More AU Peter and Harriet, being a sequel to Rural Pursuits post-cowpat.
The balmy pleasure of a summer’s day was somewhat spoiled when one was enjoying it not in the light frock one had put on that morning, but wrapped in an oily Burberry retrieved from the Daimler and handed over by Peter before he had absented himself behind the hedge. The frock, which was at least not new, hung forlornly on the hawthorn as the manure smeared over a large portion of the back baked dry for brushing off. Peter, who had already offered to go and drown himself, appeared to be having grave difficulty seeing the funny side of things. Given that he was not the one wrapped in an elderly coat that smelled faintly of dogs and better days, Harriet was not inclined to sympathy on that score. There should not be long to wait; the sun was blisteringly hot and Harriet rather regretted the necessity of the coat. It was not as if Peter had not seen her in considerably less on the beach at Wilvercombe, but though he had not turned a hair at the students of Shrewsbury who had once again had to be asked by the Dean not to disport themselves on the lawns in drawers and brassieres, she did not quite feel capable of pulling off the same trick herself. Besides, Peter had been wrong about the thistles, too, and to draw notice to the irreparable state of her stockings seemed an unkindness in itself.
A diffident cough sounded from the other side of the hedge.
‘Oh, Peter, I’m sorry. I was miles away. Come back in here and let’s have a cigarette or something.’
He sidled apologetically through the gate.
‘Are you sure you don’t want me to end it all in the pond? I’m afraid it too bears evidence of cows in the locality, but it looks deep enough.’
‘Quite sure; Shrewsbury has need of you. Besides, you’ve the car keys in your pocket.’
‘So I have. Let’s sit down – I think it’s all right here.’
Harriet lowered herself carefully, and tucked the coat neatly under her knees.
‘I don’t think,’ she said, ‘that if this were a novel, this would be considered an appropriate development.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ Wimsey said, with a tinge of bitterness. ‘You’ve forgotten the scene in which the hapless oaf insults the girl and demonstrates his fitness solely for the role of comic relief. I’m only surprised you haven’t demanded the car and taken off.’
‘Oh, Peter, for goodness sake stop being so maudlin! The dress doesn’t matter a bit, and you know that I know perfectly well that if you had been exerting yourself to get my clothes off you might have done it a long time ago and under vastly more convenient circumstances.’ She shrugged, suddenly self-conscious. ‘I mean, you said it yourself.’
‘So I did.’ He picked up the cigarette case, turned it over, and shoved it back in his pocket. ‘I am two fools, I know, for loving and for saying so, but one might at least endeavour not to make oneself obnoxious, and even watering places cannot excuse everything.’
‘It’s all right. I knew you wouldn’t.’
‘Did you? I shall try to take it as a compliment.’ He looked at her queerly. ‘Unless – you wouldn’t have preferred it?’
‘No, Peter, I shouldn’t prefer it. But it was very decent of you not to.’
‘I don’t know that I’d put it down to decency. More selfishness and a determination to get all that I wanted.’
She caught a glimpse of a relentlessness she had never wholly appreciated. ‘Most people settle for half.’
‘Most people are fools. Look at young Gerald. He’ll end in a pickle if he isn’t careful.’ He climbed to his feet and held out a hand. ‘Come on. I can admire you in that appalling garment for only so long. We’d better get back to Oxford - the sky’s beginning to get a bit dubious. We’re in for some rain tonight if I’m not mistaken.’
‘I believe you’re right.’
They drove along the lanes in silence under a lurid sky. It was only when they were passing through a small town that Peter suddenly drew up, outside a leather-and-harness shop.
‘I may never make you mine,’ he said, ‘but I’m damned if I’m letting the poltergeist have you. I won’t be five minutes – you needn’t come in.’