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Part 19

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« on: December 25, 2022, 06:52:50 am »

O well-knit Samson! strong-jointed Samson! I do excel thee in my rapier, as much as thou didst excel me in carrying gates. I am in love, too.
    ---William Shakespeare

Harriet had been only too right about Wilfrid. She had spent portions of four days in altering and humanising Wilfrid, and to-day, after a distressful morning with him, had reached the dismal conclusion that she would have to rewrite the whole thing from the beginning. Wilfrid's tormented humanity stood out now against the competent vacuity of the other characters like a wound. Moreover, with the reduction of Wilfrid's motives to what was psychologically credible, a large lump of the plot had fallen out, leaving a gap through which one could catch glimpses of new and exciting jungles of intrigue. She stood aimlessly staring in the window of the antique shop. Wilfrid was becoming like one of those coveted ivory chessmen. You probed into his interior and discovered an intricate and delicate carved sphere of sensibilities, and, as you turned it in your fingers, you found another inside that, and within that, another again.

Behind the table where the chessmen stood was a Jacobean dresser in black oak, and, as she stood at gaze, a set of features limned themselves pallidly against the dark background, like Pepper's ghost.

'What is it?' asked Peter over her shoulder; 'Toby jugs or pewter pots or the dubious chest with Brummagem handles?'

'The chessmen,' said Harriet. 'I have fallen a victim to them. I don't know why. I have no possible use for them. It's just one of those bewitchments.'

'"The reason no man knows, let it suffice. What we behold is censured by our eyes." To be possessed is an admirable reason for possessing.'

'What would they want for them, I wonder?'

'If they're complete and genuine, anything from forty to eighty pounds.'

'Too much. When did you get back?'

'Just before lunch. I was on my way to see you. Were you going anywhere in particular?'

'No--just wandering. Have you found out anything useful?'

'I have been scouring England for a man called Arthur Robinson. Does the name mean anything to you?'

'Nothing whatever.'

'Nor to me. I approached it with a refreshing absence of prejudice. Have there been any developments in College?'

'Well, yes. Something rather queer happened the other night. Only I don't quite understand it.'

'Will you come for a run and tell me about it? I've got the car, and it's a fine afternoon.'

Harriet looked round, and saw the Daimler parked by the kerb.

'I'd love to.'

'We'll dawdle along the lanes and have tea somewhere,' he added, conventionally, as he handed her in.

'How original of you, Peter!'

'Isn't it?' They moved decorously down the crowded High Street. 'There's something hypnotic about the word tea. I am asking you to enjoy the beauties of the English countryside, to tell me your adventures and hear mine, to plan a campaign involving the comfort and reputation of two hundred people, to honour me with your sole presence and bestow upon me the illusion of Paradise--and I speak as though the pre-eminent object of all desire were a pot of boiled water and a plateful of synthetic pastries in Ye Olde Worlde Tudor Tea-Shoppe.'

'If we dawdle till after opening-time,' said Harriet, practically, 'we can get bread-and-cheese and beer in the village pub.'

'Now you have said something.

    The crystal springs, whose taste illuminates
    Refinéd eyes with an eternal sight,
    Like triéd silver, run through Paradise
    To entertain divine Zenocrate.'


Harriet could find no adequate reply to this, but sat watching his hands as they lay lightly on the driving-wheel. The car passed on through Long Marston and Elsfield. Presently he turned it into a side-road and thence into a lane and there drew up.

'There comes a moment when one must cease voyaging through strange seas of thought alone. Will you speak first, or shall I?'

'Who is Arthur Robinson?'

'Arthur Robinson is the gentleman who behaved so strangely in the matter of a thesis. He was an M.A. of York University, held various tutorships from time to time in various seats of learning, applied for the Chair of Modern History at York, and there came up against the formidable memory and detective ability of your Miss de Vine, who was then Head of Flamborough College and on the examining body. He was a fair, handsome man, aged about thirty-five at the time, very agreeable and popular, though hampered a little in his social career by having in a weak moment married his landlady's daughter. After the unfortunate episode of the thesis, he disappeared from academic circles, and was no more heard of. At the time of his disappearance he had one female child of two years of age and another expected. I managed to hunt up a former friend of his, who said that he had heard nothing of Robinson since the disaster, but fancied that he had gone abroad and changed his name. He referred me to a man called Simpson, living in Nottingham. I pursued Simpson, and found that he had, in the most inconvenient way, died last year. I returned to London and dispatched sundry members of Miss Climpson's Bureau in search of other friends and colleagues of Mr. Arthur Robinson, and also to Somerset House to hunt through the Marriage and Birth Registers. That is all I have to show for two days of intensive activity--except that I honourably delivered your manuscript to your secretary.'

'Thank you very much. Arthur Robinson. Do you think he can possibly have anything to do with it?'

'Well, it's rather a far cry. But it's a fact that until Miss de Vine came here there were no disturbances, and the only thing she has ever mentioned that might suggest a personal enmity is the story of Arthur Robinson. It seemed just worth while following up.'

'Yes, I see.... I hope you're not going to suggest that Miss Hillyard is Arthur Robinson in disguise, because I've known her for ten years.'

'Why Miss Hillyard? What's she been doing?'

'Nothing susceptible of proof.'

'Tell me.'

Harriet told him the story of the telephone call, to which he listened with a grave face.

'Was I making a mountain out of a mole-hill?'

'I think not. I think our friend has realised that you are a danger and is minded to tackle you first. Unless it is a quite separate feud--which is just possible. On the whole it's as well that you thought of ringing back.'

'You may take the credit for that. I hadn't forgotten your scathing remarks about the thriller-heroine and the bogus message from Scotland Yard.'

'Hadn't you?... Harriet, will you let me show you how to meet an attack if it ever does come?'

'Meet a--? Yes, I should like to know. Though I'm fairly strong, you know. I think I could cope with most things, except a stab in the back. That was what I rather expected.'

'I doubt if it will be that,' said he, coolly. 'It makes a mess and leaves a messy weapon to be disposed of. Strangling is cleaner and quicker and makes no noise to speak of.'

'Yeough!'

'You have a nice throat for it,' pursued his lordship, thoughtfully. 'It has a kind of arum-lily quality that is in itself an invitation to violence. I do not want to be run in by the local bobby for assault; but if you will kindly step aside with me into this convenient field, it will give me great pleasure to strangle you scientifically in several positions.'

'You're a gruesome companion for a day's outing.'

'I'm quite serious.' He had got out of the car and was holding the door open for her. 'Come, Harriet. I am very civilly pretending that I don't care what dangers you run. You don't want me to howl at your feet, do you?'

'You're going to make me feel ignorant and helpless,' said Harriet, following him nevertheless to the nearest gate. 'I don't like it.'

'This field will do charmingly. It is not laid down for hay, it is reasonably free from thistles and cow-pats, and there is a high hedge to screen us from the road.'

'And it is soft to fall on and has a pond to throw the corpse into if you get carried away by your enthusiasm. Very well. I have said my prayers.'

'Then kindly imagine me to be an unpleasant-faced thug with designs on your purse, your virtue and your life.'

The next few minutes were rather breathless.

'Don't thrash about,' said Peter, mildly. 'You'll only exhaust yourself. Use my weight to upset me with. I'm putting it entirely at your disposal, and I can't throw it about in two directions at once. If you let my vaulting ambition overleap itself, I shall fall on the other side with the beautiful precision of Newton's apple.'

'I don't get that.'

'Try throttling me for a change, and I'll show you.'

'Did I say this field was soft?' said Harriet, when her feet had been ignominiously hooked from under her. She rubbed herself resentfully. 'Just let me do it to you, that's all.'

And this time, whether by skill or favour, she did contrive to bring him off his balance, so that he only saved himself from sprawling by a complicated twist suggestive of an eel on a hook.

'We'd better stop now,' said Peter, when he had instructed her in the removal of the thug who leaps from in front, the thug who dives in from behind, and the more sophisticated thug who starts operations with a silk scarf. 'You'll feel to-morrow as if you'd been playing football.'

'I think I shall have a sore throat.'

'I'm sorry. Did I let my animal nature get the better of me? That's the worst of these rough sports.'

'It would be a good bit rougher if it was done in earnest. I shouldn't care to meet you in a narrow lane on a dark night, and I only hope the Poison-Pen hasn't been making a study of the subject. Peter, you don't seriously think--'

'I avoid serious thought like the plague. But I assure you I haven't been knocking you about for the fun of it.'

'I believe you. No gentleman could throttle a lady more impersonally.'

'Thank you for the testimonial. Cigarette?'

Harriet took the cigarette, which she felt she had deserved, and sat with her hands about her knees, mentally turning the incidents of the last hour into a scene in a book (as is the novelist's unpleasant habit) and thinking how, with a little vulgarity on both sides, it could be worked up into a nice piece of exhibitionism for the male and provocation for the female concerned. With a little manipulation it might come in for the chapter where the wart Everard was due to seduce the glamorous but neglected wife, Sheila. He could lock her to him, knee to knee and breast to breast in an unbreakable grip and smile challengingly into her flushed face; and Sheila could go all limp--at which point Everard could either rain fierce kisses on her mouth, or say, 'My God! don't tempt me!' which would come to exactly the same thing in the end. 'It would suit them very well,' thought Harriet, 'the cheap skates!' and passed an exploring finger under the angle of her jaw, where the pressure of a relentless thumb had left its memory.

'Cheer up,' said Peter. 'It'll wear off.'

'Do you propose to give Miss de Vine lessons in self-defence?'

'I'm rather bothered about her. She's got a groggy heart, hasn't she?'

'She's supposed to have. She wouldn't climb Magdalen Tower.'

'And presumably she wouldn't rush round College and steal fuses or climb in and out of windows. In which case the hairpins would be a plant. Which brings us back to the Robinson theory. But it's easy to pretend your heart is worse than it is. Ever seen her have a heart-attack?'

'Now you mention it, I have not.'

'You see,' said Peter, 'she put me on to Robinson. I gave her the opportunity to tell a story, and she told it. Next day, I went to see her and asked for the name. She made a good show of reluctance, but she gave it. It's easy to throw suspicion on people who owe you a grudge, and that without telling any lies. If I wanted you to believe that somebody was having a smack at me, I could give you a list of enemies as long as my arm.'

'I suppose so. Do they ever try to do you in?'

'Not very often. Occasionally they send silly things by post. Shaving-cream full of nasty bugs and so on. And there was a gentleman with a pill calculated to cure lassitude and debility. I had a long correspondence with him, all in plain envelopes. The beauty of his system was that he made you pay for the pill, which still seems to me a very fine touch. In fact, he took me in completely; he only made the one trifling miscalculation of supposing that I wanted the pill--and I can't really blame him for that, because the list of symptoms I produced for him would have led anybody to suppose I needed the whole pharmacopœia. However, he sent me a week's supply--seven pills--at shocking expense; so I virtuously toddled round with them to my friend at the Home Office who deals with charlatans and immoral advertisements and so on, and he was inquisitive enough to analyse them. "H'm," said he, "six of 'em would neither make nor mar you; but the other would cure lassitude all right." So I naturally asked what was in it. "Strychnine," said he. "Full lethal dose. If you want to go rolling round the room like a hoop with your head touching your heels, I'll guarantee the result." So we went out to look for the gentleman.'

'Did you find him?'

'Oh, yes. Dear old friend of mine. Had him in the dock before on a cocaine charge. We put him in jug--and I'm dashed if, when he came out, he didn't try to blackmail me on the strength of the pill correspondence. I never met a scoundrel I liked better.... Would you care for a little more healthy exercise, or shall we take the road again?'

It was when they were passing through a small town that Peter caught sight of a leather-and-harness shop, and pulled up suddenly.

'I know what you want,' he said. 'You want a dog-collar. I'm going to get you one. The kind with brass knobs.'

'A dog-collar? Whatever for? As a badge of ownership?'

'God forbid. To guard against the bites of sharks. Excellent also against thugs and throat-slitters.'

'My dear man!'

'Honestly. It's too stiff to squeeze and it'll turn the edge of a blade--and even if anybody hangs you by it, it won't choke you as a rope would.'

'I can't go about in a dog-collar.'

'Well, not in the day-time. But it would give confidence when patrolling at night. And you could sleep in it with a little practice. You needn't bother to come in--I've had my hands round your neck often enough to guess the size.'

He vanished into the shop and was seen through the window conferring with the proprietor. Presently he came out with a parcel and took the wheel again.

'The man was very much interested,' he observed, 'in my bull-terrier bitch. Extremely plucky animal, but reckless and obstinate fighter. Personally, he said, he preferred greyhounds. He told me where I could get my name and address put on the collar, but I said that could wait. Now we're out of the town, you can try it on.'

He drew in to the side of the road for this purpose, and assisted her (with, Harriet fancied, a touch of self-satisfaction), to buckle the heavy strap. It was a massive kind of necklace and quite surprisingly uncomfortable. Harriet fished in her bag for a hand-mirror and surveyed the effect.

'Rather becoming, don't you think?' said Peter. 'I don't see why it shouldn't set a new fashion.'

'I do,' said Harriet. 'Do you mind taking it off again.'

'Will you wear it?'

'Suppose somebody grabs at it from behind.'

'Let go and fall back on them--heavily. You'll fall soft, and with luck they'll crack their skull open.'

'Bloodthirsty monster. Very well. I'll do anything you like if you'll take it off now.'

'That's a promise,' said he, and released her. 'That collar,' he added, wrapping it up again and laying it on her knee, 'deserves to be put in a glass case.'

'Why?'

'It's the only thing you've ever let me give you.'

'Except my life--except my life--except my life.'

'Damn!' said Peter, and stared out angrily over the windscreen. 'It must have been a pretty bitter gift, if you can't let either of us forget it.'

'I'm sorry, Peter. That was ungenerous and beastly of me. You shall give me something if you want to.'

'May I? What shall I give you? Roc's eggs are cheap to-day.'

For a moment her mind was a blank. Whatever she asked him for, it must be something adequate. The trivial, the commonplace or the merely expensive would all be equally insulting. And he would know in a moment if she was inventing a want to please him....

'Peter--give me the ivory chessmen.'

He looked so delighted that she felt sure he had expected to be snubbed with a request for something costing seven-and-sixpence.

'My dear--of course! Would you like them now?'

'This instant! Some miserable undergraduate may be snapping them up. Every day I go out I expect to find them gone. Be quick.'

'All right. I'll engage not to drop below seventy, except in the thirty-mile limit.'

'Oh, God!' said Harriet, as the car started. Fast driving terrified her, as he very well knew. After five breath-taking miles, he shot a glance sideways at her, to see how she was standing it, and slacked his foot from the accelerator.

'That was my triumph song. Was it a bad four minutes?'

'I asked for it,' said Harriet, with set teeth. 'Go on.'

'I'm damned if I will. We will go at a reasonable pace and risk the undergraduate, damn his bones!'

The ivory chessmen were, however, still in the window when they arrived. Peter subjected them to a hard and monocled stare, and said:

'They look all right.'

'They're lovely. Admit that when I do do a thing, I do it handsomely. I've asked you now for thirty-two presents at once.'

'It sounds like Through the Looking-Glass. Are you coming in, or will you leave me to fight it out by myself?'

'Of course I'm coming in. Why?--Oh! Am I looking too keen?'

'Much too keen.'

'Well, I don't care. I'm coming in.'

The shop was dark, and crowded with a strange assortment of first-class stuff, junk, and traps for the unwary. The proprietor, however, had all his wits about him and, recognising after a preliminary skirmish of superlatives that he had to do with an obstinate, experienced and well-informed customer, settled down with something like enthusiasm to a prolonged siege of the position. It had not previously occurred to Harriet that anybody could spend an hour and forty minutes in buying a set of chessmen. Every separate carved ball in every one of thirty-two pieces had to be separately and minutely examined with finger-tips and the naked eye and a watchmaker's lens for signs of damage, repair, substitution or faulty workmanship; and only after a sharp catechism directed to the 'provenance' of the set, and a long discussion about trade conditions in China, the state of the antique market generally and the effect of the American slump on prices, was any figure mentioned at all; and when it was mentioned, it was instantly challenged, and a further discussion followed, during which all the pieces were scrutinised again. This ended at length in Peter's agreeing to purchase the set at the price named (which was considerably above his minimum, though within his maximum estimate) provided the board was included. The unusual size of the pieces made it necessary that they should have their own board; and the dealer rather reluctantly agreed, after having it firmly pointed out to him that the board was sixteenth-century Spanish--clean out of the period--and that it was therefore almost a condescension on the purchaser's part to accept it as a gift.

The combat being now brought to an honourable conclusion, the dealer beamed pleasantly and asked where the parcel should be sent.

'We'll take it with us,' said Peter, firmly. 'If you'd rather have notes than a cheque--'

The dealer protested that the cheque would be quite all right but that the parcel would be a large one and take some time to make up, since the pieces ought all to be wrapped separately.

'We're in no hurry,' said Peter. 'We'll take it with us;' thus conforming to the first rule of good nursery behaviour, that presents must always be taken and never delivered by the shop.

The dealer vanished upstairs to look for a suitable box, and Peter turned apologetically to Harriet.

'Sorry to be so long about it. You've chosen better than you knew. I'm no expert, but I'm very much mistaken if that isn't a very fine and ancient set, and worth a good bit more than he wants for it. That's why I haggled so much. When a thing looks like a bargain, there's usually a snag about it somewhere. If one of those dashed pawns wasn't the original, it would make the whole lot worthless.'

'I suppose so.' A disquieting thought struck Harriet. 'If the set hadn't been perfect, should you have bought it?'

'Not at any price.'

'Not if I still wanted it?'

'No. That's the snag about me. Besides, you wouldn't want it. You have the scholarly mind and you'd always feel uncomfortable knowing it was wrong, even if nobody else knew.'

'That's true. Whenever anybody admired it I should feel obliged to say, "Yes, but one of the pawns is modern"--and that would get so tedious. Well, I'm glad they're all right, because I love them with a perfectly idiotic passion. They have been haunting my slumbers for weeks. And even now I haven't said thank you.'

'Yes, you have--and anyway, the pleasure is all mine ... I wondered whether that spinet's in order.'

He threaded his way through the dark backward and abysm of the antique shop, clearing away a spinning-wheel, a Georgian wine-cooler, a brass lamp and a small forest of Burmese idols that stood between him and the instrument. 'Variations on a musical-box,' he said, as he ran his fingers over the keys, and, disentangling a coffin-stool from his surroundings, sat down and played, first a minuet from a Bach suite and then a gigue, before striking into the air of Greensleeves.

    'Alas my love, you do me wrong
    To cast me off discourteously,
    And I have loved you so long,
    Delighting in your company.'


He shall see that I don't mind that, thought Harriet, and raised her voice cheerfully in the refrain:

    'For O Greensleeves was all my joy,
    And O Greensleeves was my delight--'


He stopped playing instantly.

'Wrong key for you. God meant you for a contralto.' He transposed the air into E minor, in a tinkling cascade of modulations. 'You never told me you could sing.... No, I can hear you're not trained ... chorus-singer? Bach Choir?... of course--I might have guessed it.... "And O Greensleeves was my heart of gold And who but my Lady Greensleeves" ... Do you know any of Morley's Canzonets for Two Voices?... Come on, then, "When lo! by Break of Morning" ... Whichever part you like--they're exactly the same.... "My love herself adorning." ... G natural my dear, G natural....'

The dealer, descending with his arms full of packing materials, paid no attention to them. He was well accustomed to the eccentricities of customers; and, moreover, probably cherished hopes of selling them the spinet.

'This kind of thing,' said Peter, as tenor and alto twined themselves in a last companionable cadence, 'is the body and bones of music. Anybody can have the harmony, if they will leave us the counterpoint. What next?... "Go to Bed, sweet Muse"? Come, come! Is it true? is it kind? is it necessary?... "Love is a fancy, love is a frenzy." ... Very well, I owe you one for that,' and with a mischievous eye he played the opening bars of 'Sweet Cupid, Ripen her Desire.'

'No,' said Harriet, reddening.

'No. Not in the best of taste. Try again.'

He hesitated; ran from one tune to another; then settled down to that best-known of all Elizabethan love-songs.

    'Fain would I change that note
    To which fond love hath charmed me....'


Harriet, with her elbows on the lid of the spinet and her chin propped on her hands, let him sing alone. Two young gentlemen, who had strayed in and were talking rather loudly in the front part of the shop, abandoned a half-hearted quest for brass candlesticks and came stumbling through the gloom to see who was making the noise.

    'True house of joy and bliss
    Where sweetest pleasure is
    I do adore thee;
    I see thee what thou art,
    I love thee in my heart
    And fall before thee.'


Tobias Hume's excellent air rises to a high-pitched and triumphant challenge in the penultimate line, before tumbling with a clatter to the key-note. Too late, Harriet signed to the singer to moderate his voice.

'Here, you!' said the larger of the two young gentlemen, belligerently. 'You're making a filthy row. Shut up!'

Peter swung round on the stool.

'Sir?' He polished his monocle with exaggerated care, adjusted it and let his eye travel up the immense tweedy form lowering over his. 'I beg your pardon. Was that obligin' observation addressed to me?'

Harriet started to speak, but the young man turned to her.

'Who,' he demanded loudly, 'is this effeminate bounder?'

'I have been accused of many things,' said Wimsey, interested; 'but the charge of effeminacy is new to me. Do you mind explaining yourself?'

'I don't like your song,' said the young man, rocking slightly on his feet, 'and I don't like your voice, and I don't like your tom-fool eyeglass.'

'Steady on, Reggie,' said his friend.

'You're annoying this lady,' persisted the young man. 'You're making her conspicuous. Get out!'

'Good God!' said Wimsey, turning to Harriet. 'Is this by any chance Mr. Jones of Jesus?'

'Who are you calling a bloody Welshman?' snarled the young man, much exasperated. 'My name's Pomfret.'

'Mine's Wimsey,' said Peter. 'Quite as ancient though less euphonious. Come on, son, don't be an ass. You mustn't behave like this to senior members and before ladies.'

'Senior member be damned!' cried Mr. Pomfret, to whom this unfortunate phrase conveyed only too much. 'Do you think I'm going to be sneered at by you? Stand up, blast you! Why can't you stand up for yourself?'

'First,' replied Peter, mildly, 'because I'm twenty years older than you are. Secondly, because you're six inches taller than I am. And thirdly, because I don't want to hurt you.'

'Then,' said Mr. Pomfret, 'take that, you sitting rabbit!'

He launched an impetuous blow at Peter's head, and found himself held by the wrist in an iron grip.

'If you don't keep quiet,' said his lordship, 'you'll break something. Here, you, sir. Take your effervescent friend home, can't you? How the devil does he come to be drunk at this time of the day?'

The friend offered a confused explanation about a lunch-party and subsequent cocktail binge. Peter shook his head.

'One damn gin after another,' he said, sadly. 'Now, sir. You had better apologise to the lady and beetle off.'

Mr. Pomfret, much subdued and tending to become lachrymose, muttered that he was sorry to have made a row. 'But why did you make fun of me with that?' he asked Harriet, reproachfully.

'I didn't, Mr. Pomfret. You're quite mistaken.'

'Damn your senior members!' said Mr. Pomfret.

'Now, don't begin all over again,' urged Peter, kindly. He got up, his eyes about on a level with Mr. Pomfret's chin. 'If you want to continue the discussion, you'll find me at the Mitre in the morning. This way out.'

'Come on, Reggie,' said the friend.

The dealer, who had returned to his packing after assuring himself that it would not be necessary to send for the police or the proctors, leapt helpfully to open the door, and said 'Good afternoon, gentlemen,' as though nothing out of the way had happened.

'I'm damned if I'll be sneered at,' said Mr. Pomfret, endeavouring to stage a come-back on the doorstep.

'Of course not, old boy,' said his friend. 'Nobody's sneering at you. Come on! You've had quite enough fun for one afternoon.'

The door shut them out.

'Well, well!' said Peter.

'Young gentlemen will be lively,' said the dealer. 'I'm afraid it's a bit bulky, sir. I've put the board up separate.'

'Stick 'em in the car,' said Peter. 'They'll be all right.

This was done; and the dealer, glad enough to get his shop cleared, began to put up his shutters, as it was now long past closing-time.

'I apologise for my young friend,' said Harriet.

'He seems to have taken it hard. What on earth was there so infuriating about my being a senior?'

'Oh, poor lamb! He thought I'd been telling you about him and me and the proctor. I suppose I had better tell you now.'

Peter listened and laughed a little ruefully.

'I'm sorry,' he said. 'That kind of thing hurts like hell when you're his age. I'd better send him a note and set that right. I say!'

'What?'

'We never had that beer. Come round and have one with me at the Mitre, and we'll concoct a salve for wounded feelings.'

With two half-pint tankards on the table before them, Peter produced his epistle.

The Mitre Hotel,
Oxford.

To Reginald Pomfret, Esq.

Sir,
I am given to understand by Miss Vane that in the course of our conversation this afternoon I unhappily made use of an expression which might have been misconstrued as a reference to your private affairs. Permit me to assure you that the words were uttered in complete ignorance, and that nothing could have been farther from my intentions than to make any such offensive allusion. While deprecating very strongly the behaviour you thought fit to use, I desire to express my sincere regret for any pain I may have inadvertently caused you, and beg to remain,
Your obedient servant,
  ---Peter Death Bredon Wimsey.

'Is that pompous enough?'

'Beautiful,' said Harriet. 'Scarcely a word under three syllables and all the names you've got. What your nephew calls "Uncle Peter at his stuffiest" All it wants is the crest and sealing-wax. Why not write the child a nice, friendly note?'

'He doesn't want friendliness,' said his lordship, grinning. 'He wants satisfaction.' He rang the bell and sent the waiter for Bunter and the sealing-wax. 'You're right about the beneficial effects of a red seal--he'll think it's a challenge. Bunter, bring me my seal ring. Come to think of it, that's an idea. Shall I offer him the choice of swords or pistols on Port Meadow at daybreak?'

'I think it's time you grew up,' said Harriet.

'Is it?' said Peter, addressing the envelope. 'I've never challenged anybody. It would be fun. I've been challenged three times and fought twice; the third time the police butted in. I'm afraid that was because my opponent didn't fancy my choice of weapon.... Thanks, Bunter.... A bullet, you see, may go anywhere, but steel's almost bound to go somewhere.'

'Peter,' said Harriet, looking gravely at him, 'I believe you're showing off.'

'I believe I am,' said he, setting the heavy ring accurately down upon the wax. 'Every cock will crow upon his own dung-hill.' His grin was half petulant, half deprecating. 'I hate being loomed over by gigantic undergraduates and made to feel my age.'

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