Lord Peter Wimsey let himself into his flat at 110A Piccadilly, hung up his hat and coat, and entering the library in search of a restorative drink after a heavy afternoon spent wrangling with his agent, the town council, and the Christadelphians over the desirability of a local pub for his new estate, found himself brought unexpectedly face to face with the back of a large item of furniture that had certainly not been there that morning. Edging round to the front it was discovered to be standing on the remains of brown paper and draped with an elderly blanket. The neatly cut and coiled string on the top, level with his head, suggested the previous if not present involvement of Bunter. The object itself suggested a mystery. Naturally therefore, Wimsey’s first step was to remove the string and knife, his second to remove the blanket.
“Yes, my lord?”
“Bunter, what is this doing here?”
“It was delivered this morning, my lord.”
“Were we expecting it?”
“Not to my knowledge, my lord.”
“Nor to mine, and yet it is here. Bunter, why did you not send it away again? Have you known me these fifteen years, daily serving my bacon and eggs and selecting my ties, only to think that I might possibly have purchased this object?”
Bunter’s face took on a wounded expression. “Certainly not, my lord.”
“Then I ask again, why is it here and not decorating the back of a van on the return from whence it came?”
Bunter opened one of the hideous doors, and retrieved a long slim envelope. “This was addressed to your lordship.”
The paper was elegant, as was the French and feminine hand, and the envelope was not scented. Wimsey looked more closely at the cabinet, and felt the terrifying stirrings of recognition.
How are you? Surprised, I imagine. I hope I have amused you. I am changing my flat - I find Paris so hot - I ought to have done it years ago - and redecorating in a modern style. But I couldn’t bear to sell this, and recalling how much you admired it, I thought you might like to have it. You certainly ought to remember it, after that month
[The rest of the letter deals with matters unnecessary for the recounting of this story.]
“Dear God,” said Wimsey, “it appears to be a present.”
“Indeed, my lord?” Bunter’s eyebrows supplied a model of studied neutrality.
“Don’t give me that Jeevesian stuffed-fish look. You know who it’s from, you can recognise the writing.” He clutched his head in his hands. “I was eighteen, damn it, and my father’s idea of modern interiors was taking a few stuffed heads off the wall. What the hell are we going to do with it?”
Bunter inclined his head momentarily in the direction of the window.
“I can’t do that. Not that she’s likely to visit, she hates England, but it feels rather ungrateful. No, we need to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve hurling the thing onto the cobbles.”
Bunter, who had been closely inspecting the doors to a degree that made Wimsey marvel at his fortitude, looked speculatively at the light hinges. “If it were possible to fashion a set of removable panels to sit over the illustrations, it might be placed in the spare bedroom.”
“They’d fall off,” said Wimsey gloomily. “Maybe it’s a curse. I don’t think I’ve crossed any witches later, but you never know.
Witches, thought Bunter, considering the object, were all too likely. It was not even particularly well-made. The wood was all right, and the drawings, illustrating eight positions of intimate congress, tolerable anatomically plausible, but the colours were vile and as a piece it sang loudly of the export market.
“Perhaps,” he said with the merest hint of desperation in his voice, “it might be satisfactorily stored at Denver?”
Their eyes met. “Not that it wouldn’t be almost worth it to see Helen’s reaction,” said Peter, “but I think perhaps not.”
“No,” said Bunter, reflectively.
“What we really need,” Wimsey continued, “is somewhere that might be retrieved at will, but that no-one could possibly see it.”
There was a pause.
“Perhaps,” began Wimsey.
“If I may suggest,” said Bunter. A lordly hand begged him to continue, “I had mentioned to your lordship that the existing cupboards in the dark room have become inadequate.”
“So you did. This would, er, serve, would it?”
Bunter shrugged delicately, “It is dark, my lord, and though the aesthetic qualities are perhaps of dubious merit, viewed solely on a functional plane it is sturdy enough and would do very well for the storage of dry materials.”
“You’re the one who’ll have to live with it. That sounds most satisfactory. Tell me Bunter, did you mention a new enlarging lens the other day?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“I think you might order it. Oh, and get the service people to send up a trolley so we can shift it tonight. That new girl strikes me as rather shockable, and the management haven’t recovered from the incident with the leg. Besides, I do have some reputation for taste and decency to maintain.”