Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I love London so,
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I think of 'er wherever I go.
I get a funny feeling inside of me
Just walking up and down.
Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner
That I love London Town.
My dear Marjorie,
I am delighted to hear that you will, after all, be coming down for the shooting next month. A little bird tells me that it was the mention of Lord Grummidge that did it, although of course I should be the last person to impute your change of heart to any ulterior motives! He would certainly be a good catch – really rather good-looking, if one disregards the squint - and of course those munitions factories made him an absolute fortune along with the title. He is a trifle rough around the edges, to be sure – breeding will out, no matter how many Prime Ministers one rubs shoulders with – but beggars can't be choosers, and frankly we are all beggars nowadays, what with these dreadful taxes and the cost of labour. You would think that with all these surplus men washing around it would be easy to find workers, but you would not believe what sort of wages they expect. Army pay has quite spoiled them.
But enough of our troubles. The main thing, dear Marjorie, is that you will be attending what I believe will be the highlight of this autumn's calendar (although Gerald, of course, is doing his best to sabotage my efforts by insisting that the birds are the main thing and that no one will want more entertainment in the evening than a quiet game of cards. If it were up to him the party would consist of nothing but hearty sportsmen who never get out of their gumboots and smoke in the library at all hours, but I have a prevailed upon him to include a few carefully selected friends, including the new Bishop, who is said to be rather a good egg and very sound on that ridiculous business of giving women the vote).
As for this absurd rumour about Peter moving to Town, I cannot think where you heard that! Obviously, in his present state, it would be quite impossible. It's true that he is a great deal better than he was – although considering what he was like, that isn't saying very much – but he couldn't possibly be allowed into society. Quite aside from the fact that it would be a great deal too stimulating to his nerves, one shudders to think what might happen if he had one of what my mother-in-law calls his "bad moments" in public. Too, too ghastly. If you ask me, the ideal solution would be a quiet little cottage somewhere suitably far away, where there was no risk of anyone seeing him – the Yorkshire hunting lodge would be ideal, if Gerald weren't so insistent that he needs it himself. My mother-in-law could take care of him. I'm sure she wouldn't mind being slightly isolated if it were for her darling Peter's sake. It's frankly disgusting the way she clucks over him, whereas I believe Gerald could expire right in front of her and she wouldn't even notice. I don't believe she ever had maternal feelings for any of her children but him; she's certainly far too wrapped up in him to pay any attention to her grandson. But Gerald won't hear of sending Peter to Yorkshire, so we are stuck with him for the moment.
And now, dear Marjorie, do tell me about your trip to Athens…
Helen, Duchess of Denver, signed her name with neat precision and put down her pen with a satisfied sigh. Getting things off her chest had made her feel a great deal better about the whole tiresome situation. She would have felt a great deal less satisfied if she had known with what warm enthusiasm "this absurd rumour" was at that very moment being debated two storeys beneath her feet.
"If you want my opinion," said Mary, the under housemaid, giving a plate a last vigorous rub with the tea towel, and adding it to the stack on the table, "I think living in Town would do his lordship the world of good. I know it would me."
"No one does want your opinion, though," said William, the boot boy, who was sitting on a stool by the fireplace, ostensibly polishing shoes, but in reality keeping out of the way of Mrs Sweetapple, the housekeeper, who was on the hunt for someone to dig mould out of the cracks in the pantry tiles. As for any further, Mary-related motivations, he was keeping them firmly under wraps. No grown lad of seventeen wants to be caught mooning after the object of his affections like a stray puppy.
"You're getting it anyway," said Mary, with a toss of her head. She was sixteen, and so pert that Mrs Sweetapple despaired of her. "Her grace should let him go, that's my opinion. What's he got to do down here but sit around and mope? There's no theatre, there's no music hall, there's no clubs, there's no…" - she hesitated for a moment, trying to imagine what other delights a metropolis like London might hold – "there's no circuses," she finished triumphantly. "It's no wonder he's broody. Don't you think so, Mrs Ruddle?"
"Are you gossiping again, Mary?" demanded Mrs Sweetapple, making a majestic entrance into the kitchen. Mrs Ruddle, who had put down her vegetable knife to consider Mary's question, discovered that she was in urgent need of parsley and hurried out to pick some. William shrank back into the shadows of the fireplace, and Mary seized another plate. Mrs Sweetapple, however, was not to be fooled by this sudden industry.
"If you want to go out on your half day on Wednesday," she said severely, "then you'd better watch your tongue. You know I won't have gossips in any establishment of mine."
"I was just saying," Mary defended herself, "that his lordship would be ever so much better off in Town, like Mr Bunter suggested."
"Mr Bunter," said Mrs Sweetapple icily, "is merely a servant, whatever he may wish to believe, and it is no business of his where his lordship chooses to reside. I can't think what got into his head that he should go enquiring after flats in the first place. If you ask me, her grace should have dismissed him on the spot. Besides," she added, sitting down at the table and making herself comfortable, "her grace is naturally concerned that his lordship might have one of his little turns if she isn't there to look after him."
"He'd have Mr Bunter, though," said Mary. "I shouldn't mind having Mr Bunter look after me," she added with a giggle, and William scowled at the boot in his hand and rubbed it with a great deal more vigour than necessary.
"Oh, dear me, no, it would be a dreadful risk," said Mrs Sweetapple. "Supposing he did himself a mischief? Young Mr Pettigrew-Robinson did away with himself, you know. He was found in the summer house three months after he came home with a great big hole in his head. It was a terrible scandal, though they tried to hush it up."
"If his lordship was going to do himself a mischief, I'm sure it'd be easier here than in Town," objected Mary. "There's guns all over the place."
"His grace keeps the gun cabinet locked for that very reason," said Mrs Sweetapple. "I'm sure he couldn't be more careful."
"Yes, but there's to be a shooting party next month," said Mary, "and some of those gentlemen leave their guns lying any old where. And what if all that shooting and dead partridges everywhere makes him go doolally again? Town's much safer, I'm sure. Oh well, it makes no difference either way. Her grace won't let him go, and that's that. She'd have him in baby clothes, she would, given half a chance."
"Who would have whom in baby clothes?" said a stern voice, and Mary let out a little scream.
"Oh, Mr Bunter, it's you. How long have you been standing there? Mrs Sweetapple and me was just talking about… about my sister's little boy, wasn't we, Mrs Sweetapple?"
Mrs Sweetapple, slower at thinking on her feet, reddened noticeably and then said, "I have reprimanded you before, Mary, for talking on the job. You may consider your half-day cancelled. Good morning, Mr Bunter. I trust there will be nothing to prevent your attending their graces at tea this afternoon? I am going into the village, as you know, and I had rather hoped that this time I should be able to carry out my errands without any little difficulties presenting themselves."
"I was unaware, Mrs Sweetapple," said Bunter, "that there had been any difficulties last time beyond those caused by your accidentally locking his lordship into his room. However, I did not come here to discuss your inadequacies as a housekeeper." He turned to the silent figure lurking by the fireside. "William, if you will step out here with me for a moment, I wish to have a word with you."
"Well," said Mrs Sweetapple, as the door closed behind the men's departing backs, "I can't deny that if his lordship did move to Town, it would have the advantage that certain persons would have to go with him."
"… had the fire built up in his room, so he'll be quite warm," said the Dowager Duchess, anxiously, "but I do think it was a mistake for Gerald to take him out hacking, because he might have taken it into his head to gallop off if he got stung by a horsefly or something, and I really don't think I would describe Horace as a quiet horse - we had terrible trouble finding another blacksmith after he kicked the last one in the head – oh dear, here I am rabbiting on, and your cup's empty. More tea?"
Helen Denver inclined her head in assent. These weekly teas with her mother-in-law were excessively tiresome, but one could hardly decline the invitation, not with the Dower House being so inconveniently close. Gerald, of course – typical man - had wangled his way out of the visit yet again, leaving her to bear the brunt. Still, at least this time she didn't have to put up with her brother-in-law and his alarming switches between babbling conversation and impenetrable silence. Peter, it appeared, was having one of his "bad days" and would not be coming downstairs.
Of course the teapot would be empty. Bunter murmured his regret at keeping her grace waiting and melted away to fetch a fresh pot. At least someone in this household knew how to behave appropriately, and didn't think that Peter's having a bad day meant that no one else in the world mattered. The Dowager was already off again, spouting some nonsense about how delicate and sensitive Peter had always been – Peter, in Helen's opinion, was about as sensitive as a brick; he certainly had a hide like rhinoceros when it came to hints about what was due to the family, and it was absolutely typical of him that instead of being improved by a stint in the army, he'd come back in a state that might have been designed to cause maximum inconvenience to everybody – so that Helen found herself listening longingly for Bunter's tread on the carpet. At least that would interrupt her mother-in-law's flow of nonsense for a few moments.
When at last he brought in the pot, she was so thankful she even went so far as to smile at him.
Mary, coming into the garden room to collect the tea things, was so startled by the sound of a shot gun going off right outside the window that she almost dropped a cup. Her reaction was nothing compared to Mr Bunter's, though. He had just brought the Duchess a fresh pot of tea, and at the sound of the blast he started so violently that the liquid went all over her grace's lap.
Her grace let out a shriek that could be heard all the way to the kitchens, and Mr Bunter seized a napkin and dabbed ineffectually at the brown stain.
"I do apologise, your grace," he said, his face pale with shock. "I did not intend – it was the shot – "
Mary had never seen Mr Bunter so flustered. He paused in mid-dab, the hand that held the napkin visibly trembling, and then said in horror-struck tones, "His lordship! If he heard that! Would your grace be so good as to excuse me?"
"Of course, Bunter, of course you must go to him," said her grace, in alarm. "I'll be along as soon as I've dealt with - quickly, Helen, we must get you under cold water before that tea scalds you."
"I'm not scalded at all," said her other grace, crossly. "Just very wet."
"The tea must be cold," said the Dowager Duchess. "Well, that's a blessing under the circumstances, but I can't think what got into Bunter, serving cold tea. I do hope Peter didn't hear it. If a silly little bang can give Bunter the jitters like that, I dread to think how it would affect Peter. Mary, stop gawping out of the window and come and wipe up this mess.
"Yes, your grace," said Mary, but as she moved away from the window she thought she detected a rustle in the shrubbery.
"Gerald," said the Duchess of Denver, surprising her husband with a nocturnal visit to his bedroom, "You must speak to your mother about Peter's moving to Town. At once."
"You needn't worry," said the Duke, "she'll never allow it." He didn't add, "Though if you ask me, it'd do him the world of good to be on his own," because he had long since learned that, where women were concerned, there was no point in voicing an opinion you were not prepared to act on.
"I mean," said his wife, "that you must persuade her to let him go. He must be out of here before the end of August."
There was, thought the Duke in bewilderment, no fathoming the feminine mind.
"I thought you were afraid he'd make a spectacle of himself," he said.
"I daresay he will," said his wife, grimly, "but at least he won't be making a spectacle of himself on my property, in front of my guests. You know how delicate his nerves are, Gerald. How on earth is he going to cope with shotguns going off all over the place? Only this morning someone let off a gun outside the house – it quite startled Bunter, who is not easily flappable – and as for Peter, well, I collared Bunter afterwards and asked him if Peter had been upset by the shot, and I'm afraid Bunter caught him trying to climb stark naked out of the bathroom window shouting 'Gott strafe England!' Suppose he does that in front of the Bishop? No, for his own sake, he needs to be somewhere well away from any bangs or shooting before the guests arrive."
Faced with the unenviable prospect of being on a war footing with either his wife or his mother, the Duke decided that he might as well follow his own conscience.
"As you wish, my dear," he said. "I shall tackle the Mater tomorrow morning."
"Thank you, Gerald," said Helen, and was so overcome with relief that she gave her husband a kiss. It encouraged Denver to the point where thought he might try pushing his luck.
"I'm thinking of going to Yorkshire next week," he said, cautiously. "See about putting the lodge in order before the season opens, don't you know?"
"That sounds like a good idea," said Helen, her mind already busy dividing London into districts where Peter might reasonably settle, and those where he should under no circumstances be allowed to reside. "I shall send Bunter up to start looking at suitable properties tomorrow. What do you think of Hammersmith?"
"It's your half day next Wednesday, isn't?" said William to Mary.
"That's right," said Mary, with a toss of her curls. "What's it to you?"
"Fancy a cream tea at the tea shop?" said William, with a grin. He put his hand into his pocket and several coins clinked audibly. "Only I just happened to come into a bit of money, see, and I thought maybe you and me could…?"
"You came into money?" said Mary sharply. "How's that then?"
"Mr Bunter give it to me," admitted William. "Only I can't tell you what for."
Mary smiled. "You don't need to," she said. "There's size seven footprints all over the shrubbery, and you're the only one with boots that small. But don't worry, I won't say anything. And seeing as you're now a man of means, William, I should be delighted to accompany you to the tea shop."