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Extracts from the diary of Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver

21 Oct 1918.-- Saunders has toothache and refuses to do anything about it, silly woman, walking around with her cheek swollen and smiling horribly at everyone like a perfect martyr, so tiresome of her and I have no patience with it -- have made appointment for her with Mr. Platt down in the village, whose ideas on sedation really quite modern, nothing like that horrible tooth-drawer my father had us visit when I was a girl, like something out of Hoffmann or am I thinking of Grimm? Must ask James if the motorcar will be ready, as he keeps muttering about the carburetor; cars sadly no more reliable than horses these days, though at least do not consume petrol when standing still. Engine breaking down halfway would do nothing to counter Saunders's tendency towards the melodramatic. Cannot stand martyrdom in women, or men for that matter, though men generally seem to find more direct ways of drawing attention to themselves.

Still, contrast between Peter and Saunders could not be more striking; wretched as he is, it only brings out the sweetness in his nature, just the same as when he was a boy, hardly a thought for himself when he was really ill, emerging petulance a sure sign that he was on the mend. Wish I could see traces of petulance now, or any other show of temper, rather than this polite, white-faced remoteness.

23 Oct.-- Yesterday Gerald's shooting party came rather too near the house, running a hare to ground in that ridiculous jinking way they have, hares I mean, though weekend shooting parties often quite funny-looking too, and Peter must have heard the gunshots -- surely not nearly as loud as shell fire, but found him curled up in a ball in the middle of his bed, with at least six blankets thrown over, and talking wildly of snipers and no man's land. Difficult to bring him out of it when one has only the faintest notion of what horrors he is reliving.

Have had long talk with Gibbings and instructed her never to let the fire in Peter's room go out, as G. has an unfortunate habit of doing, and to run a hot bath for him every morning whether he makes use of it or not -- cannot seem to make her understand that at present, Peter can't bring himself to make decisions about anything, much less give orders -- and not to fret him with questions, nor to walk around his bed on tip-toe looking glum as an owl, which would be enough to depress anybody, though may be doing an injustice to owls; somehow one always thinks of them as looking either glum or peevish, rather than wise.

 26 Oct.-- Car still not ready; drove Saunders to the dentist in my curricle. Dreadful weather. Gerald very rude about it, said it was too dangerous and I was making a figure of myself; so silly of him, as though the car would have been any safer with sleet on the roads, but then he doesn't have very good hands for a horse, poor boy.

Shahrazad steadily increasing. Have prepared bed for her, heavily padded with towels, though expect she will scorn it as usual, walking by her wild lone and waving her wild tail as Kipling says, even if all places clearly not alike to her, as she likes to sleep in Franklin's linen drawer best of all. Which reminds me, must remove all evidence before Franklin returns from W.A.A.C.

29 Oct.-- Gibbings claims that when she brought Peter his breakfast, he looked up at her and intoned "There watched him, apathetically, over the narrow way, that grim and dubious woman whose house is Night." Great efforts made in soothing ruffled spirits; Gibbings's, not Peter's, who at least has not lost his sense of mischief entirely.

Unfortunate situation all the same, he never could stand being pitied, and I do wish there were an alternative, but at present must count self fortunate to have any staff at all, what with all our footmen and gardeners gone off to the War, which nobody expected to drag on for years and many of the women too, and really cannot have James clumping about the house dropping trays and reeking of motor oil, not even to amuse Peter.

 



 

The Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot to Lord Peter Wimsey

Dear Flim,

Hope you're feeling a bit more the thing. Don't know if you've heard, but Stavesacre has managed to come a cropper over those Anglo-Persian Oil shares. Told him he would; told him to stick to the gee-gees if he must throw good money after bad, but he never listens. Point is, he will be auctioning off some of the family encumbrances at Sotheby's in January, paintings and books mostly, including a Caxton Canterbury Tales with interesting woodcuts or engravings or whatever they are; not my line at all, but thought you might be interested.

There's talk of putting up a new club, for chaps who like to tell a good story without being interrupted by some insufferable bore -- revolutionary idea, what? -- and if you mean to run up to town for the auction I'll give you lunch and tell you all about it.

The Sylvester-Quicke fright asked after you; told her you'd got Spanish Flu. Not sure she believed me. Wish she'd get it herself and toddle off for a rest-cure.

Cheerio,

Freddy

 



 

Helen, Duchess of Denver, to Lady Scowcroft

My dear Elinor,

I hope your sciatica is better, and I thank you for your kind words concerning Saint-George; I do trust that you are right and he will soon grow out of this wild, difficult behaviour. As it is, Nanny has given notice, and at the most inconvenient moment, too, just before our guests came down for the shooting, and you know how difficult it is to find good servants these days; though I suppose I ought to be grateful that she is safely out of the way, since for the past three days she has been showing the teeth-marks on her leg to all and sundry.

My mother in law, needless to say, has been no help at all. She believes that her time is best spent coddling Peter, who is still hiding himself away at the Dower House, suffering from some vague nervous complaint related to his time at the Front, or so his mother claims. There appears to be nothing physically wrong with him, but as you are well aware, his eccentricities have always been rather a trial to Gerald and myself, and I do hope he will not end up an embarrassment to the family, like his unfortunate cousin...

 



 

Extracts from the diary of Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver

11 Nov.-- Cease-fire at long last! We had the news very early, thanks to one of Peter's friends in Military Intelligence. Took the telegram up to P. myself -- dear boy, he sat very still and held it as if it were made of glass, and at least now he won't have to worry about his men being blown to bits without him, not that his being blown to bits with them would have been an improvement, and he never did say much about it one way or the other, don't suppose he ever will, but would not be at all surprised if it took a weight off his mind -- then ran back downstairs and smote the dinner gong like Jael smiting Sisera, until all the staff came popping out of their green baize doors like startled rabbits, and gave out the good tidings. Saunders so surprised that she simply forgot to have hysterics.

All the church bells ringing continuously at St. John's, contributing to feeling of exultation; ring out, wild bells! Ring in the thousand years of peace! Helen complaining of the noise. Believe if Helen were borne up to Heaven by seraphim this instant she would complain bitterly of their singing.

Have sent James to buy all the newspapers he can find; something so reassuring, so final in a Times headline.

 



 

Miss Katherine Alexandra Climpson to Lord Peter Wimsey

Dear Lord Peter,

I do hope I am not encroaching on our purely nominal acquaintance by writing to you -- indeed I do not even quite dare to hope that you remember our previous correspondence, when I wrote to you in my rôle as a Secretary of Queen Mary's Needlework Guild, and you replied from Ypres to acknowledge receipt of our shipment of muslin anti-vermin suits. Your very courteous reply struck me particularly, as you were kind enough to call ours the one office where 'red tape', strife and disorder did not Rule The Day, and said that you believed that if the War Office were likewise staffed solely by women, the War would have been over ere it began!! While I would not like to go so far as that, I do believe we accomplished a great amount, from the inception of the Guild to what I believe I must now call its 'demobilisation', though of course I do not intend to compare our service to your own.

I do apologise for running on so, and having, I hope, established my bona fides, let me press on to the heart of the matter! Our branch of the Guild having been disbanded, many of my loyal fellow-workers and associates have been left rather at loose ends. I am sure I need not elaborate to you on the wretched situation of some of these women, but I do feel it is my duty to ask you for help in one particular case: that of Mrs. Hempstead, whose husband, George Hempstead, served in your Battalion, and who has, alas, not returned from the Somme.

The Pensions Committee has informed Mrs. Hempstead that, even though her husband has been declared missing rather than dead (which I might almost call worse if I were pressed to choose between two such terrible evils), she will be considered a widow, and her allowance will be reduced to the pension a widow would receive -- but Mrs. Hempstead is quite understandably loath to believe that she is a widow without any proof one way or the other, and I must say it does seem cruel and thoughtless on the part of the War Office to reduce her allowance when they are unwilling to confirm that her husband has actually been killed.

During my time as secretary for the Guild I have become very aware that an appeal through unofficial channels can be a sword that cuts through all manner of Gordian Knots, and that is why I have ventured to write to you, in the hope that you may be able to discover what has happened to Mr. Hempstead, or that you may know of someone who can. Please believe that I would never be so importunate if I did not believe the cause, with all my heart, to be sufficient.

Very sincerely yours,

Katherine A. Climpson

 



 

Extracts from the diary of Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver

15 Dec.-- Shahrazad missing, do hope she is safely indoors as it is snowing at present; have issued orders to all the staff to search for her.

16 Dec.-- Shahrazad still missing. Have gone through Franklin's room and all other likely places; meant to proceed to unlikely places, but instead had brilliant inspiration and laid problem at Peter's door. Gave me great pleasure to see him stalk the corridors in nothing but silk pyjamas and dressing gown (and slippers, of course, marble floors very pretty but deadly in winter), mind intent upon problem.

Later.-- Shahrazad discovered! Peter's investigations led to orangery of all places; found her calmly asleep in the potting soil underneath a lemon tree, with five kittens tumbling all over -- two blue toms, one grey and two black girls. Must find good names for all of them.

 



 

Mr. Mervyn Bunter to Mrs. Bunter, Senr.

Dear Mother,

I trust you will excuse my brevity, as I must make haste to catch the last train to Calais, and there you have the whole of my news in brief: I have succeeded in obtaining my demobilisation, and in fact yesterday was my very last day in uniform. I enclose a photograph of the occasion.

I intend to proceed to London to obtain clothing and other necessities suitable to my station, and then to make my way to Duke's Denver, to see if the highly congenial situation I have been promised may become a reality; I am sorry that it is impractical for me to return to Kent at present, but I will come to visit you at the earliest opportunity, and write to you again as soon as I am able.

Your loving son,

Mervyn Bunter

 



 

Extracts from the diary of Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver

9 Jan.-- Was just arranging new porcelain in cabinet -- two candelabra supported by mischievous cherubs, really very charming -- when Saunders announced arrival of one Sergeant Bunter, come to take up situation as Peter's valet. So like P. never to have breathed a word -- probably too afraid the man would get himself killed or taken prisoner or something if he so much as mentioned it out loud; fear it will be a long while before he trusts in anything completely again, if ever.

Liked the look of the man: immensely correct, like a young Jove with calm uneager face, but spotted promising gleam of sympathy in his eye when I told him that P. was having one of his bad days and probably wouldn't be able to give him an answer one way or the other; sent him upstairs anyway to plead his own case, then tiptoed up after him, scandalizing Saunders.

Thought sight of Peter sitting in the dark, poor boy, curled up and shivering, might give B. pause; ruthlessly suppressed motherly impulses and waited to see how he would deal with it. Peter asked brusquely who was there, was answered with "Sergeant Bunter, my lord, come to enter your lordship's service as arranged," -- just the right note of soldierly confidence in his voice and manner -- and then Sgt. Bunter drew the curtains, turned on the lights and knelt down to build up the fire to a more efficient configuration, all with that same air of calm inevitability, and I withdrew without a word and skipped downstairs.

 



 

Miss Katherine Alexandra Climpson to Lord Peter Wimsey

My dear Lord Peter,

I am sure you will receive a proper letter from Mrs. Hempstead soon, but must just dash off this note to let you know your telegram reached its goal! As Mrs. Hempstead is a reserved and rather timid woman, though very kind-hearted, you will imagine my surprise when she rang me up -- despite having previously expressed her utter fear of the telephone -- and told me, in a voice nearly an octave higher than normal, that she was going to France that very minute and could not chat long as she must pack!! She has never been out of the country in her life, but is even now on her way to the General Hospital of Boulogne, where I hope she will be reunited with her husband very soon.

I can only add how very grateful I am for your kindness, your cleverness and all the trouble you must have taken, for I know very well that it cannot have been as easy to discover the man as you have made it appear to Mrs. H. -- locating the proverbial needle in a haystack would be as nothing compared to tracking down one man in all the military hospitals of France, especially when his name had been entered in the hospital list as Harrison rather than Hempstead! Surely only the French could think those names at all similar!! Must run for the post,

Very sincerely yours,

Katherine A. Climpson

 



 

Miss Amaranth Sylvester-Quicke, writing as 'Madame Ondit' for the Morning Star

...Also present at the Ambassador's fête was that elusive scion of the Dukes of Denver, Lord Peter Wimsey, who has emerged from the confines of the country at last to take up his place among the smart set. Matchmaking mamas take note: Wimsey has chosen to take residence in a brand-new flat in Piccadilly, rather than the family townhouse -- signs of discord in the Dukedom or merely a desire for all the mod. cons. the Denver fortune can buy?

 



 

Extracts from the diary of Honoria Lucasta, Dowager Duchess of Denver

17 Mar.-- Must really look upon arrival of Bunter as providential. Have just returned from first visit to flat and can find no fault -- handsome rooms, new but not without character, kitchen well fitted up for its size, excellent drains, and B. has found exact shade of curtains to complement wallpaper.

Peter still sleeping very badly, of course, but such a relief to know B. has everything in hand -- really feel much more at ease about him now, dear boy, and flat already looking like it will be a true home to him, which he has needed for so long, quite possibly without ever realizing it.

Wonder if Peter would like a kitten?