Lady Mary turned very white at this and glanced at Parker, who replied rather to her than to the Dowager:
“No. Lord Peter and I haven't had time to discuss anything yet.”
“Lest it should ruin my shattered nerves and bring a fever to my aching brow,” added that gentleman amiably. “You're a kind, thoughtful soul, Charles, and I don't know what I should do without you. I wish that rotten old second-hand dealer had been a bit brisker about takin' in his stock-in-trade for the night, though. Perfectly 'straor'nary number of knobs there are on a brass bedstead. Saw it comin', y'know, an' couldn't stop myself. However, what's a mere brass bedstead? The great detective, though at first stunned and dizzy from his brutal treatment by the fifteen veiled assassins all armed with meat-choppers, soon regained his senses, thanks to his sound constitution and healthy manner of life. Despite the severe gassing he had endured in the underground room—eh? A telegram? Oh, thanks, Bunter.”
Lord Peter appeared to read the message with great inward satisfaction, for his long lips twitched at the corners, and he tucked the slip of paper away in his pocket-book with a little sigh of satisfaction. He called to Bunter to take away the breakfast-tray and to renew the cooling bandage about his brow. This done, Lord Peter leaned back among his cushions, and with an air of malicious enjoyment launched at Mr. Parker the inquiry:
“Well, now, how did you and Mary get on last night? Polly, did you tell him you'd done the murder?”
Few things are more irritating than to discover, after you have been at great pains to spare a person some painful intelligence, that he has known it all along and is not nearly so much affected by it as he properly should be. Mr. Parker quite simply and suddenly lost his temper. He bounded to his feet, and exclaimed, without the least reason: “Oh, it's perfectly hopeless trying to do anything!”
Lady Mary sprang from the window-seat.
“Yes, I did,” she said. “It's quite true. Your precious case is finished, Peter.”
The Dowager said, without the least discomposure: “You must allow your brother to be the best judge of his own affairs, my dear.”
“As a matter of fact,” replied his lordship, “I rather fancy Polly's right. Hope so, I'm sure. Anyway, we've got the fellow, so now we shall know.”
Lady Mary gave a sort of gasp, and stepped forward with her chin up and her hands tightly clenched. It caught at Parker's heart to see overwhelming catastrophe so bravely faced. The official side of him was thoroughly bewildered, but the human part ranged itself instantly in support of that gallant defiance.
“Whom have they got?” he demanded, in a voice quite unlike his own.
“The Goyles person,” said Lord Peter carelessly. “Uncommon quick work, what? But since he'd no more original idea than to take the boat-train to Folkestone they didn't have much difficulty.”
“It isn't true,” said Lady Mary. She stamped. “It's a lie. He wasn't there. He's innocent. I killed Denis.”
“Fine,” thought Parker, “fine! Damn Goyles, anyway, what's he done to deserve it?”
Lord Peter said: “Mary, don't be an ass.”
“Yes,” said the Dowager placidly. “I was going to suggest to you, Peter, that this Mr. Goyles—such a terrible name, Mary dear, I can't say I ever cared for it, even if there had been nothing else against him—especially as he would sign himself Geo. Goyles—G. e. o. you know, Mr. Parker, for George, and I never could help reading it as Gargoyles—I very nearly wrote to you, my dear, mentioning Mr. Goyles and, asking if you could see him in town, because there was something, when I came to think of it, about that ipecacuanha business that made me feel he might have something to do with it.”
“Yes,” said Peter, with a grin, “you always did find him a bit sickenin', didn't you?”
“How can you, Wimsey?” growled Parker reproachfully, with his eyes on Mary's face.
“Never mind him,” said the girl. “If you can't be a gentleman, Peter——”
“Damn it all!” cried the invalid explosively. “Here's a fellow who, without the slightest provocation, plugs a bullet into my shoulder, breaks my collar-bone, brings me up head foremost on a knobbly, second-hand brass bedstead and vamooses, and when, in what seems to me jolly mild, parliamentary language, I call him a sickenin' feller, my own sister says I'm no gentleman. Look at me! In my own house, forced to sit here with a perfectly beastly headache, and lap up toast and tea, while you people distend and bloat yourselves on mixed grills and omelettes and a damn good vintage claret——”
“Silly boy,” said the Duchess, “don't get so excited. And it's time for your medicine. Mr. Parker, kindly touch the bell.”
Mr. Parker obeyed in silence. Lady Mary came slowly across, and stood looking at her brother.
“Peter,” she said, “what makes you say that he did it?”
“Shot—you?” The words were only a whisper.
The entrance of Mr. Bunter at this moment with a cooling draught dissipated the tense atmosphere. Lord Peter quaffed his potion, had his pillows re-arranged, submitted to have his temperature taken and his pulse counted, asked if he might not have an egg for his lunch, and lit a cigarette. Mr. Bunter retired, people distributed themselves into more comfortable chairs, and felt happier.