Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Clouds of Witness cont

                His passion for the unexplored led him to hunt up obscure pamphlets in the British Museum, to unravel the emotional history of income-tax collectors, and to find out where his own drains led to. In this case, the fascinating problem of a Yorkshire farmer who habitually set the dogs on casual visitors imperatively demanded investigation in a personal interview. The result was unexpected.

                His first summons was unheeded, and he knocked again. This time there was a movement, and a surly male voice called out:

                “Well, let 'un in then, dang 'un—and dang thee,” emphasized by the sound of something falling or thrown across the room.

                The door was opened unexpectedly by a little girl of about seven, very dark and pretty, and rubbing her arm as though the missile had caught her there. She stood defensively, blocking the threshold, till the same voice growled impatiently:

                “Well, who is it?”

                “Good evening,” said Wimsey, removing his hat. “I hope you'll excuse me dropping in like this. I'm livin' at Riddlesdale Lodge.”

                “What of it?” demanded the voice. Above the child's head Wimsey saw the outline of a big, thick-set man smoking in the inglenook of an immense fireplace.
An inglenook (Modern Scots ingleneuk), or chimney corner, is a small recess that adjoins a fireplace. Inglenooks originated as a partially enclosed hearth area, appended to a larger room. The hearth was used for cooking and its enclosing alcove became a natural place for people seeking warmth to gather. With changes in building design kitchens became separate rooms, while inglenooks were retained in the living space as intimate warming places, subsidiary spaces within larger rooms.

Inglenooks were prominent features of shingle style architecture, but began to disappear with the advent of central heating.              
There was no light but the firelight, for the window was small, and dusk had already fallen. It seemed to be a large room, but a high oak settle on the farther side of the chimney ran out across it, leaving a cavern of impenetrable blackness beyond.

                “May I come in?” said Wimsey.

                “If tha must,” said the man ungraciously. “Shoot door, lass; what art starin' at? Go to thi moother and bid her mend thi manners for thee.”

                This seemed a case of the pot lecturing the kettle on cleanliness, but the child vanished hurriedly into the blackness behind the settle, and Peter walked in.

                “Are you Mr. Grimethorpe?” he asked politely.

                “What if I am?” retorted the farmer. “I've no call to be ashamed o' my name.”

                “Rather not,” said Lord Peter, “nor of your farm. Delightful place, what? My name's Wimsey, by the way—Lord Peter Wimsey, in fact, the Duke of Denver's brother, y'know. I'm sure I hate interruptin' you—you must be busy with the sheep and all that—but I thought you wouldn't mind if I just ran over in a neighborly way. Lonely sort of country, ain't it? I like to know the people next door, and all that sort of thing. I'm used to London, you see, where people live pretty thick on the ground. I suppose very few strangers ever pass this way?”

                “None,” said Mr. Grimethorpe, with decision.

                “Well, perhaps it's as well,” pursued Lord Peter. “Makes one appreciate one's home circle more, what? Often think one sees too many strangers in town. Nothing like one's family when all's said and done—cosy, don't you know. You a married man, Mr. Grimethorpe?”

                “What the hell's that to you?” growled the farmer, rounding on him with such ferocity that Wimsey looked about quite nervously for the dogs before-mentioned.

                “Oh, nothin',” he replied, “only I thought that charmin' little girl might be yours.”

                “And if I thought she weren't,” said Mr. Grimethorpe, “I'd strangle the bitch and her mother together. What hast got to say to that?”

                As a matter of fact, the remark, considered as a conversational formula, seemed to leave so much to be desired that Wimsey's natural loquacity suffered a severe check. He fell back, however, on the usual resource of the male, and offered Mr. Grimethorpe a cigar, thinking to himself as he did so:

                “What a hell of a life the woman must lead.”

                The farmer declined the cigar with a single word, and was silent. Wimsey lit a cigarette for himself and became meditative, watching his companion. He was a man of about forty-five, apparently, rough, harsh, and weather-beaten, with great ridgy shoulders and short, thick thighs—a bull-terrier with a bad temper. Deciding that delicate hints would be wasted on such an organism, Wimsey adopted a franker method.
                “To tell the truth, Mr. Grimethorpe,” he said, “I didn't blow in without any excuse at all. Always best to provide oneself with an excuse for a call, what? Though it's so perfectly delightful to see you—I mean, no excuse might appear necessary. But fact is, I'm looking for a young man—a—an acquaintance of mine—who said he'd be roamin' about this neighbourhood some time or other about now. Only I'm afraid I may have missed him. You see, I've only just got over from Corsica—interestin' country and all that, Mr. Grimethorpe, but a trifle out of the way—and from what my friend said I think he must have turned up here about a week ago and found me out. Just my luck. But he didn't leave his card, so I can't be quite sure, you see. You didn't happen to come across him by any chance? Tall fellow with big feet on a motor-cycle with a side-car. I thought he might have come rootin' about here. Hullo! d'you know him?”

                The farmer's face had become swollen and almost black with rage.

                “What day sayst tha?” he demanded thickly.

                “I should think last Wednesday night or Thursday morning,” said Peter, with a hand on his heavy malacca cane.
Around the 17th or 18th century, a stout rigid stick took over from the sword as an essential part of the European gentleman's wardrobe, used primarily as a walking stick. In addition to its value as a decorative accessory, it also continued to fulfil some of the function of the sword as a weapon. The standard cane was rattan with a rounded metal grip. The clouded cane, as in the quotation below, was made of malacca (rattan stems)

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