25 March 2008

from Gaudy Night, chapter 14 (Dorothy L. Sayers)

He was, in fact, a pretty punter to watch, easy in action and quite remarkably quick. They picked their way at surprising speed down the crowded and tortuous stream until, in the narrow reach above the ferry, they were checked by another punt, which was clumsily revolving in mid-stream and cramming a couple of canoes rather dangerously against the bank.

'Before you come on this water,' cried Wimsey, thrusing the offenders off with his heel and staring offensively at the youth in charge (a stringy young man, naked to the waist and shrimp-pink with the sun) 'you should learn the rule of the river. Those canoes have the right of way. And if you can't handle a pole better than that, I recommend you to retire up the back-water and stay there till you know what God gave you feet for.'

Whereat a middle-aged man, whose punt was moored a little way farther on, turned his head sharply and cried in ringing tones:

'Good lord! Wimsey of Balliol!'

'Well, well, well,' said his lordship, abandoning the pink youth, and ranging up alongside the punt. 'Peake of Brasenose, by all that's holy. What brings you here?'

'Dash it,' said Mr. Peake, 'I live here. What brings you here is more to the point. You haven't met my wife - Lord Peter Wimsey, my dear - the cricket blue, you know. The rest is my family.'

He waved his hand vaguely over a collection of assorted offspring.

'Oh, I thought I'd look the old place up,' said Peter, when the introductions were completed all round. 'I've got a nephew here and all that. What are you doing? Tutor? Fellow? Lecturer?'

'Oh, I coach people. A dog's life, a dog's life. Dear me! A lot of water has flowed under Folly Bridge since we last met. But I'd have known your voice anywhere. The moment I heard those arrogant, off-hand, go-to-blazes tones I said, "Wimsey of Balliol." Wasn't I right?'

Wimsey shipped the pole and sat down.

'Have pity, old son, have pity! Let the dead bury their dead.'

'You know,' said Mr. Peake to the world at large, 'when we were up together - shocking long time ago that is - never mind! If anyone got landed with a country cousin or an American visitor who asked, as these people will, "What is this thing called the Oxford manner?" we used to take 'em round and show 'em Wimsey of Balliol. He fitted in very handily between St. John's Gardens and the Martyrs' Memorial.'

'But suppose he wasn't there, or wouldn't perform?'

'That catastrophe never occurred. One never failed to find Wimsey of Balliol planted in the centre of the quad and laying down the law with exquisite insolence to somebody.'

Wimsey put his head between his hands.

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