The triumph song
The nurse departed with a final admonishment not to tire the patient, leaving Peter to stare appalled at the collection of bandages, sling, and plaster of Paris enveloping the figure in the hospital bed.
‘My dear,’ he began, ‘I am most unutterably sorry, and there is nothing I can possibly say to excuse myself. How are you feeling? They told me everything will mend, but you do look – well, as if someone turned a car over on top of you.’
The black eyes blinked. ‘It’s not too bad,’ said Harriet. ‘It’s rather uncomfortable at the moment, and a frightful nuisance, but I’m not permanently maimed or anything.’
‘Thank God for that,’ he said seriously. ‘No thanks to me. I was showing off – ’
‘I realised that.’
‘And to think you defended my driving to Jerry!’
‘There is a certain irony to it,’ agreed Harriet, ‘and to the fact that having taught me to defend myself you immediately proceeded to come close to breaking my neck. You don’t think it was some sort of subconscious male protective instinct at work to prevent my going back to Shrewsbury?’
‘On the whole, I think not. My subconscious may have its unruly side, but it is vain about its driving. But I’m afraid that without you on the spot it may be difficult to prove the identity of our culprit. I must see the Warden this afternoon.’
At which nurse appeared to warn the visitor he had another ten minutes, and he lead the conversation determinedly onto lighter subjects.
It was as Peter was gathering his things to depart that Harriet remarked suddenly,
‘You know, I ought to be a great deal angrier with you.’
‘I do know, and I’m very grateful.’
‘But that’s just it: I almost feel it might wipe out gratitude for good.’ She smiled wryly. ‘Next time I try to berate you for saving my life, you’ll only have to point out that you’ve tried to kill me since.’
‘If that is to be my only punishment I shall count myself the child of good fortune. Oh! I almost forgot.’ He drew a small tissue-wrapped package from his coat pocket and set it by the water jug. ‘You can open it after I’ve gone. I’ll call again tomorrow, if I may. Good bye.’
As Peter made his way towards the gates that gave out onto Woodstock Road, it struck him rather belatedly that perhaps it would not be easy to open the cunningly-wrapped parcel containing the red queen with only one hand. It was discretion as the lesser part of valour, but her extraordinary request for the chessmen being the proximate cause of his folly, expecting the purchase to be met with unalloyed delight had seemed rather impertinent, and he had elected to funk it. As it was, Harriet had been extraordinarily generous for someone with a dislocated shoulder and a bust ankle. One might almost think – at any rate, he seemed to have done his cause no harm. Perhaps there was something to this subconscious business after all.
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