Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells;
Crying what I do is me: for that I came --Gerard Manley Hopkins
“You see, there’s absolutely nobody else,” Harriet Vane said, and then coloured and looked down into her teacup. “I’m sorry, that sounds dreadful, but Peter’s off settling the fate of the Empire, and of course I should like to help, but not at the cost of starvation. I can’t very well write a book imbued with the essence of Madrid or Carcassonne without….well, going there. I simply must complete these contracts or go under. And of course Peter will make sure that you receive your usual rates, and take care of expenses, so you won’t suffer by it. Not that there should be such a lot of expenses, the College will do a good deal of mater-ing. ”
There was a moment of silence as Miss Climpson swallowed a mouthful of Dundee cake. “I daresay Lord Peter would make similar financial provisions for you,” she said diffidently, sliding the pendants dangling from the gold chain around her neck. She wanted to undertake the task so much that she felt duty-bound to try to shuffle it off, out of a sense of fairness or to prevent the immense disappointment of having it snatched away from her.
“I couldn’t take a brass farthing from him!” Harriet said.
Miss Climpson stopped herself from nodding. Poor dear Harriet had already placed herself in a very false position once, and now she must be as irreproachable as if Caesar’s wife had been appointed Queen Victoria’s Lady in Waiting in the midst of that most unfortunate Hastings business. “I am not entirely sure that I understand the nature of the problem,” Miss Climpson said.
“When I went to the Gaudy at Shrewsbury College—it’s a sort of party for old students--there seemed to be some sort of unpleasantness going on. I can’t show it to you—I burned it, of course—but I found a perfectly foul drawing that wasn’t just indecent, it must have been done by a mad person.” Harriet was profoundly relieved that Miss Climpson merely nodded but did not ask for a fuller account; Harriet was certain that she would have fallen into conniptions or, at any rate, suffered from nightmares. “There have been pranks—not good-humoured ones, but horribly malicious. Gowns have been stolen and burnt in the Quad. And there has been a rash of poison-pen letters. Obscene and vicious and threatening. Telling one girl to leave another girl’s fiancé alone, calling another girl some dreadful names, suggesting that a third will fail her exams…It’s surprising how much havoc they can cause, even to quite sensible people. And then later on, I got a poison-pen letter myself.”
“And I suppose you burned that as well?” asked Miss Climpson, who was familiar with the works of Mary Roberts Rinehart. “So there is nothing to take to the police?”
“Jolly little to take to the police in any event. The letters are put together out of words clipped out of newspapers. You can get newspapers anywhere, of course, and it means there’s no handwriting to examine and compare. The paper isn’t of a sort to take fingerprints, and it’s detective-story writers like me that have taught potential malefactors to frustrate the police by wearing gloves. But, of course, the College hopes devoutly that it won’t come to that! You know what Shrewsbury’s like. Any women’s college must avoid scandal. If a man does something foolish or dishonorable, he is subject to being disgraced. But no one says that it shows that there oughtn’t to be Education for Men or that there ought to be a Flapper Vote but not one for Sheikhs.”
In order to prevent her guest from being ill at ease, Miss Climpson nodded, already exceeding Homer’s ration, although she in fact knew nothing at all about Shrewsbury except that it was a Cake and perhaps, somewhere in Mangnall’s Questions, a battle. Miss Climpson’s family had not held with education for girls, so young Kitty had never had the chance to enjoy the midnight feasts, the rags, or the passionate friendships she had so enjoyed reading about in The Girl’s Own Paper.
Miss Climpson was also familiar with more elevated works of literature dealing with university education. When Lord Tennyson wrote about a women’s college, it was somewhere between what was then called a jape and might now become a romance imagining future times a la Mr. Wells. One year, as a Christmas treat, Miss Climpson had seen “Princess Ida.” The two works of fiction dealing with universities that came most quickly to mind (she had been allowed access to quite a few of the books in her father’s bookcase) were “Zuleika Dobson” and “Jude the Obscure.” She could only conclude that, in the academic environment, one could scarcely swing a cat without hitting a mad person.
“As much as possible, all this must be kept sub rosa,” Harriet said. In preparation for a Continental holiday that never actually occurred, Miss Climpson had acquired a few words of Spanish, and thought that she remembered that “sabroso” means “savory,” although it seemed that it would be far more a question of preventing discovery of something that was already quite, quite unsavory. And if the salt be once unsavory, what shall be salted therewith?
Miss Climpson slipped her hand beneath the cozy and determined that the pot was just about hot enough to refill a guest’s cup.
“My former tutor, Miss Lydgate, is aware of these events,” Harriet said. “She’ll be a tremendous help—she’s one of the real scholars, you know, and I’m sure she will be able to see things very clearly and in perspective.”
“…and Miss de Vine,” Miss Lydgate finished up. “She is our new Research Fellow. She’s been here for several weeks, examining some manuscripts in the Bodley dealing with National Finance under the Tudors. She was the Provost of Flamborough for three years, but you see, she is a splendid scholar but the weight of the administrative tasks was rather too much for her. She had to rest for a while, so this appointment would be quite providential. If I believed in Providence.”
“I do!” Miss Climpson said. “Which one is Miss de Vine?”
“You can’t miss her, she is quite distinctive-looking,” Miss Lydgate said. “She is tall—I rather envy that!—and she wears her hair in a large coil, but it’s quite heavy, so her hairpins are always coming out, like croquet-hoops that have been mined with explosive charges.”
By association of ideas Miss Lydgate sneezed, and her search for a handkerchief sent piles of paper cannonading off her desk.
“Oh, dear!” she said inadequately. “It was rather important that those piles not be mixed up…I’m writing a book, you see.”
“A novel, like Miss Vane?” Miss Climpson blushed, fearing that it was insulting to accuse a don, or did one say donna like the unfortunate lady in Mr. Mozart’s opera? of writing detective stories.
“If only it were! Either so entertaining or so lucrative. No, my book is about prosody—that is to say, the systematic study of the structure of rhythms in literature, generally in poetry.”
Miss Climpson wondered why, in that case, they called it prosody. She did not wish to think ill of scholars, but it struck her as an obvious shibboleth, and as such rather ill-natured when it lacked the excuse of National Security.
“And, well, every time that I think I’ve done my level best to explain things, I think of a better way to explain it, or something quite new is discovered, or, much to my shame, I discover that I’ve made a mistake or omitted something…well, the publisher says that I have required the use of twelve different kinds of type, and they often mis-read my handwriting. I suppose it’s my fault, it is shocking. By now, there are five sets of revisions, and the very worst thing of all is to edit the wrong one, because you…”
“Do what should not be done and leave undone what should not be undone?”
“Quite so,” Miss Lydgate said. “That’s very clever!”
Miss Climpson shook her head. “Some of these are on lighter-coloured paper,” she said.
“Yes, several of my students assist me by type-writing my manuscripts. Miss Kerrigan seems to purchase paper somewhere quite other than Miss Franklin or Miss Botts.” It was Miss Lydgate’s turn to shake her head. “I fear that they are quite, quite sick of the sight of my work. Miss Botts, poor girl, is rather in financial straits—she has no Miss de Vine to administer her finances—so I am glad that the small amount I am able to pay her is of service to her. But Phyllis and Julia are, I’m sure, constrained only by politeness to carry out these Herculean labors.”
“I am an accomplished shorthand-typist, you know,” Miss Climpson said. “Perhaps that could be my—is it not referred to as a ‘cover story’? No one would question our association if it were given out that our secretarial bureau has been engaged to work on your book.”
“That would be splendid!” Miss Lydgate said. “It would be of the greatest possible assistance to me, in any event.” There was a knock on the door, causing Miss Lydgate to start, drop a pile of pages over quite a distance, and click her tongue.
“Will that be coffee for two, Miss Lydgate?” asked the smartly uniformed maid. “I wasn’t to know there would be another lady, you see.”
“Oh, I should hate to be any trouble!” Miss Climpson said.
“It’s my job, m’m,” the maid said. “I should be all the worse off not to be able to do it.”
After the door closed again, Miss Lydgate sighed, knelt again, and started gathering up pages. Some of them began to crack along the folds. “Our new bursar has greatly improved the standard of service,” she said. “Although I am afraid that Annie—that was Annie just now--may be re-assigned. Miss Hillyard doesn’t care for her, you see—says she’s too independent—although I daresay she shouldn’t have to be in service at all. She’s a widow…”
“The War?” Miss Climpson asked, then counted backward—Annie was far too young for that.
“No, quite a bit later. Her husband had quite a good position, although I can’t remember what. Then he encountered some sort of trouble or brain-storm, and ended by killing himself, leaving her with two small children and her living to make.”
Annie returned, with a tray of coffee things. She spurned at a pile of paper with her foot. “Would you like me to sweep up all this lot, Miss Lydgate?”
Miss Lydgate shuddered. “Good Heavens, no, Annie, when it is all put in order—although I daresay Hercules would turn his back and say it wouldn’t do—it will go to my publisher. And when I find the Introduction, and rewrite it—heaven only knows what I would do if I couldn’t find it…”
“Yes, m’m,” Annie said. “I sh’ll return later, for the tray and the crockery.”
Miss Climpson gave a large stack of pages a triumphant rap against the top of a bookshelf. “I believe that all these are in order,” she said. Miss Lydgate glanced carefully at the foot of the first page and the top of the second, then moved faster and faster through the pile. “Yes, that seems to be correct,” she said. “Miss Climpson, you’re a miracle worker! However did you sort them out?”
“Well, Lord Peter says that I am like the Elephant’s Child, and I daresay that I *do* observe things, and so much of being a woman is putting things to right when they have been disturbed, is it not? I separated them out by colour of the paper, and once that was done, it was quite clear that these—the rather bluish ones—were the first, and then the yellowish ones, and then the ones that are whitest. Then it was a matter of joining up the words at the bottom of one page with those at the top of the next.”
“Miss Climpson, that is perfectly splendid and I am indebted to you. I do hope we shall be working together.”
“What is your Christian name?” Miss Climpson asked.
“Dorothea,” Miss Lydgate said. “You see, my parents didn’t always believe in the maintenance of the status quo. And what about yours?”
”Alexandra Katherine Mary,” Miss Climpson said. Before she had a chance to say, “But my friends call me Kitty,” Miss Lydgate said, “Delicacies are all Kates!”
Bunter had heard quite enough languorous drawls from that family to last a lifetime, but in this case, he was prepared to ascribe a certain amount to sedatives. After the motor-accident, Viscount Saint-George had been unconscious for twenty-four hours, driving madly to return before the gates were shut, and bouncing out of the car when he collided with a telegraph pole and landed on his shoulder. One black eye was visible, the other eye bandaged. His right arm was in a sling.
“Sent the Second Eleven, have they?” Viscount Saint-George said.
“Your father is at the House of Lords. Your mother is in hysterics. Your uncle is in Rome. Being relatively bereft of occupational duties, I have been authorized to enquire into the situation and make sure that…injuries are redressed, so that no one is displeased and no breath of scandal attaches to the family or the University.”
“Scandal? What sort of scandal would there be in a motor-smash?”
“None, if all of the persons and lampposts involved were perfectly sober. One simple question is, was there anyone else in the motor with you, m’lord?”
“No, he’d already sloped off home before I drove away…”
“I see,” Bunter said. “Perhaps that is the sort of detail for which amnesia was invented.”
“I don’t suppose your employer has heard about this?” Saint-George asked, his voice wobbling between hope and dread.
Bunter took a letter, sealed with the Wimsey family crest in red wax, from an inner pocket of his suit coat.
“Read it to me, would you? There’s a good chap,” Saint-George said. “I’ve had a knock on the head, and I’m all over bandages, and my head aches like there are two jazz bands inside havin’ a shindy.”
Bunter cleared his throat. “Judging by the play of expressions on Lord Peter’s face when he composed that letter, I believe you would prefer that no eyes—or unbandaged eye—other than your own would see it.”
“I daresay he’s just feeling guilty,” Saint-George said. Even with one eye bandaged, he could see the astonishment on Bunter’s face. “It’s his fault, you know, drivin’ about like cross between Nimrod and a cageful of monkeys snortin’ the White Lady.”
“I believe that, despite his habitual modesty, His Lordship would point out that, irrespective of any alkaloids ingested by hypothetical simians, he himself is a very good driver, but this gift is not necessarily hereditary.”
Saint-George read the letter slowly, then put it down and tried it with his head tilted at a different angle. He was no more pleased with the ending of the Second Lesson, although his uncle had agreed to cover any dud cheques that might have constituted an actual felony, so he tried to divert himself by changing the subject. “D’you think Uncle Peter will come up and Detect the Shrewsbury Poltergeist?”
“My lord?” Bunter said blandly.
“Tale I heard from a fellow. Mind you, he was either dashed good at cards or had well-provisioned sleeves, so I don’t know if I can trust him, but he says that there’s some sort of rag going on, but not anything amusin’ like breakin’ glass when you’ve had a few bottles of champers. He says this is something that seems half-cracked.”
“His Lordship is detained on diplomatic business, but he is aware of the problem and has sent Miss Climpson to investigate on his behalf.”
“Oh, yah, I’ve met her…tall skinny hank of spinster, clanks about with a load of pinchbeck jewelry, talks nineteen to the dozen with her hands flappin’ like she’s about to take off straight up like an experimental aircraft.” Saint-George sat up, groaned, thought better of it, and reclined once again. “Now that I think of it, I might have seen the ragger, or whatever you’d call it. I was a bit short of the readies, you see, and I had a bet with a fellow—not the one who told me the yarn—that I could climb into the Fellows’ Garden.”
“I believe that spikes are being affixed,” Bunter said. “Revolving spikes.”
“Nice to know that one’s made a difference, eh? But I did manage to get into the garden, when someone leapt out from the shrubbery and grabbed me. It must have been a student, or some kind of female anyhow, but all dressed in black and with a black scarf twisted all around her face like a houri. But she wasn’t seductive at all, in fact she was horrid, and when I tried to hop off she said, ‘We murder beautiful boys like you here and eat their hearts out.’”
“And you kept all this locked in your bosom all this time?”
“No point in telling the authorities that some sort of phantom grabbed me where I wasn’t supposed to be.” Then he grinned. “I like being where I’m not supposed to be.”
Bunter looked stern, then endeavoured to keep that expression fixed, because one thing he liked about his job was the opportunities offered to be officially on the side of angels while being where he wasn’t supposed to be. He buttoned his coat and removed his bowler hat from the bedside table.
“Oh, don’t go. The night is fine, the Walrus said,” Saint-George said, throwing aside the covers and stretching languorously (then wincing as the stretch reached his shoulder). “Do you admire the view? I could see your eyes, y’know.”
“I couldn’t help noticing…” Miss Climpson said diffidently, “That…well, this mark here…”
“It’s invented,” Miss Lydgate said. “It’s a Greek omega fused with a Cyrillic sh-ch.”
“Is used quite often in Chapters One through Three, then again in Seven and Nine, but nowhere else. But this upside-down beta appears only five times, all in Chapter Eighteen. I rather think that any publisher would have a set of Greek letters, and if you were to exchange this character for that one, it would be quite simple to turn the beta…I believe it is called a “slug,” which always reminds me of the bourbon whiskey consumed by a fellow who brandishes a “gat”…well, what I mean to say is that, it would be much easier to set the type. And there are several other pairs of characters that might be exchanged in the same way.”
Miss Lydgate’s mastered her first impulse (to shout that Miss Climpson hadn’t a shred of an idea of what she was talking about and ought to belt up), thought it over, and said, “You’re quite right! I hadn’t thought of that! What a perfectly splendid idea!” Miss Climpson glowed at the praise. “Mind you,” Miss Lydgate said, “I don’t think the publisher will be best pleased to have to go through and make all those changes. But it’s all for the best, really. I’m not entirely satisfied with my angle on Gerard Manley Hopkins, and surely I oughtn’t to publish the book until I’ve done the best with it that I can…”
“It must be very worrying,” Miss Climpson said.
“Indeed it is! And the longer it takes, the more likely it is that someone else will publish something similar. If I’m very lucky, then Professor Whomever will agree with me, but then it will look rather that I was not original and simply echoed Professor Whomever. I don’t care for conflict, so if Professor SoandSo disagrees with me, well, we may have to hash it out at some point. Worst of all would be if Dr. SuchandSuch publishes something that proves I am definitively wrong on a point of fact, not merely differing in opinion. It’s quite humiliating to have to concede one’s errors.”
“Couldn’t you just keep silent and hope that no one notices?” Miss Climpson asked. She didn’t think that there could be any great audience for these very specialized writings, and being humiliated was rather like being humbled, which is good for the soul…
“Of course not!” Miss Lydgate said. “It would be…well, if you saw that someone had left her purse behind in a shop after she paid for her goods, surely you wouldn’t just put it in your own pocket and think that you were justified in doing so, even if you didn’t think the shopkeeper would notice. And I don’t think any scholar could possibly disagree with me.” She craned her neck and looked out the window. “It’s a splendid day. Shall we go for a walk?”
Miss Climpson nodded, pinned on her hat, and put on her coat. They passed a (stable) toyshop. “Look!” Miss Climpson said. “It’s that new American game! I played it once, it was quite exciting to imagine one’sself a property tycoon.”
“Oh, then I must get a set for you, and you can teach me to play! I’m hopeless about real money, perhaps this will help.”
“It’s rather dear….” Miss Climpson said uncertainly.
“I suppose the law of their own nature constrains them to charge what the market will bear!” Miss Lydgate said. They went into the shop and emerged, a Monopoly set under one of Miss Lydgate’s arms, the other linked through Miss Climpson’s.
Bunter helped Saint-George settle into bed, then re-settled the viscount’s sponge-bag in the bathroom and put the kettle on in the small pantry attached to Saint-George’s set.
“You needn’t have laid out the pajamas,” Saint-George said. “I do manage to put them on every night in term, you know.” Although, he thought, when he was at home of course Bunter’s opposite number did lay out pajamas and slippers for him.
The song of the kettle allowed Bunter to escape long enough for the pajamas to be donned.
“There were some ginger nuts in the pantry near the can of condensed milk,” Bunter said, proferring cup and plate. “Good day, m’lord. I shall go to the porter’s lodge and place a trunk call to Denver to inform the family that you have been discharged from the Infirmary.”
“Stay,” Saint-George said, reaching his hand up to clasp Bunter’s wrist.
“You know very well that’s impossible,” Bunter said. A further tug on his wrist pulled him to a seated position on the bed.
“I can’t believe that you don’t want me,” Saint-George said, pettishly enough to lose some ground.
“That doesn’t matter, does it, m’lord?”
“It does to me. Look here, Bunter—your name’s Mervyn, isn’t it?” (Bunter was forced to acknowledge the truth of this)—we’ve both got something to lose, you know. So we can trust each other.”
“We haven’t the same thing to lose, and every chap who’s got into a mess because of another chap must have thought the same thing.”
“Sometimes the other bloke’s true blue, you know. It’s just police and magistrates and beaks and so forth that take a dim view.”
“People who are like your family. And not a bit like mine.”
“Then where’s droit de seigneur when you need it?”
“I’m glad that one bit of European history—however simplistic—has rubbed off on you.”
“Ah, I perceive the defenses crumbling! Good! No, but honestly. I feel bloody and the fellow who left before my memorable waltz with the telephone pole didn’t so much as come to see if I was alive, although he must have seen it in the papers.”
“Then he must have known you were alive, the report wasn’t on the Obituary page.”
“People think that I can get anything I want, but all I can ever get is some of what everyone else tells me I want—and not much of that because I’ve always gone through my allowance first two weeks of Term anyhow. Look, I’m only going to be young once, and then I’ll have to marry some girl out of the stud-book—I might have to marry an American Pork Princess if we keep running through money the way we do—and then we’ll both lie there and think of England until there’s an heir and a spare. And it’ll all be fairly bloody, but that’s the way things are done. But it hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t have a bit of fun while I can. It’s all right for chaps like you—the reliable, manly sort who can do things—but my youthful beauty’s running like buggery down the hourglass.”
If there was a queer insane asylum I’d be in a straitjacket right now, Bunter thought (after some rumination upon the concept of mixed metaphors). Because any of those of his friends would say that when there’s a beautiful boy who is not only To Be Had but making all the running, then have him, you damned fool. Someone who looked like someone who was not at all ever To Be Had, only much younger, which could hardly be considered a deterrent. Or perhaps a pragmatic deterrent, but only an increase in forbidden attractions. And someone who, as far as Bunter could tell, was genuinely stupid, or at least foolish, rather than merely wearing a mask. Bunter wished that the first thing he saw in a man was the length of his curriculum vitae, but…
A gentleman’s gentleman is but a man, for a’that.
“Thank you, Annie, this is very good of you,” Miss Climpson said, sharing out the plate of sandwiches so Miss Lydgate would have something to eat after her tutorial. “Are you on the kitchen staff now?”
“No, miss, I wait upon the Hall and Senior Common Room.”
“I think Miss Lydgate said you have two little girls,” Miss Climpson said. “Is that right? How are they getting on?”
“Very well, miss, thank you!” Annie’s face glowed with pride. “Oxford suits them. Beatie was always coughing, where we lived before. The air here is much cleaner. Are you fond of children?”
“Certainly,” Miss Climpson said, prevaricating slightly. After all, it was not as if Annie could return her progeny and secure a full refund if Miss Climpson were to disclose that she disliked children.
“What a pity you couldn’t marry before it was too late, with the War and suchlike,” Annie said. “Then you might have had children of your own, and grandchildren by now. It seems a dreadful thing to me to see all these unmarried ladies living together. They may be clever, but clever is as clever does, and most of them have no heart. I don’t see why anyone’d spend all this money—it must be thousands and thousands—to make a place for girls to study books that won’t do one bit to find them husbands, or make them better mothers and wives when they do find one. It’s not natural, is it?”
“The Lord does not call everyone to the married state,” Miss Climpson said.
“The only worse thing than a henhouse like this would be a convent!” Annie said. Then she looked down. “Sorry, miss, I didn’t know you were one of them Romans.”
“I am a communicant of the Church of England,” Miss Climpson said. “But there are Anglican religious of the Benedictine Order. Their prayers are very much needed in this sad, sinful world, and they have counseled many troubled persons.”
“That’s not Nature either,” Annie said. “Male and female created He them, and ordained the state of matrimony, as it says in proper church, as I suppose you’d know but these days thousands wouldn’t.”
“Being, ah, well, comfortable…well off…what you’d call a toff”
“I shouldn’t dream of it,” Bunter said, but Saint-George continued. “It’s not all strawberries and cream for us, you know.”
“Oh, is it what the Soviets call an Eton Mess?”
“What I mean to say is, chaps like you have to go off and do things, and I needn’t, because someone always does things for me. So that means that chaps like you *know* how to do things and we don’t.”
“With this cup of tea as the first exhibit. Jerry, I think this may be the worst cup of tea of my entire life. And that’s speaking as a man who’s been in the trenches and who is professionally required to spend a good deal of time rushing about on trains.”
“Well!” Saint-George said. “It should be you bringing me a cup of tea in bed, considering who’s the wife in this arrangement…”
“I won’t even dignify that with an answer. And it’s one o’clock in the afternoon.”
“Oh, Jericho!” Saint-George said, pulling on items of clothing and looking around frantically for his gown. “I’ve a lecture at two!”
“That never troubled you before,” Bunter said.
“New leaf, dontcha know. Err, I think you’d best leave first, so that I can pretend you weren’t here. And well, it’s getting a bit hot here, d’you think that….?”
Bunter, already perfectly dressed and brushed, and determined to ignore any vows of amendment because he knew everyone who had ever met Saint-George had heard it all before, said, “Funny thing, that. Places that’d demand to see marriage lines if a girl was within streets of a bloke’s room don’t turn a hair if one bloke takes a room and another one takes a bite of luncheon with him and then they adjourn to the first chap’s room. It’d be pushing it to stay overnight, and we can’t get careless about the sheets, but…”
“No one ever does seem to think one might doing, well, what one is doing, in the daytime.”
“Daytime? Nasty foreign habit, that,” Bunter said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Miss Climpson fussed. “I haven’t a proper frock to attend a party of ladies and gentlemen.”
“I can guarantee you that there will be no gentlemen present,” Miss Lydgate said. Miss Climpson looked horrified. “No, I don’t mean you will be at the mercy of cads and…mashers. I mean there will be no men there at all. And that frock you wore two weeks ago to go to church, with the wide lace-trimmed collar, made you look perfectly charming.”
Miss Climpson was delighted by the tasteful trappings of the flat, the delicious food (although she did not think the scones were as light as her mother’s recipe), the advanced musical composition on the radiogramophone.
“Oi! Gillian!” Miss Benthorp said. “Come over here and listen to Kate, we’re talking about Spain and she’s making perfect sense.”
“Oh, well!” said Gillian, who was one of the coterie of younger ladies in frillier frocks sitting at the edges of the room, alternately renewing their cyclamen lipstick and depleting the hostess’ store of sweet sherry. “I don’t pretend to read the high-toned papers.”
Gillian commandeered the radiogram and put on a dance record. Miss Benthorp (Miss Climpson thought that the Liberty necktie that she wore with her country tweeds was most ill-advised, but she was not certain of the proprieties of ladies’ neckwear) whirled Miss Climpson into a series of fox trots.
When the hostess strove for an Aladdin’s cave atmosphere, by draping scarves over some of the fixtures, the dance tunes decelerated, and the guests gravitated toward dancing with their own friends, Miss Climpson was glad that Miss Lydgate had improved upon the few lessons in the Argentine tango that Harriet Vane had given her.
“I feel the most wonderful sense of calm,” Miss Climpson told Miss Lydgate. “I’ve a feeling—and I am never wrong about these things!—that we have seen the last of these unpleasant matters.”
“I almost hope we haven’t,” Miss Lydgate said. “For I enjoy your company very much, and could almost wish the situation to continue precisely so you can stay here.”
Unfortunately for Miss Climpson’s future prospects of Sibylline employment, the cessation of incidents proved to be only temporary. Only a day after Miss Climpson’s room was broken into, there was a fire set in the library.
(“Principalities and powers,” Miss Climpson had murmured, seeing the scattering of tiny houses on the floor, as if a bomb had fallen. She gathered up the minuscule hundred-pound notes and the informative little cards, but most of them were ruined by fall-out from the paint that proclaimed “You’ll get yours, you nosy bitch!” As she scrubbed at the still-wet paint with a rag, Miss Climpson wondered whether she should tell dear Miss Lydgate about the ruination of her cherished present. On balance, she decided not to.)
And now the Misses Lydgate and Climpson stood in the darkened library, and watched the last flames of the bonfire flicker, devouring gowns and books and loose sheets of paper. Jukes and a party of male undergraduates from Balliol and Kings poured buckets of water over the ashes. Everything potentially salvageable had already been pulled to one side, but that new-ish C.P. Snow novel was beyond saving, and the Library’s copy of Miss Barton’s monograph on “The Position of Women in the Modern State” had also been destroyed.
“Wherever did all those gowns come from?” Miss Climpson asked. “Were rooms broken into? Or, did anyone see anyone hurrying about with a pile of gowns?”
“Oh, I’m afraid that the students simply leave their gowns about anywhere,” Miss Lydgate said. “And it’s so dark in the afternoons that the transportation might have escaped notice.”
“Could the petrol perhaps be traced?”
“It has been, but that doesn’t help,” Miss Lydgate said. “Mullins, the porter of Jowett Lodge, keeps a bit of petrol in his shed for his motor-bicycle. He locks the shed now, but once again, it’s no secret that the petrol was there, and anyone might have taken it.”
Miss Climpson made some notes in her pocket-book. Then, her breath catching, she looked down at the table. “The bait has been taken,” she said quietly, looking at the manuscript that had been defaced with thick bars of copying ink, with foul imprecations scrawled in the margins, then gathered back into a pile and pinned to the table with a savage blow of a pair of shears.
“I don’t even know what some of those words mean,” Miss Lydgate said. “The worst that I know is Restoration drama. Still, I have no doubt that they are invidious. And to think that that might have been the only copy of my chapters! I can scarcely imagine what my feelings would have been, watching my work vanish forever. One can look things up all over, of course…or even emulate Carlyle and create an entire book anew. But…it’s never the same.”
“Habits of order and method often prove useful,” Miss Climpson said. “Even if these outrages were not in train, it would make sense for me to take the manuscript to my rooms and work on it there, and to make use of carbon paper to assure that in any event there are several copies. Although your editor did send me such a charming note…he said that although he is grateful that I am so prompt in posting each and every chapter after I have finished with it—and my handwriting is so much clearer than yours—he says that he wishes you didn’t know that there are several copies because then you just go and make changes all over them!”
“You are invaluable to my work, dearest Kate. And…you have become invaluable to me as well,” Dorothea said, cupping Miss Climpson’s cheek with her hand and clasping Miss Climpson’s hand in the other. Miss Climpson gave a small startled cry and sprang back.
“I’m sorry,” Miss Lydgate said, taking a step back and crossing her arms. “That was quite improper of me. I beg your forgiveness. I would give the world not to have…offended you.”
“Oh, dear, I’m not offended, but…I’m not like that, you see. I do know what you mean, I’ve lived among girls and women, heaps of them, all my life. My faith teaches me that …well, that matrimony and the rites of matrimony were created for the propagation of children. Because of the war, of course, there were many of us who were unable to marry. And there are women who wouldn’t care to marry, even if they might. But I have seen women take advantage of the affections of other women. Perhaps of their loneliness. And it isn’t always very kind, or very nice. And I’ve seen it—seen it myself, not just heard of a tale that someone else heard about what someone else said!—I’ve seen it lead to murder!”
“Oh, I daresay that your Lord Peter Wimsey could tell you that, from time to time, murders have been occasioned by those ‘natural’ passions. And, for that matter, within the sacred bonds of matrimony,” Dorothea said, puffing furiously at the cigarette that had given her an excuse to turn away so she could light it.
“I’d better go,” Miss Climpson said. “Lord Peter—not that he is mine, you understand—has been kind enough to say that he finds my letters about these incidents most thorough and illuminating, and I ought to go and write another.”
Edwin Jephcott, who was reading Stinks, looked at the respectably black-suited, bowlered figure vanishing down the stairs.
“Whose man is that?” he asked Saint-George.
“He’s. my…my uncle’s,” Jerry said. “M’uncle sent him here to find out a few things. For an investigation.”
“Always poking his nose into things, eh?”
“He’s got a gift for it,” Jerry said. “He’s a sensible sort of chap, Uncle Peter couldn’t catch murderers without him.”
“Better watch out,” Jephcott said, and Jerry’s heart squeezed to a stop. “Palling about with hoi polloi, next thing you know, you’ll be up on your feet in the Lords, making your maiden speech, and you’ll be a Red like Lord Byron.”
Even Saint-George was aware that that (or a predilection for using even more dashes and italics than Miss Climpson) was not the only thing Lord Byron was famous for. “By any chance, did you see the result for the fifth at Newmarket yesterday?”
“I say, Gherkins, you’ve got to ascertain first that they’ve actually got four legs before betting on them,” Jephcott said, his attention adequately diverted.
It really was too bad that the Poltergeist, far from being frightened by the anticipated august presence of Lord Oakapple, patron of the New Library, had chosen to engage in further atrocities. The door to the New Library was locked, but the key had been taken away. Once a locksmith was secured, it was discovered that books had been flung from the bookshelves; paintings and prints had been variously smashed, slit with a knife, and defaced. Obscene words and drawings, in still-wet paint, made up a mural not entirely distinct from Pompeii’s in subject-matter, but very much inferior aesthetically.
“What are we to do?” Miss Lydgate said. “Dust for fingerprints? Call the police?”
“If Lord Saint-George would be good enough to enlist a few of his friends, I believe we can clean all of this up by the time of Lord Oakapple’s scheduled arrival,” Bunter said. “And I believe he—Lord Oakapple, that is--will be arriving on the 10:42 train, which is notoriously unreliable.”
The joint efforts of the four sleuths, Jephcott, and two of his friends, combined with those of the Shrewsbury porter and his assistant (all sworn to secrecy) got the New Library looking presentable (if rather redolent of turps, fighting with a stick of incense borrowed from a Second Year who practised the Higher Thought and the chanting of Sanskrit prayers) a full half-hour before Lord Oakapple and an academic procession appeared for the opening ceremony.
At first it appeared that Bunter had played only a very small part in remedying the situation, but it emerged, when platters of sandwiches and jugs of Pimm’s Cup were produced, that he had banished himself to the kitchen and noted that no noxious materials were added in the kitchen. As for what might have been done beforehand, he could not testify, although, with the deftness of an experienced pickpocket, he did abstract a few sandwiches and placed himself in the situation of the coal miner’s canary. Certainly they contained no fast-acting poisons.
Annie and Carrie were detailed to assist with the refreshments.
It was spring, with Term about to begin, with trees budding and bells sounding, but no students to hear them. Bunter sat in Miss Lydgate’s drawing room, a grand name for a room quite small enough for Jane Austen to have hidden manuscripts in (and papered with a pale or faded sprigged paper that might very well have been gazed at by an ivory-carver chewing the top of her pencil).
“I thought that all of the lady dons had to live in College?” Bunter asked diffidently.
“Generally that is the case,” Miss Lydgate said, “And I myself had rooms there for several years. But then my father—who taught Economics at Balliol, by the by, so your employer may well have been acquainted with him—fell ill. At that time, my mother was already deceased, so it was necessary for me to care for him in his last illness. After he died, I inherited this house, and I suppose no one liked to insist on my returning.”
“It’s a charming house,” Bunter said. Fortunately before he could launch some encomium to Loving Hands at Home, Miss Lydgate said, “Yes, I suppose it is, thank you. I don’t think I’ve changed much of anything since his death, he was so particular about having everything just the way he liked. I greatly prefer having a roof over my head, a brisk fire on a cold day, and some sort of food when I discover I’m hungry to the lack of them, but otherwise I don’t much care or even notice domestic matters. It’s as well I never married, I don’t think that I would do a proper job of housekeeping. Or perhaps, housekeeping would not be my proper job.”
“It’s not so grand as painting the Sistine Chapel, but still, someone must do it if we are to have clean clothes and if that brisk fire is to be tended. When there’s a Slump, it seems as if having any job is a luxury, and even if there isn’t a Slump, very few people can ever have what you call a proper job.”
“Albany’s more pleasant to live in than a cottage with its walls running damp. I like my place with Lord Peter very much, not just to get to live in all sorts of posh places, but because it’s interesting and he’s got a brain and he uses it for something. But is working in a factory, or down a mine, anyone’s proper job? Or is it just that they’ve got to take any job they can find, to keep a roof of their heads and feed their families?”
“I believe that pit closures are taken in bad part, even if other sorts of work are available. I can’t deny that quite often, other sorts of work are not forthcoming,” Miss Lydgate said. “There is no shortage of Hard Times in which it’s aw’ a muddle.”
“A chap can be proud of what he can endure—we saw that in the War, over and over—but that doesn’t mean that trying to not get killed was their proper job, or that those who died mightn’t have done marvelous things if they’d got to live even a little bit longer.” That depressing thought held them in silence for a little while, and then Miss Lydgate spoke again.
“I do hope we can get this problem sorted out, it is so vexing when I see this beautiful place threatened—this place of honesty and truth, where the best things ever created are cherished….”
She broke off, smiling at her own solemnity, as a party of undergraduates went by, in a loud tooting of bicycle horns and shouts and whoops as a First Year was deprived of a scarf which was turned into a very amateur version of a football.
“I’m sure that’s what his lordship—Lord Peter, that is to say, such a thought would never enter Viscount Saint-George’s head—would say,” Bunter said. “Saint-George is a nice lad, but it would take a dozen professors” (he waved his hand above his head as if to catch a corona of white locks) “with a dozen steam-hammers to get an idea into it.”
“The aristocracy has traditionally been a military caste,” Miss Lydgate said diffidently.
“Is that what has to happen?” Bunter asked furiously. “Raise a few people with the best of everything, give them a grand opinion of themselves, then kill of half of them to let the other half make ducks and drakes of the country?”
“If you put it that way, it does sound like figurative pheasants,” Miss Lydgate said, “As well as literal ducks.”
It had been a productive holiday for the Senior Common Room, although Miss Climpson despaired at the amount of re-typing of Chapter Seven that had been occasioned by Miss Lydgate’s re-assessment of Greek quantitative measures caused by her correspondence with Professor Amos Plumptre of the University of Ohio.
Miss Shaw had taken five students on a reading-party; Miss Pyke went on a dig and assembled some pots and urns. Apropos of urns, Miss Burrows had obtained a mock-silver cup of quite startling ugliness in a golf tournament. Miss de Vine (and an Olivetti portable typewriter) went to Flanders to copy some letters about Elizabethan trade conditions.
Miss Burrows swallowed a mouthful of coffee, grimaced, and put down her cup. “I’d quite forgotten how foul this stuff is. Yet, by the end of term, I shall be swilling it down as if it were ambrosia.”
“Our coffee fund is but a sleep and a forgetting,” Miss Lydgate said.
Only Mrs. Goodwin, the Dean’s secretary, was missing, because her fragile small son had a serious case of the measles.
“All children get measles,” Miss Hillyard said. “Hasn’t she a duty to the College?”
“When there are conflicts, it’s never easy to decide what to put first,” Miss Shaw said. “But after all, a child is a human being, and entirely dependent on its parents, whereas administrative work can be put aside for a while…”
“Well!” Miss Hillyard said. “If a woman who has undertaken domestic responsibilities wishes to place them higher than her public responsibilities, then she should hand over the work to someone else.”
“Children have fathers too, you know,” Miss Burrows said. She turned to Miss Edwards, the Science tutor. “What has your Mr. H.G. Wells to say about that? Once machines take over all the work, will men start changing nappies and pushing perambulators and worrying about measles?”
“If that’s what’s going to happen, I daresay there’d be mechanical nannies as well,” Miss Edwards said.
“I’m fed up with the inferiority complexes running rampant,” Miss Hillyard said. “We talk a good game about careers and independence, but in practice women who damn well should know better act as if any woman who produces offspring has made herself worthy of idolization. Every time you hear of an engagement, or a marriage, or child, you launch into a perfect dithyramb about ‘real life’ and how splendid it is that our alumnae haven’t unfitted themselves for the life of an ignorant peasant.”
“Mrs. Goodwin has tendered her resignation,” the Dean said. “I have refused to accept it. She says that she isn’t giving her full attention to her work. I said that even at half-strength I can’t do without her.”
“People who can’t do their work ought to step aside so it can be done properly,” Miss Hillyard said.
“But what about that play of Shaw’s?” Miss Edwards said. “Someone who is a great artist, but a perfectly dreadful husband. Which, proverbially, even mediocre artists are.”
Miss Burrows said, “I tell you what would be immoral—if someone who thinks he could paint great pictures paints rotten ones instead, just to keep the pot boiling. It would be a betrayal of truth.”
Miss Edwards shrugged. “What would you say to a popularized scientific book, then? It might not be at the cutting edge of scientific discovery, but it could be awfully useful in dispelling popular ignorance about science. It’s shocking how little people know—or rather, the medieval nonsense that they think they know.”
“That’s a poor analogy,” Miss Hillyard said. “A popular book may be quite honestly prepared and, if the author gives enough explanations, may represent a scientific field accurately for the layman. The appropriate parallel would be a scientist who pre-judged the results of his or her experiment, or who didn’t have accurate results because of carelessness.”
“Isn’t there a book like that as well?” Miss Edwards asked.
“Yes, ‘The Search,’ by C.P. Snow. It’s the book—one of the books, anyway—that the Poltergeist attacked,” Dr. Baring said.
“It was charged out to Jenny Milverton, the County Council Scholar,” Miss Lydgate said. “She’s dreadfully poor, and worried to death about having to pay to replace the book. I went right round and purchased another copy and presented it to the librarian, who has yet to stop fussing about how much it costs to catalogue a new copy of a book.”
“I don’t visualize the readers of the twenty-sixth century plaintively searching for the Snows of yesteryear, but you can’t quarrel with the thesis of the book,” Dr. Baring said.
“People quarrel about anything!” Miss Burrows said. “Sometimes just for the sake of it, but sometimes because they are genuinely attached to their point of view.”
“And we are instructed, by books and films, that it is the height of bliss for a woman to have men quarreling over her,” Miss Hillyard said. “It is popularly supposed to be a feminine trait.”
“And we are supposed to be continually in need of masculine attentions for our protection,” Miss Edwards said.
“Oh, but…surely there are real dangers,” Miss Climpson said. “Men’s greater physical strength…one does here of such dreadful things from the Mission fields…”
“It is a curious thing,” Miss Lydgate said, “That when a man’s honor is at stake, many things could be intended. Yet in the case of a woman, ‘honor’ is narrowly interpreted in only one sense.”
“’She offered her honor, he honored her offer, and all night long it was honor and offer,’” Miss Chilperic said surprisingly, then glanced at Miss Climpson and blushed.
“But men and women both have souls and bodies too!” Miss Climpson said. “And surely it is to be expected that both are capable of…edification as well as education. From their teachers, and their pastors…from books!”
“Well, to circle back to what we were talking about before,” Miss Edwards said, “I can’t think of anything more dreadful than for a man to do something criminal, or disgraceful, and put it all on me and then expect me to be grateful for it.”
“But I’m sure that many women would be flattered,” Miss Climpson said. “That a man did it for their sake, I mean.”
“Is that you, Miss Lydgate?” Jerry whispered.
“Fortunately for you, it is,” said the rival of his watch.
There was a soft thud, and Jerry swore, dashed back, and fell onto the flagstoned floor. Miss Lydgate took the torch out of her handbag and switched it on. “Are you all right?”
“Just startled, and I don’t think I landed on the bits from the motor-smash. But…what the bloody hell—sorry, Miss Lydgate—was that?”
There was a dark figure dancing in mid-air.
“Morbid kind of imagination someone’s got,” Jerry said. Miss Lydgate’s heart slowed down from its gallop when she saw it was only a dummy, dressed in an M.A. gown, hanging from a noose. “Bread-knife through the tummy as well, as if hanging was too good for it,” he said.
“The bread-knife serves as a fastener,” Miss Lydgate said.
The knife transfixed a piece of paper that said:
Tristius haud illis monstrum nec saevior ulla
pestis et ira deum Stygiis sese extulit undis.
Virginei volcrum vultus foedissima ventris
proluvies uncaeque manus et pallida simper
“I’ve got ‘monstrum,’ Jerry said, and a memory—something about Cracow?—drifted through his mind. But I don’t suppose ‘uncaeque’ really could be cake, or rather not-cake, if that’s a word in Latin either.”
Despair engulfed Miss Lydgate. “Harpies,” she said. “Well, that makes it more likely that these outrages were perpetrated by a member of the Senior Common Room. I don’t think the scouts know Latin. But…the dons are all women I’ve worked and lived with for all of my adult life. I can’t believe that any of them would be so wicked, or so…heartless. Or that they could be surrounded by the wisdom of this wonderful place, and…hate it so.”
“Sleuth we must, Kate—Miss Climpson,” Miss Lydgate said. “I promise to be on my best behaviour, particularly in front of a witness.”
“Oh, dear!” Miss Climpson said. “I hope—I am sure you understand that—although I don’t quite share—well, our friendship means the world to me.”
“Please forgive me for imperiling it. The fault was all mine.”
“Ought we to return to the matter at hand?”
“Of course. It’s difficult to imagine any of the scouts relieving their wounded feelings in Virgilian hexameters. And I wonder if anyone but another scholar would understand precisely how dreadful, how very nearly unforgivable, it is to deface a manuscript. So I suppose we must examine the motivations and movements of my colleagues. As you heard in the SCR, my colleagues are—or profess to be, at any rate—unanimously devoted to the pursuit of intellectual truth. The question is how far they would go to maintain that belief. Perhaps any virtue, being exaggerated, can lead to…instability. I have asked Miss de Vine to join me here for a cup of coffee, and I should like you to be there to confirm my observations.”
“I’ve heard some good news,” Miss Lydgate said. “Mrs. Goodwin—“ she said, turning to Miss Climpson—“The Dean’s secretary, you see—will be back on Monday to cope with the end-of-term rush. Her little boy was ill, you see, but he’s better now and she can return to work. It’s so dreadfully difficult, isn’t it, when one’s emotions conflict with intellectual interests?” Miss Lydgate shuddered, remembering the peculiar emphasis that Miss Hillyard had given to her remarks on the same subject.
“Women are steeled to being neglected,” Miss de Vine said, “So when a man puts his work first, no one is surprised, not even his family.”
“I’ve often been told that I’m ‘a Bear of very little brain,’” Miss Climpson said, “But it must be perfectly horrible to have both a heart and a brain but not know which to put first.”
Miss de Vine shrugged. “To make trivial mistakes is, proverbially, human. But a fundamental mistake is a sign of a genuine lack of interest. One ought to direct one’s efforts elsewhere, if one’s attention is lacking. If there’s any subject in which you’re satisfied with the second-rate, then it isn’t your subject. Or, for that matter, any subject where you aren’t passionately concerned with finding the absolute truth. If you’ll tolerate the sloppy, or even the nearly-good-enough, then it isn’t your subject.”
“Well, one must have some concern for the feelings of others,” Miss Lydgate said. “And work that one wouldn’t be proud of one’sself might be the best that someone else was able to accomplish.”
Miss de Vine turned to Miss Climpson. “You should have seen her review of Professor Elkbottom’s slim volume on Herrick’s influences. So scathing that I am grateful that I have never been seated between them at the High Table.”
“Oh, well, I am so glad not to be diplomat, because the one thing I can’t do is say that someone’s wretched book really is a worthwhile work of scholarship,” Miss Lydgate said. “Though in these days, I quite see how someone might have to scant on doing the very best work, in order to earn a living.”
Miss de Vine looked down and stirred her teacup until even homeopathy would concede that no more agitation was called for. “It’s rather like what George Eliot said about agnosticism, isn’t it? ‘Duty is peremptory and absolute.’” I suppose someone who fails to be a good scholar might, in some senses, be a good man. One may commit all the sins in the calendar and still be faithful and honest toward one person. In which case, I suppose that person must be one’s proper job.”
“You know, I was raised to believe that a girl must marry whenever she has an acceptable offer, but I suppose one oughtn’t to marry anybody, unless one’s prepared to make him a full-time job,” Miss Climpson said, wondering if any of the curates or tradesmen or lieutenants who had brushed past her path had been destined to be her proper job. And what she identified as a tiny devil on her shoulder whispered that perhaps there would have been little Job Satisfaction if he had been. From time to time, she had resided in boarding-houses with a mixed clientele, and could not honestly say that the bachelors and widowers thus encountered exhibited any great superiority to their spinster and widow opposite numbers.
“But there must be people who think of a spouse as a fellow-creature, not a work assignment,” Miss Lydgate said. She smiled. “Particularly in light of the Slump…”
Miss Climpson said, “There are wives who are jealous of their husbands’ work, and husbands who are jealous of their wives’ interests—even quite harmless things, like fancywork or the Women’s Institute—so I suppose there are many people who do think of themselves as jobs.”
“Ah, but the worst of that is the devastation wrought on one’s character,” Miss de Vine said. “Whether to believe that one’s spouse or children are all that matters in the world, so any sort of ruthlessness or baseness is justified, or to believe that being someone else’s job excuses one any sort of independent participation in the world.”
“It’s rather romantic, though,” Miss Climpson said. “We two against the world, and that sort of thing. Although the discussion in your Common Room very much ran against me.”
“It’s not romantic,” Miss de Vine said. “It’s positively dangerous. Not merely to the bystanders, but—look at Desdemona!—to the person who inevitably fails to live up to the intolerable expectations of the other.”
For a moment, Jerry wondered if he were inadequately kitted out in his bathing costume. The two ladies wore flowered frocks and bedecked straw hats, and Bunter wore his usual dark suit and bowler. But then he glanced around at the other undergraduates in the punts on the river, and remembered past steps into the same moving water, and decided that he was quite comme il faut. He certainly drew some admiring glances, which he reciprocated with an Apollonian smile.
Miss Lydgate opened a notebook, in which a schedule had been written, with a good deal of crossing-out, in several colors of ink. “The incidents began at the Gaudy. That would have cast suspicion on the old students who traveled here for the Gaudy, but these outrages have continued. A few students were present at that time, and remain continuously present. Residents outside the College must be excluded, because several of the papers have been pushed under doors at night, and inscriptions of an insulting or obscene nature have been discovered in the morning on walls that were unsmirched the previous night.”
“You’re off the hook then, Miss L,” Jerry said cheerfully.
“I! My dear Lord Saint-George…oh, well, I suppose the law is no respecter of persons. So, we can ascertain by the times at which incidents have occurred that the First Years are quite excluded. The wrongdoer must have been either a member of the Senior Common Room—I am sorry to say that at times Miss Hillyard sounds positively unbalanced, but she is fanatical in her devotion to the University—or one of those few students waiting up for vivas, or..”
“Can’t be one of the scouts,” Jerry said, kneeling to fuss with the gramophone. “I mean, it’s in the Decalogue. Murders have to be done by a worthwhile sort of person, y’know.”
“There has been no murder here,” Bunter said darkly. He had not enjoyed the Apollonian smiles. “At least, not yet.”
Miss Lydgate gazed at him curiously, then gave the tiniest of smiles and a near-imperceptible hand-wave, assuming that Lysistrata would be offered in modern dress that evening.
For a moment, Bunter looked even more furious. Who in Hell was she to forgive him? But then he forced his face to relax. A lot more chaps were in Wormwood Scrubs for being peached on than for being tolerated. “I seldom read detective-stories,” Miss Lydgate lied. “But is it not conventional for the butler to be the guilty party?”
“But then he’s not really a butler,” Jerry said. “He’s somebody’s long-lost brother, or some sort of toff, anyway. But definitely not a Chinaman. It says that in the Decalogue too.”
“The scouts are quite closely vetted before being hired,” Miss Lydgate said. “As are even the charwomen who come by the day. But they do not have the opportunity to come and go at all times, and many of the incidents occurred when they were not on the premises. Most of the scouts sleep in their own wing, which is locked at night.”
“Never thought about it,” Jerry said, “But it’s like being jugged even for ones who ain’t done this, y’know. Or like a zoo full of wild beasts….grrrrrr!”
“However, in this case at least it was fortunate, because it clears them of suspicion.”
Miss Climpson, ever eager to pour oil on troubled waters, not least when disturbance to the punter might land them in actual waters, steered the discussion back to the Poltergeist. “The question is, why would anyone carry out these outrages?”
“I don’t think there was a grudge against one person in particular,” Bunter said. “It seems to be a sort of blind malevolence against the College as a whole. Perhaps against groups or communities of women.”
“It could be someone who believes that the College has injured her—well, the plausible suspects are all female, are they not?—in some way. Or a person whose mind is disturbed,” Miss Lydgate said.
“Is there anything to be learned from the letters themselves?” Bunter asked.
“There were no spelling errors,” Miss Lydgate said. “That is conventionally supposed to be a sign of a good education. Furthermore, linguistic analysis can distinguish between an actual error—or, perhaps, an Americanism or other variation from normal usage—and one that is fabricated to make a person appear to be ignorant or unlettered.”
“Does that mean that we can eliminate the scouts from suspicion and look only at the faculty?” Miss Climpson asked.
“I daresay the scouts spell far better than we do,” Miss Lydgate said. “But then, they may be quite well educated, and they certainly dress far better than many of the dons. Miss Shaw has a figured cretonne frock that I would happily transfix with a breadknife myself…”
“Does it signify when things happened?” Jerry asked. “I mean, why start up at the Gaudy when simply by waiting ‘till Term time there would be lots of girls who could be dropped right into it?”
“I find that suggestive as well,” Miss Lydgate said. “What I should like to know is whether anyone harbors animosity against Miss de Vine, because she arrived at Shrewsbury contemporaneously with the Gaudy, and has been present throughout the time that these incidents continued.”
Dame Perpetua M’Cluskie gazed tranquilly at Miss Climpson, across the table in the convent parlor.“It’s an interesting casuitical question,” she said. “An interesting psychological question as well. And I’m glad that you do not share the common misapprehension that religious are dear, unworldly innocents. I don’t see why you should feel any compunction about not feeling tempted to commit a mortal sin. I suppose a Jesuit might argue that you ought to, to prevent your friend from seducing a greater number of women.”
“This a serious question,” Miss Climpson said.
“Of course, my dear Miss Climpson. Forgive me. I don’t wish to belittle your feelings.”
“I fear that I have fallen into the sere and yellow leaf,” Miss Climpson said.
“I daresay I can absolve you from murder and high treason,” Dame Perpetua said. “Or, rather, there is no need to.” She pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and cleaned her spectacles. Miss Climpson withdrew her own handkerchief (small, cotton embroidered with bluebells at each corner, not large, plain linen) and dabbed at her eyes.
“Oh, you know what I mean. I didn’t think I had anything to look forward to. Whatever those modern novelists choose to think, not every cheap boardinghouse is an infinite source of fascination. They are much of a muchness. And she is so very dear to me.”
“The Church is quite clear that physical relations are sinful other than between man and wife. That has not changed, although our understanding of pathological constitutions has grown by leaps and bounds. We know that many people prefer the company of their own sex, and in some instances, there is also a desire for intimate relations. There are many motivations that lead a woman to embrace conventual religious life. We try to prevent those whose motives, conscious or unconscious, are wrong or unsuitable, and of course to screen out idlers who are foolish enough to think that it’s a soft option. And once we are embarked upon it, then we must forgo particular friendships—not only in the interests of avoiding immorality, but because selecting this form of life, or rather accepting the call to it, means that we must give our love to everyone we encounter, not just to one person. But to a person in ordinary lay life, the seeming paradox is that, although impurity is wrong, Love is the law of God. I’d be a fool if I thought that your example would make a churchgoer out of your friend, so I can't claim it as a recruitment measure. But, if prayerful reflection tells you that this is the right course for you to take, then I believe it can conduce to the good of your soul as well as to your happiness.”
“Who is this Arthur Robinson chap?” Jerry asked, reading the letter (poorly typed, with words inked in here and there).
“I have a number of acquaintances at the University of York,” Miss Lydgate said. “Miss Heston, who is a Reader in Sociology, has written to me to state that Arthur Robinson obtained an M.A. in History from York, and applied for the Chair of Modern History at that institution. He was already at some disadvantage socially, because there was some prejudice in favor of unmarried men, or at least men with suitable wives. Robinson, however, had married his landlady’s daughter, and they had a child and another on the way. He might nonetheless have won through and secured the post, but Miss de Vine—who, as you recall, was formerly the Provost of Flamborough--discovered that he had deliberately suppressed a vital piece of information, and, what is worse, he stole the document proving that the positions taken in this thesis were invalid. Now, it would have been bad enough to have to step back and admit an error in scholarship—I have done it myself, and found it bitterly humiliating-- but there can simply be no excuse for deliberate fabrication. He was deprived of his degree—“
“With his epaulets cut off, like Dreyfus?”
“With the considerable difference that he was neither innocent nor exiled to Devil’s Island.”
“Where did he go, then?”
“That’s just what we don’t know. Clearly at one time there was an Arthur Robinson, and he married a Miss Charlotte Clarke, and had a daughter named Beatrice, but he isn’t on the electoral register in York, and his death isn’t registered there. He isn’t in the Army or Navy Lists, and he isn’t in Crockford’s, but of course there’s no reason why he would be. And if he’s changed his name, he could be anywhere doing anything. There are plenty of dubious private schools where the fact that someone once had an M.A. and was considered a coming man would outweigh the fact that he hadn’t got it any longer—especially if he was cheap enough, and his wife was willing to give Matron a hand. As a landlady’s daughter she must know about cheese-paring and candle-ends.”
Freud’s contemporaries, in Vienna, it is said, invariably deduced that if a man walked down the street with a woman not his wife, he was having an affair with her. If he walked down the street with another man, he was a sodomite. If he walked down the street by himself, he was an onanist.
In Oxford, however, when one man was obviously a student, the other obviously an upper servant, the servant’s black coat and bowler hat were as good as a cloak of invisibility.
They paused long enough for Jerry to give lengthy and thoughtful consideration to each of the shirts and ties displayed in a haberdasher’s window. “Don’t worry, I shan’t go in and spend any of Uncle Peter’s money, I’m just looking,” he said. Eventually they passed on to a leather-and-harness shop.
“That’s what we need,” Bunter said. “A dog collar. The sort with knobs on.”
Jerry tilted his head and gazed up through his eyelashes. “D’you think so? Last time I was in Town I ran into a chap I knew at school, he’s been in Berlin, had the most amazing stories to tell…”
“What I had in mind, was your protection, if you’re going to be patrolling about Shrewsbury under cover of darkness.”
“It’s less amusin’ skulking about in a women’s college after hours when I have official permission. And I won’t even tell them that I’m the last chap in the world the girls have to worry about.”
“We know that the Poltergeist has already put a bread knife to bad use, and is a dab hand with a noose,” Bunter said. “So a degree of caution is, perhaps, in order.”
“What about you, then? Aren’t you worried about your own safety?”
“The Western Front was a bit hotter than this little lot,” Bunter said.
“You do have that air of invulnerability,” Jerry said. “It’s comforting. But also jealous-making.”
Bunter emerged from the store in a few minutes, carrying a small brown paper parcel. “The shopman said I could come back later and have my bull-terrier bitch’s name engraved on a plate on the collar, but I said that could wait. He doesn’t think much of the breed—snappy little things, he said--although I had a few words to say about stamina and a fighting heart. ”
“Bitch, eh? Takes me back to Eton,” Jerry said.
Viscount Saint-George was attending a twenty-first birthday festivity for the Hon. Richard Fettinplace, who would probably, Palliser-like, become a Duke if his 79-year-old uncle managed to drop off the branch without marrying and siring a legitimate heir. It was not, of course, a festivity at which Bunter would have been welcome.
Incorrectly perceiving that there was no investigating to be done, he betook himself to the pictures. During the newsreel, he savagely stabbed the flimsy wooden paddle at a very inferior ice cream, although he had enough self-knowledge to realize that his mood would not have been lightened even by an ice cream of a higher quality than one normally encountered in cinemas.
During the cartoons, he perceived that Annie and Carrie, each holding a hand of one of Annie’s children, had entered the cinema. After the second feature, the older girl said she wanted to sit through it all again, but the younger child vociferously declined to sit through the newsreels. Bunter followed the small party out of the cinema, raising his bowler to them.
“Lovely children, Missus Wilson,” he said.
“They’re all I have left, now that their father’s gone,” Annie said. “We wanted sons, of course, but now it’s just as well, it’s so hard to bring up boys without a father.”
Bunter turned to the girls. “And what are you going to be when you grow up?” he asked brightly, gauging the time when he could decently tip his hat and turn away.
At the same time as Annie said, “I’m bringing them up to be good wives and mothers,” Beatie said, “I want to be a mechanic and keep a garage! And ride a motor-cycle! Vroom! Vroom!”
“Don’t talk soft,” Annie said. “What’ll Mr. Bunter think of you? He’ll think you’re not a good girl.”
“Plenty of girls have men’s jobs these days,” Bunter said diffidently. “And if there’s another war—it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be—then women will have to go into the war plants and drive trams and so on.”
“What’re you doing here, anyway?” Carrie asked.
“Usually, I work for Lord Peter Wimsey, in London and in partes infidelibus…foreign parts, that is. But Lord Peter’s nephew, Viscount Saint-George is a student here at Oxford. He was in a motor smash, and his family sent me here to look after him until he’s quite well again.”
“Mr. Jukes—Annie’s children stay with his wife while she’s working you know—well, he says what we need in this country is a Hitler,” Carrie said.
Unable to prevent the emergence of his own opinion, and uncertain of his brief as a detective, Bunter said, “That is the very last thing we need! During the War, we learned that we couldn’t hate a bloke just because of where he was born, he couldn’t help that. But as Englishmen, we had to fight Kaiserism, and I am very much afraid that soon we will have to fight someone whose greed and aggression put the Kaiser to shame. And I’m not daft enough to say that England is Heaven on Earth, but we can rightly be proud to be a nation of free men. We don’t have prison camps for those whose opinions we don’t care for. We don’t have Reds and Brownshirts fighting in the streets, and I pray that we never will.”
“Oh, not their Hitler!” Carrie said. “We ought to get one of our own, and give theirs a good kick up his bottom, and put them in our Empire! Are you a Red, Mr. Bunter?”
“In my line of work, I can’t afford to be. I suppose I wouldn’t be, in any event. It may seem hard, when those who have had every privilege in life drive a posh motor into a ditch, and then all the voters do is pull them out and give them another motor to play with. But I wouldn’t give my vote to a chap who campaigns on the claim of never having so much sat at the wheel of a motor.”
“Things’ll change, you’ll see,” Annie said. “My husband was hunted to death, over a bit of nonsense when all he wanted was what every real man wants—to take care of his family. There’ll be a war, it’ll flush out the unfit, and afterwards, there’ll be places and wages for the strong men.”
“I’ve seen many a man die in the War,” Bunter said, “And I’m not sure that it wasn’t the best men that laid down their lives and the worst who survived. We were promised a Home Fit for Heroes and by God, we didn’t get it, and I expect it to be all the worse this time.”
“What’re they doing?” Carola asked Beatie, conscientiously holding her sister’s hand, trailing behind the adults as fast as their shorter legs would carry them.
“Talking about politics,” Beatie said. “Grownups always get red in the face.”
“If they think Polly is horrid and common, why don’t they just not play with her?” Carola asked.
“Well, here we jolly well are again,” Jerry said. He coughed and tried to sit up in the bed in the Infirmary. “Did you carry me here in your manly arms?”
“No such luck,” Bunter said. “By the time I arrived from patrolling my own round, most of the fun was over. Apparently Miss Climpson arrived on the scene just as the Poltergeist attempted throttling you in a darkened room. From what I have been told—and, yes, I’d have paid sixpence to see it too—Miss Climpson removed her sensible Cuban-heeled shoe, thrust it into the Poltergeist’s back, and barked, ‘This here is a shootin’ iron, so you’d better vamoose, you varmint.’ And this excursion into popular literature had the desired result of causing the Poltergeist to, well, vamoose, so unfortunately she remains at large. I ascertained that you had survived the experience, removed the collar to facilitate your breathing as well as to avoid scandal, and performed artificial respiration.”
“I’d have sat in the three-and-sixpennies to see that,” Jerry said.
“Miss Lydgate next arrived at the scene of the commotion. Miss Climpson rang up the St. John’s Ambulance Corps. Miss Lydgate rang up Dr. Baring and got her to write a line explaining that you were at Shrewsbury out of hours at her particular request.”
“Dash it!” Jerry said. “No chance of a gating, then!”
“Not for this, at any rate.”
“Too bad that Miss Climpson couldn’t have coshed the Poltergeist instead, then we’d have solved this whole business triumphantly. Or at least turned the light on.”
“A performance of ‘She Conks to Stupor’? While that would have been delightful, her immediate reaction—in which we all concur—was that preserving your life was more important than capturing the perpetrator of these pranks.”
“So we’re still nowhere, going nowhere fast,” Jerry said.
“I do have my suspicions,” Bunter told him, recounting his visit to the cinema.
“They do sound jolly sinister, Brown Shirts under their pinnies and so forth—so, do you think it’s Annie or Carrie or both of them?”
“We’re looking for someone with a perceived grievance against the University, or perhaps we should say against women’s education or educated women. And we assume that it’s something to do with the late Arthur Robinson, who was a married man with two children. We know that Annie, a widow with two children, is not merely saddened but angered by her husband’s death. Perhaps the same is true of Carrie—or perhaps he had a harem, as per ‘The Sign of Four,’—but it doesn’t seem likely. The Latin quotation is quite a famous one, so it would not be surprising for it to be found among Mr. Robinson’s books and papers, where his wife—his widow—might copy it out. It’s about harpies who snatch meat from men’s mouths, so I daresay he might often have quoted it in his troubles, or even included it in his suicide note.”
“That could explain the dress,” Jerry said. To Bunter’s interrogative eyebrows he said, “You know, the dress on that awful dummy with the knife stuck in. I should think the ladies of the SCR know each others’ frocks backwards and forwards, but Miss L. had never seen it before. But whenever they see Annie, she’s got an overall or a uniform on. In her days off, she might wear a bit of leopardskin like the girl in the Tarzan films for all they know.”
“Furthermore, the anonymous letters that came by post were always received on Mondays and Thursdays, so presumably were posted on Sunday and Wednesday—Annie’s day off and her half-day. The objection might be raised that the scouts’ wing is kept locked at night…”
Jerry waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, well, it’s always worth a few bob in the Christmas box to someone to leave the Buttery hatch open if a chap gets peckish late at night, and it must be the same for girls. Except that they’re less likely to have the few bob.”
“So I think we can conclude, as the product of our joint activities, that the woman known to us as Annie Wilson is actually Mrs. Charlotte Robinson, and that her motivation was to disconcert Miss de Vine—an aim in which she seems to have been singularly unsuccessful—and to cause disruption to a women’s college, which has indeed occurred.”
“Then you’ve cracked the case? Hurrah! You must be dashed proud of yourself.”
“Not in the least. I’ve often been sent to flirt with the odd parlourmaid,” Bunter said. “But in this case, although they are very odd indeed, I must say that I feel an absolute worm—or, as Miss Climpson in heroic mode would say, a varmint—spying on them. Oh, and Carrie said that she’d seen your photo in the picture press, splashing about in fountains and at debutante dos and that, and you were ever so handsome. I said that I wouldn’t know about that. I fairly felt like Peter—the saint, you heathen, and not your Uncle—“
“Who is no stranger to jumping into fountains, from what you told me…”
“…If not like Judas.”
“So you see, Dean, that is the conclusion we have reached,” Miss Lydgate said. “Miss Climpson has been invaluable, not only in ascertaining the facts of the matter, but in preparing this written report, which you may do with as you like.” Miss Lydgate suspected that the report would end up on the fire. She was not entirely averse to this outcome.
“Well!” the Dean said briskly. She opened the door of her office and told the scout passing through the corridor to fetch Annie Wilson at once.
“My goodness, Dean, do you think that is wise?” Miss Climpson asked.
“An accusation has been made against one of our employees, and she is by all means entitled to defend herself,” the Bursar said. “It seems quite plausible that Annie Wilson and Charlotte Ann Robinson are one and the same, but it is quite understandable that scandal and suicide might drive anyone to change her name and seek a fresh start.”
Annie entered the room, looked around, and said, “You lot!” with such contempt that Miss Lydgate briefly pressed Miss Climpson’s hand and then released it.
“My heart bleeds for those poor children!” Miss Climpson said. “Mrs. Wilson—Mrs. Robinson—how could you involve them in anything so—so—sordid as this business?”
“They knew nothing about it!” Annie said. “All they did was cut some letters out of newspapers! It was just a game to them—like all your lives is just a game to you, none of you knows a thing about real life!”
Bunter and Miss Climpson just stared at her sadly.
“I am very sorry to hear this,” the Dean said. “Let me be quite clear. Are you admitting that you are responsible for these incidents? That you are the ‘Poltergeist’?”
“Of course I’m admitting it,” Annie said. “Sounds like something out of a comic paper, doesn’t it? Go to law if you like, and see what fools it makes you look. An ignorant, uneducated woman like me, the one who scrubs your floors and fetches your cups of tea, could run rings round the lot of you.”
“We caught you in the end, you know,” Bunter said.
“Are you proud of yourself? Being the nanny for a grown man who can’t so much as fasten his own collar—you call that a man’s work? And him—for all his title and his riches—“
“Oh, if I ever paid my creditors I’d be poor as church mouse,” Jerry said.
“—nothing but a little white-faced rat who does nothing but sit about all day swilling cocktails. He’ll never do a hand’s turn, yet he’ll be on velvet all his life. And trailing around behind them, two dried-up old spinsters who couldn’t get a man and wouldn’t know what to do with one if you did. You take work away from the men, so they can’t keep their wives. You don’t know what it is to love a man, and care for him, whether he’s perfect or not. He made a mistake, and then he put away a bit of paper, so he could keep in work and care for us. It didn’t matter a rap—go out in the street and ask anyone.”
“But women exist, you see,” Miss Lydgate said. “In our own right, not merely as appendages to men or children. We are human.”
“We are children of God!” Miss Climpson said.
“And, as it happens, if you went out in the street you very well might find a don or an undergraduate or a research student,” the Dean said. “And they would all say, as Miss de Vine did, that if we care at all about learning, we care about integrity. We can’t make people take oaths as they do in a court of law, to tell the truth, so we must rely on one another.”
“Rely or don’t, it doesn’t matter to real people what airy-fairy nonsense you get up to here.”
“You wouldn’t like to take medicine if you thought that the scientist who discovered it could say just as he liked just to earn a paycheque,” the Bursar said. “Or get into a motor-car if the designer couldn’t be bothered to make it safe, or drive over a bridge if the civil engineer would rather please his supervisor to keep his post than make sure that the bridge wouldn’t collapse. There’s solid practicality for you.”
“You’ve made me jolly miserable, but I’m happy now,” Annie said. “I’ve put the cat among the pigeons, or among the cats. I made you all tremble, and wonder if it was one of you and next it’d be the knife in your back. If only you’d lost your cushy places over this, and had to scrub floors and wear pinnies and bob to a lot of fools whose ivory tower would be filthy in a fortnight without people like me.”
“You must leave now,” the Bursar said. “You’re upset, Annie. Of course there’s no question of your retaining your post, but if you come back in a day or two we shall give you your week’s wages and any personal articles.”
“Keep them,” Annie said. “I’m done with you. I’ll sweep the dust of this filthy place off my shoes.”
“Aber Sie wissen nicht, mit wem Sie reden,” Miss Lydgate whispered in her wake.
“Oh, dear God,” Miss de Vine said, getting her cigarette lit at last.
“We would all have done the same thing,” Miss Lydgate said.
“Any of you would have agreed with me that we cannot tolerate fraud. But many…well, at any rate you would, Miss Lydgate…would have taken thought for his wretched wife and children.”
“A bit like old Shylock, what?” Jerry said. “I mean, a tremendous villain and all, but when they wind up and pitch it hits you for six, dontchaknow.”
“Phew!” Jerry said. “That was an adventure! Will you be leaving us, Miss Climpson? Back to the metropolis? Do you need help with those tea-chests?”
“No,” Miss Climpson said, with a sphinx-like smile. “I will be—translating, as it were—my share of the typing bureau to Oxford. And arrangements have been made to move the tea chests to…my future home.”
“What’s going to happen to our Poltergeist?” he asked. “I saw a very discreet notice pinned to a notice board that wasn’t all that easy to find. It said something about the never-described problems coming to a definitive halt, with medical treatment underway for the never-named person who caused those vague and shadowy disturbances.”
Bunter appeared, carrying a nearly complete set of blue-and-white china from a barrow at the market. “Mr. Bunter! How very aesthetic!” she said, opening her purse to reimburse him for the purchase. Then she turned to Jerry. “You are quite right, Lord Saint-George. A situation has been found for Annie, at the Sisters of Our Lady of Good Help. They are aware of her history, and will make sure that she continues to consult the alienist, Dr. Leverett Hooper, who has agreed to undertake her treatment without a fee. I believe he intends publishing a monograph on the case. The dear Sisters operate an excellent boarding school for girls, so Beatrice and Carola can be subject to good influences most of the year, without entirely feeling that they have been torn away from their mother. Of course this will be better for them than being taken into care.”
“And Annie’s not going to get jugged?”
“I don’t think that would be the best thing at all for her innocent children, and, while what she did was very wrong, it was the product of mental imbalance…”
“Oi! Considering that I’m the one she tried to kill, someone ought to have asked me first!” Jerry said.
“I am sorry, m’lord, that decision was taken, as it were, behind your back,” Bunter said, re-wrapping teacups in sheets of newspaper that had not been used to compose poison-pen letters. “It was thought that the public perception that young noblemen are able to defend themselves against small women of the working classes should be permitted to go undisturbed.”
“Oh, very well,” Jerry said sulkily, but he didn’t really want Annie to be imprisoned. Then his brow contracted in thought. “A convent? She’s going to be working for a lot of…unmarried women who haven’t even the ghost of a chance of marrying some dried-up old geographer or a raddled country solicitor?” He whistled down the scale. “Miss Climpson, you are a fiend. I shouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of you.”
Miss Climpson, wrapping up dinner plates, said, “I believe most heartily that the good Lord will forgive all those who are sincerely penitent. But that doesn’t mean that the virtuous, much less the sinful, should have it all their own way in life.”
“I say, Bunter!” Jerry said, catching sight of him in the quad, past the Broad Street Gate. “M’uncle’s here, ain’t he?”
“Yes, m’lord,” Bunter said. “He is here to ascertain the outcome of the investigation. Miss Vane is here as well, so perhaps this little matter will be reconstituted into a detective story.”
Jerry’s face fell. “Yes, the investigation is over, isn’t it? I hadn’t really thought. And I suppose that means you’ll be going back with the Aged U.?”
“That is so.”
“Oh, bloody hell, I shall miss you,” Jerry said. “But…with your boss bobbing about all over the world, perhaps you’ll have time off? I know you can’t stay, but you can come back. Or the pair of you will be at Denver sometimes? It can’t take twenty-four hours a day, picking out Uncle Peter’s neckties and photographing his cadavers.”
“It’s not supposed to matter,” Bunter said. “To men like us. We move on.”
“When the balloon goes up—and it will any day now, won’t it?—I suppose I’ll go into the RAF straightaway. So that isn’t supposed to matter either. But it does. It matters like hell.”
The traffic lights winked at the Holywell Corner: Yes; No; Wait.
“You can fight the Germans, but you can’t fight the whole world,” Bunter said.
“Shake my hand at least,” Jerry said wildly.
A Proctor stumped past, but the sight of two men, one young and one rather older, shaking hands in New College Lane right under the Warden’s windows occasioned no derangement of his white bands or velvet sleeves.
Miss Climpson opened the door of M. and L. Turnstaff, Family Butchers (wondering briefly if they had heard of that American, Miss Borden). She had greatly missed her Englishwoman’s birthright of a roast dinner on Sundays, and was determined, as it were, to sit under her own vine and fig tree and then make rissoles out of them on Tuesday.
Feeling something of an impostor, she advanced toward the counter. She smoothed her left-hand glove over her hand. No one need know whether or not there was a wedding ring beneath. “I require a small leg of mutton,” she said. “Very small. But one of excellent quality.”
“Where are we going?” Harriet asked, glad to be going anywhere at all out of the rain.
“Messrs Woolworth,” Peter said, ceasing to hum about million-dollar babies. “Consider the Worth of the Wool, who has seen its like? It advertises that its prices are far below rubies.”
“Peter, I’m astonished that you even know of the existence of places of that ilk.”
“It’s for Miss Climpson, you see. Perhaps you know that she has left Miss Murchison in undisturbed tenure and possession of The Cattery? And set up a typing bureau here in Oxford, where she is en ménage with Miss Lydgate?”
“I had heard,” Harriet said cautiously.
“Climpers says that Miss Lydgate has nearly two dozen gramophone records, but only one saucepan—burnt the bottom out of all of them fixing milky drinks for her old father. I was diabolically tempted to buy more gramophone records…”
“Nowadays, it’s rather like having a hundred books bound in black and red,” Harriet said.
“But I thought I’d get them a saucepan or two. Woolworth’s do good ones, and they’d only be abashed if I had copper ones sent over from Dehillerin. And perhaps a fish slice. She’s awfully High, you know, so it’s fish on Fridays. Lent, too, I should think.”
“And what do you think of their…household arrangements?”
Time hitched to stop for Harriet, while continuing at its normal pace for everyone else—as if she stood outside the rain-washed High Street looking down (or as if she were once again haled into a lonely cell). In that brief and endless time she realized that she had gone from hoping Peter would say something so dreadful that she would conclude he could not love any woman for hating all of them, to fearing that he might.
“I don’t see why it’s any affair of mine, other than that I shall be hard-pressed to replace Miss Climpson’s invaluable services. But…I have supped full of horrors,” Peter said. “Nor did they end when the War did. And soon the sleep of reason will breed more monsters. After what I have seen, and what we shall all see soon, whenever anyone is happy, whenever anyone loves and is loved…”
Harried turned and touched his shoulder.
Upon this hint he spake.
When the post came, Miss Climpson alternated fusillades of furious typing with stretches of peering at the manuscript in front of her. Her first client had been Lady “Froufrou” Whitmarch. Miss Climpson was rather horrified that an undergraduate would pay—and somewhat over the odds—to have essays typed. But the girl in question was very rich and very short-sighted. She said that she had a thousand frocks and cared for none of them, but she was awfully keen to get a First, which would never happen if her essays were harder to decipher than Linear B.
The envelope was addressed to Miss Dorothea Lydgate and Miss Katherine Climpson. The large, dashing letters in emerald ink read,
“There’s no one to give me away, and it would horrify me to send you an invitation from dead people—none, I think, do there stand on ceremony—so if you want to see Peter and me married, try St. Cross Church. Miss Lydgate, you have been my Mother in Art. Miss Climpson, although Peter fondly thinks he did it all himself, you saved my life. Will you be bridesmaids?”
“She’ll be Lady Peter Wimsey!” Miss Climpson said. “What a Cinderella story!”
“I prefer to think of her as the once and future Vane,” Miss Lydgate said, shaking her head.