'Harriet,' said Peter, as that lady appeared in the drawing room for tea, 'I have a matter of some delicacy to put to you. I ask only that you hear me out and don't throw the coal scuttle at me before I have finished explaining.'
'That sounds ominous,' said Harriet. 'Ought I to butter the muffins first, do you think, in case I drop the knife in shock?'
'It would be as well. Isn't the weather rotten? I always think that London is an insult to November. One can't see the clouds for the soot. Are you suitably fortified? Then I'll begin: I propose that we go to Duke's Denver for Christmas. Not the Dower House, I mean the Hall.'
'Well I'm not sure about the coal scuttle, but I should certainly have dropped the butter knife. Why on earth do you want to? I'd have thought Bredon was the perfect excuse to stay away.'
'Bredon is the perfect excuse for anything we wish, but in this case - Harriet, there is method in my madness. We must do it sometime. We declined to go for New Year, and if we don't go this year, we shall certainly have no choice about it next without ructions. Of course, if you'd prefer otherwise we certainly shan't go. We can take ourselves to Talboys and say that we're tired and want a quiet family Christmas, all of which will be perfectly true. But if you did feel up to it, there's a lot to be said for it.'
'You'd better explain in full,' said Harriet. 'I'm not saying I won't do it, and I don't see why it should be any more tiring than Talboys. Less, if Bredon isn't in the room next door. But I don't see what the great draw is so soon. Of course we must go before too long, but why won't next year do?'
It occurred to her that perhaps Denver was not the draw so much as Talboys was being avoided. Peter had passed lightly enough over his mention of the previous festive season, conducted as it had been under the shadow of the Crutchley trial and execution, but Peter was capable of passing over anything when he didn't want to talk about it. Surely not the house itself, which with new bathroom, furniture and fittings had been a wonderful place in the summer. Perhaps at this time of year he felt the need for something different to stand between the present and the memory of that wretched time, although he looked, as he helped himself to a second muffin, supremely untroubled.
'Because this year Bredon is a baby, and a particularly fetching one if I say it myself.'
'You haven't seen it yet, what with her having to rush off to France like that to be with Enid - and I will grant that if Gerald had to marry one of our cousins, he made a better choice in Helen than he would have in Enid - but Helen is extremely fond of babies.'
'I tell thee no lie. They humanise her remarkably. She will coo over one for hours, tolerate a quite remarkable amount of noise and squalor, and no trouble is too great for its comfort. As a baby, Bredon will naturally come in for his share. As a Wimsey he will get an extra helping, and as his belongings we shall, for twelve months or so, enjoy considerable favour. After that she appears to think that sentiment has been given rein enough and it is time for good old-fashioned child-rearing practices to take its place.
'Moreover, with Bredon so young you will have every excuse to absent yourself from infuriating conversation to go to peek in the nursery, and Helen will not only not upbraid you, she will like you for it. There will be less infuriating conversation to avoid, because she will make an effort to invite reasonable people. We shall motor down on Christmas Eve, and the usual business will take care of Christmas Day. On Boxing Day I shall please one and all by going to the meet, and it won't matter that you don't because even Helen wasn't riding less than three months after Gerry arrived. Local visits on the twenty-seventh, and then home the day after with the gratifyin' feeling that our duty has been done. Next year, when Bredon has arrived at the pulling things off shelves stage, we say that we feel he would do better in Hertfordshire and everybody is happy.'
'If that's all true, Peter, you're a genius.'
'Don't take my word for it. Gerald told me that Enid's well enough to travel and Helen returns on Thursday. I promise you now, she will descend in auntly state on Friday morning and you may consider the evidence for yourself.'
Events proved as Peter had foretold. A telephone conversation on Thursday evening begged the favour of an audience, a remarkable thing in itself given Helen's usual predilection for arriving unannounced at the most inconvenient times when one could not possibly refuse to see her. Friday itself saw her ensconced for an hour with the baby on her knee, entirely unperturbed by an incident of juvenile manners that had unfortunate consequences for her frock and leaving promptly with gratitude for the privilege of being admitted. Harriet watched her car drive away and turned with frank admiration to her husband.
'Peter, let it never be said that you are a prophet without honour in his own country. We shall go to Denver at Christmas!'