The day nurse had fed Small Peter, left him for an hour to the ministrations of his father and his uncle while she did whatever nurses do in a nursery, then reclaimed her charge, and presumably put him to bed.
Silence from the rear of the flat and the click of the door closing signified a contented infant and the nurse leaving for the night.
Charles Parker and Peter Wimsey had enjoyed a pleasant evening together. Charles had watched with indulgence as his friend crawled about the floor as a bear, or possibly a lion, for Peterkin's amusement, occasionally taking on his own role of hunter or perhaps it was zookeeper. He could hardly be sure.
Whichever it was, it had pleased the other two participants mightily, and Charles could not help but hope that the young lady who had been toying with his brother-in-law's affections might be induced to make him an honest man. It was time and past for Peter to have small versions of himself to lead astray, rather than his nephews.
Charles expressed the sentiment - the part about the nephews, although he omitted any mention of Harriet. He was, after all, a man who liked a quiet life.
Peter chuckled. "Babysitting and unclehood is all very well, but a pack of brats of my own - well. It would be fun to walk 'em all in the park, and to be able to front one's own cricket team, but what about the rest of the time? And I don't know at all how Bunter is with children, don't you know."
Charles gave a crack of laughter. "He's not a field spaniel, man."
Peter looked abashed, then laughed himself. "You know what I mean. It's not that he bites - but I'm not at all sure he approves of 'em as house-pets, Charles. And if Bunter left me -- " Peter broke off and shook his head.
Charles nodded and stared into the fire. If Bunter left Peter - well. He had not known Peter in the terrible time after the war, but even after so many years, the edges showed. Charles had seen Bunter steady the ever-flighty Peter with a look, and had seen in a thousand ways how his brother-in-law depended on his man.
"I think it would take more than a child or two to make him leave you."
"I suppose I shall put it to the test eventually." Peter gave an enigmatic smile and turned to the port. "Another, old chap?"
Charles indulged. Between work and family life, an evening such as this was rare, and Wimsey was one of his few close friends. A strange thing, life.
A fine port, an excellent cigar and the kind of conversation only found between educated men who share a passion left both mellow and sated. "We must do this more often," Charles said impulsively.
"Babysit?" Peter's eyes twinkled. After all, it was the absence of Mary at a women's reading which had prompted this night. "Anytime. I am at Small Peter's command."
Charles gave a short laugh. "If we do it too often, he will be spoiled beyond management."
As if on cue, a wail arose from the next room. Charles frowned. "It's not like him to fret. A moment."
He went out and the wailing continued. Peter was considering whether to follow when Charles re-entered, looking flustered, carrying a red-faced infant who bore little resemblance to the smiling imp who had so recently crawled about the floor in his uncle's wake.
"Here," Charles said, thrusting the child at Peter. "See if you can't soothe him. He wants none of me."
But Peterkin wanted nothing of his uncle either, nor a stuffed bear, nor yet the carefully prepared bottle left - just in case - in the nursery.
"It's been half an hour, man." Peter jiggled the infant experimentally and looked into the screwed up, scarlet face. "What a set of lungs. I suppose he can't explode or anything?"
"Scotland Yard has never had a case of it, at any rate," Charles said, with a flash of humour. "Mary shan't be home until very late, you know -- I don't suppose your Miss Vane would answer her telephone at this hour, and come to the aid of a couple of gentlemen in distress"
Peter blanched and hurriedly handed the baby back to Charles. "Our relationship is not such that I would ask her," he said with some stiffness, then smiled. "Anyhow, I don't believe she has much experience with babies. Listen, I'll ring up Bunter. He'll know what to do."
"But you said he wasn't good with children!" But Charles was talking to Wimsey's back as he headed for the hall, and the telephone.
Bunter knocked on the door of the flat some short time later, and entered without waiting for an invitation. He was confronted with two frazzled looking men discussing, in exasperated tones, the best way to make the baby drink, while a furious-looking infant batted at the bottle wielded by Peter with determination.
Bunter's quiet, modulated tones cut through everything. Even the baby stopped wailing to listen. "Allow me, your lordship." Bunter took the baby in one arm, the bottle in the other hand, turned and exited the room. A young woman in a light blue coat followed him in silence.
Peter and Charles looked at each other, then , as silence continued from the nursery end of the house, dropped into chairs. Peter started to laugh, and a moment later, so did Charles.
"Parenthood is tougher than it appears," opined Peter, and Charles nodded.
"I know it, and yet I never give Mary enough credit. She can soothe him in a moment."
"It is natural, as I believe, for a mother to be able to comfort her child." Bunter smoothly re-entered the room and straight away tidied and replaced, and in an instant the room was comfortable and easy again.
Peter, used to Bunter's magic, grinned and stretched like a comfortable cat. "Ah, Bunter. You are a man of many talents."
"I required Miss Climpson to provide a Young Person experienced in the care of children. I believe a wet baby cries, and also, as I have been instructed, the milk must be heated or the child will not take the bottle."
"You're right, man." Charles sat up in consternation. "Mary always warms his bottle. What was I thinking?"
Bunter turned from the sideboard with two glasses of port. A few moments later Charles and Peter were as comfortable as ever, the fire tended, the room in order. Bunter had quietly retired to wherever good servants go -- probably Mary's kitchen -- and the temporary nurse had Small Peter fast asleep in his crib.
"This babysitting lark," Peter said comfortably, holding his port up to the light. "It's all in the preparation."
Charles chuckled heartily. "You can say that again, man."