss, that I'll swear.'

'Then the call must have come from outside.'

'Yes, miss. Miss 'Illyard come in at 10.50, miss, jest afore you rang up.'

'Did she? Are you sure?'

'I remember quite well, miss, because of Annie passing a remark about her. There's no love lost between her and Annie,' added Padgett, with a chuckle. 'Faults o' both sides, that's what I say, miss, and a 'asty temper--'

'What was Annie doing in the Lodge at that hour?'

'Jest come in from her half-day out, miss. She set in the Lodge a bit with Mrs. Padgett.'

'Did she? You didn't say anything about this business to her, did you, Padgett? She doesn't like Miss Hillyard, and if you ask me, I think she's a mischief-maker.'

'I didn't say one word, miss, not even to Mrs. Padgett, and nobody could 'ave 'eard me on the 'phone, because after I couldn't find Miss Lydgate and Miss Edwards and you begins to tell me, I shuts the door between me an' the settin'-room. Then I jest puts me 'ead in afterwards and says to Mrs. Padgett, "Look after the gate, would you?" I says. "I jest got to step over and give Mullins a message." So this here remains wot I might call confidential between you an' me, miss.'

'Well, see that it stays confidential, Padgett. I may have been imagining something quite absurd. The 'phone call was certainly a hoax, but there's no proof that anybody meant mischief. Did anybody else come in between 10.40 and 11?'

'Mrs. Padgett will know, miss. I'll send you up a list of the names. Or if you like to step into Lodge now--'

'Better not. No--give me the list in the morning.'

Harriet went away and found Miss Edwards, of whose discretion and common sense she had a high opinion, and told her the story of the 'phone call.

'You see,' said Harriet, 'if there had been any disturbance, the call might have been intended to prove an alibi, though I don't quite see how. Otherwise, why try to get me back at eleven? I mean, if the disturbance was due to start then, and I was brought there as a witness, the person might have wangled something so as to appear to be elsewhere at the time. But why was it necessary to have me as a witness?'

'Yes--and why say the disturbance had already happened, when it hadn't? And why wouldn't you do as a witness when you had the Warden with you?'

'Of course,' said Harriet, 'the idea might have been to make a disturbance and bring me on to the scene in time to be suspected of having done it myself.'

'That would be silly; everybody knows you can't be the Poltergeist.'

'Well, then, we come back to my first idea. I was to be attacked. But why couldn't I be attacked at midnight or any other time? Why bring me back at eleven?'

'It couldn't have been something timed to go off at eleven, while the alibi was being established?'

'Nobody could know to a moment the exact time I should take coming from Somerville to Shrewsbury. Unless you are thinking of a bomb or something that would go off when the gate was opened. But that would work equally well at any time.'

'But if the alibi was fixed for eleven--'

'Then why didn't the bomb go off? As a matter of fact, I simply can't believe in a bomb at all.'

'Nor can I--not really,' said Miss Edwards. 'We're just being theoretical. I suppose Padgett saw nothing suspicious?'

'Only Miss Hillyard,' replied Harriet, lightly, 'sitting in the Fellows' Garden.'


'She does go there sometimes at night; I've seen her. Perhaps she frightened away--whatever it was.'

'Perhaps,' said Miss Edwards. 'By the way, your noble friend seems to have overcome her prejudices in a remarkable manner. I don't mean the one who saluted you in the quad--the one who came to dinner.'

'Are you trying to make a mystery out of yesterday afternoon?' asked Harriet, smiling. 'I think it was only a matter of introductions to some man in Italy who owns a library.'

'So she informed us,' said Miss Edwards. Harriet realised that, when her own back was turned, a good deal of chaff must have been flying about the History Tutor's ears. 'Well,' Miss Edwards went on, 'I promised him a paper on blood-groups, but he hasn't started to badger me for it yet. He's an interesting man, isn't he?'

'To the biologist?'

Miss Edwards laughed. 'Well, yes--as a specimen of the pedigree animal. Shockingly over-bred, but full of nervous intelligence. But I didn't mean that.'

'To the woman, then?'

Miss Edwards turned a candid eye on Harriet.

'To many women, I should imagine.'

Harriet met the eye with a level gaze.

'I have no information on that point.'

'Ah!' said Miss Edwards. 'In your novels, you deal more in material facts than in psychology, don't you?'

Harriet readily admitted that this was so.

'Well, never mind,' said Miss Edwards; and said good night rather brusquely.

Harriet asked herself what all this was about. Oddly enough, it had never yet occurred to her to wonder what other women made of Peter, or he of them. This must argue either very great confidence or very great indifference on her own part; for, when one came to think of it, eligibility was his middle name.

On reaching her room, she took the scribbled note from her bag and destroyed it without re-reading it. Even the thought of it made her blush. Heroics that don't come off are the very essence of burlesque.

Thursday was chiefly remarkable for a violent, prolonged and wholly inexplicable row between Miss Hillyard and Miss Chilperic, in the Fellows' Garden after Hall. How it started or what it was about, nobody could afterwards remember. Somebody had disarranged a pile of books and papers on one of the Library tables, with the result that a History Schools candidate had arrived for a coaching with a tale of a set of notes mislaid or missing, Miss Hillyard, whose temper had been exceedingly short all day, was moved to take the matter personally and, after glowering all through dinner, burst out--as soon as the Warden had gone--into a storm of indignation against the world in general.

'Why my pupils should always be the ones to suffer from other people's carelessness, I don't know,' said Miss Hillyard.

Miss Burrows said she didn't see that they suffered more than anybody else. Miss Hillyard angrily adduced instances extending over the past three terms of History students whose work had been interfered with by what looked like deliberate persecution.

'Considering,' she went on, 'that the History School is the largest in the College and certainly not the least important--'

Miss Chilperic pointed out, quite correctly, that in that particular year there happened to be more candidates for the English School than any other.

'Of course you would say that,' said Miss Hillyard. 'There may be a couple more this year--I dare say there may--though why we should need an extra English tutor to cope with them, when I have to grapple single-handed--'

It was at that point that the origin of the quarrel became lost in a fog of personalities, in the course of which Miss Chilperic was accused of insolence, arrogance, inattention to her work, general incompetence and a desire to attract notice to herself. The extreme wildness of these charges left poor Miss Chilperic quite bewildered. Indeed, nobody seemed to be able to make anything of it, except, perhaps, Miss Edwards, who sat with a grim smile knitting herself a silk jumper. At length the attack extended itself from Miss Chilperic to Miss Chilperic's fiancé, whose scholarship was submitted to scathing criticism.

Miss Chilperic rose up, trembling.

'I think, Miss Hillyard,' she said, 'you must be beside yourself. I do not mind what you say about me, but I cannot sit here while you insult Jacob Peppercorn.' She stumbled a little over the syllables of this unfortunate name, and Miss Hillyard laughed unkindly. 'Mr. Peppercorn is a very fine scholar,' pursued Miss Chilperic, with rising anger as of an exasperated lamb, 'and I insist that--'

'I'm glad to hear you say so,' said Miss Hillyard, 'If I were you, I should make do with him.'

'I don't know what you mean,' cried Miss Chilperic.

'Perhaps Miss Vane could tell you,' retorted Miss Hillyard, and walked away without another word.

'Good gracious!' cried Miss Chilperic, turning to Harriet. 'Whatever is she talking about?'

'I haven't the least idea,' said Harriet.

'I don't know, but I can guess,' said Miss Edwards. 'If people will bring dynamite into a powder factory, they must expect explosions.' While Harriet was rooting about in the back of her mind for some association that these words called up, Miss Edwards went on:

'If somebody doesn't get to the bottom of these disturbances within the next few days, there'll be murder done. If we're like this now, what's going to happen to us at the end of term? You ought to have had the police in from the start, and if I'd been here, I'd have said so. I'd like to deal with a good, stupid sergeant of police for a change.'

Then she, too, got up and stalked away, leaving the rest of the dons to stare at one another.
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